Sunday, October 23, 2011

notes on William Cavanaugh's politics & theology...

According to Cavanaugh, the common assumption in modernity with regard to the relationship between religion and politics goes something like this:

The 'wars of religion' in Europe during the modern period (15th-18th centuries) enabled the rise of the nation-state as a 'neutral party', which attempted to solve the problem by reducing religion to a private sphere away from the public discourse.  In other words, religious discussion was relegated to personal pietism and worship, while law, politics, commerce, etc. were maintained as public areas of discussion that would hopefully be debated in a rational, 'peaceful' manner, something that was apparently made more difficult when religious belief was brought into the mix.  This, it is said, is a primary reason why we have less religious violence now than in the past (though that assumption has been called into question post-9/11).

Cavanaugh thinks this narrative is wrong, and ought to be reversed.  It is literally backward in his view: rather than religion and religious violence being the catalyst for the nation-state, the European states, caught up in conflicts over territory and power, used religion as a way to deflect from what was really going on.  The 'social contract', according to Cavanaugh, allows individuals to gain certain rights (esp. property) in exchange for allowing the state government to have certain coercive powers.  This leads to a situation where loyalty to the state becomes paramount, since it offers protection for what we value (safety, shelter, food, etc).  The state soon usurps religion as the source of what people are willing to die for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

notes on Graham Ward's 'schizoid Christ'...

Graham Ward is a theologian who will be the new Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, beginning in Fall 2012. He has written extensively on a range of topics, particularly the relationships between theology and culture. The following are some notes I took while reading his essay, "The Schizoid Christ", as part of a systematic theology seminar.

In the essay, which is included in a collection of essays related to Radical Orthodoxy, Ward is essentially working against a conception of the self as an individual subject who is in control of its own consciousness and identity. He speaks of the 'operations' of Christ rather than an 'identity' of Christ. he would thus rather "examine this profound theological nexus as a mobile site for the production of desire and belief, love and hope." (p. 229)

Some may be taken aback by his use of the term 'schizoid', as it infers the mental instability of schizophrenia, which most Christians would be uncomfortable with as a description of Jesus Christ. However, Ward - drawing from Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical writings - suggests that "'schizophrenization' is therapeutic" inasmuch as it allows a variety of representations the opportunity to show themselves. So, the self that is free to be 'schizoid' can apparently, in some sense, reveal more of itself than a self constrained by the traditional understanding of selfhood as 'identity'. The reliability of such a view is not something I can address at present.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kierkegaard on the difference between talking and acting...

As a Christian, this continues to be a very challenging word for me to hear... since I am still too often in the camp of those who ridicule. From Kierkegaard's Journals:

"Take the rich young man — let me then preach about his not being perfect, that he could not bring himself to giving everything to the poor, but that the true Christian is always willing to give everything. Let me preach this way, and people are deeply moved and I am esteemed. But if I were a rich young man and went and gave all my possessions to the poor — then people would be scandalized. They would find it a ridiculous exaggeration.

Take Mary Magdalene. Let me preach about her deep consciousness of sin, the passion which becomes indifferent to everything but her sin, which goes out to the Savior, opening herself up to all kinds of ridicule, etc. I... will be regarded as an earnest Christian, I will be esteemed. If, however, I myself, conscious of being a sinner, if suddenly I actually step forward with a public confession of sin, offense arises immediately, people will consider it vanity and ridiculous exaggeration.

To preach that the true Christian consults God in everything is moving... if in actuality a man does step forward and refers to his having consulted God, this is censured as presumption, pride, exaggeration, madness. Picture those quiet spirits who, remote from life, filled their souls with only the thought of God — it will move to tears... But let someone really do it and he becomes an object of ridicule."