Monday, August 30, 2004

complexity and capital: metaphysics and the market; or are justice and charity self-organizing?

(the second of three posts coming out of my summer reading of Lev Manovich concerning new media and technology. Here is the first.)

What if all this talk about complexity, self-organizing systems, and the connectivity of life is really just the emergence of a metaphysic to under-gird global capitalism? As Len Manovich says in Abstraction and Complexity (an otherwise very intersting account of art and technolgy), "Just as the classical physics and mathematics fitted perfectly the notion of a highly rational and orderly universe controlled by God, the sciences of complexity seem to be appropriate in the world which on all levels - political, social, economic, technical - appears to us to be more interconnected, more dynamic, and more complex than ever before."

But shouldn't this collusion between science and the social order be questioned. Might not this marriage be the means of bondage rather than that of liberation? Isn't the logic of non-linear, non-hierarchical relations between the parts and the whole (the arche and telos, the cause and effect) the ultimate justification of the laissez-faire mentality of global capitalism which seeks to deregulate the entire globe for the free, spontaneous, self-organization of commodity exchange? Might not the paradigm of complexity be the new ideology which undergirds, and easelessly oils, the machine of global capitalism?

And conversely, are Justice and Charity even really self-organizing and spontaneous within a system? More often than not they are the explosion and violent reordering of a system. Justice and Charity would only be spontaneous and self organizing if we believed in the benevolence of the system, it parts and inputs. But is this what we really believe is the case of human systems?

And finally, if top-down or bottom-up reductionistic hierarchies can't be trusted, nor can the systems of complexity, whom can we trust? What specter within the system, what Spirit from beyond might moves us beyond these dichotomies?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Discipleship and Desire: The Death of the Self

What does "death to self" mean? Of course, it is not the literal/physical death of the body. So what part of the self is put to death according to the Christian discourse? While often thought so, this does not mean the death of desires or Desire, selfish or not. Why? Because merely placing the death (and therefore essentially life) of the self here, in desire, ends up affirming two discourses antithetical to the gospel.

The first is the discourse of Law and transgression which sees salvation in the denial of desire, b/c all desire is evil, which polarizes faith and works such that we can't make any sense of a good deed (thank to Kant's understanding of Duty and the ethical demand). This denial of desires drives wedge b/w justification (faith) and sanctification (works) which only confuses the development of discipleship.

The second is the discourse of liberal capitalism which confirms and legitimates all desires and distinguishes among desires only according to individual freedom and not on the communal good. Therefore, the outright denial, instead of the discernment among desires, ends up justifying the logic of capitalism instead of problematizing it.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Otherwise than Spiderman; or Beyond Superheroes

This is a serious post, even though it concerns a movie about a comic book. Last week I had the chance to finally read some of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas' writings, and I watched Spiderman (all because my wife's sister watched our son for a couple of days so we got to read and watch movies undisturbed. Praise be to God). Basically I read all afternoon, then I watched Spiderman 2, and then I was disturbed.

At first pass Levinas and Spiderman seems to be in agreement: the nameless face of the stranger, the other in danger demanding responsibility from Peter Parker; the non-reciprocal substitution of the self for the other because the poor citizen of NY can't help Peter in return (recall the scene on the train when the "people" resist Dr. Oct on Peter's behalf to no avail). And during Peter's time of testing, when he forgoes his superhero persona, we see him walk away from a mugging without helping, and all the audience can think (which is the pure manipulation of the movie) is, "This is wrong, Peter. You SHOULD help him. He is your NEIGHBOR!!"

But, unfortunately, even though within the movie Spiderman is the hero, the role model which every kid aspires to, we cannot follow him, and Levinas points the way. Why?

The superhero ethic that Spiderman presents us with ends up justifying our (as in the America public) lack of ethical/moral action. Only superheroes deal with ethical dilemmas, only they have choices. Movies like this teach us that "With great power comes great responsibility" (in the word of uncle Ben the wise), of which the reverse creed, which we the America public live by, is "Those without great power are without any responsibility." And isn't this generally the case with these comic book remakes (but I must note the exception of "Unbreakable' which is exceptional, but not a remake). These movies draws us in as an audience, presenting us with a dilemma which the superhero undergoes, which the audience then determining the good to be followed, and which, of course, the Superhero then does (even Matrix Reloaded follows this logic to a tee with Neo's choice for Trinity over humanity, which in the trilogy is a thoroughly predicable choice). The audience then feels as if they had actually undergone a moral dilemma (and acted rightly) just because they know how the superhero ought to act. But we haven't done anything but watch a movie, and more than that, we won't ever do anything, because only Superheroes have really dilemmas and only they have "super powers" with which to solve them.

So although we all know that Peter shouldn't leave that man helpless in the alley because he can it without getting hurt, where does that leave us? Would/Should we do the same thing? We might (will probably) get hurt. So, w simultaneously affirm the right thing to do but give ourselves a loophole (we are too weak). And this is the essence of the Superhero ethic, and the perpetuation of the ethics of indifference which makes America go round.

But, things would be different if these movies hinted at the possibility of everyone being a superhero, if they suggested that we were all beyond ordinary. Only then would we all enter into a non-reciprocal substitution with the Other. Only they could we respond in responsibility toward the infinite face of the Other. And what if we all were superheroes, and we all had a super power, might we then begin to act again? But what would our power be? And what transformed us?

And wouldn't us being superheroes be the perfect supplement to the fact that are all refugees, cast out as bare life? But again, whence this transformation and power?

And to these questions an political activist gives one answer, and the theologian another. (alas, again the division of the subject).

Thursday, August 12, 2004

What Missiology can't teach the Emerging Church

or, dissolving the emerging church missions board!!

What is the Emerging Church? What are they up too? How do they conceive of what they are doing? Well, for many, they view themselves as missionaries (or missional communities) to the emerging post-modern culture of the West. But I disagree. (if you are short time, skip to the "culture" section, it's my harshest critique and most important).

Here's a familiar story (a true story many times over I'm sure): An overseas missionary comes home to find that his church has started a postmodern worship service. The pastor of this service, feeling somewhat confident in what he's doing, but a bit insecure next to this seasoned missionary ask, "So, what do you think about our servise? Pretty different, right?" The missionary answers, "Yes it is different. But you are doing just what I'm doing out in the jungles of Papa New Guinea, adapting to culture." This type of reasoning, which I've heard from several leaders of the emerging church, I totally disagree with. The tools of modern, or even postmodern, missiology don't apply directly, w/o modification, to the Western situation.

Here's why...
why we shouldn't use "missionary" or "incarnate" in the West using the three "c"s- "capitalism", "colonialism", and "culture".

Capitalism- global, market driven capitalism is the best missions agency in the world if we understand missions as adapting to culture and translating a message. Actually, capitalism understands that its not even about the message, but rather about desire (forming desire). If the Church understood that missions is about forming right desires they might actually start doing missions again!!! But too often the emerging church relies on sociological approaches which is no different from what advertisers do. I could go on...

Colonialism and Constantinianism- It is interesting that when we look at the modern missionary movement (i.e. the West evangelizing the Rest), we hear two stories of what happened; one from the missionaries, another from the converts. When we listen to the converts/natives we see that it is a matter of receiving (not giving) the gospel from God, of being faithful (instead of relevant) and a matter of our identity. From everything that I have read from the marginal theologies (african, hispanic american, latin american) the concern is not missions, but rather faithfulness. So might not missions, and the missionary perspective, have only arrived within a Constantinianism which not longer exists. In a post-Christian culture, rather than pre-Christian and therefore missionary, the issues is just as much faithfulness as it is missions. More could be said...

Culture- (this has two parts, and is a combination of the first two). First off, we don't live in a real culture but a faked one. Capitalism has ready-made cultural products, plastic artifacts made yesterday. Culture is virtually manufactured without substance. We no real Western real culture anymore to which we could be missionaly oriented toward. We are only engaging with a simulacrum. Secondly, if we are going to talk about "culture" and "identity" we also have to ask whether it is a minority or the majority culture? and is it given or chosen? More those in the minority their identity is given to them (it's called racism). Others projected expectations, intention, and abilities onto these minorities which they then have to deal with. It is not chosen, but given. But for many in the emerging Church (who happen to be white) being missional means reaching out and reinforcing the identities of those they encounter (ravers, hipsters, skaters, hippies, punks, etc.). The problem with this is most of these people are also white and they have chosen these personas, instead of having them given violently to them as in the minority/racial case. So we are trying to be missionally oriented toward a group of people who have chosen their identities, arranging church so that it might appeal to them (but of course they don't talk that we), and we think that through this we will create disciples. But that will never happen because we are reinforcing every thing we should be criticizing: market capitalism which perpetually fragments people from each other through niche marketing which the emerging church is mirroring instead of promoting unity through the discarding of fivolous identities. again, i could go on, especially on this point...

But i'll quit and see what happens.
so, in summary
1) we should disband the emerging church missions board, stop talking about postmoderns as if they were real people who identified themselves as postmodern, b/c there aren't any.
2) we should stopping saying that we are being "incarnational" b/c the church is already the incarnation of Christ as his Body. The question is are we being faithful?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

New Pantagruel

The New Pantagruel has published my first real stab at relating theology and radical politics (you judge how successful). It is a combined reading of "justification by faith" and Zizek's fragile absolute, who is a Marxist of sorts. The conclusion is really just the introduction to a larger project that I'm only beginning to think through.

anyway..., I posted it here about 6 months ago for your thoughts and comments, but since I've met some other friend who read Zizek I thought I'd open up the comments here or at the pantagruel for some more discussion.

please, don't be nice. I can take some criticism....

and tomorrow, I promise that I will write about why the emerging church should use missionary terminology- and yes it has to do with post-colonialism, multiculturalism, and Capitalism.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Conversations: Emergent and Ekklesia

Two people walk into a bar (b/c both believe in drinking) and start a conversation. We will just pretent that they are called B. Mac and Stan H. representing Emergent and the Ekklesia Project. Let's listen in before they get to drunk to be coherent...


(the question posed by an third party is "What is Missions?"

Stan. H.: "The Mission of the Church is to be the Church!" he shouts out roughly.

B. Mac. responds calmly: "The Mission of God is to save the World."

Stan H.: "But what are you saving people into when there is no distinction b/w the Church and the World? The Church must be the Church so that the World will know it is the World" quoting one of his own books.

B. Mac.: "But why would the World care what the Church is doing if it never sees the Church and has no affinity with it?" he says with deep concern for the lost.


And so goes the conversation, each, and all their follower, presenting reasons for and ways of reforming the church, one seeking more faithfulness by the Church, and the other seeking more faithfulness to the World.

But the reality of this conversation, if we can speak so flamboyantly, is that this conversation needs to continue, and we need to diligently pursue it. Why? 1) Because in general, the Emerging Church has started as a pastoral movement concerned with issues of culture and evangelism, while the Ekklesia project issued forth as a movment from academia concerned with the Church and discipleship, and therefore will enhance each others discorse, bringing different questions, methods, and concerns to the table. 2) Each movement seeks renewal within the tradition they spring from, which is the mainline traditions for Ekklesia, and evangelical for Emergent. 3) Each is working on the same question but from different ends. Ekklesia from an ecclesiology to missions; Emergent from missions back toward ecclesiology.

So, to position myself (which is always hazardous and better left to you the community of readers to decided), I would say that I lean more toward the Ekklesia perspective, but deeply immersed in the Emerging Church. So generally, when I critique the Emerging Church it is not out of the love of criticism, but for love of the Emerging church, and not as an outsider finding fault, but as an insider hoping to fortify.


And all this leads up to the gauntlet that I layed down yesterday concerning the use of missionary methods in the West, particularly N. America.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Emerging Church and Cool?

Several people have recently criticized the Emerging Church (maggi dawn and raw faith) while others have defended its need for relevance and incaration (emergent~kiwi). It is an interesting conversation, usually split between the Emerging Church ex-evangelicals trying to reclaim but not become Mainline, Catholic, Anglican tradition, and mainliners from those traditions defending themselves from the savanger EMers.

I recently posted my view on the relevant question concerning the EM (which emerging is publishing next month, I think...), and concerning the mainliners question of resistance, so I won't rehearse it all here. (i must have been using my spidy sense...)

shortly I'll post some thoughts concerning the theft of tradition coming out of a recently conference, where i spent the entire time defending the EC (something I don't usually do).