Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New semester

Spring semester at PTS has gotten off to a running start. A lot has happened in the past week that it's a bit overwhelming, so I'm providing a list of the major events:

* After the first day of classes, I heard that Dr. McCormack's class on the doctrine of justification was not entirely full (limited to 20). I emailed the professor, was given the OK, and promptly enrolled Tuesday morning. I attended the class last night, and it gave me a great sense of pleasure being in an environment in which discussing academic theology is the norm, not the nerdy exception.

* Unfortunately, in order to fit in this class, I had to drop the experimental course on film and theology, which I also attended last week. The course will probably end up being quite good; the films are all excellent, including The Decalogue and Three Colors Trilogy by Kieslowski, as well as other favorites like Magnolia. However, that class has 65 people and will not be nearly as beneficial for me in my pursuit of a Ph.D in theology.

* PTS decided to give me and Amy a full tuition grant, which means that we are only paying for our housing. Consequently, we received a very nice refund check. It was a big answer to prayer.

* My other classes include: Intro to New Testament, Church History part 2 (post-Reformation), Systematic Theology (also with McCormack), Greek part 2, and Speech part 2.

* Amy and I finished our time at Podowon Korean Presbyterian Church, which frees us up to attend a church that where we can really grow and worship in community. Our first choice at the moment is The Well, a culturally-progressive church in Feasterville, PA.

* On Sunday night, I passed out on our living room floor for the first time since sophomore year at Wheaton College. It was a frustrating experience, even though I have passed out many times in my life. As a result of the incident, I now have two very visible rug burn scars on my face, which will take a couple weeks to heal completely. Maybe I'll post a picture. For now, I just need to go outside, smoke my pipe, and clear my head.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

For all those who feel that conservative Republicanism is self-evident ...

I promised the people at tNP that I would put up a post for the purpose of facilitating dialogue about the "self-evidentness" of their ultra-conservative Republican ideology. Others who feel differently are also quite welcome to speak their minds. (For those who wish to read the background to this conversation, read the comments at the Japery.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wheaton, Catholics, blogs, and some really stupid people

Whew! These past few days have been insane in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, I never got around to posting about the Wall Street Journal article that featured Wheaton College prominently in the news. The article is no longer available online, but I will make it available to anyone who asks as a PDF file. In short, the article was about the firing of the (great) philosophy professor Joshua Hochschild because he was confirmed (or converted, if you prefer) as a Roman Catholic, thus alienating himself from Wheaton's president, Duane Litfin. The article is rather behind on the reporting (since it first became an issue back in 2003), but it makes up for it by connecting Wheaton to Notre Dame and Boston College, which are also moving towards a hiring policy that pays attention to religious background in order to bolster its specific religious identity. Litfin comes off as the bad guy, and in many ways, he is. Litfin is a dispensational fundalit from Dallas Seminary who is taking the college in a direction that simply has no future. That said, the fallout from this article among bloggers is fascinating ... as well as insanely frustrating.

I point readers to The New Pantagruel, a "theocon" online journal that is basically an arch-conservative, arch-Catholic site devoted to cultural criticism. Here are the background details you need to know: (1) tNP cannot stand evangelicals or evangelicalism in any of its forms; (2) tNP cannot stand Wheaton College as the arch-evangelical institution; (3) tNP claims as one of its editors the one and only Joshua Hochschild, primarily because he played an influential role in the journal while at Notre Dame; (4) though you already know this, it bears repeating now that Hochschild was fired from Wheaton College for being a Roman Catholic. The results of all this can be predicted. What could not be predicted was how astonishingly insipid, nay, even offensive, were many of the remarks made about Wheaton, but for reasons that one would never expect. I (hesitantly) recommend reading tNP's article on Hochschild, but it's mostly for the links they provide to other blogs and discussions going on about this same topic.

To sum up their position: by firing Hochschild, Wheaton is endorsing the liberal (!), anti-Christian (!!) views of its professors who, along with Dr. Litfin (!!!), are really just pawns of the liberal politics of people like Jim Wallis, who is evil and of the devil. No joke. Read it and see.

Then after reading the article, read the comments posted by Shane Wilkins and yours truly. I believe we are incensed for a reason. I expect most of you will be incensed as well, if you are not already embroiled in the debate.

It's a big ad

Some of you out there may have already seen this on TBS's funniest ads of 2005. But for the majority of people who did not see this work of genius, here is my vote for the funniest ad of 2005 (though they ranked it 3 or 4). Only in Australia.

Monday, January 16, 2006

William T. Cavanaugh and American Exceptionalism

Last Saturday night, Amy and I went to hear the final plenary lecture in a PTS conference on Torture and Theology by William Cavanaugh, author of two incredible works of theology: Torture and Eucharist and Theopolitical Imagination. As soon as I get a hold of an audio copy of the lecture, I will offer it to those who are interested. I cannot recommend his works highly enough. You do not have to be a politics buff to enjoy his writings; in fact, they are more geared towards theologians of the church and the sacraments. Cavanaugh's gift to theology, like Johann Baptist Metz before him, is to reveal the profound connections between worship and politics, between God and the world. (Another book in dialogue with Metz and Alexander Schmemann that I recommend is Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue by Bruce T. Morrill.)

The point of Cavanaugh's visit to this conference was to connect the themes and topics in Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ to the present-day issues of torture that have become especially relevant for Americans in light of Abu Ghraib. One should also have a look at Mark Danner's book to help illuminate the context of American torture and the war in Iraq. The beauty of Torture and Eucharist is how amazingly prescient Cavanaugh was in 1998, when the book was published. At the time, he dealt with Chile and the disintegration of a democratic government under General Pinochet. For a brief introduction to the book, I recommend my friend Halden's review found at the Amazon.com listing for the book. One of the most profound insights central to Cavanaugh's theology is that in Chile, the Catholic church became content with having jurisdiction over people's "souls," while handing over their "bodies" to the state. The church became the "soul" of society, while the nation-state was its "body." This dichotomy between body and soul infects Christianity around the world, and it is Cavanaugh's prophetic contention that the Eucharist provides a necessary and profound way out of this mess by emphasizing the unity of visible and invisible in the body and blood of Jesus. By partaking of the wafer and wine, we are joined in fellowship spatially and temporally to all Christians, alive and dead. In Theopolitical Imagination, Cavanaugh writes beautifully: "The whole Catholic Church is qualitatively present in the local assembly, because the whole Body of Christ is present there. Catholic space, therefore, is not a simple, universal space uniting individuals directly to a whole; the Eucharist refracts space in such a way that one becomes more united to the whole the more tied one becomes to the local." Thus, he writes, in the Eucharist we have "the world in a wafer." But we, the catholic church, are joined most centrally to the person of Jesus Christ -- the Tortured One who died on our behalf, in our place, for those who are themselves tortured.

In the lecture on Saturday, Cavanaugh made the important move of situating these reflections in the context of the American political situation under the Bush administration. More importantly, though, he emphasized that the travesties under Bush are no exception. In fact, what we see today is simply part of the logic of the nation-state from its origin. There is nothing uniquely "bad" or (as repcon evangelicals might say) uniquely "good" about what has happened under Bush; it is simply par for the course. Cavanaugh addresses this on two levels: the need for enemies and American exceptionalism. I can only give abbreviated versions of his argument, so I apologize if there are aspects which remain unclear.

(1) It is fundamental to the nature of the nation-state to have enemies. Without enemies, the state cannot and does not exist. Cavanaugh makes this point thoroughly by quoting an array of politicians and political scientists. The point is that torture is rarely used to extract valuable information for the protection of citizens. This propagandistic lie of national governments is part of the political tactic used to convince citizens that atrocious violations of human rights are necessary for their safety. The reality is that, both in Chile and the United States, torture is almost never used for this purpose. Rather, torture is part of the anti-liturgical ritual of the nation-state to force individuals to perform prescribed "roles" that conform to the demands of those in power. The primary roles is that of enemy, and specifically the enemy guilty of attempting to undermine the purity and safety of the country in power (aka USA).

(2) Secondly, and more importantly, the current American political situation is fraught with the propaganda (from both the Left and the Right; Cavanaugh is no respecter of parties) that Americans live in an exceptional country, in an exceptional time, fighting an exceptional enemy in an exceptional war, requiring the use of exceptional tactics. All of these are lies of the nation-state. The common element is American exceptionalism: the view that we are a superior nation of superior people. The lie about Sept. 11 is that Americans were just "minding their own business" when suddenly these wackos out of nowhere flew planes into NY and Washington. Such a faulty mindset presupposes this primal Original Sinlessness on the part of America. There are two versions of American exceptionalism regarding war tactics: one says that the U.S. has never engaged in acts of torture and thus we are the morally superior nation (John McCain's position); the other says that we must engage in acts of torture because we are a nation that is above the law and has the right to do whatever is necessary to protect its citizens. Cavanaugh shows how Bush has managed to take both positions, even at the same time.

I'll end my summary here, except to mention one final argument in the paper dealing with the church. The Catholic church declared the war in Iraq to be unjust (it did not meet the requirements of the Just War theory by any means -- and why would it matter if we are exceptional, and thus the exception?), and yet as Cavanaugh makes clear, the church's declaration had absolutely no effect on the participation of Catholics in the military. It is a perfect example of how the average Christian has divided the body and the soul: the church claims people's inner lives, but the body belongs to George W. Bush. More troubling is the fact that evangelicals were almost unianimous in their promotion of the war effort. Another example of the evangelical capitulation to party lines.

After Cavanaugh spoke, there was a response from evangelical David Gushee from Union University in Jackson, TN. His response: 100% agreement. There was much applause. In fact, Gushee is the first evangelical to speak out openly and unequivocally against the Bush administration's involvement in torture. He wrote an article outlining this denunciation of torture that will be published in the Feb. edition of Christianity Today, the flagship publication of American evangelicals. In his response to Cavanaugh, Gushee said that he believes there is an exact, point-for-point parallel between the Catholic church in Chile under Pinochet and the evangelical church in America under Bush (even if there is a significant difference between Bush and Pinochet, both as leaders and in the forms of government). All of this is to say, the silence about torture from evangelicals has effectively ended. The question, of course, remains whether or not the majority of evangelicals will actually listen to Gushee, or whether they will immediately peg him as a "leftist" who does not speak for them. Gushee speaks the language of evangelicals very well, so rather than placing the church in critical opposition to the state (as Cavanaugh does), he speaks in terms reminiscent of another Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, by saying the opposition to torture is a critical way of loving this nation. Gushee thus appeals to evangelical patriotism by advocating criticism. Of course, in the end, the best position is to not be patriotic or nationalistic at all, but to be wholly and solely Christ's.

This brings me to the fundamental point in Cavanaugh's books and his lecture on Saturday: The problem with American Christians is that they see themselves first as Americans, and only second as Christians. What the church must advocate from the archbishop to the country pastor is precisely the opposite: we belong to God, and God does not belong or align God's self to any nation-state or political party. God does not claim our "souls" only, but our whole selves, because God knows of no division between body and soul. In closing, I quote from Luke 14:
Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."
And, I would add, even hate his or her own country. I pray the day will come when even evangelicals will be able to say that together in unity.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New argument for God's existence

In 1987 (so not really new), Augustine Shutte published an article entitled, "A New Argument for the Existence of God" in Modern Theology (Vol 3, Issue 2) in which he laid out, in Thomistic fashion, his version of such an argument. I won't lay out his support of the argument, partially because it is a 22-page essay. However, if there is anyone out there who would like to interact with me about it, I would be more than happy to send it by email attachment. But everyone is more than welcome to post their thoughts in response without having interacted with the article. Here is his argument:

1. Human persons depend on other persons to develop as persons.
2. If all persons absolutely were dependent in this way then no personal growth at all would occur.
3. Personal growth does occur.
4. Hence there must exist, as its sole sufficient cause, at least one person who is not dependent for personal development on others, an absolutely independent person.
5. This is what Christians recognise as God.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

God's weight loss program

My finals are finally over, and my new semester's resolution is to lose weight. But this won't be the guide that I use. Over Christmas break I got a hold of this book from a friend who works at a theological book store. Apparently, people send them old books they don't want anymore, many of them are completely worthless. This is one of them:



Now if that isn't hilarious enough, I actuallly looked inside. The book, published in 1976, has chapters like "The Devil Is A 'Sweet' Liar" and the author's preface ends with the line, "Pull that sweet tooth out in the name of Jesus! Put a wisdom tooth in its place." The author has also written the following books: God Is Fabulous, Hot Line to Heaven, Why Should "I" Speak In Tongues??, and Hang Loose with Jesus. I was even more shocked to see the back cover of the book and realize that this is how they are advertising the program. Check out the picture of the author:



But then I found the diet guide at the back of the book. The last section of the book is a USDA nutritive guide to foods. As you read along, it all appears quite normal until you reach "miscellaneous items," and under this heading you reach the alcoholic section ... where you find this (click on the photo to see a close-up):



In case you think this is some joke by a reader of the book, it's not. A second copy at the bookstore revealed that this is indeed how they printed this diet guide. The previous page has a few more lines crossed out with "Non-Christian" over the beer and other proofs of gin. What's hilarious is how dated this book is, but it's sad to realize how many people would accept it as perfectly legitimate. I leave you now with a picture of a "before" and "after" of the author from inside the book.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Proofreading anyone?

I own two copies of Jüngel's God as the Mystery of the World, but it wasn't until this past month that I noticed a serious typographical error on the cover of the book! Here's the cover:



Do you see it? If not, here's a close-up:

I love Apple, but ...

2005 was the Year of the Apple for me. In addition to enjoying a relatively new iPod (which I got as a gift in Q4 of 2004), I also made the life-altering switch from PCs to Macs by getting an iBook prior to leaving for Princeton Seminary. However, my iPod didn't make it through the year. Over Christmas I discovered that the hard drive was bust, and it wasn't really worth it to find someone to replace the drive. The Apple store wouldn't replace it because it was "too far" out of warranty. So I'm left without a working iPod and lots of music. It really sucks.