Project Augustine

Chapter 6: “The Call of Humanity” – Part II







Q: In Section 6.5, describe Southgate’s description of the three different elements of “ethical kenosis.” How do these elements relate with the Trinity (you may refer to section 4.5) and deep intratrinitarian kenosis?  How does love fit into ethical kenosis?




  1. Aspiration- not to aspire to a status beyond what is helpful to others or to resist the temptation to grasp for a role not God-given or is called to us.


  1. Appetite- not only an excess of intake, but desire of power over others or status over against God.


  1. Acquisitiveness- not hoarding of the material things or ambition and experience.


Triple A is not only automotive assistance.  These elements relate to the Trinity or intratrinitarian kenosis as it relates to selflessness.  Love fits in with putting others over self.


Personally, I’m a bit bothered by ethical kenosis seemingly against ambition (Bonus 4th “A”).  I understand that unbridled ambition can be dangerous, but I’m bothered by kenosis of aspiration limiting us explicitly to what is deemed by God for us.  Perhaps it is the American in me, but I feel the ambition of our people fuels greatness; especially young people dreaming of tomorrow.  It can be success in career or even writing the next great novel- all these aspirations are a bit selfish because energies devoted to them could be used to explicitly help others instead.  Like evolution, these “selfish” actions can lead to good things such as the invention of the smart phone which has revolutionized our world.  I believe in many ways that when we do great things, we reflect God’s glory in the creation of beauty.


The danger is when ambition falls into idolatry where our goal overrides everything.  Not only our fellow man’s welfare in the general sense, but also our own personal relationships.  We let our relationships with our families decay in pursuit of our own personal glory.  We put off having children even for career even though we always wanted children or having kids, but neglecting them.   We can pursue our ambitions, but we must not be consumed by them and respect our fellow man, the world God created and ourselves.  An old joke from a bad movie, “A fish once saved my life.  How? I was starving and I ate it.”  Hunters can give thanks to animals they have killed by showing them respect by not wasting their death.


From the book 6.7 Wendell Berry: “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation.  When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament.  When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”





Q: In Section 6.7, describe the nature of scientific description in relation with “what-nature-should-be.” Describe the differences between a Darwinian description of the world vs. metaphysical and religious notions of what-nature-should-be.  Do Christians bear the responsibility, as Southgate argues, to “give an account of values and hopes”?  Must Christians be active to prevent human activity from impoverishing creation through global warming or the threat of nuclear annihilation?   Or are these threats somewhat illusory and based on hyped-up fear with no real footing or weight behind them?  Should humans continue to be stewards of creation and prevent natural cycles of Ice Ages, desertification, and ward off extinctions by manipulating the planet’s climate?  Must we be active in preserving God’s creation or should we not interfere with Nature’s tendencies?




The nature of scientific description is merely the observation and explanation of how the forces of nature operate in this world.  It does not tell or reveal “what nature should be,” because that is a judgment statement made through the prism of human experience.  Southgate says it perfectly when he states that the Darwinian description of the world involves no prescription as to what-nature-should-be because Darwinism is simply a method to understand natural phenomena, not an account of values or hopes. Let’s also be clear that the metaphysical and religious notions of what nature ought to be will differ radically from one religion to another.  In the context of Christianity, the Bible makes it clear that God commands humans to be proper stewards of this planet and all that exists in it.  Beyond that, there is not much else that God has to say about man’s relationship with the natural world aside from bits and pieces in the Bible.


I do agree with Southgate when he states in this chapter that Christians will eventually have to “give an account of values and hopes,” meaning that Christians have the duty of preventing overt harm to the ecosystem.  For instance, it is in the interest of the Christian to help avoid runaway pollution that will not only harm the general environment but also harm other human beings.  Likewise, I would certainly hope that Christians will be active in preventing nuclear warfare along with runaway global warming and rampant deforestation.  Practically any existential threat to the biosphere posed directly by humans should certainly drive Christians in preventing the events that could lead directly to those unwanted outcomes.  For the purpose of brevity I will avoid the argument of whether or not global warming is a real or illusory threat since there are literally thousands upon thousands of pages devoted to this subject alone.


Where I will disagree with Southgate is the idea that humans ought to be responsible in preventing natural cycles of Ice Ages, desertification, and extinctions.  Scientists are still unsure what exactly causes ice ages to occur, nor do they understand what caused global warming trends in the past when modern humans didn’t exist.   For a graphic illustration of this, if you ever have a chance to visit Death Valley National Park in western California, you’ll be hard pressed to believe that nearly 20,000 years ago the whole valley was once filled with fresh water and the mountains covered with green vegetation.  Global warming eventually lead it to become a desert, but it’s quite doubtful human activity was the primary cause.  I am more sympathetic to the idea of preventing extinctions due to human activity, but even that would a tricky proposition since one way to reducing the global human footprint would be to reduce the overall human population and even the most ardent environmentalist could come up with an ethical or moral reason to create a virus that would eliminate half the world’s human population.


Perhaps the only reason why I would be in support of human interference with Nature’s tendencies is if to prevent a global catastrophe such as a super volcano, which would certainly have detrimental effects not only on humans, but also nonhuman creatures.  If geologists were ever to develop a scheme to diffuse an impending gigantic volcanic eruption in Yellowstone National Park, I would be in all support for it.  On the other hand, if the global climate were to become unbearably hot, then a super volcano could certainly help reduce the global temperature by several degrees.  The question for most of humanity would be, do you prefer a warm or cold climate?








Q: In Section 6.5, describe Southgate’s description of the three different elements of “ethical kenosis.” How do these elements relate with the Trinity (you may refer to section 4.5) and deep intratrinitarian kenosis?  How does love fit into ethical kenosis?




The three elements of ethical kenosis are as follows:


a.)    Kenosis of aspiration – “resisting the temptation to grasp at a role that is not God-given, not part of the calling of the individual believer or community” (102).


b.)    Kenosis of appetite – resisting the idolatry of “disordered appetite”; “order our ambitions and our experiences in accord with the freedom of the redeemed order” (102).


c.)    Kenosis of acquisitiveness – “order our acquisition of the material trappings of life, which again are often acquired at the expense of the well-being of others” (102).


Human beings cultivating ethical kenosis is a response to the example of “divine self-emptying for the self-giving love within the Godhead” (101). This to me is similar to Southgate in section 4.3 explaining Von Balthasar’s formulation of deep intratrinitarian kenosis as “self-emptying love of the Father in begetting the Son that creates the possibility that other selves can be formed” (59).


I see love, as a desire “that the other, the beloved, should flourish in their otherness” (103) and “to know the other and respect the other for itself, and a recognition too of the other as a creature belonging to and in relation with God” (103), is what powers and gives reason to ethical kenosis.


But where does this desire come from? I can see Southgate arguing that this comes from God – not only from the example of the Trinity, but directly powered by dwelling in the love of the Trinity.


“The imago Dei is the imago Trinitatis, the capacity to give love, in the power of the Spirit, to the radically other, and by the same Spirit to receive love from that other, selflessly. But we only grow into that image as we grow into God, as we learn to dwell within the triune love. We never possess the imago independently of that indwelling, that journeying towards God’s offer of ultimate love” (73)








Q: In Section 6.6, Southgate mentions two errors in thinking about human relationship with animals. What deficiencies can you see in 1) neglecting the fact that humans are animals and 2) an “over-insistence that humans are just animals”?  How does each view affect a believer’s convictions about theological anthropology?


In this section, Southgate outlines what he deems are difficulties in proposing models for “appropriate relationships between humans and the nonhuman creation.”  When we forget the fact that humans are indeed animals themselves, he says that “This neglect easily leads to a detached and manipulative attitude.”  Likewise, when we over emphasize the fact that humans are just animals, this attitude tends to “[trivialize] humans’ moral nature” and the often harmful human impact humans have caused upon the earth as well.  Southgate wants to emphasize the interdependent relationship we have with the nonhuman world and that humans hold a unique place on the planet in our ability to choose how we want to shape the world and environment we live in.  He acknowledges that humans have been given a distinct and God-given uniqueness as evidenced in Genesis 1 and 2 and Psalm 8.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to “recognize [the] otherness” of the rest of nonhuman creation as he references John Habgood’s words.


I think that for the average person, I don’t think he or she is really consciously aware that they are in fact animals.  If you tell a person this, I think most would easily get offended, regardless of the fact that they may believe that humans arose from an ape-like ancestor.  So for the most part, people fall into the first deficiency that Southgate mentions which leads people to be detached from the sufferings they cause to Nature and are OK with manipulating the nonhuman world to satisfy human needs first and foremost.  Not many people think about the millions of cattle, cows, pigs, and chickens that are slaughtered every year for human consumption when they bite down on a hamburger or slice into a juicy steak, or sizzle bacon with their eggs for their breakfast.  We are on top of the foodchain, therefore we are justified in devising complex systems and facilities to mass produce meat that results in countless death and suffering for helpless animals all around the world.  Furthermore, many governments turn a blind eye to corporations dumping toxic materials into the ocean and deforesting thousands of acres of land for monetary profit and human development.  With our superior cognitive abilities we are above every other animal, so therefore we can do whatever we want with nonhuman creation.  Conservative, right-wing political advocate Ann Coulter was once purportedly stated as having said, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours’” when referencing Genesis 1:28 which states, “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Many other conservative evangelicals have also sided with her views, especially in criticism to Christian environmentalist advocates (esp. in regards to global warming which they deem to be a non-issue or non-existent).   Of course, many Christians do not believe in evolution, let alone human evolution, as many conform to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, so it is inconceivable to believe that we are animals in any sense of the word.  They may agree that we are part of the earth, but to deem humans as evolved apes is a nonnegotiable in their view.  In all, adopting this view does not paint a very endearing picture to our biblical calling as stewards of this planet and might very well lead to its inevitable demise.


The second scenario is one of complacency, apathy, and a touch of fatalism I believe.  We are the way we are because we are just animals or more sophisticated apes.  Even if Christians believe in human evolution and that we are animals, that might lead them to de-emphasize or even ignore altogether the biblical mandate to be stewards of nature and God’s creation and our distinctiveness in being created in the image of God.  Though we are animals, we must use our cognitive gifts, moral judgments, free will, and capacity to extend our love to the rest of nonhuman creation.  With an overemphasis on our creatureliness, we disregard the weight of moral responsibility we bear on the rest of creation.


Both pathologies that Southgate provided in this section are manifestations and outcomes of sin that stems, in part, from a deficient outlook on the theology of being made in the image of God as well as a deficient theology of creation.  Sin is so pervasive throughout our mind and being that it blinds us to the harm that we inflict on others (including animals and the rest of nonhuman creation) as well as ourselves.  A more positive eschatology must be inculcated in believers’ lives and minds to show that God does not actively hate this world and wants to destroy it, but that he loves and cherishes it, and wants his creation to flourish (not just humans).  Though many believers wholeheartedly believe they are free from sin through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, their mindset and actions are still very much captive to the sin of self-interest and pride.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any change or progress happening in believers’ minds or hearts in the foreseeable future in wanting to change from this.





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