Volume 131

Guests on Volume 131: John Durham Peters, on understanding media as agencies of order, not just devices of information; Paul Heintzman, on how a biblical understanding of human spirituality can inform our concept of “leisure”; Richard Lints, on how the image of God and idolatry are inversely related; Peter Harrison, on how our current definition of “science” and “religion” represents novel conceptual categories; Francis J. Beckwith, on the widespread tendency to erect a wall between faith and reason; David L. Schindler Nicholas J. Healy, Jr., on how the First Amendment is not as sympathetic to religious freedom as is commonly believed.

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Part 1

  • Description
    John Durham Peters, on a definition of “media” that recognizes media as agencies of order, not just devices of information
    The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

    “What’s most important about a medium is not its supposed content, but the way that it reorganizes the environment, the infrastructure, the presuppositions in which we live and move and have our being.”

    John Durham Peters

    Media theorist, John Durham Peters, wants us to reexamine the purposes of media and how fundamental media are. Every civilization must develop ways of mediating between oneself, between other people, and between people and nature. Media are not simply new information technologies and fine gadgetry, but significant responses to the perennial human questions of how we manage time, space, water, power, and emotions. The difference between a healthy city or a thriving civilization and a poor one is how we use media to order and reveal the world around us.

  • Description
    Paul Heintzman, on how a biblical understanding of human spirituality challenges the idolatrous, hedonistic, and utilitarian accounts of “leisure”
    Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives (BakerAcademic, 2015)

    “The Jewish sabbath is in some ways a little bit like the free time view [of leisure] in that there’s this one day when you don’t work, but then it’s not really a good fit or a good match because it’s more than just that — it has this qualitative dimension, this celebratory dimension … as well.”

    Paul Heintzman

    In this interview, leisure studies professor, Paul Heintzman tells us about the different perspectives on what “leisure” is. Is leisure merely a restorative break from work so that when work is resumed, we can be more efficient? Is it an empty “free time container” which we choose to fill with our preferred activities? Or does leisure have a more substantive purpose, intrinsic to itself and in keeping with its own logic?
  • Description
    Richard Lints, on the relationship in Scripture between the image of God and idolatry, and how human identity is foremost a matter of our call to worship
    Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (IVP Academic, 2015)

    “I think we misread [the Genesis] text as a cosmological text, [rather than] a liturgical text fundamentally. God has built [a cosmic temple]. This is the earliest Jewish readings of Genesis, where all of creation is construed as a place in which worship takes central place. So to use inside of that space of worship the language of tselem, the language of image, says that our fundamental identity lies in the act of worship.”

    Richard Lints

    On this segment of the Journal, theologian Richard Lints discusses how the Judeo-Christian concept of “image” and imago Dei as it appears in the early chapters of Genesis is intentionally set up as a diatribe against idolatry. Lints argues that while it is possible to have a discussion about the particular attributes that distinguish humans from animals as bearers of the image of God, the Mosaic account is not primarily concerned with this debate. Rather, Lints states, the Genesis narrative is concerned with the Jewish question of who we are to worship.

Part 2

  • Description
    Peter Harrison, on how our current definition of “science” and “religion” represents novel conceptual categories
    The Territories of Science and Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

    “In the public sphere, particularly in the polemical context of the putative conflicts between science and religion, there are reasons that some people may want to police the boundaries of science in particular. . . . It’s important for some people to argue that science actually tells us something about the meaning of the world even if that meaning is paradoxically that there is no meaning, as it were. And for that reason, science has to take over the role that religion once occupied.”

    Peter Harrison

    On part II of this issue, science historian, Peter Harrison, argues that one of the key distinguishing features of modernity that makes us different from our medieval predecessors is how we think about the categories “science” and “religion.” As both terms shifted from concepts concerned with the cultivation of inner virtue to categories that dealt with external propositions about beliefs and facts, so also the possibility of a relationship emerged, in which science and religion were at odds with each other due to the type of “knowledge” each professed to have.

  • Description
    Francis J. Beckwith, on the widespread tendency to erect a wall between faith and reason
    Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

    “How do you justify reason? We usually think that reason is something that we use to justify other things. . . . But if we ask ourselves about our mental powers, our mental powers seem to be ordered towards a certain end. But to say that something’s ordered towards a certain end is to imply what? That it has intrinsic purpose and design to it. But in order to be a kind of run-of-the-mill naturalist or secularist today, you actually have to deny that there’s such a thing as intrinsic ends or purposes. So the paradox here is that it turns out that a very strong, aggressive materialism winds up undermining reason itself.”

    Francis J. Beckwith

    Philosophy professor, Francis J. Beckwith, joins us in this interview to talk about what qualifies as “rational” in the public sphere. The separation between church and state, observes Beckwith, has morphed into a separation between faith and reason such that religious arguments, though they may be compelling, consistent and logical, are deemed unreasonable simply for being religious. This is largely due to the claim that only empirically verifiable arguments can be made in public as rational arguments. But this definition of “rational,” argues Beckwith, is ahistorical as well as a-cultural, and fails, itself, to be a scientifically verifiable claim.

  • Description
    David L. Schindler & Nicholas J. Healy, Jr., on how the First Amendment is not as sympathetic to religious freedom as is commonly believed
    Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom (Eerdmans, 2015)

    “Of course an argument needs to be made in defense of and in support of religious freedom, but at the same time, we have to challenge the assumptions about: what do we conceive religion to be and what is freedom. Underlying both of those questions is a certain vision of the human person. What does it mean to be a human being?”

    Nicholas J. Healy, Jr.

    On this final interview, theologians David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy, Jr. talk about the historical and intellectual context from which the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae, emerged. As scholars have interpreted this document on religious freedom, the central question has been whether or not a religious philosophy is embedded in the articles of the First Amendment. Does upholding a right to religious freedom have, paradoxically, an inherently secularizing effect? And what might a right to religious freedom imply about the human person? In what sense is the human person religious and in what sense is he free?