Republican Jesus Invites You to Read the Constitution

Speaking of great art (and blasphemy), you simply cannot top this:

This is One Nation Under God by Jon McNaughton, who is the Luke Skywalker to Thomas Kinkade’s Darth Vader. Most of what you need to know about this masterpiece is made plain when you see that one of the “positive” characters is holding Cleon Skousen’s The Five Thousand Year Leap. On McNaugton’s website you can read his detailed explanation of all the other “symbolism.” More entertainingly, make sure you check out this parody which retains the look of McNaughton’s site while replacing all the zoom-in captions for each character.

Hat-tip to Mike Morrell for making me aware of this

In the Name of Jesus I Waterboard Thee

How’s this for some cheery Memorial Day reading?

Some true believer sez:

“It’s likely even Jesus would have OK’d water boarding if it would have saved his Mom. He would’ve done the same to save his Dad, or any one of His disciples. For that matter, He even died to save all humans.

It’s obvious He would not be happy with those who voted for the candidate who kills because it’s above his “pay grade” to know if they’re alive. Checking the Commandments, killing innocents is against the 5th. Because pro-aborts don’t know for sure life does not exist at conception, they are still willing to risk that it’s not killing.”

The whole post is a confused muddle of half-truths & fuzzy logic, but this part takes the cake. 

It reminded me of those intelligence briefings Rummy used to give to Bush. Nothing says ‘love of God’ like a clusterbomb to the face.

I think one of the worst parts is that all this accomodation to macabre war theology is contingent on a higher allegiance to the Republican party. Torture never looked so appealing ’til Dubya told us it was God’s will.

Terrorists and Torture

Give Me Liberty is an underground student newspaper here at Cedarville University designed to give voice to, apparently, the extremely marginalized conservative voice. It’s an outlet for Republicans & Libertarians to join forces and decry the U.S.A.’s obvious devolution into the U.S.S.R. (this was seriously an article). Also in this April edition, there was an article entitled “Terrorists and Torture” by Nathan Dollison, a junior. Here is that essay as printed (ie, unedited by me):

In today’s world, the issue of torture is at the forefront of the struggle against terrorism, and the debate has been only deepened by President Obama’s closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center and the uproar surrounding what has gone on behind its doors since the beginning of the Global War on Terror.

On the face of the issue, it would seem that the Christian standing on the debate would be clear, that torture is wrong and that as a Christian, one should not be involved or support such measures. But when one delves deeper into the debate, the lines become much grayer. (more…)

Constantine’s Sword

Last night I watched Constantine’s Sword, based off the James Carroll book of the same name from seven years ago. It chronicles Christianity’s role in perpetuating antisemitism and our disgraceful ties to violent regimes.

The story and critique is mostly clear-eyed, and powerful when it takes a personal bent (Carroll has led a very interesting life). I’m uncomfortable, however, with how much antisemitism he reads into the Gospel accounts themselves. He intones, at one point, “At every Good Friday service, with the reading of that Passion narrative: ‘The Jews, the Jews, the Jews’… it really hits the ear. And Jesus is against the Jews. And I don’t know how else Christians can hear this story.

This strikes me as odd, for I’ve only ever read this story in one way. How else do I hear this story? I hear the Gospels blaming me. Who crucified Jesus? I did.

There’s a Goethe quote that I take quite seriously — he says something like “There is no crime so heinous that I cannot also imagine myself committing it.” This is good theology, and this is ignored theology. It requires hideous, uncomfortable self-awareness.

Our human tendency is to always marginalize, to “otherize.” I am not like that one or those people. When, in fact, the truth is much more disturbing. “It is a simple tenet of human nature,” writes Dave Grossman, “that it is difficult to believe and accept that anyone we like and identify with is capable of these acts against our fellow human beings. And this simple, naive tendency to disbelieve or look the other way is, possibly more than any other factor, responsible for the perpetuation of atrocity and horror in our world today.”

There’s a poignant moment in Constantine’s Sword where Carroll is at Auschwitz-Birkenau and while contemplating the past nightmares but present-day beauty, the guide fills the void by simply saying: “There is no meaning… only Auschwitz… only butterflies… silence.”

What drives me crazy is the American pretension at moral authority. Dresden alone wiped out whatever supposed moral capital we’d accumulated in fighting the Nazis, not to mention our unspeakable atrocities inflicted upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I think the point is that none of us personally have any moral capital either. My heart is totally bankrupt. At the end of Jesus’ famous quip in Luke 6, I read in an extra clause:: “…and in reality, you will never be able to remove the log from your own eye.”

Of course, this hints at the missing piece here that was filled in for us by a murderous Judeofascist extremist who had a blinding encounter with a Jewish carpenter. It changed his life. And this is the crux: “While we were still terrorists, Christ died for us.”

An Open Letter to Christian Troops

An Open Letter to Christian US Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: Who and Whose are you? An ex-Army elite powerfully describes why our culture of violence and revenge is diametrically opposed to the radical message of Jesus.

Loving the enemy neutralizes the category of enemy.Unfortunately, even with phalanxes of chaplains ready to distort and press the message of Christ into the business of war, this means that you are now part of an organization that has no reason to exist without an enemy. The ethic of the military is inscribed in the infantry phrase, “close with The Enemy and destroy him.” The ethic of Christ is inscribed in neighbor-love — love of anyone who is near, and enemy-love — the unmaking of the category of “enemy.” These two perspectives — military doctrine and the ethic of Christ — cannot be reconciled.

Christ told you to “love your enemies.” Break the cycle of enemy-making.

Yet the armed forces are based, at their very core, on the existence of an enemy to destroy. The very doctrine that governs your organization, your technology, and your methods, cannot exist without The Enemy. To accomplish that, the armed forces must do two things: they must devalue the lives of all who are not members of the nation, and they must set up an idol to supplant God.

This was written by Stan Goff and originally posted here — I’ve used the other link because it’s easier to read. Beyond the big picture, Goff and I seem to also share similar views of what demonic forces are — ie, structures of injustice. This view sees the satanic more as systems that perpetuate anti-Christ thought/behavior, and less as wily little ne’er-do-wells that are invisibly hopping around between us and magically prodding us toward sin. He’s also right to diagnose and critique a larger zeitgeist, since the problem is the entire politics of revenge of which the military is only one (albeit major) outworking.

The Gospel from Outer Space

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Here’s an excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five by the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut:

…The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought:
Oh, boy – they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.

The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things in said in the Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

Moral of the story: don’t be rude to the bum-looking old man eating alone in McDonald’s, because he might just end up giving you $20 to help you hitchhike to Seattle and then you’ll feel like an asshole for traveling 2000 miles and yet still being a shallow narcissist.

Derrida-Claiborne-Jesus redux

I want to talk a little bit about my Derrida-Claiborne-Jesus essay. Over the last week I’ve kept thinking about a quote from Jean-Luc Marion that says “Theology renders its author hypocritical… One must obtain forgiveness for every essay in theology.” I take that seriously, and so it’s with fear and trembling that I’ve submitted it to Cedars for the February 14th issue. The final version — shorter, tighter, improved — can be found here if you’re interested. If Cedars hasn’t tired of my liberalism, my next piece for them will probably also concern war & peace.

I would encourage those of you intrigued by the Derrida discussion to consider reading Live Theory: Jacques Derrida by James K.A. Smith. Even the brief bits I referenced may provide food for further thought. E.g. is it possible to deconstruct all binaries? (Or more accurately, find within the binaries how they auto-deconstruct themselves) I’ve hinted before at how we might deconstruct natural/supernatural, but what about other tricky ones… like being/non-being? Saved/unsaved? Furthermore, does an unconditional openness to the Other mean rejecting determinate religions altogether — ie, the “religion without religion” of Mark C Taylor, John Caputo, etc?

My article also owes a small debt to, of all people, David Foster Wallace for his brief essay in The Atlantic Monthly entitled Just Asking. DFW considers the safety vs. freedom trade-off and sides with freedom, just as I (coming from a different angle) have sided with unconditional hospitality in its dispute with safety. This idea is more profound the deeper into it you dig… and since it is not an idea original with me, I also am continuing to dig and uncover its radical implications.

P.S. — bonus war coverage: Where’s the Iraqi Voice? by Noam Chomsky

Derrida via Claiborne

Like many students, I was saddened to learn on January 30th that Shane Claiborne’s expected campus event had been canceled. In one sense it was simply disappointing that we missed an opportunity to listen and dialogue with Claiborne in person. More importantly, the incident was disappointing in what it revealed about the “forces for status quo” (to use John Edwards’ phrase), or the length to which the foot soldiers of legalistic fundamentalism will go in order to silence an “ordinary radical” whose message of love, peace, and justice are simply too extreme for this campus. Personally, I’m particularly drawn to Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution because it seems to me an important picture of “The Great Law of Hospitality”; that is, the ethics of Jacques Derrida.

The juxtaposition of Shane Claiborne and Jacques Derrida is, at first blush, more than a little odd: one a young American hippie, the other a deceased French theorist. However, Derrida’s connection to Claiborne and Derrida’s immense relevance to this campus is perhaps best encapsulated in his claim that “ethics is hospitality.” For Derrida, unconditionally welcoming the foreigner — the Other — is the very meaning of justice.

As he tells the story, the history of philosophy or Western ideas is the history of exclusion. All the way back to the Ancient Greeks, it is a history that is hell-bent on erecting binaries: male/female, rational/irrational, objective/subjective, inside/outside, presence/absence, fact/opinion, and so forth. The former is always privileged and the latter always sidelined, dominated, oppressed. To be male, rational & factual, was supposedly clearly superior to being female, irrational & opinionated. Derrida’s goal, among and with many others, is to subvert — he says “deconstruct” — this traditional arrangement to demonstrate the inter-dependence of both concepts. For example, it does not make sense to speak of being inside unless there is an outside with whom it is contrasted; there are also spaces which destabilize the binary even more by being both/neither inside and outside. Derrida does not want to invert the binary, so that being outside is better/greater than being inside, but rather make the two live in tension between the forces of violence that would pull them apart or have one subjugate the Other.

Most relevantly to us today, we need to see that the marginalized Other in our society is undoubtedly the sick, the poor, the downtrodden, the impoverished, the “least of these.” In the face of these, Derrida calls us to an impossible task: unconditional hospitality. The impossibility of such a demand is the very condition of the call itself, the very reason it ought to nag us by day and haunt us at night. Furthermore, this call contains in itself immense risk: there is no guarantee that an unqualified openness to the Other won’t bring personal danger, harm, tragedy. This is justice, Derrida says, for it invites the foreigner inside (our home, our space, our koinos, our heart) without question and without demand.

Enter Shane Claiborne. For I am convinced that Irresistible Revolution, a humble book that is certainly otherwise than philosophy, sketches a brilliant picture of what a life of unconditional hospitality might look like. Claiborne’s simple call is to love; love deeply, generously, excessively. Most importantly, do this to the unlovable.

Last fall, after reading Claiborne’s book, I attempted to commit myself to giving and welcoming unconditionally. One night I went to Dayton to spend on a 2-hour movie what one billion humans earn as a week’s wage. As I left The Neon I was approached by Jesus, disguised as a beleaguered white woman and her boyfriend. I don’t remember whether it was to see a long-lost brother or just escape the impending winter, but she wanted bus tickets and so I gave her money and wished them well. Not 20 feet onward I came across Jesus again, this time in the form of a scraggly black man who wanted to eat at Arby’s. There’s no doubt that the beggar and I should’ve shared a meal together, but opening my arms to a dirty Jesus seemed more difficult and so I just gave him some bills. The third time I saw Jesus was just minutes later, when a beggar began heading towards me from a ways down the sidewalk. I immediately began to think of excuses: that the price of my evening had already doubled, that I was “poor” too, that I “needed” to get home, that giving unconditionally was just getting to be too hard. And so I turned a blind eye and crossed to the other side of the street. Was there ever a more disgusting, obviously Pharisaical act? That my Savior passed His three tests, that He died on the cross, that He rose again on the third day, that is only what saves a wretch like me.

You see what Derrida and Claiborne were driving at is an ethical demand that’s too radical for us to handle, almost even comprehend. It was just as radical 2000 years ago when a Nazarene carpenter first proclaimed these truths. The Sermon on the Mount is so outrageous that it’s still unwelcome today, banned even from our Christian university. For if we truly unconditionally welcomed the Other — the unwanted, the marginalized, the destitute, even our enemies — our lives would require such radical re-constitution that we’d be shaken to the core. Wouldn’t we as individuals, as communities, as towns, and as a nation ultimately conduct ourselves very, very differently? Would we any longer bless the pre-emptive war-mongers, so that they might inherit the earth? Would we any longer tolerate cowboy imperialism, pretending that it represents the kingdom of heaven? Does unconditional hospitality erect a 2000-mile fence to keep out Unwanteds and Outsiders? Does unconditional giving mean HMO bureaucracy just to treat a sick child? To turn the other cheek and to give (not invest) our last dollar: these are the demands of that wandering Christ we claim to follow. Welcoming — not bombing — the poor, tired, and huddled masses is undoubtedly a risky proposition. Our Jesus, however, does not call us to safety or economic efficiency; He calls us to love. It’s so simple. To love extravagantly beyond all measure, because that is how our Father in Heaven loves us. This is a love that can transform my life, and yours, and all of us here at this Christ-ian university, so that next time Jesus wants to visit us in the disguise of a long-haired hippie from Philadelphia we unequivocally say Yes, please. Welcome.

Theological outlaws

If postmodernism is a disposition (and a dis/position), it is a disposition that is more instinctively comfortable for some than others. I want to give a picture for the former, but perhaps it is a picture that’s inviting – an invitation to join the “we” mentioned in the forthcoming passage. It’s a passage by Gavin Hyman in the book The Predicament of Postmodern Theology; the ‘predicament’ being the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of a Christian metanarrative. If there is a way to live in this paradox (and I’m convinced there is), what is it and where does it leave us? Hyman writes: “Neither city dwellers [theologians, believers, theists] nor desert nomads [a/theologists, unbelievers, atheists], “we are exiled to an intermediate zone.” Hyman writes:

Carl Raschke has characterized such a zone as an “Indian Territory.” Following [John] Caputo, he says that we are “outlaws”: “The outlaw moves routinely and undetected, within the ‘territory’ from which he or she is a fugitive. Whereas the nomad has no ‘home’, no territory to signify as place, the outlaw knows his, or her, ‘site’. The terrain is familiar. The postmodernist is like the habiru of ancient Egypt, an outlaw that ‘displaces’ the topos of imperial signification to the desert. Yet the desert is always a place from which to stage raids on the empire, to wander in and wander out, to settle and rule, then return.” So the outlaw “wanders in and wanders out” of (or “moves through”) theology. Theology is the “familiar” terrain from which we are fugitives. It is a terrain that can be “accessed, disrupted, and called to the bar.” But if theology is the terrain through we move, it is not our territory: “as a house is not a home, a terrain is not a territory.” …To dwell within Indian Territory is to dwell in a condition of suspension, as we find ourselves suspended in and between opposites… Faced with these opposites, we are confronted with a decision that must necessarily be left unmade. Deprived of a place where this undecidability may be unproblematically expressed, we must necessarily resort to tactics… But what will it mean to enact such tactics? We have seen that we cannot avoid the terrain of theology, and yet it is a terrain from which we are simultaneously exiled. Consequently, our tactics will be to move through theology, intellectually, ethically, and ecclesiastically…

I have bastardized Hyman’s conclusion in the name of simplicity, of presentation — the picture is key here, not the particulars. But I suspect the objections are already percolating, a suspicion supported by knowing that the majority of my readers are Evangelicals; indeed, no doubt my “site” is Evangelicalism, my “terrain” that of Protestantism. I suspect we (I, too, when within your city walls) cringe at “condition of suspension.” Don’t we, we (hyper)moderns, resist such tensions (“either/or, please sir!”) — yet isn’t this at the heart of the Christian message? Scripture is rife with paradox and tension, and more than a few sects have arisen simply by crafting a narrative that excludes the other. Was it Abraham’s faith, or God’s grace, that lead to the provision of a lamb? Is it not both? Is this not carried into the New Testament, where our salvation is both act and process, both because of works and in spite of them? A savior (both God and man) who is crucified at Golgoltha, yet also crucified once eternally for all saints? Do we not preach of a Kingdom of God that is both present and absent, one that is here and to come?

There is more to unpack here, another story that I’m emotionally and intellectually unprepared to tell presently. It is of a ragged, wandering Christ who is pursuing and being pursued, appearing and disappearing, always close and always far. It is both the “not that, not that” of Hyman and nihilism, and the “viens, oui, oui” of Derrida and deconstruction. Come, yes, yes. Beautiful vision, stay with me all the time; beautiful vision, stay ever on my mind.