Guests on Volume 130
• JACOB SILVERMAN on the hidden costs of social media
• CARSON HOLLOWAY on the neglected role of religious revelation within political science
• JOSEPH ATKINSON on the sacramental and ontological foundations of marriage and family
• GREG PETERS on the value of retrieving the theology and practices of Christian monasticism
• ANTONIO LÓPEZ on human nature and freedom in a technological culture
• JULIAN JOHNSON on how Western music expresses the spirit of modernity
“The utopian impulses that we see in communications technologies, and a lot of the promises we see, and a lot of the hype we see have been around for one or two hundred years if not longer . . . If you look at the life cycles of some of these technologies and some of the great commentators of earlier eras, you just find that so much essentially remains the same; it’s just sometimes the names or the details that might change.”
— Jacob Silverman
Cultural critic Jacob Silverman discusses the "Californian utopianism" that developed in the 1960s and continues to motivate a lot of communications technologies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Though social media proponents will argue that communications technologies help to facilitate communication, intimacy, and authenticity, they rarely discuss the extent to which social media are commodified and propelled by corporate interests. These platforms are anything but neutral, Silverman argues, and are contributing to monumental shifts in how we experience time and in how we think of ourselves as persons.
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“To the extent that it is studied, revelation is often treated merely as a brute fact . . . and not often treated as a source of wisdom, or a possible source of insight into the human condition.”
— Carson Holloway
Despite the prophetic cries of philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche proclaiming that moral principles for human freedom and dignity cannot be sustained apart from the religious truth claims received by revelation, many contemporary materialists have yet to grapple with the theoretical and political consequences of a radically secular society. Political scientist Carson Holloway joins us to discuss this topic, which is the focus of a collection of essays entitled Reason, Revelation, and the Civic Order. Holloway laments the fact that the reigning attitude among political theorists neglects religious revelation not only as a potential source of knowledge about reality, but also as a source of wisdom for ordering our lives together. This neglect suggests a degree of willful denial and nearsightedness towards the religious context from which modern Western ethics emerged.
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“The issue that we’re facing is the anthropological heresies and they’re rife throughout our society at this point. (They’re becoming creedal, actually, in our society.) And so the question that our society now radically opposes to us is ‘what is the nature of the human person?’, which in the end, always has to include an account for the corporate dimension, which then includes the family.”
— Joseph Atkinson
Theologian Joseph Atkinson, examines the dangers of defining the human person as radically isolated, autonomous, and self-determining. Atkinson argues that this is an anthropological heresy — in contrast to the christological heresies of the early Church — that is directly opposed to the Christian and Hebraic concept of “corporate personality,” a principle which can be summarized by the African proverb “I am because we are.”
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“[I]f you’re gonna talk about recovering an institution and practices like monasticism, you can’t just say, ‘well it’s always existed, so it should exist.’ Instead you have to theologize about why it should exist. Is it possible to biblically theologize about its existence?”
— Greg Peters
Theology professor Greg Peters discusses some of the wisdom that monastic practices can offer to protestants and evangelicals. However, he cautions against a market-driven temptation to adopt practices for the sake of being trendy or useful. Rather, the habits of the Tradition need to be retrieved for their theological purposes as much as for their relevance to contemporary situations or anxieties.
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“Technology tends to see reality as heaps, as a conglomeration of fragments that somehow are put together by someone in order to obtain something . . . that don’t have any inner order or interiority that is resistant to human manipulation.”
— Antonio López
Theologian Antonio López explains how our technological culture obstructs our ability to see nature, things, and persons as true Others to be respected. A technological culture, López argues, is not just a society of advanced processes and stuff, but a society that sees the world in a certain way: as fragments and parts that can be manipulated or reconfigured according to our wills and to our advantage. In this worldview, nature has no intrinsic or constitutive meaning, but is completely docile to the meaning(s) we assign it. This is in contrast to a framework that sees the world and oneself as first and foremost “given” with an integrity that exists outside of our capacity to build or improve. To acknowledge something or someone as Other, in this regard, then, is to acknowledge the Other as inexhaustibly whole and wonderful.
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“When people talk about the modern, they almost always emphasize this sense of being future oriented . . . but that seems to me absolutely the flip side of the coin from the sense of having arrived too late exactly after some huge catastrophic event. And I think in the mindset of modernity, that catastrophic event is experienced as a loss of wholeness, a loss of being connected to the whole.”
— Julian Johnson
In his book, The Theological Origins of Modernity, philosopher Michael Gillespie states that to be modern is to define one's being in terms of time. In this conversation, musicologist Julian Johnson discusses his book, Out of Time: Music and the Making of Modernity, in which he explores how Western music from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries articulates our modern experience of no longer living in a capacious present defined by the cycles of nature, but of traversing through a linear history that is at any moment regretfully looking back, restlessly striving forward, or desperately clutching at the present.