By Nevin Climenhaga, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame
As I had the honor to attend the recent Templeton Prize Ceremony for Alvin Plantinga, Helen De Cruz has asked me to write a summary of the event for the Prosblogion audience.
For those who would like to see the ceremony for themselves, a video of the ceremony is available on YouTube here. I note to my satisfaction, though, that you will not get to see everything those of us at the event saw. In particular, the narrator on the tribute video at 8:16 on YouTube is different – those of us in attendance saw the same video, but narrated by Morgan Freeman. I presume that Templeton did not want to pay the fees to post the Morgan Freeman-narrated video online, proving that even Templeton money does have its limits.
The ceremony was held on September 24 at the Field Museum in Chicago. Templeton usually hosts their prize ceremonies in London, so those of us who were in nearby Notre Dame felt fortunate to be able to attend this ceremony closer to home. The auditorium was very full, and many of those in attendance were not only influenced by Plantinga’s work, but were his direct “academic descendants” through teaching and advising. (Plantinga was an advisor for two of my own undergraduate professors, Robin Collins and Caleb Miller, both of whom were in attendance.) The tribute video shown during the event also illustrated how many people Plantinga has impacted, at one point zooming through Skype conversations with philosophers from some 20 different countries influenced by Plantinga.
This is the twenty-fifth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
My current work focuses on rectificatory justice and argues that the negative social and moral perceptions of Black Americans work to prevent Blacks from gaining rectificatory justice. This is because of connections between American colorblind liberalism and gaining rectificatory justice within the liberal paradigm. Liberalism is a political philosophy that espouses the mutual equality of persons, individual liberty, and that a set of moral rights flow from their mutual equality. Rectificatory justice is the branch of justice concerned with setting unjust situations right, which may require a number of different actions. Within the liberal tradition, injustice is violating someone’s rights. When one’s rights are violated, the victim has the right to have their injustices rectified in some manner. I plan to defend these positions: rights have a social dimension that is based in being recognized as one’s equal; that Blacks have not received rectificatory justice; and that racial reconciliation (which includes the dominant group changing their negative perceptions about Blacks) is a necessary step for Blacks to receive rectificatory justice.
A particular institution that has indoctrinated and educated millions about ethical behavior, respect, and following the moral law is the Christian Church. My father is a Baptist (his side of the family having faithfully attending Christ Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for decades), and his side of the family introduced me to what Baptist church services were like. My mother’s side of the family, however, is Catholic. Something I find interesting is how quickly I identify with having an upbringing in the Catholic Church, and yet I have little memory of choosing to be Catholic rather than Baptist. My older brother and I would attend church often as children, going to Dad’s church some weeks and Mom’s church (St. Bridget’s) other weeks. I surmise it was a decision more or less made by Mom that her sons would grow up in the same kind of faith that she did. Since the difference is more in how people praise rather than who people praised, Dad acquiesced on this issue. That said, it was never unheard of for the whole family to go to both churches on holidays or important services.
I was never confirmed, but I was baptized as an infant by the priest at St. Bridget’s. When I learned that being baptized meant that I chose to take God in, it struck me as peculiar that it was a choice made for me. Not that I wasn’t happy that the choice was made – I have an unwavering belief in the existence of God, thanks in no small part to God’s existence being indoctrinated in me from birth. The conviction in the value of a church community that my parents held meant St. Bridget’s to be my first church home: where I did a confession for the first time; I sang in the choir; I learned hymns and songs to affirm the story of Christ and the glory of God; and I knew church to be where I would see many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles regularly. My family loves to get together, and church was another excuse to get together as I grew up. The building itself was supposed to be respected as a place of worship, a concept that taught me how important the worship was to any sort of faith practice that I would adopt.
In my early teens, St. Bridget’s closed. This destabilized my sense of church community and led me to seriously consider the purpose of attending church. By that time I understood certain theoretical differences between Baptists and Catholic, such as the existence of Purgatory, and had chosen Catholicism as my preferred brand of Christianity. For one, I figured that Heaven takes way too perfect a person to get in but that I wouldn’t be evil enough to deserve Hell and thought Purgatory would be a nice middle ground for eternity (at least it’s not Hell). The other thing that swayed me was how short the services were in Catholic churches; we come in, say a few prayers, sing a couple of songs, hear a good message from the priest, have communion and we’re done. In my mind, as long as we were genuinely engaging in religious rites that heaped praise and respect upon God then it shouldn’t necessarily take all day to do so. And man, Baptist church services just go on forever.
Most of my account has focused so far on my relationship with the church and how that helped me forge my religious view of the world. Losing St. Bridget’s put things in perspective for me about what the important part of going to church is – building a relationship with God. Attending church wasn’t a requirement for building a relationship with God, prayer was. So I went into my parent’s bedroom around 15 or 16 and told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. At least as a youngster, I knew that church meant family time in a sacred place. Without a church community, it felt like I was going to church to sing songs and hear a story and none of it made sense. God exists, that made sense. Jesus story? Sure, I can roll with that. But I wasn’t very clear on the point of church any longer, and that moment of truth with my parents emboldened me to my newfound beliefs. I was nervous that they would be upset or even punish me for not wanting to go to church, but church felt like a chore that was not providing me any benefit. I distinctly remember my parents asking me if I still believed in God, which was met with a crystal clear, “Of course!” God wasn’t the issue – church was the issue.
Since that moment, I really avoided taking on any labels regarding my belief structure. If asked, I respond that I’m a Christian, and that I was raised Catholic. It doesn’t concern me if I’m considered nondenominational, Catholic, or whatever someone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is maintaining a relationship with God, which I do through prayer and appreciation. Since May 1, 2009, I try my best to say daily, “Thank you God for today, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for a chance at tomorrow.”
My Labrador retriever, Blue (pictured), died recently. She was my constant companion for almost fifteen years. So my assigned question hits home just now. Will God include animals in Heaven? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis speculated that some animals become so deeply ingrained in our lives, so much a part of our identities, that we could not really be ourselves, or truly happy in the next life, without them. I am hopefully inclined to agree.
But if so, what should we think will become of the billions of other animals that will have existed on earth? Will they have served their created purpose as important instruments of evolution in this life? Or do they have a future after death in an afterlife? Put in canonical Jewish and Christian terms, will animals inhabit the messianic kingdom of God on a “new earth” together with human beings?
One reason to think they will do so simply is that God created them in the first place. Should we think that the value of non-human beings is merely instrumental, and that they will have exhausted their evolutionary purpose prior to death? In Genesis 1, the author depicts God declaring non-human beings “good” in their own right, as having very high intrinsic value as parts of the “very good” cosmic whole. Should we think, then, that this ontological status would ever end, and not obtain in the messianic cosmic whole promised to come?
Furthermore, billions of animals fail to flourish as individuals prior to death. The evolutionary carnage is unimaginable. Should we think that God accepts this mass failure as the inevitable cost of creating valuable life by naturalistic means? Somehow, this way of thinking does not seem either aesthetically or morally right. It seems reasonable to expect an omnicompetent and morally perfect God to bring the being of all creatures and things to fruition according to their created natures.
More straightforwardly, it also seems that many species of animals are sentient, so that they can suffer in a morally important sense. Presumably, the profusion of undeserved suffering of animals in the world is a morally bad thing, a wrong that a morally perfect God would wish to make right. In Keith Ward’s words: “If there is any sentient creature which suffers pain, that being—whatever it is and however it is manifested—must find the pain transfigured by a greater joy.” And it seems clear that such evil-rectifying (and God-justifying) joy could only happen post mortem, in Heaven.
Beyond these philosophical considerations, Jewish and Christian canonical texts explicitly encourage belief that animals will inhabit Heaven, as envisioned.
Besides Genesis 1, which underscores God’s assessment of animals as “good,” and as essential to a cosmic whole that is “very good,” other texts suggest the inclusion of animals in the messianic age to come. In Genesis 6-7, God commands Noah to include all “kinds” of animals on the ark. Notably, after the flood, in Genesis 8-9, God makes a covenant with Noah that promises divine protection and preservation to all human and non-human beings. God makes this promise and repeats it two more times:
I now establish my covenant with … every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9: 9-10).
The speaker declares the covenant to be irrevocable—“everlasting” (Genesis 9: 16).
In the speeches of God from the windstorm in Job, God speaks at length about God’s intimate care even for animals living in wild realms that God seems to have abandoned—they, too, fall within the scope of the messianic vision. In Isaiah, that vision has the wolf at peace with the lamb, lions eating straw like the ox, and serpents venomous no more (Isaiah 65: 25).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” in bondage to pain and futility, in the throes of decay and longing to be set free (Romans 8: 18-23). The emphasis on pain in nature suggests an allusion to the experience of animals, and that Paul’s expressed hope of the coming cosmic redemption includes them.
There is one last distinctly Christian reason for hoping that animals will inhabit Heaven. I suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement provides unexpected grounds for that belief.
In Christian history, theologians have treated Atonement as a matter of reconciliation between God and human beings, who have allegedly wronged God. But animals have not done anything wrong, much less wrong to God. If anything, God has wronged animals by inscribing undeserved suffering into their existence. Can it be that the Atonement also had the aim of resolving that moral problem? Perhaps.
Christian writers have traditionally referred to Christ crucified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). In Hebrews, the writer likened Jesus to the Scapegoat slain painfully on Yom Kippur (Hebrews 5-7). In all these typological metaphors, Christ is identified with blameless sacrificial animals. Is it far-fetched to think that this imagery conveys reconciliation between God and the animals?
Some modern writers (notably, Holmes Rolston II and Christopher Southgate) have referred to the evolutionary narrative of species as cruciform, as a “slaughter of innocents,” as a via dolorosa and a Darwinian kenōsis analogous to the “self-emptying” of Jesus on the cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Meanwhile, the writer of Hebrews stressed that Christ’s death has brought an end to the need for animal sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Perhaps, then, the Atonement is not only a manifesto of liberation from sin and death for human beings, but also a symbolic declaration of an impending freedom from suffering in store for non-human beings in the messianic kingdom of Heaven that is promised to come.
What joys await animals—including Blue—in Heaven, we can only guess. But I suggest that canonical Jewish and Christian traditions together make it reasonable to believe that gloriously good things do await them, nonetheless.
Theology emeritus, Calvin College
Philosophy, Grand Valley State University
 Keith Ward. The Concept of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), 223. Cited by Southgate, 78.
Part of the beauty of natural systems is their wildness. We intuitively value things that are un-spoiled, pure, natural, wild and free. A field of sunflowers would seem less beautiful if we found out that the sunflowers were plastic replicas. The beauty of Old Faithful would be much diminished if the National Parks Service had to install pumps to keep the geyser operating regularly. And fishermen would find their “appreciation for catching cutthroat trout in an isolated and rugged mountain valley reduced by reports that the Department of Fish and Game stocked the stream the previous week.” There is great value, then, in letting natural systems remain free of the external influence of persons. Tampering in the natural order strongly detracts from the aesthetic value that wildness brings to the the Earth.
If we look at the world in its entire history, it seems as if God values wildness very much even though wildness comes at an enormous cost to individual creatures. The graceful tiger leaping for its prey with unsheathed claws is an awe inspiring sight but it led William Blake to wonder, “what immortal hand or eye dare frame [the tiger’s] fearful symmetry?” Although the untamed wild is stunning–beauty often flourishes on the same tangled vine where the grotesques and horrors bloom. We now know that the existence of wild animals, parasites, viruses and bacteria were not the result of the Fall, but are part of God’s original design plan. It is perhaps because of the great good of wildness that God chose to let the first creation evolve under natural laws without much, if any, divine intervention. An all-powerful being could have intervened in our evolutionary history to keep parasites and predators from evolving, to redirect hurricanes and still tsunamis and to rescue lambs from lions, but He does not. Presumably one reason God chooses not to intervene in the natural world is because such interventions would detract from the wildness of natural systems and would thereby destroy their inherent beauty and value. Such interventions would come at the cost of the wildness.
If God valued wildness the first time around, perhaps He will include a space for the untamed in the New Creation. Wild nature is beautiful but, at least in our world, it comes with its costs. It be disappointing if the New Earth is one large cultivated garden; I would hope that there are spaces that are untouched by persons where animals run free. But I also hope that much of the natural evil that causes so much suffering in our world will not be present in the new creation. There are hints in the Bible that the New Creation will not be ‘red in tooth and claw.’ (I’m sure that the rabbits living in the Eschaton would prefer not to be torn apart by hounds.) Perhaps we can have it both ways in the New Creation—maybe we can have the natural beauty of the untamed wild without the predation, disease, decay and death. But perhaps we can’t have it both ways. If it were possible to have wildness without suffering in the first creation, wouldn’t God have done it that way? Perhaps untamed wilderness is a good that can only be had in the first creation and in the eschaton untamed wildness will be replaced by another kind of good.
 Ned Hettinger and Bill Throop, “Refocusing Ecocentrism: De-emphasizing Stability and Defending Wildness,” 140.
 Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 148.
A few years ago, I had a student with Cerebral Palsy. He was one of those students that I connected with outside of the regular classroom. One day while we were talking about theological matters at our favorite local coffee shop, he told me that he’d be “really pissed off” if he didn’t have CP in heaven. The reason he gave for this claim was that his disability is part of his identity.
I confess that his claim struck me as odd at the time. Like many individuals, I had the thought “but why wouldn’t you want to not be disabled if that’s possible?” But over the past year and a half as I’ve begun immersing myself in various disability literatures, I’ve come to learn that my student’s thought is common among many people who have disabilities. Some members of the Deaf community think that they’ll be deaf and speak in sign language in the eschaton, just as others expect to speak in their own linguistic communities. (Just as I would like to be able to speak and understand Farsi in heaven, should I get there, I hope that I’ll be able to communicate in ASL.) And theologian Amos Young, in his well-known Theology and Down Syndrome, argues that his brother will still have Trisomy 21 in the eschaton.
Why might it be important to take seriously this line of thought? I think because of the substantial history of harms that have been done against those with disabilities, both in general but also more specifically by denying their voice when they speak of their own experiences. In her wonderful The Minority Body, Elizabeth Barnes talks about the tendency to downplay such testimony from those with disabilities as a kind of epistemic injustice, namely testimonial injustice. According to Miranda Fricker, testimonial injustice “occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to dive a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word”(Epistemic Injustice, p. 1). (As an illustration of some of the difficulties facing individuals with disabilities and the denial of their voice, I highly recommend people read Harriet McBride Johnson’s “Unspeakable Conversations.”).
Now, I don’t think that the need to take such testimony seriously means that it’s always veridical. (Neither does Barnes.) But it should make us pause and think before speaking. In what follows, I especially encourage those with disabilities to weigh in. And I encourage those of us that don’t have disabilities to take their reports seriously.
So what of the question, “will people have their disabilities in the eschaton?” Obviously, on one sense of the term ‘identity’, if a disability is part of a person’s identity then they will. Here I’m thinking of specifically numeric identity. But I also think that there are compelling reasons to think that not all disabilities are part of a person’s identity in this sense. (I’m inclined toward the view that there’s not a single thing that is disability, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I think that not all disabilities are similar in the relevant respect.) Disabilities that are acquired later in life—e.g., dementia or disabilities which result from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)—aren’t essential to a person’s numeric identity. If a person exists prior to having a disability, then it is possible for that person to exist without that disability. And if Christianity is true, it’s also possible for those born with a disability to no longer have it. The blind are given sight; the lame walk.
But this doesn’t mean that all disabilities are like that. It may be that chromosomal abnormalities (e.g., Trisomies 18 and 21, 2p15-16.1 Microdeletion Syndrome) as well as other kinds of disabilities are not separable from one’s numeric identity in this sense. I confess I don’t know what to think about these kinds of cases. But I think we have some (though certainly defeasible) reasons for thinking that these disabilities will be present in the eschaton because they are tied to a person’s numeric identity.
There’s another—a weaker—sense of identity where I think it makes sense to say that disabilities are part of a person’s identity, and that’s the “self-understanding and narrative” sense of the term. This is, I think, what many people mean when they say that being disabled is part of their identity. It is, for instance, what I think is present in the following passage from Simi Linton:
While retaining the word disability, despite its medical origins, a premise of most of the literature in disability studies is that disability is best understood as a marker of identity. As such, it has been used to build a coalition of people with significant impairments, people with behavioral or anatomical characteristics marked as deviant, and people who have or are suspected of having targets of discrimination…. When disability is redefined as a social/political category, people with a variety of conditions are identified as people with disabilities or disabled people, a group bound by common social and political experience. (Claiming Disability, 12)
A similar approach to one’s identity as disabled can also be found in Harilyn Rousso’s Don’t Call Me Inspirational. For many people with disabilities, their disability has so shaped their self-understanding that they cannot understand what it would be like for them not to have those disabilities (even if it is metaphysically possible for them to exist without those disabilities).
There are other aspects of one’s identity, so construed, that might also be understood in a similar way. Being a parent isn’t part of my numeric identity (since I was still me prior to being a parent), but it is a significant part of my own self-understanding and who I’ve become. And this is also true more specifically of being a parent of a disabled child. Even if I am no longer a parent at some point in the future (that thought is horrific to me!) or still a parent but not of a child with disabilities, the ways that those experiences have shaped my life are, I think, marks that I shall always bear in the future. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to know what these marks will be like prior to having them. Such marks are, in Laurie Paul’s term, transformative experiences.
Answers to the question depend on lots of philosophical questions (e.g., What is the nature of disability? What is the correct account of human nature? What kinds of goods and diversity will be realized in the heavenly kingdom? What experiences are compatible with the beatific vision?). It is my hope that in the future there will be more interaction between philosophy of religion and disability studies.
 I’d like to Michelle Panchuck, Scott Williams, and Hilary Yancey for discussions on these issues.
In this brief post—based somewhat on a section of my book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small—I defend the thesis that animals are created in the image of God. I will argue that the notion of bearing the imago dei is “graded.” That is, bearing the image is a property that comes in degrees, of, if it is not the same thing, there are many ways of bearing the image of God, which can be placed along a spectrum from triviality to very substantive.
I write from a Christian perspective, but won’t focus on the biblical data. However, it is very much worth noticing one feature of the Genesis narrative. One frequently hears—including in sermons—that the imago dei doctrine is taught in Genesis 2:7. Man “becomes a living being” when the “breath of life” is “breathed into his nostrils.” God had just said “Let us make man in our image” and nothing follows that is a better candidate for the imaging happening than the instilling of the breath of life. As with the Greek pneuma, the use of the Hebrew neshamah evokes a connection between breath and soul. And it is often thought that the soul, whatever else it is, is the locus of the image of God. But Genesis 1:30 had just abbreviated a long list of animals with the covering phrase “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). And, like its cousin neshamah, nefesh—used here—is sometimes rendered “soul.” And, again, there is nowhere else in the creation narrative that is a plausible ground for the imago dei. Nowhere in Scripture is a premium put on abstract thought and there’s certainly nothing about it in the creation narrative. (It is perhaps there by implication in the act of speech in the naming of the animals by Adam, but that’s a bit obscure.) And speaking of abstract thought…
Once when presenting a paper at a regional meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Society in Western New York, I made reference to Sosa’s distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. A guy pointed out to me than “animal knowledge” might not be an apt phrase, since, in certain respects, apt belief (in Sosa’s sense) is more like God’s knowledge than human knowledge. The relevant respect was that animal knowledge is “direct” in a way that included being non-discursive but also included being “hooked up” to the world in a way that “skips” ratiocination involved in much human knowledge, especially Sosa’s reflective knowledge. This is inchoate, but it points the direction to a way in which animal cognition might be much more in the image of God’s cognition than distinctively human cognition. An extension of this is the fact that humans are plagued by doubt in ways most animals don’t seem to be.
This is the first of a series of blogposts exploring theological and philosophical reflections on the new creation. The format is the following: each week, we’ll have one blogpost (of about 800 words) where an author pitches a new, thought-provoking idea. The other participants as well as the wider internet community can then join in and write comments, to which the author can respond. We hope many readers will participate! The next weeks on Thursdays we will have essays by Trent Dougherty, Kevin Timpe, Beth Seacord and John Schneider.
This week, we have Cara Wall-Scheffler, Associate Professor of Biology at Seattle Pacific University. She considers whether there would still be evolution in the new creation.
As a biological anthropologist, I am interested in human adaptations and variation that chart the evolution of Homo sapiens. In particular, I see to explain how human characteristics (e.g. long limbs, pelvis shape, sexual dimorphism) emerged within different geographical areas and ecosystems.
As a Wesleyan, I am further interested in a theology of sanctification; that is, how, through attentive interactions with the Holy Spirit, faithful humans might form a more ‘in tune’ relationship with the Creator, with other creatures, and especially with one another. Because Scripture claims and the Church confesses that a sovereign God loves and cares for every creature that God as made (e.g. Job 38-42), and because this world is filled with organisms that continue to evolve, I see no reason why this dynamic interaction between the Creator and the created will not continue to exist in New Creation.
Because I understand Scripture’s narrative of First Creation’s relationship with God as ‘very good’ but clearly not ‘perfect’ in a static sense (so Genesis 2:18-20), I hypothesize that New Creation will be a place—an ‘ecosystem’—in which creatures will continue to evolve beyond which a world that already has evoked God’s joy and good pleasure. Furthermore, Scripture claims that New Creation will occupy the same “geographical area” as the First Creation. Whilst an apocalypse of full salvation decisively marks the transition between the two, New Creation continues from the First Creation.
This is the twenty-third installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow these links for links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22.
This interview is with Jeremiah Carey, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m a graduate student in philosophy at UC Berkeley. I’ll be going on the job market in the fall and graduating in the spring, so I’m eagerly (and anxiously) waiting to see what the future holds. My philosophical interests are broad and mostly ethical – I want to know how to live and whatever is relevant to knowing that – but my main research has centered on issues in moral psychology. I pitch my dissertation as a defense of a contemporary analogue of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul. Basically, I argue that in order to make sense of weakness of will, we have to think of ourselves as having multiple “sources” of motivation, which I identify as reason, desire, and the will. A big chunk (over half) is about how to understand desire and its relation to reasons for action. I’m also interested in normative issues in moral psychology and related topics in virtue ethics and free will/moral responsibility. I’ve found myself attracted more to ancient approaches to these questions than modern ones, which has led to secondary interests in ancient philosophy, and, more recently, Asian philosophy.
I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I converted to Orthodoxy fairly recently, though I grew up in church, almost quite literally – when I was young my father was a pentecostal preacher and we lived for awhile in an apartment built above the sanctuary. The denomination I grew up in was un-orthodox (denying the doctrine of the Trinity), and at least at that time quite fundamentalist and anti-intellectual. In fact, my first exposure to philosophy came from my dad’s struggle against the anti-intellectualism of his own church. (I remember him trying once, without much success, to give us family lessons on common fallacies. A more lasting impression was made when he gave me to read, as a pre-teen, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and emphasized Douglass’ discovery of the link between slavery, on the one hand, and a failure to ask questions and to think deeply, on the other.) My family left that church while I was in middle school and remained non-denominationally affiliated for the rest of my childhood (my dad quit pastoring, went back to school and became a medical doctor). Since then I’ve always been, more or less half-heartedly, connected to one church or another, until I discovered the Orthodox church early in my graduate career.
I’ve always been somewhat ill at ease with my faith. I seem to be the only person in my immediate or extended family who is, I’m afraid, basically immune to religious experience. I think there are good arguments for theism in general and Christianity in particular, but I don’t find them rationally compelling. So while Truth is undoubtedly an important issue, my primary draw towards religion is based more on those other transcendentals, Goodness and Beauty. I want to be good, and I want to recognize and love the beautiful, as well as to believe the true. Orthodoxy holds out for me the hope of those things more than anything else I’ve encountered.
This is the twenty-second installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow these links for links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.
The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Owen Flanagan, James B Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University
Can you tell me something about your academic position, and about your current religious affiliation/self-identification – please feel free to say something about your religious upbringing or history, or anything else that might be relevant to your current religious affiliation.
I am James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University in Durham NC, where I am Co-director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and still have that Catholic boy inside me. I received a fantastic education from nuns, most of whom had never been to anything that we would call college. I get Catholicism. It is in my blood and bones. It is familiar. In Rome last year, my wife and I visited Saint Peter’s, many other churches, went to vespers at a convent, and I was consistently moved, engaged. But I haven’t practiced since I was a young teenager. I was bothered by hell, specifically the idea that a good God would have such a place, by the emphasis on sexual sins, and by a sincere worry that although Jesus might be understood as a prophet, as he is in the Koran, but was simply nowhere good enough to be God.
So, I am a certain kind of atheist, a philosophical one, who has never heard a substantive conception of God, the sort that is presented in creedal religions (I believe in god the Father almighty…) that I thought the weight of reasons supported belief in. The reasons always seem to weigh against actually believing in THAT God. This philosophical orientation goes well with a certain resistance to epistemic over-confidence that is needed to speak confidently about the existence or nature of one’s God or gods.
In part, I have been too impressed, in a good way I think, by my interest and study of other great world religions to be confident about the creedal parts of the Catholicism I was raised in, which I was told was the one true religion. Confucianism, which treads lightly on the divinity stuff, and Buddhism, Jainism, and Daoism, are beautiful without being theistic in the familiar senses. Some say Buddhism is atheistic, which is true as far as a creator God goes. But Buddhism, like almost every spiritual tradition seems committed to ideas, which are hard to take literally from the perspective of the scientific image such as rebirth and karma. These ideas can however easily be taken poetically and embodied in rituals without literal commitment.
That said, I get the religious impulse, embrace the feelings of mystery, awe, and existential anxiety about the meaning and significance of life that most every religion responds to. I love the part of most religious traditions that enact, express, and acknowledge the mystery of things. In fact I preferred the old pre-Vatican 2 masses in Latin with more dramatic music, incense, mystery, drama.
In The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), I make the distinction between assertive theism, where one asserts certain supernatural claims as true, and expressive theism, where one expresses various extra-mundane impulses, feelings, emotions, and expansive not-humanly-possible love. I prefer the latter to the former.
You might think this makes me a familiar type: spiritual but not religious. Maybe. But I am pretty allergic to New Age style religions because they seem self-indulgent, egoistic, and in addition often assert empirically irresponsible stuff such as one hears in homeopathy. So to make things maximally confusing and to conclude this part of our interview: When people ask about my religion, I sometimes say I am Catholic. I say it in the same spirit many of my Jewish friends say and mean they are Jewish. Catholicism is part of me. It is like when I go home to Westchester County, New York where I was raised. The dirt smells right, the way dirt is supposed to smell, the sky, the trees look right; it is familiar, comforting, and grounding. But in both cases, I don’t live there anymore.
This is the twenty-first installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Kevin Timpe, who will be the Jellema Chair of Christian Philosophy starting this fall.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m actually in transition this summer. We’re in the process of moving to Grand Rapids, MI where I’ll be the W. H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin College starting this coming fall. I just finished my seventh year at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, and before that I taught for six years at the University of San Diego in southern California. As you can tell from this, I’ve been at a number of fairly different Christian universities over the course of my career.
I’m joked a few times that I’ve gone from teaching in a Catholic school to a Wesleyan school and now to a Reformed school without substantively changing my philosophical or religious views, but I actually think there’s a fair bit of truth in that description. I have a strong affinity for what my friend and frequent co-author Tim Pawl calls ‘conciliar Christianity’. I lean toward the medievals (more so than toward modern or postmodern theologians) in a lot of my theological views, which helps explain why I have many Catholic sympathies. A few of my papers have drawn heavily on parts of Augustine’s and Aquinas’s thought. Some of my views are a little unusual for a Protestant, such as my thinking that purgatory fits very nicely with what I think about character formation and a recent paper of mine exploring a particular understanding of limbo. Last year for a paper on grace, I read a fair bit of Maximus the Confessor and would love to engage his thought more in the coming years.
In terms of research, most of my early work focused on issues relating to the metaphysics of free will and various issues in the philosophy of religion. At the University of San Diego, I taught a general-education ethics course entitled “Virtues and Vices” that got me thinking more about virtue ethics, particularly about the connections between our actions and our moral character. Though initially primarily a teaching interest, I came to write some on moral character and virtue, and eventually edited a collection (with Craig Boyd) entitled Virtues and Their Vices (OUP, 2014). A little over a year ago, I started a new research project on philosophy of disability, largely as the result of having a disabled child and having to do some significant advocating for him once he entered elementary school. Though my other interests remain, I think that disability (including how it intersects with agency) will be the primary focus of my research for the next few years.