#200 Theology: Considering the Big Questions – Dr. Jim Cregan

This week I explore theology and our relationship with something bigger than ourselves with Dr. Jim Cregan, former lecturer of theology and Notre Dame University in Fremantle.

Jim explains what the study of theology is and delineates it from institutionalised and organised religion.

Jim explains how considering the questions that theology raises helps us to orientate ourselves in life and society and, as a consequence, develop stronger existential strength and inner compass within ourselves. Jim also puts forward how a lack of orientation in life could be behind much of the anxiety and mental health issues that we see arising today.

This a great conversation with a lot of depth and will leave you with much to consider. Jim is a very thoughtful gentleman and it was a real pleasure to speak with him.

Read Full Transcript

Bryn Edwards 

This week I explore theology and our relationship with something bigger than ourselves with Dr. Jim Cregan, who is a former lecturer of theology and Notre Dame University in Fremantle. Jim explains what exactly the study of theology is and delineates it from institutionalised and organised religion. Jim explains how considering the questions that theology raises, how verses to orientate ourselves and develop a stronger, you know, existential strength and inner compass within ourselves. And he also puts forward how this lack of orientation could also be behind much of the anxiety and mental health issues that we see raising today. There is a lot more in this conversation. Jim’s a very thoughtful, and well thought out, gentleman, and it was a real pleasure to speak with him. So enjoy, Jim.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Hello, and welcome back to WA Real. I’m your host, Bryn Edwards Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming Jim Cregan. Jim, welcome to the show.

 

Jim Cregan 

Thank you.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So theology is where we’re gonna go today. So you are former lecturer in theology from Notre Dame University of Fremantle. And I thought it’d be really interesting to, because I’ve been sort of going, looking into a bit of philosophy, I thought it’d be also interesting to go into a bit of theology, in terms of what it is and what we can learn from that, particularly as we navigate our way in much changeable world. So if we start with a basic question, what is theology? Just so we’re crystal clear, and we have a central coordinate to start?

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Well, I don’t know if there is a crystal clear definition of theology. But if you took it etymologically words about God was about God words about God. Yeah. Now, it’s problematic in because the subject of theology is this thing, this, however, experience, sense of that we call God. And that is the, like, the focus on the goal of the of the discipline, as it were, you know, so. So that’s sort of problematic, but problematic in well problematic in that essentially, you are working in an area that is profoundly intellectual and analytical, but at the same time is abstract and poetic. But if we, I mean, in some traditions, an aspect or dimension of the theology is precisely questioning whether this thing called God actually exists, right? The tradition that I am trained in and sit in, assumes the existence of that which we call God.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Right? That’s taken as a given.

 

Jim Cregan 

It’s taken as a given. Yeah, yeah. And then, so what I used to tell my students was that I’m not about teaching them about God, but I’m teaching them about ways to think about this thing called God. But and if you, you take that a little bit further than and one of the or one of the dimensions of Catholic theology is that we are Christian theology, Jewish theology that were imaged in the likeness of God. God, the Creator, then theology becomes not just about God, it becomes about humans relationship with that, which we call God. And, and then, if you again, you know, working with this thing that we are imaged in the likeness of God, then it’s very much about relations with each other as well. Yes. So broadly speaking, as I say, words about God and of course, that includes, you know, the traditions and the scriptures and the texts and the, you know, the history and yeah, of that whole. That whole endeavour. Yeah. How?

 

Bryn Edwards 

How does one position theology in relation to what we know is sort of institutionalised religion? Yeah, it is one sit inside the other on the other side. Did you see where?

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah, so it’s a really interesting question. And why I say that is that institutionalised religion, I think has been frequently very suspicious of theology. In as much as because particularly in the in the Catholic version, it’s a questioning en Judaism as well, yes. And historically in Islam as well, and it’s about questioning. Our assumptions and in relation to reality, and I guess, the spiritual and the institutional. And so at the same time that theology has historically always informed institutional understandings, it has frequently been at odds with it, often to the parallel of theologians, or the so. Yeah, you know, I mean, the current Pope and the, the leaders of the other denominations have, you know, rafts of theologians that support them. But often outside of that, there’s often you know, I call it feels like metaphysical cage fighting. Yes. Okay. Yeah. You know, some of the conferences I’ve been to, and so really, just shocking things. But, but, yeah, I mean, people often get very attached to their ideas, and they get very defensive. And of course, if, you know, historically, where, I guess the West was essentially a theocracy of sorts. I feel it Well, I mean, the, you know, the history of the West is large by and large IQ path from a large the last year, maybe 150 years or so. And, and particularly maybe in the last 50 years has been, you know, the history of the Christian church that, you know, in the West, and yeah, they times and but but the other thing, of course, our society has been much more static than it has been, you know, recently. Yes. And so, if you have a theology that undermines the stability of that social order, and at times it has, and continues to, then it can be very, can be very problematic and challenging for those institutions.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Particularly. They’re there to bring about a sense of control an organisation, yeah, yeah. All controlled organisation. Yeah. And then you’re picking away at the assumptions. Yeah. Yeah, I can see how theology is, yeah, can help to promote that. But also question that dependent. Yeah, yeah. So it’s strikes me as being very much about that sort of human relationship with God or something. Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, this question is not about just coexist or not, it’s more, I guess my next question would be what, what is it about? us humans that we have need, or whatever it is? A relationship to something that is bigger than ourselves. mystical? Unknown. Mysterious. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, whether whether that’s more of a foremost psychology slash

 

Jim Cregan 

I’m inside a gas Agustin talked about humans having a god shaped well, essentially, you know, my heart is restless to like wrestling the Oh, Lord, you know, yeah, the notion that we have what’s been described as a god shaped hole in our hearts, right. And in many ways, you know, the, the, the project of humans particularly within the institutional religions within within the scriptures is very much the, you know, the journey back to Eden as it were, the journey back to unification with God,

 

Bryn Edwards 

that that’d be the Garden of Eden from where we

 

Jim Cregan 

were, yeah, which was a time you know, of, of harmony with God of, you know, unity with God and unity with each other and so on. And so, I mean, and like a lot of the biblical myths, you know, they described very, very deep, I guess, existential I suppose realities, about a sense of loss, a sense of alienation, you know, a sense of distance iation and so on, you know, more recently, I mean, people like Freud or or, or Marx or Lenin would describe, you know, that as a as a super station or as an aberration that we need to be cued off. Yeah. But I think if you, you know, if you have a sort of sense of Goddess this, you know, the ground of your being then or if you like more, more scripturally that which we are imaged in the likeness of, then, in the same way that I suppose, you know, genealogists or very old genealogy becomes the, you know, the hobby of those with time on their hands to explore their family roots, you know, there’s this, I think, a similar impetus to, to know the substance of that which were imaged in the likeness of, you know, the substance of our, you know, we’re interested in our parents, the history of our parents and our families and so on, even if it is myth, you know, yes. You know, we, you know, we’re storytelling animals, and we like to have a story that has a beginning and a middle and an end, you know,

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes, we do. We tell ourselves stories, and then we collectively tell us, yes. And whatever might come back to this later, but one might argue that we’re at a period of time where we don’t seem to have a grand unifying narrative,

 

Jim Cregan 

we don’t. And that was something that was celebrated, you know, this suspicion of, they talk about the, you know, the hermeneutics of suspicion, you know, which is a feature of post modernism, and, of course, in our array array, and now, all of a sudden, it’s like, ah, actually, it’s kind of this is a bit lonely and a bit disturbing and a bit, you know, that we don’t have these, these grand narratives. And, of course, I think there’s very much a desire to, both on the one hand to, you know, to go back to some of the Grand narratives, or to invent new ones.

 

Bryn Edwards 

I found it interesting when we spoke on the phone recently, where we had an introductory conversation to one another, that you were telling me that is it all the students at Notre DOM, have to do a unit in theology, philosophy, and what was the third ethics and ethics. And I found that I found that interesting, not these very grounding human areas of learning and reflection, were made a mandatory part of being at the university. Which then got me thinking a bit further about just the just the role of considering our relationship to where we’ve come from the bigger questions in life, things that are bigger than ourselves. And I wonder whether because because I would argue that what was happening there at Notre Dame is probably a rarity. And, and that

 

Jim Cregan 

it’s not really within the range of Catholic University. Right? Yeah. Come out of that tradition. Yeah. I guess you call it Christian humanism, or, or the liberal arts together, you know, which was very much founded in a integrated understanding of the human person. Yeah. But very rare within secular universities or modern universities. Yeah, absolutely.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. And so this got me wondering, what are, you know, from the 1000s of students that you’ve seen come through your course? What are some of the I don’t want to sound like a management consultant? What are some of the benefits is the day to day life KPIs? Well known service KPIs? Because that’s, you know, predictable out? And I wouldn’t put a predictable outcome on this. Definitely. But what are some of the observed benefits that you have seen for students who’ve come and been present and interacted with them? Because it? Yeah, it kind of got me thinking about some of, you know, whether the fact that we put these bigger questions to the side then means that we left we’re left with this bigger gap in who we are, and our understanding as humans, which then impacts on our, our, you know, our underlying beliefs, which one might say is like, the rudder on the boat.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Yeah, we stare. Yeah. Look, one of the first things I used to do with the students would come into my class. would ask them, you know, why study theology, you know, and, you know, we’d elicit some of the more predictable ones, which is about, and the valuable ones about, you know, cultural heritage and about, I guess, being able to put yourself for this very much within the nursing students are those in the Human Services type areas, put themselves in the shoes of the, of the clients who may not necessarily come from a Christian perspective, or sometimes, you know, and I don’t mean in the sense of understanding that religious tradition, but the fact that they might have one, you know, that is a value to them, you know. But what I like to put forward to them is that, typically, in an undergraduate degree in particular, they would learn the, you know, the water, their discipline, and then the, maybe the how, and then possibly the Y, you know, they get into the more analytical stuff and no more critical stuff. But it’s rare that they would look at the who have the discipline and other who knew that who they are in the context of their, their professional lives and their, their, their personal lives as well, you know, and what I would, you know, what I would argue, is that, a course, I mean, what I used to do, I mean, what theology does, it’s, it’s a framework for understanding the human person, both the soul and the person in relationship. It’s only one way of understanding, but at least one way is better than none. No, yes. And I sort of stress on the mid, you know, provides them a scaffold will give them a scaffold in many other ways of doing it, and, you know, invite them to explore it, but at least it gives them some kind of discipline, a structured discipline, to approach that. So that they might approach other ways of understanding with a degree of rigour and a degree of, you know, structure and, and a degree of confidence as well, you know, but I think one of the things that, certainly theology as it was taught at Notre DOM, and as I taught it was, to get them to understand that they are more than well put to this way, their clients and themselves are more than they’re more than the realness if they’re doing nursing or medicine, you know, more than their behaviour, if they’re doing education, you know, and, indeed, you know, that they are themselves more than their, you know, KPIs, as it were. Yeah. Or the, you know, that there is, you know, they, you could summarise it, or it talks about the head, the heart and the hands, you know, and, of course, a lot of the, I mean, my experience of secular universities, and I’ve been to quite a few is that, you know, they’re very materialistic places. And I think the government policy more recently has even, you know, like, totally given up on the, you know, the notion of personal development that, you know, I think they’re quite explicit, it’s about productivity, and yes. And developing a, you know, managerial class that, that, you know, they are there more than that, they know, they’re more than just a physical being and more than just a cognitive being, you know, that there is a dimension that you might call the spiritual yet which, at its most fundamental, draws attention to the, to the awareness of one’s the totality of one’s being that I think is valuable, and that they find valuable. And particularly in, you know, they get a bit antsy in the old days sometimes might come with a degree of resistance in the beginning. And, but usually, by the time we get to the point of applying some of the kind of basic stuff to issues like, for example, around suffering and around, you know, moral decision making, for example, then all of a sudden, it can get profoundly relevant. Yes, yeah. And so, yeah, I think that’s where, and, you know, I’ve run into students, like subsequently, you know, I’ve been teaching there for them in around 10 years or so, when I, when I finished and that’s a lot of students that I’d met over the years and if some would be, you know, indifferent to it, and by I would, I was surprised at the number of former students who would approach me and say, you know, you don’t, you may not remember me, but I did your class and so on and so forth, you know, with very positive comments that, that it’s some valid. Yeah. So I think I think that’s, you know, the idea of offering those three subjects as compulsory subjects comes out of a tradition, but I think it is a value, they are a value. Yeah. It strikes me that it helps to develop an inner inner compass. Yeah, absolutely. a compass is a good way of putting it. Yeah. And maybe a, a way of fighting, you know, we’re talking about ethics in particular, you know, what does it mean to talk about the conscience, you know, and that it’s not just sort of some kind of airy fairy notion, but it’s actually a quite, you know, sophisticated process of discernment in relation to moral decision making, you know, quite a different type of conscience, the conscience that believes in the existence of God is very different conscience that literally, like a secular conscience tends to be more, you know, or tends to give greater emphasis to the purely psychological or the, you know, the enemy. Yeah. But again, again, you know, that’s just providing frameworks for I guess, being in the world, you know?

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes. Which is not an easy thing to do. The best? Yeah, perfect. Yeah. I wrote, I wrote down here, you know, it, it struck me that, you know, engaging, and considering and reflecting starts to build a level of existential strength. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. resilience. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And that’s not just resilience in terms of, you know, I can take a lot of crap. Yeah, more a case of things might shift and change around me whether it is, you know, pillars. Yeah, an external reference points upon which I derive my sense of identity. But, you know, I will still be present in my connection with something bigger. Yeah.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Very, very much. So, you know, the, I mean, within the philosophy talks about other philosophy dimension, but it’s very much relevant to our Actually, I’ll preface it by saying one of the things I asked the students is, you know, what do you want from from life? You know, like, and, and I will say that our end, you’re not allowed to say happiness, right? Yeah. Of course, because it’s a crappy blank. Yeah. Because, of course, that’s what they want us to say. Yes. Well, what do you mean by happiness and so on. But, yeah, within the philosophy dimension, they were very much talk about the notion of eudaimonia the Greek notion of human flourishing now, you know, you can you can have at that point, that’s one of those concepts that is very traverses both pure philosophy as it were in a more traditional philosophy and theology, you know, because it incorporates the notion of the possibility of suffering. Yeah. But, and, and how might, one might approach suffering that, that, you know, you can still talk about a worthwhile life that incorporates the possibility of, like, the very real possibility on more, more accurately, probably the reality of suffering, hmm. And, but also give us some kind of, I mean, it doesn’t, you know, reduce the intensity of the suffering necessarily, or absolve you, you know, or, you know, remove the suffering, but it does give a framework for perhaps understanding suffering, and how then, and how that experience of suffering I’m just using that as an example Yeah, but I mean, it’s a big one. It’s a big Yeah. How you might work with your own suffering and the suffering of others so that doesn’t have the last word as it were, you know, that it’s just plain dumb suffering as as I would call it, you know, that you know, you can engage with it and try and transformer creatively so then again, you know, so that it’s not just sort of something that happens and the you know, you did I hear her a bit nervous If you like, I think it’s empowers the person, you know. And, and indeed, I mean, one of the, I think one of the important texts of the last century was Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, you know. And, in particular, a couple of elements of that, and I don’t know if you know, his story, but he was a doctor within one of the current German concentration camps, one of the one of the death camps, and who observed two things, you know, one is that the people who were most resilient were the ones who had a sense of hope, you know, that was invested either in a sense of faith or, you know, a deep connection with their family and their, you know, they’d love for their family and, but who also understood that they had a degree of autonomy in relation how to, they would respond to their suffering, you know, sets of

 

Bryn Edwards 

agencies Yes,

 

Jim Cregan 

into a degree of agency, you know, and that’s not to trivialise suffering. And, but to that, having a sort of sense of, as you say, agency in relation to your own suffering, I think it’s very powerful, but it’s also very individuating. It’s one of the, one of the I think loci of our greatest sense of who we are as, as individuals as well, in that we, each individual can choose ultimately, you know, how they respond to their, to their suffering.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And it’s interesting, you bring up suffering, because it has occurred on the podcast before where, I think, as an observation, because we don’t develop a relationship with suffering. As a consistent feature of life, I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t encountered any. So therefore, it’s there. Because we don’t develop a relationship with it. Because we’re not also considering our existential nature, then we push away from it. And I think it was young who put forward that neurosis is the sort of try the avoidance of all suffering. And so any sort of slight depressive episode that we might go through, which is an appropriate response to change, suffering, is then seen as something far worse than it actually is. And probably more of a constant than a, you know, a transitory episode that might go through. And therefore we lose that sense of resilience. And then a reoccurrence of that can increase anxiety, which can turn something into a more chronic Yeah. And I wonder sometimes, because I come from sort of a psychology background, not clinical more business, but because that’s the sort of bent to have a look at the individual wonder sometimes, whether they are rising in anger, anxiety, depression, and suicide. I’m getting more curious about what are some of the elements that may be contributing that I put forward on the podcast, maybe we will, would happen if we shifted things from an overly individualised focus and looked at the rise in mental health issues as an appropriate response to organising principles that influence society that we swim it and then where does that takers and certainly you were talking about earlier on as we move to a more sexualized, you know, productivity management class, which I really liked, and we’re becoming more material atomized. And so therefore, that sense of meaning and connection and what have you, is downplayed. If not commercialised. Yeah. Yeah. You know, we’re observing the rise of life coaches and things like that, where people just want a sense of connection with and to be heard. Yeah. And and so I wonder of And, you know, this is this is what is drawing me towards looking at philosophy and, you know, seizing the opportunity to speak to you today to look at what are some of the things that may be considered old school. And just that’s the best phrase, most accessible phrase that comes to mind that we may be overlooking, that are key components of our growth as human beings that need to be in place that give us this sense of inner compass.

 

Jim Cregan 

Okay. Yeah, look. It’s interesting. So anxiety is symptomatic of the disintegration of fundamentals that kept us healthy, if you like, or stabilised us and kept us oriented as

 

Bryn Edwards 

anxiety is.

 

Jim Cregan 

Well, let’s symptomatic. Yeah, the lack of the, of the disintegration of those things that used to orient us and in our entire lesson and keep us I think, you know, healthy and, you know, and obviously, you know, community I think is fundamental to that you’re right, you know, we have this the the prioritisation I mean, called radical individualism. Yes. Within as a, as the was not the, one of the key features of secular humanism. Yes. And this and, of course, it’s, by and large, it’s a fallacy, you know, where was the fallacy? The fallacy is that we are, you know, like, we have, that we are individual Yeah, that somehow or other, you know, we are we are islands unto ourselves. Yes. And with hard borders, yeah, borders. And, you know, we, we have the capacity to the idea that we have full agency, you know, that whatever we, you know, whatever we may wish to become, you know, we have a capacity within ourselves to achieve that, you know, and of course, it’s a nonsense right at the very beginning. And it’s, it’s, you know, we’re born of parents. Yes. And, you know, so we’re fundamentally relational, even if our parents are, you know, appalling people and abusive, and I’m continually amazed at the resilience of children and, you know, to survive the banality of, you know, sometimes of their, their origins and the unintentional abuses that are, you know, visited on children. Yeah. For often the very, you know, the best of reasons, but anyway. But, but, you know, I think, I think what theology can teach, and I think what, particularly Christian theology, but, but I think you’ll find it in, I’m actually, I’ll name that right now, that is to say, like, a Trinitarian dynamic, right, teaches that we fundamentally come into being through the other. Yeah, so Trinitarian dynamic, that is to say, within Christianity, you know, the tripartite God, you know, the others, on the Holy Spirit or whatever other analogies that is presented in, you know, love lover, and the beloved, for example, is a popular one too, you know, but they were fundamentally relational. Yes. At the end, that we, we come into being through the fullness of the other. And, I mean, that’s, that is been, by and large, just, you know, abandoned, you know, we come into being through buying stuff for ourselves, you know, through material acquisition, you know, through, you know, doggy dog and, you know, competitive in capitalism, if you like. And I think that, that reality, I think, has been largely discounted, except to the degree that we might engage with charity to make ourselves feel good. You know? I think that, that that, you know, I mean, it’s one thing to sort of say, Oh, well, we’re all in this together. But it’s another thing to sort of say, No, we’re more than that. You know, we are we Yeah, we are. That’s right. Yeah. You know, as I was saying, you know, one of us ingyenes none of us are free, you know, yeah. Is is the, you know, more than just a slogan, you know, yeah. So, I think that that, that notion of relationality and community, I think is that that has been largely subsumed by consumerism, and

 

Bryn Edwards 

we also very individualised and isolate Yeah, we have our own tax. Yeah. number we have our own bank account. You can’t go and do my job to get to help me get paid. It’s me or not me. And, and, you know, as much as you know, we still form families and and groups, it’s still each individually in that. And yeah, it’s interesting that you talk about this because I ended up in a good, good spirited exchange with a lady who I know who’s not she, she provides a bit of life coaching and, and hypnotherapy and her opening premise that started the discussion was, you know, you have to go in ways to fix all the problems outwards. It’s like, well, the same words. To me, it was like, there’s your inner world. And here, your inner world, there’s the outer world, and there’s the space between, which is your boundaries. And she wasn’t really having much of it. And I kind of had to point out well, you are not, it’s not in your interest to agree with me. Because the actual your actual business model of what you provide, and the service you provide to the world rests on the fact that it all has to start with the individual, which is then back to this. Because you individual on your own and we need to fix Yeah, yeah. Which is very Friday. Yeah.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Look, in some, there are elements of what of that particular position. And now and, and that’s very much the stuff of, you know, of it, sort of cyber vino Buddhist philosophy, and, you know, the idea of enlightenment, which very much is about comes from within, you know, yeah. But I think what’s happened is that, that’s been detached from the notion of, of self in relationship, you know, yes, of being radically for the other, you know, that the reason you are doing this, this, this, you know, process of inner transformation, you know, is about so that you are more fully in relationship in healthy relationship with the other, you know, with, with yourself, you know, with the small other end with the bigger other if you like, you know, with the transcendent, you know. So, I think I think that idea of no transformation is really important. But if that’s where it begins and ends, then it’s problematic, you know, yes, it’s severely problematic. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Because then there are circles.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah, yeah. And you can even sort of say that the difference between Judaism and Christianity is that, you know, Judaism is, is by and large to do with, you know, external realities, you know, God in history, and, and the community, you know, and the law, which is fundamentally, you know, a way of being in the world, but it’s, it’s, it’s interesting, I think of the word. It’s formalised, you know, highly formalised through the, through the, through the law, and through the commandments that, that were subsequently developed, you know, the over 600 commandments are developed following the, as Israeli society developed, you know, following the, you know, the, the, the offering of the of the 10 commandments, or 10 suggestions, as it’s, I think, is more a more nuanced way of actually understanding. Yeah. And, and, you know, Christianity, which was very much about interior transformation, you know, yes. It’s interesting that the two was very outside community was very much Yeah, yeah. You know, yeah. But but it, but that inner inner transformation is about, you know, so that you are, you know, more fully able to be relationally. in relationship with the outside world. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that’s how I see it. Anyway, that’s my that’s, I guess, one of the I guess, you know, understandings, I guess, developed over time anyway. How?

 

Bryn Edwards 

How is it for you, Jim, to look into the outside world that we are in currently, given the amount of time and consideration that you’ve put into the field of theology, and then using that as a lens to look more deeply into the world because I’ve been, I mean, I’ve been reading a fascinating book called the world we create by a chap called Thomas Bjorkman, who’s been on the podcast, and he worked his charts is how he, as he, as you sort of mentioned, we went through these Holy religious period of time where God was the highest authority. And then somewhere in the last couple of 100 years ago, we moved into this more sort of modern, rational way of organising principles where it was like science was the highest, and rationality was the highest authority. And now we’ve moved into this postmodern phase, which is always like, you know, as, as rationality was a kick back against, you know, sort of this organised mythical world of religion, we’re now seeing almost a kickback from this, the structures of rationality post-human a strong, yes, that we’ve got to end. And I get it on one level, you know, my father’s 69, listening to him growing up in the 60s and 70s, well, 50s, and 60s, and then them giving birth to me in the 70s. I listened to that, and then how that’s continued. And, and, yet, so there’s a lot of, you know, always wanting to tear down hierarchies and, and things of that nature. So everything’s more equal, but at the same time, I don’t feel or see a new, larger organising principle or narrative emerging. And so the highest authority to me, which I think you sort of picked up earlier on, I saw authority to me now is now the market. And economic rationality, which has no place in its pursuit of growth, in pursuit of profit, and therefore growth. We can try and kill ourselves, but there is no space for life in humanities, as in that, as it is, you know, this central focus of moving towards growth at all costs, irrespective of the damage that causes to humans, irrespective of the damage that causes to the planets upon which this big collective imaginary is circling, some might say out of control, and, and so I guess they’re some of the components that I’m starting to see and feel about. And I wondered, how is it for you to look into the world?

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Yeah. Big Question. No, no, no, it’s, it’s, you know, just thinking of something my children or my wife reacting to it. When I’m watching television or the news, you know, in my,

 

Bryn Edwards 

there’s a lot of exasperate, there’s

 

Jim Cregan 

a lot of experts, a lot of expletives. And a lot of all my daughter who is on my youngest daughter, who is, you know, doing behavioural sciences, and but with a very much a social policy. Emphasis, you know, who I think finds my, my frustration. I think she’s just surprised at the intensity of my, of my, I think what she might perceive as my radicalism, you know, because, I mean, it’s a wonderful thing when you get to, you know, post work, you know, post 60s where, you know, get yourself a bit of slack. Yeah. Yeah. growing old, disgracefully, you know? Yeah. So, I think you’re right. I mean, I think that’s what’s happened. I think science is being displaced by the market, you know, and, of course, you know, and the, and the fictions that support it, and of course, you’ve seen that with the, you know, fake news, that that deliberate mobilisation of the notion of fake news to destabilise. You know, you know, the things that we, the institutions that we trusted I, which, by and large, you know, for the last, certainly last 50 years, but certainly maybe last 75 years or so, which has been science in and, of course, that’s been, I think, rightly displaced, because, on the one hand, you know, he had these quite profound paradoxes of which the, you know, COVID most recent, like, if you accept that it did escape from a laboratory, on the one hand, we have the capacity for, you know, eradicating smallpox, for example, you know, or for developing, you know, vaccines, but on the other hand, you know, we don’t have the we barely have the capacity for keeping these things under control. Yes. And various viruses, I mean, increasingly, you know, the world Things are becoming immune to bacterial to the antibiotics that are being developed and so on, you know, these, you know, the superbugs and so on and so forth. Or alternatively, you know, prior to that, you know, the capacity to, you know, do these amazing engineering feats, including, you know, building armaments, with the capacity to destroy the world, you know, so, I mean, the, in and of itself, investing some kind of moral authority into science is problematic, you know, but I think it’s equally problematic to do that with the market as well. Yes. And I think, in Western Australia, I think we have an opportunity to, or not an opportunity, we are exposed to the fallacy there, I think, you know, quite up close, you know, I think Western Australia is very much an aspirational society, you know, people come to Western Australia to make money. And at, you know, it’s pretty much a boom and bust society. And, once again, you know, who you hearing the conversations of, you know, how many houses a person might own, you know, and, you know, that, which was very much the stuff of, you know, barbecue conversations in the last boom, you know, and that, you know, one of the consequences of that immoral money became its own moral authority, you know, yes. And the idea that the, you know, the people with the highest status in Western Australian society with the tycoons, you know, and the people who have made, you know, billions out of natural resource, exploitation of natural resources and so on, you know, so I think, I think that is something that we are exposed to, I think, in fairly obvious ways here, you know, but it’s, you know, the people who are unemployed, the people who, you know, were became quickly unemployed in the, you know, in, which wasn’t so much experience in Western Australia, but in the eastern states, and particularly in somewhere like Victoria, realising very quickly that whatever trust they might have had in the market is misplaced, you know, because it’s not, I don’t think it is, I think it is beyond control, you know, to be honest, and

 

Bryn Edwards 

to have a collective agency. Now, when I say agency, I don’t mean by department, right. Yeah. Collective agency from from within, as that is there to counter?

 

Jim Cregan 

Well, is that there’s not and there’s some very, very strong forces that are that, you know, the voices that question, for example, you know, the, the, the authority of the of the market or the purity of, you know, market forces, very much, you know, marginalised or disparaged or the caricature in the mainstream some elements of the mainstream press, for example, no mainstream media, four out of self interest by and large, but, yeah, so, what, what might come in to replace it? I read a really interesting article once on that was looking at the, I guess, the spiritual possibilities of post modernism, you know, and of course, yeah, and post modernism, as you know, was very much sort of seen, as you know, Dibble sponsz, tablespoon, you know, that, rather than understanding as really a tool of analysis, that somehow or other it represented, these kind of monolithic forces that were, you know, destroying the, you know, the institutions of that have, that have sustained society, you know, and particularly, the institution of the church and so forth. You know, and I think that was both a misunderstanding of the, of the power of, or the limits of the power of post modernism, which was, as I say, which was by and large, I, as I understood, as I see it, you know, I have tools for analysis, particular tools for analysis and ways to, I guess, position yourself in a variety of ways to take a variety of positions to analyse or interrogate whatever particular social policies or discourses or whatever, you know, but, you know, within that, there would be, you know, places where, you know, there weren’t obvious connections, you know, things were, you know, in the disconnections, that postmodern analysis would often throw up I think, I saw a As a potential for what you might call the mystical, you know, and of course, this was very much where, you know, one of the, you know, the darlings of the postmodern movement, Jacques, Terra, Terra, there, it ended up, you know, very much in the mystical, and it was very much my experience when I did an undergraduate degree in what is now called continental philosophy or applied philosophy, which is, by and large, postmodern philosophy that you’d get to what I used to call the, you know, the the conclusion that dare not speak its name, you know, which was, you know, the mystical or the or the transcendent, or, you know, the beat that which was beyond language or beyond genre, you know, and I think, you know, I suspect that something of that kind might come out of, you know, the current crisis, and certainly, I get the feeling, you know, there’s much, you know, people are questioning their, through the fact that they’re not going into work, you know, well, do I really want to be doing this, you know, yes, the notion of a career that, you know, people no longer earn a living, you know, they have careers, you know, and even, you know, I’ve seen the most banal jobs advertised as, you know, exciting career opportunities. Yeah. And, and you can’t, so, I think the space has opened up a profound space for people to question, you know, a lot of the assumptions around around, you know, the market, but around the, you know, the priority or the, you know, of the individual, you know, the radical individualism and, and its capacity to deliver, you know, happiness or contentment, or, you know, or human flourishing. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So, so, so it’s like, again, a reaction to the sheer absence of connection meaning,

 

Jim Cregan 

yeah, yeah. And, and, and, and, but it’s a possibly a reaction, but sometimes, like a natural, it kind of that emanates from a space that’s created sometimes by Yes. For example, like, like a, you know, a collapse in economic order, you know, like, the global financial crisis or, like, crisis, you know, and like this, yeah. COVID now, and what do I look for it? You know, it in amongst all the, you know, the dominant discourse, I’m always looking for signs of life, but yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, like, like, thing for God, this is interesting, you know, that, yeah, that were often at the micro level or at the level of the, you know, smaller communities. But, you know, from small things, big things grow, you know, and that sometimes ideas, you know, catch the imagination in profound ways and have a have a life of their own. I still believe in the greater good, and, you know, that goodwill triumph over evil, just by the very nature of what evil represents, you know, which is, you know, that lack of all that the, the displacement of the good, and I think, by and large, it’s, it’s largely irrational. That wonderful film, No Country for Old Men. Yeah. And the old Sheriff just pondering the sheer irrationality of evil of pure evil, you know, and not being able to make sense of it. And I think, ultimately, that lack of rationality implodes, you know, some terrible things done in the meantime, but still, you know, so, yeah, so, by and large, I’m still optimistic. Yeah, I guess, I

 

Bryn Edwards 

guess for me, I, I sort of feel like the grounds for something to emerge are starting to be cultivated in that. If any COVID is illuminated. I share connectivity. The fact as soon as we made hard borders, then all of a sudden these new problems started to arrive because we’re like, oh, and never really thought about people moving and goods moving and what, but it just eliminated where we had got to. Yep, in terms of our interconnectivity, and then we’re having to make economic decisions. blunt economic decisions that to sustain life. And because of the way pace that we’ve got to lock down borders, you make people stay at home, they can’t go to the jobs, but they need money. Because otherwise, you know, there’s mortgages to be paid, and there’s food to put on the table. So, it but now we’re lumped with this enormous debt that nobody really wants to talk about. Somehow, Australia’s going to have to pay back at some point. And so all of these things for me have come together. And I guess it’s, like I said, it’s almost ironically enough, we may be at a place that’s been so focused on the radical individualization but not so much, that sends that individual deep within themselves and they’re still, by and large, it’s culturally normal, particularly here in the western developed world for is to take our sense of identity and existential presence by having having almost like pegs and anchor points in institutions that are now going shaky, shaky. Yeah. And all of a sudden, it’s like, Whoa, who am I then? You know, and have I been putting my anchor points in the right place? Yeah. Yeah. No, I’ve been anchoring against my bank account. I’ve been overly against my job I’ve been anchoring against this was

 

Jim Cregan 

my sexuality to indeed, yeah, that’s a big one. And believe it or not, yeah, you know, we coming out of the, you know, the idea of dh Lawrence, you know, I am my sex, you know, which is, you know, of course, fed a lot of the, you know, marketing and advertising and individuation and so on and so forth. You know, yes. I think one of the reasons for the Well, I guess the, you know, the moral panic about it, you know, this the bringing the a much wider range of, you know, a much wider understanding of sexuality into the mainstream. You know, a lot of it is is precisely I think it’s another element of that decoupling, if you like, from those old, you know, certainties as it were. Yeah, yes. Yeah.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Which then, as you rightfully pointed out earlier on, provokes symptoms of anxiety. Yeah, yeah. And so with all this going on, and rising anxiety as a spoke,

 

 

I find it.

 

Bryn Edwards 

To me, that seems to be the fertile ground for us to know, our humanity will want to express itself somehow. And I believe we do need a connection to something that’s bigger than us, even if its nature. Yeah. And something will emerge from there. I think we’re also seeing some weird stuff. Yeah. Yeah. You know, if you take just as an example, the rush on Capitol Hill, and led by q anon shaman, fellow big horns. Yeah. Yeah. But if you’re the sovereign citizen stuff, yeah. And it says, weird and wonderful stuff coming out of that. And that, to me, is why we’re so keen to talk to you today.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah, this is right. I mean, one of the and you know, for example, the, you know, the rise of the or the, or the rise, I think the emergence or the re emergence of the hard, right, you know, and in its most extreme forms, you know, I mean, by and large, their, their, their clubs, you know, their, their, their, you know, groups that create a sense of belonging, even if neck, which they belong to is, you know, quite distorted. And, I mean, they don’t see it that way. But it’s, you know, to the degree that they can articulate something, yes, it provides a, you know, some kind of scaffolding that you know, that they can understand and work with, and then

 

Bryn Edwards 

and that it can be delivered. So anybody that’s something that they offer can be delivered personally. To you, I mean, I’m pointing at my phone I personally delivered to your pocket that you can pick up and it’s like,

 

Jim Cregan 

oh my god, they’re just like me your Facebook friends? Yeah. Yes, yes. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, look, look, I mean, I didn’t mention it before, but this idea of, you know, the the spirit at work, you know, like, within the Christian tradition, you know, you could, one can talk about the idea of that, you know, the spirit, you know, working, the problem of that is that you have a misguided understanding of what that spirit is constituted by, then it can lead to kind of all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff, or we, it can lead to the justifications, yes, for some pretty ordinary stuff as well, you know, what I, you know, you get, you know, who people who very much I know, within, within the Christian tradition, who see themselves very much in touch with the spirit, you know, but, and then sort of see themselves as agency or agents on that, you know, and can be it that troubles me. And particularly when it links up to previous notions of individualism, you know, and you get this thing, a wonderful Australian theologian, a guy called tronic, kilmeade, coined the phrase, or at least I think it was him who coined the phrase, talking about an ego fantic projection, you know, where you project out into the world that which you understand, as God, you know, and call it God. Yes. Right. But essentially, what you’re doing is projecting out your own limitations and into the world, you know, and then on the basis of that, then, you know, arguing for certain positions and arguing against other things, and positioning yourself in or seeking to put yourself in positions of power using elements of the hard right, for example, very much seeking to representation, public representation, parliamentary representation, you know, because they see that as an opportunity, and also a calling, you know, so you can, it can be fraught, but by Yeah, by and large, I think I’m still optimistic that the, the greater goodwill will emerge.

 

Bryn Edwards 

I mean, as you put that, for us, I think this is an interesting thing to consider that spirit is at work. I had a previous podcast guest, Sean nano, who be one of the key things he was getting across to me is Brent spirits always at work? Yeah, yeah. So proudly, digitus man, and he was like, it’s always a work. And so then, you know, you brought that up again, that you could consider that spirit is at work.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the Zeitgeist was how it was, you know, understood, or there’s, you know, the spirit of the ages, how its other ways that it’s been expressed in quite secular terms. You know, rhizomatic is another way that it was expressed in post modernism, when there were, you know, elements that they couldn’t quite make the connections, but that could be identified as being connected, but the path between those connections couldn’t quite be identified. So they use the term rhizomatic the idea that somehow or other there’s some kind of underground forces at work, or or can, you know, connectivities that suddenly sort of pop up, you know, yes. But certainly,

 

Bryn Edwards 

we will, in complexity theory, this emergent phenomenon occur when they occur. It would be different, even if you had all the agents that came together to sort of other components that came together to create emergent phenomena. You can never really track it back and go, either yet. It’s not predictable by bringing 10 elements together, it will create an 11th. Yes. Which is itself, you know, an emergent phenomena. Yeah.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. And, you know, some people are very uncomfortable with that, but Well, yeah, this comes back to having a degree of existential strength. Yeah, yeah. It’s letting go Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the I could be generalising here but I am of the opinion I think previous culture You know, my earliest column sort of ancient cultures were much more comfortable with the, you know, both and rather than the either or, you know, one of the legacies of, you know, empiricism is a sort of like an either or mindset, you know. And, of course, out of that, I mean, at some wonderful things, you know, like bike, you know, differential diagnosis and so on that, you know, is is is wonderful, but, but at the same time is a deep assessment, in some cases suspicion of, and certainly an anxiety about that, you know, possibility that things can be both and, you know, and but I also know that, I think once you allow yourself that possibility, you know, like, which, of course, is the very much the stuff of Zen Buddhism and the training, was it. So in Buddhism, that, I think it enriches, I think it empowers you, but it also it gives you a much greater sense of, I guess, creative potential. Yeah. Sure.

 

Bryn Edwards 

If someone has been listening to this so far, and they’re starting to think, Crikey, I should start considering some some of the bigger questions. What sort of questions would you put forward?

 

Jim Cregan 

Oh, my goodness. Well, the two big ones, you know, you know, who am I? And yeah, what should I do? Yeah, how should I be in the world? You know, I think how should I be in the world is? Yeah, I think I still think, you know, they’re pretty, they’re pretty good questions. Yeah. I think that that’s, I think, you know, like, as, as a Christian, and and with the training that I have, I think my question would be alive would be, I think our goal in life is to as fully as we can to, or to image ourselves as fully as we as possible, as image in the lightest fulfil our potential, if you like, as he mentioned, the likeness of God. Yeah. There are great many barriers to that, obviously, in relation to, you know, health and education, all the stuff that social justice, teaching deals with. Yeah. But I think by and large, it’s both our responsibility to that to the others, that they, as far as possible, can achieve that potential. That potential. And I think it’s also our responsibility to ourselves, you know, that we would do that tonight. So I think, however, you might, you know, ask the question, the questions are about, you know, well, what, you know, what is my potential, you know, what, what? What am I guess, what, am I here for really, you know, and how, how should that manifest here? Or and what can I do to help manifest that? I think, I think you need to, and who can I? What relationships do I need to engage? To help me fulfil that potential? Yeah. I think the sooner you let go of the idea that you can do it all by yourself. I think the better.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes. Yes. Matt is not an island.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I think I think it’s, I mean, they’re, they’re simple questions, but I think they couldn’t have found, obviously. Yeah,

 

Bryn Edwards 

but then I guess it’s not just considering it by yourself. Maybe with the journal. It’s also, again, in relation with others creating space for that.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Now, I think I think time for reflection or prayer or Calaway alike, or stillness is very important in that, you know, one of the, again, you know, one of the things that I would teach my students is that, you know, the end of the, you know, the, the climax creation is that time when God rested as it were. And that’s true of any creative process, the climax of the creative process is when you step back, or when one steps back and considers you know, what one has done, you know, reflect on it, you know, and either, you know, paint over the painting or just, you know, consigns, whatever you’ve done to the to the You know wastepaper bin or whatever? Or says that? Well, at this point in time, that’s enough, you know, that, that. put that to one side and move on to the next thing, but certainly that process of that time of reflection, and I think is critically important. You know, there’s a, there’s a really interesting aspect of Judaism, which has to do with circumcision, you know, which traditionally, is on the eighth day of after birth, you know, Now, of course, that’s very much about humans becoming co creators with God, you know, yeah, the new creation begins as it were on the eighth day. And, you know, and again, integral, so, you know, the, that humans are co creators with God. And, you know, the notion of circumcision is to point to the fact that we are not animals, you know, we are more than animals, you know. And integral to that is, is the, you know, the requirement of reflection and prayer and stillness. Sure. I think that’s, that’s critical to that. Actually, you know, getting that time is another thing, you know, yeah. And building it into your own, your own, you know, timetable to mean, all the all the various pressures that each of us all of us have

 

Bryn Edwards 

that holding boundary around that. Yeah. And then expressing that individual importance to others so that it can be respected. Yeah, yeah. That’s falling for it.

 

Jim Cregan 

Yeah. Well, I used to sort of say, I mean, I studied theology for a long time. And it surprised me that, you know, it was a process of while it was of relevance and interest and felt like the right thing to do, I would keep doing it. And of course, I ended up with it, you know, double masters and a PhD, but at times, I would feel very much that I was doing a lot of talking about God and not enough talking to God, you know? Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, that’s, that’s a danger of that process of self actualization if you’re building

 

Bryn Edwards 

maps of the world, looking out the window, rather than going for a walk. So yeah, that’s right. Yeah. What has it brought to your life?

 

Jim Cregan 

What has it brought? Yeah. Well, I think I’ve a very different person than I was 20 years ago. Absolutely. When you started when I started, yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s brought a sense of fulfilment. I mean, when I finished, I, you know, started postgraduate study back in the 80s, you know, and I abandoned after, you know, I don’t know, six months or something like that. Because I didn’t feel it was very satisfying. And I think it was a very good thing, both for myself and for, I suspect, I probably would have ended up as a senior public servant in camera or something like that. And I don’t think that would be good for either of us, you know, like, yeah, this track as a whole or myself. And I think, but nonetheless, you know, I had a, I had a sense of, I guess, a sense of calling, you know, and I don’t mean, in a religious sense, but I’ve always sort of seen myself as a, as a creative person. And well, I’ve always understood myself as a creative person. And part of that process of creativity is transformation. And I guess, there was always a bit of a sort of sense that that process of transformation hadn’t been completed within myself and certainly, externally in terms of, you know, the various projects that I’ve engaged with, over time to, to the degree that I would be satisfied with them, you know, right. Including, you know, satisfied with myself, you know, and I think, can serve as a project itself as a project. Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s sort of that notion of fulfilling myself as you know, to the best of my ability and working progress. Working progress. Absolutely. You know, and, I mean, that’s absolutely still the case. Yeah. And I guess so. Anyway, I think I got to the end of Yeah, maybe PhD, but certainly in the last little while. We’re I feel like okay, well, that’s, that’s been I think that’s complete completed. Now that Particular journey is completed, you know, it’s certainly in that teaching role, you know, that role of the scholar, I guess. And I think it. So, yeah, I’d like to think that I have been,

 

 

I,

 

Jim Cregan 

it’s empowered me to be I guess, I think a much more dynamic teacher, I think I, I became a much better teacher and I, you know, gave myself permission to take more risks, if you’re likely, right, you know, the way I worked with students, and you know, what I put to them? And I don’t mean that, you know, in a domineering sense, but just in the sort of sense that, you know, to, to be a bit more. Yeah, just a bit more adventurous, I think with with the material at hand, you know? Yeah. And I guess the response of my perception of the way students responded to that over the years was, I suppose justify that. Oh, yeah. So yeah, I think. I think that’s I think that’s probably about as you know, what I would, or would respond to that. Yeah. I think it’s given me a lot of confidence in the process of life itself to less interesting. Yeah, yeah. Confidence in the process. Yes. Yeah. You know, life. You know, what, this, this this, this human being? And?

 

Bryn Edwards 

And, yeah, it’s been absolutely fascinating talking to you. Do you think there’s anything we’ve not covered? The burning issues

 

Jim Cregan 

are probably. Yeah, yeah. I’ll just an anecdote that, I think some way into my first master’s degree. Yeah, I was fortunate. I’ve been fortunate to have some great teachers, you know, and one being an old priest earns in the area of sacramental theology, you know, and I’d written a paper on the notion of landscapers sacrament. Yeah. And I went into his office, and he looked up and said, How you going? And I said, are good. I said, I think I know enough now to know how little I know. And he said, he said, Yeah, he said, that the first 70 years of the worst. So it’s, I mean, one of the one of the beauties of any, I think any great discipline in our and all one great area of study, and doesn’t matter whether it’s, you know, music or art or whatever it is that I think by and large, I think you can grab the basic principles fairly quickly. But I think too,

 

Bryn Edwards 

basic oriented,

 

Jim Cregan 

yeah, basically, basic orientation here. You know, it doesn’t make much to learn how to play a few notes on a flute, you know, but to, to explore it any great depth is a is a lifetime’s work. You know, and I think that’s, that’s true of theology. There’s a reason why, you know, people have been writing about this stuff. And, I mean, it’s, I mean, it’s continually renewing itself, because the world continually renews itself. You know, it’s just another aspect of the Can you really in a continual recreation of the world,

 

Bryn Edwards 

which kind of takes us back to, so that we brought up close to the start of this conversation when I asked you about what theology is, and you were saying how it’s asking those questions. So we can keep renewing, even though people don’t like all those questions. Yeah. Huh. Really enjoyed this tip. Good. Indeed. Thank you very much for your time. Thank you.

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