modern nation-state

And We’re Off

I’ve neglected this blog for a bit. I’ve also done less reading over break than I intended and had less access to the internet than I expected. Oh, and I traveled more than I was hoping to. But now the semester is starting, I’m back in the library and things are moving along. So now thoughts may come out more often.

However, I’ve got a nagging question: What do we theologians do with one of the fundamentals to the state’s justice system, jury duty? See, I was called in for jury duty, for the third time in the past five years, and again, I didn’t get very far. In fact I didn’t get anywhere really — the trial collapsed before they even called us from the waiting room. So I didn’t get to see how theologically my action would be played out, but I was at least partially prepared. No, I wouldn’t be swearing in on the Bible, and yes, I’ve heard of jury nullification. I wasn’t planning on purposely ducking out — I figured saying what I actually do, a PhD student focusing on Political theology would be “bad” enough — but I’ve been at a loss as to how I should respond theologically. The whole theological thinking process was very ad hoc, and while I certainly do not want to divest the process of the ad hoc nature, I want to go into jury duty again with it thought through better (although not entirely). And with that concern in mind, I’ve been chewing on what to do about jury duty. Any thoughts?

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grace, modern nation-state

Suspicion of the State and the Divine Economy of Grace

Sadly, I again feel justified in my suspicion of the state. And not only by way of history and political theory. Just recently I’ve come across the following.

From the Republicans:

I’ll just go ahead and say it: God damn the Republicans, and much of the Republican structure, who would turn divinely-inspired prophetic speech into a political tool by calling it hate speech. You parasitic fools.

However, Democrats, you will probably have a lot of explaining to do, if this article, This Is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House, is even half true about the future:

Amid the euphoria over Obama’s election and the end of the Bush era, it is critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like. Bill Clinton’s boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and under the guise of the so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.

Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the “New Military Humanism.” Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and “free trade” deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.

The prospect of Obama’s foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several of the individuals at the center of Obama’s transition and emerging foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances.

Although unassuming, Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnation of the divine and human stories was an interruption from the beginning. The embodiment of divine grace, a relational act that always calls others toward the divine economy of reconciliation, had to enter into the world in some fashion. In fact, there could be no other way than interruption. With the truth of God encountering a broken world that acted as simulacra of divine politics and disconnected from its telos, and therefore in need of healing, God’s grace interrupted the structures of the world. The true politics of God could not but show self-reliant, human politics for the farce they are. Quite simply, the grace of God was not, nor is now, the economy of the world; the story of God did not live as human in the category of bargain, but that of radical grace and reconciliation.

We cry for true peace.

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ecclesiology, justice, modern nation-state, peace, political theology, reconcile

Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation

I’m drawing to the end of my church and state paper, still tentatively titled “Imagination and Exploration in Church and State Relations: Rowan Williams, Sharia, Social Space, Christianity, and America.” Of course I’ve got a few books out and in lieu of having twitter, I’ll use this blog: “David is surrounded by his Metz books. His heart feels strangely warmed.”

I’ve also got an excerpt here from near the end, where I’m juxtaposing State and Christian ideas of justice and peace. I’m still editing it, but this is a blog, so I don’t think it all has to be perfect. That is also the reason why I haven’t put in footnotes from the actual work. As far as content, its also a bit of a playful “screw you” to those who understand reconciliation in terms of regression. I’m looking at you Milbank and Bridges.

While reconciliation is not the operative lens for the state, it is for Jesus and the church, among other foundational, interrelated politics like the economy of grace and forgiveness. However, the divine economy of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not limp wristed, passive attempts at mediating relationships. Importantly, Christian peace and justice also does not trivialize the rift or violation, instead it takes seriously the violation, the people, and the redemption. Human involvement in grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation on this side of the parousia does not disappear transgression, as if it never happened, but transforms relationships today into how they will eschatologically be – swords beaten into plowshares and the lion laying down with the lamb. Even much of liberation theology can be read this way, as it seeks to redeem people, oppressor and oppressed, and their oppressive relationship.

In fact, even the church today as the mission of the basileia of God does not achieve a thoroughgoing justice throughout the globe. It is a participant in what can be achieved locally throughout the globe – in the interruption of the way of death by God – before the parousia. Thus, reconciliation today is not particularly retrogressive. The Jews, homosexuals, and handicapped killed in the Holocaust and the Germans who designed and implemented the programs are both dead and beyond the reach of the church (as is the case in 9/11 or some of Darfur or some of Iraq, etc.). We live in the aftermath of dead, irreconcilable generations and only God can enact a full redemption at the end of time; nevertheless, the church has plenty of redemptive work to do today. In fact, to stop death in its tracks is the key to redemptive work; the past will not tyrannize the present or the future. Despite the shortcoming of the church, it is formed by the memory of Christ and eschatological hope and can therefore seek a true sense of justice and peace; the ecclesial vision is comprehensive and holistic. It attempts to live the interruptive action of crucified and resurrected grace that declares the end of death’s sting. Death will not have the last word; it shall be stopped, interrupted this very day, so as to make way for divine peace – the flourishing of people and relationships. The church, rightly understood even in its brokenness, seeks to embody the in-breaking of the basileia; if we act right, if we live up to our call to witness, we can participate in making space where the basileia breaks in and creates a social space of reconciliation, of redemption, of peace. It is this Christological power embodied in social existence that the State in its individualist anthropology cannot rightly account for. With these Christian relational definitions of justice and peace in mind, Paul’s exhortation for Christians to settle relational breaks among themselves – and so to be the “witness to the inauguration of the kingdom of Christ” – is intelligible.

The difference between State and Christian notions of peace and justice should make clear to the reader that Christianity attempts to go far beyond the State in the ecclesial endeavors to rightly remember Jesus (specifically anamnesis of the Christ). Thus, when reconciliation is achieved in lieu of, say, litigation, something better, something holistic and healthy has been achieved. Supported by Rowan Williams’ argument, this seeking of the global common good through prophetic reconciliation should be recognized as legitimate and helpful. The social body of Christianity, the church, and its jurisprudence should be recognized for the sake of the faith’s adherents (who are also citizens of the State), to avoid an oppressive exercise of law, and to embrace those who seek, and arguably achieve, the common good by peaceful means.

Before moving on, I want to make very clear that this understanding of equal jurisprudence and transformative accommodation is not to be understood within the categories of something like a chaplain in the United States army. Christian jurisprudence crosses the borders of human categories because it is relational. It is not to be coerced to enable the status quo as it seeks to continue oppression, of say, the Native Americans in the United States, rather it aims to achieve reconciliation that interrupts the abusive relationships and works towards a flourishing peace. The church is not to be behind the soldiers enabling them kill and absolving them of guilt, but in the crossfire and in the trenches, working for reconciliation. The church in its very being inherently works for this global common good. This is the natural political outworking of ecclesial/communal, ethical embodiment of its memory of Jesus that has been stripped by the State, as the church has been fragmented by the monopolistic jurisprudence of the State.

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modern nation-state, political theology, sacrament

Seeee, Other People See the Vote as Sacral

From fellow Alaskan, Shannyn Moore (Oh, by the way, the difference between her and I on this is that yes, the state does assert itself religiously. That and yes, democracy has shed blood — Bush’s we’ll democratize the hell out of Iraq comes to mind. Democracy is tyranny by the majority. I’ve read R. Niebuhr assert that, and heard Stanley Hauerwas say it. Democracy isn’t innocent.):

The Sacrament of Democracy

If democracy were a religion, voting would be the sacrament.

I grew up in what I call “The First Free-Range Organic Christian Church of Homer.” Sundays brought a message, fellowship, and a line of repentant souls taking communion-a remembrance of sacrifice.

The first time I cast my vote, it struck me as similar. The blood shed for my right to stand at a flag draped table and make my choice part of the collective wasn’t lost on me. I had one of those “Come to Jesus” moments and in 20 years I haven’t missed an opportunity to vote. Unlike Christ, the idea of democracy has never shed a drop of blood; patriots did. The same can be said of the suffragettes. Unlike the sacrament celebrated in religious ritual, elections should not be faith-based. The framers never intended our government to be run on trust; hence the myriad of checks and balances. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Election integrity is not about restoring faith in the system. Checks and balances are. When we vote, the agreement we all make is we cast our ballots for candidates who may not be the victor. We know that. Taking the risk of voting for a loser only works if you have confidence the process is beyond reproach. It is equally vital the winning candidate have an agreement the citizenry will follow their lead. Leadership can only be ordained if the people know their votes counted.

The past eight years have shown us the result of questioned elections. After election disasters in Florida and Ohio, a good portion of the country didn’t agree George W. Bush was legitimate. I know people who refused to call him President Bush because of the suspected election fraud.

Alaska has a rich history of questionable elections. 2008 has been no different. Anomalies prompt people to scratch their heads and watch just a little closer. From some reactions, you would have thought asking a question was “unpatriotic.” After reporting on the 2004 Election tampering, and knowing full well it was questionable, I wondered what this year’s ballots would tell us. Apparently, Alaskans have completely changed their “voting habits” to include: a mail-in preference, cross-ballot voting, and finally, registering to vote and then not showing up. Alaska headlines are screaming “record turnout!” But in truth, our percentage of voter turnout is still lower than our average historical Presidential election records show. So what? Does that mean we shouldn’t ask questions and get answers about reconciliation? As Americans we pledge to hold our leaders accountable; why wouldn’t we start by holding the process of elections to the highest levels of integrity.

The day after the election I was in contact with both the Begich and Berkowitz campaigns. I’ve been in very close contact with the Alaska Democratic Party which has filed Public Records Requests. Experts from around the country are more than happy to answer questions or to mull over possible explanations to the election anomalies. People much smarter than I are paying attention, and are asking their own questions. A reporter I’ve bumped into for several years called today. He wanted to know if I thought the current vote count in Alaska was still “stinky.” Another local asked if I thought the process was now legitimized since Begich was now leading Stevens. ARE YOU SERIOUS??? That my questions would hinge on partisanship is insulting and indicates a complete lack of understanding. Anyone who thinks we don’t need a more transparent election process because their candidate is in the lead is a pathetic partisan hack. Anyone who believes election integrity is a “fringe” issue mocks those who have died to either earn the right to vote or protect it. I became a voter registrar in February of this year. To want to count only votes cast for my party of choice is vulgar. Not watching the referee calls when your team is winning is to invalidate the game.

So do I still smell the mudflats? Yes. Do I know what the source of stench is? No. Could it be the late wafts coming off the 2004 election? Possibly. What I know most certainly is this: voting is a sacred right; a remembrance of those who fought hard and shed blood for a bulletproof idea. Guarding the integrity of elections is essential to our democracy and anything less is blasphemy….

Sign me up. I’m blasphemous.

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modern nation-state, political theology, terror

OMG, Civil Disobedience Nuns are Terrorists and Destroying the Fabric of Society!

I love old nuns. More to the point, I love to see those nuns at protests. Clerical garb used in visible, Christological subversive protest? I’m a fan. So it only stands that I would find the following “terrorist” nuns — peace witnesses labeled by the state as terrorists for a time — something of an encouragement. From the Washington Times:

BALTIMORE | For decades, Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth Platte have practiced their Roman Catholic faith with an unwavering focus on world peace. Their antiwar activities even landed them in federal prison earlier this decade for trespassing onto a military base and pouring blood onto a nuclear missile silo.

Now they face fresh infamy as two nuns secretly branded by Maryland State Police as terrorists and placed on a national watch list.

“This term terrorist is a really serious accusation,” Sister Ardeth, a nun for 54 years, told The Washington Times on Thursday in the first interview that the women have given since being informed they were among 53 people added to a terrorist watch list in conjunction with an extensive Maryland surveillance effort of antiwar activists.

“There is no way that we ever want to be identified as terrorists. We are nonviolent. We are faith-based,” she said.

The women freely acknowledge their participation in antiwar activities.

On Oct. 6, 2002, the two sisters and another nun – armed with bolt cutters, a hammer and baby bottles filled with their own blood – broke into an unmanned Minuteman III missile site in northeastern Colorado and painted bloody crosses on the silo. It was the day before the one-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.

Sister Carol was sentenced to 30 months and Sister Ardeth to 41 months in federal prison for the action.

“I learned to make it a meditation, almost a prayer,” Sister Carol told the Baltimore Sun upon her release in 2005.

SERIOUS THREAT? Sisters Carol Gilbert (left) and Ardeth Platte were offended to learn that the Maryland State Police had placed them under surveillance from March 2005 to May 2006 as part of security efforts surrounding two executions. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

But they say being tagged as terrorists in a federal database is false and a blow to their commitment to a pursuit of peace.

“We’re Dominicans; our mission is ‘veritas,’ which is truth,” Sister Carol said.

State police have said their surveillance was limited to the period of March 2005 to May 2006, during planning for security related to the executions of two death row inmates.

But activists have long said they think the state police and local law-enforcement agencies cast a broader net across Maryland’s protest community.

The nuns said they were not involved in the protests state police say they targeted. And other activists who were labeled terrorists, including a member of the antiwar group Code Pink, have said they were not active in Maryland protests during the state police’s time period.

E-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland show that Baltimore police were coordinating with the National Security Agency in 2003 and 2004 to spy on Quakers, who routinely protested outside the security agency’s headquarters. And a member of the American National Socialist Workers Party, or Nazis, told lawmakers Wednesday that he was among the 53 to receive a letter from the state police informing him that he was on the list.

“This leads me to ask who exactly was the Maryland State Police was watching when they thought they were watching me,” Bill White wrote the lawmakers in e-mail obtained by The Washington Times.

Nancy Kricorian, a member of Code Pink, also was entered into the database. She never lived or protested in Maryland, said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU, which represented the nuns in the effort to obtain information on the spying.

The state police have offered to let the activist see the files and have them purged but have denied them and their attorneys access to the hard copies.

A police spokesman did not answer questions Thursday about allegations that the spying was more expansive or involved many other groups, and said he was unsure why the nuns and other activists were entered into the database.

“The fact there was a record with their name is the reason we’re in this situation that were in,” said state police spokesman Greg Shipley. “We’re certainly not going to perpetuate the problem by creating more records and handing them out.”

Mr. Rocah has asked Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to force state police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan to grant hard copies of the files and allow attorneys to be present during the review.

Despite their history, the nuns were surprised to receive letters recently notifying them that their names were in the Maryland State Police’s database as being affiliated with terrorism.

“It is clear to us that the full extent of the MSP’s improper activities have yet to be fully disclosed,” Mr. Rocah wrote.

The sisters said the O’Malley administration is trying to brush off questions about broader police surveillance.

“Think they just want to kind of pooh-pooh it away and say it’s no big thing,” Sister Carol said.

An O’Malley spokesman deferred questions to the state police.

The spying occurred during the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and while the state police was being run by Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins.

Sister Ardeth Platte (left) and Sister Carol Gilbert have been members of the protest community for years, including an incident in which they and another nun defaced a nuclear missile silo in Colorado, landing them in federal prison. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

Sisters Ardeth and Carol, a nun for 43 years, said they won’t review their records or have them purged until they are given hard copies and allowed to bring attorneys with them to the state police headquarters.

“Democracy is built on these elements on being able to speak out to speak what we believe is truth,” Sister Carol said.

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death, grace, modern nation-state, peace, political theology

The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 2)

In the past two posts, “Moving Towards the Comedy of Death” and “The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 1)“, I’ve been putting forward something titled “The comedy of death.”

The first post was on scientific soteriology and the inability for science to truly deal with death. Indeed, science is more than impotent, but rather, at times hurries death along farther than we could on our own, sending millions to the reaper. Humanity’s greatest achievements are equally destructive and not actually salvific. The Christian answer is not to run from death, but to face it and live well together, participating in the redemptive work of God.

The second post functions like a case study of sorts, mentioning three movies based on grace — being given what you need from an estranged family member, rather than getting what you want. These movies function as a way to imagine justice and solidarity at work while undergoing unusual, stressful circumstances, with the theme of death.

Consider this last one, yet another different view of the Christian life functioning redemptively in the face of death, but this time summed up in the phrase, “Memento mori“: Remember (you too are) mortal.

In Republican Rome, conquering commanders coming back from a victory against a new people group could maybe get a triumpha grand parade where the commander is literally is dressed up like a god, decked out in red and the recipient of the city’s adulation. Now, tradition says that in the moment of such praise, the commander was reminded of his mortality by a slave with the words: Memento mori. Such a job is the height of prophecy, yes? I would pay money to be given the time and space, during his Roman triumph, er, I mean, his Inaugural Address, to proclaim to the next president: Memento mori. Remember you are but dust! Remember your death!

This is a Christianity that is not necessarily at the service of the state — as a Bible used to swear in an office holder — but rather this is the work of God, making clear to the people of the world that they are not gods. This is comparable to the Barthian “Nein!” This is the loud refusal to confuse the state’s justice with true justice and true peace.

This comedy of death is first a liberation through the acceptance of our limits. This isn’t liberation from death, but the acknowledgment of our finitude — our status as creature and not creator — and to face death throughout our life. Instead of cheapening or avoiding death and tragedy, this takes evil seriously. The comedy of death, in many ways, is the Christian stabilizing weakness (strength) for our world — seeking justice/redemption and peace — in the face of frustrating, trying, bizarre, or farcical circumstances. The way this often plays out in a crazy world of violence, coercion, and commodification, we peaceably seek a scandalous redemption. After all, in a crazy world, the actions that are in step with the world are crazy as well. Part of the nature of the peaceable scandal is that it doesn’t fit into crazy and looks to the masses like foolishness.

The Christian life is death because the grim is always at our door, and comedy because God’s work culminates in redemption where the scripture “Death where is your sting?” is fulfilled, as death, the last enemy, is addressed for the last time.

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modern nation-state, peace, political theology, Rowan Williams

Peace Defined

This is part of a study in theological language, the rest of the posts can be found here.

Also, the significance of this post on September 11 has not escaped me. I hope you notice it as well. The timing was not originally planned this way when I started the series, but still, it is a happy accident that I am happy to oblige.

I want to begin with what peace is not. Peace is not silence or a cessation of violence brought about by coercion or elimination of competition. Take for instance Phocus:

I am sorry, but you are a loon. You spin thoughts in your manufactured reality and occasionally consider one or two to be worth spewing onto this site. You write…”Instead of war producing peace, war is now mostly understood as a violent oppression from which good does not come from — instead, good comes in spite of such an evil.” Where to begin…and once begun, where to stop? Your lack of learning is stunning. Please study the last world wars…from start to end, and try to do this study without bias.

There are two sides to a war. One is evil, the other peaceful. If the peaceful fail to rise up and stop the evil, evil blurs into oppression, lack of freedom, and death to those who do resist. The free men and women of the world smashed Hitler’s Germany and Japan. Once these evils were stopped, the world dressed the wounds of the broken nations and then gave them back to the people.

There is one way to have peace. You get peace when the peaceful win. Period. Any other outcome…promises more war. The human spirit longs to be at peace. You get peace through strength.

Hopefully, you will grow into your obviously functioning brain and gather logic based on knowledge and facts rather than theory. If you are under 30 and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are over 30 and still a liberal, you have no brain.

Now, I do not want to interject the… simplistic understanding of Phocus for all who claim good in or from war and violence (a straw-person argument) and nor am I seeking to legitimize Phocus’ inane ramblings, but he or she does accept a few fundamental assumptions that I am ultimately seeking to address: one that peace is the result of “stopping” evil and two, that therefore peace is attainable by violence.

Peace is not the elimination of the other. It cannot be. That isn’t peace between people because it is first not justice, it is the prosecution of death upon one group by another group. State and society can only rid the world of an existence or exact punitive violence that it calls justice; however, true peace requires true justice, not slaughter. And in fact, at least some justice work is a form of peace-making. However, those that claim a monopoly on justice, the state, or market, or cosmopolitan society, cannot achieve a full sense of justice — putting relationships aright.[1] In a word, redemption, not a malformed catharsis. In fact, even the church today as the mission of the basiliea of God cannot achieve full justice. Metz makes note that reconciliation cannot actually be achieved between Jews killed in the Holocaust and the Germans who designed and implemented the programs because both are dead (as is the case in 9/11 or some of Darfur or some of Iraq, etc.). We live in the aftermath of irreconcilable generations and only God can enact a full redemption.[2] But despite the short coming of the church, nevertheless, it is formed by the memory of Christ and eschatological hope and can therefore seek a true sense of justice, and therefore seek real peace. And if we act right, we can participate in making space where the basiliea breaks in and creates a social space of peace.

Peace is also fundamentally a conversion and discipleship — from swords to plowshares and lions laying with lambs. Quite simply, evil, or evil acts, is a warped sense of peace: it is not redemptive but seeks to convert or eliminate. Therefore, actions such as torture are violent conversions and the antithesis of peace. Torture is the re-narration of a person by destroying a human being — a fundamentally abusive relationship, while peace is instituted from the righting of relationships (justice) and is maintained as we treat each other as part of creation through the grammar of Christological, divine love.

Since peace is not the result of the elimination of the other, and indeed may be the exact opposite, peace comes in spite of such attempts to eliminate the other. Peace is something we do. Peace is something we live in. We live together in peace by living within the community of God. In the end, peace is the refusal to use evil for “good” (although such good then lacks any ability to be a true good). Peace can exist in the face of evil as the rule of God exists in an evil world.

The most significant questions I think that follow are: “Can peace exist today?” and “If the state or society cannot actually achieve true peace, what is there to do?”

It can exist, as much as the rule of God exists. It has just been a mistake to redefine peace in light of what the state can achieve, especially ever since the Enlightenment claimed it could save the world, as it used the false narrative of “The Wars of Religion” to justify its existence for mediating a peace.

However, all I think is not lost in terms of the state. As suspicious as I am of the state, there are ways of calling the state to be more than what it wants to be. Although this will put the state in tension with what it claims it can do — gather everything subject to it — nevertheless, the future calls for the state to recognize its boundaries. As the state is now, it is too restrictive for a pluralistic society that recognizes multiple relationships to communities within each person. Rowan Williams has begun to show the way. In his controversial speech on Sharia law and the need for the state to allow some community governing, one could also read his speech as talking of the Christian community as well. Ultimately Williams calls for the state to be more flexible, and to give up some of what it claims a monopoly on, so as to allow faithfulness without grand eruption by the faithful in the face of a lying, totalitarian state. However, sadly, it is not in the nature of the modern nation-state to recognize many of its own boundaries, rather it speaks only of reasonable accommodation of other systems within the state. We would have a very different state if its notion of “peace” was re-examined. Finally, perhaps the state would begin to point to true peace (and therefore towards the rule of God), rather than claiming the state can achieve peace itself. But this it will never do. However, the church will, insomuch as it works for redemption and the basiliea of God on Earth.

Edit: After some thinking and critique from Halden, I’ll succintly define peace: living out and participating in the continuing redemption by God through grace and love.
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[1] I’d like to quote at length from J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account (pg. 64) that calls into question even the very grammar and policy/action of the state, and therefore its warped or insufficient sense of justice:

The Principle he isolates is this: “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

This principle, Foucault tells us, represents the inversion of the principle enunciated by political philospher Karl von clausewitz in his 1827 work, von Kriege (On War), in which he states that “[war] is a continuation of policy by other means…. War is not merely a political act. but a truly political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” Understood in this way, politics as the instrument of peace–the means, that is, by which peace is maintained–is the norm war, therefore, represents a state of political exception, the unusual condition resorted to from time to time to reach the objective of peace. Foucault notes, however, that with this principle Clausewitz was himself inverting a prior axiom: namely, that war, the condition of bellicosity, is in fact the norm and that politics is simply the continuation of the norm of war, but by other means.

Thus, with his inversion of Clausewitz’s axiom that “politics is the continuation of war by other means,” Foucault sought to make two claims–one explicit, the other more implicit but no less important for his work. On the one hand, he was claiming to return to a principle that “existed long before Clausewitz” and to take it with deft seriousness. Yet he was also more implicitly claiming that Clausewitz’s principle renders thematic the fact that modernity functions under a perpetual state of exception or emergency, the uninterrupted condition of the crisis of politics. Indeed, the state of exception or emergency–namely, the condition of war–is modernity’s inner analytic, its syntax and grammar.

[2] This is how I believe we should understand God’s judgment, but that is a bit of a tangential question right now.

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modern nation-state, race

Reflecting on the Representatives’ Apology, A Link

A friend and conversation partner of mine from Union put up a post on the God’s Politics blog, reflecting on the recent House of Representatives apology for slavery, titled “Will an Apology for Slavery Lead to Real Repentance?” Some of the comments… can be pretty uninformed and/or inane, however, I do recommend reading Ben’s article. It ends with:

I affirm the need to forgive. However, in this situation it is even more vital to remember the meaning of repentance. The Greek word for repent is “metanoia” and it means to change one’s mind or purpose. The U.S. government, regardless of any apology, cannot be properly forgiven because it has not undergone a sincere “metanoia.” For this apology to yield any meaningful sincerity, it must be reinforced by real, concrete action. A great starting point would be to cease building prisons in lieu of quality schools. This would contribute not only to the reconstruction of black families, but all poor families ravaged by our corrupt legal system. Sadly, this act of sincere repentance (and it is only one of many possibilities) will probably not happen, mainly because of a nagging feeling I had when I first heard of the apology. I had this strange feeling that the apology came with the House members sitting down, so as to protect their wallets. Real American repentance for racism is going to cost us, not just sentiment but also money, and a lot of it. That said, now let’s see how sincerely repentant our government is.

Sounds about right.

Oh, and those of you who are going to say something of the sort, “I’m white but not responsible,” please look up the definition of “White Privilege” and “complicity” before you comment.

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interreligious dialogue, modern nation-state, music, political theology

Music, Social Force, and Interreligious Dialogue

I’ve been told that in the 60s and 70s, it was music that changed things. It was music that stopped the war. Now whether this is true or not doesn’t particularly matter to me. The point is, and I believe it was Dylan saying this in the documentary No Direction Home, that music has lost its power. The ability for music to change things is gone for now, or it has been significantly diminished.

Being something of a youngster, having not lived through the 60s and 70s, I have a hard time understanding this idea that music has been diminished. For me, it has always been that way. The notion that music could bring world leaders to their knees seems impossible, they seem too well insulated — or simply do not care. Even today, with the Foo Fighters singing of conflict with the state for speaking out seems entirely plausible, not because music today will provoke such a response (after all, this is a mainstream band who lives a comfortable life while playing to an image of revolution), but because the state naturally responds with tactical force. Its as if the revolutionary songs of today are a lament or a dream. The world is not as it was.

With music diminished and blunted, by capitalistic forces that commodifies revolutionary change, where do social forces lie? Where is the power to change, to halt the army in its tracts as it rattles its sabers and moves toward war? I am beginning to believe it is in interreligious dialogue.

It is no secret, for anyone paying attention to the news, that the current American administration was and continues to saber rattle against Iran. The rhetoric has picked up, even while there is a certain shift toward diplomacy. In fact I remember a month or two back reading an article comparing the rhetoric before this Iraq war and the rhetoric today on Iran. The comparisons were striking.

One might say, the democrats would never let such a thing happen. And my answer would be, you really want to risk that? After all, Bush is still in office. They feed off one another. However, religions do not have to feed off the state. In fact, discussion between religions can show us how human we all are, as opposed to how powerful we are.

The point here is not to use interreligious dialogue to convert, or even to change others (this is afterall dialogue), but merely for the idea of exposure and connection. Globalization is in itself an ambiguous thing, however right now it is run by those who think of money first. What if religion, or at least Christianity, were to take the connections that globalization makes available and rub shoulders with everyone else. The more connections we make, the more the reality of other people’s humanity is made evident, and the harder I think it would be for us to wage an electronic war on a demonized people because our government wants us to.

At the same time, we can give the finger to the enlightenment story that religion is the cause of war and conflict. We could effectively bring home the idea that people around the globe are people and they are our neighbors. In a very real sense, the church would be fulfilling its role as a peace maker and keeping at least our warring state in check, which music did, while also living with those people of other colors, which music did not seem to move us towards.

Oh, and for grins, here is a great link from the BBC of a Capuchin monk heading up a heavy metal band. Who says monks don’t rock?

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modern nation-state, political theology

Exceptionally Unexceptional: The False Notions of American Exception and America’s Special Grace

American triumphalism, an exaltation of American exceptionalism, is nothing new. Also so is what “Spengler” at the Asia Times seems to do, he or she has put out another spectacularly uninformed and underwhelming article.

Noting Spengler in this instance I think is akin to speaking of James Dobson. This is not meant as a legitimation of either, but the recognition that they and their speech ought to be de-legitimatized. Dobson doesn’t have much of a clue when it comes to theology, and astute Spengler is not, but people end up quoting both anyways because they seem to voice what others are thinking, or like to think, or want to think. For instance, Spengler wrote that one article on Black Liberation theology, the one that couldn’t seem to grasp what Liberation theology is, much less say something intelligent about it. However others in their realization that they knew nothing of Black Liberation theology, latched onto Spengler like a new born puppy desperate for a suckle. And I’m understating it here. John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski and his famous line comes to mind: “Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!”

So what of American exceptionalism and special grace? It doesn’t exist. And since it doesn’t exist, there is nothing to be triumphal about.

Well, we can’t be exceptional in practice. That sort of idea is only supported by a delusional memory that ignores so much, like the killings and overall mistreatment of Native Americans, Japanese, Chinese, European immigrants, Africans, African Americans, and the list goes on. Ambiguity is the word we’re looking for — positives and negatives. Just like everyone else.

So why are we superior? I didn’t know we were. The methods that we have used to move into a position that “leads” the world (i.e. tells others what to do) comes from a history of bullying, the collapse of Europe, and the willingness to do whatever it takes for wealth and control. In a word, colonization.

And to kick the dead horse some more, for grins and giggles, George Carlin skewers this notion of delusional history:

So I can only assume, America is exceptional on principle, or more specifically, the notion that America has been specially graced comes from an ideology. And because there hasn’t been a newer testament added to the canon, it seems that Spengler is resigned to using flawed logic, wikipedia definitions, and a thorough misunderstanding of the founding of America.

For all its flaws and fecklessness, America remains in the eyes of its people an attempt to order a nation according to divine law rather than human custom, such that all who wish to live under divine law may abandon their ethnicity and make themselves Americans. The rights of Americans are held to be inalienable precisely because they are a grant from God, not the consensus of the sociologists or the shifting custom of a particular historical period. Ridiculous as this appears to the secular world, it is embraced by Americans as fervently as it was during the Founding. Even worse for the secularists, it has raised a following in the hundreds of millions in the Global South among people who also would rather be ruled by the divine law that holds their dignity to be sacred, than by the inherited tyranny of traditional society.

If America has been given a special grace, it is because its founders as well as every generation of its people have taken as the basis of America’s legitimacy the Judeo-Christian belief that God loves every individual, and most of all the humblest. Rights under law, from the American vantage point, are sacred, not utilitarian, convenient or consensual. America does not of course honor the sanctity of individual rights at all times and in all circumstances, but the belief that rights are sacred rather than customary or constructed never has been abandoned.

…To love America is to acknowledge its special grace, namely that a nation founded not on ethnicity, language, or culture but rather upon the sanctity of individual rights will prevail, while the remains of traditional society are borne away by the current. Those who love America and seek to emulate her, including hundreds of millions of new Christians in the Global South, well understand her uniqueness. To demand success of every leftover of traditional society must succeed is an expression of envy against America’s special grace.

Apparently, the bestowment of special grace on America comes from its recognition of divine law, which isn’t traditional culture, but maintains itself through the centuries… wait, what? That sounds like a tradition. Lets start farther back. The idea that America started as a Christian nation has been debunked by plenty of historians, even ones that are Christians with good historical reputations. Most of the angelic founding fathers were deists, enlightenment deists at that — ones who put forth nature as divine, not a Christian god. To assume the words used back then have the same definitional meaning, or were used with the same understanding as evangelical Christians today is uninformed at best. Go read Richard Hughes, Myths America Lives By, if you still do not get it. He explains it very simply.

But, it is said, America comes from a Judeo-Christian context, and that is clearly different. No, again, it comes from a mixture of enlightenment beliefs which forms its own civil religion through the language of Christianity.

For example, rights language — that humans have an inalienable right — is not a Christian notion. Now, saying people are created is a Christian notion, however, combining rights to pursue happiness with an appeal to divine authority isn’t exactly a Christian idea. In fact, it could be easily argued that Christianity stands somewhat against such an idea. Christianity doesn’t use rights language, hell it doesn’t even get that far up the philosophical ladder because it has a more foundational understanding called the imago dei, the image of God. We, every human being (not just land owners who could then vote), being created in the image of God, find their source in the Trinitarian God. The “right” to do something is not even in the picture; rights are about claiming something so we can do it. Rather, in Christianity, people have been claimed by God and therefore have inherent worth. To be claimed by God turns the notion of rights on its head. Instead of seeking out boundaries to let us do what we want or think we should have, God institutes a move that orients people towards helping one another. This Christian anthropology does not claim rights, our worth and the community of believers around us has been given by God.

Still unsure about Enlightenment appropriation of theological language to set up a civil religion allowing people to worship any idol they want, as long as its in the states shrine? Go read William Cavanaugh’s “The Empire of the Emptry Shrine” if you’re still not understanding the way the Enlightenment used and abused Christian language. (This is where room was created for some actual Christians to be involved in the founding of the United States of America, for those of you who are objecting that a few Christians were participants and signers. Which is indeed true, but we can’t claim a traditional foundation on of a few people here, nor use the few Christians involved to baptize Enlightenment language into Christianity.)

This nation was founded on the individual rights of white, male, slave holders to own slaves. Slaves were people who were not deemed human, but interestingly, God seemed to tell the slaves they were indeed human. Try listening to a spiritual sometime. But let us not be swayed by such insignificant, little details! After all, they were nice slave holders. The entire key to the article is in the title, “America’s Special Grace.” This is importantly not God’s special grace, but America’s claim that it is bestowing special grace on itself, as America creates its own anthropology. In short, we have selectively moved ourselves into salvation through our own salvific means.

The supreme irony of the article is that Spengler “argues” (or simply sings the praises of Enlightenment civil religion) for a triumphal liberation through enlightenment rights language, championed by a “unique” country, America. However, if the argument was turned about, claiming that the salvation of peoples of the global south is to be found in the liberation provided by Jesus, Spengler could have even sounded a lot like Father Tissa Balasuriya in The Eucharist and Human Liberation. And this is the ironic point, by switching salvific means from Jesus to America, Spengler makes the colonizer the savior by draping rights in theological language, but can only do so by hiding the ambiguity and ultimate abusive relationship of siding with the colonizer.

Therefore, to invalidate Spengler and American exceptionalism is turn the world right-side up and back in line with the grain of the universe. It is to reject American civil religion in favor of a necessary, Christological liberation, and not just for those in the global south who need to know their inherent worth so as to move out from their abusive situations, but for everyone. Even the gnostic, global north.

H/T to Halden for the heads up on the new Spengler article.

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humor, modern nation-state, political theology

Speaking from the Grave

George Carlin died yesterday. He had a complex relationship with the church, and sometimes he would seem to take his criticism a bit far — like grouping all Christian faith into something he would critique — but generally I really liked the guy’s standup. He seemed like a complex and generally honest human being, which translated interestingly into his acerbic and “counter-cultural” standup.

Carlin, in the video below, disabuses the audience of a God of the Gaps (fulfilling Bonhoeffer’s projection) and the notion of the state’s benevolence, states of exception and human rights. In such a comedy routine, he tackles rather important issues that aren’t even acknowledged in much of public discourse, and he manages to do so with humor, wit, and small words. Even though I have disagreements, I find him someone worth listening to, because there is at least some truth and genuine life experience behind his observations. I find when I’m thinking over what he says, I’m thinking about a human being, not merely a punch line — as if we’re really just having a conversation. So with this in mind, I have below, a video of Carlin skewering the state and its civil religion.

Warning, Carlin uses four letter words, which may offend some. However, I find that sometimes honesty is a four letter word and in this case, he tends to use them well.

H/T for the video: Jamerica.

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market, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

The Interruptive Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

A Christian community that situates itself in the world, does so, whether it explicitly acknowledges it or not, through a Christology. The experience of Jesus – in both ontology and praxis – remembered by the community, forms the foundation for an ecclesial politic. To begin to engage, say, torture, we must look back at whom Jesus was. Thus implications for change upon American Christians are vast, because Jesus was and is fundamentally interruptive. Therefore, the community of faith that understands itself primarily around the Christ should likewise understand itself as interruptive.

Theologically, we are bound to a tragic past and we also have a tragic future as well. Save for the interruption of God, we live in evil and its consequences, tragedy. But such an idea does not play well in the state that says it is the agent of peace or the market that claims a monopoly on lifestyle. The state could not be the agent of peace if it did not claim the ability to achieve it, which necessitates power and the moral will to create this “peace.” Likewise the market could not claim the ability to achieve happiness if it could not force humanity into a structure that gains wealth for some. Optimism, of a Deus ex Machina nature – our self-made god by our constructed machine (i.e. social structure, technology, etc.), is a necessity for the state and the market: We will intervene and resurrect ourselves when it seems bleak. Faith in the American experiment is a must, or the false stories die and torture loses its foundation.

The remembrance of 9/11, as remembered by the state and the market, is inherently an American memory and not a Christian memory. Allowing our memory to be altered by the matrix of culture’s identity leads into a vindictive Christology by the Rome of our time, rather than allowing the challenge of Jesus – the scandal of Jesus’ life – to wash over the body of Christ. Because “the image of Jesus…allows us to encounter him as the revelation of God’s open narrative,” as opposed to the closed narrative of the state and market who seek to maintain power and control, quite simply, Jesus, and not the state or market, “can be described as God’s interrupter.”1

The incarnation was an interruption. It validated creation and yet opposed commodities. God came as a human, an impoverished human, and not a dollar sign. Jesus was not to be bought and sold, nor a price tag put on him – it was an evil act that sold him for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus was also born not into Roman citizenship or among the emperor’s family, but into a “lowly” status. Jesus was not a commodity or human royalty, but God interrupting economic anthropologies with God’s own economy of grace.

The preaching of the basileia was an interruption of the Emperor’s rule, in both political and economic forms. The very words of Jesus interrupted the language and stories of the status quo – the basileia had come.2 Jesus accompanied his words with actions, equally interruptive actions as the rule of God.3 To name some praxis: there were healings, caring for the poor, miracles, and upsetting the established economic balance in the temple: “Jesus not only aroused the amazement of the bystanders, but at the same time he summoned the forces behind the hegemonic narratives against him in their defense.”4

The cross was an interruption – the death of God was and is a scandal. The idea that God would be the tortured and not the torturer, the criminal and not the emperor, and the one who died instead of lived on, was a scandal of the highest magnitude. “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone…and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.”5 Quite simply, Jesus suffered; Jesus was tortured and executed in political terms at the low social level of a slave and by Jesus’ own admission, forgotten.6 The connection then of the cross, and the torture associated with it, to the oppressor yesterday and today is not a comfortable connection. “[T]he earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the ‘solidarity’ of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”7 The cross calls us to the margins, where the people are tortured, and not to stay where we are as complicit with the torturer. This interrupts our entire life and lifestyle.

The resurrection was an interruption. The resurrection made clear that no oppressor will win forever and death lost its sting. For the Romans, and by implication, America today, “the suffering of a god soon had to be shown to be mere simulation, rapidly followed by punishment for those humans who had been so wicked to cause it.” Indeed, the cross still ought to be a scandal that informs the body of Christ about those who suffer in society today – the cross was not followed by a war, but a resurrection and hope with solidarity. The resurrection pre-pictured the parousia and added an extra dimension of eschatological hope in the basileia, combined with the suffering of Jesus.

Christian suffering and hope are intertwined and together constitute the climax of Christian interruption, while the state’s continued torture shows the stark contrast between Jesus and the state.9 9/11 Christology leads to blindness, a subsumed racism, pride, (at least) partially undeserved wealth, and oppression – a bourgeois Christianity comfortable in its sloth. Opposite, Jesus forms a communal body that seeks to speak of God’s salvation in the world. “For Christians, professing Christ is then also the interruption par excellence of history.”10

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1. Lieven Boeve, Interrupting Tradition: An Essay on Christian Faith in a Postmodern Context, (Dudley, MA: Peeters Press, 2003), 145.
2. Ibid., 121-124, 127-131.
3. Ibid., 124-127.
4. Ibid., 126-127.
5. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 10.
6. Ibid., 46, 51.
7. Ibid., 88. Also see, “Jesus, the memoria passionis, mortis et resurrectionis Jesu Christi both attest to God’s solidarity with all victims of suffering and oppression and assures the final, still unrealized deliverance of the victims. Christians thereby read history not in affirmation of conquest but in hope for the conquered.” Bruce Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 36.
8. Hengel, 15.
9. Anthony Kelly, Eschatology and Hope (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006), 88.
10. Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval (New York: Continuum, 2007), 47.

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black theology, body of Christ, Lee Griffith, modern nation-state, political theology, Richard Hughes, terror, thesis, violence

The Destruction of the Church by America

Fundamentally, the myths of innocence, nature, God, chosen, and millennial are stories that alter our identity in favor of a white washed America. It is true we are exceptional – we are exceptionally bad. We have a tragic past, as I have displayed, and a tragic future, as we maintain an innocence of our past. “The American national mythos is messianic; it seeks to tell a story of freedom spread through self-sacrifice, not victories won through the spread of terror. To sustain the myth, Americans need to rewrite history just as surely as did Stalin to sustain his own version of communist orthodoxy.”1 It is incredibly telling that to confront the myths of America, Robert Hughes spoke of the prophetic, Black experience. The implication is, that the American myths are categorically racist; the American hagiographic myths hide the evil past, present injustice and the future of malevolent violence. There is very little in the myths that pushes America forward in a moral way.2 Instead the myths make it possible for America to turn a blind eye to violence, to injustice, to torture and insomuch that Christians take in these myths, they take in the blindness as well. The simulacra of American messianism subverts the real Jesus, and therefore, it unsettles and divides the body of Christ.

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1. Lee Griffith, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 38.
2. Richard T. Hughes, Myths America Lives By, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 63.

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black theology, Cornel West, J. Kameron Carter, James Cone, Jeremiah Wright, modern nation-state, obama, political theology

The Recent Posts on the Media Fiasco and Race and Theology

I figured it would be good for readers to be able to see all the posts I’ve done recently on this whole fiasco surrounding Wright and Obama. Heres the list so far in chronological order:

1. Obama, Race, and Theology: A theological analysis of Obama’s speech.

2. Cone on CNN?: A rumor that hasn’t seemed to have panned out unfortunately.

3. A Humble Suggestion: Suggesting a book along the title of Religion Still Matters for Cornel West.

4. Wright’s Sermon: A longer video of Dr. Wright’s sermon where he utters the infamous phrase “God damn America.”

5. Understanding Wright by Understanding Cone: Black Liberation Theology from Cone: A very short introduction to reading Cone.

6. Carter on Obama: Citing J. Kameron Carter’s response to Obama’s speech.

7. Cone Explained: How the Media, Politicos, and Others Like Them are Stupid as a Brick and Got it All Wrong: Explaining the significance of Tillichian symbolism in Cone’s work, how one should rightly understand what Cone does say, and a link to Carter’s critique.

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