God Rules the World

The article to which Eric points us has me quite studious this morning. 

The only proper sense of “theocracy” is the simple recognition that God rules the world.

Of course,  the matter is not “simple” when one considers the radical re-ordering of the very questions that get asked when one begins here.  The wrestling with the powers like the state and  “the city” (Cavanaugh has a chapter in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology  called The City: Beyond Secular Parody,  which I went and checked out from Vandy’s Divinity Library,  to read alongside of Graham Ward’s Cities of God (Ward also is one of the editors of the Radical Orthodoxy book,  and his book is in the same “series” on Radical Orthodoxy)

Cavanaugh has quite a few rather juicy quotes.  A few:

On globalization:

There’s some truth to the uniting effect. The internet, for example, is a remarkable tool for getting in touch with people around the world. That’s a good thing. But the idea that we’re all one big happy family now is really absurd. People are being worked to death to make our toys in China and Thailand and other places. We are not one big happy family.

Graham Ward keeps promising in my early reading in Cities of God to talk about cyberspace……I’m looking forward to it……hopefully a big improvement on Quentin Schultze’s treatment in his book of 5 years ago (Habits of the High-Tech Heart),  which I just hated.

When we have debates about NAFTA, the question is always phrased: “Is this going to be good or bad for America?” We never get to the real question: “Which class of Americans is this going to be good or bad for?” The basic answer, of course, is that it’s good for capital and bad for labor.

The imagination:

You’ve made the argument that the Eucharist is an answer to globalization. What do you mean?

I want to be cautious about saying the Eucharist is the answer to anything. It’s not magic. But it is central to a Christian way of seeing and acting. That’s what I’m talking about.

In the Eucharist the global is realized in the local. Each congregation that meets has the whole Body of Christ present. It’s a different way of talking about the relationship between the global and the local that doesn’t have the same implications as the total dominance of the global over the local.

Catholics are really starting to feel left out of the process. They just don’t find their values resonating with either party.

The other point is that the imagination of the Eucharist tends to resist the imagination of the detached consumer. This is because the Eucharist consumes us, it makes us part of the Body of Christ and takes us up into Christ. Since we know that we’re members of the one Body of Christ, we can resist this idea that we’re just detached individual consumers who survey the world and choose whatever we like. Now that we’re a member of the Body, as Saint Paul says, the pain of one of the members is our pain as well, the pain of all.

Here,  is where the “participation” in the Eucharist would seem to make some sort of impact, in this “body” sense,  that we simply cannot kill each other,  which is precisely what happens when Christians kill each other in the name of the nation-state.  (ala Hauerwas).  But ,  even wider than that,  the “body” reality is also indicative of the sort of life we live together (and should pose quite a challenge to the “independent”, “Individualistic” lives we live in separation from this body.  We simply don’t take the eschatology seriously; that there is the sense of a “in a mirror darkly” that the “ideal” of communion and discipleship is something that actually CAN be embodied,  but that it requires that we BE that body (which means find ways to start acting like it;  which will help us to cease acting and start assuming that this is the way it was meant and designed to be).

On homogenization in a “free market” culture:

I’m trying to understand this phenomenon: If we live in such a free-market economy, how do we end up with such homogenization? How is it that in this incredibly free market you can drive three thousand miles from one end of the country to the other and the whole way you meet people listening to the same songs, wearing the same clothes, watching the same movies and TV shows, talking the same way, getting news from the same sources, and staying at the same hotels? Where does that come from?

The same observation can be taken right into the church setting;  that it doesn’t much matter that you meet people IN and OUT of the church that all sound the same;  the church people are talking about the same “goods” and the same songs and getting news from the same sources. (which brings up the issue of what ARE good sources…..NPR?  Not as often as some would like to think,  although I always choose that among choices on the dial—-would that there were the Cavanaughs, Hauerwas’s, Wendell Berry’s,  etc.  that could be hosting such desirable media (Jamie had a post about this in a forum over at Generous Orthodoxy ThinkTank:

But the challenge is that so much of the evangelical imagination is shaped by Christian radio–and even worse, Christian TV. Perhaps if I was most consistent I would hold on to a kind of “remnant” approach, forswear playing by the rules of the media game, and be content with little communities whose imaginations are shaped otherwise.

But on some nights, when I’m either crazy enough or angry enough with the drivel our parishioners are hooked on, I dream of a Christian radio show that would winsomely and accessibly present the kinds of stuff we’re passionate about here at GO Think Tank. I elect Scot McKnight to host!

Source: Generous Orthodoxy ThinkTank: Scholarly Popularizers and Academic Activists

On Decisions ceded to the state:

That’s been a key issue for me recently. Here you had the Pope and the bishops world-wide saying that the war in Iraq would not be a just war. And then Catholics went and fought in it anyway. People like George Weigel and Michael Novak were making very public arguments that it’s not the Pope’s decision, it’s the president’s decision, and we ought to defer to the decision to the president. I think that’s just disastrous.

Lends some light to the Bush-ism : “I am the decider”

If we’re going to have a functioning just war theory, then we can’t abdicate this judgment to the leaders of the secular nation state, as if they can decide when a war meets Christian criteria and when it doesn’t.

This is where I have ,  even before some of my more “RO-inspired” sensibilities,  that I was a little uncomfortable/frustrated with Jim Wallis in his way of talking about the Iraq war.  The Christian reasons for the unjust-ness of it seemed to take a back seat to the “publicly/politically acceptable ways of saying it”,  as if “Honesty about what we were doing” was all there was to “doing it right”.  So,  in this scenario,  Wallis seems to be implying that “if we had just been told we were really going to war for oil,  that would have been less egregious.  Even that “pre-emptive” war is bad but “defensive war” is clearly OK (and clearly assuming that “defensive” wars don’t arise out of situations that are DEEMED defensive,  or that means employed in DEFENSIVE wars don’t cross over into “offensive” strategies.

What’s frustrating also is that if Church folks asked Jim Wallis these questions,  he likely would have the same concerns as I just noted above,  which brings in my frustration with “playing politics”,  and underlies my frustration with the things I am seeing in Obama’s early campaign (in my earlier post)

The recovery of the Church’s sense that it needs to be the place where these decisions get discerned is absolutely crucial, otherwise we’ve lost any sense of what it means to be Church.

And here,  most churches seem all too happy to hand this over.  Perhaps Jesus had this kind of thing in mind when he said “Render unto Caesar”,  and yet ironically,  this passage is often taken to support opposite claims (and undergird just the kind of abdication to the state that Cavanaugh is here opposing.

On that “common good”,  which the state claims as its exclusive domain:

But when we’re talking about the common good in general, who’s responsible? Isn’t this the role of the state?

Alisdair MacIntyre has some interesting arguments on this. He says that the nation state is simply too big to be a real community discerning the common good.

This brings me back to Dorothy Day. She believed we were all responsible for the common good. We’re responsible for each other, for our neighbors

It also seems (and it sounds like Hauerwas would agree) that Wendell Berry is a writer who constantly elaborates on this theme. 

For Dorothy Day personalism meant that if somebody was hungry, you didn’t send a letter to your congressman—you fed them.

This is where The Church of the Saviour stands out from the typical “Progressive Church”.  There is a dearth of “political talk” about solutions via legislation,  and a lot of attention to discernment of mission,  which simply seeks discernment about “what God is calling us to do about x”,  x usually being something like local housing, health, employment problems,  and they just do it.  Somehow,  they pull it off.  This is not to say they don’t get support from “political structures” or “government programs”,  but this is only because they model it;  people in government SEE that it’s working and they begin to persuade lawmakers of how things are being done;  and still MOST of their financial support comes from people donating time and money,  many government people via their church ties,  who have seen how such things can work if brought about by a people who care about formation and Christian discipleship and community.  So, the upshot is,  FEED them.  Whosoever will , may come and do likewise.

The only way you can discern what’s truly good for each other is to meet each other face to face. That’s the only way to promote the common good.

Now that’s simple.  But it doesn’t seem to play out that way in most churches.  There may even be a lot of talk about those very issues (see,  they’re so “Progressive”.  They care.  But what’s taking so long?)  In the book Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism,  there was a discussion of how churches so often “farm out” all actual contact with poor people.  The Church is where people come to “dump stuff” that is then “taken away” and given to the poor.  The “dumpers” can assuage their consciences and “help the poor” by giving them stuff (which I’m sure is helpful in a very practical way),  but the relationship of the church to the poor is not personal in this way.  This is not only to the detriment of the poor, but also to ourselves.  We talk about “relationship with Jesus”,  but miss how direct of a link Jesus made between “relationship to him(Jesus)” and “them(the least of these)” whom he very literally ties to himself.  Derek Webb visualizes this in his song Rich Young Ruler

poverty is so hard to see
when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town
where we’re all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
I want your time, I want your voice
I want the things you just can’t give me

Here,  it’s Jesus that’s “hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash”.  That image sticks with me. 

Source: A GodSpy interview with William T. Cavanaugh, by John Romanowsky  via Eric

About Theoblogical

I am a Web developer with a background in theology, sociology and communications. I love to read, watch movies, sports, and am looking for authentic church.

3 Replies to “God Rules the World”

  1. macht

    It’s been a while since I read the book, but I’ll take a look through what you’ve written. A while ago the city of San Fransisco was considering giving the entire city free wi-fi access and I wrote a few blog posts, using some of Schultze’s ideas, that questioned whether this type of city-wide wi-fi would be good. IIRC, I didn’t take Schultze to be demonizing the Internet, per se, but rather he didn’t find the Internet to be conducive to fostering good communities (“virtuous” was the word he use, I think). I think he did take the position that the Internet can assist in community building, but can’t replace an embodied community. I wonder what he would say about blogs today … his book was being written just as blogging was beginning to become popular. I’ve noticed that a lot of blogging communities have “real” get-togethers, suggesting they would agree with you that “an embodied community is a MUST.”

    Regarding Smith, I think I originally found your blog a while ago because I had just finished reading his Who’s afraid of postmodernism? and was looking for what other people had to say about it. I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read of his.

  2. Theoblogical Post author

    It seemed that , when I read it (this was 2003, and I’ll have to go back and look at my comments then…..which can be found here and further back in the archives that month.

    He was just way too demonizing of the Internet. While it’s not exactly a communal nirvana, I contend with Schultze in those posts that this “embodied church” he speaks of is too rare , and so has a hand in creating the “disembodied” conversations, and serves often as a “surrogate”, although I now contend that this cannot be the end of it. I am much more convinced (after 4 years since then of having practically no church at all) that an embodied community is a MUST. But in the absence of a sense of serious thriving after authentic community in the churches, to find kindred spirits who long for such embodiment is a bit of a respite; a relief. Schultze showed hardly any recognition of this.

    Thanks for asking, though! A Calvin College colleague of his, James KA Smith is quite active in blogs and online communities, and yet he is certainly stressing the absolute neccessity of an “embodied” body of Christ.


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