Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Corruption of the Best is the Worst

Ivan Illich is a Roman Priest who is truly a Catholic and Prophetic voice in our modern times. He is an unsung hero who is usually misunderstood as a Modernist or as Reactionary. As Christians who try to navigate the politics of This World, we need good prophetic guidance. Especially since we live in a world of sound-byte intellects and talking-heads. I believe Christians are called to engage politics, but this is doing politics From Above. What I'm saying is that it doesn't easily conform to the forms and modes of our present time and space.

So, for example, let's look at voting. Most people dissolve politics into who one votes for. I don't vote. I'm not registered to vote. I have no intention of ever registering. I do not believe in any of the false promises and illusions that this kleptocratic, near ochlocratic, democracy holds. I thank God for the pluralism, it is a ground for the Church to work her mission. However, this doesn't mean I have any intention to prop up Establishment regimes. Democratic and Republican are far more similar in their policies than their differences. They are both pro-empire, hence Obama putting troops in Syria. Barack Obama was one of more radical (I don't necessarily mean this pejoratively) candidates to win the office in a long time, yet he is truly not much different than George W. Bush before him. His Middle East policy might be rather different than Bush, but one only needs to look at East Asia to see it's not a different vision but a different course.

Anyway, Ivan Illich is a Christian voice who calls into question the basic forms of our political discourse. He is able to do this by considering that our present-state is the fruition of a truly terrible monstrosity: a mutated, heretical Christianity.

Ivan Illich does by calling to mind the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Being the good liberal peoples we are, we don't find the teaching terribly radical anymore. But it's for this reason we miss the accent of the parable. We tend to think that the Parable answers the question of "Who is my Neighbor?" with "Everyone!". We see that the Good Samaritan, an outcast in Hebrew society, is the one who lifts up the beaten and dying Jew and brings him health. Thus, everyone is to be our neighbor.

There is truth to this. The parable tears down the walls that separate the us from them. For Jesus' audience, this calls into question the division between Jew and Gentile, those who worship God and those who worship idols. But the resolution to this problem is found in His own Body. His death tore the curtain in the Holy-of-Holies in two. In Christ, there is now no division between peoples. Men and Women can stand side-by-side in worshiping the Lord.

Many communities fail even at this level. They chop people up by clan. In the States, there are 'white' and 'black' churches, which, when taken seriously, are no Church at all. Race, culture, wealth, status, clan, kin, if these things get in the way, Jesus confronts us with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Christ, there is no separate-but-equal (even if there still remains differences).

But, anyway, back to the main-point.

For the generally liberal among us, though, this universal application is not really much of a problem. Yet, the problem is this is not a real answer to the question the lawyer asked Christ. For truly, who is this 'Everyone' we are called to love? Isn't it a mere ideological construct, a phantom non-entity that people commit themselves to? The answer Jesus provides is not 'everyone, but 'anyone'. The break-down of division is that anyone could be your neighbor.

This is the key here. When we apply universality to this story, we collapse the particularity. We turn the individual person into a concept, the law of love becomes a duty. Thus we are able to consider ourselves charitable when we give to a giant bureaucratic organization, yet we tip waiters poorly, neglect the poor in front of us, and excuse our insolence to the people we actually know and are around.

St John Chrysostom complained bitterly about the construction of 'foreigner-homes' in Constantinople. These were essentially shelters for those coming from abroad. The problem was, according to John, that Christian now passed their own responsibility to an 'organization'. It gave them a pass to not keep an extra bed open for any who needed a night's rest. It allowed Christians to neglect the poor.

What does this do to the Church? As Ivan Illich might have put it, this corruption turns she into it. I'm not denying the corporate life and ability of the Church proper. But when the Church is so fundamentally institutionalized, real people, real life, and real structure are collapsed into the idealized and non-real. Living voices and a rich tradition, powerful and binding, becomes ideological fodder to beat people around the head with.

An example I've considered: Perhaps the East is right to reject the 'filioque' as an attack on the Person of the Holy Spirit. I won't get into this here. However, if we lay all the blame upon a particular dogmatic formulation, then we've idealized a conflict. I'm not saying dogma is not important. But the problem is not the presence of the 'filioque' but the real fact that people do not trust God's Spirit to lead their own lives, and to instruct and move the decisions of the Church. We make the Holy Spirit into an instrument and power-node, instead of the captain of our ship, carrying out His Will, the Will of Christ the Lord.

So how does this affect politics? Well, we Christians become trapped in liberal-democratic form and end up propagating insanity. Perhaps we clamor for the rights of the poor. But perhaps we should start with our own actions and our own disrespect and bigotry for those right before us. Perhaps we clamor for responsibility and work-ethic. But perhaps you are lazy and wealth hoarding. In fact, all of these words 'responsibility', 'bigotry', 'lazy' etc. need to be reconsidered in light of the Kingdom of God. Maybe responsibility means resting enough to be present for friends, family, and strangers. Maybe laziness means less about how much money is in your pocket, and instead refers to "working out your salvation with fear and trembling"?

The result of this corruption is the false-church of the Nation-State, the false-church of the modern political vision, the false-church of liberal sensibility. In today's age you can argue that a mass-bombing campaign can be done in love and is a form of loving your enemies.

Truly, the Corruption of the Best is the Worst.

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