What is the Global Center for Advanced Studies?

taylormweaver:

Could this be a way forward in a educational climate that is becoming increasingly distasteful? I hope so. Wonderful faculty, and goals that go beyond the commodification and numbering of human persons.

Originally posted on Objet petit a:

CFASbannerww Just five months ago my friends and I began organizing a new school, which took on the name,  The Global Center for Advanced Studies , (now directed by Jason Adams and me).   But why a new graduate and undergraduate school?  When something new happens it is a response to the present situation, a situation which gives birth to needs that are not available.  When you look at the culture of colleges and universities today you will immediately notice several very disturbing trends.

1- Skyrocketing tuition costs: rising 1,120% since 1978, while real income has declined.

2- Skyrocketing student loan debt: now over $1,000,000,000.

3- Skyrocketing postgraduate unemployment: 53.6% are now unemployed or underemployed.

4- Skyrocketing use of adjuncts: 75% of faculty are now low-paid and temporary.

5- Skyrocketing use of administrators: administrators now outnumber professors by 125,000.5 6- Skyrocketing pay of administrators: most are now paid between $300,000-3,000,000/yr.6.

When…

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The Struggle of Christian Ethics: Holloway Interview Part 2

Alright. I have had a bit of a hiatus, mainly due to applying to doctoral programs and the like. So, here is the second part in a series, a transcription of an interview I had with Jeph Holloway, Prof of Ethics, Theology, and Philosophy at ETBU.  In this part of the interview we talk about the basis of his work, differences in ethical models, and the problem of contemporary Christian ethics, which too often asks the wrong questions… you be the judge, though :)

Lots of good content here.

This is a picture of Dr. Holloway. He is, obviously, communicating vocally.

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T: Ok, Here’s another question, and I think it points toward where you start with the book and the central question, where you work ethics from- and I think it’s highly original. Asking this question about what God is doing about evil is usually taken down different trajectories. So, at what point did you note theodicy as particularly important in the discipline of Christian ethics?

J: Well, I think one thing that has helped me give coherence, if there is such in what I’m up to here, to my understanding of what Christian ethics is all about has been the work of N. T. Wright. Now, I’ve been slowly forming this pattern, this narrative that I’m trying to present, that God, through God’s redemptive work, is creating a people, whose lives sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. I think my explanation of what God is doing about evil is itself a story. It’s a narrative. Or, it is a nutshell presentation of what I think is the narrative of the Bible. And, I have known for about the last twenty years, even before that, even when I was finishing up my own PhD studies in Christian ethics, that I was uncomfortable with what were the prevailing patterns of what I saw in the field of Christian ethics. Before N.T. Wright I will have to say Stanley Hauerwas occasioned that discomfort in my outlook.

With Hauerwas’s emphasis on a  narrative approach to Christian ethics, that it cannot be, first and foremost, “Well, alright, here’s a situation; what are the norms, standards, rules that pertain to that particular situation”, and then we operate through a deductive process and come out with some right answer to the question, “What should I do?” Hauewas helped me understand that the moral life is not reducible to the operations of the Cartesian cogito, the res cogitans, the “thinking thing” that is operative in an a-historical abstract environment. We are living people whose lives have been shaped by multiple influences that effect how we even interpret the situation we are required to act within. We live in the world in light of the world we live in. And, so, the question is “What world do we live in?” and “How do we see that world?”

Hauerwas will stress the singular importance of “vision”, “perspective”, “perception”, as fundamental to what the moral life is all about.

Source: http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/returntorome/files/2013/10/hauerwas.jpg

Stanley Hauerwas. Looking bad-ass, per usual.

 

Now, that occasioned a sense of discomfort and dis-ease, and so I couldn’t necessarily explain it clearly back in the late 1980s why I wasn’t so comfortable with the prevailing approaches and models of what Christian ethics is all about.  But, understanding that narrative emphasis made certain things I was reading from N.T. Wright resonate with the task of Christian ethics. In Wright’s first volume on the NT and the People of God he will outline what he considers to be the overarching narrative of the Bible as a whole and will relate to that narrative certain basic, what he calls at that point, Worldview Questions: “Where are we?” “Who are we?” “What’s wrong?”. And, that “What’s wrong?” business really evokes the questions of theodicy.

Now, you indicated that I am doing something original; well, it’s a different approach to theodicy in general terms because theodicy usually is, from a philosophical standpoint, asking “How can you justify belief in God in a world that knows evil and suffering?” From a biblical standpoint, we don’t ask how we can justify belief in God, we begin with the affirmation that God is the good creator of a good creation. That affirmation impels us to ask, “Ok, well then, what is God doing about evil?”

Now, what I do suggest early on in the book is that there have been other voices before mine, certainly, that would approach Christian ethics in a way very very different from asking “What is right? What is wrong? What is good? What is evil? What should I do?”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, would write in his Ethics that that very approach shows that we live in a fallen world. The quest for the knowledge of good and evil is what the serpent sought to satisfy. Ethics, as generally pursued, is done in the aftermath of the fall, rather than in a very different setting that is open to fellowship with God. The way ethics is generally done is itself pursued in a sort of resistance to God.

And, so, what I am trying to do is an effort of a particular way of advancing some of the concerns that I have seen in Hauerwas, Bonhoeffer, and as well what I think are some critical voices in contemporary biblical scholarship that want to underscore the wholeness of the Bible as an overarching story of how God is at work.

T: Ok. In the book you cut to the quick a lot of, as we just talked about, understandings of ethical questioning, such as asking the usual first question of “What do I do in this situation?” So, has this been something your students have been able to grasp? Sometimes I fear that the divide is so deep that even explaining it is seemingly impossible. I remember taking your class and definitely realizing that this is something completely different. Obviously, a lot of students have to take your class that don’t necessarily care about these essential questions…

J: I think I’m getting better at explaining why we are doing what we’re doing. I think, and hope, I am. I think I’m even better at explaining now than when you took it [I took the class in Fall 2010]! And, I think the process of writing this book certainly has helped me be more specific in that. I will tell you this, I don’t know what recalled this event to mind earlier today, but I remember, this was probably ten or eleven years ago, [laughter] there was this person in my Christian ethics class, and I was not doing it in those days in the precise ways I am doing it now. I was working towards this, and it was still not clear in my own thinking how I needed to approach everything.  But, she came to me after class one day, it was probably about 2/3rds of the way through the course, and she was just livid, angry with me because I wasn’t doing what she wanted me to do. And what she wanted me to do was for me to tell her what to do in all of these various situations and circumstances in her life. She wanted a decision-making model.

Now, the first volume, it alludes to criticisms to that approach. It insists we cannot begin there. The second volume, on which I am at work now, takes that on specifically. On the chapter on a narrative ethic it fundamentally challenges the notion that a Christian ethic can be reduced to “What should I do?” And, I have to say, I hadn’t, in the face of her anger, really been able to clarify all of these issues in my own mind, as to “why” I wasn’t doing what she wanted me to do. I do think I am better at explaining it now. And, while students this semester have the first volume out they have some outside reading that has very much to do with those questions of why we aren’t doing the “What should I do?” approach. I’m hoping that with that they will at least be acquainted with the notion that maybe there is more to this whole life of following Jesus than just, “What should I do?”

Not discounting the reality that we do make decisions, here and there. But, ya know, in this later material I will be quoting Paul Ricoeur who says that most of moral philosophy is focused on the “what” and “why.”  What are the norms and what justifies those norms. And, all too frequently moral philosophy has not asked the question of “who”.

Source: https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTooswcnog7LnZ_rlv1lIIkCP7gjMWLOQssVwoRXEt-ivZTlS-D

Paul Ricoeur. It would do you well to remember his name. He is an important thinker.

So, we have that question of “What should I do?” Well, here’s  another question, “Who’s asking?” And, does it matter what kinds of persons we are and how we can become the kinds of persons who can do this, or not do that. The way I try to put it in my later material–against decisionism–  is that depending on what kind of persons we are, only then are certain decisions made possible and others not even necessary.

I do not get up in the mornings, as I used to do in high school, and wonder: “What should I do? Should I go to my first period class or go out behind the tennis courts and smoke some pot.” That’s not an issue. I do not decide that. When I go to Wal-mart I do not go down the aisles thinking, “Well, should I stuff that box of macaroni cheese down my pants and see if I can get out?

For those to be issues, if we are having to make some decisions, there’s already a problem.

But, that is the prior question of “Who?” that Ricoeur wants to address.

T: I think one of the difficulties is: this flies in the face of some popular Christian reconstructions of, especially political reconstructions of what it means to be a Christian in light of some libertarian models whose anthropology seems more influenced by economic models. We are infinite individuals with finite moments of decision limited by bodied experience and therefore are called to make these calculations. And this seems to be becoming more and more popular in some Christian circles.

J: You’re right, that hits the nail on the head. And that has everything to do with why we offer a truncated, attenuated gospel that is solely focused on the isolated individual-

T: And why we don’t care about the poor; why don’t they just make the right decisions! Get a better job! Or not spend their money on certain things.

J: Right. Christian ethics has to go in this direction because we subordinate it to prevailing political paradigms. And, American civil religion has co-opted the Christian faith for separate purposes. And, so Christian ethics has had to become what you have described there.

Interview with Jeph Holloway: Contemporary Christian Ethics and the Importance of Paul

Dr. Jeph Holloway

Interviewing is loads of fun, especially if the person you are interviewing is someone as great as Dr. Jeph Holloway, prof. of Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy at East Texas Baptist University. My last blog post was a quick review of his latest book, published last April. If you are interested in ethics, theology, or philosophy at all check out the book. Link can be found on last post.

This post is the first in a series of transcriptions of the interview we did on January 22, 2014. Check it out below.

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Taylor: Could you give a quick “elevator ride” synopsis of your latest book that was published last year? If you understand what I mean by “elevator ride” synopsis…

Jeph: Sure. Yes. If I’m going up the elevator it depends on how tall the building is. But, quickly, my concern is to explore Christian ethics in a way that is first biblically informed, but because biblically informed will be something of a contrast to the way Christian ethics is so often pursued.

I understand the basic message of the bible to be addressing a question of the relationship between God who is the good creator of a good creation and the tension that is evoked with that confession. We live in a world that seems to be so different than the goodness unveiled in Genesis 1. We grapple with the questions of God’s goodness in light of personal struggle, societal conflicts, international tensions, and so on. And so we are pressed to ask the question: What is God doing about evil?

I think that the testimony of scripture in both Old and New Testaments is that God, through God’s redemptive work, is creating a people, whose lives sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. I state that explicitly in the book, and the book intends to unfold that in a number of different ways, primarily in dialogue with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I believe that that sentiment, or that outlook, is canonical. And, if I had time or space in the book, and I had thought about doing it at one point, I would have shown that in the OT in the law, the prophets, the writings, and also in the gospels, in the book of Revelation, and in Paul himself.

I’m persuaded that too often whenever Christian ethics does give some engagement with scripture it does so piecemeal, with little snippets. It has an idea and has a verse that seems to purport that. I’m reluctant at having a large paradigm that I only support with a text here and there without substantive engagement in a prolonged, detailed way the biblical text.

And, so, since Ephesians is only 6 chapters you think “Well, that’s manageable!”  I selected Ephesians as something of the primary frame of reference for exploring these themes. I think Ephesians remarkably puts on display an emphasis that Christian ethics has to begin with what God is doing. So, a theocentric ethic. But what God is doing is what he is doing through Christ, a redemptive ethic. And what God is doing through Christ is not simply granting salvation from this world into the next world for the individual believer , but God through Christ is creating a people whose entire existence is reshaped, redirected, repatterned for God’s purposes in the context of worship where we can then be the kind of people who can exhibit to the world what God intended for creation from the beginning and where God will ultimately take all things.

Now that’s, that’s it in a nutshell. I hope that’s precise and concise enough.

But, what I do want to do with that, also, is to highlight the distinctiveness of this understanding of Christian ethics by way of contrast with other perspectives on the moral life. And so, for example, in the first major chapter, a theocentric ethic, I begin by asking first not “What should I do?” but, “What’s God doing?”. I draw comparison with Immanuel Kant who very intentionally, deliberately sought to drive a wedge between religion in general, Christianity in particular, and the moral life. He was seeking to establish the foundations of morality independent from any theological frame of reference.  Paul’s not doing that. Paul will be very particular in his insistence that the life he seeks to present in his letters is grounded in the character and identity and purposes of God. And so we cannot sever theology from ethics in Paul.

But, that’s just one example of my concern to present what I think is a Christian ethics by way of contrast with other models that so predominate in our culture.

T: I would say that was spot on. Great. It was a long elevator ride too!

Really tall building.

J: Well, there are some buildings that go up, ya know, 70 or 80 floors. If we were in New York we would still be on the elevator.

T: Kind of deviating from the book, but still staying in its realm, why did you first become interested in the study of Paul and did this lead organically to writing on ethics rather than, say, doing work specifically in sociology and foregoing, like some do, the ethical dimension?

J: Well, though there would be some among southern Baptists who might doubt this, I have always, since I became a Christian, been something of a Biblicist. My concern has been to understand what it is we find in scripture. To be frank that is part of why I am at somewhat of a distance from some circles in the southern Baptist convention. That I am willing to do that kind of work that seeks substantive engagement with scripture wherever it might go, even if it doesn’t conform to prevailing patterns of normalcy in some denominations. That’s my intent, that’s my own hunger, to understand what it is that we find in the Bible.

I took my first course in Christian ethics back in 1981 or 82 and became convinced that this discipline is where all the various disciplines in theological studies find their coherence. Asking, ok, we’re studying the bible, church history, theology, philosophy of religion and all that kind of stuff; but, where does it go? And how is this to shape the lives of God’s people in this world? And, so I believe that Christian ethics as a discipline has the concern to bring focus to any of a number of theological pursuits.

In my course of study I took a course on Ethics and the Letters of Paul. Ever since I had became a Christian and started reading the Bible I found Paul intriguing. That course further deepened my interest in and hunger to understand what Paul was up to. And I think, stepping back from it, for this primary reason Paul is the first one in the NT, the first of the writers of what we find in the NT, who is doing what I think Christian ethics needs to be doing: asking, “What does life within the sphere of the Gospel look like?”

And, exploring that, detailing that, writing about that within the context of real life issues in the early Christian communities that he primarily sought to establish, whether at Corinth or the churches of Galatia, or Philippi, or the churches in and around Ephesus.  Paul is the first one whose writings we have in the NT that is seeking to take the story of Christ, the Cross, Resurrection,  the fulfillment of the incorporation of the gentiles into the people of Israel through Christ, all of that and exploring, “All right, what does life look like for us?” And, “what is our calling in this world in light of how we understand God to be at work?”

So, I consider the letters of Paul to be fundamentally pastoral in that respect.  And, I think, that’s a basic reason why I’ve been so intrigued by the letters of Paul all this time. And, it’s been with me for the last 30 plus years, in teaching courses on ethics in the letters of Paul, on writing my dissertation on ethics and the letters of Paul. Then when Dr. Harris [Dean of School of Religion at ETBU] asked, “Well, we’re going to be starting a graduate program at ETBU; what course would you like to teach?”  It was, “Well, duh! Ethics in the Letters of Paul!”

Because I see in Paul that model of what I think Christian ethics needs to be, I find him to be a premier resource of what I hope to offer in terms of Christian ethics needs to be. 

Review of: The Poetics of Grace: Christian Ethics as Theodicy

The amazing book on Christian ethics by Jeph Holloway.

This blog has a LOT of purposes, which perhaps contributes to its downfall. Nonetheless, I have to include a plug for one of my former professor’s book which came out last April. If you care in the least about subjects in the realm of theology, philosophy, ethics, or ecclesiology you should pick up the book. It is not that expensive, especially if you want an electronic copy.

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Holloway’s book on ethics centers squarely around theodicy. Now, I know what you may be thinking: theodicy is, primarily, a philosophical topic taken up by, usually, apologists (though, it seems most often the hard work is done by those scholars like Van Inwagen and then disseminated by rank-and-file apologists). After all, considering the existence of deity in the face of seemingly insurmountable natural and moral evil is becoming a rather stark task, one that the Christian should rightly confront and not shy away from.

Holloway, however, is not particularly concerned with discussing theodicy as some sort of difficulty in the face of God’s reality; rather, he starts by pointing out, quite rightly, that despite the insistence that Augustine (the bishop usually associated with the origination of the term) is concerned with proving God (and the goodness of God) existed in light of evil, the notion is just contextually naive. Augustine was concerned instead “as a pastor to instruct members of the faith community–the church– as to the nature of evil and God’s response to it. (3)”. This is the starting point for Holloway, and what he seeks to do as well. No defense of belief in God (others have done this, and this is not the point or scope of the volume) as would be assumed by the reliance on theodicy.

God is doing something about Evil. That is the assumption, and God doing something about evil (theodicy, God’s justice in the presence of evil) is the foundation for the ethic to be explored in this volume (and subsequent volumes to hopefully be released within the next year or so). Primarily, Holloway echoes often the following phrase throughout the book: God, in God’s redemptive work, is creating a people whose lives, sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. In this phrase Holloway packs several themes that he finds intimately detailed within Ephesians, characteristics that are crucial for properly doing Christian ethics. Thus, Holloway sees Christian ethics as needing to be theocentric, redemptive, ecclesial, liturgical, and eschatological, and he explores these themes in conversation with partners as diverse as Nietzsche and Niebuhr, MacIntyre and Gustafson, and virtually everyone else on the spectrum of ideas. In this respect, the name-dropping can be sometimes overwhelming; nonetheless, the resources are invaluable to the argument. This is truly an interdisciplinary volume, marrying quite rightly philosophy, theology, ethics, and biblical studies. The use, more explicitly, of scripture and biblical studies is a much needed corrective to those like Hauerwas who often seem to know the Ethica Nicomachea a bit more thoroughly than the New Testament.

Truly the importance of theodicy is convincingly applied as a starting point for a Christian ethic, especially one indebted to a view of scripture as a grand narrative, as is becoming more popular in light of Wright, Hauerwas, Long, and others. Turning the term on its head and asking the question, “What is God doing about evil?” rather than “How can God and evil coexist?” is not only more contextually interesting, it also helps to marry theology and ethics (too often separated in modern theology) and put a certain amount of burden on the Christian. God is redeeming the world, in this understanding, through his people, and God is a deity of work, and thus calls for his people to worship through their work to redeem.

If one is looking for a usual book on ethics, one that posits various questions or situations and employs a decisionistic enterprise then you had better look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a volume that delves into scripture (primarily Ephesians, as the theme of the book is centered around it), sifts through recent ethical theory and philosophical inquiry, and challenges the theologian and lay Christian then you should certainly pick up the volume. It is excellently written, rather than excruciatingly dry, and unusually convincing in argument.

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If you are interested in checking out the book click here

 

Look for a forthcoming interview with Dr. Holloway concerning the book, Christian ethics, philosophy, and Pauline theology. Oh, and maybe jazz.

 

Thanks for reading!

The Walking Dead and Ethics: Hershel as Virtuous

(WARNING: SOME SPOILERS CONTAINED)

The Walking Dead is an immensely popular show with a large fan base of people who are attracted to either the deep personal and emotional drama, the post-apocalyptic setting, the blood and gore, or perhaps a combination of several of the above.

As with all television, you can really just watch passively without even a modicum of interest in anything beyond a mere surface level of engagement. I think a lot of people do that, which is evident from  responses to those episodes that seem to drag along with no zombie action (though, this is judging from mere individual accounts I hear from people in my personal life). Television is naturally a passive medium of entertainment, one that beckons the watcher to “relax and enjoy the ride.” We all need those moments, sometimes.

Just some survivors survivin’.

But, I think The Walking Dead is ripe for the picking when it comes to philosophical, ethical, and theological questions. Perhaps that is why half of the Religion profs at my university are hooked on the show, some even incorporating ethical questions, and philosophical questions about the nature of the self mined from the show, into class. There are numerous avenues and areas to explore (what does the concept of “zombie” say about the metaphysics of the writers? To what end do we follow in order to survive? Is surviving more important than retaining humanity? Can one be properly human in the face of infinite consumption? Is killing a zombie “murder”?), but I want to focus primarily on Hershel as a sort of guardian of the ethical, and as following a sort of ethics that is counter to modern utilitarianism and contemporary “decisionistic” models that one finds in some circles.

Let us start by identifying “utilitarianism” and “decisionistic” ethics quickly, and perhaps identifying some TWD characters that can be classed into these categories, then we can contrast them with Hershel.

Utilitarianism can be summed up by the cliche adage: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.” Here, of course, there is no transcendence, no actual right or wrong, except in regards to the overall end “number” of pain or pleasure. Of course, this requires  quite laborious calculation, what one could call hedonistic calculus, or “felicific calculus.”  The ethical agent takes into account various variables coming to an ultimate conclusion about which action to take; after all, it’s just the rational thing to do.

Look at the character of Shane. He commits unspeakable acts and threatens to throw away the humanity of the group in order to, hopefully, survive. He kills Otis because the action, perhaps, saves him and Carl and also keeps Lori and Rick from feeling infinite pain. The problem is the “perhaps.”

We cannot calculate these things.

Recently we can see Carol take the same route. She murders two members of the community because they are sick. If she eliminates the source of the illness then everyone lives. If she doesn’t, then everyone will get sick.

Not.

She’s wrong and everyone gets sick anyway. We don’t live in a pretty mechanistic universe where we can account for all of the variables, tidying the up into a pretty package like a nice little accountant. It doesn’t work like that. Utilitarian ethics is not a workable path because we do not have sufficient knowledge; but also, it does not work because even if we were able to break the epistemic (dealing with knowledge) problems we have a larger problem. When there is no “good,” or the good is primarily defined as “whatever makes the greatest number happy or safe” almost any thing can be seen as rightly justified, whether the calculations hold true or not. This is moral fiction, as Alasdair MacIntyre would say.  Perhaps the primary sin is emotivism, or, the appeal to manipulation or power in order to justify the “right” path.

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Hershel in the sick zone.

And then there is Hershel. Before Hershel we had good ol’ Dale, the seemingly sole moral voice in the zombie apocalypse. Only he stood up against the desire to murder. He was killed off and Hershel became the medium, trying to guide the temporarily insane Rick during season three.

There is a direct contrast between Hershel and Carol in season 4. When the plague hits, Carol murders in order to “save”; Hershel sacrifices his self in order to save.

The context is dark. Almost everyone in the prison camp is sick, dying from this strange and quite catch-able flu. Entering the quarantine area almost certainly means sickness and probably death. But, Hershel is a healer and knows that he is not currently sick and that the sick need his help.  Hershel enters a situation that is unthinkable and works, slowing down the sickness with a tea concoction. There is no real calculation on Hershel’s part ; he does not excuse his behavior with vacuous”greatest good” talk; it is quite obvious he does this because of his character, and because he has a certain “good” in mind, the good of sacrificing oneself in order to provide service to the dying, whether they die or not, and despite his possible infection. He is a healer and so stays true to a character of healing and care, much like Jesus sacrificing his safety to cure the lepers, another people of contagion. He believes in an actual “good,” that human beings are worth it, that all life is valuable (that last point is important; he isn’t suicidal).

In the end of the mid-season finale Hershel is murdered. But, his murder is in the face of peace. His impact, the ethical transumptive echo seen through Rick’s requesting the unthinkable to the face of his enemy, brings death. But Hershel smiles in the face of death, a smile of peace because the ethical impact of his character has truly changed Rick.

Part of me wanted to lambaste Rick for not giving into the demands of the Governor; if he had maybe Hershel would be alive. What I did not immediately see is that Rick did not pick the route because he saw the death of one equating to goodness for the greater number, he picked an infinitely difficult third option not mentioned: peace. Co-existence is possible, both Rick and Hershel saw it and believed it.

Sometimes the correct path is a much harder road, one fraught with epistemic uncertainty, difficult trials, and perhaps even death; but, perhaps correct action is not resolutely attached to supposed empirical ends but is found instead in truths that go beyond frenzied survival.

Hershel just before the Governor murders him. He smiles, proud that Rick calls for peace between the two factions.

What do you think of utilitarianism? Have you noticed that you too often justify actions through unknown calculations in order to determine your actions as right? Do you think there is a different foundation, or non-foundation, to ethics? What would that foundation be?

Black Friday and the Spirituality of Shopping

This year some department stores decided to open up their celebration of shopping en masse during Thanksgiving. This is nothing entirely new, as last year Wal-Mart opened their doors only two hours later than today. Yes, last year many Wal-Marts released the floodgates at 8pm, and this year they did so at 6pm, enticing the crowds to gather and trample through the doors a few scant hours after celebrating a simple holiday of thankfulness.

The memes abound. And, while rather simplistic, evoke a profound truth: the queerness of stacking holidays that promote such contrasting spirits.

My wife and I decided to drive past the Wal-Mart in our rather small town. We were quite shocked to see how full the parking lot was. Cars were stationed across the roads because there was too little room! Imagining what it may have been like in the store was a bit overwhelming.

I do not think it is quite fair, nor would it be accurate, to claim that the entirety of people who participate in Black Friday are greedy people, or otherwise addicted to consuming products. But, ultimately, that is what the “holiday” celebrates. Perhaps the better course of action is to not give into such hype.

There is a very real “spirituality” of shopping. I know too many whose lives reflect it. It is the unmitigated desire for the new, and it eschews the materialism of Christianity which is found within the bodiliness of reality and the conservation of “things.” Many things that are needed are necessary precisely because they exhibit a “newness” and thus become attractive to the consumer. The simplicity of the fathers of the faith is forgotten, and instead we consume things for the action and feeling of consuming. Such actions betray obsession.

What is worse is fighting, trampling, feeling anger, and perhaps even cheating in order to obtain cheaper goods. Goods that waste away, become “outdated” in a few years because companies strategically release items in order to make the consumer feel behind the times, and are ultimately second order to time spent with family during  a holiday of thankfulness.

Of course, the irony is that few items are actually reduced to a significant amount. And those items that are dramatically priced often require an amount of violence (whether physical or of the mind) to obtain. Stores understand that if you are drawn in for a few cheaply priced items then you are more likely to buy other things, no matter the amount of “savings” in the new price. They want to unload their products in order to impress shareholders, not give the consumer a “deal.”

Do you think Jesus would jerk a Tickle-Me-Elmo out of another person’s hands? Or race to the last breadmaker? Or spent thousands on electronics that will be outdated by next Christmas and perhaps thrown away for the “new” next year? Is the unmitigated desire for “new” a vice or a good? What say ye?

Why I am Neither Liberal nor Conservative.

It is rather unfortunate that in the wake of Gospel enaction the new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is labeled in highly divisive political categories by naive and ignorant reporters. The handling of religion by journalists is generally notoriously bad (want a sample and critique? Head over to getreligion.org) not least because journalists usually deal in generalization and have rather surface level understandings of religion in general, but also  because there is a larger narrative being woven through these markets; journalism is a commodification machine, for the most part,  looking for an angle to sell wherever such an angle can be excised and highlighted. And so, Pope Francis is a flaming liberal. I mean, obviously, right?

Simple statement. But, how true is this? Is this even a part of the Catholic narrative?

Hardly, least because dealing within these categories is just a mishandling of what Christ has called his followers to be/do.  Politics pervades, but to create such a binary opposition between liberal/conservative is both naive and highly contingent. But, contingent upon what? When we speak of contingency we are speaking of a resting on another thing, being dependent on. This binary opposition, a way of orienting public speech and action, depends on something larger that comes before it. it is not that reality is firmly and resolutely defined and oriented around these two terms, liberal and conservative; and further, it isn’t that politics is a way of being within one of these two categories.

The political life is dominated by the liberal tradition coming in after the slowly encompassing Enlightenment narrative, a narrative of autonomy and individualization.  In this understanding of life all humans are radical individuals, unencumbered selves with the ability, and often duty, to abstract themselves from the particularities of their social formation. Individuals are called to this understanding because, since it is an abstraction from outer realities and particularities, it is universal. It’s universality is dependent on total abstraction and “neutrality.” Of course, this understanding is itself highly contingent, and in this there is a sort of delusion that the individual is able to break away and enter into a total abstraction.

Humans are contingent beings, and our adoption of the Enlightenment story is just that: the adoption of another story, one which provides a narrative of abstraction and universality while having its basis within contingency and particularity! As Stanley Hauerwas notices: “Ironically, the most coercive aspect of the liberal account of the world is that we are free to make up our own story. The story that liberalism teaches us is that we have no story, and as a result we fail to notice how deeply that story determines our lives.” While this is a simplification (this is a blog post after all…), it is a fair, in my mind, understanding of the modern political system.  This is the modern liberal West, a politicization based in political abstraction, decisionism, and economic market capitalism.  And Christianity cannot fit within either one of these categories properly. Now, both sides of the same coin will co-opt Christian rhetoric in order to further their agenda, and many of those who co-opt religious language believe themselves to be staying true to Christianity, but the problem is that they have given into a very different metaphysic. Choice is the answer. Decision is the key. The abortion debate, for instance, is often syllogistically displayed with reference to primacy of choice. In either decision someone’s possible choice is contradicted. Either the unborn child, or the female, who is considered as an abstract entity who is to be granted the privilege of choosing, based on a deontological ethic, what is correct.  In the case of the Pope being anti-abortion, the reason has very little to do with this deontological ethic. It isn’t on the horizon, I would think.

Religion has, also, been a consistent commodified reality, particularly since the alignment of conservative capitalists and neoliberals with big Religion.

When it comes to the poor, it also has very little to do with a modern liberal-democratic understanding of what is right. Instead it is based on tradition in light of the work of the Christ of the Gospels who exhorted his followers to care for the widow, the orphan, the leper. There is no prior political point, when we speak of the liberal politic. But, there is a political point when we consider that politics (communal formation) is Christianity. As Hauerwas, Stephen Long, David Horrell, Doug Harink, John Milbank, MacIntyre, Yoder, and others have shown in the years of post-liberal theology, there is a primacy of communal moral formation that is found within the narrative of Christ. I cannot find myself within this usual spectrum of “liberal or conservative” because it is a narrative I eschew based on my prior allegiance to a different Kingdom. This Kingdom is of peace, something the modern liberal order continually breaches. The poor, the hungry, the widow, the uncared for, the broken, the dalit, the “illegal,” the confused, the dying, the meek, the powerless; they are the kingdom of life.  They represent what the liberal and the conservative never can bcause these post-Enlightenment political orders are concerned with domination and the commodification of persons; their priests are the economists, their sacred writings of justice are found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Locke, and Rawls; their lives oriented around false universals.