Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Notes on “Jesus and the Cardinal Virtues”

March 3, 2016

Cochran, Elizabeth Andrew.  “Jesus and the Cardinal Virtues:  a Response to Monika Hellwig.”  Theology Today Volume 65 (2008), pp.  81-94

  1. Looks at the idea that Christians should explore how a consideration of the cardinal virtues can help the church to understand and articulate its public witness.”
  2. If the virtues are, as Aristotle says, rooted in an understanding of human nature independent of faith, this would give the church a natural common ground with moral thinkers outside the Christian faith.
  3. By contrast, Augustine is committed to the idea that we only understand the virtues by seeing them expressed in Christ.
  4. God is the Good, so any goodness must approximate God
  5. The virtues are those character traits that help us to lead a more faithful life, since a life spent in imitation of God is a “good life.”
  6. We know what God is like by looking at Christ, so a life lived in imitation of Christ is a life spent in pursuit of the good. We have no knowledge of what God is like, and thus no idea of how to live, apart from this revelation.
  7. So to fulfill our human nature, we cannot simply look at human nature from various angles and conclude that the virtues are those habits that fulfill our human needs; our knowledge gathered in this Aristotelian manner would be only an examination of fallen human nature by corrupted human reason. Instead, we must look to Christ; living the virtues as revealed in his life will fulfill our own lives.
  8. Aristotle is committed to the idea that the virtues are interconnected, but not simply one. Augustine believes the virtues are ultimately one thing, and thus vice is ultimately one thing.
  9. Humility is seen in God’s Incarnation; God humbled Himself in becoming a human being for our sakes.
  10. Humility is seen in the life of Jesus as a humble person who submits entirely to God

Notes on “The Faith/history Problem, and Kierkegaard’s “A Priori” ‘proof’”

January 19, 2016

I removed a lot of material from this blog so I could edit it together into book form for publication through Kindle—seems they have a rule about putting out for free what they are trying to sell.  So, I need to start putting out some new material.  I’m currently working on a paper examining connections between St. Augustine of Hippo and Søren Kierkegaard.  Below are the notes I took on an article I first read when I was in my first year of doctoral study.  At the time I got an A- on the paper, which sadly was written so long ago that I was still using an actual typewriter; I no longer have the one copy of that paper, so I am rereading and reanalyzing this excellent essay from Dr. Ferreira. 


Ferreira, M. J.. 1987. “The Faith/history Problem, and Kierkegaard’s “A Priori” ‘proof’”. Religious Studies 23 (3). Cambridge University Press: 337–45.


The problem is, how can faith that a particular historical event occurred (namely, the Incarnation, life ministry and death of Christ) be decisive for faith, while at the same time insulated from the results of historical research? Ferreira compares two attempts to address this problem: Tillich’s and Kierkegaard’s. Tillich admits that the historical details of the Christ are uncertain, but claims that this is unimportant to faith because the essence of faith is that one who has been grasped by the ultimate significance of the Christ event knows that it has ultimate significance, no matter how it actually happened. However, Ferreira finds all of this too vague. Tillich is so imprecise about “how the event occurred” that it becomes unclear how one can tell the Christ event from any other event. In the dark, all cats are black; and in the murky results of historical research into the life of the Christ, any event could be the Christ-event. If all details are uncertain and this doesn’t matter, then we really have no information at all, and one event is as good as another.

Ferreira points out that three times in the Philosophical Fragments the pseudonymous author Climacus asserts that the story of the Incarnation is such that no human being could have invented it on his or her own. The only way it could occur to anyone, he says, is if the god suggested it himself. In a sense, then, his is an a priori, nonprobablistic proof for the truth of Christianity. Even if all the historical details are shown to be uncertain, and all we have is a little nota bene of historical moment that some generation has said that “the god was born among us, lived as one of us and then died,” that would have been enough to establish this faith as an alternative to recollection. And Climacus seems sincere in this claim, as he even repeats it in the Postscript. And if this argument sticks, then Climacus does have a way to claim that the Incarnation is decisive for faith, even if the details are uncertain. Whatever exactly happened, the god has put this idea into history.

At the same time, though, Climacus claims that uncertainty and risk are essential to faith. If I make the leap to believe in the truth of the Incarnation, I must believe through faith alone, despite uncertainty; but if I can know that this idea could not occur to any human heart but must have a divine origin, where is the risk? This seems to leave Climacus with a serious inconsistency. Either Christian faith is reliant on at least some historical datum, which would make it vulnerable to historical refutation, or the “proof” eliminates the uncertainty necessary for faith.

My answer: the fact that this “proof” is true can only be known by one who has accepted it in faith. As Climacus says in his “Moral,” his alternative to recollection depends on accepting several other concepts, such as Sin, the teacher as god/man and Savior, etc. and these ideas themselves cannot be known except by someone who experiences them. And if they can only be known by faith, anyone who lost that sense of faith by seeing them as certain would also loose the ability to understand these concepts truly, or to see why they could not arise in any human heart. You must first believe in order to understand.

Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise? Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. i)

March 6, 2013

The “Religion and Popular Culture” group for The American Academy of Religion has issued a paper call for “Games and theories of gaming of all types” for the 2013 meeting in Baltimore.  This got me thinking again about the connections and convergences between religion and role-playing games, two subjects I have been intimately interested in since the 1970’s.  I started writing my thoughts down, and I’m still at it.  I’ve submitted a proposal, but this draft is way over the reading time limit, so at this point I’m just writing for my own amusement.  I’ll be posting it here in installments; I hope you enjoy it, and I thank you in advance for any comments that prove useful, stimulating, and/or encouraging.

Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise?  Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. i)



            The topic for this session is, “games and theories of gaming.”  My first thought when I hear “gaming” is RPGs.  When I began gaming, Dungeons and Dragons was just a few years old, and the first hardcover edition of the rules had yet to be issued.  There were two aspects of the relationship between “religion” and “gaming” in those days:  the fact that “cleric” was a character class, and the fact that many religious leaders and others were “Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons.”  In the first case, back in the day, there was one role-playing game and, effectively, only two religions.  If you were a “good” cleric, you learned spells to heal, bless, and gained the power to repel the undead; if you were an “evil” cleric you learned to harm, curse and command the undead.  Aside from those differences in the spell lists and powers, all clerics were basically the same:  all used blunt weapons ostensibly because “shedding blood” was forbidden (unless your cleric was “evil” and was offering a sacrifice), all were allowed chainmail armor, and so on.  Supposedly these had religious reasons; but really, the only point was to differentiate clerics from fighters by reserving the best armor and weapons for the spell-less, and from wizards by reserving the best spells for the unarmored mages.  That is, it had a game-balance function that was justified in-game with a religiously-based reason.  The assumption, however, was that all religion was basically feudal European Catholicism, more or less, at least if it was “good,” so all class restrictions, all spells and powers and so on could be justified in terms borrowed from an unsophisticated Christianity; and if evil, then the religion was some sort of mirror image and thus still borrowing its terms from a superficial view of religion based on stereotypes of the medieval Church.

That is to say, when the gaming hobby began, religion was caricatured more than it was depicted.  A real religion was flattened, made to fit gaming conventions, and applied.  And the “real religion” likewise caricatured gaming.  Once cards and dice were the Devil’s playthings; in the 1970’s fundamentalist Christians who had long since made their peace with Pinochle and Monopoly saw Satanic plots in the pages of a rulebook and the spinning of a twenty-sider.  Much has already been written about the evils of Dungeons and Dragons, and about the paranoia and fallacious reasoning of those hunting that alleged evil.

What interests me more is the irony of the whole situation.  It seems quite obvious that a group of miniatures wargamers would not have begun adapting the rules of Chainmail by scaling down the rules for mass combat to individuals and introducing fantastic elements like magic and monsters were it not for the success of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth stories.  And Tolkien was a devout Catholic, who wrote out of a religious sensibility.  It is reasonable to say then that role-playing games grew out of Christianity; they are “Christian games” in much the same way that the U. S. A. is a “Christian nation.”  Three years after the publication of Dungeons and Dragons, 1977, a new role-playing game appeared on the market:  Traveller.  This time, the game was based not on fantasy but on science fiction, a genre more often associated with agnosticism and atheism.   However, 1977 also saw the release of Star Wars, a film based largely on the work of noted mythologist Joseph Campbell.  Through the 1980’s the gaming industry spawned dozens of role-playing games, with movies influencing games and vice-versa, and always with the original genetic inheritance of Tolkien and the continuing inspiration of Campbell.  And on one point in particular these two writers agree:  that fantasy writing of all sorts is inherently a religious exercise.  They disagree, however, as to just what that exercise is.

To be continued…..

Review/Notes: David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;”

February 21, 2013

David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 233-57


I wrote this (and the others) while researching for a project I am considering, looking at Kierkegaard’s discussions of sin.  Therefore, some of the comments below relate more to my own research and writings (in particular, my comments about the Oct. 16 1834 writings).  Still, I thought someone else might find them interesting, so I am sharing them. Thank you to everyone for your comments; they have been and will continue to be extremely helpful.  


Relying on personal notes and writings from Kierkegaard himself, Law dismisses the claim that the “Ultimatum” has no essential relationship to the rest of E/O despite the fact that it was apparently a late addition to the manuscript.  He reviews the basic argument of the Pastor, which he breaks into two parts:  (1) in human relations, if you love another, you would not want to be in the right, for that would constitute a breach when you felt wronged; rather, you would want always to assume that you were the one in the wrong, and that the other loved you as much and as well as always; (2) while in the case of human relationships this may be delusion, with God it is always a fact that God is in the right and that, therefore, you are always in the wrong; so the thought that “as against God I am always in the wrong” is upbuilding because it is both true and it is an expression of my love for God (which includes faith as trust in God’s goodness).

Law argues that the “Ultimatum” serves three purposes.  First, its surface reading is that it is a theodicy.  Given human ignorance and fallibility, we cannot know the ways of God or why things happen that seem bad.  However, if we love God, we will believe that we are always in the wrong; so we can banish doubt and anxiety and choose to have faith in God despite the evil we see.  Unlike most theodicies, which function only on an intellectual level, this one also focuses on the emotional level to awaken faith rather than mere notional assent.  Second, it can be seen as part of Kierkegaard’s covert messaging to Regine.  Finally, it can be seen as illustrating the bankruptcy of the ethical.  B sees this sermon as an indictment of A’s aestheticism; but in fact, it is also a rejection of the ethical, since the goal of the ethical is to become more and more in the right.  In showing how the ethical cannot lead us to a right relationship with God, and cannot even succeed on its own standards, Kierkegaard points the way to the later works (particularly FT) which lead into the religious.

The theodicy part is particularly interesting when compared to the two essays on “Love Hides a Multitude of Sins” in the upbuilding discourses of 16 Oct. 1843.  The first of these argues that our love for God can hide the sins of others from us; the second, that our love for God can hide our sins from ourselves, and in a sense from God too.  The “Ultimatum” is not hiding God’s sins, since God is always in the right and cannot wrong us; but it does function in a similar way, as our love for God eliminates all doubt and thus it is love that establishes and maintains the relationship between us and God.

Notice that in all three discourses, there is no real separation because of sin.  As long as we love God, we are united with God; the love itself is the uniting power that overcomes any separation.  There is no real sense of grace, or that grace is needed because we lack the ability to love or to thus be saved by our own love for God.

Review: David R. Law, “The ‘Ultimatum’ of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Part Two, and the Two Upbuilding Discourses of 16 May 1843

February 13, 2013

David R. Law, “The ‘Ultimatum’ of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Part Two, and the Two Upbuilding Discourses of 16 May 1843;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 259-90



Law compares the general message of the “Ultimatum” and the two upbuilding discourses that “accompanied” it.  Law argues that while the three discourses may use different language, all three treat the ethical as “the Law” in Pauline/Lutheran theology, the “disciplinarian” that educates the individual up to the state of being ready to move from the ethical to the religious, and even to prompt the individual to move to the religious by presenting the breakdown of the ethical project.  At the same time, Law argues that all three discourses do not move completely beyond the ethical, either, since all three grant the self some self-sufficiency since it does have the power to surrender to God, to accept that as against God we are always in the wrong, that every thing that comes to us from God is a good gift, etc.  instead of conceding that even the will itself may be corrupted by sin and in need of grace.

In the discussion of the second discourse, Law points out that doubt about the future is concern over nothing; compare this to The Concept of Anxiety.  Are these discourses the beginnings of discussion of anxiety?  But anxiety is “the dizziness of freedom,” a fear of responsibility; concern about the future does not necessarily involve one’s own freedom, but only one’s stance in relation to the possibilities of the future.  Finally, Law argues that both these discourses and the “Ultimatum” present a Kierkegaardian theodicy, based on the book of Job’s argument that human reason is simply too limited to judge God or to complain about “evil” so we should have faith that what God wills is in fact good.