Denison Journal of Religion, Vol. I
"Abraham Joshua Heschel and Theology after the Holocaust" by Matthew Eanet
This essay explores Abraham Joshua Heschel's post-Holocaust theology as a hopeful, worship-oriented option that can continue to be a source of comfort and inspiration to men and women struggling through tragedies today. The memory of the Holocaust can easily inspire a crisis of faith. In fact, post-Holocaust theology is frequently defined by this crisis. The theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel, an Eastern European Jew who barely escaped the death camps, however, continued to assert the active existence of God. By exploring religion in terms of polarities"Sinai (the starting place of his people) and Auschwitz (a deplorable end for many of his people)"Heschel found not a God who abandoned people, but rather a God who demanded action in defense of human integrity. This was a God who existed in Divine Pathos and Divine Exile"he sought out his people and he suffered with them in their exile. Eanet argues that this theological perspective is particularly relevant in today's world that is overwhelmed with crisis because Heschel does not claim that we need to search beneath the disasters to find God in a place untouched by them. Instead, Heschel argues that we must turn towards God amidst these crises, and find the strength to demand integrity and respect for all people.
"Freedom, Knowledge and Relationship in the Genesis Story of Temptation" by Kelly Riggle
The narrative of "the Fall" is the one of the best known Bible stories. Over the centuries, it has provided a religious and cultural understanding of humanity and how we relate to each other and to divinity. This essay asks if the notion of sin and punishment frequently associated with the story is the only interpretation available for Genesis Chapter 3. Riggle argues that understanding this story as a temptation narrative instead of the pinnacle moment in humanity's "fall" offers a new example of the relationship that exists between humanity and divinity. Viewing the story through the lens of temptation does away with the unquestioned notion of sinfulness that frequently accompanies the story. Instead, eating from the tree becomes symbolic of the difficulties and complications that define humanity's effort to find communion with God despite the gift of freedom. God's actions, therefore, become less punishment and more consequence"God is not taking out anger upon the figures of Adam and Eve, but rather following through on the inevitable consequences of the action. This freedom that is evident in the temptation narrative is what provides the possibility of an authentic relationship with God, but it also is what is responsible for possible distance from God. Riggle claims that this story works to warn humanity that a careful balance must be achieved in order to establish a relationship with God"there must be enough personal freedom that the relationship established is authentic and vital, but not so much as to break from faithfulness.
"'New Elemental Force': the Necessity of an Engaged Poetry" by Mary Ann Davis
This essay explores the undeniable influence Zen Buddhism has had on American poets and poetry of recent years. The poets who are often recognized for the influence of Buddhism in their work are, however, frequently only white men. Despite this, a new emphasis on social issues and human rights is coming to the forefront in Buddhism. This influence is becoming so strong in some circles that many are claiming it is a new form of Buddhism, socially engaged Buddhism. Will this incarnation of Buddhism begin to influence American poetry to create an engaged poetry that is inherently about social change? This form of Buddhism mirrors the art of writing in fundamental ways. First, the engaged Buddhist must enact change in the wider world by first enacting it within their self. So too the poet writes about the wider world by first understanding the self as taking part in constructing that world. Both demand a rippling self-consciousness. Witnessing is also particularly important for socially engaged Buddhists who understand it as a way to draw attention to a moment while also uniting all people in all moments. This process also resonates with poets who, in the act of writing, must confront themselves, and their own act of witnessing. Buddhism proposes the notion that everything is connected at its deepest level. Mindfulness of this reality is necessary to engage socially in the world, but it is also of the utmost importance to unite people and grow in the realization of our reliance on each other. Despite these many similarities, American Buddhist poetry has remained uninvolved in the political and social situations of the day. Davis argues that bringing an awareness of connection to American poetry would create a vital voice for social and human rights.
"Sexuality: Confronting Religion's Taboo" by James Boyd
Sexuality has become ubiquitous in mainstream media and culture. Despite this, or maybe because of it, sexuality remains a topic on which religion passes judgment. Because of this, many people find a tension growing in their lives when they attempt to enjoy their sexuality and remain a part of their faith community. This tension is inspiring scholarship and reflection that is trying to establish a new sexual ethic. This article focuses, in part, on Lewis B. Smedes, who promotes sexuality as an intimate communion between two married people by claiming that they are physical beings as much as they are spiritual beings. The ethicist Marvin Ellison's focus narrows in on creating a sexual ethic that will promote social justice. His concern with sexuality is not tied to its growing prominence, but rather the negative consequences of a distorted view of sexuality caused by such things as Christian traditions, general sex-negativity, and patriarchal structures. These views frequently result in sexual violence or disrespect as can be seen in the porn industry, prostitution, and sexual assault and abuse. Rita Nakashima Brock and Susan Thistlewaite see religion (both Christianity and Buddhism) as a major constructer of this distorted view of sexuality and argue for a view of sexuality that cannot be separated from the "total self." This essay claims that to lessen the tension that exists between religion and sexuality, the focus of efforts must be on liberation of the marginalized. In order to do this, it is necessary to work within the traditional religious systems while "working beyond" the patriarchal pattern they have often inspired.
"The Virgin Mary: A Liberator for Women" by Rachel Egan
The Virgin Mary has had several titles in her long history, and these titles correlate with how she is understood by Catholics. During the Second Vatican Council, there were some who wanted to add the title of co-redemptrix to the long list of names associated with her, but the effort did not succeed. The Council explained its decision by claiming that there was biblical evidence of Mary being within the Church, but not above it. Egan asks how one can base this decision on iblical evidence when the stories and opinions associated with Mary differ so greatly. In the Gospel of John, Mary appears to have an important role in Jesus's life and service, while in Luke and Matthew's Gospels, she appears as an "afterthought" and her role is only to make a "Christological point." Despite this contrast, and the refusal of Second Vatican Council to show new respect to Mary with the title co-redemptrix, many, including Pope John Paul II, seem to give Mary great credit. Nonetheless, in Vatican II, the view of Mary as the "sister" to the people of the Church prevailed over the notion of Mary as "mother" to the Church. Mary becomes a symbol of all women of the Church, and because she remains in an inferior position, this article argues, so too are the women of the Church. If Mary were granted a bigger role in the Church it would be a large step to better the lives of Catholic women who attempt to follow the model set by Mary.