Monday, February 25, 2013

Leibniz's Mill: A Challenge to Materialism

Leibniz’s Mill: A Challenge to Materialism
By Charles Landesman, Notre Dame, 2011, 182 pp., ISBN 978-0-268-03411-5, $30.00 (paper).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Dec2012, Vol. 83 Issue 2, p.141
The purpose of Leibniz’s Mill : A Challenge to Materialism  is to defend Leibniz’s dualism against materialism. The main claims of Landesman “are that the self is not reducible to the body, that mind is not reducible to matter, that mental processes are not reducible to brain processes, and that the Cartesian view that the self is a mental substance constitutes the best understanding of all the facts about mental life and its connections to the body” (2-3). Charles Landesman is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hunter College. He is also the author and editor of eleven books.
Leibniz’s Mill  contains five chapters. Chapter one analyzes the relationship of the body to the mind. It explores Descartes’s arguments for dualism in the Meditations. Landesman also takes us on a journey through Leibniz’s Mill and shows how the brain cannot account for the mind. In chapter two the author discusses the problem of other minds. How do we know they exist? The author explores epistemological issues such as knowledge, belief, reliabilism, and skepticism.  Landesman explores “Self-consciousness and Thought” in chapter three and “Perceptual Consciousness” in chapter four. This chapter includes an extended discussion on do we know color. The last chapter covers free agency versus determinism. The author believes “that the evidence supports the reality of free will when this means that people are capable of deciding among alternatives on the basis of deliberation” (157).
Leibniz’s Mill is not an easy read. Landesman, however, makes an important contribution in showing that dualism is a viable alternative to materialism. The reader will probably need a background in philosophy to understand the argument that the author makes. This book will be best for juniors or above in college.

Effective Online Teaching

Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success
By Tina Stavredes, Jossey-Bass, 2011, 257 pp., ISBN 978-0-470-57838-4, $40.00 (paper).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Sep2012, Vol. 83 Issue 1, p.64-65.
Tina Stavredes’ Effective Online Teaching is an excellent tool for both beginning online teachers and more experienced online teaching. Tina’s purpose is to provide training “to online instructors and staff so they gain an understanding of the needs of the online learner and how these needs affect learners’ ability to persist and learn online” (xvi). The book is divided into five parts: The characteristics of the online learner; theories of student learning; methods or strategies to support student learning; interacting with students or “online presence;” and “strategies for managing your online course.” The author does a good job in communicating the essential ideas an online teacher needs to know to be successful in online teaching.  Staveredes is the chair of the psychology program in the School of Undergraduate Studies where she manages and trains the online faculty.
            Effective Online Teaching contains eighteen chapters which cover the diversity of learners and how to accommodate teaching to meet their needs; theories of learning, different strategies for supporting student learning, such as scaffolding; different ways to develop teacher presence in the online environment; plagiarizing and copyright. One of the strongest points in this book is that the author provides extensive checklists and templates that can be incorporated in the online classroom. For example, Stavrades provides a template for writing book reviews and article reviews. She also includes a template for writing a research paper. In addition, Effective Online Teaching contains a good list of other resources for additional information on online teaching. She incorporates many of these resources in the book itself.
            Effective Online Teaching would be helpful to give to both beginning and experienced online teachers. It would be a tool that they would consult often.

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief Part 2

Paul Tillich thinks of doubt as a “necessary element of genuine faith.” Necessary might be too strong, but we should expect that a majority of Christians struggle with doubt (Wennberg, Faith at the Edge, 20). Wennberg thinks that “few things are more dangerous for the Christian life than the belief that good Christians, doing all the things that Christians are supposed to do, will never experience prolonged, disturbing doubt” (21).
            Tillich thinks of faith as “ultimate concern.” It includes three parts: That which is of central importance to you; that which gives your life meaning; and that which “you are willing to sacrifice everything else for” (Wennberg, 21). This would mean that everyone has faith, the “secular as well as the religious” because everyone has some ultimate concern. “My ultimate concern could be God, but it could be my family, my nation, my job, my personal welfare,” or some other concern. The object of the Christian’s ultimate concern is God. Another word for faith is trust and reliance. An ultimate concern means that nothing is more “fundamental for thought, values, and behavior” (22). Wennberg continues: “It is what we have built our life around, sacrificed for, defended, sought to further, shared with others . . . And its just because it is so important, so ultimate in our frame of reference, that we will quite understandably experience serious doubt at least at some point in time” (22). The loss of small things really do not matter. Those who have given up the faith are not free from doubt. C. S. Lewis said when he was an atheist he doubted whether God might actually exist. We must put doubt in its place. It may be part of who we are, but it is not all we are. For example, we might believe God is real. We desire His presence and pray to Him. We can decide to be a “believer with doubts” (35-36). One could make a different decision. “One can decide in favor of doubt rather than in favor of what is doubted. This too would be an act of will, an act of self-characterization. One can do this simply by turning away from the life of faith—the church, prayer, Christian fellowship, Scripture, service in the name of Christ. By such actions one in essence declares that one has ceased to be a believer in what one formerly held dear. One decides no longer to do what believers do. In those circumstances one is not so much being overcome by doubt . . . as one is deciding in favor of doubt. I may not be responsible for my doubts, but I am responsible for my response to my doubts” (36).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Theological Librarianship Part 3

The last part of Herman Peterson's "Theological Librarianship as a Ministry" discusses the role of teaching for the theological librarian. Peterson argues that the "virtue to be cultivated by teachers, both in themselves and in their students, is wisdom" (242). He argues that "all librarians are educators" (243). Christ is the great example of a Christian teacher. Theological librarians are called to cultivate wisdom in its patrons. There are differences between wisdom, knowledge, and information. The highest goal for the religious believer is wisdom. Peterson states that the "appropriate use of the Memory of the Body of Christ requires no less than wisdom when approaching the texts contained therein, and theological librarians as stewards, should insist on this, but not without hospitality, of course" (243). Peterson is speaking of showing hospitality to patrons, but we can also show hospitality to texts.

 Librarians are often in an unique position as students are in the process of research. They can help students to find quality resources. They can teach the students the process of research and they are often available to the students when they are in the midst of research and they are encountering barriers to their research. They can serve as mentors to the student in the research process. In addition, theological librarians can encourage the students to pursue a deeper reading than shallow, surface reading. They can encourage students to pursue wisdom. In addition, they can help students to realize the mulch-layers of text. For example, they can encourage the medieval method of reading: literal, symbolical, and moral. Librarians can also encourage the "lectio divina."

Peterson draws from two books in this section: Mary Carruther's The Book of Memory and Paul Griffith's Religious Reading. Carruthers speaks of the Medieval form of reading. She speaks of the practice of meditating on the text. Many Christians are familiar with meditating on the scriptures, but this practice can also be done with other texts. This practice will help to transform our lives or form character within us. These ideas are applicable for theological resources. Theological librarians can encourage deeper reading.

Griffiths writes about religious reading: "Religious learning involves reading. [This type of reading is different than the typical reading done in schools]. Religious reading requires and fosters a particular set of attitudes to what is read, as well as reading practices that comport well with those attitudes . . ." (246). Theological librarians can teach patrons that different types of texts require different types of reading. They can show how religious reading can lead to spiritual transformation.

Peterson's article does a good job in showing that theological librarianship is a ministry. It is part of the work of advancing the kingdom of God. Theological librarians are stewards of the memory of Christ. They are servants or ministers to the body of Christ by making theological resources available for the body of Christ; and lastly they are teachers that try to cultivate wisdom in their patrons.

Monday, February 11, 2013

For Faith and Friendship

For Faith and Friendship, edited by Fisher Humphreys, T. J. Mashburn, and Richard F. Wilson. Covington, Louisiana: Insight Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780914520528.

For Faith and Friendship is the story of twelve Baptist theologians who met three times a year for several years. In these meeting they discussed theology and related matters. The group was called the "Trinity Group" because "of the importance of the Trinitarian understanding of God for Christian theology. Each member of the group wrote one chapter. The chapters are mostly autobiographical. Some of the members of the group are Fisher Humphreys, T. J. Mashburn, J. Bradley Creed, Ralph C. Wood, and others. The book was dedicated to one of the founding members of the group, Philip Wise. Wise died in the Spring of 2009.

One of the consistent themes in this book is the journey of faith. Each of the chapters depict how the author changed over time. For example, Mashburn writes how he lost his faith to regain it. He really didn't lose his faith, but he shows how his faith changed over time. Mashburn was warned before he left the United States to study in Europe to be careful he didn't lose his faith. He says what he lost was the 'slam dunk' "approach to reading and understanding the Bible. This is the view that interprets the Bible in very literal ways, with little or no regard for any factors (for example, etymology, historical context, literary genre) save the words themselves" (73). I enjoyed reading this chapter since I studied under Mashburn when I was a librarian at the University of Mobile. He was a wonderful teacher and he followed the Socratic method of teaching. He was also a humble man who had a great interest in hermeneutics. Mashburn summarizes his main point" "Losing your faith is really about being honest with God, others, and yourself. It is a filtering process in which some beliefs/practices are celebrated, others discarded, and still others revised and developed" (80). This summarizes the theme of the journey of faith that is present in other chapters.

Two other chapters I would like to mention are Dwight A. Moody's essay on encountering C.S. Lewis a second time and Ralph Wood's essay that presents G. K. Chesterton as a Christian Humanist. Moody tells how after several years elapsed of not reading Lewis he found him again. Much of the essay describes this journey and how he began to teach a course on C. S. Lewis. He spends much of the essay on showing how some of Lewis's best writings is contained In the Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis edited by Walter Hooper. Wood argues that the answer for our time is to discover the Christian Humanism of G. K. Chesterton. Wood too writes about his spiritual journey, but most of his essay is dedicated to explicating the Christian Humanism of G. K. Chesterton. Wood has recently published a book on Chesterton. He has also written a popular book on Flannery O'Connor.

For Faith and Friendship show how our Christian faith develops. It does not stay the same. It also teaches about the importance of friendship. Moody shows how C. S. Lewis thought that friendship was one of God's best gifts.

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief Part 1

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief
By John E. Shaffett
            What is the relationship between faith, doubt, and unbelief? Some Christians believe it is a sin to doubt. Other Christians praise doubt. What do the Scriptures teach about doubt? We have the story of the man who tells Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” How can you believe and not believe? What causes doubt and how should we respond? Can doubt be a good thing?  This paper will define faith, doubt, and unbelief. It will describe the relationship between these terms. It will show what should be the Christian’s attitude toward doubt. In addition, it will describe some of the benefits of doubt. Finally, it will suggest some strategies for dealing with doubt.
            Many people were shocked when it was revealed that Mother Teresa struggled with doubt and unbelief for many years. She wrote in her journal: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing” (Hart, Knowing Darkness, 1). Mother Teresa wrote this in 1959. She struggled with doubts her whole life. Once she remarked, “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness” (Hart, 1).
Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief
            McGrath thinks that faith contains three elements. First, it is trust in God. “It is a confidence in the trustworthiness, fidelity and reliability of God” (28). Second, it is an understanding about God. It is faith seeking understanding. Third, it is obedience to God. Faith does not mean certainty. McGrath states that “the things in life that really matter cannot be proven with certainty—whether they are ethical values (such as respect for human life), social attitudes (such as democracy) or religious beliefs (such as Christianity)” (24). McGrath argues that to believe in God requires faith, “as does the decision not to believe in him” (25). He does not think the existence of God or the non-existence of God can be proved. McGrath writes that that “faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations” (25). He believes that both believers and non-believers struggle with doubt. He thinks there is “indeed a leap of faith involved in Christianity but it is not an irrational leap in the dark” (27). McGrath thinks “all outlooks on life, all theories of the meaning on human existence rest on faith” and cannot be proved. Christianity cannot be proved with absolute certainty, but Christianity stands on solid ground in the “reliability of historical foundations, its internal consistency, its rationality, its power to convert and its relevance to human existence” (27). Absolute certainty is an unrealistic expectation and doesn’t deal correctly with human limitations.

Recovering Theological Hermeneutics

Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. ISBN: 0801027276.

I wrote a review earlier of Zimmerman's more recent Incarnational Humanism. One could see in that book some of the hermeneutical views of Zimmermann. Recovering Theological Hermeneutics makes explicit what is implicit in Incarnational Humanism. Both books supplement one another. They could be considered companions. Zimmermann's goal is to correct some of the myths of premodern hermeneutics. He believes that the "interpretive practices from the early church to the Enlightenment" is "not given due credit for its richness and complexity" (17). The purpose of this book is to correct this failing. He argues that the goal of premodern hermeneutics was "communion with God." Zimmermann writes a history of hermeneutics from premodern times to postmodernism.

Recovering Theological Hermeneutics is divided into three parts. Part one tells the story of premodern hermeneutics. This was probably my favorite part. The author looks at the interpretive practices of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Puritans, and Pietists. Part two covers secular hermeneutics. Gadamer and Levinas are the two primary scholars covered in this part. Each have a chapter to themselves. The reader will observe the high respect Zimmermann has for Gadamer's work. The chapter on Levinas was difficult to understand. In the third part Zimmermann presents his own views on theological hermeneutics through the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Recovering Theological Hermeneutics presents a well-crafted history of hermeneutics for premodern interpreters to postmodern interpreters. Some chapters are more difficult to understand. Some background knowledge of hermeneutics would be helpful in reading this text. The book seemed to be different than the title indicated. The reader assumed it would be a methodology on interpreting the Bible theologically. This book looks more at the "grounds" for interpretation than the methods. Zimmermann argues that there must be a transcendental ground for us to know who we are. For example, he shows how Calvin taught a double knowledge. To know ourselves we must know both God and ourselves. Zimmermann also emphasizes how everything is interpretation. Everyone stands from somewhere. This also emphasizes als the idea of the incarnation. We are all influence by our culture and history. This would be a good book for anyone interested in philosophical hermeneutics.