Reviewing the First Toronto Regional Convivia

We are pleased to publish this (lightly edited) report from Dr. Ian Clary, a member of our Toronto regional chapter. You can learn more about our regional chapters here.

Convivia Report

We had our first annual Convivium Irenicum in Toronto the weekend of January 7 and 8, and in the following I wanted to give a report for any interested. In spite of my fears, I believe that all went quite well. We had a good turn-out for the Thursday evening lectures by Craig Carter and Brad Littlejohn; there were thirty-one in attendance, if I recall correctly.

The audience was quite ecumenically diverse: a number of Anglicans were there for Brad’s Hooker lecture—it was interesting to see clerical collars in a Baptist church!—and there were a number from Mennonite backgrounds to hear about Yoder. Of course there were a goodly number of Baptists, and some from the PCA. We even had a Roman Catholic, though I think he was there merely to chastise his brother-in-law for promoting the thought of a schismatic like Hooker!

You will hear from the audio that Dr. Carter gave a thoughtful and critical appraisal not only of Yoder, on whom he is an expert, but also the shifts in his own thought from being a died-in-the-wool Yoderian and Barthian to being one now more indebted to classical theism and Reformed theology. After giving a biographical summary of his own change of thought, he outlined types of pacifism, drew a comparison between an early and later Yoder, and then proceeded to show why Yoder’s “liberal pacifism” was detrimental to an orthodox doctrine of God. This was followed by some lively discussion with the audience, a number of whom supported Yoder and Hauerwas, though Carter was more than up for the task of responding! We then broke for coffee and dessert, where there was good mixing between all who were there.

Brad’s talk on Hooker began by using what he called “Trumpism” as a foil for some of the big problems in American politics, and offered Richard Hooker’s political thought as a saner approach. Here he emphasised Hooker’s chastisement of his radical opponents, and his call for reasoned submission to an ordered society that does not stress the absolute right of the individual at the cost of the community. I have to admit that not all of what I heard sat well with me as one who comes from a Dissenting tradition—I’m still left wondering whether Hooker would have me imprisoned had I lived in Elizabethan England, but later conversations with Andrew Fulford were helpful in setting things in perspective.

The following Friday began with a smaller, but very committed, group of about ten who listened intently as McGill University PhD student Andrew Fulford gave a very useful talk on Jesus and natural law. He framed his discussion well by showing how Jesus’ ethical teaching was rooted in the Old Testament, which was in turn creationally rooted, thus forging a relationship between the law of nature, the teaching of the Old Testament, and the ethic of Jesus. He showed this with many examples, primarily from Jesus’ sermons on the mount. What was most striking to me was the way Andrew showed Jesus indirectly following natural law at Gethsemane, which serves as a model to Christians who question either the value or rightness of natural law thinking. Basically, if our Lord and Saviour submits to it, we should too!

Michael Plato’s very engaging lecture on posthumanism was by far the scariest of the talks, if only because he convincingly showed us the future, and it is dark. Posthumanism, the philosophical idea that we need to get beyond humanism/humanity, by means such as genetically merging us with other species, is horrifying. Michael showed us the precedent set for posthumanism in the writing of philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault, as well as feminist and post-colonial thinkers. He examined key posthumanist writers like Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway, think tanks like the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, and compared/contrasted posthumanism with transhumanism. His accompanying slides were helpful, though we all were unified in our disgust at the image of a mouse with a human ear growing out of its back! When it came time for discussion afterward, we were all basically agreed that we have been warned of this coming horror by Lewis in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength.

After a time of lunch at one of Toronto’s top Italian restaurants—where we nearly all piled the anchovies on to our pizzas, much to the chagrin of the few who didn’t—we returned for Brad’s second talk on Christianity and technology. This was a very helpful paper that personally convicted me about my own consumption of technology. He began by outlining classical and medieval notions of curiositas, and why curiosity is often connected with sloth, intemperate and endless searchings, or even a desire to know the world as God knows it. He linked this to our endless scrolling of Facebook timelines or Twitter feeds. Brad then looked biologically at the role that dopamine plays, especially in relation to “the search.” The human body gets its dopamine rush not so much in discovery, as it does in searching. Hence why users of pornography are never satisfied in their endless quest for heightened sexual highs, and often find themselves looking at things that they find morally repulsive. Brad concluded by encouraging us to turn off our technology as much as possible, and to rediscover beauty.

Though it wasn’t planned, all of the papers meshed remarkably well. We thought much about ethics and ethical laws with Carter, Brad’s first talk, and Andrew’s. Then Michael and Brad showed us practical needs where our ethic can be applied. Speaking for myself, and on behalf of others that I spoke with, the two days were thought-provoking and applicable. This was also a time where I met new people, and (I hope) forged new friendships. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it, I really am looking forward to next year!

Convivia Audio

You can find audio recordings of all the talks at Word MP3.