Despair. Let None Despair.

Despair. Let None Despair.

… what happens when our values go unfulfilled? What happens when such aims prove aimless, and the mechanics of will and reason show their frailty and their limit? What happens when health cannot be acheived? What happens when the individual places her trust in the institution of medicine, (only) to discover that it cannot secure on her behalf either freedom or happiness against the limits of physical, mental, and social dis-ease?

 

What happens when Hercules is taken by “a strange disease [that he] … cannot withstand by courage, weapons, or strength?”

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Endorsement

Endorsement

This book is a timely one, in that it is poised to make a highly significant contribution to current debates in medical bioethics. It is adventurous on two grounds. First, it challenges the common assumption that Western approaches to bioethics, dominated by secular principled approaches, most notably the school of thought pioneered by Beauchamp and Childress, is all sufficient. Secondly, it refuses to accept that only a specific Christian denominational approach has coherence, given the diversity between different Christian traditions, quite apart from their differences with other religious traditions. Instead, having faced the former challenge through being inspired by Jeffrey Bishop’s significant contribution to the debate, and the latter challenge by facing up honestly to the critique of the project as a whole offered by Tristram Engelhardt, the argument proceeds to be built that actually finding those who are prepared to engage in common ground across disciplines and across religious disciplines is a genuinely worth while and fruitful exercise.

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Book Review

Book Review

Two articles have captured my attention, and I read recently with interest. The first was published in The Economist, “Liberty Moves North: Canada’s example to the world” (Oct. 2016). The second, “The Canada Experiment: Is this the world’s first ‘post-national’ country?” (Jan. 2017) was published in The Guardian. These essays … stand out as pieces that are wrestling to understand the particularity of Canada and Canada’s socio-political ethos on the global stage—a particularity that is championed and beloved also in this tome of Dart’s. Yet, for Dart, such particularity must be discovered again and against the allure of modern Western liberalism.

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Book Review

Book Review

Moyse makes a convincing case … showing how theology can interrupt and potentially transform bioethics in a way that refuses to retreat into abstractions and instead meets individual patients where they are: in the heat of crisis.

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Book Review

Book Review

This remarkable collection of essays … the idea of sobornost, with its remarkable Trinitarian, ecclesiological, and anthropological implications, has yet to be discovered in its full theological import, which will clear the path for ever deeper mutual understandings between different ecclesial communities.

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university in this world

I was introduced once again to Ignacio Ellacuría in an email exchange with one of my authors working on a project for the Dispatches book series with Fortress Press. I remembered Ellacuría delivered an address to Santa Clara University upon receiving an honorary doctorate. The address sought to think about the nature of the (Catholic) University and the coinherence of science and theology that can come as it wrestles to understand itself in and for this world. 

"How does a university transform the social reality of which it is so much a part?

There is no abstract and consistent answer here. A university cannot always and in every place be the same. We must constantly look at our own peculiar historical reality. ...

What then does a university do, immersed in this reality? Transform it? Yes. Do everything possible so that liberty is victorious over oppression, justice over injustice, love over hate? Yes. Without this overall commitment, we would not be a university, and even less so would we be a Catholic university.

But how is this done? The university must carry our this general commitment with the means uniquely at its disposal: We as an intellectual community must analyze causes; use imagination and creativity together to discover remedies to our problems; communicate to our constituencies a consciousness that inspires the freedom of self-determination; education professionals with a conscience, who will be the immediate instruments of such a transformation; and constantly hone an educational institution that is both academically excellent and ethically oriented.

But how ...?

Liberation theology has emphasized what the preferential option for the poor means in authentic Christianity. Such an option constitutes an essential part of Christian life--but it is also a historic obligation. For the poor embody Christ in a special way; they mirror for us his message of revelation, salvation, and conversion. And they are also a universal social reality.

Reason and faith merge, therefore, in confronting the reality of the poor. Reason must open its eyes to their suffering; faith--which is sometimes scandalous to those without it--sees in the weak of this world the triumph of God, for we see in the poor what salvation must mean and the conversion to which we are called.

A Christian university must take into account the gospel preference for the poor. This does not mean that only the poor will study at the university; it does not mean that the university should abdicate its mission of academic excellence--excellence which is needed in order to solve complex social issues of our time. What it does mean is that the university should be present intellectually where it is needed: to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices; to give intellectual support for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to make their rights legitimate."

This makes me think again what my college could be and what the university where it is situated could be for those persons without science, without skill, without voice, without qualification in the Lower Mainland. Rising poverty, economic inequality, haunting overdose crises, social isolation, political tribalism, and the like, delimit some of the reality in which we live. What might our college look like if it was shaped to attend towards and to transform such social realities?

on spiders or bees (on modern or ancient ways)

"So that, in short, the question comes all to this; whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax."

Jonathan Swift. "The Battle of the Books," In The Works of Jonathan Swift, vol. 2 (New York: P. O'Shea, 1865: pp. 367-90), p. 376.

become a force

I am currently reading Schiller so as to better understand the groundwork of Max Weber's die Entzauberung der Welt [the disenchanted world]. Weber borrowed this image from Schiller. So, in today's reading of Schiller's Eighth Letter in his 'On The Aesthetic Education of Man', I came across this wonderful little nugget:

Reason has accomplished all she can in discovering and expounding the law. It is the task of the courageous will and lively feeling to put it into execution. If truth is to gain the victory in the struggle with force, she herself must first become a force and appoint some drive as her representative in the realm of phenomena; for drives are the only motive forces in the sensible world. That up to now truth has displayed so little of her victorious strenth is due not to the intellect which was incapable of unveiling it, but to the heart which remained closed to it and to the impulse which refused to act in her behalf.

Friedrich Schiller. 'On the Aesthetic Education of Man,' in Anthology for our Time (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1959), p. 221.

one-dimensional thought

I have been reading Herbert Marcuse recently as I research for a forthcoming book that takes up the crisis of technology in our present age. I found this quite striking given the current political milieu we find ourselves in:

One-dimensional thought is systematically promoted by the makers of politics and their purveyors of mass information. Their universe of discourse is populated by self-validating hypotheses which, incessantly and monopolistically repeated, become hypnotic definitions or dictation. For example, 'free' are the institutions which operate (and are operated on) in the countries of the Free World; other transcending modes of freedom are, by definition, either anarchism, communism, or propaganda. 'Socialistic' are all encroachments on private enterprises not undertaken by private enterprise itself (or by government contracts), such as universal and comprehensive health insurance, or the protection of nature from all too sweeping commercialization, or the establishment of public services which may hurt private profit. This totalitarian logic of accomplished facts has its Eastern counterpart. There, freedom is the way of life instituted by a communist regime, and all other transcending modes of freedom are either capitalistic, or revisionist, or leftist sectarianism. In both camps, non-operational ideas are non-behavioral and subversive. The movement of thought is stopped at barriers which appear as the limits of Reason itself.

Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), pp. 1-18; Republished in "New forms of control," in Readings in the Philosophy of Technology (2nd ed.), pp. 34-42, edited by David M. Kaplan (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), p. 40.

typologies of scepticism

I have been reading about coinherence recently, as my new postdoctoral fellowship in theology and science is taking up the idea and practice of coinherence as a model for scholarship in this area of study and public discourse. As such, I stumbled upon G. B. Verity's Life in Christ: A Study in Coinherence (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1954), in which he writes the following that captured my interest:

'Every man,' says T.S. Eliot, writing on the Pensees of Pascal in Essays Ancient and Modern, 'who thinks and lives by thought must have his own scepticism.' But there are two kinds of scepticism: one produces wanton, unreasonable disbelief and ends in a dogmatism of denial; the other is the spirit of lively enquiry which is opposed, not to belief as such but always to excessive dogmatism, whether of affirmation or denial.

science and theology

Many of us live in advanced industrial countries that enjoy unprecedented freedom and prosperity. “A crucial part of our freedom, of course, is political. [That is to be sure]. But,” as philosopher of technology Albert Borgmann has commented, “what is truly novel and unique is the liberation we owe modern technology—freedom from hunger, cold, disease, ignorance, and confinement. Just as remarkable is the positive counterpart to liberation, namely, enrichment—the immense prosperity of goods and services that [science and] technology has delivered. We are doing very well [for ourselves].”[1]

The precedence of science and the concomitant pledge to technological resolutions to human problems are bolstered by our well-being. And such well being—to emphasise the circular feedforward mechanism at work—is further safeguarded by the advance of technology and “the scientific form of knowing that is its twin.”[2]

But Christianity, or religion more generally, as it has been argued, is not doing as well. ...

 

As the story of secularization tends to be told, the sacred is being ursupred by the secular. As the advance of scientific knowledge and corresponding technology continue to present tangible advantage, there is, as it is often argued, a seeming retreat of theology—of faith. Thus, by the advantage proffered by modern will, reason, and technique, we mere mortals have proven ourselves self-sufficient, solitary, and strong.

As Max Weber has suggested, authoring the principal narrative for the secularization thesis, modern societies are disenchanted when the ultimate values withdraw from public life into the private spheres, leaving public life to be organized around notions of instrumental rationality and bureaucratic efficiency.[3] Put differently, when considering die Entzauberung der Welt stripped bare of the ethereal and the mysterious, rendered a mere problem to resolve by scientific means of knowing, everything becomes capable of being explained.[4] Everything is reducible to mere and meaningless object, awaiting meaning-making discovery, and capable of being mastered, mutilated, surveiled, and subdued.

In the spheres in which the topic of science and theology/religion are discussed, the secularization thesis is a theory of profound impact. It has influenced the way(s) in which scholars in the field have positioned the discourse, as we saw above. But there are those who view the narrative with relative ambivalence, which is indicative of Weber, himself. Other still read it with positive affirmation; for example, Jürgen Habermas has read this theory as a very progressive achievement of human rationality and Enlightenment convictions.[5] Yet the secularization thesis as introduced here also has its critics; those critical of the modern turn see it as a “fall into darkness.”[6] I too have previously recorded this thesis, and read it with a critical tone as an exercise in hubris and the sin of solitude and self-sufficiency, of dehumanisation, aiming to claim the world (and the adjudication of ethics) by the ingenuity of reason, will, and technique.[7]

Such a narrative has contributed greatly to the antagonistic and military metaphors that serve to illuminate disciplinary boundaries and hostility between science and theology. It has labored to press theology to the margins, forcing a retreat of the transcendent in favour of the immanent and instrumental.

Again, the argument is as such: “[N]ature in the modern age seems to present itself to us in very different ways. Nature is mathematical—something to be counted, measured, and mapped. Nature is immanent—it operates according to its internal processes, rather than being shaped or guided by a supernatural hand. It is mechanical, behaving according to cause and effect, not seeking teleological goals. It is a resource, to be owned or held in common, to be used or preserved. It gives up its meanings to careful observation and scientific theory, not to mythology or divination. This is the nature of scientific, industrial modernity, the nature whose being is mastered by science, whose value is measured by economics, and whose potentiality is determined by technology.”[8]

Put differently, with modern science, and the corresponding promise of Baconian progress—i.e., the pursuit of power by epistemological means—we have killed the gods, the sacred retreats, and we have no need of faith:

The following poem is fitting [From Matthew Arnold’s (1867) Dover Beach, quoted in part]:

The sea of faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d;

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating to the breath

Of the night-wind down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

 

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In ‘Dover Beach’ Matthew Arnold presents to us a beautiful metaphor for the waning of religion and the disenchantment of the world. The close of this poem, if I might suggest, though, is rich with grief.

Responding to the poem, however, and in opposition to Arnold’s grief (or pessimism), William Butler Yeats penned the following:

[This comes from Yeats’ (1929) The 19th Century and After]

Though the great son return no more

There’s keen delight in what we have:

The rattle of pebbles on the shore

Under the receding wave.

I quote these poems here to highlight a particular, and interesting exchange. The latter offers a quintessential, or familiar, posture that applauds the advantage of the sciences to buffer ourselves from the threat of the gods and the folly of faith. The former, however, is much less pleased with that state of things. I am less pleased with the states of things, where the narrative of retreat and irrelevance masks the essential nature of the religious habitus of modern secularity.

Put differently, the secularization thesis following after Weber, and his interlocutors, disguises the ways in which religion and science interpenetrate one another—and continued reference to consonance, dialogue, intersections, and the like, will only perpetuate such dichotomous and contrary treatment of science and theology for such language assumes the delimitations and boundaries of the fields of study as essential.[9] Instead, under the rubric of coinherence, science and theology are to be thought of as “not [being] separate.”[10]

Accordingly, sociologist Bronsilaw Szerszynski has argued in his vitally important book Nature, Technology, and the Sacred [which also recited Dover's poem], “Science and technology have not so much desacralized the world as they have become the instrument for sacralizing the world in new ways. [In fact], It is not too much to say that science and technology express the ways we are religious today—science sketching the overarching order, technology focusing on how we ought to live; science assuming the status of ‘new revelation’ and technology becoming the religious way of life.”[11] Thus, “Sacral ordering of nature is the ongoing process, … Religious meanings do not disappear; they just alter, and new forms of treating nature as sacred are generated.”[12] Such alterations, however, may be heterodox or heretical.

Nevertheless, as Szerszynski has rightly instructed, it is important to understand, and to remind ourselves again and again, “Nature is not a blank slate that can simply have a theology and liturgy inscribed on it. For it is already under an enchantment, … And technology, far from being an instrument of desacralization that strips meaning from nature, itself serves ceremonial functions maintaining a particular sacral ordering of nature. The goal of achieving a right relation to nature and to technology is thus only possible if we engage at the level of the sacral meanings—both benign and malign—that inform our current relationships with them.”[13]

 

[1] Albert Borgmann, Power Failure: Christianity and the Culture of Technology (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2003), 7.

[2] Bronislaw Szerszynski, “A reply to Anne Kull, Eduardo Cruz, and Michael DeLashmutt,” Zygon, 4, no. 46 (Dec. 2006): 819.

[3] Weber, 1989, p. 30.

[4] Ibid., p. 13.

[5] Jurgen Habermas, 1984.

[6] Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature, Technology, and the Sacred (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), p. 6

[7] Ashley John Moyse, Reading Karl Barth, Interrupting Moral Technique, Transforming Biomedical Ethics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

[8] Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature, Technology, and the Sacred, p. 5.

[9] Philip Hefner, “Religion and Science: Separateness or Co-inherence?” Zygon, 41, no. 4 (Dec. 2006): pp. 781.

[10] Ibid., 781.

[11] Ibid., 781.

[12] Anne Kull, “Mutations of Nature, Technology, and the Western Sacred,” Zygon, 41, no. 4 (Dec. 2006): 786.

[13] Szerszynski, Nature, Technology, and the Sacred, p. 172. For Szersynski, the modern habitus has ushered in a radically immanent form of the sacred, which took over life itself—ushering in the barbarism that Michel Henry lamented. Szersynksi writes,

“But with the collapse of the transcendent axis in modernity, a profoundly immanent form of the sacred took over, the sacrality of life itself, whether the subjective life of the Romantics and postmodernity, or the biological construal of life that lies at the heart of biopolitical society. And it is with the biopolitical ordering of the modern state that technology becomes not simply the soteriological project it was in the Reformation period; as the goal of technology comes to be rendered in technical terms, technology starts to order the ends of life in its own terms. And finally a postmodern sacred, constituted by a plurality of meanings grounded in individual subjectivities, further overalays this modern biopolitical ordering of society” (Nature, Technology, and the Sacred, p. 172).

Continuing, Szerzynski comments further:

“[P]remodern ideas of technology were much more restrained in their claims to be able to produce predictable and certain outcomes. It was not until the Reformation and Enlightenment periods that technology in the modern, sublime sense emerged, that is, a technology promising an overcoming of contingency and finitude. And it is in this very same context that countertechnological discourses emerged which claimed that it is not technology but its withdrawal that can offer the certain characteristic of reason” (p. 173.)

medicine and religion

Updated: 22 Dec. 2016. Abstract reviewed and accepted.

The past several years I have attended the annual conference in medicine and religion. It is an event that was initially hosted at the University of Chicago for three years and has gathered in Boston and in Houston the past two years. I recently submitted an abstract for a paper that I might deliver at the forthcoming 2017 conference. It is a paper inspired by some of the work I have done for another paper presented at a recent event held at Regent College that took up questions concerning the coinherence of theology and science:

Reconsidering Weberian Secularization:

Seeing the Sacred in Medicine, Again

 

The central theme of the Annual Conference in Medicine and Religion reflects the centennial claim of Max Weber: “The fate of our time is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.” Accordingly, as the conference description instructs, such disenchantment leads modern cultures to treat nature, including human nature, as substance to be manipulated and controlled by an exercise of reason, will, and technique.

By ‘leads’ I take that to mean that the secularization thesis proposed does have a pedagogical influence, training us to see the world, nature, technology, and ourselves, differently. We have come to learn, for example, that modern culture has appreciably benefitted from such modes of knowing and doing. That is to say, as one might experience in medicine, the precedence of science and the concomitant pledge to technological resolutions to human problems are bolstered by our well being. And such well being—to emphasise the circular feedforward mechanism at work—is further safeguarded by the advance of technology and the scientific form of knowing. All this influence and well being is the welcomed benefit of the Enlightenment project and serves to explain, as Weberian secularization directs, the waning influence of religions.

For some, however, such an image, although demonstrating certain progress and advantage, is barbarous (see, for example, Michel Henry’s Barbarism). In the solitude of science, as Henry laments, all of life becomes reducible to the mathematical and the mechanical. Freedom and creativity of life is replaced by the homogeneity and efficiency of form and culture, human culture, is lost. For Henry, this is the image of barbarism—the image of our scientific age, sequestered from life itself.

So, for some, Weber’s allusion to the disenchanted world is a gift, a gift of progress and buffered life. For others, the allusion is presented with hazard and woeful concern. I am committed to a middle way, so I am want to challenge both the uncritical acceptance and the pure protest of the corresponding Weberian secularization thesis. In so challenging, I want to revisit Weber’s die Entzauberung der Welt and challenge the forms of uncritical modern secularism that labour to narrate the sacred as waves retreating from shore but are otherwise unable to see their own religiosity. Yet I want also to press back against unhelpful suspicions of scientific and technological progress that present premodern utopian ideals as normative and natural. I want to argue, while adopting the language of coinherence (vis a vis theologian Charles Williams) and the corresponding theory of secularization introduced by Bronislaw Szerszynski (see his Nature, Technology, and the Sacred), that modern science and technology have not so much desacralized the world, but have become the instruments for sacralizing the world in new ways—science determining the order and technology establishing the means for how we ought to live; science as revelation and technology as orthopraxy. I want to use the art and science, the institution, of medicine as the principal loci from which to challenge the Weberian thesis and to introduce an alternative narrative, demonstrating how nature continues to be enchanted and how technology serves a ceremonial function.

By pursuing this line of thought, we might circumvent the trappings that perceive, in modern science and technology, the soteriological promise of overcoming contingency and finitude by means of rational enquiry and technological powers. We might also circumvent an increasingly common response to the promotion of science and technology, which, and this might ring familiar, calls for the withdrawal of their pre-eminence such that nature, or the good, might be regained (consider, as an example, the rise of complementary and alternative medicines). By engaging in this exercise, I will point towards a content-full/ thick analysis and repositioning of the Weberian secularization thesis such that we might learn to ‘see the sacred’, if you will, in its maligned forms and in its right footing.

technique

I've recently been preparing a couple of items for presentation. The one project has me returning to my monograph, so as to highlight the principal aim of that project and to consider where my research programme might be moving. In this preparation I have once again turned to my interest in the philosophy of technology, and specifically, the writings of Gabriel Marcel. Here is what Marcel has to say about technique, from an excerpt recorded in my monograph:

The term technique refers to the tasks performed and/or procedures constructed that, with order and precision, regulation and control, intend to attain a particular end and/or manufacture a particular commodity. In addition, synonyms will be used readily, including but not limited to technologies, models, systems, frameworks, and tools. Regarding the meaning of technique, Gabriel Marcel offer the following:
What is a technique? It is a group of procedures, methodologically elaborated, and consequently capable of being taught and reproduced, and when these procedures are put into operation they assure the achievement of some definite concrete purpose (Marcel, Man against Mass Society, translated by GS Fraser [South Bend: St. Augustine's Press, 2008], p. 62).
Insofar as a technique is something that we can acquire, it may be compared to a possession—like a habit, which is at bottom itself already a technique. And we can at once see that if a man can become the slave of his habits, it is equally probable that he can become prisoner of his techniques.   

barbarism

Michel Henry's critique of unabated scientific conquest, the negation of life's meaningfulness, is an important read especially for those enamoured by the allure of scientific forms of knowing and the power of technology (the self-realization of science [p. 55]) to free us from the lives we experience:

barbarism... is not an incomprehensible and disastrous event that strikes a culture from the outside at the height of its bloom. Its successive contamination of every domain of social activity, the gradual disappearance, in the organic totality of a human 'world,' of the aesthetic, ethical, and religious dimensions, can also be understood. It is a process that affects the essence of being, understood as the principle from which all culture and all of its concrete modalities of realization, including the highest ones, proceed. It is a sickness of life itself.

Michel Henry. Barbarism (London: Continuum, 2012), pp. 19-20.

hope and despair

One of my current projects focuses on medically mediated forms of dying, with a particular interest in current discussions and debates around voluntary euthanasia. My project will be focused principally on the themes of hope and despair. See details of this project, 'Hugging Death, Anticipating Suicide', via the 'projects and publications' link above.

As I was reading today, however, I came across the following from V. Sleight and her article 'Hope and Despair' published in the J. of the Royal Society of Medicine (97, 2004, p. 354):

"A hope remains that we may all share--that when each of us reaches the final transition between life and death, the wretchedness of despair is superseded by the hope that one has the legal right to a Good Death, an easy death that is facilitated at the time of one's own choice."

Now, I will argue that such reasoning of the article is significantly flawed. At very least, I will suggest that the type of hope assumed by this author, among others, is one that might be categorised as an objective hope--where hope is a commodity, given and/or received. It might be exemplified by the phrase that 'I hope X will happen'. For the author of the article, one might fill in the blank with, 'I hope that a Good Death will happen'. This hope is further bolstered by a claim that secures the individual's right for such a commodity. 

This type of hope might be contrasted with other forms of hope, such as an equally problematic category, the abstract hope. In this, one might express hope as a hoping for hope. Hope is an abstract, existential category that is decontextualised--it is an expression that highlights the existential struggle to discover or to experience one possibility among other possibilities. Once again, this is a hoping for the idealised hope, in whatever generalised and/or universal form it might take.

In the above typologies, hope becomes an object that is either given/received or contemplated. But there is an alternative type of hope; one that is not objectified. That is, there are those that have considered hope ontologically. Gabriel Marcel, for example, has suggested as much. For Marcel, hope is grounded in an understanding of human being as relational. There is a subjectivity to hope, which is embodied, performed, and lived into. But this is a simplistic introduction to Marcel's metaphysics of hope... yet to say more is to move beyond my early readings and struggle to discern the typologies of hope at play.

Nevertheless, this project is proving to be one that is most stimulating and intellectually challenging. Good stuff all around! 

death and dying

Well, this past semester I had the privilege of teaching a graduate course in philosophical and theological ethics that took up the theme of death as its starting point. The topic of death has consistently crossed my desk the past several years, and has become one of my principal scholarly interests. From death anxiety to death obsession (maybe those are the same thing) ... much of my reading, thinking, and watching (documentary and feature films) has in one way or another attempted to grapple with death and dying. 

It seems to me that death, as realized by current human experience, is both inevitable and unknown while also accompanied by wonder and worry. And the questions of death and its beyond have seemingly continued to go unanswered by philosophers, theologians, and other interested scholars for the subject itself is an obscure and tenuous one where prevailing attitudes and beliefs are incomplete and often inadequate. But what is generally evident is that people do not wish for death to come too early.

Ernest Becker has written, "To have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression—and with all this yet to die." This solemn premonition is one that may very well be the reason the marketplace of biomedical knowledge and technology has focused a great deal of capital, intellectually and fiscally, on death—to grapple with this creaturely dilemma.  Though, such science has aimed to focus on the problem of death by seeking to determine how to prolong the valued commodity of human life—attempting to thwart human finitude and outsmart what Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has called the dragon-tyrant, Death.

Anyway, the topic of death will certainly be a regular theme of this blog.

But here is a brief quote from theologian, Vigen Guroian:

In his funeral oration on the death of his father, the great fourth-century theologian St. Gregory of Nazianzus observed that because of the Son of God's loving sacrifice on the cross, 'Life and death, as they are called, apparently so different, are in a sense resolved into, and successive to, each other.' The Son's sacrifice and death on the cross was God's deepest and most profound act of love for humankind. The Father left his Son vulnerable to death for our sakes. The Son, whose love for his fellow human beings knows no limit, voluntarily gave himself up to death to accomplish salvation for all. The existential and personal surety of this saving act of God is contingent, however, on our serious and faithful meditation upon the cross.

But death is trivialized in the contemporary world, and the cross of Christ is being forgotten. Television and the movies bombard us with false images of death, while those among us who are truly dying are placed out of sight in hospitals and nursing homes. ... [this] denial of death ... reflects and contributes to our diminished capacity to love others steadfastly and lastingly.

Vigen Guroian. Life's Living toward Dying (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), p. 34.

finding the start

We are often confronted with problems that often demand attention. Such problems will be the focus of a forthcoming book series that I am co-editing/advising. Yet, the attempt to solve such challenges are often coupled with further attempts to construct theologies conceived by the problems themselves, inevitably coercing one to think of God from the wrong vantage point. Such thinking, unfortunately, is quite common … and I am certain that I am culpable of such hasty rather than Holy speech.

Consequently, I think it is appropriate to be reminded from time to time of the proper pattern of speech when thinking about God in relation to himself but also in relation to the world, in which we do experience real trial. So where should we begin?

The kind of thinking that starts out with human problems, and then looks for solutions from that vantage point, has to be overcome–it is unbiblical. The way of Jesus Christ, and thus the way of all Christian thought, is not the way from the world to God but from God to the world. This means that the essence of the gospel does not consists in solving worldly problems, and also that this cannot be the essential task of the church. However, it does not follow from this that the church would have no task at all in this regard. But we will not recognize its legitimate task unless we first find the correct starting point.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. DBW vol. 6, Ethics, p. 356.