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.