Book Review: Honey From The Lion by Doug Gay

Doug Gay is a Scottish theologian who has written a book entitled “Honey From the Lion“. It intends to offer a theological defence of nationalism, with a specific application to Scottish nationalism. It manages to do this without becoming a “God thinks you should vote yes” diatribe, so that is pretty impressive right from the beginning.

Scotland free?

So the argument that Gay makes is firstly, that there is a kind of nationalism that isn’t bad. He goes further than this and thinks that nationalism can take a shape that can be good, even good enough that Christians can embrace it. His unpacking of the ideas that trade around the concept of nationalism in the early chapters is really very good. He points out that in a world of nation states, nationalism is pretty much inevitable. Quoting Jonathan Hearn he suggests: “Liberal democracies do not so much transcend nationalism as domesticate it.”

This is something I have noted since moving to the UK. The ubiquity of the Union flag on packaging, the “Great British” trope present in the titles of products of popular culture, and the always present symbols of military power are notable when you first arrive in Scotland. Is this the liberal nation state domesticating the “lion” of nationalism, extracting honey that is sweet for society? Or is there a connection between the common and aggressive racist and xenophobic graffiti I see on the streets of Aberdeen and the voluminous reminders of Imperial Britain in all aspects of our shared life?

In other words, I am not so sure that nationalism can be domesticated. But Gay makes a really excellent case by marking out the ways in which nationalism is out of bounds theologically. Our nationalism cannot be imperialist or essentialist or absolutist but instead our task would be:

    To renounce imperialism is to renounce domination and to practise recognition of the other.
    To renounce essentialism is to renounce a biological nationalism based on the ius santuinis or law of the blood in favour of a habitat-based nationalism, based solely on the ius solis, on the law of territory.
    To renounce absolutism is, in the language of the Barmen Declaration, to place the state under God, asserting God’s sovereignty over the state and the state’s accountability to God.

– Doug Gay, Honey From The Lion, 81.

Having staked out the argument that nationalism can be a good, Gay moves on to consider the idea of a Christian society. Throughout the book he is in dialogue with some serious theological voices; Milbank, O’Donovan, Hauerwas, Bretherton, and Cavanaugh, amongst others. I presume he hasn’t dealt with my Facebook posts on the topic because he sent the proofs off to the publisher before I came out in favour of the Yes vote and swung the entire referendum. The leading idea that allows us to consider society Christian-ly is Augustine’s concept of society sharing objects of love; “The better the objects of this agreement, the better the people; and the worse the objects, the worse the people.” Christian theological thinking on society demands a rejection of the flat space imagined by militant secularists and instead conceives of society as a complex space where the state and the market and the arts and the religions and all the other human collusions that make up our shared life clash against each other and cling to each other and compromise with each other.

In the book’s second half, Gay gives us a history of the Scottish devolution movement and a really good, practical chapter on the good, the bad and the middling that can be said to have come from the Edinburgh parliament since it was inaugurated in 2000. The book closes by suggesting certain ways in which the independent state of Scotland could go if the vote on September 18th is “Yes”.

Having not been completely convinced that Christians can dabble in nationalism, I am convinced that we cannot simply dismiss it. Gay demonstrates, for example, how Scottish nationalism in the 20th Century has been internationalist in nature. That those two things sit side by side is not inherently contradictory. Similarly, as a Christian socialist, Gay compellingly shows how socialism can accommodate nationalism – think only of how effective nationalism was for colonies in the overthrowing of the British empire.

He does completely convince me, a second time, that I should vote Yes in the referendum. This paragraph, quoting Charles Warren, is especially convincing to me:

Half of the entire country is held by just 608 owners and a mere 18 owners hold ten per cent of Scotland. Of Scotland’s private land, 30 per cent is held by 103 owners, each with 9,000 hectares [22,250 acres] or more, and 50 per cent by 343 owners. A minuscule 0.025 per cent of the population owns 67 per cent of the privately owned rural land. Thirty owners have more than 25,000 hectares [61,750 acres] each.

– Doug Gay, Honey From The Lion, 121.

Paragraphs like this should be on the tip of every tongue in Scotland. Of course, land reform doesn’t live or die based on the answer to the September 18th vote, but an independent Scotland is in a vastly stronger position to undue centuries of hoarding of the basic asset that a nation has – its space.

In the final chapter Gay turns to the possibility of a Scottish constitution and his discussion of the establishment of the Church of Scotland and the persistence of the Windsor monarchy in an independent Alba are far less convincing than his argument for a Yes vote. The trouble with both is revealed in his anecdote that at the ceremony where Elizabeth Windsor was made Queen of England and Scotland, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused communion to the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. What kind of Union is this that people want to protect? What kind of Christian nation is the UK? It seems to me that the ambivalence about both establishment and monarchy is a failure to follow through with the style of the earlier chapters. He makes such a good go of launching so complex an argument as a defence of nationalism that his himming-and-hawing here about the peculiarities of the Church of Scotland’s role in Scottish law seems to lack clarity. The hedging on monarchy is even worse.

But I am a staunch Republican, and maybe I am just sore that he didn’t join my team at the end?

There is one more question raised by the end of the book that I need to unfurl on my unfortunate readers. Gay proposes the use of common good” as the rubric under which Scotland ought to shape its new independence. But the failing here is the poverty that I always encounter with this language. What is the common good that holds Scotland together? There is no such thing. The conceptual deployment of Augustine’s common objects of love is one thing. The practical application of Catholic Social Teaching’s common good is another. What’s the common good in intractable conflicts – for example between profitability and sustainability? The common good is obviously sustainability, but the common choice will be for profitability. Or what’s the common good is in incommensurable moral conflicts – for example on the question of legalised abortion? Competing goods do not necessarily overlap. How does common good help as a political idea if it doesn’t lead to meaningful compromise?

The best reason for voting yes is that the new Scotland won’t have nuclear power or nuclear powered submarines or nuclear bombs. The second best reason for voting yes is that the new Scotland won’t invade Afghanistan or Iraq or Sierra Leone or the Falkland Islands. The reasons that Gay cites are excellent reasons as well. And the argument he makes that carefully extracting a narrowly-defined nationalism from the jaws of the lion can lead to sweet honey is a good one. The book is a rare example of theology being applied to contemporary issues in non-simplistic ways. It is practical theology at its best. That doesn’t mean all the arguments are equally convincing and it isn’t without its flaws, but it is genuinely worth tracking down.

The best reason for voting no is that you will really miss Liz Windsor’s face on some of the money used in Scotland or because an actress from Game of Thrones recommended it on Twitter. Small nation states are well placed to thrive in the years ahead and Scotland is a distinctive culture with its own language and history. It is more open and more socialist than the UK. It has arguably the most impressive educational traditions in the world. Its citizenry will be better off (not necessarily richer, as Gay points out with wonderful Christian clarity) making decisions about what happens in their territory without the opinions of people from Swansea, Sion Mills or Stockport weighing just as heavily as the folk who live in Stirling.

We can advocate this position and still be skeptical of nationalism. After all, Samson, who took the honey from the lion, ended his life in an act of suicide terrorism that killed thousands of people. He killed them because they were the enemies of his people, even though in so doing he directly repudiated the Torah that constituted his people. Nationalism can be rejected, while the nation state of Scotland can be welcomed.

Practical theology like the kind found in this book should be welcomed too.

Your Correspondent, A little boy told him “The English are best at everything”

Film Review: White Elephant

Right here in the prologue, let me give you my verdict:

This is a film you should track down and watch.

Especially if you are one of the very many Christians who read this blog: please, track down this movie, put your phone away, close over the laptop, draw the curtains, exile distraction and watch this film.

In the rest of what follows, spoilers (if such a term applies) will be shared so come back to read this after watching the film, if you’re the kind of person who thinks movies are ruined by being able to tell what comes next.
In our age, films involving priests as primary characters are rarely satisfying. They are sometimes very good but they usually involve two key character dynamics and one major over-riding point. The character tensions are: how hard it is for a principled individual to work under a hierarchy and how impossible it is to commit to celibacy. The major over-riding point of films involving priests tends to be anti-clerical. Priests are bad and worse, priesthood itself is bad.

In White Elephant you have the character tensions but you do not have the major over-riding point. This places it in a rare group of movies which includes the greatest film I’ve ever seen about vocation, Of Gods And Men, and the recently over-looked Malick movie, To The Wonder. White Elephant tells the story of two dear friends who happen to be priests. The older friend has brought the younger friend, recovering from injuries sustained in a largely undiscussed massacre in the Amazon where a colleague was martyred, to work with him in a massive Argentinian slum, based around the carcass of an unfinished, half constructed super hospital.

The film depicts three communities, interwoven together, overlapping and inter-penetrating. At the heart of the film is the community of priests, centred around Fr. Julian. It includes a volunteer named Cruz who teaches the boys of the favela practical skills, and a driven, compassionate social worker, Luciana, who is played brilliantly by Martina Gusman. These are people of faith* who are possessed by a missional purpose. They want to see the young people of the slum rise out of it. They want to see the dignity of the older people in the slum restored. They want to be enemies of no one. They pray together and they eat together. This is a rare, unflinching look at Christian ministry in community.

The second community the film records is the slum itself, the district of Villa Virgin. The depiction of the city is neither tuned to evoke a sentimental response nor used as a menacing piece of exotica. It is what it is – the result of human beings living close together. There are good things and bad things quite independent of the horrendous decay.

We might called the third community the “Enemies”, although the point of Fr. Julian and Fr. Nicholas’ work is that the people we want to blame must instead be embraced. So the State in the form of an obstructionist city council and a brutal police force are included in this number, as are the two rival drug gangs that vie for control of the district. The plot of the film is nothing more than the interaction of the three main character, Fr. Julian, Fr. Nichols and Luciana, with the different communities that make up Villa Virgin.

* The notes on the film from the Cannes Festival last year describe Luciana as an atheist. Unless I passed out at some point, this is never suggested in the film. In fact, prominently placed above her desk in her office is an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One might speculate that this shines light on what faith means in a secular age. Many jump to a conclusion that because a character doesn’t appear in scenes where “devotion” occurs, we imagine that they must be irreligious. The underlying idea revealed in this assumption is that religious faith is a gloss that sits on top of a more primal, universally shared idea of what it means to be a human. Unless I missed some explicit signal somewhere, the reviewers** who have come to this “Luciana is atheist” conclusion are reading stuff into the film that isn’t actually there in a way that allows us to read out of their reviews a lot about the hidden assumptions of our age.

** One could further speculate that the critical dullness elicited by To The Wonder is also at work in responses to White Elephant. An idea of faith as a set of outmoded metaphysical commitments that some people have and that might possibly be of social benefit in some settings can be found again and again (good example here). This is a serious journalistic deficit. Imagine how crippled a film reviewer would be if they believed politics was nothing more than elections?

The film does fall into the trap of nodding towards the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church as an obstacle to the ministry being carried out. However, this nod is restrained. Fr. Julian and his team seek to work under the authority of their bishop. This is at times frustrating. The depiction of hierarchy is still negative, but it is viewed realistically.

The film also falls into the trap of depicting celibacy as almost impossible. This is a pity. But the way that it is done is wonderful, if just taken for what it is. Fr. Nicholas doesn’t fall out of celibacy because celibacy is a horrendous burden, but because friendship is desirable. The sex scene and subsequent relationship scenes that ensue are actually profoundly touching because what is communicated is the hunger for the other, not in some tacky counterfeit idea of a physical urge that can’t be resisted but in the sense of an attraction to the beauty of the other self. Falling out of celibacy is not a torturous existential crisis so much as a thing that happens because he loves his friend and desires her and she him. It is not a deficit in the path he is walking but a surplus in her beauty that possesses him. The falling out of celibacy creates internal contradictions but it doesn’t destroy his vocation.

The reason why I want my Christian friends to watch this film is threefold. Firstly, it is a very good, gripping, thought provoking drama. It is superbly acted, it is restrained, it is interesting. These are rare and good things.

Secondly, the film is an informed attempt to show us what it means to do Kingdom of God work embedded in a community. The protagonists are embedded in their community of faith but they live and dress and speak like the community that makes up the favela. Christians mis-use the word incarnational when they are describing this kind of work. What White Elephant offers us is a depiction of what this kind of community based ministry should look like. It is representational, not incarnational. Worship and mission and social justice work are not segmented. It is integrated. This film manages to do all this without being in any way propagandistic.

Thirdly, the film shows us what our right stance should be towards politics, power and the State. We do not resist the State, any more than we seek to resist the drug dealers. We neither want the State overturned nor see that as our job, regardless of how unjust it is. Equally, we neither want the drug dealers extinguished nor see that as our job, in spite of the damage they inflict. Rather we witness to the State that we are citizens of a different Kingdom. The Argentine flag is a recurring motif in the film. Everyone except Fr. Nicholas is Argentinian and his Belgian origin is much discussed because to be foreign is to be strange. But the Christians in this film demonstrate in their words and their deeds that they are holding the State we call Argentina to account by the standards of the in-breaking Kingdom of God, which is their true home and the entity to which they owe allegiance. If that higher allegiance means they must shelter those that the law of the land deem criminal, then so be it. If that higher allegiance means that they must seek to restrain violence against the State even when they wish they could lash out, then so be it. If that higher allegiance calls them to martyrdom, then so be it.

Final point: The soundtrack kicks in with some stirring stuff at important moments.

Your Correspondent, A cool name for his dog would be “Bark Obama”

One Quote Review: Destination Dissertation by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters

I am reading these books about how best to approach doctoral research and I am finding them all to be both boring and likeable. Just like me!

In Destination Dissertation, the project is compared to a long exotic holiday that requires proper preparation, is sometimes trying and must be merely endured but is ultimately rewarding and enriching. I like how they quoted Scot McKnight. I did not like how they confidently break it all down into 29 steps that can be achieved in just twenty minutes a day with just a slim-fast shake and 10 push-ups, or some such goal-orientated bahooey!

In one of their closing sections, the authors suggest that you should spew out what you have to write in one, big, unformated gush of words. They even suggest turning off your monitor and just typing blind. That may be a bit extreme for me but it reminded me that there is no shame in producing dreadful first drafts of things, which is something I commonly do. It’s a nice analogy and I hope it helps you kill a bit of that perfectionist streak that might be holding you back:

Editing as you write is not unlike moving into a new house or apartment and trying to arrange the furniture by focusing on one or two pieces. It’s like moving a single table and a lamp here and there until you get it in just the right place. The problem is that you’ve ignored the couch and the chair and the coffee table that may need to go in the exact place you positioned the table and the lamp. The perfect place is no longer so perfect when the other pieces of furniture fill the room, and you probably won’t be able to keep the perfect placement of the table and lamp. Imagine instead placing all the furniture in a rough, workable arrangement and then making smaller and smaller adjustments until the room is perfect. When you work from that rough arrangement, all of your adjustments take into account the whole, and there aren’t any major surprises or changes along the way. Fast writing, then, gives you the arrangement of the whole room before you begin to make smaller adjustments.

Destination Dissertation, Sonja K. Foss and William Waters, p. 266.

Your Correspondent, He scientifically proved that oceans are God’s tears.

Where I Proof Read Vatican II Documents

I realise that the documents of Vatican II are solid theological gold, refined by the finest master craftsmen the Catholic Church could track down and that fifty years on those apparently stuffy documents continue to be awe-inspiringly brilliant…

But I think I have found at least single tiny flaw in one of them. So give me a medal or a bishopric or a yacht bigger than Monaco. I’m not asking for anything excessive, like say, I don’t know, shared Communion.

In Lumen Gentium paragraph 26 we read:

In any community of the altar, under the sacred ministry of the bishop, there is exhibited a symbol of that charity and “unity of the mystical Body, without which there can be no salvation.” In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the Diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of His presence there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Did you see where the divines made their mistake?

They meant to write: “In these communities, though frequently huge and wealthy…” but a typo introduced the far less sensible “small and poor” instead.

As much as we try, churches seem to genuinely struggle with the priority of poverty.

Your Correspondent, Is moderately rich and can rent almost anything

Book Review: Defending Constantine by Peter Leithart

Peter Leithart is the source of my favourite Twitter feed going. He also keeps one of the smartest blogs in existence. And he is also one of the most compelling theological voices in the world today.

I finished his book “Defending Constantine” this lunchtime and I think that after all my armchair pacifistic ranting of the last few days, it would be good to review a book that so firmly and confidently seeks to retrieve the ground claimed in recent years by non-violent theologies.

This is a book about the Roman Emperor Constantine. But in as much as it is a history of his life it is also a polemic against the way that false histories have been propagated about Constantine. Whether it is Dan Brown style fantasies of a tyrant who “invents” Christianity or the the easy dismissal of a neo-anabaptist who blames all the problems in the church on him, Leithart’s even handed, detailed and yet pacey retelling of the Emperor’s life sets the record straight.

But to whatever ever extent it is a history book about an important figure in the development of Rome, Christianity and Europe, it is also a theological polemic against what he calls, in one unfortunately unguarded moment, the “anti-realist” political theology of Yoder, Hauerwas and that whole crew.

Hauerwas, when reviewing this book, said that if he has enemies like Leithart, he doesn’t need friends. What he means is that the book, while leaving no holds barred, is so full of Christian warmth and shared focus on the Gospel, that it would almost be a pleasure to be speared by his historical re-focusing.

The heart of the book can perhaps be found in a footnote on page 142:

Cities and kingdoms that “embraced the faith of Christ” retained “their ancient form of government”? Tell that to all the medieval kings who had to swear fealty to Jesus or the Trinity; tell that to the emperors who sought papal annointing; tell that to Alfred the Great, whose laws were expressly based on the Ten Commandments; tell that to Henry standing in the snow outside Gregory’s castle at Canossa. Locke’s is precisely the conception of Christianity that Yoder identified as “Constantinian.” I share Yoder’s abhorrence of this non- and antiecclesial brand of Christianity, but I submit that it is better described as “Lockean” than “Constantinian”.

So what does the book say? Well it says that the question isn’t whether or not Constantine’s became a Christian but rather, what kind of Christian did he become? Leithart argues that Constantine converted into a sincere Catholic faith that emphasised unity but that had many flaws around the edges. He sees Constantine as a man who from theological principles created the context for religious pluralism, sought to defend women and protect the marginalised in the empire. He also murdered his wife, his son, his father-in-law, his brother-in-law and passed laws so horrendous that you wouldn’t believe them. Leithart shares the good and the bad and admits that had he represented the data in a different shape, his portrait would not be favourable.

But his greater goal is to argue that Constantine was doing something remarkable that has been missed. Rather than the church being co-opted by the Empire, the Empire’s imagination was taken captive by the church because the Emperor had been been utterly convinced of Jesus’ Lordship. So the story that he tells is not Yoder’s tale of the fall of the church into a compromised alliance with ungodly secular power, but the transformation of the whole moral universe upon which the Empire rested.

So here is another lovely summary from page 183:

Gibbon [18th Century historian] recognized the problem: the church was already a state within a state before Constantine, and with the conversion of Constantine the church and the empire both were faced with the challenge of figuring out how the Christian polity and the Roman polity were to relate. For many Christians, such as Eusebius, the task of the hour was not to integrate the church into the empire. The empire had lost the battle with the church, and it was the empire that should make concessions. The church was not incorporated but victorious; the martyrs’ faith had been vindicated, and the task was now to integrate the emperor into the church.

It is a wonderful argument, written with verve and charity.

It doesn’t convince me. Or at least it doesn’t convince me totally. But if you want to think about political theology, the relationship between the church and states or the historical development of Christianity then this book now simply must be read. You cannot pass it over. You will be changed by reading it.

His reading of Yoder is as deeply informed as his retrieval of Constantine. One feels however that the book could be titled “Defending Constantine and Attacking Two Books By Yoder”. Judging from the footnotes, his real difficulty is with The Priestly Kingdom. And his arguments with Yoder are sweet. He uses a Yoderian reading of Yoder to defeat Yoder. In a nutshell, Yoder says that it is God who makes history (through the church), not states. But then Yoder reads the history of the church with a statesman playing a supremely critical role. By Yoder’s own best thoughts, Yoder shouldn’t be as focused as he is on Constantine. ‘Tis some slick work from Leithart, I grant you.

But he agrees with Yoder in Yoder’s most central conviction (p. 297):

I wrote above that Yoder’s vision of Jewish mission in exile is invigorating, and I meant that. It is the key vision that should guide the twenty-first-century Christian response to empire in a world after Christendom. It is what Christians should be busy doing. But it does not address the question that Constantine’s career raises: what does the church do if the emperor sees a vision and wants to help Christians…

What happens with Constantine, Leithart says, is that the earthly city awakens to the fact that the church is the true polis. What a claim!

I’m Kevin Hargaden, and I endorse this book.

Your Correspondent, Now he thanks Constantine for everything- policemen, trees, sunshine!

One Quote Review: Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R.H. Tawney

These 1926 lectures by the famed Christian socialist are full of keen insights, lovely personal biases declared in shining prose and together form a coherent argument that the idea of the the liberated economic agent which is the basis of social theory since the Industrial Revolution cannot be understood separately to theological commitments arising from the Reformation that created the space in which the view we now take for granted could grow.

In other words, nuancing Weber, today’s capitalist is the mutant offspring of yesterday’s Puritan, who in turn was a prodigal son of Calvin. The intellectual family tree is complicated further by the fact that at the end of this, I’m even more convinced than ever that Karl Marx is in some important ways Thomas Aquinas’ long lost heir.

As I head into serious study on this topic in the next few years, I found this passage a useful warning to keep me from going astray and writing things that other church leaders or theologians think quite fancy but make absolutely no contact with the world we actually live in:

Usury, a summary name for all kinds of extortion, was the issue in which the whole controversy over ‘good conscience’ in bargaining came to a head, and such questions were only one illustration of the immense problems with which the rise of a commercial civilization confronted a Church whose social ethics still professed to be those of the Bible, the Fathers, and the Schoolmen. A score of books, garnished with citations from Scripture and from the canonists, were written to answer them. Many of them are learned; some are almost readable. But it may be doubted whether, even in their own day, they satisfied any one but their authors. The truth is that, in spite of the sincerity with which it was held that the transactions of business must somehow be amenable to the moral law, the code of practical ethics, in which that claim was expressed, had been forged to meet the conditions of a very different environment from that of commercial England in the seventeenth century.

Your Correspondent, Bade self-love and social be not the same

One Quote Review: Divine Economy by D. Stephen Long

A popular textbook of introductory economics illustrates abstract equivalence and formal substitutionability. First, ‘opportunity costs’ are explained: they are the costs incurred by someone for forsaking one choice in favour of another. Then a question is posed based on the following example: ‘Mrs Harris spends an hour preparing a meal.’ However, she is also a ‘psychologist in private practice, and can obtain $50 per hour for her services.’ Thus, we must ask: what are the opportunity costs involved in her preparing the family meal? This seems a harmless enough question. The situation is a nice way of explaining that for every action chosen, another opportunity is sacrificed. The facts seem incontestable. No matter what our values might be concerning family, work, religion, politics, etc., when Mrs. Harris makes dinner she forgoes the opportunity of generating $50.

But this description is misleading. While it appears to give us merely the facts, it gives us much more. It invites us to construe our lives, primarily our lives as family members, in terms of the activities of producers and consumers. The family meal loses all incommensurable status with other consumable objects. All such objects are placed before the individual and he or she is asked ‘Which objects will you forego for the sake of the others? How long will you continue to exchange until you have sufficient xs and adequate ys? How many xs will you forego for the sake of how many ys?’ The question assumes a form of rationality, known as ‘marginalism,’ that inevitably reduces all forms of life to ‘utility’ and ‘interest’.

To pose the question this way assumes already the legitimacy of viewing all human action in terms of ‘opportunity costs’. In fact, this putatively harmless example contains a complex metaphysics that assumes all human action and language takes place in a tragic world of scarcity. The ability to ask this question entails acquiescence to that metaphysics. Any action that I take will be inscribed in a world of lack wherein my choice is made possible only by the other options I choose against. Rather than viewing human action as arising out of a plenitude, this metaphysics assumes it is ensconced in scarcity. Death, violence, and antagonism become the source and end of such a metaphysics.

What could not be substituted into the calculation of opportunity costs? Let us suppose that Mrs Harris engages in sexual intercourse with her husband. And let us suppose that he could hire a prostitute at fifty percent of the opportunity costs incurred for the time they spend together. Although our values might be shocked by such a calculation, the economic facts are clear. It costs this couple $25 per hour for sexual intercourse. If he utilized the services of a prostitute and she worked the hour, the economic index of productivity would increase by $75.

These so-called facts are no more settled than the values one putatively chooses. For the principle of formal substitutability treats all human action as if it were a disconnected or isolated event. The fact of the matter is not that Mrs. Harris’ husband saved the family $25 and increased the productivity by $75. The fact is that he committed adultery and thus denied God’s purposes for marriage. This fact has much more concrete or empirical reality than the putative economic facts mentioned. We can point to the concrete historical embodiment of something called ‘adultery’ much more readily than something called ‘opportunity cost’. Yet in a social reality determined primarily by marginalist rationality, the latter is called a ‘fact’ and the former a ‘value’.

– Stephen D. Long, Divine Economy: Theology and the Market, p. 4-5.

Your Correspondent, Everyone but economists call things that grow without ceasing “cancer”

One Quote Review: The End Of Sexual Identity

The End of Sexual Identity is a quite brilliant little book by the anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris that I read at the weekend. Her thesis is that a Biblical perspective on sexuality is one grounded in common humanity, not the easy categorisation of sexual practice or identity that Christians often fall back on.

It is simultaneously an interesting and informative read, pastorally sensitive to the very real concerns of the people who might be reading it and an impassioned call to serious engagement with the humanities. She is an unabashed apologist for anthropology and this is a surprising and refreshing discovery- a female Christian scholar arguing robustly in a way that just might encourage more serious female Christian scholars.

Sharyn Graham Davies, an Australian anthropologist, spent nearly two years living in South Sulawesi, a small region of Indonesia, among the Bugis ethnic group. She immersed herself in the everyday lives of men, women, calalai, calabai and bissu (the five gender categories in their society) with the goal of understanding, in part, how Bugis gender roles relate to people’s sexualities.

Instead of separating men and women into discrete categories, imagine a line spanning from man to woman. Calalai (masculine women) are born female but have so much male essence that they live as men in that they travel, dress as men and work in men’s professions; sometimes they are even mistaken for men. Calabai (feminine men) are born male, but their extra female essence leads them to dress and act as women, but in an over-the-top, glamorous, sexy way. They don’t feel they are women trapped in a man’s body; they feel they are calabai, feminine males. Bissu (transgender shamans) are the perfect combination of female and male elements, having come to earth from the spirit world without being divided into male or female. This is reflected in the body; many bissu are intersex, that is, born with ambiguous sexual biology. This is believed to animate their spiritual power, which is used to bless important life events like birth, marriage and death.

Jenell Williams Paris, The End Of Sexual Identity, p. 26.

We’re well past the idea of “praying away the gay” here.

It is an accessible, fascinating and well argued book which serves to broaden out a conversation constantly driven back into stark and silly dichotomies. I heartily recommend it.

Your Correspondent, Not weighed down by redundant torso fabric

One Quote Review: For All The Saints by Tom Wright

In particular, we must take account of the well-known and striking saying of Jesus to the dying brigand beside him, recorded by Luke (23:43). ‘Today,’ he said, ‘you will be with me in paradise.’ ‘Paradise’ is not the final destination; it is a beautiful resting place on the way there. But notice. If there is anyone in the New Testament to whom we might have expected the classic doctrine of purgatory to apply, it would be this brigand. He had no time for amendment of life; no doubt he had all kinds of sinful thoughts and desires in what was left of his body. All the standard argument in favour of purgatory apply to him. And yet Jesus assures him of his place in paradise, not in a few days or weeks, not if his friends say lots of prayers and masses for him, but ‘today’.

A deadly tight little book by Tom Wright on the Biblical testimony about life after death, the confusion of Purgatory and the importance of our liturgy matching our Gospel narrative.

Your Correspondent, All his dreams involve combing his hair