Friday, 28 July 2017

International Institute for Method in Theology

I have the incredible privilege in being involved in a truly amazing development, namely the International Institute for Method in Theology. This institute has been more than thirty years in the making, since the initial discussions that led to the foundation of the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto, and finds ground at least thirty years before that in Lonergan's reflections upon his own work in Insight. It is at least sixty years in the making. Moreover, the main force behind establishing this institute, Robert Doran, explicitly envisions the work with which the institute is involved taking centuries. The vision is nothing less than to provide the basis for a new way of doing theology for an age that has yet to come.

I believe that this is urgently needed. I don't think it takes much for thoughtful women and men to apprehend that we are living through epochal events. This is most immediately evident on the level of technology, especially but not limited to the internet and global transportation. I have access at my fingertips, in my own home, to more information than I could ever have found in any library when I was a child. I can be in real-time face-to-face communication with people the world over, again from the comfort of my own home, using a computer that is entirely mobile. I can be at virtually any major metropolitan centre on the face of this planet within forty-eight hours, and many within twelve. The first two of these developments were unimaginable even in Lonergan's day (and he passed away in only 1984!), and the last unimaginable in his youth (fun fact: Lonergan was born on the first anniversary of the Wright brothers' famous first flight at Kitty Hawk). But it goes well beyond the technological, and is often expressed in terms of a global foreboding. These technological advances have come with a cost. Among that cost: we are pushing our biosphere towards the limits of its capacity to sustain human life. Another cost: these technological advances are all too easily weaponized, either in the most brutally obvious ways possible when we build bombers and fighter planes, but also in the capacity to use modern media to police and manipulate populations. And this weaponization points at a deeper malaise, one that Doran, building upon Lonergan, identifies as a largely cultural one but not one without social or personal dimensions.

What is happening, I would propose, is that healing has not been adequately mated with creating. Lonergan talks a great deal about healing and creating in history. Healing works "from above" upon our existing institutions, ways of life, etc., and corrects error (intellectual, moral, practical) contained therein, while creating works "from below" to build new institutions, ways of life, etc. Ideally, these two vectors meet in the middle. I would argue that we have seen much healing in recent times. We have made tremendous advances in ameliorating racism, sexism, and other virulent -isms. This is all healing, and has fruits for society, culture, and persons. It is incomplete and unfinished, but it is healing. In theological terms, it represents ultimately the operations of divine grace in human history, as much as these operations might be mediated through human persons, cultures, and societies (and there we would want to talk about cooperative grace, but no matter). But this healing has not been met by a comparably radical revision in the institutions that define our social lives. Despite the advent of capitalism, we still work with an essentially feudal social formation. The landlord has transformed into the CEO, but the basic form remains: someone else owns that upon which I, the poor labourer, work. This radically hierarchical system--wherein hierarchy is not a functional matter organized to facilitate decision-making but rather is based largely in accidents of birth and must sustain itself through the sometimes overt, sometimes covert, exercise of force--has indeed been healed of many of its more extreme abuses. Nonetheless, this essentially feudal system has extended globally, such that we now have just a few lords who ultimately control most of the capital and leave us billions of poor commoners to eek out a meager living (indeed, it is shocking really to realize how easy it is to think about the global economy as a medieval landscape, filled with lords who control the land, tenant farmers who manage to find a plot that they can rent from the lords, and labourers seeking, but not always finding, employment from those tenant farmers). Such a framework is ill-suited to either accommodate the egalitarian forces unleashed by the healing vector, or to deal with the terrifying reality of ecological disaster. Radically new institutional formations are needed.

In my own understanding, the International Institute for Method in Theology aims to help produce these new formations. It aims to do so by engaging explicitly with what Lonergan describes as the scale of values: vital, social, cultural, personal, and religious. It moreover, and perhaps more importantly in the long-run, is an experiment in the sort of new institutional formations that must come into being. Its decentralized structure perhaps represents exactly what is needed for the future, not just for institutes of this type but of our institutions more broadly. Perhaps such decentralization is exactly what is needed as we learn to think globally. Or perhaps not. One of the great joys of being involved with such a project is that we get to discover whether or not such transformations are needful or not.

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