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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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity

radical summa: christianity and anarchism

Question: Can a Christian associate herself/himself with anarchism?*

Objection 1.“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2 NRSV) Thus, God, sovereign over all, should be trusted with whom God grants power over particular nations and peoples. To resist authority means to resist God.

Objection 2. Further, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel and Judah celebrated and respected their kings when they followed God. Anarchism rejects leadership of any kind for the will of local groups and individuals. The People of God have trusted God for their leadership. To reject leadership is to reject God’s will.

Objection 3. Further, Christianity cannot assume other ideologies. The Christian Scriptures present the only ideology that a Christian can bear. To allow other ideologies to corrupt a Christian’s conscience and way of life forfeits one’s religion and relationship with Jesus.

On the contrary, Studying the history of Christianity, one can gather that there are as many Christianities as ideologies. In the genesis of the Christian church, many of the members were platonists or neo-platonists ( Augustine, Tertullian, Justin Martyr). As history pursued, Thomas Aquinas adhered to Aristotelianism.Then, scholars in the Renaissance critiqued medieval scholarship, which  John Calvin and Martin Luther included in their theological works.

Fast-forward to today, we are products of our culture and environment. This is inescapable. There is no such thing as a pure Christianity. We choose what ideas, actions, and people to pursue and trust.

I answer that, There is no contradiction between anarchism and Christianity. Christianity is moldable and changeable as much as anarchism. It is possible for them to fit well together. With an extremely joyous and resounding Yes! I commend Christians to be open to other possibilities of political, economic, and social allegiances. The Gospel of Christ is formable, shakeable, and able to participate in most ideologies. Anarchism is an important ideology because it subverts the status quo, battles Empires, and casts down leadership for the sake of consensus. In association with Christianity, which for its early history, did all of these same things as well as practiced non-violence. Thus, Christianity and anarchism is not a contradiction, but a beautiful partnership.

Reply to Objection 1. Paul’s theological and ethical advice in Romans 13 may have been a standard for the church in Rome; although, we do not know this for certain. Yet, Paul did not follow his own teaching! Paul and his friends called Jesus king (Acts 17:7), which mocks political and religious authorities. As well, Paul faced much adversity for preaching the Gospel, which is anti-Roman Empire and was tortured for it (2nd Corinthians 11:23-29). Hence, Paul believe it was far more important to stand for one’s beliefs in another world than to blindly obey the Roman Empire.

Reply to Objection 2. Before kings ruled Israel and Judah, there were judges. From 1200-1000 BCE, judges fought for justice in the land. They were the ones who killed or stopped other tribe’s military and political leaders. When confronted with the idea of a king to rule over all the tribes in Israel a theopoetic exclamation emerged with the “Parable of the Trees” (Judges 9:8-15).* The “Parable of the Trees” demonstrates the multi-vocal nature of Scripture. The Hebrews did not always have kings. They were sometimes not happy when they did have a king. Before Israel’s first king Saul, God proclaimed that God did not want them to have one (1 Samuel 8). Thus, social and political hierarchy cannot be placed on God or Scripture as tradition.

My Kin-dom Is Not of This World

*Those unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ style in the Summa Theologica, this post may seem odd. New Advent has the full Summa for those wanting to further investigate.

** It is one of two parables in Hebrew Bible, the other told to David by the prophet Nathan (2nd Samuel 12:1-6) concerning the rape of Bathsheba. Resistance in Scripture always finds creative means.

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