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Posts tagged "Anthropology"

Empathy for the Deserving: The Morgellons Dilemma

Empathy for the Deserving: The Morgellons Dilemma

Leslie Jamison’s book of essays, called The Empathy Exams, has a lot to say to about the reaches (and limits) of human love and compassion in their modern expression. The second essay in the collection, called “Devil’s Bait,” is about a group of sufferers who share a rare, controversial illness called Morgellons Disease. With Morgellons, strange fibers grow beneath the skin, causing the sensation that the skin is crawling. The term is formication—the sensation of crawling insects under the skin.

It is a controversial disease, though, because it has no known medical cause and no known medical cure. While it remains…

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Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel: A Brief Guide

This handy guide comes from the first appendix to our newest book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), coauthored by Will McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl. Hope you enjoy:

The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom
–Martin Luther

Mbird LAW AND GOSPEL Cover options4A strong belief of Luther, and those who follow in his footsteps, is that people should not be enticed to church by the Gospel and then, after believing, turn toward self-improvement. The Law always kills, and the Spirit always gives life. This death and resurrection of the believer is not a one-time event, but must be repeated continually: It is the shape of the Christian life. On Sundays, therefore, some form of the Law is ideally preached to kill, and the Gospel to vivify—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). But in many situations, the Law is mistakenly preached to give life, on the assumption that the believer, unlike the new Christian, has the moral strength to follow the guidelines. This leads to burnout, often producing agnostics or converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Words like ‘accountability’ or ‘intentionality,’ for example, are sure signs that the letter, rather than the Spirit, is being looked to for life. To help distinguish this form of misguided Law from the Gospel, here’s a handy guide:

1. Listen for a distortion of the commandment: Anytime a hard commandment is softened, such as “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48) to “just do your best,” we’re looking to the Law, not the Gospel, for life.

2. Discern the balance of agency: If you’re in charge of making it happen, it’s misguided Law. If God’s in charge, it’s Gospel. If it’s a mixture, it’s Law.

3. Look for honesty: If you or others either seem ‘A-okay’ or ‘struggling, but…,’ then likely it’s because the Old Adam is alive and well (there will also be a horrible scandal in the next three months). If people are open and honest about their problems, such freedom shows the Gospel is at work.

4. Watch for exhaustion: If the yoke is hard and the burden heavy week after week, then the letter’s probably overpowering the Spirit.

5. Examine the language: If you hear ‘If… then,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice…,’ ‘We should all…,’ or anything else that smacks of the imperative voice, it’s implicit works-salvation. If you hear the indicative voice—‘God is…,’ ‘We are…,’ or ‘God will…’—then it’s probably Gospel.

6. Watch for the view of human nature, or anthropology: If human willpower, strength, or effort are being lauded or appealed to, it’s Law. High anthropology means low Christology, and vice-versa.

7. Finally, keep an eye out for the ‘Galatians effect,’ summarized by St. Paul:

Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5)

If how you’re approaching or being told to approach Christianity now feels different from “believing what you heard,” we’re in Galatians territory. Christianity is Good News, and it never ceases to be Good News.

Grab your copy of L&G today!

Silencing the Messy Conscience

Silencing the Messy Conscience

This post originally appeared on

Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.

― Martin Luther “The Life…

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The Impossibility of Knowing I’m Good

Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:

The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency of at least the early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.’ Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’

It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; and it certainly seems to be the reason that he thought and taught that no man could be good: ‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.’ The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves. We are reminded of Socrates’ great insight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born; the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.

(The Human Condition, pp 74-75)

Hannah Arendt on Escape and the Self-Made Man

From the prologue to The Human Condition:

tumblr_mxwr56t2Dp1qdl1hxo1_1280In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe… The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first “step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth”… What is new [in this comment] is only that one of this country’s most respectable newspapers finally brought to its front page what up to then had been buried in the highly non-respectable literature of science fiction (to which, unfortunately, nobody yet has paid the attention is deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires). The banality of the statement should not make us overlook how extraordinary in fact it was; for although Christians have spoken of the earth as a vale of tears and philosophers have looked upon their body as a prison of mind or soul, nobody in the history of mankind has ever conceived of the earth as a prison for men’s bodies or shown such eagerness to go literally from here to the moon. Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age, which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky? …and the wish to escape the human condition, I suspect, also underlies the hope to extend man’s lifespan far beyond the hundred-year limit.

This future man, whom the scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years, seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself.

Man's Prosthetic God: Technologies of Glory and the Still-Present Need for Salvation

Man’s Prosthetic God: Technologies of Glory and the Still-Present Need for Salvation

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some thoughts on identity and freedom, prompted in part by Apple’s iPad Air commercial. So to continue the theme of ads-from-tech-companies, I thought I might also offer just some brief comments on Microsoft’s ad from the Super Bowl, which is begging for religious reflection. (If you happened to be grabbing some wings from the kitchen while it aired on Super Bowl Sunday, be sure to watch it below.)

Here are the lines from the video:

“What is technology? What can it do? How far can we go? Technology has the power to unite us. It…

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The Dodgers Went Swimming (and We Would Too)

The Dodgers Went Swimming (and We Would Too)

Major league baseball, perhaps more other professional sports, has intricacies that are taken very seriously. This manifested itself last week, when various Los Angeles Dodgers players began to celebrate their win against the Arizona Diamondbacks by jumping into the pool at Chase Field, home of the D-Backs. The Dodgers’ victory over the Diamondbacks clinched the NL West, which is a feat worth celebrating, for sure.

There has been lots of talk about the Dodgers’ celebratory actions, of course, most of which seeks to answer the question as to whether or not it’s worth getting upset over, or is it just not worth all…

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Stray Takeaways from Arrested Development Season 4

Stray Takeaways from Arrested Development Season 4

1. Is Arrested Development a Christian show? At the risk of over-criticizing, if it weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have botched the ending the way they did. We all wanted les cousins dangereux to find love at last, but instead we witness a series of falls, especially with Michael and George Michael, up ’til now the show’s everymen/heroes, sinking further and further to pursue their own justification, most notably in a girl who thrives off neglect (see Always Sunny’s “DENNIS System” – but actually don’t). But perhaps the ending is so abrupt and disconcerting because Hurwitz is trying so much to make a point that…

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Short Story Wednesdays: "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor

Short Story Wednesdays: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Welcome back! This week for our new short story series, we turn to Flannery O’Connor’s popular and much-anthologized “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – the story of a family vacation gone awry. You can read along by clicking here.

Have you heard the one about the family driving to Florida? Grandmother’s vanity leads to a car accident in South Georgia, they run into an outlaw called the Misfit, and he kills them all. Flannery O’Connor found stories like this deeply comical, and at the same time as serious as anything in the world.

It’s safe to say she was the…

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Wrecking Ralph: Extinguishing the Quest for Glory

Wrecking Ralph: Extinguishing the Quest for Glory

Score one for this year’s winter film season! With a half-dozen movies premiering on Mockingbird’s *must* see list (including The Hobbit, Les Mis, James Bond, Django Unchained…), Wreck-It-Ralph kicks off the winter with a pixelated parable of judgment, love, and identity so potent,  you half-expected to see Martin Luther listed as a guest-writer in the credits. Okay, so perhaps I’m a bit over-enthusiastic in my praise of Disney’s newest in-house release, but when movie critics call Wreck-It Ralph “pixar-esque,” well, we’ve kind of got to take notice.

Perhaps there’s no better world to play out the drama of law-trapped characters than the unforgiving…

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Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek's Guide to Christianity

Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek’s Guide to Christianity

What do failed stars, Firefly, and engineering specifications have in common? About as random as mustard plants, or misplaced coins. In (sometimes Mbird contributor) Michael Belote’s new book, the hilariously named Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek’s Guide to Christianity, all things geeky, from supply-and-demand to the Theory of Relativity, illustrate the old, Christian story. More than that, all of his illustrations are spot-on: that is, they not only make points, but also they deepen the doctrinal positions that people more than familiar with incurvatus in se – but perhaps less familiar with stellar gravity – already “know.” The theology in…

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The Beautiful Ugliness of HBO: A Conference Breakout

The Beautiful Ugliness of HBO: A Conference Breakout

I don’t wanna just survive. It’s says in these movie writing books that every character has an arc. Understand?…Everybody starts out somewheres. And they do something, something gets done to them and it changes their life. That’s called an arc. Where’s my arc? 

-Christopher Moltisanti, The Sopranos

HBO’s wild success in premium television belies an underlying sophistication in everything from writing, to editing, to photography. Perhaps the network’s most striking accomplishment is how down-to-earth its characters and plotting tend to be, while still retaining their series’ impressively novelistic scale. HBO seems to understand how deep the human obsession with “arced” narratives of…

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