Johann Metz, Lieven Boeve, liturgy, market, memory, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

Thesis Intro

R. O. Flyer wanted to see the thesis statement, but I just figured I’d post the introduction. So, whatcha think?

Subverting Torture
This thesis first understands itself in relation to torture. While much of the thesis itself may not mention torture explicitly, and in fact could be used as the foundation for a political theology that engages more than just torture, the reader should not forget that each argumentative turn is made with torture in mind. The thesis functions in this unusual way because it attempts to strike at the fundamental logic of torture by the state, instead of getting lost in the mire of case studies that use the threat of immanent danger to justify manipulative violence. Quite simply, I am subverting the whole discussion as I ask again and again, “Why should we torture?”

While this thesis is chiefly arguing at levels deeper than the specific action of torture, it is both deconstructive and constructive at the same time. I identify and argue against some of the first assumptions, while proposing a re-oriented economy – a different ontology, epistemology, etc. – all first grounded in the identity of a savior who suffered and the community of faith that follows suit. Therefore, the second question driving the argument is, “What should we look like if we are to be a people who refuses torture?”

Consequently, the problem this thesis seeks to address is the American Christians’ quiet acceptance of torture. Despite how little this thesis may actually mention torture, implicit in each move is the subversion of a theology that allows for current American theology to be either apathetic towards or blasé about torture (since most Christians do not seem to explicitly support torture) or, even worse, candidly protorture.

This thesis has many presuppositions, but I shall touch on a few of the most important. I first assume that torture is morally and ethically wrong, and that torture should not be used. This is not a discussion on the justification of torture, for that is a whole other argument worthy of its own time; rather, this thesis understands torture as a form of violent conversion used by the state and, as such, is to be handled with considerable suspicion.

Secondly, I assume, as hinted above, that Christianity is a deeper association than the citizenship in a nation-state or one’s cultural-economic participation. Christianity is cosmically rooted. At the same time, Christians are defined by the culture they live in. Therefore the politics of the body of Christ is a complex mixture of the existential situation in the present and the rule of God. In the end, however, the basileia informs the space and time of the here and now, resituating one’s ontological understanding and praxis within the cultural milieu at hand.

I also assume that Christianity does not naturally merge well with the nation-state or bourgeois market. In fact, Christianity can function as an antagonistic and an interrupting movement: “Christians are bearers of the subversive, dangerous memory of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”1 Therefore, Christianity critiques society through the church’s formative discipleship rooted in the remembrance of Jesus.

Lastly, I assume that political theology, as Johann Baptist Metz asserts, must begin with engaging history, because historical consciousness regularly reforms our current identity and thus allows for the continual, interrupting praxis of solidarity.2 As such, any engagement with or construction of a body politic must address the historical discussion of one’s cultural genesis. In this case, the historical myths America asks its citizens to believe, in contrast to the example of Jesus and the political implications of his life and message, are no longer uncritically assumed canonical stories, but instead are now subject to suspicion. Such critical interrogation will shed light on the negative and oppressive nature of the American story.

I also speak in explicit Christian categories. Quite simply, I champion a way of acting and being for Christians in America; I promote an imagining of the ecclesia in the confluence of subversive communal-being and visible, liberative action-speak. After reviewing what torture actually is, I address deep assumptions, such as memory and willful self-blindness, inherent in the American story that are counter to a Christological ecclesiology.

In light of the basic assumptions, the thesis will also cut both ways, against both theological liberals and conservatives, because I do not fault the Christian Right alone. Rather, I put forth William Cavanaugh’s critique of the nation-state and Eugene McCarraher’s Catholic/Marxist critique of capitalism, who both take aim at the theological complicity and structural compromise of American Christianity as a whole.

As stated earlier, this thesis is a writing on torture. More specifically, it develops a political theology which subverts any current American theology that seems apathetic to torture, blasé about torture, or worst of all, resolutely pro-torture. To be more percise, 9/11, as a microcosm of the greater American story, is used by the privatizing nation-state as an identity-forming, eschatological event (a “Christological” event within a larger colonizing context) that supplants the life of Jesus and the cross and resurrection and works with the commodifying market to break down the Christian call and community of Christians in America. And, just as the Christian story of the cross does not end with death, so too the nation-state supplies a hope for a grand future. However, this future is an anthropocentric future, most vividly seen in Ronald Reagan’s hope, which was wrapped around a perverted, humanly controlled and realized salvation of fear, anger, and violence. The state’s story and justification for violence – to ensure “safety” (the status quo) in the face of fear – become the ruling meta-narrative.

The outcome is a breakdown and reversal of relationships and allegiance and the end result is a Christian public polity that is at least indifferent to violence by the state. Accordingly, the body of Christ is no longer forged by the memory and promise of the cross and resurrection, if it indeed continues to exist as a body. The solution to engaging American Christianity against torture, then, is to bring to bear Johann Metz’s idea of “dangerous memory” and an explication on the political implications of church movement – liturgical/sacramental theology. Metz reorients Christians to the identity-forming memory of the Christological life, and it is in liturgy that Christians solidify themselves and act out, resulting in a politically prophetic movement by the church.

This political theology is an attempt to re-narrate the church in America. Such an act will hopefully place the church on the margins, with the marginalized. Christendom of old will not be resurrected, nor will the modernist project continue to hold sway. Instead, both the theologically liberal and theologically conservative will be moved in the direction of a politically liberative praxis championed by a community formed through the remembrance of Christ.

1. Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval (New York: Continuum, 2007), 203.

2. Johann Baptist Metz, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, translated by J. Matthew Ashley (New York: Herder and Herder, 2007), 150-155.


4 thoughts on “Thesis Intro

  1. Looks great. How long is this thesis going to be? It looks more like a doctoral dissertation! I’m sure you’ve come across it, but Bruce Morrill wrote an interesting book dealing with anamnesis and bringing Metz and Schmemann into dialogue. I’d be interested to see how you go about organizing such a big topic.
    Thanks for posting this. I look forward to reading it when its done or as you go along.

  2. This is just an MA thesis, but expanding later on would be an interesting project.

    Yeah I’ve read Morrill’s book. Prof. Haigh was the one who alerted me of it, more than once. I read it last summer and then went to talk to Morrill about it. Pretty cool guy. He even gave me free books! For specific reasons, he likes to keep his library kinda small and so he just gave me some of the books he was getting rid of. I’m okay with that.

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