Oct 28, 2009

Theological Blogging

This semester I've been struggling to finish my Old Testament essay, "Themes and Theologies from Primeval Myths of the Ancient Near East." Partly, I think I'm just bad at traditional academic writing. So, I'm going to try to mix a couple of my passions - my blogging and my theological study. But I need some reader participation for this ...

I spoke to my professor about writing some academic-flavored blog posts in lieu of writing a term paper for next semester's New Testament class. He and I will determine an assignment of blog posts to write on the topics we'll cover in the New Testament. When I blog them, I will need at least some readers to ask me some follow-up questions in the comments, and that will instigate me into further research and response. I think it can work really well, based on my previous post on Genesis which got a good 16 comments.

So, how many of you could help me out with comments on some academic posts next semester? The number of comments to this post could serve as something of a trial figure, so please leave a comment here so I can show my instructor that this could work. Thanks.

Oct 22, 2009

whoa. whoa. WHOA!

Okay, this is exciting. The Vatican has approved an Apostolic Constitution for the purpose of bringing Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church! Very roughly, this means there will be something like an 'Anglican Rite' of the Roman Catholic Church, and as I understand it, Anglican congregations can be corporately brought into full communion with Rome.

As I understand it, married priests will retain their clerical status and responsibilities, but cannot be bishops. Celibate Anglican bishops can become bishops in the Roman church, and some celibate priests may be ordained as new bishops in the Anglican "rite" of the Church.

This is meaningful to me for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, one of my good friends is Episcopalian - the province of the Anglican Communion in the US. I know he's very warm to the Roman tradition. He is actually one of the main reasons I became Roman Catholic. and he turned me on to liturgical tradition by introducing me to the daily office. I haven't talked to him about this yet, but just the fact that this avenue exists between the two churches gives me new hope as I reflect on how much our friendship has meant to me.

Another reason I'm excited is I think this sets a positive precedent for the Church. I think this is a good experiment for the Church to see how it can open up new avenues to receive established Christian communities into its fold. I don't think I'll offend any of my Protestant readers if I say that there's something of a trend of dissatisfaction fomenting in the ranks of mainline Protestantism. I think the 'Emerging' movement, with which I heavily identify, is a result of it. With this precedent in place, is it really far fetched to consider the possibility of a Lutheran or Methodist rite? Though I won't hold out too much hope for an Emerging rite. ;)

It's still early in the process, and there may only be a small proportion of Anglicans who will embrace this opportunity, but I still think this will only be good for our Christian ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Oct 12, 2009

contemporary mythologies

Is it just me, or are TV series better these days about accurately and intelligently broaching some deep and important topics? Well, okay I know it's not just me, because Speaking of Faith ran a program on TV and Parables of Our Time which was really cool. And their mention of Battlestar Galactica was the last push I needed to check it out; a few of my friends also said I would enjoy the mix of SciFi story and Religion.

The series presents a story of war between humans and machines set, presumably, in the far future and in a distant part of the galaxy. The humans live in colonies named for (and presumably located within?) Zodiac constellations - Caprica, Gemini, etc. The humans create a race of cybernetic machines as tools to improve their lives. The machines - cylons - rebel against the humans. There's a long war between them, but they declare an armistice. After 40 years though, the cylons return to destroy all of humanity. That's where the series starts.

An interesting twist of the series is that the cylons are more religiously zealous than the humans. The humans somewhat superficially maintain a "pagan" religious tradition that resembles the mythologies of ancient Rome and Greece; by contrast the cylons are deeply devoted to their faith in the "One True God" that's apparently inspired by monotheistic fundamentalism.

I have to say so far I've thought the religious themes and concepts explored by the series have been pretty average. There's nothing grossly inaccurate nor offensive, but the writers lack some of the subtlety and nuance of fuller religious reflection. A few episodes I watched last night raised the bar a bit, and I'm hoping it continues to improve in season 3.

One of the episodes depicted a scene with a human priest counseling one of the characters after they've done something, uh ... really bad.

(Priest) Cavill: Chief Tyrol, I am Brother Cavill. I understand you've asked for religious counseling.
Tyrol: I never really believed in psych therapy. My father was a priest.
Cavill: I see. You thought you'd have an easier time with a priest than a real doctor.
Tyrol: Okay. I pray to the gods every night. But I don't think they listen to me.
Cavill: Do you know how useless prayer is? Chanting and singing and mucking about with old half-remembered lines of bad poetry. And you know what it gets you? Exactly nothing.
Tyrol: Are you sure you're a priest?
Cavill: I've been preaching longer than you've been sucking down oxygen. And in that time, I've learned enough to know that the gods don't answer prayers. We're here o­n our own. That's the way they set things up. We have to find our own answers, our own way out of the wilderness without a nice little sunny path all laid out in front of us in advance.
Tyrol: That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to find my way.
Cavill: Well, it's not going to get better until you see what the problem is. And the problem is, you're screwed up, heart and mind. You. Not the gods or fate or the universe. You.
Tyrol: Thanks for the pep talk.

I had to pause the DVD at this point. This is a perfect example of a big distinction between Abrahamic and most pagan theologies. Judaism was the first major religion (of which we know) to espouse the idea of a god who was compassionately oriented towards humanity. By contrast, the pagan gods of Assyria, Babylon, Canaan, Egypt and Greece were only superficially interested in the well-being of mankind. By and large, pagan peoples offered sacrifice and prayer to the gods of nature in an attempt to barter favor from those who would really rather pursue their own interests. The pagan gods viewed humanity the way we might view a hive of bees - good when they give us honey, but also annoying when they sting us; insignificant creatures to be merely used or swatted.

Of course the exchange hints at other theological ideas - deism vs. theism, fate vs. free will, etc. But this is was, in my opinion, the meatiest theological material in this particular episode. It inspired me to include some ancient Greek mythology in my essay, "Themes and Theologies from Primeval Myths of the Ancient Near East and Today." The myths I'll explore in the essay ...
From the Ancient Near East:

  • Hebrew Genesis

  • Babylonian Enûma Eliš

  • Babylonian Legend of Adapa

  • Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh

  • Ugaritic Baal Epic

  • Egyptian Nu and benben Myths

  • Greek Theogony


  • J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarilion

  • C.S. Lewis's Narnia

  • George Lucas's Star Wars

  • Battlestar Galactica

I'm sure I'm missing some obvious or important contemporary "mythologies" ... ?