Theology Feed

Keeping Human

"Scripture is from first to last a vision of a world made otherwise than that based on hierarchy, domination, and the rule of money and violence," writes Timothy Gorringe based on the theology of Ton Veerkamp.  This book concludes with a final chapter drawing everything together for what transitions we need in order to create a different/better world.

He asks what kind of culture any community needs in order to be resilient.  I found this important, and one  of the reasons I have been reading all of these books this sabbatical summer, to be sure that our congregation is aware and prepared and doing what we should for the age we are now in and what is coming.

Gorringe believes too much around the climate is doom and gloom that has the effect of people feeling that they cannot act.  Instead he wants to follow the lead of some other scholars who believe that we need a vision of the future that entices people to participate.  Also a wise point for any preacher and pastor.

He believes our need for resilience is at root a spiritual problem.  Spirituality keeps people focused on hope and the future instead of succumbing to despair.  I was reminded of our Lenten worship series that focused on spiritual practices given the reality of climate change.

He writes:

These dimensions of resilience--solidarity, compassion, an ability to cope with tragedy, a sense of purpose, and an understanding of faith, hope, and agape--seem to me to be the real heart of 'inner transition.'

Church's might have to become arks, sanctuaries for the good life.  He returns to his idea of Benedictine communities in the dark ages, that he brought up in the introduction.  He concludes:

If I am right then a rigorous return to the traditions, practices, and virtues that Christians have nourished for so many centuries, but which at the same time the church has compromised so abjectly in relation to the present imperium, may be, to put i no more strongly, amongst the most important things that help to make and to keep human beings human in the dark ages already upon us.

To Live Well

"The question turns on what it is people need in order to live well."  That's how Timothy Gorringe approaches the practices of economics, if we are going to create a better world.

Of course our current economic practices are largely to blame for the depredations of the environment and the coming dark age he outlined in the introduction.  And in particular, he blames neoliberal capitalism of the last half-century.

I remain a capitalist and couldn't go along with all of his criticisms, though I do agree that the neoliberal turn fifty years ago, especially away from Keynesianism and the New Deal consensus, was full of mistakes.

His basic point in these chapters of the book is that we've created our system and can chose to have a different/better one.  On that I do agree.

I also agree that theology has a lot to say about economics.  Gorringe quotes Wendell Berry that one way of translating what is usually "kingdom of God" would be "the Great Economy."

What we do need is an economics that prizes cooperation and is focused more on grace than growth.  

His chapter on monetary reform was interesting, as I'd never read a chapter on that topic in a theology book before.  Though I didn't find his arguments there persuasive.  It's also a topic I know very little about.

Finally for this section, there was a chapter on agriculture and the need to replace the devastating industrial agriculture we find ourselves with now.  That chapter I mostly skimmed, already being convinced of this point from decades of reading Wendell Berry.


Only Free Beings Can Love

Part Two of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise is a discussion of the practices necessary to embody the values and virtues and achieve our ends of a flourishing human life together, in order to address the climate and other crises of our times.

First he considers the shape of politics and how we should be organized.  He resists the "idolatry of the state" but argues that we do need a social order.  He defends a "rights cosmopolitanism."  Freedom is essential to this practice, as "freedom is at the heart of life because only free beings can love, and love is the best one-word account of the meaning and purpose of life that we have yet come up with."  (That's a great sentence.)  Gorringe believes this politics is best embodied in "small, federated political units."  

I wasn't sure how this was to be achieved.  And can't imagine how (or why) one would want to break-up the USA for instance.  I don't think any such break-up would actually be an advance in problem-solving, and it would likely lead to millions seeing reductions in their freedoms.  

But, an emphasis on freedom, love, and rights cosmopolitanism within our existing polity seems like a good idea.

His next chapter defends the practice of democracy and the equality that it values:

The main objective of democracy, according to David Held, is "the transformation of private preferences via a process of deliberation into positions that can withstand public scrutiny and test."  Respectful participatory practices are what allow this to happen.  This presupposes in turn educational policies that foster critical and informed thinking and promote a culture of respectful debate.

I agree with Gorringe when he emphasizes subsidiarity--the idea that as much power and decision-making as can be is passed down to smaller and local units.  The strength of democracy arises from local institutions that people can participate in and can have influence and power (de Tocqueville admired this about early America, but we've lost it in the last half-century).  I have written before about how I learned democracy in my small town church business meetings.

The next chapters move on from the practice of politics to the practice of economics, which I'll explore in a separate post.


Values, Virtues, & Humanity

"Values are the culturally shaped accounts of the human good that are tenacious but also always in process."  

In the second section of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise, he explores the core human values we will need in this period of climate change resilience.

First, he dispenses with some other approaches to ethics (both relativism and absolutism)--"There is not, as Kant seems to have thought, a universal standpoint free of narrative, though this does not mean that there are not values that we rightly argue apply to all humans whatsoever and to that extent are universal."

In response to the objection that there is no universal human nature, Gorringe has a ready response--"The common characteristics all humans share, which include not simply rationality and language, symbolic inventiveness and individuality, but also--and here crucially--a capacity for affection and for humiliation."  From these shared experiences he thinks our common values arise. 

Gorringe points out that "the struggle to establish how value is to be defined is the heart of politics."  Theology is important in helping us see how values transcend politics.  And theology teaches--"The living God is known in giving life: death is the hallmark of idolatry."  So, our core values are what contributes to life.  And what advances death is idolatry.  Our politics, then, should be so oriented.  We cannot build a functioning society around the vices.

The virtues are the "embodiment of values" and both are concerned with "what it means to be human."  The virtues are how we learn to be fully human.

Our goal, or end, then, is human flourishing--"the exercise by all of the creative potentials latent in human beings."


A Coming Dark Age?

The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World:  Gorringe, Timothy J.: 9781532648670: Books

That's the question Timothy Gorringe begins with in his book The World Made Otherwise.  He reviews various predictions that there is a coming collapse of human civilization and determines that it is likelier than not.  But he doesn't believe it is yet inevitable and hopes that a new humanism--which he presents in this book--could avert the catastrophe.  Or, at least, help us to live better through it.

One question he asks in this chapter, originally asked by David Orr, is "Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually?"

The answer he seems to find most satisfactory is Stupidity.  He quotes Karl Barth:

As one of the most remarkable forms of the demonic, stupidity has an astonishingly autonomous life against whose expansions and evolutions there is no adequate safeguard.  It has rightly been said that even the gods are powerless in the face of it.

What Gorringe seems to be aiming for are the sorts of Benedictine communities that Alasdair MacIntyre proposed at the end of After Virtue--small communities, living out the humane, life-affirming values, in order to keep "the lamps of civilization alive in the new dark ages."

The World Made Otherwise

The World Made OtherwiseThe World Made Otherwise by Timothy J Gorringe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What will our culture need to be like to be as resilient as possible in the face of climate change? That's the key question Gorringe is considering in this book, one of the more expansive theology books I've recently read (there's a chapter on monetary reform).

Gorringe begins by considering the state of our current crisis and what changes we can foresee. Then he discusses the humane values we need to live with resilience. Next are a series of chapters on key practices we should explore in order to live better. Finally, he imagines what a world made otherwise might be like.

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One of the key takeaways from my reading of David Clough's On Animals relates to the concept of glory.  

This comes in a chapter in which he's discussing the end (goal/purpose/point) of creation, and specifically in a section devoted to Wolfhart Pannenberg's argument that the goal of creation is the creatures.  Clough then quotes the scholar Christoph Schwobel on the topic of glory--"Glory is not a self-directed attitude, but the mutuality of glorifying the other and receiving glory from the other."  For Schwobel this mutuality "constitutes the communion of the divine life."  

But one can clearly take that concept and develop it.  For example, couple it with Irenaeus--"The glory of God is a humanity fully alive"--or with the Reformed catechism--"The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever."  

One can even then take the concept and apply it more broadly in our relationships with all humanity and all creation.  What if we developed an ethic of mutual glorifying?

Political Theology of the Earth

Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New PublicPolitical Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public by Catherine Keller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keller writes "in a time of heightened political disarray and lowered planetary hope" wondering if we have time to solve our problems, including the climate crisis? She refuses to give up, ceding to the ideologues on the right with a nihilism or hopelessness on the left. She does believe we yet have time to create a new public who can face our issues. That in fact our moment of overlapping crises can be a kairos moment, when a new public emerges. And she thinks that theology has a key role to play, largely because theology was complicit in getting us into our problems. Traditional theological categories have continued to influence contemporary secular politics and economics, and so alternative theologies (long existing in the tradition) must speak up in order to undermine the continuing secular power of the damaging categories.

After reading Ignatieff's On Consolation, I thought it was important to gain some perspective on how we deal with the issues we are facing. And Keller writes so beautifully. One of the best prose stylists in theology (not a discipline known for writing style).

I'm not sure I come away with any radically new ideas or energy. For one the theological position she advocates (Process based) has been mine for almost thirty years. Also, the book was published in 2018 and it's even more difficult after the crises of the ensuing years to muster hope that this is a kairos moment (though people taking to the streets in the summer of 2020 sure felt that way and I believe planted seeds that will have lingering affects in our body politic). Instead one wonders if we aren't headed for the Dark Years predicted by Richard Rorty? And if so if we've then lost the struggle to avoid the worst effects of climate change?

But, even if we have and even if we are headed to an ever darker period, the sort of vision and conviction that Keller evidences will be the sorts of lights we'll need to guide us through.

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Rosemary Radford Ruether Quotes

Sexism and god talk

With the death this weekend of Rosemary Radford Ruether, I pulled my copy of Sexism and God-Talk off of the shelf to review.  Here are some choice quotes:

We have not choice but to go forward into a global community and shape a sustainable world together, if the human project is not to choke on its own toxic waste and bury itself by its own destructiveness.

The expansion of the Biblical message to include the unincluded rests on the assumption that the point of reference for Biblical faith is not past texts, with their sociological limitations, but rather the liberated future.

The liberating encounter with God/ess is always an encounter with our authentic selves resurrected from underneath the alienated self.  It is not experienced against, but in and through relationships, healing our broken relations with our bodies, with other people, with nature.

To encapsulate Jesus himself as God's "last word" and "once-for-all" disclosure of God, located in a remote past and institutionalized in a cast of Christian teachers, is to repudiate the spirit of Jesus and to recapitulate the position against which he himself protests.

Redemptive humanity goes ahead of us, calling us to yet incompleted dimensions of human liberation.

Those who are afraid of anger and alienation always have a tendency to hurry women on to another stage where they become 'reasonable' and 'gain perspective.'  But one cannot do that with integrity until one has genuinely faced up to sexism as a massive historical system of victimization of women and allowed oneself to enter into one's anger and alienation.  To skip over this experience is to become "reconciling" in a way that is basically timid and accommodating and not really an expression of personal freedom.