Friday, June 26, 2015

Laudato Si, Fracking, and Air Conditioning

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Pope Francis’s new encyclical Laudato Si is, as expected, making a lot of waves. Though it maintains the criticism of market ideology found in both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (the latter even once called for a “New World Order” capable of restraining the destructive effects of unfettered economics), Laudato Si is unambiguous about what needs to change. Even conservative commentators are noticing there is little wiggle room, opting for outright critique of the document rather than simple domestication. Laudato Si addresses, however, the undeniable situation of humanity today, one in which humans can and do actually change the environments we find ourselves in—and Pope Francis recognizes that we can no longer afford to ignore the increasingly toxic environment we are actively producing.

Pope Francis recognizes that we can no longer afford to ignore the increasingly toxic environment we are actively producing.

In a recent article published in Rolling Stone, Paul Solotaroff tells the story of a fracking town, Vernal, Utah, where infant mortality rates are rising at an alarming rate. The discovery of this tragedy was made not by the EPA, and certainly not by those in the fracking business, but by a midwife, Donna Young, for whom infant mortality rates are not a statistic but a lived reality. As Solotaroff narrates, the conditions of Vernal are hardly inviting for the fragile development of new lives. Fracking, which injects high-pressured fluid into the ground in order to force the gas underneath to the surface, produces a variety of derivative environmental effects—perhaps most troubling are the carcinogenic gases which populate both the air and the ground. Vernal’s location in a basin only compounds the problems, since the bowl traps the gases producing a thick haze of contaminants. 

When Young began to investigate the unusually high numbers of infant deaths and troubled pregnancies she was encountering, her reputation and position were quickly maligned—for a town that depends on fracking to exist, calling its adverse effects to the fore is a dangerous political move. Young’s story is heartbreaking, a classic case of someone trying desperately to speak the truth for the common good but being squelched for the sake of deep pockets. But Solotaroff’s article brings another important question to the fore, namely, the general problem of atmospheric conditions. Vernal is a town where the environment is literally becoming unsuitable for life.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Justice, Interfaith, and Bathrooms

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by Allyson Carr

It’s funny how something as ordinary as the need to use the washroom can spark a profound moment of solidarity.

This past week, I spoke at a conference in Ottawa and attended a community forum as part of our Justice and Faith project. Both of these events featured a performance of Just Faith?, the one-act play that was developed out of the research for that project. Since the play was in many ways a product of our research, it was intended for a Christian audience (the community upon which the research was based). And yet, the way that MT Space (the theatre company we engaged to write and perform the script) works draws on their own life experience, and so there were multifaith elements present throughout the play. The actors’ lives woven into the scenes set it in an interfaith context, even as a play that focuses on Christians struggling to understand Scripture’s call to pursue social justice.

This time around, MT Space introduced a new scene, replacing one that had originally been written by an actor who could not attend the Ottawa performance. In the new scene, a woman recounts the story of her mother and her grandmother opening up their doors to an unexpected swarm of strangers who appeared one day, walking through their small home village in India. The strangers were from all over the world—different ages, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds — but it turns out that in that particular moment these hundreds of people were all united in their need for one thing: a bathroom. While there was only one toilet in the home, the women told us how her mother and grandmother welcomed these hundreds of strangers into their house, fed them what they could, and allowed them to rest for a bit from their travels. She recounted how there were people covering every possible surface in the home and yard, exhausted, but content—now that they had been able to get to that bathroom.

In the new scene, a woman recounts the story of her mother and her grandmother opening up their doors to an unexpected swarm of strangers who appeared one day, walking through their small home village in India.


As the strangers left again a few hours later, they profusely thanked the mother and grandmother, explaining that they were on a walk marking the 75th anniversary of the Salt March—the 1930 protest against British rule led by Gandhi. The actor closed her scene by asking, “I wonder what the world would be like if we all just…opened our doors to each other?” Watching that scene and thinking it over, I wondered too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On (Not) Accepting Reality: Introducing The Annihilation of Hell

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By Nik Ansell



A couple of months ago (on March 5, 2015), we had a book launch event at ICS for my monograph, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann [1]. Before I said a few words to introduce the book, Jim Olthuis, my ICS promotor for the dissertation version that I defended at the VU, Amsterdam, and Jon Stanley, one of my own ICS doctoral students, also my RA, who helped me get the published version into shape, also spoke. So together, we represented three generations of ongoing ICS work in philosophical theology. After thanking Jim and Jon for their kind words, I introduced my presentation, which is reproduced below, with the following question:
I wonder if anyone knows which famous person said the following: “Hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality.

I’ll give you a clue:

The year is 1924.

Remarkably, the identical words, with the same intonation, are also uttered 90 years later.

The place is England.

The speaker is someone who resists all historical change.

But she is also known and loved for her withering wit.

Despite her name, she is no shrinking Violet.

She is a central character in a historical drama.

Played by Maggie Smith.

The one and only Dowager Countess of Grantham (Violet Crawley).

Downton Abbey, season five; episode four.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Let the Right One In

1 comment:
by Shannon Hoff

Sometimes, in looking at people, I find myself noticing the way in which they deviate from an ideal of beauty, an ideal of beauty that I get from magazine covers, TV shows, advertising, Hollywood movies, and so on. When I look at them, what I see in them is their flaws in relation to that ideal. And when I see this, when I notice this, I am surprised, because in principle I am deeply opposed to this ideal of beauty. I think of it as highly destructive and highly problematic, disorienting human values and wreaking havoc with people’s sense of confidence and sense of self, and having nothing intrinsically to do with what makes a person good or interesting.

In this situation, I find myself doing something to which I am deeply opposed. I think in one way, but I perceive in a different way; I find myself conflicted, divided with myself. My perception operates, it seems, according to its own rules; I notice something that I do not want to notice. My conscious commitments—the thoughts and beliefs that I have developed through the process of observing and thinking about what is good and right—are at odds with my unconscious commitments, which have their way in my perception. What this experience illuminates to me is the fact that I’m actually not strictly in control of my perception or of myself. On the one hand, I think of myself as a person who has developed ideas, beliefs, and commitments, and so on; I think of myself as in control, as deciding and thinking for myself. On the other hand, however, I experience myself as out of my control, perceiving in ways in which I do not want to perceive.

What this experience illuminates to me is the fact that I'm actually not strictly in control of my perception or of myself.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is Being Meaning? Plantinga and Dooyeweerd

3 comments:
By Joshua Harris

No less than 57 years ago, The Reformed Journal published an interesting little article by a promising 25-year-old philosopher named Alvin Plantinga—the same Alvin Plantinga who would be finishing up his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Yale University later that same year (1958). Plantinga, who needs no introduction now, is one of (if not the) most prominent, well-respected philosophers of religion in Anglo-American philosophy. And even though his work is and continues to be foundational for the decidedly “analytic” movement of “Reformed Epistemology” in the English-speaking world, he does maintain some intimate ties with ICS’s own “continental” Reformational tradition. One of the clearest cases in which these ties are evident is the aforementioned article published in The Reformed Journal entitled “Dooyeweerd on Meaning and Being.”

As the title suggests, Plantinga’s article concerns the Reformational philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s famous dictum in the prolegomena of his magnum opus, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought:Meaning is the being of all that has been created” (I.4). With an analytic rigor and clarity of thought that would be known eventually as characteristic of Plantinga’s impressive oeuvre, the Michigan-born philosopher sets out to find a sensible interpretation of this claim. According to him, Dooyeweerd’s position appears to be revolutionary, since the great Christian philosophers of the past have all been in agreement that the created order does, in fact, have both “meaning” and “being” (and that these two are distinct). Yet, Plantinga continues, upon closer examination, the dictum ends up yielding one of two equally unsavory interpretations: as (1) a simple “truism” which is wholly quotidian with respect to the tradition of Christian philosophy; or as (2) a thoroughly obscure dictum which leaves us “in the dark about its precise implications for important Christian doctrines” (15).