Posted by: Dan | November 24, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: III.2

III.2 – A New Reformation: Re-forming Desire and Imagination

In order to recover the Church as polis it is necessary to recover the Church as a disciplined community. Yet it is precisely this aspect of the Church that is assaulted by neoclassicism, for the local church has become integrated into a consumer market and, rather than attending a church that disciplines one’s desire and imagination, one is more likely to attend a church that panders to the desire that one already possesses.[139] This means that it is necessary to begin to relate to the Church as a community that provides us with the disciplines that we need in order to live Christianly. As Hauerwas says: “I do not want to be ‘accepted’ or ‘understood.’ I want to be a part of a community with the habits and practices that will make me do what I would otherwise not choose to do and then to learn to like what I have been force to do.”[140] In particular, the Church must practices disciplines that counter the disciplines imposed by neoclassicism, in order to liberate the body from the repression imposed by the soul.[141] This means inciting a new reformation – the reformation of desire and imagination.

The Church must begin by reforming desire and restoring it to its true place and its true end.[142] This means that, whereas neoclassicism disciplines desire by rooting it in lack and greed, and aligning it with entitlement, the Church must liberate desire by rooting it in productivity, passion, and grateful creativity. Rather than seeing desire as a function of lack, Christians must understand desire as a productive force, as an abundant overflow that continually brings new possibilities into existence.[143] Rather than seeing desire as a form of self-centred greed, Christians must understood desire as an expression of passion for the other and, in particular, passion for God.[144] Understood in these ways desire, rather than being aligned with a sense of self-entitlement, becomes aligned with grateful and creative participation in the inbreaking of God’s kingdom.

Moreover, whereas neoclassicism disciplines the imagination through fear and despair, the Church must liberate the imagination through hope. Imagination, rather than being utilized to produce fantasies that distract us from our fear and despair, can be treated as “thought-in-becoming,” as the sort of thinking that transforms the world, rather than providing us with an escape from the world.[145] Indeed, replacing the theological doctrines of neoclassicism with the theological doctrines of Christianity is precisely the sort of exercise that liberates the imagination in order to transform the socio-political and economic order.[146] Consequently, the real question the Church must ask when confronted with the world of neoclassicism is not what is realistic, practical, or viable, but what is imaginable.[147] That Christians are able to imagine in such an unrestrained manner is premised upon hope that is rooted in God’s promises and God’s history of engagement with the world. As Moltmann argues:

Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God… That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest… Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.[148]

Consequently, Christians must become “professionals of hope” with imaginations solely disciplined by the memory of what God has done, and the recollection of the promises of what God has yet to do.[149]
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[139] Cf. Hauerwas, After Christendom, 93-94; In Good Company, 26. Hence, Dorothy Day remarks: “once their desires were change, half the battle was won. To make men desire poverty and hard work, that was the problem” (The Long Loneliness: An Autobiography, Illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg [New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1952], 226).
[140] In Good Company, 75.
[141] Cf. Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 95; William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1998), 58.
[142] Cf. Hauerwas, Performing the Faith, 156; Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 72; Eagleton, After Theory, 129; Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, 173; Cavanaugh, “The Unfreedom of the Free Market”.
[143] This is one of the central assertions of Deleuze and Guattari; cf. Anti-Oedipus, 5-6, 24-27, 296, 380, et passim.
[144] Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 88-91. Since at least Augustine, the Christian tradition has understood God to be the true telos of desire.
[145] On imagination as “thought-in-becoming” cf. Massumi, 96-100.
[146] Cf. Hauerwas, Performing the Faith, 92; Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, 1, 4; Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 87; Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation, 19-20, 24-25.
[147] Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 44. Bloch also says this well: “He who does not hope for what can never be hoped for, will never find it” (quoted in Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 103). It is this pursuit of the imaginable that leads Day to ask the following: “Why was so much being done in remedying social evils instead of avoiding them in the first place? … Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?” (The Long Loneliness, 45). It was precisely these imaginative questions that led to Day co-founding the Catholic Workers’ movement. In light of examples like this, the Christian call for participation in a ‘realistic second best’ shows a shocking failure in the Christian imagination.
[148] Theology of Hope, 20-21; cf. Hauerwas, Against the Nations, 51; Wallis, The Call to Conversion, 117; Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation, 49; Theology of the Old Testament, 169, 173.
[149] The term “professionals of hope” is one that Marcos employs to describe the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Marcos, 19).

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