Category Archives: Religion

Jordan Peterson & Slavoj Žižek debate — “Happiness: Marxism vs Capitalism”

I find this discussion posted below wonderful. Neither Jordan Peterson or Slavoj Žižek are Christians, but they are both influenced deeply by classically Christian concepts. In this discussion , which was billed as a debate but turns out much better, begins with each speaking formally for 30 minutes, then each getting 10 minutes to respond to the other’s intro speeches, then it goes into a back and forth series of questions and responses. Both of these men have lively minds and that kind of humility that undergirds the search for truth. In effect what we have here is a modern version of a Platonic dialogue.

I have been somewhat of a fan of Žižek for years and more recently of Peterson — not an unqualified fan of course. In the end, at least in terms of this “debate,” they constitute, or at least lean towards, a kind of Christian balance but, I believe, without the full realization they are doing so. Peterson lays out his path, a kind of stoicism as it were, of pursuing the good life, and Žižek responds with a deep pessimism. My immediate thought was of St. Paul writing to the Romans about how he does the things he ought not to do and does not do what he ought, thus finding within himself the principle of sin acting against him. We might agree with Peterson’s path but find ourselves repeatedly incapable of staying on that path. In this sense the biggest lacuna in this particular discussion, and I believe in both men’s general work about the human condition, is a complete understanding of sin and its effects, though they both seem to have a better understanding than most. Nonetheless, this dialogue between these two original (especially Žižek) and deeply cogent (especially Peterson) thinkers is an incredible opportunity to have one’s mind creatively engaged.

RELATED POSTS:
Modern Times: Camille Paglia & Jordan B Peterson

Leave a comment

Filed under Curious, Economics, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Truth, Video, World View

The Return of Religion in Contemporary Art Criticism

My previous post featured Jonathan A. Anderson lecturing on the lack of theological considerations in contemporary art criticism. This lecture comes several years later and takes a look at how religion is reappearing in the writings about contemporary art over the past two decades.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Books, Curious, Education, Philosophy, Religion, Theology, Video

The (In)visibility of Theology in Contemporary Art Criticism

Many art critics have religious leanings. Many artists have religious leanings. Many works of art deal with religious themes. However, there would seem to be an unspoken pact among art critics (and art teachers) that religion and theological concerns will not be seriously considered as a topic or approach to thinking and writing about art. This is not a great situation for either artists or anyone who would appreciate art.

Jonathan Anderson is an artist, critic, and professor, and author of the book: Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism (Studies in Theology and the Arts). In this lecture below he surveys and addresses this lack of theology in art criticism, and why it matters — not merely because he’s a Christian, but because theology can help all of us better understand works of art.

Anderson mention James Elkins and his book On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art. Here is a lecture Elkins gave on that topic a decade ago:

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Books, Curious, Deconstruction, Education, Philosophy, Religion, Theology, Video

Not yet perfected in unity: Church divisions in the U.S.

I am wondering how divided the Church is, or at least how divided Protestantism is today. I am reposting this from June 28, 2012. At that time I was on my way to becoming Catholic, and Church disunity was one of the primary reasons for my abandoning Protestantism. But do people even care much anymore about denominations? Are not the majority of Christians today mostly just choosing a kind of buffet-style evangelicalism? Even a lot of Catholics seem to essentially be merely post-modern pop-evangelicals in their faith and merely post-conciliar Catholics in there actions. And yet, perhaps this means we are even more divided than ever with each individual representing their own, personal denomination.

This was originally posted in June 2012.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23, NASB)

I continue to be astounded by the number of Protestant church divisions in this country alone (not including divisions elsewhere). For most of my life I’ve only had vague notions of these divisions, and never considered them as serious. I have also lived mostly with the view that they can be ignored (because I believed they are someone else’s problem) and all I need is faith and the Bible. Now I am inclined to see these divisions as having informed my thinking more than I realized, as deeply troubling, as a testament to the questionable “fruit” of the Reformation, and I want to seek resolution for my own faith and life.

The following set of images gives a high-level overview of some of the more obvious divisions we find within Protestant/Reformed churches in this country. I understand there are many more divisions than listed here, but I think this is enough to choke on for now.

American Christian branches
to European founded churches

Click on the first image to begin the slide show:

These images came from a slid deck I found on a Catholic apologetics web site.

The copyright for the slides are held by:
Peterson, Susan Lynn (1999).
Timeline Charts of the Western Church.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI

1 Comment

Filed under Authority, Church History, Curious, Kingdom of God, Links, Protestantism, Religion, Tradition, World View

Archbishop Sample’s Bold Remarks on Classical Roman Liturgy

869_francis_ad_orientem_kindlephoto-7684526
Pope Francis facing ad orientem. Perhaps you find this surprising? I do.

Whenever speaking of priests and bishops I don’t really want to say, “He’s one of the good ones,” but I feel that way about my archbishop, Alexander K. Sample. I find him level-headed and wise.

Here’s a talk he recently gave on discovering the Traditional Latin Mass, or Tridentine Mass or, as it’s officially known, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

I too have a desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, originally somewhat out of curiosity, and then because I’m sorta studying Latin, but mostly because I want to be holy and I am weak.

That might sound strange, but my thoughts are simple. We are called to be holy. God has given us many gifts and various means to help us become holy. These include prayer and scripture, fellowship and peaching, etc. The Mass is a gift to us. God does not need it, but we do. The Mass was made for us and we are made for Mass. It seems to me, in terms appropriate to reverence before our Lord and Savior, that the more traditional Mass is a better fit with our natures and fundamental human needs than the Novus Ordo Mass, or Ordinary Form. In other words, the more traditional Mass encourages holiness more than the more modern Mass, and I need all the help I can get.

Many will beg to differ.

Those who say they are Christians but not religious are gravely wrong. All humans are religious. Religion, and religious activities, are given to us as gifts. And the religious impulse is part of our DNA, put there by God. Our nature calls out for religion, and for rites, and for reverence. These things really matter. In fact, I think in today’s crazy world reverence is more important than ever. (Side note: It’s like how sexuality is a gift that is meant for a covenantal monogamous marriage context only, and not for a pick-your-own-adventure/buffet-style of anything goes freedom. We are not meant for that kind of freedom. It kills our souls. It doesn’t lead to virtue and theosis.) The Traditional Latin Mass seems to have a great deal more inherent reverence than the more common alternative. And I worry that alternative is slowly killing the Church.

For more of the Archbishop’s thoughts on liturgical reform, here is a two-part discussion he recently did on Mater Dei Radio:

Liturgical Reform Part 1 July 20, 2016

Liturgical Reform Part 2 August 16, 2016

However, the Traditional Latin Mass is not an absolute requirement for the Christian life. It is not an absolute requirement for holiness. And many find the Novus Ordo Mass very encouraging. In fact I do too — I am still in the presence of the Lord, still kneeling, still praying, still receiving His body and blood. But I believe the traditional Mass is a gift that coincides and fits human nature best. There is a fittingness between the Mass of the ages and the design of Man. I would like to have the regular opportunity to receive such a gift in my area. In the Archdiocese of Portland there is a slowly growing number of TLM masses here and there. Where I live it’s limited, especially since I am committed to working within my own parish and seeing what can be done there.

I hope the Archbishop’s views continue to get propagated and accepted throughout the archdiocese. But I know he is wise and will not force anything. It is really up to us to discover it and ask for it. Fortunately for me and my family, our parish, which does not do the Tridentine Mass (yet), is generally very reverent and solemn, frequently includes Latin, and the music is often quite beautiful, and the homilies are good and orthodox. Still, I would love the option, and I pray for it every day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholic Church, Christian Life, Liturgy, Religion, Sacraments, Tradition, Video

The Physicality of Faith

“Moses, Moses!”
“Here am I.”
“Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet,
for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
(Exodus, chapter 3)

IMG_7435

Recently I have been praying in the mornings. I created for myself a place to pray. I face east, light a candle or two, and kneel. I pray novenas and rosaries, move the beads in my fingers one by one, cross myself, bow my head. It’s not much, but praying this way a fairly new thing for me. I feel drawn to a more physical expression of prayer.

What is it about kneeling? Holding beads? Candles? What is it about these physical things? Some might say they are trappings, or hindrances, or worse.

Moses was asked to take off is shoes. Why? Did God need this? I doubt it. Did Moses? I’m sure he did.

During the Penitential Act of the Mass we strike our breast three times while saying this: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

We speak and we strike. It’s deep truth, it’s of the heart, it’s also physical. We confess physically, we worship physically. We bow. We kneel.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
(Psalm 95:6)

I am curious about the physicality of worship; the actual, physical nature of worship. Perhaps more than curious, because the emphasis on the physicality of faith is one of the characteristics that drew me towards the Catholic Church and away from my Protestant roots. I found a richness in Catholicism and a kind of poverty in evangelical Protestantism. I’m sure some would disagree with me.

I also find those verses in Holy Scripture that point towards, or mention, physical acts of worship more than merely interesting. We are physical beings. Christ is physical (fully man). He drank, he ate, he knelt in prayer, he climbed up the mountain, walked into the garden and out to the wilderness. He stood, strolled, sat, slept. He broke bread. He went to the temple. He was whipped, beaten, crucified. He is God become man — the “physical act” par excellence. He worshiped with his body. Our bodies are part of our worship.

Consider:

It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us. A kiss seals a courtship. The sexual act seals a marriage A ring betokens the marriage. A diploma crowns the years of schooling. A doctoral robe bespeaks intellectual achievement. A uniform and stripes announce a recruit’s training. A crown girds the brow that rules England. This symbolism bespeaks the sort of creature we are. To excise all of this from piety and worship is to suggest that the gospel beckons us aways from our humanity into a disembodied realm. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine. (Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough)

Perhaps four bare walls and a pulpit is the symbol of a disembodied, even gnostic, faith. Perhaps the non-biblical, historically recent “doctrine” of the rapture speaks of that same desire to be free of the physical. Perhaps denying the Real Presence is just an example of fear — fear of our humanness, of our bodies, that God is actually one of us.

I can’t say. I wonder.

But I know the physicality of worship is everywhere in scripture, even in moments we might overlook.

And when our days there were ended,
we departed and went on our journey;
and they all, with wives and children,
brought us on our way till we were outside the city;
and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and bade one another farewell.
(Acts 21:5)

Kneeling on the beach. I would love to have a time machine. What is it about kneeling? Why not stand in a circle and hold hands? Or just stand around smiling with “Jesus in their hearts” or some such thing? No, they knelt — with Jesus in their hearts I’m sure, with love for each other, with the Spirit at work amongst them I’m sure, but they also knelt.

Is there a law at play here? I think so. Our human nature seems created for worship, and to do so with common, predictable, even specific kinds of actions. Why wouldn’t there be some similarity across humanity, across space and time? Scripture tells us this is true. Our nature, including heart, mind, and body, seem to cry out for a totality of worship — a combination of heart, mind, and body together in action.

We know that some situations just call for physical action, whether worship or supplication or awe…

Then Abram fell on his face…
(Genesis 17:3)

Then she fell on her face…
(Ruth 2:10)

And Jo′ab fell on his face…
(2 Samuel 14:22)

…and they fell upon their faces…
(Tobit 12:16)

…he fell on his face…
(Luke 5:12)

…falling on his face…
(1 Corinthians 14:25)

Across the ages, welling up from within their humanness, individuals act in similar ways. There is a physical connection, built into the human body, connected to mind and heart, to situations and contexts that call forth acts of worship, deference, and awe. Is this not a law of nature, of creation itself?

Does a law mean there is a right way and wrong way to worship? I think so — at least some ways seem better than others (I’m no expert).

Does a law mean one is shackled, suppressed, controlled? No. A law is the path to freedom — like the athlete at play, or the rules of the road making driving safely possible, or a structure of government laying the foundation for civil society. You don’t have to kneel, bow your head, and certainly not light a candle or face east. But if you do, you just might be doing something good for your soul — something fitted to your very being itself. It’s your choice. It’s a mystery.

Do we “make up” the law? No. We discover it, like a miner discovering the vein of gold, or an explorer finding new lands, or a scientist understanding a fundamental rule of nature. The law is like a gift — something good and precious, and for our benefit.

IMG_7443

Do we need to discover this law anew every day? No. We can listen and observe those who have come before us and have already discovered the law. But we can experience it fresh every day, for no day is the same, and life keeps moving.

We can look to the past.

And all the men and women of Israel,
and their children, living at Jerusalem,
prostrated themselves before the temple
and put ashes on their heads
and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord.
(Judith 4:11)

Why does God care that we act out our hearts and minds? Why prostrate? Why ashes? Why sackcloth? Today this is a curiosity, mere archaeology — see how strange they used to behave, clearly the actions of a simplistic people, right? Incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Perhaps we have become blind and incoherent in our sophistication. Perhaps we are the simplistic ones. We lost something precious, have we not?

Okay, ashes and sackcloth may be too strange for us, but how about some appropriate form of penance? Or some act of sacrifice? It might be good for us. How about kneeling in prayer?

We don’t act out our faith for God. I don’t think He needs any of that. But we need it, because God made us this way. He created our nature, gave us the gift of worship, bid us to worship rightly because in that we find life. It is for us, not for Him. Kneel because it is good for you. Face east because you know this is a tradition of the Church; facing towards the rising of the sun, pointing towards the new day and the harkening to the beauty of the risen Christ. Can you face in another direction? Sure. Which way is better? Discover the answer in your meditations.

Moses took off his shoes. He was standing on holy ground. Where is our holy ground?

And he took a cup,
and when he had given thanks
he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
(Mark 14:23)

There is no secular world, not ultimately. There, truly, is only the sacred. What we call secular is merely that which we grab for ourselves and call ours. But it is not ours. All belongs to God. Every one and every place is holy, sacred, belonging to God, made for His purpose. Sin corrupts much of this gift. We can fashion ugliness, do terrible things, turn from God in many ways, but God can make all things new and good, even our darkest actions, even our hardest hearts. All things are God’s, true, but there are some things which are called out, for our sake, to be seen clearly as holy — places and times that require worshipful action. These are great gifts of “holy ground” for us. The greatest is the Holy Eucharist — really, truly, and substantially Christ present with us.

The cup of blessing which we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
(1 Corinthians 10:16)

We kneel, genuflect, bow, pray. We sing, chant, speak. We go, enter, stand, sit, be. We eat. We drink.

We worship.

Our bodies are made for worship.

2 Comments

Filed under Christian Life, Curious, Liturgy, Prayer, Religion, Tradition

An inhuman experiment

body2

Imagine a medical experiment that goes like this: Doctors, searching for the most basic essence of the human being, decide to determine just how much of the human body can be removed and the subject remain alive and human. They take a willing or unwilling subject and slowly begin removing parts of his body. They remove feet, then legs, hands, then arms, some organs – appendix, a kidney, part of the intestines, genitalia, etc. – they remove eyes, tongue, lips, ears, then they start to remove some bones – part of the pelvis, some ribs, etc. The subject is still alive. He does need help and care to live, but so do babies, and don’t we all at some level. Is the subject still a human being? Yes. But have the doctors answered their question? Perhaps. At one level at least they have made a possible determination of the minimum physical requirements to sustain a kind of minimum human life. And yet, can we not say there is something more than gruesome and immoral about this experiment? Is it not also grotesquely wrongheaded?

How is it wrongheaded? It is wrong in two ways. The most obvious is that a human person is a combination of body and soul. To focus only on the body is to miss at least half of the equation, but more importantly it is to miss the combination of the soul with the body, and the vast mystery that combination produces. The other reason is that reductionism is not the way to understand the essence of the human person. There is no minimum, basic essence. Rather there is an immensity. One does not understand the human person by owning, controlling, dominating, dividing, dissecting, compartmentalizing, possessing, or compressing the human person. Statistics are interesting, but they cannot tell us about you, not really. Experiments might divulge some fascinating aspects of the creature called me, but we are ignoring more outliers than any good scientist would allow if we are to think the experiments got to something more than mere hunches about only rudimentary things. Human beings are profound, crazy wonderful creatures carrying within themselves the imago Dei. We cannot be reduced.

There is a similar tendency among some Christians to do with Christianity what those doctors did with their human subject above. Their goal is to get to the absolute essential, non-negotiable core that defines a true Christian from all other persons. The idea is to find the absolute minimum that must be present in order for a person to be a Christian. Favorite questions include such gems as “how can a man be saved if he lives on a desert island and has never heard of Jesus?” or similarly “what about those tribes in the deepest jungles?” Some Christians have taken traditional, historical Christianity and sought to strip away all that is unnecessary. Like cutting apart the human body, out go the sacraments, the Eucharist, going to church once a week or even at all, doing good works, fellowship and community, and everything else. Catch phrases like “I love Jesus and hate religion” are popular symptoms of this mindset.

But can we reduce Christianity to an essence? Some have a natural urge to make things simple, so they might say “faith” or “Jesus” is all it’s about. But both of those words are vast galaxies to explore. They are really pointers to riches and nuances and complexities that a lifetime is too short to come to their end. There is something more. Christianity is not a belief or a practice, it is not merely a religion, nor is it a culture. It is something of all those things, but more fundamental is the nature of it. Perhaps it is best to think in this way: Divine law is the mind of God, natural law is the expression of Divine law as the creation. Human nature is fallen, in other words it is the natural law corrupted. But even in our fallen state, we are still primarily the Divine law expressed in our createdness. And the rest of creation is also, in its fallen state, primarily the Divine law expressed as creation. In other words, there is a fittingness between us and the Divine law, and a fittingness between all that is properly natural law.

From Divine law comes the natural expression at the center of creation, the human being. Placed in the garden, made priests of creation, taught to worship and offer sacrifices, later fallen and struggling with corruption, human beings have within their souls and their bodies the design of religion, the hunger for cult, the patterns of worship, the need for meaningful action and sacred practice. That is why in all cultures everywhere there has always been religion. It is the way God fashioned human beings. To fight against this is to deny our Creator’s design, to deny the human composition. Humans are made for religion, for cultic worship, for liturgy and praise, for sacraments and sacrifice, and for embodying a priestly function in terms of the creation – we are to re-present the creation back to God as our offering to Him, as thanks for His goodness and love towards us. And it is important to see the interconnections of all this. Religion is not an add-on to the person. Religion is one of the most fundamental, essential, interwoven elements that constitute any human being. It is inseparable from our humanness.

To reduce Christianity down to the most basic, most simple of formulas or one-word creeds, is to go too far. To say “I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” is to make an inhuman statement. It is to go against the Divine law by going against the natural law. Many who say we are saved by faith alone misunderstand what faith means in light of human nature, in light of the creation. To say we are save by grace alone can also be misunderstood and abused, but properly understood it puts the action on God and thus opens the door for the riches of that grace, to all of the Divine law expressed in the natural law and making us fully and properly human. “Grace alone” points to the Creator and His design of creation, the deep imago Dei in all of creation, and most fully in human beings, coming into fullness through worship as the proper response. To dissect Christianity, removing anything that seems to be unnecessary may be a way to rid oneself of false doctrines and perverse practices, but all too often it becomes an ideologically driven means of drawing lines between those historical, liturgical, sacramental, and traditional kinds of Christians and the so-called pure Christians who are unencumbered by religion. In short, they have unencumbered themselves from the rich gifts that God has offered them, from the truth, goodness, and beauty of the natural law, and from their own createdness. This so-called unencumbered church is all too often the inhuman church.

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Life, Religion, Sacraments, World View