Rollins, Zizek, Durruti, Tillich: Religion Deconstructed, Wisdom Demolished By Love

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”  I had occasion to be reminded of that recently.  It comes from Marx and Engels, and Slavoj Zizek uses it as the title of a recent treatise.

In his affirmation of pyro-theology, Peter Rollins takes up Buenaventura Durruti’s claim that “the only church that illuminates is a burning church.”   Cross-search Durruti’s quote with Zizek and you get this, which basically encapsulates, beautifully, Rollins’ own project.  Hear Zizek:

For this reason, Christianity is anti-wisdom: wisdom tells us that our efforts are in vain, that everything ends in chaos, while Christianity madly insists on the impossible. Love, especially a Christian one, is definitely not wise. This is why Paul said: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (“Sapientiam sapientum perdam,” as his saying is usually known in Latin). We should take the term “wisdom” literally here: it is wisdom (in the sense of “realistic” acceptance of the way things are) that Paul is challenging, not knowledge as such.

With regard to social order, this means that the authentic Christian tradition rejects the wisdom that the hierarchic order is our fate, that all attempts to mess with it and create another egalitarian order have to end up in destructive horror. Agape as political love means that unconditional, egalitarian love for one’s neighbour can serve as the foundation for a new order.

That Rollins takes Zizek (and Tillich) as major influences is clear, and I love the accessibility of Zizek’s piece in The New Statesman.  Rollins’ new book, The Idolatry of God, builds from ideas like these if this fantastic lecture is any indication.

This, plus mysticism is the Christian future.  I don’t see very many other ways forward, at least not very many that make sense, as Baptists say, to “us and the Holy Spirit.”

If Jonathan Fitzgerald is right that the New Sincerity is making a new, earnest morality possible, it’s also the case a that a New and Faithful Pluralism is helping more and more Christians explore themes like these, saved anew by the radical implications of a God bound by love over retributive justice.   Yes, please.

What If Our Priorities Actually Healed?

I wrote this five years ago.  I don’t think we’ve done better by mental health since then.  Not on any level.  The good news is that in certain demographics, there seems to be less stigma.  But that’s not enough.  We need to understand this public health crisis and respond.  But first, people probably need healthcare.

From November, 2013:

This evening I was going over some notes from last year and came across something taken in part from  the April 2011 issue of Sojourners.  I’ve transcribed my scribbly notes below:

Some ancients called nature The Garden of Delight, while others framed their narratives more violently. But if we think of God not as a warrior but as a gardener, we might think about what it means to join in the garden of God’s Delight.  How would we change if we saw the world as a garden?  What if we actually planted?  What if our political priorities actually healed people?

Earlier today, I was with an interfaith group and we talked about how the seeds of the mental health crisis in this country were sewn when state hospitals started shutting down and programs standing in the gap were (and are) left woefully underfunded.

How would the world look if we actually planted? If our priorities actually healed?

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I followed up with this.

Bartleby, the Carpenter; Bartleby the King of Pop: The Inevitability of Jesus and Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson died in 2009.  This post is from 2013. 

I enjoyed this recent post from Wandering Mirages about the eponymous hero (or something) of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.   Wandering Mirages concludes that Bartleby is all things at once:

But, in the end, in the tragic and evasive end, the novella had proved itself to be anything but simple and he was none of this and all of this, of course. He was probably the essential human present in the most inscrutable of strangers, in the inner life of the other. He might also be the scion of capitalism, a representation of its many wonders, and an idle. early sacrifice at the altar of pacifism and non-violence. He was some mysterious combination of the heroic and the ironic, and the rest too, in all probability – of the incongruous and the inevitable. A Gandhi without an audience.

Just before Christmas, I was talking with a friend about Michael Jackson.  I’ve been trying to put into words exactly how it is that Michael Jackson’s later life and death were in certain ways inevitable: that somehow, Michael Jackson is precisely what we do to people in the pop age, the age of celebrity cults and ever-massive media.  (Ever-massive is incorrect, but I like the way it sounds.)  Michael Jackson is our Joker: he was formed by the dynamics of his family and then by the pathologies of the second half of the 20th century. We’re not entirely at fault:  the machinations have been moving since the printing press, since cuneiform.  But in another way, MJ died for our sins as much as his.  Everything odd or evil  about him was leavened with the grist of our corporate fascinations: in whiteness, in youth, in being thin, in being rich, in child stardom, in the facilities of fame, of fortune over health.  That he was born black and poor in 1958 in Gary, Indiana is essential: none as gifted or as tortured would emerge from white suburban basements. Jackson’s migration from black to white was, he said, genetic, but it was also an indictment of our racist predilections and expectations of goodness and beauty.  The man who transcended the color barrier on MTV and in popular music more than anyone before him was black, and we demanded greater whiteness.  He obliged.  Abused in youth and adolescence, this eighth child of the Jackson clan knew a thing about survival, keeping peace, being poor and not wanting to go back, about the weight of family needs and expectations.  Unlike our Bartleby, Michael did what he was told.  It killed him anyway.

Clearly, I’ve thought of Jackson as a kind of Christ figure for our repulsive age.  And Wandering Mirages reminds me that Bartleby may just as well have been The Carpenter, one who is all things to all people, one sacrificed like Jackson on the altar of what the old hymn calls God’s “children’s warring madness.”  If Bartleby was killed for his refusals (first to do as he was told, then to protect himself and his interests), so too was  Jesus.  While Bartleby may have been “the most essential human present in the most inscrutable of strangers,”  Jesus came, according to tradition, so that we might see God in one like us.  Fully human, he was treated as a stranger.   The mirror-Leonard Cohen.  And yet he is also, in my experience, a “mysterious combination of the heroic and the ironic, and the rest too, in all probability – of the incongruous and the inevitable.”

Michael Jackson was inevitable.  So was King.  So was Jesus.  Whether you believe he was from Nazareth or God or some mystic union of both, the incongruity of his life and message with the power values of the system in which he lived, the system in which we live, made his sacrifice inevitable, subversive, and, for those who find life in him, full of saving grace.

The deaths of Bartleby, King, and Jackson indict us all.  So too the death of Jesus.  But when Christians talk about his resurrection, I think we mean that there’s a point to unwarranted suffering, to refusing to compromise our core convictions about the economy of justice or the economy of God even in the face of our destruction.  This is the power of a flower in a rifle, of one lone citizen refusing to move before a procession of tanks.  Of a dying God refusing to come down from his cross, to call down all his angels, as it were.  This is holy irony, and a saving kind of subversion.