Volume 130

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; and Julian Johnson, on how Western music expresses the spirit of modernity.

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Part 1

  • Description
    Jacob Silverman, on the utopian dreams of liberation that have driven the rise of online communications and that animate the mythic appeal of social media
    Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection (Harper Collins, 2015)

    “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

    In this opening segment of the Journal, 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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    Carson Holloway, on the curious indifference among political scientists to religious truth claims and ways of life derived from revelation
    Reason, Revelation, and the Civic Order: Political Philosophy and the Claims of Faith (Northern Illinois University Press, 2014)

    “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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    Joseph Atkinson, on why a rich theology of the family is fundamental to understanding the nature of redemption, which is personal but never individualistic
    Biblical and Theological Foundations of the Family: The Domestic Church (The Catholic University of America Press, 2014)

    “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

    In this conversation with theologian Joseph Atkinson, Ken Myers and Atkinson discuss 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.”

Part 2

  • Description
    Greg Peters, on lessons from the theology and practice of monasticism for the contemporary pursuit of Christian maturity and faithfulness
    The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality (Baker Academic, 2015)

    “[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

    In part two of this issue, 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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    Antonio López, on how the givenness and giftedness of Creation is obscured by technological culture, which in turn distorts our understanding of freedom
    Retrieving Origins and the Claim of Multiculturalism (Eerdmans, 2014)

    “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 in this interview 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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    Julian Johnson, on how Western music since the seventeenth century has reflected the anxieties and ambiguities of the modern age
    Out of Time: Music and the Making of Modernity (Oxford, 2015)

    “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. On this final segment of the Journal, 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.