protestantization

Beliefs anchor Protestants in a way that catholic* churches prefer tradition for their foundation. I attend a church where many of the congregates have different social, political, economic, and even religious beliefs than the person sitting next to them, yet all seem to join in reciting the liturgy, singing hymns, and partaking the Eucharist. After the service, we enjoy coffee hour, talking, laughing, and playing tag with the smaller children. Conversations of differing opinions happen, and when they do, we are thoughtful listeners respecting the speaker. When a few of us were asked to present some information about the Occupy movement, everyone was attentive and those who did not agree with us talked about their points of contention and we moved through it. I do not think that I convinced anyone to become an Occupier or an anarchist, but what I did do was offer the face of what an anarchist looks like. I love my church.

Last week, I attended a semi-Pentecostal church (one in which the people sometimes perform the gifts of the Spirit), which had evangelical worship music, a children’s sermon, and an adult sermon which included the phrase, “Mr. Obama’s agenda is not God’s agenda.” That last statement I agree with whole heartedly, and would want that preached for every president in office, letting the congregation know that God is concerned about love, justice, reconciliation,  etc., while our country’s authorities are not concerned about these as much as economic affairs, as well as keeping our place at the top of the world by whatever means necessary. However, the minister was not alluding to these points, but to the issues of birth control, socialism, and any other Tea Party phrase you can imagine. Worst of all, the rest of the congregation shouted “Amen!” and clapped when he said this. It seems that if I would disagree with such a stance, it would mean that I could not locate myself in that church.

Later in the week, I ate breakfast with a friend who attends that church. We discussed what the minister said and he pointed me to John 17, where Jesus prayed “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” My friend told me that the church needs to be of one mind, believing in all of the same things, voting in the same way, etc. I was taken aback. I responded saying that this is how churches become exclusive — that if anyone does not believe or do the same things as the rest of the church, then possibly this could lead to the church excluding people. For example, not voting a certain way or believing that using a gendered pronoun for God grants authority to one sex over another. In addition, how can the church be of exactly the same mind, while Christianity is a global religion? Essentially, I promoted contextual Christianity that is shaped by culture and people. This is not to say that some components of culture are not oppressive and should be changed, but it does mean that if I go to South America, I would like to see pictures of a Bolivian Jesus.

This leads me to a term that I have been throwing around with friends and family, and what I named this post, protestantization. Protestantism formed in the 16th century by the likes of Luther and Calvin, who wanted to branch away from the authority of tradition to the authority of belief. This shift not only split Catholics and Protestants, but has penetrated cultures that have been formed by Protestants. Currently, the state of protestantization has gone a step further with the authority of belief, and has made sure that a crystallization of belief has occurred. In the realm of politics, it has been with the notion of birth control. The debate goes as such. President Obama presented some legislation that mandated that all institutions should cover birth control in their health insurance policy. This caused an uproar from the Right, using weighted rhetoric against the President, using phrases like Socialist. President Obama changes the legislation and gives the option of religious institutions to opt-in or out. Still the Right is not happy, and go as far as to say that birth control should not be used, or, in Santorum’s case any other kind of contraception. This caused a domino effect in the Right and all of the political candidates claimed that birth control should not be even used by women. Which also lead political pundits to use angry rhetoric toward those who did not agree with these thoughts.

A good overview of the debate:

This Right Vs. Left debate concerning birth control is perfect example of protestantization. There are other examples  when it comes to crystallizing one’s beliefs, thus excluding other’s with different opinions. Actually, almost anything can be this crystallization.

If one does not think that we should engage in any war, one should not be called American.

If one does not pledge allegiance to the Flag, one is not an American.

If one smokes cigarettes, one is bad Christian.

If one does not like Capitalism, one is anti-American, anti-People, and Anti-world.

If one does not believe that the Christian Scriptures are inerrant, one does not probably even believe in Jesus.

And the list could could go on forever. Because beliefs will only keep on crystallizing, we must allow for difference. Allowing for difference to enter into the conversation and relationships helps us to humanize one another. This is what allows me to sit down with my friend from church and have a thoughtful dialogue polarizing debate.

*catholic in this sense includes Episcopalians, Lutherans, as well as the Roman Catholic Church

corporations and a modest proposal

Jonathan Swift wrote the essay, “A Modest Proposal” in 1729. The essay expresses another way to keep Ireland’s economic head above the water. Swift satirically proposes that those who are poor should sell and/or eat their children. This was during the time that England ruled over Ireland, and were oppressed into an economic depression. Ireland was not allowed to trade with any other country, but more than that, much of the land was owned by those in England having the Irish people rent from them. The money then exited Ireland and poured into England. Jonathan Swift noticing all of these injustices around him spoke out against them. Luis Landa wrote in an essay titled “Swift’s Economic Views and Mercantilism,”

“One of his few sermons to come down to us, On the Causes of the Wretched Condition of Ireland, is devoted to an analysis of Ireland’s economic difficulties, in which he complains bitterly that ” The first cause of our misery is the intolerable hardships we lie under in every branch of trade, by which we are become as hewers of wood, and drawers of water, to our rigorous neighbors” (ELH, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Dec., 1943))

During Swift’s time, Ireland was losing money from their economy to assist the growing English Empire. This is a tragedy. Today, as a world population we are dealing with something much larger. The Empire instead of being a concrete country like England, it is liberal capitalism. In liberal capitalism, the State is the global market that all pay into. This Empire is not something that we can see, but is a virtual island full of mostly wealthy white men. Our money that we pay into goes not towards the worker, but to the company’s overhead.

The liberal capitalist island fills with the money while workers stand as pawns in their greedy game. Jesus, in his great rhetoric in the Gospel of Luke, says :

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.” (6:24-25 NRSV)

The idea here is to say that if you have an excess amount riches then that’s all that your worth. God’s kin-dom* and thus God’s justice is about distributive justice, unlike U.S. society which focuses on retributive justice. Therefore, those who have excess amounts are not participating in the vision that Jesus declared about the kin-dom of God. Fighting against these kinds of injustices and educating the masses of how the system works should be our top goals. We must always remember the wisdom of Paulo Freire that taught, “Critical and liberation dialogue, which presupposes action, must be carried on with the oppressed at whatever the stage of their struggle for liberation…But to substitute monologue, slogans, and communiques for dialogues is to attempt to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building” (52). Dialogue gives us a good middle way for liberation of the oppressed and the oppressors. The first step we must take then is to become friends with those whom we believe to be oppressed.

*I prefer to use kin-dom over kingdom because the later has been used in patriarchal hierarchical structures that have oppressed citizens. I believe that God’s kin-dom does not represent that reality, but a kin-dom where all are the family of God.

the revolutionary act of ash wednesday and lent

I have been reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the past week now. It was not intended to be my Lenten book, but it has become such. The first few chapters relate to this Christian season in several ways. I would call it a Liberation Theology text for the non-theological, since it speaks in non-bibical langauge in the same ways that the South American liberation theologians were using the Exodus story and the narrative of Jesus.

The first chapter speaks of a revolution, where the oppressed and the oppressors both are liberated. Paulo Freire writes “As oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized” (42). Freire sets out to have both oppressed and oppressor humanized. This means that a revolution must have the oppressed not be over the oppressors, but everyone come out as equals. Slavoj Zizek has spoken some on Haiti, using a post-colonial context, writing, “it was perhaps even more of an event than the French Revolution itself. It was the first time that an enslaved population rebelled not as a way of returning to their pre-colonial “roots”, but on behalf of universal principles of freedom and equality.” While the French revolution promoted equality for all people who were not slaves, it was the Haitian Revolution who made both slaves and free all under the banner of equality and freedom. It’s as if they took the words of Freire to heart 170 years earlier.

This brings me to a theo-political understanding of the imparting of ashes. 40 days before Easter Sunday, catholic Christians attend a service in which to re-member, both in embodying the church, but also a time for self-reflection, remembering our short comings. As an Episcopalian, we like to kneel for Eucharist and for ashes, and this time I knelt recognizing my faults, but also kneeling in solitary with the rest of the persons in church. We were at that moment all on an equal plain. We are all part of familia dei, Family of God. In other words, the politics of Ash Wednesday show us that if any political system should be prescribed that it should be one of anarchism. That we need no human leaders since we are all on this equal plain. Yet, the problem is that as U.S. citizens we live in a psycho-spiritual context where to feel secure that we must have an authority figure, e.g. President, patriarch, etc. in our lives to give us structure. In Zizekian/Lacian lingo, we are searching for the “subject-suppose-to-know.” We are looking for the one who knows all the answers so that we can elect them to office or believe that they know best and follow whatever they may say. Speaking of the 2008 financial crisis, Jacques Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller says in an interview

“The financial universe is an architecture made of fictions and its keystone is what Lacan called a “subject supposed to know”, to know why and how. Who plays this part? The concert of authorities, from where sometimes a voice is detached, Alan Greenspan, for example, in his time. The financial players base their behavior on this. The fictional and hyper-reflexive unit holds by the “belief” in the authorities, i.e. through the transference to the subject supposed to know. If this subject falters, there is a crisis, a falling apart of the foundations, which of course involves effects of panic. “

The presidential candidates want to be this kind of subject, knowing what is best for the financial and political realm. Yet if we are Christians who wear our “faith on our foreheads” recognizing our failings, how can we not help to see that there is no one who is “suppose to know” that it takes us a community of self-reflecting people who now more than ever need the dialectic and each other to create a more just world.

State God

Post-Structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote in a section called Capitalism situated in the Deleuze Reader,

The State is assuredly not the locus of liberty, nor the agent of a forced servitude or war capture. Should we then speak of “voluntary servitude”? This is like the expression “magical capture”: its only merit is to underline the apparent mystery. There is a machinic enslavement, about which it could be said in each case that it presupposes itself, that it appears as preaccomplished; this machinic enslavement is no more “voluntary” than it is forced. (244)

Deleuze, I believe, correctly identifies the citizen’s relationship to the State. Citizens are born in particular territories and must follow the laws that had been set. In one sense, for the individual, the State is the eternal authority who overlords power that cannot be challenged. Eternal, as defined, both as a place where power derives and  ahistoricity. Thus, citizens are indoctrinated with this ideology that grants the State all authority, without question. This bleeds into society like the superweeds overcoming the Monsanto soybeans. For example, our idea of the State influences the way that we think about God. The terms “eternal” and “authority” can be found in the Christian tradition, yet in U.S. context God and the State share the same definition. God serves the same purpose as the State. God has set laws from eternity past and followers of particular religions must abide by these laws, i.e. Jews obeying the Ten Commandments. The challenge here is not to separate religion from the State, but to be conscience of how we are responding to each. Do you allow the State to have rule over your life more than religious convictions? If State and religious ideals contradict one another, which should you choose?These are difficult questions in a difficult age.

hermeneutic of suspicion and climate change

Paul Ricoeur, twentieth century philosopher, developed a way of reading called the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” Simply put, it is the concept that the way we read and understand texts (not only things written, but also spoken) must be challenged through conscience efforts. This means when reading a text, we must understand that we live in a context that influences our reading, as well as the authors (or speakers) also have their own context. The final goal of reading a text then would be to know our context as well as the writers and try our best to come with a good interpretation. For example, referring to the parable of the talents, the ministers in a country that follows capitalistic tenancies will normally emphasize the investment aspect of the parable or spiritualize the text. They will use the word talent as common English defines it, a special ability that one has and then bypass the last section when the servant condemns the master. If I were to use the “hermeneutic of suspicion” on these sermons, it would question if they had indeed used the entire parable for the sermon or just parts. It would question whether there is any historical context in accordance with the economics of the first century Palestine. Finally, I would ask about their influences on whether s/he thinks that God influences the world, and id they believe that God is the master in the parable.

Ricoeur’s hermeneutic is a well rounded approach to reading texts and listening to a speaker. Something that I did not add was that Ricoeur used the likes of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, whom he thought were primitives to this approach. We must go further than these authors and  towards an even more radical and inclusive hermeneutic, since they all ignored feminism, were hetero-normative, and even more, thought of universals rather having more contextual and subjective theories. Thankfully, postmodern theory has aided to a more inclusive hermeneutic, i.e. deconstructionism (this certainly is not the be all end all of hermeneutic).

Along with the idea that when we read texts we must be critical of both ourselves and of the text, it has gained momentum in conservative ideology (this does not mean that the neo-liberal ideology which is rampant in the world does not have its suspicions, especially of other political ideologies). In a recent debate, the issue of climate change was set before the Republican candidates. Rick Santorum said that climate change is

“an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life,”

This is not an example of hermeneutic of suspicion, but rather a falsification of another’s ideology. Santorum wants to bankrupt the scientific ideology by saying that when science wants others to conform to its ideas that it produces fear. The problem is that Santorum’s own capitalist, hetero-normative, patriarchal, and conservative ideology is using the same tactic (whether or not this is true of the scientific ideology). Santorum also in this debate says that he wants to get rid of the EPA so that there may be more “freedom” for capitalist businesses. In an upcoming post, I will share my thoughts on freedom and how we have a paradoxical view in the U.S. Therefore, Santorum believes in the negative definition of freedom, in which we are free from things rather than the positive definition where we are free for things. A good position would be that of the idea of the common good. For example, a neighborhood could take the position that “none are safe unless all are” and start a neighborhood watch that consists as neighbors taking turns walking around the neighborhood in he late afternoon in to the night. This freedom would show that freedom is only true when all are safe and able to pursue their own pleasures because they are free.

In conclusion, if one wants to commit to performing a hermeneutic of suspicion, one must also question their own ideologies and contexts. This is something that Santorum fails to do. We must try harder to question ourselves and others, while at the same time being humble.

anti-capitalist critique of the super bowl

Since I left my hometown and no longer have cable television, my desire to watch the Super Bowl has dissolved. Before I would watch the game for the half-time show and the new commercials. Although, I was never a big fan of sports, my parents and brother were/are and my mother still tells me about my brother and father’s arguments about which team is better, etc. Noam Chomsky explains this obsession with sports as

“…And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves society in general: it occupies the populations, and it keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. In fact, I presume that’s part of the reason why spectator sports are supported to the degree they are by the dominant institutions.” (Understanding Power, 100)

This is usually how I understand corporate sports (differentiating between local sports in which one can participate with neighbors). Corporate sports are supported by corporations, forcing players to advertise with logos on their uniforms, and have many commercials inserted during breaks. One of the reasons I did enjoy the Super Bowl was because of the commercials. Reflecting on it now, it seems that commercials help to reinforce the ideology of capitalism in the U.S.. Teams compete against one another in hopes for winning, which is the capitalistic dream, for businesses to compete with one another in hopes of gaining more profits than another. Vidyadhar Date explains this beautifully in the article Capitalism and sport: Sports for a few

Competitive sports generate belief in capitalist values. We start believing that competition is the order of life, when in fact we should be striving for cooperation and friendship. Competitive sports make us feel that one must reach the top, be the first, and be willing to make any compromise.

Corporate sports is a reflection of the society at large and present no new challenges to culture or society. With this in mind, it makes sense that these sports are also pro-patriarchy. Since all of the players on the field are males bodied persons, this also includes the announcers, coaches, etc. This gives them an authority that other events do not, e.g. women’s tennis. If we are to shatter patriarchy, and capitalism, we must form coed leagues that have no corporate sponsors. This will probably never get air coverage, but the people involved will get to know one another better.

One final note: In Indiana, the location of the Super Bowl this year, the governor passed the controversial Right to Work law, which helps to bust up unions. The governor signed this bill privately, bypassing all of the public procedures that a governor has to do to pass a law. Thus, Occupy the Super Bowl began. Hopefully, discussion of this bill will be brought up sometime during the Super Bowl and in the weeks following, more dialogue with Gov. Daniels about repealing this law.

anti-metaphysics and jesus

The ancient philosophy of metaphysics is a spectre in our society. One assumption attributed to Plato, is that for everything we can see physically on earth, there is a perfection of that thing in the heavens.* For example, if someone were to make a table, the perfect table would be in heaven that we are trying to reflect. Plato makes a story of this idea in “Allegory of the Cave.”

The Forms permeate U.S. culture still . This is especially apparent for those running for President and other positions in the government. Mitt Romney said that President Obama blocked “true economic recovery.” Romney believes that there is one “true” way to encourage an economic growth. Yet, is he being told this from heavenly economics or his ideology? As humans, we do our best to manage how things operate and make our best guesses with how to live and with what relationships to have. Sometimes we fail in our experiments, but most of the time we succeed what we are after and can repeat such actions.

I guess the problem is that some people believe that they are absolutely correct in assuming certain ideas, believing that these things are from the heavens. Christian fundamentalism understands the world in this way. It came to full force with Harold Camping and his followers who believed last year that May 21st 2011 would be the return of Christ to earth. They received this insight from an interpretation of Scripture that for them was the “true” way, a way of interpreting from God.

There have been many philosophers who have combated the idea of metaphysics. These include Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Satre, and Gilles Deleuze. The first two are existentialists, which says in a nutshell that “existence precedes essence.” Things in themselves do not have inherent meaning, but  we as a culture, people, society, and individuals grant them meaning. This is why two individuals can attend the same event or watch the same movie and give two different responses  . The last person mentioned was Gilles Deleuze was an anti-metaphysical postmodern philosopher who wrote about things like capitalism and schizophrenia, cinema theories etc. Much of his books are rather are hard to understand,including Difference and Repetition. (I hope to one day write a blog post about Deleuze once I know more about him.)

Maybe you are wondering what this has to do with Jesus. It seems that some authors of the New Testament had the world-view that included Platonic metaphysics. For example, the author of John begins with a prologue and writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The “Word” is in reference to Jesus, who is the perfect form of God. Another Platonic writer  in the New Testament is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. S/he declares that Jesus is the heavenly high priest making sacrifices in heaven, and since Jesus is a Form then he too must be sinless, a perfect human come to earth.

The other Gospel writers do not appear to take such a stance, e.g. Mark’s Gospel has no reference to Jesus as being eternal, but as “Son of Man.” Therefore, I take a position that we must perform Christology from the bottom up rather than top down. Roger Haight does this in his text, Jesus, Symbol of God. He recommends “an incarnational christology in which the created human being or person Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete symbol expressing the presence in history of God as Logos” (p. 439). Once we take the view of Jesus from an anti-metaphysical or existentialist point then Jesus is eternal in another sense. It is no longer about Jesus being eternal and worrying about all this implies, but the concern is where Jesus receives power and authority. Top down Christology, one is not concerned with Jesus, but Jesus as an Form. In this way, one does not have to concern herself with the history of Palestine or the Roman Empire, but only about Jesus as the perfection Son of God. Yet there must be a happy medium where we care about discipling people for the kin-dom of God and a balanced historical-critical reading of the Scriptures.

Lastly, I want to stress that we can not have a “pure” anything, e.g. reason, Christianity, etc. We only have the reality we live in and we must do our best to try out new things and live in a way that is good for ourselves and the rest of society.

*There are plenty of other things that accompany metaphysics like ontology, but for this post I wanted to focus on the Forms/Ideas.

spirit of radicalism

For my last semester, I have decided to take a class on the Holy Spirit. I had an opportunity to take this class early in my college career, but I could not handle something so close to my upbringing. You see, I was raised in a Pentecostal home with a family that has several ministers in this denominational persuasion. Hearing many of the same sermons over and over again, and wanted something less experiential and more intellectual, I left my parents church for a Calvinistic Baptist-y church. I learned that all of the answers to the world’s and mine problems were found in Scripture (and with some from Calvin, of course). In changing my environment, I also had to change the way I viewed the Holy Spirit. She was no longer the Person of the Trinity that granted others to speak in tongues, perform miracles, and act in ways that are not socially accepted. Instead, paraphrasing John Dominic Crossan, I did not see a differentiation between studying the Scriptures and praying. The Holy Spirit came the times that I learned something new in theology and in the Bible. That lasted for about six years, until I eventually ended up at an Episcopal church that meditated and practiced Taize. It was here that I found the Holy Spirit in the quiet times and in during times of comfort.

After all of these experiences with the Holy Spirit, which were all in and around my hometown. I went to undergrad for Theology. I still went/go to church every Sunday and have a nice small community who I can share Eucharist with and share ideas with one another. My theology has changed much since I left my hometown. I have dabbled in many theologies, such as Anabaptistism, Radical Catholicism, Liberation, and Classic Liberalism. I have learned through my studying and experiences that I have a wide ecumenical Christian faith. Yes, I am an anarchist, who loves consensus models, potlucks, and community gardens. Yet, I cannot give up on the Holy Spirit for materialism and rationalism, but at the same time, I enjoy the historical-critical method of reading the Bible.

I am a mixed bag. So for me, the Holy Spirit works in the lives of people, liberating them to be more like our brother Jesus. It is this Holy Spirit who I see guiding people in reconciliation and a deeper commitment to discipleship. It is she who transcends boundaries and comforts those in need.

May God show us all the works that the Holy Spirit does and how we may be a community of believers who follow her and are challenged to live fuller lives in the Trinity.

patriarchy and presidency

A reporter from AFP.com noted that:

“This election is about fundamental freedom,” Santorum said, focusing his criticism on President Obama who, in his words, “refuses to lead.”

“Don’t follow! Lead, lead this country,” he said.

This criticism was directed at President Obama for not leading the discussion with Occupy Wall Street. Santorum believes in something fundamentally patriarchal that those in authorities should have the first and last say in discussions. For Santorum, the President (or the Great Patriarch) must make all of the decisions about the direction in which this country is run. It seems that Santorum does not want a dialectic between those “in power” and those “adhering to power.” The Occupy Movement must then show Santorum how to perform non-hierarchical governing. There must be more mic-checks at his rallies, and demonstrations of how one can live alternatively without the patriarchy.