Posted by: Dan | November 23, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: Part III-III.1

III. The Church, the Reformation of Desire and Imagination, and the Recovery of the Public

Having come to the end of our exploration of neoclassicism, this section will explore a Christian alternative by focusing on the Church as the locus that reforms our desire and our imagination in order to offer a public alternative to the stories, space, time, language, and bodies presented by neoclassicism.

III.1 – Why the Church?

The first question that is inevitably raised in this regard is ‘why the Church?’ After all, many who criticize neoclassicism tend to look to the State, and not the Church, for salvation.[125] However, as the argument above has demonstrated, the State has been wholly lost to the powers of neoclassicism and even States that have not fully capitulated to neoclassicism discover that the multinational powers are stronger than they are.[126] Corporations are not only “multinational,” they are “postnational” and no longer need the support of any particular State to maintain global dominance.[127] Ultimately, however, Christians should not look to the State for the solution to neoclassicism because the State itself is rooted in an alternative soteriology to that of the Church, and so Christians must abandon “the myth of the State as Saviour,” which exists as a distortion of the Christian hope.[128]

Reliance upon the State is also one of the three fundamental errors of the counter-culture which arose, as Klein notes, out of “the utter failure of traditional party politics.”[129] Although the counter-culture attempts to effect change outside of the party structure, it still relies upon the State apparatus for the implementation of that change. The second fundamental error of the counter-culture is that, rather than being a means of confronting and overthrowing capitalism, it has consistently been a means of reinvigorating and perpetuating capitalism.[130] Finally, the third error of the counter-culture is that it consistently fails to offer any coherent vision of what an alternative society might actually look like. This line of criticism comes from ‘Che’ Guevara himself. He writes: “We revolutionaries often lack the knowledge and the intellectual audacity to face the task of the development of the new… by methods different from the conventional ones, and the conventional methods suffer from the influence of the society that created them.”[131]

However, Christians are those who affirm that extra ecclesiam nulla salus—which is to say that the salvation of the world is intimately linked to the Church being the Church. The problem is that Christianity in the West has, by and large, lost any sense of what it is to be (and do) Church and has pursued the (social) transformation of the world as though God, and the formation of the people of God, were irrelevant to that pursuit. Thus, we end up in the situation described by Wallis:

No one is asking why we live the way we do. Why? Because most people already know the answer: Christians live the way they do for the same reasons that everybody else lives the way they do… We have lost the visible style of life which was evident in the early Christian communities and which gave their evangelism its compelling power and authority.[132]

Therefore, the Church must recover her identity as a public body, and as an alternative to neoclassicism’s way of structuring life together.[133] The Christian response to neoclassicism must be ecclesial, it must take the form of a community that shows how faith in the Christian God profoundly impacts the way in which we structure life together.[134] This then requires a recovery of the understanding of Christians as the tertium genus, and means that we are, in the words of MacIntyre, “waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.”[135]

Recovering the Church as polis does not mean attempting to return to Christendom or reinvigorating Constantinianism. Rather, it means that Christians must focus on how they, as a Church, live out their convictions, instead of trying to force a secular society to live Christianly.[136] This is one of the fundamental flaws made by Waterman and Hay: they think that a Christian public ethic must be dictated by principles that can be applied to those outside the Church and so they settle for a highly compromised “second best”—never realizing that the Church is the public ethic of Christianity.[137] Waterman and Hay could both benefit from reading Chomsky who reminds us that “[w]orking people of nineteenth century North America did not plead with their rulers to be more benevolent. Rather, they denied their right to rule.”[138] So also, the Church that recognizes the sole Lordship of Jesus, should plead a little less with the Powers, and should focus more on living together in a way that denies their right to rule.
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[125] In particular, one thinks of those like Keynes, Bell, Barber, Klein, and Hays, who all look to the State to save us from neoclassicism.
[126] Cf. Bukharin, 124, 128. On the loss of the State to corporate powers, recall the massive amount of corporate financial support required to run a significant political campaign.
[127] On corporations as “postnational” cf. Barber, 23. Thomas Jefferson foresaw that capitalism could develop into this for, as he mentioned in a letter to a colleague, “Merchants have no country” (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 14, ed. by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellergy Bergh [Washington: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904], 119).
[128] On this myth, cf. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, 9-52. This reliance upon the State is, perhaps, the greatest error made by many liberation theologians (cf. Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 70), and it is the greatest mistake that Wallis makes as he moves from his reliance upon the Christian community (demonstrated in The Call to Conversion) to his reliance upon the State (demonstrated in God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It [New York: HarperCollins, 2006]).
[129] Fences and Windows, 21.
[130] Especially through its pursuit of radical individualism. This is well documented by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in The Rebel Sell: why the culture can’t be jammed (Toronto: Harper Perennial, 2004); cf. Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 89-90, 179-80; Bell, xxvi-xxvii. The result, as David Brooks notes, is a society where the Bohemians meld with the Bourgeiosie to produce all-consuming “bobos” (Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000]).
[131] Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Ernesto Che Guevara, ed. by John Gerassi (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1968), 89-90.
[132] The Call to Conversion, 19; cf. 29, 35, 116. Consequently, Marxist atheists raise damning criticisms of the “moneyed piety” of the Church which “bristles at see-through blouses, but not at slums in which half-naked children starve” (Bloch, 144).
[133] No contemporary theologian has been more adamant about this point than Stanley Hauerwas, who regularly refers to the Church as a polis, as colony, as civitas, and as the model and prototype of what the State should be; cf. In Good Company: The Church as Polis (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 6, 8; Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), 42; A Better Hope Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2000), 122-24; After Christendom? How to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 6-7, 26; Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004), 206; Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 12, 41-42, 83. To a certain extent Hauerwas is following Karl Barth in describing the Church in this way (cf. Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings, 1946-52, ed. by Ronald Gregor Smith, trans. by E. M. Delacour and Stanley Godman [London: SCM Press, 1954], 18-19, 48.
[134] Cf. Hauerwas, A Better Hope, 44; Against the Nations, 42; Wallis, The Call to Conversion, 69, 109, 114; Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, 15; Gutierrez, We Drink From Our Own Wells, 51. Of course, the necessity of community for creating and sustaining effective resistance to the regnant neoclassical powers is also a prominent theme in non-Christian writing; cf. Eagleton, After Theory, 128; Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, Short Circuits (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003), 38.
[135] MacIntyre, 245.
[136] Cf. Hauerwas, After Christendom, 18; Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, 88; Wallis, The Call to Conversion, 102; George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Louisville: WJKP, 1984), 128; N. T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 84.
[137] Waterman, 63 (and so we resolve the second major objection raised in this article); Hay, 58, 63, 311-13.
[138] Profit Over People, 55-56.

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