Posted by: gcarkner | May 13, 2021

Freedom, Identity and the Good continued

Freedom, Identity and the Good, Conclusion 3: Redeemed freedom flourishes within a trinitarian horizon. Trinitarian divine goodness proves to be a fruitful plausibility structure within which to think about freedom and the moral self. Trinitarian goodness-freedom takes us to one more dimension of the self. It reveals new possibilities for identity, discovery, and personal transformation. It also adds sophistication to some of Taylor’s categories of the horizon of the good. It is in the life of the God-man Jesus that one can visualize this goodness-freedom dynamic.

What is full liberation? Michel Foucault, the philosopher of freedom, claimed that, “Ethics is the deliberate form assumed by freedom.” So what form will endure as a stable, longterm identity? What is the possibility of a transcendent paradigm shift in this conversation? The language of strong transcendence implies some dynamic that resides outside the economies of human experience, and human culture spheres: science, art, religion and ethics. It plays a key role in the drama of moral self-constitution and personal freedom through the validation of the self from a larger horizon of significance. We achieve more not less human meaning.

Here we propose a further recovery of ethics in partnership with trinitarian relationality. Jesus of Nazareth offers an exemplum of redeemed human freedom. In this dissertation, we have shown that the human good could be linked through a transcendent turn to trinitarian goodness. Jesus’ life constitutes reconciliation, rather than enmity between goodness and freedom. In the philosophical turn towards transcendent goodness, Foucault’s ontology of liberty is subverted by the ontology of agape love without losing anything. We move from the aesthetic to the ethical and now the religious plane of existence (Kierkegaard).

How does Jesus’ life interpret freedom uniquely in light of this suggested turn to transcendent goodness? The interpretation starts as trinitarian theonomous goodness-freedom, a God-related freedom, that is qualified by transcendent divine goodness. It begins with the living God of the Christian story, who is constituted by a form of relation, mutuality and reciprocity, in which freedom is given to that which is Other. In this case, it is other Persons within the Trinity. The Christian Trinity is a tri-unity of Persons with a history of self-giving freedom that defines God’s being as agape love. It is the constitutive good, the moral source and inspiration for human, finite goodness.

The position we are taking is clarified by British theologian, Alistair McFadyen, who reflects on the hermeneutic of freedom and self-giving within the Trinity. Human freedom, he claims, is grounded in, and defined by, God’s freedom.

God’s inmost being is constituted by the radical mutuality of the three divine Persons, in which they both give and receive their individuality from one another. In their intersubjectivity, there is the creative intention and recognition of subjectivity, and therefore transcendence in form of the integrity of personal identity, in the giving of space to one another. This giving of space is an interpersonal event, and must not be thought of as analogous to the evacuation of physical space. It is not a form of absence, but a way of being present with others in creative recognition of their autonomy within the relationship. It is a letting- be, rather than a letting-go: a structuring of the relationship so that it includes space and time for personal discreteness and autonomous response. Thus, the trinitarian life involves a circulation of the divine potentialities of being through the processes of self-giving, in the unity of which the three Persons receive their distinct personal identities. (A. McFadyen, 1995, 46-7)

This is the same gift of benevolent divine freedom that is expressed through the presence in the world of God the Son and God the Spirit, the second and third Persons of the Trinity. God is a community of Persons in movement towards and present within creation, stimulating and opening up a future possibilities for robust human freedomBecause God is free, loving and relational, humans should be confident that they are not victims of fate, domination and materialistic determinism. The character of redeemed freedom is creative and dynamic in its existential engagement with human sociality. Human freedom takes its cue from God, and flourishes within God’s freedom. In fact, the dependence of human freedom on God secures its integrity. God creates the larger horizon for freedom, affirms and validates it. Thus, the relationship between divine and human freedom is a profound gift.

God’s gift of freedom also entails God’s willingness to take the consequences of human freedom, even human assertions of autonomy and disbelief in God.

Knowledge of this goodness-freedom is not invented sui generis. It is offered through relationship with God as Trinity. God’s creation opens the latitude that affords space for human response in a non-coercive environment. It even includes the possibilities of human misunderstanding, rejection, disobedience towards and even disbelief in God. McFadyen, (1995,44) writes: “We find God subjecting Godself, first of all to the limitation of the incarnation in a human person; secondly, allowing Godself to be subject to human freedom—even to the extent of death— to bear the consequences of the human refusal of freedom.”

Human freedom is enhanced and empowered when there is a grateful response to the God who built into creation the very possibility and parameters of human freedom. The created, ordered ecology of relations is respectful of both divine sovereignty and a large degree of finite human choice and autonomy. Space is given for growth in individual integrity, uniqueness and particularity. This matches Foucault’s strong emphasis on the creativity in the self, without sacrificing many other positive infrastructural dimensions. At the end of the day, Foucault resists this limited but rich definition of freedom as a gift from God. He wants instead unlimited, unrestricted freedom for the self–radical autonomy–which falls into nihilism and obsession with oneself.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the free and loyal Son of the Father, exemplifying the positive marriage between goodness, freedom and obedience, revealing its existential world impact. The irony of our discovery is that freedom as radical autonomy leads to a loss of self, crisis of identity and alienation from the Other. Jesus is completely free within a communion of love. In the practice of redeemed freedom, the human freedom of Christ vividly discloses God’s creative freedom–an important epiphany or revelation of strong transcendence.

[It is in the] Image of Christ, where freedom is exercised as rooted in the will of the Father and mediated in the power of the Spirit that the true character of the image of God is disclosed to us, both as the divine freedom for grace and as the human freedom of obedience …. Christ is … both the revelation of the divine freedom of grace and the disclosure of the human freedom of obedience, where obedience to the will of God the father is not the abrogation of human freedom but the form of its exercise. (Christoph Schwöbel, 1995, 80)

For Foucault, obedience to the Christian religion is negative and repressive, but in Jesus, it is never a contest between God the father’s freedom and his own. It entails an intimate cooperation rooted in this loving communion. Jesus reveals that modern freedom can be liberated from the weighty obligation to live self-reflexively out of one’s own power and resources. It also reveals a divine-human relationship rife with grace. This is carried on even in the midst of many attempts to oppress Jesus and repress his voice.

McFadyen illuminates some nuances of the divine-human interface of freedom, revealed through the incarnation.

[By] incarnation in the body of the crucified one implies that God’s freedom does not, after all, entail a transcendent aloofness from the world, but a form of involvement with it in which the divine being and freedom are staked. God subjects Godself to the risks, vulnerabilities and ambiguities of historical existence, including the risk of rejection, suffering and death, as well as of misinterpretation. God’s freedom and sovereignty must be of a radical kind: the freedom to give oneself in relation; to be with and in creation in ways that are costly to God, but which do not abrogate God’s sovereignty, freedom and transcendence. (A. McFadyen, 1995, 42)

In the incarnation, one sees God communicating and relating, not as a tyrannical, coercive, absolute sovereign, but vulnerably in and through the form of human individual, by uniting the divine freedom of self-giving agape love with that of a human being. In the Christ event, one is confronted with a divine power that is highly personal, and which consequently has impact through forms of interpersonal communication and personal presence. This God posture makes creative appeal to human freedom. Divine freedom and will is the proper context of human freedom. It is not a divine monologue of commands, but a dialogue in which humans are intended and respected as subjects with free choice and freedom of speech. Abraham Joshua Heschel often says in his understated way, “God continues to be interested in human beings.”

Freedom and the moral self, its content and definition, has been a central concern in this PhD dissertation. The upshot of this dialogue is that not all definitions of freedom are deemed equal. When freedom embraces goodness, it transforms freedom from an end in itself, to freedom as a benevolence toward the Other (agape love). Within the plausibility structure of trinitarian transcendent goodness, love becomes the content of freedom as well as freedom’s trajectory or raison d’être. The exercise of redeemed freedom takes seriously the human and divine Other, especially the weaker, more vulnerable. Schwöbel captures it succinctly.

The true measure of freedom is love as the relationship which makes the flourishing of the other the condition of self-fulfilment. Human freedom becomes the icon of divine freedom where the freedom of divine grace constitutes the grace of human freedom … That most poignant image of hope, the Kingdom of God, expresses the relation of free divine love and loving human freedom together in depicting the ultimate purpose of God’s action as the perfected community of love with his creation. The fulfilment of God’s reign and the salvation of creation are actualized together in the community of the love of God. (C. Schwöbel, 1995, 80-81)

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Graduate Students.

McFadyen, A.I. (1995). Sins of Praise: the Assault on God’s Freedom. In C. Gunton (Ed.). God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology (pp. 36-56). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Schwöbel, C. (1995). Imago Libertatis: Human and Divine Freedom. In C. Gunton (Ed.) God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology (pp. 57-81). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Posted by: gcarkner | May 9, 2021

Freedom, Identity and the Good continued

Conclusion 2. on Freedom, Identity and the Good from my PhD dissertation at University of Wales/OCMS in Oxford

 Redeemed freedom takes on a distinctively communal character. It is contextualized within a discussion and relationships between fellow interlocutors, and against the backdrop of a larger narrative which makes sense of the moral self. Individual freedom opens space for community, makes space for the Other. This helps the individual avoid some of the pitfalls of radical autonomy. It provides for a richer and more secure and resilient identity.

Caution: Too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.

The transformation of Foucault’s thin, aesthetic self is called forth. To use Kierkegaard’s language, this is to transcend the aesthetic in order to participate in the ethical level of existence. We must move towards a deeper, more complex communal character of self, a layered identity, a thick self. Foucault unfortunately articulates freedom as flight from community and institutional responsibility. He is far too worried about domination by the Other. His aesthetic self is part fugitive, part manipulator, perhaps even sociopathic: the individual’s context is reduced to a life of contestation with the Other, negotiating wily power relations and truth games ad infinitum. This is a skewed and broken view of self and can easily lead to an identity crisis and much social pain and suffering, divorce, even death. The point of life is to grow up into maturity. To stall this process in adolescence is counterproductive.

From the perspective of our Canadian interlocutor Charles Taylor’s comments on philosophical anthropology and the recovery of the moral good from ancient to modern times, the aesthetic self lacks vision for relationships that are other than manipulative and fraudulent. That further step is to pursue those that are informed by love, compassion, seeking cooperation. We must rethink Foucault’s ‘radical freedom as ontology’ via a reconciliation between self and the Other, self and society, to put it metaphorically, self and one’s neighbour. The reformulation involves the recovery of a social horizon, including a stronger concept of the social body and the powerful concept of the common good. One needs the courage to face the neighbour as a good in themselves, rife with potential.

A radical pursuit of private self-interest, to the exclusion of the presence and needs of the Other, is a far less tenable option after this critical dialogue in my PhD work: “A Critical Examination of Michel Foucault’s constitution of the moral self in dialogue with Charles Taylor.” Foucault holds to a faulty assumption of chronic distrust: that the Other will always try to control and manipulate my behaviour for their own purposes, or try to impose their agenda on me, or outright oppress me. Although such manipulation occurs, we take this to be a jaded and cynical perspective on human society to suggest that it is always or even most likely the case. The ‘autonomy that modernity cannot do without’ in balance needs a dialectical relationship with community. Foucault weakens the self by rejecting this option.

One’s self-reflexive relationship, one’s care of self, is only part of the picture. The nature of autonomy cannot be confined to radical self-determination. Rather it must involve the possibility of recognition by and dependence upon other people within a larger horizon of significance. Healthy identity involves community. Flight and agonisme is the easier, the least complex default option. We wish to call it out as escapism. It is far more challenging to take other people seriously as having inherent worth, and to discover the value that they can offer. Building trust is a tentative but necessary exercise for one’s moral, spiritual and psychological health. Redeemed, robust freedom emerges through a discernment of the communal dimensions of subjectivity: freedom to cooperate with and serve one another.

This newly discovered type of freedom is destined to find its fulfilment, not in a self- protective control, alone in self-sufficiency, but in seeking out a communion of love, a healthy vulnerability (Brené Brown), inter-dependence. It is key that one listen to the Other and authenticate their voice.

The dislocated self is relocated within a new narrative (Paul Ricoeur), a new drama which involves us, within the relational order of creation. Human experience is intensely relational from birth. One weakness in Foucault is that, by contrast, he assumes a denial of the social body when it comes to ethical relations. We protest. Our conclusion suggests that there is a positive outlook for the future of the self that will involve a creative, communal experiment. The word discernment above speaks of exploring the potential of these relationships as they relate to a communal horizon of the good, the good that can be carried in community and within its narrative as Taylor articulates in his moral ontology in Sources of the Self. Others do help us discern our character, purpose, calling and meaning. They help combine space for freedom of individuality with responsibility (Emmanuel Lévinas).

It is good that Foucault highly values individual creativity, but he lacks appreciation for how this relates to communal creativity of interdependence. Fulfilment in community prevents the self from extreme forms of self-interest, narcissism and solipsism (R. Wolin, 1986). McFadyen (1995, 35) offers a helpful reflection on this point concerning the deceptions and distortions of radical freedom:

The free pursuit of private self-interest has a naturally conflicting form, since the otherness of the individual means their interests must be opposed. One needs freedom from what is other in order to be oneself. Personal centeredness is essential, for autonomy is a private place that has to be protected by fencing it off from the sphere of relation and therefore from the otherness of God and one’s neighbours … Autonomy is something one has in self-possession, apart from relation to God and others in an exclusive and private orientation on an asocial personal centre …. Freedom and autonomy are had apart from relationship: they inhere within oneself.

Foucault’s language of radical freedom has a mythological flavour to it, one that offers a mask for a disguised self-interest, the freedom to be and do whatever I want. It doesn’t matter how it affects others. Redeemed freedom reveals this outlook as a distorted reality-construction. Miraslov Volf in his exceptional book Exclusion and Embrace (1996) shows how redemption of sociality through forgiveness can occur even amidst the most abusive, tribal and oppressive situations of the former Yugoslavia.

In this anatomy of community, the good can be mediated and carried more fruitfully and robustly. One’s individual relationship to the good and identity can be strongly enhanced by involvement with a group that allows the good to shape its identity. Ideals and virtues can be constructive. In another blog post, we have suggested agape love as such a good. We mean that a noble community environment can offer the young and old alike a positive school of the good. Mirrored through others, the good can offer both accountability and personal empowerment. Group covenant produces trust and commitment to one another’s flourishing deepens the self in its agency. Younger people especially are released from the burden to invent their whole moral universe–an absurd ideal of the late modern project. Moral self-constitution of this thicker, weightier, and more complex sort exceeds the capacity of the individual self. It requires a community for maximum fruitfulness.

German social philosopher Jürgen Habermas in response to Foucault argues that the preoccupation with the autonomy or self-mastery is simply a moment in the process of social interaction, which has been artificially isolated or privileged:

Both cognitive-instrumental mastery of an objective nature (and society) and a narcissistically overinflated autonomy (in the sense of purposively rational self-assertion) are derivative moments that have been rendered independent from the communicative structures of the lifeworld, that is, from the intersubjectivity of relationships of mutual understanding and relationships of reciprocal recognition. (Habermas, 1987, 315)

~Dr Gordon E. Carkner PhD Philosophical Theology, Meta-educator with postgraduate students at UBC.

Habermas, J. (1987). The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

McFadyen, A.I. (1995). Sins of Praise: the Assault on God’s Freedom. In C. Gunton (Ed.). God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology (pp. 36-56). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Volf, M. (1996). Exclusion and Embrace: A theological exploration of identity, otherness and reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

See also posts on Quality of the Will which articulates Charles Taylor’s Ethical Framework.

Posted by: gcarkner | May 8, 2021

Freedom, Identity and the Good

Freedom, Identity and the Good: some conclusions from my doctoral research

Proposition One: Redeemed freedom means that one refuses freedom as an ontological ground of ethics, and embraces a new definition of freedom within an ontology/frame of the moral good. Charles Taylor’s moral horizon of the good is offered as a lively and robust alternative to Foucault’s horizon of aesthetic-freedom.

Foucault’s idea of autonomous freedom as self-invention, self-interpretation, self- expression, self-legislation and self-justification is radical indeed. Schwöbel sums it up:

In deciding for policies of action which incorporate choices concerning the interpretation of our possibilities of action, of our goals of action and of the norms of action we attempt to observe, we decide the fundamental orientation of our lives. Such decisions are examples of self-determination. Self- determination is contrasted to determination by external authorities. (Schwöbel, 1995, pp. 62-3)

Aesthetic-freedom certainly has its appeal; it comes with a creative, youthful energy, to launch human subjectivity, overcoming the inertia and restrictions of governmentality and power relations. This is often attractive to young people. Foucault does not apologize for its elitist outlook. But this view of freedom has revealed a failure to offer sufficient direction for subjectivity, for the use of the will. It lacks a platform for critical appraisal of our actions or choices. Thus, it has a major deficit in equipping the self for serious moral reflection and action. It short circuits moral discourse by moving too quickly to praxis or action, without sufficient reflection on reasons for action, or on the virtues, or the goods involved in ethics. It can lead to moral autism with the loss of moral language needed to flourish, or worse nihilism.

During the conversation with Foucault in previous posts, cracks and contradictions in his ideology of the aesthetic have emerged along with its potential dangers of Dionysian proportions. Charles Taylor illuminates the darker side of Foucault’s artful freedom. The absolute sovereignty that Foucault gives to the individual for self-expression raises concerns: it may indulge in a fantasy of the human will. Foucault propounds a very optimistic philosophical anthropology of the aesthetic self (artistic work is worthy in and of itself) with great faith in the creativity of the individual, and at the same time, great cynicism about society and its institutions. He understands that domination can occur in corporate regimes of knowledge (making evil visible and often oppressive), but he is less open to acknowledge the potential evil in individual self-shaping and self-expression. This is a major oversight which is not acceptable for such a notable scholar.

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Posted by: gcarkner | May 8, 2021

Paul Davies on Science and Faith

Reprint from PAUL DAVIES (thought provocative article on the nature of science and the laws of physics)

The New York Times, 
November 24, 2007

Tempe, Arizona.

SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue. 
The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.
The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?

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Posted by: gcarkner | April 18, 2021

Our YouTube Channel

GCU welcomes you to our dynamic YouTube Channel of lectures and discussions to expand your horizon of thought and your personal human flourishing. We grapple with some of the toughest questions of our day. The goal is to encourage, enlighten and challenge all who participate. ~Gordon

Mythology that Currently Haunts the Relationship between Fides et Ratio

We suggest that our current state of skepticism in Western late modernity stems from a massive confusion about the relationship between various types of faith and various types of reason. Yes there is more than one type of reasoning. Alasdair McIntyre notes three massively different ways of reasoning in Three Version of Moral Inquiry: pre-modern, modern and postmodern. Faith is a multivalent concept and applies equally to hard science as well as in our personal relationships or the study of Holy Scripture. God asks to reason with us, asks us to test his statements against the reality of our lives, to see if we can make sense of our lives from a larger, transcendent frame or horizon. It takes constant practical reason to drive a car safely and we had better be sharp especially if we are driving on the autobahn in Germany where speeds sometimes exceed 200 km./hr. We dare not sacrifice the virtues of the mind, because the harm done is both towards others and against our very selves. It can lead to distrusting one’s own thoughts–cynical despair. One cannot even begin at the science bench without many important assumptions that cannot be proven  by scientific reason or empirical evidence. See our YouTube Channel for a webinar discussing the possible reconciliation and complementarity of reason and Christian faith. We dare not sacrifice the virtues of the mind, because the harm includes others and ourselves. Truth matters. Critical thinking matters. Sound argument matters. Listening to others matters. Taking responsibility for our words matters.

Posted by: gcarkner | March 29, 2021

Some Good Friday and Easter Thoughts

Faith in God includes one’s ongoing resolve to receive God’s moral character in Christ inwardly, and to belong to God, in the reverent attitude of Gethsemane; Christ in you is the inward agent-power of Christ working, directing at the level of psychological and motivational attitudes, towards a cooperative person’s renewal in God’s image as God’s beloved child; furthermore Gethsemane union with Christ as Lord calls for volitional cooperation and companionship with Christ, who empowers and guides how we think, not just what we think.

~Dr. Paul Moser, Philosopher Loyola University, Chicago

How are we to understand Good Friday and Easter from such a distance? How does it relate to our experience? Is it mere sentiment or something more profound? Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making: recovering our creative calling, (Chapter 8 “Jesus as Culture Maker”) has some brilliant insights into the difference that Jesus life, death and resurrection have for shaping the horizons of possibility (shalom and human flourishing) for societies, ancient and modern. He helps us grapple with the various dimensions of this sorrow and celebration. See also I Corinthians 15 and reflect on the meaningful quotes by other authors and leaders.

~Gordon Carkner

The Cross

He suffered the full weight of the human story of rebellion against God. He was literally impaled on the worst that culture can do–an instrument of torture that stood for all the other cultural dead ends of history, from spears to bombs, gas chambers to waterboards. Like all other instruments of violence, a cross is cultural folly and futility at its most horrible. (141)

The core calling of [Jesus] life is not something he does at all in an active sense–it is something he suffers. The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion–not a doing but a suffering. (142)

On Good Friday, love embraced suffering as Jesus drank the bitter cup. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. self-consciously followed the same journey of the suffering death of Jesus, the way of the cross, as he promoted civil rights for African-Americans in the Southern USA in the 1960s. He worked hard to replace the perverted symbol of the cross which was used as a justification for aggression, hate and violence—e.g. as an instrument of the Ku Klux Klan. His life quest was to restore the cross as a symbol of love, mercy, justice and non-violence. He incarnated a form of extreme love, a committed non-violent protest against systemic injustice.

~Iwan Russell-Jones, former BBC Filmmaker and Professor of Faith and the Arts, Regent College Good Friday Poem by Malcolm Guite

Can Beauty Save Us? by Jimmy Myers, with permission.

This is the image of a Jewish man from Nazareth, crucified. In fact, his is the face of “the King of the Jews” and yet, it is supremely grotesque, bearing all the marks of suffering. His face reveals real forsakenness; his body aches of real bodily torture and real agony. His corpse lies mangled and bloodied, and his eyes…proclaim the dreadful word that causes all who hoped in him to shudder: death. There is nothing at all glamorous, desirable, or romantic about this image of the crucified One. But, of course, what is so profound about the face of this human is that his is also the face of God. His face radiates the Beauty of divinity, for he is Light from Light uncreated, the perfect image of the Father. He is, as Hebrews 1:3 says, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The beauty of this person, wholly man and wholly God, lies in the mystery that he brings salvation to the world not by excluding suffering but by uniting himself to it. He refuses to recoil from a world that has become repellent; he does not laugh at the dereliction of others; he does not look at all that is bad and conclude, “all is well.” He does not stand far off. In his beauty, he comes near and embraces the “ugly” ones. He associates with strange and lonely and exiled folk, bringing the outcast in. He is the servant who suffers, and, protesting against “the way things are,” he laments “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He exemplifies and creates a people committed to what David Hart calls “strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness” to those whom Nietzsche would have annihilated…. He brings the whole festival of divine grace to a world that has excluded itself from it and invites…humanity to take part, to enjoy a feast of resurrection where all divisions, segregation, and exclusion are transcended, where all have their place at the supper of the Lamb, where all, who see the face of the Beautiful One and in that seeing are transformed, are inundated and radiated by Beauty itself. In a word, to paraphrase St. Athanasius, he becomes the Ugly One so that we, the original ugly ones who have made this world ugly with our violence, might become beautiful. This reveals the scandalous message of the Christian aesthetic regime, an alternative regime to that of our time: Beauty saves the world, but only by facing the Ugly head on and actually uniting himself to the regime of the Ugly. We cannot be saved by beauty as long as “beauty” is held captive by immanent attempts to achieve transcendence. The thought that we can be saved by immanent beauty is the presumption of a contemporary secularity that thinks that humanity can ever slowly, by carefully putting one foot above the other, ascend the ladder towards infinite beauty that awaits an enlightened race of humans. The truth that will always confront all of us at the top of that ladder, however, is the face of the God who, beyond history, came into history and became ugly, mangled, and ripped apart by deep dereliction and thorns, a face that unbearably whispers: you can only be saved by the beautiful one who has become the ugly one. In other words, the Ugly one alone can save us, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, whose divine Beauty is manifest in his descent to become—Jesus of Nazareth. (Jimmy Myers, Can Beauty Save Us? Why Do We Suffer?

How Do We Account for the Empty Tomb?

One of the Smartest Scholars on the Resurrection

Can We Make Peace Between Faith & Reason?

Posted by: gcarkner | March 29, 2021

René Girard on Deep Easter

The Gospel According to René Girard

~ Peter Barber, Ph.D. Student Religious Studies at UBC~

The two principal assertions of Girard’s hermeneutical model are ‘mimetic desire’ and ‘scapegoating’. Mimetic desire is the idea that humans do not experience being and identity autonomously, but always only through an Other, a model for one’s desire. This could be an older sibling, an exemplar or a mentor. Desire and by extension ‘being’ is borrowed. This essential feature of human nature accounts for the enormous learning capability (the physical apparatus for which is now identified as the brain’s mirror neuron system), and is a positive basic feature of human existence. And yet, since desiring and being is through a model other, two or more persons desiring the same object(s) or things could end in rivalry over the object(s). This can and often does result in occasioning conflict and seeming to necessitate, in the estimation of the rival(s), the need for sacrifice of the Other, in order to gain the being blocked or inhibited by the model.

It is in this way that scapegoating regularly results from mimetic desire going sideways, as just described. Positive learning descends into destructive violence, the desire to destroy what you admire. The term scapegoat is chosen by Girard because it encapsulates our cultures’ reception of the spirit of Christ’s revelation throughout history, that sacrifice of the other is not ‘good’, is not even necessary, but is the false transfer of responsibility for rivalry and violence off of oneself and entirely onto the Other. The transferal is followed by destruction of the Other for his/her guilt, and for the danger or social pollution they still pose, in blocking access to the desired object(s). It threatens social chaos, and the scapegoat is sacrificed to restore peace and order. 

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Posted by: gcarkner | February 8, 2021

Ray Aldred on Truth & Reconciliation

Rev. Dr. Raymond C. Aldred

Director of the Indigenous Studies Program

Professor of Indigenous Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology

Can We Handle the Truth and Take Responsibility for Reconciliation?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 @ 4 PM


In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, Canadians have often viewed Christianity as the enemy of Indigenous people. But there is another side to the story, claims Professor Ray Aldred. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada actually call themselves Christian and appreciate what they have learned from Christian leadership over the years. Aldred notes that there is currently real hope for a better day, a way forward for our Indigenous people. This hope begins in community, in rethinking our identity, who we are and where we have come from. In this address, he will show the need to tell the truth and use human imagination to heal relationships with the land/creation, with family, clan and community, and with the Creator. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ quest for healing is a shift in identity from shame to dignity of heritage. Mohawk writer Patricia Monture notes that key to this shift is a decision to take responsibility for all relationships, “Responsibility is at the heart of Indigenous freedom and self-determination.” We must strive to live in harmony with all things and all peoples, including the new visitors. We also wish to heal our treaty covenant relationships: through the threefold strategy of telling the truth, listening to one another, and seeking a common plan to repair the damage of abuse. Employing the principles of restorative justice, the difficult task of retelling our stories offers an important, creative way forward. These stories help us revisit the pain, face reality, and rediscover the good roots of our heritage. These vital steps constitute the effective direction of hope, as Ray has discovered through much experience.


Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Aldred holds a Master of Divinity from Canadian Theological Seminary,  and a Doctor of Theology  from Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology. Currently he is the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program, whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education. He is professor of Theology: Narrative, Systematic, Indigenous at the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus. A status Cree, he is ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada. Born in Northern Alberta, he now resides with his wife in Richmond. Formerly Ray served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He is former Director for the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada, now a committee member, where he works to encourage Indigenous churches. Ray also has had the privilege of addressing several college conferences and meetings to raise awareness of these issues. He and his wife, Elaine, are involved in ministry to help train people to facilitate support groups for people who have suffered abuse.

Samples of Ray’s Perspective from YouTube The Big Idea: Relativism and the Struggle for a Stable Society with Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 12, 2021

Scientism and the Quest for Meaning

Many people today confuse science as a practice with scientism, a harmful ideology. This seminar offers a critique of scientism and shows how it restricts our thinking and does damage to the human quest for a fulsome, robust meaning. Dr. Gordon Carkner, someone who has studied both in the hard sciences/medical science and the humanities, shows the way forward out of the grip of scientism to a more whole understanding of knowledge. He points in the direction of a fresh paradigm and offers some excellent resources.

Coming Soon: The Transforming Power of Agape Love.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 4, 2021

Paul Allen on Critical Realism

Paul L. Allen

Dean & Professor of Theology, Corpus Christi College

Critical Realism: An Enduring Epistemology for Science and Theology

Wednesday, January 27 at 4:00 p.m.


Critical Realism emerged as a way of thinking about knowledge in the mid twentieth century. After disillusionment with positivism and straightforward empiricism, critical realism (CR) established itself as a way that many scientists and scholars think about how knowledge is won and progress achieved. This realization came with an associated insight that reality is made up of different strata of reality: molecular, biological, psychological and spiritual, rather than a picture of reductionism of various entities to simple parts. Borrowing from the historian of science Ernan McMullin, the Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan and several other thinkers, I want to affirm two things about CR: 1) it best describes how to affirm reality in judgments whilst conceding the variety of historical paradigms that have affected how we know things to be true. 2) CR can help us understand how to do theology, notably with respect to scriptural testimony and doctrinal claims that were written and formulated in different cultures and in accord with different assumptions than our own. 


Dr. Paul Allen specializes in systematic theology, the science-theology dialogue and theological anthropology. He taught at Concordia University prior to coming west. His publications include his doctoral dissertation, published as Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue and (with Peter M.J. Hess), Catholicism and Science. More recently, he has written Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2012) as well as articles in journals such as Zygon: Journal of Religion and ScienceThe American Catholic Philosophical QuarterlyHeythrop Journal of Theology and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosphie.

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