Friday, March 24, 2006

Towards the Heart of the Matter

While surfing the web to avoid writing my dissertation, I came across this interesting article written by Eberhard Jüngel, my theologian du jour. It's a charming reminiscence that traces his life from childhood to the fall of the Berlin Wall, providing a memorable account of his development as a theologian. I was particularly struck by his experiences growing up in East Germany. His family was not religious, and his father was openly hostile to Christianity. However, his path in life was set by "one experience" that affected him very deeply:
"That was the discovery of the church as the one place within a Stalinist society where one could speak the truth without being penalized. What a liberating experience in the face of the ideological-political pressure that dominated in school! Friends were arrested, I myself was interrogated more than once -- only because we dared to say what we thought. Immediately before the Workers' Revolt in 1953 I was denounced, together with other young Christians, as an 'enemy of the republic' and expelled from school before a full assembly of teachers and students expressly convened on the day before the university entrance exams. Our fellow students were ordered to break off all contact with us... In the Christian church, however, one was free to break through the silence and the pressure to lie that was growing stronger all the time. Here one dared to bear witness to the truth of the gospel in such a way that its liberating power could also be experienced in very worldly, very political terms."

When the Berlin Wall went up, Jüngel was eventually forced to choose between East and West, and of course he selected the latter, but not without sadness. But his decision allowed him to interact with some of the greatest thinkers of modern times: Barth, Bultmann, Heidegger, and others. I especially enjoyed this anecdote about his initial encounter with Barth:
"At first Barth looked upon me as a sort of spy from the Bultmann school and greeted me with unconcealed skepticism. But when I dared, in an unforgettable meeting of his group, not only to contradict the Basel criticism of Bultmann with a vehemence born of youthful audacity but also proceeded to interpret one section from Barth’s anthropology to his satisfaction, I was invited for a late-night dispute over a bottle of wine. And a few days later the entire Church Dogmatics stood in front of my door with the dedication: 'To Eberhard Jungel, on the way into God's beloved eastern zone.'"

Jüngel admits that he learned a great deal from Barth, but it's interesting that, contrary to what most people assume, he does not consider himself a Barth disciple. Indeed, he does not think that theologians should have "schools" or "disciples." Instead, he encourages his students to embrace "a 'theology of pilgrims,' who are 'on the way to the heart of the matter' and who must always keep widening the boundaries of their insight. 'New frontiers . . .'"

Jüngel also makes some interesting theological points in the article, particularly with regards to atheism (the subject of my previous posts on Jüngel):
"I felt myself understand atheism better than it understands itself, and I tried to go into the heart of the matter... I have been and continue to be concerned with discovering a moment of truth in atheism, a moment which is at least as important as that to be found in a theistic metaphysics. Is it merely an accident that the young Christian movement was charged with atheism in its religious environment? Did not the radical negation of the ancient world of gods by the Old Testament prophets and by the Word of the crucified Son of God prepare the ground upon which modern atheism could thrive? Did not Nietzsche recognize, more clearly than many theologians, that the proclamation of the crucified God threatened to become a negation of Deity? The answer to this question is certainly not to be found in the 'death-of-God theology' that aroused some interest in the U.S. a quarter of a century ago. But the fact that the expression 'death of God' has a Christian origin should give us something to think about. I have thought about it, and I can conceive of the God who overcomes death only in such a way that God himself is nothing other than the unity of life and death on behalf of life. As such he bears the marks of our godlessness within himself: a godlessness the overcoming of which was and is his concern, not ours.

It goes without saying that I resolutely reject any old-style or new-style theological apologetics that denounces atheism as a deficient mode of human existence. What gives us the right to suppose that the atheist is less a human person than the pious Jew or Christian? On the basis of such religious propaganda the proclamation of the justification of the godless can hardly flourish. Whoever wishes to advocate the overcoming of godlessness through God would do much better to take the atheist seriously as a particularly mature specimen of homo humanus.

All in all, a very interesting theological testament from one of our greatest living thinkers.

Should I Give an Acceptance Speech?

Not to brag, but Ben Meyers at Faith and Theology has made Without Authority his Blog of the Week. What an honor!! It's gratifying to know that there are people out there who value my theological ramblings. I'll try my best to live up to his kind praise.

Of course, one of the best things about being mentioned at Ben's blog is that my traffic spikes immediately. All of the sudden, my tracker reveals visitors from Australia, Britain, Germany, Finland, and other exotic locales that I've never visited myself. Your site must have a very large and international following, Ben, and it is certainly well-deserved.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jüngel: The Significance of Talk about the Death of God

"Talk about the death of God is not entering theology for the first time in our century; rather it is returning home to theology. Talk about the death of God was not at all alien to Christian theology originally. The fathers of the ancient church could talk about it, and Martin Luther virtually demanded that it was necessary to speak of the death of God, using, of course, very precise presuppositions. The statement 'God has died' was not originally the province of philosophy but of theology. Then it became alien to theology." -- Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World (GMW)

In the 1960's and '70's, it was common for avant-garde theologians to proclaim that "God is dead!". Jüngel makes it clear in GMW that he has a very low opinion of this type of theology, remarking that "the motto 'God is dead' can be used to make theological thinking unbelievably simple", and "not a few theologians who began to be somewhat embarrassed about their actual task now used the statement as a kind of fig leaf in order to conceal the nudity of their theology behind it." However, Jüngel maintains that theology needs to seriously contemplate the implications of God's death, not because modern atheism demands it, but because the concept has its origin in the Crucified God.

It was Bonhoeffer's prison writings that "prepared the way for the return home to theology of talk about the death of God":
"[Bonhoeffer] proposed that the atheistic thought of the nonbeing of God should be so worked through theologically that the Christian faith could receive elements of truth from atheistic religionlessness and work them into the Christian concept of God... God's true deity is demonstrated for Bonhoeffer in the very fact that he permits himself to be expelled from the world. The concept of weakness enters the concept of the divine essence - and as a consequence, the concept of death."

Jüngel makes the case that, for too long, Christian theology has derived its notions of God from speculative metaphysics, which holds that God is omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, unchanging, and completely transcendent. For such thinking, the death of God is simply impossible. But the Christian proclamation asserts that God, through Jesus Christ, experienced death on the cross, and thus God's self-revelation in the cross requires that we modify our thinking about God. Theology must continually ask itself the question: What does it say about the nature of God if he can die a human death? Certainly, he is not the God of the philosophers, which Christians have mistakenly made their own. And he is not the God that atheists have rejected. The Christian God, according to Jüngel, is neither the God of theism or atheism, but something entirely different.

It's interesting that both Jüngel and Tillich are eager to move beyond the God of traditional theism, but for opposite reasons. For Tillich, the need for a "God above the God of theism" is motivated by the same philosophical considerations that Jüngel so strongly rejects. In this way, Tillich's doctrine of God is apologetic through and through, since he is making a "case for God" using universal categories. Jüngel, on the other hand, grounds his thinking in the scandal of the cross, and he's adamant that he "does not intend to provide an apologetic for Christianity." He is "occupied with talk about the death of God because of the theological relevance of the problem concealed in such talk, but not for apologetic reasons." Jüngel believes that it was not humans who killed God (as Nietzsche asserted), but that God gave himself up to death out of pure love for the man Jesus. Only in this manner is talk of the death of God meaningful for theology.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Jüngel: God is More Than Necessary

Well, I have emerged from my basketball cocoon, and I'm ready to blog again!! Sadly, the Badgers did not fare well in the tournament. They were soundly beaten by a hot-shooting Arizona team, which later gave No. 1 Villanova a real fight. Also, with so many surprising upsets (for goodness sake, Bradley!!), my brackets are in complete disarray, although my predicted Final Four teams are still alive. All in all, a disappointing weekend, but I love the drama of March nonetheless.

When not watching basketball, I was immersing myself in Eberhard Jüngel's book God as the Mystery of the World (GMW), which comes highly recommended by Ben Myers at Faith and Theology. Ben has an excellent series of posts on Jüngel, whom he considers to be the world's greatest living theologian, and he also explains why Jüngel is not widely read:
"He is by far the most difficult theological thinker in recent times. He has his own unique and highly refined conceptuality, which draws especially on the philosophy of Heidegger, but also on the theology of Barth, the philosophy of Hegel, and the hermeneutic of Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling. At times it can take an extraordinary effort to penetrate this conceptuality and to grasp Jüngel’s point. In addition, Jüngel has never shown even the slightest interest in English-language theology, and he is even said to have boasted that his own (exceedingly German) theology is untranslatable into English. (Happily, though, translators like Darrell Guder, John Webster and Jeffrey Cayzer have proved him wrong).

My limited experience with GMW leads me to agree whole-heartedly with Ben's statement that "extraordinary effort" is required to "penetrate" and "grasp" Jüngel’s dense prose. However, it's well worth the effort, as Jüngel is clearly an original and brilliant thinker, although much of what he says is frankly lost on me.

The subtitle of GMW is "On the Foundations of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism", and Jüngel begins by asking the provocative question "Is God Necessary?" Jüngel's answer is a surprising "No", since he believes that "theology is, in fact, being confronted with a truth when the worldly nonnecessity of God is asserted [by atheists]." He later emphasizes that:
"Man can be human without God. There is no doubt that man can do that. He can live without experiencing God. He can speak, hear, think, and act without speaking about God, without perceiving God, without thinking about God, without working for him. And he can do all of that very well and with great responsibility. The human person can well live without God, can listen attentively, think acutely, act responsibly... Man can be human without God. One can!"

So Jüngel concurs with modern atheism that God is unnecessary, but this decision is theologically motivated. He asserts that the proposition "God is necessary" is "not worthy of God", since God exists only to serve a specific function that the world requires. But as humanity "comes of age", it gradually realizes that it no longer needs God to perform these functions, and eventually God is dismissed altogether ("I have no need of that hypothesis"). In this way, "proof of the necessity of God is the midwife of modern atheism".

So modern atheism is correct in asserting the possibility of human existence without God, but it makes a critical mistake by postulating the necessity of a godless humanity. Contra atheism, Jüngel argues that "God is not necessary... He is more than necessary." This is a very difficult statement to understand, and Jüngel goes to great lengths to explain it. First, he discusses the freedom of God, saying that this "freedom is always self-determination." The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of God is that this self-determination involves the humanity of Jesus, and thus "God comes to God, but with man. God's humanity belongs to his divinity." This is an act of pure love, not necessity:
"This self-determination, if it really is a decision of love which desires to come to itself with another one and only with that one, implies the freedom of God and man as opposites of each other. If God has created man as the one elected for love, then man is what he is for his own sake. For one is loved only for his sake or not at all... If then man is the one elected for love, he is what he is in a relationship to God which is determined by freedom. This relationship could only be diminished by any talk of the necessity of God for man."

God, out of love, has created the world in such a way that it can exist without him, and thus the world can function as his true counterpart. This implies that man is free with respect to God, and that both man and God are "interesting for their own sakes". In this manner, Jüngel affirms the atheistic assumption that "man is the measure" of all worldly things and that man exists within himself. However, he also claims that "God makes man, who is interesting for his own sake, interesting in a new way." I look forward to learning more about this "new way"...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It Begins ...

Every spring, just as the snow starts to melt and the birds return, I succumb to the collective delirium known as March Madness. My wife claims that I become a different person entirely - loud, vulgar, and obsessed with gambling. And when I woke up this morning, I could feel the transformation taking place, much like a werewolf grows hair and fangs when he looks at a full moon through the clouds. I howled with delight, because the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of my favorite times of the year. Forty-eight games in four days - upsets, buzzer-beating shots, and every game do-or-die for the teams involved.

Along with nearly everyone else in America, I'm participating in an office pool. My Final Four teams are UConn, Duke (even though I despise them), UCLA, and Boston College (who just barely survived Pacific earlier today). I think UConn will win it all. My beloved Badgers play tomorrow in Philly versus the Arizona Wildcats. I think they have a good chance of winning this first game, although I don't think they'll survive No.1 Villanova (but I heard that one of 'Nova's best players was blinded by Syracuse in the Big East tourney, so there's always hope).

Oh, I almost forgot to mention one of the best things about "The Big Dance" - when it's over, you know that Opening Day is very near!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blood on Your Saddle

Last weekend, after nearly a year of waiting on the list, I was finally able to check out Dylan's Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 from the public library. I've listened to little else since. The first CD covers Dylan's early folk years, the second focuses on the electric 1960's material, and the third disk is a fairly random assortment of songs from the 1970's onward. But, for me, the real revelation has been the alternate versions of classic Blood on the Tracks songs like "Tangled Up in Blue" and "If You See Her, Say Hello", which sound remarkably different, and in some instances better(!!), than the versions on the original album. Dylan had initially recorded these songs in New York, but he was not satisfied with the final product. So he re-recorded the material in Minneapolis with another band, and the result was one of the greatest albums in the history of mankind. But after hearing the initial product, I'm not sure why he wasn't happy with the first set (he should have released both!).

The song that changed the most between recording sessions was "Idiot Wind" - my favorite song of Dylan's (and probably my favorite song period). If you've never heard this epic, please listen to it as soon as possible, and then listen to it again and again. I simply can't do it justice in one short post. The song is a masterpiece of poetry and music, bursting with raw emotion and spectacular imagery that vividly expresses the fallout from Dylan's recent divorce. And it's fascinating to hear the contrast between the two versions. Whereas the Minneapolis version is angry and defiant, the NY version takes the listener to the brink of complete despair. Dylan sounds broken and defeated, and every word drips with pain.

The lyrics are also substantially different, although the message is still the same. This is a song full of inversions (call it Dylan's "theology of the cross"), where "everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped, What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top, You're on the bottom." Indeed, the Minneapolis version contains some potent christological imagery:
There's a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin' out of a boxcar door,
You didn't know it, you didn't think it could be done,
in the final end he won the wars, After losin' every battle.

However, in the NY version this verse has changed; the soldier is now "on a hill, watching falling raindrops pour." And Dylan is less accusatory towards the "you" of this song, saying instead "you'd never know it to look at him, but at the final shot he won the war." What caused him to change these lyrics? And what is the significance of the burning boxcar? It's interesting that in the live recording of "Idiot Wind" that appears on Hard Rain, the verse is different again:
There's a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin' out of a boxcar door,
He didn't know it, he never thought it could be done,
but at the final shot he won the war, After losin' every battle.

Such minor perturbations fascinate me. Dylan wrote these lyrics a few years before his born-again experience, but a number of songs from Blood on the Tracks suggest that he was already interested in Christian themes (see "Shelter from the Storm"). If anyone has further insights into this matter, I would love to hear them.

A few other verses are substantially changed. For instance, compare the following lyrics from the NY and MN versions, respectively:
We pushed each other a little too far, and one day it just turned into a raging storm.
A hound dog bayed behind your trees as I was packing up my uniform. I figured I'd lost you anyway, Why go on? What's the use? In order to get in a word with you, I'd have had to come up with some excuse. It just struck me kinda funny.

I can't feel you anymore, I can't even touch the books you've read.
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin' I was somebody else instead.
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy, I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory, And all your ragin' glory

It seems to me that the NY version is more direct and personal, while the one from MN is more poetic and angry. But it's hard to say which is better. The same goes for "If You See Her, Say Hello." The MN song is great, but the NY version is truly breathtaking. It ends with a gut-wrenching harmonica solo in which Dylan seemly tries to purge his soul of all the pain. He leaves every ounce of himself on the record, proving again that emotional catharsis, when expressed by a genius like Dylan, makes for terrific art.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Was Paul Tillich an Atheist?

"Tillich's chief claim to fame will be that he fooled a lot of people... Tillich is a complete atheist who lost his belief while completing his higher education. Intellectually he despises Christianity ... Still, being the son of a clergyman and having a fondness for religious life, Tillich [will] have his cake and eat it too. He is going to remain with the Church for the purpose of undermining Christianity from within." --- Leonard F. Wheat

As I noted in my previous post, militant atheists like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris have adopted an interesting "divide and conquer" strategy towards religion. As they see it, there are only two types of religious people: i) "true believers" (i.e., fundamentalists), and ii) "closet-atheists" who are simply lying to themselves. The brilliance of this strategy is that it allows them to dismiss "moderate" and reasonable" believers as insincere cowards, while applying the "religious" label only to easily-dismissed extremists and fanatics. Moreover, their scheme slams the door on any attempt to reconcile science and religion, since the slightest accommodation on the part of religion is viewed as an attempt to salvage what is already lost. Of course, Dennett and Harris have never been interested in accommodation or peaceful coexistence; they want to see religion annihilated. By suggesting that there are only two viable philosophical positions for intellectually honest people - primitive theism or scientific materialism - they hope to increase the chances that people will pick the latter.

As the quote at the top of this post shows, such atheists frequently take aim at Paul Tillich, who represents, for them, the epitome of the "atheist theologian." They've referred to Tillich's theology as "semantic hocus-pocus", "strictly bogus", a "bold masquerade", and "nonsensical hokum and claptrap". But do the charges stick? Was Paul Tillich really an atheist? The following quotes of his would seem to say yes:

"God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him."

"God is the symbol for God"

"The God of theism is dead"

While these statements are provocative (perhaps deliberately so), a closer look at Tillich's position makes him appear less controversial. Let's start with his oft-repeated assertion that "God is not a being, but being-itself." For Tillich, "being-itself" (or "the power of being") is the only possible definition of God because all other options turn God into a "Supreme Being" that is something less than God. "If God is not being-itself, he is, in fact, in as much bondage as the old Greek gods were in bondage to fate - a King indeed but only a puppet-king." (taken from Tillich by J. Heywood Thomas). Thus, his motivation for defining God as "being-itself" is to protect the transcendence of God from idolatrous misconceptions, not to cover his atheism with silly word tricks.

Much the same goes for his talk of "symbols". Tillich's remark that "God is the symbol for God" lead many to conclude that he regarded God as merely symbolic (i.e., not real). However, Tillich was simply conveying the fact that human language can never fully grasp the ineffable glory of God, since our "superlatives become diminutives" when applied to God. However, Tillich argued that language is capable of pointing to the reality God in a symbolic fashion, although it is never identical with that reality. Thus, symbols are truly glorious things, because they allow us to describe the indescribable, opening up levels of reality that are closed to literal language. With this in mind, his talk of "the God above the God of theism" makes more sense. The "God of theism" is the symbolically-conceived God that is forever transcended by the True God. Far from being a nonsensical phrase designed to trick people into believing, this is Tillich's way of affirming both the validity of theological speech and the complete otherness of God.

Thus, while the form of Tillich's doctrine of God is certainly unconventional, I think its substance lies comfortably within the Christian tradition. So why all the confusion? Here, Tillich certainly deserves much of the blame, as his critics (both Christians and atheists) are correct in saying that he often obscures more than he reveals. In particular, I find his concept of "ultimate concern" to be poorly-defined and prone to misinterpretation. When used as a synonym for "faith", the term is unproblematic. But Tillich sometimes suggests that "ultimate concern" is God, leading many to think that he advocates a purely immanent God. Less abstraction and more clarity on this matter would have been helpful.

In my opinion, the proper question to ask regarding Tillich's theology is not "Is it atheistic?" but "Is it useful?". On this point, I'm not fully convinced, since it appears that by trying to bridge the gap between theology and philosophy, and between theism and atheism, he has not satisfied either side. Atheists are not convinced that he has done more than just play with words, and Christians are not likely to start praying to an impersonal "ground of being." Of course, it's valuable that someone of Tillich's ability has made the effort, and he leaves a tremendous legacy to build upon. But for the moment, I can't call myself a follower.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dennett's "Straw Man"

The renowned atheist Daniel Dennett has written another book, entitled Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, where he attempts to slay the dragon of religion with the sword of science. According to this book review in, he's less than successful. Apparently, Dennett has hard time formulating a definition of religion that encompasses the diversity and subtleties of religious experience in human history. This leads him to complain that the concept of God has undergone considerable "distortion" through the ages: "I can think of no other concept that has undergone so dramatic a deformation." He argues that, whereas the ancient Israelites believed in an anthropomorphic deity that acted concretely in time and space, modern theology sets forth an "abstract and depersonalized" deity. But in his estimation, belief in this "demythologized" God is not religious faith at all, but instead a dishonest cop-out for people who insist on clinging to religious belief in an age of science. "You're an atheist in my book... don't kid yourself," he writes.

In other words, you either believe in a Zeus-like god or you're an atheist - there's no in between. Of course, by Dennett's definition, I'm an atheist, and so are many of the greatest Christian thinkers of recent history: Tillich, Bultmann, Polkinghorne, and probably Barth. Only fundamentalists who talk about God as if he were the Wizard of Oz are religious in Dennett's book, which nicely confirms his belief that Christians are wacko. Dealing with the likes of Tillich and Niebuhr is hard for atheists, but Pat Robertson is so easy to topple!

As William Vallicella at Maverick Philosopher points out very well, strident atheists like Dennett need their "straw men" and they mold their definitions of religion accordingly:

"What Dennett is implying is that the original monotheistic conception of God had a definite content, but that this conception was deformed and rendered abstract to the point of being emptied of all content. Dennett is of course assuming that the only way the concept of God could have content is for it to have a materialistic, anthropomorphic content. Thus it is not possible on Dennett's scheme to interpret the anthropomorphic language of the Old Testament in a figurative way as pointing to a purely spiritual reality which, as purely spiritual, is neither physical nor human.

Dennett seems in effect to be confronting the theist with a dilemma. Either your God is nothing but an anthropomorphic projection or it is so devoid of recognizable attributes as to be meaningless. Either way, your God does not exist. Surely there is no Big Guy in the Sky, and if your God is just some Higher Power, some unknowable X, about which nothing can be said, then what exactly are you affirming when you affirm that this X exists? Theism is either the crude positing of something as unbelievable as Santa Claus or Wonder Woman, or else it says nothing at all.

Either crude anthropomorphism or utter vacuity.

Dennett's Dilemma -- to give it a name -- is quite reasonable if you grant him his underlying naturalistic and scientistic (not scientific) assumptions, namely, that there is exactly one world, the physical world, and that (future if not contemporary) natural science provides the only knowledge of it. On these assumptions, there simply is nothing that is not physical in nature. Therefore, if God exists, then God is physical in nature. But since no enlightened person can believe that a physical God exists, the only option a sophisticated theist can have is to so sophisticate and refine his conception of God as to drain it of all meaning. And thus, to fill out Dennett's line of thought in my own way, one ends up with pablum such as Tillich's talk of God as one 'ultimate concern.' If God is identified as whatever is one's ultimate concern, then of course God, strictly speaking, does not exist. Dennett and I will surely agree on this point...

Dennett needs to give up the question-begging and the straw-man argumentation. His talk of the 'deformation' of the God concept shows that he is unwilling to allow what he would surely allow with subject-matters, namely, the elaboration of a more adequate concept of the subject-matter in question. Instead, he thinks the theist must be stuck with the crudest conceptions imaginable."

While William is right on target with his criticism of Dennett, he totally misrepresents Tillich's doctrine of God. Indeed, to my way of thinking, Tillich offers one of the best solutions to "Dennett's dilemma." More on this in the future ...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Will There be a Statue of "The Noid" in the Town Square?

As most of you have probably heard by now, the founder of the Domino's Pizza chain, Tom Monaghan, is spending $200 million of his own money to establish a Catholic town named Ave Maria near Naples, FL. A recent article notes that "the town will be centered around a 100ft tall oratory and the first Catholic university to be built in America for 40 years. The university's president, Nicholas J. Healy, has said future students should 'help rebuild the city of God' in a country suffering from 'catastrophic cultural collapse'... Sources close to the project said Monaghan was particularly disturbed by what he regards as the failure of western civilization to resist Islamic fundamentalism. In a speech to students last year Healy warned that Islam 'no longer faces a religiously dynamic West'." As abortions, pornography, and contraceptives will be banned within the city limits, "lawsuits appear inevitable once the new town begins functioning in 2007, but Monaghan believes he has more than the law on his side. 'I think it is God's will to do this,' he said."

I'm not quite sure what to make of Monaghan's plans, partly because the words "Domino's Pizza" and "conservative Catholicism" don't seem to belong in the same sentence. For me, Domino's Pizza always conjures up images of "The Noid", a menacing, demon-like creature that served as the company's mascot during the 1980's. Another problem is that I detest their pizza, and I hope that high-quality pizza will not be banned in Ave Maria along with condoms.

But more to the point, I can't help but feel that this whole project is profoundly wrong-headed. It reflects an urge to flee from the problems of the world, instead of engaging them - an attitude that has plagued Christianity throughout its history. How will one town of hard-core Catholics help rebuild America's collapsing culture, or stem the flow of radical Islam? Wouldn't these people better serve God in diverse communities, instead of retreating to a Catholic fantasy land of their own making? Monaghan seems to forget that the Church exists in the world and for the world, although it is never of the world.

Monaghan's plan represents an extreme example of a broader trend towards Christian isolationism. For many Christians today, "the culture" is view as the perpetual enemy, and the only way for them to protect themselves is to create a separate Christian culture, with its own music, books, movies, radio stations, etc. My recent reading of Tillich has convinced me that this strategy is foolish and ultimately destructive. As Tillich stressed time and again, Christians should never fear culture because culture is the form through which humanity's "ultimate concern" becomes manifest, and "every cultural act is therefore implicitly religious, even if not by intention. It is necessarily rooted in the unconditional meaning or ground of all meaning." Thus, Christians must always be attentive to culture because the question of God is never absent from even its most secular elements.

Tillich realized that "there is no place beside the divine, there is no possible atheism, there is no wall between the religious and the nonreligious. The holy embraces both itself and the secular." It seems to me that isolationist Christians forget that God has dominion in the secular realm as well, and that "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." There is no need for humans to build a separate "city of God" because God's grace is already at work in all of our cities.