Posted on: February 26th, 2011 Gay Issues & Red Tories: Blond & Milbank

The recent announcement of the Obama administration has rekindled my focus on the explicitly political dimension of Radical Orthodoxy and indeed the Gospel.

I continue to hold that the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Defence of Marriage Acts is logically consistent with the political philosophy (secular as it is) undergirding the US Constitution (this makes me a “liberal”), but on the other hand that the breakdown of the traditional family will plunge our secular society into social fragmentation and chaos (this makes me a “conservative”).

Hat tip to my friend Collins Aki, who pointed me to this (for more see here):

Radical Orthodoxy seeks to revive a credal Christianity that was progressively obscured from the late Middle Ages onwards, and it makes that recovered Christian vision the basis of a systematic critique of modern, secular society. “Modernity,” Milbank has said, “is liberalism, liberalism is capitalism and capitalism is atheism.” The problem with secular liberalism, for proponents of Radical Orthodoxy, is that, in removing God, it loses any grip on the notion of objective moral truth. Secularism leads to nihilism, because it leaves “worldly phenomena” such as morality “grounded literally in nothing”.

Milbank is convinced that Blond’s latest incarnation as a political thinker is continuous with his earlier identity as a theologian, and that Red Toryism is merely the “political translation” of Radical Orthodoxy. “Part of Radical Orthodoxy’s argument,” he tells me, “is that since the 1960s a kind of non-liberal left has faded away somehow, and what you’ve got now is a left that increasingly defines itself in terms of secular liberalism. We argue that if you want to criticise liberal capitalism, you’ve got to realise that this is the form that secularity will take. Capitalism gets rid of the sacred. If there’s no sacred, everything will be commodified. We argue that you need to re-enchant the world if you are to criticise or modify capitalism.”

The practical, political differences between Blond and his former teacher – Milbank identifies himself as a man of the left – are less significant than their shared commitment to this theological vision. “Phillip has always seen himself as a Tory, whereas for me the political resources lie in a Christian socialist tradition,” Milbank says.”

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Posted on: February 18th, 2011 Sam Harris: “Values” & Modern Science

Regarding a Sam Harris video from TED which a friend asked me to watch:

What is going on here is that Harris is presupposing an Enlightenment understanding of “values,” and then and saying that, contrary to much pop opinion, this is really not at all in different sphere from modern science. He might be right, because these two realms are, to invoke Aristotle, “contrary propositions within the same genus.” They are apparent opposites, but in reality they are kissing cousins, two sides of the same coin.

But what if we were to frame the debate in terms of representation versus participation?

That is, what if we were to grant that modern science and enlightenment-based values, are, in fact, overlapping spheres, but then to challenge the common assumptions of this sphere: that our minds interact with the “external world” or creation according to a scheme of representation (ie, “pictures in the brain”)? Over and against this modern assumption (espoused, for example, by Descartes) is the premodern approach to knowledge which is participatory: the form of the tree migrates into my mind (and vice-versa) much like small particles of fragrant coffee are wafting into my nostrils even as I write this.

What needs to be challenged, therefore, is the enlightenment, representationalist worldview which is shared by both privatized “values” and the modern science establishment.

“Values are certain kinds of facts: facts about the well-being of conscious creatures” presupposes a positivistic epistemology. He is letting modern science define his terms and frame the issues.

“There is no notion of values that I have ever come across that is not reducible to a concern about conscious experience.” Really? How about the “notion of values” of Ancient Jews? Or of 5th century Athens?

Notice how he reduces religion-driven values down to the “afterlife.” Perhaps he should try reading the Bible sometime. Paul almost never speaks of “the afterlife,” let alone Jesus and the Old Testament. “The afterlife” is a term which hegemonically imposes a modern conception of self and religion upon Christian theology.

He assumes that “adding cholera to the water” would “probably not be a good thing.” I’m surprised to hear him say this, since he is not a pacifist. Surely there might be, given his worldview, a time and a place to add cholera to the water, for example, as strategy in the middle east of Afghanistan in the American Empire’s “war on terror?”

4:55 Brain versus mind. This is a huge example of begging the question. He argues that variant understandings of human flourishing are reducible down to culture-induced changes in the brain (but how does he know this?), and so we can understand these differing value systems through “a maturing science of the mind: neuroscience, psychology, etc.”

He speaks repeatedly of a “state of wellbeing.” What is that, and who gets to choose? Is it “not killing each other?” That seems rather shallow and unambitious. (What if we start killing ourselves?) Is it pleasure? That is certainly what the Epicureans and the radical skeptics thought, but the Stoics trenchantly disagreed. Who is right? Will modern science settle this debate?

What is wonderful, however, about Sam Harris is that he is passionately concerned about human flourishing. Would be that more “Christians” shared his passion.

In addition, I agree that “there are right and wrong answers” to the best ways to promote human flourishing.” How to determine those, however, is where the disagreement starts.

One more thought: I love TED!

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Posted on: February 11th, 2011 Bridge Beer, Bridge Church

I suppose that one of the things I learned from my almost 4 years as a Starbucks barista was the fun of introducing customers to new things: new coffees, new pairings, new ways to drink tea, etc. (Actually, I have always loved to do this. Even when I was a little kid I liked to experiment with drinks, for example & 7Up — not Sprite — with various fruit juices, and then share my new discoveries with sisters and parents.)

Recently here in Tyler, an area somewhat beer-challenged (though I love many things about Tyler!), I have enjoyed sitting at a bar somewhere, and starting a conversation with a Bud Light drinker (for example).

“Bartender, give him a Fireman’s Four on me, please,” followed by a discussion about the ways this beer is superior to his former go-to.

Another good beer in this situation would be New Belgium Sunshine Wheat, but, alas, I’ve not seen that one (especially on tap) in these parts, east of Dallas.

In other words, Fireman’s Four and Sunshine Wheat are good examples of bridge beers which can help a person transition from beer which, having little redeeming value, can only be called “cheap” to a truly wonderful beer, rich in flavor and full of body.

Another good bridge beer is Shiner Bock. I have seen many a beer drinker enhance their quality of life by moving from cheap beer to robust stouts and porters by way of Shiner. (Shiner Bock to Shiner Black to a good stout is a natural trajectory.)

Now, just as there are bridge beers, so also there are bridge churches. In my journey the PCA was just such a church. I was blessed to get a taste of liturgical and sacramental worship in the PCA in Austin while still retaining the sense that I was rooted in the evangelical world.

But over time (to make a long story short) I needed more. I needed to go deeper. I needed the full experience, the full body, the full depth of layer and subtlety.

Now, as an Episcopal priest, I have the joy and privilege to be forming a new worshiping community of young people in the context of an Episcopal Church (kind of like a church plant but with fewer of the intense challenges that accompany that monumental project).

One of the things going on with the “Epiphany Eucharist” is this idea of bridge worship. What we are trying to do here is to provide access to the liturgy and sacramental life of the church for folks for whom this way of worshiping the Triune God is quite foreign and awkward.

Just as (for Calvin) God “lisps” in the Incarnation, so also we are wanting not to “dumb down” the liturgy, but rather to implement creative ways of making it more accessible, more reachable, more natural.

Just as a Bud Light drinker usually has trouble going straight to Old Rasputin or Young’s Double Chocolate Stout or Dogfish Head Raison d’etre, so also many folks have trouble going straight from secular culture or megachurch culture (which are basically the same thing, I think) to the Rite I Eucharistic Liturgy.

I would love nothing more than if, after a year or two of folks worshiping with us in the Rite III Epiphany Service, they were to come up to me and say, “You know, I have really enjoyed and grown from this Epiphany Eucharist over the last many months, but I think I would like to try that Rite I Service downstairs.”

“Great!” I would respond, thinking to myself all the while, “mission accomplished.”

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Posted on: February 5th, 2011 Importing the World into the Church

The Eucharist is, quite literally, a re-membering of the body of Christ. His scarred, fish-eating resurrection body (known in the ancient church as the soma typicon or “typological body”) which hung on the cross, becomes the living members of his true body (corpus verum), you and me.

Theologians call this “participation,” but as is painfully obvious, there quite simply are no words to describe this. In a way which transcends the “one flesh union” of my wife and me, we quite simply are members of Christ. We are his body. We are his body for the world and for the world’s life. Which is why the Eucharist involves a third body as well: what the ancients knew as the “mystical body:” the corpus mysticum. This bread, together with the wine, imports the world into the church: the world of harvesting, the world of threshing, the world of trade and commerce, the world of civilized humanity created as God’s image-bearing cultivators of his good world.

And so, do you see? As members of his body, we are enacting the world’s true culture and civilization. We are brining about the new world of the living, victorious Christ.

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