Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture

the good news of post-structuralism

On my good days I have some certainty to what good news looks like. Today is not one of those days, so I am depending on the prophetic tradition to aid me. According to Second Isaiah (61), good news is for the marginalized, those who have no luck, or certainty for tomorrow. The good news presented is liberation in the materialistic* sense. Justice will come to those who need it most. Their voices will be heard and they become active members in their community just as the rich and powerful have always been. This is in contrast to their position currently in society, which they are either demonized or pitied.

Good news, at least, in the monoculture of US society recognizes technological advance. This progress is waited upon by many in the US, as their desire for entertainment overwhelms their paycheck. Relating this to church, technology and ideas rarely have anything to do with materiality. Churches want the best new Christian book study or video series. Or listening to a testimony about how Jesus changed one’s mind about what they think of people with tattoos. I know these are extreme examples, but all too often are true. We live too much out of our minds. If philosophical concepts recycle every century or so; then we as a country, listen far too much to Hegelian philosophy, than to post-structuralist philosophies of the prophets.

Post-structualism can be of Good News to the Church as well as the world. First, it allows us to not focus only on ideas or your mind. During the 60’s and 70’s, Deleuze and Guattari wrote texts against the psychoanalysis movement, Anti-Opedius. They described how capitalism causes schizophrenia in society, individuals are sucked into what they become in consuming and in consuming they become machines. Deleuze and Guattari believed that this made one’s mind and body fascist. Meaning that we do not have control over our desires, which is for them freedom. Second, post-structuralism deconstructs power. Out of this movement came critical theories including critical race theory, queer theory, deconstruction, etc. They question and they question often. For example:

-Who has power in the text?
-Who agree the ones without a voice in this text?
-Since language is flimsy, words/sentences have potentiality to have various meanings, then how do we know what we are reading into a text and what the writer intended?
-We are still waiting for justice (Derrida), what are we expecting and is this good news for all?

Questioning helps us to read text carefully, and allows our circumstances to persuade us toward different directions according to context. Lastly, post-structuralism gives us hope that metanarratives do not have the last say (certainly there is much more I could say, but I think this is the most important). Narratives shape the way we view the world, universe, divinity, the other, etc. If we allow oppressive narratives to fester in our bodily activities, we may lose hope. Recently, this happened to me after watching all those Youtube videos about the truth behind the Sandy Hook “Tragedy.” These videos made me upset, in two senses. First, these videos present harmful ideas to the general public. Here I am much more pastoral in when people should be told information that is contrary to what everyone believes. These ideas cause confusion as to who to trust and dismisses theodicy. Second, the creators of these videos are not perusing any kind of legal action or seem to have many other things to do with their time, than to scare Youtube watchers. The Good News of post-structuralism is that there are thousands of micronarratives that make the world go round. These micronarratives are in our community. Some of them are based on misinformation, others on myths, but all based in community. It’s communities that can comfort and care for us. Micronarratives should be questioned as long as we are open with others etc. Thus allows me to reject the truthers movements of Sandy Hook and talk with my youth about theodicy, and what God’s kin-dom looks like.

Post-structuralism gives theology another chance in society and we must not lose our chance. As long as we are not taking an exclusivist approach, theology will survive. On a practical level, participating fully in these narratives means speaking with and knowing our neighbors, caring for the ignored, and being open to others.

*Think Marx, not shopaholics.

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Christainity, Philosophy

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.

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Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy

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.

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