The EucatastropheJan 06, 2021
Dave and Joel discuss the doubt that can creep up on (or consume) a Christian. Dave considers how doubt can mean the unravelling of a person’s entire world. What are the sources of the Christian’s doubt? They discuss epistemic individualism, hyperstimulation and the loss of the sublime, and ego-driven clergy. Each of these point to the failure to cultivate a culture – and character – that gives Christianity its intelligibility. It’s fun-times easy-summer listening from the Eucatastrophe.
Joel and Dave discuss Pope Francis’s encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’. Francis turns over a bunch of tables – selfish egoistic consumption, financial speculation, nationalism, war, the death penalty, ‘parallel monologues’ of digital culture, despotism that robs traditions, mockery of the good, and the privileging of property. In their place, Francis argues for fraternity amongst all people. It’s Christian populism, for social ends. Needless to say, Joel and Dave quite like it and thank the Pope for listening to the Eucatastrophe.
Dave and Joel ponder 2020. Increasing consumption, watering-down industrial relations protections, rising poverty, and diminishing concern for the most vulnerable. What does it really mean to ‘build back better’ (shudder)? Doing so may mean infusing politics with a religious sense of personhood, love, or fraternity. But the pandemic has also pointed to another question: whether the paramount good of religious community, or the Church, is incomprehensible in an economy-driven society. Part dramatic-sigh, part-unwarranted hopefulness.
The Needs of the Soul
Dave and Joel discuss Simone Weil’s brilliant work of political philosophy, ‘The Need for Roots’. They look at the first chapter, ‘The Needs of the Soul’, where Weil paints a picture of the ways in which a just political order provides spiritual nourishment for its subjects. How is beauty related to justice? What is the relationship between rights and obligations? Should authors be sent to the gulag for factual errors? It’s a pedant’s paradise in Simone’s republic!
Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Part 2
Dave poses the hard questions in part 2 on Joel’s book, ‘Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity’. What does the ‘spiritualising of subjectivity’ mean? What is ‘the ecclesiological account’ of religious liberty? What’s with this Augustine love-fest? Joel contrasts his account and liberal pluralist arguments offered by other Christian authors. He argues that religious liberty must be grounded not in secular neutrality, but in the political community’s commitment to religion, integral to the common good. Dave wonders whether this involves swimming pools.
Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Part 1
Dave interrogates Joel about his recent book, ‘Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity’ (Cambridge University Press, 2020), which offers an answer to the question: why does religious liberty matter? In part 1 of a two-part descent into Joel’s brain, the claim that religious liberty protects the quest for true religion is discussed, along with the (perhaps dominant) liberal egalitarian account of religious liberty, which sees political authority as supporting ethical individualism or individual authenticity. Joel suggests that this account while purporting to be secular, is in fact shaped by theological claims. Dave finally gets to talk about the Supreme Court of the United States.
Narcissism in the Church
Dave and Joel discuss narcissism as a dominant force within the Church and wider society. Narcissism is characterised by an obsession with one’s public persona, coupled with a radical lack of empathy. Within the narcissist lies, not an intense love of self, but an emptiness that demands constant recognition from others in order to be filled. How might current Church practices be fertile ground for the image-obsessed? How might liberal forms of community rob individuals of space necessary for the cultivation of genuine interiority? Are we living in a culture of narcissism?
The Church and the Student’s Vocation
Dave and Joel discuss life as a student and how the church can fail to support it. In the Australian context, where theology and the pursuits of the university have largely been separated, universities have become easy for Christians to instrumentalise. They are places unrelated to the church’s ends, and so simply places where bodies happen to be. Against this, Dave and Joel consider what it means to take seriously the student's vocation. It may involve swords.
Theology and the University
Joel and Dave discuss why theology is central to the purpose of the university. John Henry Newman argues pursuing knowledge demands theology – it ‘enters into every order’, he writes. Spit-balling on this theme, Joel and Dave consider how theological claims are always present in the university, even when theology is consciously excluded. Why then is Jerusalem integral to Athens? And why is Athens integral to Jerusalem? Will Dave ever be absolved of his Calvinist sins? Short answer: no.
The Idea of a University
Dave and Joel mull over what the university is for. The Australian Government has insisted funding for universities should be aligned with ‘job ready graduates’. In the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman railed against such ‘utility’. For him, the university exists to cultivate knowledge. Dave and Joel discuss the problems with subordinating the university to the demands of state and market, but also whether knowledge as Newman discussed it is too narrow or even solipsistic. It’s the usual defence of cultural Marxism that has become Dave’s gift to the world.
Star Wars: A Lament
Joel and Dave lament the decline of Star Wars into the mess that was ‘The Rise of Skywalker’. Why has Star Wars been a fixture in our lives? How did JJ Abrams crush our hopes and dreams? After discussing the power of enchantment and mythic story-telling, Joel and Dave rant about the film’s failings. They then raise two fundamental (metaphysical!) concerns. First, how we desire a narrator behind stories and life. Second, how we look for endings to give meaning to the story, our actions, and our experiences. It’s just two stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerf herders … who now cry in the shower.
C.S. Lewis and The Inner Ring
Dave and Joel discuss C.S. Lewis’ famous paper, ‘The Inner Ring’. Lewis warns against the desire to be part of the invisible clique. In itself, this ‘inner ring’ may not be evil, but Lewis argues that its allure can easily lead to a sense of purposelessness. All relationships and work become merely instrumental to climbing the social hierarchy; hypocrisy and the absence of conviction become the norm. How can Lewis’ insights shed light on our current workplace cultures, economic structures, and church life? Is meaningful work possible in a society that has no sense of teleology? Is Dave trying to tell Joel something with his choice of topic this week?
William Cavanaugh and the State
Joel and Dave discuss William Cavanaugh’s article, ‘“Killing for the Telephone Company”: Why the Nation-State is Not the Keeper of the Common Good’. Cavanaugh is critical of attempts to baptise the State as the site of Christian politics. The State, he argues, is birthed in violence, self-interest, and the accumulation of power. In its pretension to unity and in its killing power, it is a parody of the body of Christ. It cannot guard or guarantee the common good, which requires creating alternative spaces. Dave is enamoured with this argument. Joel is too, but he raises some critical questions. Is political authority inevitably concerned with a vision of the common good? Can political authority, even now, be understood differently and more complexly? Can law be a means of turning away from vice, towards a life of virtue? Should America just return to the Queen?
COVID-19 and Resurrection
For this, the last in the COVID-19 Trilogy ™, Joel and Dave think out loud about how the Easter narrative can shape and challenge our political response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. What does it mean to worship a crucified and resurrected Messiah at a time when some claim sacrificing the vulnerable few is needed so that the economy might live? How do we declare the primacy of peace, abundance, and life in an age that elevates survival of the fittest and resource scarcity? What unexpected signs of grace might spring from this dark time? Prepare to get eucatastrophised!
Online Church and Covid-19
Dave and Joel discuss doing church in a pandemic. Churches can, in their very physical presence, resist the drift towards non-places – places that cultivate weak ties and treat persons as fungible. Buildings and bodies matter. But now we are all forced online. Church has become a Zoom meeting. Ministers are online personalities. Frenetic activity is the norm. What problems does this pose? What pathologies of church life does this potentially heighten? Dramatic sighs abound in this episode. We really just want some Eucharistic.
Covid-19 and Total Depravity?
Joel and Dave consider the question on everyone’s minds during this pandemic: is toilet paper hoarding evidence for total depravity? The Australian Prime Minister called such hoarding ‘unAustralian’. Joel and Dave discuss how our understanding of the person may be connected to our understanding of society, and consequently the role of political authority. Market economies have been naturalised as the clash or coordination of selfish individuals fearful of scarcity. This at least echoes the pessimism of viewing human nature as un-graced and entirely consumed by the fall. Put simply, hoarding toilet paper as a rational consumer might be something we’ve been taught is very natural to do. You do you, Australia.
A Hidden Life
Dave and Joel discuss Terrance Malick's A Hidden Life, a film recounting Franz Jägerstätter's journey towards martyrdom as he refuses to swear loyalty to Hitler. What can this film teach us about the nature of Christian witness during a time of dehumanising and demonic oppression? How can nature itself provide the spiritual resources necessary to resist a wicked juridical order? Join us as Dave gets all German Romantic on us and Joel yearns for the next Marvel movie.
The Not-So-Good Place
Dave and Joel rant about the television show ‘The Good Place’. What does this show say about our culture? In a word: decadent. Gripped by a desire for meaning and transcendence, we (like ‘The Good Place’ characters) settle instead for a life of perpetual consumption followed by boredom and then annihilation. Dave and Joel discuss how the show reflects a failure of moral imagination, and how it consequently reinforces a society in which persons are trapped by what Max Weber called ‘new gods’ – capitalism and bureaucracy – while convincing themselves this is freedom. Madness. It's a real maranatha-moment. Spoilers aplenty, plus men shouting at clouds.
Joel and Dave discuss the paradigm of ‘culture wars’. Left v right, conservative v progressive – are these the battlelines of our times? In the 1990s, James Davison Hunter thought that these groups were locked in an interminable conflict, appealing to fundamentally different claims and sources of moral authority. However, Joel and Dave consider how culture warriors may present a unity-ticket. Legalistic, using rights as the shared discourse, and understanding politics as advocacy, culture warriors often seem like liberalism’s diabolical twins. It’s the first episode of Season 2! Smugness for life!
Getting to Know Dave & Joel
Dave and Joel cap off the year by getting uncomfortably confessional. Answers are given to penetrating questions like, ‘Is there a correct way to pack a dishwasher and how does this relate to pursuing a career in legal scholarship?’ ‘What’s Dave’s favourite flavour of self-sabotage?’ ‘How easy would it be to find out exactly what Joel’s salary is?’ ‘Could this be even less popular than the Avengers episode?’ Join us for the episode that absolutely no one asked for … it’s the Eucatastrophe holiday extravaganza!
Advent when the world’s on fire
Is the despair apocalypse upon us? Dave and Joel talk about how things seem pretty dark. In Sydney, state-wide bushfires have turned the city into a scene from Blade Runner 2049. Our politics seems to be locked into the same old paradigms. Our churches and religious communities often appear silent or, worse, the empire that strikes back. Do we see signs of renewal or life? What is the role of hope in a world on fire? Merry Christmas!
Bonus episode! Dave and Joel ramble about The Joker, directed by Todd Phillips. Why was this a potentially good film wrapped in a strikingly average film? Was this Joker the equivalent of an evangelical sermon - all explanation, no mystery? Can you have the Joker without the Batman? What was all the controversy about? These are the questions that keep us up at night and keep us rambling. At least until The Rise of Skywalker.
The Church that Disagrees
Joel and Dave think out loud about what it means to be the Church when we keep on disagreeing with each other. Schism is tragic, but unity is difficult. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than Church conversations on sexuality. What does it mean to disagree well, or is the response to disagreement a seemingly voluntaristic ‘please leave’? Finishing this trilogy of episodes, Joel and Dave continue to discuss how disagreement may possibly take place within the shared recognition that we are each engaged in a conversation over goods integral to our common life and common faith. That would also make this episode Return of the Jedi, by the way. The best Star Wars film...
Friends with Bad Opinions
Dave and Joel discuss whether you can be friends with someone who has awful opinions. Dave expends too much energy raging against something he heard on daytime television. According to Ellen DeGeneres, George W. Bush is simply another person whose opinion she disagrees with, but who nonetheless is kind and virtuous. When do someone’s political actions go beyond the realm of ‘opinion’ to something much more serious? What does friendship with a political leader look like? Why is it so hard for members of liberal democracies to imagine a truly evil act emerging from their own political system? All this and more on a rant-filled Eucatastrophe.
Does Pluralism Defeat the Common Good?
Is it wrong to seek the good or virtuous society in the face of evident pluralism? In some classical Christian thought, the king was tasked with cultivating virtue, including love of God. Joel and Dave discuss contemporary Christian voices who challenge this. For liberal thinkers like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Christians cannot seek to define the common good for society in this way; doing so would exclude or coerce non-Christians. In Wolterstorff’s terms, Christians must support the ‘mechanical state’, a neutral body-protecting ‘the excellence of freedom’. Joel and Dave raise their problems with this view, and challenge the argument that pluralism and a Christian conception of the common good are in conflict. Q-bits and zerglings are mentioned.
Dave and Joel discuss a monstrous multi-headed hydra: consumerism. How difficult it is for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Many Christians think greed is the problem. But what if money is? What if it runs hand in hand with a consumerism that promotes freedom as an end in itself, and accumulation and competition as the fundamental way we relate to each other? And then, what should we do? In sum: Dave gets worked-up about the affluent bourgeoisie.
Joel and Dave discuss a potential alternative to Christians adopting the tactics of special interest groups, madly scrambling for power in the competitive world of politics. They reflect on James Davison Hunter’s proposal for ‘faithful presence’. Hunter argues that Christians must form persons and communities in different spheres of life that foster peace or embody the character of God. But can ‘faithful presence’ be cultivated in the absence of a political vision? Hunter’s account of politics (and its dangers or limits) is arguably governed by the sociologist’s obsession with power, something that Christians might challenge. Constantinianism is mentioned. As are Batman and Superman. It’s all related.
To Change the World
Joel and Dave consider what is needed to create cultural change. They discuss James Davison Hunter’s claim that Christians are all too individualistic, pietistic, and worldview-istic. And his argument for networks of elites at the centre of cultural institutions. Is this Christian theorising of change or business card exchanges at popular NYC churches? Dave’s class-sense is tingling.
This week Joel and Dave go all 'why, church? why?' and discuss many of their pet peeves about how churches can order their worship. From pastors trying to out do the creeds, to 40 minute explain-athons, they've got complaints about everything!
Disability and Dignity
Joel and Dave discuss how disability poses a challenge to a liberal understanding of dignity grounded in personal autonomy. How can a Christian personalist perspective provide resources for understanding disability and human flourishing? What does it mean to view people with intellectual disabilities as a gift to the Christian community? All this and more on our 20th episode extravaganza!
The Individual v. The Person
Joel and Dave discuss what it means to be a person. Liberal thought tends to understand the dignity of the individual as arising from a capacity for ethical freedom. This poses difficulties – not simply for how we understand the ends of the individual, but how we understand those who do not fit the autonomy mould. In contrast, Joel and Dave raise Christian personalism. Within this tradition of reflection, the person is understood fundamentally as a creative gift, uniquely needed for the building of a communion oriented to God. That has radical implications: for our churches, for labour practices, for understanding disability (next week’s topic), for recognising Dave’s gift for imparting wise words to newborn babies.
Loneliness and the Search for Self
Dave and Joel are taking the week off. Never fear! As a substitute enjoy a recording of Dave's recent public lecture 'Loneliness and the Search for Self' where he talks loneliness, totalitarianism, social media, and the redemptive power of art.
Dave introduces Harry Frankfurt's influential essay 'On Bullshit'. Frankfurt describes a new form of discourse that disentangles itself from traditional categories of truth and falsehood. What happens to politics, academia, and religion when language becomes a game? Can concern for social justice or the souls of others justify meaningless or manipulative discourse? How will Dave handle Natalie Portman becoming Thor? Answers abound!
Folau and Religious Liberty
Joel and Dave discuss religious liberty and the on-going case of Israel Folau, a now former Wallabies rugby player with a not so good meme-game. They consider several problematic arguments circulating: the claim that contract is foundational; an emphasis on brand management; and a focus on religious liberty as moral autonomy. Call it a syllabus of errors all round. Call it the closest Dave will ever get to talking rugby.
Fleabag and Augustinian Desire
Joel and Dave talk about love, the popular show Fleabag, and Augustine’s Confessions. They discuss how our desires can both be directed towards something good but at the same time destructively disoriented, how desire needs grace – so we can experience each other as a subject of fathomless depths who is loved by God – and how desire may consequently move us towards God. What does a sex-mad 30-something in London have to say to us? Quite a bit. And this podcast? That youth groups can be messed up.
Cultural Marxism Part 2
Dave and Joel discuss how talk of ‘cultural Marxism’ can distract us from a much more needed examination of liberalism. Rather than radical cultural Marxists, we have different ‘sides’ within an intra-liberal debate. Market freedoms or expressive individualism – the state facilitating forms of autonomy. Dave and Joel get worked up about what this says about the nature of freedom and society, and how the Church, participating in this tradition, is stripped of its moral vocabulary. It’s your weekly rant (or, for some, ‘illicit pleasure’).
Cultural Marxism Part 1
Dave and Joel discuss the concept of 'cultural Marxism' and the role that it plays in strands of contemporary conservative discourse. Does the term 'cultural Marxism' actually point to anything? How might supposed 'cultural Marxists' help the Church criticise contemporary social imaginaries? Can we all please stop using this term? Is Dave a Ninja Turtle? All this and more on the first Eucatastrophe two part special.
Is Authenticity Redeemable?
Joel and Dave discuss the modern quest for authenticity, a key idea in our time. ‘Authenticity’ is often wedded to theories of ethical individualism, or even pursuing commodities in the market. The person true to his own understanding of the divine or moral conviction; the sneakerhead cultivating an identity; the social media profile presenting an authentic me. Is authenticity the antithesis of searching for shared ends? Joel and Dave consider how authenticity, differently understood, is crucial to a life together. All part of Dave’s plot to bring more of the feels to the podcast.
This week Dave makes Joel uncomfortable by getting confessional, discussing his conversion to reformed Evangelical Christianity, and how it provided him with intellectual resources necessary to deal with a messy world. The power of Reformed theology, according to Dave, is its great explanatory power. Yet what happens when the intellectual system collapses as it does for so many? Dave and Joel discuss two possible responses to such a crisis: post-evangelicalism, and militant atheism, and how both operate on the same logic as the thing which they are seeking to reject.
The Benedict Option
Joel and Dave discuss 'The Benedict Option', Rod Dreher's book arguing that Christians, now alienated from a world they thought was their own, must form parallel communities. (AKA Hauerwas for reactionaries.) While sympathetic to the communal themes, they have some problems. Is Dreher's 'option' another project of liberalism? Why this option, singular? Can Christian attempts to build parallel communities ever be divorced from civil authority, or the common good? Will Dave escape the clutches of cultural marxism? Same bat-time. Same bat-channel.
Joel and Dave discuss what happens when the state withdraws from a place, creating a sacrifice zone of economic and environmental devastation. They ruminate on dark things: geographic places and economic spheres in which those deemed unworthy of full moral consideration must live. How is this central to the logic of the liberal state promoting infinite desire or freedom? Where does a response begin? Spoiler: St Paul helps.
Resisting Secular Space
Joel and Dave discuss the fire of Notre Dame. What does the outpouring of grief over a Christian cathedral tell us about the longings of a post-secular age? They contrast this with the tendency to create 'non-places' in late-capitalist, cosmopolitan cities: spaces transitory, ahistorical, interchangeable, empty, and unjust. Unsurprisingly, they suggest that ecclesial spaces may offer an alternative to this dehumanising trend.
Avengers: Endgame as Eucatastrophe
Dave and Joel offer an unapologetically pretentious and exuberant review of Avengers: Endgame. They discuss narrative delight; Christian humanist heroes; desire for enchantment; and the joy of the eucatastrophe – the denial of universal final defeat. Wordsworth, Tolstoy, and Homer are mentioned. Spoilers, both emotional and narrative, are constant.
First Reformed, Hope & Despair
Dave and Joel discuss Paul Schrader's 'First Reformed' - what it says about a life of introspection, despair against a backdrop of cataclysmic climate change, the hope of natality, and the sense of alienation from one's own tradition. Spoilers abound.
Christianity: it's a religion
Dave and Joel rail against a common line: "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion". Against talk of an individualised relationship, they discuss how Christian religion points to ethical formation for a common life. Religion is something - a practice, an orientation, a virtue - that shapes us personally and corporately, spiritually and politically. Cards are put on the table. Listeners will be alienated. Ministers will suggest "meeting up for coffee."
Respecting Religion; Respecting Islam
Dave and Joel discuss what it means to respect a religion. In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, there have been renewed calls to embrace our Islamic neighbours and reject anti-Islamic bigotry. While positive, much of this (and current) rhetoric does not address Islam on its own terms, instead reducing it to a form of identity. Dave and Joel discuss how respecting religion means recognising the nature of a community or tradition, and the claim that there is in fact a (good) religious end to be sought.
The Lonely Subject
Dave and Joel discuss whether loneliness is ‘baked-into’ a liberal understanding of society and political authority. They then turn to Hannah Arendt’s thought that loneliness is a precursor to totalitarianism because it reflects a loss of ‘common sense’. This, they wildly suggest, is echoed in some churches. An emphasis on an unmediated and personal relationship can mean memory loss or loss of the grammar of a tradition.
Religious Desire and Making Things Strange
Dave and Joel discuss the religious desire for the transcendent, and how this can go in terrible and banal directions, as well as the theological task of making things in the world strange. JRR Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy Tales’ provides the jumping-off point. It also provides the name ‘eucatastrophe’. Convenient.
Who are we, why this podcast.
Joel and Dave lay some of their cards on the table, unpacking a few of the basic assumptions framing their conversations. They discuss how the primacy of the self-determining individual cuts across most political and religious thought and why they think that is a problem.