In the conclusion of his book on sin, Derek Nelson proposes the following summary statements. First, “How does sin relate to the human as soil? The human can succumb to being less than one is called to be. Karl Barth called this the sin of sloth. Reinhold Niebuhr called it the sin of sensuality.” Second he asks, “How does sin relate to the human as spirit? The human can claim to be more than one is called to be. Barth, Niebuhr, and a whole host of others call this the sin of pride.”
I recently saw an internet meme depicting an Inuit man with the following text overlay: Eskimo: If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell? Priest: No, not if you did not know. Eskimo: Then why did you tell me? This joke captures the sort of humour common among Native peoples exchanged around an often traumatic history of Christian colonization and conversion.
Many authors have noted that Native peoples did not have a word for sin in their language, let alone original sin, akin to that of amer-european Christianity. The perceptions of the Native peoples that the missionaries had were, however, as sinners, pagans, heathens, and some even went so far as to refer to Native peoples “as Amelkites and Canaanites—in other words, people who, if they would not be converted, were worthy of annihilation.” The Canaanite identification was key in articulating the notion of sin, and particularly original sin, to both amer-european and Native peoples. As Andrea Smith has astutely observed, “[i]n the colonial imagination, Native bodies are […] immanently polluted with sexual sin. […] What makes Canaanites supposedly worthy of destruction in the biblical narrative and Indian peoples supposedly worthy of destruction in the eyes of their colonizers is that they both personify sin.” Continue reading →
Marta Minujin’s “Tower of Books,” Buenos Aires, 2011.
At the year’s end I try to take some time to consolidate my reading into a list of my favourite books of the year. They can be my favourite for several reasons including most impressionable, most challenged my thinking, most persuasive, etc. I always admire bloggers who actually take the time to provide brief reviews of their top books, but I’m way too lazy to do that. So, here’s a list of my top 13 books of 2013 without reason or review. (Hey, at least I included pictures – that counts for something, right?)
Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada
Steve Heinrichs, ed., Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together
In recent decades there has been a surge in both deconstruction-and-religion and secular Christologies. The premise of the following piece is that both of these areas of study have significant insight to offer, but are incomplete without the other. Where deconstruction-and-religion offers a Derridean understanding of a postmodern Christ, the secular interest in Paul (Badiou, Agamben, Žižek) offers an understanding of truth in an age of fragmentation. In order to move beyond the deconstructive Christology as proposed by John Caputo, and the secular interest in Paul, to a more holistic, we must attempt the difficult task of constructing a more cohesive postmodern theology. The following will attempt to provide a ground from which to work on this task, while not presuming to offer any new or original insight. While making this move, the fundamentalism and the foundationalism of previous modern theologies must be stripped away in order to see a more robust postmodern theology that can hold up under the demands of contemporary thought. The following will attempt to (a) move beyond the traditional interpretations of salvation, (b) re-explore Christ’s human and divine natures, and (c) to propose a manner in which to transcend the name of God. This Christology is built upon two major premises which are as follows: (1) God possesses and is beyond both the properties of being (persona) and event (occurrence) and, (2) Christ is the universalize-able finite transport of both the being and the event of God.
The following theology (and Christology) is a generous reading of four philosophers which many would consider to be ‘postmodern’: Slavoj Žižek, Terry Eagleton, Alain Badiou and John Caputo. These four thinkers will form the backbone of the following constructive exercise and an effort will be made to distinguish between what the thinkers themselves write about Christ and what is being constructed. Section 1 will outline the similarities existing between Žižek and Eagleton so far as they inform a demythologized theology of the Being of God. Section 2 will deal with the relationship between Caputo and Zizek and their respective creation narratives. Section 3 will examine Badiou and Caputo’s philosophical theology of the event, and lastly, section 4 will deal with Caputo and Zizek and the non-dichotomizednature of the Being of God.
After reading the second section of A. James Reimer’s Mennonites and Classical Theology for a class this past term, and after discussing the theme of Anabaptist Mennonite systematic theology, I feel compelled to reflect on the topic in more detail. My intent in the following is to critically engage with the idea of an Anabaptist Mennonite systematic theology (particularly Reimer) in such a way that may raise more questions than it answers. In this way it is more of a general reflection than an in-depth scholarly essay, although I hope to use the themes and directions present in it in the future.
Antrum Platonicum (“Plato’s Cave) Jan Saenredam, 1604
(Disclaimer: the genre of this post is more prose/poetry/reflection/ quote collage/episodic etc. than argumentative or even coherent. So, keep that in mind.)
Can you stand the shortest day? Can you endure the longest night?
Or do you hasten the morning, disregarding the shadows?
Do you pull the people quickly out of the darkness, into the light?
This past summer I attended an event calling on the Harper government to honour a statement of apology he gave to the Native peoples of Canada in 2008. Harper was to honour the apology by releasing millions of residential school documents it still has to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. An elder told those gathered about his experiences of sexual abuse at the residential school he attended. Those gathered, wept. I doubt there was a dry eye in the circle. I do not feel I can tell this elder’s story here, but this can give you a sense of the atrocities done to Native peoples in residential schools. “In 2001, a report issued by the Truth Commission on Genocide in Canada maintained that the mainline churches and the federal government were involved in the murder of over 50,000 Native children through this system. The list of offenses committed by church officials includes murder by beating, poisoning, hanging, starvation, strangulation, and medical experimentation. Torture was used to punish children for speaking Aboriginal languages. Children were involuntarily sterilized. In addition, the report found that clergy, police, and business and government officials were involved in maintaining pedophile rings using children from residential schools. Former students at boarding schools also claim that some schoolgrounds contain unmarked graveyards of murdered babies born to Native girls who had been raped by priests and other church officials.” Continue reading →
A few weeks ago I was at the AAR meeting in Baltimore. I was at a reception with two of my colleagues (who are young, white, men – also exceptional scholars and great friends!) when a young man approached us. He introduced himself to my colleague, shook his hand enthusiastically, and before I could introduce myself he launched into some scholarly soliloquy (I don’t even remember what they talked about). My colleague took notice and interrupted his self-important networking speech introducing me as his colleague. The young man paused, glanced at me, and promptly continued speaking with my colleague. Needless to say, this awkward interaction didn’t last long, considering neither my colleague nor I were all that impressed with this character. This interaction reminded of how often women experience this kind of treatment, and much worse. (Don’t believe me? Go read this blog on being a woman in philosophy -or any male dominated discipline in the academy).
I also reflected on how isolated these kinds of experiences have been for me, realizing that most of the push-back I’ve encountered as a woman academic has been less in the academy than it has been in the church – specifically, among Mennonite churches. Continue reading →
I’ve often thought that, along with environmental degradation, the current mental health crisis in the West most decisively indicates the rampant destructiveness of capitalism. In brief, capitalism leads us to participate in forms of life that create a perfect storm for the proliferation of debilitating mental illnesses. (Some of these “forms of life” might be: isolation from others and the earth, non-charitable competition, creation and elevation of exclusively individualistic goods, consumerism and immersion into constant advertisement and misinformation, a culture of exploitation that induces fear of the other and of vulnerability, prioritization of quantifiable production, objectification of our (and others’) bodies into impediments to be overcome or else sites of exclusively physical pleasure, narcissism and an inability to trust others, constant low-level anxiety over finances – and this list does not even begin to delve into the social problems, such as poverty and poor diet, that capitalism brings about and which obviously intersect with mental health.) I’m not necessarily claiming that without capitalism there would not be mental illness (I’d want to do more research first), but it seems apparent that capitalist forms of life greatly aggravate both the intensity and the frequency of mental illnesses.
I’ll try to illustrate. It is not difficult to see how somebody with an acute sensitivity to the world around her would, in a different society, find such a trait cultivated and utilized by her community, perhaps in a religious role. In contrast, unless she is quite lucky, in our society she should expect such a gift to be thanklessly used and exploited or else ignored. And this is to say nothing of the speed with which our world operates at and the volume of insensitive sensory information that screams out at us on streets, in stores, and on our (addicting) computers. Someone with an ability to attend to the emotions and needs of others (an amazing gift!) is, in western capitalism, all too likely to develop PTSD or SPTSD. Someone with a particularly strong need for mutual and meaningful dependencies (another wonderful gift) with multiple others will, in our society, need to “make it on his own” and will probably struggle with clinical depression. In sum, capitalism refuses and tramples on these and other latencies, which have so much positive potential but instead realize themselves as mental illnesses.