I’ve not had time to read as much on current events or politics as I’d have liked the past few years. In many ways the past few years have seen a lot of political upheaval. We have a Democratic president who has largely taken foreign policy as an issue away from Republics.1 This has led to some odd coalitions on the Democratic side as well as certain parts of those coalitions remaining surprisingly silent on many issues. On the Republican side there has been great upheaval but a political body that seems more concerned with tone, rhetoric than actual policy. They are defined more by what, or more accurately, who they oppose rather than solutions to problems.
To me as a self-identified conservative it has been rather disappointing and depressing. The loud populist wings of the party have really dominated it. What’s surprising isn’t that the party has lost important elections but that it hasn’t lost more.
What’s interesting to me though is that there has arisen a self-described Reform Conservative movement. It’s a general label and not everyone agrees on all issues. I think it does capture well some general trends and positions. One of the better writings on it is Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s “A Reform Conservative Manifesto” at Forbes. Ross Douthat’s “What Is Reform Conservatism” at the New York Times is also worth reading. To the degree I dare say I understand the movement, I’d probably say it best describes my own views. Douthat does a nice job listing the main agenda for the movement. I’ll add in a little for each point.2
I changed the blog name. A minor point, but I wanted to branch out a little more into political thinking rather than just focusing in on religion or metaphysics. I picked the name Inevitable Metaphysics for a few reasons. First it gets at what I’d call my postmodern position that metaphysics is always problematic and always unavoidable. To avoid metaphysics is usually just to do metaphysics poorly and incoherently.
I enjoy discussing politics. Most of my political discussions take place on App.Net (sort of like Twitter but with longer posts and a much better community) One thing I’ve tried to point out is that it’s precisely where ethics is so problematic and uncertain that it’s most important to engage in ethical thinking. This largely comes out of my loosely Heideggarian and Levinasian perspective on ethics I suspect. While I think it’s important to think through the arguments that Kantians and utilitarians make, I’m extremely skeptical of any calculus resulting in ethics. Or more accurately I’m skeptical that brings us either to the ethical stance or that it would ever work. I think one of the most important aspects of ethics is the ethical demand. That is the recognition that behaving ethically is a demand on me and I experience it as a demand that simultaneously demands more than I can give. If only because the demand requires I know what to do when I don’t.
There’s an epistemological component to that. Risk. Ethics becomes experienced most profoundly when it’s not clear what we should do yet we must act.
Over on LDS-Herm there was discussion of how to teach the signs of the times without it devolving into the typical nonsense of either projecting the class’s political fears or merely taking every major event as a sign of the times. The way I’ve done it in the past with regards to Sunday School was to bring up Nibley’s discussion eschatology in which he gave a nearly Buddhist like explanation of a person finding out they are about to die and how it changes their perspective. I’ve then brought up how 9/11 made so many people rethink things. (Both positively and negatively — it’s easy to find parallels for the negative changes in the history and destruction of the Nephites) Finally I ask, independent of the prophecies, why might thinking the end is about to happen be important for changing how we perceive the world and live the gospel. Here’s a brief overview of Nibley’s eschatology from the old blog.1 This is all reprinted from that original post from 2006.
I want to today take a little break from comparing Nibley to Plato. I instead want to focus in Nibley’s discussion of eschatology in this essay. Now eschatology, simply defined, means the study of the end times. Typically when discussed within Christianity it refers to the prophetic events of either the last days prior to Christ’s return or to the final fulfillment of the earth’s existence. Why does eschatology matter? Well if there is a plan, then the meaning of this moment can only be understood in terms of the whole. And the whole makes sense in terms of its purpose or end. To make a crude analogy, if I am walking to the store to get some milk, my journey only makes sense in terms of perhaps my sitting down and enjoying a glass of milk.
- Right now the css isn’t loading property on the archive of the old blog. So forgive it that it doesn’t look quite like. ↩
OK, so there have been no posts for basically a year and very light posting for about two years. But I think we’re back. I’m rusty since I’ve been so busy the past few years I’ve read basically no philosophy at all. Other than the occasional reply on LDS-Herm I’ve pretty well been on a sabbatical from philosophical thinking the past while. Which means of course it’s the perfect time to go back and rethink my positions if only to remember what they even were. That’s the one thing about technical topics. You become very rusty regarding them amazingly quick. So I’ve got my pile of books beside the bed now appended with e-books. That means I’ve no shortage of topics in the short term.
A few years back there was an interesting book called Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies. It was edited by Donald Musser and David Paulsen and was a fantastic book. With a few exceptions it managed to transcend the traditional battles between mainstream Christian theologians and Mormons — avoiding some of the combativeness especially found in Mormon apologetic writing. While I think apologetics often gets an unfair rap it’s also true that building on common ground produces more light rather than focusing on misunderstanding and differences.
What I loved best about the book was how it brought many different types of theology into focus. Many were types of theology I had very little experience with such as liberation theology or feminist theology. Even when I had grave differences with these other views I still found myself noticing new things about my own tradition I had never noticed. That, to me, is the ideal function of a great book.
It’s been five years since Mormonism in Dialogue came out. I think it fair to say that the landscape of writing on Mormon theology was transformed by that book. Now there is a new book in honor of the editor of Mormonism in Dialogue: David Paulsen. This new book takes up some of the same drives that the earlier book did. As such I think it is a fitting tribute to Dr. Paulsen and his transformative work on Mormon Theology. The book is Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology.
I really enjoyed Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines. I stick with my view that it’s the most important work of Mormon theology in some time. However now that many months have passed since I read it I thought it might be useful to reflect upon Adam’s work a bit more.
First off if we were to do a short one or two sentence summary of what Adam’s project consists of, what would it be? I think the best way to put it is that Adam is very concerned with theology as musement.
The SMPT Conference is in two weeks up in Logan at Utah State University. It’s on Theology and the Book of Mormon and runs from September 20-22. The detailed schedule isn’t up yet but should be up soon. I’ll let you know when it’s up along with what building it is in.
Just a heads up to — especially to people with small children. Whooping Cough is going around. There was a recent breakout in Washington State. Initially everyone assumed it was the Jenny McCarthy effect of people not vaccinating. However it turns out only 2% of the people exposed there were unvaccinated. Apparently it is a problem with the current vaccine. They changed the vaccine several years ago from a full cell vaccine into one that just had molecular fragments. It appears that with this strain of pertussis the vaccine simply isn’t as effective as the prior vaccine. That means probably your children under around 10 are at much higher risk. But many people in Washington who came down with the disease had been vaccinated as children.
You shouldn’t downplay the illness. Up until around the 1950′s this was apparently the leading cause of death in children. It is, today, very treatable with antibiotics. However the symptoms where you have uncontrollable coughing occurs from the toxins left behind by the bacteria rather than the bacteria proper. Also the symptoms typically occur towards the end of the illness and remain after the bacteria is gone. (Untreated whooping cough can last 10 weeks with the symptoms) In small children the coughing can cause apnea (stopping breathing) and babies in particular are at risk of death
If you like some of those often cast under the existentialist net you probably should follow @KimKierkegaard which is a hilarious mashup of tweets by Kim Kardashian and Søren Kierkegaard. A few examples:
I’ve been half-wondering if I should write anything on that Businessweek story that’s been the topic of so much discussion the past few days. By far the best thing written on it is Alan Hurst’s post over at Patheos. Others have written on it including Kaimi Wenger’s post about a basically erroneous claim in the piece. Sarah Bailey had a post up at GetReligion that noted how the editors were framing the story. (With an emphasis on the cover which I’ve reprinted here)
Alan’s post is the one you really should go to. I think he gets at why I think the piece is basically a misleading hit piece on Mormons. Allow me a quote from Alan’s post.
What does it mean for investing in a merchandise store to be spiritual? Winter interprets it as a religious version of America’s “secular faith in money.” Quoting Quinn again, she writes that “in the Mormon [leadership’s] worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor . . . as it is to make a million dollars.” Winter implies that to Mormons, financial success is spiritual success.
A few weeks back there was a seminar at UVU on B. H. Roberts. I uploaded some of the video. I think the rest of the video was uploaded but can’t be sure.
For those interested here’s the video of Jim Faulconer and Blake Ostler. I’m sad I missed it. I had planned to be there, but had an emergency come up that morning.
Richard Posner had a controversial interview on NPR recently that engendered quite a bit of discussion.
Judge Richard Posner, a conservative on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, has long been one of the nation’s most respected and admired legal thinkers on the right. But in an interview with NPR, he expressed exasperation at the modern Republican Party, and confessed that he has become “less conservative” as a result.
I’m not entirely sure what Posner means by this. One would hope that someone doesn’t adopt a contrary position merely because populists adopt a particular view. That is one would hope we’d be academically rigorous and clear in our thinking.
That said some of the responses attacking Posner also troubled me. One by Stephen Bainbridge in particular bothered me.
So the whole FARMS – Maxwell Institute “controversy” has been discussed ad nauseum of late. I don’t want to chime in too much on it. My personal opinion is that too much has been made of it, regardless of how one might feel about the particulars. This is primarily a change of editor which is hardly uncommon in academic journals. It’s actually rare to have the same editor for so long. Further this is frankly a journal few read and that I doubt hardly any Mormons are aware of. So let’s not make more of it than it deserves.
That said I think FARMS/MI hasn’t really captured the interest in Mormon studies for quite some time. Back in the early 90′s their work was discussed a lot. (As well, unfortunately as their polemics — that was the heyday of the FARMS – Signature battles) Yet you just don’t hear much discussed anymore. I think good research was still being done but the public perception definitely changed. I also think that in some ways the best work is being done outside the Maxwell Institute.
I promise a lot more posts are coming. I actually have a lot of stuff written.
In the meantime I wanted to mention a great seminar with not a lot of notice. SMPT isn’t having a conference this year from what I can tell. However they are having a seminar this month at Utah Valley University on B. H. Robert’s Seventy’s Course in Theology. That’s just a couple of blocks from where I work. I can’t justify taking the whole day off but I’m going to try and make it to some of the sessions. The link at the SMPT site lists the topics and even gives readings so you can come prepared for discussion.
I’m not a huge fan of B. H. Roberts theology although there are some things I like. More importantly he’s a useful place to think through the common Mormon conception of an eternity of a personal and robust personality. This is actually a pretty radical idea and one not found in many other religions. If any other at all — I’m not aware of others with the notion although you have some somewhat similar notions is some veins of medieval Jewish thought. The common parallel brought up of Platonic conceptions of a pre-existence of the soul tend to be problematic in that what is eternal is pretty unlike what Mormons conceive of. That is having a kind of existence somewhat like our personal existence now.
A lot of either unique Mormon ideas or ideas common within early American Christiandom (such as the question of agency) can really be explored via Roberts thought. In many ways Roberts set the general tone for Mormon conceptions for most of the 20th century.
Keep Looking ⇒