Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human

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My book, Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human, was released by Fordham University Press today (here it is at amazon). The excerpt that follows is from the introduction and describes the central theme of the book: the problem of human animality. The first half of the book holds critical readings of the problem of human animality in the texts of two fourth-century authors (Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus) and a host of contemporary theologians. The second half of the book holds constructive reworking of human animality in major theological themes such as the image of God, sin and redemption, and eschatological transformation.  

The Problem of Human Animality

The mainstream of the Christian theological tradition has been committed to some version of a categorical distinction between human beings and all other animals. When that categorical distinction collides with two other thoughts—the undeniable commonality of human and nonhuman animal life, and the Christian commitment to the fundamental unity of the human being—this long-standing commitment to anthropological exceptionalism generates what I call the “problem of human animality.” Holding these three convictions together in the Christian theological tradition has produced a wide range of strategies to control and contain human animality, competing solutions to a common problem. The manifest commonality of human life with the lives of other animals in embodiment, nutrition, mortality, and reproduction is obvious enough, but a few more comments may elucidate the dogmatic Christian commitment to the fundamental unity and integrity of the human being as a creature. Continue reading “Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human”

The Right-Wing Messiah

Last night I saw a preview for Secret Millionaire, which caused me to seriously question my already tottering faith in humanity. Apparently based on the show where the boss becomes an employee for a day, Secret Millionaire asks its tititular millionaires to move to the areas of the US that have been “hardest hit” (by what?). There they will live among the poor, all the while trying to determine which family is “most deserving” of a sudden influx of cash.

The premise is disgusting, but familiar — after all, what is Jesus Christ but a fabulously wealthy individual who “took the form of a slave”? Continue reading “The Right-Wing Messiah”

How did it happen? On Apostolic Succession

I devoted the final week of my New Testament class to two patristic texts: 1 Clement, which is the first clear articulation of apostolic succession, and selections from book 3 of Irenaeus’s Against All Heresies, which starts to incorporate the Gospels into the self-legitimation narrative of apostolic succession. I thought it was fitting that after going through the content of the New Testament, we would then take a look at the beginnings of the emergence of its form as a canon. (We were also still working through Schüssler Fiorenza’s Revelation: Vision of a Just World, but we mainly discussed her method of rhetorical criticism rather than her specific comments on Revelation — that proved to be a useful counterpoint to the patristic stuff, more than I would’ve anticipated.)

Knowing that I would address the notion of apostolic succession as the context in which the New Testament canon found its usefulness, on the day we discussed the Pastoral Epistles, I did a presentation over the entire New Testament, looking at every passage that seemed to refer to leadership within the Christian community. As a lapsed Catholic convert, I knew that the biblical case for apostolic succession was less than 100% clear, but assumed that I’d find a decent amount that pointed in that direction. What I found instead was virtually nothing — certainly nothing that lines up with 1 Clement’s claim that the apostles appointed the first convert in every city as the bishop.

Some random highlights: Continue reading “How did it happen? On Apostolic Succession”

“The new patristic”

From Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth:

The intellectual is thus not “out in front” to determine the movements of history or “on the sidelines” to critique them but rather completely “inside.” The function of the intellectual today, though in many ways radically different, shares some aspects with the one developed in the context of the patristics in the first centuries of Christianity. That was in many respects a revolutionary movement within an Empire that organized the poor against power and required not only a radical break with traditional knowledge and customs but also an invention of new systems of thought and practice, just as today we must find a way out of capitalist modernity to invent a new culture and new modes of life. Let’s call this, then, only half facetiously, a new patristic, in which the intellectual is charged with the task not only to denounce error and unmask illusions, and not only to incarnate the mechanisms of new practices of knowledge, but also, together with others in a process of co-research, to produce a new truth. (118)

Unfortunately, they don’t follow up on this at all.