The Crucified Christ as the Measure of Theology.

“There is an inner criterion of all theology, and of every church which claims to be Christian, and this criterion goes far beyond all political, ideological and psychological criticism from the outside. It is the crucified Christ himself. When churches, theologians and forms of belief appeal to him – which they must, if they are to be Christian – then they are appealing to the one who judges them most severely and liberates them most radically from lies and vanity, from the struggle for power and from fear. …Whether or not Christianity, in an alienated, divided and oppressive society, itself becomes alienated, divided and an accomplace to oppression, is ultimately decided only by whether the crucified Christ is a stranger to it or the Lord who determines the form of its existence.” -Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

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Categories: Jurgen Moltmann, Theology

Cavanaugh Lecture on the Myth of Religious Violence.

For those who haven’t read Cavanaugh’s magnificent book The Myth of Religious Violence: You really should! This book has had an enormous impact on my own thinking about the “twin categories” of religion and the secular, about how these concepts are constructed, defined, and employed to legitimate certain forms of practice and marginalize others. I recently stumbled upon the following video of a lecture He gave at Butler University which essentially outlines the argument he gives in greater detail in his book. There is also a Q&A session that follows.

Theology Occupies Wall Street

I have recently stumbled upon a new theo-blog, The Theology Salon, AImed at questioning what the task of the theologian is in the OWS movement? Do the occupations need theologians? Does theology need “occupying”? Theologians reflect on their own involvement as activists within the current struggle, and question what the task of the theologian, as the theologian, might be in light of the OWS. As I’ve just stumbled upon this blog myself, I am not entirely certain of what the movement is actually doing, or where the contributors stand theologically. From the looks of it, there are voices from perspectives all across the spectrum. At first glance there are some really great posts as well. I will definitely be reading in the days to come!

Readings in Theology and Animal Ethics

October 11, 2011 3 comments

I am currently working on a research paper discussing the question of the moral status of animals within Christian theology. Much of my research revolves around essays and articles by Andrew Linzey, as his work arguably represents the most extensive theological engagement with the moral issue of human-animal relationships (Although there are voices from a “Christian-feminist” perspectives, critiques from evangelical perspectives, as well as some work from other theologians that I plan to include as well).

Not everything that Linzey says do I agree with. Many theologians have taken issue, for instance, with his use of the language of “rights” which, I would agree, is theologically debatable. Nevertheless, since his work is really the first to engage the question of what place, if any, animals might occupy within Christian ethics, I think the notion is valuable, if for no other reason than that it provides a starting place for Christians to approach the ethical issues surrounding human-animal relationships.

Here is a discussion of two articles of his I’ve recently read:

In the essay “Theology as if Animals Mattered”, Linzey touches on some of the challenges that the issue of animal welfare poses for Christians in particular. Christian theology, he argues, has been slow to engage with the growing concern for animal welfare, often marginalizing the plight of animals as a non-issue. As the case for the moral significance of animal welfare gains an increasingly strong rational basis in philosophical ethics, for Christians the issue of animals and their moral status remains “at a stage somewhat similar to the feminist issue forty years ago”, that is, when many Christians were openly critical of equal rights for women (Linzey 10). Linzey laments the anthropocentricity in much of Christian ethics as a myopia which, through it’s long history, has become so deeply ingrained in our thought that many now find it difficult to think of animals as existing for any purpose other than the utility of humans (Linzey 11). Linzey takes particular issue with two facile assumptions about Christian theology: First, that the bible lends support to human “supremacy,” and second, that it endorses the view that animals are here for our use. Citing a number of biblical passages, he shows that the assumption of human supremacy can only be considered as biblical in a “highly qualified way”, and that the second claim, that animals are made for human use, is flat out un-biblical. Linzey suggests that to the degree that Christians seek to be biblical in their theology they ought to supplant their anthropocentric conception of animals with a theocentric (i.e., God-centered) one.

Here, Linzey provides a decent entry-level primer for thinking theologically about animals. Nevertheless, this particular essay seems too casual, and brief. The essay seems to lack the clear, point-by-point, presentation of a definite case. Moreover, there is not much room given to detailed discussion of more fine-grained evidence. This article may provide some useful insights to help orient readers unaquainted with thew issues involved, but it will certainly need to be supplemented by more careful discussion of relevant data (e.g., deeper biblical exegesis, inclusion of major voices within the theological tradition etc.) if it is to be of any value in the larger debate.

In chapter one of his book Why Animal Suffering Matters, Linzey spells out his case for the moral significance of animal suffering. He notes that “those who wish to justify or minimize animal suffering rarely argue that animals do not suffer. Rather they argue that animal suffering matters less, if at all, because animals are different than human beings” (Linzey 10). Of course it is obvious that there are many important differences both within species as well as between them. The important question is whether the cited differences are morally relevant. Linzey considers in turn, the six differences most often cited as the basis for disregarding animal suffering, showing how, contrary the conclusions drawn by their proponents, such differences actually form a strong case for treating animals with the heightened care and concern we would extend to the weak and vulnerable. First he discusses the view, of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, that animals are “naturally slaves” (Linzey 12), based on the view that nature consists of a hierarchy, whereby the inferior exist for the superior. He then considers arguments from animals’ lack of certain capacities or characteristics such as rationality, language, moral agency, their “soullessness”, as well as their lack of the “divine image” (or imago dei). In each case Linzey shows how the premises do not support the intended conclusion. Moreover, he argues that such grounds, in fact, provide good reasons for seeing animals as especially vulnerable to human exploitation. Their lack of language, for instance, means that they can never give or withhold consent to their treatment, or articulate their own vital interests. Linzey’s discussion of the meaning of the biblical declaration of humans as the imago dei is especially relevant to a theological engagement of human-animal relations, and provides a strong religious motivation for extending care and protection to animals.

Here, Linzey provides not only a great argument against those who claim that it is permissible to discount animal suffering as morally unimportant, he provides a unique and powerful method of argumentation. He uses, what one reviewer aptly refers to as “a kind of jujitsu, using an opponent’s force against him” (Marks, Joel. “Why Animal Suffering Matters by Andrew Linzey.” Philosophy Now. Philosophy Now. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.). This chapter, while still brief, provides an excellent assessment of some of the most influential and pervasive arguments against the ethical importance of animals. It includes an extensive bibliography incorporating a number of important scholarly figures from theologians and biblical scholars to philosophers as well. Furthermore, the major thrust of the argument (i.e., that we ought look after the weak, rather than exploit their weakness) is congenial to a Christian ethic based on the model of Christ.

Some other works I am anxious to get my hands on (Thank you InterLibrary Loan!) include: David L. Clough’s On Animals: Systematic Theology, Andrew Linzey’s Animals & Christianity: A Book of Readings, and Animal Gospel. I am aso awaiting a copy of Daniel MIller’s Animal Ethics and Theology: The Lens of the Good Samaritan. Should be some good readin’!

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Linzey, Andrew. “Theology as if Animals Mattered.” Creatures of the Same God. Ed. Andrew Linzey. NY: Lantern Books, 2009. 9-19. Print.

Linzey, Andrew. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology and Practical Ethics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Rev. Andrew Linzey and Vegetarianism

September 21, 2011 2 comments

This really is a shoddy video. I’m only posting it because I have a profound appreciation for work of Rev. Andrew Linzey. The project of Animal Theology is still in it’s infancy in many ways and there are not a lot of videos out there in the internets that address the subject. So I’m posting this here for your viewing.

Rene Decartes and Theological Perspectives on Logical Impossibilty

Not too long ago, I posted some thoughts on the interesting possibility of a theology of logic. One of the interesting venues that a theology of logic could explore might be the nature of the relationship between God’s omnipotence on the one hand, and logical possibilty v. impossibility on the other.

It’s apperant that most Christian intellectuals (at least in recent times, and whose writtings I’ve come across) have more or less taken for granted that the logically possible (which is the broadest and most basic category of possibility) marks the boundary of what even God, in His omnipotence, could (or could not) do. I too, have taken this for granted. And while the average person who hears such a claim may take it as an unwarranted limtation of God’s power (After all, God is omnipotent!) it is easy to illustrate why so many CHristian intellectuals have accepted this view. And indeed why so many of them haveheld this view as compatible with the belief that there is nothing that God cannot do.

One way of putting it might be to say that, these beliefs are compatible by virtue of the fact that the logically impossible does not actually refer to anything at all. If something is logically impossible, that simply means that it entails a logical contradiction (i.e., it implies a statement of the form P & ~P, or “it is the case that P is true and it is not the case that P is true”. It’s important to note here that this refers to the logical form of a proposition, not the lingustic appearance of a sentence. In other words, the so-called “law of non-contradiction” entails that for a proposition of the form P &~P to constitute a genuine contradiction, P must be used univocally in both instances. In short, if P means something slightly different each time it appears in the sentence P & ~P, then this is not a contradiction, precisely because it is an equivocal use of the term P). If a sentence entails a logical contradiction, it actually doesn’t assert anything at all. Think about this. What could any sentence with the logical form of P & ~P possibly express? The first conjunct (P) assets one thing, and the second conjunct (~P) denies precisely that which the first expresses. The net result is that nothing is said. Since the logically impossible literally means nothing, to say that God cannot perform the logically impossible is perfectly consistent with the belief that there is nothing which God cannot do.

Interestingly, the idea that the logically impossible lies outside God’s omnipotence has not been universally accepted. Recently, I came across this interesting quote from Rene Decartes, wherein he seems to take the view that the logically impossible is something, something which, though it lies outside our ability to comprehend, is perfectly within the domain of God’s possibilities:

I turn to the difficulty of conceiving how God would have been acting freely and indifferently if he had made it false that the three angles of a triangle were equal to two right angles, or in general that contradictories could not be true together. It is easy to dispel this difficulty by considering that the power of God cannot have any limits, and that our mind is finite and so created as to be able to conceive as possible the things which God has wished to be in fact possible, but not to be able to conceive as possible things which God could have made possible, but which he has nevertheless wished to make impossible. The first consideration shows us that God cannot have been determined to make it true that contradictories cannot be true together [les contradictoires ne peuvent être ensemble], and therefore that he could have done the opposite. The second consideration assures us that even if this be true, we should not try to comprehend it, since our nature is incapable of doing so.

Interesting….

Right Now

Right now, I am dreaming of deep prayer – my mind is on the warm august air, bending back crispy blades of grass that poke up from stony, dry riversides. My head is empty (you know that kind of empty that comes from so many disparate thoughts that cancel each other out into a wash of white noise? – that’s the kind of empty). Right now, my heart wants hands of it’s own.

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