Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Just Live by Faith: A Political-Theology Critique

In a recent academic political-theology article, Devin Singh wants to correct Agamben's archaeology of the doctrine of the Trinity (which is not terribly persuasive, even if it overwhelms in its confidence and scope) in order to pursue Agamben's real goal. Agamben wants to discover how Christianity contributed to the deep intractable problems of the West becoming a killing-machine. Singh wants to do this as well, and he highlights, at the end of his article, what this really is.

Unlike Agamben, who argues that Trinitarian doctrine disguises the fact that God is, at the heart, void, Singh disagrees. Instead, he maintains that Christianity has created an absence that haunts the politics of the West through the empty throne. His contention is that the awaited parousia, the foretold apocalypse of Christ's return, functions as the key embarrassment of Christian theology, which it is always seeking to manage or correct. Singh argues this is the heart that all critics of Christianity should press. This absence stifles real reforms out of a failed hope, and thus ends in cynical power-grabs and corrupt management. But it is heartfelt, and is reflected in folklore like King Arthur or Charlemagne's sleep under the hill, where the dormant king lies waiting for an indeterminate time as the peasants and plebs wait for liberation.

Thus, it seems for Singh disillusionment or prelatry are the only two real possibilities for Christianity, with the latter creating a clerical hierarchy between the managers and the managed. This ecclesiastical way of doing things remains with us in the way secularized society functions. There is still an established church and theology, but now it is post-Christian in the fullest sense, purging the Christian elements and maintaining the same framework. An infinitely deferred telos, which is some abstract entity called Progress, solidifies and coagulates a status quo. As I understand it, Singh's critique is devastating: Christianity created the ultimate caste system that shrouds itself and its origin through its theological arrangement; the secular, post-Christian modern state bears the same marks as it is precisely the same apparatus.

I admit, it is a powerful argument. The rest of this post will argue that this misunderstands a key point of Christ's ascension and that this attacks a real form of Christianity, but there is an alternative, which, perhaps seemingly committing a fallacy, is true Apostolic Christianity. But before that, I want to say that I have wept tears and had my heart rent over a desire to see Christ return. I can understand how the Papacy, for some, has functionally replaced Christ as if He were a ghost that floats about the Throne, an exemplar of kingly spiritual rule, but nothing more, as this age will, and seems to, drag on forever. I'm not sure what Singh would say, but the truly Imperial Papacy of Vatican I provides an answer to status quo dragging ad infinitum. The Pope's ex cathedra infallibility offers a sovereign power to gut society. Certainly liberals hope Francis will do this. On the one hand, one might say retaining the pomp would keep a kernal of this Western machine hidden, ready to resprout; but on the other, this might be the very means to jam a wedge in the machine and make it inoperative, preventing any replacement with another caste system. But back to my two main points.

First, Singh misunderstands the Ascension. He states that the fact the Holy Spirit is called Comforter implies a need for Comfort, namely Christ going away. But this misses the point. Christ did not go away, but ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. This is a place, but it is certainly an a-spacial place. Calvin made a good point to demand we acknowledge that Christ is still in the Flesh, thus He is somewhere, and as Human, He cannot be everywhere, as Luther and his allies had implied. But where is this somewhere? The re-creation of the apocalypse of Christ, where the dead are raised, is here, in material creation, on a Earth re-formed. While we exist in some form as souls, we are not really complete until we are in glorified flesh. But where is Christ? While the arguments viz. the 'communication of the attributes' are bizarre, and thus we're better off talking of Christ's presence in His Spirit, it gets the main point. Christ is everywhere, yes, even in His Flesh, as He reigns until all things are put under His feet.

This is important because even in fleshly absence, Christ is present all places and all times by the eyes of faith. Luther was right to describe the Lord's Supper and Baptism in this way, among many others 'mysteries', namely that while we may or may not see or be present with Christ in all our comings and goings, what makes these specials is the bond of promise. Christ promised to be in the Bread and Wine, and in faith we can see this. Thus Singh is wrong to make this into the problem. Perhaps this is the theologizing to hide the absence, but its pretty clear from the New Testament that there is a dialectic remaining in Creation between now-coming, between seeing with faith and seeing with glorified eyes, face-to-face. Faith becomes the means by which we overcome this dialectic of absence-presence, rule of the Devil and rule of God, through grabbing hold of the promises before they are manifest. Singh is putting a different metaphysic on the table then the one we see throughout all of Scripture where the just are to walk by faith.

Second, Singh, and Agamben, is right to describe a Christianity that built the well-oiled caste-system that became the post-Christian West. But what is this Christianity? I'd contend it is an apostate Christianity. As Ivan Illich liked to put it, corruptio optimi pessima, the corruption of the best is the worst. This is, at its heart, the difference that Luther described between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. The former is the structure that is the West, the prelatry of the Grand Inquisitor, the deep theology of the filioque, the need for a lieutenant of Christ to replace Him while He is gone.

While it is certainly right and just to speak of an economy, a government of the mystery revealed, there have been two means of this. St. Paul tells us of an economy of the Word, where the Apostolic commission to the churches is to worship God through announcing His proclamation and communing with Him in His victory. The mystery of all ages has been revealed, namely Christ crucified and risen for the forgivenness of sins and the salvation of the world and mankind. This message must spread through the world.

But this is not the only form of the economy, which morphs into its own sort of mystery, a transformation of the kerygma into providence. I am not disputing God's sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent oversight of all Creation, all time and space, but as the author of the Hebrew tells us, we do not see God ruling over all powers and principalities, but we do see Christ Jesus. It is the providential view, that demotes the Cross as a component of God's rule and consummation, rather than the very axis of the revelation, which offers up the shroud by which a new caste system forms without visibility. While the Scriptural author brackets the question of providence under the saving work of Christ Jesus, the consummation of Israel's history where the Word of God appeared in the flesh, the theology of glory inverts this, subordinating what we do know to what we do not know. Thus, a certain form of providentialism becomes a grinding post-facto determinism: all things are as they are because they are. This manufactures justification for everything and anything.

Evangelicalism, not to mention the Mainline, in America are thus, at this level, exactly the same. Evangelicalism, as Fundamentalism sold to the theology of glory of the zeitgeist, will move with the times. It will be no shock when a majority of Evangelicals accept Gay Marriage, because according to a providential logic, it is therefore it should be. Lest that seems extreme, the de facto position of No-Fault Divorce as standard is so incontrovertible, we cannot remember a time when it wasn't. The illusion is that the Evangelicals are cross-focused, but this is a sleight-of-hand. It is the same mistake as seeing Passion-Plays, or the like, as an example of the logic of the cross. It is an illusion, it is the form without the substance.

Singh's criticisms are deadly serious and ought to be taken to heart, but they do not reflect Christ's Empire, but rather apostate simulacra. This is a form of godliness which denies its power, and is nothing but straw.

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