Rendering Unto The Pulpit

I have to preach Sunday (less than a week after the Canadian elections which take place tomorrow and less than 3 weeks before US elections) on the “Render unto Caesar/Render unto God” passage from Matthew’s Gospel.  (Matthew 22 for those who like to read these things at home).

I found this series by Loren Rosson helpful in terms of reading the history of how the passage has been interpreted.  [Answer:  Just about any way to support pretty much any ideology you can come up with].  Rosson working off the studies of social scientific criticism of the Bible argues that Jesus shames the Pharisees by forcing them to bring forth a coin (see pic above).  The coin would have had the image of Caesar described as “Son of God” on the coin.  By having the Pharisees and Herodians (those who supported the monarchy under Herod the Great and his descendents), Jesus forces them to show that they hold an idolatrous image on their bodies, violating the Commandments (“no graven image”).  Rosson thinks Jesus’ reply is essentially something along the lines of Give Caesar back his dirty money (which we don’t recognize)” without having to come out against Roman taxation–which is what the Pharisees were hoping to trick Jesus into so they could get him killed according to the story.

Rosson holds that Jesus is a millenarian prophet–i.e. he thought the end of the world was coming/literal kingdom on earth to replace it–a view I’m not totally sold on.  [I’m pretty agnostic on the entire Historical Jesus Quest to begin with it should be noted]. So for whatever it’s worth, even within Historical Jesus studies, I’m less than entirely convinced of the millenarian reading.  If pushed, I think I would say that apocalyptic means somethign more like (as Crossan I think put it) end of world rather than end of the world.  That means, end of the constructs as we understand them.

The way the millenarian prophet route works is that it allows Jesus to not recognize the legitimacy of the Roman occupation without being a Zealot–i.e. one who attempts to overthrow the Romans via force.  Jesus thinks the angels of God are coming on the clouds to wipe out the foreign infiltration so there is no need for human armed struggle.

But I’m still not really sure what to preach on.  Even if Rosson’s reconstruction is accurate (and who would ever know for sure) it doesn’t offer much in the way for us today.  Maybe the gap between a Roman imperial-Jewish agrarian society and our modern liberal democratic individualist society is too wide to make anything of (at least) this reading.

I’m thinking of returning to the text of the Our Father as something that would give the believer for our day a better “political program” as it were.  Bread and Forgiveness are what the prayer asks for–daily bread (like manna for the Jews in the Wilderness) is the first sign of the coming of the kingdom according to the Our Father.  In Rabbinic tradition, in the messianic age, manna will return again to fall to the earth.

By focusing on this thread, I think it helps move away from one of two major pitfalls to exegeting this text:  1)Jesus was apolitical and was only interested in conversion of the heart  1a)the Kingdom is so otherworldly as to be all after death  and/or 2)Jesus’ kingdom is to be equated with a human earthly political movement 2a)A human/earthly political party is to be the primary means whereby the kingdom of God is initiated.

There are other variations of these basic tendencies, e.g.  1b)Tridentine/Vatican I equation of the Kingdom with the Roman Catholic Church (as sovereign over the political institutions of the earth).

Or possibly a third variation:  3)Jesus as Modernist Philosopher who upholds the modern European nation-state and cultural/political hegemony.

#2/2a you see in Sarah Palin’s dominionist tendencies.

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Caputo’s (Weak) Theology of the Event

John Caputo came at spoke at my school the week before last week.  I was only able to attend one his lectures, on his signature Weak Theology or The Theology of the Event as he calls it.  (In distinction to the famous Theology of the Word school).

Here is a solid Review of The Weakness of God Caputo’s book by Peter Heltzel.  Although one criticism of Heltzel is his invocation of Jurgen Moltmann’s “divine restraint” is exactly what Caputo still thinks of as a sovereign theology (“strong God”).  Caputo hit this point repeatedly in his talk the other day.  He cited Carl Schmitt that sovereignty is the ability to break the rules (and get away with it–see Bush and Torture, for example).  By that definition, even Moltmann’s “self-restraining” God is still a sovereign/strong God.

To really get a grasp on Caputo you need to have some background in Derrida and Deleuze.

Deleuze, unique among post-structuralists, was interested in a cosmology/metaphysics.  [Most post-structuralists, Derrida being the classic example, were interested in linguistics].  For Deleuze, Western philosophy is too buit traditionally around substance (from Plato through Aristotle on down) and should rather be interested in Event or events.  This is somethign akin to Heidegger’s distinction between the Being of beings (Event) and Dasein (being-in-the-world) except that Delueze has a background in physics and mathematics (interestingly) so his view of the Event is much more spatio-temporal than Heidegger’s more cultural-praxis oriented understanding.

The Event Captuo says is that which happens within what is happening but is never captured by what is happening.  God for Captuo is a name we use to point to the Event related to the name of God.  God then is an Event not a be-ing.  It’s a non-essential understanding of God.  Event however for me is a little too static.  I would prefer Rabbi Cooper’s notion that God is a Verb.  God-ing if you will.  Event-ing.

The Event is virtual, it is potential/openness.  This is why God is weak.  God is the name for the possibility fo the Event–in Derrida’s terminology the undeconstructible.  Or rather the pre-deconstructible (before deconstruction).

Here is where the structuralist side comes through.  The Event is a field, an anonymous one at that.  Recall that structuralism proclaimed The End of the Author and The End of Humanism–The End that is of the Subject.  According to post/structuralism subjects are constituted not constitutive.  The transcendental conditions exist not in the mind (a la Kant and modern philosophy) but in linguistic (Derrida) or eventual (Deleuze) networks.  Which are apersonal–hence when applied to theology, so is God.

Religion, then, according to Caputo, is performance (attempted performance/attempted enactment) of the Event.  Theology is poetics (theo-poetics).  For Caputo, here combining Derrida with Deleuze, the Event is the Promise of Justice.  What Derrida in his later writings talked about as the Coming of the Messiah. The Messiah in this case being a messianic consciousness/field/network sprouting up through the universe.  Not a separate being (a la classical theology) who represents a Strong God and wins a victory or so.  [e.g. Book of Revelation]

Also from Derrida, Caputo has picked up on Derrida’s argument for the centrality and primacy of grammar (over spoken word).  What Derrida calls the illness of Western philosophy as logocentricism (as opposed to grammo-centricism).  For Captuo this means that God (The Event) is archae-textuality, God is Archae-Grammer.  God is always Incaranted as in Fleshly or Embodied like a Text.  (Derrida:  “There is nothing outside the text”).

Religion is the performance of the Event.  Ethics is an enacted parable of the Event.  One that (via Levinas) calls for true plurality and peace at the heart of being.  The invitation to the neighbor.  As Jesus said:  Give to those who you know can not give back to you.  Pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies.

The Event is always potential and always possibly to be (slightly never perfectly) revealed.  For those outside the kingdom (i.e. The Event) everything must be in parables, the Gospel of Mark tells us.

Reflections on all of this:  It’s definitely a different take and opens up all kinds of new avenues for thought, philosophical and theological in nature.  It reveals that Derrida is not a relativist but a pluralist with a focus on the underside.  It’s a deep “positive” postmodernism if you will and sees deconstruction rightly in certain regards in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets.  Derrida’s understanding of apophatic theology however is seriously problematic.

But again ultimately with a structuralist background, there is no subject.  So how do we talk about enacting or performing an Event when there is no subject?  What choice is there in such a view?  How do the structures ever change if we are constituted by them (as opposed to constituted by and also constituting)?

If deconstruction is as Caputo says (correctly imo) a transcendental, that is a condition that makes anything possible, then how did Derrida come to knowledge of deconstruction without itself being deconstructed?  How it is a whole thought?  Isn’t there a subject there?  Isn’t there presence, at least for a second, as opposed to absence, which Derrida sees as primary?

It’s the same question for Kant frankly:  if one comes to the knowledge of the Subjective Transcendental Conditions, one knows there is noumena and phenomena, then isn’t that one that knows not limited by the Conditions?

I would say yes, and I would look there for a God.

Episcopal Son of God-edness

Joe P. points me to this article at Episcopal Cafe on the never-ending psychodrama that is our the Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Cafe article links to this NyTimes article over the recent fallout in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The backstory is that the former Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan had been deposed (stripped of his title and office) by the National Church for linking up with other dioceses around in the world.  In the Anglican word, each national church is the head body.  Duncan believes the Episcopal Church has become heretical and therefore he is duty bound to secede from it (and has called on his diocese to do so).  Which they will likely do in a vote on Saturday.

In other words, his deposition was sound AND given what he believes (which I think is wrong), Duncan is right (from within the parameters of his own world) to call for secession.  [And it was bound to happen in any way in my mind, so the sooner the better imo].

So back to the Lead from Episcopal Cafe.

Andrew Gerns refers to the NyTimes article as an otherwise fair one and then quotes the following section from the NyTimes piece:

“The dispute includes complaints that the national church allows open debate on whether Jesus is the Son of God, or that the only way to God is through Jesus — tenets of faith that conservatives find indisputable.”

Gerns:

To our knowledge, there is no debate in our church over whether Jesus is the Son of God…The teaching of the Episcopal Church on this point is clearly stated in the Prayer Book over and over again, itself a document of General Convention.

So the NyTimes piece unfortunately is giving too much to the conservative side right?  Well….except for the following sentence in the NyTimes piece:

But an opponent of secession, the Rev. Jay Geisler of St. Stephens Church in McKeesport, Pa., pointed out that those tenets are in the Book of Common Prayer, which guides the church.

So I’d say that’s pretty fair and even handed.  The way Gerns cites the NyTimes piece gives it a one-sided impression.

Gerns then quotes from Jim Naughton (also of Episcopal Cafe):

To suggest that we do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to call the integrity of our faith into question for political ends. Bishop Duncan and his followers want readers to believe that the controversy in the Episcopal Church isn’t “about” homosexuality, but some greater intellectual and spiritual division.

I find myself in a weird position here because if I had to choose sides in this I’m clearly on the Gerns/Naughton side (versus Duncan & Crew), but I actually find their reasoning suspect on multiple fronts. So in terms of stylistic debating points, I actually think the Duncan crew wins but that their rhetoric/logic is penned to an ultimately incorrect (or rather less developed, so below) vision.

Contra Naughton, the fight is ultimately not about homosexuality.  It is in fact about a greater spiritual and intellectual division.  Liberals ought to embrace that fight and call the other side out. If Naughton cedes that ground (representing the liberal camp) then they have nowhere to stand against their opponents.  The argument is about the Bible.  Whether you will be someone who accepts science and rationality and its ability to critique the Bible or not.  Give up that ground and you lose the ability to argue that the liberal version is actually a more developed form of faith.**  Of course liberals always believe that but because there are also hemmed in by their dumb egalitarian anti-hierarchical pov (which is itself a hierarchial development) they can’t say and cut themselves down at the knees.  Or intellectually and spiritually castrate themselves more graphically.

Of course there is brute politics and bigotry (in Naughton’s words) but to not admit that there is more than that going on is either on Naughton’s part A)blind stupidity or B)cynical potrayal of the events when he knows better.

Naughton again:

On the second point, whether Episcopalians believe that the only way to God is through Jesus there are leaders in the Episcopal Church who believe that an intellectual assent to Christian doctrine isn’t necessary to be saved. This is more or less than position of the Roman Catholic Church; it can hardly be classified as outside the Christian mainstream.

More dissembling on Naughton’s part and frankly I expect better from him.  The point of contention in the NyTimes article (which again I think is accurate on this point) is whether Jesus is the only way to God, i.e. salvation. Naughton brings up the Roman Catholic teaching of anonymous Christians which looks smart but actually doesn’t answer the question.  Or rather answers it in a way that undercuts Naughton’s own point.  The idea that one doesn’t have to believe in Jesus to be saved is not the same as saying that there are multiple avenues to salvation. This latter point is typically called religious pluralism.

The Roman Catholic position is still that one is only saved through Jesus Christ.  It is as non-pluralist as you can get.  It’s just that one can be a Christian without self-consciously realiizing it (according to this theory).  Which not only makes it exclusivist (i.e. non-pluralist) but arrogant to boot (we know better you better than you know yourself).

As a bonus, it’s more than just Jesus Christ in a RC position–you have to be a member of the Church.  “Extra ecclesia nulla salus”:  Outside the Church there is no salvation.  This teaching still holds; it simply means that the Church can be and is broader than the actual institutional RC Church (although again in RC theology the Roman Catholic Church is obviously the surest way to get there.  It’s the safest bet as it were).

The argument is whether one can saved other than through Jesus and there are (and Naughton knows this) Episcopal leaders who believe that–they ought to have the guts to say it.  This is related to the earlier point about the Son of God.  Saying that one believes Jesus is the Son of God by itself is not a big deal really.  What does being the son of God mean (or is it Son of God?–there’s a huge difference in interpretation with just a change in one letter already)?

Naughton writes:

I don’t know whether everyone who finds his or her way into a church on Sunday believes it, but it isn’t as though the issue is open to dispute in any serious way. We proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God in our Prayer Book. This understanding infuses our hymns. We profess it every Sunday as part of our Creed. We teach it in our seminaries. There is absolutely no movement to change this bedrock element of our faith.

Again I think Naughton would be on stronger footing in the history of Anglicanism by saying that we profess it and pray it (The Rule of Belief is the Rule of Prayer) and state that our tradition is one in which the meaning of such a statement is not to be enforced.  e.g. Stating one believes that Jesus is the Son of God is sufficient and the Anglican Church would not enforce a certain understanding of that that doctrine.  Just as in theories of redemption, the Anglican Church (as opposed to say the Calvinist tradition) does not enforce one to believe how said salvation through the Cross is achieved.  It is Christus Victor model or Substitutionary Atonement?

That would be a better way to argue imo than to state that the Son of God claim is never questioned.  The traditional interpretation of that claim certainly is (and I think at points correctly).  The question being whether the traditional interpretation of the claim is identical with the claim itself?  The same basic fight is there again in just a different manner.

The dividing line is not answered by references to the Prayer Book.  The charge is that the liberals do not profess what they believe (which is quite often true, sadly imo, but there it is).  It’s an emotional, relational charge being lobbed out there and intellectual responses to the letter of the law do not suffice.

**More developed does not mean more faithful and/or holier per se.

(Con)Texts in Religious Scholarship

Excellent article by Jon Levenson, Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School, on texts in contexts.

Levenson beings by retelling how he was trained in the classical historical-critical method of Biblical studies, particularly the Albright school of archaeology.  [Personal sidenote: one of my Hebrew Bible professors (Jim Lindenberger) was also an Albright student].

Levenson describes this method:

The goal was to place the Hebrew Bible in its historical context, and we could do that only if we could reconstruct the cultural world in which its many documents were written—an arduous task but one that bore, and continues to bear, much good fruit.

But Levenson already recognizes a problem with this method (for all the admitted good it has done):

Almost from the beginning, though, I felt there was a certain problem with this. What the biblical texts meant in the world of their authors is in considerable tension with what they mean today—including what they mean personally to the professors and students who devote themselves to that historical task. But the very method rendered that question of what they mean today one that could not be asked. It belonged somewhere else, to the theologians, for example, or to the preachers. Of course, when the theologians or preachers interpreted the book in light of ongoing tradition and contemporary experience, the historical-critical scholars were none too reluctant to accuse them of taking the Bible out of context.

Levenson discusses (and hints at) the rife possibility of secularization in this process.  That is, everyone is going to have an interpretive tradition (religious or otherwise), but if they can achieve this knowledge through simply the academic “neutral” viewpoint, then why is the religion necessary?  The historical method growing largely out of Protestant exegesis de-emphasized tradition (which was considered too Catholic)–Levenson critiques this vivew from a Rabbnic Jewish perspective and relates it interestingly to Catholic views of tradition.  I would call this sense of getting to the original context (following Habermas) neo-positivism–especially when related to the fields of archaeology, historicism:  i.e. whatever is the case is what is right.  Neo-positivism’s main flaw in Habermas’ mind is that it is a non-liberating praxis.  And I think this is what Levenson is getting at as well.  It can not get us to the question of how do I live?  How do I find truth?  In Luther’s question:  How do I find a Loving God?

When applied more to hermeneutics (and less to archaeology or history), this notion of entering the mind of the original readers derives from the Romantic tradition (also Protestant) of Schleiermacher and later Dilthey. i.e. Text without (our contemporary) context.  The only con-text given priority is the ancient one.  But of course it is our reconstruction of the ancient context.  [For a more detailed discussion of this point, here.]

In other words, this whole system Levenson describes is a product of the modern wave.  In that sense I would say it is in a sense of a kind of faith.  I wouldn’t make a sharp distinction between secularism and faith (i.e. religion) because in the manner just mentioned, I think secularism is a faith (or worldview).

A faith in the scientific method, a faith in reason, human progress in knowledge, combined in these religious scholarship with a notion that the original setting has some quasi-mystical/revelatory power than will simply be unleashed when we return to it.

That faith has been largely critiqued and it’s promise of a final fulfillment/enlightenment has been shown to be false (true but partial/negated but preserved).  What replaces this outmoded vision, is one Levenson describes as brining our own context into the story.  This is essentially a postmodern turn (a healthy one in this case I would say but one that certainly has its own pitfalls and blindspots).

Levenson makes a particularly brilliant point here imo:

Personally, I believe that the danger of projecting the forms of one’s own religious life onto the ancient data, though real, is only half the story. The other half is the impoverished religious imagination that so easily results when those who study the religious literature are themselves a-religious. Secularity does not guarantee objectivity; sometimes it can impede it.

That double standard is a particularly nasty one in the context of academia.

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Ant. Princeps gloriosissime, Michael Archangele, esto memor nostri: hic et ubique semper precare pro nobis Filium Dei.

V. In conspectu angelorum psallam tibi, Deus meus.
R. Adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum, et confitebor nomini tuo.

[Translation–my own, free]

Ant: (O) Michael the Archangel, Most Glorious Prince, now and always pray for us to the Son of God.

V:  In the sight of the angels, I will sing psalms to you My God.

R:  In your holy Temple will I adore and praise your name.

[Excerpt taken from traditional hymn to Michael.  Text here.]

Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Theo-Politics of Witchcraft

This video is getting some circulation now.  The Pastor in the video is a man by the name of Thomas Muthee.  He has an interesting record to say the least.  Read about it here from CSMonitor. Muthee believes very strongly in the existence of demonic spirits and fighting against them.  He prays over Palin that the evil of witchcraft be driven.

Steven Benen at Political Animal has some thoughts/questions on the matter.

He writes:

Just to clarify, the pastor’s interest in witches and witch hunts is not metaphorical — he means it literally.

To muddy the waters for a second, while I obviously know what Steve means here, his understanding/use of metaphorical is less helpful not more.  Northrop Frye understood that the metaphorical is the literal meaning of the Bible.  In other words, metaphor is concrete.  Benen is using language (according to Frye’s schema) in its third paradigmatic form: representational (think modern, scientific language/discourse).  Truth is what can be precisely represented, really described.  Therefore in this pattern, metaphorical means something more like symbolic or abstract.  When applied to say demons/evil it would be something like Ricoeur’s Symbolism of Evil or Wink’s The Powers.    (more…)

Godcasting Part II: CJ Preaching (Audio Content)

SermonSept.16th

The link above is to the audio of a sermon I preached this evening at a Eucharist celebration at my Church (Christ Church Cathedral). Recorded on my iPod with a plug-in microphone. [You’ll hear some clicks and knocks which is my hands on the podium…]

Note: You hear me read a passage from the Third Chapter of the Gospel of John. But the passage I use as the basis for my reflection and that I allude in my preaching was the first reading (which is not recorded).

That text, the one for my reflection is Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25. Which reads:

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

This sermon grew out of earlier meditations I’ve had (following James Cone) on the Cross as the Hanging Noose.

Palin’s Prayer

Readers will know I am not the biggest fan (to put it oh so gently) of Sarah Palin, but she did (imo) get some unfair treatment re: her prayer–erroneously interpreted/reported as saying that the Iraq War was clearly ordained by God.

Here is the full quotation of Palin’s (h/t Poulos):

Pray for our military. He’s [her son] going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God; that is what we have to make sure that we are praying for.

I also agree with James that Palin’s later invocation of Lincoln’s quotation that we should not proclaim that God is on our side but hope that we are on God’s side is definitely a rationalization/justification after the fact (even if it is not totally without some grounding in the quotation.

She was unfairly characterized by saying that she invoked the Iraq War as a divinely ordained task. Rather she was praying that it hopefully was.

And here is where theologically I have some serious problems–even with what she did mean. I haven’t yet seen this point explored, but I think it is worth examination.

Namely why is the thing we must be praying for that they are being sent on a task from God? Why not say what we must be praying for (if one must be praying for anything in this or any context) is that the soldiers heading to the front not get killed, maimed, or psychologically wounded for life? Why not pray that they be spared (as much as possible) the horrors of war? Why not pray that civilians and the innocent not be killed?

Why not just simply pray they be safe???–again assuming a worldview in which prayer has an efficacious place.

Why that they have to be sent by their leaders on as task divinely blessed?

It’s all a little too purpose driven prayer for me.

I mean what would be the consequence if we learned that they had been sent by leaders on a task that is not from God? Would our troops become instantaneously evil beings? To dip my toe in the psychological waters (and then quickly remove it), why is it so central to her that this be a divinely ordained mission? If it were, would that assuage the conscience? Would it scrub all the God-awful brutality and violence intrinsic to a war?

To sound a little Feuerbachian for a second–does the prayer say more about our needs than God’s?

In traditional Christian morality, in the case where the army is sent on an “un-godly” mission, the leaders are held more gravely responsible for the sin than those in say an army. [Though of course they always have the option of not fighting, so to the degree they have such a choice AND the war is deemed unethical/contra God’s will, then soldiers are held responsible. By the same token though someone like me who is a US citizen is still in part responsible for the sin. Since the government represents me. That I opposed the war is fairly meaningless in this context–I’m still on the hook.]

As an important side point here, the Iraq War was declared by The Catholic Church and the bodies of the malinline Christian Churches to not meet the requirements of the Just War. So if you put any trust in the ability of those bodies to correctly interpret (however much humanly possible) the will of God (assuming of course there is God or a god)–and in this case I think they were obviously right–then her son was sent on a mission not from God. [I believe her church supported and proclaimed divine legitimation for the war, so that claim is not without opposing theological views].

Is there no forgiveness for those who fight in an unjust war? What do we pray for if we come to believe that they aren’t on a leader-led mission marked by divine approval….what then?

Even more radically and perhaps terrifyingly (in the Calvinist sense of the Holy Numinous Other) the prayer Jesus taught was that “God’s will be done.” Maybe she should just pray that God’s will be done and not that our actions be according to God’s will. What if, invoking a tradition out of the Hebrew Prophets, God’s will was judgment upon the nation? [I did say this was a foray into some dark territory].

In the end the question is always what kind of God is one praying to me as much as what one is praying for? I wonder what kind of God Palin has in mind–who/what does she think is on the receiving end?

WWJMcD?: The Come to Christic McCain Moment in Thompsonian Homiletic Soteriology

[Video and text of Thompson’s speech here.]

Fred Thompson Tuesday night at what became the de facto opening night of the Republican Covention.  All that was missing from Thompson’s speech was an electric organ and an altar call.  It was an interesting—if at times disturbing—admixture of Billy Graham-style evangelical revivalism and American civil religion.

Follow me after the jump, for a detailed examination of the speech.  You will learn about the Three Great Doctrines of Christianity, the structuring of a evangelical politico-religious sermon/convention speech, and Felix Culpa theology.  You know you want to, so just do it… (more…)

Obama-Palin And Generational Shifts

One thing that is interesting to watch in this election (AP–After Palin) is the confluence in both parties of the old guard giving way to the new guard (either in the McCain camp of blessing a possible heir apparent or with Biden giving up his own Prez dreams to be Obama’s wingman).

Neither are Boomers though both have been used to try to re-ignite Boomer culture wars (e.g. Obama’s Ayers [non]connection, Palin with abortion) and are not tempermentally Boomerish.  Both have to pay their respects to the old guard–Obama with the Civil Rights pioneers (e.g. John Lewis) and Palin with McCain but both clearly think their days are passed.  Palin recall wasn’t a vocal McCain supporter in the primaries.  And Obama talks about the Joshua Generation taking over from the Moses crew (MLK, Lewis, etc.).

In religious terms we also see the coming of what Olivier Roy calls globalized religion.  Religion that is no longer passed through traditional cultural affiliation–dependent upon and almost entirely predicted by one’s place of birth, ethnicity, and that’s ethnicity’s traditional religious connection.  Roy calls this process “deculturation and “de-territorialization”.

Obama has elements of it left with his classic Black American Christian background as well as his Niebuhrian 50s/60s liberal theology, but he is an adult convert.  Palin was baptized Roman Catholic but really grew up as an Assembly of God Pentecostal (classic denomination of this description) and now is in an independent (so-called non-denominational) church in Alaska.

Diana Butler Bass describes this as the shift from a culture of introversion to extroversion.  From traditional religious affiliation to personal conversion/commitment, from top-down authority to personalist and communal forms of legitimation.  Or in Roy’s terms, from religion to religiosity. If you want a term for this shift, you might call it American postmodernism.

The shift according to Bass is primed, such that the future oriented/extraverted individual who speaks the language of authenticity would inevitably triumph over the alternative.  Think Obama’s speech and the stagecraft and the brilliance of that versus introverted, uncomfortable McCain in front of a green screen.  So the election was–minus some black swan–Obama’s.  McCain in choosing Palin has injected his side with this same cultural shift.

But a conservative version thereof versus Obama’s liberal.  This has shaken up the race quite fundamentally and could neutralize Obama’s inherent advantage.  Might not however.  But if McCain had clearly picked someone of the older guard mentality trying to act like a guy from the newer cultural shift (i.e. MITT ROMNEY) then McCain would have been headed for a substantial even possibly landslide electoral defeat.

Now I”m not so sure. But in an era of 6 hours news cycles, how long will Palin be the focus?