The nature of orthodoxy and orthopraxis

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Engaging with Creation.

Creation’s importance does not seem to be reflected in the church calendar. Significantly, it is evoked in the first article of the Creed, yet it otherwise appears largely ignored. In recent years it is often evoked in discussions over climate change and ecology in general. In 1989 Patriarch Dimitrios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate signaled a new interest in creation when he declared that the first day of the church year, the Feast of Indiction, be a day of prayer for the celebration and protection of creation. Although the ecological crisis was beginning to cause major concern around the world and attention was being focused more and more on the means needed to remedy the crisis, the Patriarch insisted that this day of creation would have a twofold objective in that, as well as raising awareness of the treasures of creation themselves, it should also be a day of thanksgiving for what he called this “great gift”.68 The Patriarch insisted on humankind’s “privileged” position as “partaker of the material and spiritual world”.69 As for the other churches one had to wait. Perhaps it was as a result of the increasing urgency brought about by pollution and the wider climate crisis that churches tended to place the stress much more on humankind’s responsibility over the earth through the stewardship granted at creation rather than on any idea of an act of thanksgiving for the act of creation per se. One had to wait until 2008 when the World Council of Churches invited churches to observe a period of prayer and reflection through the celebration of what was called a “Time for Creation”.70 The Catholic Church followed suit later in 2015 with the establishment of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. In his prayer for that occasion in 2019 Pope Francis evoked the full impact of Genesis 1:26-27 when he said, “In effect, we have forgotten who we are: creatures made in the image of God … and called to dwell as brothers and sisters in a common home. We were created not to be tyrants, but to be at the heart of a network of life made up of millions of species lovingly joined together for us by our Creator. Now is the time to rediscover our vocation as children of God, brothers and sisters, and stewards of creation. Now is the time to repent, to be converted and to return to our roots. We are beloved creatures of God, who in his goodness calls us to love life and live it in communion with the rest of creation.”

Knowledge and the Anthropocene.

It is important for our reflections on otherness and people with disabilities to appreciate the consequences of modernity’s reading of creation and how this plays its part in the rhetoric on disability itself. This is even more crucial as this study will affirm that some of the assumptions the church has made concerning people with disabilities have often been influenced by such a reading. The weight and influence of the “knowledge” resulting from the accumulation and solidifying of normative readings of western intellectual thought, are described by Clines as being like a “pyramid”.83 While acknowledging the benefits society has been able to derive from this accumulation of “knowledge”, Clines draws to our attention the fact that the construction of pyramids is only possible through a collaborative effort, i.e., involving each and every one of us from whatever discipline or background and, hence, this would also include the church. Consequently, the knowledge we have about ourselves is a construction of our own making. We all have and have had a part in the process and this pyramid, if mine, is also yours and so ours. The metaphor of a pyramid appears useful at first sight, since a pyramid appears solid and stable, and this is as one would hope knowledge itself should be. Although climbing to its top may require enormous effort, the view from the pyramidion should offer us with uncalled for prospects. However, what one might discern from such a height would depend on a number of factors, among which is our ability to look as well as to see.84 Moreover, it is fundamental for our understanding of how this mechanism of knowledge accumulation operates, that we recognize that this metaphorical pyramid of knowledge might have been built on questionable foundations since subjectivity and egocentricity can shield us so convincingly from the truth. Further, scripture informs us that freedom and truth are to be found only in God and that knowledge is obtained through love.85 The result of such a notion of knowledge and of history as proposed in modernity, therefore, might only bring us to that ill-defined place where humankind finds itself stuck in a middle point with a nostalgia not so much for the past but for a future which is yet to come. This study affirms, therefore, that it is humankind’s dilemma of being stuck in the middle that has the capacity to shroud us in fear and apprehension.86 I would argue that this sense of fear is further aggravated today by the depth of the concerns we exhibit about the future of the planet and the impact caused by human activity.

Analogia relationis: relationship at the heart of creation.

As has been discussed, the narrative of Genesis 1 shows the creator God reaching out to us through the word. This is a God whose actions are guided by care and generosity in the provision of all that is needed for humankind to thrive and grow. Scripture teaches us that God is one.92 Again and again in scripture we are reminded also that God is love, showing that same love for us as is illustrated in the act of creation itself in Genesis 1.93 This study holds, therefore, that this narrative of creation imbues humankind with a oneness that may only become manifest in the love we are able to show one to the other. This is an evaluation that is held by a number of commentators. Moltmann, for example, reminds us that the first questions we should ask about Genesis 1 should not be anthropological in nature but theological. He insists that Genesis 1 tells us about what kind of God it is that seeks us out and creates us in his likeness, “Likeness to God means God’s relationship to human beings first of all … The nature of human beings springs from their relationship to God”.
Similarly, Bonhoeffer understands humankind’s likeness to God in the freedom that creation bestows on us. For him this new-found freedom is to be understood originating in the relation that the creator seeks to establish with us and among us- what Bonhoeffer calls an analogia relationis.95 It is conceived of as not so much a freedom from but rather as a freedom to, i.e., humankind’s sense of freedom is not something that we own but more something that binds us one to the other. In this way humankind’s likeness to God may be interpreted as bringing into being a link with the divine in the world where the divine would otherwise not be present. Similarly, just as humankind may be understood as being the aim of creation itself, so the whole reason for human existence as a consequence becomes its relation with God.

Understanding modernity.

The grand narrative of the Enlightenment, anchored in an assertive rationalism, left little room for questioning or doubt. The question “who am I” took precedence over “who are you”. The certainty and the assuredness that the grand narrative had conferred on “I” was to overrun all notions of “you”. An implication of this egocentric focus was that colonialism, slavery, exploitation of people and of resources, racism and other ills could be validated in pursuit of the certainty of this “I”. Armour considers modernity essentially as a narrative which places “… man at the center surrounded by his « others, » a network of mirrors that reflect man back to himself thus securing his boundaries”.99 Moreover, when this understanding of self (Armour’s “man”) is then shared, disseminated, and amplified by its adoption by a group or institution, its force is magnified immeasurably.100 This inward-looking conviction and assuredness, it could be argued, was to manifest itself in its most extreme form in the holocaust and more recently in the acts of genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere- an obscene and perverse travesty of rationalism where the other is denied all humanity and reduced to mere nothingness. Postulating an answer to the question of identity- “who am I?” brings with it inevitably the fixing of boundaries and, although one might argue that without boundaries order may cease to exist, the matter of the impact of such boundaries on considerations of the other needs first to be addressed if the claims of modernity are to have any value.
To examine these claims, this study argues with Bauman that Western civilization may be construed like a rampart against a series of contrasts where modernity is seen to override a succession of fallacies or illusions.101 Passion, sentiment, empathy are dismissed as being inferior and non-rational. They are then consigned to the realms of the imagination and artistic creation. By implication, Genesis 1 and its narrative of creation would also find itself rejected, therefore, as a form of inferior sources of knowledge. Modernity is presented as a struggle against untruths. It becomes a, “… holy battle of humanity against barbarism, reason against ignorance, objectivity against prejudice, progress against degeneration, truth against superstition, science against magic, rationality against passion.”
This “holy battle”, however, poses a range of dilemmas. Identity-forming and its delineation of boundaries runs the risk of generating a propensity to classify and categorize people and things. At a stroke, the oneness and interconnectedness of humankind outlined in Genesis 1 is abandoned. Further, the dynamic of modernity brings with it a permanent dissatisfaction with the status quo. Its quest for categorization and its narrative of boundary formation is not unchanging. It is transgressive, rather, since it tends to seek at the same time to move beyond the very boundaries it has conceived and drawn up and to move towards a new order.103 In this brave new world, risk and precarity together with the angst and unease that these engender are integral to its building blocks. Possibilities for “self” in this world abound but the “other” in this same world is understood more as rival, as competitor, or enemy. This is a world that denies all sense of communion and shuns all relationships that are uninterested and formed only out of concern for the other as equal. In this framework the other becomes an obstacle or a nuisance, either to be ignored or feared or to be eliminated, all in the pursuit of progress, betterment or self-aggrandizement. This inquiry holds that refusing to see the face of the other becomes an active facilitator in the process of modernity. As a result, one may conclude, ironically, that the many well-intentioned social innovations today in the welfare state such as housing and unemployment benefits, community outreach measures towards the disenfranchised in society- the homeless, the asylum seeker and so on, through their delineating of boundaries, categorization and creation of thresholds – through their very terminology even, succeed by their very existence in further alienating the other from the rest of society, “When the welfare state defined what was marginal it also defined itself. Through defining « them », the outline of who « we » were became all the clearer”.

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The view of humankind in Genesis 1.

This study argued earlier that creation came into place by the authority of the word of the creator God who reached out to us. However, this study argues that the nature of God’s reaching out to us has to be understood in terms that are dialogical rather than monological, since in creation there is also a call to action- a duty of care both of the earth and its resources and of each other.106 107 Relationship, it was argued, has to be seen at the heart of creation and, for dialog to exist, this presupposes a willingness to bond upon which our humanity may be founded. In this reading of creation relationship becomes fundamental to the notion of otherness. Modernity would have us focus inward and consign the other to the periphery, but Genesis 1, in contrast, affirms that if the very essence of our nature is to be found in the bond that unites us through creation with that God who reaches out to us, then, as a result, our relations with one another- looking into the face of the other and recognizing in them the imprint of imago Dei, has to be built upon notions of communion, harmony and fellowship. It is argued that this is the posture humankind is asked to assume so that our path through this world might resemble that “walk in the light” that scripture speaks of. Duality seems missing in the portrait of modernity that this study has thus far drawn. Similarly, modernity’s push to drive humankind ever inward, evading the gaze of the other, forces on humankind an approach that is incurvatus in se where we engage in a futile search for truth and salvation.109 This approach denies the interconnectedness of human existence and our dependence one on the other. In doing so we hide ourselves from truth and deprive ourselves of the benefits truth can bring. Bonhoeffer had warned us that such an attitude inevitably leads only to a sense of desolation and despair, “… All who countenance that they need only to come to themselves, in order to be in God, are doomed to hideous disillusion in the experience of being-, persisting-, and ending-up-turned-in -upon-themselves utterly — the experience of utmost loneliness in its tormenting desolation and sterility.”

Table of contents :

Chapter 1: Creation
1. (i). The narration of creation in Genesis 1
1. (ii). Commentators on Genesis 1
1. (iii). Implications for the study
I. (iv). Engaging with Creation
1. (v). Knowledge and the Anthropocene
1 (vi). Analogia relationis: relation at the heart of creation
Chapter 2: Otherness
2. (i). Understanding modernity
2. (ii). The view of humankind in Genesis 1
2. (iii). The weaknesses of the Grand Narrative:
2. (iv) Identity
2. (v) Understanding self and the other: Ricoeur and Levinas
2. (vi) Freedom, trust and the other
2. (vii) The essence of self
2. (viii) The nature of orthodoxy and orthopraxis
2. (ix) Being in Adam /being in Christ
2. (x) Struggling against struggling
Chapter 3: People and disability
3. (i) Discoursing disability
3. (ii) Models of disability
3. (iii) Disability and the church: preamble
3. (iv) Disability and the church: review of available data
3. (v) Scripture and disability
3. (vi) The human condition
3. (vii) The symbol of a “disabled God”
3. (ix) Limits
3. (x) Potential insights of an authentic theology of disability
(ii) Significance of the study
(iii) Limitations of the study
(iv) Final thoughts


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