On Religious Worth of Bodily Liturgical Action – Terence Cuneo

Earlier this year (I forgot I wrote this post, its been sitting in my drafts) Terence Cuneo the philosopher from The University of Vermont, best known for his work in metaethics and early modern philosophy, especially the work of Thomas Reid, came in to our Analytic Theology Seminar to give a paper on liturgical theology…..

  • Scripted movement-touching sequences: involve participant in the liturgy moving through space to approach some person or thing for the purpose of bodily engaging that person or thing by their touching it or touching some person or thing in its near vicinity
  • Why do these SMTS play such a prominent role in the performance of Eastern liturgies?
    • SMTS have religious worth
      • Instrumentalist view vs. non-instrumentalist view
    • Defends a variant of non-instrumetnalist view: Authorization-appropriation model
      • God authorized the composition of and appropriated the scripts that perescribe the performance of such actions

 

Against Instrumentalism

  • Two primary commitments of instrumentalist view
    • Proper role of scripted bodily liturgical action is for an agent who performs these actions to stand in some instrumental relation to religious attitudes
    • Religious worth lies wholly in the fact that the performance has ability o instill, evoke, express religious attitudes that are fitting in how we relate to God.
  • Concerns
    • Doesn’t fit so well with the text we have in the liturgies
    • Doesn’t handle some cases well – i.e. child who dies young, the performance of these bodily actions would not have any religious worth because they would fail to play the role that they were meant to play had the child grown up.
    • Paul on illicitly sexual activity – makes reference to the body as the temple

 

The Authorization- Appropriation Model

  • Task of the approach: ID a relation that God bears to liturgical participants such that their performing scripted movement has religious worth in virtue of their bearing this relation to God.
  • Proposal: having authorized and appropriated the liturgical scripts that prescribe these actions to these participants
  • Two parts to the model:
    • Authorization: Deputization and Delegation
      • The authorization to compose the church’s liturgies is a blend of the two
      • Three types of decisions: 1) scope, 2) which actions to prescribe, and 3) scope and normative force of the prescriptions
      • Criteria for selection: divinely required and fitting
    • Divine Appropriation
      • God doesn’t simply authorize, but appropriates the scripts as his own
      • In eastern tradition – there is a synergistic relationship between the church and God in the composition of liturgy
      • But this is not enough- appropriation and authorization must take place

 

Applying the Model

  • Most things in the liturgy are “fitting” not “required”
    • They are cultural expressions of love, awe, wonder, among other attitudes, etc.
  • Difference between an action expressing an attitude vs. an action which is expressive of an attitude
  • Prima Facie worth worth on the whole
    • Some actions have prima facie interpersonal worth, but they are easily defeated
    • Acts can be expressive of attitudes that are apt in one sense but lack interpersonal worth because they lack something
    • The authorization-appropriation model explains why MTS can have stable non-easily defeasible religious worth.

 

Conclusion

  • MTS have religious worth because they fittingly relate us to God. Being fittingly related to God consists not simply in mental states but in the way we use our bodies. Worth of MTS is not wholly determined by the attitudes agents are in, but by the attitude that God has to their performance.  This addresses the issue that there is supposedly something defective about ritualized activity which is by its nature “dead” – and says this objection is off because there may be things in which God delights in the way we use our bodies in worship.

 

Questions

How do you go about figuring out which actions are “authorized” or “fitting?”

  • Come up with some story for how taking communion with chocolate chip cookies and mountain dew expresses in some cultural form attitudes which are appropriate towards God?

 

Who is “authorized?”

  • Its clear on the story of President sending secretary of state, or a ceo having her secretary write a memo and send it out to the company.

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