martyrdom, power

The Iconography of Martyrdom vs Simulacrum

At times the Christian vocation is to proclaim and live a very strong no to the surrounding world.[1] This can be construed as an “either/or” that so many theologians seek to avoid. Indeed it is often anathema: “You just did an either/or, not a both/and. You have ignored a truth that should be included!” But to understand the strong no as either/or is to misunderstand the no; instead, it should be recognized that whenever no is proclaimed, it is located in two spheres. The no is first located within the grand yes to creation.[2] Christianity is, in point of fact, incredibly materialistic: creation is good. Indeed it is very good. The second sphere is that because the no to sin is located in the larger yes to creation, the no is an act of love. The no is inherently a call to justice and redemption — an act of the economy of grace first instituted by divine action. Thus the prophetic call or apocalyptic remembrance, even by those who carefully emphasize a radical discontinuity, is not committing an either/or. At the same time, however, one must be careful not to blunt the prophetic call or apocalyptic remembrance. The prophetic call or apocalyptic remembrance must be sharp when it must exactly because it is within the grand yes; the no must be distinct and strong to ensure the integrity of what is good.

The distinctive no at least in part, or perhaps entirely, constitutes the interruption categorized by Metz, who asserted, “[t]he shortest definition of religion: interruption.”[3] This no embodied by the church identifies and rejects idolatry and its death. With this inherently disruptive quality, which is a Christological quality, the church is fundamentally an interruptive church. But what is this no against? In a word: simulacrum – an imposter or parody of the divine rule that despite the parody’s finitude, it masquerades as arbiter of life and death. Theologically simulacrum is the very definition of idolatry.[4]

Thus the idolatrous status quo, rooted in a flawed power — a self-serving power – can be recognized as against the life, power, and peace of Christ. This is where church names the power of the status quo a simulacrum of the ikon of God. Christianity answers no to such an understanding of power and therefore says no to the actions rooted in such power. Martyrdom can be understood as refusing to shrink from proclaiming the sharp no, despite the threats and action by idolatrous power that claims to control whether one may live or die. As such an action, martyrdom proclaims the basileia of God and unmasks a warped, finite power, showing the poverty of its claim to divine power. In short, martyrdom is a true iconography of the work of Jesus, while the status quo is exposed in the process as simulacrum.

[1] This theology of the no is not reactionary. The rule of God is already established and it is from divine action where creation finds its identity. This is fully acknowledged. Therefore the theology of the strong no should not be misconstrued as parasitic on or determined by the world and the Christian no to idolatry. Simply put, the theology of no is coherent on its own terms.

[2] Metz, Theology of the World, 13-50.

[3] Metz, Faith and History, 158.

[4] This is in direct contradiction to Jean Baudrillard in Simulation and Simulacra where iconography is simulation and therefore negative because it conflated “the difference between the ‘true’ and the ‘false’, the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’” (3), while simulacra is positive, recognizing that the icon was never connected to the divine, because God could not be distilled in a sign. Thus for Baudrillard, Christian iconography is problematic: “But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? The then whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum—not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchange for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference” (6). I contend that Baudrillard is describing an idolatrous status quo – acting as if it is God by attempting to simulate God – and not Christian iconography, which Baudrillard does not seem to understand well.


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