The Empire of Desire

July 3, 2015

White House

It has now been a week since the Supreme Court issued its fanciful decision on gay marriage — legally contrived and morally suspect. In 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy wrote (or co-authored), “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That is a good summary statement of postmodern nominalism. There is nothing higher, nothing to which we are accountable, except our own experience of “meaning” and “mystery.”

Justice Kennedy continued his romanticist jurisprudence in last week’s Obergefell v. Hodges case. He formulates the first premise on which the majority decided: “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” (p. 3). This is why, we are told, bans on interracial marriage were invalidated. He continues, “Decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” So, “personal choice” and “individual autonomy” are the founding principles upon which interracial marriage is a marriage? We are then given flimsy attempts to define marriage as “a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals” and “an intimate association.” Same-sex couples aspire to “the transcendent purposes of marriage” (p. 4), which are what exactly? Kennedy then finally proceeds to offer the only constitutional basis of the majority’s opinion: a highly dubious interpretation of the fourteenth amendment.

The subsequent media parade offered scarcely any attempt to digest and discuss the moral rationale. At this point, I suppose, Kennedy’s moral logic is self-evident to the culture. The corporate blitz to capitalize was unlike anything we’ve seen in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision, as seemingly every major corporation proudly displayed its support. Social media followed suit. The White House went technicolor. News anchors and reporters could scarcely contain their enthusiasm. This united front gave voice to our new era of social discourse. We emote and shame, whereas our forefathers reasoned and convinced. Twitter is more powerful than Aristotle.

If you have not done so already, I highly encourage you to read the SCOTUS decision, both the majority opinion and the dissents. Justice Scalia never holds back: “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic” (p. 75.) Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia, offers the most conservative dissent, insofar as he directly targets the redefinition of marriage away from its procreative ends and offers this sober warning:

It [the court’s decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. E.g., ante, at 11–13. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent. Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. [pp. 101-102]

Below, I have collated some of my favorite articles that have dared to wade through this torrent of powers, the potestatis publicae. I will begin with “The Empire of Desire” from R. R. Reno. Unlike most of the subsequent articles, this was not written in response to the Supreme Court decision. It was published in the June 2014 issue of First Things. This is one of Reno’s most incisive essays, more important now than then.

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“The Empire of Desire,” R. R. Reno (First Things, June 2014):

Indirectly (and unknowingly) evoking the rich tradition of liberal Protestant theology, Vattimo suggests that this antinomian trajectory is “a transcription of the Christian message of the incarnation of God, which St. Paul also calls kenosis—that is, the abasement, humiliation, and weakening of God.” Here we find a wonderfully pure expression of the metaphysical dream of our era: God himself is an antinomian. Christ does not fulfill the law of Moses; instead, he undercuts Moses and evacuates the law of all normative power. Sinai becomes the Antichrist.

“The Benedict Option for Evangelicals,” Phillip Cary (First Things, June 30, 2015):

The youth group in effect competes with more secular forms of youth culture for the hearts of future evangelicals.

It’s a tough competition to win, and the momentum is now clearly on the side of the opposing team. The evangelical team is playing defense, and they have a major theological weakness. They’ve adopted a version of the liberal Protestant turn to experience. Today’s evangelical Christians are taught to find God by listening for the voice of the Spirit in their hearts. My students typically think this is what it means to know God. This theology will hardly help them resist a culture that is all about celebrating the desires we find within us. If the true God is the God of our experience, then why can’t the voice of liberated desire be the Spirit of God?

“Can Evangelicals See Themselves in the LGBT Movement?,” Alastair Roberts (The Gospel Coalition, July 1, 2015):

While most persons receive their identity from without as society imposes its sexual and gendered identities, the LGBT person recognizes that true identity arises from within. The realization of an authentic subjectivity over against the formalism of imposed norms of gender and sexuality is recounted in the “personal testimonies” of coming-out stories and tales of transition. Given the understanding of the nature of true identity within LGBT communities, it shouldn’t surprise us that same-sex marriage has been pursued chiefly as an “expressive”—rather than a “formative” and “institutional”—reality.

…the LGBT community and the same-sex marriage cause are advanced in large measure through emotional personal testimony and stories of subjective self-realization. This is the language evangelicals were raised on, and it can resonate with us. Evangelicals, having placed so much store on the truth and immediacy of the personal narrative and the value of unfeigned emotion, will face particular difficulties in considering how to respond to these.

“After Obergefell: The Effects on Law, Culture, and Religion,” Sherif Girgis (Catholic World Report, June 29, 2015):

It’s not that the majority opinion offered bad interpretations of the Constitution’s guarantees; it hardly interpreted them at all. Huge swathes of it read less like a legal argument than the willful paradoxes and obscure profundities you might hear at a winetasting.

…now the most prestigious secular organ of American society—the Court that helped make Martin Luther King’s dream a reality—stands for the propositions that deep emotional union makes a marriage, and that mothers and fathers are perfectly replaceable; indeed, that it “demeans” and “stigmatizes” people to think otherwise.

“The Supreme Court Ratifies a New Civic Religion,” David French (National Review, June 26, 2015):

This isn’t constitutional law, it’s theology — a secular theology of self-actualization — crafted in such a way that its adherents will no doubt ask, “What decent person can disagree?” This is about love, and the law can’t fight love. …

Christians who’ve not suffered for their faith often romanticize persecution. They imagine themselves willing to lose their jobs, their liberty, or even their lives for standing up for the Gospel. Yet when the moment comes, at least here in the United States, they often find that they simply can’t abide being called “hateful.” It creates a desperate, panicked response. “No, you don’t understand. I’m not like those people — the religious right.” Thus, at the end of the day, a church that descends from apostles who withstood beatings finds itself unable to withstand tweetings. Social scorn is worse than the lash.

“A Conversation With My Gay Friend,” Jennifer Fulwiler (July 9, 2012):

“Yes, marriage is about sex. But it’s about sex because sex is how new life is created — and, ultimately, it is an institution ordered toward protection and respect for new people.”

[Andrew:] “So if you have a straight friend who’s infertile, you’d tell her she can’t get married either?”

“I said ordered toward. When a man and woman have sex they’re engaging in that sacred act that creates human life, even if none will be created in that particular act. It’s still sacred.”

…”If you’re totally open to having kids, then there are the sacrifices that come with birth and raising children; if you’re abstaining during fertile times, you’re sacrificing. Infertile couples sacrifice by not using artificial methods like in vitro to force new life into existence. Gay men and women sacrifice by living chaste lives, as do people separated from their spouses, and people who are not yet married, or whose spouse has died. Notice that we’re all sacrificing, and that all of the sacrifices are about the same thing: love and respect for new human life, and specifically the act that creates new human life.”

“Where Do We Look for the End of Loneliness?,” Wesley Hill (Spiritual Friendship, June 27, 2015):

Yet I’m also a Christian, and according to historic Christian orthodoxy, marriage isn’t the only, or even the primary, place to find love. In the New Testament, as J. Louis Martyn once wrote, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.” Marriage in Christian theology is, you might say, demythologized. With the coming of Christ, its necessity is taken away: gone is the notion that without it we are doomed to lovelessness.

“The Episcopal Church on Its Way Towards Adopting Gay Marriage,” George Conger (Anglican Ink, June 29, 2015):

“God has given us a new revelation not shared with our forefathers in the church,” the bishop said. “As such, we must proceed slowly and with generosity of spirit,” to ensure that the revelation given to the majority was not in error. The bishop said the history of the surrounding community, Mormon Salt Lake City, was an example of what not to do.

Apropos, the Episcopalians now have something in common with Mormons: new revelation. By the way, TEC officially voted — overwhelmingly — to adopt a new rite for the marriage of any gender configuration. The ACNA will continue to attract the remaining few evangelicals in TEC over the course of the next year.

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Image: The White House in rainbow colors after the SCOTUS decision on June 26, 2015 (source)

Andrew Sullivan - by Trey Ratcliff, Flickr

Andrew Sullivan

Rod Dreher, “The Revolution Devours All” (The American Conservative):

“It’s inimical to me that any religious entity or organization should be compelled by government to compromise any jot or tittle of their doctrine,” Andrew [Sullivan] said.

Addressing [Gordon College President] Lindsay’s case, he said, “Any personal hurt that he experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really hurts me that people would demonize, stigmatize, and attack people for their religious faith, whatever it is. I think the Gordon College thing is a clear step beyond anything we have seen before.”

Rod Dreher, “Biopolitical Tyranny and the Nominalist Family” (The American Conservative):

In order to justify biotech reproduction outside the womb, in order to justify surrogacy, and in order to justify same-sex marriage, that natural connection [between biology and parenthood] had to be denied. It is the nominalist position: there is nothing natural inherent in the structure of nature; it’s only matter, upon which we can impose our will.

Jeff Shafer, “How Same-Sex Marriage Makes Orphans of Us All” (The Federalist):

There is a biotechnical revolution upon us that treats children as products to manufacture. In the United States and around the “civilized” world, individuals flip through catalogues or search online to purchase sperm and eggs from (usually anonymous) donors whose genetic characteristics they find appealing. These shoppers then hire lab technicians to create embryos for implanting in a womb, often of a leased surrogate, for purchaser retrieval after gestation completes.

Thereby do these people manipulate children into existence in a manner divorced from marital love, in which adults intend to deprive them of relationship with or knowledge of at least one, and perhaps both, of their biological parents, as well as their extended kin.

This practice of human reproduction without relationship, of reproduction arranged by commercial transaction with service providers, graphically instantiates the precepts of same-sex marriage ideology. By eliminating the husband-wife marital norm, that ideology sunders even the conceptual connection of the marital union and fertility.

Joe Carter, “How the Federal Government May Put Christian Schools Out of Business” (Acton Institute):

This threat is more radical than many people realize. It’s not merely that Christian schools will have to choose between accepting federal funds and keeping their religious views about sexuality. If the choice were to follow the example of schools like Hillsdale College or New Saint Andrews College and forego taking any federal money, the decisions about what to do would be painful, but obvious.

But what is being proposed is to revoke non-profit status, a move that would destroy many schools. According to the IRS, if an organization’s tax-exempt status is revoked it is no longer exempt from federal income tax and is not eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. As Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, notes, “The loss of tax-exempt status would put countless churches and religious institutions out of business, simply because the burden of property taxes and loss of charitable support would cripple their ability to sustain their mission.”

Roger Scruton, “On Philosophy, Music & Death” (The European Conservative):

Given the constant threat of terrorism with which we now live, do you believe we are facing a cultural war? Is Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the world is divided into several civilisations based on religious ideals that can be fault lines for conflict still valid for the 21st century?

Scruton: There is certainly some kind of clash of civilisations occurring. However, Islam seems to have forgotten its civilisation, and it is rare now to meet a Muslim who has ever heard of enlightened Islamic scholars like Ibn Sinna, or Rumi, or Hafiz, or who is even aware that a great civilisation once existed, built upon the revelation of the Koran. Western civilisation, too, is losing the memory of its religious inheritance. I am reminded of Matthew Arnold’s “On Dover Beach” in which he expresses his fear for a future in which “ignorant armies clash by night”. So yes, there is a clash—not of two civilisations but of two competing forms of stupidity: one given to violence and the other to self-indulgence.

[emphasis mine]

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Image: Andrew Sullivan portrait by Trey Ratcliff (Flickr)

Laura Smit - Presbyterian Fellowship

Laura Smit is a professor of theology at Calvin College and the author of Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love (Baker Academic). She is also a contributor to Conversations with the Confessions: Dialogue in the Reformed Tradition, ed. Joseph Small. In the latter volume, the quality of the essays are rather mixed, leaving me unimpressed on the whole. But I did appreciate Smit’s essay, “Who is God?,” even though it only skims the surface of several important discussions in systematics on the doctrine of God. The volume is targeting a broad audience of thoughtful layfolks and their pastors, not academics.

In particular, I liked her remarks in favor of using gendered (masculine) language for God. As every reader of this blog knows, I have no qualms about using masculine language for God, and I am especially disinclined to ever use “Godself.” In the mainline Protestant milieu, this is a battle hardly worth waging. We lost. In a typical mainline sermon, you can expect to hear some of the most tortured English for the sake of avoiding “him” or “himself.” I am not entirely insensitive to their reasoning. I have friends and classmates who disagree with me. I know all of their arguments, often passionately expressed. I still disagree. Laura Smit expresses some of my thoughts:

Gendered language for God clearly fits into the first category [analogical language]. God is beyond male and female, so when we use either male or female language for God, we are speaking analogically, using language that applies properly and originally to human experience and applying it to God. Some people argue that instead of using gendered language, we should avoid the use of either male or female language when speaking of God, simply repeating the word “God” in place of using pronouns such as “he” or “himself.” I once used such God-language for about a year, avoiding pronouns when speaking of God by always substituting the noun “God.” By the end of the year I noticed something rather disturbing: My idea of God had become impersonal. Since our human experience of personal interaction is always gendered, ungendered language suggests a lack of personal presence, and I had come to think of God as an impersonal force rather than a personal being. This is a significant problem, since being personal, like being loving, is a quality that belongs properly and originally to God and is applied to human beings only analogically. Language that makes us think of God as less personal than humans should be avoided, just as we should shun any language that makes us think of God as less loving than we are. Insofar as ungendered language is an effort to speak more literally (or univocally) about God without using analogical language, it is doomed to failure, since human language is simply not up to the task. But we should note that ungendered language also fails to function analogically, since we have no analogous experience of relating to an ungendered person that might illuminate such language when applied to God.

So, why not just use both masculine and feminine?

I had to use either male or female language, or some combination of the two. Thus, I spent another year of my life using male language for the Father and the Son, while using female language for the Holy Spirit. As my understanding of the unity of God deepened, however, I came to realize that such language suggests that the three persons have different natures. In fact, it leads toward tritheism, as if the Trinity is made up of three separate gods rather than three persons who share in one nature.

[Laura Smit, “Who is God?,” Conversations with the Confessions, pp. 96-96.]

There is still the option of alternating between masculine and feminine when referring to God, though not when referring to the persons. I still disagree with that option, though a rebuttal would require a more thorough treatment than Smit offers.

If you would like to delve deeper, I recommend Donald Bloesch’s The Battle for the Trinity: The Debate Over Inclusive God-Language. In the edition that I own, Elizabeth Achtemeier wrote a hardnosed preface, expressing her intense displeasure at feminist arguments for revising the church’s language of God. Bloesch also wrote Is the Bible Sexist?, which I have not read. Bloesch is best known for his multi-volume systematic theology and his two-volume Essentials of Evangelical Theology, which you can (and should) purchase used at little cost.

 

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Image: Laura Smit at the Presbyterian Fellowship Conference on Theology, San Diego, January 2015.

Vines

Last week, Rachel Held Evans began her blog series on Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian, the latest and most acclaimed popularization of the “open and affirming” position within the church. When I was discerning this issue, intensely, a few year ago, popularizers like Vines did not exist — though Jack Rogers’ 2009 book is very similar. I read Martti Nissinen and Eugene Rogers, the sort of scholars that Vines makes accessible.

As most of you know, I am “traditional” on marriage and sexuality in general, for reasons relevant to specifically Christian content. I see marriage as an icon of the gospel (Eph 5), with a distinct material form (Gen 1:27). And I am not an iconoclast.

But for this post, I just want to analyze Evans’ statement that Vines is “a theologically conservative Christian who holds a ‘high view’ of the Bible,” which is also Vines’ own self-estimation. She begins her second entry this week in the same way. A few problems immediately strike me. Most importantly, it implies that liberals hold a markedly low view of the Bible, somehow significantly different from Vines’ (and Evans’) own view. In reality, the average liberal within the churches and seminaries where they thrive — mainline Protestant — believes in a God in line with the creeds. They believe in the Holy Trinity and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and they exegete these doctrines from the Bible. In other words, the Bible is authoritative for them.

Everything that I have read from Rachel Held Evans, Matthew Vines, Peter Enns, and all the current starlights of the progressive sorta-evangelicals is exactly what you can find in any mainline classroom. Exactly. None of this is even remotely surprising. Peter Enns, whom Evans extolled in a recent post, is about 50 years (or 150 years) late to the party. Like Vines, he is gifted in his ability to communicate to an otherwise still-biblicist contingent of evangelicals. But, also like Vines, he is merely repeating a given set of long-held convictions. “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.” Yawn. Welcome to the mainline, Professor Enns.

The Bible is authoritative for Vines. It is the sole source for knowledge of God in his saving revelation to mankind in Jesus Christ. Until proven otherwise, I have no reason to doubt Vines. So, of course, Vines has a “high” view and “authoritative” view of the Bible in that sense. But, so does nearly everyone else. Vines is not a “conservative” in any distinct sense that would differentiate him from the average, run-of-the-mill liberal in the mainline. And every mainline Protestant knows this, which is surely amusing when they see Vines and Enns and Evans on the “cutting edge” of theology! Hardly.

My point is simple. The liberal view of the Bible, in its most representative Christian form, is a view of the Bible that believes in its unique authority for the church. In the mainline Protestant churches, this liberal view of the Bible is no different than the “theologically conservative” view ascribed to Vines (and self-ascribed by Vines). So, what precisely makes Vines a theological conservative? If he is, then so is the National Council of Churches.

I do not care to actually answer the question in the title of this post. I am not invested in maintaining or defining the boundaries of “conservative.” But when it is used in a context that makes it functionally indistinct from its purported foe, “liberal,” then I call foul.

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Image: Matthew Vines (source: AP)

 

An androgynous Adam?

September 3, 2014

Eve_by_irinush

It is sometimes heard, within feminist and liberationist circles, that the original creation of אָדָם‎ (Adam) was androgynous, not differentiated into the gender binary of male and female. אָדָם‎ only becomes male and female in Gen 2:21-23, which is interpreted as the splitting of the original אָדָם‎ into two distinct and gendered beings (with צְלָעֹת translated as “side” and understood conceptually as “half”). Phyllis Trible is best known for popularizing this view.

This androgynous reading of Adam as merely a neuter “earthling” has come under criticism and not just from the usual suspects (evangelicals like me). Jerome Gellman, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, has a hard-hitting article in Theology & Sexuality 12:3 (2006), “Gender and Sexuality in the Garden of Eden,” which takes this feminist reading to task for trying, in his opinion, to smooth over the obvious misogyny of the text. So, basically, he argues that Trible’s reading is not only bad exegesis, but it is also a disservice to feminism. And Robert Kawashima, NYU and now University of Florida, has an article in Vetus Testamentum 56:1 (2006), “A Revisionist Reading Revisited: On the Creation of Adam and then Eve,” wherein he takes the feminists to task for their faulty reader-oriented epistemology.

What might a dogmatician have to say? As someone who is concerned about the gnosticism that underwrites our current gender theorizing, I highly appreciate Emil Brunner’s rejection of this androgynous reading of אָדָם‎ in the second volume of his Dogmatics. Brunner is discussing the imago Dei, using the familiar Brunnerian lense of relationality within differentiation. He notes a “special satisfaction” that Barth uses an analogia relationis in CD III.1 (citing p. 219 in the German KD).

Below is the relevant excerpt, namely the second paragraph and following. This is among my favorite material in Brunner’s works:

Hence from the outset man has not been created as an isolated being, but as a “twofold” being; and not simply as two human beings, but as two beings who necessarily belong to one another, who have been created for this purpose, and whose whole nature is ordered in this direction, that is, as two beings who cannot be, apart from each other. In the older version of the Creation story (J) this is explicitly stated: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The Creation of Man is not finished until the partner is there. In the later version (Gen. 1) the twofold Creation is presupposed from the outset, and follows immediately on the definition of man as made in the Image of God. Because God is Love, because in God’s very Nature there is community, man must be able to love: thus “man” has to be created as a pair of human beings. He cannot realize his nature without the “Other”; his destiny is fellowship in love.

This twofold character of man in the Creation Story is in contrast to the world-wide myth of androgyny. The latter is necessarily connected with rational thinking, for which the ultimate and supreme truth is Unity, just as the fact of the two sexes is necessarily connected with the God who wills community. Either community or unity is the final supreme truth. The God of the Biblical revelation is the God of community; the God of rational philosophy is the God of unity. It is no accident that Plato’s Symposium accepts the myth of androgyny. Androgyny belongs to the thought of Platonism, and sexual polarity to Christian thought. [fn., It is therefore no accident that the gnostic thinker, Berdyaev, accepts the androgynous principle, and conceives the fact of the two sexes as the result of the Fall. Die Philosophie der Freiheit des Geistes, p. 238]

Androgyny is the ontological basis of narcisissm. Within the sphere of speculative thought love is always, in the last resort, self-love, because the final end sought is unity. Within the sphere of Biblical thought love is never narcissism or self-love, because love is always self-communication, the will to community. Agape presupposes the “I” and the “Thou” over against each other; narcissism, androgyny, presupposes thought which aims at unity; it presupposes the elimination of anything opposite; it presupposes the identity of object and subject. …

Sexual polarity, however, as such, is not itself the “I” and the “Thou.” It is only a picture of the purpose of Creation, and the natural basis of the true “I” and “Thou.” Sexual polarity is therefore not intended for eternity [Matt. 22:30] whereas the “I” and the “Thou,” the communion and the fellowship of the Kingdom of God, is certainly intended for eternity. Hence sexual polarity is not itself the Imago Dei; it is, as it were, a secondary Imago, a reflection of the Divine purpose, and at the same time the natural basis of true community. …

[The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. Olive Wyon, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952, pp. 64-65]

The point about narcissism is especially astute.

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Image: “Eve” by Irina from Romania

foucault

In the previous post, I provided my lesson on Feuerbach and Nietzsche, taken from my Sunday school series on modernism and postmodernism. Here is the lesson on Michel Foucault, the widely influential French critical theorist:

Class 11: Foucault

Even though philosophy departments have moved in other directions (even back to both classical and modern metaphysics), Foucault is still alive and well within the various “studies” departments: cultural studies, women’s studies, religious studies, queer studies, pick-your-identity studies, and so on. Most importantly, echoes of Foucault can be heard across wide swaths of our culture today, with the millennials proving to be a highly receptive audience.

I did not record any audio for the lessons, so you do not have my running commentary. But, I think the slides are sufficient and hopefully of interest. This was one of the shorter lessons (in terms of the number of slides), because I spent extra time carefully explaining the technical terms in use and offering my criticisms at the end.

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Image: Michel Foucault (source)

The-Oak-Tree-by-Craig-Martin

“The Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin

The following reflections from Matt Walsh helpfully uncover the shallow “authenticity” of our identity-obsessed age:

I don’t believe that Grayson’s affinity for My Little Pony has anything to do with “individuality” or “self-expression.” This is a cartoon show produced by a subsidiarity of the multinational conglomerate known as Hasbro. The Pony gear is mass produced kid’s apparel, which his mother likely bought at Toys ‘R Us, Target, Walmart, or some such place. This stuff is packaged, marketed, and sold in bulk. Individuality? Hardly. Call it whatever you want to call it, but “individuality” isn’t involved here.

As mentioned above, many bloggers and internet commenters have lamented that Grayson is being made to feel ashamed of “who he is.”

Seriously?

So he is defined by his affection for cartoon unicorns, is he? That backpack speaks to the very substance of his soul, does it?

This is precisely the problem with modern culture (well, one of the many problems). We all walk around following fads and trends — some of which are DESIGNED to elicit glares and guffaws from non-trendy “prudes” — and then we act as if we’ve been attacked on a molecular level when someone expresses distaste for our plastic-wrapped, calculated, corporately constructed “image.” I’m not accusing nine-year-old Grayson of falling into this category, but this does describe many in the Outraged Mass who choose to hoist up a My Little Pony backpack, and march under it like a battle flag.

To prove my point, the “Bronies” have turned Grayson into a martyr for their cause.

What are Bronies, you ask? I was unfamiliar myself until recently. Evidently, these are a sub-culture of grown men who love My Little Pony. They gather together on internet forums and discuss the show. They congregate at Brony Conventions.

They are involved in a fad that is one in a long line of similar fads, all bound by one goal: to do bizarre things, then dare anyone to call it a bizarre thing.

I, for one, will take the challenge. It is bizarre for grown men to be such passionate lovers of a little girl’s cartoon show about unicorns.

Yes, it is bizarre. But bizarre ain’t unique these days. It isn’t individualistic or bold. It is precisely what it purports to attack: collectivism.

You should read the whole thing before accusing Walsh of being an insensitive asshole, since he repeatedly makes clear that the bullying is unjustified and should be punished. Of course, he will still be called an asshole, but that is par for the course nowadays. As far as I can tell, the millennial generation (those, like myself, born in the 80’s or 90’s) solely value a rather clearly identifiable pair of attributes: kindness/nicety and tolerance. These are fine qualities, to be sure, but they have a tendency toward banal self-assertion and ritualization of the same, to put it mildly. Saner generations would have called it narcissism, but apparently Jesus identified himself with the narcissistic credo’s of his day, not (as I thought) the sinners falling on their knees.

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Image: “The Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin (1973), a famous and influential work of existential and postmodern “conceptual” art. In this instance, the artist defines the essence of a thing — or, as Sartre said, “existence precedes essence” — because essence is not a given or “out there” in the reality of a thing.

Needless to say, I despise this “art.”

Gene Robinson

March 21, 2014

St. Stephen's Basilica

“Old School” Christianity

So, Bishop Gene Robinson, of gay Episcopal fame, is now doing a column for The Daily Beast. In his inaugural column, he manages to deliver every postmodern sentiment in his vast repertoire, including:

This column will also go far beyond Christianity. God is infinite, and it comes as no surprise to me that there have developed, over time, many credible and faithful approaches to understanding God. In the end, no religion holds a lock on the reality of God. Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God and offers insight into God’s reality, and we would do well to exercise a good measure of humility in claiming we know God’s will. Better to begin each pronouncement we make about God with “In my experience…” or “From my perspective…” or simply “For me….” At the end of the day, no matter how much we believe we know God’s will, we must acknowledge that each of us is only doing the best she/he can.

Yep, “in my experience” the fullness of God dwelt bodily in Jesus Christ, but that’s just me talking. Jesus Christ is Lord of the universe my inner self.

Christians are being persecuted and killed at unprecedented rates around the world, all of which is totally unnecessary if they would simply explain to their persecutors that Jesus is just a subjective fancy, personally meaningful but nothing to get all upset about!

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Image: St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

After reading this painful dumbing-down of the Trinity/gender debate by Zack Hunt at Evans’ blog — painful for those of us who do not consider trinitarian metaphysics as “boring” — I read the article from Kevin Giles that was linked. In fact, some trinitarian metaphysics may help all of us out.

Both sides are wrong. Let’s first ponder the critical move in Giles’ thesis:

If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.

First of all, whether subordination “defines his person or being” is not the same thing, but Giles is correct to see the same result. If subordination defines the Son’s being (and not the Father’s being), then there is a division within the being of God — which is heresy. If subordination defines the Son’s person, then the same division occurs in the being of God, because the person (per Nicaea) is wholly God. So, an attribute of the person must necessarily be an attribute of the being, or else the logic of homo-ousia (same-being) breaks down.

However, we must properly define “person.” If we agree with Barth (and John Webster and Lewis Ayres et al.) that “person” in trinitarian metaphysics is not a distinct, self-subsisting subject of operation, then “person” needs to be defined as a mode of the single divine subject. As such, the modal operation of the Son’s subordination can indeed be eternal without causing a division in the being of God — because subordination itself is an attribute of this single divine being. Subordination, thereby, signifies an attribute that is not foreign to the Father. But, in order for this attribute of subordination to exist within the being of God, the persons of Father and Son eternally enact this subordination, of one mode to the other. Otherwise, subordination would be foreign to God altogether, with no immanent ground in God for the work of redemption ad extra.

This “enactment” is derived from the common agency of the singular divine subject, so it is not “forced” upon the Son nor is it proper to say that “the Son cannot do otherwise,” as Giles puts it. This is why Giles (and Hunt and Evans) continually move from subordination to oppression, as if the latter obviously follows from the former. That would be the case if the Son had a distinct agency apart from the Father who may “impose” the subordination of the Son, but it is not the case if we follow Barth (and Nicaea) as defined above.

Oh Dear!

June 13, 2013

God help us:

Geez, I didn’t know how completely perfect and divine the womenfolk are — with their advanced thinking beyond logic, their “intuitive sense of how to heal this planet and make it thrive,” and their “profound capacity for feeling”! Clearly they have never met a Southern woman…oh, like this and this. I love you, Maggie Rose.

If you want your sanity back, I give you this fine piece of Southern intransigence:

“Ballad of a Southern Man,” from Firewater, Whiskey Myers

UPDATE:

And out of Canada, we have this brilliant bit of Phd work:

“Children’s media use cuddly animals to reinforce ‘racist’ and ‘socially dominant norms,’ researcher says” [HT: Matt Archbold]

You know, socially dominant norms like stable, nuclear families of a heteronormative persuasion. Here is my favorite line: “when we don’t realize that an animal also has its own complex embedded ambiguous life and it exists outside of our own use or interpretation.” Oh, sweetie, you have lost your damn mind. I appreciate that the comments section seems to concur — there is hope for Canada after all.