All posts tagged: history

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire Isn’t a Sign

Catholics love churches. Even when our architecture is less than excellent—this includes churches that also seem to look rather traditional—we nonetheless love them. We love them because in these places our babies were baptized; we married our spouses; we celebrated the Eucharist week after week, day after day, offering that sacrifice of praise that offers to humanity the hope that divine love alone saves. Yesterday we all, not Catholics only, gazed with absolute horror as we saw Notre-Dame de Paris nearly burn down. To a certain extent, popular media covered this out of a sense of nostalgia. This building, immortalized in our imaginations, would never exist precisely as it once did. We would never enter the dark, Gothic building again. We will never see the spire, even if a late addition, again. We will never see the cathedral’s wooden frame, the brilliant lattice work that brought us back to our medieval forebears. The landscape of Paris would once again be changed. No one, not one, would see the cityscape of Paris like we did–although the …

A Closer Look at Medieval Lent’s Toughness

Medieval Lent was onerous, too difficult for us moderns to imagine—bread, beer (basically liquid bread), and vegetables for 40 days for all people. Peasants especially are supposed to have been durable, hard-knuckled folks who embraced the light yoke of fasting as a necessary part of the rhythms of liturgical time. Underlying each epoch, after all, is what Fritz Bauerschmidt has called a “metaphysical image,” that is, some metaphor that defines it, shapes it such that it produces specific sorts of people, rooted in specific values.[1] On this reading of medieval Lent, tradition is not merely something handed down; rather, it is something to which we look in awe—pristinely pious, dedicated, a measuring stick for our own inadequacies and misgivings. An article on one website says it all: “Think Lent is Tough? Take a Look at Medieval Lenten Practices.” When a topic becomes clickbait, it is safe to say it is an embedded part of Catholic consciousness. In its way, this perspective has led to something of a cottage industry of Lenten repentance. There was, until …

Neo-Colonialism and Reproductive Health

A little over a century ago the continent of Africa was carved up and shared among the European powers. Every African nation—with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia—was colonized for upwards of 70 years by these European powers. My country, Nigeria, was one of those countries. However, I have no intention of rummaging aimlessly through the ash-heap of history today. I know that colonialism is a thing of the past and my country, alongside other African countries, have been independent, sovereign, and self-governing since the 1960’s. I am truly grateful for this independence. However, in recent years, we are noticing the return of Western footprints all across the continent of Africa. I am not speaking of the mostly welcome footprints of those seeking business investments, trade deals, or scientific advancements. No, I am speaking about the footprints of cultural imperialists, social engineers, and ideological neo-colonial masters who have presented themselves as enthusiastic donors, friends, and partners in the much desired development in the different African countries. Wealthy Western nations, powerful institutions, NGO’s, and private foundations …

Celebrating 200 Years of Catholic Theology’s Oldest Journal

While scrambling to finish an article on German theology last month, I found myself rummaging for a quotation from the inaugural, 1819 issue of the Theologische Quartalschrift, the house journal for the Catholic faculty of theology in Tübingen. Then it struck me that the ThQ had turned two hundred, and I would be remiss if I could not find a way to fete this loyal and reliable companion. But is it decadent to care about a journal? American theologians are more likely to connect journals with prestige than with place. Few faculties properly house a journal. My own institution, Saint Louis University, housed Theology Digest from 1967–2010, but by the time I had arrived in 2007, few of the faculty published in, read, or even browsed it. The Digest seemed more an eccentric side project of one dedicated faculty member than a point of pride for the rest of us. Its loss was mostly felt in the journal swap that our library could no longer participate in. Nostalgia for journals is more likely to arise …

The Eclipse of Sex by the Rise of Gender

A  colleague once expressed to me her dismay that a student in my gender theory class seemed unable to articulate the difference between sex and gender. I found this oddly affirming: this student had rightly picked up on the fact that those two terms do not have fixed meanings in gender theory, and certainly not in the culture at large. Why? Because, in a nutshell, we are deeply confused what it means to be a body, particularly a body who is sexed. This widespread confusion is reflected in the slippery usage of the terms “sex” and “gender.” Are these interchangeable synonyms? Or, do they reflect a dualistic split between a sexed body and gendered soul? Do they signify the interplay between biology and society in human identity? Depending upon the context, the words sex and gender can evoke any and all of those meanings. We no longer know who we are as sexed beings, and this is mirrored in our language. Perhaps more importantly, the meanings we hitch to those two words reflect (whether intended …

Catholicism’s Decisive Shift Toward Africa

To any astute observer of Catholic social history, it should be clear that today the largest “geographical exodus” has occurred since perhaps Apostolic times. These were the times when the Catholic Church’s center moved from Jerusalem to Rome, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles (Cf. Acts 1-28). The large geographical exodus that I am alluding to here is the relocation of the Catholic Church’s center from Europe to Africa. This is not to mention the Asian and Latin American Churches, which have become the modern-day equivalent to Constantinople and Alexandria. What makes this shift so interesting from the vantage of the West is that the geographical center has gone from the “First World” to the “Third World.” However, it also simultaneously appears that in today’s world, borders have become merely symbolic and arbitrary, pointing to nothing beyond themselves. At best, it seems that these borders are simply a relic of a colonial past in America, and an ancient cultivated narrative in Europe. Today’s world seems to be slowly converging into a “common home,” as …

Prisons Are a Biblical Abomination

A few weeks ago my five-year-old daughter encountered poetry for the first time. I read to her a collection that had been one of my favorites, by Shel Silverstein. She was curious, sometimes perplexed, and generally enchanted by the revelation of the musicality of words and ideas. Then, we reached one poem that grabbed her like no other. She was in equal parts attracted and repulsed. She wanted me to read it over and over again. “People Zoo.” “I’m here in a cage that is small as can be / (You can’t let wild people run around free).” The narrator was “grabbed” by animals and “locked” in a cage. Other animals walk by and stare, laugh, or harass. “Do a trick,” the animals scream, but the narrator refuses. The poem closes by extending the reader an invitation to visit this zoo—but disguised as an animal, lest the reader end up in “Cage Two.” People kept in cages represent a world turned upside down. It was plain as day to my daughter: this is an abomination. …

The Essence of African Traditional Religion

One scholar who has written extensively on African Traditional Religion is John Mbiti, a Kenyan whom many consider the dean of living African theologians. An important preoccupation of Mbiti’s work has been to show that knowledge of God and the worship of God have been staples of African life from the earliest times on the continent. In other words, he shows that the sense of the divine was not something introduced to Africa by missionaries or by anyone else; that the knowledge of God in African religion was not much different from the idea of God that Christian missionaries preached in Africa; and, more specifically to our purpose here, that belief in God engendered a moral response that for centuries before Christian arrival in Africa directed moral life and interaction on the continent and among its peoples. According to Mbiti, Africans came to believe in God by reflecting on their experience and through observation of the created universe. Specifically, by reflecting on the wonder and magnitude of the universe, they came to the conclusion that …

BlacKkKlansman Scopes the Archives of the American Soul

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! Spike Lee’s newest joint BlacKkKlansman (2018) opens with an iconic scene from Gone With the Wind (1939). Scarlett O’Hara walks through a maze of wounded soldiers after the Battle of Atlanta. The film’s score transitions to Taps and the camera pans over a tattered Confederate flag. It is a grand spectacle of loss. Lee jumps to Alec Baldwin portraying Dr. Kenneth Beauregard, a white supremacist producing some species of “informational” video that touts the travails of whites; his words are vitriolic and his tone is incendiary in reaction to that tattered Dixieland banner. Dr. Beauregard is trying too hard, though, and he is a caricature just like his public awareness campaign. It is an absurdist entry into the film—the viewer can chuckle a bit and feel some relief having thought he might be made a little uncomfortable by the film’s themes. However, Lee’s opening sequence is clarified throughout BlacKkKlansman, and the question that remains through the film’s powerful, emotionally throttled end, a question meant to haunt the viewer, is stark: how …