Tag Archives: critical thinking

sometimes, the angels are in the details

I have began to notice something recently in discussions online.  Comments, blog posts, tweets, facebook threads, while many may dismiss these as “it’s just the internet,” these conversations do matter.  Let me give an example from the meat world, then make my way back to my point about online.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers taught us a *limited* amount of poetry by writers such as James Baldwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  On a personal level, the teacher was likeable, but there was nothing I learned about Emerson (back then) that would convince me to go read his works. Also, I was more interested myself in American government classes and U.S. history.  I have recently been reading Cornel West’s Democracy Matters, and he talks about how Emerson opposed the removal of First Nations people from states like Georgia, and how he criticized the Slave Fugitive Laws. If I had been aware of this, knowing that I believed in social justice then as I do now, I would have been more invested in Emerson, and probably U.S, literature much more earlier than grad school.

Sometimes teachers avoid these teaching moments because maybe they are afraid of the details of a writer’s political life may say about their own politics or biases.  Is teaching particularity something to be avoided? Transition now to online discussions.  I can think of one past and one more recent discussion.  In the former, there was a commenter who is highly educated as I am, but with some of the comment he left, you couldn’t really tell. At the same time, this commenter wrote a book on a theologian who has an affinity for Eastern Orthodoxy, the openness of God, and an engagement with natural sciences.  You would think that this person and I would get along, and we do.  But some comments just don’t go away, like being told  that I should choke on the brand of philosophy I preferred to read, or only being seen under a gaze where the only two possibilities are a faithful Barthian Church-loving orthodox Christian, or A Heretical Schleirmacher-loving liberal who is only about experience.  This seems like an unfortunate form of dehumanization; I was being objectified and not addressed as a person.

The problem lied specifically in this writer being taught that his perspective was universal, and that anyone who started with particularity was a experience-driven, theologically liberal, Jesus-dissing heretic.  But fortunately, by way of providence, I have other friends who I am in conversation with, and they have encouraged me to read the late theologian in question in spite of this interlocutor’s behavior.  A similar situation arose during grad school.  In a Christian ethics course, I learned about virtue ethics and Thomas Aquinas.  Given the text that was selected, and the extremely limited focus on Aquinas as a Trinitarian ethicist (from a Protestant interpretation), I had difficulty seeing why Thomists loved Aquinas.  I do recall on Facebook during that semester, or somewhere about that time, in a very active (now really defunct) theology group, there was a philosophy student who identified as a feminist, and she was a Thomist.  I thought that was an interesting combination.

And then last Sunday night, in a long Twitter conversation with two or three friends, I learned how Thomas’ view of human flourishing may be compatible with liberationist and feminist theologies. Perhaps the problem with the class that I learned about Thomas Aquinas was that the professor did not teach specific details of Aquinas’ life or work, just generalities along with secondary texts.  It probably would have been more useful if we had access to primary texts as well.  Maybe, after all,  it’s not the devil, but the angels who are in the details, specificity, particularities, the nitty-gritty and that’s why these are all so important when it comes to learning, teaching, reading and writing.

Your Fave Theologian Is Problematic: a call for guest posts


English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deu...

English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deutsch: Deutsche Briefmarke, die den Theologen Karl Barth zeigt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


For freedom february, I thought it would be interesting to have guest posts by friends and participants to the series “Your Fave Theologian Is Problematic. I got the idea one night as I was staying up late one night last year, reading through all the problematic stuff that our favorite celebrities do on the Tumblr, Your Fave Is Problematic. One of the problems I have come across in theology is that rather than doing biography of religious thinkers, many theologians both on the liberal side of things and conservative evangelicals are doing more hagiography (writing these persons as saints). [h/t to J.Kameron Carter for that insight] One can see this in the push back last year with online discussions about Karl Barth, and recently with his student, John Howard Yoder.

So, in  a similar spirit to Your Fave Problematic, I am opening the floor to writers/bloggers from any and all perspectives to discuss which theologians or Christian writers whose work they appreciate, but may be problematic in some or many respects.  If there’s some new and oh so chic blogger or theologian out there that just gets under your skin, or someone who you just think is just a big mean meanie pants, then this series is right for you.

Lastly, the point of this series IS NOT TO MAKE people so upset that they stop reading their fave theologian all together.  What I am aiming for is a theology that is  more of a “critically concious fandom” that makes us aware of our own biases.

My goal is to have guest posts *in intervals throughout the year*; I have even set up a Tumblr for this series: Your Fave Theologian Is Problematic Tumblr

If you would like to participate in this series, tweet at us on the Twitters at @Political_Jesus, message us on our Facebook page, send us fan mail/a message on Tumblr, or simply use the Contact Us page on this site, or send us an email at politicaljesus [a] yahoo.com

*post has been edited to reflect time changes and the Problematic Theologies Tumblr*

Two Must Read Posts On Religion and Scholarship


Europe religion map en-1-

Europe religion map en-1- (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


As a Christian who enjoys thinking critically and reading texts outside my own tradition and belief system, I find it quite difficult to find safe spaces, both IRL and on-line to find a community that engages in such inquiry, questions related to race and religion.  For some time now, there’s a small community I have been a part of, that at first seemed to be safe, without the overbearing threat of becoming “mainstream,” or made more suitable to market interests and hegemony. Recent decisions and events by this group have made me more suspicious about the move towards working to be accepted by “the mainstream” but I did not have the words to frame my concerns until today.

From Janice Rees,

“It seems however, that more probing questions need to be asked about institutional power and the oligopoly of ‘minoritised scholarship’. In the commodification of theological education and scholarship, the ongoing claims of ‘global theology’ – that is, the drawing of minoritised scholars to the centres of power – begin to look more like economically motivated strategies of homogenisation than attempts to diversify voices.”

I think in other words, talks of a “global theology” much like the rhetoric that promotes higher education to make high schoolers into “global citizens” is just a reflection of the not-so-free marketplace. This is something I will continue to think about, but for now, I would recommend you read the rest: O Sister, Where Art Thou?

The other post I would recommend is one that has implications for the study of race and religion as well:

“But people largely imagine North America as this timeless place and don’t recognize that pre-contact American history had just as much of an effect on post-contact history because it provides explanations of the motivations and reasonings behind indigenous peoples’ actions.

But of course, that would require people to recognize that indigenous people had their own histories and agendas and agency that affected the course of history rather than making them a passive recipient of European historical force.”

Read the rest: What If People Told European History Like They Told Native American History?

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