a few words

Month: September, 2007

“we have no objection in principle to people eating” :: starving is good for you… [but not us]

I came across an abolutely stunning interview today with an official in the Zimbabwean government. The interview was conducted at the end of July, I’m posting it here not because it’s new, but because any embarrasment for the tyrannical government in Zimbabwe is one step closer to its removal. By God’s mercy, may the next leaders of Zimbabwe be wiser than these.

In the course of this interview, the official actually compares the starvation rampant in Zimbabwe (and attributable to government violence and mismanagement), to Ghandi’s political fasts. He actually says that the government officials are eating well (because of all the important things they have to do) and imposing a fast on the nation for the people’s health. Read the rest of this entry »

The wrong tree? :: Barth, Bonhoeffer, and knowledge of good and evil

Ben Myers at Faith and Theology, was kind enough to post a piece on Barth and Bonhoeffer in a venue where it would attract a few more comments than it would here (and therefore hold a bit more value in my ongoing research). He even found pretty pictures! At the moment I find myself impersonating that loathesome creature, the solitary theologian, stranded on the East coast and far from my theologically-minded cohorts in Vancouver. The dialogue is much-appreciated. The text appears below. Read the rest of this entry »

where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground

C.S. Lewis makes several impassioned pleas for the universality of moral instinct in his writings. I’m most familiar with his appeal to the sense of “fairness” in an argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity, along with his defence of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man. At any rate, in both locations, Lewis is appealing to something like conscience or intuition as the ground of ethics. Ethics are built-in. Right and wrong find their foundation in some innate sense within us. That sense is God’s gift, and is ultimately grounded in God’s own moral character.

Of course, acknowledging the lingering wastes of sin in humanity, Lewis argues that our consciences, as well as our inclination to listen to them, are “bent.” We are not whole and healthy, but twisted and shadowy representations of what we were meant to be.

Working on Bonhoeffer’s moral epistemology, it struck me how different the picture that he describes is. For Bonhoeffer, conscience is only the voice of self-defence. Conscience is the tool by which we usurp God’s judgment, and employ it against ourselves and others. With our consciences–our personal knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)–we alternately declare ourselves righteous and then cast ourselves on to the dung pile. Either way, this is an attempt to shield ourselves from God’s voice rather than God’s voice itself. The natural knowledge of good and evil, is nothing less than captivity to death in Bonhoeffer’s estimation. Read the rest of this entry »

creation is bigger than nature

Reading Jurgen Moltmann’s, God in Creation I came across another way (probably a better way) of saying what I was trying to get at the other day. Once we have a sense of our independence from the world around us, we have a proclivity to wield that independence over our surroundings in relationships of control and domination.

Creation is bigger than nature.

By “nature” we can signify all that is subject to scientific study and, on some level, to human control. The concept of nature is strongly tied to “natural law” so that nature is everything that follows predictable patterns of behavior. Over the last few century’s “nature” has expanded to include not only physical laws like gravity, but (viaDarwin and friends) biological development and behavior. The development of psychology aims to incorporate the human mind into nature as well–the “experimental” and “philosophical” branches attempting to account for the neurological (objective) and existential (subjective) aspects of the mind, respectively. Read the rest of this entry »

ecology and consumption :: the “nimby” effect

Here is a list of ten places you will not see on the cover of any travel magazine for the next few…hundred years. For the second year running, the Blacksmith Institute has released a list of the most polluted places on the planet. Needless to say, there was an unfortunate amount of competition for the honor.

Factory in Azerbaijan

What is remarkable (but not necessarily surprising) is the concentration of sites on the map. North America (North of Mexico), Western Europe (West of Belarus), and Australia are scot free. None of the top ten, not even the top thirty most polluted sites are to be found in our backyards. What does this mean? Should we “developed folk” congratulate ourselves on the success of our environmental regulations and efforts at conservation? We’ve realized our errors and are cleaning up our messes. We are taking good care of the planet. Being stewards of what we’re given. Those backwards folks in the third world have yet to get on the ecological bandwagon.

I would not be too hasty with the laud. It rests on an answer (“Not In My Back Yard!”) too facile to function for long. Read the rest of this entry »

a voice of hope :: reduced to silence

Pius Ncube, archbishop of Zimbabwe and one of few outspoken advocates on behalf of the Zimbabwean people against their tyrannical mismanagement, has resigned. The reality underlying his reasons is unclear. The minimum information inferrable would seem to imply both that Ncube was involved in some form of sexual misconduct, and that the government was more than passively involved in the matter. At the end of the day, the unfortunate result is that one of the voices most able to counter the lies and trickery coming out of Harare will now have to do so from a much smaller platform.

the definitive update (with pictures…)

Yesterday, I sent a long informative email to everyone on my list about the state of life here in New York, if you didn’t get it and you’d like to recieve such things, shoot me an email, I’ll add you. The letter is below… Read the rest of this entry »

nature and civilization :: of dirt and dangerous divisions

Scraped together out of dirt, humanity is creation rearranged. Our atoms are interchangable with those of birds, bees, monkeys and mollusks. Theologically, no less than biologically or chemically, humanity is continuous with creation. Whatever is going on in the show here, humanity is a part of the scenery.

Some complexity is introduced when God leans down to breathe into the muddled mud-ling he’s put together. Dirt that shows something about God, “images” Him. Humanity has a unique role on the planet we are a part of.

Somewhere along the line, we became civilized. This is mostly measured by the fact that we are no longer dependent on nature in our day to day lives. Signs of civilization include the light bulbs that enable us to read late into the night (a much more convenient form of light than fire…), and the fact that we can live in rediculously uninhabitable places like Antarctica or Alberta. If you are a human being reading this, give your self a pat on the back–you are civilized!

As wealthy Westerners, it is tempting to interpret this functional impervious-ness from “nature” as independence, as a mark of real distinction between us and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. I will be the last one to deride technology and all the benefits of human creativity. That said, independence from nature is a destructive myth, dangerous both ecologically and theologically. Our “civilization” fuels this myth and enables a noxious self-misunderstanding. Read the rest of this entry »

words elsewhere :: conversation on church and societal structures

I wanted to post the contents of a conversation in progress at a friend’s site. Dan is a fellow Regent student whose thinking is perpetually helpful and provocative. This conversation touches on a few posts that have appeared here previously. Read the rest of this entry »

daniel’s four beasts :: four Kingdoms

I’ve just posted a paper in the “Essays and Papers” page that I wrote over the summer. For those of you with a Biblical bent, the paper enters the 2,300 year old debate over the imagery the author of the book of Daniel employs to speak about the kingdoms of the earth. The images have been trotted out in various apocalyptic schemes for thousands of years, the latest renditions being Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and the infamous Left Behind series by Jenkins and LaHaye. The books cryptic imagery has been mis-read in some fairly fantastic ways.

The paper makes the argument that the first three beasts/kingdoms should be read historically, while the fourth should be read eschatologically. The book of Daniel, rather than being a time-table for the last days, is a warning to the powers of the earth about their responsibility to their people. When the world’s kingdoms forget the humanity of those subject to thier control, they turn into bloodthirsty beasts liable to God’s judgement. Undercutting our eschatological self-righteousness, I argue that Western nations like the United States can be identified as the fourth beast just as easily as Ancient Greece, Rome, the USSR, or any of the other “usual suspects.” The “Son of Man” figure represents the restoration of God’s image in humanity in the form of a fifth kingdom which displaces the four-fold beastly reign of terror.

This paper comes out of a course taught by Regent’s Iain Provan, and he deserves credit for most of the good ideas in the paper (you be the judge) but he should be exonerated from its faults.