Christainity, culture, Philosophy

reflecting on natural law and culture

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I recently thought of the meaning of ‘natural,’ but it’s been consuming my thoughts. I guess most recently it was hearing arguments against same-sex relationships. Some claim God made humanity to naturally fit together, one with a vagina and the other with a penis. They just work. Conversely, as I and other proponents of queerness recognize, among other things, that the rest of the animal kin-dom does not abide by this female/male sexual relationships, like giraffes. Bill Nye was asked this question recently and his answer is spot on.

Historically, Thomas Aquinas popularized ‘natural law’ in the 13th century. It has two main parts:

1) everything has a place in the hierarchy of the universe with God governing over all.

2) there are actions that lead to the common good of humanity and the world. If one does not follow such actions they are sinning or going against natural law.

Natural law has persons of color viewed lower in the social hierarchy. Womyn were cast under men as lesser. As well, higher on the ladder of privilege were those in the religious life. Natural law gave rights to patriarchy, slavery, and other oppressive forces.

Here’s an example from Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles,

“for men of outstanding intelligence naturally take command, while those who are less intelligent but of more robust physique, seem intended by nature to act as servants;”

Thus, it’s only natural for the privileged to be the master while the strong not as smart ones be their slave…

Duns Scotus, a contemporary of Aquinas, used natural law to claim that slavery should be abolished. Although, he does not follow his own logic to completion. Since he also wrote, “But nevertheless, once they have been established [slavery], they have to be observed.”1 This was in relation to slavery in Paul’s time. While every person and generation has certain cultural blinders, certainly Aquinas and Scotus could not understand certain emancipatory politics.

I argue and believe nothing is natural, but everything is cultural. With the Pope’s recent visit to a country I deeply love, Bolivia, he ate and drank coca. Coca is used to make cocaine, but in plant form is used to alleviate nausea from the high altitudes and helps the los campesinos have energy to make it through the workday. When I arrived in Bolivia several years ago, my first beverage was coca tea, which eased my stomach. I became angered reading some of the Twitter reactions to the Pope eating and drinking coca. They thought the Pope was getting high. Ridiculous! Anyway, coca in Bolivia is culturally bound and still very misunderstood in the States.

The other night I had dinner with a friend and a comment she made has stuck with me. I shared how I’ve moved up the East Coast for school and have lived in different cities almost every summer since 2009. I asked her if she’s been to the East Coast. She shot back, “Just because I haven’t been anywhere but Michigan, doesn’t mean that I’m not cultured.” In shock, I nodded my head in a more rapid pace than I normally do. In a way, I’ve been a curator and collector of cultures, yet continue to relish in my past cultural habits. I still listen to ska and grunge music on occasion and wear a black shirt almost every day. As well, I continue to have at least one piercing and watch cartoons. The fact we live in a globalized society doesn’t change much of it. My friend calling me out was certainly helpful in making me reflect my own cultural bias.

douglas coupland

black flag theology includes the theologies of postmodern, political, feminist, queer, and liberationist. To understand nothing as natural means we create structures and cultures. Oppression is not natural and therefore does not need to exist. Changing structures, i.e. white supremacy, is not an easy task, but is not impossible.

1 Foucault, Douglass, Fanon, and Scotus in Dialogue: On Social Construction and Freedom by Cynthia R. Nielsen, pg. 129.

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Beliefs, Christainity, Ecology, Liberation Theology

theologically imagining via comic books

Typically comic books and theology sound odd together in conversation. They represent two separate camps; one’s stationed beyond the trees in the land of pop-culture and superheroes. While the other is found amongst the cloud-covered mountains. And never the twain shall meet. This summer I sunk my teeth deep into the comic book cosmos. And after some exploration, I understand comic writers, artists, and producers as theologians. Comic books construct theology with intricate eschatologies, varying cosmologies, and present us with new paradigms to fathom the divine.

But before I dive into some detail about comics, I must confess I am not a fan of the comic philistines, Marvel and DC Comics*. Their ontological and eschatological perception is shallow, to say the least. Rather, I hone in on comic publishers, which allow for creator ownership, i.e. Image, Dark Horse, and Boom!. These publishers allow for artists and writers to go their own creative direction. This also allows for variance in styles, characters, and universes, unlike Marvel and DC.

SagaMy absolute favorite series is Image Comics’ Saga. It takes place during a galactic war and recounts the story of a little mixed-breed girl (a horned head and a wingéd back) named Hazel and her family. Her parents, Alana, who is part of the wingéd colonizer planet, fell in love with Marko,  a colonized magical horned moonie.** The first issue, Alana, beautifully, bearing all, gives birth to Hazel. And thus begins the journey of this sci-fi Romeo and Juliet hiding from their respective planetpeoples. Along the way, we meet bounty hunters, a planet of sex-workers, and creatures with computer monitor as heads. This is certainly not your parent’s comic book.

At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Saga not only won 3 Eisner awards, which is the highest achievement in the comic book world, but they hosted a stellar panel. The writer Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples discussed how Saga began. During Brian’s first discussion with Fiona about the characters, he objected to another redhead in space claiming there are just too many in science fiction. Fiona replied by asking why do the characters need to be white? The outcome of that conversation is the current series with the majority of the cast with darker skin and an array of hair and body types. For Fiona, the future is not made up of only white people like such recent sci-fi films as Lucy or Her portray. Rather, the future, like the present, is full of many diverse populations, creatures, and hopes.

MoltmannSimilarly, Jürgen Moltmann claimed in his magnum opus, Theology of Hope, “Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present” (pg. 16). Or simply put, “Who controls the past now, controls the future. Who controls the present now, controls the past,” as sung by Rage Against the Machine. The ways in which we construct our eschatology determines how we treat others and the Earth now.

For instance, premillennial dispensationalists believe God will one day rapture those who declare Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and for the next seven years God will torture those left behind and torch the Earth. For them, if God is already going to destroy the Earth, then they should not be concerned about her fate today. Sadly, many congresspersons and businesses have jumped on board secularizing and Americanizing this idea allowing them to destroy our Earth. But we cannot give up hope!

Because science fiction, normally, orients future-forward, they have the opportunity to breathe new life and vision. The question for religious institutions, then, is how can we understand a beautiful future and participate in that future now? And this is where comics can lend a hand. Comic artists and writers can guide us in broadening our theological imagination.

Here are a few tips for theologically imagining:

There are no theological crossing guards!

In the Christian Scriptures we read “with God all things are possible.” And this phrase is found in different contexts throughout the Gospels (Matt 19:26, Luke 1:37, Mark 10:27) that it can be a broad framework for how it was being used. Could this mean that all things are possible with God including disrupting the laws of physics? Possibly. Or it could also mean a world where no one is hungry or has to live on the streets? I sure do hope so. Unfortunately, our religious institutions have not stretched their theological imagination. Many of the same cataphatic dogmas have not changed for centuries. Yet, no one is stopping us from crossing into new theological territory.

Humans are part of creation, not the end of all creation.

Genesis 1 beautifully describes that when God had finished creating, God saw that all of creation was very good. This does not mean that it was humanity that made creation especially good, rather its fullness made it very good. This breaks a crack in our normalized anthropocentric theology and helps us to imagine and include non-humans. We can start to imagine new theologies of tigers, otters, and iguanas. We can theologize with clouds, volcanoes, and bumblebees. Or even soaring in the Milky Way and beyond with planetary theologies of galaxies, black holes, and quarks. No-thing is the limit!

We are shaped by our surroundings, and shape our surroundings.

Our mere presence changes group dynamics, neighborhoods, churches, and the room. This gives us the chance to inspire new thoughts, to sing new songs, and change ourselves and the world for the better. Although, we need be conscious in our participation in creating these spaces within ourselves for transformation.

Better futures could arise with dialogue between comic books artists/writers and theologians.

I’m ready!

*There are exceptions including Ms. Marvel (2014) and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
**He lives on a moon colony adjacent to the colonizing planet.

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Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy

anti-metaphysics and jesus

The ancient philosophy of metaphysics is a spectre in our society. One assumption attributed to Plato, is that for everything we can see physically on earth, there is a perfection of that thing in the heavens.* For example, if someone were to make a table, the perfect table would be in heaven that we are trying to reflect. Plato makes a story of this idea in “Allegory of the Cave.”

The Forms permeate U.S. culture still . This is especially apparent for those running for President and other positions in the government. Mitt Romney said that President Obama blocked “true economic recovery.” Romney believes that there is one “true” way to encourage an economic growth. Yet, is he being told this from heavenly economics or his ideology? As humans, we do our best to manage how things operate and make our best guesses with how to live and with what relationships to have. Sometimes we fail in our experiments, but most of the time we succeed what we are after and can repeat such actions.

I guess the problem is that some people believe that they are absolutely correct in assuming certain ideas, believing that these things are from the heavens. Christian fundamentalism understands the world in this way. It came to full force with Harold Camping and his followers who believed last year that May 21st 2011 would be the return of Christ to earth. They received this insight from an interpretation of Scripture that for them was the “true” way, a way of interpreting from God.

There have been many philosophers who have combated the idea of metaphysics. These include Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Satre, and Gilles Deleuze. The first two are existentialists, which says in a nutshell that “existence precedes essence.” Things in themselves do not have inherent meaning, but  we as a culture, people, society, and individuals grant them meaning. This is why two individuals can attend the same event or watch the same movie and give two different responses  . The last person mentioned was Gilles Deleuze was an anti-metaphysical postmodern philosopher who wrote about things like capitalism and schizophrenia, cinema theories etc. Much of his books are rather are hard to understand,including Difference and Repetition. (I hope to one day write a blog post about Deleuze once I know more about him.)

Maybe you are wondering what this has to do with Jesus. It seems that some authors of the New Testament had the world-view that included Platonic metaphysics. For example, the author of John begins with a prologue and writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The “Word” is in reference to Jesus, who is the perfect form of God. Another Platonic writer  in the New Testament is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. S/he declares that Jesus is the heavenly high priest making sacrifices in heaven, and since Jesus is a Form then he too must be sinless, a perfect human come to earth.

The other Gospel writers do not appear to take such a stance, e.g. Mark’s Gospel has no reference to Jesus as being eternal, but as “Son of Man.” Therefore, I take a position that we must perform Christology from the bottom up rather than top down. Roger Haight does this in his text, Jesus, Symbol of God. He recommends “an incarnational christology in which the created human being or person Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete symbol expressing the presence in history of God as Logos” (p. 439). Once we take the view of Jesus from an anti-metaphysical or existentialist point then Jesus is eternal in another sense. It is no longer about Jesus being eternal and worrying about all this implies, but the concern is where Jesus receives power and authority. Top down Christology, one is not concerned with Jesus, but Jesus as an Form. In this way, one does not have to concern herself with the history of Palestine or the Roman Empire, but only about Jesus as the perfection Son of God. Yet there must be a happy medium where we care about discipling people for the kin-dom of God and a balanced historical-critical reading of the Scriptures.

Lastly, I want to stress that we can not have a “pure” anything, e.g. reason, Christianity, etc. We only have the reality we live in and we must do our best to try out new things and live in a way that is good for ourselves and the rest of society.

*There are plenty of other things that accompany metaphysics like ontology, but for this post I wanted to focus on the Forms/Ideas.

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