3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Category: definitions (page 1 of 2)

How to be a pilgrim, part ii

Don’t confuse escaping with deserting:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers of Escape are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the ‘quisling’ to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say ‘the land you loved is doomed’ to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it.

J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy-Stories’, in The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays, New ed. (London: HarperCollins, 2006), 109–61.

Hauerwas on the vocabulary of academic research

…I have learned that different disciplines use particular words to describe good work done in that discipline. For example, in physics the best work is described as ‘‘elegant’’ which seems to mean the implications of the work may not be understood or the work itself may not be understood, but the mathematics has an undeniable beauty. Work in mathematics is sometimes described as elegant, but mathematicians usually describe the best work as ‘‘deep.’’ Deep mathematics usually indicates math not well understood in the community of mathematics. Once what was ‘‘deep’’ is generally understood, it becomes applied mathematics. Work in biology is usually described as ‘‘interesting’’ which means the work helps me understand or ‘‘see’’ what I had not understood. The primary words used in the social sciences are ‘‘robust,’’‘‘powerful,’’ ‘‘important,’’ and ‘‘useful.’’ ‘‘Robust’’ usually means work that helps the social scientist explain wider implications other than the ones the work was initially designed to accomplish. In the humanities the work is described as ‘‘influential’’ which seems to indicate that the work has changed the minds of other scholars who know something about that subject. In some fields in the humanities, such as philosophy, the work can be described as representing a powerful argument. I often reflect that the word that should best describe theology is ‘‘faithful’’ which may well make theology closer to mathematics and physics than the social sciences. At least in mathematics and physics it is still assumed that such work is committed to truth.

From Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: academic knowledges and the knowledge of God (Oxford?; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), p. 20, note 19].

“Provocative” is a liberal word

Stanley Hauerwas, at his side-stepping, dummy-serving, best:

You have been called ‘contemporary theology’s foremost intellectual provocateur’. What do you thinkabout the controversy that your work generates? Do you consider that it’s a sign that you’re doing theology properly?

I don’t like the language of provocateur. I’m oftentimes introduced as being very provocative, and I always tell people, don’t tell me I’m provocative. You can say I’m outrageous, wrong etc. but provocative is a liberal word, it means, I understand you better than you probably understand yourself. It means, I’m not really in agreement with you, therefore I’m able to distance myself, which means I finally don’t have to take you seriously. So screw provocative! I think that I make a lot of people angry, because I have something to say, and I have something to say because I take Christian convictions seriously and straight up, and that’s a very big challenge to Christians, who have spent some generations trying to show the world that we don’t have anything to say other than what the world already thinks it knows.

From Rebecca O’Loughlin, “Interview with Stanley Hauerwas,” Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies 8, no. 1 (Autumn 2008): 19-28. Available here.

What is man, that Turing is mindful of him?

In this month’s Atlantic there is a fascinating article on the Turing Test and what it says about being human. In it, the writer, Brian Christian, gives an interesting piece of background to the perennial popular anthropology question:

Philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have been puzzling over the essential definition of human uniqueness since the beginning of recorded history. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says that every psychologist must, at some point in his or her career, write a version of what he calls “The Sentence.” Specifically, The Sentence reads like this:

The human being is the only animal that ______.

The story of humans’ sense of self is, you might say, the story of failed, debunked versions of The Sentence.

Surely “The Sentence” is easily answered, if you are willing to go all meta- on it?

The human being is the only animal that discourses on “The Sentence”.

There! Simple!

What’s next?

Dissected Definitions 13

Journalism (n) :  I know nothing about a subject, and I have 1200 words in which to express it.

[Choose your own links]

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Anglo-Catholicism (n) : The Trotskyist wing of the Church of England.1

  1. It is significant that [several young gifted writers of the twenties and thirties] went almost invariably to the Roman Church, and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church or the Protestant sects. They went, that is, to the Church with the world-wide organization, the one with rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noting that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism.

    George Orwell, ‘Inside the Whale’, New Directions in Prose and Poetry. 1940 []

Dissected Definitions 11

Tradition (n) : 2. Something the English do really well. See binge drinking and rural rioting.

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Spring (n) : It’s raining— and don’t the clocks go forward soon, so we miss an hour’s kip?

Dissected Defintions 9

Autumn (n) : It’s raining— and that makes the leaves slippy underfoot.

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Winter (n) : It’s raining— and dark.

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