Denison Journal of Religion

Article Title

Denison Journal of Religion, Vol. V


"Reclaiming Religious Symbols in a Secular World: Ritual and Uniting the Faith Community within the Prophetic Tradition" by Rachel Wise

Wise's article deals with the impact that the secularized world has had on religious communities. Specifically, Wise looks into the manner in which secularization has changed the American Christian community. The American Christian community, Wise claims, has responded in two major ways to the growing secularity in American culture. The orthodox response refuses to accept any of the influences of secularity. The more progressive response has so embraced some of the influences of secularity that it leads to a loss of some religiosity. She argues that secularization has so stratified the Christian community that Berger's twin purposes of religion"world-maintaining and world-shaking"are no longer integrated in the community. While orthodoxy continues to maintain the world, and progressiveness shakes the world, each is weaker by not joining with the other. Wise concludes that the binding of these two purposes and religious perspectives can come together through ritual which allows the religious to reclaim language and symbols to re-familiarize themselves with the challenges imbedded in their faith. This ability to refocus n central challenges of their faith will help Christians to find common ground and work in unity to build a more just and compassionate world.

"Narrative's Revelatory Power: Toward an Understanding of Narrative Theology" by Annette Thornburg

This article links the significance of the process of crafting and receiving stories to a greater understanding of religious lives. The influence that stories have on life, Thornburg claims, cannot be understated. People believe and perform stories, interpreting their meanings and applying them to their own lives. Thornburg claims that this is particularly true of religious stories. She makes this point through an examination of biblical narratives. It is the multiplicity inherent in stories that makes them such a vital source. The many forms of the biblical stories are so important because it is through examination of the many differences in the narrative that leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of god. Narratives do not often provide simple answers, but this is one of the strengths of studying the bible through a literary and narrative conscious perspective. The contradictions and complications lend narrative its staying power, and prevent it from losing itself in its original context. This article concludes that the power of the narrative in finding meaning and timeless power is such that Biblical study should often make use of the narrative lens.

"Building a Relationship with the Earth: Humans and Ecology in Genesis 1-3" by Stephen Grosse

In this article, Grosse reimagines the relationship between 21st century Christians and nature by doing a close analysis of Genesis 1-3. While these chapters have long been used to prove that humans have dominion over the earth and can use it as they see fit, Grosse argues that a closer look at the language used by the Genesis writers provides a far different picture. In fact, he claims that this analysis results in a challenge issued to those invested in the Genesis story to treat the earth with respect and care. Grosse's close reading of Genesis 1, the creation of the earth, shows an intimate relationship between God and the earth. While Grosses claims that this chapter is often read as God subduing chaos, he instead sees it as god closely linked to nature. God's presence, for example, is frequently depicted as existing with nature, and God continuously discovers each new step of creation as something inherently "good." Grosse not only reimagines the relationship between God and nature, but also that between humanity and nature. While people are familiar with the phrase that God gave humanity "dominion over earth," a closer look at this passage reveals that the language is akin to that used about the Israelite monarchy. If humanity is to rule over earth as an ideal Hebraic king would rule over his people, it is not a relationship of abuse. Furthermore, Grosse argues, the consequence of Adam and Eve's eating from the tree of knowledge is their understanding of their nakedness and their shame at that fact. The shame that they feel separates them from the rest of the animals"their sin, in part, is based on the fact that they separate themselves from the rest of God's creation. Through this new reading of Genesis 1-3, Grosse challenges Christians to rediscover God's challenge to protect and respect the environment.

"The Problem of Being at Ease in Zion" by Gretchen Roeck

Roeck uses her experiences in the Appalachian Service Project to serve as a springboard of her reflection on the question of what it means to be a Christian in an economically stratified world. She argues for religion as a source that can help to transform and re-stabilize society into one more suited to providing for all. Roeck reflects on Berger's theory of world-building to show that religion can be used as a springboard for social change. According to Berger, society is created through human construction and the world that humanity constructs defines societal interactions. While Roeck acknowledges that this might be disheartening when one considers the current society, she chooses to view it inspirationally: humanity has the full power to create a new, more just society. She claims religion can play a large role in this construction, because religion offers legitimacy to other institutions through its link to sacred reality. Roeck chooses to see liberation theology as an example of religion taking this lead and constructing a new society that defines faith in the love of God and neighbor, and finds God in community. This theology, with its critical reflection upon action, empowers humanity with the ability to reconstruct the world in a way that would bridge the economic divide that is so obvious in the Appalachian Mountains.

"The Passion of Christ as the Passion of Condemnation" by Aaron Bestic

This review of Mel Gibson's notorious film The Passion of the Christ reveals its anti-Semitic tendencies. Bestic reveals what, he claims, is rampant anti-Semitism through the characters of Pilate, Caiaphas, and Satan. Pilate is revealed to be both obviously anti-Semitic (lamenting over the presence of the Jewish people in his district and insulting the intelligence of that population), and also a convert to the case of Christ whom he attempts to treat fairly. His conversion legitimizes his anti-Semitism in the film"he takes the side of God against those who are trying to persecute Him. Pilate's distaste for the Jewish people is also legitimated in the film by painting Caiaphas, the high priest, as purely evil. Caiaphas is portrayed as having no sympathy or feeling of humanity toward a suffering individual. This film does not show him as struggling to preserve his faith, a position at which the biblical accounts hint. Caiaphas is seen as so loathsome that his being is merged with the depiction of Satan over the course of the film, most notably as he watches the beating of Jesus. Jewish children also appear demonic as they plague the guilty conscience of Judas. Bestic argues that the overwhelming anti-Semitism of the film is unavoidable and is the leading legacy of the project.

"Finding Patterns in the Chaos: Woman as Chaos Agent in Creation Myths" by Amanda Vajskop

This article looks primarily at two creation myths to understand the subjugation women have experienced through the patriarchy that has defined western history. The first, Enuman Elish, is a traditional Babylonian narrative that Vajskop argues may have indirectly influenced the Genesis writers and the creation myth featured there. Both of these myths, Vajskop points out, start with a male deity creating a male progeny. This first act deprives women of their reproductive creativity and their necessity for life. Instead, women are portrayed as destabilizing and potentially dangerous persons who jeopardize life as it is known. Vajskop argues that this is the excuse patriarchy uses"the fear of women causing an uprising leads society to create a system that keeps women in their appropriate place and ensure the stability of society. Vajskop concludes with the argument that these narratives remain powerful in society and continue to justify mistreatment of women.

"Letting Gandhi In" by Josh Clark and Emily Teitelbaum

In this article, Clark and Teitelbaum contemplate the seemingly unending cycle of violence in human history and look to nonviolent resisters as an example of how to break this pattern. They build this hope for a future unburdened of war on Gandhi's belief that all people are essentially loving. That love, he argued, must just be freed of the superficial societal pressures that debilitate it. Clark and Teitelbaum look not only toward Gandhi's successful use of non-violent resistance, but also to other examples such as the Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo who protested the disappearance of people during Argentina's Dirty War. These successful implementations of nonviolent resistance, Clark and Teitelbaum claim, prove that nonviolent resistance cannot be thrown away as an impossible standard. Instead, they argue for nonviolent resistance as an inspirational possibility that can put an end to the cycle of violence and establish a more hopeful future.