Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time with Blake

There is something both so frantic and peaceful about Christmas time. There is a feeling of peace and innocence that is sung about, moving toward the final days of the year. Then there is the mad rush of purchasing gifts, holiday parties and overeating. This Christmas season, while I also prepare for Comprehensive exams in a couple of months, I am going to work on meditating over some of the works of William Blake. It is a crazy time in the world today and I think both his apocalyptic tendencies and his beautiful way of talking about naive innocence is most appropriate today. Below is one of my favorite poems:


Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice!

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Barth as Dialogue Partner? Really?

I just finished Glenn Chestnutt's book Challenging the Stereotype. He opens up the book with an important comment: the main religious issue of our day is the relationship between Christianity and Islam. The way he approaches this problem is seeing how Karl Barth's theology can be a vehicle for religious dialogue especially with Muslim thinkers. He examines how to do this by filtering Barth's work on Judaism, on the Just State, and his work on "parables" and the other "lights" found in CD IV:3.

Now this is a constructive work because Barth did not write much on the plurality of religions (even though he expressed an intention to) and the stereotype of him being a "Christocentric" thinker is true to an extent (he also highlights problematic passages from Barth corpus on Islam and Judaism). However, the fact that he is not a pluralist in the John Hick sense is also good because in our postsecular age I believe the way for religious thinkers to dialogue is for them to actually acknowledge the concrete differences of their religions instead of a soft, liberal, mountain top theory (the idea that all religions lead up to different paths but ultimately we all meet up at the top of the mountain and say-"hey, what are you doing here?-oh, guess it was all the same god we worship").

Now Chestnutt does two things to craft his thesis. First, he uses the "open space" that Jeffrey Stout claims Western secular democracy brings to the table as a good starting point for religions to have the freedom of expression in concrete talks; in addition, he quotes Stout's use of Barth's theology in backing up his theory. Second, Chestnutt turns to another Swiss born citizen in Tariq Ramadan as a model Muslim thinker who can dialogue with someone from the Barthian side of theology. Ramadan like Barth have strong convictions from their own traditions but also acknowledge the space given by Western secular democracy for their religions to flourish. Ramadan contends that Muslims number of Western citizens are growing and need to become recognized citizens in the West because most have assimilated as good citizens anyway.

What drew me to this work is my own research on the way secularism is being used or viewed by different thinkers like Barth, Ramadan and others. What I especially appreciate is the way the goal is to articulate a way for religions to dialogue but in a way that keeps in mind the actual practitioners of the different religions (and not just to focus on "liberal" thinkers who are hardly identifiable with the actual traditions of the religion).