capitalism, method, value

A Thought on Importance, Nexus, and Political Theology

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.

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capitalism

The Truly Capitalist Belief of Julian Assange

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably know about Wikileaks recent publishing of American government secret communications. You may also know about Julian Assange’s interview with Fobes where he prophesied an early 2011 Wikileaks broadside barrage aimed at the banking sector as a whole and one specific US Bank in particular. The transcript is here: http://blogs.forbes.com/andygreenberg/2010/11/29/an-interview-with-wikileaks-julian-assange/.

What you may have missed is why Assange, as head of Wikileaks, is doing this. In the interview Assange shows his strong belief in a free market — calling himself a market libertarian (Adam Smith-Milton Friedman kind of economics one would suspect) — and the virtue, especially humility and honesty to the market, necessary for entrepreneurial capitalism.

While reading the interview, I found that this simply reinforced the analysis and critique of Franz Hinkelammert’s “The Economic Roots of Idolatry: Entrepreneurial Metaphysics” in The Idols of Death and the God of Life: A Theology, edited by edited by Pablo Richard.

On page 7 of Andy Greenberg’s blog at Forbes, in the post titled “WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets,” Greenberg sums up Assange well:

He also wants to clear up a misunderstanding. Despite his revolutionary reputation, he’s not antibusiness. He bristles at the media’s focus on his teenage years as a computer hacker who broke into dozens of systems, from the Department of Defense to Nortel, and was eventually convicted on 25 charges of computer fraud and fined thousands of dollars.

Instead, he prefers to think of himself as an entrepreneur. He tells the story of a free-speech-focused Internet service provider he cofounded in 1993, known as Suburbia. It was, to hear him tell it, the blueprint for WikiLeaks—in one instance, when the Church of Scientology demanded to know who had posted antichurch information on one site, he refused to help. (“He has titanium balls,” says David Gerard, that site’s creator.) “I saw it early on, without realizing it: potentiating people to reveal their information, creating a conduit,” Assange says. “Without having any other robust publisher in the market, people came to us.”

Leaks merely lubricate the free market, he says, settling into the couch and clearly enjoying giving me a lecture on economics. (Later, as a 45-minute interview pushes into two hours, he ignores his handler, who keeps urging him to leave for his next appointment.) He cites the example of the Chinese Sanlu Group, whose milk powder contained toxic melamine in 2008. While poisoning its customers, Sanlu also gained an advantage over competitors and might have forced more of them to taint their products, too, or go bankrupt—if Sanlu hadn’t been exposed in the Chinese press. “In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies,” he says.

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capitalism, faith, liberation, quote

Idolatry, Capitalism, and Liberation

It is no accident that today the centrality and importance of the problem of idolatry have been discovered in Latin America. Idolatry is part of our deepest experience when we live, express, and communicate our faith in the God of Jesus Christ, in the present situation of extreme oppression on our continent. We live in a profoundly idolatrous world–economically, socially, politically, culturo-ideologically, and religiously. We live crushed under the idols of an oppressive and unjust system. To live the demands of faith in this context is not simply a ‘pious’ or personal act; it necessarily entails a radical confrontation with that system. Idolatry is a question of politics and a question of faith. If capitalism were atheistic, it is possible that our faith would not have this subversive strength within a practice of political liberation. But capitalism is idolatrous rather than atheistic, which poses a political and theological problem at the same time, especially within the context of Latin American capitalism.

The biblical message against idolatry reaches us very directly and deeply. It is a message that interprets our reality with no major exegetical complications. However, today we are living through a new situation, one that did not exist in biblical times, making this anti-idolatry proclamation even more pressing and radical. This new reality is the praxis of liberation, with all its political, organic, and theoretical complexities. In biblical times, the possibility of a radical and conscious transformation of the economic and political structure of an idolatrous system did not yet exist. Today the possibility exists.

Christians who adopt the praxis of liberation also adopt the anti-idolatry proclamation of the Bible within a different historical context. This is not only a reinterpretation within a ‘hermeneutical circle’ (an expression we should eliminate), but rather a ‘hermeneutical leap’ into a new historical situation. In this new situation, faith and the revelation of God in history are more critical and radical than they were in biblical times.

Pablo Richard, “Biblical Theology of Confrontation with Idols” in The Idols of Death and the God of Life: A Theology, 24. Edited by Pablo Richard.

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capitalism, incarnation, vampires

Humans vs. Vampyrs

I has been often noted that vampires are the ultimate consumers. Roy Terry at the Ekklesia Project Summer meeting had a great sermon on it. However, after thought, I reject the notion that vampires are the ultimate consumer. In fact, they are the weaker species.

Take for instance Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s op-ed for the NY Times titled, “Why Vampires Never Die.” What Del Toro and Hogan get right is the plurality of vampire stories today:

In a society that moves as fast as ours, where every week a new “blockbuster” must be enthroned at the box office, or where idols are fabricated by consensus every new television season, the promise of something everlasting, something truly eternal, holds a special allure. As a seductive figure, the vampire is as flexible and polyvalent as ever. Witness its slow mutation from the pansexual, decadent Anne Rice creatures to the current permutations — promising anything from chaste eternal love to wild nocturnal escapades — and there you will find the true essence of immortality: adaptability.

Vampires find their niche and mutate at an accelerated rate now — in the past one would see, for decades, the same variety of fiend, repeated in multiple storylines. Now, vampires simultaneously occur in all forms and tap into our every need: soap opera storylines, sexual liberation, noir detective fiction, etc. The myth seems to be twittering promiscuously to serve all avenues of life, from cereal boxes to romantic fiction. The fast pace of technology accelerates its viral dispersion in our culture.

But I contend that this is all Del Toro and Hogan get right because vampires are not simply seen as adaptable, they are now made in humanity’s image.

No vampire story I have ever read, save for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has ever emphasized, or even made note of, is the liberation from being a vampire. In Dracula, to be a vampire is to be possessed. It is as if one is no longer in control as a human being; the mutation is so complete that any foundational notion of humanity is gone. And yet, at the end of a vampire’s life — when they are staked — a sense of relief, quite literally a liberation from the torment of an undead life, washes over the face briefly before death. In a very real sense, the plague is gone and the human is briefly restored.

This conception of vampire is no more. Today there is nothing to be saved from. Today there is nothing to complain because the vampire is the Übermensch, or the next phase in evolution, or whatever. The monster has been made to look like the human, because clearly, there is nothing wrong with our life, right?

The irony, here, is that we are the greater monster in our action. Our narcissism blinds us. We can neither recognize the evil, nor stop ourselves from making, taking, and coercing the monster into playing the human life. Dracula interacted with humanity without losing himself to the life of humanity. He subverted life until he was caught.

Dare I say we do this of God as well? Hegel certainly does. We can no longer recognize good or evil because we consume everything. Even God. We have no palate. We have not taste buds. We have no bottom to our gluttony. The power of capitalism is, that as gluttonous fools, we consume everything. As adults, and the structural systems themselves, we are clearly no different than a spoiled brat. Wallstreet ought to disgust us, instead of the candy land we perceive it to be. If we can’t see our consumption of vampires for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or more to the point, that we have become the vampire’s worst nightmare, how can we see the evils in the tangible narratives? Something is very wrong with us. And we have even, in an ironic twist, killed Nietzsche’s god as well.

What will save us? I suggest and argue for the logic of the incarnation. We do not consume ourselves to heaven, like we could not build our way to heaven. In the eastern sense, God divinizes us.

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capitalism, Dorothy Day, market, poverty

Dorothy Day on Riches and Poverty

Last month there was a sensational story in all the New York papers, and probably reprinted all over the country, about two brothers, Langley and Homer Cohyer, who were misers and accumulators and who met with a horrible end. ON receipt of a telephone call, police broke into a house on upper Fifth Avenue in the Harlem section, a four story house which in this housing shortage could have been converted into homes for four families. They found Homer, who had been blind and helpless, dead from starvation. His brother had disappeared. The house was so filled with junk that Langley had had to tunnel his way through to go in and out of the house to make their few purchases. In fear of intrusion, he made booby traps with hundreds of pounds of old iron ready to fall on whoever threatened their privacy. One of these booby traps caught Langley who smothered to death within a few feet of his blind brother, who on account of the junk, could not reach either his brother or the window to call for help.

He slowly starved to death, while listening to the rats feeding on the corpse of Langley a few feet away.

This story seems to me, a vision of hell, a very literal and appalling sample of the hell that awaits the acquisitive, the greedy, the accumulators, the seekers after markets, wealth, power, prestige, exclusiveness, empire, dominion, of everything opposed to the common good. Here were two old men who epitomized to the nth degree suspicion and hatred of their fellows, and a desire to gather together to themselves everything they could lay their hands on. “They were worth $100,000” the newspapers reported. What a strange use of words! They spent little. Among the things they collected were six grand pianos, dismantled cars, babies’ cribs.

Peter, on the other hand, has accumulated nothing in his life. He has nothing but the suit on his back, the shoes on his feet. He has lived on Bowerys and Skid Roads all his life, not believing that his dignity needed to be maintained by residence at a decent address, or by stopping at a good hotel. To reach one’s fellows by the practice of the works of mercy, AT A PERSONAL SACRIFICE — this meant embracing voluntary poverty. Voluntary poverty as a means to an end, to publish a paper, to put out leaflets, to live on the land, to sever one’s fellows. He has lived these ideas.

By Dorothy Day, “A Letter to Our Readers at the Beginning of our Fifteenth Year” The Catholic Worker (May 1947): 1-3), found in American Catholic Religious Thought: The Shaping of a Theological and Social Tradition, edited by Patrick Carey, 414-415.

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capitalism, modern nation-state, Terry Eagleton

Terry Eagleton on Multiculturalism, Capitalism, and the State

An excerpt from an excellent article by Terry Eagleton from the latest Commonweal issue:

Economic liberalism has generated great tides of global migration, which within the West has given birth to so-called multiculturalism. At its least impressive, multiculturalism blandly embraces difference as such, without looking too closely into what one is differing over. It imagines that there is something inherently positive about having a host of different views on the same subject. Such facile pluralism tends to numb the habit of vigorously contesting other people’s beliefs-of calling them arrant nonsense or unmitigated garbage, for example. This is not the best training ground for taking on people whose beliefs can cave in skulls. One of the more agreeable aspects of Christopher Hitchens’s polemic against religion, God Is Not Great, is its author’s ready willingness to declare that he thinks religion poisonous and disgusting. Perhaps he finds it mildly embarrassing in his new, post-Marxist persona that “Religion is poison” was the slogan under which Mao launched his assault on the people and culture of Tibet. But he is right to stick to his guns even so. Beliefs are not to be respected just because they are beliefs. Societies in which any kind of abrasive criticism constitutes “abuse” clearly have a problem.

That problem encompasses a contradictory fact: the more capitalism flourishes on a global scale, the more multiculturalism threatens to loosen the hold of the nation-state over its subjects. Culture, after all, is what helps power grow roots, interweaving it with our lived experience and thus tightening its grip on us. A power which has to sink roots in many diverse cultures simultaneously is at a signal disadvantage. A British defense think tank recently published a report arguing that a “misplaced deference to multiculturalism” that fails “to lay down the line to immigrant communities” was weakening the fight against political extremists. The problem, the report warned, was one of social fragmentation in a multicultural nation increasingly divided over its history, identity, aims, and values. When it came to the fight against terrorism, the nation’s liberal values, in short, were undermining themselves.

Multiculturalism threatens the existing order not only because it can create a breeding ground for terrorists, but because the political state depends on a reasonably tight cultural consensus. British prime ministers believe in a common culture-but what they mean is that everyone should share their own beliefs so that they won’t end up bombing London Underground stations. The truth, however, is that no cultural belief is ever extended to sizable groups of newcomers without being transformed in the process. This is what a simpleminded philosophy of “integration” fails to recognize. There is no assumption in the White House, Downing Street, or the Elysée Palace that one’s own beliefs might be challenged or changed in the act of being extended to others. A common culture in this view incorporates outsiders into an already established, unquestionable framework of values, leaving them free to practice whichever of their quaint customs pose no threat. Such a policy appropriates newcomers in one sense, while ignoring them in another. It is at once too possessive and too hands-off. A common culture in a more radical sense of the term is not one in which everyone believes the same thing, but one in which everyone has equal status in cooperatively determining a way of life in common.

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capitalism, John McGuckin

Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and a Priest

From the BBC:

Priest ‘ruins Christmas’ for kids

A Catholic priest has been criticised by parents in a city in northern Italy for telling their children that Father Christmas does not really exist.

Father Dino Bottino, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Novara, let out the secret at a children’s mass earlier this month.

A local paper published complaints from dozens of parents. “You’ve ruined my children’s Christmas,” said one mother.
But an unrepentant Fr Bottino called it his duty to set the record straight.

“I told the children that Father Christmas was an invention that had nothing to do with the Christian Christmas story,” he said.
“And I would repeat it again, if I had the chance,” he added.

But Father Dino could not have imagined the scorn that would be heaped upon him after he told children at mass that neither Father Christmas – nor the kindly witch called the Befana who provides presents at New Year to Italian children – really exist.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.

Fr. Bottino is mostly right. The current incarnation of Father Christmas isn’t Saint Nick. In fact, he is a racist stereotype. I did a post on this by way of Professor John McGuckin last February, but it why not mention it in season?

McGuckin did an op-ed piece for the NY Times that only sketched part of his inauguration lecture just over a year ago. I highly recommend the lecture, as the op-ed is less detailed. A plus is that McGuckin is a great lecturer, so the brief address will go all too quickly.

As for the short op-ed piece, McGuckin touches on areas that are sometimes left to the margins in relation to the capitalistic aping of the church. To list the subjects off, he hits on: race; slavery (sexual); preferential option for the poor; uses “feminist history” (that is, focusing on the females in history, which is not limited to females of power, but generally the opposite because historically females in western history didn’t en-mass have much power); the corporation’s use of the church (turning from the poor to the rich); and infuses the entire text with “iconic” images – with “icon” functioning on two levels, one as the colloquial term for icon and a second as the ecclesial idea of icon; and he finally even brings in the idea of saints. He does all this in a very short time, and without the text becoming unwieldy. I think this might be too smart for the New York Times.

Implied in the piece, I would venture to say, is that American capitalistic advertising is the bastardizing of ecclesial iconography (and the saints as well) – one of the highest forms of Christian art. The term simulacrum comes to mind. I’m also suspicious that the reason the west doesn’t see the conflict is because we have an aesthetic vacuum.

One last interesting observation. Often Christianity is blamed for absorbing other religions, or at least pagan religious holidays; however, in this case, it was Coca-Cola that infused the now common conception of Santa with an Odin like figure – a patriarchal god of the dark sky. Hows that for a parting bit of information to chew on?

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capitalism, Oscar Romero, political theology, violence

Carlin, Control, and Conscription

Edit: I had already published this post, but after looking a bit around the theoblogosphere, it finds some friends in Ben’s, Halden’s, and Michael’s posts for the 4th of July.

Conscription is an interesting term. I’ve made theological turns before that employ words like coercive and co-opting. There are also other important words like commodifing and control. But I’ve since begun to think of loyalty and support — in monetary terms, as well as the rest of our lifestyle — in terms of conscription. And George Carlin does a decent job of identifying and explaining to a certain degree, this concept of conscription:

Carlin on the Draft and Choice

Carlin on Control and the American Dream

Carlin makes a great point on choice. Choice in the country doesn’t really exist; it is an illusion of choice. Well, we could choose, but the choice for a Christian then is to choose to die, after all, this society is rather eager to kill. If we do not choose to die, we are conscripted from birth into a society that says this on bumper stickers:

Right. So Archbishop Romero said stop the killing and was shot. He wrote to our President to stop selling arms to the oppressive government, and Carter, Carter the evangelical President, responded with sending more arms and labeling the Archbishop a subversive. Do not tell me that such intention in the bumper sticker doesn’t exist. I think with such a statement, it is easy to see where the church should be — on the business end of a rifle. We ought not be conscripted, or at least we ought to fight it.

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capitalism, grace, political theology

On Capitalism, Social Status, Hospitality, and Hamlet

The focus on hospitality in America today is a positive focus on grace and therefore a subversion of capitalism. No longer are people buying commodified comfort, but instead, people give gifts to those people in need. No artificial barrier like class, race, sex, etc. should have any limit on grace, for it is for all or it isn’t grace at all.

Hamlet speaks this well, and in fact, I can see the words of Hamlet, speaking of the visiting players, being the words of Jesus:

HAMLET
‘Tis well: I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon.
Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.

LORD POLONIUS
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

HAMLET
God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Take them in.

Hamlet Act II, Scene II

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body of Christ, capitalism, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

Tortured and Torturer, a Good Friday Reflection

The Silent Torture of the Church by a Democracy

While torture, as Scarry states it, “aspires to the totality of pain,” torture does so with the specific aim for destruction of a human being. It is the literal beating down of a human being into nothing: “Torture is a condensation of the act of ‘overcoming’ the body present in benign forms of power.”1 Torture is the violent, systematic deconstruction of a human being by another human being. “Apart from its ineffectiveness and illegality, torture is one of the cruelest, and most dangerous things that the United Stats can be doing. The claim that torture should somehow be justified is really an attack on the very dignity of humanity. It sinks us all to an inhuman and uncivilized level. It debases the victim and the torturer. In the end, torture destroys everything we value as human beings.”2 The anthropology of torture is thoroughly counter to any conception of humanity by Christianity. In fact, to move Christians in America towards accepting a torturous of vision for humanity is an attack on the Christian story and the community that claims to be the body of Christ.

However, American Christianity seems to care so little about torture. Torture is meant to isolate and break down other human beings and it is done in an incredibly violent and/or coercive manner, as I have argued. Torture results in victims who “are scripted into a different socio-political drama, recreated as abused, bastard children of the regime” and yet comparatively, so little is said about torture.3 Some Christians have no answer when challenged, they are simply indifferent, while others are resolutely pro-torture.4 In my mind, this is a gigantic theological leap from the kerygma; to be indifferent of or for torture is not based on the Christological event of Jesus – the one who was tortured. So how might such a leap be made? What is it that makes these Christians the torturer?

This leap is not theologically acceptable, however, the justification for torture can find less opposition outside of Christianity and a positive perception of torture within society, especially within the powers behind the status quo – the state, with its raison d’état, and the capitalistic market.

_______
1. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain 57.
2. Ratner and Ray, Guantánamo: What the World Should Know, 35.
3. William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 42.
4. From a discussion with Randall Balmer. The subject of the discussion can also be found here: http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i42/42b00601.htm. “Following the revelations that the U.S. government exported prisoners to nations that have no scruples about the use of torture, I wrote to several prominent religious-right organizations. Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization’s position on the administration’s use of torture. … Of the eight religious-right organizations I contacted, only two, the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, answered my query. Both were eager to defend administration policies.”

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capitalism, John McGuckin

McGuckin on Audio

I did a previous post on Prof. McGuckin’s op-ed for the New York Times. And, as good as the op-ed was, there is one thing I’ve learned here at Union – McGuckin is a great lecturer to which no short op-ed could do justice.

Last December he gave his Inaugural Lecture. I highly recommend it, one because it revisits (actually it anticipates) and broadens his op-ed on the capitalistic fakeness of the current Santa Claus and two, because it is a great little lecture.

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aesthetics, capitalism, John McGuckin

McGuckin on St. Nich and Capitalism’s Parody

As much as I am a “theologian” (whatever that means), I also have a love for history, especially good history that re-orients the church. Enter Prof. John Anthony McGuckin, who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on Santa. I highly encourage everyone to go give it a read. Heres the first paragraph:

ST. NICHOLAS was a super-saint with an immense cult for most of the Christian past. There may be more icons surviving for Nicholas alone than for all the other saints of Christendom put together. So what happened to him? Where’s the fourth-century Anatolian bishop who presided over gift-giving to poor children? And how did we get the new icon of mass consumerism in his place?

Prof. McGuckin is a Romanian Orthodox Priest, a scholar’s scholar and he not only understands capitalism parodying the church (much like Eugene McCarraher), but McGuckin touches on areas, even in this short op-ed piece, that are sometimes left to the margins in relation to the capitalistic aping of the church. To list the subjects off, he hits on: race; slavery (sexual); preferential option for the poor; uses “feminist history” (that is, focusing on the females in history, which is not limited to females of power, but generally the opposite because historically females in western history didn’t en-mass have much power); the corporation’s use of the church (turning from the poor to the rich); and infuses the entire text with “iconic” images – with “icon” functioning on two levels, one as the colloquial term for icon and a second as the ecclesial idea of icon; and he finally even brings in the idea of saints. He does all this in a very short time, and without the text becoming unwieldy. I think this might be too smart for the New York Times.

It was McGuckin’s subsumed thematic use of icons that struck me as the most interesting. It was no surprise to me that McGuckin used icons in this piece. In the one history class I did take from McGuckin, he made a point of continually coming back to the seventh ecumenical council, called Nicaea 2 (the council on aesthetics, specifically on icon use), and its over all importance, which the west has largely forgotten. (His wife also makes excellent icons and teaches students from time to time how to make them as well.)

Implied in the piece, I would venture to say, is that American capitalistic advertising is the bastardizing of ecclesial iconography (and the saints as well) – one of the highest forms of Christian art. The term simulacrum comes to mind. I’m also suspicious that the reason the west doesn’t see the conflict is because we have an aesthetic vacuum. Churches today (or at least the megachurch) are built to look like business parks or corporation complexes and the art that depicts Christian life is niche marketing, like Christian Camo or Truth Soul Armor, or the mundane Thomas Kinkaide marketed everywhere on everything. The west so very much needs a revival in Christian aesthetics and a theology of icons seems to be the place to start. Its been there for century upon century, just like the Christian calendar. We just have to pick it up.

One last interesting observation. Often Christianity is blamed for absorbing other religions, or at least pagan religious holidays; however, in this case, it was Coca-Cola that infused the now common conception of Santa with an Odin like figure – a patriarchal god of the dark sky. Hows that for a parting bit of information to chew on?

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