Wittgenstein’s Religious Philosophy (in light of Pseudo-Denys)

IMG_4505This was one of my term papers for Spring Semester of Yale Divinity School. It’s not the kind of thing I would usually post, but the subject is close to my heart and I was really happy with the paper. So, here it is. 

The purpose of this paper is to argue that Ludwig Wittgenstein can be read as continuing and correcting Pseudo-Denys’ project in The Divine Names. I am first going to argue for an interpretation of The Divine Names as Pseudo-Denys’ attempt to facilitate our yearning for union with God by relativizing human concepts in order to render our thought transparent to divine revelation. I will argue that he fails in this, however, because the concept of ‘unity’ is not itself relativized. I will then argue that Wittgenstein can be read as continuing and correcting this attempt on the basis that he does relativize unity in a similar way and for similar religious reasons to Pseudo-Denys. I will conclude by reflecting on how this can connect with some of Sarah Coakley’s recent work on asceticism. Continue reading “Wittgenstein’s Religious Philosophy (in light of Pseudo-Denys)”

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If We Want the Episcopal Church to Engage in Effective Political Advocacy, then We Must Evangelize

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Awakening the Spirit in Missouri (Source: ENS)

A substantial number of Episcopal Bishops recently wrapped up a conference in Chicago. Titled “Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence,” it was organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence and it dealt with how to broach these three social sins in scriptural and theological frameworks. It was probably a very powerful event, especially given the panel it put together. I can also easily imagine that the work done will inspire new forms of advocacy and activism within various Episcopal Dioceses.

Continue reading “If We Want the Episcopal Church to Engage in Effective Political Advocacy, then We Must Evangelize”

The Problem of Memory: Forgetting the Teachings of the Church

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Augustine: not an American, or a Western European. (Source: Wikipedia)

I wrote this in Denver last year, but for some reason didn’t post it. It seemed like it might be important then, so figured it might still be worth posting now.

I’m writing this introduction on Tuesday, June 7th. This morning I had a conversation with a woman at the Network Coffee House on 14th and Pearl—a place of community for the homeless and impoverished, and one of the most beautiful locations in Denver. When the woman told me that her name was Grace, I remarked that this was one of the most powerful words in the English language. She agreed, adding ‘I’ve only recently started to learn what it really means. We learn a lot of words in America, but we aren’t always rightly taught what them.’ We spoke for a while longer, musing on how wonderful it is that when learning the meaning of our own names, we can also learn both who we are and who God is.

Continue reading “The Problem of Memory: Forgetting the Teachings of the Church”

Some Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel

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I can very clearly remember the day, several years ago, that one of my students came into graduate support at SMPA clutching a Joel Osteen book. My immediate reaction was general shock, and expressed as such—not least because they were one of the most thoughtful and spiritually motivated students I’ve had the privilege of working with (to say nothing of their keen intellect). My second reaction was one of puzzlement, caused by reflecting on this second truth. So I asked them why they were reading Osteen. The answer was that reading him gave the student a sense that they were and could be worth something; to God, to themselves, to their family. The book laid out clearly many of the psychological blocks to realizing this worth (both social and personal), advocated clearing them away by considering the great power of God, and promised that once these blocks were removed that power would work through them to bring this worth to light in prosperity. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel”

A Lesson from The Socialist Controversy at Berkeley Divinity School

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The memorial bulletin for W.P.Ladd, around whom the controversy centered. (RG216, Box 2, Folder 50)

On December 2nd, 1919, an unassuming Brit by the name of Wilfred Humphries gave a talk at Berkeley Divinity School (then located in Middletown, CT, now a part of Yale Divinity School). The stated purpose of his talk was to give a first hand account of the contemporary situation in Russia, and he dedicated it to describing what he took to be some of the more positive aspects of the new Bolshevik regime. During the talk he shared a slide of the Russian flag and described how it was perceived by the Russians he had met. He also said a few complimentary words about Lenin and Trotsky.

This talk had been given at several New England colleges without provoking much of a reaction. After the talk in Middletown, CT, however, several members of the public claimed that the talk was unpatriotic communist propaganda. Newspaper editorials were written denouncing Dean W.P. Ladd and his faculty as corrupting both the Gospel and their students with socialism. A three person committee investigating the matter was formed at Ladd’s request. The provincial storm made national headlines, but Ladd was not forced to resign. It was decided that Berkeley had not propagated socialism, that Ladd himself had not sought to do so, and that the faculty were not responsible for the content of or reaction to the lecture—though the offending lecture was declared ill-advised and it was decided that it would have been Ladd’s responsibility to prevent it if he had known its content beforehand. A motion was put forward by several trustees (notably Judge Greene, who was on the above committee) requesting Ladd’s resignation in June 1920. This, however, appears to have been motivated by his combative response to the trustee’s recommendations following the committee’s report and questions over whether or not he respected the rules of Berkeley’s charter, rather than culpability for the initial affair.1 A compromise was reached where Ladd worked with an advisory committee of sorts. All in all, he weathered the assault, oversaw Berkeley’s move to Yale, and served as Dean until his death in the early 1940s, inspiring an uncommon loyalty in the student body. Continue reading “A Lesson from The Socialist Controversy at Berkeley Divinity School”

Advent and Time (SMPA Homily)

Most Fridays, I give a 5-10 minute homily for Morning Gathering at Saint Martin de Porres Academy. It’s one of the ways I’m still able to help out at the school I spent my first three years in the US working for. And it’s a great way of making sure my thought remains grounded (in some sense at least) in trying to figure out how to communicate a message worth hearing to 60 or so 10-14 year olds at 8:30 in the morning. 

Anyway, I usually just work off notes, but I wrote a full text for my homily this Friday. The actual delivery was of course pretty different to what is written here—kids clapping for the end of term, for example, followed by a call and response discussion about the desirability, or lack thereof, of perpetual termtime (turns out the kids didn’t think school year round would be a good thing!). It was also one of those ones where everyone was especially tired, plus a little antsy at the imminent prospect of the Christmas holidays. But the main body of the homily is still written here, and it’s a text I’m oddly happy with. It’s less linear than most of my homilies (partly to try and refer back to concrete memories as often as possible, to make the more abstract parts more accessible for the younger kids), but I think it works. And since I haven’t posted anything on here for a while, I thought it might be worth sharing this. Hope it’s worth reading, and Happy Advent!

Continue reading “Advent and Time (SMPA Homily)”

What’s Preventing a New Oxford Movement? 

The Living Church’s Covenant blog just published a post I put together to try and explore what might be preventing the development of a new Oxford Movement.  You can read it here, if you feel so moved! And here’s a brief excerpt, to give an idea of the content.

‘With all that said, however, I also reflected on the fact that I first read his post four years ago, and so I found myself asking How much has changed since then? Has the Episcopal Church in general (or Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular!) developed a more profound focus on the adoration of God? Have we developed a renewed commitment to justice work grounded in the Incarnation? Have we fostered a renewed sense of Anglican identity across the real and painful conflicts that have come to define us?

Answers to these questions will differ across the Episcopal Church. And, unlike in politics, four years is not a long time for us — if we need to refocus on the adoration of God, then it may take a long time. But with these qualifications in mind, it seems that few (if any) of the things a new Oxford Movement could address have changed.

My question, then, is why. What is preventing these commitments from taking root in different and diverse communities?’

Read the full piece here.