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Bo Sanders: Public Theology

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Video: No Neutral Anymore

We live in changing times. This is part 3 of ‘Why things seem so bad right now’.

You can read the full post here [link]

Human knowledge and meaning making are culturally conditioned and socially constructed. This leads to a contested atmosphere.

Video for part 2 is here: Fragmented and Fractured

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Everyone For Themselves

I am big fan of Identity Politics.  People’s politics should be informed by, and come from, their social location. What is the alternative? Ideology? No, our identities are socially constructed and so that identity needs to inform our politics.

I am also aware that while identity politics (IP) are great for politics –they are not a totalizing approach for every area of life.  There has been quite a loud outcry recently by some over IP’s overreach into every arena and how it has come to dominate nearly everything in a media era where optics are everything.

Today I simply want to look at why it feels like it is ‘everyone for themselves’ in our culture. This is part 4 of “Why Things Seems So Bad Right Now”.  [You may want to read ‘No Neutral Anymore‘ and ‘Fragmented and Fractured’ first.]

 

Identity Politics rose in the 1960’s and came to prominence in the academy though various branches of what comes under the umbrella of ‘theory’. Concerns of feminists, civil rights leaders, the gay community and other minority groups brought radical critique of society and its norms in the 60’s challenging the status quo and the underlying assumption that sustained the oppressive systems of institutionalized systems.

Identity politics gave voice to many who had felt silenced or marginalized by a societal norm that instantiated by codes of conduct, conformity, and control (often through threats and actual violence). By banning together under small but vocal banners identifying the group as connected through some commonality and loyalty (race, gender, class, etc.) individuals were able to create a larger platform for their concerns and garner political leverage for change. Changes included legal protection, the removal of discrimination and practice of exclusion, as well prominence in representation whether in the workplace, government or media.

 

There are at least four considerable critiques of identity politics that cover a wide array of concerns from distinct perspective and commitments.  There are points of overlap between the critics, but for clarity I will group them in the following ways:

  • Atomism
  • Essentialist
  • Communitarian
  • Consumerism

Atomism: Marc Fisher is a vocal critic of identity politics (IP) as an extension of neo-liberalism and its resulting expression of autonomous individualism. Critiques like his focus on the shortcomings of the atomized conception of the individual that come out of the Enlightenment. The breakdown of social bonds (like the family and tribe), religious institutions (prevalent distrust of institutions and leaders) as well as prevalent mobility/transience has resulted in a society of individuals who often do not live in the village they grew up in, feel free to believe or not believe the things that their parents do, and have no generational supervision as they pursue their desires for promotion/status/relationship/satisfaction in isolation and without accountability.

IP then is the natural offspring of this atomized concept of self where one’s own self-interest and particular concern are central and elevated.  In this view, a black lesbian (for instance) takes her own interests and demands special consideration and a privileging of her situation to combat the privilege that has been inherited and enjoyed by those who has historically conformed to societal norms and thus their experience has been normalized.

Essentialist: Judith Butler has a very different concern about IP that it is danger of essentializing individual experience as a common and too concrete category. There is not one experience that can be called the ‘female experience’ or ‘the view of women’. The danger here is that a whole group can be lumped together and their varying experience and perspectives codified as something concrete or essential. Gender is the way (or sexuality, class expectations, etc) and its performative nature means that we have been socialized and conditioned into gender roles and expectations even as we freely act within the menu of options that we believe to be available to us.

In this sense, identity politics risks essentializing an individual or group’s experience in an attempt to gain solidarity within the identified group for the purpose of political leverage with those outside the group. Those working for ‘gay rights’ ban together to narrate a common experience in order to gain attention and allies that are required if the protections that are being sought are going to be agreed to by the majority. This, in Butler’s view, is a temporary measure that cannot be allowed to be essentialized as ‘the’ gay perspective or experience.

Communitarian: This group has a sustained critique of IP, prominently vocalized by thinkers like Michael Sandel. Communitarians view the individual within a larger matrix of social, ethical, and political structures that bind us as a networked or linked collective of groups and communities. The loyalties of IP are to the individual and promote the agenda of one group often to the neglect of or detriment to the collective whole.

IP looks to elevate the experience of a neglected or marginalized group without taking into account the possible reasons why that may have come to be the case historically. Both gays and women are addressed within the construct of procreation and the furtherance of our society and species. Communitarians are clever in the conservatism – contesting not on the grounds of some revealed or universal moral order, but on the grounds of utilitarian pragmatism before transitioning toward moralized principles of the greater good over specialty interests and minority perspectives. [1]

Consumerism: In his book “Consuming Religion”, Vincent Miller interacts with a number of Marxists critiques alongside postmodern approaches such as Jean Baudrillard to expose IP as a commodity fetish within the ‘logic of late capitalism’.  Within a consumer context such as Western culture has entered into, everything including religion experience and IP, is commodified. Consumption is ultimately unsatisfying but the totalizing nature of Capitalist society has the capacity to absorb even the most virulent dissent. The capacity of the market to absorb criticism and protest, then adopt and commodified the concern, and finally appropriate its agenda is all-consuming.

IP can easily be addressed then by the ‘logic of the market’ by taking every specialty interest group or minority and tailoring merchandise, products and ‘swag’ for their purpose and for their rallies. People want to broadcast an image to ‘appear’ that they are committed to a cause.

“The market does not distinguish between ‘Feel the Bern’ bumper stickers or ‘Make America Great Again’. It just wants you to buy bumper stickers.”

Nor does the market judge if a consumer wants to pay $2 more for a cup of coffee to ensure that it is organic – shade grown – fair trade – single region. In the same way, the interests of IP and its constituent groups are commodified and reified within the existing structure. Adjustment is made to supply personalized, modified, tailored, stylized and customized products and services for ready consumption. All resistence, dissent and protest is absorbed and appropriated into what Guy Deborg refers to as ‘the society of spectacle’.

 

In summary, critics of IP share in common a concern for its limitations even while those concerns manifest in disparate directions of critique.

  • First, there is no way that a few contributing markers can signify the totality of your experience.
  • Second, it is possible that identification within one minority group or special interest will suppress and minimize the full expression of your ‘self’ as an individual.
  • Third, by choosing to focus on one or a few personal markers of identity, groups create division and adversarial compartmentalization that may work against the ‘common good’ or which may end up limiting or injuring a different sub-group.
  • Lastly, by choosing to focus on one or a few personal markers of identity, there is a danger of essentializing one experience in order to promote a common voice or narrative but which may be inauthentic and intimately inaccurate committing a fallacy of misplaced concreteness in an attempt to promote solidarity or consolidate support.

I hope that this quick overview has been helpful – if nothing else, I just wanted to address why it may feel like there is such discord and animosity in our contemporary environment.

 

[1] This critique is very popular right now and is making big news on social media for being part of the backlash during the most recent election. Jordan Peterson is probably the most visible spokesperson for this sort of critique. The first 5 min of this video (content warning) will get you up to speed.

Why Things Seem So Bad (part 1)

This week I want to offer a 4-part series that addresses some issues behind the current state of affairs.

People are concerned about what they see happening right now. There are geographic divisions that seem increasingly pronounced. There are generational, political, and racial division that are inflamed at troubling levels. The news cycle, social media, and institutional corruption (banks, schools, churches, government, hospitals, Hollywood, Washington, etc.) provide a constant string of crisis and controversy.

Things seem to have escalated quite a bit in the past couple of years. Some people will say ‘every generation thinks things are chaotic and out of control’ and there is some evidence of that. However, we live in a unique era when there are the some distinct factors causing an intensification that is notable.

Change is a constant, we know that. Change at this rate, is not. We live in a time of exponential (not just incremental) change. It is no wonder that this environment breeds so much conflict and chaos.

One of the things that I would like to explore is the way that following 3 factors come together in a troubling way:

  • Consumerism
  • Globalization
  • Pluralism

The connection between those three might not seem clear initially, but it is the way that they come together in the 21st century that is relevant for our conversation.

Consumerism is so assumed that it often goes unnamed. It is as if we are on automatic pilot. Buying things has become second nature. I know people who claim to be Christians who can go a whole day (or days) without praying but can’t go a day without making a purchase. Capitalism is the real religion of the West. [1]

Consumerism makes us individuals – or is it that individualism makes us consumers? … either way, we have exposed the root of the problem. Speaking a language, participating in an economy, procreating and raising the next generation, and nearly every other human activity is a communal enterprise that requires cooperation and mutuality. Individualism is a mental fiction we have been sold that fails us at nearly every turn.

Globalization has brought our communities into closer proximity than ever before. We have never had this much access to or contact with one-an-other. It almost doesn’t matter where you live anymore, you have access to goods from all over the world. In fact, you do business with, go to school with, and stand in line with people from all over the world. You may all have different religions, worldviews, or notions of community and belonging. We live in age of radical connection and proximity …. but maybe not overlap. And therein lies the problem for our concern this week.

Pluralism is then a relevant factor that completes our trio. As individuals whose communities are in great proximity to each other, we have to develop an approach to one-an-other.[2] Some of us feel like we have does this well. Which is why it is so baffling why it cause some of our fellow citizens so much agitation and even anger. ‘Difference doesn’t need to lead to division’ we say, and if attitude or acceptance was the only issue we might be right. The problem is that the first two ingredients to trio are the wood and gasoline that make our current environment so flammable. Attitude (or our approach) is just the spark that makes that situation combustible.

Here is the most important thing to understanding our current culture:

Our society is a set of fragments – leftover remainders – of previous expression that may not be compatible with other or newer expressions.

Again – our society is a set of fragments, leftover remainders, of previous expressions that may not be compatible with other or newer expressions. More on this tomorrow. The examples of this phenomenon are endless once you know what you are looking at. Think about religion, Christian denominations, theories of educations, economics, politics, nationality and race, pre-1975 military, for-profit prisons, policing strategies, parenting styles, marriage equality, even grammar and texting language.

Here is a picture that I want to utilize for this 4-part series. It is a piece by my neighbor Jeff and it really speaks to me.

IMG_7259

Our circles (communities) have diversity and differentiation within them. Those circles are in close proximity to each other and are even connected … but without overlapping. They are not integrated. They do not bleed into each other. They are distinct from one-an-other.

What makes this proximity profound is that the newer circles are smaller and bolder but are foregrounded on other circles that are faded but still present. Those larger circles are older and not as pronounced but influential. They haunt the work. They are ghosts and shadows to the primary feature. They are echoes of the past who still exert their voice. Their influence has faded but their effect still remains. The current configuration and focus wouldn’t make sense without them.

Tomorrow we talk about the nature of these remaining fragments and how people who think about such things differ on the subject.

_____________________________

[1] There are so many great  books on this, including For The Common Good by Daly and Cobb and What Money Can’t Buy by Sandel. I would also recommend the non-academic book The Suburban Christian by Hsu.

[2] I find this way of writing it helpful. It may seem clumsy at first but it will bear fruit later in the series.

Billy Graham: Case Study

Graham’s life show us so much about the changes in our society and the church: from newspapers, TV, civil rights, evangelicals, politics, media, and so much more.

I was moving into my new office and purging some old files. I found a magazine (Promise Keepers) from 1997 that had Graham on the cover.

Here are some of my thoughts in this short video.



I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

Palms Are Political

A friend reminded me this week that I used to write about Easter frequently. Then in theology class this week several topics came up that related to Lent and Easter subjects. SO I thought it might be fun to rework some archived material and post it on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I would love to hear your thoughts.

When I was a children’s and family minister, Palm Sunday was fun. At our stained-glass and organ church did it up big. We got lots and lots of palm branches for folks to wave during the singing of the hymns and we had the kids process down the aisle and march around the sides of the pews. It is quite a visual.

That is the modern version of Palm Sunday. It is kids choirs and photo-ops and party-like atmosphere.

The original Palm Sunday was little bit different. It was not so cutesy and hallmark holiday. It was aggressive and it was deeply political.

The politics of Palm Sunday:

The Jewish people were under occupation. Roman occupation was especially repressive and brutal.IMG_0332.JPG (2)

The last time that the Jewish people had been free and self-governed also meant that they had their own currency. On their big coin, a palm branch was prominently displayed.

Laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a colt/donkey was an act of defiance and an aggressive political statement.

We want to be free. This guy is going to change things and restore what was lost.

Having children wave palm branches in the equivalent to teaching a child to stick up her middle finger in anger… only more political. kid_soccer_fan

I am troubled by the lack of context regarding the palms of Palm Sunday. It reeks of both willful ignorance and religious disconnect.

I’m afraid the palms are just one more migrating signifier that no longer re-presents that which is supposed to signify. 

In so many ways we have sanitized, sterilized and compartmentalized the teaching of scriptures. We proudly and loudly defend the Bible – all the while neglecting the actual reality talked about in that Bible. Continue reading “Palms Are Political”

Intensifying Cycles

Being a professor is amazing. I am grateful for the opportunity and I am enjoying it so much. Do I miss being in pastoral ministry? Yes. Would I be a pastor again? Absolutely. Am I called to help the next generation of women & men find their way into ministry in the church? Yes!

Since my last post I have had 2 sets of intense conversations about the degree & type distinction – the first centers around the internet and the second relates to 9/11.

We live in a politically turbulent time and many people harken back to the 60’s/1968. This is a 100% valid claim. Many people alluded to the similarities and made a case that our current environment/situation is even worse than it was back then. Those who like to quote that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ shrug these similarities off by talking about how things are cyclical and how people like to hit the panic button but in the end we figure it out and things just keep on going.

That might all be true. The differences that I want to account for, however, are three-fold:

  1. the internet
  2. 24 hour news cycle
  3. increased cynicism, distrust, and discouragement

The growing disillusionment with the system, the fatigue from the constant barrage or coverage, and the crisis overload of manufactured spectacle causes me to ask …

Is it possible that our political, economic, racial, domestic, foreign, and environmental concerns are not just different in degree from 1968 but are in fact a new type or different kind of crisis?

I at least want to be open to the possibility that we have crossed into a different sort of quagmire and that we don’t want to simple shrug that off with a ‘this happens every generation or so‘ kind of mentality. Which brings me to the second point.

9/11 was a watershed. It just so happens that the readings for all 3 of my classes this week are from the 1990’s. I can not overstate how old they all sounded. It was like they were from a different era. I started pastoring in the 90’s and every time I talk about the changes that I have seen in just those 20 years, people laugh in recognition of how quickly things have moved.

Invariably the nothing new under the sun crowd says that God is still on the throne and that things have been changing since Bible times.

I just want to be open to the possibility that we have crossed into a different era. Between the internet, airline travel, farming practices (industrial agro), constant media, the global war on terror (not a country) and 1,000 other factors … the change is coming not incrementally any more – but exponentially.

Something is definitely different. That can not be questioned. The question is, “is it different in degree only, or is it different in kind?”

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Police Violence Is The Exception

I posted this last week in response to two conversations with friends who are very upset by the failure of the justice system to protect unarmed black men (and boys)  from those who act on behalf of the law.

I have not been blogging much as I am in preparation for my qualifying exams in the Spring. Part of my reading has been in ‘political theology’ so I thought I might share some relevant items that I have gleaned from my studies.

______________

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” is a sentence by Carl Schmitt that introduces ‘political theology’. That word ‘exception’ is a key to understanding what is going on in our nation right now.

In the last four centuries ‘sovereignty’ has shifted from God and the King to the Nation and State. In that same work, Schmitt also says that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”‘

The State* now has both the ceremony (pledge of allegiance – national anthem at all sporting events, etc.) and the power (rightful claim to foreign and domestic violence).

In a fantastic article by Bruno Gulli examining Schmitt, Gulli explains “any person with special powers (or even simply a special sensibility) could be recognized as sovereign. This would be an honorary status conferred on him.”

 The State, and those who defend it – whether police or military – have the power of exception. It is important to understand it that:

  •  The playing field is not level. It is slanted.
  •  The rules do not apply equally. There is an exception.

Citizens who are upset are not permitted to be violent. They must protest in an orderly and civilized manner.

The police/riot-squad/ military are seemingly allowed to escalate and utilize violence because they have the exception of the state behind them.

We are not all playing by the same rules. Citizens have an asymmetrical relationship with the State when it comes to violence.

It is vital here to understand the insight of Max Weber when he talks about the State’s monopoly on violence. The link explains that:

“Weber describes the state as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.”

Violence is a one-sided relationship. The State – and those who act on its behalf – may behave in violent ways because it will always be construed as exceptional.

Bonnie Honig, in Emergency Politics, says “The state of exception is that paradoxical situation in which the law is legally suspended by sovereign power.”

The problem is that we now live in a permanent state of emergency.

September 11, 2001 ushered in a state of perpetual exception. This applies to racial profiling, police brutality, State surveillance of its citizenry in the NSA – to name only a few.

When people are scared they willingly sacrifice their freedom and privacy in exchange for safety. The State benefits from a frightened population and people are more willing to accept the exceptional violence and excessive forced used by law enforcement. They are more likely to turn a ‘blind-eye’ or call them ‘isolated incidents’ and claim that they are being ‘blown out of proportion’.

A population is more willing to view as exceptional the excessive tactics and escalation of violence precisely because we now live in a permanent state of exception (or emergency).

What do we do now, however, when communities are not sure they are being protected by the police and in fact need protection from the police?

In the article cited earlier, Gulli reports, “At the end of his critique of the state of exception, Giorgio Agamben addresses the question of contingency, which is very important in all of his work, when, with a reference to Benjamin, he speaks of “the urgency of the state of exception ‘in which we live’” (2005)

In his eighth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin says:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.” (1968)

I hear people asking about the current protests, “What are they hoping to accomplish?”

One thing they could accomplish is to create a real sense of emergency that will call into question in the larger American conscience a question about the permanent state of exception that has crept in over the past decades. The supposed ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ are but two examples of this.

None of us want to live in a police state.
No one I know wants to live in a state of fear.
That it why we must question the exceptional violence and emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.

The people are raising their voice in protest of this exceptional violence.

_______________________

* I will be capitalizing ‘State’ to illustrate its elevated and exceptional status.

** I know four people in law enforcement and they are all amazing, loving, kind, people. My concern is about a larger mechanism in our society.

For a powerful response to Schmitt, see Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters On the Concept Of Sovereignty 

Jihad v. McWorld (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.  

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[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.

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.

[Trust me – I am going somewhere with this]

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 “multi-ethnic … 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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