CGR Vol. 38 No 3 (Fall 2020)

Title of Contents


Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews


This issue of The Conrad Grebel Review addresses two pressing contemporary concerns: sexual violence and abuse in the Mennonite church, and ecology and land. It also presents book reviews on an array of topics. Additionally, the editors must acknowledge the findings of historical ministerial sexual misconduct against John D. Rempel, a recent contributor.


In “#MennonitesToo: Sexual Violence and Mennonite Peace Theology,” Carol Penner examines the treatment of sexual violence in selected North American Mennonite periodicals over a 50-year period. Based on her 2020 Benjamin Eby/C. Henry Smith lecture, she identifies recurring themes and noticeable gaps, and offers constructive suggestions for Mennonite peace theology going forward. The second part of this issue begins a stimulating interaction with the challenges and opportunities posed by the “Environmental Politics” of Jedediah Purdy. Guest Editor Joe Wiebe, who gathered participants for this discussion, provides an introductory contribution. Three articles then follow. The next issue will contain articles by three more respondents as well as a rejoinder from Purdy. We extend hearty thanks to Joe Wiebe for initiating this timely and engaging project.


Publication of the Penner article comes after the findings of historical sexual misconduct against John D. Rempel that prompted the revocation of his ministerial credentials (see statements from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and Conrad Grebel University College, Oct. 20, 2020). Unknown to the editors, the investigation into this matter began at about the same time as we published an entire issue centered on Rempel’s work (“Mennonites and the Trinity,” vol. 37 (2)).

The finding against Rempel joins other recent revelations of sexual violence and abuse committed not only by Mennonite and Anabaptist theologians and church leaders but also by other prominent figures in the broader Christian community. These revelations raise a host of important questions. Among them: How should we continue to read and evaluate the work of Jean Vanier, John Howard Yoder, and others who have profoundly violated the trust of those in their community or under their care? How The Conrad Grebel Review do we become more aware of and address the power and gender dynamics that foster such abuses? How can we better support survivors to come forward and ensure that their voices are heard? What new harms may arise when historical misconduct is identified, and how can these be mitigated
and addressed? How should we understand and practice discipline within our faith communities, and what is the appropriate involvement of secular authorities and judicial processes?

Further questions arise with respect to Mennonite peace theology in particular. Why has sexual violence received such scant attention relative to other forms of violence? What elements within the theology, biblical interpretation, and polity of Mennonite church(es) have led to focusing more on offenders than on victims? Has the relative prominence of Matthew 18 for understanding church discipline contributed to this tendency, since this passage focuses on confronting the offender but pays little attention to those harmed? Has the Anabaptist/Mennonite tendency to focus on the New Testament blinded us to potential resources in the Old? (Lament psalms and narratives about rape and sexual violence spring to mind.) How do ongoing appeals for a more “open table” in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper relate to the commitment to church discipline traditionally tied to this practice?

In short, the ongoing experience of sexual violence and abuse in our midst demands ethical, theological, historical, and biblical attention. As an academic journal dedicated to robust engagement with a broad spectrum of topics, CGR seeks to provide a forum for such discussions, even as we acknowledge our failure to recognize gaps and blind spots in
material we have published.


CGR seeks to advance thoughtful, sustained discussions of theology, peace, society, and culture from broadly-based Anabaptist/Mennonite perspectives. The editors welcome submissions on diverse topics from a wide range of academic fields and invite written responses to previously published articles.

W. Derek Suderman, Editor

Stephen A. Jones, Managing Editor

Kyle Gingerich Hiebert, Book Review Editor; Guest Editor, “Mennonites and the Trinity,” vol. 37 (2)

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

#MennonitesToo: Sexual Violence and Mennonite Peace Theology

Carol Penner
ABSTRACT: This article focuses on the trajectory of the discussion of sexual violence in the Mennonite church and its relationship to Mennonite peace theology. Illustrating research findings with graphs, the author surveys four North American Mennonite periodicals from the past fifty years that provide a rich substrate of lived theology, points out how the discussion of sexual violence has waxed and waned, identifies recurring themes and noticeable gaps, and suggests directions for the future. While hopeful, the author contends that Mennonites have much work to do in forging a peace theology inclusive of all types of violence and all people.


As the #MeToo movement turns a spotlight on sexual violence, many people are asking: How do we address this reality in our communities? What can we do to stop the violence? [1] In this article I focus on these questions in the context of the Mennonite community in Canada and the United States.[2]

Mennonites have historically been a peace church, with early Anabaptists rejecting participation in military conflict. Over the last five hundred years Mennonites have developed, and in some cases rejected, theologies about military violence, working out what it means to be the “quiet in the land” as pacifists, conscientious objectors, and nonviolent resisters. While these different descriptors provide snapshots of the long-term development of Mennonite peace theology concerning militarism, discussions around sexual violence have occurred over a much shorter timeframe, despite its having always existed. I seek to address that anomaly by focusing on the trajectory the discussion about sexual violence has taken in the church and the recurring themes apparent in this theology. I survey Mennonite periodicals from the past fifty years to understand lived theology on the ground. Recent academic writing explores both the history of sexual violence in the Mennonite church and ethical considerations going forward,[3] but in this article I am exploring how sexual violence was discussed in church magazines that the average person was reading in the Mennonite community. I will describe the way this topic was addressed and how the discussion waxed and waned over time. I will identify recurring themes and then point to noticeable gaps in the discussions, and end by suggesting directions for the future. My aim is to bring attention to, and generate discussion of, this significant but too often underexamined issue.

Periodicals as a Window on Attitudes about Sexual Violence

What is “sexual violence”? For some people, the phrase may conjure up the image of sexual assault with a weapon or physical force. However, today it has a broader meaning connected to the idea of consent: sexual violence occurs when sexual acts, advances, or comments happen without a person’s consent.[4] I am old enough to remember when sexual violence was never spoken about in church. But in the late 1970s discussions of this issue started to take place, so there have now been around fifty years of public discourse on it.

While I could have conducted a fifty-year study of Mennonite academic writing about sexual violence—and I hope to do that eventually—I find the popular press more revealing. Periodicals are helpful barometers to measure grassroots theological opinions. They show not only the emergence of new ideas but also the pushback to those ideas, with letters to periodical editors arguing against or affirming what is printed. Periodicals probably shape the church more than academic writing since they are more widely read, given their presence in people’s homes.

In addition to these reasons to conduct research on periodicals, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology almost all these publications are digitized, and so word searches make studies like this more feasible and accurate than previously possible. For this study I tracked the use of the terms “rape” and “abuse”[5] in every article published over the last fifty years in a range of North American Mennonite church magazines and newspapers published weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly: TheMennoniteand The GospelHerald, and TheMennoniteReporterand its successor TheCanadian Mennonite.[6] I looked at every article where those words were used in the past fifty years. The quantitative results of this investigation are shown in the graphs below.

Graph A shows the prevalence of the terms “rape” and “abuse” in the biweekly publication TheMennonite. Since the search function of the database only shows that the term appeared on a page of this periodical, the data reflect the number of pages in question and not the number of the occurrences of the terms; an article may have used the word 20 times but that does not show up in these statistics. Thus, in the year 1970, TheMennonitepublished 854 pages of content, but only 15 pages contained the specific word “abuse.”[7] We can see that interest in the issue of abuse has fluctuated over time, with a peak in the early 1990s. Interest then declined very rapidly, followed by a gradual upswing in the last few years. Even so, engagement has never returned to the level seen in the ’90s. As the graph demonstrates, there was much less discussion about “rape” in TheMennonite.

Graph A, number of pages that mention "abuse" or "rape" between 1970 - 2020 in The Mennonite

The bi-weekly Canadian publications, the MennoniteReporterand the subsequent CanadianMennonite, reveal similar results (Graph B).8 [8]Again there is a peak of interest in the early 1990s, though not as high as in the American publications. Coverage in the past decade slightly exceeds that found in the 1990s, while again rape is rarely discussed. Although the GospelHeraldshows even more of an interest in abuse in the early ’90s, this periodical was published weekly, which may account for the larger number here (Graph C).[9] It was also willing to discuss the subject of rape more than any of the other publications, although such discussion was not very frequent.

Graph B, number of pages that metion "abuse" or "rape" between 1970-2020 in the Canadian Mennointe
Graph C, number of pages that mentions "abuse" or "rape" between 1970 and 2000 in the Gospel Herald
Having sketched out the appearance of the terms “abuse” and “rape,” I find the trajectory of the discussion about sexual violence fascinating. Some readers may think that the church does not talk about sexual violence enough and that the #MeToo movement is finally jumpstarting the church to think about it: these statistics illustrate that Mennonites have been talking about sexual violence for almost fifty years. While public discourse on it peaked in the 1990s, it has never reached a similar level since then, except in Canada. Why did Mennonites start talking about sexual violence in the 1970s?
There could be many reasons but a primary one is that the second wave of feminism was sweeping through Canada and the US. The first wave (from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s) focused on gaining basic legal rights for women, including the right to be persons before the law, to own property, and to vote. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the 1990s, the second wave took the struggle for equality further, resulting in legislative changes regarding reproductive rights, employment equity, and sexual assault.[10]Women were demanding equality in North American society, and their voices were also more frequently represented in these Mennonite periodicals where they chose to write about sexual violence because it deeply affected them.

Why did interest in this issue peak in the 1990s? There were numerous high profile public scandals about pastoral sexual misconduct that galvanized secular media attention, such as the abuse by the Christian Brothers of Ireland at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland, and television evangelist Jim Bakker’s abuse of Jessica Hahn.[11] In the Mennonite press there were numerous articles about abuse by theologian John Howard Yoder and other prominent church leaders. In the 1990s Mennonite women in para- church organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee were at the forefront of advocacy, publishing resources and sponsoring dozens of events all over Canada and the US where people could get together to talk about sexual violence.[12] This activism kept the issue in the public eye and in the pages of the periodicals.

Why did this interest drop off after the ’90s? The problem was not fixed; sexual violence was not eradicated. Perhaps people got tired of hearing about it, or it was edged out of public discourse because the changes it called for were too sweeping. In any case, the #MeToo movement has brought the issue back into the public eye and onto the pages of Mennonite periodicals.

Graph D, number of pages that mention "abuse" vs "war" between 1970 - 2020 in The Mennonite and the Gospel Herald

Given the long-standing interest in discussions of war in Mennonite peace theology, I also compared how often the words “war” and “abuse” appeared in the pages of TheMennoniteand GospelHerald(Graph D).[13] In the 1970s—the Vietnam War era—war was talked about ten times more often than abuse or rape. Even in the ’90s, when Mennonites were discussing abuse the most, war appears twice as often (the Gulf War of 1990-1991 resulted in few North American casualties compared to the Vietnam War). In the last decade, there was less discussion about war, so the disparity is not as great. Sexual violence continued unabated throughout all these decades.

These findings provide much food for thought. While World Health Organization statistics say that one in three women experiences sexual violence in their lifetime,[14] some groups experience even higher rates (for example, disabled people and indigenous persons). This suggests that readers of Mennonite periodicals were directly experiencing sexual violence, yet this reality is not reflected in how often it was discussed. Sometimes it is easier to talk about war in other countries and harder to talk about the violence in our own homes. Readers may want to reflect on their own experience. For instance, if you attend a Mennonite church, school, or college, does this discussion correspond to your experience in these institutions? Is sexual violence talked about in these settings? In churches, is it spoken of in sermons, prayers, or educational material? In educational institutions, is it addressed by the administration or through course material? How does the prominence of this issue compare to discussions of war, pacificism, or other aspects of peace theology?

The quantitative research outlined above reveals the trajectory of the discussion of sexual violence in the church press, with its peak in the 1990s. I turn now to the content: What was the press actually saying about sexual violence over this fifty-year period?

Three Recurring Themes

During the course of researching these articles about sexual violence I repeatedly encountered three themes: the importance of storytelling, a feminist analysis of power where patriarchy is named, and a wide array of theological reflection.


A problem cannot be addressed if no one will speak about it. Sexual violence first appeared in articles written by social workers, group home workers, and psychologists. They wrote of situations their clients were facing, usually in brief and vague ways. Perhaps church periodicals were initially reluctant to have people speak frankly about sexual violence. When it was discussed, it tended to be about situations outside Mennonite churches.

At a certain point that changed when, in the late 1980s, first-person stories of abuse started to appear. For example, one woman described the effect of growing up as a victim of sexual abuse: “It is much like being run over by a huge truck and having to spend the rest of one’s life learning to walk again. Only this truck was driven by my father. . . . But no one, absolutely no one, was willing to walk with me.”[15] First-person stories of sexual assault and abuse were mostly written by women but a few were written by men.[16] Authors talked about who hurt them and what effects they suffered. Survivors often experienced self-blame and shame, and had difficulty loving themselves, other people, and God.[17] When they disclosed the abuse, the church usually responded by denying or minimizing the hurt. Survivors recounted how the church, a place that should be a refuge and place of healing, often re- victimized them and added to their trauma.[18] In a Gospel Herald cover story in 1991, Cathleen Hockman reported that sexual violence was happening in Mennonite schools and colleges.[19] There were also articles about supports for people who had sexually offended and programs working to help prevent them from reoffending.[20]

The most controversial reporting was in the form of stories about the sexual misconduct of church leaders. There was a flurry of such stories in the 1990s and numerous letters to the editor whenever they appeared, some suggesting that it was terrible to make this matter public because it should be dealt with privately.[21] Some letters claimed that it was slanderous to report about someone having their credentials revoked, even going so far as to claim that the accusations were likely exaggerated or the investigation was unfair.[22] However, just as many letters praised editors for running the stories, saying that the truth must come out and victims have a right to share the harm done to them by a church leader.[23]

Editors of Mennonite periodicals joined together to write guidelines for reporting on pastoral sexual misconduct. They explained that this type of misconduct is not just a story between two people but a violation of public trust in the church, and that silence only leads to more victims.[24] GospelHeraldeditor J. Lorne Peachey wrote that in his decades of working in the church press, no other issue had generated more letters to the editor than professional sexual misconduct.[25]

Storytelling about the reality of sexual violence in society and in the lives of church members was an important function of the periodicals and set the stage for the next theme I found.


In a 1990 article Ruth Krall, then director of Peace Studies at Goshen College, called for the church to stop covering up sexual violence. “A peace of silence is an unjust peace,” she stated,[26] asking “What in our community of faith has allowed [sexual violence] to go unchallenged?”[27] Krall and many other writers of that decade talked about patriarchy. Numerous articles pointed out that the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by men and most victims are women and children. They made connections between sexual violence and male dominance in the economy, politics, the legal system, schools, and churches.[28] They observed that patriarchal structures protect the abuser, and silence or blame the victim.[29]

In 1993, several periodicals reported on Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s C. Henry Smith lecture, in which she asserted that “We cannot continue to teach a hierarchical model of men and women” and urged her audience “to be braver and bolder about labelling that heresy.”[30] Most of the articles that connected violence with patriarchy were written by women but some were written by men.[31] A number of feature articles by men advocated replacing a toxic masculinity with healthier views of what it means to be a man, challenging the harmful stereotypes with which they were raised.[32] A lot of backlash to this discussion of patriarchy arose in letters to the editor, with people defending male headship and female submission as biblical and denouncing feminism as secular and ungodly.[33]

In a close comparative study of the reporting in the MennoniteReporterand the CanadianMennonitein the 1990s and the 2010s, I found that there were just as many first-person stories by survivors in both decades. However, in the 2010s fewer articles used the word “patriarchy.” Since 2010 there have been many articles about abuse policies and safe place spaces that do not say anything about gender. This is appropriate for policies, because of course people of all genders can violate a boundary. However, if Mennonites want social change, our public discourse cannot just talk about abuse generically. We must talk about who is doing the abusing and who is being abused.

We see the same problem with racism. We can say, “Racism is bad, we don’t want to be racist, stamp out racism!” We might not threaten anyone by saying that. But as soon as we talk about the power dynamics and ask who is harmed and who benefits from racism, then we will see that we live in a society where white people have the most power to disadvantage Black people, indigenous people, and people of color. Social analysis is essential if we are to address inequality. We must talk about power, who has it and who does not. My research indicates that the social analysis in the 1990s was stronger than what we see in church periodical pages lately. What happens to the movement for social change if we are reluctant to talk about power? Power analysis is essential if we want to understand why sexual violence has been tolerated in denominational offices, schools, and churches. When power structures are male dominated, complaints about sexual violence by men are more likely to be ignored or minimized. Survivors of abuse who come forward are silenced, shamed, and punished.


These Mennonite periodicals discussed a wide range of theological topics related to sexual violence. In the 1990s, numerous articles delved into such questions as: How does the reality of sexual violence shape our understanding of God? Where is God in these stories of sexual violence? and What implications does this have for the church?

For example, scholar Wilma Bailey wrote about how the biblical character Bathsheba has been used through the ages to demonstrate that women are at fault for seducing men. Bailey wrote, “Rape is an ugly fact of life that too many women must face. . . . Women have been afraid to tell their story for fear of being called a harlot, a slut, a seductress, or an idiot.” She goes on to say that the church should take active steps to prevent the violation of women: “This might take place in its preaching, teaching, nurturing of its young, and the structuring of its institutions.”[34]

Around the same time a cover story by Martha Smith Good juxtaposed a modern narrative of rape with the rape of the biblical character Tamar. She called for justice: “The silence around rape, incest, and other acts of sexual violence against women must be broken. . . . Their pain must be shared. healing must happen. The time is the 1990s!”[35] Other writers looked at Jesus’ teaching on dealing with the offenses of church members (Matthew 18:15- 17), which has often been interpreted to require abuse survivors to meet privately with people who hurt them instead of going to the police. This interpretation is dangerous for victims of abuse and puts others in danger.[36] In the pages of the periodicals authors tackled suffering, forgiveness, humility, sexuality, the role of the church community, and worship in the healing process, among other subjects. It is noteworthy that the last decade of reporting about abuse has not included as lively an interaction with biblical texts and the theological tradition as was seen thirty years ago. My hunch is that earlier writers expected strong opposition to their ideas about sexual violence, and so were careful to justify their claims biblically and theologically. Current societal norms more commonly condemn sexual violence; the biblical connections may seem less essential to writers, since they are not expecting opposition.

Three Significant Gaps

The three recurring themes outlined above were evident in the articles found in Mennonite periodicals, are crucial for recognizing and addressing sexual violence in the Mennonite community, and thus warrant a place in Mennonite peace theology. At the same time, it is equally crucial to consider what is notin the periodicals. I discovered three significant gaps that we need to explore in our Mennonite peace theology going forward.


First, I came across only one article that gave practical advice about physical attacks, advocating self-defence training for women.[37] We have not begun to talk about the ethics of fighting back. I didn’t see any articles discussing strategies for surviving sexual assault or, importantly, for resisting sexual coercion and manipulation. There is still squeamishness about addressing sexual issues even though people urgently need these strategies. Violence continues to afflict people in our churches, especially women and children, and our periodicals are not addressing this crisis. Also, with the exception of a few articles in the 1990s, very little has been written that addresses the people committing sexual assault or challenges the societal training normalizing violence for men.[38] We need practical help with reducing this violence.


I found scant discussion about how sexual violence interacts with other forms of oppression in the church. In North American culture, the people most likely to be hurt are not only women and children but people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, indigenous, Black and other women of color, and those who are newcomers or economically disadvantaged. When these people are hurt, they are also the least likely to be able to access good medical care or to be treated fairly by the police and the justice system.[39]

Since the mid-1990s, third-wave feminism has paid close attention to the intersection of different forms of violence. Influenced by post-colonial and postmodern thought, this movement is commited to amplifying marginalized voices and de-centering the perspective of white North American women. Despite its broader significance, this perspective is not reflected in the Mennonite periodicals.


Finally, while I looked at every article that contained the term “abuse,” I did not find any articles linking this issue with Mennonite treatment of LGBTQ+ people. Mennonite communities have been abusive in their refusal to acknowledge the spectrum of sexual attraction and  gender, which has resulted in suffering and mental health crises for countless queer people. This matter has not been covered in the Mennonite press. The pain that these individuals and families experience when they are rejected and expelled from communities, or forced into a strict heterosexual mold, is a type of sexual violence that must be named. This too is about power and more specifically about how Mennonites have used community and spiritual power in oppressive and abusive ways.


Although I have addressed the difficult ongoing issue of sexual violence in this article, I will conclude by explaining why I am nevertheless hopeful. The quantitative analysis described above showed a spike of interest in discussing sexual violence in the 1990s. Although church periodicals largely stopped talking about abuse after the early ’90s, advocacy about it did not stop. People within the church continued to support victims and walk with those who offended. Sexual abuse policies were written, revised, and implemented. Pastors preached and taught about sexual violence. Theologians explored the roots of sexual violence and the insidious nature of patriarchy in Mennonite thought and institutions. That these activities were not always mentioned in the periodicals does not mean the movement for change stopped: it continued under the radar in pockets here and there throughout the church. Also, as noted, in the last decade the Mennonite church press has showed renewed interest in this issue. Although the press is not reporting so much on events, conferences, and publications, since these are happening less than in the 1990s, what we do see now is reporting on online advocacy. Patriarchy works when victims are isolated and silenced; however, the internet has slashed through that silence, as survivors can now connect online with other survivors and with organizations that will support them. People who run websites such as IntoAccount, Our Stories Untold, and the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List are doing important practical and theoretical work, and their voices appear in the church press.[40] The location of these advocacy groups outside church structures is a safe place from which to address violence in the church. Today, survivors of abuse can more easily find support than they could even a decade ago. In addition, if someone has committed sexual violence, there is a way forward for that person as well. Mennonites have been at the forefront of creating organizations that support people who have offended, through Circles of Support and Accountability.

All this gives me much hope that the church can be a location of healing and hope in our broken world.

This exploration of Mennonite periodicals was fruitful. The statistics I collected revealed the trajectory of the discussion about sexual violence in Mennonite communities, and how grassroots opinions waxed, waned, and changed. I found that storytelling was central, and a feminist social analysis of patriarchy was often used. A wide variety of theological themes were explored by writers over the years. My research has insight for feminist theologians who are tackling sexual violence in the fields of biblical studies, ethics, and systematic theology, as well as for the broader context of Mennonite peace theology. There is a rich substrate of theological work found in periodicals that should not be ignored and needs to be mined for its insights. The church changes slowly, especially around an issue as entrenched as sexual violence; periodicals not only track those changes, they foster change through publishing faithful and prophetic voices. Naming and calling out sexual violence can provoke resistance, but the periodicals show how power structures were changed and molded chip by chip, article by article, as readers were convicted and converted to supporting victims and confronting people who abuse.

My research also revealed that Mennonite communities have not been as practical as they could have been in providing support for people who face violence. The periodicals show there was little attention given to other power structures that oppress and intersect with gendered sexual violence, including prejudice against LGBTQ+ people. These are directions that need serious and sustained attention. There is much work to do as we forge a peace theology that is inclusive of all types of violence and all people.

CarolPenneris Assistant Professor of Theological Studies and Coordinator of Applied Studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

[1] The phrase “Me Too” was first used on social media in 2006 by Black American activist Tarana Burke to encourage empathy for survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. In 2017 it was picked up as a hashtag (#MeToo) after allegations surfaced against Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein. It became a rallying cry for victims of sexual assault and abuse, and sparked a worldwide movement to address such violence.

[2] This article is based on the 2020 C. Henry Smith / 2020 Eby Lecture presented online by the author at Conrad Grebel University College on November 12, 2020.

[3] Some recent examples include, Rachel Waltner Goossen, “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 89, no. 1 (January 2015): 7-80; Kimberly Penner, “Mennonite Peace Theology and Violence against Women,” TheConradGrebelReview 35, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 280-90; and LiberatingthePoliticsofJesus:RenewingPeaceTheologythroughtheWisdomofWomen,edited by Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Darryl W. Stephens (New York & London: T & T Clark, 2020).

[4] “Sexual violence is defined as: any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.”—World Health Organization, Global Status Report on Violence Prevention, (2014), 149, violence/global_campaign/en/chap6.pdf, accessed January 13, 2021.

[5] I debated using the term “sexual assault” for my search, but “rape” was more commonly used in the early decades of the discussion. Since it was a great deal of work using even two terms, I was reluctant to add more, though that would have been fruitful.

[6] TheMennoniteand the GospelHeraldwere the magazines of two major Mennonite

denominational bodies, respectively the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church. When these denominations merged, the two publications merged under the title The Mennonite,while the GospelHeraldwas discontinued.The Mennonite Reporterand its successor CanadianMennonite were Canadian publications.

[7] Every year there were a few instances of these words used outside the context of sexual assault; for example, “the abuse of scripture” or “rape of the environment.” These uses were not excluded from the count since they occurred only occasionally.

[8]The MennoniteReporterceased publication in September 1997, replaced by the CanadianMennonite.

[9]The GospelHeraldceased publication in 1998, which is why the lines on this graph end

there. There is also a gap in the statistics because some issues of the digitized material were not functional.

[10] Violet K. Dixon, “Western Feminism in a Global Perspective,” Inquiries 3, No. 2 (2011):


[11] Michael Harris, UnholyOrders:TragedyatMt.Cashel(Markham, ON: Viking, 1990); John

H. Wigger, “Jessica Hahn and Pentecostal Silence on Sexual Abuse” Pneuma41, no. 1 (2019): 26-30.

[12] For an excellent summary of these resources and conferences, see Linda Gehman Peachey, “Naming the Pain, Seeking the Light: The Mennonite Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse,” TheMennoniteQuarterlyReview 89, no. 1 (January 2015): 111-28.

[13] I did not compile statistics about war for the Canadian publications because the MennoniteReporteris not digitized and the work required to do a page count was too labor-intensive.

[14] World Health Organization, “Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence” (2013), 16-20,, accessed January

13, 2021.

[15] Anonymous, “The Tree,” GospelHerald,September 27, 1988, 658-59.

[16] Another example of a first-person survivor story written by a woman: Name withheld, “Readers Say,” GospelHerald, August 4, 1992, 4. An example of a male survivor story: Anonymous, “Dealing with Abuse: To Break the Silence is to Begin to Heal,” GospelHerald, November 12, 1991, 7.

[17] Joanne Lehman, “Survivors Tell Stories of Abuse,” The Mennonite, April 28, 1992, 183.

[18] Wilma Derksen, “Break the Circle of Violence,” ibid., February 28, 1989, 79.

[19] Cathleen Hockman, “Rape Also Happens on the Church College Campus,” Gospel Herald, September 10, 1991, 1-3.

[20] No author, “The Church Can Be a Place of Healing,” ibid., August 24, 1993, 1-4; Anna Groff, “Mennonite Churches Discern If and How to Minister to Convicted Sex Offenders,” TheMennonite, April 21, 2009, 21.

[21] Ann Bender, “Readers Say,” GospelHerald, April 7, 1992, 5.

[22] Mable Yoder, “Readers Say,” ibid.,May 5, 1992, 4.

[24] A consortium of Mennonite church publications calling themselves “Meetinghouse” developed 17 points for how to report on sexual misconduct. The overarching principle was “How can this story be presented so that it can work toward building rather than tearing down the church?” The guidelines included the issue of accountability when trust in leaders has been violated, and a commitment to report bad news and not just good news. Editors saw the church press serving as a deterrent to abuse.— from J. Lorne Peachey, “Guidelines for Reporting Sexual Misconduct and Other Sensitive News Stories,” Gospel Herald, July 4, 1992, 4-5.

[25] J. Lorne Peachey, “Seven Months of Tough Lessons,” ibid., September 29, 1992, 16.

[26] Don Ratzlaff, “Domestic Violence in our Midst,” The Mennonite, December 25, 1990, 547.

[27] Don Ratzlaff, “Conference on Domestic Violence Sheds Light on Darkness,” GospelHerald,December 25, 1990, 880.

[28] Tim Castle, “Women Doing Theology: Reflections by a Man,” MennoniteReporter,June 1, 1992, 6.

[29] Janet Main, “Letters: Reporting Abuse Will Protect Others,” ibid., March 23, 1992, 6.

[30] Tom Price, “Therapist Explores Gap Between Peace Theology and Reality,” Mennonite Reporter, May 17, 1993, 3. Heggen presented the 18th annual C. Henry Smith Lecture at Goshen College on March 16, 1993, titled “Peace on the Homefront.” The lecture was drawn from her book: Carolyn Holderread Heggen, SexualAbuseinChristianHomesandChurches(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993).

[31] Aiden Schlichting Enns, “Bad Theology Leads to Bad Behavior,” The Mennonite, April 27, 1993, 6.

[32] Gordon Houser, “Defectors from the Patriarchy,” ibid., March 10, 1992, 99.

[33] For example, Ruth Hofstetter, “Jesus Chose 12 Men,” ibid., May 12, 1992, 201; Larry Weidman, “Readers Say,” GospelHerald, September 8, 1992, 4.

[34] Wilma Bailey, “Was Bathsheba a Seductress or a Victim?” GospelHerald, October 27, 1992, 6-7.

[35] Martha Smith Good, “The Rape of Tamar,” ibid., May 15, 1990, 336.

[36] Two articles that address this portion of Matthew 18: Nancy R. Heisey, “How Do We Confront Sexual Misconduct by Church Leaders,” ibid., August 11, 1992, 3; Rachel Waltner Goossen, “The Failure to Bind and Loose: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Abuse,” The Mennonite, January 2015, 28.

[37]Cathleen Hockman, “Rape Also Happens on the Church College Campus,” Gospel Herald, September 10, 1991, 2-3.

[38]I have seen this play out where allegations of sexual assault arise. It is not monsters who commit sexual assault but sometimes model people thriving in every aspect of their lives. Why are “normal” men assaulting women? What is it about our culture that makes this violence socially acceptable? Similarly, a victim may not be believed when she accuses someone of sexual assault, because of stereotypes about who commits this violence.

[39] In the last few years a few articles discussed this but mostly in reference to violence happening outside the Mennonite church

[40];; Good, “The Rape of Tamar,” ibid., May 15, 1990, 336.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Jedediah Purdy’s Environmental Politics

Joseph R. Wiebe, Guest Editor
ABSTRACT: This article introduces the work of Jedediah Purdy, the theme of two sequential issues of TheConradGrebelReview. In it, the guest editor situates Purdy in his American context and outlines his affection- based environmental politics, how his love of nature informs his political and religious sensibilities, his call for a new commonwealth and a transformed politics, and his exhortation to citizens to speak up for what they value and want to see sustained. The article also surveys and connects the six invited responses to Purdy that appear in the two issues and announces that Purdy’s response will appear in the second issue.

Jedediah Purdy is a legal scholar whose recent work has focused on the impact of environmental law on American culture and politics, the scope of which includes everything from distribution of wealth to social justice to built infrastructure. He challenges the presupposition that environmentalism is a discrete political movement, demonstrating how human relations with the non-human world—and how those relations have changed throughout American history—are inextricably intertwined with how Americans have thought about social order, civic obligations, local adaptation, national identity, and moral life. In short, environmental law is connected to visions of political economy.

This essay provides an introduction to Purdy’s environmental politics by situating his arguments in his affection for place. The first section offers my interpretation of Purdy’s renowned “earnestness” as his taking seriously the connective bonds between people and their community— other inhabitants, animals, built and natural environments—to form the basis for a commonwealth. In the second section I will survey six invited responses to Purdy’s environmental politics that appear in this CGR issue and the next issue, showing how they connect not only to Purdy’s project but also to each other. These responses draw together both religious and political engagements with his work. I will conclude with showing how these engagements open up ways of seeing how Purdy’s love of nature informs his religious and political sensibilities. The next issue will present the remaining three essays as well as Purdy’s response to all six essays.

Love and Wounds

Isaac Villegas summarizes his take on Jedediah’s private Instagram account, saying, “Purdy loves nature; he loves the earth.”[1] Is a public intellectual allowed to be so unselfconciously sentimental? Purdy started his career with a Glamourmagazine photoshoot and was compared by National Public Radio to author Dave Eggers. He now teaches at Columbia Law School after teaching at Duke Law School for fifteen years. Purdy’s legal scholarship has been published in the YaleLawJournaland the HarvardLawReview, and his essays on American political and cultural life appear regularly in TheAtlantic, TheNewYorker, and N+1 among many other venues. But the dust jacket of his book, ThisIsOurLand:TheStrugglefora New Commonwealth, shows Purdy standing among the roots of a sequoia with the earnest grin of a bohemian tree-hugger. That kind of sincerity doesn’t usually play in the public square. Purdy’s reception bears this out. The satirical website McSweeney’s—founded by Dave Eggers (coincidence?)—roasted Purdy in “Jedediah in Love,” making fun of his hope for sincerity in For Common Things.[2] Twenty years later, the conservative NationalReview used Purdy as the whipping boy for the Green New Deal (GND), citing his appealing to it as a realistic environmental policy as a “summary for the vagueness, silliness, and posturing” of the GND campaign in general.[3] Writers, it appears, are willing to be cruel if they think it will elevate their own voice. At least McSweeney’sis funny.

The through-line for both dismissals twenty years apart is not only an unwillingness to take Purdy’s arguments for democratic socialism seriously but also to leave guileless love unexpressed in political debates. McSweeney’s makes a burlesque of this point, evinced in the very title of its fictional story. The National Review implies the same critique when it characterizes the GND as “mushiness” based on what is “desirable.” Both brush-offs are political, though one less obviously so. McSweeney’s literary irony was typical of 1990’s insouciance masquerading as cultural sophistication. It’s the politics of Lollapalooza concerts and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, using bleak apathy and cool detachment—entirely geared toward advertising, whether admitted or not—as a substitute for industrious participation. While disengagement became hard to sell after 9/11, the War on Terror, Iraq, and Trump, the underlying politics of indifference persevered as the substance behind the façade of libertarianism. Now, just-leave-me- alone political arguments are a pretense for a fundamental indifference to ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter, climate refugees, missing and murdered Indigenous women, civil rights and protections for migrant workers, and pretty much anything else that might be described as a matter of social justice. Like it or not, the gratification of “no hugging, no learning”[4] and the ironic assurance that “with the lights out / it’s less dangerous”[5] are far from apolitical. They are the disposition of a blinkered self-reliance that is the condition of possibility for social structures, political policies, and economic advantages of white privilege.

Commonplace indifference is now naturalized as neutral and objective, rendering positionality and self-reflexivity as mere color commentary to the dominant political discourse. Mainstream cultural criticism, streaming from either left or right, is always constrained by the Dragnet imperative: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” The use of ad hominems like “snowflake” demonstrates how genuine concern and emotional solidarity discredit political discussions. In this kind of society, Purdy’s clarion call for more politics—for direct acknowledgement rather than passive avoidance— rooted in unfeigned compassion is a new basis for democratic engagement. Asserting ecological and egalitarian commitments means we have to announce what we care about and build our arguments for what needs to change and what needs to be preserved based on those affections.

Purdy says that collectively we’re not good at making decisions that pertain to identifying goods that sustain human communities precisely because we’re bad at reflecting on and arguing over the basic values we care deeply about. Our cultural suspicion of sincerity makes us “embarrassed to express commitments that seem ‘subjective’ or ‘culturally relative.’”[6] But for Purdy, drawing on Charles Taylor’s ethics of articulacy, “a critical part of environmental politics is . . . the work of saying what we mean, finding words for what we see and feel.”[7] This exhortation to voice boldly what few have been willing to voice before is a political sensibility Purdy has had throughout his career. When he left college in 1997, his motto was Czesław Miłosz’s “‘What is unpronounced tends to nonexistence,’ and a corollary, that pronouncing things might bring them into being.”[8]  Finding one’s voice isn’t just a task for novelists or memoirists; it’s the first step for an environmental politics rooted in how we see the world and why it matters. From here we can begin to understand what holds together a people living in the same place and what pulls them apart. It begins by stating clearly what we’re attached and devoted to—who we are and why we care about what we want sustained.

This kind of sincerity is naturally at home in the academy even when it is ridiculed outside it. If being earnest is a “kick me” sign on the back of a public intellectual, it’s equally the credentials on scholars’ nameplates. We academics receive Purdy’s sincerity without batting an eye, revealing our own sensitivity and earnestness. The stereotypical absent-minded professor—the one who doesn’t know when to turn it off in social situations, constantly rambling on about arcane matters that makes everyone within earshot cringe—models this absence of pretense. Purdy’s academic readers can embrace our social awkwardness as facilitating a disposition that helps communicate what matters most to us. While the academy isn’t exactly the platform for effective political action, it can be a hothouse for a counter-cultural disposition conducive to something like Purdy’s environmental politics.

However, the key characteristic of this disposition is not seriousness but love. Purdy admits that sincerity can easily be co-opted, its critical edges commodified and smoothed over as another undulation of the neoliberal snake. At the heart of his political sensibility are his memories of growing up on a small farm in Chloe, West Virginia. Featuring his heritage risks being criticized for nostalgia and seeking out origins for identity politics. Pastoral images and coal miners’ plights will tend to do that. Yet he continues to write about West Virginia after expressing his ambivalence. There is no substitute for political action, but writing about places like Chloe creates sensibilities through imagination. Purdy often refers to Wendell Berry as a source of inspiration. Like Berry’s advocacy of rural America, Purdy educates readers’ affections.[9] He mentors the sensibility to state who we are and why we care about what we want sustained through the instruction “to remember, in detail and without apology, how the world has looked to people, now mostly dead, who believed in its political transformation.”[10] Extraction economies have marred that world, but as the poet says, “Nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.”[11] Love, hope, and joy for Purdy are registered precisely in the wounds that reveal the wholeness of a place, what local communities are working to preserve. Wreckage is of course disappointing, but expressing concern for what has been ruined both indexes what must be changed and articulates the bond, the affections, that inspire the desire for change.

Chloe itself doesn’t materialize in Purdy’s writing, but the mystery is generative, encouraging readers to wonder what kind of new politics and new modes of belonging can emerge from a sense of connection to obscure laughed-at places. Since Google has almost no helpful information on Chloe, I asked a friend from West Virginia to describe it. He said it could fit in his university’s chapel. “It’s a general store and a couple houses along the road. That store looks like you can get groceries and your chainsaw blade sharpened.” Anything else? “There’s a church house someplace, if I recall correctly.” That’s it.

Reading Purdy can make us feel that he is daring us to call his bond to this place sentimental bullshit. But we don’t, because we all feel bonds to places whose significance is difficult to describe to outsiders. Again, we academics tend to feel this acutely because we rarely work where we grew up. Moreover, we are enculturated in practices of double-think that admit the scholarly importance of situatedness and social location for research yet we pretend that our ideas have nothing to do with our heritage, which we bury in book acknowledgements and dedications. The familiarity of nostalgia often does not breed contempt but insecurity. In Purdy’s work to articulate how the world looks to people who believe in transformation, we find a “world-making” activity—telling the stories about a place that engender its local community. Coming from West Virginia, Purdy’s writing about land as a focus for a new politics, a new way of belonging together, emerges from his own intimate experiences of fear, frustration, vulnerability, and disillusionment. Stories of protest and eulogy contextualize his political analysis and criticism. The result is a keen awareness for how place shapes politics, which is voiced in what matters most and what’s most at stake, about the places to which we belong.

These connections through love and wounds, empathy and damage, are essential for a “commonwealth”—an economy, a community, and a way of living. “Connecting, sometimes in terrible conditions, is the precondition of politics.”[12] Structural racism and the history of colonialism shape how humans connect to each other and the world around them. One way Purdy makes these structures and their impact on the earth concrete is by describing humanity as an infrastructure species: “our powers, our sociability, our nature as creatures living on this earth, are all shaped in deep ways by our built environment, which weighs in at about three thousand tons per person as a global average.”[13] This environment conceals interdependence and the systematic racism that determines where and how people live. Purdy’s environmental politics aims to change the infrastructure. The GND exemplifies this kind of change to the extent that it would “rebuild the systems that make modern life possible.”[14] Purdy says the GND is “an explicit engagement with the value of life, an effort to secure a humane future in a world where we do not live by exploiting one another.”[15] He argues that before America can develop plans for reparations or redistributive policies it needs a commonwealth. What would make this possible is the GND. It is a concrete example of his affection-based environmental politics, the engagements with which we now turn.

Environmental Politics

Purdy’s work as a whole is a resistance to the various forces influencing us to avoid politics. Purdy turns to the land—the physical and experiential qualities of the places we call home, which we share with people whose lives we don’t know and didn’t choose to be interdependent with and yet ineluctably are by virtue of our cohabitation—as a turn toward politics.

The six essays on Purdy that appear in this issue of TheConradGrebelReview and the next are reflections and arguments on this connection between land and politics. Their primary focus is on ThisLandIsOurLandand how US land has been claimed by violent, imaginative, mapping and narrative practices in ways that have created wealth, identity, and inequality. Purdy writes about land politics and how extractive economies have transformed American landscapes into political battlegrounds. Here he exemplifies thinking in response to landscape, the central question of which is, “How might land . . . be involved in political reconciliation?” The six essays consist in authors responding to different lands from different perspectives in ways that resonate with Purdy’s political and ecological concerns. For Purdy, going to nature is not an escape from the world but a return to places of wounds, which can provide a new vantage point from which to see the world.

The authors were asked to respond to the following questions: If politics and ecology are now inextricably intertwined, what difference do religious reflections, experiences, and histories on nature make for that politics? How does spiritual or theological reflection from places of wounds shape or inform a new perspective on politics, economics, or social structures—i.e., on the infrastructures of our interdependence? Put differently, what role does religious thinking have in developing a commonwealth: a plurality of communities with locally adapted economies that neither degrades humans nor exhausts the landscape? In short, how do religious, theological, or spiritual reflections on the meaning of land contribute to the kind of political reconciliation Purdy suggests is necessary for both economic and ecological change?

Two essays explicitly address how Christianity can be a resource for Purdy’s environmental politics. Purdy is skeptical about religious interpretations of nature. He does not discard religious impulses perse but wants to separate human desire for meaning and politics from nature. American perceptions of the environment have religious roots. Consider two examples of environmental visions Purdy analyzes.[16] First, that human labor transforms nature from wilderness to garden. The view here is that wilderness must be redeemed, i.e., developed and economically productive. Second, that nature is a pleasing and notable contrast to human nature. Some areas should be sheltered from development to remain an access point to something higher than what we could imagine or become on our own. Both these views remain today and bear religious impulses, and both have implications on history and environmental law but also on how we see ourselves and our relation to nature.

The problem with these views for Purdy is the presumption that nature has an overarching and unifying logic or purpose. Nature has no point of view, no perspective that humans should try to enter into to know what to do. Or, as Herbert McCabe puts it, “The wind and the waves don’t achieve any aim, there is nothing that counts as success in their thrashing around.”[17] According to Purdy, ethics can only follow nature if one is a monotheist. Monotheism unifies the disparate aspects of nature in the unity of the Creator’s mind; unity comes from Creator rather than politics. Environmental law and politics have been rooted in the idea that nature’s value is separate from human valuation and independent from us. For Purdy, this idea must be left behind: humans have always been selective in what they focus on and value in nature and they should stop pretending these values are “natural.” He still wants to say nature has meaning and material worth but without discerning that meaning from within nature itself, separate from what humans confer upon it. Purpose and meaning are unnatural. The basis for his materialist view of nature is ethical, which he aligns with the motivation for nature writing in general: “an effort to note the kinds of harm one is involved in, the things one depends on, and the pleasures and responsibilities that might arise from understanding both.”[18]

Peter Dula criticizes Purdy’s assumption that at the heart of naturalism—that environmental ethics is grounded in a vision and unity of nature distinct from human enterprises—is monotheism. He argues that since the assumption that nature is the ground for ethics can be found in atheistic scientific discourse, the real issue is the assumption that “some questions . . . can be decided by something other than human judgement.” The problem is the avoidance of human struggle and work to figure problems out for ourselves. The issue is a broken notion of responsibility, something that can be fixed by adding more politics, specifically more democracy. Religious arguments and activism here can be part of the convocation of voices rallying for improved democracy.

Similar to Dula’s suggestion for religious sources and allies for Purdy’s political project, Sarah Stewart-Kroeker gives an example of religious imagery as a possible horizon for Purdy’s political ecology, i.e., the way environments shape the qualities and interactions of people brought together by virtue of living in the same place. While Purdy offers the commonwealth as that horizon, Stewart-Kroeker suggests it could be imagined as an eschatologicalcommonwealth, one that resembles the body of the resurrected Christ with visible wounds. In this image, the wounds of human and non-human creation remain a focus for how the commonwealth is constituted. For Christians, this eschatological commonwealth would avoid the moral escapism of naturalism by resisting the depoliticizing urge to see past material nature as it is to an imagined whole in a divinely recreated heaven and earth. Stewart- Kroeker suggests that foregrounding this theological connection of wounds through the resurrection would help the political formation of Purdy’s commonwealth by giving a concrete image, a visible horizon, for how we share each other’s wounds and flourishing. Imagining an eschatological commonwealth is neither escapism nor naïve moralism but rather part of a political formation of environmental solidarity.

Understanding humanity as an infrastructure species and focusing on infrastructure as the locus of transformation illustrates how the image of the commonwealth matters for the formation of participants in the political project. While Purdy grounds his analysis of infrastructure on racism and colonialism, Daniel Sims argues that colonialism continues to haunt Purdy’s political ecology. Colonialism will remain a part of the new commonwealth’s landscape, if it doesn’t reassess how the new relationships it constitutes and its vision of an imagined homeland are still formed through material inhabitation on stolen land. Colonialism notoriously violates both bodies and land; however, wounds are neither experienced nor shared equally. Neither the salve nor the memory of the injuries should be seen as held in common. If foregrounding traces of violence is central to forming political solidarity in a democratic, post-neoliberal commonwealth, then attention must first be drawn to the cruelty done to the once-sovereign owners of the land on which that commonwealth aspires to take root. The implication of Sims’s argument turns Purdy’s critique around: the presumed givenness that all American politics is inevitably formed on stolen land is itself depoliticizing, a way of settling the question of colonialism’s impact on his political project by means of something other than human judgment.

These three critical engagements with Purdy in this issue will be followed by three more that look to their own religious traditions and places as resources for bringing the commonwealth in speech to material reality.

If democratic solidarity, perforce, comes from reckoning with rather than denying how class, race, and the environment relate to one another, and if religion is not inevitably de-politicizing but can be a helpful resource for increasing democratic judgments, then looking at the caste system in India is instructive. John Boopalan suggests that the way the caste system uses race, class, and environment to organize collective life shows that the issue is not just a matter of cultural differences but the validity of the nation state. His description of Dalits in India resonates politically with colonial erasure in North America. A populist movement that forms a new commonwealth must redress structural racism that some people and places bear more than others. Centering these voices, this time in an international context, will be imperative to a genuinely new and substantive life together. But all conversations, Boopalan admonishes, must begin locally, with the material conditions, experiences, histories, and traditions of the ground where a new commonwealth might take root.

The final two essays are local narratives that showcase how one’s own self-reflection can emerge from listening to Purdy, how his reflections open up a way of looking at one’s own place.

Julia Kasdorf searches for resources in her Northern Appalachian home, a site of gas drilling and fracking, to build new relationships with human and non-human inhabitants. Pennsylvania was an attempt at a new commonwealth, an example of a radical and practical one based on Quaker religious convictions that aspired to be free of slavery and in treaty with Indigenous nations. Exploring both the history and her own nostalgia for her family farm in Pennsylvania is a synecdoche for what has commemorated and fractured people in her state since the Revolution. Pairing God and land or blood and soil to narrate the politics of landownership turns out to tell the same story. Formulating a different kind of politics with a different narrative involves reckoning with one’s nostalgia, both personal and collective, which often reanimates old narratives, the old pairings. The connection between nostalgia and politics is particularly manifest when settler colonialism determines not only land ownership but also popular culture, where sports teams’ racist mascots matter more than Black lives. But a counter-memory engenders a practice of solidarity, of reciprocal flourishing, that resonates with Boopalan. Kasdorf continues to use dishpan water to hydrate a rosebush her mother planted after returning from Calcutta when she couldn’t stand to see clean water washed down the drain. Hers is a material practice that is literally radical—it gets to the roots—and is intended to turn toward rather than divide people, a life impacted by the necessary conditions for others’ flourishing.

Like Kasdorf, Isaac Villegas uses Purdy’s journey for a new political vision sourced by an environmental imagination that looks at human relationships through the place they inhabit, which simultaneously hold them together and break them apart. While Purdy has Thoreau as his guide, Villegas uses voices from his own religious tradition, trailing 16th- century Anabaptist eccentrics through the woods. Trees, more specifically, sequoias, are the focus of his environmental imagination, revealing how the world works, what matters, and what the stakes are. Tellingly, these trees are burning. Yet this does not mean the political vision they generate is damned. Rather it should be understood within nature’s rhythms of growth, decay, death, and rebirth. This vision is far from sentimental, since it not merely incorporates but constituted by damage and wounds. The epithet “tree hugger” usually refers to a saccharine naïveté that only produces idealism, but for Villegas the love of trees is an unrelieved mourning that engenders struggle. This struggle clarifies its political vision, not as a perfected whole abstracted from the fray but in the dualisms the sequoias dramatize: decay is growth; drowning water brings solidarity; the resurrected body remains broken. So too religion and politics non-dualistically perform the struggle. Seeing the crucified in nature’s flames is a theological political vision for struggle—for solidarity and broken hearts, for baptism and protests. Hope, Villegas reminds us through Dorothy Soelle, lies in the struggle itself, not in what it produces. We love and fight, hold together and break apart, build up and pull down without regard for tomorrow.


These six essays help foreground the importance of understanding Purdy’s environmental politics and the meaning of commonwealth through love and wounds. Purdy’s environmental politics is a version of democratic socialism that takes seriously the possibility of love and the ineluctable fact of wounds in the modern world we have made. His criticism of “global hypercapitalism” that was the means for making this world is based on how all of life has been conscripted “in a world-historical gamble concerning the effects of indefinite growth, innovation, and competition.”[19] The scale of response must match the scale of effect; we need a global internationalism that elevates security and solidarity with those who feel the unequal distribution of harms and risks most acutely. What that means for most of us is recognizing we are the stakes and not the gamblers. The GND as infrastructure change articulates this recognition. It is an example of a politics that can address climate change because it is “a politics that takes the notion of the human being and their place in the world as part of its stakes.”[20]

Who are we as humans and what is our place in the world? For Purdy, “We are creatures who care, whose nature is to grow infinitely attached to finite things. What we truly believe is worth our time, the natural things and the cultural forms in which we find the richness of this life, gives us an imperative to take responsibility for them.”[21] These lines capture Purdy’s religious sensibility and love of nature and how they are tied together politically. Care for basic values and the work of sustaining human goods is measured in one’s life, in one lifetime. Jedediah Purdy in nature—his assiduous smile among the roots of sequoias whose conflagration besets his friend Isaac Villegas’s beleaguered dreams—ties together sincere meaning, material conditions, relentless labor, and determined politics.

JosephR.Wiebeis Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Alberta, Augustana Faculty, in Camrose, Alberta.

[1] Isaac S. Villegas, “Know the world, know yourself,” Christian Century, August 31, 2016, 36.

[2] Todd Pruzan, “Jedediah in Love,” McSweeney’s, October 12, 1999.

[3] Kevin D. Williamson, “Conscription,” National Review, February 14, 2019.

[4] The mantra for the entire “Seinfeld” television series.

[5] Lyrics from the rock band Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

[6] Jedediah Purdy, AfterNature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015), 265.

[7] Ibid., 265-66.

[8] Purdy, “Accidental Neoliberal,” N+1 19 (Spring 2014).

[9] For an account of how Berry’s fiction is an education in affections pertinent for environmental ethics, see Joseph R. Wiebe, The Place of Imagination: Wendell Berry and the Poetics of Community, Affection, and Identity (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press, 2017).

[10] Purdy, “Accidental Neoliberal.”

[11] W.B. Yeats, “The Circus Animal’s Desertion,” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York: Knopf, 1971), 335-36. Quoted in Purdy, After Nature, 149.

[12] Jedediah Purdy, “Maybe Connect,” LA Review of Books, October 4, 2015.

[13] Jedediah Purdy, “Living Together Shouldn’t Put Us at War with One Another or the Earth: An Interview with Jedediah Purdy,” JacobinMagazine, October 2019.

[14] Eric Klinenberg, “The Great Green Hope,” New York Review of Books, April 23, 2020, 55.

[15] Jedediah Purdy, “The Spiritual Case for Socialism,” The New Republic, February 19, 2019. review.

[16] Purdy, AfterNature.

[17] Herbert McCabe, GodMatters(New York: Continuum, 1987), 8.

[18] Jedediah Purdy, “Thinking Like a Mountain: On Nature Writing,” N+1 29 (Fall 2017).

[19] Jedediah Purdy, “Wendell Berry’s Lifelong Dissent,” The Nation, September 9, 2019.

[20] Jill Kubit, Katy Lederer, Kate Marvel, Jedediah Purdy, Christine Smallwood, Mari Tan, “Parenting and Climate Change,” N+1 36 (Winter 2020). politics/parenting-and-climate-change/.

[21] Purdy, “The Spiritual Case for Socialism.”

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

The Accidental New Atheist

Peter Dula
ABSTRACT: Jedediah Purdy argues that (1) the age of the Anthropocene requires rejecting the idea of a singular logic of nature for guiding environmental ethics, and (2) seeking such a logic (“naturalism”) is a legacy of monotheism. This essay accepts (1) but challenges (2) by demonstrating the history of anti-naturalism in Jewish and Christian theology and pointing out New Atheist attachment to naturalism, and it hopes to prompt Purdy into a more considered dialogue with theology.


In A Theory of Justice, political philosopher John Rawls explained that he wasn’t taking up the issue of environmental ethics because that would require something outside the scope of his project. It would require “a theory of the natural order and our place in it.” In a word, “metaphysics.”[1] Rawls seemed to be both acknowledging the secularity of justice as fairness and nodding toward a possible space for the sacred in the natural world, just not one that he was interested in dealing with. At least that is how Laurence Tribe saw it in “Ways Not to Think about Plastic Trees,” which can be read as an attempt to make a start on that metaphysics and ended with this:

Saint Francis of Assisi could embrace Brother Fire and Sister Water, but Western societies in the last third of this century may be unable to entertain seriously the notion that a mountain or a seashore has intrinsic needs and can make moral claims upon our designs.

Still, we can try.[2]

This was the 1970s, the era of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act in the US, when environmental legislation was embraced and pushed by a bi-partisan coalition led by the Nixon administration,[3] when a former Sierra Club director, William O. Douglas, could famously argue for nature’s standing from his seat on the Supreme Court, and when a law professor as distinguished as Tribe could hope that modern science was on the verge of recognizing “something sacred in the natural.”

Nicolas Howe looks back on this period with a tone of wistfulness in LandscapesoftheSecular.He mourns the loss of a time when “legal thinkers participated in the high-minded discussions of religious ideology” and regrets the way, in the last few decades, “environmentalists sought to sweep their ‘spiritual values’ under the rug.” [4] “Even Purdy, who argues for a return to ethical speculation, leaves religion out of his account.”[5] Even Purdy, because Purdy also recognizes the centrality of this period, and of Tribe’s essay, as a major turning point in the history of environmental law, the point when “environmental ethics and law stood briefly back to back and strode rapidly in opposite directions.”[6] The lawyers became cost-benefit analysis technocrats while the philosophers (and theologians) spun elaborate “New Stories” of cosmological unity that “proved dramatically unhelpful in solving practical problems.”[7] Purdy, as much as Howe, understands environmental law’s turn to an exclusive reliance on one particular method and theory of ethics, utilitarian cost-benefit analysis, as a loss.

Howe is both right and wrong here. He is right that at least in “Our Place in the World,” the essay he is citing, Purdy doesn’t assume as Tribe did that metaphysics had to be religiously or spiritually inflected.[8] And he is definitely right that Purdy thinks we will do well to leave religion out of it.

But it isn’t just that Purdy passively neglects religion. He actively rejects it, at least in its monotheist versions, as a foundational problem. He banishes it from the field of environmental ethics. This creates some confusion for me, because I admire his work and read him as a kindred spirit. Either there is something I have failed to understand about his work or something he has failed to understand about theology. While the chances are good that it is the former, in what follows I try to make the case for the latter.

Naturalism and Monotheism

The basic argument of AfterNature, as well as many of Purdy’s essays over the last decade, can be summarized in three parts. First, we have entered the age of the Anthropocene, in which there is no longer any aspect of nature that has not been changed by human action and when, therefore, we are forced to recognize the collapse of the old nature/culture divide and that “discussions about ‘nature’ have always been less a description of the natural world than means for humans to talk to and about other humans.”[9] Second, this means we will need to give up on “naturalism,” the idea that there is a singular logic of nature that could provide moral guidance about how we should live with each other or with it.[10] Third, in the absence of such naturalism, answers to those questions must now be political, and, in histories like the one Purdy tells, we can see that they always have been so. “The Long Environmental Justice Movement,” the closing chapter of This Land Is Our Land, shows what this politics might look like when it is thoroughly democratic.

The critique of naturalism is in part simply the logical conclusion of the Anthropocene condition. “If human action is part of what creates the world, how can the character of the world guide human action?”[11] But Purdy doesn’t say the Anthropocene creates this condition. He says it ought to force the recognition that talk about nature has alwaysbeen tangled up with human projects and imagination. Anecdotal evidence is simply the variety of human practices for which nature has been employed as authority. At one extreme, the Athenians cite nature as authority for their conquest of Melos and social Darwinians cite evolution to justify unbridled capitalism. At the other, Peter Kropotkin and contemporary environmentalists claim that mutuality and cooperation are the deep truths of nature that should guide any social philosophy. So with hierarchy and egalitarianism; heteronormativity and queerness; slavery and freedom.

If we leave it at this, it sounds like Howe is right. Religion is left out. To claim, as I did, that religion is banished in Purdy is to add that for Purdy naturalism is a product of religion or, at least, of monotheism. Here is how he put it in a 2013 lecture:

The idea of nature as a whole having a point of view or a meaning or a purpose that speaks in any direct way, certainly in any complete way, to the question of how we ought to live with respect to one another or even what we ought to do with nature is an idea that is only available if you are a monotheist. It’s only available if you are committed to the thought that the world is the product of a mind and a mind that in some form, in some way, we can understand as speaking the questions we have.[12]

Note what Purdy is notsaying. He is not content simply to point to the flexible and contrary uses of nature and allow that alone to generate skepticism about naturalism. Nor is he making the now commonplace argument that Christianity has a harmful understanding of nature. He is not saying that, for example, the Genesis 1 command to “subdue and have dominion” or Christianity’s frequent tendency to embrace a hierarchical dualism of spirit and matter, means that Christianity’s view of nature is intrinsically bad for environmentalists. As a historian, he is aware that any religion is a rich and complex thing and can contain, and has contained, multiple understandings of nature.

Purdy’s question is prior to the question, What is the view of Christianity or religion toward the natural world?

The question I want to address concerns a distinction between all religious views of the natural world and an alternative. The alternative is the idea that the very thought there is such a thing as a logic of nature, a purpose to nature, an order of nature that can teach us something about how we ought to live together and how we ought to treat the natural world is mistaken and misleading.

In the Utah lecture he quickly adds, “I’m willing to be talked out of that. . . . I look forward to being challenged on that point.” So, is he right?

I lack the capacity to evaluate the entirety of the 2500-year story Purdy elaborates of, on one hand, a tradition of monotheist naturalism stretching from Plato to Emerson to the Sierra Club and, on the other, a counter-tradition of atheist anti-naturalism stretching from Epicurus through Hobbes and on to John Stuart Mill.[13] But I do think the story is more complicated and far more interesting than Purdy is aware. First, Purdy could easily expand his anti-naturalist counter-tradition to include, at its beginning, the Hebrew Bible and, at its end, Karl Barth. Second, he could expand his naturalist tradition to include a great many atheist physicalists. Both points would make his story much more interesting (not to mention accurate), but would require that he give up his convictions about monotheism and be clearer about what kind of physicalist he is. The point is not to mount a defense of monotheism but to add some biodiversity to Purdy’s historiography—and to invite him to join in a far more interesting 21st-century conversation about theology than the one he is currently in.

The Accidental Barthian

It is certainly true that eco-theology’s overriding agenda since Lynn White has been to elaborate a version of naturalism. Most of that work has been dedicated to the appropriation of ecology as foundational to a communal, cooperative environmental ethics.[14] In this work ecology names a complex but discernible system of harmonious relationships among inextricably interdependent creatures. Environmental degradation happens when humans fail to recognize that they too are just another part of that system. When humans choose anthropocentrism over biocentrism, they choose (unnatural) individualism and competition over (natural) community and cooperation.   Essential to this argument is that “the ecological ethic that corresponds with this model is understood to be consistent in important ways with Christianity’s ethic of love and care for the neighbor—particularly the neighbor who is suffering, oppressed, and in need, as our ‘natural’ neighbors appear to be.”[15] A conventional, if very general, conception of Christian ethics, in other words, is shown to be part of the order of nature.

So, while Purdy’s modern examples are largely 17th-century English natural theologians, the last fifty years of eco-theology emphatically reinforce his claim. Yet there remain good reasons to be hesitant. Just as the richness and complexity of a religious tradition means it will have competing naturalisms, so it will also have competing accounts of whether there ought to be any at all. Purdy is well aware of the former but less so of the latter. Instead of saying that Christianity or monotheism is committed to naturalism, it is historically more accurate to say that it is embedded in a millennia-long argument about the status of naturalism.

Christine Hayes traces this back to the confrontation between competing Hebrew and Greek conceptions of divine law.[16] Ancient Greco- Roman accounts of divine law identified it with natural law. The divine law was rooted in the order of the cosmos and, as such, was very much what Purdy is calling an “order of nature.”[17] But in the Old Testament, divine law was revealed law. Its authority came from the will of the legislator, not the order of creation, and in the cases when the gap between the divine law and the order of creation is collapsed, it is only because something about the order of creation has been revealed not by human reason but by divine revelation.[18] It is worth pointing out that Jerusalem, and hence both the Israelite monarchy and Temple cult, are conspicuously absent from Genesis 1 and 2. That is, these origin myths make no attempt to do what Purdy’s natural theologians do, namely tie the monarchy or the religion into the nature of things.

Hayes’s point is not to assert and maintain a Hebraic/Hellenist dualism on these grounds. For her, this dualism is only the beginning. She thinks it is still with us, present in both Judaism and Christianity (often caricatured as Catholic Thomists versus Protestant Barthians), and in modern legal theory.[19] But the real burden of her book is a history of how this dualism was variously reinforced and challenged, undermined and reframed, already in competing strands of the OT and Second Temple literature and later in both Paul and the Talmud. As such, it doesn’t just challenge Purdy’s account of the relationship between monotheism and naturalism. Her careful tracing of the twists and turns of her dualism also models a way of writing a grand narrative that stands in instructive contrast to the rigidity of Purdy’s storytelling.

Karl Barth was arguably the greatest of 20th-century theologians and arguably most famous, or infamous, for the viciousness of his attack on natural theology.[20]  That attack first took the form of a pamphlet written in response to his old friend, Emil Brunner, just a few months after he drafted the Barmen Declaration (1934). Article 1 of Barmen said, “We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.”[21] Here those rejected sources are Hitler and National Socialism. In the reply to Brunner, the rejected source was nature. For Barth they amounted to the same thing and came together in a “German nature- and history myth” of blood and soil. The same identification remains when Barth rejects Brunner and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “orders of creation” (work, family, gender, state, nation, tribe) because they grant these orders knowability and autonomy outside the revelation in Christ and therefore produce not an ethic of radical discipleship but “North German patriarchalism”[22] instead.

We see a striking convergence between Barth and Purdy both in their contempt for naturalism and in their reasons for it, primarily its use to undergird political formations but also in the way it produces fear.[23] While I admire Barth, my intention is not to defend his position on natural theology[24] but to raise the possibility of a thoroughly monotheist anti-naturalism.

The Accidental New Atheist

I came to Purdy late, discovering him not in his first and most famous book, ForCommonThings, but in the pages of N+1, where in 2014 he published an extraordinary essay called “The Accidental Neoliberal.” That piece, as I read it, was a confession for an entire generation’s, my generation’s, failure of political imagination as well as a record of his penance.[25] Later, I came to know him as an interpreter of the November 2016 US elections. Purdy seemed to me then and now the surest guide to understanding the significance of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.[26] Coming across those essays over the course of 2016 enabled me to clear my head by elaborating arguments that I knew to be true but was having trouble articulating: that the rise of Trump didn’t teach us something about an excess of democracy but about its lack, and that hopefulness about the possibility of a socialist future for the US can come because of, not in spite of, a darkly pessimistic understanding of its present. So I think of Purdy first and foremost not as a scholar and historian of environmental law but as a theorist of democracy. I could call him prophetic, but in those days I treated him as more like a pastor. Those essays functioned for me as sorely needed sermonic exhortations to keep the faith, to resist the temptation, common in November 2016, to believe that Trump meant liberalism, not democracy, was the best the resistance could hope for.

I came to AfterNaturewhile preparing for an upper-level seminar in eco-theology in the Spring semester of 2017, and found in it a model of how to treat competing environmentalisms with generosity and a warning about how any position was prone to use nature in order to skirt the necessity of the democratic negotiation of claims about nature and to displace our responsibility for our convictions onto nature. This latter claim still seems to me to be the beating heart of Purdy’s work. But, perhaps because I was reading it in the wake of November 2016, I missed how that claim is one piece of a wider argument that is as much anti-naturalist as it is pro-democracy.

Let me back up a couple of steps. Purdy appears to have four distinct, if interrelated, problems with naturalism. The first is the Anthropocene argument. Because we have entered an age when every corner of nature has been transformed by human activity, it doesn’t make much sense to turn to nature as an independent guide to human activity. Purdy calls this the Anthropocene Condition. The second is what I will call the postmodernist argument, as advanced in William Cronon’s UncommonGround.[27] There has never been, not even before the Anthropocene, a natural nature, only “cultural constructions that reflect human judgments, human values, human choices.”[28] Sometimes Purdy calls this the Anthropocene Insight. The third is the anti-reductionist argument, which doesn’t require the collapse of the nature/culture distinction in the same way as the other two. Instead, the problem is that naturalism reduces the astonishing variety and complexity of nature to a singular over-arching principle. It manufactures unity out of diversity. Fourth is the democratic argument:

Each form of American environmental imagination has called on the natural world to underwrite, to “naturalize,” one version of politics while excluding others from the debate…. Each version has evaded politics, tried to shut down imagination and mobilization, by claiming that certain collective questions must be decided by nature, not by human judgment.[29]

I mostly agree with these arguments. My affection for Purdy and my abiding debt to AfterNatureand Ths Land Is Our Land is precisely because of my agreement. What confuses me is that we seem to agree for opposing reasons. While Purdy associates these arguments with a challenge to naturalism and with a philosophical tradition of monotheism, I associate them with a challenge to positivism, a philosophical tradition that claims the only truths are scientific truths and is therefore committed to caging not just theology but the humanities in general on one side of a fact/value dichotomy made possible by a fundamental misconstrual of mind and world.[30] Importantly, it is acutely vulnerable to the latter three of these criticisms. It cannot accept that there are no natural natures, is inclined toward reductionism, and wishes to evade politics in exactly the way Purdy decries.

Take, for example, “Consilience.” E.O. Wilson’s dream of ending the fragmentation of the disciplines in a unified theory of knowledge grounded in evolutionary biology is naturalism on steroids. Sam Harris’s TheMoralLandscapepresents a logic of nature that is similarly totalitarian in scope and ambition. Purdy thinks that “The idea that nature is morally instructive in any straightforward way is nearly impossible to maintain unless one starts by assuming that the world was created by a benign and omnipotent God with unified moral purpose.” But Harris subtitles his book “How Science Can DetermineHuman Values” (my italics) and finds utilitarianism to be written into the logic of nature. Steven Pinker, too, ends his Enlightenment Nowwith an attempt to naturalize utilitarianism.[31]

This desire for naturalization is not confined to these sorts of vulgar physicalists. Even Romand Coles, who could never be confused with Harris or Pinker, has found himself tempted to naturalize democracy. Early in his latest book, Coles voices a worry shared by many of us that in face of the enormous powers wielded in defense of inequality, domination, and exclusion, we have to ask “does this mean that radical and receptive democracy is merely an illusion,” an ideological smokescreen concealing our entanglement in systems of power in which freedom is no longer a possibility? Are we “not trapped in ways that are nearly ontological?” In order to respond in the negative, Coles turns to neuroscience, announcing that “these challenges need not lead us to despair. Instead, I venture here that recent work on mirror neurons helps illuminate the character of our capacities for a politics of resonant receptivity in ways that suggest indispensable possibilities for ethical and strategic modes for organizing a powerful radical democratic movement.” [32]

My point is not to criticize Coles’s turn to neuroscience, nor to pile up more counter-examples to Purdy’s dualism. Instead, it is to suggest that perhaps Purdy is right that there is some kind of ur-source for naturalism, even if he is wrong that it is monotheism. Purdy suggests one possibility: the temptation to think that certain questions must be decided by something other than human judgment. That temptation, often born of despair and fear, can overcome anyone, not just monotheists, and it can be filled by science just as easily as God. Despite his curious inability to recognize that, Purdy remains among the best guides we have for courage in facing such fear and hope in resisting such despair.

PeterDulais Professor of Religion and Culture at Eastern Mennonite UniversityinHarrisonburg,Virginia.

[1] Purdy turns to this moment in Rawls in AfterNature:A Politics for the Anthropocene (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015), 208, and ends ThisLandIsOurLand:TheStrugglefora New Commonwealth (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2019), 141, with it.

[2] Lawrence Tribe, “Ways Not to Think about Plastic Trees,” YaleLawJournal83, no. 7 (June 1974): 1345-46.

[3] See Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand, 107.

[4] Nicolas Howe, LandscapesoftheSecular:Law, Religion,andAmericanSacredSpace(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016), 121.

[5] Ibid., 147.

[6] Jedediah Purdy, “Our Place in the World,” DukeLaw Journal62, no. 4 (January 2014): 870.

[7] Ibid., 861.

[8] Though he does note the frequent environmentalist claim that “Ecology…had better become something like a religion.”—“Our Place in the World,” 869.

[9] Jedediah Purdy, “Coming into the Anthropocene,” Harvard Law Review 129, no. 6 (April 2016): 1637.

[10] “Naturalism” as I use it in this essay is shorthand for this specific claim about the relationship of nature and ethics. This is potentially confusing, because naturalism is more commonly used in philosophy as a synonym for physicalism or materialism and argues that “the image of the world provided by the natural sciences is all the world there is.” To avoid confusion, I will call this latter philosophical use physicalism. The challenge for physicalism is how it can adequately account for things with no counterparts in the natural sciences—meanings, reasons, values—and what epistemic status it can accord to the humanities.

Philosophers’ responses to this problem can be divided into positivist and pragmatist physicalisms. Positivists claim that the natural sciences provide the only genuine source of knowledge and that all other disciplines “are either illegitimate or are reducible in principle to scientific knowledge or understanding.” (The two quotations are from Mario de Caro and David Macarthur’s introduction to their NaturalismandNormativity(New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2010).) This reductionism forces positivists to be dogmatically anti-religion and to be naturalists in Purdy’s sense because they think morality is reducible in just this way.

Pragmatists find positivists to be unnecessarily fundamentalist and reductionist. Some, like John McDowell and Alice Crary, contend that objective and subjective are not in a zero- sum relationship. Others argue that the results of science are largely irrelevant to morality and so create space for other discourses (sometimes including theology). See Robert Pippin’s response to McDowell, “Leaving Nature Behind: Two Cheers for ‘Subjectivism,’” in Nicholas Smith, ed., ReadingMcDowell:On Mind and World (London: Routledge, 2005), 58-75, and his “Natural and Normative,” Daedalus (Summer 2009), 35-43. See also Nicholas Lash’s remarks on “Christian Materialism” in A Matter of Hope: A Theologian Reflects on the Thought of Karl Marx (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 135-52.

[11] Purdy, “Coming into the Anthropocene,” 1638.

[12] “Religion, Faith, and the Environment,” 18th Annual Symposium, University of Utah, August 2, 2013. This claim gets worked out briefly in ThisLandIsOurLand, 69-72, in more detail in AfterNature, and extensively in the unpublished essay, “The Case Against Nature.” While he doesn’t cite any sources for this claim, William Cronon made it before him, footnoting Raymond Williams, but even in Williams it remains an assertion, not an argument. See Cronon, “Introduction: In Search of Nature,” in UncommonGround:TowardsReinventingNature(New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), 35 and Raymond Williams, Keywords:A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), 222.

[13] Purdy, “The Case Against Nature.” It remains unclear to me how Hobbes can be understood as not having a unitary account of nature, expressed as “red in tooth and claw.” And Emerson can only be included here if one stops with his first work, Nature. Stanley Cavell was right to say that “To begin with Natureis apt to grant Emerson a relation to philosophy as essentially (though doubtless not wholly) neo-Platonic…. I am at present among those who find Nature… to not yet constitute the Emersonian philosophical voice, but to be the place from which, in the several following years, that voice departs.”—Stanley Cavell, This New Yet Unapproachable America (Albuquerque, NM: Living Batch Press, 1989), 79.

[14] See Lisa H. Sideris,EnvironmentalEthics,EcologicalTheology,andNaturalSelection(New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2003), 3: “There is a tendency, especially among some Christian environmentalists, to invoke a model of nature as a harmonious, interconnected, and interdependent community…. Many environmentalists argue that nature presents us with a model and this model has normative import for all our relationships….” Her examples include Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sallie McFague, Michael Northcott, and John Cobb.

[15] Sideris, EnvironmentalEthics, 3.

[16] Christine Hayes, WhatsDivineaboutDivineLaw?:EarlyPerspectives(Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015).

[17] Purdy’s description of natural law in Plato and Cicero is consistent with Hayes’s description. See Purdy, “The Case Against Nature,” 1-2.

[18] See Ben C. Ollenburger, “Isaiah’s Creation Theology,” Ex Auditu 3 (1987): 54-71.

[19] Hayes says her book is written in “the firm conviction that the Western conversation about the nature of law and law’s claims upon us has been unable or unwilling to escape the consequential paradigms generated by that confrontation [between the radically diverse conceptions of divine law in ancient Israel and ancient Greece].”—Whats Divine about Divine Law, 1

[20] Willis Jenkins is the best guide to questions of Barth’s eco-theology. See his EcologiesofGrace(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), 153-87, and “Karl Barth and Environmental Theology,” in Paul Jones and Paul Nimmo, eds., OxfordHandbookofKarlBarth(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2019), 594-608.

[21] See Karl Barth, ChurchDogmaticsII/1, trans. T.H.L. Parker, et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), 172-78 for his account of the relationship between natural theology, Barmen, and the rise of Hitler.

[22] ChurchDogmaticsIII/4, trans. A.T. Mackay, et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961), 22. Barth’s reliance on scripture in contrast to nature did not prevent him from reproducing his own egregious forms of “North German patriarchalism,” especially when it came to gender. Scripture, as much as nature, needs its own Anthropocene insight. Also, I do not endorse the way Barth identifies Brunner (or Schleiermacher) with National Socialism.

[23] For Purdy’s remarks on fear, nature, and God, see ThisLandIsOurLand, 69-72. For Barth’s, see Church DogmaticsIII/1, trans. J. W. Edwards, et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958), 169.

[24] Barth’s position on natural theology mellowed as he grew older, as evidenced by the section on “Secular Parables of the Truth” in DogmaticsIV/3 and by his late letter to a friend of Brunner: “If I were more active after my two-year illness I would take the next train to press Emil Brunner’s hand again. If he is still alive and it is possible, tell him I commend him to our God. And tell him the time when I thought I should say No to him is long since past, and we all live only by the fact that a great and merciful God speaks his gracious Yes to all of us.” Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., KarlBarth:Letters(Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1981).

[25] Jedediah Purdy, N+1 19 (Spring 2014), 15-23.

[26] Jedediah Purdy, “Against the Political Grown-Up,” Dissent, February 6, 2016; “A World to Make: Eleven Theses for the Bernie Sanders Generation,” Dissent, April 21, 2016; “What Trump’s Rise Means for Democracy,” Dissent, May 4, 2016; “America’s New Opposition,” TheNew Republic, February 1, 2017; “What I Had Lost Was a Country,” N+1 December 20, 2016,

[27] Especially  in  Cronon’s  “Introduction:  In  Search  of  Nature,”  and  “The  Trouble  with Wilderness; Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.”

[28] Cronon, UncommonGround, 34.

[29] Purdy, AfterNature, 31. Arguments about proper behavior in the coronavirus pandemic illustrate this evasion. We have been unable to say both that social distancing and masks are necessary and that such a decision is not simply scientific but political. Like climate change, this conflict has been painted as one between those willing to listen to the scientists and those turning it into a political issue, instead of competing political judgments.

[30] See n. 10.

[31] Steven Pinker, EnlightenmentNow:TheCase for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York: Penguin, 2019), 416-19. It is no accident that both Harris and Pinker settle on utilitarianism. Purdy observes that “questions that masquerade as technical are really ethical and political” (AfterNature, 264). Utilitarianism transforms moral questions into technical questions.

[32] Romand Coles, VisionaryPragmatism:RadicalandEcologicalDemocracyinNeoliberalTimes (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2016), 35, 36.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Horizons, Political and Theological

Sarah Stewart-Kroeker
ABSTRACT: This article asserts that Jedediah Purdy offers a political ecology” with a commonwealth as an imaginative horizon, and uncovers resonances between his view and the authors own proposal based on wounded bodies/ecologies and an image of the resurrection. The author links arguments that she and Purdy make about horizons and practices, whether for a commonwealth or an eschatology.

In Jedediah Purdy’s rendering in This Land IsOur Land, world-making and world-breaking intersect with a politics that is material in how it structures human lives in a built environment. For Purdy, this built environment is both infrastructural and technospheric. He defines the technosphere as “the material habitat that humans have created for themselves in the form of roads, cities, rural housing, the active soil in cropland, and so forth.”[1] For Purdy, “only politics can deliberately change the architecture of shared life, change the rules and the built world that humans live in and live by.”[2] The architecture of our current political world tears down mountaintops and poisons streams, just as it connects us to each other via technologies that spread globally on an invisible network which consumes massive amounts of energy and depends on extractions from the earth as damaging as the mineshafts that serve a dying coal economy.


I want to suggest that, although Purdy does not use this term, what he offers us can be understood as a “political ecology”: a linking of politics and ecology that hinges on the political-ecological implications of how humans inhabit the land in a deeply material sense, an inhabiting deeply involved in an imagined homeland. Purdy’s political ecology accounts for the ways many bodies, different kinds of bodies—water and rock and flesh and bone—are reciprocally embedded in ecological relationships. These relationships both construct a politics and are constituted by a politics; the ecological is the political and vice versa. I take Purdy’s political vocabulary to be broad: that is, he does not restrict “politics” to civic and governmental institutions and procedures but applies it to the quality of the relationships between people who are necessarily joined in certain ways by shared dwelling places.

Purdy’s book tracks between two registers: between landscapes and dreams, the material and the ideal, physical bodies and political bodies. He announces this intersection at the outset: “No story or picture of the world matters much if it floats too far from what people do with one another’s bodies and with soil and weapons and other tools; but also and by the same token, no material change in power will go forward without ideas and images that give it shape and a horizon to aim for.”[3] For Purdy, the idea or image of a commonwealth functions as just such a horizon. Another way of putting this is to say that practices and pictures, images, plays and dramas, shape our moral, political, and ecological imaginations.

Imagination plays an important role in any kind of intentional moral or political transformation: one can only move toward an unrealized aim or state of affairs if one can envision it in some way, even if only partially and incompletely. Images (photographs, dreams, visions, metaphors) and narratives (stories, dramas, myths) shape such visions. Purdy understands his recurring dreams of landscapes as expressing “a way to get above a terrain without leaving it, to merge many small horizons into one image. These dreams sketch a geography of thinking, a way of seeing a place whole without being overcome by it.”[4]

As my own work focuses on “moral aesthetics” in a theological key, this point about the interaction between practices (“what people do with one another’s bodies and with soil and weapons and other tools”) and images/ ideas/horizons particularly interests me. As Purdy shows, these bodies— animal, vegetal, mineral—interact, and by those interactions they may flourish or sicken and die. And the ways human actors in these ecologies specifically devise images and structures to represent and govern this shared life are frameworks that significantly constitute whether those interactions lead to flourishing or malady. Indeed, the ways we pictureand dramatizethe ecological relations in which we are embedded are politically as well as ethically and aesthetically significant. Purdy writes, “Democratic politics can survive not as a morality play, but only as a project.”[5] Certainly, naïve moralism, which often deploys its logic in the form of good-versus-evil dramas, will not serve a democratic politics capacious enough to account for the complex encounters and interrelations that characterize “the architecture of shared life.”[6] The change to “the rules and the built world” that is needed in this landscape of bodies and identities requires attention to the terms of coexistence rather than simplistic contrasts between conflicting interests.[7] If we set aside morality plays for what I call “moral aesthetics,” however, then this might open up resonances between Purdy’s structure (“what people do with one another’s bodies and with soil and weapons and other tools” and images/ideas like a commonwealth) and the one I will propose between how we regard wounded bodies/ecologies and an image of the resurrection. That is, it might open up the resonances between the links Purdy and I respectively make between practices (“what people do”) and the imaginative horizons that orient them (whether the idea of a commonwealth or an eschatology).


In Christian theology, eschatology is an important site of transformed imagination that can perform a “merging” function (to pick up on Purdy’s account of his dreams as “a way to get above a terrain without leaving it, to merge many small horizons into one image”[8]). It can perform this function to the extent it gathers up all created temporal things into an integral image beyond time. One of the more obvious paths to connect eschatology to ecological imagination is Revelation’s restored creation, the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21:1). This is an attractive vision, and I don’t intend to displace its significance in the panoply of eschatological images (I note that what this newness indicates is open to interpretation). At the same time, I think it needs to take its place among other images, to hold the risks of escapism at bay. The aim of our moral and eschatological imagination cannot be, as Purdy writes at one point, to offer an “escape from history and social life into a greenwood idyll” but to see “in a landscape the nonhuman body of the species, in which the history of economic and political life is written as vividly as in laws.”[9] Our landscapes are not whole, they are polluted and stripped. They are wounded by this history of human habitation. One way of seeing this history written on a landscape is to attend to the wounds inscribed on it by the ways it has been inhabited. In this line, then, I want to consider the Christological body: a wounded body and one which, if we consider in its cosmological dimensions, merges human and nonhuman creatureliness and refuses to efface the history of injury even in resurrected, eschatological form.[10]

Recently, a number of theologians have taken up a line of Christological inquiry that can be loosely gathered under the term “deep incarnation.”[11] While the term is new, the roots of this line of thinking may be traced back to early Christian writers. Deep incarnation names the idea that in entering the created world, the Word (through which the world is spoken into its created form) then becomes flesh, takes on created form. As John 1 affirms, Christ’s incarnation is not just an assumption of humanity but of materiality in the broadest possible sense. Elizabeth Johnson puts it this way: “While sarx[flesh] in a strict biological sense may point to soft animal tissue of muscle and fat interlaced with blood vessels and nerves, that flesh itself evolved from and exists in continuing interrelationship with other nonmuscular, nonbloody living beings and the physical world itself. In a deeply real sense, the meaning of flesh/sarx encompasses all matter.”[12] The incarnate flesh of Christ was “a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. The atoms comprising his body were once part of other creatures.”[13] As a result, “The sarxof John 1:14 thus reaches beyond the person of Jesus and beyond all other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed. In this perspective, the flesh that the Word/Wisdom of God became is part of the vast body of the cosmos.”[14]

This incarnational point is important for the eschatological one, for the body incarnate is the body resurrected, so what is assumed in the incarnation is raised as well. If all of creaturely existence is touched by the incarnation, bound up in this web of interdependent materiality, then the “merging” of many bodies into a single, imagined horizon can be encapsulated in this movement from creation to incarnation to resurrection.

Christ’s resurrected body retains the marks of the wounds suffered in his earthly life. The theological symbolics of these wounds merge life and death, injury and healing. Christ dies with his feet and hands punctured by the nails holding his body to the wooden cross, but also with his side pierced by a spear. The wound in his side from which the blood and water rushes has been read as a vaginal image[15]—both menstrual and natal, fatal but not final, for this punctured body rises with its wounds. The wounds on Christ’s resurrected body are visible and penetrable to doubting fingers. They are a rent in a body open to sight and touch, a mark as well as an aperture into a new form of life.

In a deep incarnational perspective, we may already see Christ’s wounded body in continuity and solidarity with all of the wounded bodies of the world. But what of these many bodies? What place is there for their wounds in an eschatological imaginary? One way of assigning a coalescing significance to Christ’s wounds would be to see them as representative of all wounded bodies, such that no wounds but his would be preserved in the eschaton. But I want to suggest that Christ’s wounds do not replace other wounds.

I want to use a suggestive passage from Augustine’s CityofGodto extend the claim from Christ’s wounded resurrected body to all such bodies, human and nonhuman alike. In the final book of CityofGod, a long reflection on the resurrection, Augustine writes that although in the resurrection all deformity will be removed,

[W]e feel such extraordinary affection for the blessed martyrs that in the kingdom of God we want to see on their bodies the scars of the wounds which they suffered for Christ’s name; and see them perhaps we shall. For in those wounds there will be no deformity, but only dignity, and the beauty of their valour will shine out, a beauty in the body and yet not of the body.[16]

This passage invites a range of possible reflections about the nature of deformity, dignity, and beauty, but my focus here is that Augustine extends the signifying function of wounds from Christ to the martyrs.[17] In so doing, he (inadvertently, perhaps) opens up a radical line of theological possibility. If in some sense all material bodies suffer in Christ—as I think one can claim if one traces the line of continuity between the Word that speaks in acts of creative formation, the Word become flesh that suffers and dies and rises again—then all wounds and injuries to these bodies share in the significance involved in retaining them in the resurrection.

For eschatology not to be an escape, a way of fleeing or denying the injuries of this world to an untouched idyll, it must not efface earthly wounds. An eschatological image of wounded resurrected material bodies of all kinds prohibits a dream of eternal flight from the ecological damage wreaked on the earth in time. Eschatological images may force a reckoning with the theological significance of the injuries we inflict on our own bodies and on other bodies now: just as Christ’s resurrected body bears the memory of the violence done to his body, so too the histories of human violence on bodies of rock and soil and water and all the creatures whose lives depend on those bodies.

This is a theological path toward “new kinds of solidarity, new ways to feel that your good life is part of my good life, and an injury to you is an injury to me.”[18] It is a path that takes seriously the kinds of images and ideas that shape imaginative horizons without floating too far from questions about what “people do with one another’s bodies and with soil and weapons and other tools.”[19] Such imaginative horizons must value the integral ecosystems on which our earthly lives depend in order to inflect moral ecologies that conduce to flourishing.

All too often we understand harm and responsibility in dyadic terms: victim and wrongdoer. Even relative to environmental harms, difficulties accrue to attributing responsibility for “corporate wrongs” in both senses (harms done by corporations and harms done by a group of people). Corporate harms trouble conventional ethical and legal structures for attributing responsibility that tend to function more easily when they apply individually (and thus dyadically) than corporately (and thus ecologically). There are cases in which corporations have been held responsible for environmental damage (BP in the case  of  the  Deepwater  Horizon  oil spill is a major recent example). But such examples are too few, given the scale of ecological damage at issue, and these examples depend on clear, attributable violations of established safety procedures or environmental regulations (which, such as they are, are being gutted under the current Trump administration).  How does  one attribute  responsibility, even  for discrete actors and actions, in the vast interlocking systems of production and consumption wreaking ecological and climatic harm in myriad ways and on multiple scales (from local to global), which do not in themselves contravene any existing regulation or international legal convention? This is part of the difficulty Purdy points to in facing planetary problems without any kind of global international structure to do so—hence the proposal to think in terms of commonwealths (plural).


Purdy’s proposal to think plurally on this point is a good one, but between his descriptions of material harms that ripple out along interlocking threads of ecological relationships and the aspirational ideal of political commonwealths capable of building new forms of solidarity there is a missing or underdeveloped piece: one that I identify in terms of political formation. It would have been helpful if Purdy had spelled out more concretely how we should go about creating such commonwealths and actively forming political movements that accomplish the solidarities to which we should aspire. He offers effective descriptions of damaged landscapes and the people and other creatures who inhabit them, and a vision of a commonwealth that is rather a hazy horizon. What are the practical mechanisms and processes of political organizing?

This is a question I ask without having an easy or developed answer myself. In a sense, I am proposing that the eschatological horizon I have evoked relates to a Christian moral-aesthetic ecology in a similar way that Purdy’s commonwealth relates to his political ecology. In both cases, a central question is how the vision is or might be formatively linked to the kinds of people and practices it shapes. The (eschatological) horizon I have been evoking is a different order, so too the kinds of formation it effects, and the elaboration of how it functions formatively exceeds the scope of this essay.[20] But certainly one aspect of forming ecological movements that act out of a sense of solidarity that is present in Purdy’s book, and that interests me with regard to an eco-theological horizon, involves habits of ecological perceptiveness: being able to perceive the kinds of harms that attend ecosystems at various scales requires practices that habituate us to see and attend to the ways in which “your good life is part of my good life, and an injury to you is an injury to me.”[21] To see how our flourishing and our suffering are bound up in such ecosystems, and in which the “your” and “my” addresses not just other humans but the whole range of material bodies involved, requires us to practice such forms of attention.

Purdy himself offers a range of such examples in his illustrative descriptions, but expanding perceptiveness requires a broad diet. To name only two: Dorceta Taylor’s ToxicCommunitiesreveals in excruciating detail how environmental damage is inscribed into racially discriminatory zoning laws,[22] while Rob Nixon’s SlowViolencedescribes the ecologically damaging legacy of weapons deployed in the Iraq war (among other examples).[23] To think about goods and harms in moral-political ecological terms requires seeing the ecologies at play and ourselves as embedded participants in them. Such perceptiveness is both material and imaginative: we need to perceive the material ecological relations on which we depend and within which we act, and to picture them and to imagine how we might desire to see them. Do we desire to see ourselves in flourishing webs of interdependent ecosystemic and ecological relations? That in and of itself may take some habituation. At this point, at least in North America and Europe, a vision of these goods is not sufficiently material or sufficiently inculcated in our habits of perceptiveness. But, further, if we do want to be able to see and imagine ourselves in flourishing ecosystems, we must also be able to perceive the ways we are implicated in suffering webs of ecosystemic relations, in which the political, moral, and biological ecologies are disrupted and faltering. There is no perceiving the mutually imbricated “good life” without perceiving the mutually imbricated injuries to which such mutual interdependence makes us vulnerable.

Similarly, there is no vision of resurrection without a vision of the wounded (crucified) body, but significantly, these mergein the image of the wounded resurrected body. Resurrection is not just a passage from mutilation and death to spotless glory. It speaks to a longing for healing, wholeness, and restoration. And at the same time, the wounded resurrected body reveals that the “good life” Christ promises will not allow us to forget, pass by, or flee from the violence and suffering of the world. Such an image incites us to work for healing and wholeness in the present, to attend to suffering and harm, and not to dream of an afterlife unmarked by what we do or fail to do in this life.

For Augustine, the desire to see the martyrs’ wounds responds to a beauty he attributes to their willingness to suffer loss for love of Christ. While there are environmental martyrs who require our attention if one is going to evoke sacrificial injury in the struggle for justice, Purdy rightly discards “sainthood” as a general standard for civic life.[24] My point here, though, is not about martyrdom as such but about the possibility of imaging wounded bodies in their mutual imbrication. Not only martyrological wounding in the strict sense but all wounding may be understood as continuous with Christ’s wounding and thus takes its place in an eschatological vision of resurrected wounded bodies. An eschatological imagination shaped by the enduring marks of earthly injuries forbids fantasies of rapture, flight to idylls untouched by what we do here and now, even as it also pictures the healing of those injuries.


Purdy’s primary image for  fostering corporate habits  of perceptiveness and action is the commonwealth. Mine is a body made up of many bodies, human bodies and nonhuman bodies. In theological terms, one might call it a totusChristusimage. One may long and hope for healing without denying the wounds and injuries we inflict and suffer. Such a horizon, I suggest, is a small imaginative step towards a Christian moral aesthetics that may shape political and environmental solidarity in the face of destruction.

SarahStewart-Kroekeris the Jacques de Senarclens Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

[1] Jedediah Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand:TheStrugglefora New Commonwealth (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2019), 21-22.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 68.

[5] Ibid., 20.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 68.

[9] Ibid., 65-66.

[10] This is the central argument of my current book project, La terre martyre, which I also sketch in “Penser le beau dans un monde bouleversé,” Revue de théologie et de philosophie 150 (2018): 33-47.

[11] See Niels Henrik Gregersen, ed., Incarnation:On the Scope and Depth of Christology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015).

[12] Elizabeth  A.  Johnson,  “Jesus  and  the  Cosmos:  Soundings  in  Deep  Christology,”  in

Incarnation:On the Scope and Depth of Christology, 133-56, 137-38.

[13] Ibid., 138.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Janet Martin Soskice, “Blood and Defilement,” in Feminism & Theology, ed. Janet Martin Soskice and Diana Lipton (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003), 333-43.

[16] Augustine, CityofGodXXII.19, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 1061-62.

[17] I elaborate on this point in “Love of and for the Martyrs: Resurrected Wounds and the ‘Order’ of Restoration,” Studia Patristica, forthcoming.

[18] Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand, 26.

[19] Ibid., 3.

[20] I offer an account of moral and aesthetic formation in an Augustinian framework oriented to an eschatological vision of the homeland, one that requires becoming a pilgrim, in Sarah Stewart-Kroeker, Pilgrimageas Moral and Aesthetic Formation in Augustine’s Thought (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2017). The project of describing the morally formative aesthetics of another eschatological image, wounded resurrected bodies that include the wounded nonhuman bodies, is the object of La terre martyre.

[21] Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand, 26.

[22] Dorceta E. Taylor, ToxicCommunities:EnvironmentalRacism,IndustrialPollution,andResidentialMobility(New York: New York Univ. Press, 2014).

[23] Rob Nixon, SlowViolenceandtheEnvironmentalismofthePoor(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2013).

[24] A point I elaborate in “Sacrifice in Environmental Ethics and Theology,” Journal of Religion (forthcoming). I would suggest, however, that martyrs, saints, or exemplars may play a role in shaping the horizon of a shared life—political, moral, or religious. Such figures may play a significant part in forming communities and the hopes and aims and values that guide them, even as they do not form a generalizable standard for what participation in such communities requires.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Concerning Cruelty, Clemency, and Commonwealths

Daniel Sims
ABSTRACT: This article sees Jedediah Purdys commonwealth as premised on Indigenous peoples and settlers learning to live in harmony, but as downplaying colonization and providing clemency to settlers. There is a snake in this vision of Eden: Purdy contends we only need to recognize what we have in common and work together, but Indigenous peoples refuse such recognition as an illegitimate demand.


In ThePrince, Nicolo Machiavelli advises a would-be prince that “above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.” Although written in the context of the Italian Renaissance, this advice clearly illustrates one of the key tensions between Indigenous peoples and settlers today. The latter took the patrimony of the former and, with a few notable exceptions, have not given any of it back. This situation is problematic because, as scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have pointed out, without concrete actions—like returning the land—discussions of a new relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples become a move to innocence on the part of the former.[1] It is this outcome that unfortunately mars Jedediah Purdy’s proposed commonwealth which, while providing a seemingly sustainable alternative to our current system, is premised not on settlers returning the land to Indigenous peoples but on Indigenous peoples and settlers learning to live in harmony on what is stolen land. In doing so it downplays the cruelty of colonization and provides clemency to the settler population, all in the name of protecting the environment. The end result is that validity of Purdy’s commonwealth is called into question.

Why  Can’t  We  Be  Friends?

ThisLandIsOurLandis a very American book.[2] It was written in the context of the Donald Trump presidency and deals with the rise in reactionary rhetoric aimed at challenging liberals, socialists, the left, political correctness, and environmentalism. It calls for a paradigm shift away from classical liberalism, neoliberalism, and partisanship. As Purdy notes, “we have made a world that overmasters us” (146). In place of the old world, he calls for “a world-renewing ecological commonwealth . . . that prizes the work of sustaining and renewing the human world” (148). He also calls for a return to civil discourse as well as the belief that hope and understanding can lead us out of the current situation (149). In this context the book makes perfect sense.

As someone who has spent his entire life in Canada, visiting the United States from time to time for personal and professional reasons, I find that watching what is happening there is much like watching my neighbors from my kitchen window. I can see what is going on, but I don’t always have the entire story behind it. However, it is not hard to see that public discourse in the US has become incredibly partisan, especially under the presidency of Trump. Prior to the novel coronavirus, how I viewed the plight of my southern neighbor fell somewhere on a spectrum between concerning and entertaining. How I miss those days! Now I often find myself wondering about the decline of civilizations. It appears that the US saw the outbreaks in China, Italy, and Spain and said, “Hold my beer.” Now my biggest concern is making sure its seemingly uncontrolled approach to a pandemic doesn’t take root in Canada. The attempted coup on January 6, 2021 did not make me feel any more confident about the future of the American republic. On its face it appears that a shift away from the individualism of classical liberalism, the sacrosanct perception of capitalism found in neoliberalism, and the rampant partisanship that renders every state policy and societal goal as either left or right would help prevent this outcome from occurring. In this context too, the book makes complete sense.

Nevertheless, ThisLandIsOurLandis not just a treatise directed an American audience. Liberalism, neoliberalism, and partisanship are not limited to the US, just as climate change does not stop at the border wall. Purdy’s commonwealth is a proposed solution to a system that dominates the very world it is destroying. As an Indigenous scholar, I would argue that it appears to do so without taking into account Indigenous perspectives on what needs to be done, and as such it is important that we address the khud[3] in the room.


In 1492, one hundred percent of the land now comprising the United States was owned by various Indigenous states. I am not the first to make such a statement. It is important that we make note of two words in it: “owned” and “states”. It is a myth that Indigenous peoples had no concept of land ownership, and to suggest otherwise is either to downplay the seizure of this land or to exemplify New Age idealism.[4] After all, it sounds better to say the land was taken from a group that merely occupied and used it, rather than to admit that it was seized from a group that owned the land and therefore might want it back. It is the difference between the tragedy of the commons and plain theft. Purdy seems aware of the fiction of an unowned land when he states that “the dominant American claim has always been that the place belonged only incidentally to the peoples who had been here for thousands of years” (xv). However, he does not wrestle with the handmaiden of this fantasy: that Indigenous states owned the land. This omission makes sense, since part of downplaying what happened to Indigenous peoples is the erasure of Indigenous statehood and sovereignty from the conversation altogether. It does not sound as bad when one states that the land was taken from people who, in addition to merely living on and using it, had not bothered organizing in any sort of political manner. Yet it happened, and today we are left to deal with the consequences.

Any way it is described, the US left Indigenous peoples with precious little of their homelands to hold onto. Today, roughly two percent is held in trust by the federal government for the survivors.[5] And although the Bureau of Indian Affairs claims a government-to-government relationship with the various tribal governments that exist,[6] and there is a rhetoric of tribes being domestic sovereign nations, the fact that this land is held in trust belies the reality that the relationship is not one of equal parties.

This current state of affairs is not unique to the US. In the settler state I live in, Canada, the federal government holds less than one percent of all lands for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis,[7] and there is little pretense that any of these Indigenous groups is sovereign. Yet in one aspect the US has proved quite exceptional: unlike most other settler states founded by the British Empire, the US currently seems more preoccupied with deciding if it should make itself great again than with paying lip service to reconciliation with Indigenous groups. Much to my disappointment, Purdy’s book seems to be just one more voice in this preoccupation.

Two percent is a stark number. Yet, because Indigenous peoples lost more than just their homeland to the US, it hides more than just “a world historical land grab.”[8] A failure to recognize this simple fact only further perpetuates  colonialism.  The  land  provided  material  resources to Indigenous peoples, and as a result along with taking the land went Indigenous economies, ways of life, and infrastructure that had existed in many instances for thousands of years. In the case of disease, both introduced (intentionally or not)[9] and endemic, the loss of land represented the loss of medicinal plants, animals, and minerals. Since many Indigenous knowledge systems were predicated on land-based learning, the loss of land disrupted Indigenous educational systems as well. The European style of education that the US was offering[10] was designed to take away Indigenous children both literally through forced removals and figuratively through assimilation. Indigenous peoples could resist, but more often than not this resistance was met, and continues to be met, with violence from American soldiers, law enforcement, and citizens. Violence was, and is, sometimes directed at Indigenous peoples for no other reason than being Indigenous. In this context, the Standing Rock protests in 2016-2017 over the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline were nothing new. One has to simply read through the comments online associated with the news of the McGirt case[11] to see how many settlers opposed the idea of giving anything back to Indigenous peoples regardless of how it was gained. Indeed, it is still too soon to completely understand what the repercussions of the US Supreme Court’s ruling that the reservations of the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” still exist are, although people are already declaring the death of the state of Oklahoma, if not the United States.


Perhaps it is this history that makes settlers feel uneasy about their relationship to the world and, to paraphrase Purdy, results in their search for a homeland.[12] Deep down they know what happened and are uncomfortable about it. The house is haunted because it was built on an Indian burial ground that their settler ancestors dug and used as the foundation. But what is to be done? How should North America deal with the sins of the past? And is it looking to show itself mercy and absolution?

One option is denial: simply deny that the colonization of North America was genocide or that it even happened. This outcome can be accomplished by effacing Indigenous histories and geographies until Indigenous peoples either are semi-mythic symbols of the past or of nature, or disappear altogether.[13] Commonly called “colonial erasure” in Indigenous studies, it highlights why so many educated non-Indigenous individuals are ignorant of Indigenous matters. As scholars such as historian Patrick Wolfe have noted, while the settler colonial relationship does not automatically equate to genocide per se, it does always include some sort of elimination.[14] In this instance it is knowledge that cannot be denied, although, as sociologist Andrew Woolford points out, the supposed line between non-physical forms of elimination and physical forms of elimination is not as clear as people often think it is.[15]

Denial can take many forms. Full repudiation is undoubtedly employed by some. It runs the risk, however, of being rendered ineffective if the contradicting information is so great that it shatters the suspension of disbelief, fights against popular discourse, or becomes the desired forbidden. History still recalls the 4th-century Greek arsonist Herostratus,[16] despite official attempts to render him anonymous. Full denial also suggests a binary between acceptance and denial that rarely exists. As numerous scholars have revealed, there is a far more effective intermediate zone in which one selectively remembers aspects of what happened and in doing so controls the larger narrative by deciding what is forgotten.[17] Nothing is denied per se; it is simply not talked about, and eventually the conversation moves on. Purdy acknowledges this form of denialism when he states that “denialism can stand for something broader: a refusal to see the things that tie us inconveniently together.”[18]

Two relatively recent high-profile examples of this purposeful nonacceptance of a connection are seen in two former British settler countries, Australia and Canada. In both, an apology was made in 2008 for the seizure of Indigenous children that was highly problematic. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology and a subsequent report avoided directly labeling the seizure of children deemed “not Indigenous enough” as genocide but instead focused on a bright new future of reconciliation.[19] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper avoided using words associated with colonialism when describing residential schools, and then later at a G20 conference claimed Canada had no history of colonialism.[20]

Whether or not he is aware of it, Purdy commits this intermediary form of denial when he deflects from dealing with the settler state and calls for decolonization by discussing inequality and how it intersects with race and racism. This deflection is best seen in Chapter Two: “Reckonings,” in which he examines the relationships between the environment, race, and class. In particular, he shows how one’s class affects the level of control one has over the environment (39) and yet how one’s relationship to the environment— Purdy notes the disposal of waste—shapes one’s class and race (42). In this sense, his commonwealth is a call for people from all classes and races to put aside the differences that divide them (45) and unify for the common good.

While in theory this call to action is good, it is maligned in the text by Purdy’s apparent focus on whiteness and the plight of economically disadvantaged Whites in general (45-46). As he notes, in some instances White  Americans  are  behind  other  groups  in  certain  metrics  (46). Furthermore, when one realizes that being White is all too often thought to be the norm and White Americans are not considered to have a race,[21] this focus on whiteness could be an example of “channel-switching”[22]—changing the focus to avoid talking about race and racism. And while it helps lead into Purdy’s third chapter about how Americans are losing their homeland, it also represents a double shift, first away from an examination of colonialism and then from a discussion of race and racism. How Purdy expects to build his commonwealth without first dealing with the current situation is perplexing. Regardless of how disadvantaged some White Americans may have become, one simply has to compare how protesters coded as White are treated in the US with protesters not coded as White, or protesting for causes coded as not White, to see that White privilege is alive and well. Whereas Black Lives Matter protesters were met the summer of 2020 with tear gas to allow for a president’s photo-op, when supporters of that president tried to stage a coup in the winter, certain Capitol police officers aided and abetted them, even while some of these supporters were killing these officers’ colleagues. A failure to deal with this hypocrisy, and in doing so snuff out White supremacy and settler colonialism in the US, would result in a new commonwealth that has more in common with the Commonwealth of Virginia during the Civil

War than with Purdy’s new ideal.


On page xiv of ThisLandIsOurLand, Purdy states that “the American commonwealth has been blocked again and again by division and exploitation.” It could be said that by speaking of Indigenous peoples and settlers I too am creating a binary and contributing to the forces preventing Purdy’s commonwealth from coming into existence. In a certain sense, this allegation is correct. However, I would argue that I am trying to prevent the perpetuation of a relationship that has existed in the US since contact. Indigenous peoples have too often been asked to give up something in the name of the common good. That Purdy’s commonwealth is more abstract than a hydroelectric dam does not make it categorically different. The same can be said about the environmental movement. The racism of many of its spiritual founders (e.g., James Madison, John Muir, and Gilbert Pinchot) may no longer be front and center, but to suggest—as Purdy seems to do in his fifth chapter—that this element has disappeared or become incidental in the movement is idealism at its best. Numerous scholars have pointed out how racist the contemporary environmental movement can be, especially with regard to paternalism, Eurocentrism, and perpetuation of the view that White people know better than other groups and need to save the world.[23]

It is therefore imperative that any changes to the movement, such as Purdy proposes, first address not only its colonial and racist past but also its colonial and racist present. In recent years it has been commonly said in Canada that truth must come before reconciliation. The same applies to Purdy’s commonwealth. While it may be true that we have created a world that could very well spell our doom, it is equally important that any new worlds we bring into being are not tainted by the old. Asking Indigenous peoples to share their stolen patrimony based on the rationale that it will be better for everyone is a fine example of a colonial mindset, as in the assertion that a pipeline will be good because it will create jobs for everyone and the profits can be used to build a better world.


A common question is, What needs to be done to rectify the colonial situation? Just as common is the Indigenous response: The land needs to be returned. For the most part, this solution has not been tried, and in the rare instances where it has been tried, far too many people have been concerned about what Indigenous peoples will do with the land and what this means for the future of the settler state. The McGirt case highlights this reality. In ThisLandIsOurLandJedediah Purdy provides a challenging solution to the current environmental emergency we are facing. He points out how since we built this world, we can rebuild it to our benefit: All it will take is to recognize what we have in common and work together. However, Indigenous peoples see this recognition as demanding that they share the land with settlers, whether they like it or not. Until Purdy deals with this snake in his proposed Garden of Eden, colonialism appears to be part of his best-case scenario.

DanielSims,a member of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, B.C.

[1] Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor,” Decolonization:Indigeneity,Education& Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 2-3.

[2] Jedediah Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand:TheStrugglefora New Commonwealth (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2019).

[3] The Tsek’ehne [Sekani] word for moose.

[4] This comment refers to the New Age movement, a hard to define religious, spiritual, and/ or philosophical milieu that can be said to belong to modern esotericism and that generally calls for a heightened spiritual consciousness and transformation. From a European point of view, it often includes aspects of Eastern religions, spiritual beliefs, and philosophical schools, albeit viewed too frequently through the lens of orientalism rather than reality. What is sometimes overlooked is that it often includes aspects of Indigenous religions, spiritual beliefs, and philosophical schools, viewed through the lenses of colonial stereotypes and pan- Indianism rather than reality.

[5] Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), “Frequently Asked Questions.” U.S. Department of the Interior: Indian Aff irs., accessed August 20, 2020. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), “Protected Tribal Natural Resources.” NativeAmericanRightsFund., accessed August 20, 2020.

[6] Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), “Frequently Asked Questions.” Native American Rights Fund (NARF), “Protected Tribal Natural Resources.”

[7] Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), “Lands.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada., accessed August 20, 2020.

[8] Purdy, ThisLandIsOurLand, viii-ix.

[9] Elizabeth Fenn, “Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst,” Journal of American History 86, no. 4 (2000): 1552-80. Norbert Finzsch, “‘[…] Extirpate or Remove that Vermine’: Genocide, Biological Warfare, and Settler Imperialism in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Genocide Research 10, no. 2 (2008): 215-32. Philip Ranlet, “The British, the Indians, and Smallpox: What Actually Happened at Fort Pitt in 1763?” PennsylvaniaHistory:A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 67, no. 3 (2000): 427-41.

[10] I have many relatives who attended the Canadian equivalent of Indian boarding schools— residential schools—including my father, who attended the infamous Lejac Residential School in British Columbia. See Lyana Patrick’s animated documentary, TheTrainStation(2020), for a recent portrayal of Lejac and its impacts on Indigenous families and communities: https://

[11] McGirt v. Oklahoma, landmark US Supreme Court case, July 9, 2020.

[12] Purdy, ThisLandis Our Land, 8)

[13] Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel, “Being Indigenous: Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism,” Government and Opposition 40, no. 4 (2005): 598.

[14] Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387.

[15] Andrew Woolford, “Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Canadian Aboriginal Peoples,” GenocideStudiesandPrevention4, no. 1 (2009): 81-97.

[16] Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis to gain immortal fame. Despite (or perhaps because) mentioning his name was made a capital crime in Ephesus, we know more about him than about many of his contemporaries.

[17] Lee Jarvis and Jack Holland, “‘We [For]Got Him:’ Remembering and Forgetting in the Narration of bin Laden’s Death,” Millennium:JournalofInternationalStudies42, no. 2 (2014): 425-47. Charles Stone and William Hurst, “(Induced) Forgetting to Form a Collective Memory,” MemoryStudies7, no. 3 (2014): 314-27. Vered Vinitzky and Chana Teeger, “Unpacking the Unspoken: Silence in Collective Memory and Forgetting,” Social Forces 88, no. 3 (2010):1103-22.

[18] Purdy, ThisLandis Our Land, 14-15.

[19] Tony Barta, “Sorry, and Not Sorry, in Australia: How the Apology to the Stolen Generations Buried a History of Genocide,” Journal of Genocide Research 10, no. 2 (2008): 201-14.

[20] Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham, “Colonial Reckoning, National Reconciliation? Aboriginal Peoples and the Culture of Redress in Canada,” English Studies in Canada 35, no. 1 (2009):1-26.

[21] Richard Dyer, “The Matter of Whiteness,” in WhitePrivilege:EssentialReadingsontheOtherSideofRacism,2nd ed., edited by Paula Rothenberg (New York: Worth Publishing, 2005), 9-10.

[22] Robin DiAngelo, “Popular White Narratives That Deny Racism,” Counterpoints497 (2016): 236.

[23] Finn Lynge, “Indigenous Peoples Between Human Rights and Environmental Protection: An Arctic Perspective,” Nordic Journal of International Justice 64, no. 3 (1995): 489-94. Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby, “Carbon Colonialism and the New Land Grab: Plantation Forestry in Uganda and Its Livelihood Impacts,” Journal of Rural Studies 36 (2014): 13-21; Jessica Parish, “Re-Wilding Parkdale? Environmental Gentrification, Settler Colonialism, and the Reconfiguration of Nature in 21st Century Toronto,” EnvironmentandPlanningE: Nature and Space 3, no. 1 (2020): 263-86; Damien Lee, “Windigo Faces: Environmental Non- Governmental Organizations Serving Canadian Colonialism,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 31, no. 2 (2011):133-53; Robert Nelson, “Environmental Colonialism: ‘Saving’ Africa from Africans,” The Independent Review 8, no. 1 (2003): 65-86; Jason Young, “Environmental Colonialism, Digital Indigeneity, and the Politicization of Resilience,” EnvironmentandPlanningE: Nature and Space (January 2020):1-22.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Book Reviews

Kathryn Tanner. Christianityandthe NewSpirit of Capitalism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

Philip Goodchild. CreditandFaith. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.

Everythinghasa price. I tried to track down the origin of that phrase, and the oldest reference I could find was the first-century Roman poet Juvenal, who said that “Everything in Rome has a price.” What is the push to price everything? How do we know what matters most? Who determines the value of values? The determination and circulation of value has always brought what we now call theology and economics into close proximity. Modern ecclesial and disciplinary boundaries gave the illusion that secular economics and sacred theology are of different orders, but with the unyielding advancement of capitalism claiming or at least pursuing the monetization of everything,these realms again need to be thought together. Both Kathryn Tanner and Philip Goodchild have tried to think through theology and economics in the present age, although ChristianityandtheNewSpiritofCapitalismoffer dynamically different models for such a project.


Tanner stages a faceoff between contemporary capitalism and Christian theology. The chapters in ChristianityandtheNewSpiritofCapitalismare clear and symmetrical, first articulating an element of contemporary capitalism followed by a Christian response. Tanner’s work (and title) references a previous partnership between theology and economy in the so-called Protestant work ethic that lent religious authority (and reward) to requiring individuals to conform to the capitalism’s rising demands. Tanner suggests that the newspirit of capitalism has discarded religion and cemented its own authority by developing rewards and threats in the past, present and future. Capitalism performs this feat through the discipline of debt, a past event that controls present and future behavior, in addition to demands for rapid innovation and growth in the present which discard past and future as meaningful influences.

Whereas religion once furnished capitalism with authority, Christianity now disrupts capitalism’s dominance, says Tanner, and offers a sort of anti- work ethic that snaps the link between work and well-being, breaks people’s identifi ation with their productivity, and severs the enclosed loop of time dominated by capitalism. Th s rupture is fi ed by Christian salvation, which forgives debt and allows for there to be a new person. The theological key to this disruption is divine agency: “Godmoves us from here to there. To break with oneself requires more than oneself. It has to be done forone” (32). Tanner stays true to this commitment, yielding no quarter to human initiative or material difference in describing how this break might actually look.

Tanner’s greatest strength is her thorough leveling of value across human forms and expressions. Such a levelling makes no productivedemands on the individual, and Tanner goes so far as to say that the individual ultimately needs neither community nor other people for faithfulness. She concedes that this is not the preference, but maintains that when God alone is responsible then neither individual effort nor community organization is ultimately  required.  Such  a  commitment  reduces  the  perennial  trap of competition, even a competition for the sake of the good and the just. The fulfillment of this detachment is the possibility of another kind of community—one of enjoyment—where what is good is valued in itself, without competition, and can be enjoyed without striving or envy.

Tanner effectively communicates the realities and effects of the new spirit of capitalism, but her theological response is ultimately and perhaps ironically idealistic. There is literally no material framework for discerning any value in faithfulness; everything might look exactly the same, yet somehow be completely different. Practically, this theology can almost— again, against its own design—fit into the contemporary spirit of those self- help practices meant to ease the guilt and anxiety around productivity so prevalent today.


While Tanner fashions her work as a sharp and theologically clear contrast against the new spirit of capitalism, Goodchild attempts to think philosophically amid  the common  domain  of economics  and  theology, which he calls “the ordering and orientation of trust” (2). Rather than showing us how Christian theology and its guiding transcendence can lead us out of the present moment, he acknowledges his situatedness in Christian theology, but he does not consider his work proprietary and allows for the “the vanishing of its own conscious identity, for appropriation by others of any religious faith or none” (10). Part of Goodchild’s method is to offer a sort of ‘workbook’ of thought, as he calls it, rather than a fine-tuned argument. And indeed the book progresses in fits and starts, with evocative statements and observations that provoke rather than convince.

It should be noted that CreditandFaithis one volume of a forthcoming trilogy. CreditandFaithexplores the economic dimension of Christianity; another volume will address the theological constitution of economics; and a third will develop a way of ordering credit and faith outside their increased monetization in the present age.

Goodchild’s contribution is best summarized in a few paradigms of thought that he pulls from reflecting on Christian scripture and theology. Following Jesus, he calls for a transformation of the present order (so that the camel might fit through the eye of the needle). This transformation includes first the eschatological suspension of the existing order, often figured as forgiveness, typically followed by an enactment of chiasmic inversion, most famously declared in the adage “the last shall be first.” Finally, Jesus often repeats situations in the form of parables—not to enable new laws but to shape new lenses of perception. In this way Goodchild makes sense of both Paul’s lack of historical reference to Jesus and Paul’s emphasis on beingin Christ.

We are perennially caught up in theology and economics because we can only ever spend or offer our lives, determining or reflecting value in our expressions of investment, attention, and devotion. Goodchild offers some reflections on how to order these “dimensions of existence,” which he calls appropriation(things that are someone’s insofar as they are not someone else’s), participation(things that are someone’s insofar as they are also someone else’s), and offering(things that are someone’s insofar as they give them). Each dimension is necessary, from basic material needs that must be met for life to social inclusion as participation, and finally to offering one’s time and life that cannot be withheld. If one values freedom, then freedom must be reconciled not only with appropriating and participating but also with offering.

Although one must necessarilyoffer one’s life, theology can guide how and to whom one’s life will render credit. When the categories get confused, we experience estrangement, as when we treat “goods of participation” as “goods of appropriation,” so that sharing meals and spaces becomes privatized and valued as capital. In offering our lives we trade in trust. We attempt to bypass trust when we leverage relationships through force—directly or as debt. How then can we trust well? If credit is viewed as debt, the future is held hostage to the present, but if credit is offered as trust, then the present opens itself to the horizon of the future.

Goodchild’s observations culminate in the suggestion that we must move from a debt-based model of economics to one of credit extended through trust and intimacy through which we value what matters most. This requires faith. While debt is leveraged to maintain a division of power, credit is offered to share in vulnerability, struggle, and blessing. Goodchild calls for an expansion of intimacy in how we distribute resources for the benefit of all without strict or binding debt arrangements: “Credit is a bridge between the intimate sphere of personal relations and the public sphere of generalised relations” (133). Ultimately he circles back to beinginChristas the giving of one’s resources, which can break with and invert present economic orders, offering new ways of investing in, attending to, and ultimately offering, life.


Both Goodchild and Tanner outline some of the present demands of capitalism, particularly the leveraging of debt as control over the present. Their projects also make theological claims about how we can break with this present order through adopting practices of faith and forgiveness. However, their overall orientations result in very different projects. As I mentioned at the beginning, Tanner stakes out her theology by saying “Godmoves us from here to there. To break with oneself requires more than oneself. It has to be done forone” (32). Whereas she begins with the theological conviction of needing something from outside, Goodchild picks up and handles the materials around him. Appropriately enough, he begins with a Preface entitled “A Lost Coin in Lieu of a Methodology,” in which he acknowledges the “deeply fragmented” nature of our understanding that has us always seeking “a lost coin” which might make things whole. For him, this search is an attempt “to express real thinking as it is, in all its partiality and inconclusiveness” (x).

In reflecting on the two projects, my concern and criticism lie more heavily with Tanner. While her argument strongly distinguishes between choosing God or Money, her clear exposition of the choice actually obscures how her work could be more easily appropriated within today’s economic order. Beyond confessional statements and personal practices, Tanner offers few practical or conceptual resources to think through and respond to the present age. By contrast, Goodchild, while also articulating a sense of the New Testament or at least Pauline notion of beinginChrist,offers conceptual tools for thinking through fundamental expressions of value and attention, and for considering the crucial distinction between debt and credit. These tools are offered without being prescriptive or proprietary in terms of Christian exceptionalism. Both writers point to the potentially disruptive character of faith. However, Tanner makes it too easy for the church in the West to remain content in its confessional arrogance and apathy. With Goodchild, we are not promised success, but we can be equipped with tools for understanding and responding to the inescapable realities of daily life, in which increasingly it seems everything is indeed given a price amid economies that are either trying to control us in the form of debt or rendering credit in the form of faith.

DavidC.L. Driedger is an independent scholar and Associate Minister at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

F. Gerrit Immink. TheTouchoftheSacred:ThePractice,Theology,andTraditionofChristianWorship.Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.

In the wake of the ecumenical liturgical renewal spurred by the Second Vatican Council, much Protestant liturgical theology has turned to ‘richer’ liturgical practices and theologies in other traditions, resources supposedly not on offer in its own worship. In TheTouchoftheSacred,Dutch theologian F. Gerrit Immink offers an account of Reformed worship that foregrounds its vital and robust practices, theologies, and traditions. Immink first attends to the ‘theoretical’ underpinnings of Reformed liturgics before turning to meditate on three concrete elements of the Sunday liturgy: prayer, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper.

Threaded throughout this book is the conviction that Reformed worship is constitutionally epiclectic, that is, shaped by the conviction that “Christ is expected, but he is not at our command,” so that the worshiping community must continually plead for God’s presence (52f). Since God’s activity in worship is not an a priori absolute, Immink suggests that worship must be understood primarily as a performance where language, song, food, art, and emotion are taken up by the worshipers—and foundationally and finally by God—to serve as a site where humans are liturgically touched by the Divine (22-28). Here, the author engages 20th-century theological debates on objectivity and subjectivity, arguing at every turn that worship cannot be reduced either to a human psycho-social experience or to an external activity of God that renders the human irrelevant. Rather, the God who acts generates human faith that in turn embraces this faith-giving God (86). Immink illustrates how these Reformed convictions are both embedded in and given life by the community’s worship.

The second half of the book follows a bridge chapter that examines “backgrounds and dilemmas” present in Reformed worship. Specifically, Immink traces how Reformed worship emerged from and distinguished itself from Roman worship. He engages a wide variety of classical Reformed liturgicalresourcesandtheology, aswellasmanysourcesfromtheearlychurch to which the early Reformed community turned, in order to contextualize the emergence of Reformed liturgics. He then meditates more thoroughly on prayer, preaching, and Holy Communion in a series of extended essays.

Among these, his chapter on prayer is the most extensive. Immink, who at the time of the book’s publication was professor of homiletics at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, engages a wide variety of early Protestant writings on proclamation before undergoing an extensive engagement with currents in 20th-century homiletics. Throughout, he attempts to show how the themes of the first half of the book are present and expressed in the concrete practices of Reformed worship.

This study is beset by several problems. Foremost, the book’s lack of coherence leaves much to be desired. Schematically, the format should make for clear reading: theory followed by practice, held together by a bridge chapter. In practice, however, the book is intensely fragmentary. Indeed, the chapter on preaching reads as a master homiletician weighing in on the debates of his discipline, but it is not always clear how those debates bear on his broader goal of exegeting and framing Reformed worship. Although Immink believes that each element of worship is simultaneouslypractical, theological, and traditional (as implied by the book’s subtitle), he fails to offer a synthetic account of their interplay (ix). The connections are left to the reader to discern.

Perhaps the greatest lacuna is the author’s almost exclusive use of scholarship that flows from the pens of western European men. While no account of Reformed theology broadly, or of its liturgics particularly, can avoid such engagement, given the tradition’s history, Immink’s work is significantly weakened by overlooking the various global contexts where Reformed worship is practiced with both wondrous diversity and catholicity. The reader is left wondering if the debates in which Immink participates are the same as those of Reformed Christians in South Africa or Presbyterians in South Korea. If the author’s goal is to argue the enduring relevance and vitality of Reformed worship, attention to the ways that worship has been taken up in non-Western contexts could only strengthen his case.

Still, Immink’s volume offers an intriguing and erudite window into some  of  the  issues  in  contemporary  Reformed  liturgical  theology,  and it makes an insightful case for the enduring character of that tradition’s epiclectic worship.

MorganBell, Ph.D. Student, Emmanuel College, Toronto, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Melissa Florer-Bixler. FirebyNight:FindingGodinthePagesoftheOldTestament.Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2019.

This exploration into the Old Testament is richly rewarding. Well-written, from the opening poem to the flowing prose throughout, it addresses pastoral and practical concerns in making the OT meaningful for readers. The book examines portrayals of God throughout the OT by looking at different metaphors for understanding this God. The book’s title comes from the metaphor of God as fire, “unwieldy and uncontrollable, common and extraordinary, bringing life and death” (18). The richness of this metaphor is expanded in each of the chapters: God of Reckoning, God of Neighbors, God of Victims, God of Memory, God of Wanderers, God of Darkness, God of Wonder, God of Birds, God of the Vulnerable, God of the Table, God of Friendship. Each chapter looks at these attributes of God by interpreting both familiar and unfamiliar biblical passages, incorporating biblical scholarship, and interweaving personal narratives.

One of this book’s major strengths is how Florer-Bixler challenges readers to re-examine and interrogate their role as readers of the biblical text, entering it as they read. She is offering “a study in slow observation” (21), an approach that provides the basis for entering into the text, to “position ourselves as characters within the stories, to feel our way in God’s life” (77). The reading of 2 Kings 5 from the “God of the Vulnerable” chapter marks a particularly poignant example of the author’s method. In a story that usually centers on the character of Naaman, Florer-Bixler instead focuses on the peripheral character, the “little little girl.” This little little girl is given a speaking line in the story to provide the cure for Naaman’s illness, pointing to her significance. Florer-Bixler stays with this character after the narrative has abandoned her, asking important questions that humanize her beyond her role in the plot: “What happened to her family? Were they murdered in front of her? Were they, too, taken as slaves, a family torn apart by the politics outside their control?” (143). This ability to humanize the biblical characters pushes the reader into a deeper, more personal connection with the biblical story.

Woven in among these entries into the world of the text are personal stories from Florer-Bixler’s life, connecting the ancient world of the Old Testament with today. These stories read as a memoir from her many social locations, describing interactions from pastoral ministry, visits to an Islamic center, retreats at a monastery, neighborhood car accidents, and the experience of living in a L’Arche community. Yet these reflections do not simply affirm the status quo. Florer-Bixler uses this mix of biblical texts and personal stories as opportunities to interrogate our lives as readers. She understands that “the people of God in each age must encounter the Bible again with new questions that come to life with our histories in tow” (34). This push to ask ethical questions of the text is a welcome challenge in the midst of engaging personal stories and interesting interpretations of biblical passages. Ultimately, the author appears most concerned with “reckoning with our past, seeing how Scriptures have been used for both devastation and blessing—this can help us to live differently into the future as we embody practices, policies and habits that rechannel our desire to control God” (97). Florer-Bixler  helpfully  notes  that  she  is  not  “imposing  Christian frameworks as the essential interpretive principle” (18), and she largely succeeds in this regard. However, her study would be strengthened by a more nuanced attention to the issue of supersessionism. The use of the “Old Testament” label is explained as being the “language used by the church

. . . because Christians believe the revelation of God is also contained in a second book called the New Testament” (22). This rationale does not explore the possibility and implications of using the label of Hebrew Bible or Hebrew Scriptures, but instead relies on an Old/New dichotomy that implies supersessionism, where the new replaces the old. At times, the use of “we” and “us” also contributes to this concern. For example, Florer-Bixler suggests that “Maybe these words are meant to be remembered for the work they do on us, each generation of Israel, from age to age” (83). This use of “us” lacks clarity. Judging by the preface, the author’s audience seems to be “we, the church” (17). My concern is the possibility that this places the Christian church today as Israel, hinting again at replacement and supersession. While I do not see this as the author’s intention, a more nuanced approach would have been appreciated, especially in light of Lisa Schirch’s valuable work on Mennonites and antisemitism (see mennonite-agenda-for-research-and-action-on-antisemitism/).

Overall, FirebyNightoffers a delightful mix of personal narrative, insightful interpretations of the biblical text, and challenges to the reader. These words from an opening poem by Florer-Bixler remind the reader of the benefit of finding God in the pages of the Old Testament:

If you look closely as you walk,

if you pay attention

with your eye on the book and the world

the blessing will be

as near as dirt, as close as air

Authorsnote:Toavoidanyconfusionoverconflictofinterest,I must note that while the author and the reviewer share the surname, there are no familial relationships known to the reviewer.

BenjaminBixler, Ph.D. student, Drew University Theological School, Madison, New Jersey.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

David Bentley Hart. ThatAllShallbeSaved:Heaven,Hell,andUniversalSalvation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

David Bentley Hart’s passionate argument for universal salvation focuses on two questions: “whether [the] defiant rejection for all of eternity is really logically possible for any rational being,” and “whether the God who creates a reality in which the eternal suffering of any being is possible— even if it should be self-induced—can in fact be the infinitely good God of love that Christianity says he is” (17). Hart has found himself “entirely unable to discover an intelligible grammar with which to make sense of the proposition that something like a hell of eternal torment truly exists, or could exist” (33). Without “perfect freedom . . . [and] perfect understanding . . . we are incapable of contracting a limitless or unqualified guilt” and thereby meriting an eternal hell (38). But, if there is an “eternal hell for finite spirits,” then “God condemns the damned to eternal misery . . . solely as a demonstration of his power to do as he wishes” (47). Surely, the author argues, this cannot be the Christian God who is love.

Hart offers four meditations to substantiate his vision: (i) “If God is the good creator of all, he must also be the saviour of all” (90-91). What would have been the point to creation if the loving Creator already knew that anyone or anything would be lost? (ii) Hart asserts that the hell of eternal torment is hardly explicit in the New Testament, which speaks of Hades, Tartarus, or Gehenna. He cites several Pauline texts that use overtly universalist language and asserts that the only clear inference to be drawn is that all shall be saved. (iii) In asking “What is a Person?” Hart points out the inescapable relationality of each person, of humanity as the interrelation of all persons. Hence, “there is no way in which persons can be saved as persons, except and with all other persons” (146). We cannot even conceive of ourselves as existing apart from our intrinsic connections to each other. For one person to be saved, this means that all those connected to that person will also join them in heaven. (iv) Hart contends that the only serious argument for an eternal hell is from the freedom of the will. But “God could not create a rational being not oriented toward the Good, any more than he could create a reality in which 2 + 2 = 5” (179). Even the best argument against Hart’s universalism depends on a logical impossibility: there simply can’t be a free, rational rejection of God.

Hart sees the Gospel as the proclamation of “divine victory over death and sin” (205). Originally, “Hope of heaven and fear of hell [were] sublimely inchoate” but the “gradual hardening of the Church’s teaching on hell into the infernalist orthodoxy” was “fated to prevail simply as an institutional imperative” as the Church became “an organ  of  support  for  imperial unity and power” (206). Hart holds Augustine especially culpable for the formulation of “infernalism,” a view that Hart believes almost inadvertently became the mainstream Christian position. He is especially concerned about contemporary Catholic Thomist philosophers and Christians influenced by Calvin’s theology of double predestination, both of which seem to insist that God’s mercy and justice can only be manifest if God has deliberately consigned many people to Hell.

Although I am sympathetic with Hart’s case against “infernalism,” let me offer a few points for consideration:

  • Perhaps Christianity, though “coherent and credible,” is not “a system of belief ” (3). After Kurt Gödel proved that the truths of arithmetic cannot be proven, physicists such as Stephen Hawking have acknowledged that even scientific models are open-ended. Hart himself has argued elsewhere that there is a “fiduciary moment within every act of reason” (see “Reason’s Faith,” First Things (March 2015). If we don’t have access to a complete and logically consistent “system of belief,” then we may have to live with paradoxes of faith, e.g., God’s love and God’s justice.
  • Hart claims that Biblical texts “defy synthesis in a canon of exact doctrines” and the Bible is not a system (161), yet he personally prefers a “perhaps overly systematic approach to the seemingly contrary eschatological expectations” in the New Testament (103). Do we even have access to the Bible outside of the common interpretive body, the Church, within which Scripture is a living text?
  • Hart does not object to Hitler “being purged of his sins and saved, over however many aeons of inconceivably painful purification in hell that might take” (84). Perhaps this position should be called “semi-infernalism.” Wouldn’t it elicit just as much indignation as infernalism? If Hart’s view is distinguished from infernalism only insofar as he contends that hell is not eternal, then we need an account of what time means after death in order to understand his claim.
  • Impatient with the hopeful universalism associated with Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Hart says his own view is “far more extreme” in claiming that if Christianity is true, Christians “dare not doubtthe salvation of all” (68). How might a hopeful universalist respond to this ultimatum of certainty, this stricture against doubt? We might consider our unity with Christ, who descends into hell in solidarity with sinners. As Chrysostom writes of Paul, “He preferred to be loved [by Christ] and be least of all, evenamongthedamned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.” Perhaps it is such hope—not certainty—that we pilgrims need.

Charles  Fernandes,  Permanent  Deacon,  Roman  Catholic  Diocese  of Hamilton, Dundalk, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Tobin Miller Shearer. TwoWeeksEverySummer:FreshAirChildrenandtheProblemofRaceinAmerica. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.

This book provides a long-needed look at the children, adults, and organizationsinvolvedinavarietyof“Fresh Air” programs, whichtransported urban children to rural camps and homes for two-week summer vacations. Starting in 1882, dozens of religious and civic organizations cooperated to provide respite from the city. For decades, these groups served tens of thousands of children, most of them descended from Eastern and Southern European immigrants. Two historical developments changed the program dramatically. Starting in the 1910s, millions of African Americans left the rural South for Northern cities in the nation’s largest internal migration. In response, millions of whites fled to the suburbs. While the Great Migration and White Flight transformed many aspects of life in the urban North, it did not change Fresh Air’s mission to provide rural stays for urban children. However, these events did mean that the program increasingly served Black and Brown children. Fresh Air homes became sites of interracial encounter as the United States entered the tumultuous 1960s.

Miller Shearer tells the story of Fresh Air programs in thematically- organized chapters that address race, childhood, and nature. In discussing the program’s development, he notes how ideas about disease, gender, recreation, diet, and sex affected how hosts welcomed visitors and how urban children experienced white communities. While the sheer number of topics at times makes the narrative feel cluttered, the author’s overall claim is persuasive and profound. He shows how promoters and funders as well as white hosts imbued Fresh Air experiences with an aura of innocence. The program showed preference for pre-pubescent children, viewed as unaware of racism and sexually naïve. Rural placements at homes and camps ensured innocence in a number of ways: country settings replete with grassy, cow- filled fields were far removed from the city and its perceived problems, and offered the natural world’s wonders, considered absent from urban spaces.

In the end, the author argues, white Fresh Air hosts and supporters participated in interracial encounters confirming their innocence of the sin of racism. They also excluded Black and Brown adults from these encounters. He shows how the programs fit into a broader pattern of white-led racial reconciliation projects that simultaneously sustained racial separation and avoided discussion of systemic racism.

Miller Shearer couples a focus on the program’s construction of white innocence with attention to the young Black and Brown participants. Drawing from memoirs and oral interviews, he recounts both positive and negative experiences. He also emphasizes the children’s agency and bravery, and provides examples of children upending their hosts’ expectations and advocating for themselves. From these stories, he argues that Fresh Air children engaged in activism. Like their adult peers in the Civil Rights Movement, these children crossed racial boundaries and taught white people about their lives. They also suffered outrages. They faced white adults and children who relied on dehumanizing racial stereotypes; they were subjected to racial epithets in stores, parks, and swimming pools. Indeed, their status as children made them particularly vulnerable. Some experienced corporal punishment and even sexual abuse at the hands of their white hosts. The author’s effort to collect and present the actions and perspectives of young participants is one of the book’s major strengths.

Miller Shearer’s sources include program publicity materials, media coverage, participant memoirs, and oral interviews. The archival work is rich and reveals the scale of Fresh Air programming. The book offers stories from more than a dozen states and numerous religious and civic groups, and newspaper accounts provide local detail and show how effectively supporters used media to promote their work. However, one  potential source of evidence is absent. The author writes that after an initial welcome from staff at the Fresh Air Fund, the organization closed its archives after he mentioned his interest in writing about issues of race. He connects the closure to an earlier episode in which a student used archival materials to criticize the organization. The author notes that the archive’s inaccessibility is significant, as organizations should practice transparency as part of their racial reckoning.

This volume is important for several reasons. Fresh Air programs persisted for decades and involved tens of thousands of children and adults, along with scores of religious groups and civic organizations. For their scale alone, these programs deserve attention. The book makes other important contributions. It focuses on the program’s “recipients,” something often lacking in the literature on social reform and philanthropy. The emphasis on children’s experiences contributes to important recent work by American historians and scholars of religion. As with his earlier work on interracial marriage and families, Miller Shearer also shows the importance of domestic spaces in larger power dynamics associated with race and gender. Finally, TwoWeeksEverySummerdocuments white-led efforts to address racial disparities and other social issues through individual effort rather than systems-level action. As such, it adds to the ongoing conversation prompted by studies such as Korie Edwards’s TheElusiveDream. Together these works catalog racial reconciliation efforts designed to take place in white- dominated spaces and ensure white comfort.

JenniferGraber, Professor of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Lydia Neufeld Harder. TheChallengeis in the Naming: A Theological Journey. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018.

TheChallengeis in The Naming: A Theological Journey is a collection of essays, scholarly articles, sermons, and conference presentations, held together by a series of introductory essays that function as both theological memoir and scholarly reappraisal. Harder notes in her preface that theological reflection involves both “intentionally naming ourselves” as well as the world with “its complexity and its beauty, its joy and its pain” (15). She recounts the challenge of naming herself as “theologian” as both a personal as well as a communal challenge. In order to claim that name she must wrestle with the perils of both vulnerability and power. In telling her story, Harder is inviting the discipline of Mennonite theology to make a similar journey of naming— being willing to admit the way that Mennonite theology is both a minority position within Christendom and invested with power and authority that must be named for the sake of greater faithfulness.

The challenge that the author encounters in naming herself a theologian is particular to her gender but is also a challenge for any Anabaptist. Her struggle begins with the Mennonite community’s past incapacity to name her as a person possessing clear pastoral gifts. This is a window into how the Mennonite hermeneutical community has historically functioned as a patriarchal system and has failed to always live into its own values of being a priesthood of all believers. As Harder moves into the ecumenical world of the theological academy she also recognizes the longstanding suspicion of the role of the theologian and of theological language in the Mennonite tradition. She discovers that Anabaptist ways of scriptural reasoning and communal discernment do not find an easy place in the disciplinary divisions between biblical studies, theology, and ethics. However, she does discover a powerful point of connection with liberation theologies. In conversation with this tradition, she finds categories to help describe how Mennonite theology has functioned as a kind of hermeneutical community.

Harder also recognizes a need for caution. John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, in particular, made a forceful case for understanding the Mennonite tradition as a type of minority position within Constantinian Christianity. Harder rightly cautions that this stance can lead Mennonite theologians to neglect the work of internal critique: How have our institutions employed unfaithful forms of domination, violence, coercion? What concrete practices and processes are necessary to help us be faithful readers of scripture and agents of justice?

One of the many strengths of Harder’s work is that she strives to offer constructive suggestions along with her critiques. At the center of these interventions is her invitation to Mennonites to hold together both a hermeneutics of suspicion and a hermeneutics of obedience. Her insistence that the hermeneutical community is compromised by excluding people on the basis of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or race is coupled with her joyful confidence that God works within broken communities and fellowships too. Her love of the church—in its very human brokenness—is contagious and invigorating. For instance, a feminist reading of discipleship in the Gospel of Mark challenges how certain Biblical texts continue a particular way to socialize men and women and to reify power relationships in our churches. Harder invites readers to see discipleship differently, as not only kenosis and emptying but through the healing narrative as filling and empowering. This is not just good news for women; it is good news for all disciples. We are freed to obey.

This book is filled with challenges, but Harder sees each one as an opportunity. Mennonites must come to terms with how an Anabaptist reading of scripture has been limited by the exclusionary nature of its hermeneutical community. Every time we listen to new voices we increase our chances of having a radical encounter with a God who has many names but has also been definitively known and named in Jesus.

Such insights emerge clearly in Harder’s later intellectual exploration of Wisdom literature. I find especially intriguing her employing Wisdom literature as a scripturally grounded way of thinking about the use of reason in the public square. She sees in the Wisdom texts both invitations to interreligious dialogue as well as a means to connect with any human being who seeks the safety and security of their cities and homelands.

There is much to commend about this collection, especially for someone that has a specialized interest in hermeneutics, the Gospel of Mark, or Mennonite theology. For me, the lasting impression I take from this book is joyful wisdom. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t acknowledge a tinge of sadness as I finished this collection. As a Mennonite convert, who was coaxed into Anabaptism by reading Yoder with Hauerwas at Duke, and who had experienced disenchantment over Yoder’s abuse and Mennonite institutions’ silence that enabled it, I wish that Harder and women like her had been a larger part of my early Mennonite intellectual formation.  At the same time, I cannot help but see the way in which Mennonite theology is being reimagined by people who had the privilege of having Lydia Neufeld Harder as a teacher, mentor, and interlocutor.

JodieBoyerHatlem, Adjunct Professor, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

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Ihab Saloul and Jan Willem van Henten, eds. Martyrdom:Canonisation,ContestationandAftrlives.Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.

This collection of twelve essays originated in a 2016 meeting of international (primarily European) experts on the topic “Canonisation and Cross-Cultural Martyrdoms” in Amsterdam. The Introduction situates the essays in the context of ongoing research into martyrdom as a cross-cultural phenomenon that eludes easy definition. The co-editors discuss several frequently cited articulations of the concept of martyrdom, including van Henten’s own earlier definition of the martyr as “a person who in an extremely hostile situation prefers a violent death to compliance with a demand of the (usually pagan) authorities” (15). But they reject the notion that a single definition can adequately describe martyrdom in the 21st century. “The concept of martyrdom,” they write, “becomes more and more blurred especially because religious or secular martyrdoms play an important role in current social, political, and ethnic conflicts” (11). Accordingly, they contend that research must move beyond “both the insider admiration of martyrs and the partisan rejection of martyrdom” (11).

Recognizing that “martyrs become martyrs only because others remember and honour them as such,” the contributors focus their attention on three inter-related processes of commemoration: the initial identification and valorization of martyrs (“canonisation”); the rejection of that canonisation by others (“contestation”); and the periodic revivals in which “the canons, lists, and cultural texts of martyrdom are open to later and various traditions” (“afterlives”). The editors contend that “the protagonists will have strong disagreements about who is a martyr and who is not as well as which kind of martyrdom is legitimate and which is not. As such, communities will commemorate, appropriate, or contest martyrs, depending also on their own context and group identities and the power mechanisms and discourses involved” (21).

The collection begins with a reflection by Tobias Nicklas on the non- exclusivity of the concept of “canon” in 2nd- and 3rd-century Christianity. Nicklas argues that the canonical process did not end with the establishment of a canon of scripture; rather, “other writings that do not claim to be part of the canon fulfill a function analogous to canonical writings, as the reception history of several so-called apocryphal writings and martyrdom passages imply.” The contributions of Yair Furstenberg, Jennifer Knust, and Mieke Bal each take up an iconic ancient martyr narrative—the Talmudic story of the Ten Martyrs, the Maccabean Martyrs, and the Passion of Perpetua— and examine the afterlives of these texts in rabbinic writings, late ancient Christian homilies, and postmodern critical theory, respectively.

A second groupof essaysexaminesthe impactof Muslimmartyrologies on recent political and militant movements. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab shows how medieval Sufi martyrdom texts were deployed in the Iran-Iraq war to “convince soldiers that their fight was a spiritual quest to attain the immaterial beloved.” Friederike Pannewick documents graffiti memorializations of martyred demonstrators during the Arab Spring in Cairo. Marcel Poorthuis traces the evolving narrative of the seven “sleeping” martyrs through Syriac Christian, Quranic, and modern dissident Iranian iterations. In perhaps the most troubling chapter, Ihab Saloul documents four “female martyrdom operations” (suicide bombings) during the First Intifada in Palestine, and argues that they had a positive outcome in opening up space for women to be “accepted as active participants in the military struggle” in traditionally patriarchal Palestinian society.

A third set of contributions probes the appearance of martyr iconography in a variety of modern cultural contexts. Jan Willem van Henten finds resonances of martyr ideologies in sermons and cemeteries commemorating fallen World War I soldiers belonging to both the British and German armed forces. Paul Middleton, a leading scholar in the study of early Christian martyrdom, here turns his attention to the brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, whose status as a martyr for the cause of gay rights in America has been contested by both Christian groups and LGBTQ advocates. Jeremy Punt demonstrates how the martyr status of anti- apartheid activists has been critiqued by a new generation of South Africans disappointed by a lack of progress in recent years. Laura Copier ends the collection with an analysis of martyrdom tropes in the 2015 film “Mad Max: Fury Road,” in which she interprets the character Furiosa as a post- apocalyptic Thecla—a martyr who defies death.

As individual studies, the essays collected in this volume will be most useful to specialists in their respective disciplines. As a unified whole, this book will be of interest to scholars of the Anabaptist tradition as well as church leaders. Although the book does not include a specific study of Anabaptist martyrs, it cites MartyrsMirrorin the Introduction as a paradigmatic example of the dual processes of canonisation and contestation. Drawing on the work of Brad S. Gregory, the editors note that the 1660 edition of MartyrsMirrorexcises the writings of some controversial martyrs, which “implies that the process of the canonization of Mennonite martyrs also included the exclusion of certain martyrdom writings” (19). In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist movement in Europe, when Anabaptist martyrs are sure to re-emerge in new afterlives, critical reflection on the ways in which martyrs are made—and unmade—across cultures can only enrich our understanding of the Anabaptist tradition.

JenniferOtto, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta.

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Robert Friedmann. DesignforLiving:Regard,Concern,Service, and Love. Edited by Maxwell Kennel. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017.

Historian and philosopher Robert Friedmann entrusted both his edited transcription of “Design for Living,” a lecture he gave at Western Michigan University in 1954, and the manuscript of “The Theology of Anabaptism,” to historian Leonard Gross, who was to publish both works. However, only the latter was published (1973), while “Design for Living” remained “slumbering” in the archives of Mennonite Church USA. Its publication was rejected because it was not expected to interest a wide circle of readers. Only when the editor of the present volume, Maxwell Kennel, came across it in his research on the relationship between Mennonite theology and philosophy did the path to very late publication open up.

Friedmann, who was born in Austria but emigrated because of his Jewish ancestry, spent his life studying the history of the Anabaptists. The Hutterites, with their strong notion of community, especially piqued his interest. He always sought to ensure the results of his historical research would speak into the present time and to point out guidelines for a meaningful life that were useful for society. This desire was reflected in his interest not only in the Anabaptists but also in the ideas of religious socialism. Not surprisingly, his desire to awaken and strengthen interest in community and the common good shines through, time and again, in DesignforLiving.

Friedmann propagates a “We-Philosophy,” which he distinguishes from both “individualism (egocentrism)” and “collectivism” (116). At the same time, he repeatedly emphasizes that he is concerned not only with “faith” but with the life of faith, with concrete conduct. Anabaptist texts represent only a part of the literature consulted in Design for Living. Friedmann, who privately felt close to the Mennonites and even closer to the Quakers, prefers to advert to the Russian existentialists, especially Leo Tolstoy. Friedmann repeatedly discovers a we-philosophy in Tolstoy’s works.

In Design forLivingthe reader encounters a philosophically-oriented and widely read author. Using examples from political theory, literature, and philosophy, Friedmann approaches “the good life,” one that is worthwhile and should be filled with meaning. He sets out through history in search of the best design for such a life, taking readers on an exciting journey as he gradually fills in the basic conception with definite content.

The book is divided into two major sections. In the first, the author discusses what a design for living is not, and in the second he sketches a positive matrix of what should give direction to life. The basic prerequisite and center for the search is “an educated heart” that must not limit itself to mere intellectual achievement or knowledge accumulation. For Friedmann, an educated heart should lead the person on the right path and help them to differentiate between what counts most and what forces them into faulty patterns. The goal is not the observance of an ethic but the realization or actualization of essential values beyond everyday things, and the development of a program of life.

To begin, Friedmann describes four paths that could lead people to grasp “the things that matter most” and that can potentially provide a valid design for living: the Christian way, the Stoic way, the Nietzschean way, and “the conventional pattern of modern middle-class life.” He works through the premises and the outputs of each path. He excludes hedonism and “enlightened self-interest” because they do not make life worthwhile. They understand morality as only external convention and a “minimum ethics” that contains important values for society but is not sufficient to give meaning to one’s life. Friedmann counts decency among the minimum ethics, as it does not go beyond social conscience or convey higher values and tends towards self-righteousness. Even the Decalogue and the Golden Rule as handed down in Matthew 7:12 can be external laws and rules if they are not understood as asking for love and community, or as offering a “final or superior” pattern of life (35). Amoralism and self-realization are equally insufficient. The self needs more guidance.

Friedmann then offers content that can fill out a design for living. It is already revealed in the book’s subtitle: “Regard, Concern, Service, and Love.” However, these ideas must not lead to an ethic that limits itself to the application of rules and the observance of laws. A certain basis of moral-ethical values is necessary, but a design for living must always be of a spiritual and social nature, shaped by a desire to serve others and to perceive their needs and hardships. It should be guided by human dignity and freedom, and spring up from within the person, never dictated from the outside. Friedmann puts readers on the path of “a maximum ethics for the individual” that is “absolutistic and total from the inside.” He defines the ideal design for living as a “pattern which enables the individual to approximate life’s meaning” and to live in terms of “the permanent theme that runs through life” (115).

For Friedmann, the Bible provides the most comprehensive guideline for all existential questions. There the highest form of love becomes concrete, especially in Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The author draws on biblical examples to show ways out of the greatest temptations to which humanity can be subject: money, power, and sex. In his view, stewardship, cooperation, and the institution of marriage are a way to handle these temptations.

In the end, Friedmann calls for seeking a mature life that is concerned with learning “the art of meaningful living and the art of making responsible decision[s]” (166). His quest, as outlined in this book, aims at a holistic education of the human being and the education of the heart, in a long process of searching in which the person is not satisfied with stereotypical answers and rote knowledge. Knowledge must be put into practice. This path excludes empty generalizations and calls upon us to be mature, free, and personally responsible, yet always in contact with God and oriented towards the community.

AstridvonSchlachta, Director, Mennonite Research Center and lecturer at the University of Regensburg, Germany.

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