Johann Metz, torture, William Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh on Torture at The Other Journal

William Cavanaugh has a piece at The Other Journal on torture. Go check it out! Below are a few quotes:

Torture is both a product of—and helps reinforce—a certain story about who “we” are and who “our” enemies are. Torture helps imagine the world as divided between friends and enemies. To live the Eucharist, on the other hand, is to live inside God’s imagination. The Eucharist is the ritual enactment of the redemptive power of God, rooted in the torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my book I describe some of the ways that the Church in Chile used the practice of the Eucharist to resist the imagination of terror and torture imposed by the military regime.

…In what follows I will use what I learned about torture from the Chilean experience and relate it to our own context. I will argue that torture is a way of imagining who our enemies are. I will then explore the Eucharist as the Church’s counter-imagination, a way of resisting the state’s creation of enemies.

…In the Eucharistic rite, the commemoration of the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ spoken after the words of institution is called the anamnesis. This is the Greek word used by the New Testament in rendering Jesus’s command “Do this in remembrance of me” (e.g., Luke 22:19). The Greek word an-amnesis is the opposite of amnesia; it is literally an “unforgetting.” It is an odd term, for how could we forget about God?

Perhaps it is because we are constantly tempted to forget the victims of this world.

…Johann Baptist Metz has written of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ as a “dangerous memory” that disrupts the forgetfulness of the world, what he sometimes calls the “forgetfulness of the forgotten.” The dangerous memory of Christ’s torture and death at the hands of the powers disrupts the march of the powerful. As Metz says, in this memory

the dominion of God among us is revealed by this, that dominion of men over men has begun to be thrown down, that Jesus declared himself to be on the side of the invisible, the oppressed and exploited, and thus proclaimed the coming dominion of God as the liberating power of an unconditional love.36

The dangerous memory of the anamnesis gives us hope that the way things are is not the way things have to be. To take part in the anamnesis is to live inside God’s imagination, in which, as Jesus tells us, no sparrow is forgotten, and the hairs of each person’s head are counted (Luke 12:6-7).

…Remembering all victims will help us to tell the truth, both about others and about ourselves. If we live inside God’s imagination, we will see that even the people we most demonize as enemies – fundamentalist Muslims, for example – are made in the image of God. Furthermore, they have something to teach us about ourselves. In Roxanne Euben’s phrase, Muslim fundamentalists are the “enemy in the mirror” for the Western world. Our fear of Muslims can tell us what we fear about ourselves. Our charges of irrationality and violence against them can tell us about our own unreasoning fanaticisms and our own violence. Peace will not be achieved by torturing and bombing them into democracy. We have been making terrorists faster than we can kill them. Only by addressing the underlying causes of terrorism honestly is peace possible.

But Christians cannot put too much faith in the nation-state to be peacemaker. To be the Body of Christ means not merely to speak the truth to power, but to live the truth. The Church is the politics of Jesus, and must oppose the politics of the world when it brings death instead of life. We have much to learn from the example of Chile, where the Church eventually realized that the government was not listening, and decided to act more concretely on its own. In our own context, this might mean protest and concrete acts of solidarity with the victims of our violence. It would mean especially that Christians must simply refuse to fight in unjust wars, and refuse to use unjust means.

The world did not change on 9/11; the world changed on 12/25. When the Word of God became incarnate in human history, when he was tortured to death by the powers of this world, and when he rose to give us new life—it was then that everything changed. Christ made friends of us who are enemies of God, and He thus made us capable of loving our enemies as ourselves.


4 thoughts on “Cavanaugh on Torture at The Other Journal

  1. dave says:

    It’s really an excellent piece.

    This is a bit of crossposting, but I notice in the Books To Read post, you put both Torture and Eucharist and Theopolitical Imagination on the list. Which one would you read first? I’ve already read the much shorter Being Consumed.

    • I started off with Theopolitical Imagination. It kicked my ass. At the time I was doing one of my majors in history, with its focus in early modern European history. I talked about Cavanaugh’s historical account (which you can find in other essays he has done, leaning on the likes of Charles Tilly) with my advisor prof for a couple hours. He totally agreed with it. That political shift changed everything.

      Torture and Eucharist builds off the historical work in some respect — the introduction is a cliff notes of Theopolitical Imagination. So you could choose to do either one and then the other, but I liked the route of TI to TE.

      That all said, I haven’t read Being Consumed. I do hope to get to it later, but having read pretty much all of his published essays that I can find and his two other books, I felt like I could wait to get to BC. You may find a bit of repetition between BC and TI, but that means you’ll get double the dose, and that isn’t all bad. Besides, TI ended in the most amazing way for an undergrad protestant: building on the steps of Michel Virgil and the liturgical movement of the twentieth century, Cavanaugh introduced me to Romero and the implications of liturgy as a political act. It blew my mind.

      • dave says:

        Thanks. I think I might start with Theopolitical Imagination.

        I read through Being Consumed really quickly; there’s a lot packed in there, but it reads fast.

        I’m placing it pretty high on my list of stuff to read this summer. I am giving a lot of thought to becoming Catholic. I have Anabaptist tendencies in addition to what might be called “quasi-Catholic” tendencies (as Adam Kotsko puts it on his blog), and I’m struggling to deal with the tension. I’m pretty sure that I want to do graduate work at a Jesuit school most likely.

  2. Pingback: New Cavanaugh article on torture |™

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