Thursday, December 20, 2018

Yet Another Apologia

The conventional view these days sees the world as an arena of struggle for power, that life is about domination and submission, that language is a weapon, and all other aspects of life are weaponized. This concept appears to be shared across the spectrum.

The left accepts this view of the world with a prosecutorial zeal. The world is divided between aggressors and victims; predation and defense against it is the law of life. The world is a battleground strewn with innocent casualties. Wrongs must be righted and justice done; and indeed they must. By what authority we are obliged to do so remains obscure. Religion marginalized itself by its rejection of modernity and the hypocrisy of its practices. Jacques Derrida among others demolished the philosophical foundations of secular liberal humanitarianism quite thoroughly. So, what is left other than personal instinctive sympathy? Ta-nehisi Coates writing from very painful personal experience comments on this prevailing order of the world with anguished despair. He suggests that we are doomed to live in a world shaped by struggles for power that are never fair and always rigged whether we like it or not.

The right positively embraces this concept of the world as an endless battle for power with a determination to win. They want to dominate, and to force all the rest of the world to submit. Derrida is among Steve Bannon’s favorite philosophers precisely because he demolished the foundations of liberalism; a liberalism that Derrida himself continued to practice despite his own philosophical claims. Bannon and his fellow ethno-nationalists/racists proclaim the most radical of all modern politics. They reject all the Enlightenment ideas that form the foundation of the modern constitutional state; the law as social contract, the supremacy of law, human dignity, equality, democracy, education, internationalism in trade and treaties. What matters to them is national/racial identity and loyalty above all else. The only true peace is through victory and domination. Bannon professes to be a devout Catholic. I wonder if what appeals to him is Catholic Christianity; or if like another of his favorite thinkers Charles Maurras, he’s more interested in the Catholic Church’s authoritarianism.

I am the worst kind of religious believer; one who is loyal not because I am convinced that any of this obscure mishegoss is in any way literally true, but because I wish to. I want it to be true. That pleases neither the orthodox nor the anticlerical. But that is the best that I can do. What keeps me in the Christian faith is its radicalism. It is not a radical worship of identity and power, but a radical hopefulness that takes that whole idea of life as “who may” versus “who must” and throws it out the window. Christianity at its worst is an imperial religion; another identity, another nation – Christendom -- determined to dominate all others. Christ challenged all concepts of identity, power, and domination by which we always find our way through the world. No more nationalism. No more compulsion. Instead, a universal human family, each member a unique unrepeatable image of God. What could be a more radical rejection of the whole formula of power versus powerlessness than God arriving on earth not in some glorious theophany making everything right with the sweep of his irresistibly powerful hand, but as a helpless infant; and more, as a bastard child born to poor migrants forced to travel by some edict from a distant imperial capital. God wants to win the one thing from us that he cannot command, our love.

Luca della Robbia, one of the "Bambini" from the facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence from the 15th century.  The "'Spedale" was an orphanage and the world's first hospital exclusively for the care of children.  The institution still exists, though no longer in this building.  The original building designed by Filippo Brunelleschi now houses a museum and offices of UNICEF, The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.

1 comment:

SLF said...

This is a big wow. I could almost be Christian with this description!