21 Aug

Flannery O'Connor

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 08/21/01

Titles recommended by Ralph Wood, a guest who talks about Flannery O'Connor on Volume 73 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.

Melvin J. Friedman and Lewis A. Lawson (eds.), The Added Dimension: The Art of Mind of Flannery O'Connor (Fordham University Press, 1989)

Frederick Asals, Flannery O'Connor: The Imagination of Extremity (University of Georgia Press, 1982)

John F. Desmond, Risen Sons: Flannery O'Connor's Vision of History (University of Georgia Press, 1987)

Richard Giannone, Flannery O'Connor and the Mystery of Love (Fordham University Press, 1999)

Jon Lance Bacon, Flannery O'Connor and Cold War Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2005) [Posted August 2005, ALG]

30 Jun

Robert Gagnon On-line

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/30/01

Robert Gagnon, a guest on Volume 68 whose interview with Ken Myers is published in full on Conversation 20, "Texts, Sex, & Sanctity: Robert Gagnon on Homosexuality & the Bible," offers various resources about the Bible, the Church, and homosexuality in his web pages.

Robert Gagnon, a guest on Volume 68 whose interview with Ken Myers is published in full on Conversation 20, "Texts, Sex, & Sanctity: Robert Gagnon on Homosexuality & the Bible," offers various resources about the Bible, the Church, and homosexuality on his web pages. Gagnon is an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. His site contains pdf and html versions of many of his articles, along with information about his books, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, and Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. He has also posted entries on the Federal Marriage Amendment and legal decisions about homosexual marriage. [Posted August 2004, Amy L. Graeser]

29 Jun

The Ramsey Colloquium and Other First Things Resources

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/29/01

The periodical First Things offers a wealth of resources for reflecting on the meaning of sexuality and the shape that the public debate about sexuality has taken.

For a number of years, under the aupices of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, Richard John Neuhaus convened a discussion group of a number of Christian and Jewish theologians, philosophers, and ethicists to discuss a variety of timely topics pertinent to the preservation of public morality. The group came to be known as the Ramsey Colloquium, in honor of the courageous example set by the late Paul Ramsey, whose ethical wrestling on matters from the justice of war to the hubris of biotechnology has aided thousands of people still confronting some of the same questions. Members of the Colloquium included Hadley Arkes, Robert George, Russell Hittinger, Gilbert Meilaender, Philip Turner, and Robert Wilken.

In 1994, the Ramsey Colloquium published (in First Things, March 1994) a brief summary of their reflection on some of the questions then publicly debated concerning the meaning of sexuality. Entitled "The Homosexual Movement: A Response by the Ramsey Colloquium," the brief document remains one of the most concise statements about what is at stake in the changes in public policy being recommended by advocates of public affirmation of the necessity of moral indifference toward homosexuality.

First Things has consistently published a number of helpful articles on this topic. Here are several to note:

In the same issue of First Things that contained the Ramsey Colloquium, the magazine's editor Richard John Neuhaus summarized the work of the many critics of historian and homosexual apologist John Boswell. Boswell's 1980 book, Christianity, Social Toleration, and Homosexuality (University of Chicago) had a remarkable influence in revising the perception of what the Bible and the Christian tradition had to say about homosexuality. Boswell's arguments were enthusiastically embraced by many in mainline churches who were eager to endorse the gay liberation movement. Neuhaus collects a number of the scholarly refutations of Boswell's revisionist book, including the remark of scholar David Wright: "The conclusion must be that for all its interest and stimulus Boswell's book provides in the end of the day not one firm piece of evidence that the teaching mind of the early Church countenanced Homosexual activity." [Posted November 2001, ALG]

19 Jun

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/19/01

In his book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, professor William J. Webb explores the differences between the Church's historical stances on slavery, the subjugation of women, and homosexual practices.

Debate about the Church's historic stance on homosexuality has intensified with the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. Many who celebrate his consecration and welcome a change in the Church's teaching on homosexuality refer to the Church's refined positions on slavery and the subjugation of women to buoy their arguments for change. These two cultural phenomenon were renounced by the Church in subsequent cultural settings, they point out, and such should be the case with the restriction of homosexual practices; today's Church ought to lift those restrictions. William J. Webb, professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary, counters this assertion, however, cautioning that these three issues ought not be conflated. In his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (InterVarsity Press, 2001), Webb demonstrates that the Church's restriction of homosexual practices acknowledges that the Bible's stance on homosexuality is a "transcultural" stance, unlike its stances on slavery and the role of women in society which are "culture-bound." His demonstration uses the criteria he recommends Christians enlist to determine which components of biblical text should apply today and which should not.

Since it is important that Christians live out the redemptive spirit of Scripture, they must be able to discern which values in Scripture are "kingdom values" (those that transcend culture and time) and which are "culture values" (those specific to a particular time and place). To assist his readers in this task, Webb uses the early chapters of Slaves, Women & Homosexuals to introduce a Redemptive-Movement framework for reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. In his later chapters he uses the circumstances of slaves, women, and homosexuals in biblical times to develop the criteria of the framework. The book is divided into three sections, titled: "Toward a Hermeneutic of Cultural Analysis"; "Intrascriptural Criteria"; and "Extrascriptural Criteria."[Posted November 2003, ALG]

9 Jun

Free Trade Zone for Preferences

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/09/01

Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and currently the Vice President of the Anglican Communion Institute, examines "The Episcopalian Preference" in the November 2003 issue of First Things. The occasion for the article is the controversy surrounding the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA, the first candidly homosexual bishop in the denomination. (ECUSA) Turner looks at the failure of ECUSA since the mid-1960s to discipline its priests and bishops, a failure inspired by a desire to protect the image of the denomination as an open, inclusive, progressive body. But Turner sees larger cultural forces at work, forces that threaten American churches of every creed and style: "the subversion of Christian belief and practice by the logic of autonomous individualism, and the churches' transformation into simulacra. Make no mistake: what has happened in ECUSA is not a problem limited to a once (overly) proud denomination. Rather, it provides an exemplary case study of the subversion and transformation that, in one way or another, threatens all American denominations today."

Turner summarizes the critique of liberalism offered by Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue and in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?) in which he argued that "the tradition of liberalism cannot allow for a single notion of the good to dominate 'the public square,' since liberal society must remain morally and theologically neutral. What one can express in public are not notions of good, but rather preferences. Of course, some way must be found to order preferences both in respect to individual life and to social policy. No rational way can be found to achieve this goal, however, because there is no common notion of the good to which public appeal can be made. Hence, one establishes preferences in the public arena primarily by bargaining. Everything in private as well as public life becomes a 'trade-off.' Social life becomes a sort of free trade zone for preferences."

MacIntyre labeled this dominant attitude toward moral understanding "emotivism," defined precisely (in After Virtue) as follows: "Emotivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character." [p. 11f.] Later, MacIntyre observed: "[T]o a large degree people now think, talk and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint may be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. But of course in saying this I am not merely contending that morality is not what it once was, but also and more importantly that what once was morality has to some large degree disappeared—and that this marks a degeneration, a grave cultural loss."

Philip Turner points out that since, in the framework of emotivism, assumptions about identity and the nature of moral agency are radically different than they were in the classical and Christian understanding of the moral life, the current arguments about legitimating homosexual behavior in the churches and in society at large are quite predictable.

"It is precisely this sexualized notion of moral agency and personal identity that makes the Robinson election so predictable. Here is a unique individual, who is a self with a particular history, and a person with a right to express his preferences and put his talents to work in the social world he inhabits. To deny him that right on the basis of sexual preference is to deny his personal identity. This notion of moral agency also makes understandable why the issues of abortion and euthanasia take their place alongside self-chosen sexual expression as centers of moral controversy both within the churches and without. At the heart of each of these arguments lies the characterization of moral agents as individuals, selves, and persons who have the right to pursue their own preferences, whatever they may be.

"In the culture wars that rage over abortion, euthanasia, and sexuality, defenders of more traditional Christian teaching and practice often miss the fact that they must confront American culture on a deeper level than any of these specific issues. If they are to be effective, they must take on the very way in which Americans think of themselves as moral agents. The 'socio-logic' that stands behind ECUSA's recent action beckons thinking to a deeper level than the sad history of this church's search for a distinctive place on the spectrum of American denominationalism. It tempts Christians to adopt a vision of moral and social life that runs counter to the very foundations of Christian thought and practice. And it raises the question of whether we inhabit a moral universe governed by an order we are called upon to understand and to which we are required to conform, or whether that universe is a mere product of preference-pursuing individuals, selves, and persons who create a social world suited to their self-defined goals through an elaborate process of moral bargaining."

Philip Turner has written earlier pieces that look in greater depth at the ideas of identity and moral agency as they relate to the understanding of sexual ethics. In "Undertakings and Promises: An Anatomy of Sexual Ethics" (First Things, April 1991, pp. 36-42), he argues that current thinking about sexual ethics is rooted in the "contractarian moral philosophy of Hobbes and Locke." Whereas traditional sexual ethics understood that the ends of sexual activity were rooted in the purposes of God, contemporary sexual ethics assumes that the ends are rooted in the choices of those engaged in the activities. And in "Sex and the Single Life" (First Things, May 1993), he comments further on the subjectivization of sexual ethics as concern about "commitment," "vulnerability," and "care" eclipses the reference points of God's revelation and the moral order of creation. [Posted December 2003, KAM]