So Ken Langone, the billionaire founder of Home Depot and self-appointed speaker for other rich donors, is citing an anonymous donor who claims Pope Francis is alienating the rich by his talk about income disparity, the poor, and heres the kicker, that money isolates the rich from feeling compassion for the poor. Therefore, Langone is publicly noting the threat of an embargo on donations to the Catholic church (specifically concerning the restoration of St. Patricks cathedral, but does not appear limited to St. Patricks). Unfortunately Langone and others simply say that Francis was thinking about Argentina, not the US, and was mistranslated. Of course the embargo and redirection is just making Francis’s point; the depths and breadth of poverty in the US are not seen from the heights of a condo in a tower in Manhattan’s midtown. Langone and other donors, however, are not just proving the accuracy of Francis’s analysis but also Scripture. One should not forget that it is the riches of the rich man that make it difficult––as the camel through the eye of the needle––to enter the kingdom of God. So often we simply stop at the love of money as the root of many sins, but forget that wealth is still more subtle and dangerous. Wealth alienates (*cough*white flight*cough*), and capitalist wealth doubly so. But alienation sets us in a fundamental opposition to the interconnectedness of trinitarian life. Historically the Catholic church and many other denominations have often been guilty of alienation and the love of money. Pope Francis, like his name sake, represents the hope of renewal that also occurs in the history of Christianity: work to live with the poor, like Jesus; do not live apart from the poor.
A problem with US pragmatism, especially US jurisprudence: changing the commodity form (e.g. vhs or cassette to digital or in this case, landline to wireless) somehow means the ‘rights’ of a previous form, like copyright or consumer ownerships, has to be reinstated in the new content form (e.g the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) because the previous rights do not seem to entirely transfer automatically.
This vision of newness without continuity–newness as sheer autonomy in order to be authentically new–stays until ‘unfortunately conquered’ by an old but equally large vision (like different types of the public good: the common good or its perversion called the greater good). This seems to be another, albeit apocalyptic, articulation of the old, conflicted division in liberalism of property vs. equality: property is ‘free’ until re-imagined as a communal good because all own themselves equally. Considering this, even if one could make a law establishing a more direct link between different forms such that the re-imagining is never even an issue, I am suspicious that US pragmatism would thoroughly resist the link.
I also wonder, then, if the real question posed to the globe isn’t the red herring of capitalism vs. socialism, but between a pragmatist neo-liberalism (with the illusionary choice to be surveilled) or a fused capitalist and state absolutism like that articulated by Hegel (or a softer version called liberal communitarianism) now wedded with obligatory and invasive surveillance, a la the NSA. The point is, whichever variation or combination of the two options that will be the new political economy, it will be its own mode of voyeuristic absolutism.
And if anything is contrary to such new ‘political bonds,’ it will be a terrorist or spy, or both. We see the beginning of this in the conviction of Plowshare activists as terrorists and the US has charged Edward Snowden with variations of espionage: “theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence [sic] information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.” This re-defined reality is not the beginning of the eschaton as dispensationalists and conservative US evangelicals tend to proclaim–one does not even opt into a ‘beast mark’ here–but rather, this is a furthering of the attempt to ‘end’ history by controlling humanity’s telos via a thoroughgoing biopolitics made possible by this near-total voyeurism.
Theology will probably respond with “Maranatha!”, critical Orwellian appeals, or ‘super sizing’ Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon, but we need a better response. I suspect part of the future task of political theology will lie in confronting voyeuristic absolutism because it will be part of the unifying and protective force of an even more static classism that, in new and old ways, will continue to oppose the theopolitics of the gospel option.
I am sure you all know about the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the wearing of hoodies as a show of solidarity. The hoodie already ‘radicalized’ (“an urban thing,” which is code for black, or sometimes simply not white) is now being used as a sign for identifying with the ‘urban’ and exposing that this assumption wardrobe is racist. There are a multiplicity of voices about whether hoodie solidarity is actually on the whole a positive move or not. But that was before Rep. Bobby Rush wore a hoodie on the house floor as he read the hopeful promises of the Bible.
Of course much of the issue around the shooting is race and segregation. I do not mean to detract from that, but instead deepen the issue because Representative Bobby Rush, like many others before him, exposed that the issue goes much further to the confluence of race, Christianity, and politics in America (and beyond, quite frankly, but I’ll stop there for now). I have have plenty of questions, but many of them are being asked by others so I will skip over those here. However, there are some questions that are not being asked. So I will raise one here.
As preface: the question I am about to ask is quite serious, rather than dismissive. Also, it is intentionally set at a nexus of many issues; it is at heart a short question that demands a very long answer to be answered well: the fact that the complex relationships between race and Christianity, Christianity and state power, and race and the state are all interconnected is just the beginning. The goal of the question is this: by highlighting the complexity around race, Christianity, and politics in America, I am gesturing to the depth racial issues go, and that therefore racial issues go far deeper in the American psyche than most willingly recognize. Of course this is not original to me, but I have yet to hear the issues brought up through the avenue used in this question:
In light of the video below–Rep. Bobby Rush being kicked off the House floor for wearing a hoodie while reading the hopeful promises of the Bible–I have yet another question: what good are the legislative chaplains if the Representatives will kick out their own for this?
I’ve found Adele’s song, “Someone Like You,” to be disturbing on a number of levels. So I wrote about my problems with the song, and suggested another song as truly beautiful. Go read it here: Adele’s Pathological Perversion, or We’re Sorry Saint Valentine.
It has not escaped me that I wrote this on Valentines day. Don’t worry for me––I’m not in a bad place. The Grammy’s were this past weekend, and Adele won in some parts with that song.
I am still unsure how to talk about my dissertation and work for publication on this blog, hence the continued silence. In more simple terms: I’m working, but not sure how to talk about it without shooting myself in the foot.
And speaking of work…
At Union, the USQR (the Union Seminary Quarterly Review) is holding a conference on February 24th, titled “The Future of Liberation Theology.” For their description, see below.
I’ll be presenting a paper there, titled “Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Establishing the Ground for Idolatry Critique in the Triune Gift Economy.”
If you’re in or around NYC, I’m sure they would like people to come. If not, the presentations––assuming they are up to par, of course––will be published in the USQR.
“The Future of Liberation Theology” Conference Details:
Goal of Conference:
The aim of this interdisciplinary graduate student conference is to imagine and explore the future of liberation theology and related liberationist discourses over the course of a one-day graduate conference at Union Theological Seminary, which has served as a location from which many liberationist projects have emerged over the past 40 years. This conference seeks to combine the voices of graduate students working in theology, ethics, scripture, philosophy, religious studies, homiletics as well as other disciplines with the voices of professional academics of multiple generations who contribute to liberationist discourses. In an effort to document this collaborative discussion, the Union Seminary Quarterly Review will publish student and professor presentations, as well as other documents from the conference.
Summary of Problematic:
Liberation theology and related discourses are frequently spoken of in the past tense. This is apparent despite the ongoing proliferation of liberationist projects within and outside the religious academy, and also the continued existence of the impetus for past liberation theologies—the material suffering of persons and nature under human social systems. How might the varied liberationist projects of the past inform contemporary efforts within and outside the academy to confront the various crises humans face today? How, if at all, has the context for engaging such crises changed since the advent of liberation theology? What is at the root of the shift away from liberation theology in the religious academy? In what ways might contemporary discourses on culture, society and the psyche inform contemporary liberationist projects? How do liberation theologies of the past and present inform religious scholarship as a whole? What is the future of liberation theology?
Evening Plenary Panel:
Professors Andrea Smith, Eboni Marshall, Ivan Petrella, Patrick Cheng, and more respond to and engage student presentations and community conversations of the day.
Dark Girls. I found out about this documentary right after we covered Traci West’s “Policy: The Bible and Public Reform” on Mary, the magnificat, and poor, single black mothers. I wish I had known about it before. It is on my list for videos next semester. You should really check it out:
Miss Representation. Another documentary, on women again, but more about image and marketing in general — although in my book, a bit less compelling than Dark Girls, but still, what Miss Representation covers is very important. Check it out:
I’ve been rather silent here because I’ve been quite busy. This is partly because I don’t yet know how to talk about my dissertation publicly online — I’ve heard far too many horror stories about people getting ripped off; partly because I’ve been prepping for the class I’m teaching this fall; and partly because of a new project launching at Marquette:
We’ve got a Political Theologies Seminar that we’re starting up. Part of the seminar is to put up a helpful website with announcements on work we’ll be doing, bibliographies, etc. It is still a work in progress — some bibliographies are nearly nonexistent, but others are beginning to fill out — nevertheless, go check it out here: http://politicaltheologiesseminaratmarquette.wordpress.com/.
If one has finally perceived that writing a good syllabus is difficult for the first time, choosing reading selections are much harder — especially for undergrad classes.
For those of you still looking for those last few readings, or just now beginning to write your syllabus (shame on you), take note of the collaborative project between AAR and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning: the syllabus project. See here and here.
Who just found his way in for the Religion and Interfaith section for their class this fall? Me!
Aesthetically exquisite, but theologically problematic (for starters, since when was Metatron mortal… or Aryan?!, never mind their conception of the wrath of God and fighting for souls), the trailer for El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is out:
The Season 6 promo for Dexter looks interesting — interesting enough I might return to the show:
Also, the new show Awake seems like it could be very, very interesting:
The TED talks redefine the terms useless, enabling, and self-important in ways I didn’t think possible. I can’t stand them — all too often they’re about verbal prowess for a popular audience masquerading as sophisticated, orignal thought.
But just the other day at TEDGlobal 2011, Alain de Botton apparently uttered these words:
Consider my curiosity piqued. Finally. I’ve watched more than a few videos of speakers that have reputable positions and published interesting, ground-breaking projects, but their TED talks go to the absolute lowest common denominator. What is this, the University of Phoenix? Is this how the elites pay for an education subject to economic forces without much disguise?
What is interesting about the quote? After all Botton’s quote is problematic insofar as it seems to assume education today doesn’t already seek to change, or convert, and continue to habituate the person. In point of fact it does. Look at where the money contributions come from and what they fund. Now look at how Universities are educating their client-consumers (no longer pupils) for the job market. The notion of the liberal arts education is more-or-less already gone. Education is not as neutral as Botton makes it out to be.
Nevertheless, Botton is potentially hitting on something interesting — discipleship — and trying to recover it.
So, while there might finally be something worth pursuing from the TED talks… I can’t because they charge so much. $500 for a webcast subscription to your conference that is frankly more miss than hit? Screw you. And this betrays the point of TED to begin with: the elites are the ones with the most scratch, and therefore beholden to important, cutting-edge knowledge without rubbing shoulders with the unwanted plebeians, who, lucky them, can watch the video clips years after the fact or fad is passed. Indeed the conferences reinforce this class warfare, and not much else besides their ego, through the format of a kind of secret gnosis: sometimes the rich will get together to watch enthralling presentations, often without substance, that reinforces their elitism under the guise of paying a lot of money to weed out the unpromising (read, the monetarily ‘unsuccessful’) so as not to taint the exclusive brilliance of the speakers and audience. In short, a kindergarten version of an academic conference, but with an undue, pretentious air.
And don’t even get me started on the underlying dynamic of progress. I all but named the class warfare noted above as a social darwinism, but there is also a simplistic narrative of technological and cultural progress that underwrites the elitism: we’re so awesome because we can get enlightened speakers and technological wizards to comfort the rich with platitudes only found at a futurist exhibit in a world fair.
I am going to find the person who should have been cited for Botton’s talk. Forget TED. It is largely a very simple introduction to hubris.
A sub question of sorts to the previous post Vampires and Cracked:
To open my class this fall, I’m taken with the idea of shamelessly ripping off a page from Graham Ward, who apparently held a discussion in class about which is more theologically significant: vampires or zombies? I find this an enlightening question on many levels, have raised something like it myself in the past, and one that I think the undergrads my find accessible and interesting, or at least quirky rather than boring.
Of course this is an exercise in theopolitical imagination, which is the point. I can’t think of a grand question to begin on the first day and carry through the entire semester, so I have a main thesis that each discussion section interacts with, and the vampires vs. zombies discussion is no exception: Revelation is an important doctrine for religious belief, particularly for Christian faith, and the implications of revelation are important and far-reaching for Christian life today.
So if I’m going to ask about vampires, does this mean I need to watch the gawd awful Twilight series?
For a rather long time I’ve found vampires and zombies to be quite interesting for theology: zombies are of course mindless hordes consuming life around them, and often set in shopping malls so as to expose capitalism’s logic; while vampires exude a combination of consumption and eroticism. Oddly, however, while zombies are still evil, brain-eating fiends, vampires are no longer the incarnation of evil lust but just sensuality.
There is already a book on this, The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero by Susannah Clements. But equally interesting, and more entertaining, the awesome “After Hours” series by cracked.com took up the discussion back in May:
The idea of how we determine importance is a curious question. In a world where importance is determined by value/worth under the capitalist paradigm of de-valuing and re-valuing unrelated to the thing itself, the question of what is an important topic or question is a tricky endeavor, if not problematic. Indeed one should be wary of letting the capitalist logic over determines theological exploration — an idolatrous move in point of fact, partly because it rejects the worth of a thing so the human may play divinity and partly because worth is tied up with truth. Often this capitalist logic parades as the test of relevance. If something is not made obviously relevant under the status quo’s paradigm, it is not worth pursuing or maintaining: “Is this relevant?” is more or less shorthand for “This position of yours does not meet ‘my’ criteria of relevance that determines the importance of this position of yours, so why would you even consider this position?”
Now, this does not mean that relevance is to be simply dismissed if it is a notion concerned with how a theological position interacts with other positions. Interaction is of course important, but at this point the word that describes the issue better is “fittingness” and that places us in the realm of aesthetics rather than a narrow, mechanistic understanding of truth.
The difficulty for myself is that political theology seems to be the quest for relevance, much like social ethics has often been even at its best. But I argue that political theology is not. Political theology at its best, as I understand it, is about chasing the political import of the deep Christian beliefs (political here is more in the sense of polis, as opposed to political in the conventional sense). This is different than relevance in my understanding because the Christian belief and life is not reduced to the question “What is our politics?” as if ethics is the thick part of Christian life. Instead the question is: “Christian belief and life does what? And it engages other communities how?” For those worried, as an interesting test case, I believe this would allow orthopraxy in the way Gutiérrez has put it, rather than reject orthopraxy. Although I’m not sure it would reject orthodoxy in lieu of orthopraxy as some liberation theologians have. The point is here that the description of political theology is about belief, community, and action in such a way that does not instrumentalize belief or community for action in conventionally political stripe, while at the same time recognizing that there is a politics because the Christian life is a thick life grounded in belief, community, and action that interacts with other communities.
This then is a theology (and perhaps a method of sorts) obsessed with nexuses. ‘Nexus’ here is used rather plainly: the nexus is a confluence — like a major intersection of multiple streets or where multiple theological circles on a ven diagram overlap. I see the description of nexus thus: a more interesting and helpful theologian sits in a place where much — place and time, who they interact with, what discussions they’re engaged with, traditions they draw from, etc. — runs through him or her like streets or an intersection. In other words, they’re positioned well, and often this is outside of their control. While a ven diagram perhaps shows better how layering of topics that color and push each other when they’re seen together, like how creation, incarnation, the body of Christ, eschatology, and revelation are major themes for the resurgence in apocalyptic as a category in the last century. But the point here is the interplay at of multiple thoughts, topics, definitions, theologians, etc. at a particular spot in context, which of course often includes connections to other nexuses.
The place of nexus is admittedly privileged — it is the place where multiple layers come into contact and show how they work together, resonate with each other, maintain each other in tension, or fall apart from conflict. I do think this is an interestingly fruitful way of going about studying dynamics and positions. One could say that this is more or less descriptive, and that there isn’t much new to it. In one way this would be correct. After all, we come back to the same topics and questions over and over again — some we cannot get away from not matter how hard we try — and thereby see them as important. Nature and grace anyone? But these perennial questions are important not simply because they’re often dividing lines, but also because they’re nexuses — they’re points where much comes together. The same goes for complex space where things like a community’s constitution/identity/formative memories, boundaries set by communities, how communities interact, etc. where community identities live in conflict, tension, or harmony. There is a reason why religion and public schools is such an important discussion for political science in the US (freedom of religion; no governmental establishment of a church; the delicate, unformed nature of a child; etc. all intersect in the question of how to do public education).
In this focus on nexus, the point is that the truth is recognized and wrestled with not because we determined it so, but because if we take the Christian life to be true — particularly in the nexuses where God and humanity touch — then nexuses are instances of Christians pursuing faithful living.