Posted by: gcarkner | March 4, 2019

Sources of Identity and Meaning

Sources of Identity, Sources of Meaning

The Examined, Reflective, Purposeful Life is  Well Worth Living

  • my culture, country and family of origin, the history of my people, my mother tongue and color–where I was born, my early years
  • my personal passion, or more deeply, my sense of calling–what I want to contribute, my life trajectory
  • my educational and job experience/training–my leadership skill set
  • my personal mentors, coaches, partners and life journey guides
  • my sexual orientation, the biology of my body, my gender socialization and choices about self-expression, my management of sexual desires
  • my religion, philosophy of life, worldview or ideological orientation, my ideals, standards and principles–the meta-biological drivers or factors of life
  • my experience of trauma, tragedy and suffering, failures, handicaps and how I cope with hard circumstances or personal loss
  • the friends I hang with–my social life and romantic life
  • my creative engagement with people who differ from me, either in background or convictions, my listening skills and ability to learn from others that I may disagree with, or who make me feel uncomfortable with my assumptions
  • the community or charity projects where I volunteer and attempt to make a better, more equal playing field
  • the larger story or narrative that makes sense of my life–clarifying what really matters, what constitutes being human, what gives solidity and substance to my biography
  • my children, their lives, their needs and aspirations–the creative sacrifice of giving them life, nurture, guidance and purpose
  • my commitments to the poor, the homeless, the marginalized–community service, social compassion, positive social change
  • my political affiliations, causes, debates and engagements–my sense of justice, human rights, concern for peace-making
  • my moral commitments to certain virtues and values (strong evaluations)–the good and the common good, the admirable and noble–leading to my growth in character and civility, my relationship to my highest good, things that empower my moral agency. This is how I “become better through seeing better” (Charles Taylor).
  • my self-concept as a global citizen, commitments to the wellbeing of other people groups and nations
  • my relationship to creation, to the land, air, and oceans, to the wellbeing of the planet for the long term
  • my local social roots–my deeper experience of neighbourhood and community
  • my economic, career track potential and capacity–traction in applying my knowledge, being innovative, taking leadership, shaping culture, leaving a positive legacy
  • my prayer, worship and spiritual life practices, relationship with the divine–experience of the transcendent, my quest for wisdom towards a life worth living
  • my music interests, loves, participation–seeking the good of my mental and emotional health, my creative artistic expression, the nurture of my aesthetic self
  • my personal addictions and obsessions–darker motives and habits–my chaos, my deceptiveness, dishonesty with self and others, my refusal to take responsibility, to admit where I have been wrong, to admit where I am not speaking the truth
  • my means of recreation, relaxation, creative outlets, entertainment, fun and adventure
  • my self-articulation on social media, video, audio or print media, public speaking, book and article writing
  • my relationship to agape love, which helps heuristically to shape and interpret both my stance towards myself and my stance towards the larger world

Be Real; Be Attentive; Be Whole; Be Innovative; Be Resilient; Go For Depth; Live with Integrity; Take Care of Yourself; Find Harmony Between Various Sectors of Your Life; Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Identity Basket, Prioritize Them; Examine Your Motives and Conscience; Tell the Truth; Invest in Community, Write Your Unique Story; Build Out From What You Have Been Given; Practice Gratitude; Keep the Poetry in Your Life; Take Full Responsibility for Yourself and Your World

To have meaning is to stand for something other than oneself, to establish a link with a value, an idea, an ideal beyond oneself [a referent]. Life has meaning, for example, for those who spend their lives in search of a cure for a disease., or in the struggle against injustice, or just to show every day that society can be more than a jungle. The link one establishes with this value or idea confers a higher value on life….A life that has meaning recognizes certain references….In other words, it is paradoxically worth something only to the extent that it admits itself not to be of supreme value, by recognizing what is worth more than itself, by its ability to organize itself around something else. Everyone will admit that existence is at once both finite and deficient. We consider society to be mediocre, love insufficient, a lifespan too narrow. The person whose life has meaning is the one who, instead of remaining  complacently in the midst of his regrets, decides to strive for perfection, however imperfectly, to express the absolute, even through his own deficiencies, to seek eternity, even if only temporarily. If he spends his life making peace in society or rendering justice to victims, he is effectively pointing, even if it is with a trembling finger, to the existence of peace and justice as such….By pursuing referents, he points to them. He awkwardly expresses these impalpable, immaterial figures of hope or expectancy….Individual existence, when it means something, points to its referent through its day-to-day actions and behaviours, the sacrifices it accepts and the risks it dares to take….The seeker moves forward, all the while wondering, “What is worth serving?” Individual existence structures itself through the call for meaning. Existence is shaped by questions and expectations.

~Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World (4-5)


Two Ways of Seeing/Reading/Understanding the World 

a. The Epistemological Way of Seeing:

The set of priority relations within this picture often tends towards a closed world position (CWS) within the immanent frame (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007, chapter 15). Its assumptions include proponents like Descartes, Locke, and Hume. Taylor calls this the modern buffered self. We find this approach rooted in Anglo-American philosophy. The connection between self and world is an I-It relationship.

  • Knowledge of self and its status comes before knowledge of the world (things) and others (cogito ergo sum).
  • Knowledge of reality is a neutral fact before the individual self attributes value to it.
  • Knowledge of things of the natural order comes before any theoretical invocations or any transcendence. Transcendence is often problematized, doubted or repressed—for example, in reductive materialism. This approach tends to write dimensions of transcendence out of the equation as a danger to wellbeing (superstition). Science morphs into scientism.
  • Human meaning is much harder to capture in this frame of reference—leading to disenchantment. It can cause alienation and lead to skepticism, or promote disengagment from a cold, mechanistic, materialistic cosmos.
  • Language is the Designative type (Hobbes, Locke, Condillac)—instrumental, pointing at an object, manipulating objects, and often in turn manipulating people as objects. It is a flattened form of language, which does not allow us to Name things in their depth of context, their embeddedness. Poetry, symbol, myth are missing. Scientific rationalism is dominant: evidence and justified belief.
  • Power and violence hides under the cloak of knowledge and techne: colonization, imperialism, war, environmental exploitation, Global North versus Global South. Hubris is an endemic problem.
  • Ethics is left to the private sphere of individual values, because of the fact-value split or dualism—moral subjectivism results. This often leads to loss of moral agency and nihilism, partly due to the loss of narrative and the communal dimension of ethics.
  • Human flourishing is a central concern within this immanent frame: reduction of suffering and increase of happiness/wellbeing. Health, lifespan, safety, entertainment, economic opportunity, consumer choice are key cultural drivers. This results in a thin self, focused on rights, entitlements, opportunities to advance one’s own personal interests.

b. The Hermeneutical Way of Seeing:

The working assumptions of this approach includes proponents like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, the later Wittgenstein, Charles Taylor and Jens Zimmermann. We find this approach rooted more in Continental philosophy. The connection between the self and the world is an I-Thou relationship.

  • Self is not the first priority: the world, society and the game/drama of life come first. We only have knowledge as agents coping with the world, and it makes no sense to doubt that world in its fullness. Taken at face value, this world is shot through with meaning and discovery.
  • There is no priority of a neutral grasp of things over and above their value. It comes to us as a whole experience of facts and valuations all at once, interwoven with each other.
  • Our primordial identity is as a new player inducted into an old game. We learn the game and begin to interpret experience for ourselves within a larger communal context. Identity, morality and spirituality are interwoven within us. We sort through our conversations, dialogue with interlocutors, looking for a robust and practical picture of reality.
  • Transcendence or the divine horizon is a possible larger context of this game. Radical skepticism is not as strong here as in the epistemological approach. There is a smaller likelihood of a closed world system (CWS—closed to transcendence as a spin on reality) view in the hermeneutical approach. In a sense, it is more humble, nuanced, embodied and socially situated.
  • Language use is the Expressive-Constitutive type (Herder, Hamann, Humboldt, Gadamer) The mythic, poetic, aesthetic, and liturgical returns. Language is rich and expressive, open, creative, appealing to the depths of the human soul. Language is a sign. See Charles Taylor, The Language Animal.
  • Moral agency is revived within a community (oneself as another) with a strong narrative identity, in a relationship to the good, within a hierarchy of moral goods and practical virtuous habits that are mutually enriching and nurturing. One is more patient with the Other, the stranger: hospitality dominates over hostility.
  • The focus of human flourishing is on how we can live well, within our social location—a whole geography of relationships that shape our identity, and which we in turn shape as well. This is a thick version of the self, open to strong transcendence, within a meaningful whole.
Posted by: gcarkner | February 26, 2019

Key Alternative to Ethical Relativism

A Critical Alternative to Relativism

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Talks on Alternatives to Relativism by Jerry Root, Wheaton College :

We see genuine hope in premiere Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and his retrieval of the language of the good.  Ethical relativism denies that any objective, universal moral properties exist. It arose in the philosophical context of the dominance of empiricism and naturalism and the rejection of metaphysically abstract universals. It perpetuates the mindset that  we know how things really are for all people: i.e. that morals are relative to individuals or cultures. It is a universal claim that there are no universals. Nietzsche saw very clearly that if there was an end to God and traditional values, then the strong could impose their values on the masses. Domination would be widespread. Thus came his model of the ubermensch (superman) and the ethics of will-to-power.  There is a natural progression from relativism to will-to-power ethics (with the view that a human is just another thing in the world).

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which many of us studied in secondary school, is a graphic, heart-wrenching picture of unrestrained evil, where might makes right and bullying and scapegoating is the accepted social ethos. A group of boys marooned on a remote island make their own society, and the results are shocking. The twentieth century has trembled at the great atrocities and abuse of power by those who are without any fear of a transcendent being or any sense of obligation to a code of conduct, higher ideals, or set of norms. They operated without accountability. We enter a Hobbesian world where it is ‘all against all’. See the BBC documentary on Nietzsche “Human all too Human”

Moral philosopher R. Scott Smith argues (In Search of Moral Knowledge) that ethical relativism or moral subjectivism is a bankrupt view of the nature of morality. It fails as a moral theory and a guide to one’s moral life. It results in morally inconsistent and untrustworthy behaviour. It leads to the corrosion of morality itself with absurd consequences:

We should not settle for a relativistically based tolerance, since it will not succeed in building a moral society or in helping people be moral.That kind of morality forces us to consider all ideas and ways of life as being equally valid, yet we can know that this is not the case … Nevertheless, tolerance (as respect  of people as having equal moral value) would make sense if a universal, objective moral basis exists for that equality. (R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge, 162)

Relativism in the twentieth century has led us into some very dangerous political experiments; billions have been spent on war-making with the consequence of potential total annihilation (MAD); human rights have been violated in terrible ways; imperialism ran rampant; multiple millions have perished. The amount of suffering was unprecedented, giving it the legacy the bloodiest century in history.  British journalist Paul Johnson (A History of the Modern World: from 1917 to the 1990s) graphically illustrates the way in which the ethic of will-to-power has flourished in the soil of relativism during the twentieth century. In fact, we may well ask: Do we have one example in history of benevolent leadership without the restraint of traditional morality and the rule of law? Indeed, can we find a historical-political context where the governing authorities who have absolute power (whether king, dictator, tzar or proletariat leader) actually do not become corrupt and abuse that power?  Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | February 18, 2019

Taylor’s Take of Moral Realism

Taylor’s Case for Moral Realism

Charles Taylor’s argument for moral realism is five-fold. In terms of moral givens, he argues that certain perennial features of the self are present irrespective of culture or the way they are expressed or understood. He starts his analysis with the question of how humans operate as moral beings in their actual moral experiences, and how they reflect upon those experiences. He is interested in praxis or applied ethics as well as moral theory. Beginning with humans and the way they experience morality, he claims that the most plausible explanation of morality is one that takes seriously humans’ perception of the independence of goods. He does not want to substitute a philosophical abstraction for how people live and think. His idea of freedom includes a relationship with the good.

Firstly, he argues for the ubiquity of moral intuitions and judgments in human experience. These are intuitions that transcend basic human desires for survival, sex, or self-realization. They are also referred to as second-order desires, strong evaluations or qualitative discriminations. One notes the important reference to the quality of the will. This concept of second-order desires appeals to the ancient idea of the good, one which although interwoven with the self, transcends the self in significant ways. He is inspired by Oxford’s Iris Murdoch in this emphasis on the moral good.

Secondly, he argues that there is a need for a larger moral picture to facilitate the task of making sense of moral experience (debates, deliberations, decisions and actions). He calls this picture (map) a moral framework or horizon. Each framework is made up of several goods held together in a coherent relationship with one another, producing a coherent moral worldview. The moral self is in a dialectical relationship with its framework. We do not have a static set of conditions, but rather it is dynamic and developmental.

Thirdly, he recognizes that there is a key defining good within each moral framework, which he calls the hypergood. The hypergood is the highest or preeminent good. It operates with a controlling influence and organizes the other goods in priority within the framework. The hypergood defines the overall character of the framework, and thus it is central to the discussion of the moral self.

Fourthly, Taylor recognizes a narrative and communal texture to the pursuit of the good in moral self-constitution. Humans interpret their lives in narrative and communal terms as they pursue these various moral goods. These goods give vision and mission to life and begins to define one’s calling or purpose in life. This important narrative articulation helps the self to find a unity amidst the complexity of moral experience and a plurality of goods vying for one’s attention.

Fifthly, Taylor speaks of the motivation to do the good, the sources of the moral self. This he refers to as the constitutive good. This is often poorly understood, but vital to moral understanding. The constitutive good gives meaning to and empowers (inspires) the hypergood and the other life goods within the moral framework. It acts as a moral driver. It provides the constitutive ground of the worth or value of the life goods, and allows the self to live the good life. This is a very significant nuance to the moral self. Moral identity is interwoven with the pursuit of the good in life in Taylor’s ontology. He discerns these five categories as givens, structural features that are common to the life of all morally healthy human beings. Taylor wants to problematize the occlusion or exclusion of such parameters, such qualitative distinctions for moral reasoning, because he believes that within the life of the self, there is a multiplicity of goods to be recognized, acted upon and pursued. We must articulate them and bring them to the surface of consciousness. Taylor emphasizes the importance of being circumspect about these goods. It is quite a challenging proposal, a moral ontology of the self at its best, noblest or most whole. It offers a useful framework for this dialogue on moral self-constitution.

See Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: the Making of the Modern Identity. Part One.

Gordon Carkner’s PhD dissertation: “A Critical Examination of Michel Foucault’s Concept of Moral Self-Constitution in Dialogue with Charles Taylor” (2006 University of Wales)

See other posts on Qualities of the Will; and also Ethical Relativism

Posted by: gcarkner | February 16, 2019

Can Language Set Us Free

Language and the Road to Freedom

Sometimes our language is quite restrictive; it can really nail us down. It is hard to see beyond the picture of the world that has taken us captive and the language that articulates this picture. But fresh language and new interlocutors can free us from the grip of too narrow a perspective on life and reality. Perhaps we academics need to collaborate more on language, to expand our imagination whatever our discipline. We have been impressed with engineering and science faculty who have done a second PhD in Fine Arts or Humanities. These were some of the most innovative academic program developers at University of Waterloo; they pioneered communal learning in Systems Design Engineering. Can new language set us free into new levels of genius and creativity? We suspect so. This is also the benefit of interdisciplinary studies at UBC. We should see language as a kind of wealth to steward. To close ourselves off, to implode into a minimalist or reductionist language game, is to be in denial of this common human possession, this larger linguistic horizon.

In the CBC Series The Myth of the Secular, David Cayley and his guests open up for re-examination the language of the secular. It is an excellent series. They don’t buy the traditional thesis of secularization (flattened one-dimensional secularism) that involves the subtraction of religion as science enters the picture in a bigger way. Today religion is flourishing throughout the world. Charles Taylor is suggestive of the transcendent condition of our having a grasp on our own language, especially as we explore the expressive-poetic tradition of language. We often discover this in dialogue (Sources of the Self, p. 37), when pushed to the wall by colleagues who disagree with our personal convictions. It can be irritating but at the same time freeing and life giving. Language is so embedded in our identity that we have a hard time transcending it without dialogue with others of a different worldview of academic field. Celebrate what other language games and metaphors, figures of speech, can illuminate for you. Celebrate how they can show you ways to transcend the narrowness of the academic speak within your discipline. Tap in to that vital, broader conversation. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | January 22, 2019

Our Existential Identity Crisis

An Investigation into Our Existential Identity Crisis

Dr. Gordon Carkner

In speaking with a PhD Biology student recently, we began to dig a deep into a personal problem among students today (Millennials in general). Yes, we want to know whether the universe has a beginning, how time relates to eternity, whether science and theology are in conflict, the difference between the ideology of scientism and science per se. We are in awe when we hear about a universe that is 13.7 billion light years in age. We want to know how quantum gravity relates to General Relativity–no one has discovered this yet. We are deeply curious about the many-splendored world of the human brain and the profound power of DNA to shape our potential future. We are fascinated by the potential of nanotechnology. We wonder where Artificial Intelligence will take us, whether machines will replace humans on a large scale, making embodied humans inferior and perhaps redundant. Note the musings of Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus.

And yet there is something else weighing on our minds and hearts more heavily in our quieter, reflective moments.  It is the crisis of identity. Who am I really and why am I even here? Am I a complete fraud? Where do I find love, support and common cause with other human beings in this journey? What gives bigger purpose to my life? What does it mean to be a good person? Where are the sources for my self, my identity, my agency? Is there an Order of Being or is this all one big accident, a chance occurrence, or something we make up as we go along in life? Do I have to invent all this meaning by myself, map my own future, mark out my own path like a great explorer on a quest across the Pacific? What does freedom, choice and morality really mean? Why do I feel so alone and lonely, even though I am connected with so many on five social media platforms and live in a sea of people every day? These thoughts can rock the soul, making us deeply anxious at a subterranean level. It would be wrong to ignore them and hope they will somehow go away. They are like molten lava at the heart of a volcano, ready to erupt. We want purpose, impact and personal challenge, but struggle with despair, hopelessness, anxiety, fear and anger. Amidst all our brilliant technology and knowledge, we struggle with a serious identity crisis in the West–a knowledge of self. It is possibly one of the most serious problems to which we need to pay attention, says American Clinical Psychologist Gregg Heinrichs.

Heinrichs notes wisely that, “The conflict between notions that humans society constructs human psychology versus the idea that our societies reflect our psychological natures, is one of the deepest disputes in the academy today.” Our culture is going through an identity crisis. He suggests that a healthy identity would allow for dialectical tension between extremes, have a clear value-based narrative, have identified problematic extremes and built a strong, stable system that promotes liberty and equality, allowing competing values/goods to co-exist and inform the other, finds a balance between individual and collective identities.

Let’s begin by diagnosing some of the possible reasons for such  Millennial angst.

  • Scientific (exclusive) humanism is found wanting. We have been running this program for some two hundred years and it is showing definite cracks. Intellectual John Milbank from the UK diagnoses the problem: science, he says, was never equipped to provide a worldview, a structure of meaning, or a way of life. If we give up on God, the transcendent and religion in general, we will have nihilism, not humanism. So many of our atheistic humanist experiments have turned out very badly. There was a con built into the heart of them. Science cannot and will not provide our need for meaning and purpose. The ideology of scientism that partners with exclusive humanism is the enemy of meaning. Science is wonderfully designed to help us understand limited aspects of the physical world, but it will not satiate our existential thirst. See David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God; or Miraslov Volf’s important work Flourishing. The death of God in culture, wrote Michel Foucault (Nietzsche before him) presciently, would result in the death of man as well.


  • Many today suffer from personal trauma, relational confusion and hurt. They are broken, have lost trust in people and institutions. They may be cynical, seething with anger at the world, or the opposite sex, or burdened by self-loathing. We are cool and competent on the outside, get top grades, make the team, but just underneath our skin, we are in emotional chaos, crying ourselves to sleep. We need a skilled listening ear to sort things out and get perspective. Facing the truth about ourselves, and our mixed motives, can be one of the toughest challenges life has to offer. It is no shame to admit that we need healing.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | December 30, 2018

Cosmologist Robert Mann visits UBC, SFU and TWU January 2019


Next in our GFCF Lecture Series

Professor Robert Mann

Professor of Physics and Applied Mathematics,

University of Waterloo

The Multiverse, Science and Theology: A Critical Inquiry

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 @ 4:00 pm,  

Math Room 100, UBC

Audio File:

Books on Faith & Physics recommended by Robert Mann:

Sir John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom Up Thinker.

George F. R. Ellis, Before the Beginning: Cosmology Explained

George F. R. Ellis and Nancey Murphy, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology and Ethics.



Professor Mann explains multiverse theory and what implications the acceptance of multiverse theory may have for science and theology. If the multiverse is rejected as an explanation for the particularity of our universe, scientists and theologians are left to address why our particular universe exists rather than every universe.


Robert B. Mann (PhD University of Toronto) is Professor of Physics at the University of Waterloo; he has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Cambridge Universities, and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.  He is an Affiliate Member of the Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing. Author of over 350 papers, he has received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, Teaching Excellence awards from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and from the University of Waterloo, and a Presidential Award of merit from the University of Waterloo. He was chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo from 2001-2008 and is a past President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (2009-2011) and the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation (1996-2007). He has served on the Advisory Board of the John Templeton Foundation.

His research interests are in black holes, cosmology, particle physics, quantum foundations, and quantum information, as well as the science/religion dialogue. His Waterloo research group looks at these questions:

  • How would relativity influence how a quantum computer worked?
  • Could we use a quantum probe to peek inside a black hole?
  • Is it possible that the Big Bang could be replaced with a black hole at the beginning of time?

Part of a TWU, SFU, UBC Tour co-sponsored with CSCA, the  Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation

Robert Mann on the topic: Time and Eternity

Posted by: gcarkner | December 8, 2018

Dramatic Moments of Epiphany


Mary Encounters Something Wholly Other

Luke 1: 26-56

Epiphanies are suggestive of transcendence. Michael Morgan (1994, pp. 56f)) points out that Charles Taylor sees a parallel between the epiphanies of art and poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the I-Thou epiphany of religious encounter with the divine. Taylor elaborates the idea of epiphanies (1989, pp. 419f, especially 490-93). He sees Post-Romantic and modernist art as oriented to epiphanies, episodes of realization, revelation, or disclosure. Epiphanies and epiphanic art are about a kind of transcendence, about the self coming in touch with that which lies beyond it, a ground or qualitative pre-eminence. One might call it a gift of the imagination or a re-enchantment of reality.

Taylor reviews various ways of articulating epiphany in Sources of the Self (1989, pp. 419-93). He articulates how God, inserted into this idea of epiphany, fits as a moral source (Sources of the Self, pp. 449-52). Epiphanies can be a way of connecting with spiritual and moral sources through the exercise of the creative imagination: sources may be divine (Taylor), or in the world or nature (Romantics like Thoreau), or in the powers of the imaginative, expressive self (Michel Foucault).

These epiphanies are a paradigm case of what Taylor calls recovering contact with moral sources. A special case of this renewal of relationship between the self and the moral source is religion and the relation to God, which he sees in the work of Dostoyevski. The relationship to art parallels the relationship to religion. The self is oriented in the presence of the inaccessible or sublime, that which captures one’s amazement or awe, for example, when one’s eyes are riveted to a certain painting like Monet’s Lillies, and one’s inner emotions are deeply moved by a poem. One is taken beyond oneself, in an experience of transcendence; the experience involves both elements of encounter and revelation. It can come in a discovery such as finding out the chemicals in our bodies were once part of the death of a star; we are stardust, embedded in creation itself; we owe the stars our very life.

When Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history, she is in awe, overwhelmed. It is truly an epiphany, an I-Thou encounter with radical alterity. Heaven and earth reach out to each other at this juncture and something dramatic occurs. This news changes everything. Time stands still in this kairos moment. She allows transcendence and immanence to intermingle within her body, her life. Mary’s story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal, informed by the descent of transcendence into a historical teenager’s life. We know it as the incarnation. D. Steven Long writes in Speaking of God (309): “The purpose of the church is to recognize and acknowledge those conditions by which we can, like Mary, say yes to God and in so doing make Jesus present to the world. Those conditions are the way of holiness and that assumes the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty.”

Christmas on the Edge by Malcolm Guite

Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of  turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.

And from this day our  world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.

It is a strong transcendence to use philosopher Calvin Schrag’s insightful language. Transcendence means more than a selfless exposure or reorientation alone, but also a receiving that deeply involves the self, its imagination, its inner resources, its visions and revisions. In this calculus, for religion and art, the self remains autonomous and becomes fulfilled as it opens to the impact of the Other. It powers the sensus divinitatis. The human soul is enlarged. Morgan elaborates through the example of Jewish writer, Martin Buber, on this concept of religious epiphany or I-Thou encounter (Morgan, 1994, pp. 60-61). Taylor appreciates (1994, pp. 226-29) his use of Buber in relation to his (Taylor’s) concept of epiphany. For Buber, the religious event, revelation, involves a meeting between the self and the divine Other, an encounter that depends upon both parties. It is an act of self-affirmation, even as it is a giving over of the self to the Other. Life is enhanced. There is revelation, high thought, deep realization.

The self is receiver, but it is a receiver, not of a content, a proposition, a truth, but rather of a ‘Presence, a Presence as Power’. Furthermore, that Presence provides ‘the inexpressible confirmation of meaning’, a meaning that calls out to be done, to be confirmed by the self in this life and in this world … This confirmation and this affirmation of God and self in the world are what Taylor calls a ‘changed stance towards self and world, which doesn’t simply recognize a hitherto occluded good, but rather helps to bring this about’. (Morgan, 1994, p. 60)

Mary Shares the Profound News with Cousin Elizabeth

There entails the emergence of a supreme good in one’s experience. Thus, the concept of transcendence through epiphany, that has currency for artists and poets of the twentieth century, provides a category for us to extend to the transcendence of God. May this epiphanic realization continue this Advent Season and open up our world to horizons beyond our normal imagination, a re-enchantment. Mary is a model to us. She allowed epiphany and grace to transform her into a vessel of the Christ-event. “I am your servant Lord. As you wish.”

Dostoyevsky’s (1974) work The Brothers Karamozov reveals the power of transcendence and the danger of refusing it, i.e. remaining trapped within an immanent frame. Charles Taylor notes that:

One of Dostoyevsky’s central insights turns on the way in which we close or open ourselves to grace. The ultimate sin is to close oneself, but the reasons for doing so can be of the highest. In a sense the person who is closed is in a vicious circle from which it is hard to escape. We are closed to grace, because we close ourselves to the world in which it circulates; and we do that out of loathing for ourselves and for the world … Rejecting the world seals one’s sense of its loathsomeness and of one’s own, insofar as one is a part of it. And from this can come only acts of hate and destruction. Dostoyevsky … gives an acute understanding of how loathing and self-loathing, inspired by the very real evils of the world, fuel a projection of evil outward, a polarization between self and the world, where all evil is now seen to reside. This justifies terror, violence, and destruction against the world; indeed this seems to call for it. No one … has given us deeper insight into the spiritual sources of modern terrorism or has shown more clearly how terrorism can be a response to the threat of self-hatred … The noblest wreak it [destruction] on themselves. The most base destroy others. Although powered by the noblest sense of the injustice of things, this schism is ultimately also the fruit of pride, Dostoyevsky holds. We separate because we don’t want to see ourselves as part of evil; we want to raise ourselves above it. (C. Taylor, 1989, pp. 451-52)

The various school shootings are just such a projection of hatred for the Other and sometimes Being itself says Jordan Peterson. It is a simple, cold, deadly logic. It is completely grace-less, warlike and violent, full of hatred and resentment. There appears to be a provocative link from self-sufficiency to pride and to the aesthetics of violence (religious or secular). Taylor holds out hope for a transcendent turn to agape love, hope for a different type of transformation from beyond pure immanent choice focused self-invention and greedy self-interest which brackets the social world/common good and God. There is discovery of self within the economy of grace, a discovery and a transformation that offers a different stance towards self and the world. It is an epiphanic discovery, but only if we allow it. Continuing with his discussion of Dostoyevsky, Taylor (1989) writes of this epiphanic encounter with transcendence,

What will transform us is an ability to love the world and ourselves, to see it as good in spite of the wrong. But this will only come to us if we can accept being part of it, and that means accepting responsibility … Loving the world and ourselves is in a sense a miracle, in face of all the evil and degradation that it and we contain. But the miracle comes on us if we accept being part of it. Involved in this is our acceptance of love from others. We become capable of love through being loved; and over against the perverse apostolic succession [of terror and violence] is a grace-dispensing one. Dostoyevsky brings together here a central idea of the Christian tradition, especially evident in the Gospel of John, that people are transformed through being loved by God, a love that they mediate to one another, on the one hand, with the modern notion of a subject who can help to bring on transfiguration through the stance he takes to himself and the world, on the other … What he [Dostoyevsky] was opposing was that humans affirm their dignity in separation from the world. (C. Taylor, 1989, p. 452)

We mourn the terrible, tragic  loss of life that comes with terrorist acts against humanity, and yet we must not give up on love. We need transmission, the ability to see through the world to something better. We must be open to the transformation of the world, rather than the elimination of those who are different. We must move away from self-righteousness to suffer and struggle for peace. We must reject the forces of diabolos, division, fear and hatred. The clenched fist must be replaced the open hand of fellowship and hospitality. If we come to realize that the very core of reality is love, our cynicism will melt away, our nihilism will give way to rich meaning and purpose. What do we make of Mary’s epiphany? Can it rethink and remake us? Can light shine into our inner darkness and bring transformation? An epiphany could change everything.

~Gordon Carkner PhD

Morgan, M.L. (1994). Religion, History and Moral Discourse. In J. Tully, (Ed.), Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The philosophy of Charles Taylor in question. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

See also Real Presences by George Steiner; The Self After Postmodernity by Calvin Schrag; Not in God’s Name by Jonathan Sacks.

More on the Turn to Transcendence:

Posted by: gcarkner | December 4, 2018

Scientism as a Challenge to Meaning in Late Modernity

Scientism as a Challenge to Meaning  (Slides for Dr. Gordon E. Carkner presentation)

Epistemological Claim

The Utopian Sentiment 

Intellectual Exclusion or Hegemony 

Anthropological Consequences

Scientism and Ethics


  • The Big Picture: An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science. (D.B. Hart, The Experience of God. 2013, 71)

Part 1 of Late Modernity, the Challenge of Scientism and the Quest for Meaning


Part 2 of Late Modernity, the Challenge of Scientism and the Quest for Meaning


Alvin Plantinga on Science and Religion   Bill Newsome, Stanford Leading Neuroscientist, Lecture on January 31, 2018 @ UBC

Of Two Minds: a Neuroscientist Balances Science and Faith

Critique of Scientism

Critique of New Atheists

See also Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy. This is a brilliant critique of logical positivism and scientism.

Posted by: gcarkner | November 21, 2018

Christmas Reading Suggestions 2018

Christmas Reading Suggestions 2018

Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.

Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.

Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-first Century (eds. Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter and Gregg A. Ten Elshof)

Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life.

Craig Gay, Modern Technology and the Human Future: a Christian Appraisal.

Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.

Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family.

Daniel Taylor, Do We Not Bleed? A Jon Mote Mystery.

Mark R. McMinn, The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church.

Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World.

Dennis Danielson, The Tao of Right and Wrong.

Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ.

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.

Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. 

Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World.

Malcolm Guite, Love, Remember: 40 Poems of Loss, Lament and Hope.

M. Louise Holert, Praying with the Arts: Illuminating the Church Year with Sacred Art.

Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: a Biography.


Check out Regent Bookstore on the UBC Campus (University @ Wesbrook) Gate One for a great selection of top Christian books, cards and gift items. 

Recovery of Meaning Amidst Suffering Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, author of The Great Escape from Nihilism.   (slides)




Posted by: gcarkner | November 2, 2018

Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson

A Scholarly Discernment of the Peterson Phenomenon: strengths, weaknesses, what it says about our cultural situation,  where he fits philosophically in comparison with great minds like Charles Taylor, Paul Ricoeur, Victor Frankl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Søren Kierkegaard, Northrop Frye, René Girard, John Milbank, Chantal Delsol, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Kearney, George Grant, Jens Zimmermann, Jonathan Haidt, Alasdair McIntyre, C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers. Students are hungry these days for wise and authentic public intellectuals to help them make sense of the world they inhabit. Negotiating late modernity is not for the faint of heart.

A couple thoughtful quotes from the five part Psychology Today blog on Peterson by Clinical Psychologist Gregg Heinrichs:
“The conflict between notions that human society constructs human psychology versus the idea that our societies reflect our psychological natures is one of the deepest disputes in the academy today.”
“The benefit of Jordan Peterson entering the cultural consciousness is that he and reactions to him provide a very useful way to understand the cultural-identity political split we are now in [polarization]. Our culture is going through an identity crisis. He’s the canary in the academic coal mine.”
Thanks again for everyone who was part of this important discussion,
~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner


Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”:

A Response to the Millennial Crisis of Identity


St. John’s College Lounge, UBC

Thursday, November 15 @ 7:00 p.m.


Panel ModeratorDr. David Ley, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC; Fellow of St. John’s College


Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, faculty member at Trinity Western University, a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across different worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight.

Ron Dart teaches in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC. He is the most important writer about the Red Tory tradition in Canada with thirty-five published books, including the recent notable The North American High Tory Tradition. He has also written extensively on one of Canada’s top public intellectuals, George Grant. Ron is also a poet and a back country hiker. He has a number of YouTube videos on the Peterson phenomenon and is presently editing a book on Jordan Peterson.

Gordon Carkner,  a meta-educator with graduate students and faculty at UBC: GFCF (The Forum) & GCU which sponsor interdisciplinary educational forums like this one. He mentors students in a robust, well-rounded outlook on education. He has authored two books and co-authored one, most notably The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity, a book which parallels the theme of the quest for meaning in Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. His PhD work was on the crisis of the late modern self, a dialogue between Michel Foucault and Charles Taylor

Nov 15, JP Panel Carkner Slides

Gordon Carkner on Peterson’s Recovery of Moral Agency in Dialogue with Charles Taylor 

Recovery of Meaning Amidst Suffering Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, author of The Great Escape from Nihilism.   (slides)  Ron Dart, Political Philosopher on the contribution of  Jordan Peterson.

Ron Dart speaks of the Mythical and Mystical In Jordan Peterson

Nov 15, JP Panel Carkner Slides

Quote from Marvin McDonald: “In Peterson, we learn that responsibility is the path to meaning, and this character building exercise comes with suffering as part of the package.”



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Please read the book in advance of November 15 if possible, but this is not required.
Other Relevant and Pertinent Resources on Meaning, Identity, Moral Agency, Discernment of Our Age

Fowers, B. J., Richardson, F. C., & Slife, B. D. (2017). Frailty, suffering, and vice: Flourishing in the face of human limitations. Washington, DC: APA Books.

Carr, D., Arthur, J., & K. Kristjánsson, K. (Eds.) (2017). Varieties of virtue ethics. London: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Worthington, E. L., et al. (2014). Virtue in positive psychology. In K. Timpe & C. A. Boyd (Eds.), Virtues and Their Vices (pp. 433-457).  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; A Secular Age.
Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God.
Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another.
Calvin Schrag, The Self After Postmodernity.
Dennis Danielson, The Tao of Right and Wrong.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.
Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: the search for meaning in an uncertain world.
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love.
George Grant, In Defence of North America.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference.
Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.
David Brooks, The Road to Character.
Alasdair McIntyre, After Virtue.
Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic Comic Relief on Millennials in the Workplace by Simon Sinek:

12 Rules for Life: Like Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whom he much admires, Jordan Peterson believes that we are not in this world to pursue happiness, to be entertained, but for moral growth, to grow in the virtues, to become attentive and take responsibility for our part in the larger scheme of things. This offers a more hermeneutical outlook or social imaginary, one which authenticates human subjectivity and the quest for purpose and meaning. Philosopher Bernard Lonergan has parallel concerns in his Principles of Self-Transcendence.

  • Be Attentive: pay attention to what is happening around you
  • Be Intelligent: examine your assumptions, reflect, self-criticise
  • Be Reasonable: speak carefully and listen carefully to others
  • Be Responsible: own your part in the greater scheme and take responsibility for yourself

Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life has captured the imagination of many who hunger for a hopeful way forward in a confusing age of uncertainties. He is directing people away from their nihilistic tendencies and towards a meaningful, productive existence. It cultivates a particular kind of identity, one grounded in basic and traditional principles of conscientious living. It is a book well worth engaging.

Firm but caring…Peterson speaks the way I always wished my father had….He is the right person at the right time, someone capable of showing young men that cleaning up their room has cosmic significance, and that imposing a little order upon chaos is good for the soul, which in turn is good for the world ~National Review

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