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Queer Diaspora

The Jewish people have been in diaspora since the destruction of the Temple. This is why blood sacrifices do not happen modern Judaism. But Paul writes: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” I quote this not to say “See the Jewish people are foolish! They need to be more Christian!!”‘ In fact, I deeply sympathize with the experience of diaspora, albeit in a different manner. Insofar as Christians have destroyed queer and trans bodies, they have destroyed the temples of God and forced us into a state of diaspora.

In this case, also, returning to God’s promised land–indeed, we are only promised ourselves–involves rebuilding the temples, or reclaiming them. But this will also inform how we do theology. The Christians who are in diaspora do Christian theology much differently than those Christians who are not in diaspora. The working class/poor are alienated from their labor and from themselves, African-American bodies were stolen (so their labor could be exploited), and so many more examples could be draw. These are modes of diaspora.

Might we, then, be able to learn much more from the Jewish people (not to be conflated with the modern state of Israel) than Christians have thought since the Reformation? In a word, I find a deep, yet overlooked, value in the polydoxy of Jewish tradition. Diasporic Christians have likely already taken hold of this revelation of plurality, but perhaps those who have a temple could make a blood sacrifice of their orthodoxy upon their own altars.

Top Ten Reads from 2014

Spending the semester teaching my first class, and focusing a bit more on articles than book-length texts, this year’s reading list was a little light. Nonetheless, there were some real gems this year, here are the top 10.

10.) Jose Miranda: Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression
Given its title, it is surprising how much more Miranda’s Marx and the Bible is of “the Bible” than “Marx.” In fact, at its core, this text is essentially a large-scale commentary on the whole of the Christian scriptures. Emphasizing the key liberative portions of the bible (the exodus, the prophets, the gospels, and the epistles), Miranda suggests that the consistent stream that runs through the center of the all Christian scripture is a fundamental call to justice for the oppressed (the widow, stranger, and orphan). This call, Miranda will ultimately suggest, is not inconsistent with the liberatory call of marxist socialism. Rather, he will argue, within the Latin American context, the two must be held together.

9.) Alain Badiou: Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
In this short text, Badiou summarizes his philosophy of the event through a reading of Paul’s epistles. For Badiou, a staunch atheist, Paul’s subjective appropriation of the event (the resurrection of Christ) can be abstracted from its mythical ground (the resurrection as a literal event) and recognized as a clear exemplar of the proper form by which the subject responds to the revolutionary event. The text has a few obvious faults vis-avis Pauline scholarship, e.g. demphasis upon the communal character of Paul’s thought. Nonetheless, it is an insightful reading of Paul and likely the clearest presentation of Badiou’s philosophy.

8.) Slavoj Zizek: The Fragile Absolute
Zizek here presents — in his typically idiosyncratic and schizophrenic way — a fascinating defence of Christianity, particularly the protestant notion of “love” (caritas) as distinct from law. Christianity, in Zizek’s mind, is uniquely situated to offer a space to think beyond the strictures of the ruling capitalist ideology.

7.) Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A bit of a sensation throughout the summer, Piketty’s Capital is intricately researched, and strongly argued. Central to his text is the argument that the average growth of capitalist economies is generally less than the standard rate of profit (his infamous r>g inequality). Thus, overtime, unrestricted capitalist economies always tend toward radical inequality. For a more intricate look into the argument, be sure to check out my (slowly moving) chapter-by-chapter analysis here.

6.) Gustavo Gutierrez: A Theology of Liberation
The foundation of liberation theology, now a classic of theology, is unexpectedly fresh even after all of these years. A truly remarkable text, Gutierrez succeeds in rethinking Catholic theology through engagements — not only with Marxist thought as generally noted — but also phenomenology, critical theory, and contemporary theology.

5.) John D. Caputo: The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps
The functional sequel to The Weakness of God, Caputo’s most recent publication situates his theological vision of a “weak theology” within the context of a number of key philosophical and theological trends including: the radical theology of Slavoj Zizek, the radical orthodoxy of John Milbank, and the speculative realists.

4.) Thomas J.J. Alitizer: The New Gospel of Christian Atheism
Rethinking his unique vision, years after the publication of the first “Gospel of Christian Atheism,” Altizer presents a startling vision of an apocalyptic Christianity. A religion of the “absolute Novum” turned against any vision of a primordial return, Altizer’s Christianity pursues a radically Hegelian vision of an inbreaking of the authentically new.

3.) H.P. Lovecraft: Waking Up ScreamingThe Watchers Out of Time
Technically two books, I have recently reentered the world of fiction through H.P. Lovecrafts exquisitely written short stories. Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the history of science fiction or horror; Lovecraft has also been entering the philosophical domain, having been appropriated by the new materialists. Great fun, though there are certain problematic racist undertones, particularly in his early work, that most be recognized as Lovecraft’s unfortunate inability to think beyond the bounds of the racist early 20th century New England society in which he was raised.

2.) Karl Marx: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I
Given its infamy, history, and declaration as “the bible of the proletariat,” it seems absurd to offer a meager praise of Marx’s Capital. That being said, the coherence and rigor of Marx’s magnum opus, is remarkable. Avoiding hasty generalizations, it both draws upon and critiques the preceding bourgeois economic tradition (particularly Smith and Ricardo), offering helpful correctives and laying out a profoundly nuanced labor-theory of value, theory of surplus value, and explanation of exploitation. Notoriously varied in rhetorical style, Marx seamlessly transitions between rigid economic prose, literary flourish (vampires and werewolves abound), and journalistic investigation.

1.) Hadewijch: Complete Works
A brilliant combination of love poetry, mystical theology, and theosophical reflections; the work of Hadewijch has been (rightfully) seeing a resurgence among medievalists and theologians alike. Its deeply embodied and sexually intricate theological vision is enlightening and inspiring. Truly Profound.

‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Papyrus Is Ancient, Not Fake, Scientists And Scholars Say

One more link for the day:

‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Papyrus Is Ancient, Not Fake, Scientists And Scholars Say

Žižek and Sacrifice

I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjevic’s God in Pain and I came across this passage in one of Žižek’s chapters:

The radical break introduced by Christianity consists in the fact that it is the first religion without the sacred, a religion whose unique achievement is precisely to demystify the Sacred.[1]
I really loved this quote so I decided to share it with some friends of mine here at school and most of them were either indifferent or flat-out disagreed with it (at least by itself). Of course it was a lesson in hermeneutics in itself. “What a blasphemous thing,” some might say, “to claim that Christianity considers nothing sacred!”
I hadn’t anticipated that sort of interpretation, probably because I was so excited about it. Žižek’s analysis of the Sacred is a bit different than the common idea of “something worthy of worship” or something like that. “The sacred is,” for Žižek, “a limitation of ‘ordinary’ evil…[and] nothing but the violence of humans, but ‘expulsed, externalized, hypostazied’. The sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder–what makes it sacred is the fact that is limits/contains violence, including murder, in ordinary life” [2]. Furthermore, sacrifice is always done with “the collective” in mind–that is, those who stage the sacrifice, the people sacrificing and typically those who the sacrifice is for. Žižek refers to the collective as a singular agent, though. “The collective” might be a hivemind or a tradition of religious narrative, saying “this is why we sacrifice, this is why we need it. Praise God.” Evil can have “enough qualifications to make sure it can be done whenever one really wants to do it” [3]. Such is the essence of sacrifice; it is the exception to the rule “do not kill.”
Christianity, thus, was/is faced with the problem of “[containing] violence without sacrificial exception, without an external limit” [4]. This is effectively solved by allowing the victim to tell their own story. Sacrifices are only sacrifices insofar as the victim is “a part” but never “a voice.” (Here, we have an interesting intersection with Derrida in that the victim is an event contained within the story.) Through the victim’s story–their narrative that is an anti-narrative–the Sacred is demystified.
All this is to say that Žižek does not simply mean sacrifice in the sense of the quasi-archaic practice of “requiring the blood of a virgin” or something like that. Sacrifice is an ideological practice, one that is found in many systems and societies today–including America. Demystification is the realization that “my social status depends on objective social processes, not on my merits” [5]. The poor and the proletariat are the bourgeoisie’s sacrifice in capitalism, for instance. Or, as another example, civilians (American or otherwise) are among those being “sacrificed” for our country’s “safety.”
At this, one might say that “sacrifice” (and thus all that is “sacred”) is a rationalization, or rather, a justification of an atrocious thing for a higher cause which involves the incorporation of abstract or delusional elements, such as “national safety” or “for the sins of the people.” Since Žižek’s conception of the “Sacred” is always told by “the collective,” Christianity effectively denounces the value of “Sacredness” by silencing the collective and allowing there to be space (whether it is the collective making room for the victim, or the victim breaking through as an event) for the victim to speak.
The “Good News” of the Gospel, then, is not some narrative justifying or explaining sacrifice or why such a sacrifice was needed, but rather that we get the opportunity to learn from the victim–that is, without overpowering them physically or narrativistically, without subduing them and insisting that they somehow conform. Nonconformity is thus never “them believing a lie,” but instead the victim’s indignation and insubordination, for they have heard the collective narrative for centuries.
_______________________________________
[1] Slavoj Žižek, “Christianity Against the Sacred” in God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse, 68.
[2] Ibid., 63.
[3] Ibid., 69.
[4] Ibid., 63.
[5] Ibid., 66.

Sauf Le Nom: A Postmodern Intervention for Heretics and Addicts of Orthodoxy (Part 2 of 3)

In my last post, I gave an introduction to a Rortian critique of theology. What follows is a continuation thereof.

(De)Revisionist Church History

            So often when scholars (or just Christians) talk about the nature of pre-Nicene Christianity, they typically only cite the canonical letters and epistles for a picture of what it was like, but I think that undermines the very rough start Christianity got off with and the extremely heterogeneous nature of Christianity in its first 300 years and thereafter. Granted that texts and thinkers that were posthumously anathematized are far scarcer than the canonized texts and thinkers—they still exist, even if to the chagrin of the orthodox. Read the rest of this entry

From Unity to Unanimity in St. Cyprian

****Except from a larger treatment of Cyprian and Augustine***

From the beginning of De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, Cyprian identifies the body of Christ as one of the central images of the Catholic church. Already in section 4, Cyprian writes, “if a man does not hold fast to this oneness [unitatem] of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the Church, has he still confidence that he is in the Church, when the blessed Apostle Paul gives us this very teaching and points to the mystery of Oneness [unitatis] saying ‘One body and one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God’?” Here, Cyprian directly associates Paul’s language of the “body” with the language of unitas. Yet, while such a connection between the body and unity is shared in common with nearly every commentator, including Augustine, Cyprian offers a unique understanding of the nature of this unitas.

In order to understand the way in which Cyprian’s conception of the body is connected to his understanding of doctrinal uniformity (unanimity), it is necessary to examine some of the related terminology. In De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, Cyprian employs a wide array of interrelated terms in order to express his notion of unity—including: unitas, concordia/discordia, pacem, unanimis, and consentio/dissideo—the entirety of which must be put into play if the subtlety of his notion, and its divergence from Augustine is to be revealed with requisite clarity.

The clearest exposition of this notion of unity as unanimity can be found in twelfth and thirteenth sections of De ecclesiae catholicae unitate designated in the Newman edition by the subtitle “’Two or three gathered in my name’: unity recommended, not sectarianism.” In these sections, as the title indicates, Cyprian is primarily concerned with offering an exegesis of Matt. 18.19-20: “truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” For Cyprian, the exegetical center of this passage is to be found in the “agree on earth” [συμφωνήσωσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς], through which the two former instances of the “two or three” [δύο ἢ τρεῖς] are to be interpreted and limited. As he writes, “For Our Lord was urging His disciples to unanimity [unanimitatem] and peace [pacem] when He said: ‘I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything whatsoever you shall ask, it shall be done for you by my Father who is in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am with them.’ —showing that it is not the number but the unanimity [unanimitatem] of those praying that counted most.”
Two points are essential to this exegesis: first, is the linguistic shift from unitas to unanimis. While certainly these terms are not unrelated, both referring fundamentally to a coming together, they do nevertheless bear quite distinct connotations. Whereas the former is a broader term which often connotes a mere numerical unity, the second more directly connotes a conformity of opinion, as the English equivalent “unanimous” indicates. Thus, second, having slipped from the broader unitas to unanimis, it is unsurprising that the numerical coming together of the “two or three,” the gathering [συνηγμένοι], is relegated to a secondary role, beneath the primacy of the “agree on earth,” understood by Cyprian in dogmatic/doctrinal terms. The dogmatic nature of this concern can be seen in Cyprian’s assertion that “Our Lord is speaking of His Church, … He is telling those who are in the Church, that if they are of one mind [si ipsi concordes fuerint]…” Thus, for Cyprian, the impetus of this passage is a call to agreement [concordes fuerint] primarily, and a call to physical or ecclesial gathering [συνηγμένοι] only tangentially. “Corruptors and false interpreters of the Gospel,” he insists, “quote the end [οὗ γάρ εἰσιν δύο ἢ τρεῖς συνηγμένοι … ἐκεῖ εἰμὶ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν] and ignore what has gone before.”

In this way, Cyprian has not only transitioned from unitas to unanimis, but further, from unanimis to concordia. This transition is made explicit below, where Cyprian continues his exegesis, writing:

“He [Jesus] condemns the discord [discordiam] of the faithless; and with His own lips He commends concord [pacem] to His faithful, by making clear that He is with two or three who pray in harmony [unianimiter], rather than with an number of dissenters [dissidentibus pluribus], and that more can be obtained by the united [concordi] prayers of a few than by the petitioning of many who are in disagreement [discordiosa].”

Cyprianic unity, can thus be seen as to primarily revolve around the suppression of dissidence and disagreement. And lest this dissidence be understood in overly schismatic terms (as a breaking of communion, rather than primarily as doctrinal dissonance), Cyprian writes elsewhere that “Our Mother should have the happiness of clasping to her bosom all her people in one like-minded body [consentientis populi corpus unum].” Thus consentio, agreement or assent, joins unanimis and concordia, further cementing the largely doctrinal bent of Cyprianic unitas.

Of course, this is not to say that Cyprian is unconcerned with a break in unity that extends beyond doctrine, but simply, that he understands such schismatic breaks to presuppose the former doctrinal break. Said conversely, for Cyprian, ecclesial unity presupposes doctrinal unity, presupposes a “like-minded body.” This notion, that the gathered unity of the church presupposes a doctrinal unity, can be clearly seen in Cyprian’s account of the emergence of schism. For Cyprian, it is the break of unanimis/concordia/consentio which corrupts the flesh of the body of Christ. In language that is simultaneously violent and medical, Cyprian insists that dissent is a disease or a cancer which violently tears apart the internal organs of the church. “God is one, and Christ is one, and his church is one; one is the faith and one the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body,” Cyprian writes, “that unity cannot be split; that one body cannot be divided by any cleavage of its structure, nor cut up in fragments with its vitals torn apart.” Of course, “cannot” should not here be taken as possibility, but rather, colloquially equivalent to “should not” or “must not.” For De ecclesiae catholicae unitate in its entirety is premised upon the recognition that such schism is a distinct possibility. Rather, the implication of this passage is not that the church cannot break, but that it cannot fragment and survive. “Nothing that is separated from the parent stock,” Cyprian insists, “can ever live or breathe apart; all hope of its salvation is lost.”

Thus for Cyprian, the manner by which schism grows and develops is clear. Schism begins in discordia or dissideo, where is festers in the body of the church, spreading until it is “cut out.” For as Cyprian writes in De lapsis, “he is a poor doctor whose timid hand spares the swelling, festering wound, and who, by letting the poison remain buried deep in the body, only aggravates the ill. The wound must be cut open, the infected parts cut out, and the wound treated with stringent remedies.” Of course, for Cyprian, such “cutting out” of the heretical infection is not the generation of the schism, for already in their discordia and dissideo, these dissenters have committed the sin of schism; “for it is not we who have left them, but they who have left us … they have cut themselves off from the source and origin of [the Christian] realities.”

In this way we have seen that Cyprian’s conception of the the unity of the church, and consequently his interpretation of the body of Christ, is defined before all else by an insistence upon unanimity.

****Except from a larger treatment of Cyprian and Augustine***

Saint Paul and the Donation of Being: The Body of Christ as Holistic Interbeing

“Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself.”

 

“We must therefore rediscover, after the natural world, the social world, not as an object or sum of objects, but as a permanent field or dimension of existence.”

 

-Maurice Merleau-Ponty

 

Continental philosophers of religion from Marion to Caputo to Zizek have frequently recognized and praised Saint Paul for his subversive discourse on being and nonbeing in his first canonical letter to Corinth: “God has chosen the lowly things of this world and the despised things—the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” For Paul this is the direct consequence of his faith being grounded upon nothing but “Christ crucified.”

In my previous post I argued that Christ, in his self-emptying as a human being (especially in his crucifixion in Golgotha), makes himself an open space between being where the divine and human can come together. This happens when he abandons his own identity and self-enclosure in order to unconditionally embrace the other—the human outside cultural and tribal systems—thus bringing forth a new holistic form of Being in differentiated unity. This new unity becomes the actualization of the divine in human life. In this way he becomes fully human and fully divine, inviting everyone else to do the same through participation in crucifixion—“take up your cross”.

So Paul, building off of this scandalous truth, wanted to argue that God in Christ had changed up the worldly game of being by undermining its order through the cross. All those outside of tribal and cultural boundaries had been stripped of identity (especially lepers). Culturally this meant that they were abandoned to the realm of nonbeing. But “in Christ,” such persons could gain a new, universal identity as the very dwelling place of the divine by virtue of simply being human. Paul embraces this new kind of identity, recognizing that because it is apart from all exclusive and tribal systems, these persons “in Christ” would be regarded as “the trash of the world” by those on the side of worldly being.

This serves as the ground for what Paul calls “the body of Christ,” something that the aforementioned philosophers have failed to grasp in unity with Paul’s undermining of the worldly order of being.

The Body of Christ is the new body that appears in resurrection after the old body of the crucified one dies. In this new body, no one’s body is meant to exist in isolation. When I enter, I donate my own being and no longer possess myself. When I use the term “donation,” I am not only hearkening back to Jean-Luc Marion’s language of the Gift—an unconditional giving with no return expected—but I am thinking of the very carnal reality of organ donation. If I donate my organ to a dying patient, I lose part of my life that they may gain their own life. In a similar way, when I donate my being to the Body of Christ—a holistic community of differentiated beings in mutual support—I give something unconditionally for the life of the other. Christ, on the cross, donates his entire being. But resurrection means that all benefit. All members of the Body donate their own being, and as a result, all gain life-support. It is a double-experience of crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus said that anyone who loses her life for the sake of Christ will find it, but anyone who holds onto it will lose it. Christ is the new holistic reality wherein the Body of Christ emerges. Everyone loses so that everyone gains.

Ecosystems are a good picture of this. In an ecosystem, every individual part exists in unity with the other parts through the mutual exchange of energy. This exchange of energy empowers each organism to thrive, and any organism outside of an ecosystem will die.

The Body of Christ, for Paul, is a divine-human ecosystem. The whole of the ecosystem is the “divine” dimension, and the individual parts are the “human” or “animal” dimension. The two dimensions are inseparable as are all the individual parts. Just as in an ecosystem the individual being of an organism is not lost in unity but supported by it, in the Body of Christ, each being—each body—is a “whole within a whole,” a unique and differentiated individual in unity with others, supported by them and supporting them. Paul says that we retain our individuality in the Body—analogized as hands, feet, tongue, eye—working together for each other’s good. He says that if one member suffers, all members suffer. This holistic unity involves the emergence of new Being from the coming together of individual beings as a fuller realization of the divine, for “God is love” as the Johannine proclamation affirms.

This unity is one of love, not forced conformity. It is a unity that upholds and supports differentiation. It is a unity achieved by the crucifixion of tribal identity for the realization of a universal identity as simultaneously creaturely and divine.

To be concise, the new identity that arises is individual membership in an emerging universality of creaturely unity toward the deepening of the “divine” dimension of life itself, every individual creature a “temple” or “body” of the divine.

This crucifixion involves the mutual donation of being for the very purpose of the flourishing of each being together toward new and fuller Being. Even as this new Being/Body is upheld and supported by individual beings/bodies, it strengthens and divinizes each individual body and being.

Thus, the Body of Christ is a new form of interbeing as natural and original as an ecosystem but as novel as each new page in the ongoing book of evolution.

Guest Post – The Opening of Arms Toward the Other: A Cruciform Phenomenology of The Humanity and Divinity of Christ

Today I am happy to offer yet another wonderful guest contribution from a friend over at Theopoetry, Michael Dise!

* * *

Open arms are a gesture of the body reaching for the other. They are a sign of discontent with my own self-enclosed identity and a code of desire for the other. I do not want to be myself only; I want the other to be part of who I am and I want to be part of the other.” –Miroslav Volf

For two thousand years Christians have debated over how to intelligibly conceptualize and reconcile two descriptive categories of Jesus in the canonical Gospel traditions on philosophical grounds. One category meets us in ordinary immanence: the humanity of Jesus from birth in a feeding trough to bloody death on a wooden cross, with heaps of sorrow and grief in between. The other category meets us in mythical transcendence: the divinity of Christ that arrives to us in the power and influence of Jesus, exploding through resurrection and transforming the consciousness of an expanding community called the “body of Christ.”

Several councils met throughout the first five centuries to accomplish this reconciliation. There was the Antiochene School consisting of those who sublated the divine aspect through totalized humanity, arguing that Jesus was created and specially empowered to reveal God’s wisdom and intentions through the indwelling Spirit. Then there was the Alexandrian School where advocates argued that the divine Creator took on fleshly form to accomplish our salvation. The ongoing tension terminated with the acceptance of an unresolvable paradox: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.

What if the paradox only exists in an outdated metaphysics? In both the Platonic and Aristotelian paradigms of that age, incarnation was a problem. The divine essence was seen as totally transcendent of this world by necessity. But we know now, via quantum physics, that all matter is constituted by relationships of energy. The old problem of incarnation is how two essences can occupy the same space. But from the quantum perspective, incarnation is ubiquitous if God is understood as “light” (a mythic archetype for divinity), which in physics amounts to pure energy: the very basis of matter. God then must be incarnate in all being as its very ground and future. The new question then is not how God’s incarnation in Jesus is possible, but how it is unique.

The incarnation of Jesus would have to be different by degree, not kind. What is this degree? It is Jesus’ full unity with the divine that makes him fully human, and it is his full humanity that makes him fully divine. This stands over and against the multifarious forms of alienation in the general anxiety of the human life. Jesus is more human by degree, but not other than human.

How does he accomplish this union? Unlike the Antiochene Jesus who becomes superhuman by making a special claim on the being of God that you and I cannot, and unlike the Alexandrian Jesus who is the God-in-flesh making a special claim on human being that we cannot, Jesus spreads open his arms toward both poles of being as a meeting space. With one arm reached toward divinity and one toward humanity, he simply makes himself a space of near-nonbeing—an open convergence between the divine and the human. He becomes not a demigod but a space between being itself.

The symbol of Jesus spreading out his arms is found on the cross itself. In Golgotha, a cursed “outside” where tribal identities no longer persist, Jesus becomes subject to nonbeing and otherness. In this place of self-emptying, he opens his arms toward the other, welcoming the other into a cruciform way of life where identities are crucified and transformed so that each person may embrace the other.

Through the embrace of the other, self-alienation is dissolved into holistic completion. It is here that one may become “fully human.” And it is only as one becomes fully human that she may become “fully divine,” for the divine is the space where being leaves itself to join with the other toward the creation of fuller Being. It is the sacred space of emerging wholeness wherein alienation is traded for loving embrace, and it is the sacred, differentiated unity of beings in love.

Christ hangs at the intersection of two lines: one is vertical (divine), and the other is horizontal (human). As such, the cross is the place of intersection, staked into the very ground of nonbeing and nonidentity. The cross “crosses out” tribal identity insofar as it honors the human as human, allowing us to flourish as more fully human and thus become more fully divine.

For it is in the cruciform embrace of the other that divinity and humanity converge as one voice whereby the earthly and sacred are inseparable and mutually completing.

Guest Contributor for “The Ecumenicals”

I was recently asked to contribute some articles to an ecumenical theology discussion group, appropriately named The Ecumenicals.  There, three-to-five contributors from different points on the theological spectrum respond to a single issue, text, or question.  Please check out their very interesting website.

My contributions can be found here:

The Problem of Evil

The Unforgiving Servant

“Promoting understanding about Christian issues and theology through conversations between Christians and Skeptics.
In the blogosphere, uncivil discussion runs rampant – especially in matters of faith, doubt and the interaction of Christians with the rest of the world. This group exists to start hopeful conversations between Christians of different denominations, Skeptics And Atheists.”

St. Augustine and Libertarianism

Augustine’s introspective posture in his famous (or, for some, infamous) Confessions has led to his adoption by individualists of every stripe.  There is certainly philosophical merit to such an adoption, if for no reason other than his notable influence upon important historical “individualists,” e.g. certain prominent existentialists: Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, etc.  If one were to consider the political ramifications of such a seemingly radical individualism, one might be led to suspect that Augustine would find himself comfortably situated in Liberalism, or perhaps even its more radical cousin, Libertarianism.  Yet, in her Augustine and the Limits of Politics, Jean Bethke Elshtain makes the following observation:

“[For Augustine] there are two fundamentally different attitudes [caritas and cupiditas] evinced within human social life and enacted by human beings.  One attitude is a powerful feeling of the fullness of life.  A human being will not be denuded if he or she gives, or makes a gift of the self, to others.  One’s dependence on others is not a diminution but an enrichment of self.  The other attitude springs from cramped and cribbed pity, from resentment, from a penury of spirit.  The way one reaches out or down to others from these different attitudes is strikingly distinct.  From a spirit of resentment and contempt, one condescends toward the other; one is hostile to life itself.”*

What political lessons can be drawn from this profound dichotomy, from these two quite different loves?  His existential-individuality aside, it is impossible to read here anything other than a critique of political-individuality.  Simply put, Augustine was a communitarian.  One might go so far as to say that President Obama’s infamous claim, “you didn’t build that,” a claim which the radical right has condemned as godless-communism with its chants of “I built this,” for Augustine, might simply be an advocation of Life-itself. For it is only as a community working together, even a community of individuals working together, that we can achieve the “fullness of life.”  It is not through the myth of the self-made-man that we will attain the fulfillment of life, but on the contrary, through “dependence.”  Perhaps, through this Augustinian insight, we can resurrect this term, “dependence,” a term which has become a dirty-word in American politics.  And, while wedge issues like abortion and gay rights may continue to push large swaths of Christianity towards the right,  Augustine may seek to remind us that Christianity is, at its source, a communitarian endeavor, a socio-religious experiment in communal living.  Against the liberalism of the Democrats and the Libertarianism of the GOP, Augustine reminds us that Christianity’s love, its caritas, is always toward the other, the gift of the self, and the community.

*Elshtain, Jean Bethke.  Augustine and the Limits of Politics. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press): 36.