Book of Nature, Episode 3: Is Psychology a “Real Science”?

Charles Hackney

In the third episode, Charles Hackney places himself in the hot seat and allows the two “hard” scientists to weigh in on his chosen field.  With fear and trembling, Charles moderates a discussion concerning the scientific status of psychology.


The Christian Feminist Podcast, Episode 14: Learning to Walk in the Dark

Victoria Farmer
  • Intros
  • Listener E-mails


  • A short biography of Barbara Brown Taylor
  • A summary of Learning to Walk in the Dark


  • Treasures of Darkness: Abandoning “ solar spirituality”
  • Darkness and the fear of the Lord
  • Dark emotions and the purpose of the “dark night of the soul”
  • How do we apply the book’s lessons?
  • What did we expect from the book? Why?
  • TIME article and the book’s reception
  • Lightning Round: Quotes/concepts that stuck with us

Passing On


Christian Humanist Profiles 19: Post-Christian Anxiety

Michial Farmer

saint-michel-s-church-1916.jpg!LargeMax Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is one of the most important texts in the history of sociology, and people have been citing it with various degrees of approval and understanding for more than a century now. But as the United States increasingly moves into a post-Protestant, even a post-Christian age, readers of Weber may wonder if and how the American spirit is changing.

Our guest today on Christian Humanist Profiles is one of America’s leading Catholic intellectuals, Dr. Joseph Bottum, whose latest book is an attempt to answer just that question. Our readers may be familiar with his writings from The Weekly Standard, Commonweal, and many other magazines, or with his numerous other books of poetry, essays, and fiction. His latest book is An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

Christian Humanist Profiles, Episode 18: Centering Marginalized Voices

Victoria Farmer

Christian Feminist Podcast

As children attending Sunday School, it is easy to become enthralled with stories of important, holy people, people who, though they had otherwise ordinary jobs and problems, God seemingly hand-picked to further His kingdom through their daily lives and families. While it is certainly good to notice how often God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary ends, it is also important to notice the facets of the everyday less often represented in Biblical texts. In her book Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers: Questioning Teaching about Biblical Women, Dr. Paula Trimble Familetti does just that, giving voice to Jesus’ female family members and disciples in a unique way. We’re delighted she’s here on Christian Humanist Profiles today.

Book Review: “The Third Covenant: The Transmission of Consciousness in the work of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Thomas Berry, and Albert J. LaChance”

Dan Dawson

The Third Covenant: The Transmission of Consciousness in the work of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Thomas Berry, and Albert J. LaCThird_Covenent_coverhance

By Albert J. LaChance and Rebecca LaChance Goodwin

192 pp. North Atlantic Books. $14.95.

I found this book very difficult to review mainly because it doesn’t lend itself to easy digestion. The book, written by a father-daughter team (LaChance a psychologist and Goodwin a theologian, respectively) is a summary of sorts of the theological and philosophical system that has been the life’s work of LaChance, and makes frequent references to his previous work. As someone who was born and raised on a steady diet of Western Enlightenment-steeped philosophy, theology, and science, I found the glimpse into the Eastern ways of thinking in these areas that this book provides interesting, occasionally insightful, but ultimately frustrating and unsatisfying.

The main body of the book is divided into three parts, the first two written by LaChance, and the third written by Goodwin. LaChance also provides a brief background chapter to open the book, while Goodwin provides an introduction to the themes of the book. Finally, both LaChance and Goodwin provide afterwords.

In the opening material we see immediately where the book is going. For LaChance and Goodwin are not merely describing a theological system for understanding Christianity and its relationships to other traditions. Rather, they are taking the bold and explicit step of arguing for the advent of an entirely new religion. LaChance is, helpfully, very clear in the beginning of Part I about the origins of the name for this new religion: namely he claims to have had a vision of the crucified Christ who informed him in no uncertain terms that the theological system of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a new revelation from God Himself, and that he should explicitly call it the “Third Covenant”.

The first two parts of the book LaChance turns to fleshing out this vision by ruminating on the works of two individuals: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Berry, and here lies one frustration I have with the book. For, if Teilhard de Chardin (a 20th Century French Jesuit Priest who sought to extrapolate biological evolution to an overriding cosmic and divine principle) is such an important figure in this new revelation (LaChance calls him a “shoot of Yeshua” in the same way Christ was a shoot of Jesse), one would think that he would be described in more than just fleeting terms. Much of the section of the book ostensibly devoted to him barely touches on the man himself, referring the reader to other works for this purpose. Instead, one gets the vaguest of sketches of Teilhard de Chardin’s theology that is so interspersed with LaChance’s own interpretations and distracting asides that it is nigh impossible for the reader to tell where one ends and the other begins.

A similar criticism applies to the section on Thomas Berry. However, this section fared somewhat better in this regard, particularly a chapter outlining Berry’s 12-point theological treatise on the relationship of humanity to the rest of the universe. Nevertheless, I still finished these chapters barely knowing anything more about the man other than that he was a mentor to LaChance, and I had similar difficulties understanding where Berry’s theology and philosophy ended, and LaChance’s began. In brief, LaChance spends most of this part of the book describing various encounters with Berry and how Berry’s theology informed Lachance’s own musings, but does so in such a scattershot way as to be dizzying.

As for the content of the Third Covenant itself, the orthodox Christian, for one, will find it hard to stomach the idea that we should do away with the concept of monotheism, and instead embrace “monosacrality”, which is the idea that everything is sacred or divine and ultimately one. How this and other similar concepts that the book presents differ from traditional pantheism never even enters the book’s radar screen, which strikes me as an odd omission. Of course, taken on the book’s own terms, the fact that a Christian (or a Muslim, Jew, or atheist for that matter) would find it hard to embrace this shift wouldn’t be such a problem if LaChance and Goodwin didn’t also repeatedly claim throughout that the previous covenants (the so-called “Second Covenant” constituting Christianity and Islam) could “remain alive, differentiated, and active within the Third Covenant”.  But, on the other hand, they spend a great deal of time extolling the virtues and superiority of their new syncretistic universal religion that has no need for the trappings of the former. In other words, it seems they want to have their cake and eat it too, or rather, to offer this non-choice to current members of the previous covenants. But, for example, the difficult but crucial question of how an orthodox Christian who is committed to Christ as the unique Son of God can simultaneously affirm the Third Covenant’s claim that Jesus was merely one of a long line of “avatars” of the “monosacred” (that includes Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammed), is never truly engaged. But, explaining how this might be strikes me as absolutely critical to their project, and frankly, their presentation as it stands currently suffers from the same problems that plague many other syncretistic meta-religious projects throughout history.

It doesn’t help that along the way, LaChance takes several gratuitous swipes at traditional Christianity, bizarrely insists without any justification that the religious expressions of indigenous peoples constitute a purer expression of the “monosacred Voice of the planet”, and tacks on a demonization of alcohol for good measure (along with another bizarre claim that if only the minds of these peoples were free from alcohol, they would save the planet). To be fair, given LaChance’s own admission of alcohol abuse, such an aversion is at least understandable, but it’s the totalizing of this aversion that concerns me. Additionally, he introduces so many idiosyncratic concepts, words, and phrases (such as “ChristLogos”, the “Avatar Voice”, “one-ly”, and others) without clear differentiation and definition as to often make it very difficult to follow the thread of the discussion.

This isn’t to say that I found nothing of value in the book. For one thing, I very much resonate with its underlying angst in regards to the indifference much of the modern West has towards the ecological health of the planet. But LaChance and Goodwin would do well to acknowledge that many traditional Christians care about these things as well, and one doesn’t need to regard the Creation as fundamentally divine to understand that we should take care of it as a precious gift of God. Along these same lines, I think I would also agree with the unspoken indictment of Western Christian theology in regards to viewing humanity as being radically distinct from the rest of Creation. We are in fact deeply and inextricably entwined with the health of the ecosystems and planet as a whole. I would even go so far as to say that the more mystical threads of Christian thought through the ages should be given a longer and more respectful look by those of us who tend to emphasize, consciously or not, a more dualistic Enlightenment-based perspective on human knowledge and experience. We may well find that there indeed is some sort of deeper connection of our souls to the rest of Creation that is similar to what LaChance and Goodwin are describing. As an aside, I find the mystical experiences described by C. S. Lewis in “Surprised by Joy” to be an excellent starting point for thinking about these ideas (and I myself have had similar experiences).

Finally, I found Goodwin’s sections in Part 3 (those describing the work of her father LaChance) to be a far clearer exposition of the concepts LaChance himself introduced previously. I only wish they had come sooner. For example, she discusses an interesting attempt to expand upon Jungian Psychology (of which I know nothing about, so cannot comment upon its efficacy or standing in modern Psychology) in line with the concept that human consciousness supervenes on a deeper level of consciousness ascribed to the whole planet, and ultimately the entire cosmos. While I’m highly skeptical of such exercises, at least there is a systematic attempt here to flesh this out. That being said, Goodwin (or LaChance) provides mostly speculation throughout most of this part. For example she wonders whether human psychological disorders are somehow inextricably linked to ecological ills of the planet, but provides little or no supporting evidence. As a scientist, the first thing that comes to mind here is “correlation does not imply causation”, which is one of the first principles a scientist is taught to embrace. Goodwin mostly throws this principle to the wind. At one point in regards to this presumed connection, she muses (emphasis original), “The degradation of life anywhere affects life everywhere. How do we know? Because we can feel it.”

There’s much more I could say, but the above constitutes my main impressions of the book. In summary, while at times I found “The Third Covenant” provided some interesting insights and musings on our place within Creation and our relationship with and apprehension of God, these positive factors were mostly outweighed by the utter inability of the book to live up to its own stated and overly-ambitious objective of ushering in a new religious dawn, which at the end of the day turns out to be another iteration of long-standing pantheism. This inability manifests in 1) the short shrift the authors give to the impressive weight of traditional Judeo-Christian understandings of God and Creation, 2) vague and idiosyncratic descriptions of their proposed religious system that would supposedly transcend all the former ones, and 3) a failure to explain how the former systems would operate intact within the new, especially with so many glaring (at least apparent) conflicts which are barely acknowledged, let alone seriously discussed.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Wittgenstein Wednesdays, Section 4: Philosophical Investigations Sections 87-139

Nathan P. Gilmour

Want to read along with us? Get Philosophical Investigations from

Once again I’ve waited until the day that Emmanuel College’s Wittgenstein group meets to write the latest blog post. It’s November.  Give me a break.  As with previous posts, numbers refer to section numbers, not page numbers.

Who Needs What?

No sentence needs an explanation; instead, we need explanations if we misunderstand the sentence (87).  Thus begins the exploration of whether quests for “exact” with our language, to find the “essence” of language.  Ultimately Wittgenstein keeps referring and deferring the inquiry to the particular moment. Focusing there, he insists, both limits the possibilities for valid inquiry and opens up ways in which the inquiry can go, but as with previous sections, there’s little room either for total abandonment of “rules” or for “rules” that govern the totality of language.  Instead language remains an open system, always susceptible to novelty (thus “open”) while following the rules that usage lay down (thus “system”).  Or, to put it another way, the fact that sentences make sense means that “there must be perfect order” in any language that we experience as language (98).

The quest for an ideal distorts the ways that we see and think about language.  An ideal is not for the sake of ruling things in and out but for the sake of thinking about our thinking.  To see the “actual application” (100) of the term “game,” description is ultimately a more important task than definition, whose main concerns are ruling-in and ruling-out.  Undue concern with our ideal definitions fools us into dissatisfaction with language as it actually occurs (105), and the more we examine language as it actually occurs, the more distance opens up between abstract rule-sets and real languages (107).  In a side box after section 108, Wittgenstein proposes, for the sake of illustration, that asking “What is a word, really?” is something like asking “What is a piece in chess?”  The wrong sorts of abstract questions lead to entirely unhelpful questions, as if the sort of wood or plastic or stone were the “essential” property of a rook.

This is What Philosophy Does

Does a subject-verb statement, properly analyzed, always yield some variation of “This is the case”?  Such might seem an esoteric question at first glance, but just underneath is the question of what philosophy actually does.  If in fact the nature of language doesn’t reduce easily to one form of statement (as Wittgenstein himself posited earlier in his career, quoting his own folly in section 114 of Philosophical Investigations), what does philosophy actually do in the face of language?  The answer, to put things briefly: philosophy describes things.

Wittgenstein writes about a process of discovery (119) at the heart of philosophy, not a smoothing-out of bumps but an attention precisely to the places where assumed rules don’t hold and an ad-hoc concern with those bumpy places.   Thus when philosophy asks what philosophy is, that’s not “second order” but precisely the primary thing that philosophy does (121).  So the practice, as Wittgenstein sets it forth, is concerned precisely with the ways in which “philosophy” as a concept is part of “philosophy” as a practice, and if that defies the rules we think we bring, so much the better.

Thus, for what my reading is worth, the central claim of this section: “Philosophy must not interfere in any way with the actual use of language, so it can in the end only describe it” (124).  I have to assume that Wittgenstein is aware, as he writes that sentence, of Karl Marx’s famous call for philosophy not to interpret the world but to change it.  Either way, Wittgenstein has mapped out a very particular role for philosophy, such that he can speculate that “If someone were to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them” (128).  Just before that (why retain the original order of things?), he claims, along similar lines, that “The work of the philosopher consists in marshalling recollections for a particular purpose” (127).

Wittgenstein’s project is not to make language more “scientific,” then, but to observe language as language happens, to describe things so that those of us who are disposed towards abstractions (of the positive or the negative sort) and remind us actually to look at what’s happening.  It’s at once a humble and a revolutionary project: since observation and reporting observation are always so closely related, such a task means seeing what, in other circumstances and for other reasons, we’ve rendered ourselves incapable of seeing.  And because language is always on the move, it’s an ongoing project, not something to be completed and then relayed to the public but always on the way.

In the last few pages the group read for last time, Wittgenstein writes in a side note that “There is not a single philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, different therapies, as it were” (133d).  That’s what the book has been doing up to this point, and that’s what it continues to do as we keep reading together.  For a philosophy of language to be whole, parts must neither remain “cut off” by artificial designations nor be indistinguishable because we’ve given up on “rules.”  Instead the project unfolds as we go, and the philosopher acts as a therapist (how right Boethius was, no?), helping us to see what before we refused to see and to stop pretending that we see what we’d only prefer to see.

The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #149: Dead Poets Society

Michial Farmer

Dead_poets_societyNathan Gilmour converses with Michial Farmer and David Grubbs about Dead Poets Society, the second of our Robin Williams trilogy. The trio takes on the strange, truncated readings of poetry in the film, as well as the conceptions of conformity and friendship that arise.

Christian Humanist Profiles 17: Building a Better Teacher

Nathan P. Gilmour

CHProfiles17Democracy, as a way of life, requires that the citizens of the democracy share an education in common, a set of stories and aptitudes and even experiences from which we can draw so that there’s an “us” there to govern. Thus the education of the citizenry is always a live question, and to pursue that question, Christian Humanist Profiles is pleased and proud to partner with Craft Lit, a podcast about crafting and literature, to present this interview with Elizabeth Green, whose new book, “Building a Better Teacher,” explores some of the often-neglected angles of public-education policy, namely what we teach teachers when we teach them to teach. Many thanks to Heather Ordover, the host of Craft Lit, as well as to Kristen Fillipic, our publicity liason, who set this up.

Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green

Do you want this man to win???

Nathan P. Gilmour

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