Monthly Archives: June 2012

Marginalia on Radical Thinking: A Second Dialogue with Charley Earp, part 2

Continued from here. This turns from an interview to a pressing and respectful debate towards the end about the nature of secularism and on absolute ontological claims.

Skepoet: Are these emergent church types actually popular as most of the dominations in Protestant Christianity to show growth are fairly conservative theologically and politically?

Charley Earp: I don’t think it’s their popularity that makes them important. It’s their role as “in-house” critics of Evangelicalism. They are lightning rods for issues often considered closed topics. For example, ex-Pentecostal Emergent theologian Tony Jones was invited to give a plenary address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies annual conference in 2010. SPS is an association of confessional Pentecostals who hold academic positions. It tends to be conservative, but it does have a left-wing element, which is represented via the “Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace and Justice” organization. Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, an assistant professor at Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology and member of PCPJ, was organizing the annual meeting and invited Tony Jones. When word of that got back to denominational leadership in the Assemblies of God – the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world – a fight broke out as these leaders tried to get Tony banned from the conference. Tony openly advocates for same-sex marriage and theological liberalization. He’s quite a fan of Jurgen Moltmann who was inspired by Ernst Bloch to create the “Theology of Hope.”

I’m not saying that emergent Christian leaders are going to entirely turn Evangelicalism to the left, but they are dividing significant sectors of the younger generation against elements of the New Christian Right.

S.: What do you think of Christianity’s movement politically on the world stage?

C.E. Christianity is a multifarious mass. Christians inhabit all social classes and cultural niches. It is the most successful human organization in history, outside the nuclear family. It has united people across cultural divides, as well as built brand new ones out of its own doctrines.

There will be Christians on all sides of any future revolution. There are forces inside and outside Christianity that will remold it and overcome its conservative tendencies. Liberation Theology seems to me to be the only viable interpretation of the faith that can persist after the collapse of capitalism, whether that collapse comes sooner or later.

I also hold that Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, and all other metaphysical subcultures will be forced to deal with each other and rethink their absolutist claims in light of intensifying cross-cultural interactions. This is already happening in many arenas and will only accelerate.

S.: I am more skeptical about this as intercultural exchange is not unique to capitalist modernity. Also what elements of Christianity are a successful social forms? It seems hard to see what social relationships are consistent in all strands of Christianity. However, there are pretty consistent trends in Protestantism in Asia and Africa where Christianity tends to act as a liberalizing force in its early encounters with native culture, but in also all such societies is now socially and increasingly economically conservative: although the latter seems very context dependent. For example, in South Korea and Japan a Protestant Christian socialism was the dominant strain of thought, but the churches have increasingly mirrored American Protestantism and have become politically entangled with the right. Protestantism in Latin America still seems to be predominantly a slightly left-economic force, but it’s harder to place socially. So while I recognize Christian tendencies on all sides of the question: there does seem to be definite trends that can be sorted out.

C.E.: Intercultural interaction didn’t originate in capitalist modernity, but it will reach its climax and denouement in a similar fashion as capitalist modernity will run its course. Ken Wilber emphasizes that never before in history have the greatest religious and cultural traditions across human history become so widely accessible around the world. It isn’t complete, but it will only accelerate. In Chicago I have my choice of more than a dozen different Buddhist centers from Tibetan to Vietnamese to Japanese to Korean to Westernized practice. That has occurred entirely in my lifetime, it wasn’t true when I was born. In my Quaker denomination, I’ve participated in various interfaith meetings and this dynamic is even being theorized in Evangelical and Pentecostal seminaries as we speak, not always with conventional orthodox results.

My children attended Chicago public schools and were exposed to dozens of different ethnicities and religions. My daughter is actually very attracted to Korean Protestantism, for some reason. My son is a Quaker, too, but he’s still figuring out what that means, since Quakers don’t use a catechism or enforce creeds.

S.: Islam and Christianity has seen massive retrenchment in Christianity as the there is a real decline in the mainline denominations to both left and right variants of theology. Why do think this is and what do you think the relationship is to secularization?

C.E.: Secularization seems to me to be one of the responses to pluralism, to the way modern communications and immigration patterns have forced world religions into new levels of interaction. Modern secularism arose in Europe as a response to the “wars of religion” in the aftermath of the Reformation. Today secularism in the global context as a product of primarily Western Europe and American expansion is viewed by significant parts of the world outside those spheres as both anti-religious and Christian imperialist incursions. How it is perceived depends on whether a given situation elicits a retrenchment of religious identity to resist imperialism – such as in Muslim nations – or for opportunistic economic development – Asian Capitalist “Tigers”.

American Christian fundamentalism is an important historical development in the interaction with secularizing trends. This fundamentalism was originally a reaction to the rise of unorthodox theologies that originated in Europe, as well as to the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” Some fundamentalists did try to harmonize evolution and creationism, but that viewpoint was often rejected in favor of more rigid views. A key element of fundamentalism was an apocalyptic pessimism. This interpretation of the Bible predicted a great Anti-Christ One World Government arising after the Secret Rapture of Christians. This issued in a nearly complete passivity and social disengagement. Evangelism and World Missions to non-Christian cultures took on an urgency and politics became unimportant. The engagement with other religions took the form of strategizing the most effective evangelistic techniques to penetrate non-Christian societies with Americanized versions of the gospel. This gospel was not the original message of Jesus about a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, but a purely apolitical personal salvation focused on the afterlife and coming apocalypse. This apoliticism was quite useful in inculcating docility in the face of capitalist and imperialist exploitations of these societies.

After World War I, the fundamentalist agenda began to emphasize other aspects, such as Zionism and Anti-Communism. After the defeat of Fascism, fundamentalism again assumed a fairly apolitiical quiescent role. This was ended when the Civil Rights movement arose using a fairly orthodox Christianity against racial segregation. The “social gospel” that had been targeted as apostasy by fundamentalists came back with a new compelling moral critique. The “New Christian Right” arose in significant measure from the old-line segregationist preachers like Jerry Falwell. The new targets were feminism, homosexuality, drug war, abortion, and the welfare system.

The decline in secularization in the latter 20th century was a result of the way a segment of the business class partnered with the New Christian Right to attain political power. Today, we are seeing a new wave of departures from Christianity and repressive religions in the U.S. though it is far from a tidal wave. The “New Atheism” was a reaction to 9/11 as an assertion that that tragedy flowed directly from religion. This argument is compelling if not analyzed very carefully, so lots of energy has flowed into that movement.

Add to this the inability of the Christian Right to win the presidential nomination, losing it to Romney, who they nearly all reject as a Christian. Some of the more pragmatic voices on the Right will try to persuade Christians to still vote for Romney, but it’s amazing to me that the choice for evangelical Christians is between a liberal Christian like Obama and a “cultist” like Romney. My family are mostly conservative Pentecostals and we were taught very young how evil Mormons were. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

I’d say secularism and pluralism are back on the agenda and in the ascendancy. If Romney wins, there will be ascendancy. Theologically strict Christians will have to work through their cognitive dissonance with Romney. They either embrace him and pragmatically elevate their politics over their doctrines, or they reject him and he’s weaker than nearly any Republican candidate since Gerald Ford. Reagan himself had weaknesses such as his divorce to contend with. Mormon heresy will seem much worse than divorce to many Christian Rightists.

S.: Do you think Christianity could completely schism over these tendencies?

C.E. I’d say the schism between regressive and progressive religion is permanent and fatal and the progressives will win, unless the Apocalypse of human self-extinction occurs. Unpragmatic walled-garden Fundamentalism (Christian or Islamic) cannot survive for long as a political movement. Even Jerry Falwell was viewed by the apolitical camp as a compromiser for working with different groups of Christians and even neo-conservative Jews! Even the Plymouth Brethren (the original source of apocalyptic fundamentalism) have regrouped and reconciled many of their dozens of schisms. Now, Romney pushes that pragmatic necessity to new heights. Before long, you might even see a politically potent New Atheist Right, followers of Ayn Rand who favor traditional marriage and banning abortion. In a weird way Ron Paul is already in that vein, though he’s still a Christian.

Christianity has been around for so long and is disseminated in the Derridean sense of producing multiple incommensurable discourses, of which one cannot choose the “correct interpretation.” This is why I, who doubts if Jesus was an actual historical person, still consider the Communist threads in the Biblical texts as powerfully useful in creating a new post-Marxist communism, which Badiou and Zizek have confirmed for me. As I’ve said before, Christian Communism isn’t a new idea for many of us, I’ve just hesitated to articulate it while Marxism still seemed to have more life within it. Latin American theologies like Jose Miranda’s 1982 book “Communism in the Bible” were here before me. Here the Zizekian story from “Looking Awry” about the man who leaves his wife and children and then turns up a decade later with a new wife and children seems to exactly characterize the possibility of Communism being reborn as a post-supernaturalist pluralist religious discourse.

Zizek’s point here was that perceiving your life as if you were moving forward to something entirely new is always deceptive, because if you look backward retrospectively, you see that you are really just going where you’ve already been. I left Christianity over 15 years ago, but I keep going back to it in new ways. I don’t think there’s nothing new in this repetition, after all, perhaps your new spouse isn’t as verbally abusive as the old one, and so on. Quakerism is much healthier for me than Pentecostalism. In fact, an argument can be made that Pentecostalism was a variant on Quakerism. Old wife same as the new wife.

As for the left and religion, I see my continuing passion to be advocating radical ideas among religious people. Atheists generally find me annoying, since I keep insisting that they are missing out on a potentially enormous mass audience. If both Christian and Islamic forms of Communist vision can be articulated, as well as other post-Marxist religious and atheist Communisms, we have a message to the world that can resonate in the present. Rather than fighting for early modern secularism of the liberal or Leninist types, a new post-postmodern political pluralism seems to be urgently needed that creates avenues of mutual understanding between Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Neo-Pagans, and others. I have even less knowledge of Hindu traditions than Muslim, though this past weekend I re-watched the film “Gandhi” and know that there’s fertile soil there as well.

I also think we can mine the traditions of Anarcho-communism here as well. In fact, some of the hard but necessary work seems to me to revolve around how to split the differences between statist and anti-statist communisms. Anarcho-communism hasn’t really had a political program for a long time (not since Catalonia, I’d say) and if they care to create one, it will have to face hard into the fact that State power isn’t going to disappear, so a new “via media” will have to be found between doctrinaire anti-Statism and engaging state power. Here I sit in an odd relation to Badiou and Critchley who both advocate “politics at a distance from the State.” This makes sense if one is talking to Marxists, not so much when talking to Anarchists. Meeting in the middle ground seems unexplored territory, yet Noam Chomsky has been there for decades advocating saving the welfare systems while maintaining his generally anarchist critique of most State actions.

All of these post-Marxist developments impinge on the possibility of multiple religious revolutionary movements that are progressive in an authentic sense, not regressive like 1978 Iran. Even Hugo Chavez has something to offer this moment, as confused as he is about Iran.

S.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

C.E. I hope it’s alright with you if I take the opportunity to address a topic that came up between you and I outside the context of this interview on a Facebook thread. In particular, whether my approach takes religious beliefs seriously enough? You and I have disagreed over in what sense absolutism and religious beliefs are connected. I won’t assume that I really understand your take on it, since our discussion has been so informal.

I was a believing Christian almost from the time I could form the sentence, “Jesus is my savior.” However, as I’ve studied theories of cognitive formation such as Piaget and James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” research, I can now look back and see that my religious beliefs evolved without my conscious control of them. My cognitive and emotional grasp of ideas of God, heaven, infinity, absolute morality, and so on took place within my growth from a schoolboy to adolescent to young adult to older adult and, as Fowler documents, our “faith” “evolves,” even if a person never really goes beyond what he calls a “conventional” religious stance.

Beyond Fowler’s individual psychology, there are the social systemic orders to consider. I believe that each of us living today have been born into societies that are complexly structured by systems of domination, oppression, repression, and exploitation. Most religious believers of any known society anywhere are on one side or another – usually the disempowered side – of multiple binaries of dominated or dominating, exploitated or exploiting, and so on. A white working-class male can simultaneously be a leader in his church, a patriarchal husband, a racist, and yet be a minimum wage worker in capitalism, which leads to a subjective amalgam of both dominator/exploiter and dominated/exploited attitude formation. The facticity of being a worker under capital has been believed somewhat vulgarly by some Marxists as automatically endowing them with a revolutionary potential. However, these forms of Marxism see the process of consciousness formation in far too mechanical terms.

What has come to engage a significant amount of my thought is trying to understand the hierarchical mind that seems to take pleasure in being a subordinate. I chafe under male domination so badly that I never held a job for more than a couple years from the age of 17 to 39, when I began working for a travel company that was managed almost exclusively by women. I’ve been with them for over 9 years. My immediate supervisors have been women for that entire time and I’m generally a model employee. Apparently, I only take pleasure in being exploited by women! Apparently, many workers take pleasure in being subordinated to capitalism and that messes with simple Marxist notions of revolutionary agency.

My general observation about the complexity of consciousness and its reference to religious beliefs is that using my eightfold framework of gender, sex, class, race, religion/irreligion, politics, ecology, and aggression/violence I understand each person is embedded in these systemic dynamics which make holding a single consistent set of cognitive religious ideas nearly impossible. When I was an active participant in Christian churches as an adult for over two decades, I discussed theology at every opportunity and in nearly every single conversation I’d find some unorthodoxy in every person, many of whom were members in good standing and even leaders in confessional denominations that had fairly specific tenets. Many had a hard time accepting the Trinity, or the incarnation, or hell, or whatever. These private conversations revealed that almost no one bothered to work through their cognitive dissonances about their beliefs with much seriousness.

Even theologians and the discipline of theology are themselves built upon the need to try and resolve cognitive dissonance and it is largely unsuccessful, though one might ask is any academic pursuit ever successful in the sense of resolving all cognitive dissonances about a topic? Imagine the enormity of the task of creating the “One True Orthodox Faith” that is entirely self-consistent and coherent! It has been the agenda of certain religious elites since at least the first Nicean Council of 325 C.E. and of course, even further back. Have they succeeded? Of course not, look at the thousands of churches that the heretics, apostates, gnostics, and ostensibly orthodox have formed.

So, religious belief is a shifting protean mass, much like the various Marxisms. This is why I insist radicals and revolutionaries do not have the luxury of treating religious beliefs in isolation from the complexities of social dynamics. We can’t try to both convert people to revolution and to atheism in the manner of Lenin, Trotsky, or worse, Stalin. Our organizations should be consciously pluralist.

Just as the ruling classes manipulate religion and atheism for their ends, so should the revolutionaries. I don’t mean the term “manipulate” in a baldly cynical manner, either. There are revolutionary theologies out there, notably Latin American liberation theologies but many more, that can be inserted into the religious cultures of any society as a productive intervention against ruling class religion. Atheism has limited success because it, too, is severely shaped by the elitisms within the matrix of domination. The necessary response to religious and irreligious dominator ideologies from above is to encourage a flourishing pluralism of religious and irreligious revolutionary visions from below.

Will there ever be a society that has the luxury to create a wholly consistent metaphysical system that everyone can believe? Not in my or your lifetime. Can we acheive revolutionary unity that can win the fight against capitalism, racism, sexism, tyranny, religious supremacism, and ecocide? Consider how capitalism and representative democracy came to rule the planet. Is it consistent, coherent, and lacking in cognitive dissonance? No, yet it rules effectively. A revolutionary pluralism can also come to rule in the name of a emancipated humanity and flourishing ecology.

S.: My disagreement with you is not just about seriousness because we believe in the same basic set of facts:

1) The secular and religious have been co-defining each other by various levels of cultural dominance over time, so even those concepts are inter-dependent in ways that are to break down, but if that it is the conceptual case, then the matter becomes solely about truth claims.

2) Religion is a historically development both it is beliefs and its social forms. The very idea of religion has an incoherence at it’s core that makes sense only when you look at the Pre-Christian and non-Christian categories. The way Stoics and Platonists talked about their beliefs were similar terms to the way Confucians and Buddhists talked about theirs, and yet we label one a religion and the other a philosophy. But anyone with any historically aware categorical sense
will tell you that neither of the categories really holds in the way we believe them now. Furthermore, the ideas of within a religion are similarly historically confused and that is actually a good thing: some may call this historical contingency, moral progress, or the dominance of the zeitgeist. I suppose we can take our pick on which one we mean. But this means that values that would be considered secular, as in values outside of the purview internal to religious ideology, drive the manifestation and justification of religious ideas.

3) The suppression of religion backfires if it is actively pursued. Both in the case of extremely conservative variants of Russian Orthodoxy and of “radical” (reactionary) Islamism develop out of the state suppression of religion in the various secular Pan-Arabist movements as well as in colonial periods. Often leftists lazily conflate the two reasons for suppressing religion because the outcome was the same, but that brings me to where we differ.

4) Even the most die-hard atheists has points of ethical and ontological commitments that are not empirically or rationally justified, or even justifiable. Therefore, everyone has a political “theology” in the sense that Carl Schmitt used to the term.

But our disagreement is profound and based on three key differences:

1) Historically, religious ideologies that make universal claims do so not on pluralist grounds–Abrahamic religions especially, but it is misleading to see it as unique to them because such developments can be seen in Buddhist nationalism in Japan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Thailand. All countries where Buddhism became dominant by interpolating or syncretizing prior beliefs and then actively suppressing them when they achieved state dominance and the support of a court or Imperial power. The versions of these religions that “remained” radical avoided or even anathematized state power, or have developed in context with other prior strong traditions would they could not entirely incorporate and had separate identities. The examples you give of the liberating versions of Christianity, for
example, have never been socially predominant in their home countries at a political level, so we do not know what they would do with state power. We have a good idea though given that even proto-Orthodox, proto-Catholic Christianity immediately became tied to schisms and violent purges the moment it had any favor from the state. The first Nicean council is a perfect example of that.

2) You’re completely correct about the parallel to Marxism on one level: that as “Marxist” thinkers interpreted the texts they developed readings that were universal, but in application and faces with the realities of the state form, more excluding forms began to dominate and could only be maintained by active purging of prior forms. In fact, as one can see in say, the Maoist cultural revolutions: forms of a hypothetical function that were “deviant” were seen as more
dangerous than completely separate religions. Oddly, something that Islam seems to have foreseen as a problem in its holy texts and over its historical development tried to enshine a protection against in the idea of Ummah and dhimmi as opposed to the infidels. Yet even in that case, the religion to which Islam most resembles is Judaism, not Christianity, and the prime tension it has after dealing with the imperialism directed against the peoples under its ideological forms.

3) The reason for this is a concept that I think applies to human cognition nearly universally: dialectical scission. A totality always divides into pluralities, or particulars, in other to be comprehensible, but the moment one links the particularities in order to classify and understand them, a second-order totality re-emerges, which then has to be demarcated. If you want to claim universal-ism without pluralism implicit within it: then you must try to render the
particular universal by stopping the demarcation and eliminating the other. This always fails in some sense even in successful genocides because the elimination or removal changes parts of the totality, this starting a comprehensible demarcation, and so the process continue. This is why the events I described in my second point seem to happen whenever an ideology, in the sense of idea, starts to dominate.

This leads me to an ultimate break with your line of thinking:

Any attempt to accommodate an claim about the ultimate into pluralism in which that absolute is given primacy will necessitate a political exclusion of some kind. Religion is not comprehensible without either a rupture of orthopraxy (“sin,” “miasma,”) or a rupture of orthodoxy (“heresy,” “wrongful speech,” etc). The pluralism necessarily undoes itself in the same way universal-ism does. While religious believers can be included in a plural universal, the moment you give privilege to that particularity, it will the process of scission will work itself out in history as groups seek to end exposed “cognitive dissonance.” The move to reduce cognitive dissonance and to end process of dialectical scission will happen in all most societies and when it is incorporated and privileged into a political praxis, it can only maintain it by using the states monopoly on the legitimization of violence. This is why I am a secularist in the sense that I do not wish to privilege any particularity to a universal status: I value the pluralism within the totality and want to learn to live with dialectical scission and the uncertainty it can create. In that sense, I agree with you on some of this but don’t think you take religion’s claim to WANT the absolute “seriously” enough. Just because people can’t come up with a coherent explanation: doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try. In history, that drive is one of the few constants.

Lastly, there is a way in which I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding capitalism and overstating on representative democracy:

1. Capitalism as a productive form exists nearly universally now in human cultures because it’s efficiency (and imperial impetus to it in the early states), but ideologies of capitalism are plural. All ideologues of capitalism, however, try to make their ideological justification for it universal. (Just like the religions do). It’s success is not predicated on that: it’s predicated on the fact that it is initially more efficient than most prior forms of organization. The list of reifications (sexism, racism, ecocide, etc) are abstractions of human relations–they are not real, you cannot fight them in that sense. Some of epiphenomenal to capitalist culture: racism and sexism are not dependent on capitalism, but existed prior and were easily incorporated into it as a means of
assigning class. Reductionistic Marxists who claim that racism is just a class development completely miss the boat on this, but so to are the non-Marxist leftists who see a litany of oppression(s) that are somehow necessarily conflated into one whole. We can see scission at work here, can’t we? Until we can offer a productive form that can answer capitalism, we aren’t going to transcend all of it, or perhaps, any of it. Conversely, until we can offer a political praxis and narrative (myth) that can lead us to a “value” system that could produce said productive form, we are essentially doing eschatology. We don’t defeat capitalism just by trying to develop a pluralist ideology to combat it, even if I think that is necessary.

2. Just as a matter of empirical fact: representative democracy is the fastest growing state form, but it does not rule the world. At least 1/6 to 1/3 of the world’s populations do not live in representative democracies and the democracies of both the US and EU have most of their state functions in undemocratic or only
semi-democratic institutions. Representative democracy is incoherent at its core: in fact, it has a contradiction in it’s very conception and has since far before capitalist modernity. That does not, however, end the drive to make it coherent. That drive to make it coherent has been a liberating feature in the past, but as economic and geo-political conditions change, then this becomes harder to maintain and something that was liberating is now oppressive.

I think that draws out my disagreement with you, but I hope you see that while the disagreement is profound so are the points of agreement. I will let you have the last word as it is my interview of you, and I don’t want to be uncharitable by responding with a highly philosophical and long form of my polemical engagement with you. Anyway, you do give me hope that religious thinkers can come to right conclusions and should be seriously listened to, and not shut out or oppressed out of existence, but I do think ultimately “irreligion and religion” from below will predicated on secular pluralism in any political or social form “the left” (whatever that actually means now) advocates.

C.E.: On your first point of “our disagreement”, I think I see one disagreement and one apparent misunderstanding in this topic. I do *not* advocate any religion or atheism holding state power. As a communist of universal love (I should coin a term like “agapestic communism” maybe? Naah, too Christian.) with anarchist tendencies, if there is some transitional state apparatus constructed after the revolution, I see it as very limited, with most power being exercised in direct democratic councils that are specifically constructed to be pluralistic in matters of religion. I envision ecumenical and interfaith consultations being conducted that work out specifically religious conflicts, in contrast to directly economic and political ones. Of course, most religious conflicts will overlap with these other sorts, but disentangling the overlaps is still a substantive religious task. Interactions between religious and irreligious groups will be conducted in keeping with democratic, libertarian, and egalitarian forms.

Before the revolution, I advocate socialist, anarchist, and other left organizations partnering with religious leftists to highlight the diversity of ways that revolutionary goals and values can be justified and propagated by a plethora of atheist and religious “political theologies.” Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and atheist “theologies” of religious pluralism have already been developed in academic forms, these need to be taken on explicitly by revolutionaries and advocated in the public square.

So, the revolution will be pluralistic and no religion or atheism will lead it. In a majority Christian society like the U.S. this means we need to work to change the politics of the churches, mosques, and synagogues more than their theologies, which will subtly or overtly change their theologies, but the horse of political goals needs to lead the cart of religious reformation. This means convincing those in the religious and irreligious camps to come to political agreements that are justifiable from diverse theological and atheological premises.

On the second point of our disagreement, I am not sure where we actually disagree there. I would probably emphasize even more the horrendous effects of State-sponsored atheism on civil liberties and social freedoms. The massacres, imprisonments, and repression of priests, monks, and lay religious adherents by some Communist powers are simply staggering and appalling. Atheism is no guarantee of fair jurisprudence or policing.

The mutual hostility between Christians, Muslims, and Jews cannot be solved by a purely secular approach. These groups need to engage in a decades-long reconciliation process. This has been initiated by various bodies on all sides and the work of disentangling genuinely religious issues from non-religious ones is in part a theological work that cannot be carried out by atheists, though they should be brought into the dialogues as well. There is actually a movement for “interfaith humanism” being formed by younger folks who are getting involved in ecumenical and interfaith organizations to work out how to contribute to better understanding across the secular/religious divides. The blog is dedicated to this work.

You’re dialectical points in third section are little bit abstract. I am less than fully comprehending your totality/scission construct here. I don’t doubt that there’s valuable ideas in there, but it’d take some work on the background assumptions you employ to grasp some of this. If I can really vulgarize it, you seem to be saying that the quest for absolutism cannot be tamed within a pluralist framework, that a more robust secularism needs to be enforced so that absolutists can’t find the means to re-assert their dominance. My objection to that is, who the hell decides who enforces secularism? It’s democratic turtles all the way up and down the revolutionary social structure, to infinity.

Is absolutism a constant drive? Well, your darling Hegel was certainly an absolutist and Marx learned quite well from him. Not to be harsh on either of them, but I am inclined to believe that absolutism is actually a neurosis, sometimes a psychosis. It certainly was in my case. Is the very concept of an infinite creator an absolutism that has to be restrained by a secular functional atheism? There are grounds within the classic monotheisms for pluralism such as the notion of universal sinfulness, the critique of hypocritical religion, mercy & forgiveness, the very fact that this infinite creator doesn’t itself wipe out unbelievers wholesale, mystical incomprehensibility of the nature of G-d, the Golden rule, etc.

On the first point of my “misunderstanding,” I think we’re talking around similar issues, but you come at the problem of e.g. religious, male, white supremacy from the assumptions of Marxism, yet see Marxism’s limits so you move away slowly from Marxist ones towards a more complex formulation. I come from a religious supremacist viewpoint initially, moving away somewhat rapidly, but often not rapid enough, towards a pluralistic revolutionary viewpoint. Neither of us are reductionists, but we do think some things like capitalism have to remain close to the top of our revolutionary priorities, so we approach incorporating anti-capitalism with political theology from different directions. Maybe we’ll meet in the middle somewhere, but maybe our initial starting-points are on different planes, so we always just miss each other.

I conceptualize the multiple systems of domination not in terms of capitalism, racism, sexism, etc. at the most fundamental level, but as power inequalities between agents moving through collectively constructed relational networks situated within the ecosphere of planet earth. Capitalism, racism, religious/irreligious supremacism, ecocide, and sexism are constructed by (mostly) white ruling class males (with some female and non-white collaborators) to deploy multiple power dynamics, with some dominators spending more energy on maintaining gender inequities, and others more focused on economic ones, etc. In the end, they are all constructs of the ruling classes. The subordinate collectives (who are often already the construct of the matrix of domination) construct their counter-systems in opposition to some of the ruling classes’ powers, but these have historically been much weaker than the power of the ruling classes. The revolutionary break will occur when a progressive convergence of key oppositional constructs focuses enough social power to actually permanently undermine the stability of the ruling classes’ hegemonies.

On the second part of that, representative democracy is the public form that legitimizes the governments and, by tacit implication, the ruling classes of the US and Europe, which from there rule the world. I didn’t mean to suggest that every government on the planet is a representative democracy, nor that this form is the actual dominant power. Representative democracy and capitalism as paired terms functions as a sort of syndecoche for the current forms of the matrix of domination.

I’ve been dismissive of secularism in part because both its Communist and Liberal Democratic forms have only aggravated religious tensions and hostilities worldwide, which are embedded within the economic, racial, and political systems of domination. The working-classes, women, people of color, and ignorant masses of the world are predominately religious. Their absolutisms aren’t the absolutism of the powerful, but of the excluded and dominated. They absolutely believe that G-d or Buddha or whatever Final Judge may exist will exonerate them as innocent victims of unjust suffering. Just as science needs immutable natural laws to reach useful knowledge, humans needs a kind of moral certainty to demand justice in this world. Religion is far more capable of this than is atheism. In a world where the poor are finally emancipated then, maybe, religion will wither away like the Communist State.

S.: My last word is this: when the absolutism of below has power, what will tame it? There seems be a essentialization of people in there some where that assumes that having power won’t cah be the characters of the oppressed. My own Jewish roots make me skeptical of that given the history of Zionism and orthodoxy when the diaspora is ended. In a strange way, you talk more Hegelian than I do when it comes to religious progress: I don’t think there is an end to history nor do I think that religious moral certainty is actually all that certain in some key way atheistic frameworks aren’t. I don’t think you believe that either, but the language creeps back in. That’s the leap I don’t see since as we have both agreed that religious thinking change from things outside itself and internal to believers in a non-religious way, the moral certainty of individuals will come from somewhere. It may have been born of the church or innate to our biology, I suspect it’s somewhere in between. I think absolutism in second order logic is unavoidable as even the claim of epistemic relativism is an absolute claim in the second order. Those formal tensions to the way we structure thought have politically implications, but I definitely see the issue with enforced irreligion. That will turn most of those on that opium into raging addicts in withdrawal. No better way to make reactionaries than to make martyrs, and no better hypocrisy than that either.

C.E.: I don’t worry about some of these things, because I do see most political actions as practice that justifies its behavior retrospectively. I don’t think there is a way to give everyone a set of correct political opinions, nor a complete philosophical framework. You and I and many of our interlocutors do try and create philosophical frameworks to reach correct political opinions, but invariably, we are quite imperfect at this task. The Christians, left or right, are often victims of the Reformation’s insistence on correct “faith” which gets reduced to holding a correct set of propositional beliefs. Catholic ideas of orthopraxy mattering more than orthodoxy is quite in keeping with a late modern post-Marxist political situation in which we don’t have the luxury of believing in revolutionary inevitability.

So, we intervene where we can, imperfectly. For me, Christians are the people with whom I am most likely to discuss politics, whether it’s my conservative Republican mother, brother, and sister, or my Green Party wife (who I think voted from Obama in 2008), or the various young theologians I have the pleasure to know, or various Christian Quakers. My perception that there simply are not enough atheists to carry out a revolution in the U.S. leads me to think that I have to continue to work within that reality.

The thick and thin as power plays in the field of Aesthetics

There are two trends dominant in academic discussions about the humanities that I find problematic, if not outright repellent. The “thin” move of the likes of E.O. Wilson and Sam Harris to claim that sense some notion of the aesthetic is evolutionary, then all that needs to be said can be said in terms of biology. The other notion is that of those of the post-Althusserian school who deny any “natural” category and subsume it all to ideology: there is “no human nature,” “no species being,” and no aesthetic categories. Both frankly are power-plays more than legitimate thinking: the later removes any empirical check to any artistic claim, while being “thick” it is also essentially putting all power in the realm of those philosophers of suspicion. The former is thin, and places power in terms of biology, but it’s claim could be said of to be even MORE foundationally true of physics. But no one would expect an electro-magnetic analysis of paint to be able to stand for all that is usefully said about art or literature, so the move seems again to suspiciously favor the field of those who make them.

The truth of the matter is probably much harder as there is no reason to assume the validity of parsimony: both biological and ideological limits exist, mediate our views, and contort our notions of truth and possibility. Both the biological and the ideological shift throughout history and change our notions of art and even of self. Yet neither can could be said to be solely determinate. The thick and thin are both necessary descriptors as the biological world is real as is the ideological world, and both are limits and as limits determine thoughts, but neither are solely determinate nor do I see evidence they they completely subordinate the will in any way. A limit is not a cause, and even a cause is not necessarily the sole cause.

A Shift in Focus back to Poetry and Rationality (With focus on Continental Philosophy): Reader input? And Announcements

I will be continuing my interview series on radical thinking and on skeptical thinking, but I am thinking that I am moving away from political philosophy constantly. My line is increasingly that of the an Adorno-influenced post-Trotskyist Marxist. Post-Trotskyists in that while I find that Trotsky was one of the most insightful thinkers in the Marxist tradition, the “actually existing in our time” Trotskyist tradition is in such opportunistic disarray that I can’t count myself as an wanting full comradeship in any Trotskyist organization at the current although there are a few of them that I wouldn’t necessarily oppose. The sectarian nature of the 35 Fourth Internationals and it’s nine million parallel tendencies is exhausting.

Anyway, I will be working with Douglas Lain on a new project on the history and state of the contemporary left, which may have interviews and other things within it. IT will probably be released in podcast form. I have appeared on Douglas Lain’s podcast in the last month, and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to do a spin-off Therefore, my commentary on politics will be moved to that realm for the most part. Honestly, I am getting exhausted by commenting on politics and my political exploration is settling down into a set view, but still flexible, view. So a podcast and a blog focusing on politics will tire me out: the politics here will probably be limited to the interview series.

So I will be discussing differing views of rationality, and differing views on aesthetics, with some, albeit less, commentary on politics.

Marginalia on Radical Thinking: A Second Dialogue with Charley Earp, part 1

Charley Earp is the blogger behind Radical Progress and new co-host of the Radical Righteous Love. Charley describes himself as a Pentecostal preacher’s kid who lived with a commune for 9 years, which led to his political radicalization. A 3-time college drop-out with a day job in the travel biz, he is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. No longer a Christian, but still actively involved with the progressive wing of Quakerism both locally, with the national Conference, and ecumenical and interfaith work. Born in 1963, married for 29 years, with two adult children. I have interviewed him before here.

Skepoet: What do you see as the Quaker relationship to the Left? And what do you see as secular Marxism and anarchism relations to the the radical reformation such as the Puritans, Levelers, Anabaptists, etc.?

Charley Earp: Just to note that I surprise myself at the directions these questions lead me. More so, the second one.

The Religious Society of Friends is a small family of about 5 or 6 distinct groups. Demographically, the largest group of Quakers are the Kenyan yearly meetings, of which there over 133,000 members in 14 yearly meetings, with a theology that is revivalist evangelical and politically conservative by Western standards (though that is ambiguous within Kenyan politics). For most of this interview, I will assume we are talking about unprogrammed “liberal” Quakers, which are concentrated in North America (both U.S. and Canada), United Kingdom (England, Ireland, and Scotland), and a few small yearly meetings in continental Europe. In the anti-war movement, Quakers are most visible as the American Friends Service Committee, which was created in 1917, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for its WW2 relief and reconstruction work in Europe and Asia. How many liberal Quakers are there? My denomination numbers around 35,000 and in the U.S. that doesn’t include 3 liberal yearly meetings in the Western U.S. such as Pacific YM in California which numbers about 1450 members. If you were to add up all the Marxist groups in the U.S. I wonder whether they’d outnumber us, they might.

I put “liberal” in quotes, because that term has both political and religious meanings and they don’t exactly overlap. While FGC Quakers are generally theologically liberal, politically I’d place them as left-liberal. They do vote Democratic generally (or Liberal or NDP in Canada) but with an uneasy conscience due to their pacifist views. Most are quite critical of capitalism as a system, and would probably favor some form of Social Democracy, if not outright socialism. Within that generalization, one would also find some flavors of Anarchism, such as primitivists or Anarcho-pacifists.

The Left in the U.S. I see as really beginning with the pre-Civil War era and the rise of Abolitionism, in which Quakers were fairly prominent. They also were influential in the formation of U.S. Feminism. Class struggle politics are definitely a minor note among Quakers today, though the Socialist Party has usually had a good number of Quakers, such as Bayard Rustin. Anti-capitalist struggle in an odd way may have begun in England just prior to the origins of Quakers in Gerrard Winstanley’s Diggers or True Levellers. A fascinating article on the relation of the Diggers to Quakers by my friend David Boulton is found here that argues for at least 10 areas of convergence. Winstanley is buried in a Quaker cemetary, which is usually always a sign of membership. Of course, Quakers didn’t call for the “common treasury of the earth” that Winstanley did. Feminism was there early on, as Quakers were the first Christian denomination to vociferously sanction women’s preaching and give women a nearly equal role in church government.

In terms of what we mean by “the Left”, I’ve already thrown out terms like left-liberal, Social Demcracy, Socialism, and Anarchism. Per your blog readership and some of mine we really mean the “far Left” as in socialist or left anarchist philosophy. Most of my U.S. Quaker siblings are chary about Marxism, though Bayard Rustin and Staughton Lynd are exceptions there. In England, there is actually a Quaker Socialist Society group, which I place as Labour Party leftists. One of the more interesting groups to me was the 1960s “Movement for a New Society” which might be styled utopian socialist or anarcho-pacifist, and essentially broke from FGC to be more consistently radical. Their self-description in 1979 reads, “Movement for a New Society (MNS) is a nationwide network of groups working for fundamental social change through nonviolent action. Together we are developing an analysis of present-day society; a vision of a decentralized, democratic and caring social order; a nonviolent revolutionary strategy; and a program based on changed values and changed lives.” Most of MNS has since dissolved back into FGC, though New Society Publishers still exists as their legacy.

Perhaps even more relevant to the topic of Quakerism and far left philosophy is my favorite philosopher John Macmurray. Recently, I’ve rediscovered one of his early books, _Creative Society: A Study of the Relation of Christianity to Communism_ which was published in 1936. Macmurray became a Quaker after he retired from teaching philosophy in the 1960s, though his philosophy is quite congruent with early 20th Century Quakerism. _Creative Society_ uses the distinction drawn by Friedrich Schiller between the “hunger-motive” and the “love-motive” that formed the template for Freud’s eros and death-drive theories. Macmurray argues that Marxism (which he consistently calls Communism) is the historical negation of the love-motive in favor of the hunger-motive. This negation he considers both a historical necessity and a tragic deformation. Macmurray had been raised in Scotland in the Plymouth Brethren, one of the earliest modern Fundamentalist groups. He rejected fundamentalism while in university, and in turn all churches, but not his own ideal of authentic Christianity, which he later argued best existed in Quakers. Macmurray argued that all the churches he knew had done the dialectical opposite of Marxism by negating the hunger-motive in favor of an idealist formulation of the love-motive. His grand project, which I argue exists even in most of his later work, though more subtle and complex, is to reunite the love-motive with the hunger-motive into a new synthesis of Christianity and Communism. Compare this formulation in 1936 with the emergence of Liberation Theology in the late 1960s, and I’d say Macmurray was there ahead of the game. I’ve been so inspired by re-reading “Creative Society” in the light of the current “theological turn” of left philosophy in Zizek, Badiou, Critchley, and Hardt (Hardt is less theological, but still taking up the love-motive thread) to begin my own book, which I’ve provisionally titled _A Communism of Love_. For me, personally, this marks a new paradigm turn in my thought beyond the things I’ve written on, though not in my mind a negation of it, just a new grand frame. I’ve yet to publish this turn anywhere, so consider this a sneak preview and a web exclusive! Ha, my adoring fans will be thrilled!

On the relation of Marxism and Anarchism to radical reformation movements, I’d say that the relation is fairly causative up until Marx, Engels, and Bakunin made atheism the de facto position of the left. “Utopian Socialism” was very much bound with religious radicals. In Macmurray’s analysis, this tragically necessary negation of the Christian Communist possibility came about because of the alliance of the national churches of Europe (as well as most U.S. churches) with capitalism. Belief in God as loving father of humanity who is creating a universal kingdom of heaven on earth becomes alienated into an exclusive focus on the afterlife, which is gained by a legalistic salvation by grace that issues in personal piety and moralism, but not socially critical prophetic activism. Hutterite radical reformers, in contrast, were and are explicitly anti-capitalist and to this day stand as the longest-lived communist experiment, though ultimately purely sectarian utopian.

The communist impulse in Christianity is recurrent over its entire history, first in the church in Jerusalem depicted as holding “all things common” in the aftermath of Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection, and the Pentecost outpouring. It is taken up again several times, but never as more than a sliver compared to the mainstream church. Community of goods is tried on a local scale several times, but never survives for long, except among Hutterites. An interesting version of this was the Oneida colony founded by John Humphrey Noyes with his perfectionist theology of “Bible Communism” that included group marriage. Today’s polyamorist movements owe something to Noyes, though they don’t emerge from his theological milieu.

In a somewhat academic vein, the radical reformation is a specialist term in church history centered on the Anabaptist movements in the Germanic regions in the 1600s, such as the Munsterite Communists, the Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, and the now mostly extinct Spiritual Anabaptists forming the original milieu. Some also include Czech Unitarianism in this, but that is controversial especially among confessional Mennonites, the largest direct descendents of the Anabaptist tradition. Quakers can be seen as a sort of anomalous dissociated flowering of Anabaptism in England, as can the early British Baptist movement. The connections between Quakers and the radical reformation is most strong in their similar pacifist tendencies, but Quakers at best seem to represent a historic shift away from some of the radical reformation characteristics such as biblicism and social separatism (though this did become prevalent in later generations of American Quakerism), and also to prefigure later developments of pietism and Wesleyanism.

We can talk about the relation of religion to the left generally as well, since I hold the view, again following Macmurray, that religion is a natural outgrowth of the human capacity to reflect, it contains within its holistic apperception the seed-forms of art, science, and ethics, which are distinguished more formally within secularist philosophical approaches. These seed-forms resonate in philosophy with the Platonic forms of the Good, Truth, and Beauty, which Thomas Aquinas argued were actually infinitely united in the simple unity of God. Kant uses this triad to construct his three critiques of pure reason, practical reason, and (aesthetic) judgment. In Schillerian/Kantian terms, the love-motive is the basis of art, hunger-motive the basis of science, and the quest for the Good is the unifying of both motives within one transcendental apperception.

To tie this to the emergence of a renewed Hegelian left, the talk of love and theology still seems to me to need the Kantian corrective of a unifying conception of practical reason as the unification of the hunger-motive and the love-motive into a categorically imperative commitment to the Greatest Good. The relation of the greatest good to the love-motive or the hunger-motive can be deformed in a few different ways, such as left romanticism and aestheticism which overvalues the aesthetic in a narrow sense of appreciating that which satisfies the affections, but doesn’t commit to actual social struggle as an overarching revolutionary praxis aimed at the good society. Another deformation is the purely pragmatic one that dethrones the greatest good in favor of the expediencies of reform. “The movement is everything, the goal is nothing.” This greatest Good in Christian terms is the kingdom of heaven on earth, “Thy Will Be Done, Thy Kingdom Come.”

So, what do I do with “God” since we’re talking about religon? I take a post-supernaturalist stance as to what the term “God” refers. I believe that the abstraction of scientific methodology from its religious origins in an idea of an absolute creator of rational immutable Natural Law, has yielded centuries of verifiable facts and theories about the world as it is, as it has become. God in monotheism was the name given to the source of the world, in contrast to polytheism’s more “order from chaos” perspective. God or the gods as personal is a natural projection of the human cognitive architecture. we attribute agency to natural phenomena, since we are agents. In the pre-scientific world, there was no way to test whether the God of Moses or the gods of Egypt were real or whether the stories about them were true, all that could practically be done was to see whether a people’s faith in their highest aspirations could be realized by collective action. The Gods were personifications of the forces and ideals of ancient social systems.

Science has depersonalized the universe as a whole for secularists, but many people still find this unacceptable. They demand meaning for their lives and struggles. Marxism proposed that the proletarian revolution was the fulfillment of human destiny and would issue in the Kingdom of Freedom, Communism. This ideal, as I argued earlier is based on a prioritization of economic hunger-motives over relational love-motives and Communism is an intellectual signifier that stands for what the inheritors of the revolution can build in revolution’s aftermath. Communism as the Greatest Good is a word with little clear and compelling content, especially in terms of the love-motive, but also in the grander religious sense of a revelation of how the world ought to become. I’m almost beginning to think as I live into this new “Communism of Love” paradigm that I should declare that Utopia is actually possible, if we collectively decide we want it, we can do it. We can begin now, not in the sense of David Graeber’s “Communist freedom already exists” but in the Gospel sense that we can be empowered (sanctified) to be transformed into agents of revolutionary love. Love is the name of the Greatest Good and Love is God. Parenthetically, I would mention the analogy of this to Buddhist self-extinguishment and the Boddhisatva vow of compassion towards all beings.

To round out the claim that “Love” is the Greatest Good i.e. God’s Will, it must be stressed that Truth and Beauty (the affections, including more romantic forms of love) both must be robustly present within Good, i.e. a normative ethic that extends its intentions to all humanity and the earth as the gift of the cosmic force of natural law. We cannot call this communism of universal love if it doesn’t include all humanity, the animal and plant kingdoms and their habitats, our best scientific methodology freed of capitalist and imperialist constraints, and artistic creativity freed from profit and commodification.

In one strain of Christian thought that includes Martin Luther King, Jr., a distinction is drawn based on Greek terms; Eros, Philia, and Agape. Eros is affectionate physical love. Philia is brotherly love. Agape is self-sacrificial non-sexual love in its highest form as exhibited in Jesus’ crucifixion. It isn’t a particular love, but the perfect Love an infinite all-knowing being of Love has for its creation. God’s love knows every feeling you’ve ever had, every kind or malicious thing you’ve ever done, but that Love is unchanging, since it knows everyone from even before conception or the Big Bang itself. This is theology and in mythological language certainly, but it is also possible to be appropriated critically using the tools of modern psychology and philosophy and the “rational kernel” deployed for revolutionary ends. As Zizek says, “we must approach atheism through the Christian experience.”

As I said, this whole train of thought has been something of a new thing, and surprisingly compulsive.

S.: What do you make of both the Quaker and Anabaptist commitment to pascifism?

C.E.: It’s often forgotten that the first Anabapist group to be so labeled were the radical Musterites. They took over a small city and turned it into a commune, pending the outbreak of Armageddon. They were not pacifists. Similarly, the Diggers in England weren’t strict pacifists, though they did have some leanings that way. Several Quakers in fact were partisans of the Cromwell regime in its earliest days. That faded fairly quickly and was part of the impetus for forming Quakerism as a distinct group during Cromwell’s reign, before religious tolerance.

Initially for both pacifist groups, beyond their Biblical justifications, nonresistance was about withdrawing from the State Churches. In both Switzerland and England, regime changes had meant a forced choice between accusations of hidden loyalty to the dethroned order or becoming conformed to the new Protestant order. Both said, “none of the above” and declared themselves under a new order of Christ where the sword was renounced.

This sectarian nonresistance didn’t flower into political pacifism until the late 19th century, perhaps earlier for some Quakers. The idea that war could be abolished worldwide has a geneaology from Tolstoy to Gandhi to A. J. Muste and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Muste was a Quaker for a while as well and wrote an influential pamphlet _The World Task of Pacifism_ that is still read by Quakers. It can be read here:

Pacifism does have some deformed expressions, in my view, as in language-policing, passive-aggressive suppression of conflicts, or political neutralism. Probably the latter is the most troubling from a left perspective. I remember when I was just getting into the peace movement in the early 80s, one of the tensions was over whether to support the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, since they had a mandatory military service policy. Daniel Berrigan defended the regime critically, despite his pacifism, others were more inflexible.

I began my own pacifism fairly early as a response to my father’s dictatorial rule, my infatuation with hippies & Jesus Freaks, the Sermon on the Mount, and my perception that we were in Vietnam for no good reason. All of this had gelled in me by 1975 at the age of 12, when I remember Nixon’s resignation in disgrace. I spent decades studying pacifism seriously to answer the objections such as “what about Hitler?” “what about Grandma?” and “what about the Commies?” I will never forget my somewhat smug satisfaction that the pacifists had been right, we didn’t need war to end Communist Party rule in the USSR.

My own grappling has lead to me to reconsider whether the Just War Theory might have something to say about a Just Revolution Theory. I had to face this quite explicitly when NATO intervened in Libya. I didn’t support Gaddafi and figured that those Libyans calling for NATO intervention were probably some new emergent ruling class, the literal “rock vs. a hard place” dilemma.

The perverse twist on this anti-intervention stance is that now we have a group of Syrians in the US trying to team up with anti-NATO protestors in Chicago. The signs they were carrying explicitly supported the current regime! How is that a left stance?! However, strict pacifism does lead to such problematics. I still don’t feel easy with NATO intervening in Syria, but definitely want al-Assad out of power.

I guess what keeps me so close to pacifism is that in the end I see it as siding with the majority who do not have the wealth to outgun the ruling classes. We have to defeat them by means other than an armed struggle, as I see it.

S.: Why do you think the Protestant tradition in America has taken such a rightward turn, Charley?

C.E.: The Right turn in protestantism goes back to Martin Luther’s anti-semitism and support of class warfare in the Peasant revolts. The Left wing of any religion is always under siege whenever the religious leaders get into bed with the ruling class. Now if we compare the religious Right in the U.S. with Europe, then part of the answer lies in asking why is Europe generally more favorable to Social Democracy? It follows that such sympathies would express themselves in religion.

The lack of a robust labor union system, no legacy of State Churches, and racial division in the working-class leaves (white) U.S. religion stuck without much on which to hang a leftist political theology. Black and Latino churches are a different story. Caucasian Religion becomes about avoiding falling into poverty by not behaving criminally nor consorting with blacks. It is interesting that the decline of liberal Protestantism and Catholicism tracks with the regression of organized labor.

The younger generation of Evangelicals, however, show some signs of leftward drift. The “Emergent Christianity” movement is building off of the tiny old Evangelical left from the 70s that shaped my politics to open up spaces within Evangelicalism on issues such as poverty, war, gender, sexuality, abortion, and race, as well as incorporating participatory practices into church structure. An interesting figure here is Jay Bakker, the tattooed son of televangelist Jim Bakker. Jay runs a church called “Revolution NYC” that is gay-inclusive and streetwise. The torment Jay experienced during his parents’ ministry collapse certainly set him up to question the right-wing church. One of Jay’s favorite theologians is Christian Socialist Paul Tillich, an influence on Adorno!

S.: This leftward turn seems sincere, but also am I correct in seeing it to be predominantly based on lifestyle? This seems like a marked
departure from say the semi-liberation theology one say in Azuza Street Pentecostals for example?

C.E.: Is Emergent Evangelicalism largely a “lifestyle?” I confess that I can’t prove it either way. My main contact with it is through the internet and its impacts in Chicago. My former Mennonite church with peace movement and counter-culture ties has seen an influx of young adults from places like Wheaton College with left, liberal, even Anarchist leanings. was founded by two young adult Evangelicals who discovered Anabaptism and are now trending Anarchist with a tendency towards primitivism, but hopefully that won’t overtake them entirely. They’re not the mainstream of the Emergent trend, for sure, but at least in the urban centers, Emergent Evangelicals seem to lean to the left.

As for the Liberation Theology of Azusa Street, it’s an irony of history that Pentecostal doctrines were formulated by Charles Parham, a white segregationist who let a black preacher named William Seymour audit Bible School clases from a window. That black preacher fostered the Azusa Street revival. The first generations of Pentecostals had a lot of pacifists among them, as well as an organic connection to Wesleyan abolitionists like Charles Finney.

Azusa Street theology was multiracial and egalitarian in both gender and church governance. I don’t have a sense of its class politics, but most early Pentecostals were poor folks. I encountered hostility to labor unions as a kid growing up in the 70s among Pentecostals, but by then most caucasian Pentecostals had long abandoned any social radicalism.

To be continued.

Flash Review: Poems Seven

There are very poems that seem more direct and laconic in English, although Nicanor Parra’s antipoetry in Spanish is unique close. A retrospective of all of Dugan’s career, whose poems still resonate with me since I read them in my late teens in the 1990s even though they were written in the 1960s. While contemporary to Charles Bukowski and Frederick Seidel, Dugan has a subtler art than Bukowski’s and a more naunced meanness than Seidel. Often bitter and hyper-rational, there is a subtle beauty that can be seen in poems like “Love Song: I and Thou” whose twists better near nihilism and love can be dizzying. Dugan’s irony is classical, not the flippancy of a lot of hipper, younger verse. To be savored, slowly and carefully, even in some of the unevenness of Dugan’s later work.

El Mono Liso:

An interesting reflection on the Greek situation.

Originally posted on Greek Left Review:

Greek elections reflect a polarized society. The Left takes more votes from youths, people in productive ages (18-44), employees, people living in poorer neighborhoods, people living in cities. The Right gets votes from older ages, more rural areas, affluent strata. On the one hand, this means that there is a dimension of civil war in current social contestation. On the other hand, it is evident that that the bases of a new ‘historical block’ are evident in the electoral result.

New democracy being the first party means that it is possible to have a pro-austerity government along the New Democracy – PASOK axis. However, it will not be a legitimized government. Even though it will start with the attempt to “renegotiate” the Memoranda , in the end it will be strong-armed into imposing austerity. This will lead to new social explosion. It is the responsibility of the of…

View original 325 more words

Rearview Review: Slavoj Zizek’s “Living in the End Times” (Verso, 2010)

While sporadic in argument and full of the normal Lacan-Hegel/Hegel-Lacan dialectical twists, this is one of the more interesting of Zizek’s less scholarly polemics. While more nuanced than his prior polemics such as “In Defense of Lost Causes” and not as rigorous (or as menacing) as his current tome on Hegel, his sections of the denial in the liberal utopian “present” seem particularly horrowing as Obama’s first tenure comes to a disappointing end, and the European Dream seems to be coming to a halt that stems from a mixture of German sado-monetarism, North European financialization, and lack of productive capacity in Southern Europe, his reading of the tendency to valorize the “other” seems like a necessary but more entertaining pulling from the themes of Badiou’s “Metapolitics.” Yet his pessimistic tone in “acceptance” seems to lead to some what his problems with Occupy may have been, but also indicate why he may not have been able to foresee either.

The looming caveat here is the lingering “non-style” and “non-argument” of Zizek, a kind of discursiveness and aphorism through joke that resembles Nietzsche or H.L. Mencken as much as a Hegelian Marxist or a Left Lacanian theorist. Furthermore, the structure of this polemic as an “opera” actually causes a fugue, where the arguments make sense in the context of Zizek’s corpus, but if one started here, it would be very easy to draw the wrong conclusions. The overlay of “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance” seems to create a unity that often seemed to be lacking in the actual arguments, many of which anyone familiar with Zizek’s (quite humorous and often excellent) speeches would be recognize immediately.

Yet the reminder that many leftists who fear Zizek’s conclusions don’t want to hear: Liberal modernity and the current degeneration of capitalism aren’t likely to end in a bang, or a whimper, or in a crash, but a prolonged violent drowning. His call to return to a modified communism, one that has flipped Marx on its head and returned to (German) Idealism with sounder political economy, may be more precarious than it seems. This book doesn’t crash into the iceberg, but it doesn’t get you to shore either: That’s part of Zizek’s call, it’s time to start rowing. What remains unclear if Zizek has more of an answer here than any of us deck chairs on this titanic.

Review: Malcolm’s Bull’s Anti-Nietzsche (Verso, 2011)

In reading Nietzsche, one would never have thought to find Adorno pitted on the side of Nietzsche, but this is what one sees in the very first section of “Anti-Nietzsche” was a condemnation of the aesthetic as an attempt to defend other privileged but arbitrary notions of value. Anti-Nietscheanism is predicated first on seeing the manifestation of the aesthetic as a means of returning to “value” and defining power as the sovereign value over power. Bull’s thesis then proceeds wildly from there, but it is based on four premises that many readers of Nietzsche have wanted to avoid: that the “Will to Power” was a legitimate text despite the editorial hand of Nietzsche’s sister, two that we should take Nietzsche at his word at all times (like Italian scholars like Domenico Losurdo do), three that the reason why there are no anti-Nietzscheans is that both the Heideggerian readers of Nietzsche (Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, etc) and the other left readers of Nietzsche (who are rarely, if ever mentioned despite their influence such as Foucault, Bataille, Klossowski) apparently miss, and, four, that we need a leveling “negative” ecology that favors the Nietzsche’s positive ecology that privileges embracing the sub-human.

While well-written and interestingly, if idiosyncratically argued, Bull can’t seem to focus on his thesis long enough to fully develop what it means to read against Nietzsche to read as a sub-human. Not just to reject to Nietzsche’s vision of excellence, but to reject the domain of excellence itself. It seems like Bull cannot establish what this would mean except for a quip about letting the animals retake the art museums, or embracing the teaming mass of life under purely extra-utilitarian grounds, embracing the great beast and falling towards humanity. He briefly hints that some of this is implicit in Gramsci, and the idea of passive revolution (which Gramsci saw as tending either fascist or, as Trotskyists would put it, Bonapartist) as a means of embracing the non-heroic. The implications for this Bull doesn’t seem to be willing or perhaps able to articulate: What would such a political program look like? Is this a very complex restatement of the idea of the noble savage? Is this embracing a kind of Marxism beyond the proletarian to the bestial? It’s hard to say, and Bull doesn’t necessarily.

Yet hitting on the relationship between aesthetic value and economic value seems to be an articulation that is stated much more clearly and less abstractly in Pierre Bourdieu idea’s around social capital, but Bourdieu’s work doesn’t have the hints of an nihilistic, philistine, and hyper-egalitarianism with the non-human. Perhaps Peter Singer’s idea of the expending circle of empathy to all of life may apply here too, but then there is still a value there, so that isn’t as radical as Bull seems to want the negative ecology to be either. Oddly, so sub-humanism seems too demanding for even Bull to completely articulate.

Baudrillard’s challenge to the mass line (some quotes)

The masses are a locus of inertia and through that a locus of a completely new, inexplicable violence different from explosive violence. Critical mass, implosive mass. Beyond thirty thousand it poses the risk of “bending” the structure of Beaubourg. If the masses magnetized by the structure become a destructive variable of the structure itself – if those who conceived of the project wanted this (but how to hope for this?), if they thus programmed the chance of putting an end with one blow to both architecture and culture – then Beaubourg constitutes the most audacious object and the most successful happening of the century!

Make Beaubourg bend! New motto of a revolutionary order. Useless to set fire to it, useless to contest it. Do it! It is the best way of destroying it.

The world is not dialectical – it is sworn to extremes, not to equilibrium, sworn to radical antagonism, not to reconciliation or synthesis. This is also the principle of evil. -Jean Baudrillard

It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are. -Baudrillard

The abjection of our political situation is the only true challenge today. Only facing up to this situation in all its desperation can help us get out of it. -Baudrillard

“The futility of everything that comes to us from the media is the inescapable consequence of the absolute inability of that particular stage to remain silent. Music, commercial breaks, news flashes, adverts, news broadcasts, movies, presenters—there is no alternative but to fill the screen; otherwise there would be an irremediable void…. That’s why the slightest technical hitch, the slightest slip on the part of the presenter becomes so exciting, for it reveals the depth of the emptiness squinting out at us through this little window.”
― Jean Baudrillard

“We criticize Americans for not being able either to analyse or conceptualize. But this is a wrong-headed critique. It is we who imagine that everything culminates in transcendence, and that nothing exists which has not been conceptualized. Not only do they care little for such a view, but their perspective is the very opposite: it is not conceptualizing reality, but realizing concepts and materializing ideas, that interests them. The ideas of the religion and enlightened morality of the eighteenth century certainly, but also dreams, scientific values, and sexual perversions. Materializing freedom, but also the unconscious. Our phantasies around space and fiction, but also our phantasies of sincerity and virtue, or our mad dreams of technicity. Everything that has been dreamt on this side of the Atlantic has a chance of being realized on the other. They build the real out of ideas. We transform the real into ideas, or into ideology.”
― Jean Baudrillard, America

“Governing today means giving acceptable signs of credibility. It is like advertising and it is the same effect that is achieved – commitment to a scenario.” – Jean Baurdrillard

Terror is as much a part of the concept of truth as runniness is of the concept of jam. We wouldn’t like jam if it didn’t, by its very nature, ooze. We wouldn’t like truth if it wasn’t sticky, if, from time to time, it didn’t ooze blood.” – Baudrillard

Much Ado about The MBC Shocking Truth Video

So I haven’t talked about this much:  my experiences of anti-foreign sentiment in Korea is that it is real, but I have no experience directly at this level except once during my fiancee’s medical treatment.

The MBC Shocking Truth video, however, is an fortunate outlier, but one that is not entirely out of course with parts of mainstream Korean culture.  So instead of holding forth, I think one should watch the video:

And then get listen to these two podcasts: here and here, as well as Roboseyo’s post on context and appropriate  action here:  Roboseyo’s point that this has to be beyond a “white men” versus “Korean men” issue is key, and painted as an issue of dealing with demonization of guest workers that scouted for and encouraged to come by both the Korean government and the Chaebols. 

There are some issues about privilege and nasty tactics on the expat side too, and that needs to be really discussed more deeply than many of expat side are generally willing to do. But the tu quo que fallacy and the inter-Korean sexism isn’t to be encouraged either, so one has to walk a double-bind here

IF you read the comments on the video by both Koreans and “westerners,” you’ll lose hope for humanity for a minute though. But for hope for humanity, there is a fairly good and fair article from the Korean media itself here.


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