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 Berkeley CA Pacific School of Religion held its annual Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference this past January 25-27, 2011. The theme was "our daily bread, faith, work and the economy." Their blurb:
"The 110th Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference, Our Daily Bread: Faith, Work, and the Economy, will bring together religious and secular leaders to teach, preach, and strategize about issues of economic justice. We will seek to answer tough questions: How can an understanding of the economy help people of faith and goodwill advocate for change? What can we do together in difficult times to improve lives and empower futures?"
You can read more at the site with links to some audio samples of the lectures and to a brief article about it.
“Our mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
Here are excerpts from another Arnsperger article called "Is capitalism based on the fear of death?" in which he references Wilber and explicitly uses AQAL speak:
"I concluded yesterday’s conference by insisting on the idea that combining (a) social entrepreneurship with (b) existential economics and (c) spiritual reflection on what it means to be truly human is, today, the only serious way towards a livable post-capitalist economy. The still largely untapped potentials lying dormant in the logic of social entrepreneurship will unfold only if, in parallel, society as a whole is put on the course of a deep-running, sometimes painful existential critique of capitalism.
"So here we’re going to dwell on that human condition (internal states of consciousness, external organic states and brain states) that is at the root of capitalism, and we’re also going to ask ourselves what sort of humans capitalism has made of us.
"It can hardly be disputed that in capitalism our body-mind chemistry often goes off-course, and that we become hyperventilated because of production deadlines, get too little serotonin due to stress or too many due to competitive pressures, produce too much gastric juices because of fat processed foods, and so on. The medical professions tend to take a majority view that medication as well as a 'healthier lifestyle' can alleviate these problems, but there is little if any reflection—apart from a few exceptions—on the role played by capitalist market mechanisms and by the capitalist culture in the processes of physical and mental morbidity.... But what if, we may ask, a significant part of the chemical imbalances in our capitalist psychobodies were due … well, to capitalism itself?"
He asks this interesting and key question in the above article:
"What higher stages, in the realm of physical and mental health, is capitalism still keeping us from reaching, despite its pretensions of progress and efficiency?” And "what would an alternative “being-in-the-world” look like?"
"Tomorrow's axioms: Renunciation/ “letting go”; Shared finitude; Accepted dependence; Search for ontological truth; Care/ “helping to be”; Broadening/ Deepening; Concrete reflection; Collective organization/ Social entrepreneurship; “Rooted” creativity; Mutuality; Voluntary simplicity."
Sorry, I misunderstood. I had to return The Listening Self to the library, but I'll pick it up again tomorrow and will review it again.
I'm expecting Habermas' conversation with Ratzinger might be relevant here, too, but I don't have the book and don't have access to it.
In my research I came across this interesting and free e-book at Scribd, Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion (Routledge 1992). Section two, "Ethics and politics," is particularly relevant to this thread. The blurb:
"By illuminating the striking affinity between the most innovative aspects of postmodern thought and religious or mystical discourse, Shadow of Spirit challenges the long-established assumption that contemporary western thought is committed to nihilism.
"This collection of essays by internationally recognized scholars from the humanities and social sciences explores the implications of the fascination with the ‘sacred’, ‘divine’, or ‘infinite’ which characterizes much contemporary thought. It shows how these concerns have surfaced in the work of Derrida, Levinas, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Kristeva, Irigaray and others. Examining the connection between this postmodern ‘turn’ and the current search for a new discourse of ethics and politics, it also stresses the contribution made by feminist thought to this unexpected intellectual direction."