Posted by: Dan | June 21, 2007

Internalising Caesar: Confronting the Political Order and Confronting my Desires

When Caesar becomes a member of the church, the enemy becomes internalized. The problem is no longer that the church is seen as a threat to the political order, but that now my desires are disordered.
~ Stanley Hauerwas, from “No Enemy, No Christianity: Theology and Preaching between 'Worlds'” in The Future of Theology: Essays in Honor of Jurgen Moltmann.

In my recent reflections on “Christianity and Capitalism” I observed that capitalism disciplines us in various ways. In particular, I emphasised the ways in which capitalism disciplines our desire — it teaches us to desire in certain ways, just as it teaches us to desire certain things.

It was with these thoughts in the back of my mind that I came across this quote from Hauerwas. From Hauerwas we can conclude that the reason why our desires have been so disciplined (and so disordered) is because we have welcomed capitalism into the Christian community, instead of choosing to resist it. Indeed, in the same essay, Hauerwas emphasises that Christianity is unintelligible without enemies; Christianity, Hauerwas says (provocatively, and as a pacifist!), is about making the right enemies. If Christianity does not do this, it will cease to exist in any meaningful sort of way.

Thus, for as long as we seek to pursue “Christianity with Capitalism” (i.e. “moral capitalism” or “capitalism with a human face”) we will find that the main area of struggle is with our own desires. Only when we begin to pursue a form of Christianity that exists as a genuine alternative to capitalism will we be able to find our desires liberated. In that scenario, the conflict will be where it should be — between the church and the political order.

Of course, the Church has a long history of internalizing conflicts that are meant to take place in the socio-political and economic arena. Thus, for example, we are accustomed to taking a passage like Eph 6.12 (“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”) and assuming that it refers to my individual struggle with sin and temptation (i.e. we take it as a reference to our personal struggles with our disordered desires). However, as Walter Wink has so ably shown (cf. Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers), the language of “rulers,” “powers,” and “forces of evil,” refers to the socio-political and economic structures of Paul's day. In such passages Paul (and his interpreters) are talking about the economic and political authorities of the Roman Empire — and it is these structures of authority that Christians are to resist.

Consequently, if we are being true to Paul, we must recognize that the primary arena of conflict should not be within ourselves; rather, the primary arena of conflict is to be the socio-political and economic realm. The conflict is not between my and my desires, it is between the Church and the political order — and the more we focus on the former, the more we are thrown off-track and become inconsequential in relation to the latter. Furthermore, the fact that we tend to focus almost exclusively on the former simply verifies the degree to which “Caesar” has become internalised in our churches.

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