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.


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.   


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.

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.

the body: is v. has

Inside one's natural and social origin, however, is the embryo of a genuine individual struggling to be born. But this unborn individual is so different from the natural man that Paul has to call it by a different name. The New Testament sees the genuine human being as emerging from an embryonic state within nature and society into the fully human world of the individual, which is symbolized as a rebirth or second birth, in the phrase that Jesus used to Nicodemus. Naturally this rebirth cannot mean any separation from one's natural and social context, except insofar as a greater maturity includes some knowledge of the conditioning that was formerly accepted uncritically. The genuine human thus born is the soma pneumatikon, the spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). This phrase means that spiritual man is a body: the natural man or soma psychikon has one. The resurrection of the spiritual body is the completion of the kind of life the New Testament is talking about, to that extent it is a mature rather than a primitive society.

Ron Dart. The Beatitudes: When Peak Meets Valley (Abbotsford: Fresh Wind Press, 2005), 39. (quoting Northrop Frye's "The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion")

I have the opportunity to meet with Ron Dart quite regularly. He is a very gifted and contemplative thinker, expert in the life and thought of George Grant and the Canadian red tory tradition, passionate about the wisdom writings of Thomas Merton, and mountaineer extraordinaire (among many other things!). I cannot say enough of Ron ... I am quite thankful to have someone like him in my life. He challenges, encourages, and supports all that I am doing in my formation as a theologian and scholar.