Saturday, April 28, 2007

Al Wolters on the meaning of "reformational"

I have been rereading Al Wolters Creation Regained. He spends some time discussing the meaning of the word "reformational" which compliments nicely the Seerveld quote I posted a while back.

Wolters notes two important connotations of the word ‘reformational’:

The first is this; reformation means sanctification, not consecration. Both words mean "making holy," but they are not strictly synonymous. To sanctify (or hallow, to use an Anglo-Saxon word) means "to make free from sin, to cleanse from moral corruption, to purify." To consecrate, on the other hand, generally means simply ‘to set apart, to dedicate, to devote to the service or worship of God.’ Consecration therefore means external renewal; sanctification means internal renewal. The word reformation refers to sanctification in this sense of inner revitalization (p.89)

A second feature of reformation is that the avenue of this sanctification is progressive renewal rather than violent overthrow … God calls his people to a historical reformation … to a sanctification of creational realities from sin and its effects. (p.91)

Negatively Wolters contrasts this strategy with revolution; the positive meaning of reformation, he states:
entails that the normative elements in any distorted situation (and every situation is distorted to some extent) should be sought out as a point of contact in terms of which renewal can take place … reformation always takes as its point of departure what is historically given and seeks to build on the good rather than clearing the historical terrain radically in order to lay an altogether new foundation. (p.93)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Zizek a hypothesis

David’s lecture the other night was really good and has had me thinking about Zizek’s ideas a lot. What follows is, in platonic terms, art, or in other words imitation of imitation.

Zizek is involved in a battle of ideas against Buddhism and all neo-paganisms. Such ideas give absolute priority to unity so that diversity comes to be seen as illusory and possibility even evil. Our individual existence itself and all that it is caught up with will return as in a cycle to the unity from which it came [in Vollenhoven’s terms this is Universalism or Mysticism]. Zizek however is an advocate for difference. He sees an ontology of unity as having terrifying moral consequences, even going so far as to evoke the Holocaust as an example of the kind of loss of moral conscious that such an ontology brings.

Zizek is interested in Christianity for a number of reasons. He believes that the “Christian experience” is necessary to being an atheist and he sees the “Judeo-Christian logic” as the best defence against Buddhism. David focused more on the former but said enough on the latter to provoke my hypothesis. It draws on the reminder that David gave us part way through his lecture. With the focus firmly on religion, and Christianity in particular, David reminded us that Zizek’s starting point is, nevertheless, as a materialist in the Marxist sense.

Now there seem to be two elements to the “Christian logic” that attracts Zizek. The first is that redemption means breaking the cycle of sin, Christianity is therefore a religion of rupture, of the Event or of the Other. His analysis of Jesus’ death is, however, mainly taken up with his claim about the “Christian experience” and atheism rather than redemption. David pointed out that Zizek disappointingly dismisses Jesus’ resurrection as a group hallucination, spiritualising the very material centrepiece of the Christian faith. The second element to the “Christian logic” that Zizek appeals to is the Holy Spirit as a force which brings community, Zizek though has no time for the church.

My hypothesis then is that Zizek is a Young Hegelian. Despite his avowed materialism Zizek has lost faith in the revolutionary community of the proletariat and fears Buddhism rather than capitalism. His appropriation of Christianity consists of an abstracted revolutionary logic, a dematerialised resurrection and an idea of community striped of its material embodiment. Might it not be the case that Zizek is only fighting phrases with phrases?
I expect this hypothesis is a little over stated, but it will be interesting to test it when I get the chance to read some of Zizek's work.
Later: David has posted on his lecture here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Who the Heck is Zizek?

Well he is the fellow on the left.
David Henningham is giving a short lecture on Zizek as part of the Universettee series. David has just attended some master classes lead by Zizek so is now the local expert. He is also a rather bright fellow, so should be good.
David has written some interesting posts on the master classes 1, 2, 3 & 4

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wilberforce and Normative Politics

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to see the film Amazing Grace. I must say I enjoyed it, perhaps it was just the novelty of going to the cinema, or even seeing a film which I haven't done much of lately. I liked the way Wilberforce was shown to have a broad range of political concerns beyond his driving passion to end slavery. There was a scene where Thomas Clarkson tries to persuade Wilberforce to embrace the revolutionary politics then going on in France, but Wilberforce is quite adamantly opposed to such an approach. I am hoping that The Wiberforce Connection might give further insight into his approach to politics. My fear is that the "Wilberforce model", while inviting prophetic opposition to the many injustices in the world, lacks the kind of positive normative vision that is needed to confront the complex issues we face today.

A really helpful starting point would be to ask what the task of the state is. This is vital if we are to hold the state to account as a servant of God, while also giving due regard to the responsibilities of other social institutions like families, businesses, schools and churches as well as the role of individual citizens. I just don't see Christians in Britain asking these kinds of questions. Hopefully Jonathan Chaplin will be able to prompt such necessary thinking. Without a view that clearly differentiates the kind of responsibility and authority that is proper for the state we will end up with all sorts of unrealistic expectations and muddled thinking.

An example of this is Julia Manning's contribution to The Difference on "Health and Stewardship" where she writes that "The government has the responsibility to provide for the health of the nation. Yet it also has the responsibility of maintaining economic vibrancy". While the government has some kind of responsibility towards public health, it is a limited and specific kind of responsibility that needs to be viewed along side the responsibilities of health care institutions, families, schools etc. which each have an important role to play. So we need some positive delineation of these diverse, but reinforcing social responsibilities.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Christian Political Thought in the UK

While in Exeter I came across this new magazine. They have a blog here. I also saw the film Amazing Grace, so I am thinking about the nature of Christian political thought here in the UK. What can I, as a novice reformational political thinker, contribute?

As a start here are some critical notes on Kay Carter's editorial:

She presents the issue of Christianity and politics in terms of a relationship falling apart, employing the metaphor of a divorce, but the terms of this relationship are very unclear. She begins by saying that "Britain and Christianity have grown apart", then refers to the growing gap between the "statute books" and "Christian values" and by the beginning of her second paragraph is addressing "the Church" as the divorcee with a choice to make. There are then real questions as to who we are to have a dialogue with, and who "we" are that might participate or instigate this dialogue.

One possible answer is that the dialogue is between church/es and state, but such a dialogue is already going on and The Difference is non-denominational. Perhaps it is best to read "the Church" not institutionally but as the body of believers. The implication then appears to be that 'Christianity' and 'politics' are, at least potentially, self-contained spheres that should nevertheless talk to each other. Now it may well be true that such an implication was not intended, but it is there nevertheless and until Christians start to think through and discuss politics as an integral and specific part of our responsibility to love God and serve one’s neighbour we will be stuck with a purely external moral approach rather than an internal normative one.