modern nation-state, political theology, race

The ‘Racialized’ Hoodie at the Intersection of Church and State

I am sure you all know about the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the wearing of hoodies as a show of solidarity. The hoodie already ‘radicalized’ (“an urban thing,” which is code for black, or sometimes simply not white) is now being used as a sign for identifying with the ‘urban’ and exposing that this assumption wardrobe is racist. There are a multiplicity of voices about whether hoodie solidarity is actually on the whole a positive move or not. But that was before Rep. Bobby Rush wore a hoodie on the house floor as he read the hopeful promises of the Bible.

Of course much of the issue around the shooting is race and segregation. I do not mean to detract from that, but instead deepen the issue because Representative Bobby Rush, like many others before him, exposed that the issue goes much further to the confluence of race, Christianity, and politics in America (and beyond, quite frankly, but I’ll stop there for now). I have have plenty of questions, but many of them are being asked by others so I will skip over those here. However, there are some questions that are not being asked. So I will raise one here.

As preface: the question I am about to ask is quite serious, rather than dismissive. Also, it is intentionally set at a nexus of many issues; it is at heart a short question that demands a very long answer to be answered well: the fact that the complex relationships between race and Christianity, Christianity and state power, and race and the state are all interconnected is just the beginning. The goal of the question is this: by highlighting the complexity around race, Christianity, and politics in America, I am gesturing to the depth racial issues go, and that therefore racial issues go far deeper in the American psyche than most willingly recognize. Of course this is not original to me, but I have yet to hear the issues brought up through the avenue used in this question:

In light of the video below–Rep. Bobby Rush being kicked off the House floor for wearing a hoodie while reading the hopeful promises of the Bible–I have yet another question: what good are the legislative chaplains if the Representatives will kick out their own for this?

memory, modern nation-state

Next Verse but Same as the First

I do not envy pastors who are called to preach the same things every year, as the calendar repeats, but must still continue to speak in a fresh way. I think I would break after fifteen years — I hate to repeat myself. On a blog, thankfully, I can just reference a previous post that I still find sufficient when the milieu really hasn’t changed. So, concerning the US’s memorial day celebrations today, see my response from two years back: “Memorial Day and the Life of Remembrance.”

modern nation-state

On the Eve of the Day of Gluttony and Gladitorial Combat

Michael over at Catholic Anarchy has a great post concerning this national holiday we call thanksgiving: “Are you pro-life? Resist or subvert Thanksgiving.” He starts with:

I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. – Theodore Roosevelt

[W]e shall destroy all of them. – Thomas Jefferson, referring to Native peoples

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? – Robert Jensen

and ends with:

Pro-life Christians who choose to be thoughtful about such things should be deeply troubled by the reality of Thanksgiving. Indeed, it is perhaps the holi-day par excellence of the culture of death. Of course, the best option for Christians would be simply not celebrating Thanksgiving at all. After all, Christians have their own thanksgiving, only we use its Greek name, eucharist. It is a celebration of liberation and resurrection, not invasion and extermination. It is a celebration that embodies new familial relationships not based on blood or nationality but our common life in Christ. It is a celebration whose purpose is not to say “thank you for all the stuff we have when others are not so fortunate,” but rather “thank you for inviting all of us to this table.” And of course, the one we thank is the Author of Life, the One who is not to be replaced by sentimentalism or the idols of state, of “freedom,” of “choice” and the like. No wonder Jesus made the eucharist a vegetarian feast, a true foretaste of the banquet of the Kingdom of God.

Of course, for most of us, myself included, not celebrating Thanksgiving is simply not realistic. With a one-year old child and having just moved back to the u.s. from Canada after over three years away from family and friends, I am not about to be so politically smug that I would simply refuse to participate in my own family’s traditions. On the other hand, I’m not sure that Thanksgiving can truly ever be redeemed unless it includes attention to the reality behind it, perhaps through the observance of a National Day of Atonement. A “let’s just look at the bright side” approach to Thanksgiving, an approach historically-conscious liberal american Christians tend to choose, simply will not cut it.

If anything, I am suggesting that Christians should bear the above realities in mind during this holi-day, and should, in some significant and deliberate way, make their celebration of american Thanksgiving different somehow this year, and every year. Christians, if they are to celebrate this dangerous holi-day, should in doing so make clear that they are citizens of a different empire, the Empire of God, and that this empire has its own story that exposes the lies of the earthly kingdoms’ mythologies, especially those of the united states of america. Exposing the lies of the american myth of Thanksgiving, in one way or another, must be a part of any serious pro-life celebration of the holi-day. Anything less would mean participation in an ideological cover-up which silences the historical and present-day victims of american empire. As “resident aliens” within the american empire, any eucharist that the People of God celebrates should look very different from the eucharist of the empire.

Go give the whole thing a read ’cause I couldn’t in good conscience quote the whole thing. It is worth it.

kenosis, modern nation-state, power, William Cavanaugh

Questioning the Sovereignty of the State: An Argument Against the Death Penalty

I believe it quite easy to assert that in the modern nation-state’s quest to justify its existence, its power lies in the ability (or more to the point, a narrative claiming) to ensure safety and curb alternative forms of violence. The state, however, achieves control by subjecting all violence under its rule (I avoid the use of the term law here because it could to easily be read without the background of “the state of exception”). The state claims rigorous and jealous control over violence. In economics, we call this a monopoly. This monopoly on violence extends beyond simply war making or policing (if you must see a grand difference between the two). It is about determining who lives and who dies.

However, this command over life and (finding an enemy in) death is divine work. In the creator/created distinction, it is the creator that calls life into flourishing and has/will defeat death. The assertion that the state has the ability to banish someone into death is to claim a position above life and death, but to use death to maintain such privilege. This is a theological claim all too reminiscent of the Roman Imperial cult:

Roman power was inescapably religious: the state gods of Rome gave victory to the armies of Rome. So to witness to the kingdom of god as far as the edges of the earth, as Jesus commissioned his apostles to do, was to expose Rome’s aspiration to limitless dominion as blasphemous.

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, 107.

Like the Roman Empire, the modern nation-state makes a theological claim; an idolatrous claim by the modern nation-state — command over who lives and who dies — makes a claim of possessing the position of divine oversight while foregoing the content of the imperial cult. Here William Cavanaugh’s essay on the empty shrine comes to mind.

So what does this have to do with the death penalty? Quite simply, the state does not have the sovereignty, and therefore the authority, to execute people. Its self-asserted theological claim is questionable at best: it uses violence to wield power over others that it has marginalized. The divine work, however, maintains power in a different way: kenotic and cruciform. True divine work does not use death to maintain power over people, rather, the opposite is the case: divine work confronts death for the flourishing of life. The True theological work recognizes the christological form in a seeming precarious position and against death, rather than fall prey to the idolatrous simulacrum of authority and sovereignty ensuring safety and strength.

civil religion, kenosis, Michael J. Gorman, modern nation-state, theosis

The Cruciform God and the Civil god

In light of this first theological conclusion, we must affirm that the “normal” “civil” god of power and might is an idol, and it must be named as such. This god is not the Lord God revealed in Jesus Christ and narrated in the theopolitics of Phil 2:6-11. The “normal” god of civil religion combines patriotism and power; this is the god of many American leaders and of many Americans generally. (This god has, of course, had many other incarnations in human history.) Most especially idolatrous in light of our exegesis of Philippians 2 is the image of God (and/or of Christ) as military power incarnate, whether in the crusades or in Iraq or at Armageddon. As the Spanish historian-theologian Jaume Botey Vallès said about the political theology that underwrote the U.S. response to 9/11, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the god of George W. Bush (and, we might add, of many presidents, prime ministers, and kings) is a god of military might. That simply is not the God revealed by Jesus, Vallès rightly says. Neither is it the cruciform God of Paul. In other words, military power of the cross, and such misconstrued notions of divine power have nothing to do with the majesty or holiness of the triune God known in the weakness of the cross. The “civil” god, though perfectly “normal,” is not only unholy; it is an idol.

Michael J. Gorman, Inhabitating the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, 34-35.

Johann Metz, memory, modern nation-state

Remembrance, 9/11’s Theology, and Metz

I nearly wrote a Metzian-like response to 9/11 the other day. Instead I chose to go with terse. Still, I couldn’t get the Metz response out of my mind, but thankfully before I began, I checked Mike’s blog. He has put up a four-part response taken from his paper, “‘We Will Never Forget’: Metz, Memory, and the Dangerous Spirituality of Post-9/11 America.” I liked it so much that I put it in my works consulted page for my MA thesis back when I wrote that. Mike’s paper is well worth a read and you can find here parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. So go read it.

You can also go to Vox Nova where Mike posts if you want to find combative (and often purposely misreading) comments. Find parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.