One of the current graduate course I’m taking is a Humanities course exploring Antiquity and the Medieval World. As most courses do, this one requires the completion of a research paper and a presentation outlining the scope of the research project. One of the texts we’ve been examining is the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, and more specifically the “Commentary on Habakkuk” found there within. This is what I have decided to focus my research upon. Above you’ll see my presentation describing the criteria by which I will be attempting to investigate the text and topic. Feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think. Also, please ‘Like’ the video on YouTube.
A few months back I completed a graduate course examining 19th-Century thinkers and writers. As part of the course work I wrote a research paper and presented a brief presentation on corresponding to the topic of that research project. In other words, this was a wonderful opportunity to continue my ever-present exploration into the work of Nietzsche. Here, I focused primarily upon his concept of the Death of God, attempting to ground the idea contextually and attempting to explore the idea’s implications by offering a kind of close reading of Nietzsche’s parable of the madmen. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment. Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube if you’d like to see more of these.
In two words….Absolutely Nothing!
All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.
In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.
In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.
In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…
I apologize for such an elongated lapse of time since I have last posted. I must admit that I have found myself exceptionally frustrated and despondent with blogging due to the predominating lack of response to my contributions to this site. Often, posting feels like an exercise in futility. However, there remains something personally cathartic in the mere act of releasing something I have thought about, researched, and written about into the ‘world’ even if it is not read or interacted with by others. With that being said, below you will find the introduction from a paper written for one of my previous Graduate courses. The paper itself is a rather large document so I will be posting portions of it over the next several days to make it more easily digestible. Enjoy.
In the present social context of modernity, culture is, quite possibly, at its most Cartesian. The sociological realm continues to grow increasing dualistic. Cultural concepts are looked at dichotomously and thought through vacuously. Perhaps, nowhere is this seen more clearly then in religion and politics. Yet, when considering the New Testament and especially the environment in which it emerged, such a division between religion and politics within the world of the New Testament authors and their audience is an anachronistic separation. Religion and politics, within this first-century era, were inseparably enmeshed and intertwined. One of the many ways Rome promoted and solidified its ideological rule was through the ritualized proclamations of the imperial cult. Through the social inundation of civic religion Rome propagated its political agenda, offering a kind of political-theology. Even the Jerusalem temple and its priestly officials and authorities functioned as sanctioned upholders of Roman socio-economic polity, especially in the collection of rents, debts, and taxes. Rome was an invariably ever-present reality within the culture and context of the Near East and the Mediterranean. Therefore, every aspect of daily life held political and economic implications, as did every interaction and engagement with Rome. As such, the presentation of the New Testament as a depoliticized or apolitical text disengaged from the socio-politico-economic structures of the Roman Empire is erroneously parachronic. Thus, through the use of exegetical New Testament scholarship, socio-historical surveys, anthropological investigations, sociological analyses, and even ecological examinations, this paper intends to subvert anachronistic depoliticized and apolitical interpretations of the New Testament, and instead initiate a radical re-reading of the text. The goal of this ‘re-reading,’ however, is not to demonstrate how the New Testament can be read in a political way but, to show that the New Testament at its very core is always-already political, and is also always-already ecological. Given the social realities of the New Testament context, (i.e. hierarchical Roman aristocracy, vast power and wealth disparities, and the unsustainable consumption of Rome) the New Testament is best understood as a first-century socio-political critique of the oppressive economic excesses and the exploitative ecological practices of the Roman Empire.
The political nature of the New Testament cannot be over-stated or over-emphasized. The New Testament’s political underpinnings often seem to be expressed in a subtle or implicit manner but, this is largely due to an unclear understanding of the social and cultural context in which it was written. Richard A. Horsley concedes that “religion was inseparable from political-economic life in Roman Palestine” (3). Horsley goes on to say that “Religion as a separate sphere is simply not attested in our sources for the time of Jesus, nor is such a separation evident in the Gospel sources for Jesus” (3). Similarly, Warren Carter states that “in the first-century world, no one pretended religion and politics were separate” (2). In the setting of the New Testament time period, and especially in the case of the Roman Empire, John Dominic Crossan highlights that both religion and politics “are ways of systemically constructing power” (349). Thus, the trajectory of this project is the examination of New Testament political and ecological contextuality. However, due to the limitations and constraints placed upon the space of the project, the analysis is far from exhaustive. While the project does aim to be thorough, the examination is more thematic than holistic, focusing upon key themes, ideas, figures and events within and surrounding the New Testament, rather than the entirety of the text. The intention, then, is to explore thematic strands within the Gospels, the authentic writings of Paul, and the book of Revelation in order to uncover a political and ecological activism deeply embedded within the New Testament.
For instance, the event that could be said to be the thematic impetus of the New Testament and Christianity, itself, is also one of the most politically charged events of the New Testament writings; the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, theologically speaking, the crucifixion of the historical Jesus was not only the catalyzing moment for the first-century Christ followers; it also remains the most operatively significant theme of modern-day Christianity. Yet, when studied sociologically and anthropologically, the event of crucifixion is unavoidably and undeniably political. Richard A. Horsley makes clear that “Insofar as crucifixion was the form of execution that the Romans used for political agitators in the provinces, Jesus must have been executed because he was at least thought to be a rebel against the Roman Imperial order” (1). Likewise, Warren Carter affirms that “People got crucified not because they were spiritual, but because they posed a threat to the Roman system” (x). It is, then, inarguable that Jesus was executed as both a “political actor” (Horsley, 1) and a political dissident. It seems that just as there has been a long tradition of depoliticizing the Bible, so too has the figure of Jesus been depoliticized and presented as an apolitical spiritual/religious leader. Yet, Horlsey plainly states, “a Jesus who was only religious cannot have been historical” (3). Thus, the vision of Jesus as an itinerant ‘preacher’ disengaged from the politics and economics of his context is problematic and inaccurate. To situate the figure of Jesus accurately he must be recast as the leader, or founder, of a politically orientated social movement depicted in the New Testament writings.
Yet, what is to be said of the ecological? If the political orientations of the New Testament often go unnoticed then, that which is most ecological within the text goes unconsidered all the more. With such an oversight in mind, and with the goal of producing the most efficient and effective analysis possible within the brief space allotted to the project, this paper will seek to explore those thematic aspects of the Gospels, Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s letters, and Revelation that reflect both a political critique and an ecological concern.
[W]e see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our life and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. This is real life! This is reality as it really is, whether or not we like it. There can be no argument whether or not this reality exists. If you don’t want to call it a power, call it a force, an up-against-ness, or simply the universe as it really is. As Bultmann points out in his essay, we are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Words may fail us, but we all know this reality intimately, personally.
Here, Dowd says that “For me to look into the awe-filling fullness of life and pronounce the name “God” means a commitment of my life to reality-based living…Reality is my God, evidence is my scripture, and integrity (living in right relationship with reality and helping others do the same) is my religion.” Yet, Dowd, when quoting Rudolf Bultmann. poses what I think is an important question to consider: “Why call this mysterious power ‘God’? Why give the enigma, the mystery that drives us this way and that and hedges us in, any other name but ‘the enigma’, or ‘fate’?” These are questions I have constantly asked myself when it comes to ‘God’. Perhaps, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no be no, in other words, perhaps, we should simply let ‘Love’ be love, let love stand on its own two feet, unmasked and unfettered. Why can’t we simply let the enigma be the enigma and let mystery be mystery? Are these not strong enough ideas and words on their own? Or am I being hypocritical here? Elsewhere I have written about how much I admire the philosophical use of language, that is, the way in which philosophy dramatical alters the meaning, significance, and content of common place everyday language in ways that are then anything but ordinary.
Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God. Everything is a worthy object of worship…Truth announces itself when you kick away a discarded bottle of Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Truth rains on you from the sky above, and God forms in puddles at your feet. You eat God and excrete truth four hours later. Take a whiff—what a lovely fragrance the truth has! Truth is reality itself. God is reality itself. Enlightenment, by the way, is reality itself. And here it is.
Do we replace the word ‘God’? Do we invent whole new trajectories of ‘God’ language? Do we maintain its usage, its structure, and completely overhaul, renovate, and remodel its interior content? Or do we simply walk away, tip our hats, count our losses, and make for the exits, discarding the verbiage by the wayside as mile marker monument to where we have been and how far we have come as a species and culture? I don’t know…
Bell explains his own process of coming undone. Brought on by the severe “cognitive dissonance” of his irreconcilable and incongruent religious worldview, Bell began the arduously paradigmatic undertaking of unraveling; moving from fundamentalist to liberal Christianity, and beyond, eventually arriving at a kind of humanistic post-theism.
Obviously, Bell’s story not only struck me but, also stuck with me. I commented to the post with the following response:
“The unraveling I’ve come to embrace and even appreciate, I’ve also come to accept and understand pessimism and nihilism as valid and conducive philosophical positions. However, what continues to be a great difficulty is the lonely and isolated placelessness.”
To which a Facebook friend commented in kind, saying:
” I have been able to “re-knit” the yarn into a humanist/naturalist worldview that, while it doesn’t provide much optimism, there still are small glimpses of hope interspersed. The “sweater” I’m reconstructing is helping me to value each day more, knowing that time is a precious commodity.”
Since then I’ve not only continued to ponder the post but, also the comments above.
I sympathize with these sentiments and yet, I remain skeptical of “re-knitting”. These ‘knitted’ or ‘woven’ “sweater” worldviews, even when reconstructed from the remnants of an un-threaded system, still seem to maintain the scent or lingering specter of what Lacan refers to as the Big Other. Here, two other blog posts I read recently touch and expand upon this point: the first by philosopher Levi Paul Bryant simply titled “Atheism” and the second, “I Believe in Gods” by Kester Brewin.
Below is the second part to a paper I wrote for my Undergraduate Senior Seminar which seeks to explore the deeper connections between religion and technology, each of their innovative processes, and their potentiality for catalyzing a kind of emancipatory democratization. Please let me know what you think! Enjoy!
James Gleick writes that “Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought” (12). This has proven true with the emergence of each of the three previous ages that Pagitt proposes but, perhaps, this medium-transformative shift in “the nature of human thought,” which Gleick describes, proves to be an even more accurate assertion in this the present global setting that Pagitt terms the Inventive Age. The Internet, Social Media, smartphones, and countless other advances in information and communication technologies have drastically altered the cultural landscape, providing whole new ways of experiencing and engaging with the world, and bringing about striking and immeasurable changes to social values. The limitations of locality and geographical borders and boundaries have been daringly transcended. Kwame Anthony Appiah explains that “the worldwide web of information…means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere” (xiii). This creates a kind of globalized cosmopolitanism, a citizenry (politēs) not merely exclusive to nationality but, of the world (cosmos) (xiv). Here, as well, knowledge and information retain all of their importance, esteem, and regard but only in so far it leads to discovery and innovation (Pagitt, 30). Thus, as Pagitt concludes, the impetus of the Inventive Age is focused entirely upon “inclusion, participation, collaboration,” and creativity (30). The parameters of the Inventive Age is precisely what media scholar Henry Jenkins et al, defines as Participatory Culture.
Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy, James Paul Gee, highlights that “We live in…an age of convergent media, production, participation, fluid group formation, cognitive, social, and linguistic complexity-all embedded in contemporary popular culture” (14). As such, Jenkins et al defines Participatory Culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices” (xi). In this regard, as Jenkins et al goes on to explain, “Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement” (6). This, then, is not a matter of “individual accomplishment but rather the emergence of a cultural context that supports widespread participation in the production and distribution of media” (4). Participatory Culture is highly responsive and extremely reactive, especially in that it is a bold and outright rejection of the largely passive and inactive orientation of consumer culture. Participatory Culture centers itself upon inter-activity and occurs, as Jenkins et al explains, as a result of the absorption of “new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (8). Here, Jonathan Fitzgerald rightly surmises that “the meeting of the digital world of social media and the physical world show that what were once thought to be frivolous wastes of time – sites like Facebook and Twitter – actually have the power to change the world” (Fitzgerald).
Indeed, as Jenkins et al explains, “Participatory culture,” with its technological advances in communication, creation, and information, “is reworking the rules by which school, cultural expression, civic life, and work operate” (10). Barry Taylor makes clear that “New technologies have shifted the balance of power in the realm of information,” leading to the full and unabashed democratization of information and culture (12). Taylor adamantly expresses that “Democratization is the key dynamic of our times” (17) as it “seems to be at work in virtually every area of life today” (12), and as a result everyday culture is imminently witnessing both “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” (Howe) and “The Rise of the Amateur” (Rushkoff). As a consequence, the ‘experts’, those vested with centralized hierarchical authority, those to whom Dana Ardi refers to as the Alphas (1), and “institutions no longer have the last word or hold the authoritative sway they once had” (Taylor, 11). In many cases the wide-spread and sprawling confederation of Networked individuals are proving that the cumulative and culminating knowledge of the crowd can surpass that of the solitary specialist. Thus, Taylor states emphatically that “The collapse or loss of faith in traditional forms of leadership and structure combined with virtually unlimited access to information has resulted in an empowering of the masses that is transforming culture” (18).
Clearly the religious implications are also overwhelming. Just as in the periods Pagitt describes as the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age, religion in the Inventive age precisely parallels the principles of the time. In 2012 the Pew Research Center released a report demonstrating that in the United States 1 in 5 adults say that they are religiously unaffiliated and a full one-third of those below the age of thirty claim to have no religious affiliation (Taylor, 8). This represents an increase of over 5%, a rise that began at just above 15% in 2007 up to 20% by 2012 (Taylor, 127). Executive Vice President of the Pew Research Center, Paul Taylor, writes that not only are the ‘nones’ (the name given to demographic answering ‘none’ to the question of religious affiliation) disassociated from traditional religious engagement “they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them” either (127). Taylor also goes on to say that “Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules, and too involved in politics” (127). Similarly, a Gallup poll has shown that two-thirds of American adults believe that religious influence is declining (Saad). Likewise, a 2012 Gallup poll revealed that only 44% of the U.S. population maintains a high level of confidence in organized religion, a jarring low point, and the result of a progressive downward trend since 1975 (Saad). Many would suggest that the process of secularization is finally winning out as predicted by many philosophical and sociological thinkers, thereby proposing that these figures are indicative of the ending reign of religion. However, this would seem to be only partially correct. 68% of the religious unaffiliated still retain a belief in God; 37% are spiritual; and 21%p pray daily (Taylor, 127). Only the most marginal and miniscule faction of the ‘nones’ are atheists. If the collaborative decentralization witnessed in the other areas of culture exhibit anything it is that something else is occurring in the religious sphere.
Just as the values of the participatory culture have dramatically shifted from the hierarchy of institutions, so “Religion has also shifted” and “is no longer found in the institutions and public locations – the churches, synagogues, mosques, and other buildings of wood and stone that have traditionally housed the sacred” (Taylor, 100). Religion, too, is being democratized and entering into a whole “new evolutionary phase in which the power and influence of religious formation” is being taken away from the mediating exclusivity of the clerical class and redistributed to the masses “for whom the task of fashioning a connection with the divine is an intensely personal and creative venture” (Taylor,170). This is a new form of religiosity. This is the beginnings of what Barry Taylor calls “Participatory Theology” (201). It seems that the very same technologies that have set the precedent of the Inventive Age have divested the religious establishment of its monopoly on religious truth and meaning. The creative free-flow of collaborative information has forced the traditional institutions of religion to relinquish their corner on the market, rejecting the inactive passivity of religious consumerism, and bringing about an age of participatory customization.
As technology has advanced so has culture and, as result, religion has as well. Each advancement has ushered in a new era, a new age, a new evolutionary phase, each “completely revaluating and revisiting virtually every aspect of the human condition” (Taylor, 14). The democratizing effects of information and communication technologies such as the Internet, Social Media, and smartphones, etc. have aided in creating a post-religious and a post-secular age. That which at first glance appeared to be an indication of irreligion has proven to be the initiating phases of a new kind of religious innovation. This is a dialectical movement in which as Thomas Altizer writes that “the deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation” (56). What seems to be an outright negation of religiosity is in fact an affirmation of religion. The black and white binary that dichotomously divides the sacred and the profane, the thesis of religion and the antithesis of secularity are dialectically merging into the synthesis of something far more innovative.
Altizer, Thomas J.J. New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006. Print.
Ardi, Dana. The Fall of the Alphas: The New Beta Way to Connect, Collaborate, Influence – and Lead. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Print.
Burrus, Daniel. “Predicting the Future.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.
Davis, Derek and Barry Hankins. New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America, 2nd ed. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2003. Print.
Fitzgerald, Jonathan D. Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better. Colorado: Bondfire Books, 2012. Print.
Gee, James Paul. New Digital Media and Learning as an Emergent Area and “Worked Examples”as One Way Forward. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. Print.
Gleick, James. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. New York: Random House, 2012.Print.
Howe, Jeff. “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Wired. Wired Magazine, June 2006. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.
Jenkins, Henry, et al. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. Print.
Pagitt, Doug. Church in the Inventive Age. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010. Print
Raulet, Gerard. “Critique Of Religion And Religion As Critique: The Secularized Hope Of Ernst Bloch.” New German Critique 9 (1976): 71. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.
Rushkoff, Douglas. “The Rise of the Amateur.” MPI Web. Meeting Professionals International, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.
Saad, Lydia. “U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point.” Gallup. Gallup Inc., 12 July 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.
Slobodkin, Lawrence B. A Citizen’s Guide to Ecology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
Taylor, Barry. Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. Print.
Taylor, Paul. The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2014. Print.