Jihad v. McWorld: How We Imagine A Nation part 4

A Second Shift

In the previous 3 parts we established that a significant shift took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. This initial shift in modernity has subsequently created the possibility of a second, more contemporary, move that I want to explore. Taylor provides the context of this potential when he says:

In earlier societies, this ability to imagine the self outside of a particular context extended to membership of that society in its essential order. That this is no longer so with us, that many of these … questions are not only conceivable but arise as burning practical issues … is the measure of our disembedding. Another fruit of this is our ability to entertain the abstract question even where we cannot make it imaginatively real.[6]

It is in this potential that citizens of the 21st century already have, or likely will, move beyond national identities to something more potentially abstract, disembodied, plural and wrapped in multiplicity. Issues of citizenship, sexuality, race, ethnicity and religion are increasingly complex in an inter-racial, cross-cultural and multi-national globalized context.

Tomorrow’s posts will explore works by Kwame Anthony Appaih, Arjun Appadurai, Umberto Eco and Madan Sarup. Then we will address thoughts by Jean Buildrillard and Saba Mahmood as they relate to imaginaries and conceptions of community, the physical body and spirituality. 

In a section entitled ‘Global Villages’, Appiah points out that,

“People who complain about the homogeneity produced by globalization often fail to notice that globalization is, equally, a threat to homogeneity.”[7]

This is the same tension that was developed in the earlier section between secular and religious thought. Each sees the other as both the problem and a threat to their program – not realizing that in another sense, they actually give rise to each other and propagate each other’s reach.

It is addressed again in such examinations as Jihad v. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World by Benjamin J. Barber.  Forces that seem to be in conflict with each other are, in reality, dependant on each other in a complex interplay. Barber explains:

McWorld cannot then do without Jihad: it needs cultural parochialism to feed its endless appetites. Yet neither can Jihad do without McWorld: for where would culture be without commercial producers who market it and the information and communication systems that make it known?[8]

The complexity of the combative nature of the symbiotic relationship is found in the evolving nature of the situation.  Barber’s pairing of the phrases ‘Jihad’ with it’s perceived nemesis with ‘McWorld’ is deliberate.Jihad v McWorld

What I have called the forces of Jihad may seem then to be a throwback to pre-modern times: an attempt to recapture a world that existed prior to cosmopolitan capitalism and was defined by religious mysteries, hierarchical communities, spellbinding traditions, and historical torpor… Jihad is not only McWorld’s adversary, it is its child. The two are then thus locked together in a kind of Freudian moment of the ongoing cultural struggle, neither willing to coexist with the other, neither complete without the other.[9]

This juxtaposition is even more precarious than a simple ‘clash’ or ‘combat’ language would seem to provide. There is obviously an adversarial component but without addressing how McWorld gave rise to Jihad – and how Western constructs of religion gave rise to secularism – there is a falsity that exist for those who participate in the inflammatory dualism on both sides (as if there were only two). Conceiving of one’s identity within this fictitious and fracturous is layered in complications related to the imaginary employed.

An outgrowth of this increasing complexity is, as Appiah describes it, a “distinctively cosmopolitan commitment to pluralism”.[10] Cosmopolitan people know that we are different than each other – this is apparent at every turn – and they recognize that we have much to learn from our differences.[11] One theme that emerges repeatedly in the work of these authors is the centrality and role of media. Benedict Anderson addressed it through the textual nature of transmission that united disconnected people in the imaginary.

What Anderson coined as ‘print capitalism’ created permanent change in the way people conceived of their personhood and selfhood. Its power was housed in the dual developments of mass literacy coupled with technological innovation that allowed for ‘large-scale production of projects’.  The result was release from the need for face-to-face communication or even indirect connection between people or groups.[12]

You can see how, in these 4 posts, we live in a very different world than the one we have inhereted in our religious traditions. This helps to explain the baffling disconnect that can occur between our ancient documents and their ongoing implementation in our contemporary religious expressions.

In part 5 we begin to explore the lived and embodied implications of religion in the modern-contemporary context.  

_______________

[6] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Duke University Press, 2003), 55.

[7] Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), 101.

[8] Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad Versus McWorld (Ballantine Books, 2001), 155.

[9] Ibid., 157.

[10] Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, 144.

[11] Appiah earlier broke down the intertwined notion of cosmopolitanism into two threads: the first is that our obligation extends beyond ties of family and kind (even citizenship) to those outside our immediate reach. The second thread finds value not just in human lives generically but in particular human lives. This is the loci for enlightenment liberal individualism. Ibid., xv.

[12] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (U of Minnesota Press, 1996), 28.

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How We Imagine A Nation part 3

In the shadow of the Sochi Olympics and the unfolding tension in the Ukraine, we are exploring the theme/thesis that:

  • ‘Nation’ is both sovereign and transcendent. 
  • ‘Nation’ is both a social imaginary and an emergent reality.

Benedict Anderson explains that the notion of imagined communities was revolutionary because:

“regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship”.[1]

Such an imaginary provides a new capacity for obligation and ultimate sacrifice. Appadurai, in a section entitled ‘Patriotism and Its Future’ interacts with Anderson (among others) and observes that:

Modern nationalisms involve communities of citizens in the territorially defined nation-state who share collective experience, not of face-to-face contact or common subordination to a royal person, but of reading texts together.[2]

There are significant implications to this development because much of the rhetorical energies of the ruling powers are used in order to urge “their subjects to give up … primordial loyalties – to family, tribe, caste, and region” for the “fragile abstractions” called nations which are often “multiethnic … tenuous collective projects”.[3]   The ability to call for ultimate sacrifice out of loyalty to an abstract imaginary is a defining characteristic of the most recent centuries previously unknown.

Two implications that illustrate the power of imagined community can be found in the examples of

  1. ‘the tomb of the unknown soldier’
  2. the modern conception of French identity in the past two centuries.

Only within the power of national imaginaries can one see the possibility of such a monument as a tomb left intentionally empty or holding the remains of an unidentified combatant. Anderson points out the absurdity of “a Tomb of the Unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen Liberals.”[4]  There is no reserve of belonging that would justify such a display. It would hold little value outside the context of national identity. For what did one give his life? Neither a concept nor a conviction would suffice for such a cemented monument to loyalty and subsequent indebtedness. Only within the confines of a national imaginary does death qualify for such a combination of reverence and pageantry. These are the sole property of nation-ness. One can hardly imagine either the advantage or the desire to make the tomb of an unknown soldier outside that which is called for to preserve a conception such as ‘nation’.

A second illustration of the historic development can be found in France since the nineteenth century. Taylor, working off of Eugene Weber, states that it was only late in the nineteenth century when millions belonging to peasant communities were “inducted into France as a nation of 40 million individual citizens.”

My favorite historian, John Merriman of Yale University, when addressing the same phenomenon of changes in France leading up to WWI comments on the sheer number of dialects (or patois) that were subsumed when ‘citizens’ were conscribed to the French army in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Speakers of Walloon and Basque patois were thrust into defense of something that they barely conceived of themselves as belonging to and in defense of a unified imaginary they would have little reference for called ‘France’. Many (or most) would not have primarily spoken French and may not even have been able to understand their commanding officers.

Merriman often quips that the definition of a ‘nation’ is a dialect with an army.Pastor Holding Bible

One can see how powerful the recent development of conceptualizing the nation as a valid location of sovereignty has replaced both royalty and religion as an acceptable request for this kind of sacrifice. Whereas formerly this authority was reserved for a King or God, now it was conceptualized in a shared identity and responsibility worthy of such obligation. This also had deeply impactful ramifications on areas such as family, property, education and mobility.

Whereas in the past, family and family property were primary sources of security and survival, Nation now provided drastically different possibilities for citizens. Taylor comments that the new (modern) “modes of individualism seemed a luxury, a dangerous indulgence.” [5]

Indeed, to the previously established orders of royalty and religion, these are dangerous developments.

 Come back for part 4 where we explore Jihad v. McWorld

 


[1] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 8.

[2] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, 1st ed. (Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1996), 161.

[3] Ibid., 162.

[4] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 10.

[5] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 17.

 

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How We Imagine A Nation part 2

In part 1 I introduced a theme/thesis for this series of posts:

  • ‘Nation’ is both sovereign and transcendent. 
  • ‘Nation’ is both a social imaginary and an emergent reality.

Charles Taylor utilizes the term ‘social imaginary’ to refer to god-like capacity described by Anderson.  The term encompasses a threefold meaning:

  1. First is the way that ordinary people “imagine” their surroundings both in theory and in images, stories, and legends.
  2. Second is the general acceptance and participation in the imaginary by a population and not simply the theories dominated by a small elite.
  3. Third is empowerment provided from the imaginary for widely shared practices and a sense of legitimization.[1]

These three aspects, illustrated as legs on a table, provide a stability upon which both national identity and personal belonging rest. Expectations for behavior and vessels of meaning are then hosted within that conception.

One impact of this capacity to conceptualize national identity and belonging is in answer to the question “what would make someone be willing to die for their country?” Anderson proposes a model of historic drift where sovereignty, which had previously been located in either religion or king (or both), has shifted decisively to the Nation in recent centuries. This is a dramatic innovation and recognizing nationality as a valid location for sovereignty has significantly altered matters related to loyalty, sacrifice and belonging.

Anderson proposes a definition of the nation as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” The distinction of imagined because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them”.

Communities are limited because there must be some distinguishing demarcation outside of which are other communities (nations), which provide both competition and opportunities for cooperation. This distinction provides a vital function as classifications such as all of us are difficult without the contrast inherent within the project of establishing communities. It is difficult to conceptualize amorphous membership in groups such as everyone and all.

Communities are imagined as sovereign “because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.” [2]  The dissolving social order of caste and class provided more level (if desperately unequal in reality) conception of both membership and participation for the mass of the population. This perceived leveling and opening gave rise to a new capacity for sacrifice on behalf of the imagined entity – an entity that was not solely and externally located in eternity or beyond, but in an ideal which one was associated (belonged) and participated and was thus responsible. To die for a religion (God) or a King was to reinforce that social order which established the hierarchical strata. Locating sovereignty within the conception of Nation – however dispersed and elusive – was a profound change.

In 1922 Carl Schmitt wrote his famous work Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. In this book he makes two extraordinary claims: the first is that sovereign lies with the one who has the power to make the exception, the second is that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”[3]  In 2011 Paul Kahn wrote an engagement of Schmitt’s work with four new chapters on the same subject. Kahn’s work is helpful in understanding this initial shift under consideration.

The capacity for the state to ask for this kind of sacrifices, the power to pardon – which is a remnant of Kingly authority, and the symbolic notion of a flag that needed to be defended are all remnants of a religious notion. The very word sovereign is borrowed from religious vocabulary.  Kahn explains:

Political theology today is best thought of as an effort to describe the social imaginary of the political… (arguing) that secularization, as the displacement of the sacred from the world of experience, never won, even though the church may have lost. The politics of the modern nation-state indeed rejected the church but simultaneously offered a new site of sacred experience.[4]

In this framing, we understand the constitution as the product of a popular sovereign, one to which we belong and participate. The constitution (law) is the result of an extraordinary act (revolution).  Kahn sees this as a deeply theological conception. It is born out of a (extraordinary/divine) moment; it produces a sacred center – the popular sovereign. The constitution is then the remnant that is left behind from that extraordinary moment. church

You can begin to see why the constitution is often thought of and talked about as an inspired document (sacred text) and why those who were responsible for it’s creation (founding fathers) are celebrated at patriarchs.[5]

If Schmitt is right – even partially – then all of these similarities are neither trivial nor inconsequential.

            The power of the state to ask for death in order to preserve itself and the capacity of people to willingly offer their lives in defense of that conception is profound. The notion of the sovereign holding the power of exception goes all the way from the individual being pardoned (as referenced earlier) to modern realities impacting all of humanity.

The President has the ability to launch nuclear weapons if he or she was to view that the national interest was in jeopardy. Kahn uses this to illustrate his point.

  • What are we saying about the nation that we are willing to jeopardize human heath, the planet, and subsequent generations for its defense?
  • What could possibly be above human health and planetary environmental conditions?

The answer is ‘only something that is of ultimate concern’.  The modern conception of the state is thus a result of religious conceptions and has replaced (in some sense) religion as the location of sovereignty one is willing to ultimately sacrifice and die for. Nation is a construct of transcendent meaning found in an imagined community.[6]



[1] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 23.

[2] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 8.

[3] Paul W. Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Reprint (Columbia University Press, 2012), location 37.

[4] Ibid., 360.

[5] CBC Ideas part 5

[6] It is not difficult within this framing to view contemporary movements such as the Tea Party as merely an extreme example of a group calling for a romanticized notion of an imagined past or legacy.

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How We Imagine A Nation part 1

Watching the Olympics was different for me this time. During the past four years I have been in a PhD program and have burrowed down into topics that have deeply impacted me.  Within one of my cognate fields (non-core studies) I addressed the issue of nationalism and the modern imaginary.

The news about events that are currently unfolding in the Ukraine-Crimea has given new attention to the old alliances and tensions golden age of nationalism – something that many thought we have moved past in the new global economy / world market-place.

In the posts that follow (I expect there to be 9 total) you will find a common theme:

  • ‘Nation’ is both sovereign and transcendent. 
  • ‘Nation’ is both a social imaginary and an emergent reality.

I resonate deeply with Madan Sarup when after reflecting on and talking to many people about identity he comments that:

The intersections between ‘race’, gender, class, nation and religion, (show) that identity is not something we find, or have once for all. Identity is a process, and that is why it is difficult to grasp it.[1]

There are many disparate elements that contribute to the construction of one’s identity.  This paper will engage both the historic shift from pre-modern conceptions of community/tribe/family to modern expression of nationality as well as a secondary (and subsequent) shift from identity as ‘given’ to a more fluid and transitory notion. These two shifts provide a conceptual and narrative framework for addressing the contemporary context of social imaginaries and the hyper-real. The paper concludes with an exploration of the possibilities of embodied practices providing a location for identity and belonging.

 

Modern Social Imaginaries and Imagined Communities

Charles Taylor (2004) and Benedict Anderson (updated edition from 2006) take a macro-perspective to the issue of social conception of self and national identity.

In this way ‘national identity’ is a helpful entry point from which to examine social conceptions of self.

It is important to distinguish the massive shift that human belonging has undergone in recent centuries.[2] Long before we get the implications of social media, technological advancements, global consumer culture or changes in political, economic, or cultural realities since the Enlightenment, we need to acknowledge the epic change that has resulted since antiquity when it comes to:

What today we would call the “identity” of the human being in those earlier societies. Because their most important actions were the doing of whole groups (tribe, clan, subtribe, lineage), articulated in a certain way (the actions were led by chiefs, shamans, masters of the fishing spear), they couldn’t conceive themselves as potentially disconnected from this social matrix. It would probably never even occur to them to try.”[3]

This drastic shift in both personal and corporate conceptualization is significant for our addressing the potential understanding of another current shift being examined. The transition from pre-modern conceptions like Taylor is describing to modern frameworks of nation, and ones belonging within that national structure, is essential to establish before an analysis can be drawn for a potentially post-national social construct.

Taylor points our that

an American will never meet, or even know the names of more than a handful of his 240,000,000-odd fellow-Americans. He has no idea of what they are up to at any one time. But he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity.[4] 

This reality occurs, obviously, nowhere outside of the reader’s imaginary and exists entirely in their capacity to conceptualize it as such. To say a sentence such as “Americans are _____.” (brave, selfish, innovative, etc.) is impossible. Such a sentence would have to incorporate both a person like myself, and someone I have never come into contact with – for instance a Latino single teenage mom in Florida who has dropped out of school. She and I might have little in common outside the capacity of the speaker to conceptualize both our connectedness within the imaginary and our relative shared embeddeness within a society. This society would be loose and expansive (regionally) at best. The sentence then is impossible outside of the speaker’s imaginary.

Come back for part 2 where the imaginary becomes sovereign and transcendent. 


[1] Madan Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh University Press, 1996), 28.

[2] It is an oft quoted maxim the two great errors to be avoided when dealing with cultural history is on the one hand to assume that people of the ancient past were entirely like us and secondly, to make the mistake in thinking that they were nothing like us.  Both are ‘gutters’ (to use a bowling analogy) to be avoided in this present examination.

[3] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Duke University Press Books, 2003), 54.

[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New Edition (Verso, 2006), 26.

 

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Go Heretical – in the good way

American Christianity needs to let therapeutic ‘believing’ die in order to move forward and impact the world.

A therapeutic form of ‘believing’ is not about individual doctrines or particular answers to any of those age-old questions of existence or the faith. In fact one could be a therapeutic conservative or progressive Christian. It is not about a collection of ideas that are assented too but one particular shape believing took in light of modernity. Therapeutic belief is about the existential shape of one’s faith and not (primarily) about its particular content.

Therapeutic Christianity takes the ‘as is’ structure of our world, church, and self off the table and asks ‘how can we as function better as individuals? How can we make our world a bit better than we found it?’

My assertion is that therapeutic Christianity became a possibility because of modernity’s secularizing trends and ended up being the religious ally to the very structures whose outcomes threaten life on our planet in the next 100 years. Should the church retain its therapeutic form of life, its professed connection to Christ will continue to become incredulous.MP900405058

Prior to modernity God was necessary and determinative in the West’s account of reality. One couldn’t talk about what it means to be individuals, communities, biological or economic beings without God. In fact all reality was perceived as a cohesive whole with God at the top of the Great Chain of Being.

During the Enlightenment the progress of science disenchanted the world, taking God’s necessity for the World’s enduring existence off the table. The Nation-State and eventually democratic forms that privileged the individual’s voting conscience came to determine humanity’s political arrangements and our economic relations came to be determined by the market. These were not of course the only non-religious social relations that came to hold sway in modernity, but more than the religious loss of interpretive authority was the conscious awareness of religious plurality…and not just all the new types of Protestantism!

Under these conditions in which religion lost its ability to be identified as the shared organizing structure to society, the ubiquitous sacred canopy, or the culturally assumed ‘given’ for life and as such religion had to reposition itself. Though religion ceased to hold authority in reality, it did come up with all sorts of theological justifications for the minimization of its authority. These theological mythologies about the divine origin of ‘democratic freedom,’ for example, enabled the religious faithful in turn to be faithful to other life-determining structures as though they were of God.

Rendering the story of modernity this way serves to highlight both the origin and shape of therapeutic Christianity.

Therapeutic Christianity originated along with global capitalism, the Nation-State, and democracy and has functioned in such a way that its practitioners assumed these three structures into their faith.

These three historical and contingent structures which mediate our social relations, determine the possibilities for life and the means by which power is exercised and distributed are understood (at least in practice) as final. Our age is the age of fine tuning the fruits of humanity’s social evolution. Our ministry as a church is to help its members be good people (citizens? consumers?), advocate for a slightly more benevolent system (regulations? rights? redistribution?) and care for its victims.

The problem is that the world can’t take another 100 years where the followers of Jesus put more faith in the ‘as is’ political, economic, and ecological arrangement than our inherited religious beliefs.

  • Yes there are many Christians who use their faith therapeutically as a security blanket and need to be honest about their genuine doubts;
  • Yes too many leaders just say what everyone wants to hear, performing belief on the behalf of others, so that serious questions never get raised;
  • Yes much religion has become a marketable means to comfort and console human beings looking to ignore suffering, responsibility and the absence of meaning.

But underneath the hidden doubts the ‘postmodern’ and ‘progressive’ types are letting come up for air are some strong and unquestioned beliefs about the finality of our human and ecological relations.

Perhaps the most problematic belief in Christianity isn’t the inerrancy of scripture, strict Calvinism, religious exclusivism or ‘open but not affirming.’ What if the future of life on our planet is most threatened by our unconscious blind faith to the ‘as is’ assumptions integral to therapeutic Christianity? More importantly, what if Christianity freed from its role atop the symbolic chain of Being can take another form that doesn’t assume the ‘as is’ structures of our suicidal machine are final and is even more Jesuanic (that is a nerdy form of Jesusy!)?

Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians were an eschatological people. The apocalyptic prophet was crucified and through the event of the resurrection the church came to see the first fruits of New Creation breaking through in the present order. The eschatological breakthrough made the divinely gifted future of Creation present.

Said a different way, the kingdom made present in the ministry of Jesus became the permanent coming horizon of each and every moment through the resurrection. The resurrection of the cross-dead Jesus was God’s confrontation of each and every inherited structure and assumption about the world as it is with the prophetic critique and eschatological hope of New Creation’s ‘will be.’

The resurrection then and now proclaims to every present order that they are not final. Each time a disciple prays the prayer Jesus taught they pray for God’s kingdom to come and will be done on earth, they are participating in the genuine ‘will be’ structure of Christian existence. The shape of a faith formed in the God’s promise of what will be is far from therapeutic. It cannot assume our present ‘as is’ structure is final. Even while recognizing the progress made through the advent of democracies, nation-states, and capitalism, a Christian cannot assume that this is the best our world can get.

A Christian can’t relegate faith making it a particular means to cultivate a kinder, gentler, and slightly improved version of the world we are handed. If we are honest about our global situation we know we can’t. In letting a therapeutic faith die it is my hope that the church stop pleading the 5th or silently affirming our world as it is and find its prophetic voice again. We must insist that humanity can dream and create a more just and equitable way of relating as peoples and to our planet. We can do better.

What is needed are more Christian heretics. Christians for whom their previously assumed and unquestioned allegiance to Global Capitalism is as shaken as their ability to talk about original sin. We need heretical Christian communities where in our worship, devotion, and living our unquestioned fidelity to a utilitarian and mechanistic relation to Creation is rejected. Heretical Christians and a Prophetic Christianity are actually interesting, as in I would gladly get up on Sunday morning to be a part of that community. It is making claims for itself and our world in response to God’s promise in Christ.

A Christianity given shape by what ‘will be’ can never be content with what already is and that is exciting. It is inspiring.

 

You can hear more about Therapeutic Christianity in contrast to both Prophetic and Messianic version of Christianity in the this week’s TNT Call-In Special on the church and the world . 

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Randy Woodley on Race [MLK Bonus Trac]

In this bonus trac I ask my mentor Randy Woodley why it seems like over the last 30 years it seems like we are going backwards in some important areas of equality and liberation. Randy Woodley 1

I have been saving this for Martin Luther King day because just before this question Randy and I were talking about my reading King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail  for the first time in Randy’s seminary class.

Randy’s book Shalom and the Community of Creation is available on Amazon and Kindle  and you can hear our entire conversation on the podcast. 

Randy Woodley is the Associate Professor of Faith and Culture and the Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox Seminary in Portland Oregon.

He is also the author of Living In Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity.

Edith and Randy run Eagle’s Wings Ministries. Randy is also a part of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS).

Randy is also a member of  Evangelicals for Justice along with Lisa Sharon-Harper (who was recently on the podcast for an Inauguration Special).

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Mormons in America, the White House & on Evangelical Radio with Jana Riess [podcast 170]

What would a PhD in American Religious History who converted to Christianity as a teen and then to Mormonism while at Princeton Seminary have to say about Romney’s run for the White House?  Well guess what?  Jana Riess is here to chat about it.

We discuss much more than the election including a number of rumors I picked up off evangelical talk radio, bits of Mormon history, and the faith’s changing relationship to America and Christianity.  Buckle Up!

Jana is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, including Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor; What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as a Spiritual Guide; Mormonism for Dummies; and The Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published. Jana is an awesome blogger for Religion News Service.

*YOU MUST FOLLOW JANA ON TWITTER*

For more Mormon-casting check our the Culture Cast’s “I Love Mormons” episode and the Theology Nerd Throwdown where Bo and I chat about Jana’s last challenge to me.
* SUPPORT the podcast by just getting anything on AMAZON through THIS LINK or you can get some Homespun Craftianity. We really appreciate your assistance in covering all the hosting fees which went up 30 bucks a month due to the growing Deaconate!

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This podcast is sponsored by Deacon Ken Alton who dropped the HBC a donation via PayPal! Mucho appreciated!

 

Thursday Night – October 25th – 7pm – Monkish Brewing Company

Come on out for a live mutinous podcasting experiment. Join Captain Brewin, Peg-Legged Pete, & Barry the Skull Keeper for some philosophical swash-buckling & fresh brewed pints at the Monkish Brewing Co.

Kester Brewin is bringing the good news of pirate inspired mutiny to the USA. We shall be seeking the wisdom of Blackbeard, Luke Skywalker, Peter Pan and Odysseus and other eye-patched heroines as we reflect on personal development, art, economics and faith. If hearing from Kester about his newest book Mutiny! wasn’t enough… he’s bring two fellow philosophical swashbucklers, Peter Rollins & Barry Taylor, who shall assist him in over-throwing the intellectual & cultural scurvy.

Get your Mutiny! tickets here. They are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Those in attendance are encouraged to come in Pirate gear. Should you NOT come with at least an eye patch you will be publicly shamed into purchasing Tripp an additional pint and yell ‘Arr’ with gusto.

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I Might Vote For The First Time Next Month

I’m thinking about voting for the first time next month.  I mean, seriously thinking about it.  But I’m not sure I want to break the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Why I am thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I am still not sure I can do) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I am still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It is the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m not sure how I feel about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just don’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested if you have any thoughts on my journey.  Comments? Questions?  

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What God doesn’t say and how not to read the Bible

The unpleasant topic of what God doesn’t say has shown up in three different conversations this week (and its only Tuesday!) :

Tony Jones gave a little pushback to Daniel Kirk (a recent guest on Homebrewed) about homosexuality and the Apostle Paul. Both Paul and homosexuality are hot topics right now so the discussion was vibrant.

Kirk is clear about those infamous Old Testament ‘clobber’ passages but is a little more allusive when it comes to the New Testament. He pulls what appears to be equivalent to an ‘argument from silence’ saying that Jesus would have commented on it if he wasn’t OK with the dominant view of his day. Tony makes this argument:

Apply that logic to any number of other moral or ethical issues, and I’ll bet that Kirk and his fellow evangelical biblical scholars don’t agree. For instance, Jesus was silent about:

  • Slavery
  • Abortion
  • The death penalty
  • Corporal punishment
  • Racism
  • Rape

I could go on. Does that mean that we should argue that Jesus was implicitly endorsing each of these? Of course not.

The same line of reasoning has been showing up over and over again in blogs written by women about issues of church leadership, image-beauty, and marriage.

 It is tough to argue about what the Bible doesn’t say. 

I actually try to pull this off in the latest TNT (Eschatology and Resurrection) when it comes to reading the Old Testament. I use the story of Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19) and point out that there is a noticeable lack of commentary in so many places in the Bible. In that Genesis 19 narrative it never says “and what they did was wrong” or “and they should not have done that”.   It just tells the story.

I compare this to the Canaanite conquest when the Israelites come out of slavery, violence, and oppression – into a new land – and then become violent and oppressive to the inhabitants. It reads to me like a cautionary tale about groups who escape violent oppression and come into a new area will always think that A) God is on their side (which is different than saying ‘God is with them‘  B) God has prepared the land especially  for them C) that God wants them to kill the current residents

 I got this idea of the cautionary tale from a book called Native and Christian - specifically two essays entitled The Old Testament of Native America by Steve Charleston and Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians by Robert Allen Warrior.

These three topics: homosexuality, women’s roles in church & home, and religious violence are not just arguments from history … they are on our doorstep knocking angrily everyday of the 21st century. They also share something else in common: the make arguments from silence about what is not in the Bible.

Here is where it gets even stickier. I was reading an old article by Roger Olson (also a former podcast guest) from Christianity Today 10 years ago. He was illustrating how American Christianity came to be and specifically the influence that the 1800’s had on our contemporary situation.

I also stumbled into Tad Delay’s blog about American Populism in early American religion, dealing with The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch. Tad explains :

The language of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” a sinners prayer for salvation, and a strong emphasis on unschooled individuals reading the Bible without need for rigorous theology came out of this period. Those with any training or expertise were openly spoken of as the enemy. The most flamboyant and charismatic circuit preacher garnered fame- which was certainly a goal of many- but to be charismatic, you had to convince the hearers that the message was simple. So, the message became very simple.

And this is where I get really nervous. A plain & simple reading of the Bible is one thing – a surface understanding I am always encountering and navigating. That is one thing. But arguments about what God didn’t say and what is not in the Bible are complex and nuanced. Our popular simplistic impulse leaves us in a pickle – one that I am not sure we  commonly have the tools to get out of and one that leaves us with an increasingly irrelevant message that our young people simply walk away from.

If everything needs to be understandable to anyone … we might be in trouble when it comes to reading the Bible in 21st century.

 

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The 99 and Tim Tebow: Canada, Success, Billy Graham and God

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.

Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears - and this may come as a surprise – that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

 American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says

‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”.

This is how we get that famous “Protestant Work Ethic” in order to make it as easy as possible for God to ‘bless you’. It almost boils down to ‘If its good  = its God. If its bad = its you… unless your good = then its the devil.”

The second element is this idea of the 99 and the 1. I heard over and over in the Tebow hysteria “If even one person comes to Christ because of what God is doing for Tebow and Tebow’s witness, then it is worth it.”  I hear this “if even one person” thing so often that I can see it coming a mile away.

Admittedly, Jesus told a story about the 99 sheep and the 1 lost sheep. But I just have to say that it was a metaphor- a poetic picture of how much God loves each person. It is NOT a permission to be irresponsible with our resources and strategies to either neglect or disrespect the 99 in order to attract the one.

I became of aware of this during the 80s and 90s when statistics about Billy Graham’s actual effectiveness regarding Stadium campaigns and alter calls. Studies found over and over again that of all of those thousands who came forward, the number who were actually un-churched was quite low … and of those, the number who were associated with a Christian church in the years that followed was atrocious. But if any question the effectiveness of this style of Evangelism and the millions of dollars that were spent on these campaigns, the battle cry would go up “If only ONE … then it is all worth it”.

I’ve said before that I like Tim Tebow, that I am amazed at both his life and his work ethic. I have also been clear that he does not think that God intervenes in football games. But Tebow and his zealous cheerleaders have actually exposed an interesting trend that I can’t quite put my finger on… America worships success, we hold it to be a ‘Sign of Divine Benevolence’ and we are fine with collateral damage to the 99 if, in the end, “the one is found… then it was all worth it.”

Thoughts?

 

* Tim Tebow is the Quarterback for the NFL football team the Denver Broncos

 

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