Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
In modern democracy we must maintain the separation of church and state, which is of course the rallying cry of atheists everywhere. And for good cause, since fundamental religion would remove the democratic ideal and reinstate a theocracy based not on equality but divine right ruled by a religious caste. On the other hand we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater altogether and consequently our political economy is lacking in the kinds of basic human decency necessary to overcome the inhuman forms of treatment endemic to what we're seeing expressed in budget proposals all across the US; the rich get richer and more powerful which the middle class and the poor bear the brunt of ever-shrinking leftover pie crumbs. To reinject human value back into politics then religion must obviously be of a different kind, we might even say of a postmetaphysical kind, that is bereft of all those things we have grown beyond but still retains our connection with something larger that instills within us humane values toward each other.
In that light I'd like to kick off the thread with excerpts from page 4 of the progressive economics thread, where Arnsperger's (re)turn to religion was requisite in formulating his economic analysis and prescriptions in moving beyond capitalism. Granted it seemed to me that while his economic critique was valid his religious prescriptions tended to fall back into the metaphysical variety. I'll then provide some excerpts of John Caputo's and Catherine Keller's comments on the topic from the Winter 2007 edition of Cross Currents, taken from the 2006 American Academy of Religion convention in Washington DC.
Existential economics....led to me into this—somewhat iconoclastic—direction...an anchoring within what, roughly, we might call Christian humanism, a way of doing philosophy that accepts that anthropological reflection need not (and, in fact, cannot) be disconnected from radical reflection on religious and spiritual issues.
Don’t expect me to draw...a well-meaning denunciation of economic materialism in the name of 'spirituality.' If I did that, I’d be ignoring the very roots of modern economic thought. In reality, in fact, the great thinkers of economics were working very consciously for the salvation of humanity.... I think we need to go as far as saying that economic thought has a strictly spiritual root.... The economy is, therefore, less a technical-operational domain than an existential-spiritual one.... Economics, therefore, the science of the economy, is part and parcel of theology—not only neo-liberal economics (as some left-wing critics claim, using the word 'theology' as a degrading term), but all of economics to the extent that it ultimately seeks to liberate Man. Marx, Keynes, and Hayek were, literally, the most influential theologians of the 20th century; I say this not by analogy or as an image, but as a literal description of what their study of economic activity was about.
One thing that is very urgently needed is development aid to the First World from the Third World—to the extent that the Third World hasn’t itself already given up its traditions.... What the Third-World traditions are still rich in, and what we tend to have become very poor in, is spiritual resources to deal with existential anxiety in 'adjusted' ways—integrating death into the rituals of life.... Spiritual resources would allow us to see things differently, and to live differently, giving economic wealth production its rightful—and relatively minor—place and giving relational and social investment the priority.
Have we not learned by now to keep theology out of politics? Do not the sacred oils of religion fuel the fires raging in the Middle East? Must we not clear our heads of theology and so liberate politics from the distortions of the political order for which religion is responsible?
My hypothesis is the opposite, that theology goes all the way down, that there are always lingering or unavowed theological presuppositions in what we say or do, and hence, as Heidegger said a long time ago, it is not a question of getting free of our presuppositions but rather of entering into them all the more primordially. Consciously or not, avowedly or not, the political order has theological roots.
Consequently, on my proposal, a reformation of political thought would require not ridding ourselves of theology but rather reexamining our theological presuppositions and learning to think about theology differently, which means to think about God otherwise, to reimagine God.
What would a political order look like, were the Kingdom able to be reinvented and transformed into a political structure? What would it be like if there really were a politics of the bodies of flesh that proliferate in the New Testament, a politics of mercy and compassion, of lifting up the weakest and most defenseless people at home, a politics of welcoming the stranger and of loving one’s enemies abroad? What would it be like were there a politics of and for the children, who are the future; a politics not of sovereignty, of top–down power, but a politics that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta (I Cor 1:28) enjoy pride of place and a special privilege? What would a political order look like if the last are first, if everything turned on lifting up the lowliest instead of letting relief trickle down from the top? What would it look like if there were a politics of loving one’s enemies, not of war, let alone, God forbid, of preemptive war?
Would it not be in almost every respect the opposite of the politics that presently passes itself off under the name of Jesus? Are not the figures who publically parade their self-righteousness, their love of power, and their hatred of the other under the name of Jesus singled out in advance by Jesus under the name of the whited sepulchers and long robes whose fathers killed the prophets?
A politics of the Kingdom would be marked by madness of forgiveness, generosity, mercy and hospitality. The dangerous memory of the crucified body of Jesus poses a threat to a world organized around the disastrous concept of power, something that is reflected today in the widespread critique of the concept of “sovereignty”—of the sovereignty of autonomous subjects and the sovereignty of nations powerful enough to get away with acting unilaterally and in their own self-interests. The call that issues from the Cross threatens what Derrida calls the “unavowed theologism” of the political concept of sovereignty by returning us to its root, to its understanding of God, to its underlying or archi–theology. The crucified body of Jesus proposes not that we keep theology out of politics, but that we think theology otherwise, by way of another paradigm, another theology, requiring us to think of God otherwise, as an unconditional claim or solicitation without power, as a weak force or power of powerlessness, as opposed to the theology of omnipotence that underlies sovereignty.
We are all prone to denounce the American empire as such, in its military, economic and theocratic aspirations; and to announce the possibility of a democracy that we might as well call radical. Radical in that it articulates the synergies of sociality, ecology, planetarity in which we all root. This rhizomatic radicality is not about uprooting our traditions so much as exposing them to our confounding togetherness—as species, peoples, ethnicities, sexes, religions, even as theological members of this panel. But the Bush doctrine was also radical; we have needed the label “progressive” to take the place of the enfeebled signs ‘left’ and ‘liberal.’
However here’s a puzzle: we are accustomed to dissing any idea of “progress” as naïve, teleological or imperialist; yet we want to use the term progressive. This means affirming the sort of imperfect and incomplete watersheds of history that comprise progress—the emancipation of slaves, of women, the end of apartheid; hey, even this recent midterm election. Has our progressive messianism been so apocalyptically pitched that in the interest of a prophetic standard, it detaches from the very history it wishes to transform? I suspect that if we cannot acknowledge momentary events of progress, moments in which the better rather than the worst outcome actually takes place, then surely we should give up the slogan: “a better world is possible.” But such progress does not move in a line from pure origin to guaranteed New Jerusalem. Its aim remains as Derrida insists, messianically yet to come, a to come that does not unfold as a predictable future outcome of present history. Progressive theopolitics might then entail an alternative temporality, the time of event–relations, in which our becoming together, now, makes possible but does not determine that which is to come tomorrow: a helical, fractal or rhizomatic kind of nonlinear progress. Such progressivism does not need consensus on whether God is the name of the possible, its source or its realization, whether God is omnipotent, weak or alluring. It does need concurrence on the formal criteria of progress: the actualization of social, ecological and planetary relations of justice with sustainability. Such rhizomatic radicality is not about uprooting our traditions but about exposing them to our confounding togetherness—as species, peoples, genders, sexualities, races, religions, even—Lord help us—our Christianities.
Constructive theology has been from the start enmeshed in varieties of radical hermeneutics. This allows Christian faith to attract intellectuals and to work with secular activists; and believe me, Christianity without its intellectuals is not going to be any appealingly populist affair. The more theology absorbs the methods of deconstruction and pluralism, the more the opposition between secularism and religion can itself be deconstructed. And as Jim Wallis has pointed out, “the secular left will give up its hostility to religion and spirituality, or it will die.” And this is politically crucial. For that hostility contributes to an evangelical stereotype about Godless humanists, etc. But the more we heal that hostility, the less we constructive theologians sound like Christians to evangelicals.
Indeed ironically it may have been Hardt and Negri, those radically democratic and secular socialists, who kicked me into the evangelical register, when they noted: “People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude.” Progressive Christians have been also unable to grasp love as political concept; we have been constrained by a self–righteous ethic of mere justice.
The following excerpt I found interesting from Section II, "The politics of spirituality, the spirituality of politics" by Geraldine Finn, reminiscent of Derrida's khora:
“What I was really seeking…was the possibility of a being-in-the-world-with-others which was not always already pre-dicated, pre-determined and pre-scribed and thereby foreclosed… I was seeking to inhabit the space of becoming, to use Berger’s terms: the space between experience and expression, reality and representation, existence and essence: the concrete fertile pre-thematic and an-archic space where we actually live: the space of sensibility and affect, of undecidability and chance, of being-otherwise-than-being a man, a woman, a Christian, a Jew, a mother, daughter, father, son, etc. I was seeking, that is, to establish relationships with others in ‘excess’ of (beyond and between) the categories which render us knowable and/or already known (as re-presentations of the Same, the familiar); relationships beyond and between the categorical imperatives predicated upon our being-as a man, a woman, a Christian, a Jew; relationships beyond and between the classifications and identities which pre-empt the specifically ethical encounter with others as other: as otherwise-than-being man, woman, Christian, Jew, etc.
“This space between representation and reality, text and context, expression and experience, language and being is the necessary and indispensable space of judgment and critique, creativity and value, resistance and change. It is the ground of the critical intentions and originating experiences which enable us to call the political status quo into question and challenge the already-known universe and its organization into and by the predicative and prescriptive categories of ‘practical reason’. As such, it is the ethical space – the space of the specifically ethical relation with others – and the only place from which the conventionality, the contingency (the ‘arbitrariness’) of reality (of political positivities and identities) can be seen and challenged. Managing this silent but nevertheless signifying/signifiant space between the pre-thematic an-archical-ethical and the categorical hier-archical-political encounter with others, this space of the otherwise-than-being a re-presentative of a category or class is absolutely central therefore to the exercise of political power and to the organization of our subjection to it. It is absolutely central, that is, to our ‘subjectivity’: to our being as subjects of experiences and actions which ‘count’, of sentences which make sense in the polis” (112-13).
Here's another quote from Finn I like, as it relates to my critique of developmental models of complexity based on category theory:
"For the contingent and changing concrete world always exceeds the ideal categories of thought within which we attempt to express and contain it. And the same is true of people. We are always both more and less than the categories which name and divide us" (113).
She's making the case that while such categories are useful they also tend to control and delimit us, hence the political implications. We can see this hegemonic control in the likes of those who promote such hierarchical models, particularly the kennilinguists. Those who cannot be controlled and/or question the ideal categories must obviously be (categorically) green.
Per above she talks of the space between (recall Edwards' version of this) and graphically I'm reminded of how I used the Venn diagram for categories in the real and false reason thread (for example here), since any given "holon" shares space between a larger frame/holon but is never completed subsumed by it.
She then goes into a lengthy discussion of metaphysical spirituality with its dichotomy of other-worldly spirit distinct from this worldly flesh. Whereas for her spirituality is indeed the space between per above, the khora. Our experience of the space between does not fit into the tidy boxes of categorical reason, it is more like Merleau-Ponty's "wild being" and hence must be quashed due to its disruptive influence on the usual program. So even our deepest spiritual experiences are squeezed into little boxes of accepted dogma lest they challenge the power structures responsible for said dogma.
She criticizes not just the conservatives (moderns) for this framing but the progressives (postmoderns) as well, since they too buy the frame of delimiting liberation into their own agenda of identity politics. Whereas the key to unlocking the dilemma is in not "identifying," for so doing is part of the problem of not recognizing what falls outside identity in the space between. It is this spiritual space that binds us in a polis and through which we accept and treat each other not as ourselves but as a "wholly other" that we may never understand yet love nonetheless. Per many of the above excerpts it is this unconditional love that must root our political relations.
Hi, Ed, I picked The Listening Self back up from the library and I'm reading the relevant sections. I think you would appreciate them -- he's talking about Merleau-Ponty's intertwining in relation to the body politic, schemas, Marcuse, Foucault (whom he praises for his inclusion of the "body" in political thinking, but criticizes for having too narrow a vision of body and not adequately conceiving of the "lived body"), Lacan, Habermas (whose communicative praxis he embraces, but whom he criticizes for too shallow a conception of self), etc. Really, you should probably invest in some of his books. I know I will eventually.
I'll write up a little more when I have time (hopefully this weekend -- I've started a new quarter and I'm already swamped!).
In Phillipa Berry's Introduction to Shadow of Spirit she quotes D.M. Levin as saying on p.3:
"Western metaphysics has forgotten, has suppressed this other vision, this vision without the presence...of the light of day: a vision which understands (the ontological significance of) the absence of light and is open to learning from the greatness – even the terror – of the night."
Here's Jim Wallace on the hunger fast for a moral budget:
"Ten days ago, we announced at the National Press Club that the budget debate had become a moral crisis. Prayer, fasting, and radical action are now required. Sojourners, the Alliance to End Hunger, and Bread for the World spearheaded this effort, but many more organizations, churches, and individuals have joined each day. We now have more than 30,000 participants and are still growing.
"The message of the fast gets clearer each day -- fasting tends to focus you, and the message is that a budget is about the choices we make. This fast is not just about cutting spending, but about the values that will determine our priorities and decisions. Should we cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing, or $8.5 billion in mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes? Should we cut $11.2 billion in early childhood programs for poor kids, or $11.5 billion in tax cuts for millionaires' estates? Should we cut $2.5 billion in home heating assistance in winter months, or $2.5 billion in tax breaks for oil companies and off-shore drilling? This debate isn't about scarcity as much as it is about choices."