Discerning Before Utopia

“The Daydreamer”, Creative Commons

This post was spurred on by two things, a class given on discernment at Campion College Australia and reading a letter in a section of the monthly journal Traces, put out by the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.

In going through the contingencies of life, discerning God’s will is always hard to do. The challenge becomes particularly acute when we realise that discernment is almost always mixed with our desires and the frustrations of those desires by the slings and arrows of fortune.

Being creatures driven by the heart, as James KA Smith noted in his Desiring the Kingdom, it would be impossible to eliminate the restlessness that desire instills in us and the eagerness or anxiety that will find its way in the discernment process.

The reasons for our eagerness can be gleaned when one considers how desire operates in the context of what Graham Ward calls a “subject position” in his book Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice. Ward suggests in that book that desire does not allow us to keep still within our subject position, which is always made up of a whole range of social and cultural factors. Rather, our desires put us onto what he calls “projects” which, as the word suggests, projects us forward, pressing us against the confines posed by the factors that make up our subject position. In many respects, our eagerness inevitably will drive us to want to break many of these confines, and urge us to strain towards “where we want to be”. This is what Ward calls in his book “utopic horizons”.

However, our eagerness is often met with frustration because, as the name “utopia” suggests, our desires very often push us towards places other than where we are now. We believe that where we are now are but obstacles to our discernment and to the fulfilling of our vocation. We want to escape where we are and what we are doing, so that the will of God can finally be done.

This desire to escape our circumstances is understandable, but it must be juxtaposed with observations by Rabbi Edward Feld and Fr. Luigi Giussani. In an essay on the 23rd Psalm, Feld noted that, though the journey in the psalm is marked by many changes and much buffeting by the circumstances of life, the sheep are nevertheless still “on the right path”. Fr. Giussani put it more succinctly, saying once that it is in the circumstances that one seeks to escape where one’s vocation, one’s call resides. Discernment thus is not dependent on an escaping of those circumstances, but by pressing against them and feeling their texture press back upon us.

The Magna Carta After 800 Years: A Day Conference (28 Nov, Sydney)


The Centre for the Study of Western Tradition at Campion College recently announced that it will be holding a day conference to mark the end of the year of the 8th centenary of the Magna Carta. The conference will also have a distinctly Australian flavour, representing a wide range of perspectives.
The keynote speakers for the event are Queens Council, Order of Australia recipient and refugee advocate, Julian Burnside and the Commissioner for Law Reform in Western Australia and legal scholar at Murdoch University, Dr. Augusto Zimmermann.
The program will also feature politicians, historians and legal scholars including:
  • Tim Wilson, Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Jeremy Bell, Lecturer in History at Campion College Australia
  • Keith Thompson, Vice Dean of Law at the University of Notre Dame in Australia and
  • Patrick Quirk, Associate Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University
Discounts are available for early bird registrations and permanent discounts are available for fulltime students and pensioners. All registrations include a buffet lunch at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney, where the conference will be held.
More details about speakers, programs and registration are available by clicking here for the fully interactive website. To keep updated, please sign up at the facebook events page.

What UFOs Have To Do With Philosophy


The Centre for the Study of Western Tradition at Campion College is glad to host Dr. Chris Fleming, who will present a seminar based on his latest book (co-authored with Emma Jane) Modern Conspiracy: the Importance of Being Paranoid.
Dr. Fleming hails from the University of Western Sydney where he Lectures in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts.
The paper will explore the intersections between philosophy and the phenomena of conspiracy theories, and ask the question about what our contemporary fascination with or revulsion of them say about our unarticulated philosophical commitments.
The seminar will be held at the Perez de la Sala Lecture Theatre Campion College this Friday at 5:30pm. Tea and coffee will be provided. RSVP details are provided in the poster above..

Love is God?

Campion College yesterday hosted its monthly Campion Cafe Conversations, which asked the question “Is Romantic Love the New Religion?” The conversation featured Christopher Hartney from the Department of Studies in Religion in the University of Sydney, and the Divine Wedgie’s blogger at large, Matthew Tan.

Hartney spoke of an insidious cult of the romantic, which was driving romantic love itself into greater degrees of blandness. Meanwhile, Tan cautioned the audience against being too hasty with awarding romantic love with the title of the new religion, though he said we should not be surprised that overlaps existed between the religious and the romantic. Romantic love has long provided many drivers for human existence present in many religions. On the other hand, revealed religion has often been articulated using the language of romantic love. Moreover, Tan argued that Christian theology affirmed romantic love precisely because it was a faint echo of the love of the Trinity. The danger thereby lay in jettisoning the Trinitarian archetype and making what should be an analogy, namely romantic love, as a self-sufficient ultimate reality. Not only does it amount to turning romantic love into an idol that turns those in love into victims. It also leads to a thinning out of love from a virtuous action to an ephemeral feeling of an hermetically sealed self.
The conversation intersected rather neatly with an article in Psychology Today by the University of Haifa’s Aaron Ben Ze’ev, who encapsulated the conversation with his usage of the term “Ideology of Love”. If the romantic were to be turned into an ideology to which everything is subordinate, it ended up ruining love itself, which is manifest most frequently in the emphasis on “faithfulness to one’s heart” rather than faithfulness to the object of one’s affections. As Tan said in the conclusion of his presentation, whilst romantic love still has competitors for the title of supreme religion, it nonetheless was showing the features of a thing of ultimate concern, and the extent to which it does is the extent to which it becomes a god demanding human sacrifice.

A Digital Body of Christ?

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Communications Office this week published its contribution to mark the 47th World Day of Communications, an ebook entitled Word Made Flesh and “Shared” Among Us.
The volume consists of 30 short essays by a number of practitioners within the Catholic Church, including bishops, journalists, academics, campus ministers, radio station managers and health workers.
The common tie between these contributors is their immersion as part of their work in the world of New Media, whether it is through facebooking, Tweeting, blogging or online radio. Campion College and The Divine Wedgie feature in this publication, with its blogger-at-large making his own reflections on the topic under the title “A Digital Body of Christ?”.
The ebook is available free of charge on EPUB and as a PDF document. It is also available on Kindle format for $1.99.

Upcoming Event: Religious Vilification & Augustine’s Politics of Psalmody (29th May)

Campion College‘s political theology project, the Seminars in Political and Religious Life series, resume with its first semester installment for 2013.
This first seminar for the year will be held at Campion College on 29th May at 5pm. It will feature Dr. Benjamin Myers of the United Theological College (readers might be familiar with his Faith & Theology blog) and Dr. Steve Chavura, who has lectured in sociology and political philosophy in universities across Sydney.
Chavura will speak on how the project of multiculturalism and argues that the success of the multicultural project requires a treatment of speech against religions or religious groups (often labelled as “religious vilification”) which is distinct from vilification on the basis of other traits. The proceedings will take a decisively Augustinian turn with Myer’s presentation, looking at how psalmody formed the basis of Augustine’s political philosophy, which is encapsulated in his City of God.
Abstracts for the presentations are attached below:
Steve Chavura, “Multiculturalism & Freedom of Expression”
Since 9/11 anti-Islamic sentiments have raised the issue of appropriate limitations on freedom of expression. Cultural egalitarians support state action against such speech on the grounds that it is an affront to the goals of the liberal democratic state, which looks towards social inclusion and civic participation for all, regardless of religion or cultural background. The argument is that anti-Islamic rhetoric creates a social condition more conducive to discrimination and also makes the public sphere seem hostile to members of minority cultures who otherwise would participate. This paper argues that speech directed against religions and religious groups should not be treated in the same way as racist speech. Indeed, part of what actually gives value to this speech is the multicultural project itself, which seeks to remodel society in line with controversial religious comprehensive views. So-called religious vilification may be the price that must be paid while multicultural projects are underway.
Benjamin Myers, ‘Sing From Where your Hearts Are’: Augustine’s City of God & the Politics of Psalmody”

Augustine’s great work of political philosophy, the City of God, derives its title, as well as some of its fundamental concepts, from the Psalms. The work begins with a string of quotations from the Psalms, and some of the main transitions in its argument are marked by verses from the Psalms. The idea of the two cities first appears in Augustine’s sermons on the Psalms. Augustine contrasts the two cities of Babylon and Jerusalem, and argues that “two loves create the two cities.” The love that binds together the city of God is sustained by the practice of psalmody. In psalmody, we “sing from where [our] hearts are”; such singing “arouses [our] longing to return to that most fair city, to that vision of peace.” It is in the context of these rather homely meditations on psalm-singing that Augustine first sketches out the basic concepts that would later be elaborated in the City of God. This is the story that I will tell in this paper – the story of how Augustine’s reflections on the practice of psalmody laid the foundations for one of the most powerful and far-reaching political visions in the history of the West.


Absurdity & Waiting on God

In introductory philosophy at Campion College, a theme that is touched upon is that of absurdity. Put simply, it is the expectation of meaning and order meeting up with the (apparent) reality that says that no such meaning or order exists. When studying this theme, students would have been introduced to the writings of Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche. The general trajectory of their thought goes that the lived experience of meaninglessness must be given priority over notions of order (whether physiological or metaphysical), which Nietzsche condemned as mere illusions propagated by Modernity. The solution of both of these thinkers is to either give in completely to this utter meaninglessness or embrace it and commit yourself to riding the waves of sheer luck, in a manner similar to Harvey Dent (better known as Two-Face) in The Dark Knight, who is quoted as saying that “the world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance”.
Christians might be tempted to dismiss these thinkers and with it the notion that lived experience would never be marked by order or meaning. But such Christians would struggle to find a satisfying answer to a school shooting resulting in the experience of parents having to attend an offspring’s funeral. It may be that such Christians forget that the Scriptures themselves articulate the frustration borne out of what may on its face look like the realisation that relying on the goodness of God is an exercise in futility. Chapter 10 of the book of Job is a powerful case in point, but his experience may be summarised by the third verse in Psalm 69, which is said in the Office of Readings on 21st December 2012:


I am exhausted with calling out, and my throat is hoarse,
my eyes are worn out with waiting for my God
These and a host of other passages indicate that Divine Revelation is not indifferent to the experience of absurdity. The American Catholic spiritual writer Thomas Merton once wrote that the Christian life, rather than an ordered existence, is one of constantly staring despair in the face. Thus in a sense, Christians are in a manner similar to Camus and Nietzsche, called to embrace and bear absurdity, and be suspicious of those who deign to give easy answers in the face of suffering. In contrast to the often facile schema of pre-packaged answers popular with many well-meaning Christians, Psalm 69:3 provides a highly poetic, almost Romantic, alternative. The second line of Psalm 69:3  suggests a psalmist standing at a precipice, awaiting the arrival of an order that only God can bring, whilst at the same time becoming spiritually mummified by the heat of a nihilistic onslaught. But as much as it is a recognition of the precariousness of the Christian vocation, Psalm 69:3 is not a call to resign oneself to meaninglessness, since the line hints towards an eventual vindication of one’s waiting in the form of God’s triumphant arrival.
Indeed, the New Testament provides in the crucified Christ the embodiment of the mode of living articulated in Psalm 69:3. In actively and willingly moving towards His death, the Jesus in the Gospels embodies the embrace of absurdity of an innocent suffering the violence of a justice system, an open-armed embrace which results in the stretching out of His arms on the Cross. On Golgotha, Christ’s standing at the precipice is summarised by his uttering the famous lament in Psalm 22:1 – “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”. Whilst articulating a lament and embracing this absurdity, Christ is also choosing to commit not to meaninglessness, but to the embrace of God, a commitment encapsulated in the cry “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit”.