Category Archives: Religion

Harry Huebner on Spirituality and Religion

In the beginning of September, after two years away from the university, I will begin a Master’s program at McMaster University. Because we will move in the beginning of August, this new chapter seems even closer than it actually is. Because of this, I have embarked on a quest to read some of the written texts by my most influential teachers at Canadian Mennonite University.

In various applications, I articulated my desire to pursue graduate studies as, in part, a desire to be challenged and changed so as to avoid being too easily pigeonholed in comfortable ways of thinking. If this is true, whither this effort to further delve into the traditions and ways of thinking in which I am already so thoroughly steeped? The answer is that I find oftentimes the most positive changes and most fruitful challenges come when we encounter new persons, worlds, and ideas with a strong and rooted sense of who we are and a deep appreciation for where we are coming from. That is, I suspect that a new program will better serve me the more rigorously I know what I have learned and hold to be true (at least, to the extent that I agree with my teachers). Continue reading Harry Huebner on Spirituality and Religion

Ethical Music and Change

“Plato’s concern that changes in musical conventions threaten anarchy in society has been voiced repeatedly by those who resist change, and it echoes today among those lamenting current tastes in popular music” – A History of Western Music (Burkholder, Grout, Palisca)

So I sold my music history text book in my third year of undergrad; I needed some extra dough. But recently I’ve been wanting an intro text to music history to get some bearings on what the current understanding of the musical canon in history is. So I picked up a used text book for a very fine price. I’m loving it for both it’s simplicity and clarity as well as showing me where I can investigate further details that the text doesn’t have room for.

One interesting fact: “The earliest composer known to us by name is Enheduanna (fl. ca. 2300 B.C.E), an Akkadian high priestess at Ur, who composed hymns (songs to a god) to the moon god Nanna and moon goddess Inanna; their texts, but not their music, survive on cuneifrom tablets.” So that’s awesome. The first composer that we know by name is a woman. Pretty cool.

Back to the first quote. It’s false. The claim that certain kinds of music affect one’s character has indeed been used by many thinkers. However, the authors in the text imply that it is inherently a conservative claim. Luther, and later Mattheson, argued that if music had the power to move people in secular situations, the church should have no reservations in bringing that same music, albeit with different texts, into the liturgical worship of the church. Here, Luther and Mattheson are pushing for change not resisting it, as the textbook claims. Furthermore, there is an implicit suggestion that character and music have absolutely no correlation, which further implies that the culture and situation where the music itself arises is irrelevant. And this is simply not the case.

Textbooks try to be as clear cut as possible so that the reader can nuance their ideas in their later studies. Perhaps this is okay. But I don’t think it’s okay to present an idea as fact if it is opinion.

What’s the point of morality?

I’ve avoided using the word “moral” for quite sometime. I’ve never found it helpful in discussions. I feel like when people talk about what is “morally” acceptable, they are talking about some sort of universal judgement. But by using the word “moral” in some form, they distance themselves from talking about the particular situation in more detail. Maybe I’m wrong. Are there situations in which the word “moral” adds clarity, nuance, or, really, anything that could be said without using the word?

Elementary my dear Sherlock. A response to “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy — Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”

I got somewhat excited when I came across this article. It addresses a topic that I had been thinking about recently. And I was hoping for an argument that might rip me. Unfortunately, it fell flat. Here are just a few of the reasons.

I think it’s contradictory for an atheist to blame another atheist (Stalin) on his religious background for his atrocities, when it is not acceptable for religious person to do the same. Furthermore, an implication of such an argument is that atheists can always blame their religious heritage for their mis-deeds.

We seem to forget that origins of the word religion comes from a Latin word meaning to “revere.” Its history is one where authors use it to distinguish “religion” from “true religion.” The most famous example of this is the reformation: Catholic = false religion; Protestant = true religion (see Sloterdijk’s You must Change Your Life). In this sense, yes, most atheists do indeed revere science.

(I will use the term “religious” in the current sense of the word in the rest of the post)

If Stalin’s atrocities were basically religious in nature, then does this mean that every professed atheist that commits violence is susceptible to being maligned as religious by the New Atheists? What’s the point, then, of claiming you’re an atheist if all your crimes will disqualify you as being an atheist? Here we are right back at another accusation by New Atheists: “Religious people are not honest with themselves.” The accusation goes both ways.

I agree that the numbers game (“you too”) is a bad way to argue for many reasons. And I agree that “It is at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct.” This is true: responsibility needs to present in these discussion. However. Because Sherlock seems to think that the very way religion operates is oppressive, he cannot bring himself to the say that “belief in X does not necessarily lead to atrocities.”

Many New Atheists (including Sherlock) cling to an optimism that if religions ceased to exist, the world would necessarily become a better place. Many religious people think this is the case with their religion as well. This is obviously no different from saying: “Well, I’m right. If everyone would just listen to me, things would be better.”

Again, there is a forgetting that the Secular is so thoroughly saturated by the religious (see A Secular Age by C. Taylor).

The New Atheist movement often claims to be a movement that is in a state of wonder, and in awe of the universe. A state that claims not to have all the answers, a free investigation. But again and again it shows itself to be a caricature of what Maritain called a positive atheism in the mid-20th century; Merleau-Ponty writes: “‘It is an active combat against everything that suggests God, an ‘antitheism,’ an act of inverted faith,’ a ‘refusal’ of God,’ a ‘defiance against God.’ This antitheism certainly exists, but since it is an inverted theology, it is not a philosophy, and by focusing the whole discussion on it, one shows perhaps that it holds locked up within itself the very theology it is attacking” ( In Praise of Philosophy).

The Power of Names

How we name things fundamentally shapes the way we interact with the world. There are a few good examples that I often fall back on in order to demonstrate this point. But this might be the best example I have encountered in a very long time. The article is easy to read and pretty much speaks for itself.

The Onion’s reply to Sloterdijk

“It was the same Karl Barth who arrived at the thesis — unheard of in its time — that Christianity is not a religion, because ‘religion is unbelief’. He had the right idea, but made the wrong point and presented the most unsuitable of all possible justifications: that the ‘word of God’ strikes through the fabric of cultural machinations vertically from above, while mere religion is never more than a part of the system of humanities and all-to-humanities set up from below. The argument may seem impressive as a catastrophe-theological intensification of the situation after 1918, but as a description of the overall situation it would be misleading — for modernity is simply not known for being a time in which God shows Himself vertically to humans. This century was struck by meteorites, plummeting down from the outermost and highest places; but there were no gods among them.” – Sloterdijik from “You Must Change Your Life” (86)

The Onion’s response is fiery: “New Study Finds Majority Of God’s Blessings Burn Up On Entry Into Atmosphere

Christmas Movies and Belief

It is the time of season for Christmas movies. Having gotten my way through a number of them, I’m struck by a reoccurring theme. It seems that the most meaningful message North American Christmas movies are capable of is that we ought to believe in Santa Clause. This is the virtue we are called to each Christmas.

Needless to say, I don’t think this is much of a virtue, and find myself rather baffled each time a movie calls me to it. Continue reading Christmas Movies and Belief

Do You Believe In Hard Work?

Let’s assume that the answer is yes. You believe that hard work contributes to a life worth living for everyone. So, are you hard worker? If you are not a hard worker and you say you believe in hard work because it will contribute to a life worth living, then do you really believe in hard work? If you say you believe it but your life doesn’t show it, then, should I say that you don’t believe in hard work? Perhaps you say that you believe in hard work to be in agreement with those people who do work hard and believe in their work. Fair enough. Who wants to have constantly defend this view against society? That’s a lot of work!

Perhaps this is how belief often works. It’s less work to have to have people secretly disbelieve you than it is to have to try and defend your beliefs.

Christianity as Lack

In order to accept salvation, you first have to understand that by virtue of being (a fallen) human you are naturally a miserable creature who cannot save itself. Sometimes it is said differently: convince others that they are captives to sin, or that they don’t have control of their lives, so they should choose the right one.

But understanding ourselves as fallen is not something we choose to do. We are given it. If it is God who chooses us, this language of choosing to follow Christ because we have accepted that we are fallen seems rather pointless.  Maybe it makes sense ONLY in retrospect, after the event. I understand that I was in sin. I did not know how bad it was, how lost I was, how sinful I was, until now. “Now” being the time where I understand things. Where I have tasted the waters of true life. So if we are chosen by God and in being chosen we discover how fallen we really were, then it makes no sense at all to try and convert others by trying to convince non-believers that they are fallen. Moreover, Jesus did not go around telling people that they need him, rather he called out to people both in word and in deed.

The Idol

“… The visitor to an ethnological museum at first considers statues with an interest that is incontestable as it is external, to which is suddenly opposed an idol where his gaze freezes in order to read the divine impression that the idolatrous artist had consigned in it: “He stood there, suddenly, without knowing how, before a primitive wooden figure, which, frightful and crude as it was, made such a forceful impression on him that he succumbed, body and soul, to the magic of that rough idol – for it was one.” This emotion has nothing “aesthetic” about it but incites – even more, physically constrains — on to adoration, certainly not of the image but of the very Eindruck that it exerts, and which is exerted as that very visibility: “a monstrous, dreadful desire suddenly took hold of him, to throw himself to the ground, to fall on his knees and to prostrate himself, in order to venerate with his body the dreadful image that had been taken from the deserts of Africa.” 239 (End Note)

“The idol never deserves to be denounced as illusory since, by definition, it is seen – eidolon, that which is seen (eido, video). It even consists only in the fact that it can be seen, that one cannot but see it. And see it so visibly that the very fact of seeing it suffices to know it – eidolon, that which is known by the fact that one has seen it (oida)”

“The idol fascinates and captivates the gaze precisely because everything in it must expose itself to the gaze, attract, fill, and hold it…. For the fabricated thing becomes an idol, that of a god, only from the moment when the gaze has decided to fall on it, has made of it the privileged fixed point of its own consideration; and that the fabricated thing exhausts the gaze presupposes that this thing is itself exhausted in the gazeable”

The gaze alone makes the idol, as the ultimate function of the gazeable… Instead of the gaze floating along unstable waves of “the sea, the sea perpetually renewed,” it must present itself in a mirror, a gaze as mortally immobile as coagulated blood: “The sun drowned in its blood which coagulates”

“When the gaze freezes, its aim settles… But that which renders a gaze idolatrous could not, at least at first, arise from an ethical choice: it reveals a sort of essential fatigue”

“Consequently, the genuineness and the limits of the idol can be defined: in the idol, the divine actually comes into the visibility for which human gazes watch; but this advent is measured by what the scope of particular human eyes can support, by what each aim can require of visibility in order to admit itself fulfilled.”

“For this reason, no one, not even a modern of the age of distress, remains sheltered from an idol, be he idolatrous or not: in order for the idol to reach him it is sufficient that he recognize, fixed upon the face of a statute, the splendid brilliance of the first visible where, one day, his gaze was frozen in its scope”

“Art no more produces the idol than the idol produces the gaze.”

Passages regarding the idol (pages 9-15) from Jean-Luc Marion’s provocative book, “God without Being.”