Sunday, February 26, 2017

Collecting Treasure in Heaven: A Treatise on Modernity

A recent sermon I heard was on love and the vocation of the Christian. The point was made that Christians, like Christ, are to live sacrificial lives of giving away for the sake of the other. However, this statement was qualified with the fact that our lives, unlike Christ, do not atone for sins. In living sacrificially, we are to repeat Christ, but not actually. I used to find little wrong with this, but recent thinking has convinced me this is something symptomatic of the modern age.

One of the major themes in Giorgio Agamben's work, namely in his work Opus Dei, is that modernity functions on an ontology that is movement oriented and grounded towards a goal that lacks definition. He calls this command-ontology, where we are simultaneously identified and constituted through a command, which, linguistically, refers to something that is not, but ought to be. This finds its roots in Christian metaphysics, perhaps reaching a kind of zenith in the Jesuit's motto: ad maiorem gloriam dei, "to the greater glory of God". Of course, this is a strange maxim. If all glory belongs to God, or, more precisely, God has maximum glory, as befits God, then how can God be given more glory? It's a paradox: we add to the one which nothing more can be added.

Following Carl Schmitt's idea that all significant political ideas originate as theological, Agamben sees modernity as reflecting this sentiment. However, it's not that this is a political quality, as much as it is a political quality of a politics colonized by the economic. Major political goods of the American scene are productivity and progress. But, we might ask, where is this leading? Progress and productivity is the only answer. These goods are goods in themselves, without any referential end. In this way, the businessman possesses the signature of the Roman priest, where masses are offered everlastingly, caught in a suspended time of eschatological deferral. The lack of apocalypse can turn the penultimate into a never-ending loop. This is not as much theoretical as lived practice. The growth of the economy, the exceeding bounds of prosperity, is a goal unto itself.

At the heart of this is the paradoxical intersected state of inoperative-operativity. Per the classical articulation of Adam Smith, the Invisible Hand directs the selfish actions of market-agents towards the goal of greater gain and growth. In this, the buyer/seller is not actually directing the economy, he is merely a vessel for the Invisible Hand's governance. Yet, simultaneously, the Invisible Hand can only be manifest, or even exist, through the actions of these agents. The inoperative Invisible Hand can only govern through the operativity of agents; the inoperative agents are only effectual through the operative Invisible Hand. This is akin to the theological rendering of ex operate operato, where the effect of the sacrament is in the fact that it is not the priest, but Christ, who acts. But Christ is not present except through the action of the priest. It's a knot that keeps a wheel spinning forever.

The admonition to love, but not accomplish the goals of love, as above, falls into this paradigmatic of endless striving. Analytically, I think Agamben's model helpfully lays bare some of the features of Modernity within the form of Genesis' curse. In addition, Agamben (following Benjamin) believes only the Messiah can undo this process and destroy it. He doesn't mean this literally, but I do. This, fundamentally, involves the messianic promise of rest, and I'll reflect on this more another time. For now, I'll focus on a metaphysical key that St. Maximus provides that undermines this system, and is worthy of reflection.

Origen, following all the sons of Hellas, saw a key question in philosophy as movement. For Origen, movement signified a kind of imperfection, for movement meant a movement towards something, which implies that one does not have that something which one moves towards. Thus, Origen, or at least some of his students, offered the possibility of a kind of endless set of cycles of fall and redemption because movement was a creaturely feature. The Eschaton would involve a movinglessness, which was an achievement of divinity. It's unclear whether that involves a kind of exitus-reditus Platonic metaphysics, where all things will collapse into God, or what.

Many tried to retool this vision. Augustine, and those who followed him, envisioned a kind of rest in a beatific vision, where an end of movement comes. But it's unclear what that means for creaturely life, or how exactly a divinized creature is as a creature still. Gregory of Nyssa saw the possibility of the endless quest, the unending seeing the back of God, as a means by which God in His infinity can meet and be present in His distance. The alone seeking the alone forever alone is negated through God's infinite effulgent presence. This is not really unique to Gregory, Plotinus conceptualized something similar.

However, the conceptual shift Maximus introduced is paradise/Resurrection as a movement around God, an orbit, for the saints. This is to take movement as the essence of creatureliness seriously without destroying it or negating salvation. What this means is that there may be a genuine rest without annihilating the creature. Entering into the rest translate movement into restful action, an inversion of endless progress. The goal is reached and then there is enjoyment of it.

I wonder if this might conceptually be pressed into a simple statement of looking after heavenly treasures than earthly treasures. The point in this is that whereas earthly treasures rot, have time limits, constantly threatened by theft or loss, heavenly treasures do not. Taken by itself, this could be seen to spiritualize the vicious cycle I've described above. But, theoretically, if Heavenly treasures do not disintegrate or disappear, then once we have them we can stop. We can enjoy, in that circular motion. Perhaps the Christian life is better described as my cup overfloweth than receiving and giving.

The core problem with the sermon above is that it traps man in a never-ending quest. It is an infinite burden and fundamentally alienating. Christ, at least, accomplished His work and sat down. The Christian plays this same role, but without form or telos. It is for nothing and is nothing. It is a recipe for the same nihilistic drive that the modern economy functions under. Christ's claim that His burden is light and easy becomes a sick joke. We neither work for Heavenly treasures, nor do we enter into that Rest that was promised for Today (c.f. Hebrews). Instead, we are apt to become like Dostoevksky's Inquisitor, who sought to give all to God and only found bitterness and agony.

This is the only possible destiny in the modern machine, but one which Christ came to end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Speaking the Colors of Life: A Possible Case for Icons

Jacques Ellul argues, roughly, in his Humiliation of the Word for careful attention between the differences between the word and the image. The word has a kind of temporality and indeterminacy about it that demands presence and locality. Someone speaks and we either hear or we don't hear, it happens and then it is gone. It has potency, but a floating kind. The word strikes and then disappears. If one misses it, the moment is gone. A spoken word can be remembered or repeated, but this is a representation of a phenomenon that has passed.

For Ellul, the written word is not the same as the spoken word, and it in fact has more in common with the image. The written word and image seeks to engrave a certain moment, a freeze-frame of what was indeterminate. The word has potency, but also a mortality. It goes away, it can't be controlled, but its meaning flutters. The image or written enacts a kind of freezing upon life. It has now been rendered in such a way that the word or image can be assessed and examined. Some Post-Modernists find this as an incredible act of ontological violence, but I think that's stupid. Even if it is violent (which I doubt), that doesn't therefore prove that it is somehow immoral or evil.

However, Ellul's point is to show how this is dangerous. Trying to clamp down on the power of the word and freeze it can lead to the misappropriation of it for all sorts of reasons. This, he argues, was part of the reason behind numerous radical Reformers' insistence on destroying statues and stained-glass. They took the 2nd Commandment to heart and feared the power inherent in freezing the Word of God into many times erroneous images that threatened to distort the pure Word of God.

Yet I think these same arguments can be proof for the use of images in Christian life. Ellul's construction of the Reformation is a weariness of freezing images of God. One might reflect on this when one sees the purveyance of stupid bumper-stickers and refrigerator magnets (among many other media) quoting Bible cliches, many times devoid of context or sobriety. I think of Thomas Kincaid as a symptom of this abuse of the engraved word, namely turning the Word of God for the wistfulness of a fantasy. Kincaid's own struggle with alcoholism only compounds how Christianity, for him, became an escapism from the difficulties of life. Christ is blasphemed, and Feurbach proved, through the success of these men and women.

However, the problem is the danger of abuse, but not the abstention of use. If the engraved word is more akin to an image than the spoken word, then we see in Scriptural practice the presence of God in His mighty works for His people. We see God both present and absent, in how He speaks to Moses out of a Cloud. There is significance to how God gives Moses His name, which is not a name at all, but the illuminating darkness of blinding light. Moses can never know God except indirectly, this was not a claim that God was Being (contra. Thomas), but that God may be met in all being. The later Jews who changed the name of God to, literally, Name (HaShem) was perhaps superstitious, but it was ground in an understanding of what happened in Scripture. But I'd rather trust Moses' account, namely that what was written down, "Yahweh", was a name of God, but a nameless name. Considering the word was engraved, it was not blasphemous to say or use it, because it itself is a cover for the Glory of God.

However, in the Incarnation of Christ, we are given not only the name of God's Son, delivered by the Angel Gabriel, but we see the power of the Name. The Power of the Name Jesus is simultaneously Human and Divine, it is the direct power and presence of God, the full presence in the work of God completing the fullness of times. Speaking with the Apostles, we can say that Jesus is the Divine Name by which all of Creation, all of mankind, is saved; there is no other. In the advent of the Messiah, the promised Divine presence of God with His people, eternalized in His Ascension and Reigning as a Man, God's Word assuming Human Nature, we see God granting a kind of Iconic presence viz. speaking the word. When we say Jesus Christ, this is a great power and privilege (and misusing this name, more so than other phrases, like God or Lord or whatever people cuss by, is truly blasphemous). When we speak the name we call to bear a representation of the Real, Who is, by Nature, the Immaculate Image of the Father of All Lights.

Ideally, the icon is saying the word with color. It is a representation of the very same Real. It does not intend to depict physical description, but, like a word, communicates truth. This is why icons of the saints in Eastern iconography all look the same, looking similar to the iconography of Christ, namely that what is displayed is the same holiness. Since we are given the power and privilege of speaking the name of Christ, even risking the abuse of the Only Name under Heaven by which we are saved, we may speak such through the icon, though it might also be an opportunity for blasphemy (think of Buddy Jesus).

This is a tentative idea, but worth pondering. This does not prove any one instance or practice, but is a framework for assessment. The written word, as the image, is an opportunity for great risk. But, as many early synagogues show, numbers of Jews did not see a problem with mosaics of creation and the saints as a part of their worship environment. However, we need to see this within the context of the 2nd Commandment and the sins of worshiping in High Places. What these mean, in conjunction with the above, should be included in any discussion about the uses of visual images in Christian worship.

Addendum: It should be obvious, but the Lord's Supper and Baptism, utilizing the meaning conduits of matter, namely water, bread, and wine, fits this representational form. In these, God's Spirit actually transforms us and the elements into Communion with Christ, where we partake of His flesh and blood. This is absolutely necessary, and thus somewhat out of the parameters of our argument. In Christ Jesus, we are a given a name we can speak. Christians are not limited, in literalistic fashion, to the mere text of Scripture in speaking of God. What I mean is that no Christian has seen a problem in writing about doctrine or offering sermons that are not verbatim from the Bible, even if they are wholly, or in part, derived from Biblical concepts and formula. The icon falls under this discussion.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reflections on Scripture, Ecclesiology, and English History

My research project involves me reading Anglican polemic in Restoration era England (1660/62-1688) and it's quite striking how some prelates argued. Now there were some who tried to justify, perhaps against all sense and reason, that the Anglican polity is itself biblically grounded, pre-Roman, and Apostolic. It's almost ridiculous how much back-bending gymnastics they undertake to get Scripture, tradition, even common history, to agree with them. There are people like them, the Continuing Church, Neo-Tractarian, Anglo-Catholics, who still prattle on about the Branch "Fact".

But then there were others, labelled "latitudinarian", who had no will or patience to engage in these bizarre antics. They did not want to wield a high-hand against many non-conformists, especially those who had potential for comprehension, a deal for absorbing these groups back into the Establishment church. And yet, they introduce an acid of skepticism into this whole procedure. They have a very high view of Scripture as Word of God and Divine Law. And yet, they turn to a kind of skepticism and magisterial realism. In short, the Word of God is unclear on pretty much everything related to ecclesiology, but the magistrate's law, dictating a particular form or practice, is not unclear, and, according to natural law, our consciences are constrained by the magistrate, therefore we ought to obey his commands for the state of the church. But, says the non-conformist, this-or-that Anglican practice is not sufficiently biblical. Too bad, says the prelate.

Reading between the lines, one can feel the suffocation of these arguments. The Reformational doctrine of adiaphora, or the idea that there are numerous doctrines that are second-order and thus not worth fighting over, is highly weaponized. Reading these documents, I felt like I was in the chamber of an Inquisitor. How certain can I really know doctrine-x? Do I really stand to contradict the sovereign of the realm? Will I suffer for it? It sounds all too serpentish, "Can we really know God's Word?". Now granted, these clerics did not say the Bible was unreadable, only that numerous doctrines were unclear and thus not binding. But they are not binding from a Scriptural warrant, thus they are up for being bound by natural constraint, namely a social compact of your home nation.

These men were accused of being Erastians, that is they had submitted the church to the state. It's not an unfair charge, but it doesn't get at the root. When the Church is bound-up with the State, per Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, making the monarch the head of the church, there is bound to be severe problems. But maybe it's more. Interestingly enough, many Restoration era clerics argued for the utility of the Church's form viz. ancient practice. This included, as one would expected, church history practices, but also practices of pagans (e.g. Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, etc.). The point was that religion was a natural phenomenon, and all peoples have an altar and a temple. Thus Christianity, as truest and purest, follows Nature in this regard.

I'm not saying the Kingdom of God is against Nature, defining this as the basic order of Human socialization, but it is certainly more than this. This is a fundamental symptom of failing to realize the Church is not merely a Human institution, but an expansion, or extension, of the God-Man Christ Jesus. In a qualified sense, I agree that the Church is an extension of the Incarnation, that what Christ is by Nature, we are by Grace.

But what does this mean institutionally? The Body of Christ is not an organization in the World, contrary to claims of Rome. But then what is it? This question has been haunting me, and has forced me to cling more to the Scriptures and the authoritative visions outlined. Even if it is not clear, it is certainly not an excuse to ignore the bounding form of God's Word. Ecclesiology, as it's clear from the Bible, is not open to pragmatism, but is a first-order issue for how Christians live and breathe as a People.

These clerics reveal how these gates towards foreign ideas don't take much to open. Most Protestants, as a friend put it, can't give a better explanation or description of Church than Sociology for Human society writ large. Restoration clerics would be proud of this, but it shows how far they've fallen from anything godly. In a lot of ways, they glory in the fact they represent Christianized nationals, a cult still dependent on blood and soil. It's not for nothing that the Church of England has gravitated with the moods of Empire.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trump as an Apocalypse

Here's today's Op-Ed by David Brooks: here

Now Brooks is pretty much a perfect amalgamation of everything I detest in the "Right-Wing": a sophisticated barbarian, an elitist in a tie-and-suit, a George HW Bush moderate Republican, an obvious member of the Establishment with vague, and useless, sentiments about "religion" and "faith". And he likes to play therapist, to boot! But this piece is a great example of what the election of Trump has done, if nothing else.

The miracle of Trump is a veritable apocalypse in the traditional sense of the word: an unveiling. Trump has unmasked the forces of Establishment through his own topsy-turvy civil war. If one sees with clear eyes, wiping away the sludge of Americana ideology, Brooks is basically indistinguishable from the core of both parties, the military-industrial complex, global corporations, and the Intelligence agency. I'm still amazed at how Hilary Clinton was the "left" candidate, a true revelation at the collapse of liberalism as a political philosophy. All she had to do was wrap herself in a rainbow flag and she gets the support, perhaps a bit begrudged, to wage her global wars for American, market-state, hegemony.

Brooks is the same way, and it's funny how he goes out of his way to make the Trump administration look buffoonish. This is the new memo through corporate media. It's actually irrelevant if Trump is cunning or a buffoon, the facts of the matter is that he has unleashed chaos in the deepest echelons of the American Deep-State. This should function as the wake-up point for anyone who still has faith in elected government or democratic processes. It should be odd that MSNBC, ex-CIA captains, CEOs of multinational corporations, and Huffington Post are speaking with the same voice. NGOs and hawks like McCain are both advocating a war with Russia (sanctions are soft-declarations of war).

His advice is the peak of absurdity: we need a Gerald Ford. Brook is saying, though maybe he doesn't intend it, we need an idiot at the helm while the real pilots correct course, put out all of the fires, and repair the hull. Brooks prattles about respect of law while simultaneously describing features of the American Imperium that are far beyond the realm of "original intent" in constitutional law (e.g. the National Security Council). I don't know if he's an idiot or a deceiver.

Brooks talks about how the Founders wanted to put Moses on the seal. I'm glad they didn't, but he seems a bit remiss. Brooks is akin to Rabashekh, a vile preacher of an Assyrian Empire whose law is the strength of its right arm. For the discerning Christian, the election of Donald Trump is, perhaps, God's way of sending a wild beast to cause chaos in Babel's Den of iniquity. May cretins like Brooks gnash their teeth.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

And to Know the Power of the Resurrection: 'Silence', Ethical Dilemmas and the Power of God

I recall watching a superhero animation when an abstract thought popped into my head. On the screen I watched heroes smash and bash villainous world-conquerors who wanted to enslave and harvest planet Earth. I asked myself, is this the moment when love your enemies breaks down? Granted it's fantasy, but it makes me ask the question: when is enough enough? At one point do you reach for your guns, so to speak?

I think about this sort of thing frequently, and coming from a near stint in the Marine Corps, I am immune to the stupidity of the Crusader, the logic of loving your enemy even as you slay him (this is basically a mantra of the US chaplaincy corps). But as I watched this cartoon, I begged the question of whether death was the king of terrors. In a closed world, death must rule supreme. As the backdrop, forgiving an enemy is the ultimate failure if the enemy does not relent of his evil. Despite utilitarian, and godless, arguments about the moral influence of the sacrificial act (which only means something if aestheticized properly for the intricate cultural and social context of the act), there's little reason to die for an enemy. It's in your power to save the world (or condemn it by failure).

In this mood, I've read a number of reviews of the new Scorsese film Silence. A good review is here. The fundamental assumption of the movie is the power of the priest's agency before a silent God. Here the Priest Rodrigues is forced to renounce his faith to save the Japanese who are being tortured on account of it. The assumption is that if Rodrigues does not apostatize, he dooms his fellow (ex?)Christians. As the review above basically puts it, at its best this is a movie about Deism and only should be moving to agnostic Humanists.

The Japanese authorities put the priest in a dilemma, but they purposefully construe this, and we believe them, that the burden is on Rodrigues. This is a general trick by torturers. One of the best scenes in all movies that refutes this logic is the end of No Country for Old Men. The Hitman (Javier Bardem) kills his victims through a coin-toss, the rational being that it is fate, or luck, and nothing else, that kills them. But in one of the final scenes, he offers this scenario to a woman who refuses the rules of the game. She unmasks him. She denies him his misdirection. The coin is irrelevant, it is the hitman who is pulling the trigger. He is guilty. Bewildered, he kills her anyway. Fittingly, soon after, he is in a car accident which costs him his eye. In a metaphysical turn, her deconstruction literally parallels his loss of vision. Her revelation of the truth of his agency in murder literally blinds him.

The point of this scene is that despite the logics employed, we cannot deter the facts of our agency. We are constantly assaulted with the facts of our own actions and the contradictions of our lives. Self-justification is the mechanism of survival, a fine weapon of Satan. Thus, in the end, Rodrigues hears the voice of Christ: "Trample!" The irony is that Rodrigues has, as one reviewer put it, his the height of his own arrogance and vanity. He will apostatize for others. He will be savior even in his fall. While it is alluring to see the parallel to Christ ("He became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God"), its fundamentally different. Rodrigues did not save his people, either spiritually (they had already apostatized) or mortally (they will die nonetheless). Rather, he fell into Satan's trap and has, instead, become the architect of his own prison.

The fact is that this film portrays a Christianity deprived of its own sense of power. While the review above talks about providential judgement, let's leave that aside to something even more critically Christian: Resurrection. This film reflects a modern (and not so modern) fetishism with the crucifixion of Christ, nearly annexed from the rest of the formula of the Gospel. Perhaps, in our modern world, death is still believable while resurrection is mythological. But the power of God was not in the crucifixion. Despite the drooling of theological liberals over the 'possible' ending of Mark 16 on verse 8 (the women running away in terror), this is hardly sufficient for a theological datum (besides the fact it's based on poor canonical doctrine).

St. Paul tells us, straight up without hedging, if Christ did not rise, which entails the General Resurrection, Christians are the most pitiable of men. If Christ was the not truly anointed with the Anointing of God, which to any Jew included power and awe, then we are the scum of the Earth, the most idiotic and foolish. It's no wonder many intellects of the Church have tried to hedge their bets. Despite, perhaps, the authorial intent, this is how we ought to see Rodrigues. If the power of the Resurrection does not stand, he is just a piece of shit, a befuddled man out of his league who quite obviously betrays his own purpose.

Honestly, it's a hard doctrine to stomach. The resurrection of Christ is what sets the claims of the Gospel from all other hopes and helps to Humanity. Unlike stupid atheists who try to compare the account with Pagan myths of dying-and-rising gods, this was not a god disguised as a man, but an actual Man who, with the power of God, was able to conquer on our behalf. Our hope is not nonhuman, inhuman, or semi-human, which all other myths, even those after Christianity which try to mimic or lampoon it, miss. It is a radical doctrine that turns the world upside down.

But it's a scandal to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. It's much easier to settle with the compromised, but compassionate, ethics of Fr. Rodrigues than to be the country-girl that place a question mark over the received conditions of our actions. This is why Christ is constantly infuriating to His interlocutors, and to all of His readers. He breaks the rules of the game. Whether it's pulling a coin out of a fish to pay the Temple tax, or it's telling the Pharisees to give what is Caesar's to Caesar and to God what is God, He reframes, from the bottom up, the impossible ethical scenarios that constantly threaten to entrap us.

Contrary to the reviews, when confronted like Rodrigues, the Christian does stand in as a little Christ. But part of what this means is confounding the logics of the Powers and Principalities of This Age. Perhaps, like the Master he claimed, Rodrigues should have been the silent one in his moment of catastrophe.

Addendum: I know the difference between the girl and Fr. Rodrigues was that his actions revolved around the fates of others, and not his own. This is a constant refrain for those trying to defend his decision. The same critique applies. The Japanese authorities were the ones responsible for torturing, not Fr. Rodrigues. But he is implacably blind to this. The trick is in the fact that the authorities know this. They understand the underpinnings of Roman theology better than Rodrigues does himself. They know how to trap him. He assumes the guilt because he is the shepherd his people need, or (more truly) he believes he is the shepherd his people believe they need. The whole movie revolves around a pitiable conscientious trap. As Christ Himself points out, the Children of This Age are more cunning, many times, than the Children of Light. Fr. Rodrigues foolishly ignored this and arrogantly marched off to achieve glory. This, if anything, is the real lesson of Silence: theology is important, and your enemies, more likely than you yourself, know this and will use it against you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Bible Matters, or Why I'd be a "Lutheran" in the 16th Century

Generally speaking, I have become more theologically Orthodox. I agree with the East over the West in terms of the Filioque and the doctrine of God. St. Maximus has helped me, conceptually, cut through a lot of red tape between issues of freedom and determinism, Human responsibility and Divine predestinating. I think veneration of Mary as Theotokos are biblical, and I would agree, with qualification, about a separate office of 'episkopos' apart from 'presbyter'. However, this is only because of what the Reformation unleashed in the West, of which I am a product and heir.

Fundamentally, the biggest explosive fact of the Reformation is that it raised the question of biblicism and canon. Martin Luther accidentally unleashed a firestorm by standing on the Bible, and Church tradition, against the Pope. He, and his disciples, at first, radicalized to the point of insisting the sufficiency of the Word of God. There are many things, good and bad, sociological, political, economic etc., that the Reformation unleashed or was a product of. But the most important, for my concerns, is that is placed the Bible in a new place of power in theological disputation.

While it is true that many of the Reformers depended upon the metaphysical break Nominalism offered, the significant difference between the late Middle Ages and the Reformation was the argument revolved around the use of the Bible. There was something truly radical in Tyndale's assertion that he'd make the local ploughboy as theologically literate as the most powerful prelate, all on account of the Bible being made known in English. Tyndale's mission involved delivering the Scripture to all the people.

Many anti-Protestant polemics by former Protestants essentially reject their heritage and are, for that reason, mostly intellectually suicidal. It is the basest form of servility to betray how one even got to the point of denunciation. One sees among many, from the Neo-Tractarian of Anglicanism to Rome to Constantinople, sneer at Biblicism. It's almost as if the Bible was dirty. One sees how they basically Liberalize, in method if not conclusion, in applying Biblical criticism to the "literal" reading of Scripture. It's like they enjoy attacking the Holy Word of God. Of course, for their purposes, it is many times to support what they think is God's work in the World, namely the sustenance of His holy Church.

The Reformers were willing to actually open the Bible and read it. It was many times they who were willing to not only bring the Scripture into the vernacular, but into the readable vernacular, so even peasants may understand God's holy writ and seek to follow and worship Him. They, more than others, led campaigns of literacy to broad access to the Scripture.

This is not to say theological errors were not possible, or not prevalent. However, given the circumstances, only anti-Christ would argue that the Reformation was an unmitigated disaster. May such reptiles crawl back into their swamps and pray God give them understanding.

Edit 4/29/17: I changed the title from "Calvinist" to "Lutheran", and made some minor edits, because 1) I've reconsidered the Marburg Colloquy split and do not think Luther and his party were too wed to Medieval theology, as contrasted to the more biblical Zwinglian/Calvinist Reformed; instead, it was more complicated. 2) The name given to the Reformers was not "Calvinists" but "Lutherans", as a pejorative of party and faction, through most of the 16th century. Thus Tyndale was known as a "Lutheran" for spreading his vernacular Bible.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Machine For Itself: Liberalism, the Sovereignty, and the Suspension of the Choice

I am a critic of Liberalism, but I suppose I ought to explain this more in detail. What I define as Liberal is an intentional move to secularize the common and the public. Or, in other words, to remove explicitly theological and eschatological questions from public discourse and debate, and thus removing them from policy. Liberalism is a political order that emerged from the Enlightenment.

While the Enlightenment remains a nebulous term, I still find it useful. Contrary to popular opinion and common mythology, the Enlightenment was not about the rise of reason and science (whatever those mean) against revelation and faith. This construction owes mostly to Romantic social critics who desired to move back towards simpler times, with odes to Nature and the emotional, and aesthetic, happiness of dancing with the gods. Rather, the Enlightenment was a concerted response to a particular historical set of events. In the wake of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the English Revolution (1641-1660), many public intellectuals feared another confessional, near apocalyptic, war. This resulted in the near collapse of all social institutions. There were a range of responses to this, ranging from a doubling down on the establishment of a church along secularized reasons to calls for the abolition of all churches and priesthoods.

Liberalism was one response to this, an attempt to relativize all theological claims and keep them away from public policy decisions. Replacing these, if we can call it that, intellects sought for other common links that social bounds could be founded upon. The clearest was one of the basest: Trade. The difference between classical Liberalism and neo-Liberalism is degree, scope, and method, but they share a commitment to the principle of wealth as the shared assumption upon which a society can be maintained. The idea is that the material existence of Man can be calculated and empirically demonstrated, whereas spiritual truth cannot. Thus, economic policies, and debate, can be locked into a shared sense of accumulation of wealth.

Liberalism goes hand-in-hand with Capitalism, but also forms of Socialism. Classical Liberalism of Adam Smith advocated a sense of interest-based self-survival as the mechanism of mutual prosperity. Thus if we stop meddling with people's trade efforts, people working for themselves against others will actually benefit the all. Within this model many discussions took place. Evangelicals advocated for a moral trade, arguing that virtuous people will make wealth distribute for the benefit of all, and hence the need to enforce moral standards in social policies. Mandeville in his Fable of the Bees argued the opposite, vice and corruption actually keeps society wealthy and stable, virtue breeds poverty and thus social disintegration. Both depend upon a shared commitment.

Even Marxists agree with the Liberal conception of the world. The Bourgeois Revolution must precede the Worker's Revolution. The merchants, businessmen, and owners of Capital must banish God, and whatever theological sanctions for government, for the purposes of installing the sacred rights of property. Classical Marxists applaud the advances of Liberal Capitalism as a step closer to its inevitable demise.

 Many of Marx's followers and readers disagree with this eschatological optimism, with Social Democrats seeking to reform the excesses of Liberalism's Capitalist order and Leninists, among others, believing the Worker's Revolution won't start without a push. This is crucial because, as we today as we can see in turn-of-the-century Germany or in 1917 Russia, the engines of Capitalism don't seem anywhere close to exhaust. In part, this is because Liberalism has reached, and remains, in a state of crisis.

The root source of Liberalism is a suspension of the roots, it is self-abnegation of the political choice. This is, fundamentally, the critique Carl Schmitt leveled at Liberalism. It can't go on forever suspending a decision, exiling it to an infinite deferral in parliamentary debate and public opinion poll. As Schmitt saw it, Europe was verging towards a choice, whether of its own making or from the barbarians outside of the gate. Schmitt believed the latter was the Communist threat, the growing influence of Leninist political theory where the workers must rise up and seize. Schmitt was, for this reason, attracted to Hitler, because here was a man and a party, otherwise abhorrent and odious to Schmitt, who was willing to make the choice. Hitler was willing to assume sovereignty in his person in order to defend Europe.

Schmitt is one of the most brilliant political theorists because he recognized the illusory and magical sleight of hand Liberalism had provided. It buried the questions of theology by disguising them in questions couched and assumed to be devoid of all theological import. Class divisions, hierarchies of merit, parliamentary democracy, colonialism and racialization, all of these are built on something. Despite many efforts, we can't bury the fact that the heroes of science all were men of faith, whether it was orthodox or heterodox, Evangelical or staid Establishmentarian. The reasons for society are theological and when they are challenged from the outside, whether by Communists or otherwise, they must be ravenously reasserted. Thus to save Europe, Europe must bear its theological fangs and tear the enemies of God to pieces.

Now Schmitt believed Europe's fate does not lie in its Liberal heritage, that was a strange interlude. He was an unorthodox, but heartily devoted, Roman Catholic, and he believed in the old Prussian aristocracy. However, Schmitt may be read heuristically to understand what is happening in the world. The Neo-Liberal world order is hard to define, but lets say it is a commitment to a form of global finance capitalism, built upon a burgeoning new form of state formation, based on market and not on nation. Thus, New York, London, and Brussels share a more common citizenship than, say, New York and Nowhere, Kansas. Some theorists see the US as the first state to begin the transition, though this hardly complete or absolute, and is merely conceptual to make sense of the bizarre nationalism of cosmopolitan corporations.

Liberalism, I argue, has become the cloak and facade of this world-order. The suspension of the choice in public policy is really a means of cloaking the actual choices being made. Schmitt defined sovereignty as the ability to determine friend and foe, those marked for life and vitality and the 'other' marked for destruction and deprivation. The needs of the global market supply the list of friend and foe that the US government many times willingly follows. This is an open conspiracy. The presidency of Donald Trump has thrown a wrench in forging this world-order, but it is a Behemoth whose strength still remains mostly submerged in the Oceans of Global Finance, Military Contractors, and Intelligence Collection.

Liberalism as the historic suspension of the choice to prevent confessional violence has become the very mechanism to promote, provoke, and to enact the worst kinds of horror, brutality, and annihilation. This is not a recent phenomenon, but one that has grown with the rise of Liberalism. Whatever good the Liberal idea of suspending the choice was, it was quickly coopted for a new political theology. In the Bible the shadow of this god is revealed to be none other than Mammon, Wealth. Liberalism is a mechanism that has lost all justification, but has secretly been providing its own justification all along. The ownership of global capital by a cadre of elites has been for the purposes of imagining the world at the behest of this Moloch. Outward social stability, or its appearance, has become the mechanism to feed children into the maw of this horrid god. Contrary to Marx, this machine will not break-down on its own. We will, to use the words of William Cavanaugh, keep killing for the telephone company.

There's something to take away from Liberalism's motives, even if it is a defunct system that should be opposed. It wanted to remove sovereignty from political equations. This was similar to a number of Christian radicals who opposed the Ancien Regime of the Stuart Monarchs. John Eliot, that "Apostle to the Indians", wrote in support of the Revolution that "Christ is the only right Heir of the Crown of England". Fundamentally, Eliot believed sovereignty belonged to Christ the Lord. What this meant exactly to him is not relevant to this discussion. Instead, this is the position we Christians ought to take. In our own political decisions (even not voting is a political act), we must consider the question of sovereignty. If Christ has assumed to Himself the right to judge the sheep from the goat, and He has reserved to Himself the time, unknown even to Him, of His Coming Judgement, then we too should support all efforts to suspend the choice.

Schmitt understood the nature of Sovereignty, even if he was, typical of Romanist theology, a syncretized pagan, and thus basically wanted a revival of the divine right of monarchs. But we who serve Christ must see the sovereign choice as belonging to Him and Him alone. This is what fuels my own idiosyncratic Socialist politics. There is no place for Christians to serve Liberalism, propping up the order of Mammon. We need to abandon this machine for the God's destructive, but liberative, judgement. In all the ways that we can, we must work to suspend the choice. All social orders are open and insufficient, we await our King from on High.

Amen.