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.



Which Clash? What Civilizations? By Khaled Abou El Fadl at ABC

Philosophical Improvisations: A Conversation on Method” — an interview with Cynthia R. Nielsen of Per Caritatem

Michael Gibson just started up a blog: Over the Transom

The Freedom of a Christian” by Marilynne Robinson, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

The Christian Identity of Europe” by Louis Dupré, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

The Authority of Law in Recent Catholic Political Philosophy” by Mark C. Murphy, and sponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute

Report spreads blame for Catholic sex abuse” by David Gibson at the Religion News Service

And lastly about my home state, “The Silence: In the Remote Native Villages of Alaska, FRONTLINE examines a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story” by PBS

eschatology, Fun/Humor

Thank God Its Doomsday

In case you’re some how oblivious, too many people have gotten too much time in the media by proclaiming the rapture comes May 21… which is today. Ah, premil, pretrib dispensationalist theology, how I have not missed thee.

Anyways, you may also be unaware that the Simpsons did an episode where only Homer is raptured — season 16, episode 19 called “Thank God Its Doomsday.” I once did an eschatology paper on it back in undergrad. Fun times. Anyways, you should see it — it is so good on so many levels. Right now you can watch the whole episode here.

Here is a clip from the episode if you’re curious:

books, political theology

A Not-So-Theological Book List for Political Theology

Daniel asked about a book list of ethics and politics works of the not-so-theological variety for those in political theology. I take this to be a book list both about people who at least are not theologians and/or works that may not even consider the place of theology. It covers political theory, continental philosophy, and a few other subjects, but it certainly is not exhaustive — in fact it may really be a poor introduction to people and writings I think are important to know and work with or against. If you’ve got any books to add, please do.

Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince

Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan: With Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, and Man and Citizen: De Homine and De Cive

GWF Hegel (specifically these editions): Phenomenology of Spirit, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion One-Volume Edition, The Lectures of 1827, and Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government and Political Essays

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘The Social Contract’ and Other Later Political Writings

Karl Marx: just start with The Marx-Engels Reader (Second Edition) — it has Marx’s important essays on Hegel and Feuerbach, among other writings. Of course there is Capital starting with Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics)

Friedrich Nietzsche: Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Will to Power (Volumes I and II), and Beyond Good and Evil

John Rawls: A Theory of Justice: Original Edition, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: With “On My Religion”

Carl Schmitt: The Concept of the Political, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, Legality and Legitimacy, and of course Constitutional Theory

An edited volume by Chantal Mouffe on Carl Schmitt: The Challenge of Carl Schmitt

Walter Benjamin, aka anti-Schmitt: Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, an excellent commentary by Michael Löwy Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”, and of course, if you have the time and the interest, The Arcades Project

Michel Foucault: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, and The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language are all well known, and certainly worth reading, but I find more interesting and helpful his lectures at the College de France: Security, Territory, Population, The Birth of Biopolitics, The Government of Self and Others

Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, On Revolution, The Human Condition (2nd Edition), On Violence, and The Origins of Totalitarianism

Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, State of Exception, Means Without End: Notes on Politics, and his commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains

Alain Badiou: Being and Event, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, and Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

Slavoj Žižek: The Parallax View, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? with Milbank and Davis, and The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity

The publication of Harink’s Paul and Philosophers conference that I was at some years back: Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision: Critical Engagements with Agamben, Badiou, Zizek and Others

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and Simulation

Jacob Taubes: From Cult to Culture: Fragments Toward a Critique of Historical Reason, The Political Theology of Paul, and Occidental Eschatology

Sheldon Wolin: Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought

Gillian Rose: The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society and Hegel Contra Sociology

Chantal Mouffe: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics with Ernesto Laclau, The Democratic Paradox, On the Political, and The Return of the Political

David Harvey: A Brief History of Neoliberalism, The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism, and A Companion to Marx’s Capital

Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri:

books, political theology

A Short Book List on Political Theology

I just gave a paper at Calvin’s Religion and Politics Symposium. There I was asked about books on political theology by a political science phd student. I thought this list might do well on the internet too, so here is a short list that I believe would introduce well, but certainly not exhaust, political theology for someone in political science.

Important Introductions:
Editors William Cavanaugh and Peter Scott’s The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology

Michael Kirwan’s Political Theology: An Introduction

Gary Dorrien’s Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition and Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice

And here are more books for further reading if you’re interested:

Systematicians, Ethicists, and Political Theologians:
John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus

Stanley Hauerwas and Rom Cole’s Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations between a Radical Democrat and a Christian and Stanley Hauerwas’s Naming the Silences

William Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Delores S. Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness

Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology

Traci C. West’s Disruptive Christian Ethics

Jon Sobrino’s No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays

Graham Ward’s The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens and Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice

James Cone’s God of the Oppressed

Lee Griffith’s The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God

Editors Creston Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj Zizek’s Theology and the Political: The New Debate

Oscar Romero’s Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements

Joerg Rieger, Jun Mo Sung, and Nestor Miguez’s Beyond the Spirit of Empire

Charles Curran’s Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis

Biblical Studies:
Richard Bauckham’s The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically

J. G. McConville’s God and Earthly Power: An Old Testament Political Theology

Walter Brueggemann’s Journey to the Common Good

Theology, Philosophy, and the History of Thought:
Editors Cole and Smith’s The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory

Louis Dupré’s Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture

Michael Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity


A Short Book List on Theology and Economics

I’ve gotten into quite a few discussions in recent months on the economy. All too often I’m responding — or reacting — to some rather disparaging and/or uninformed dismissals of a robust theological economics. I’m sure some others here have as well. I find the tone quickly changes when I start dropping book names and interpretations. People get a bit less “I can spout whatever I want as if I’m a self-proclaimed authority.” After the attitude changes, the conversation generally takes a positive turn. Or it dies — but I can live with that. I’m not sure it would’ve been an interesting or helpful one anyways.

Here is a list of some of the books that have had a special place on my bookshelves for sometime now and I find myself returning to in the discussions:

1. A number of the short essays in Herbert McCabe’s God, Christ and Us.

2. Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money.

3. Steve Long’s Divine Economy: Theology and the Market.

4. Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace.

5. Rebecca Todd Peters’s In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization.

6. Douglas Meeks’s God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy.

7. Douglas Knight’s The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God.

You got any you love and often find helpful?

class, pedagogy, revelation

Book Decisions

Next Fall I’m teaching “Quests for God, Paths of Revelation” at Marquette.

This is the course description: The quest for God in human and specifically religious experiences with a focus on Christian belief in God. It is concerned with and will cover: grounds for belief; revelation; the nature of God’s relationship to the world including issues relevant to modern culture and science; the historical precedents and context for these issues; the dialogue with other religious and atheistic conceptions of ultimate reality; and implications of a community’s understanding of God for its way of life. This class deals with questions like: What is revelation? Who or what is revealed? What does Christian revelation mean? What are the implications of Christian revelation? Who accepts revelation and why? Who rejects revelation and why? What are differing revelations and how do they interact?

Major themes I will be covering:
1. From Above, From Within: The Discussion of Theories of Revelation. What is revelation? What does this say of reality?
2. Christian Aesthetics/Revelation: Divinity, Creation, and the Incarnation. Who or what is revealed? Who is on the receiving end of revelation? What does this mean?
3. Implications of Christian Belief: Political Theology. What are the implications of Christian revelation?
4. Ways of knowing: Science and Religion, Reason and Faith. What is science? What is reason? What is religion? What is faith? What is knowledge? Does science and religion have knowledge conflicts or located in different spheres?
5. Interacting Revelations: Interfaith Discussion with focus on Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (the Abrahamic faiths). What does each revelation say? How do the revelation and its believers interact? What of violence and terrorism?
6. To Be or Not to Be: Christianity and Atheism. Who accepts revelation and why? Who rejects it and why? What is Atheism saying/doing?

Now the question is, what books to use? The biggest hurdle is keeping the book list small and manageable for undergrads. I’m thinking of using Gunton’s A Brief Theology of Revelation and Dotolo’s The Christian Revelation: Word, Event, and Mystery for half of the course. And then there is the other half of the course — as indicated in the themes above — the politics of Christian revelation. I’m thinking Johnson’s Quests for the Living God here, along with a discussion of the recent condemnation of the book by the Bishops. So I think I’ve got my book list sorted out, and of course it will be supplemented with a few articles here and there, but I’m curious if anyone has a book that would work well and you absolutely love.