#theochat: theological anthropology


The topic for tonight’s #theochat is always a winner: theological anthropology. Last week, the NYTimes announced the discovery of a new human species, Homo Naledi, the remains of which were found deep inside a cave system in South Africa.

Besides introducing a new member of the prehuman family, the discovery suggests that some early hominins intentionally deposited bodies of their dead in a remote and largely inaccessible cave chamber, a behavior previously considered limited to modern humans. Some of the scientists referred to the practice as a ritualized treatment of their dead, but by “ritual” they said they meant a deliberate and repeated practice, not necessarily a kind of religious rite.

Given that this and other human species that are not homo sapiens sapiens are scientifically cateogorized as “human”, this poses a series of important questions for theology.

Q1: How does the breadth of the scientific taxonomy of homo (which includes several now extinct species) challenge the traditional theological understanding of “human”?

Q2: Does knowledge of biological evolution challenge traditional notions of the “soul”? If so, how? If not, why not?

Q3: How can study of biological evolution inform best practices in spirituality?

Q4: According to Pope Benedict XVI, the ability to conceive of God is what confers humanity in a theological sense. Given 1) that the scientific criteria are different than theology and 2) it’s possible that now extinct species of human had that ability, how does that challenge and/or inform traditional and modern notions of the providential care of the imago dei?

If you’re into theology and Twitter, please chime in.


Twitter provides an excellent platform for social engagement. Specifically, so-called “Twitter-chats” enable users of similar interests to communicate rapidly across the entire range of the network. I thought it might be helpful to apply this particular form of social media to theology. #theochat now happens weekly on Tuesday evenings at 9pm EST.  Continue reading

The Risk of Education: pt 1

As part of my getting-ready-for-school routine, I’m reading through The Risk of Education by Fr. Luigi Giussani. In it, he argues that education is best understood as “an introduction to total reality.” In what follows, I’ll examine his introductory points. Although I teach high school upperclassmen, I believe everything that’s discussed below can be applied to any student at any level.  Continue reading

Exploring Theologica: Overview

Over the next few months, I will be exploring various aspects of Theologica in a series of posts dedicated to the app. Some will examine its general features, while others will analyze specific content (terms, map points, reference sites, etc). Hopefully, this will not only help explain some of the content choices I made in development, but also serve as point of departure for an extended online discussion of the given topic. To begin, I’d like to examine the Overview tab. Continue reading

Introducing Theologica

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 8.37.54 AM

3 years ago, I had an idea for an iPhone app that would serve as a theological resource for students and teachers of Theology. So, as I learned the basic elements of Objective-C programming in Xcode, I started building a simple dictionary app that slowly evolved into something much larger than what I originally envisioned. On Monday, July 27, Theologica was finally approved for sale in the App Store. Thanks to all the beta testers who offered helpful feedback that improved the user experience.

In coming months, I’ll be exploring various areas of content in the app (terms, locations, references, historical events, etc.) to illustrate how the app can be used as a learning and teaching tool for anyone who is called to “think faith.”




Putting Apple’s 194b Into Perspective

Putting Apple’s 194b Into Perspective

As of its last financial quarter, Apple announced it had $194,000,000,000.00 in the bank.
194 billion dollars.
Sometimes, it can be hard to grasp the significance of extremely high numbers.
Here’s one breakdown that puts Apple’s bank account into perspective:
$1000 = price of a 13′ MacBook Air
$1000 x 365 = $365,000 – the amount you have to spend to buy a new 13′ MacBook Air every day for a year
$194,000,000,000 = Apple’s cash in the bank
$194,000,000,000 / $365,000 = 531,506 – the number of years needed, buying a MacBook Air every. single. day. of each year, needed to equal Apple’s amount of cash in the bank.
That is a lot* of money.

Religious Naturalism: Science as Mythos

In a recent post on the NPR science/philosophy blog “13.7”, Ursula Goodenough provided a brief introduction to what has been termed “Religious Naturalism.” Taking a cue from the idea of all religions having a foundational mythos, she offers an account of naturalism that takes the scientific narrative of our cosmological history as its mythos and that seeks to explore the various dimensions of the human response to it; hence, it is “religious”.

According to the Religious Naturalism Association (RNA) website, Religious Naturalism revolves around cosmological history on three axes: interpretative, spiritual, and moral. From the site description:

The interpretive axis entails asking the Big Questions along philosophical/existential axes. How do our science-based understandings inform our experience of being a Self? What do they tell us about free will? Death? Love? The search for The Meaning of Life? Why there is anything at all rather than nothing?

The spiritual axis entails exploring inward religious responses to the Epic, including awe and wonder, gratitude, assent, commitment, humility, reverence, joy, and the astonishment of being alive at all.

The moral axis entails outward communal responses to the Epic, where our deepening understandings of the animal/primate antecedents of social sensibilities offer important resources for developing social justice and human cooperation.

It also entails an orientation that can be called ecomorality, seeking right relations between the earth and its creatures, absorbing our interrelatedness, interdependence, and responsibilities.

What makes Religious Naturalism appealing to many is that the core theologized history of traditional religion (e.g. Creation/Fall/Redemption in Christianity) has been replaced by a scientific (*real*) account of history; what actually happened. To be fair, in the pre-scientific age, many Christian thinkers considered the theologized history to be necessarily synonymous with actual history. But most contemporary open-minded people of faith understand the relative context of the biblical texts and the philosophical difference between theology and science. As a result, they do not conflate the core mythos of their religion with a scientific account of the world, but rather understand it as an interpretation (a “Big Idea”) that exceeds the limits of science. The only trouble is that the mythos has traditionally understood itself to be synonymous with the *real* story. And many religions are currently in the growing pains of a process of de-literalization, in which the mythos is being seen as itself an interpretation of history and not history/science itself. The best example of this is an excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Credo For Today in his chapter entitled “Creation”:

The clay became man at that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought “God”. The first “thou” that—however stammeringly—was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed.

This is not an understanding of the world (or of Scripture) that existed 100 years ago at the Vatican, much less in the mind of the authors of Genesis. This is the result of one theologian taking science seriously and reinterpreting a foundational mythos in its light. For all catechetical purposes, the quote above has yet to seriously influence the day-to-day education of Catholics. As a result, there is often dissonance between what is taught about science and the degree to which Catholicism actually allows science to inform belief, even at the risk of trumping a well-established hermeneutical tradition.

I suspect that Religious Naturalism will continue to gain adherents in the West from 1) the “nones” – those who do not identify with a formal religious institution, value science, and struggle to find a community of the like-minded/hearted and 2) a more scientifically-minded population within monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that leave the institutions, in part, because they are perceived as being more concerned with maintaining their characteristics which are not popular with a human rights/science-based understanding of the world (e.g. segregated worship based on sex) rather than with the full integration of science. Religious Naturalism will also gain sympathizers from members of major religions, who are not willing to abandon their traditions, but who adhere to the idea that a scientific account of the world has intrinsic value within metaphysical meta-narratives. For example, the prominence of eco-ethics and its related issues is quickly gaining popularity among Christian ethicists and will likely be the topic of Pope Francis’ next encyclical.

Religious Naturalism is not without its own philosophical critiques (lack of a coherent account of “God”, the problem of criteria, etc.), but its emphasis on a scientific account of the world as a foundational mythos instead of theological interpretations of that account is one that resonates with the spiritual values of “billions and billions” of human seekers of the truth in all things.