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.

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.

Johann Metz, memory, modern nation-state

Memorial Day and the Life of Remembrance

Today is memorial day. On this day, this national holiday, we citizens of the United States of America are called to remember our dead, specifically the dead warriors of this country. The narrative goes: that we are indebted to the sacrifices of many for the ideals of this country — freedom, justice, etc. It is a fine narrative and one that evokes national pride because it is rooted in ‘rightness’ or in another word, righteousness. However, even when true, it is problematic. It neglects the reality of life, the power-plays, the greed, simulacrum, etc.

There is another way to remember life so that it is no longer meaningless. Essential to Johann Metz is the concept of remembrance. This remembrance is no simple thing; rather, it is an identity forming memory. When rightly understood within Christianity, remembrance is nearly synonymous with discipleship. This discipleship forms one through memory so closely to the action of Jesus that one is identified with Jesus. Thus, to remember Jesus rightly is to become like Jesus, even in his pain and suffering. This is how the Christian life is a life universal for all humanity, rather than simply one nation-state. And so we remember the dead on both sides, even the dead that have not been reconciled with their murderers.

This Christian remembrance transfigures citizens into the fullness of their humanity. Thus memorial day is for us is not a national holiday, but a day that transcends our wars and where we seek partisan remembrance in the context of the entire globe. On memorial day, we remember the hurt ones and the promises of God.

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.

modern nation-state, political theology, Rowan Williams

My Presentation at the Calvin Symposium on Religion and Politics

I’ll be delivering a paper at Calvin’s Symposium on Religion and Politics, April 23-25. So will fellow colleagues and friends, Thomas and Geoff. My presentation will be a truncated version of my paper titled: “Imagination and Exploration in Church and State Relations: Rowan Williams, Sharia, Social Space, Christianity, and America.”

I believed I alluded to this paper, or mentioned it in passing, on the blog last semester while I was writing it. Still, if anyone is curious, below is the abstract and proposal. And anyone who is thinking of swinging by the symposium, I’d be interested in some constructive feed back.

On February 7, 2008, Rowan Williams gave a lecture entitled, “Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective,” at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. England was in an uproar within hours. Nearly a year later, the lecture resonates within English jurisprudence discussion, while in America, the lecture is better known as his “Sharia speech.” This presentation aims to give Williams a close, fair, and accurate reading, while at the same time, imagining what it would mean to carry on his challenge in another context: the United States of America. The fruit of such exploration is not mere indulgence, but aims to help us better understand the complexity of Church and State relations today — specifically around law, sovereignty, and jurisprudence — and where relations may move, or we should push them towards, in the future.

On February 7, 2008, Rowan Williams gave a lecture entitled, “Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective,” at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. England was in an uproar within hours. Nearly a year later, the lecture resonates within English jurisprudence discussion, while in America, the lecture is better known as his “Sharia speech.” This essay aims to give Williams a close, fair, and accurate reading, while at the same time, imagining what it would mean to carry on his challenge in another context: the United States of America.

From William’s speech, I emphasize two key themes: “social space” and “transformative accommodation.” He noted that law – an outworking of or a voice of the modern nation-state – can often, if not inherently, function in a coercive, monopolistic fashion. This law is more than reluctant to allow for other jurisdictions. When law acts in such a jealous fashion, coupled with an individualistic anthropology, it ignores or rejects other communities or social bodies that contribute on a fundamental level to human identity. No only does supercessionist law function inadequately, but it does great harm when its blunt universalism is enforced. The outcome, Williams argued, is the marginalization and/or silencing of entire communities, particularly communities that are not violent.

The significance of the Archbishop’s speech is his carving out a new social space, as he called for the equalizing of jurisprudence. Not only should the law critically re-evaluate itself, it is called to recognize that its generalizing universalism is incomplete and harmful. Williams seeks to make space for distinctive communities that seek the good because of their distinctiveness. Clearly by the law, there are small allowances, or deferring to religious authorities, however, these are understood within the monopoly’s categories of accommodation or expert witness, not on equal terms. The importance of Williams’ speech for this essay lies in his challenge to the law, showing its poverty and need for a re-visioning of its self-proclaimed sovereignty, while upholding the inherent value of other communities and their jurisdictions. Thus Williams’ makes room for and shows the necessity of transformative accommodation.

In an exploration of the difficulty, with its positive and negatives, of adapting Rowan Williams’ vision for American civil and religious jurisprudence, I begin with two observations: I briefly note similarities between American and English and, at greater length, the dissimilarity between Christian and State notions of justice and peace. The difference between State and Christian notions of peace and justice should make clear to the reader that Christianity attempts to go far beyond the State in the ecclesial endeavors to rightly remember Jesus (specifically in anamnesis of the Christ). Thus, when reconciliation is achieved in lieu of litigation, something better, something holistic and healthy has been achieved. Supported by Rowan Williams’ argument, this seeking of the global common good through prophetic reconciliation should be recognized as legitimate and helpful. The social body of Christianity, the church, and its jurisprudence should be recognized for the sake of the faith’s adherents (who are also citizens of the State), to avoid an oppressive exercise of law, and to embrace those who seek, and arguably achieve, the common good by peaceful means from the distinctiveness of their faith and community.

The last two sections briefly address how each institution must begin the transformation to meet Williams’ challenge. There will certainly be difficulties in a move towards transformative accommodation and equal jurisprudence. I therefore address what I take to be the two biggest hurdles for the State: sovereignty and civil religion. Yet, there is also much for faith communitites to do, namely a greater emphasis on ecumenical responsibility, inter-faith dialogue, and inter-community cooperation. The fruit of such exploration is not mere indulgence, but aims to help us better understand the complexity of Church and State relations today and where they may move, or we should push them towards, in the future.

ecclesiology, justice, modern nation-state, peace, political theology, reconcile

Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation

I’m drawing to the end of my church and state paper, still tentatively titled “Imagination and Exploration in Church and State Relations: Rowan Williams, Sharia, Social Space, Christianity, and America.” Of course I’ve got a few books out and in lieu of having twitter, I’ll use this blog: “David is surrounded by his Metz books. His heart feels strangely warmed.”

I’ve also got an excerpt here from near the end, where I’m juxtaposing State and Christian ideas of justice and peace. I’m still editing it, but this is a blog, so I don’t think it all has to be perfect. That is also the reason why I haven’t put in footnotes from the actual work. As far as content, its also a bit of a playful “screw you” to those who understand reconciliation in terms of regression. I’m looking at you Milbank and Bridges.

While reconciliation is not the operative lens for the state, it is for Jesus and the church, among other foundational, interrelated politics like the economy of grace and forgiveness. However, the divine economy of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not limp wristed, passive attempts at mediating relationships. Importantly, Christian peace and justice also does not trivialize the rift or violation, instead it takes seriously the violation, the people, and the redemption. Human involvement in grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation on this side of the parousia does not disappear transgression, as if it never happened, but transforms relationships today into how they will eschatologically be – swords beaten into plowshares and the lion laying down with the lamb. Even much of liberation theology can be read this way, as it seeks to redeem people, oppressor and oppressed, and their oppressive relationship.

In fact, even the church today as the mission of the basileia of God does not achieve a thoroughgoing justice throughout the globe. It is a participant in what can be achieved locally throughout the globe – in the interruption of the way of death by God – before the parousia. Thus, reconciliation today is not particularly retrogressive. The Jews, homosexuals, and handicapped killed in the Holocaust and the Germans who designed and implemented the programs are both dead and beyond the reach of the church (as is the case in 9/11 or some of Darfur or some of Iraq, etc.). We live in the aftermath of dead, irreconcilable generations and only God can enact a full redemption at the end of time; nevertheless, the church has plenty of redemptive work to do today. In fact, to stop death in its tracks is the key to redemptive work; the past will not tyrannize the present or the future. Despite the shortcoming of the church, it is formed by the memory of Christ and eschatological hope and can therefore seek a true sense of justice and peace; the ecclesial vision is comprehensive and holistic. It attempts to live the interruptive action of crucified and resurrected grace that declares the end of death’s sting. Death will not have the last word; it shall be stopped, interrupted this very day, so as to make way for divine peace – the flourishing of people and relationships. The church, rightly understood even in its brokenness, seeks to embody the in-breaking of the basileia; if we act right, if we live up to our call to witness, we can participate in making space where the basileia breaks in and creates a social space of reconciliation, of redemption, of peace. It is this Christological power embodied in social existence that the State in its individualist anthropology cannot rightly account for. With these Christian relational definitions of justice and peace in mind, Paul’s exhortation for Christians to settle relational breaks among themselves – and so to be the “witness to the inauguration of the kingdom of Christ” – is intelligible.

The difference between State and Christian notions of peace and justice should make clear to the reader that Christianity attempts to go far beyond the State in the ecclesial endeavors to rightly remember Jesus (specifically anamnesis of the Christ). Thus, when reconciliation is achieved in lieu of, say, litigation, something better, something holistic and healthy has been achieved. Supported by Rowan Williams’ argument, this seeking of the global common good through prophetic reconciliation should be recognized as legitimate and helpful. The social body of Christianity, the church, and its jurisprudence should be recognized for the sake of the faith’s adherents (who are also citizens of the State), to avoid an oppressive exercise of law, and to embrace those who seek, and arguably achieve, the common good by peaceful means.

Before moving on, I want to make very clear that this understanding of equal jurisprudence and transformative accommodation is not to be understood within the categories of something like a chaplain in the United States army. Christian jurisprudence crosses the borders of human categories because it is relational. It is not to be coerced to enable the status quo as it seeks to continue oppression, of say, the Native Americans in the United States, rather it aims to achieve reconciliation that interrupts the abusive relationships and works towards a flourishing peace. The church is not to be behind the soldiers enabling them kill and absolving them of guilt, but in the crossfire and in the trenches, working for reconciliation. The church in its very being inherently works for this global common good. This is the natural political outworking of ecclesial/communal, ethical embodiment of its memory of Jesus that has been stripped by the State, as the church has been fragmented by the monopolistic jurisprudence of the State.

modern nation-state, political theology, terror

OMG, Civil Disobedience Nuns are Terrorists and Destroying the Fabric of Society!

I love old nuns. More to the point, I love to see those nuns at protests. Clerical garb used in visible, Christological subversive protest? I’m a fan. So it only stands that I would find the following “terrorist” nuns — peace witnesses labeled by the state as terrorists for a time — something of an encouragement. From the Washington Times:

BALTIMORE | For decades, Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth Platte have practiced their Roman Catholic faith with an unwavering focus on world peace. Their antiwar activities even landed them in federal prison earlier this decade for trespassing onto a military base and pouring blood onto a nuclear missile silo.

Now they face fresh infamy as two nuns secretly branded by Maryland State Police as terrorists and placed on a national watch list.

“This term terrorist is a really serious accusation,” Sister Ardeth, a nun for 54 years, told The Washington Times on Thursday in the first interview that the women have given since being informed they were among 53 people added to a terrorist watch list in conjunction with an extensive Maryland surveillance effort of antiwar activists.

“There is no way that we ever want to be identified as terrorists. We are nonviolent. We are faith-based,” she said.

The women freely acknowledge their participation in antiwar activities.

On Oct. 6, 2002, the two sisters and another nun – armed with bolt cutters, a hammer and baby bottles filled with their own blood – broke into an unmanned Minuteman III missile site in northeastern Colorado and painted bloody crosses on the silo. It was the day before the one-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.

Sister Carol was sentenced to 30 months and Sister Ardeth to 41 months in federal prison for the action.

“I learned to make it a meditation, almost a prayer,” Sister Carol told the Baltimore Sun upon her release in 2005.

SERIOUS THREAT? Sisters Carol Gilbert (left) and Ardeth Platte were offended to learn that the Maryland State Police had placed them under surveillance from March 2005 to May 2006 as part of security efforts surrounding two executions. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

But they say being tagged as terrorists in a federal database is false and a blow to their commitment to a pursuit of peace.

“We’re Dominicans; our mission is ‘veritas,’ which is truth,” Sister Carol said.

State police have said their surveillance was limited to the period of March 2005 to May 2006, during planning for security related to the executions of two death row inmates.

But activists have long said they think the state police and local law-enforcement agencies cast a broader net across Maryland’s protest community.

The nuns said they were not involved in the protests state police say they targeted. And other activists who were labeled terrorists, including a member of the antiwar group Code Pink, have said they were not active in Maryland protests during the state police’s time period.

E-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland show that Baltimore police were coordinating with the National Security Agency in 2003 and 2004 to spy on Quakers, who routinely protested outside the security agency’s headquarters. And a member of the American National Socialist Workers Party, or Nazis, told lawmakers Wednesday that he was among the 53 to receive a letter from the state police informing him that he was on the list.

“This leads me to ask who exactly was the Maryland State Police was watching when they thought they were watching me,” Bill White wrote the lawmakers in e-mail obtained by The Washington Times.

Nancy Kricorian, a member of Code Pink, also was entered into the database. She never lived or protested in Maryland, said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU, which represented the nuns in the effort to obtain information on the spying.

The state police have offered to let the activist see the files and have them purged but have denied them and their attorneys access to the hard copies.

A police spokesman did not answer questions Thursday about allegations that the spying was more expansive or involved many other groups, and said he was unsure why the nuns and other activists were entered into the database.

“The fact there was a record with their name is the reason we’re in this situation that were in,” said state police spokesman Greg Shipley. “We’re certainly not going to perpetuate the problem by creating more records and handing them out.”

Mr. Rocah has asked Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to force state police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan to grant hard copies of the files and allow attorneys to be present during the review.

Despite their history, the nuns were surprised to receive letters recently notifying them that their names were in the Maryland State Police’s database as being affiliated with terrorism.

“It is clear to us that the full extent of the MSP’s improper activities have yet to be fully disclosed,” Mr. Rocah wrote.

The sisters said the O’Malley administration is trying to brush off questions about broader police surveillance.

“Think they just want to kind of pooh-pooh it away and say it’s no big thing,” Sister Carol said.

An O’Malley spokesman deferred questions to the state police.

The spying occurred during the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and while the state police was being run by Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins.

Sister Ardeth Platte (left) and Sister Carol Gilbert have been members of the protest community for years, including an incident in which they and another nun defaced a nuclear missile silo in Colorado, landing them in federal prison. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

Sisters Ardeth and Carol, a nun for 43 years, said they won’t review their records or have them purged until they are given hard copies and allowed to bring attorneys with them to the state police headquarters.

“Democracy is built on these elements on being able to speak out to speak what we believe is truth,” Sister Carol said.

death, grace, modern nation-state, peace, political theology

The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 2)

In the past two posts, “Moving Towards the Comedy of Death” and “The Christian Life: The Comedy of Death (Pt. 1)“, I’ve been putting forward something titled “The comedy of death.”

The first post was on scientific soteriology and the inability for science to truly deal with death. Indeed, science is more than impotent, but rather, at times hurries death along farther than we could on our own, sending millions to the reaper. Humanity’s greatest achievements are equally destructive and not actually salvific. The Christian answer is not to run from death, but to face it and live well together, participating in the redemptive work of God.

The second post functions like a case study of sorts, mentioning three movies based on grace — being given what you need from an estranged family member, rather than getting what you want. These movies function as a way to imagine justice and solidarity at work while undergoing unusual, stressful circumstances, with the theme of death.

Consider this last one, yet another different view of the Christian life functioning redemptively in the face of death, but this time summed up in the phrase, “Memento mori“: Remember (you too are) mortal.

In Republican Rome, conquering commanders coming back from a victory against a new people group could maybe get a triumpha grand parade where the commander is literally is dressed up like a god, decked out in red and the recipient of the city’s adulation. Now, tradition says that in the moment of such praise, the commander was reminded of his mortality by a slave with the words: Memento mori. Such a job is the height of prophecy, yes? I would pay money to be given the time and space, during his Roman triumph, er, I mean, his Inaugural Address, to proclaim to the next president: Memento mori. Remember you are but dust! Remember your death!

This is a Christianity that is not necessarily at the service of the state — as a Bible used to swear in an office holder — but rather this is the work of God, making clear to the people of the world that they are not gods. This is comparable to the Barthian “Nein!” This is the loud refusal to confuse the state’s justice with true justice and true peace.

This comedy of death is first a liberation through the acceptance of our limits. This isn’t liberation from death, but the acknowledgment of our finitude — our status as creature and not creator — and to face death throughout our life. Instead of cheapening or avoiding death and tragedy, this takes evil seriously. The comedy of death, in many ways, is the Christian stabilizing weakness (strength) for our world — seeking justice/redemption and peace — in the face of frustrating, trying, bizarre, or farcical circumstances. The way this often plays out in a crazy world of violence, coercion, and commodification, we peaceably seek a scandalous redemption. After all, in a crazy world, the actions that are in step with the world are crazy as well. Part of the nature of the peaceable scandal is that it doesn’t fit into crazy and looks to the masses like foolishness.

The Christian life is death because the grim is always at our door, and comedy because God’s work culminates in redemption where the scripture “Death where is your sting?” is fulfilled, as death, the last enemy, is addressed for the last time.

modern nation-state, peace, political theology, Rowan Williams

Peace Defined

This is part of a study in theological language, the rest of the posts can be found here.

Also, the significance of this post on September 11 has not escaped me. I hope you notice it as well. The timing was not originally planned this way when I started the series, but still, it is a happy accident that I am happy to oblige.

I want to begin with what peace is not. Peace is not silence or a cessation of violence brought about by coercion or elimination of competition. Take for instance Phocus:

I am sorry, but you are a loon. You spin thoughts in your manufactured reality and occasionally consider one or two to be worth spewing onto this site. You write…”Instead of war producing peace, war is now mostly understood as a violent oppression from which good does not come from — instead, good comes in spite of such an evil.” Where to begin…and once begun, where to stop? Your lack of learning is stunning. Please study the last world wars…from start to end, and try to do this study without bias.

There are two sides to a war. One is evil, the other peaceful. If the peaceful fail to rise up and stop the evil, evil blurs into oppression, lack of freedom, and death to those who do resist. The free men and women of the world smashed Hitler’s Germany and Japan. Once these evils were stopped, the world dressed the wounds of the broken nations and then gave them back to the people.

There is one way to have peace. You get peace when the peaceful win. Period. Any other outcome…promises more war. The human spirit longs to be at peace. You get peace through strength.

Hopefully, you will grow into your obviously functioning brain and gather logic based on knowledge and facts rather than theory. If you are under 30 and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are over 30 and still a liberal, you have no brain.

Now, I do not want to interject the… simplistic understanding of Phocus for all who claim good in or from war and violence (a straw-person argument) and nor am I seeking to legitimize Phocus’ inane ramblings, but he or she does accept a few fundamental assumptions that I am ultimately seeking to address: one that peace is the result of “stopping” evil and two, that therefore peace is attainable by violence.

Peace is not the elimination of the other. It cannot be. That isn’t peace between people because it is first not justice, it is the prosecution of death upon one group by another group. State and society can only rid the world of an existence or exact punitive violence that it calls justice; however, true peace requires true justice, not slaughter. And in fact, at least some justice work is a form of peace-making. However, those that claim a monopoly on justice, the state, or market, or cosmopolitan society, cannot achieve a full sense of justice — putting relationships aright.[1] In a word, redemption, not a malformed catharsis. In fact, even the church today as the mission of the basiliea of God cannot achieve full justice. Metz makes note that reconciliation cannot actually be achieved between Jews killed in the Holocaust and the Germans who designed and implemented the programs because both are dead (as is the case in 9/11 or some of Darfur or some of Iraq, etc.). We live in the aftermath of irreconcilable generations and only God can enact a full redemption.[2] But despite the short coming of the church, nevertheless, it is formed by the memory of Christ and eschatological hope and can therefore seek a true sense of justice, and therefore seek real peace. And if we act right, we can participate in making space where the basiliea breaks in and creates a social space of peace.

Peace is also fundamentally a conversion and discipleship — from swords to plowshares and lions laying with lambs. Quite simply, evil, or evil acts, is a warped sense of peace: it is not redemptive but seeks to convert or eliminate. Therefore, actions such as torture are violent conversions and the antithesis of peace. Torture is the re-narration of a person by destroying a human being — a fundamentally abusive relationship, while peace is instituted from the righting of relationships (justice) and is maintained as we treat each other as part of creation through the grammar of Christological, divine love.

Since peace is not the result of the elimination of the other, and indeed may be the exact opposite, peace comes in spite of such attempts to eliminate the other. Peace is something we do. Peace is something we live in. We live together in peace by living within the community of God. In the end, peace is the refusal to use evil for “good” (although such good then lacks any ability to be a true good). Peace can exist in the face of evil as the rule of God exists in an evil world.

The most significant questions I think that follow are: “Can peace exist today?” and “If the state or society cannot actually achieve true peace, what is there to do?”

It can exist, as much as the rule of God exists. It has just been a mistake to redefine peace in light of what the state can achieve, especially ever since the Enlightenment claimed it could save the world, as it used the false narrative of “The Wars of Religion” to justify its existence for mediating a peace.

However, all I think is not lost in terms of the state. As suspicious as I am of the state, there are ways of calling the state to be more than what it wants to be. Although this will put the state in tension with what it claims it can do — gather everything subject to it — nevertheless, the future calls for the state to recognize its boundaries. As the state is now, it is too restrictive for a pluralistic society that recognizes multiple relationships to communities within each person. Rowan Williams has begun to show the way. In his controversial speech on Sharia law and the need for the state to allow some community governing, one could also read his speech as talking of the Christian community as well. Ultimately Williams calls for the state to be more flexible, and to give up some of what it claims a monopoly on, so as to allow faithfulness without grand eruption by the faithful in the face of a lying, totalitarian state. However, sadly, it is not in the nature of the modern nation-state to recognize many of its own boundaries, rather it speaks only of reasonable accommodation of other systems within the state. We would have a very different state if its notion of “peace” was re-examined. Finally, perhaps the state would begin to point to true peace (and therefore towards the rule of God), rather than claiming the state can achieve peace itself. But this it will never do. However, the church will, insomuch as it works for redemption and the basiliea of God on Earth.

Edit: After some thinking and critique from Halden, I’ll succintly define peace: living out and participating in the continuing redemption by God through grace and love.
[1] I’d like to quote at length from J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account (pg. 64) that calls into question even the very grammar and policy/action of the state, and therefore its warped or insufficient sense of justice:

The Principle he isolates is this: “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

This principle, Foucault tells us, represents the inversion of the principle enunciated by political philospher Karl von clausewitz in his 1827 work, von Kriege (On War), in which he states that “[war] is a continuation of policy by other means…. War is not merely a political act. but a truly political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” Understood in this way, politics as the instrument of peace–the means, that is, by which peace is maintained–is the norm war, therefore, represents a state of political exception, the unusual condition resorted to from time to time to reach the objective of peace. Foucault notes, however, that with this principle Clausewitz was himself inverting a prior axiom: namely, that war, the condition of bellicosity, is in fact the norm and that politics is simply the continuation of the norm of war, but by other means.

Thus, with his inversion of Clausewitz’s axiom that “politics is the continuation of war by other means,” Foucault sought to make two claims–one explicit, the other more implicit but no less important for his work. On the one hand, he was claiming to return to a principle that “existed long before Clausewitz” and to take it with deft seriousness. Yet he was also more implicitly claiming that Clausewitz’s principle renders thematic the fact that modernity functions under a perpetual state of exception or emergency, the uninterrupted condition of the crisis of politics. Indeed, the state of exception or emergency–namely, the condition of war–is modernity’s inner analytic, its syntax and grammar.

[2] This is how I believe we should understand God’s judgment, but that is a bit of a tangential question right now.

modern nation-state, race

Reflecting on the Representatives’ Apology, A Link

A friend and conversation partner of mine from Union put up a post on the God’s Politics blog, reflecting on the recent House of Representatives apology for slavery, titled “Will an Apology for Slavery Lead to Real Repentance?” Some of the comments… can be pretty uninformed and/or inane, however, I do recommend reading Ben’s article. It ends with:

I affirm the need to forgive. However, in this situation it is even more vital to remember the meaning of repentance. The Greek word for repent is “metanoia” and it means to change one’s mind or purpose. The U.S. government, regardless of any apology, cannot be properly forgiven because it has not undergone a sincere “metanoia.” For this apology to yield any meaningful sincerity, it must be reinforced by real, concrete action. A great starting point would be to cease building prisons in lieu of quality schools. This would contribute not only to the reconstruction of black families, but all poor families ravaged by our corrupt legal system. Sadly, this act of sincere repentance (and it is only one of many possibilities) will probably not happen, mainly because of a nagging feeling I had when I first heard of the apology. I had this strange feeling that the apology came with the House members sitting down, so as to protect their wallets. Real American repentance for racism is going to cost us, not just sentiment but also money, and a lot of it. That said, now let’s see how sincerely repentant our government is.

Sounds about right.

Oh, and those of you who are going to say something of the sort, “I’m white but not responsible,” please look up the definition of “White Privilege” and “complicity” before you comment.

interreligious dialogue, modern nation-state, music, political theology

Music, Social Force, and Interreligious Dialogue

I’ve been told that in the 60s and 70s, it was music that changed things. It was music that stopped the war. Now whether this is true or not doesn’t particularly matter to me. The point is, and I believe it was Dylan saying this in the documentary No Direction Home, that music has lost its power. The ability for music to change things is gone for now, or it has been significantly diminished.

Being something of a youngster, having not lived through the 60s and 70s, I have a hard time understanding this idea that music has been diminished. For me, it has always been that way. The notion that music could bring world leaders to their knees seems impossible, they seem too well insulated — or simply do not care. Even today, with the Foo Fighters singing of conflict with the state for speaking out seems entirely plausible, not because music today will provoke such a response (after all, this is a mainstream band who lives a comfortable life while playing to an image of revolution), but because the state naturally responds with tactical force. Its as if the revolutionary songs of today are a lament or a dream. The world is not as it was.

With music diminished and blunted, by capitalistic forces that commodifies revolutionary change, where do social forces lie? Where is the power to change, to halt the army in its tracts as it rattles its sabers and moves toward war? I am beginning to believe it is in interreligious dialogue.

It is no secret, for anyone paying attention to the news, that the current American administration was and continues to saber rattle against Iran. The rhetoric has picked up, even while there is a certain shift toward diplomacy. In fact I remember a month or two back reading an article comparing the rhetoric before this Iraq war and the rhetoric today on Iran. The comparisons were striking.

One might say, the democrats would never let such a thing happen. And my answer would be, you really want to risk that? After all, Bush is still in office. They feed off one another. However, religions do not have to feed off the state. In fact, discussion between religions can show us how human we all are, as opposed to how powerful we are.

The point here is not to use interreligious dialogue to convert, or even to change others (this is afterall dialogue), but merely for the idea of exposure and connection. Globalization is in itself an ambiguous thing, however right now it is run by those who think of money first. What if religion, or at least Christianity, were to take the connections that globalization makes available and rub shoulders with everyone else. The more connections we make, the more the reality of other people’s humanity is made evident, and the harder I think it would be for us to wage an electronic war on a demonized people because our government wants us to.

At the same time, we can give the finger to the enlightenment story that religion is the cause of war and conflict. We could effectively bring home the idea that people around the globe are people and they are our neighbors. In a very real sense, the church would be fulfilling its role as a peace maker and keeping at least our warring state in check, which music did, while also living with those people of other colors, which music did not seem to move us towards.

Oh, and for grins, here is a great link from the BBC of a Capuchin monk heading up a heavy metal band. Who says monks don’t rock?

modern nation-state, political theology

Exceptionally Unexceptional: The False Notions of American Exception and America’s Special Grace

American triumphalism, an exaltation of American exceptionalism, is nothing new. Also so is what “Spengler” at the Asia Times seems to do, he or she has put out another spectacularly uninformed and underwhelming article.

Noting Spengler in this instance I think is akin to speaking of James Dobson. This is not meant as a legitimation of either, but the recognition that they and their speech ought to be de-legitimatized. Dobson doesn’t have much of a clue when it comes to theology, and astute Spengler is not, but people end up quoting both anyways because they seem to voice what others are thinking, or like to think, or want to think. For instance, Spengler wrote that one article on Black Liberation theology, the one that couldn’t seem to grasp what Liberation theology is, much less say something intelligent about it. However others in their realization that they knew nothing of Black Liberation theology, latched onto Spengler like a new born puppy desperate for a suckle. And I’m understating it here. John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski and his famous line comes to mind: “Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!”

So what of American exceptionalism and special grace? It doesn’t exist. And since it doesn’t exist, there is nothing to be triumphal about.

Well, we can’t be exceptional in practice. That sort of idea is only supported by a delusional memory that ignores so much, like the killings and overall mistreatment of Native Americans, Japanese, Chinese, European immigrants, Africans, African Americans, and the list goes on. Ambiguity is the word we’re looking for — positives and negatives. Just like everyone else.

So why are we superior? I didn’t know we were. The methods that we have used to move into a position that “leads” the world (i.e. tells others what to do) comes from a history of bullying, the collapse of Europe, and the willingness to do whatever it takes for wealth and control. In a word, colonization.

And to kick the dead horse some more, for grins and giggles, George Carlin skewers this notion of delusional history:

So I can only assume, America is exceptional on principle, or more specifically, the notion that America has been specially graced comes from an ideology. And because there hasn’t been a newer testament added to the canon, it seems that Spengler is resigned to using flawed logic, wikipedia definitions, and a thorough misunderstanding of the founding of America.

For all its flaws and fecklessness, America remains in the eyes of its people an attempt to order a nation according to divine law rather than human custom, such that all who wish to live under divine law may abandon their ethnicity and make themselves Americans. The rights of Americans are held to be inalienable precisely because they are a grant from God, not the consensus of the sociologists or the shifting custom of a particular historical period. Ridiculous as this appears to the secular world, it is embraced by Americans as fervently as it was during the Founding. Even worse for the secularists, it has raised a following in the hundreds of millions in the Global South among people who also would rather be ruled by the divine law that holds their dignity to be sacred, than by the inherited tyranny of traditional society.

If America has been given a special grace, it is because its founders as well as every generation of its people have taken as the basis of America’s legitimacy the Judeo-Christian belief that God loves every individual, and most of all the humblest. Rights under law, from the American vantage point, are sacred, not utilitarian, convenient or consensual. America does not of course honor the sanctity of individual rights at all times and in all circumstances, but the belief that rights are sacred rather than customary or constructed never has been abandoned.

…To love America is to acknowledge its special grace, namely that a nation founded not on ethnicity, language, or culture but rather upon the sanctity of individual rights will prevail, while the remains of traditional society are borne away by the current. Those who love America and seek to emulate her, including hundreds of millions of new Christians in the Global South, well understand her uniqueness. To demand success of every leftover of traditional society must succeed is an expression of envy against America’s special grace.

Apparently, the bestowment of special grace on America comes from its recognition of divine law, which isn’t traditional culture, but maintains itself through the centuries… wait, what? That sounds like a tradition. Lets start farther back. The idea that America started as a Christian nation has been debunked by plenty of historians, even ones that are Christians with good historical reputations. Most of the angelic founding fathers were deists, enlightenment deists at that — ones who put forth nature as divine, not a Christian god. To assume the words used back then have the same definitional meaning, or were used with the same understanding as evangelical Christians today is uninformed at best. Go read Richard Hughes, Myths America Lives By, if you still do not get it. He explains it very simply.

But, it is said, America comes from a Judeo-Christian context, and that is clearly different. No, again, it comes from a mixture of enlightenment beliefs which forms its own civil religion through the language of Christianity.

For example, rights language — that humans have an inalienable right — is not a Christian notion. Now, saying people are created is a Christian notion, however, combining rights to pursue happiness with an appeal to divine authority isn’t exactly a Christian idea. In fact, it could be easily argued that Christianity stands somewhat against such an idea. Christianity doesn’t use rights language, hell it doesn’t even get that far up the philosophical ladder because it has a more foundational understanding called the imago dei, the image of God. We, every human being (not just land owners who could then vote), being created in the image of God, find their source in the Trinitarian God. The “right” to do something is not even in the picture; rights are about claiming something so we can do it. Rather, in Christianity, people have been claimed by God and therefore have inherent worth. To be claimed by God turns the notion of rights on its head. Instead of seeking out boundaries to let us do what we want or think we should have, God institutes a move that orients people towards helping one another. This Christian anthropology does not claim rights, our worth and the community of believers around us has been given by God.

Still unsure about Enlightenment appropriation of theological language to set up a civil religion allowing people to worship any idol they want, as long as its in the states shrine? Go read William Cavanaugh’s “The Empire of the Emptry Shrine” if you’re still not understanding the way the Enlightenment used and abused Christian language. (This is where room was created for some actual Christians to be involved in the founding of the United States of America, for those of you who are objecting that a few Christians were participants and signers. Which is indeed true, but we can’t claim a traditional foundation on of a few people here, nor use the few Christians involved to baptize Enlightenment language into Christianity.)

This nation was founded on the individual rights of white, male, slave holders to own slaves. Slaves were people who were not deemed human, but interestingly, God seemed to tell the slaves they were indeed human. Try listening to a spiritual sometime. But let us not be swayed by such insignificant, little details! After all, they were nice slave holders. The entire key to the article is in the title, “America’s Special Grace.” This is importantly not God’s special grace, but America’s claim that it is bestowing special grace on itself, as America creates its own anthropology. In short, we have selectively moved ourselves into salvation through our own salvific means.

The supreme irony of the article is that Spengler “argues” (or simply sings the praises of Enlightenment civil religion) for a triumphal liberation through enlightenment rights language, championed by a “unique” country, America. However, if the argument was turned about, claiming that the salvation of peoples of the global south is to be found in the liberation provided by Jesus, Spengler could have even sounded a lot like Father Tissa Balasuriya in The Eucharist and Human Liberation. And this is the ironic point, by switching salvific means from Jesus to America, Spengler makes the colonizer the savior by draping rights in theological language, but can only do so by hiding the ambiguity and ultimate abusive relationship of siding with the colonizer.

Therefore, to invalidate Spengler and American exceptionalism is turn the world right-side up and back in line with the grain of the universe. It is to reject American civil religion in favor of a necessary, Christological liberation, and not just for those in the global south who need to know their inherent worth so as to move out from their abusive situations, but for everyone. Even the gnostic, global north.

H/T to Halden for the heads up on the new Spengler article.

humor, modern nation-state, political theology

Speaking from the Grave

George Carlin died yesterday. He had a complex relationship with the church, and sometimes he would seem to take his criticism a bit far — like grouping all Christian faith into something he would critique — but generally I really liked the guy’s standup. He seemed like a complex and generally honest human being, which translated interestingly into his acerbic and “counter-cultural” standup.

Carlin, in the video below, disabuses the audience of a God of the Gaps (fulfilling Bonhoeffer’s projection) and the notion of the state’s benevolence, states of exception and human rights. In such a comedy routine, he tackles rather important issues that aren’t even acknowledged in much of public discourse, and he manages to do so with humor, wit, and small words. Even though I have disagreements, I find him someone worth listening to, because there is at least some truth and genuine life experience behind his observations. I find when I’m thinking over what he says, I’m thinking about a human being, not merely a punch line — as if we’re really just having a conversation. So with this in mind, I have below, a video of Carlin skewering the state and its civil religion.

Warning, Carlin uses four letter words, which may offend some. However, I find that sometimes honesty is a four letter word and in this case, he tends to use them well.

H/T for the video: Jamerica.

market, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

The Interruptive Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

A Christian community that situates itself in the world, does so, whether it explicitly acknowledges it or not, through a Christology. The experience of Jesus – in both ontology and praxis – remembered by the community, forms the foundation for an ecclesial politic. To begin to engage, say, torture, we must look back at whom Jesus was. Thus implications for change upon American Christians are vast, because Jesus was and is fundamentally interruptive. Therefore, the community of faith that understands itself primarily around the Christ should likewise understand itself as interruptive.

Theologically, we are bound to a tragic past and we also have a tragic future as well. Save for the interruption of God, we live in evil and its consequences, tragedy. But such an idea does not play well in the state that says it is the agent of peace or the market that claims a monopoly on lifestyle. The state could not be the agent of peace if it did not claim the ability to achieve it, which necessitates power and the moral will to create this “peace.” Likewise the market could not claim the ability to achieve happiness if it could not force humanity into a structure that gains wealth for some. Optimism, of a Deus ex Machina nature – our self-made god by our constructed machine (i.e. social structure, technology, etc.), is a necessity for the state and the market: We will intervene and resurrect ourselves when it seems bleak. Faith in the American experiment is a must, or the false stories die and torture loses its foundation.

The remembrance of 9/11, as remembered by the state and the market, is inherently an American memory and not a Christian memory. Allowing our memory to be altered by the matrix of culture’s identity leads into a vindictive Christology by the Rome of our time, rather than allowing the challenge of Jesus – the scandal of Jesus’ life – to wash over the body of Christ. Because “the image of Jesus…allows us to encounter him as the revelation of God’s open narrative,” as opposed to the closed narrative of the state and market who seek to maintain power and control, quite simply, Jesus, and not the state or market, “can be described as God’s interrupter.”1

The incarnation was an interruption. It validated creation and yet opposed commodities. God came as a human, an impoverished human, and not a dollar sign. Jesus was not to be bought and sold, nor a price tag put on him – it was an evil act that sold him for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus was also born not into Roman citizenship or among the emperor’s family, but into a “lowly” status. Jesus was not a commodity or human royalty, but God interrupting economic anthropologies with God’s own economy of grace.

The preaching of the basileia was an interruption of the Emperor’s rule, in both political and economic forms. The very words of Jesus interrupted the language and stories of the status quo – the basileia had come.2 Jesus accompanied his words with actions, equally interruptive actions as the rule of God.3 To name some praxis: there were healings, caring for the poor, miracles, and upsetting the established economic balance in the temple: “Jesus not only aroused the amazement of the bystanders, but at the same time he summoned the forces behind the hegemonic narratives against him in their defense.”4

The cross was an interruption – the death of God was and is a scandal. The idea that God would be the tortured and not the torturer, the criminal and not the emperor, and the one who died instead of lived on, was a scandal of the highest magnitude. “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone…and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.”5 Quite simply, Jesus suffered; Jesus was tortured and executed in political terms at the low social level of a slave and by Jesus’ own admission, forgotten.6 The connection then of the cross, and the torture associated with it, to the oppressor yesterday and today is not a comfortable connection. “[T]he earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the ‘solidarity’ of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”7 The cross calls us to the margins, where the people are tortured, and not to stay where we are as complicit with the torturer. This interrupts our entire life and lifestyle.

The resurrection was an interruption. The resurrection made clear that no oppressor will win forever and death lost its sting. For the Romans, and by implication, America today, “the suffering of a god soon had to be shown to be mere simulation, rapidly followed by punishment for those humans who had been so wicked to cause it.” Indeed, the cross still ought to be a scandal that informs the body of Christ about those who suffer in society today – the cross was not followed by a war, but a resurrection and hope with solidarity. The resurrection pre-pictured the parousia and added an extra dimension of eschatological hope in the basileia, combined with the suffering of Jesus.

Christian suffering and hope are intertwined and together constitute the climax of Christian interruption, while the state’s continued torture shows the stark contrast between Jesus and the state.9 9/11 Christology leads to blindness, a subsumed racism, pride, (at least) partially undeserved wealth, and oppression – a bourgeois Christianity comfortable in its sloth. Opposite, Jesus forms a communal body that seeks to speak of God’s salvation in the world. “For Christians, professing Christ is then also the interruption par excellence of history.”10

1. Lieven Boeve, Interrupting Tradition: An Essay on Christian Faith in a Postmodern Context, (Dudley, MA: Peeters Press, 2003), 145.
2. Ibid., 121-124, 127-131.
3. Ibid., 124-127.
4. Ibid., 126-127.
5. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 10.
6. Ibid., 46, 51.
7. Ibid., 88. Also see, “Jesus, the memoria passionis, mortis et resurrectionis Jesu Christi both attest to God’s solidarity with all victims of suffering and oppression and assures the final, still unrealized deliverance of the victims. Christians thereby read history not in affirmation of conquest but in hope for the conquered.” Bruce Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 36.
8. Hengel, 15.
9. Anthony Kelly, Eschatology and Hope (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006), 88.
10. Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval (New York: Continuum, 2007), 47.