Posted by: Dan | November 25, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: III.3

III.3 – The Return to the Public and the Offer of Liberation

Having demonstrated how neoclassicism disciplines the public in order to conquer it, it remains to be shown how the Church returns to the public with the offer of liberation, presenting an alternative story and liturgy, and an alternative conception of space, time, discourse, and the body.

To begin with, the Church offers a counter-narrative to the stories told by neoclassicism. In the Church, the story told by Scripture becomes constitutive for how one lives one’s life. Scripture is read so that one can indwell it and, in one’s own life, continue the trajectory it establishes.[150] This means that events like the exodus, the Christ-event, and Pentecost, become the basis for how Christians approach issues like economics today.[151] Additionally, because Christians tell a different story, they also practice a different liturgy – a different way of telling their story in a formative manner.[152] This liturgy is then expressed in the regular, corporate worship, and prayer, of the Church.[153] In the act of corporate worship, the Church both speaks about, and demonstrates, an alternate world to the world of neoclassicism. In the act of prayer, the Church’s position under Christ’s sole lordship, and the identity of each individual Christian as a member of the body of Christ, is reaffirmed.

The alternative story of Christianity then leads, secondly, to an alternative conceptualization of space. Whereas neoclassicism conquers local space with branding and advertising, global space with globalization, and bodily space with computer technology, Christianity responds by creating open space, by pursuing catholicity and by recovering embodiment. To create open local spaces means that the Church must not capitulate to the temptation to be branded. This requires the removal of advertising from Christian institutions (churches, schools), from Christian publications (books, journals), and from Christian bodies (clothes, accessories). Ultimately, by purchasing name brand items, Christians are not only perpetuating the abuse of workers in the two-thirds world, they are also becoming walking advertisements for the narratives of neoclassicism. On a global level, the Church responds to the fiction of globalization, which obscures the very real segmentation of space, with the pursuit of catholicity, premised upon the recognition that the Church is a body composed of members in the West and members in the two-thirds world.[154] Catholicity means recognizing the very real experiences, and very real segmentation, of one’s brothers and sisters around the world. Hence, catholicity is found in “partisan support for the weak.”[155] Jefferson may have been right to observe that “merchants have no country,” but the Church also has no country and, rather than using the transcendence of nationality to pursue power and wealth (as merchants do), Christians use it to pursue justice for the poor and the good of all people. Finally, at the level of bodily space, Christians must reject the Gnostic myth inherent to computer technology, and reaffirm embodiment, materiality, and the inextricable link between the soul and the body that is powerfully expressed in the doctrine of resurrection.

Thirdly, over against the neoclassical abolition of time (i.e. it collapses all times into time-for-work), and the neoclassical conquest of the calendar and public festivals, the Church must offer a notion of time structured around Sabbath and the liturgy of the Church calendar. Over against neoclassicism’s rest-less society, the Church, confident of God’s abundant giving, understands Sabbath rest as the climactic experience of creation and thereby refuses to listen to the Pharaoh who constantly cries, “Make more bricks!”[156] The Sabbath is the primary expression of liturgical time, but the liturgy also forms an alternate calendar to the calendar found within neoclassicism (the Christian New Year, for example, begins at the start of Advent, not at the start of January). Consequently, the Church must recover her calendar, and in doing so, recover her own festivals (Pentecost Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, various feast days, and so on and so forth). Furthermore, Christians must find alternative ways of celebrating festivals that have been subverted by neoclassicism.[157] Ultimately, by reforming time in this way, Christians bear witness to an inaugurated eschatology, while simultaneously resisting neoclassicism’s consummated eschatology.

Fourthly, the Church must firmly reject the tightly controlled public discourse of neoclassicism, which limits talk about economics to particular types of knowledge (descriptive), particular types of language (mathematical), and places the discussion within particular boundaries (a distinct realm of science). Refusing to be silenced, the Church must continue to speak in such a way that demonstrates how knowledge of God, and the values related to that knowledge, are essential to economics. She will do this, not afraid to use the language of passion and relationality, holding that all areas of life are connected to one another, and refusing to maintain the Enlightenment myth that life can be fractured into distinct realms and areas of study.[158]

Finally, against the way in which neoclassicism fractures the public and reduces it to individuals under the rule of great economic Powers, this reformation process culminates in the recovery of the Church as a public body. This essentially public nature of the Church is especially revealed, and made possible, by the Sacraments and the Works of Mercy. This occurs, perhaps, most powerfully in the Eucharist, which is, as Cavanaugh says, “a literal re-membering of Christ’s body.”[159] The Eucharist comes as a gift, for all, and imaginatively reorients both space and time, as Christians partake of, and thereby become assimilated to, Christ’s broken body, within the realm of eschatological time. This means liberating the Eucharist from the disciplines of neoclassicism so that we can understand that solidarity with the crucified Christ requires solidarity with those who are ‘crucified’ today.[160] Another powerful means of recovering the Church is found in the sacrament of confession, penance, and absolution. Confession leads one into a process that transforms desire, forgiveness manifests God’s gracious abundance, and penance furthers the process by leading one into deeper solidarity with those one has wronged. Bell Jr. summarises this well: “If confession is about identifying the bonds that hold desire captive and repentance is a matter of severing those bonds, penance is the positive life-giving movement whereby desire learns to enter into non-possessive, non-proprietary, non-agonistic relations with others.”[161] Finally, it is in the Works of Mercy that the Church then goes forth and presents the offer of liberation, and the proclamation of forgiveness, to the world. By feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, harbouring the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captives, and burying the dead (the corporal works), the Church manifests herself as a public body that has not yet been conquered by neoclassicism. Furthermore, by instructing the ignorant, counselling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead (the spiritual works), the Church undercuts the disciplines and the power of neoclassicism within the public realm.
____________
[150] Lindbeck’s comments on reading Scripture typologically are apropos: “Typology does not make scriptural contents into metaphors for extrascriptural realities, but the other way around. It does not suggest, as is often said in our day, that believers find their stories in the Bible, but rather that they make the story of the Bible their story… It is the text, so to speak, which absorbs the world, rather than the world the text” (118).
[151] Cf. Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference, 28-29, 65; Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 99-105.
[152] Cf. Hauerwas, Performing the Faith, 153, 156, 160; Lindbeck, 33-34; Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 12, 83; Bell Jr. Liberation Theology After the End of History, 93; Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 128, 153.
[153] However, recalling McLuhan’s observations, Christians should be much more circumspect about incorporating modern technology into corporate worship. If “the medium is the message” then surely the medium we should be partaking of is the Eucharist (which is the body and blood of Christ) rather than modern video and computer technology.
[154] Cf. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination, 97-122; Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 65-66; The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, 174-76.
[155] Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, 361.
[156] Cf. Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference, 42-46, 152-57, 183-85; Ex 5.
[157] Take Christmas, which was mentioned above. Rather than celebrating Christmas by consuming, spending, and feasting, it may be appropriate to celebrate Christmas – the time of the humiliation of God and the beginning of Christ’s road to the cross – by fasting, and maintaining times of silence to recognize the sacrifice being made (of course, times of great celebration would be quite appropriate on, for example, Resurrection Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday).
[158] For more on this point cf. Daniel Oudshoorn, “Speaking Christianly in the Midst of Babel: Christian living as the exegesis of the gospel proclamation after the end of history,” in Stimulus: The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice 14:1 (Feb 2006): 14-24.
[159] Torture and Eucharist, 229. Hence, although neoclassicism creates victims, the Eucharist produces witnesses (martyrs) (ibid., 206). Thus, one is not “politicizing” the Eucharist but “Eucharistizing” the world (ibid., 14).
[160] Cf. Tissa Balasuriya, The Eucharist and Human Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1979), 5, et passim. Balasuriya notes how the Church in Acts, Paul’s first letter to Corinth, the Didache, and several Church Fathers all connect participating in the Eucharist to solidarity with the poor.
[161] Liberation Theology After the End of History, 182; cf. 174-82. Thus, the Eucharist is primarily (but not solely) related to a public proclamation and manifestation of the reformation of imagination, and confession, absolution, and penance are primarily (but not solely) related to a public proclamation and manifestation of the reformation of desire.

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