Addiction and Virtue

514y7p46juL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (2011) is a wonderful book—equally educational/informative and challenging. I’ve shared his basic insights but never did the interdisciplinary work he has behind his arguments. So I’m happy be reading him. I don’t have a background in working with those in Recovery but ministry opportunities and needs three years ago placed me in the thick of leading our local church’s Recovery program. I faced a big learning curve, but I have to say that it was exactly the context I needed to bring together the theological and practical on the dynamic processes of human transformation and spiritual formation.

Had I stumbled into Dunnington three years ago, I don’t know that I would have been in a place to digest or integrate it, certainly not as I’m presently able. See what you think from his Preface below. There are issues and questions at play that we’ll be discussing in Loder and Willard.

Recent years have witnessed a massive growth of research on addiction. In 1962, when the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies was moved to Rutgers University, it was the only research institution of its kind. Today approximately one hundred addiction research centers are housed at major universities across the United States. Most of the work is being done by natural and social scientists. Theologians have written comparatively little on addiction, philosophers even less.

This book inserts philosophy and theology into the investigations taking place within the field of “addiction studies.” I argue that efforts to understand and ameliorate addictive behavior have been unnecessarily limited by scientific accounts of addiction. In particular, because so much of the public discourse on addiction is conducted in scientifically reductive terms, many Christians who rightly sense the spiritual significance of addiction are unable to articular this significance in theologically substantive ways. This book is an attempt to provide such an articulation.

The book defends three broad theses. First, it demonstrates that philosophical analysis of human action is required to clear up many of the conceptual confusions that plague the discourse of addiction studies. Within that discourse, addiction is construed as either a disease or a type of willful choice. Neither of those categories is adequate to the phenomenon of addiction. For instance, the disease concept obscures the extent to which persons may be expected to take responsibility for their addictions, and the choice concept obscures the distinctiveness of the addictive experience. This book argues that the category of “habit” is indispensable for charting an intelligible path between the muddled polarities of “disease” and “choice.” The category of habit permits us to describe addiction in a noncontradictory way, without doing violence to the testimonies of persons with addictions.

Human persons develop habits in order to facilitate the pursuit of specific human goods. Thus, if addiction is appropriately characterized as a type of human habit, we may ask about the specific kinds of goods that draw persons into habits of addiction. This is a strange way of speaking; we are so gripped by the destructive effects of addiction that we are not accustomed to considering its constructive appeal. The second broad thesis of the book is that the prevalence and power of addiction indicates the extent to which a society fails to provide nonaddictive modes of acquiring certain kinds of goods necessary to human welfare. Addiction is therefore an embodied critique of the culture which sustains it. I propose that addiction as we understand it is a peculiarly modern habit, and that addiction can be viewed a s mirror reflecting back to us aspects of modern culture that we tend to overlook or suppress. Persons with sever addictions are among those contemporary prophets that we ignore to our own demise, for they show us who we truly are.

Christians must heed prophets. Christians, therefore, are called to appropriately describe the addictive experience and to consider how the church may be complicit in the production of a culture of addiction. To this end, the book endeavors to place addiction within a theological framework. The third broad thesis that the book defends is that the theological category of sin can deepen and extend our understanding of addiction. Addiction is not identical to sin, but neither can it be separated from sin. The power of addiction cannot be adequately appraised until addiction is understood as a misguided enactment of our quest for right relationship with God. I argue that addiction is in fact a sort of counterfeit worship. Thus, although it is true that the church has much to learn from recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, it is also true that the church has much to offer to the recovery movement and indeed to all of us who struggle with addiction…

The first chapter sets the stage by responding to the suspicion and prejudice that is likely to confront any attempt to speak of addiction “philosophically.” The prevailing view of the general public, the media, and the majority of those working within the addiction-recovery movement is that addiction is a disease and that, therefore, addiction is a topic for investigation by scientists and physicians but not by philosophers or theologians I content that attempts to describe addiction exclusively in the language of science—as “disease”—are bound to fail since they rest on a basic conceptual confusion about what is constitutive of voluntary action.

Chapters two and three develop the view that addiction is neither a disease nor a choice but rather a habit. I am interested in asking what the experience of being addicted can teach us about the complexity of human action, and conversely, how a careful analysis of certain aspects of human agency can illuminate some of the more perplexing elements of addictive experience…

Chapter four argue that, contrary to popular belief, addiction is not concerned primarily with sensible goods (hedonic pleasures) but rather with moral and intellectual goods, and chapter five explores the idea that the habit of addiction may be a response to a peculiarly modern lack of certain kinds of moral and intellectual goods. The strategy changes here, from the systematic unfolding of a philosophy of human action in chapters two and three to a more far-ranging and (inevitably) speculative exercise in philosophy of culture.

Chapter six moves into theological territory and addresses the question of whether or not we learn anything of descriptive or normative import by thinking about addiction in terms of the category of sin. Conversely, the chapter considers how our understanding of sin, including the doctrine of original sin, is enriched by our understanding of addiction. Chapter seven is concerned with the relationship between addictive behavior and worship. It contends that addiction offers a powerful response to the modern loss of transcendence. Finally, in chapter eight, I explore the relationship between the church and addiction by proposing what sort of church would be necessary to offer an alternative way of life more compelling than the addicted life.

Setting our sights 2015

close-up-chiselGreg Boyd’s Trinity & Process has been a dietary staple for Dwayne and me here since we started nearly two years ago. It was one of the burdens of this site to argue that open theism, as it has generally been promoted, has a deficient understanding of divine transcendence and that nothing about the open view of the future requires this deficiency. Much of the past two years here has been spent advocating a more robust view of divine transcendence consistent with the open view of the future. And as we’ve seen, this “more robust” concept turns on an axis whose north and south poles are apatheia (as we’ve tried to articulate it) and Chalcedonian Christology. It’s our view that Trinity & Process plays its part here by making very plausible the integration of traditional/classical and more process values and intuitions. All this is past news now. We’ve nothing new to add.

In chatting about where to venture next, Dwayne and I agree enough has been said about Trinity & Process to establish our point in that regard. Time to move on. And though we do espouse an open view of the future and divine epistemic openness regarding the future, we no longer explicitly promote “open theism” since in the end we were unable to establish the essentials of its theological vision. So while we’ll continue to reflect theologically in terms of an open future (libertarian freedom and divine epistemic openness) we’re not particularly invested in open theism as a theological movement. That may change. In the meantime…

loder_from_fac_book…We’re interested in spiritual formation within an open worldview and the truth of Chalcedon. And in this respect James Loder (1931-2011) has been on our back burner for some time. His work has influenced us both deeply, though Dwayne’s far more in touch with his thought than I am. So we’ll be making Loder a main focus this year. If you’re unfamiliar with him, I hope something we say will inspire you to ponder his work. No need for me to summarize his bio. It’s all available online. He was a well-known and beloved member of Princeton’s faculty (practical theology) for decades. His fundamental insights have to do with the relation of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit in ways that respect the sciences (psychology) and the dynamics of human development and transformation. His three main published books are  The Transforming Moment (1981, 1989), The Knight’s Move (1992) and The Logic of the Spirit (1998). For a helpful introduction see this. I suspect we’ll be discussing Fowler, NesterukFrankl and Dallas Willard among others. Should be a fun year exploring the nature of the concrete, lived experience of Chalcedonian Christology. We won’t be especially concerned to defend Chalcedon. We’ll pretty much assume it. What we wish to explore is the living of it.

To whet your appetite, here’s a wonderful passage of Loder’s from The Transforming Moment:

…to lay hold on that remarkable intelligibility by which one’s fragmentary existence becomes the bearer of the whole, that intelligibility through which all things have been made—to lay hold on that by faith is to touch the ark of the covenant, it is to hear “the sound of a mighty wind,” as “the roar of the New Jerusalem” and it is to die.

Who wants to die so that the uncreated light and life of God may indwell human flesh and turn everything we do into the work of God’s Spirit?

Holy in its nature, the life of the Spirit is stunning in its impact; the depths of its mysterious centered silence remains unmoved, intensely personal, even in its rush through the walls of the upper room, its pause to console, its power to disclose and to heal, and its provocation to joy and exuberant praise.

If we do die, then all that we saw in Him and in ourselves because of Him as He sat at table with us, now becomes in our death the transformation of ordinary existence. We become in our individual and common life the outer expression of His invisible nature, including the darkness of dereliction as well as the light of the transfiguration—that by which condemnation is condemned, false light is itself falsified, and daily life is a continuing intra-mundane ecstasy.

Who will die to bear witness to the inner life of God, to become an expression of this higher order? Not many—or perhaps, in another way, somewhere inside, all of us know we are supposed to die. In moments of deeply centered reflection we know the death instinct is not biological but teleological—we have been given life so as to die for what is so much more important than our own lives. If we just knew a bit more—if we could just put our hand and touch it, to be sure we are not being deceived.

Christ & Horrors—Part 5

CHRIST_SUFFERING_FOOLS_by_vmaximusAdams concludes chapter 3 with introducing her answer to the question of who and what Jesus must be in order to provide Stage 1-3 horror-defeat. Reconceptualizing the natural human condition as “vulnerability to horrors” with the “inevitable loss of meaning” such horrors precipitate and the ‘sin’ that follows as a consequence, and her agreement with the patristic conviction that “what is not assumed is not restored,” Adams concludes that it takes a God-man to do the job–all of which I agree with. I nevertheless have mixed feelings about her chapter 3 conclusions. Here I want simply to present Adams’ views without comment and postpone my critique for the following post.

To being with:

“Because State-I horror-defeat turns on Divine solidarity with human horror-participation, it sets up counterpresumptions that Christ’s ante-mortem human nature will be as much like ours as possible, and that Christ will identify more with our present condition than with any putative past or future uptopic state. First, and most obviously, Stage-1 defeat requires that Christ share human vulnerability to horrors which arises from our being personal animals in an environment of real and apparent scarcity.”

Christ’s body “must be urged on by life instincts of hunger, thirst, and sex, and threatened by the built-in seeds of its own demise.” This is all involved in his “assumption” of the
temptationnature needing restoration. Christ grew from infancy to adulthood facing and struggling with all the same developmental issues we face. He had to grow in his understanding and abilities and experience all the paradigm-shifts common to human beings. Following Forsyth, Adams argues that “Jesus struggled to win the right focus for, and eventual mastery with respect to, His vocation.” The cry of dereliction is to be read in the Lutheran sense as viewing Jesus to have shared our sense of abandonment by God and of divine condemnation “which,” Adams feels “is surely incompatible with simultaneous beatific intimacy, and plausibly at odds with any simultaneous face-to-face vision at all.”

“When His subjective world goes to small at six months, or at the terrible twos or the Oedipal threes, or at adolescence, He must share our initial incompetence and confusion, the anxiety and tension that goes with floundering around for a new integration. This includes the trial and error of false and rejected solutions, at the cognitive and emotional, moral and spiritual levels. Moreover, fully to embrace our vulnerability to horrors would mean struggle and the not merely apparent but real possibility of His not striking an appropriate Eriksonian balance, even of going seriously wrong.”


“[S]haring our vulnerability to horrors means living in a horror-prone environment: in a material world like ours, with real and apparent scarcities that arouse fear and provoke competition; being reared by and living among other human beings who have negotiated their own radical vulnerability to horrors in skewed and neurotic ways.”


“[T]he Synoptic career does not require Him to have attained the optimal Eriksonian balance at every developmental stage, nor to have arrived at the threshold of His free from neuroses. Biblical prophets, John the Baptist, St. Paul, voices God’s message, despite their eccentric and abrasive sides.”

She’s not saying we’re “free to attribute to Jesus Down’s syndrome or paranoid schizophrenia.” But she “leaves it open whether He was dyslexic or beset with other ‘learning disabilities’.” And not surprisingly at this point:

“Jesus’ New Testament roles as teacher, preacher, and healer do not by themselves require sinlessness or moral infallibility. St. Paul enters all those roles, despite his self-declared status as ‘the worst of sinners’….Role-wise, it is John’s presentation of the relation between Jesus and the Father as that of exemplary mutual indwelling that sets the highest standards…For now, it is enough to note that the role – by itself – does not force maximization.”

For Adams, Christ’s human nature is what allows him to join us in horror-participation, and thus…

“…this identification with us in horrors is essential to Stage-1 horror-defeat and means that Christ’s ante-mortem career will not fully anticipate Stage-2 and Stage-3 defeat. The result is that we do not need to take on a commitment to Christ’s utter human sinlessness. We are free instead to admit that Jesus had to outgrow parochial racism under the tutelage of the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman (MT 15:21-28/MK 7:24-30) and to acknowledge that He might have been harsh with His blood relatives!”

If you’re panicking at this point, perhaps this will help (and perhaps it won’t):

“Overall, Christ’s soteriological role as horror-defeater combines with His Gospel career to set the following limits on how much and in what ways He identifies with us. First, Christ could have only those human faults and psychological peculiarities compatible with such clarity of Godward orientation that people could reasonably take Him to speak and act of God’s behalf in His prophetic ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. Second, He could participate only in those horrors that could beset a self-conscious, highly integrated servant of God.”

Let me steal two more quotes from much later in the book that expand on just what Adams insists Christ’s sharing our human nature entailed:

“My focus on horrors leads me to agree with Swinburne that the Divine nature is mutable and passible, although ever exercising self-determination over whether and how it changes. Taking a page from Hartshorne, I want to say that Divine omniscience involves God in feeling all our feelings, while Divine love for the world expresses Itself in the Trinity’s experiencing God-sized grief and frustration over human horror-participation. Such Trinitarian sympathy would mean that Godhead changes and is very likely acted upon. But it would not suffice for Divine solidarity in human horror-participation, for, however ghastly the things that we and God experience, the Divine mind cannot be “blown” by them; Divine meaning-making capacities cannot be stumped by them. God’s comprehensive consciousness recontextualizes them in a field that includes joy and delight in the Divine perfections, in the Divine persons’ love for one another, in cosmic excellencies beyond our ken…Put otherwise, even if Divinity is mutable and passible, the Divine Perfections in Their Divine nature are not vulnerable to horrors. For God to share horrors, God has to become the kind of thing that can be radically vulnerable to horrors. And this will require a finite range of consciousness with limited powers to cope.

Hold onto your hats. One last elaboration:

“God’s feeling in the Divine nature all the pains that creatures feel will not constitute adequate solidarity with human horror-participants. Divine consciousness is of immeasurable scope. God’s clear and comprehensive awareness of the Good that God is would radically recontextualize any creaturely pain and suffering that God might feel: what swamps a human consciousness would be a minuscule fragment of what occupies Divine attention…To show solidarity with horror-participants, God must experience evils within the limits of a finite human consciousness, with a mind that can be “blown” and at least prima facie unable to cope with horrors. The two-natures theory, Incarnation of a Divine person into an individual human nature, fills this bill….” [emphases in all quotes mine]

The smelling salts are in the cabinet. I’ll be voicing my agreements, reservations, and objections in upcoming posts in this series.

(Pictures here and here.)

Christ & Horrors—Part 4

fatherForgiveLGChapter 3 (“Sharing the horrors: Christ as horror-defeater”) of Marilyn McCord Adams’ Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology is a wonderful chapter that has me equally excited and skeptical, apprehensive and suspicious. Here she begins to answer the questions she posed at the conclusion of the previous chapter, namely:

If our fundamental problem is our vulnerability to horrors, and if salvation is the defeat of and our healing from the dysfunctional effects of horrors and the eventual removal of this vulnerability from the cosmos, who and what must Jesus be and what must Jesus’ relationship be to God and to us if Jesus is the one in whom this salvation-as-horror-defeat is achieved?

We have a “soteriological job description” (i.e., Stage 1-3 horror-defeat), but what are the qualifications to be this horror-defeater? Adams agrees “it takes a God-man to do the job,” and she aims to work out the identity of this horror-defeater consistent with the Chalcedonian Creed (451 BCE) and a conviction she shares with Gregory Nazianzen (4th century Archbishop) that “what is not assumed cannot be restored.” As she argued in the previous chapter, because divine being is the only incommensurate good sufficient to accomplish this horror-defeating work, Jesus must be divine being. But because human embodied existence is the context to be assumed and in which its healing defeat must be accomplished as horror-defeat, Jesus must be human being.

Perfectionist treatments
Adams summarizes two different answers to the question ‘Who/What must Jesus be to be our savior?’ before offering her own qualified diagnosis. I want to quickly review these two approaches in this post (Part 4) and her own offering in Part 5.

The first sort of answer she calls perfectionist Christologies. These attribute to Christ’s human nature “maximal supernatural upgrades in grace and knowledge” which essentially insulate Christ from any genuine participation in the very vulnerability which is the arena in which (Adams argues) our horror-defeat must transpire. She explains—

“These thinkers begin with distinctive systematic presumptions… Some harbored a presumption against Incarnation, vigorously voiced by non-Christian (Jewish and Muslim) monotheists and reinforced by a Platonizing appreciation of the metaphysical “size-gap” between creatures and God. In Cur Deus Homo, Anselm in effect concedes that Incarnation is prima facie metaphysically indecent (why would a being a greater than which cannot be conceived unite itself with what is ‘almost nothing’?) and therefore something God would undertake only if the fulfillment of Divine purposes made is conditionally necessary to do so. Given the fact of Incarnation, non-Antiochene patristics and early medieval theologians transmuted the presumption against Incarnation into a presumption of perfection, that, other things being equal, the human nature God made God’s own would have to be as perfect as it is possible for a human nature to be.”

Essentially this perfectionist tradition merely adds normal human functioning and growth “into a soul already equipped – ab initio and permanently – with as much supernatural knowledge of God and creatures as a human soul is capable of….” This approach, Adams feels, actually disqualifies Jesus from being our horror-defeater, for the job is to defeat horrors not just insulated ‘inside’ a human nature but ‘with’ or ‘by means of’ that nature, i.e., in terms of the capacities and vulnerabilities definitive of that nature. This is the human side of the qualifications. But there’s also a divine side of the job description (Part 5) which limits how much and in what ways he identifies with us.

Turn-of-the-century British Christology
She also briefly reviews the ways British theologians (Charles Gore, Frank Weston, Peter Forsyth, William Temple) departed from this perfectionist approach. She agrees with the basic direction in which they move (because by her account they took Jesus’s embodied, social context and human development seriously) but disagree with them where “they share the conviction that sin is the main soteriological problem, and that One Who saves us from sin must be sinless.” Thus British Christologians have a “soteriological plot [that] tends to be moralistic and moralizing,” while her approach will not require Jesus to be impeccable or sinless. Stay tuned for Part 5!

“Broadly speaking, turn-of-the-century British liberal theologians deplored the a priori character of such patristic and medieval Christology, with its tendency to make the metaphysical “gap” and the presumption of perfection decisive. On the contrary, Christology should begin with Holy Scripture, and with then-contemporary higher critical exegesis of it which treated the Bible as a historical document.”

What this meant in practice was that Scripture’s portrait of Christ was not infallible, historical inaccuracies abounded, the text couldn’t be trusted, and for some that miracles were impossible, etc. Though they denounced the philosophical presuppositions of the perfectionist Christologies which in their view failed to take the real humanity of Christ seriously, they had philosophical presumptions of their own that disqualify their view in Adams’ mind. And we’ll get to Adams’ arrangement of these concerns next.

(Pictures here and here.)

Christ & Horrors—Part 3

4871279What a challenging and insightful book Marilyn McCord Adams has given us. She opens (in “Posing the Problems”) by arguing that human existence involves “inevitable vulnerability to horrors” (“horrors” being “crises in personal meaning-making” precipitated by intentional acts of violence, innocently through unintended choices or by natural evils). Adams is a believer in free will (of the libertarian sort) though she says standard free-will explanations of our predicament don’t account for all horrors. Apart from our being free, the fact is that “human psycho-spiritual powers are not reliably great enough to achieve and sustain an appropriate functional coordination….” Given the natural contingencies and mismatches (mismatches described in Part 2) that define our life, horrors are inevitable, which leads Adams (as it does us all) to wonder why God would decide to include such inevitability. In this Part 3 I’d like to explore her answer, what she calls her “cosmological hypothesis.”

“…God must love material creation with a love that dual-drives towards assimilation and union. On the one hand, God wants matter to be as Godlike as possible while still being itself…Human nature crowns God’s efforts to make material creation – while yet material – more and more like God. On the other hand, God’s passion for material creation expresses itself in a Divine desire to unite with it, not only to enter into personal intimacy, but to “go all the way” and share its nature in hypostatic union.” (Emphasis mine)

The first assimilative aim goes a short way in explaining why God would create us in our sort of material world: we need room to grow into Godlikeness. But letting creation go to “do its thing” makes us radically vulnerable to horrors. Why, Adams wonders, wouldn’t God “settle for natural kinds that exhibit lower grades of Godlikeness but whose specimens are not so vulnerable to functional ruin” (e.g., pebbles and streams, mountains and frogs)? The answer for her comes in God’s unitive aim wherein God aims to share created nature in the most intimate way possible — hypostatic union. God’s assimilative aim entails a certain “letting go” of creation so that it can “be itself”  in its Godlikeness while God’s unitive aim drives toward personal intimacy via hypostatic union. Personally I see these two as a single purpose at work in all that God creates but reaching its peak in divine-human hypostatic union in Christ. Ultimately it’s the Incarnation that fulfills God’s purpose for creation.


“[B]ecause God this aim is prima facie self-defeating, Divine intimacy with human persons – among other things – takes the distinctive form of identification with us in horror-participation, which prima facie defeats the positive meaning of God’s human career. Divine solidarity with us in horror-participation weaves our own horror-participation into the warp and woof of our own witting or unwitting intimate personal relationship with God.”


“Because Divinity so mismatches creatures that a metaphysical size-gap yawns between us, Divinity is a good incommensurate with both created good and created evils. Likewise, personal intimacy with God that is on the whole and in the end beatific is incommensurately good for created persons. By catching up our horror-participation into a relationship that is incommensurately good for us, Divine participation in horrors defeats their prima facie life-ruining powers.” (Emphasis mine)


“…God – metaphysically speaking, what God is – is the incommensurate good, radically outclassing any created goods or evils. Generally speaking appropriate relationship to good things is good-for us. We are good to children when we feed them nourishing food, provide them with a stimulating education, give them opportunities to view the world’s great art. Likewise, appropriately relating us to the right goods is one way for God to be good-to us. Christian tradition affirms that intimate relationship with God which is on the whole and in the end beatific is incommensurately good-for created persons. My conclusion is that the only currency valuable enough to make good on horrors is God, and the horror-participation’s overall and eventual beatific intimacy with God.” (Emphasis mine)

This beatific effect of the divine incommensurate good is made available to humankind through the Incarnation, though given our vulnerability to horrors this means God in Christ also becomes vulnerable to horrors; and his horror-defeating work is our salvation.


Adams describes:

“To defeat horror-participation within the individual created person’s life, God must weave it into the fabric of that individual’s intimate and (overall in the end) beatific personal relationship with God.”

Horror-defeat takes place in three stages:

  • Stage-I Horror-defeat: Divine intimacy between God and Creation via incarnation/hypostatic union becomes the occasion of divine horror-participation. Here the “materials for lending positive meaning to any and all horror-participation” are made available within history.
  • Stage-2 Horror-defeat: Because meaning-making is a personal activity, and because our meaning-making capacities are so often distorted, these capacities require healing and coaching.
  • Stage-3 Horror-defeat: The relation of embodied persons to their material environment must be renegotiated so that we are no longer vulnerable to horrors.

Stage-I horror-defeat is achieved in Christ’s facing-down and defeating our horrors on the Cross. Stage-II horror-defeat describes the life-long incorporation of Stage-I truths into our experience (privately and in the Church as that community where “healing” and “coaching” occur). Stage-III horror-defeat is the future glorification (“renegotiation”) of the material cosmos rendering it void of vulnerability to horrors.

She ends this chapter with the only question worth asking at this point: Who would Christ have to be, what relationship to God and humankind would Christ have to have, to accomplish this saving work?

Now we’re talkin’.

(Pictures here and here.)

Christ & Horrors–Part 2

McCord_Adams_Horrendous_EvilsMarilyn McCord Adams argues that the explanatory power of standard “free-will” approaches is impotent in the face of “horrendous evils”:

“Since incorrigible ‘ignorance diminishes the voluntary’, it follows that we cannot be morally responsible for the horrors we perpetrate. I am not saying that white segregationists who set German Shepherd police dogs on African American or fire-bombed churches or lynched and shot activists did not know enough about what they were doing to be seriously wicked. My claim is that there is a vast surplus left over…

“Traditional free-will approaches – with their move to shift responsibility and/or blame for evil away from God and onto personal creatures – are stalemated by horrendous evil. Human radical vulnerability to horrors cannot have its origin in misused creational freedom… Even if Adam’s and Eve’s choices are supposed to be somehow self-determined, the fact that the consequences amplify far beyond their capacity to conceive and hence to intend – viz., to horrors of which ex hypothesi they had no prior experience and of which they could therefore have no adequate conception – is not something for which humans are responsible. Rather it is a function of the interaction between human agency and the wider framework within which it is set, and God is responsible for creating human beings in such a framework!”

I might quibble over whether and when the notion of “morally responsibility” is applied. Where she denies that agents cannot be morally responsible for unforeseen horrors they perpetuate because they could not have conceived and thus intended them, I think we are at least sometimes responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions. There is a responsibility to be borne by people like Pol Pot and Hitler for the millions who suffered because of them though they were not personally present to pull every trigger or close every oven door in spite of the fact that they could not have conceived (and so intended) all that followed from their choices.

But we’ll leave that aside, because Adams is right that morally innocent people do sometimes perpetrate unintended horrors on others. Adams suggests as an example women who took thalidomide drugs during pregnancy on then up-to-date medical advice and bore children without arms and legs. And there is natural evil (mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis) to consider as well, for these precipitate crises in personal meaning-making and the loss and even ruination of personal meaning. Point is, “horrors” understood as “crises in personal meaning” may or may not be morally perpetrated, and to that extent free-will approaches are stalemated.

Adams adds:

“…the fundamental reason why the human condition generally and Divine-human relations specifically are non-optimal is that God has created us radically vulnerable to horrors by creating us as embodied persons, personal animals, enmattered spirits in a material world of real or apparent scarcity such as this. Sin is a symptom and a consequence, but neither the fundamental explanas nor the principal explanandum. The real roots of our non-optimality are systemic and metaphysical.”

Those familiar with Boyd’s theory of natural evil will notice immediately that this contradicts Boyd’s view that natural evil isn’t ‘natural’ in the traditional sense (i.e., not an ‘agentless’ perpetuation of suffering) but is in fact ‘moral’ because it’s caused by malevolent demonic agents at work in the material creation. Adams doesn’t take this approach:

“There is a metaphysical mismatch within human nature: tying psyche to biology and personality to a developmental life cycle exposes human personhood to dangers…The fact that human psyche begins in groping immaturity and dependence, stumble-bumbles by trial and error towards higher functioning, only to peak and slide towards diminishment – makes our meaning-making capacities easy to twist, even ready to break when inept caregivers and hostile surroundings force us to cope with problems off the syllabus and out of pedagogical order…

“Human psyche is so connected to biology that biochemistry can skew our mental states (as in schizophrenia and clinical depression) and cause mind-degenerating and personality-distorting diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and some forms of Parkinson’s), which make a mockery of Aristotelian ideas of building character and dying in a virtuous old age…

“Metaphysical mismatches are metaphysically necessary, in the first instance, a function of what things are and not what anyone does. Yet, it is God Who decided to include such mismatches in the world as we have it. We may ask: whatever for?”

Where Boyd argues that these mismatches (and thus all suffering) are a function of the misuse of creaturely freedom (demonic if not human), Adams argues for a kind of suffering that isn’t reducible to such misused freedom but which is instead the inevitable consequence of the limitations built into our finite, created existence per se.

(Picture here.)

Christ & Horrors—Part 1

9780521686006_p0_v1_s260x420Top three books read in 2013? The top read has to be David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. The second and third are Marilyn McCord Adams’ Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology and John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. I read McCord last summer and I’m starting this year off re-reading her. The first time though I was just a listener. This time through I want to move slower and take notes as I go an And I’d like as occasion permits to post relative passages from the book. So they’ll pop up occasionally as Christ & Horros—Part 1, 2, etc.

Her thesis? I’ll let her describe it:

“My topic is Christology; my thesis is the coherence of Christology; my theme, Christ as the One in Whom all things hold together. Metaphysically, Christ is the center both of Godhead and cosmos. Existentially, Christ is the integrator of individual positive personal meaning; psychologically, our inner teacher; body-politically, the organizer of Godward community. Christ saves us by virtue of being real and really present.”

She poses the human predicament:

“Western theological majority reports—as asserted in Augustine and refined by Anselm and later medieval western school theologians as well as (and perhaps most emphatically) by Protestant reformers—and late twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy of religion alike root human non-optimality problems in sin, construed as the rebellion of relatively competent agents against God, and identify our psycho-spiritual disarray, our estrangement from God, our vulnerability to a generally hostile environment, and the certainty of death as natural and/or punitive consequences of the sin of free creatures.”

No doubt (she admits), sin is a problem. However, in the book she employs a different category, that of “horror” of which “sin is a severe symptom and disastrous consequence.”

“I begin with the exitentialists’ category of personal meaning, and define “horrors” as “evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant’s life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole.”

And again:

“Participation in horrors furnishes reason to doubt whether the participant’s life can be worth living, because it engulfs the positive value of his/her life and penetrates into his/her meaning-making structures seemingly to defeat and degrade his/her value as a person….At the heart of the horrendous, what makes horrors so pernicious, is their life-ruining potential, their power prima facie to degrade the individual by destroying the possibility of positive personal meaning.”

I very much like the soteriological shift in focus from sin to horror, from acts that violate expressed commands to the degradation of personal meaning-making capacities. I think this is a right and beneficial move because sin (construed as “acts”) is itself motivated by a more fundamental misidentification of the self. This shift to the existentialist category of personal meaning opens a way to think soteriologically which, for me, confirms an already present shift motivated several years ago by exposure to Greg Boyd’s Trinity & Process and aspects of the Orthodox vision of God.

True to our feelings

9780195368536I’ve just finished a 12 week spring session (in our Recovery meetings) entitled “Feelings and Faith: Exploring our Emotions.” I found a lot of inspirational support in Robert Solomon’s True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us (Oxford, 2007). I like a lot about Solomon’s take on emotions. He writes against reductionist theories that view emotions as mere chemical reactions which occur in the brain, as based in physiological disturbances (William James), or which displace responsibility for emotions by transferring determination of them away from ourselves and in external influences (whether in terms of Skinner’s ‘Behaviorism’ or some other mechanism). He views emotions as “evaluative judgments” which are purposive strategies the self adopts for living in the world. Emotions are neither irrational nor do they happen to us. They are ultimately strategies adopted by the self for the maximization and management of the self’s well-being.

This worked really well with my main point in the series (in pursuit of exploring how apatheia is realized in our own experience and faith) which was that since emotions are some ‘self’ interpreting the events of life in terms of that self’s perceived well-being (either as an expression of well-being or an attempt to secure it), the ‘self’ is at the heart of our emotional health. That is, “who” we believe we most fundamentally are is what shapes and directs the emotional life, not the other way around. This is a fundamental Stoic insight (as well as that of Eastern philosophical/religious traditions) and we think it reflects biblical truth (as we shared previously).

If one’s ‘self’ is defined most truly in terms of relationship to/in the risen Christ, then one is as transcendent of the world as is Christ, meaning nothing in or of this world can define who we are and what we most fundamentally mean. No worldly event (neither height nor depth, life nor death, sword nor sickness, etc.) can threaten the Christ-centered self. And you can’t fear or be angry at or anxious about or depressed over what cannot possibly harm or diminish you. In Romans 8:15 Paul tells us that we are not given a spirit which makes us again slaves to fear but are instead given the Spirit of Sonship “by whom we cry ‘Abba’, Father.” There it is. God’s own self-talk. The Son’s own sense of self. It is ours. We are given it to step into. And so it is that “not I but Christ” or who I am is on the inside of who Christ is (the “new self, created to be like God….” (Eph. 4) As Paul asks, “If God be for us, who and what can be against us?” Who or what indeed! What would happen to our emotional and psychological turmoil if we chose never to view ourselves or step outside the truth of this relation?