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Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49, Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June
Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire
By Guillermo Hansen
Abstract: Three themes structure Lutheranism’s interpretation of the biblical narrative as it intersects with
the present challenges of Empire: justification by faith as a declaration of inclusiveness; God’s threefoldmultidimensional action creating and sustaining democratic practices (two kingdoms); and the cross as the critical ‘weapon’ against the ‘glory’ of Empire. This implies placing our theology within the present cultural and religious debate in a way consistent with the methodology of the cross: a theology done from the bowels of Empire, revealing its true face behind its alleged ‘benevolent’ mask.
Key Terms: Empire, cross, public theology, democracy, Luther
A Mythical Narrative
One of the most original insights of the literary critic Northrop Frye is his assertion that the entire Bible, structured around the mythos of fall and redemption, weaves its salvific theme through a narrative sequence of rises and falls of heathen kingdoms and empires. Egypt, Philistia, Babylon, Syria and Rome express the ‘leviathanish’ side of a myth that has its counterpart in the mythoi of Promised Land, Jerusalem, Zion, Temple and Kingdom of God.1 The history of salvation is thus a counterpoint, or an anti-type, to the history of different forms of enslavement and oppression. While certainly these mythoi express larger metaphors regarding human existence, as symbols they give occasion for further thought. When Empire appears in the narrative as a symbol of the tragic, it becomes a (religious) means of detecting and deciphering human reality, of lifting up and illuminating a region
of human experience thus constructing a domain of objectivity. Thus when the sacred—or anti-sacred— is manifested on the cosmos, it is also manifested simultaneously in the psyche. Even though today we don’t live in the immediacy of the myth, in interpreting we can hear again and therefore meaningfully act. Symbol gives rise to hermeneutics, and therefore, to critical thought, a criticism that is not only directed to the meaning of the symbol (as a total myth) but the reality that the symbol unveils. Thus the critique of Empire becomes not only a disgruntled left-wing opinion, but a continuation, nay, a re-creation, of the mythical narrative itself—albeit in a postcritical way. So while it is true that Empire must be demythologized—in the sense that it does not bear an ultimate concern, otherwise it is an idol—this does not imply that it must be demythicized—for only within a mythical narrative can faith relate to this reality as an anti-type of redemption and salvation.2 This is what, in the end, Luther achieved
Guillermo Hansen is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.
2010 Wiley Periodicals and Dialog, Inc.
e. should be posited as a counter-type to the tragedy of Empire? The first step is to demythologize the notion of Empire. Lutheranism’s Confrontation with Empire Today To rescue the notion of Empire as a symbol by re-articulating it within the mythos of enslavement and redemption is a major theological task. that is.. production and power? In sum.3 Luther’s Confrontation with Empire Within Lutheran circles it is often forgotten that Luther’s theological and spiritual struggle was also a confrontation with Empire. of salvation. it is the task of ‘enlarging’ the scope of symbols by broadening and illuminating a wider area of understanding and action. the symbol must be re-located within the constellation of mythoi of the Christian story whereby the narrative of redemption interlocks with our contemporary narratives of oppression and enslavement. and an advocate of tolerance and pluralism against fundamentalisms? I suggest that Lutheranism may be able to contribute significantly if its theological metaphors for salvation also cut across the ‘order of creation’. pursuing a change of consciousness through a relentless reformulation of the dominant symbols. The Roman-Germanic Empire considered the unity of the church as the ideological basis for conformity. that is. revealing its true face behind its alleged ‘benevolent’ mask. politics and economics within the scheme of fall and redemption.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 97 by calling Rome and the Pope the anti-Christ— thereby undermining the ideological buttress of the imperial-restorative policies of the Habsburgs. its core theological metaphors. Within this frame of concerns I shall formulate the following theological and ethical questions: how does our Lutheran heritage. The challenge is to articulate these dimensions without falling into moralizing or legalistic solutions to deep structural. hypercritical. Three mythoi structure Lutheranism’s interpretation of the biblical narrative as it intersects with the present challenges: justification by faith as a declaration of inclusiveness. The Reformation was different from sectarian medieval movements in that it went beyond mere religious questions. This is not a matter involving good scholarship only. a demythologization that also remythicizes power. banning or persecuting the heretic as a civil criminal was an act of political defense of the Empire. that is. instead reflecting and unraveling the total complexity of social inconsistencies in all their breath and variety. This implies placing our theology within the present cultural and religious debate consistently with the methodology of the cross: a theology done from the bowels of Empire. Finally. contribute and/or relate to issues that confront us in public life? Can it provide any meaningful orientation for dealing with issues related to authority and new networks of labor. Second. if not irony. Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat (1521–1522) is a good illustration of a contextual interpretation of the biblical mythos. God’s threefoldmultidimensional action (i. to uncover its underpinnings as a total (late modern) myth and expose its ominous underside. postmodern age? What type of ‘comedy’. two kingdoms) creating and sustaining democratic arrangements. theology as a constructive task seeks to explain and engage mundane reality in relation to the primary symbols of faith. And it did so as a typical ‘bourgeois’ movement. but also proper social location as suggested by the symbols themselves. But how can this be uttered in our self-reflective. from the present instant of justification. can it be a critical yet positive force for democracy facing Empire. and the cultural substance without which political and social existence could not be sustained. cultural and social disputes. After Worms. Theologically. Empire becomes a theme only retrospectively. and the cross as the critical ‘weapon’—and a critique of weapons—against the ‘glory’ of Empire and war. .
98 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49. yet never exhausted. Another characteristic of world system analysis is the notion of cyclical dynamic and linear trends. within a (radical) democratic being. nor religious bodies. Yet the gospel shares with the law the same ground. parabolically. Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June Central Lutheran Symbols Justification by faith and cross. at the same time they attract toward themselves values and practices that become integral to the hermeneutical dynamic of a tradition. as well as a critique against power and victimization (cross). every system can be said to be ‘alive’. In effect. It is at this juncture that religious values and practices focused on the most vulnerable and powerless (justification). the field of the law and the ethical imperative. supranational institutions and major capitalist corporations and financial conglomerates. but also shows a social bias towards a justice that embraces and accepts radically the other. faith and love. cannot be reduced to an historical realization. Inspired by chaos theory. It obeys a cyclical dynamic. nor political regimes. it pursues its historical life within the framework and constraints of its constitutive structures. plurality. Rather. evoke a theological space for relating to values such as difference.5 Therefore Empire refers neither to a single country. Empire Past & Present The globalizing and unsettling forces of capitalism. understood within the frame of God’s threefold-multidimensional action (two kingdoms). tolerance and acknowledging the other. nor to a unified political system. nor attempt to artificially ‘import’ Lutheran codes into a theology of Empire. Wallerstein maintains that an existing system that can no longer function adequately within its defined parameters faces a bifurcation where a choice is pressed upon it. it is the dynamic network cutting across and undergirding all of the above establishing a special hierarchical regime of relations based on the pursuit of endless profits. mass media and popular culture chart a reality marked by fleetness. democratic being and practices can never fully flourish without a religious substance. certainly. converge with one of the directions that history may take. climate change. A World System Following the social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein’s analysis of world-systems6 neither nation-states. the gracious command of love. but to a global-network of sovereignty that rests on dominant nation-states.4 I would certainly never suggest that democracy constitutes a redemptive reality. but also spawns linear trends. And conversely. Rather the chore consists of showing how the central symbols of the Lutheran interpretation of the biblical narrative open up and disclose the reality of Empire as a theological theme. nor geocultural zones should be posited as the main repository of Empire. While the power of religious symbols is shown to the extent that they function as ‘detectors’ of reality. demand and promise. . The gospel. technology. practice and institutional framework—a state of affairs in which people are empowered and have power. without trust. Empire is the name given to the global network of hierarchies and divisions that promise and attempt to maintain order through new mechanisms of control and conflict—a specific regime of global relations. Gospel and law are thus reflected. are neither confused nor estranged. If a system survives. radical democracy (two kingdoms). disorientation and rapid social change. the crisis cannot be solved within the system as such. A world system thus cuts across political and cultural units creating an integrated zone of activity with institutions that obey certain systemic rules. What happens coram Deo unleashes a revolutionary burst of energy coram mundo. Law and gospel. When the expansion of the linear trends jeopardizes the equilibrium enacted by the cyclical process. a bifurcation is imminent. This can ground a robust Lutheran public theology that inspires strategies to face the subtle power of Empire. Thus the gospel narrative not only embodies the command. in democratic arrangements.
”9 This geo-culture was liberalism. costs of production have been rising while the margin of surplus is narrowing. neoliberalism was replaced by neoconservatism—a religiously sanctioned force that is a war. in response to (1) the very fluctuations of the system itself. The debate occurred “within the framework of a geo-culture that proclaimed the inclusion of all as the definition of the good society. the political history of the modern world system became the subject of a debate about the line dividing the included from the excluded. All these movements were more or less successful in achieving full citizenship and/or independence.10 Decolonization. with the freedoms and social advancements of the previous four decades. A Global State of War The 1960s marked thus the end of the supremacy of liberalism. Not only did it establish the legal and institutional foundations to be emulated by most countries in the world. and (3) the cultural crisis of prevailing symbolic systems. . leading to a general global state of war fueled by dwindling resources and a new “enclosing of the commons.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 99 The modern world system. but failed fully to redress the cyclical dynamic as such. thereby dislocating the geo-culture that had kept the political institutions intact by balancing the cyclical dynamic of capitalism with the political and social linear trends. who once organized in unions and syndicates sought political power. These events weakened the link of the worldsystem with the more moderate center and thus reacted against the cultural and social transformations dating from the 1960s. vindication of difference and minorities. culturally and politically. sexual minorities and oppressed majorities in colonies—voiced their anti-systemic claims. but it also was elastic enough to absorb anti-systemic movements—linear trends—arising within it.12 Cultural transformations soon lead to new self-esteem and political demands. youth culture and labor. inputs (infrastructure and raw materials). a compromise emerged: the welfare state. beginning in the 1960s.”14 Today linear trends are moving toward blocking the unrestrained continuation of an endless accumulation of capital. the engine of capitalist development. Most dramatically. It is not bound by a unitary political structure. (2) the declining legitimacy of state structures. extent and limits of tolerance and inclusivity within this cyclical dynamic. determines the nature of this division. women. Empire. These were the linear trends spawned by the world system. The result is that in the last fifty years there has been a growing squeeze on the average rate of profits. which splits the system along a core and different degrees of periphery. liberal democracy became the desirable political regime. those excluded from full participation and decision making—certain racial/ethnic groups. and taxation. As Eric Hobsbawm asserts. which proved to be a formidable ideological force. as well as about the tenor. Its unifying factor is not a political regime or culture. Then. concern for the environment—these have unhinged the underpinnings of the capitalist world economy and exposed it to the full force of political and cultural shocks from which it has been sheltered. attempts by groups to achieve inclusion as full citizens were the central focus of radical movements. Within nation-states. women’s movements. After decades of struggle. these reactions have accelerated the cycle of crisis. First was the turn of industrial workers.8 This constitutes its basic cyclical dynamic. although after World War II. has its origins in European expansion beginning in the sixteenth century. The Geo-Culture of Liberalism During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.11 It is also during this time that fundamentalist trends gained ascendancy again in different places in the world. Capitalist production had to face increasing costs in employee remuneration and salaries.13 Far from bringing order and restoring equilibrium to the system. acquiring a solid hegemony in Europe around 1848. which in turn put new pressures on the cyclical nature of the system. but the division of labor resulting from the relentless pursuit of profits. On the horizon are indications of great social turmoil.7 The accumulation of capital.
thus confirming that ‘biopower’ (the regulation of social life through control over individuals’ bodies and thinking). The outcome will depend on the many decisions made or actions taken in times of rapid change. too. through the creation of new global circuits of cooperation. ethnic. there also may be new opportunities for a radical democracy. across religious. Finally. therefore. where all citizens are placed under permanent suspicion and surveillance. History does not have a moral vector. collaboration and inclusion. Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June “The world of the third millennium will.19 In this fashion. more humane global network? A New Set of Possibilities What will dominate in the upcoming arrangement? Should one speak of a system or multi systems? What values will be paramount? One thing is certain: the present world-system has now passed its full maturity. is likely to be the real casualty of the unrelentless spread of the cyclical dynamic of Empire. attempt to resist Empire by postulating an utopic outside of moral purity. emerging from inside Empire. is developing as one of the central marks of imperial domination.16 “States of exception”17 will be erected as paradigms for political rule. Inclusion as Resistance Yet. Others.almost certainly continue to be one of violent politics and violent political changes. from the underside of the hierarchies of domination. equality. that is. in constructing an alternative. from which an epic redemption will flow. liberty or equality. . millions of people are reacting and resisting in different ways. cultural. which in turn exacerbates inequality.S. It will do anything possible to ameliorate the crisis. the violence. resting on values and practices such as freedom. Inclusion. is a multileveled . Thus today institutions and social arrangements face a new set of possibilities: either a radicalization of democratic principles and practices.20 Do Lutheranism’s core metaphors have any role to play in this new cultural. military strength and control of foreign territories become necessary steps in the larger project of spreading ‘appropriate’ codes of conduct to the rest of the world. liberty is curtailed in the name of security. gender and class divides. Most are pursuing personal solutions to systemic problems. in times where interdictions against religion are falling. . social justice and the rule of civil law.18 This violence exercised in the pursuit of ‘security’—doubtful ends combined with immoral means—has in the last years received in the U. or in some cases embody anti-systemic resistance—by peaceful and/or violent means. even adopting conservative discourse(s) to suit the demands of electorates who are determined to behave in customary ways in the pursuit of short-term benefits. small numbers affiliated with religious. strong popular backing and ideological support from a growing social and cultural force—evangelical fundamentalism. it does not necessarily lead to greater tolerance. Moreover. Yet in spite of Empire’s attempt to order and control planetary life.100 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49. the religious dimension may be destined to play a critical role in either democracy’s demise or its radical flourishing.”15 cial scenario. Precisely because the fluctuations and uncertainties are becoming more acute. that is. leftist and ecological organizations. the demand for security will be stronger— and so. In this form of active resistance—a fourth strategy in the face of Empire—inclusion becomes a key instrument in the search for democratic solutions to systemic problems. or falling into new hierarchical and intolerant forms of tutelage. political and so- Directions for a Public Lutheran Theology Democracy as a political system and culture. far greater and growing numbers identify themselves with religious fundamentalist views that are usually functional to or absorbed by Empire. Here new kinds of relationships and power are locally and globally linking people who have a common desire to exercise democracy as an affirmation of life in its multiple expressions. Furthermore. The only thing uncertain about them is where they will lead.
plants. will. time.21 We cannot ignore the psychological and symbolic ground that nurtures views and practices of tolerance and inclusion. is a key component in the way in which Lutheranism approaches the mythical narrative. school and workplace. here converge the theme of the cross as a critique of Empire and power. Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ gospel as it reaches people in the margins (cf. space. social experiences. This places theology and ethics in a new light. is a critical and central guide to understanding the biblical message regarding the relationships between humans. religious symbols. In this case. therefore. what theological motifs foster this view? Finally. the marginal and the excluded. A democratic horizon and regime are needed to sustain a new socio-political network. institutional and psychological factors. providing a clear direction for responsible citizenship in the world. power-distance. Again. As the Dutch anthropologist Geert Hofstede has shown. slaves. the grievances and sufferings that may breed intolerant reactions must be redressed. From a theological perspective. It radically redraws the boundaries of God’s domain in order to include those who hitherto were considered far from it: gentiles. But three dimensions must be theologically addressed for the sake of a tolerant.22 This communicated the hidden Theological Resources In order for this to flourish. as well as power-sharing. through dynamics acquired in the family. plurality and difference. breaking the cyclical dynamic of Empire based on endless search for profit and its accumulation by dispossession. Notions regarding the nature of the divine. Justiﬁcation as Inclusion The doctrine of justification by faith. overarching institutional guarantees are also necessary. religious symbols and mythical narratives set the parameters for an axiological universe (mythical-ethical core) where tolerance and respect are paramount. animals. Luther could forcefully stress justification because this was central to a radical reconception of God and God’s intimate involvement with creation in general and sinners in particular. implies a new world system where the services and resources involved in reproducing and expanding life are more or less equally shared and fairly exchanged. Background theories. artisans and people of doubtful religious orthodoxy. 1 Cor 1:26–29). Luther employed the language of justification to indicate what God has done for all through Christ: making us equal participants in the justice revealed in Jesus. Thus theology offers critical clues for interpreting these myths and symbols. thereby enhancing their formative powers. but into a new redistributive community of social. tolerance and inclusion are key dimensions structuring any society and culture. The language of justification expresses a strategy of inclusion of the destitute. just and democratic social arrangement.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 101 compound of cognitive. creation and God. Speaking about radical democracy. and the multilayered action of God in creation. body. ‘sinners’ were included. which in the medieval scholastic distinction between a spiritual and secular state meant practically all of those who lived in the saeculum. as formulated by Paul and afterwards. narratives and myths are acquiring renewed vitality and interest. It leads to a gracious appraisal of the life of every person and creature. The doctrine. The building up of a responsible and activist citizenship is the fundamental weapon against the subtleness of Empire. democracy calls for new cooperative and communicative networks of labor and production. social. This inclusiveness is basic to all other doctrines and statements regarding Christian life. spiritual and material goods. In the same vein. What theological resource do we possess in our Lutheran tradition to address this challenge? In late modernity. not into the logic of what exists. women.. mind. have a direct effect in the way people situate themselves in face of otherness. While the patterns of genuine democracy are created in the collaborative and respectful cooperative practices from below. a receptive environment is necessary. urban poor. In other words. for values never appear in a vacuum. independent from narratives and mythoi. justification as a declaration of inclusiveness. land and the human condition. .
paid in full. the Reformer saw the nature of God’s saving activity in Christ portrayed as a God who becomes our neighbor. subverting the code that establishes the boundaries of God’s companionship. Jesus’ parables comprise a skillful social and cultural commentary on insiders and outsiders. Jesus’ crossing of different frontiers allowed individuals and groups into an immediate physical and spiritual contact with God’s justice. but also about how God crosses over into the bodies and minds of those who never expected to be considered as somebodies. His wandering among the ptochoi with the empowering message of the kingdom reveals the different dislocations that the empire exploited for its own benefit. bread. country and city. Jesus crossed the traditional boundaries of family. The wounded man is reborn through the gracious help of the Samaritan (Christ). Jesus’ proclamation of a kingdom for the nobodies and undesirables touched on the most pressing issues of the time: debt. salvation comes from that quarter from which one does not and cannot expect it. he was the hostess. As the gospel traditions emphasize.”25 In the end. and communicated an egalitarian and unbrokered sharing of God’s goodness and mercy. In its tragic mode. Herodian urbanization. Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June character of God’s rule. unexpected. both Paul and Luther sought to translate into their contexts the normative dimension of Jesus’ message about a merciful Father and a generous kingdom. gracious inclusiveness. to trespass is an act of divine imagination and love. or rescued. and thus.24 Justiﬁcation as Healing Luther himself points in this direction as he relates the reality of justification to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29–37). he witnessed to the righteousness God willed for creation. who had never been expected to be invited. thereby robbing God of God’s glory. help or salvation comes only to those who have no reason to expect it. In effect. men and women. this reversal signifies an exclusion of those who think that inclusion is their lot due to their righteousness. The existence of so many who were excluded indicated the inherent limits and cruelty of the ‘honor’ and social net constituted by the overlapping of pyramidal schemes of patronage proper to the Augustan era. unmediated physical and spiritual contact with one another. In the same vein.102 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49. becomes the locus for a new narrative that is not only about God.26 It is an act of sheer. are surprised by their sudden good fortune. his presence. In the comedy plot. priestly codification and imperial monetization. shame and impurity. sick and healthy. pure and impure. With this practice. To draw frontiers is an act of disenfranchising power. Jesus embod- ies a new space: the space of the Spirit. what this parable tells us is that in God’s domain. poor and rich. those marginalized and outcast. honor and dishonor. . The wounded man represents humanity under the ‘curse’ of the law. When Jesus broke bread. and who cannot resist it when it is offered. welcomed home. Justiﬁcation as an Act of Trespass In their respective ways. the One to whom all creatures must submit. like the man who was half-dead (semivivus). clashing with Roman commercialization. with its vivid bodily references. he adopted the degraded position of women: he served. In this story. From the point of view of what Luther called an existence cursed by the law. and subverted the retributive traditions where God is represented as powerfully present in the world. Jews and Gentiles. social justice and mercy. Luther comments that the Christian “has begun to be justified and healed (sanari). justification encodes the multiple forms in which Jesus’ ministry interweaves divine righteousness. Bearing witness to the Father’s mercy and coming reign. as well as his ministry of trespassing the multiple frontiers that put human beings in an interdict. Reversals are a standard feature in the parables. To be justified and to be healed are practically synonymous. His body.23 The parables of Jesus present the drama of a plot that may well have a humorous or tragic ending. a God who crosses frontiers. Exorcisms and the healing of bodies and spirits broke the spell that bounded and burdened colonial and ‘undesirable’ people.
as well as a political and institutional arrangement that locates sovereignty in the hands of the people. where the local appears more intensively related to the global. the forces of globalization have posed formidable challenges. the concept of democracy has been set adrift from its rigid moorings. precisely because of the crisis generated by diversity. that is. Social democratic arguments claim that democracy is debilitated or threatened by globalization.—can foster democratic forces and institutions.S. intrinsic to the concept of justification is this tension between insiders and outsiders. Moral and religious sensitivities are neither independent of certain narratives nor uncoupled from the political realm. As any doctrine. sensitivity towards the impure and shamed—these constitute basic attitudinal components encoded under justification by faith. but also a political regime or arrangement that guarantees minimal conditions.27 In effect. peace and democracy. Re-conceptualizing Democracy Truly democratic practices require not only particular religious and moral sensitivities. seems the best strategy in the present global system.28 None of these views. ecological and economic aspects. This is the particular sensitivity associated with God’s crossing movements. establishment of new circuitries of power and affirmation. Neoconservative ideologues stress that only intervention by the coalition of the willing— led by the U. which ones need to be dismantled. torture. Democracy is confronted with a leap of scale. and which ones need to be simply named and made visible. inclusion. enclosures. . The reassertion of the sovereignty of nation-states. inclusivity. Traditionalists. In this way the doctrine of justification is the explanatory function of the mythoi of a God ‘falling’ for the excluded. including the current state of war. particular and universal. thus providing new opportunities for its re-conception. other variables must come into play. local and global. in which Christians participate out of the same love that once crossed over to them. and the compatibility of democracy with the cultural values of non-Westerners. and there are strong differences regarding the compatibility and future of democracy in late modernity. therefore. however. while not always beneficial at first.S. identity and universality. For those who have been touched by God’s mercy. staying and crossing. justice. key grievances must be institutionally and socially addressed. especially by its economic forces and fundamentalist reactions. contest both the leading role of the U. The gospel narratives about ‘crossing over’ are a vindication of bodies that have been broken by debt. a rebellion against the formal mechanisms of sovereignty and its failing system of representational decision-making processes. Yet it is also true that to create this climate. but also to discern which ones need to be crossed. This level is thus a key in the conformation of a spiritual and psychological openness to otherness that would be the basis for any challenge to hegemonic and intolerant views. justification implies not only to be present at the many boundaries that divide humanity. After the Cold War. superseding the boundaries of traditional nation-states. on the other hand.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 103 God’ s Crossing Movements In brief. which points to democracy as both a cultural horizon for the expression of the multitude. an assertion of the different that does not fit under the law. justification is a regulative principle embedded in a cultural-linguistic grid that encourages certain attitudes. are symptoms of a crisis within the present world system. Reversal. despair and abandonment—by the ‘curse’ of the law. The present grievances against political. release the democratic potential of people precisely by promoting freedom from the rule of nation-states. seems sufficient for confronting the new demands for global tolerance. Liberal cosmopolitan arguments stress that the forces of globalization. behaviors and relationships. This is why nobody is really an insider: to live by grace is the recognition that we are all part of a koinonia of former outsiders of different degrees. This is the second level referred to above.
or the market. Rather it expressed its very core. It calls out our attention upon an impotent God that has ‘fallen’ into our world.29 But this anti-democratic stance has more to do with a patriarchal and hierarchical sociopolitical ideology than with the motifs of justification and cross. The law. as in imperial sovereignty. The very dynamic of the trinitarian concept of God and the twofold or multiple ruling of this God encourages a public and political theology firmly anchored through the cross in the world of the victims.30 with how the world attempts to fill in the gaps. its corruption and its arrogance. for in it God justifies the victim of the public. Not only theologies of glory. for it reveals the use and abuse of the law against the words and signs that addressed directly the suffering of people.31 This fallen God on a cross is a total reversal of values. cross and justification entail a gospel that transversely impinges upon power and authority. lacking being is truly capable of giving and receiving love. but it is also a sociopolitical event that reveals or makes visible the use and abuse of power by Empire. Luther was certainly no democrat. the center of Empire itself. between the law and the end of the law. kingdom of God—is defined by the struggle between a space emptied of God’s luminosity and a space filled by an alien. imperial presence. Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June Cross as a Socio-Political Event Lutheranism came rather late valuing democracy positively. But because it is an impotent God. the manifestation of its raw power. In this eon we cannot live only from the mediations furnished by the gospel. in turn. but at the same time we cannot exercise a power that is not congruent with the drive of this same gospel. In this vein the most substantial affirmation of Christianity is that the ultimate reality promised to our world—communion. By its thorough deconstruction of a power that stems from above it postulates that another form of power is possible. ‘democracy’. It should not be limited. which always attempts to hide the violence of its law under a putative evangelium of peace. but also ideologies of glory need to be criticized.33 without falling into a legalism or a utopian idealization. legal and official imperial power—the man Jesus. of its mercilessness. Jesus’ cross was not an event marginal to the empire. In the midst of this joust between (imperial) potency and (divine) impotency. part of the same Lutheran articulation is of a cautionary tone that protects the irreducible nature of the gospel from the necessary temporal realizations that always include a certain degree of coercion and even violence.104 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49. to a soteriological dimension. This is precisely what a theology of the cross does. does not exist without the negation of an ‘other’. Golgotha is the mirror image of the Ara Pacis Augustae. its metaphors must be woven with kindred values from other traditions—the power of . For this theology to be publicly relevant. friend of sinners and destitutes. the guiding of our attention upon the cross is always a sociopolitical event. it erodes our notions of potencies by proclaiming that the ultimate mystery of love is to remain incomplete: only an imperfect. the cross appears as the center of a new gospel: the failure of history becomes God’s chosen abode. The theology of the cross calls things as they really are. The cross is a verdict denouncing that something is fundamen- tally wrong with how the world is structured. Yet. a power that is enacted by breaching frontiers and vindicating the right of the powerless to live. but also of any form of imperial power.32 A Dynamic Trinitarian Concept of God This cross. as in classical Lutheranism. is the key for a contemporary Lutheran appropriation of the doctrine of the Trinity and the theory of God’s multidimensional action in creation (the so-called doctrine of the two kingdoms). In this type of discursive encoding. the critical reflection of the Octavian imperial realized eschatology. and neither were most Lutherans—especially in Germany—until well into the second half of the twentieth century. this Lutheran caution is the basis for the critique not only of any form of (fundamentalist) enthusiasm. Far from falling into new dualisms. the unmasking of Rome as the benefactor of all humanity.
forms of life and social relationships can emerge from the incredible potential of the swarming multitude. which challenges the cyclical dynamics of Empire. communication. political. The Roussonian concept of volont´ g´n´rale. They communicate middle axioms where participation. without participation. These are the ‘weapons’ that signal the democratic critique of arms. launching a critique of the massive means of destruction at the disposal of the core powers. ecology. approached through Jesus’ cross and God’s justification. a peace that is not merely the absence of violence and war. human rights. Montesquieu’s and Locke’s e e e division of powers. a proactive tolerance that comes with love. but above all. the inadequacy of the intolerant strategies and weapons of Empire. allowing an emotional yet also rational identification with a network of differentiated democratic power.37 Of course. this is the source of ‘local knowledge’ that signals the inadequacies of ideological. but the basic precondition for reason. experience. Herein lies. and different forms of life that nonetheless are able to find and discover what they have in common. but revolt arises only on the basis of ‘wealth’—a surplus of intelligence.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 105 the symbol to catalyze new dimensions of reality and thus elicit a new praxis. education. hopes and affection. . The Weapon of Love With this we reach a third level as to how we redress global and local grievances that are economic.35 Therefore. this form of swarming communication—and not a hierarchical Ordnung—better reflects the dynamism proper to a trinitarian God. As Reinhold Niebuhr once asserted. Without tolerance. precisely. health). Deprivation and poverty may breed anger. Madison’s constitutional check and balances. peace and justice appear as central values for political practice. For that reason. social and economic systems. and Foucault’s microphysics of power all coalesce in a late-modern notion of radical democracy that grows as the living alternative of the multitude through the network spawned by Empire. suffering is never without interpretation. relationships. These grievances give rise to a multitude through which the future of democracy is at stake. desire. Marx’s concept of social democracy. thus enclosing a negative universality that challenges programs and systems thriving on elusive promises and concrete duress. knowledge and desire that is generated by a shift in social practices and cultural patterns.36 Grievances. imagination. democracy should be measured both by its capability to voice grievances of a particular group as well as the ability to connect different kinds of groups (economic. Grievances and suffering bring us to the bedrock of human existence. It is a new form of sovereignty based on communication. feelings and affections. the human capacity for justice makes of democracy something possible. therefore. vision. one that bridges ideas. Differentiated Democratic Power This trinitarian understanding. Democratic participation and tolerance thus ground the minimal conditions for a lasting peace. but our bodies make of it a mediated immediacy. After all. Lenin’s critique of imperialism.34 This form of democracy. indignation and antagonism. social and ecological in nature—different forms of intolerance that also generate intolerant reactions. but its inclination to injustice makes of democracy something necessary. If the imperial ‘world-system’ cannot show possibilities toward a more egalitarian arrangement. They recoil from the most fundamental ‘weapon’ of all. provides a positive valuation of the new realities set off by the new democratic networks. Kant’s sapere aude!. then the appeal of fundamentalist minorities certainly will be strengthened. without peace. emerges from within the imperial logic of late modernity. emotions. democratic demands—although always imbued with particular and therefore selfish interests—can be seen as the means through which the living God providentially holds God’s creation in view of its final fulfillment. This requires a renewed democratic ethic. no cooperation. voice the “insurrection of subjugated knowledge” against hegemonic ideologies.
343. Cfr. 27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. health and education. 184. 12. 460. Buchanan (New York: Harper & Row. See Walter Mead. since monopolies need the patronage of strong states. 1964). This corresponds to what Eric Hobsbawm calls the end of the “Golden Age.. public works.” See Eric Hobsbawm. 2. 23ff. Hobsbawm.). Ibid. 5. 2000). See Wallerstein. 19–35. and Immanuel Wallerstein.). 29. LWF Documentation 47/2001 (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation. genetic information. Multitude. Cf. 28. 352. “The Worldview of Sunni Arab Fundamentalism: Attitudes toward Modern Science and Technology. 1994). 1944). See Northrop Frye. 233–237. WA II:495. and when we are able to look at and name the grim face of asymmetrical power. 23. 2006). which only can be reached through a serious reorientation of the disparities generated by capitalism and its global division of labor. Harvey. 258. Ibid. 227. p. 4. 35 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press. “God’s Country. David Harvey. John Dominic Crossan. 2005). 13. the comfort zone. 15. The powerful cultural and political experiences disclosing a common desire that rests on a proactive exercise of tolerance. but with the dominant sectors of the production process cutting across them. trans. 26. Empire is essentially inimical to the political dimension of love. See Guillermo Hansen. 1960). Hobsbawm. 81. 39. Martin Luther: Theology & Revolution.. . Between Vision and Reality: Lutheran Churches in Transition. 1982). equality and justice is an affirmation of life in its multiple expressions. Endnotes 1. vol. . the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben shows how Western democracies become invested with the need of turning emergency into the foundation of their existence. 24–43. Foster (New York: Oxford University Press. A Marxist notion developed by David Harvey to refer to the reversal of common property rights and the commodification of cultural forms. See Harvey. 20. 7. neither justice nor peace can permeate the increasing webs connecting us all on this fragile planet. 9.. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences. 20. C. 11.. The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Radical Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Giorgio Agamben. histories. 35. See Geert Hofstede. 23. The Uncertainties of Knowledge (Philadelphia: Temple University Press. When grievances are duly heard and redressed. in Helmut T. Luther’s Works. It is ironic that modern democracy.. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill. Number 2 • Summer 2010 • June Without this love. 18..” in Martin Marty and Scott Appelby eds. 21. 17. 37. ibid. Mass: Harvard University Press. 1998). ed. 19. . may today require the mystique and conviction given by religion. See this concept developed in Luther’s “Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ and the Brotherhoods. See Robert Funk. there is a geographical consequence of the core-periphery relationship. Luther’s Works. 192. the environment. Immanuel Wallerstein. See David Harvey. The core. then violence will only grow exponentially until it destroys us all. World System. Wallerstein. 1914–1991 (New York: Vintage Books. 16. employing war metaphors as main currency in public speeches. then. 180.Oct. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (New York: Harcourt. 1991). 1967). Multitude (New York: Penguin Press.” In Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri.106 Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 49. Douglas Lummis. The New Imperialism. 14. trans. 1997). 1996). Severino o Croatto et al. 22. 25. 60. 3. does not necessarily have to coincide with nations or states. See C. See Karl Polanyi. See John Stumme. 2001).. 27. “Lutero no era dem´ crata. 137ff. Also. 2004). The military and the economic ‘state of emergency’ often merge into one. Paul Ricoeur. Democracia: una opci´n evang´lica (Buenos Aires: La Aurora. xi-xii. The Birth Of Christianity: Discovering what Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFranscisco. 1996). 87f. Hardt and Negri link this form of security to the contemporary strategies of biopower: “Security requires rather actively and constantly shaping the environment through military and/or police activity. Honest to Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. the Family and Education (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Jaroslav Pelikan (ed.” 1519. 192. 2003). See Bassam Tibi. A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press. It is also the case that the same country or nation may present a mix of core and peripheral conditions. in the sense that it is charged with the task of producing and transforming social life . 2004). 184s. I follow Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s concept as developed in Empire (Cambridge. The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press.” in J. Only an active shaped world is a secure world. The fight for democracy must always be tied to a relentless pursuit of fairness and the eradication of poverty.” in Wolfgang Greive. See Hardt and Neri. Lehman ed. 2004). 1993). p. The Symbolism of Evil. then history loses its dramatic grip to unveil its opposite—a divine irony that always promises a surplus of life. 24. 2003). The Age of Extremes: a History of the World. In Stato di eccezione. World-System Analysis: an Introduction (Durham: Duke University Press. vol. This notion of security is a form of biopower. whose roots can partially be traced to a reaction against religious intolerance (Locke et al.. intellectual creativity. 199. E. 232. See Gerhard Brendler. Stato di eccezione (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. o e 1983).” in Foreign Affairs 85/5 (Sept. However. 169ff. “On Boundaries and Bridges: Lutheran Communio and Catholicity. Luther shows a continuity of this image as we can see in writings from 1516 through 1546. 45 ff. If the forces that create economic disparities make of violent behavior and intolerance prime weapons. 77. 43ff. 30. 6. 10. 8.
29–57.” Journal of Biblical Literature 111/1 (1992). 80f. 31 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press.. Francis Sch¨ ssler Fiorenza. Theology at the End of Modernity (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.). 1982). See Michael Foucault. See Helmut Koester. 53. Cfr.” in Neotestamentica 37/1 (2003). Hardt & Negri. “The Crisis of Hermeneutics u and Christian Theology. 1991). 135. Cf. 3–15. 1944). Lehmann (ed.Contours for a Public Lutheran Theology in the Face of Empire • Guillermo Hansen 107 31. Luther’s “Heidelberg Disputation.” 1518. Multitude. See John Dominic Crossan.. vol. “Jesus the Victim. Reinhold Niebuhr. 35. 36. 354ff. 37. Cf.). 34. Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books.” in Sheila Greeve Davaney (ed. Luther’s Works. .. 33. See thesis 21. 1957). The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. in Helmut T. 32. “The Resurrection of Jesus in its Jewish Context.
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