Monday, January 2, 2017

Overcoming the Dominant Script of the Masses: The Adventure of Ana-theism and its Libido, Bārāq

“It is the tyranny of hidden prejudices that makes us deaf to what speaks to us in tradition . . .
the hermeneutical problem.”   - Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method

As a professed ana-theist, I do not need to agree nor participate in the national political fascinations, anxieties and dramatics that captivate (mediate) the masses. When the nation-state appears more lost than ever, sucked up in the vortex of political fever and anxiety, I am reminded that I am identified with and mediated by a counter narrative that takes serious the gift of life and the need for a non-anxious, interpretive guide via the great traditions, such as the Jewish and Christian traditions, yet not to exclude the contributions of Eastern and philosophical inputs. I am a Westerner on a journey, and this has been no choice of mine; it’s a necessity for existential survival.  Stanley Hauerwas makes this point plain in his essay, “Christianity: It’s not a Religion; it’s an Adventure.”  “[Y]ou do not choose God’s story. You don’t get to make God; God gets to make you. You are made by being brought into the community through which you discover your story.” [1] And one never really knows where that story unfolds.

It’s clear to someone like me who has passed through the liminal state—out of naïve theism (the majority blindly socialized by a dominate script or narrative), through the necessary force of doubt with the mediating guide of the apophatic tradition guiding me to work out the mythical traditions (hard, dark spaces of caves, clouds and mountains)—transformed to live quietly and yet prophetically (Parrhesia)[2], embracing the thinning niche of my existence.

The liminal state is well illustrated in the mythic story of Jacob (Genesis) the night before he nears the tribe of his brother Esau. Here Jacob in great inner turmoil wrestled with a stranger, demanding a “blessing”. This illustrates the rare epochs of one’s life when faced with the need to give great rigor, wrestling with text/story, language, questions, doubt and life itself in the midst of immense sense certainty[3], injustices, danger, and uncertainty. Wrestling is serious mediation (hermeneutics) that endeavors with courage to seek, explore, witness, and experience Bārāq (Hebrew). Often translated “blessing”, this word is overly and poorly understood by those who live by the dominant script[4]—the narrative for all who have no story, and the underlying script of the majority of Christians and their pastors who do newspaper, television exegesis.

Bārāq is the capacity or perhaps the energy/spirit (geist) to endure with faithfulness and prosperity (a rich Hebraic idea that does not sync with the consumerism of our day). It alludes to the things that feed “generativity versus stagnation” and “integrity verses despair”.[5] Like Job, one can be stripped of everything that life offers yet lacking nothing.  Bārāq provides the mediation, longevity and generativity to overcome the emptiness, the meaninglessness, absurdness of life (society and culture). Ergo, like Jacob, the consequences of wrestling with a stranger is passing through this state and walking away with a permanent limp, i.e., injured in a way that transforms us into a more wholly/fully human being. This is the mark of ana-theism.  In the words of John Caputo (“God Perhaps,” Philosophy Today, 2011) “

Anatheism is a clear, imaginative, fascination and robust account of the life of faith in the postmodern world, a world marked by cultural plurality and religious strife by the astonishing transformations brought on by new information technologies, as well as strident materialistic critiques of religion . . . it is a theism that comes after theism, that returns to theism once again after having passed through a certain non-theism or atheism, which [Richard] Kearney adroitly identifies in various postmodern movements . . . [a] return to faith after doubt [or coming to terms with doubt].”

Sadly, the American Christian right feed off the political machine as if it suffuses our lives with an authority that requires us to work out our allegiance to it while being somehow faithful to the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ wisdom rings true: one cannot have two masters.  Subjection to political government according to the ancient tradition and wisdom (St. Paul in Romans 13) means retaining moral independence and judgment and perhaps suffering the very patience of God. In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder explains this often misinterpreted text.

The authority of government is not self-justifying. Whatever government exists is ordered by God; but the text does not say that whatever the government does or asks of it citizens is good. . . “they are ministers of God to the extent to which they busy themselves” or “when they devote themselves” or in that they devote themselves” to the assigned function. . . they are ministers of God only to the extent to which they carry our out the function . . . or by virtue of their devoting themselves. . . what is “ordained” is the concept of proper government or the principle of government as such.[6]

From this the question is how to live in servitude (not obedience) along side the governing reality and dominant script, which from a theistic argument, such as Romans 13, is the working out in practical reasoning the ideal of the Kingdom of God. Of course, in a democracy one has a more tolerated response and greater opportunity to serve creatively; and the necessity of a counter narrative is normative and requires imagination, commitment, and humility along with patience, suffering and other virtues such as peacemaking to exist in faithful, generative ways.  An essential practice, e.g., that animates this ideal is hospitality to the stranger. How vital is this when our existing governing powers and the anxiety of the masses systematically forget the poor, immigrants, and marginalized people, while devoting itself to a market economy and ideology? Multitudes are being left out, inapt, without hope and aliveness.

Hope and sadness are intertwined in the paradox of the Jewish and Christian stories. The emergence and development of awareness of the Kingdom of God hungers for the true quality of Bārāq, the capacity that grows out of humility to listen to the universal wisdom that is resident in traditions ("Let one who hears, hear.") and to respond meaningfully with the gift of life (intentionality) among the stranger(s) while living in a politically saturated (mediated) society that holds to a common script that continues to delude the masses over time. Bārāq is the needed spiritual libido of the “great reversal; Ana-theism is the adventure of theism in the post-modern world. Both phenomena in tradition bring understanding to faith and unfold into practice (see Beatitudes). It is not necessary, nor is it anymore necessary to be “Christian” to experience such phenomena and to yearn to be set apart from the dominant script or narrative. Any source of disqualifying and limiting injunction that wants to censure a personal or group definitive awakening out-of the dominate script is primarily from those stuck in the admixture of a theistic view with the dominate script (mostly nationalism).  They will call you either unpatriotic or godless. I say, "Come!"

Identifying, locating and becoming aware of the dominate story is to realize that this is your story if you have no story.  You have been socialized by it no matter what your political affiliation is. So what’s your story? How do you work at and imagine yourself creating possibility in a world of disappointments?    

Here are a few examples of rich, faithful counter narratives linked to sources:
  • New Monasticism is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church.
  • The enduring civil rights movement in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, such as Black Lives Matter
  • The School of Life for Atheist is a fresh new paradigm of people seeking communal experience to enrich their personal human welfare
  • Those who have found and teach non-violence having found new narratives in eastern religion and philosophy (see “Being Peace in aWorld of Trauma”)
  • Serious thinking/acting Catholics and others who are guided by the outworking of theology in constructive ways—out of experiences in the world (not stuck in some ancient literal meaning).
  • The L’Arche movement

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader. Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2001, 524.
[4] “Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism”—the script that permeates all of public life and promises security and “happiness. See   “Blessing” so often in common media is used to refer to material goods or a way of consoling oneself so as to think that “God is on my side.” It reduces God to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.  (see
[6] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, 205.

1. “Jacob wrestling with the Stranger,” from The Book of J, Harold Bloom (1990)

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