Addenda

30 Oct

CSA's: Church Supported Agriculture

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Eve Ruotsinoja
Published: 10/30/15

Norman Wirzba on assuming our creaturely identity

“I am especially asking Christians that they learn to appreciate eating as being of the highest theological significance, and one of the most practical ways to show that they have committed to extending God's hospitable presence in the world. For too long too many Christians have believed that God's primary concern is the fate of their individual soul. This drastic reduction of the sphere of God's activity needs to be expanded to include the whole scope of creation, because that is where God is daily at work. . . .

“If Christians and their churches take this task seriously, many possibilities come into view. To start, many churches own land and house large kitchens. Could these lands not be converted to grow food and flowers for parishioners and the community around? Could these kitchens not be put to neighborly use, teaching people the arts of preparing and preserving food grown with their own hands? If gardening work is indeed work that introduces us to God's ways of being with the world, then churches should seek out opportunities for parishioners to get their hands in the soil, caring for the creatures that God so clearly loves. They should profile the skills of gardening and cooking work as vital to their own faith development. . . . 

“What would it look like to implement a system like Church Supported Agriculture? In this system, specific congregations, or a collection of congregations, can partner with farmers so that both benefit. More than simply a buying club, such a system will enable these congregations to arrange to bring parishioners to the farm so that they can see with greater clarity and honesty the fragility and freshness of life, and the demands of care. Participating in farmwork, they may even come to appreciate the kinds of faith formation that happen while one is seeding, weeding, treating a sick animal, and gathering in a harvest. Churches could also come to understand the financial pressures farmers face in the purchase of land and in the production of food, and then perhaps provide financial backing and support. What if the ‘mission field’ came also to be understood as an actual agricultural field? I don't think this is a stretch. Farming that honors God and creatures is a powerful countercultural witness to a system bent on degrading the sources of life. . . . 

“The scriptural witness is clear: the scope of God’s reconciling ways has never been confined to the human realm. What God seeks is the reconciliation of all things, ‘whether on earth or in heaven’ (Col. 1:20). Insofar as Christians commit, through their eating, to be a reconciling presence in the world, they may yet learn to be agents of the ‘good news’ that Paul says has been proclaimed ‘to every creature under heaven’ (Col. 1:23). Doing that, they will, perhaps, learn to assume their creaturely identity.”

—Norman Wirzba, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (Baker Academic, 2015)

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27 Oct

Festivity: real or sham?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 10/27/15

Josef Pieper on why we celebrate (and why some people can’t)

“Underlying all festive joy kindled by a specific circumstance there has to be an absolutely universal affirmation extending to the world as a whole, to the reality of things and the existence of man himself. Naturally, this approval need not be a product of conscious reflection; it need not be formulated at all. Nevertheless, it remains the sole foundation for festivity, no matter what happens to be celebrated in concreto. And as the radical nature of negation deepens, and consequently as anything but ultimate arguments become ineffectual, it becomes more necessary to refer to this ultimate foundation. By ultimate foundation I mean the conviction that the prime festive occasion, which alone can ultimately justify all celebration, really exists; that, to reduce it to the most concise phrase, at bottom everything that is, is good, and it is good to exist. For man cannot have the experience of receiving what is loved, unless the world and existence as a whole represent something good and therefore beloved to him. . . .

“Strictly speaking, however, it is insufficient to call affirmation of the world a mere prerequisite and premise for festivity. In fact it is far more; it is the substance of festivity. Festivity, in its essential core, is nothing but the living out of this affirmation. . . .

To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole. . . .

“Whenever or wherever assent to the world is expressly rejected, expressly and consistently (though this last is not easy), the root of both festivity and the arts is destroyed. . . . 

“It is indubitably true that refusal of assent makes ‘song’ impossible. If assent to the world can no longer be celebrated festively at all, then every one of the fine arts becomes homeless, useless, idle, unbelievable, and at bottom impossible. To be sure, such refusal can exist side-by-side with the greatest technical skill. That is precisely what complicates the matter. For wherever truthful form is achieved, no matter how ‘formalistic’ it may be, there exists eo ipso in some sense harmony, concord with a pre-established image of order — and thus inevitably a grain of affirmation. Complete negation is necessarily formless; it presupposes the shattering of form; whereas negation proclaimed in perfect form is only a half-negation, inherently a contradiction of itself. And in fact, the arts of our time are characterized by such abstrusities of structure, quite aside from the fact that a good deal of art that pretends to metaphysical negation is really founded upon assent to a hidden order. . . .

“Worse than clear negation, however, is mendacious affirmation. Worse than the silencing and stifling of festivity and the arts is a sham practicing of them. And once again we may see that pseudo-art is related in a variety of ways to pseudo-festivity. The sham is inherent in the fact that the affirmation and ascent compatible only with true reality is falsified into a smug yea saying, whose basic element is a desire to fend off reality, so as not to be disturbed, at any price. A deceptive escape from the narrowness of the workaday utilitarian world is found in the form of entertainment and ‘forgetting one’s worries.’ And the same mendacious message also reaches men through the medium of the pseudo-arts, whether trivial or pretentious, flattering or entertaining, or intoxicating like a drug. Man craves by nature to enter the ‘other’ world, but he can attain it only if true festivity truly comes to pass.”

—Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity (New American Library, 1952)

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27 Oct

What Ockham severed

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 10/27/15

Jean-Charles Nault on the advent of sheer freedom

“For the philosophers of Antiquity, and for the whole Christian tradition, freedom is the ability that man has — an ability belonging jointly to his intellect and will — to perform virtuous actions, good actions, excellent actions, perfect actions, when he wants and as he wants. Man’s freedom is therefore his capacity to accomplish good acts easily, joyously, and lastingly. This freedom is defined by the attraction of the good.

“William of Ockham, in contrast, makes freedom a moment ‘prior’ to intellect and will. In Ockham’s writings, the word ‘freedom’ is almost synonymous with Will. Man is no longer attracted at all by the good. He finds himself in a state of total indifference with regard to good and evil. In order for him to be able to choose between good and evil, therefore, the intervention of an external element will be necessary, which Ockham identifies with the law. From then on, according to this concept, obedience to the law is what defines the good: ‘It is good because the law requires it of me’, instead of ‘The law requires it of me because it is good.’ This is a veritable ‘revolution,’ which will eventually lead to what would be called ‘legalism,’ whereby the law alone is the criterion of good. Today we can recognize the havoc caused by all sorts of legalism.

“With Ockham we are confronted with what can be called an ‘extrinsicist’ concept of action: not in himself or in the goodness of the object does man find sufficient reasons for choosing one act or another; he chooses under the influence of an element outside himself, hence, the name extrinsicism. Once again we perceive the radical change of concept in this way of thinking about the good and this way of tending toward it.

“If there is no longer an attraction that impels us toward the good, that means that man no longer has within himself what St. Thomas called the ‘natural inclinations’, which he made a key feature of his moral doctrine. Natural inclinations are ‘natural’ dispositions, which is to say that they are dependent on the spiritual nature of man, potentialities of the whole person that set him in motion toward his own activity. They are the basis of the natural law. By virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God, man is naturally oriented toward the truth, toward the good, toward God, toward the opposite sex, toward the preservation of life. Founded on these inclinations, freedom is qualified by the attraction that it spontaneously experiences to what is true and good, or at least what appears to it as such. Thus man is free, not despite his natural inclinations, but on the contrary because of them. Of course man can be mistaken, but even sin does not present an obstacle to these natural inclinations. If man chooses evil, it is not because he was attracted by evil, as we have already explained earlier, but rather because evil, in the particular situation in which he finds himself, appears to him as a good — a deceptive one, no doubt, but as a good.”

—from Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B.,  The Noonday Devil: Acedia, The Unnamed Evil of Our Times (Ignatius Press, 2015)

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27 Oct

Progress in the void

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 10/27/15

R. J. Snell on modernity’s preference for freedom over the good

“The Western tradition has long grappled with the question of freedom within the limits of natural right and natural law, a distinction vital to so much of our understanding of the rule of law, human dignity, the meaning of human freedom and responsibility. If right is determined only by what we arbitrarily choose, then right is fundamentally unstable; but if there is a natural right, then justice is beyond mere caprice or accident but normative and binding. The explanation of how things were right by nature took many forms, and the West exists as the tension between the explanations offered by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. By the time of early modernity, however, a new consensus emerged that nature (or creation) did not provide an explanation of the good. John Locke, for example, rejected the ‘old view of nature’ and the understanding that ‘human beings . . . were directed to a highest good under which all goods could be known in a hierarchy of subordination and superordination’ — there simply was no such good. In the absence of a normative ordering of goods, it became difficult, but essential, to explain the meaning and foundations of justice, and Locke and the liberal tradition declared that justice was contractual rather than rooted in nature.  As George Grant articulates it, the fathers of modernity knew that their version of justice required ‘giving up the doctrine of creation as the primal teaching,’ for if there was truth ‘deep down things,’ if things were heavy in their interiority and made demands on us to be respected in their integrity, and if we were charged to work, attend, till, and keep the garden through good work, offering both the perfected garden and our work-perfected selves as adornments for God’s cosmic temple, then our contractual agreements were bound rather than free-floating. More succinctly, if there was a truth about the good, then we were not entirely free to make justice in the image of our own unfettered wills; we were not sovereign, not autonomous, but remained ruled rulers. Modernity chafed on these limits, viewed them as obeisance rather than freedom, and determined that humanity ‘depends for its progress not on God or nature but on its own freedom, and the direction of that progress is determined’ by our own self-understandings, although it is unclear whether those self-understandings can secure anything like the common good.”

—from R. J. Snell, Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire (Angelico Press, 2015) Internal quotes are from George Grant, English-speaking Justice (Anansi Press, 1985)

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26 Oct

Command and liberation

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 10/26/15

Oliver O’Donovan on the freedom of living under authority

“Where authority is, freedom is; and where authority is lost, freedom is lost. This holds good for all kinds of authority. Without adults who demand mature behavior, the child is not free to grow up; without teachers to set standards of excellence, the scholar is not free to excel; without prophets to uphold ideals of virtue, society is not free to realize its common good. To be under authority is to be freer than to be independent. The centurion of Capernaum addressed Jesus with the memorable words, ‘I, too, am a man under authority. I say to this man “Go” and he goes, and to another “Come” and he comes’ (Matt. 8:9). He exercises authority because he is under authority. Authority communicates itself through him, liberating his capacity for effective action and command. We catch the idea in our expression, ‘to be authorized to do something,’ a condition in which one is at the same time dependent upon authority and freed by that authority to act. When a group of followers identify themselves with a leader, they experience their leader’s command as freeing them. That is true of any social movement: a political party, a school of intellectual criticism, an artistic fashion, or a gang of thugs — Augustine famously understood that certain social principles equally applied to kingdoms and to robber bands!

“Together with freedom there is awe, a wonder that is both delight and terror. Freedom begins in delighted astonishment: at the beauty of the object which the artist will paint, at the complexity of the thought which the philosopher will tease out, at the God who reveals himself in the burning bush. This is a normal element in the genesis of any worthwhile project: a rational action which looks from one point of view like the pursuit of a good may from another point of view look more like being stopped in one’s tracks. The parable of the pearl of great price is a parable about how any great thing comes to be done. Wonder contains dread as well as delight, and it is this that is especially prominent in response to authority. Those who present us with something we must do impose responsibility on us as well as freedom, and they become the immediate object of our fear of responsibility. The police officer waving down the car, the teacher setting the exercise, the physician recommending the operation, are all in varied ways our judges, should our response prove inadequate or unseemly. Only desire can make this dread tolerable, only love can make it welcome.”

—from Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment (Eerdmans, 2005)

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