CFP: Logos 2018; Race, Gender, Ability, and Class: Expanding Conversations in Analytic Theology

Logos 2018

May 24-26, 2018 at the University of Notre Dame

Race, Gender, Ability, and Class:
Expanding Conversations in Analytic Theology

Guest Co-Organizer: Michelle Panchuk

Over the past several decades, scholars working in biblical, theological and religious studies have increasingly paid attention to the substantive ways that our experiences and understanding of God and God’s relation to the world are structured by our experiences and concepts of race, gender, ability, and class. These personal and social identities and the intersections between them (for better or worse) serve as a hermeneutical lens for our interpretations of God, self, one another and our religious texts and traditions. However, these topics have not received nearly the same level of attention from analytic theologians and philosophers of religion, and so a wide range of important issues remain ripe for analytic treatment. For example, what implications do the social concerns of liberation theology have for the kinds of questions with which analytic theologians and philosophers have more typically been concerned, and vice versa? How might our understanding that suffering and trauma are often inflicted by unjust social structures and religious communities inform our response to the problem of evil? To what extent does the historical use of a particular doctrine as a tool of oppression bear on its truth? How should analytic philosophical explications of doctrinal loci (e.g. creation, incarnation and the imago Dei) shape our understanding and theology of race, ability, gender, and class, and vice-versa? Do these identities circumscribe the kinds of religious experience or religious understanding that one is able or likely to have? The Logos 2018 Workshop will bring together analytic philosophers, scriptural scholars, and theologians/thealogians to discuss these and other aspects of the theological significance of personal and social identities.

To have your paper considered for presentation at Logos 2018, please submit an abstract of the paper or the paper itself no later than October 1, 2017. Other things being equal, preference will be given to those who submit full papers by the deadline. You will be notified by December 1, 2017 whether your paper has been provisionally accepted. Full acceptance will be conditional on submission of the full reading version of the paper by April 1, 2018. It is expected that papers presented at the Logos workshop will be works in progress that can benefit from the group discussion. Consequently, we ask that authors not submit papers that will be published before the conference has ended.

Please send Abstracts or Full Papers to: logos@nd.edu

For more information, please visit: http://philreligion.nd.edu/calendar/annual-logos-workshop/

A Reply to McMahan and Singer on the Stubblefield Case

Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer have a piece in the Stone today at the New York Times that I think is woefully ill-argued, in which they conclude that Anna Stubblefield has been treated unjustly by the courts, and question whether or not the man she was convicted of sexually assaulting was really harmed by her. I’m not going to address every point in their piece — but I do think it’s important to say a few things.

First, while I haven’t seen all of the evidence they have apparently been made privy to, there is enough in the public domain to know that their description of the events which transpired is deeply misleading.

For example, on the matter of John Doe’s* communicative capacities, they write,

“Sheronda Jones, an undergraduate at Rutgers at the time, volunteered to assist [John Doe] by using facilitated communication so that he could write papers for an English class he was auditing at Rutgers. Before the trial, Jones had told a detective in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office: “He pretty much read the books. I didn’t know any information about the book. I made sure never to read any of the information. I can’t tell you what he read. And he typed out the information.” Jones did not attend the class [John Doe] took. If she did not read the material on which his work was based, how could she have produced writings that respond to that material?”

They fail to mention that Jones’ statement went on to note that one of her roommates was in the same class, and she knew that her roommate and John Doe produced similar writings for the class. So, how could she have produced writings that responded to the class material which she had not read? By reading her roommate’s homework.

They also fail to mention that despite training in how to use facilitated communication, neither John Doe’s mom or brother was ever able to successfully use it to communicate with John Doe, and that they believed the purported communications facilitated through Stubblefield conflicted with what they knew about John Doe from experience living with him (e.g., according to Stubblefield, John Doe didn’t like gospel music, but according to his family, his behavior suggested he particularly enjoyed it).

As another example, on the matter of the assault itself, they write:

“If we assume that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, we should concede that he cannot understand the normal significance of sexual relations between persons or the meaning and significance of sexual violation. These are, after all, difficult to articulate even for persons of normal cognitive capacity. In that case, he is incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations; indeed, he may lack the concept of consent altogether.

This does not exclude the possibility that he was wronged by Stubblefield, but it makes it less clear what the nature of the wrong might be. It seems reasonable to assume that the experience was pleasurable to him; for even if he is cognitively impaired, he was capable of struggling to resist, and, for reasons we will note shortly, it is implausible to suppose that Stubblefield forcibly subdued him. On the assumption that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, therefore, it seems that if Stubblefield wronged or harmed him, it must have been in a way that he is incapable of understanding and that affected his experience only pleasurably.”

Now, just on the question of if John Doe was forcibly subdued, set aside for the moment that of course assault is not actually the sort of thing where all perpetrators lurk in dark alleys, twirling their mustaches as they lay in wait, ready to do obvious physical violence, and one need not have been forcibly subdued in order to be a victim of assault — as a matter of fact, the evidence does suggest that John Doe tried to get away from Stubblefield, at least on the first occasion they had sexual contact. As the New York Times wrote on this case back in 2015,

“They met the following Sunday at [John Doe]’s house, while his mother was at church. They tried to kiss while lying down on [John Doe]’s bed, on the theory that it would be easier, given his impairments. But [John Doe] kept sitting up, and then he lowered himself onto the floor. Anna offered him the keyboard and asked if anything was wrong. Nothing’s wrong, he typed, he was very happy, but also overwhelmed — he needed a minute. Anna said O.K., and [John Doe] scooted out into the hall.”

Stubblefield performed oral sex on John Doe a few minutes later.

Second, philosophically, this argument is quite astounding. One’s being incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations makes unclear what the nature of the wrong of sexual assault could be? Seriously? Why ever should we think that one must have the cognitive capacity to conceptualize precisely how one has been harmed in order to have been so harmed? Are small children not even possibly victims of sexual assault? Can animals not be unjustly exploited? Are persons with severe brain damage incapable of being victims of theft?

Why think experiencing pleasure precludes genuine harm? And even if one wanted to subscribe to a principle so readily met with counter-examples, why ignore that, again, according to Stubblefield’s own description of events, on many occasions John Doe expressed discomfort?

On the question of predation, McMahan and Singer write:

Judge Teare described Stubblefield as “the perfect example of a predator preying on her prey” and gave her a sentence that would be fitting for a predatory rapist. Yet no one would or could ever have known that Stubblefield and [John Doe] had had sexual relations if she had not conveyed to his mother and brother what she believed to be his message to them, via facilitated communication that she conducted in their presence, that he and she were in love and had consummated their relationship. This is the action not of a sexual predator but of an honest and honorable woman in love. Even if she is mistaken in her beliefs about his intelligence and ability to communicate, it is undeniable that these beliefs are sincere and that she was neither reckless nor negligent in forming them. This ought to have been a mitigating, if not wholly exculpating, consideration in the sentencing.

Stubblefield was aware of the controversial nature of facilitated communication. She may have believed that the experts which determined it to be pseudoscience were mistaken — I suspect she genuinely did — but she also knew that others who had diligently attempted to learn the methods of F.C. had failed to communicate with John Doe. She knew that she was in a particular position of power over him, and that she had an interest in virtue of her own feelings, in his communicating particular things.

But more importantly, McMahan and Singer confuse self-conceptualizing as having good intentions with failing to engage in predatory behavior. They confuse a willingness to articulate one’s position with being honorable. If these characteristics were genuinely interchangeable, multitudes of paradigm instances of exploitation through grooming, and even through violence, would be mitigated or exculpated. How many victims of childhoood sexual abuse have been told that their assailant loved them?  How many cult-leaders have thought they were doing what was best for the souls of their followers? How many perpetrators of domestic violence believed they were doing what was best to keep their families as they should be?

Intending to do good is not in any way inconsistent with doing enormous harm.

[Update: An earlier version of this post used the victim’s initials rather than the pseudonym John Doe. I’ve removed his initials in an attempt to do a better job of respecting his privacy.]

Animal Ethics: Is it okay to eat ants?

Cheryl Abbate authored the most recent Philosophy Phriday entry over at The Daily Ant on the subject. Here’s a preview if you haven’t already seen it:

Even though some animals have different behaviors and different neurological structures from that of humans, we, more likely than not, are the same in a way that matters. The evidence of ant sociality, communication, teaching, and memory, taken together with Barron’s and Klein’s (2016) finding that the insect brain supports a capacity for subjective experience, provides us with compelling reasons to believe that even “mere” ants are conscious and thus deserving of our moral consideration. The behavior of ants is highly complex and arguably intelligent, and it indicates that there is something that happens in ant life other than mechanical stimulus-responses similar to reflexes.

The whole post is here.

 

Milo and Tribal Politics

Jonah Goldberg, of the National Review, writes on the Milo/CPAC dust-up:

We are in a particularly tribal moment in American politics in which “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” is the most powerful argument around.

Evolutionary psychologist John Tooby recently wrote that if he could explain one scientific concept to the public, it would be the “coalitional instinct.” In our natural habitat, to be alone was to be vulnerable. If “you had no coalition, you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, pre-existing and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership,” Tooby wrote on Edge.org. “This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird.”

We overlook the hypocrisies and shortcomings within our coalition out of a desire to protect ourselves from our enemies.

. . . Countless conservatives defend Yiannopoulos (who admits he’s not a conservative) in much the same way Democrats defended the anti-Semitic “radio priest” Charles Coughlin as long as he supported the New Deal as “Christ’s Deal.” Conservatives cling to rationalizations to defend their champion. They say he “distanced” himself from the alt-right. Yiannopoulos did, cynically — only after “Daddy” (his term for Donald Trump) was elected. They credit Yiannopoulos’s claim that he can say anti-Semitic things because his grandmother was (supposedly) Jewish, and he can say racist things because he sleeps with black men.

These are the kinds of arguments a coalition accepts when it has lost its moral moorings and cares only about “winning.” Free expression was never the issue. If it were, he’d be at CPAC (and Breitbart), perhaps restating his case for ephebophilia. Apparently, conservatives still draw the line there, but not at anti-Semitism or racism. The tent, sad to say, is big enough for that.

The full piece is here.

 

On becoming the enemy

Jason Stanley writing in the Boston review:

On July 24, 1939, a few months before my father turned seven, he boarded a plane at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. After arriving in Southampton, England, he and his mother, Ilse Stanley, joined many others on the New York City–bound SS Deutschland. As I write this I look at a picture of him sitting at dinner with his mother on that ship. He is smiling but also shrinking into his chair. He had been in hiding since November 8, 1938, Kristallnacht, when he witnessed the burning of the synagogue where his grandfather, Magnus Davidsohn, had been the chief cantor for twenty-seven years.

Davidson had been close with the parents of Ernst vom Rath, the German diplomat who was assassinated in Paris by a Jewish man furious about the treatment of the Jewish people in Germany. On the evening of Kristallnacht, my great-grandfather and his wife visited with their friends, who assured them that they did not blame the Jews for their son’s murder.

Despite the good intentions of my great-grandparents’ friends, though, what Joseph Goebbels called the “righteous indignation” of the German people led to an orgy of violence directed at the synagogues of Germany. After that point, Jews were no longer safe on the streets of Berlin. The Nazis used the pretext of vom Rath’s death to permanently exclude the Jewish people from the German people. From then on, “us” did not include us. After Kristallnacht, we had been removed permanently from public view, thereby masking our fate from our fellow Germans.

Kristallnacht is often represented as a radical break with what came before. In fact it was not. Since 1936 many thousands of Jewish citizens of Germany had been taken to secret prisons, such as Sachsenhausen, under the pretext of treason against the German people. As my grandmother, Ilse, recounts in her 1957 memoir The Unforgotten, few even in the Jewish community realized what was really occurring. The open anti-Semitic provocations became ever more intense during these periods, with the clear intention of goading some German citizen of Jewish faith to act out in despair and violence. Vom Rath’s murder became that excuse for violent reprisal, an incident that would be used to permanently remove Germans of Jewish faith from public spaces and ultimately to exile or death.

Read the rest of the piece here.

A comment in support of pro-life inclusion at the Women’s March on Washington

A few news organizations reported over the last couple of days that pro-life organizations have been excluded from official partnership with the Women’s March on Washington (e.g., here’s a piece from The Atlantic which includes interviews from folks on both sides of the issue). One pro-life group, New Wave Feminists, was recognized as a partner by the march, but then later removed.

Now, I’m not an organizer of the march, so this isn’t my decision to make. I’m not even going to the march in D.C. (though I’ll be at my local march the same day, and I encourage those who can participate to do so). Moreover, the pro-life position is at odds with the policy platform those who did organize put together. That platform reads:

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.

That said, I’m a pro-choice feminist, and I think excluding pro-life groups from partnership status is a mistake.  I’m grateful that some of my pro-life fellow citizens will march regardless, and I’d be glad to march alongside them.

To be clear, I think reproductive freedom is essential to women’s health and equality (and I don’t think we have to get into substantive debate about agency or the metaphysics of personhood to recognize this; banning abortion gambles with women’s lives – and that’s true even when there are meant to be exceptions for the life of the mother). I think arguments like this rely pretty straightforwardly on sexist notions (I don’t think men are some kind of depraved creatures who can only be reined in if women find within themselves to set a moral example — to live our lives in such a way as to make the potential consequences of action salient to men — and I don’t think valuing caregiving need be at odds with sexual agency nor a recognition of the value of reproductive freedom). Further, I don’t think there is intrinsic value in unity or collaboration (there’s no value added to racism, for example, when instantiated in unity with others).

But I also think that abortion is an issue on which reasonable people disagree, and in the coming years we will need reasonable people to work together given the unreasonable have taken the helm. If pro-life groups are willing to set aside that the official platform of the march directly challenges their organizing mission for the sake of working together to protect those values which we do share, then I’ll be happy to work with them. As Richard Rorty said, “Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created.” For those of us whose conscience permits it, it’s time to be creating.

Letter to the Electors

It’s signatories include eight philosophers:

Esteemed Electors:

We, a bipartisan coalition of Americans including Electors, scholars, officials, and concerned citizens write to you in the spirit of fellowship, out of our sense of patriotism, and with great urgency.

There are times in the life of a nation when extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. Now is a such time, and your courage and leadership are required.

Never in our Republic’s history has there been a President-apparent comparable to Donald Trump. His inauguration would present a grave and continual threat to the Constitution, to domestic tranquility, and to international stability:

  • He has threatened the freedom of speech by condoning violence at public events, and suggesting criminal penalties and even revocation of citizenship to punish political expression;
  • He has threatened the freedom of press by vowing to revoke First Amendment protections for journalists;
  • He has threatened the freedom of religion by proposing to bar entry to the country and force the registration of members of certain faiths;
  • He has entangled himself with foreign interests through his personal business dealings, and refused to provide records of his taxes, which could allay suspicions;
  • He has indicated a willingness to condone torture, in contravention of the Constitution and our international treaties, which carry the force of law;
  • He is uncomfortably close to the regime of Russia, which has interfered in the election;
  • He has shown reckless disregard for diplomacy, communicating impulsively, in public forums, regarding matters of national security, and allowing personal emotions to interfere with reasoned judgment, calling into question his fitness as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the nuclear capabilities of the United States;
  • He has, unlike every previous Commander-in-Chief, never served in any public position, whether elected or appointed, civilian or military, thereby bringing no experience or proven judgment on behalf of The People, or evidence of a character suited to high office.

For these reasons, his assumption of office endangers the Constitution, the freedoms it protects, and the continued prosperity and welfare of the United States.

You, Electors, possess the power to prevent this outcome. You are not bound to cast your vote for the candidate of your party – and, as he won neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote, there can be no question of undermining the will of The People.

The Constitution empowers Electors to exercise judgment and choice. If your role were only ceremonial, our Founders would not have required the states to elect you, or that you cast ballots by your own hand. State laws notwithstanding, you are free to vote your conscience. You have a mandate, like all officials, to protect and defend the Constitution. And you have the right and responsibility to investigate those who stand for this office, and to deliberate before casting your vote.

We place country before party in imploring you, our fellow Americans, to investigate and deliberate. We stand with you as you exercise your conscience and give profound consideration to the consequences of your vote. We affirm your right and your duty to do so free from intimidation, and urge you to cast your ballot for a person with the temperament, integrity and commitment to Constitutional principles necessary in a President.

In doing so, know that you enjoy the support of millions of Americans.

Thank you for your service to our country.

In better news: Philosophers Against Malaria has raised more than $45,000 so far. 

Philosophers Against Malaria has been raising funds for the Against Malaria Foundation since November 28, and at the time I’m writing this, have so far collected $45,705. At a time where many of us are feeling really discouraged about the political future, it’s lovely to see such a wonderful and successful effort to make the world a little bit better.

The Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) fights malaria by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. AMF has been rated a top charity by Givewell, Giving What We Can, and The Life You Can Save. The organization is widely celebrated in the Effective Altruism movement.

Delivering a net costs just $5.31. For every $3500 we raise, we can prevent one person from dying from malaria. For comparison, the UK’s National Health Service will spend up to £20,000 (over $30,000) for a single year of healthy life saved!

Malaria killed around 438,000 people in 2015. Seventy percent of these deaths are of children under five years old, making malaria one of the leading causes of child mortality in Africa. Even when non-fatal, malaria can damage children’s cognitive development.

Lower malaria rates help more children stay in school and more adults continue working, which stimulates developing economies. For every $1 spent fighting malaria, Africa’s GDP improves by at least $6.75–and by some estimates much more. Well-designed action against malaria has been shown to be hugely successful: since 2000, mortality rates have fallen by 47 percent globally and by 54 percent in the WHO African Region.

If you want to donate, head over to the fundraiser site. If you want to get your department involved, see the comments on this Daily Nous post.

The fundraiser goes until December 15th, so you still have time to participate.