Simon Chan on Liturgy and Church between the World and God’s Kingdom

When Schmemann argues that the liturgy itself expresses a concrete, primary theology, he also specifies what the nature of that theology is. Speaking of the worship of the early church, he says, “It was born out of the Christian vision and experience of the World, the Church, and the Kingdom, of their fundamental relationship to one another. That it so say, in the very act of assembling (church) on the Lord’s Day (world) to break bread (kingdom), the church is concretely expressing its understanding of and realizing the intimate connection between church, kingdom and world. But this fundamental relationship can be maintained only if the church does not lower the eschatological tension of living in this age and in the age to come. Eschatology sustains the mission of the church. The moment it resolves the tension either by becoming totally immersed in this world or by divorcing itself from the world, it ceases to be the true hope of the world, even when it is involved in all sorts of “mission” activities and programs.

liturgicaltheoIn the liturgy, the church straddles the kingdom and the world and maintains its dual orientation toward both. Von Allmen compares this dual orientation to the heart’s pumping blood to keep the body alive. At worship the church keeps a “diastole” beat toward the world and a “systole” beat toward God. These two poles, Von Allmen further argues, are preserved in the application of two key terms to the church’s worship: Eucharist and Mass. Eucharist “connotes . . . a movement . . . of gathering together, of assembly to become an offering of praise for that which God has does in Jesus Christ for the world’s salvation.” Mass, on the other hand, is the movement of going into the world when the celebration ends.These two words describe the very movement of the Church in the world, the pulsation of her life in history.” The Supper is the “center” from which the church goes out to the world and to which it returns from the world with its “harvest” to offer to the Lord.

If we use different imagery, the liturgy may be compared to a journey – a journey from this world to the heavenly kingdom and back to this world. In the language of the liturgy, Word and sacrament are bounded by two other acts: the gathering and sending forth. As Christians leave the world to come together, they are “on their way to constitute the Church . . . to be transformed into the Church of God.” The biblical paradigm for this journey is the Mount of Transfiguration. The disciples separated themselves from the world and ascended the mountain with Jesus Christ and then returned to serve. But the basis is the ascension of Christ. In the eucharist prayer (the anaphora) the church is raised up to heaven to join in the heavenly liturgy: “We have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space.” It is from there that the mission of the church begins; from there that Jesus set the Holy Spirit to constitute the church as his Spirit-filled body; from there that, after being give spiritual food, the church returns to the world – back “time” – to love and serve the Lord. pp. 82-3

Bonnie Honig on the Promises of the Paradox of Politics, Linear Time, and Re-interpellation

I was introduced to Bonnie Honig‘s (Professor of Political Science, Brown University) work through Helene Slessarev-Jamir and the required readings for my religion and politics doctoral exam.  I’m using her writing in a presentation that I’ll be giving at AAR this year, in which I will relate her notion of paradox to the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr and Soren Kierkegaard (see my proposal here), and will also be incorporating some of the concepts below into my final dissertation chapter on “Neighborliness and Resistance.” Here is quote from her 2011 book Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law and Democracy:

emergency politicsIn order for there to be a people well formed enough for good lawmaking, there must be good law, for how else will the people be well formed? The problem is: Where would that good law come from absent an already well-formed, virtuous people?  But the seeming quandary of chicken-and-egg (which comes first, good people or good law?) takes off and attaches to democratic politics more generally once we see that established regimes are hardly rendered immune by their longevity to the paradoxical difficulty that Rousseau names. Every day, after all, new citizens are born, others immigrate into established regimes, still others mature into adulthood. Every day, established citizens mistake, depart from, or simply differ about their visions of democracy’s future and the commitment of democratic citizenship. Every day the traces of the traumas of the founding generation are discernible in the actions of their heirs. Every day, democracies resocialize, recapture, or reinterpellate citizens into their political institutions and culture in ways those citizens do not freely will, nor could they. Every day, in sum, new citizens are received by established regimes, and every day established citizens are reinterpellated into the laws, norms, and expectations of their regimes such that the paradox of politics is replayed rather than overcome in time.

Indeed, the first thing to go, when we face the chicken-and-egg paradox of politics, is our confidence in linear time, its normativity and its form of causality. What is linear time’s normativity? Belief in a linear time sequence is invariably attended by belief that sequence is either regressive (a Fall narrative) or progressive. In both regressive and progressive time, the time sequence itself is seen to be structured by causal forces that establish meaningful, orderly connections between what comes before and what comes after (Decline and Rise), such that one thing leads to another rather than forming, as plural temporalities and tempos do, a random assemblage or jumble of events. All these elements — linearity, its normativity, causality — are thrown off balance by the paradox of politics in which what is presupposed as coming before (virtue, the people, the law) invariably comes after (if at all), and what comes after invariably replays the paradox of politics that time was supposed to surmount.

It might seem that acknowledging the vicious circularity of the paradox of politics must be costly to a democracy, or demoralizing: If the people do not exist as a prior — or even as a post hoc — unifying force, then what will authorize or legitimate their exercises of power? But there is, as we shall see, also promise in such an acknowledgement. Besides, denial is costly too, for we can deny or disguise the paradox of politics only by suppressing or naturalizing the exclusion of those (elements of the) people whose residual, remaindered, minoritized existence might call the pure general will into question. From the perspective of the paradox of politics, unchosen, unarticulated, or minoritized alternatives — different forms of life, identities, solidarities, sexes or genders, alternative categories of justice, unfamiliar tempos — re-present themselves to us daily, in one form or another, sometimes inchoate. The paradox of politics provides a lens through which to re-enliven those alternatives. It helps us see the lengths to which we go or are driven to insulate ourselves from the remainders of our settled paths. It keeps alive both the centripetal force whereby a people is formed or maintained as a unity and the centrifugal force where its other, the multitude, asserts itself (pp. 14-15).

Von Balthasar Quotes, Theodrama Vol. 2 Part III

We shall not get beyond the alternatives of “lyrical” and “epic,” spirituality (prayer and personal involvement) and theology (the objective discussion of facts), so long as we fail to include the dramatic dimension of revelation, in which alone they can discover their unity. [Human beings] can address God, and [address each other]; the Church, too, can speak to those within and to those without. But this tension is resolved in the context of a third dimension that embraces it: in the context of God’s action, which challenges the believer, takes him [or her] over and appoints him [or her] to be a witness. A witness, moreover, in the early Christian sense: a “martyr” – bearing witness with his whole existence. Otherwise he is no real “witness to the truth”. . (p. 57)

We too are involved in this dramatic campaign, so much so that the “evil day” leaves us no time to speculate about the necessarily favorable outcome: all of us must transform the graces we have received from God into a divine armor (Eph 6:13) and use it as such…

For now, under the God-given “Law” (in all its forms) will be put forward as the presence of the divine in the world, and people will attempt to subject [humanity's] freedoms to its abstract omnipotence. And, on the other hand, under the banner of a self-absolutizing pagan culture, people will play off the “lawless” (anomos, 1 Cor 9:21) and “godless” (atheos, Eph 2:12) freedom of the “autonomous individual” against the abstract Law… Law must prove obsolete in the person who fulfills it from within, out of the love of Christ (Gal 5:23; 1 Tim 1:9), and freedom must hand itself over as a prisoner to Christ, so that it can now truly receive itself back from him (Gal 5:1). (p. 83)

If the once-for-all drama of Christ is to be exalted as the norm of the entire dramatic dimension of human life, two things must happen simultaneously: the abyss of all tragedy must be plumbed to the very bottom (which no purely human tragedy can do); and, in it and transcending it, we must discern the element of gracious destiny that genuinely touches human existence (and not merely seems to touch it). Thus the dramatic aspect of existence yields postulates addressed to Christology, although they can only be meaningful if they have already encountered the revelation concerning Christ. First, there is the postulate that Christ’s being is of such a kind that he is able to descend into the abyss of all that is tragic – far beyond the ability of any tragic hero (who only bears his [or her] own destiny) – and hence that the tragic overstretching of his [or her] person must be absolute, that is, divine. (For “demi-gods” are self-contradictory.) The other postulate is that, precisely in this abyss of unsurpassable tragedy, the element of grace asserts itself, that grace which encompasses existence and can persist and penetrate into the conciliatory aspect of tragedy. Both together lead to the absolute christological paradox: in the horror of dissolution – under the weight of the world’s guilt and of forsakenness by God – we are delivered from the meaninglessness of the world’s suffering, and grace and reconciliation carry the day. John brings both aspects together in his concept of “exaltation” (exaltation on the Cross and exaltation to God’s presence) and “glory”. “Glory” is the manifestation of the Father’s love for the world in the Son’s bearing of the world’s sin: by an inner necessity, this pure obedience to the Father calls for the Father to glorify the Son and announces it in advance . . . (p. 84)

From this vantage point, once more, we can ask the question we asked at the beginning: Are our “eyes of faith” able to see the normative form, now unfolded into a drama, as a form? The answer can now be in the affirmative. Form is a meaningful unity in a multiplicity of organs; in its fundamental articulations – his Incarnation, his preaching of the kingdom and preparing of the Church, his suffering, his solidarity with the dead and reunion with the Father, his return at the end of history – Christ’s dramatic form is the simple self-presentation of a single attitude, which is the effective expression of God’s love for the world… (p. 87)

The New Testament relationship between heaven and earth can only be illuminated dramatically, not aesthetically or in a Gnostic and structuralist manner…

Augustine, it seems, does not entirely escape the danger of an aesthetic interpretation when, arguing against the Manichees, he addresses God in these terms in his famous prayer: O God, through whom the universe, even in its evil part, is made perfect, . . . as the lower things make harmony with the better.”: here the “lower” is applied to the earth and the “better” to heaven, and the two together – despite all the individual clashes – yield a whole, a perfect harmony, in such a way that the unity between the higher and lower is better than the higher on its own…

The danger of a Gnostic and structuralist interpretation lurks in the late Jewish Apocalyptic, which has its roots in the wisdom literature. According to this, everything that is the come forth at the end of time has already existed, hiddenly, in God (thus privileged seers were able t behold it); history consists simply in drawing back the curtain that conceals what is only provisionally veiled. In such a case anthropology would be merely the realization of a correspondence that already exists between the eternal and temporal [human]: “Living here and now in the Beyond”…

Nor is the possible to take up a standpoint (in salvation history) prior to or subsequent to the earth/heaven dichotomy, as Ephrem the Syrian attempts to do, with naïve boldness in his Hymns on Paradise . . . we cannot know in advance what the stage will look like at the end of the play… not mutilation but transformation… (pp 88-9)

Von Balthasar Quotes, Theodrama vol. 2 Part II

Only when we have mentioned what is common can we start differentiating. In the face of death, the gesture of renouncing all that is past can have different meanings. It can be an act of homage to what is passing away, under the eye of the God who abides forever – the gesture of the departing characters in Calderon’s Theatre of the World… On the other hand, it can be the mere recognition that the minus sign of nothingness before the brackets that contain finitude robs everything within those brackets of all valued. And yet there are mysterious transitions between two extremes, particularly where the Absolute hovers, indefinably, between Nothing and Everything, as in the concept of Nirvana. Where the latter’s whole negativity is interpreted positively, the nothingness of the world’s being also acquired a twofold accent: all individual forms are leveled and extinguished as such; but between the vanishing forms a path can be found, implying something positive in the face of Absolute: a “path of instruction” leading out of the meanders and arabesques of mortal existence. Yet this path too, which already inscribes itself in the living forms, is only recognized by its negativity; it can be traced where finite form is negated and where we see through it to the Absolute that lies beyond. That is an essentially anti-dramatic principle, however, which is why no drama has arisen in India and the Islamic world comparable to Greek or Christian drama. There the epic holds pride of place. And since the Absolute does not come to meet the transitory world on its pilgrim path (for, at most, the latter is governed by the eternal law promulgated by the former), this path lies under the aegis of a “providence” that appears preeminently in the form of “fate”…

From this point on the periphery, we can go on to ask about the center: what kind of relationship must there between the world and Absolute, between humanity and God, if the leveling produced by transitoriness and death is not to cripple the dramatic dimension of existence from within? Or, in other words, if the dramatic is not to become a mere defective mode of the epic – a kind of still photograph of existence, cut out of the film which, in showing the ultimate demise of all the characters, will also relativize everything that has passed between them? Humanity cannot come up with an answer itself; it cannot do it by violently amputating all the factors which extend beyond the framework of the dramatic action – nor by point to the exemplary identity which would be required if a significant action were to be elevated into a manifestation and “deciphering” of the Absolute. At this point the Baroque theatre is right: all human drama contains the element of collapse, implying the leveling of all differences and paying homage to the indifference, impartiality, of the One God. Nonetheless, it is genuine theatre; consequently, for this to be possible, there must be some further factor in the concept of the Absolute…

But if the Greeks also had genuine theatre (leaving aside the somewhat analogous Japanese Noh plays), surely this other factor must have been present in their concept of God too? It must have been an idea of God which allowed him to take part – an inner, divine, absolute part – in the drama of mortal existence without threatening his absolute nature. Such an idea provides a link between early, mythic thought and Christian faith. But the former does not pass without a break into the latter: separating them lies philosophy, which opposes the notion that God can be moved and affected by the human drama. Even the Covenant God of the Old Testament cannot be interpreted as a direct mediation between mythos and Christian revelation; even the foreseeing, judging and compassionate God, the God who accompanies his people through history, is impassive vis-à-vis all human tragedy. Christianity alone provides a new approach: God has become human without ceasing to be God. (pp. 44-5)

Now the question must be addressed to Christianity: Can it legitimately claim to have found the trail that was lost ever since the demise of ancient tragedy? And can it really follow to the end, with its eyes open, this path along which ancient tragedy tried blindly to feel its way? For that is what it really claims to do. The tragic dimension of personal existence is not softened; in fact, it is wrenched apart to the very limit: in the Cross. In Christianity, this tragic dimension actually touches the sphere of the Divine, yet without swallowing it up (as mythology does) in the tragic destiny: Christian dogma has always rejected “Patripassionaism”, that is, the idea that God the Father suffered in the same sense as the Son, even if – in the mystery of the Trinity – it directs its attention with hair’s-breadth precision to the point of contact between the suffering of the God-man and the nonsuffering of God. Finally Christianity sees it in a Catholic light, because, as an individual and personal tragic dimension – not “typical” or “symbolic” – it brings to light the significance and change of meaning of all intramundane tragedy. Thus the dramatic level becomes ultimate, not to be surpassed; it does not point to some prior “wisdom” or “teaching” or “gnosis” or “theology” that could then be recounted in the epic mode: it remains at the center, as drama, as the action that takes place between God and man, undiminished in its contemporary relevance. Herein, too, lies the meaning of the Catholic sacraments, which continually make the one event present; herein, in a more all0embracing sense, the meaning of the Church insofar as she is the re-presentation of the “drama of salvation” once for all on each particular occasion…

Within the drama of Christ, every human fate is deprivatized so that its personal range may extend to the whole universe, depending on how far it is prepared to cooperate in being inserted in to the normative drama of Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. Not only does this gather the unimaginable plurality of human destinies into a concrete, universal point of unity: it actually maintains their plurality within the unity, but as a function of this unity… (pp. 49-50)

Globalization, NAFTA and the U.S.-Mexico Drug War: Twenty Years of Free Trade as Decolonial Struggle

This is an expanded paper based on a presentation I gave for the “NAFTA and Philosophy” conference in Mexico City at UNAM a couple of months ago, and is under review for publication in a Spanish version of a book that will also include other papers from the conference.  Some of the content is recycled from previous stuff I’ve written — especially the first half, on globalization, NAFTA and the drug war — but the second half where I use Dussel and Taylor’s work and talk about the Caravan for Peace, is new.

The first word in my title, “Globalization,” signifies the more general context of the US-Mexico drug war in particular.  While I cannot thoroughly theorize it here, I will nevertheless mention some of the key features of globalization that serve to underscore and give shape to the on-going drug-trade related violence. Secondly, I will touch on the unique dimensions of the relationship between globalization, NAFTA and the violence itself. I do not assume, however, that globalization is reducible to economic neoliberalism, nor that globalization or even NAFTA is the direct cause of increased violence, but rather that both – globalization and NAFTA – in this case, are preconditions furthering and to some extent enabling the poverty and political impunity that produces the suffering and insecurity that is being experienced. Lastly, I will try to illustrate how globalization, NAFTA and the drug war together have evoked a decolonial struggle of resistance on the part of victims by looking at one recent example and arguing that its ethos and aesthetics – not just its ethical or political theory – has been vital to its effectiveness.

Globalization as the Greater Context for the Drug Trade

Every particular political situation has its own historical location to be considered, but one can nonetheless speak today of certain globalizing tendencies with mounting planetary reach. So while the crisis in Mexico caused by the drug trade is indeed just one context among many, it is nonetheless seen here to be uniquely illustrative of the more universal context of globalization itself. Thus, it will serve to highlight some of the enduring marks of globalization, which I will now discuss.

By way of a definition, globalization is thought here to be a process or set of processes that embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions (McGrew and Held (1999), p. 16). These relations are not only economic and political in nature but also culture and environmental. This process, however, is replete with contradictions, uncertainties and unevenness.

The contemporary globalizing world has seen rapidly increasing economic and political interdependence between nations on the one hand alongside growing disparity in terms of quality of life and security between and within nations on the other hand. At the same time, globalization is not a monolithic phenomenon. Not all societies are experiencing it. Hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces alike are operative in its set of processes. Power asymmetries in zones of contact are broader and more numerous than in the past. Globalization is not a closed but open, entangled system of multiple, heterogeneous hierarchies and logics in which the natureof and relations between individuals and institutions are often conceived as hybridized.

Globalization, commercialization and criminalization together have brought about a major disjuncture between the formal reach of certain states’ military power and its effectiveness (McGrew and Held (2007), p. 28).   The drug war is proof of this. States may have a monopoly on the ability to legitimize violence but not to totally control it. The invisibility of economic power structures and their ability to develop independently of legitimate political power is a key challenge engendered by globalization. This challenge is exacerbated by the permeation and extension of economic power beyond national borders.

Just as production has been outsourced in the age of globalization, so too have many aspects of organized violence. Trans-state organized cartel networks “have been able to exploit the infrastructures [and free trade policies] of globalization for their own illicit . . . purposes” (Mcgrew and Held (2007), p. 28).   The imperialism of the industrial age, while certainly still prevalent, has been increasingly rivaled by non-state forces like the criminal insurgency of terrorists groups and drug trafficking organizations (or DTO’s). As social forces like drug abuse are selectively included or excluded from formal infrastructures, it is almost impossible to prevent the parallel formation of informal and illicit networks that conversely condone this abuse and profit from it (McGrew and Held (2007), p. 33).

Despite being increasingly challenged, unilateral U.S. hegemony does continue to dominate the globe in many important respects. At the same time, with transnational corporations exploiting and propagating an international division of labor, the supra-national nature of financial markets has demonstrated a new level of power and influence over the actions of nation-states, their central banks, and even corporations themselves. Thus, the limitations of their thesis notwithstanding, one can indeed notice today the extent to which Hardt and Negri’s Empire (2001) has formed.

To a significant degree, a transformation of the modern imperialist geography of the globe and the realization of the world market has scrambled the spatial divisions of developed and underdeveloped zones. Changing and complex regimes of differentiation and homogenization, and deterritorialization and reterritorialization, have constructed new paths and limits for global flows. So even at a time in which devising alternatives to free market capitalism has become increasingly difficult, globalization is neither coterminous with neoliberalism – as stated above – nor reducible to the field of political economy (Alcoff and Saenz (2003), p. 200). As the Mexican case confirms, non-governmental criminal trafficking organizations challenge many assumptions by wielding an enormous amount of cultural power – in addition to accounting for a substantial share of international trade and GDP in some countries.

In the midst of these acute crises, the persistence of cultural globalization portends to erode and trivialize all un-commodifiable values, leaving only the fetishized desires of individual subjects to govern from the global core. Excessive accumulation and consumption is tied closely to the alterations brought about by the media in the information age and what Manuel Castells (1996) calls a communication network society. It is beyond the scope of this paper, as my focus is on political economy, but it should be noted that cultural globalization plays an important role in this conflict as well. This is especially noticeable in the recent influence and celebration of “narcocultura,” such as in “narcocorridos,” which are musical ballads write and widely popularized in honor of the cartels and their famed leaders (Holden, 2013).

NAFTA and Neoliberalism

As already mentioned, one of the most predominant features of globalization is the increasing mobility and power of global capital flow (Soederberg (2006), p. 167). According to Queen’s University development studies professor Susanne Soederberg (2006), this change in economic and political policy has been characterized by a shift from a variety of Keynesian demand management tactics and the advancement of a welfare state to neoliberal forms of government intervention: “one of the main characteristics of competition states is that traditional policies aimed at achieving social justice through economic redistribution have been challenged and profoundly undermined by the marketization of the state’s economic activities and its focus on attracting and retaining capital flows” (p. 167). Soederberg (2006) further argues that while the Mexican state has taken on some of the defining traits of an advanced industrialized country, the assumption of neoliberal practices has neither succeeded in reducing the country’s “excessive vulnerability and dependence on external sources of capital, nor [in] bringing about conditions for sustainable economic growth” (p. 168).

Inherent to the liberalization of Mexico’s political economy were the steady belief in the trickle-down theory of wealth, the prioritization of industrialization and modernization before democratization, and the mistaken assumption that the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) corporatist structure represented the interests of the average Mexican (Soederberg (2006), p. 171). The tension between domestic and international policy imperatives has failed to be resolved or balanced. In the end it seems that efforts to restructure in accordance with international (read Western) expectations – though they have led to further integration in the world economy – have generally increased social class division between rich and financial vulnerability as a result of tenuous forms of capital accumulation such as the phenomenon of the maquiladorizacion of the economy (Soederberg (2006), p. 171).

Maquiladores (international, outsourced factories) are primarily located near the northern border of Mexico so as to as to ensure cheap transport of product to the United States. The average daily salary for workers at the maquiladores in Mexico is around seven dollars for ten hours of work (Chacon et. al. (2006), p. 118). These free trade zones are exactly where most of the more recent drug-related violence has taken place – in cities like Juarez. Furthermore, the real wages in Mexico are lower today than they were before the 1982 debt crisis (Soederberg (2006), p. 181) and the minimum wage is the same (Camp (2006), p. 262). In absolute numbers, substantially more Mexicans live without sufficient food than in the past two decades (approximately 26 million) (Camp (2006), p. 274).

As international financial markets have reached considerable levels of influence in the global political economy, daily turnovers in foreign exchange markets are often $1.3 trillion or higher (Soederberg (2006), p. 168). This number is much larger than the one trillion dollars available to those governments of advanced countries for the purposes of exchange rate stabilization (Soederberg (2006), p. 169). Moreover, the major players in the exchange rate game are no longer just big international banks but insurance and pension fund managers, as well as other portfolio investors who are mobile and less vulnerable (Soederberg (2006), p. 169). Consequently, private investment capital is a major source of financing for developing countries. Not surprisingly then, new national policy is increasingly established with both current and prospective private investor interests in mind. Such interests inevitably include low corporate taxes and fewer state-sponsored welfare programs.

Even more significantly, policy makers know that new creditors are going to want easy entry and exit investment strategy options. Therefore, the stability and growth predictability of developing countries has become increasingly tied to and proportionate with international financial markets and fluctuations of stocks on Wall Street. Countries finding themselves squarely in this dilemma have sometimes attempted to manipulate their exchange rates by devaluing currency in order to boost exports for instance, or by pegging currency value to interest-rates. Practices such as these are in part what led to the peso crisis not only in Mexico in 1994 but also in Argentina, which culminated in 2001.

The Mexican Drug War Itself

U.S. attempts to intervene in Colombian cocaine smuggling during the 1990’s coincided with the forging of NAFTA, which pushed drug trade activity to the U.S.-Mexican border.  Trans-state cartel networks in various stratifications of organization have been able to take advantage of the infrastructures and free trade policies of globalization for their own illicit purposes (Campbell, 2009). According to approximations by the Trans-border Institute at the University of San Diego, more than 120,000 people have been murdered, and another 25,000 have disappeared since 2006 in the Mexican Drug War (Schaeffer-Duffy 2014, Booth 2012). These numbers are significantly higher than what is typically reported in mainstream media, and many of these murders are torturous and public in nature.

Once a kilo of cocaine reaches the streets in the U.S., it will be worth $100,000, or about $100 a gram (Gibler (2011), p.32). In the Columbian countryside the exact same substance is worth no more than $3,000, or about three dollars a gram (Gibler (2011), p. 32). The single greatest contributor to this giant surplus value is the illegality of the production, transport and consumption of the drugs themselves (Gibler (2011), p. 32). Investigative journalist John Gibler (2011) explains that,

[i]legality also requires that one [bolster] the moral discourse of prohibition with massive infusion of funds into armies and law-enforcement agencies. These infusions in turn require the production of arrests and drug seizures. Competitors in the drug economy use this need as a way to eliminate opponents and rivals, tipping off federal authorities to the whereabouts of [enemy stashes and hideouts] (p. 35).

And in this context, illegality adds another more blatant complication: every dispute within the industry must be settled outside the law. The most common method of conflict resolution in an illegal business culture where cash is rampant is contract murder (Gibler (2011), p. 38).

As a result of the competition at the border for trade smuggling routes between the different DTO’s to secure their gain from the $60 billion worth of narcotics that cross the border every year (Trans-border Institute, 2014). While the murder rate has subsided substantially in the past few years, less than 5% of these cases have been investigated, and many more deaths and disappearances are suspected to have gone unreported (Strauss, 2011). These two facts call attention to the urgency of and justification for this analysis, for it is arguably less the sheer number of people deaths that is most extraordinary, historically speaking, and more the combination of such a concentration of rampant murder with the absence of the rule of law. Such impunity intensifies the sense of injustice and betrays the degree to which the violence has been systemically produced.

Gibler further explains: “The blood and chaos that accompany drug trafficking from Mexico into the United States are inextricably related to the simultaneous demand within the U.S. population for the [drugs], and the insistence of U.S. politicians on an ideological commitment to prohibition that seeks to veil prohibition’s use for social control” (Gibler (2011), p. 43). Consequently, U.S. policy has not stopped the flow of drugs, but it has outsourced most of the killing (Gibler (2011), p. 203). And with dozens of reporters gunned down or disappeared since 2008, the DTO’s are especially skilled at silencing those who speak out. The targets seem to be anyone with access to major media channels, or anybody who annunciates facts that could be bad for business (Gibler (2011), p. 23).

The temptation on the part of U.S. citizens is often to dismiss organized crime as outside the “clean legal system,” rather than to recognize how interwoven official government is in drug trafficking. This is what makes the U.S. government’s deployment of the phrase “war on drugs” so misleading. And despite being an illegal form of capitalist accumulation, the drug industry is a substantial part of the U.S. and Mexican economic systems. Simultaneously, however, hundreds of businesses have closed down or moved away from Juarez since the army moved in and the violence escalated. So when poverty takes its toll on the economy, as it has in border cities like Juarez, often young, uneducated and unemployed men in particular – “ni-ni’s,” as they are sometimes called, which is short for “ni estudiar ni trabajar” (those who neither study nor work) – are seemingly faced with the narrow option to either join the DTO’s or live in material deprivation (Corcoran, 2012).

As alluded to above about violence and globalization in general, however, most peculiar is the degree to which DTO’s in Mexico have generally frustrated efforts by the military and police to curb their smuggling progress and success – despite their collusion with the state in many cases, and despite the country’s U.S.-backed billion-dollar budgets. It’s acknowledged by Mexico’s own government that the cartels have bribed and infiltrated not just the municipal police forces but occasionally high-level officials (Lacey, 2008). At the same time, “[p]roducing arrests is a necessary feature of the industry, and so, like murder, arrest becomes a way of settling accounts or invading territory” (Gibler (2011), p. 23). The drug machinery employs both the cops and the robbers, as it were.

Again, clear lines between the culpable and the innocent are blurred, and the hybridity of the drug war zone is glaring.DTO’s do not represent “parallel power,” separate from those of the state, “but rather a form of economic activity connected with, tolerated, promoted or protected by various sectors of the state” (Campbell (2009), p. 18). Large-scale drug trafficking is permitted, sustained and exploited on a national-political front.

Officials in charge of enforcing anti-drug laws both in Mexico and the United States have tremendous incentive to appease the public eye by capturing major drug kingpins or seizing large amounts of illegal shipments to be self-validating: “[E]ven though the drugs confiscated constitute only a fraction of the overall quantity crossing the border, and the smugglers arrested are easily replaced, these policing practices are politically popular expressions of the state’s moral resolve” (Andreas (2009), p. 11). Indeed, victims are victimizer and visa versa, on the ground level; at another level though – on the broader and global scale – there is a blatantly sharp distinction and nearly impassable gap between those with economic or political power, and those left vulnerable without it. It is still the free trade zoning coupled with continued illegalization (U.S.) – all of which is encouraged or permitted by a corrupt legal system (Mexico) – that has created the perfectly deregulated capitalist “laboratory,” which, in the words of author Charles Bowden (2010), has become “the global economy’s new killing field.”

All in all, 1) the context of widespread poverty, which neoliberalism and NAFTA exaggerates, the political legacy of impunity and official corruption, however varied – have been the major barriers to any genuine attempt to limit the power of organized crime. What will be insinuated below is that the costs of these failures creates what Enrique Dussel calls a surplus population that is rendered a “necessary sacrifice” by the logic of what he and Walter Mignolo refer to as the modern/colonial, and now global capitalist project (Taylor, 2014). The suggestion therefore, is that, though the lineage is fragmented and always taking on new forms, the oppressive impact of NAFTA on Mexico’s subaltern/subjugated peoples and the conversely lucrative payoffs for the ruling minority locates this twenty-year free trade experiment squarely in the tradition of European and now U.S. colonialism.

Obviously, to repeat, NAFTA is not solely or even directly responsible for the spike in drug-trade-related violence. Nor are US and Mexican elites the only perpetrators. There are cartels, US consumers, the prison industry, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and others that are either complicit in the drug war or have a vested interest in the terms of NAFTA. Nonetheless, this characterization should provide a credible impression of the globalization/NAFTA/drug war matrix and the social context for the ethical response to follow.

A History of Decolonial Struggle

In light of this state of affairs, and in the midst of neoliberal economic policy and political compromise incentivized by globalization in this particular context, I will now turn to theorize what might constitute a critical movement of resistance inspired by an ethics of liberation (drawing on Dussel) and an aesthetics of decolonial struggle (taken from Mark L. Taylor). First, however, it should first be noted how Dussel’s deconstruction of modern-Enlightenment reasoning/epistemology can be used to situate this conflict historically.

While the U.S.-Mexico Drug War has a history that dates back several decades before the escalation of violence that began most noticeably in 2008, Enrique Dussel provides a much broader historical framework within which I think we can place this conflict and the political, cultural and economic forces at play within it. Dussel undertakes what is intended to be not only a systematic exploration into the epistemological and geopolitical pertinence of Latin America’s history but also a decolonial uncovering of a Eurocenctric conception of this history (Maldonado-Torres (2008), p. 11). This Eurocentric position, Dussel (2002) explains, was “first formulated at the end of the eighteenth century by the French and English ‘Enlightenment’ and the German ‘Romantics,’” and “reinterpreted all of world history, projecting Europe into the past and attempting to show that everything that happened before had led to Europe’s becoming, in Hegel’s words, ‘the end and center of world history’” (p. 201).

A basic presupposition of the myth of modernity is that European civilization has come about as a result of a fairly linear progression, which can be traced through selected cultures with respect to their historical rootedness in classical Greece and Rome. This view emerged during the Renaissance but reached its height in the philosophy of history that was formulated during the Enlightenment by Hegel but also others (Dussel (2002), p. 208). Dussel argues that the Enlightenment vision removed from its memory the disconnected and “Dark Age” Europe that lasted until the fifteenth century. In his work The Ethics of Liberation, Dussel demonstrates in a comprehensive historical genealogy of his own how even on a very generous reading, Europe was a periphery of the Islamic, Chinese and Hindustani world – “that “Oriental” world, much more “refined” and developed, from all points of view, that was the “center” of the old world, and the densest part of the world-system until the end of the eighteenth century” (Dussel (2002), pp. 231-232). Dussel (2002) goes so far as to contend that, “From Hegel, Marx and Comte to Weber – including Freud, Husserl, Heidegger, Popper, Levinas, Foucault, Lyotard, and Habermas – Eurocentrism shines unopposed,” and that “it would dominate the colonial world with the brilliance of “Western culture,” as humanity’s most developed center “since the beginning”” (pp. 231-232). The decisive case Dussel (1979) is gradually building from these observations is that modernity does not begin with the Enlightenment but with the Spanish Conquest:

“in the beginning of modernity, before Descartes discovered . . . a terrifying anthropological dualism in Europe, the Spanish conquistadors arrived in America. The phallic conception of the European-medieval world is now added to the forms of submission of the vanquished Indians” (vol. 3, p. 99).

Elsewhere Dussel develops the claim further (1995):

“The colonizing ego, subjugating the Other, the woman and the conquered male, in an alienating erotics and in a mercantile capitalist economics, follows the route of the conquering ego toward the modern ego cogito. Modernization initiates an ambiguous course by touting a rationality opposed to primitive, mythic explanations, even as it concocts a myth to conceal its own sacrificial violence against the Other” (p. 48).

Against the myth of modernity and the divorce of the Enlightenment narrative of progress from the preceding colonial conquest, however, Dussel (1979) urges that

It is now time to change skins to see through new eyes. It is now time to put off the skin and the eyes of the “I conquer” which culminates in the ego cogito or the will-to-power. One’s new hands are not those that clutch iron arms, and one’s new eyes are not those looking out from the caravels of the European intruders, who cry Land! with Columbus. The new skin is the soft, bronzed skin of Caribbeans, of the Andean people, of the Amazonians. The new eyes are those of the Indians who, with their bare feet planted on soft, warm, island sands, saw in wonderment new gods floating on the seas as they approached (p. 99).

In sum, Dussel’s philosophy of liberation challenges the myth of eurocentrism and modern/coloniality by:

  1. interrogating the links between philosophical projects and geopolitical positioning
  2. appreciating the relevance that the liberation of formerly colonized subjects has for philosophy that parallels that of other important moments such as the emancipation of the “people” and the bourgeois elites in the French Revolution
  3. taking as its horizon the struggle of the wide majority of people around the globe and seeks to elucidate the challenges they confront while listening to their demands, supporting their struggle, and aiming to give voice to their aspirations (Maldonado-Torres, 2008).

This gives an introduction to Dussel’s philosophy of liberation and his aim to restructure how Western history is conceived. Nonetheless, the increasing globalization of finance capital and the rearticulation of development theories through neoliberal policies, along with the increase of poverty in Latin America and around the planet, made it necessary for Dussel to revise his ethics of liberation for a new context.

Dussel’s Ethics of Liberation

To only speak of Eurocentism in terms of political conquest, modern vs. postmodern epistemology, or even cultural domination, however, is very misleading. For Dussel (1995) contests that

A new god ascended on the horizon of this new epoch. He began his triumphal march in the heavens, not under the sacrificial sign of Huitzilopochli, but under the auspices of modernity’s sacrificial myth. This new god was capital in its mercantilist phase, which prevailed in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and after in Holland. This new fetish metamorphosed, acquiring its industrial face in the eighteenth-century England and its transnational embodiment in the twentieth-century United States, Germany and Japan (p. 116).

After studying Marx’s most mature writings in the later editions and volumes of Kapital, Dussel, like several other contemporary Marxian economists (e.g., Wolff, 2013; Eagleton, 2012; Harvey, 2010), believes that the core philosophical and methodological insight in Marx’s work is that living labor is the fountain of value. As that which is appropriated as surplus value and gives commodities the ability to generate value accumulated in the form of capital, labor, or living corporeality, is the ultimate source from which value is extracted, not capital. Hence, a commodity is “a coagulation, a crystallization, of living labor” (Mendieta (2007), p. 131).

Dussel (2013) then notes how Marx places the material in opposition to the merely formal in Hegel:

Against Hegel, for whom the supreme human act is the thinking that produces the thinking that thinks itself (formally), now what produces human life with self-consciousness is real human life, from its corporeality”, which has needs that animals do not – because human beings distinguish themselves from their life activity in their consciousness . . . Moreover, this material criterion on which ethics is grounded, the reproduction and development of human life, is universal, and . . . not solipsistic but communitarian. It concerns a “community of life” (p. 94).

From this point, Dussel (2013) puts forth “a universal principle of all ethics, especially of critical ethics: the principle to the obligation to produce, reproduce, and develop the concrete human life of each ethical subject in community” (p. 94). In order to follow this principle, Dussel explains, one must “situate oneself from the standpoint of the alterity of the system” – that is, “in the world of everyday life of prescientific common sense” (p. 207). According to Dussel, this is what allows for is the ability to adopt the perspective of the victims of a given ethical system without ethical complicity. Whereas Eurocentric modernity in the age of globalization and exclusion has often tended to make the production and consumption of commodities, and the growth thereof the measure of progress and civilization, Dussel avers that, following Marx, the measure of political economy and wellbeing begins with human bodies and their life, which is the source of value.

Going one step further, Dussel’s ethics of liberation proposes that victims, who in this case are those who have died, suffered and lost loved ones as a result of drug-trade related violence, affirm themselves and their dignity as a community through transformative social movements (p. 291). These victims’ communities also function as a “red light” or “social alarm” for the rest of society and especially their North American neighbors, calling out those in the prevailing systems of domination (p. 652).  As called to by victims, participants in the system are “interpellated,” into solidarity with “the community of victims” in resistance to the system. As stated above, this is worked out in a corresponding material principle expressed as the obligation to produce life. And in being so interpellated, “both the material negation suffered by victims, and the affirmations of their material lives and dignity (affirmations both they and others make) constitute Dussel’s ‘material criterion of content’” (Taylor, 2014).

Dussel’s material principle is only one of three principles of co-determination in his Ethics.  Dussel argues that

the mere “material” dimension is not sufficient for the fulfillment of the “goodness” claim of the maxim, act, institution, or system of ethical life. Other criteria or ethical-moral principles will be necessary for their fulfillment, such as the areas of consensuality of moral validity [and] the feasibility of mediations, in order to effectively reach ‘goodness’ (p. 57).

The second is a formal and procedural principle, that of discourse ethics. Bearing in mind, though, that discourse here is always carried out with the voice of victims setting the terms of dialogue. This is the condition that the “within eurocentrism” cannot provide.

Third, there is the co-determining principle and criterion of feasibility.  It subsumes all the principles described before, and its theorizes what victims actually can effect strategically, thus also constituting the liberative principle.  And again, the subjects are not only the victims but also those interpellated into solidarity with them.

These three criteria together form the difference of the critical-ethical reasoning or consciousness for Dussel:

Critical-ethical reason is a more developed moment of human rationality than those already analyzed; it subsumes material reason (because it assumes it affirmatively, as a way to discover the dignity of the subject and the impossibility of reproducing the life of the victim), formal reason (because it also assumes this in its perception of the exclusion of the victim from the possibility of arguing in his or her own defense), and reason concerning feasibility (because it interprets the conceivable mediations of the dominant system of ethics as “nonefficient” management for life, which at some level produce the death of the victims) (p. 208).

Despite its occurrence on a relatively small scale, I submit that this process critical-ethical reasoning and of interpellation is exactly what was accomplished by “The Caravan for Peace” movement which I will now briefly describe.

The Caravan for Peace as a Critical Movement of Resistance

In mid-August 2012, following the protest and march that ended in Mexico City in 2011, which drew more than a hundred thousand participants, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity — led by the family members of Mexicans murdered and disappeared during the drug war — sojourned across the United States (Global Exchange, 2013). They have since also had a second and smaller caravan as of the fall of 2013, but I’ve chosen to focus on the 2012 effort mostly because of its size and success in reaching a large US audience.

Starting from Tijuana/San Diego, the 120-person caravan traversed 5,700 miles, holding events in 26 cities and generating extensive coverage in most of the major media channels in the U.S. and Mexico. The Caravaners made an effort to transform their sufferings and losses into moral criticism and compassionate action. They were joined by some drug war victims north of the border who also sought peace and an end to the devastating consequences of drug prohibition. One of the Mexican survivors was the famous poet, Javier Sicilia, whose son and a group of friends were murdered by cartel members in 2011, and he has played a crucial role in building momentum for the peace Caravan.

Along its journey the Caravan spoke boldly and critically, and used creative non-violent actions to dramatize the issues while seeking common ground on which to build the difficult, bi-national consensus for peace. Parents of victims on both sides of the border found solidarity in their common experience of loss, anger and mourning in many candle-lit vigils held throughout the course of the Caravan.  In total the Caravaners spoke to tens of thousands of people – not including the coverage in the media. Their collective moral rhetoric of the movement was crafted to elevate popular awareness and energy around four major areas of legislative reform:

  • Drug Policy Reform (decriminalization if not legalization of marijuana)
  • Opposition to the Militarization of Drug War
  • An end to the arms trade to Mexico
  • A criticism of NAFTA policy with respect to its effects on wages, infant industries in Mexico, and job growth

It should be especially noted how, in this movement, Sicilia’s loss in particular, as well as the losses decried in the many other testimonies from people of the Caravan, served to call out and implore people, to be hailed and interpellated into social, moral, and political solidarity with the victims. To conclude, I will enumerate several critical impulses that can be identified with the ethos and aesthetic nature of this particular movement, but also of CMR’s (Critical Movement of Resistance) in general. (The word “critical” is being used in the sense of reflective, thoughtfully attentive to complexity, and including an openness to self-criticism) (Taylor (2014), p. 136).

The Ethos of Critical Movements of Resistance According to Mark Lewis Taylor

In Mark Lewis Taylor’s essay “Decolonizing Mass Incarceration: Flesh Will Wear Out Chains” (2014) in which he considers the U.S. problem of mass-incarceration — which also happens to partly be a byproduct of the drug war – Taylor states that there are three critical impulses of CMRs, and I will relate each impulse to the Peace Caravan itself. Taylor understands each of these three impulses to feature both reflexive and cultivated aspects. First, as an impulse, and much as the term already suggests, there is an immediate and fairly reactive response to the suffering and injustice that is being experienced by victims of the drug war and free trade policy. There was in the Caravan for Peace movement an owning of agonistic being, whichwas enacted in the testimonies from family members and friends of victims on the Caravan who shared their grief and rage, and functioned as that social alarm or red light for those who would listen and pay attention. Taylor (2014) here actually note how Dussel’s privileging of the victims’ perspective and the material starting point, as well as the process of interpellation, begin with precisely the cry or “el grito” that “emerges as a roar from the pain of the victims, in their work, in their daily torment, or from the midst of their torture” (p. 137).

In a similar manner to that of Dussel, Taylor (2014) explains how the cry of the victim is not just a sad or disturbing feature of the generalized human condition. It is a marker of an agonism. Like Dussel’s alarm or red light, for Taylor the victim’s cry “is a ‘bellwether’ (leader or indicator) for all humanity, a call to guard dignity of all subjects, health of all bodies, justice for all persons. In the agonistic cry a space is opened in the concentrated mass of suffering, and victims begin constituting themselves as a community to negate systems that cause their suffering” (pp. 136-137).

Again, this is how victims call to others – “interpellate” them to their side from out of the system, for the purpose of ultimately building social forms and sustainable community together to end the victimization. Friends and families, and persons of conscience throughout the society wounded by drug-trade-related violence, take the antagonism carried in rage, lament and mourning, and in Taylor’s apt wording, “chisel it into an oppositional stance.” The cry may be the rage and grief of the thousands of children who have lost parents, and parents who have lost children. It may be, Taylor suggests,

the cry of ‘I am dying too soon,’ ‘I am without dignity,’ ‘I am raped,’ ‘I am tortured!’ When agonistic cries build a sense of group suffering, and a sense of historical violation of one’s group, then there comes the querying cry of “how long,” and the deeply bruising, answering cry of “too long!” Especially among those with the sense that the violence to which they are subjected has a colonial sociality and history to it, the interpellating cry, reverberates… ‘We are violently excluded, exploited and oppressed – as laborers, as women and sexual(-zed) others, as dark affectable subjects, as those denied life and dignity consigned to the underworlds and interstices of ever-surveilling state authorities’ (Taylor (2014), pp. 137).

One way agonism is shown is through the second critical impulse of cultivating of artful reflex. This ethos of CMRs described above must also be cultivated if it is to achieve a lasting effect. Otherwise reflexive actions are honed, concentrated and channeled to grow its consciousness-raising, interpellating and liberating impact (Taylor (2014), p. 136). For example, after a number of testimonies were heard from the Caravan’s stop in San Antonio, TX, at a local Catholic parish, the Sisters of the University of the Incarnate Word, where I currently teach, with representatives from several other faith traditions, performed an interpretative, interreligious peace dance that they had choreographed, inviting members of their respective faith traditions to draw on their own sacred resources for inspiration to partner with the Caravan.

Indeed, the dramatic, the theatrical, becomes especially important in a media-saturated age wherein information technology wields images to create spectacles that assure domination, enlisting citizen fear and fascination to reinforce inaction (Taylor (2014), p. 139). Hence, there were college-student interns with the social justice advocacy group Global Exchange that helped organize the Caravan who traveled with it to photograph and film the events and post them online through their social media accounts. Most of all, the artistic reflex, thus cultivated, offers to CMRs amid their agonistic sensibility, a celebratory function, a fore-tasting of the futures they dream and for which they struggle. Friends and family members of victims without any other options taking up the paint brush, the pen to write prose or songs, and these are powerful instances of artful reflex (Alexander, 2012).

The third critical impulse according to Taylor is the fomenting of resistance through politically adversarial practices. This “fomenting” follows the first mark of critical resistant communities, the owning of agonistic being, which, Taylor stresses, “as an “owning,” is an acceptance, an acknowledgement, one made perhaps reluctantly but with a sense of resolve, a resolution to see one’s being as what it is, in struggle, labile, tense, in readiness for tasks, but first known simply as a being-so-poised in (dis)stress” (Taylor (2014), 139-140). Moreover, the spirit of CRM’s is adversarial in its very presupposition that there is an enemy – not necessarily a person or group of people, though it could be, but indeed, that there is a matrix of antagonism and adversarial forces at play that have be named and challenged with righteous indignation (though not with hate or violence). It should further be emphasized, however, that the practices are not just for liberation from victimization, but also for restorative, structural change.

Furthermore, it is with its deployment of the arts like poetry and story-telling that resistance practice marshals most directly a creative and dramatic challenge to the powers at work in the theaters of narcoterrorism, as creativity and imagination become dramatic action that rallies a public to its sense of critical ethical consciousness. It is action that evokes a theatrical uprising of sorts. This happens in ways that galvanizes audiences and set them in motion, constituting what Taylor calls a “stealing of the show” from the narco-terrorism spectacle – beating their intimidation tactics to the stage, as it were. Mimmicking them, but from a higher moral ground, and in a way that humanizes rather than dehumanizes. One could think of how the mothers of the disappeared daughter of Juarez demonstrated their defiance by publically placing pink crosses and pictures of victims around the city for all to see, and writing on the crosses, “ni un mas!” (Rodriguez, 2007). These Movements are about forming new relations and coalitions for some transformative purpose that posits a concrete alternative to dominate rule, be it through cartel violence or unjust free trade.

To reiterate, Taylor reminds in conclusion that a theatric that would really counter the powers of state-collusion and cartel violence today is not content with mere personal stances, nor with occasional actions of creative non-violent drama – of agony and art. No, it presses further, and seeks to form networks and embody, as Taylor words it,

practices that have transformative effect, [and that] even pose an “incendiary risk” to structures of global U.S. sovereignty. This is to strike right at the heart of the [punitive] practices of colonizing and imperial power. Here, antagonistic sensibility and artistic expression constitute forces of resistance and subversion to exploitative power. Organized and organizing practices give a certain forceful “hardness” to lament and artistic expression (Taylor (2014), pp. 139-40).

Finally, Critical movements of resistance seek to sustain life-renewing activity and communal work. It is this dynamic-oriented character of the critical theater that prevents resistance movements from becoming mere aestheticism as is always the danger. They are safeguarded against this end, however, not only in their qualitatively different mode of contestation– with its values and display of justice and compassion in contrast to corporate, state or cartel violence – but also by the fact that its aesthetics is situated in a movement that identifies its opponent, namely, poverty-sustaining and/or producing political economic policy that imposes conditions of radically deregulated and therefore violent market competition that is part and parcel to the negative externalities of globalization. For this competition issues in the impossibility of ensuring life and well-being for large segments of the population, which fails to meet the fundamental criterion of Dussel’s ethics of liberation.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2008) argues that there can be another kind of globalization, a decolonial globalization, one that is counter-hegemonic, and that grows from below, from the global periphery – not the center. Perhaps CRMs like the Caravan for Peace can give birth to this kind of globalization, one that shifts the tides of culture and knowledge, and that raises consciousness and a sense of responsibility in both countries, but especially in the U.S., where the costs are too often rendered out of sight, out of mind, as it were, and where illegal drugs are continually demanded and consumed at an insatiable rate.


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Von Balthasar Quotes, Theodrama vol. 2 Part I

Humanity’s “concepts of God” always swing between two extremes. At one extreme, there is the mythological view in which God (or the gods) is embroiled in the world drama, which, with its own laws of operation, thus constitutes a third level of reality above God and humanity; at the other extreme, God is seen dwelling in philosophical sublimity above the vicissitudes of the world, which prevent him from entering the dramatic action. On the basis of biblical revelation, we can say right at the outset that God has involved himself with the creation of the world, particularly in the creation of finite free beings, without thereby succumbing to some superordinate fate. Thus God of theodramatic action is neither “mutable” (as in the mythological view) nor “immutable” (in the terms of philosophy). (p. 9)

It is true that, right at the center of our existence in the world, there is the ugly, the grotesque, the demonic, the immoral and ultimately the sinful –all that makes it hard and often impossible for humanity to believe that the world has a total meaning . . . In pre-Christian times, the boundaries between “the shekinah, the hidden, consuming glory of the Absolute . . . and the personified face of what is ultimately meaningless ] can be very close, as we can see from the grotesque, imposing grimaces on the faces of Chinese or Aztec gods and demons, which suggest that the meaning at the heart of the world is a mysterium horrendum and adorandum. But after the event of Christ’s Cross, humanity is presented with a choice: hearing the cry of dereliction, we must “discern” either hidden love (shown in the Father’s surrender of the Son) or the meaningless void. (p. 27)

Inevitably, most of the great interpretations of the world had the ambition of bringing the raging world drama into a unity with the divine stillness. So it has been ever since the Bhagavadgita and Heraclitus, for whom war was the father of all things and the world a heap of refuse. Yet through all the contradictions, we detect the rhythm of the eternal Logos: in the Stoics, who taught the wise person to be passionless in the midst of the storm of life’s passions; via Dante and Milton, to the “Prologue in heaven” of Goethe’s Faust… — and to Hegel’s “phenomenology of Spirit”, with its vast dramatic canvas, which has to be identical with the totally enlightened repose of his “great logic”. But the Bhagavadgita remains stuck fast in contradictions, and what we have in Heraclitus is a proud resignation that is already preparing the way for the Stoics’ flight from drama. In Faust (as in the Divine Comedy) the dramatic contradiction is negotiated with the aid of the guiding thread of a self-refining longing for the Absolute or a self-purifying Eros, and in Hegel an ultimate dualism hovers between the struggle of existence and a knowledge that surveys the whole. But neither the simple affirmation of the contradiction nor the flight from it nor humanity’s overcoming of it by “striving and exerting itself” (Faust) can explain the mysterious, apocalyptic simultaneity of liturgy and drama. This applies also the religions of earthly “holy wars” in the name of Yahweh or of Allah [and, mistakenly, the God of Jesus Christ!] : they bring about no reconciliation; they only destroy, creating an empty space where the transcendent God can put forth his power…

Quite different is the holy war conducted in the Book of Revelation by the Lamb, who is also the “Lion of Judah” and the “Logos of God”, from whose mouth issues the sharp sword with which he smites the nations and who ”treads the winepress of the wrath of God”. Here there is no hiatus between worship and service and above all no hiatus between the powerlessness of being slain and the power of conquest – the latter comes by virtue of the former. What we have seen from the background – namely, that the Beautiful never overwhelms those who resist it but, by its grace, makes prisoners of those who are freely convinced – holds true when this background is concentrated in the figure who steps forth from it: it is the power of self-giving love that speaks in the tones of implacable judgment…

So our Aesthetics has already provided us with something like a criterion for the present theodramatic theory. As the Aesthetics developed, grace [Huld] showed itself as eternal love’s self-giving unto the Cross; there its triumph appeared and its eternal vindication (in the Resurrection). All we need to do is take what is implicit in our aesthetics and make it explicit in dramatic theory

Whatever has emerged from the depths of nonbeing, to set itself up in existence or dig itself in, will in the end be leveled, consigned once more to nonbeing. And initially, as we have said, it does not matter which view of the Absolute is being put forward: the nihilistic or materialistic view or the Buddhist or even the Islamic view. For in all these conceptions the Absolute is motionless: in the presence of its stillness, all the noise of becoming passing away must fall silent… (pp. 34-5)


Gilead Quotes, Part III

Let me say first of all that the grace of God is sufficient to any transgression, and that to judge is wrong, the origin and essence of much error and cruelty. I am aware of these things, as I hope you are also. p. 155

In Scripture, the one sufficient reason for the forgiveness of debt is simply the existence of debt. And it goes on to compare this to divine grace, and to the Prodigal Son and his restoration to his place in his father’s house, though he neither asks to be restored as son nor even repents of the grief he has caused his father…

I believe it concludes quite effectively. It says Jesus puts his hearer in the role of the father, of the one who forgives. Because if we are, so to speak, the debtor (and of course we are that, too), that suggests no graciousness in us. And grace is the great gift. So to be forgiven is only half the gift. The other half is that we also can forgive, restore, and liberate, and therefore we can feel the will of God enacted through us, which is the great restoration of ourselves to ourselves. p. 161

One of the ladies . . . got herself into a considerable excitement talking about flames, that is, perdition, so I felt obliged to take down The Institutes and read them the passage on the lot of the reprobate, about how their torments are “figuratively expressed to us by physical things,” unquenchable fire and so on, to express “how wretched it is to be cut off from all fellowship with God. I have the passage in front of me. It is alarming, certainly, but it isn’t ridiculous. I told them, if you want to inform yourselves as to the nature of hell, don’t hold your hand in a candle flame, just ponder the meanest most desolate place in your soul. p. 208

And what is the purpose of a prophetic except to find meaning in trouble? p. 233

The Lord absolutely transcends any understanding I have of him, which makes loyalty to him a different thing from loyalty to whatever customs and doctrines and memories I happen to associate with him. p. 235

Here is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, in comprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? p. 238

There were two further points I felt I should have made in our earlier conversations, one of them being that doctrine is not belief, it is only one way of talking about belief, and the other being that Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved,” can also mean healed, restored, that sort of thing. So the conventional translation narrows the meaning of the word in a way that can create false expectations. I thought he should be aware that grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any numbers of ways. pp 239-40

There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us. p. 245

Gilead Quotes, Part II

Briefly, the right worship of God is essential because it forms the mind to a right understanding of God. God is set apart – He is One, He is not to be imagined as a thing among things (idolatry – this is what Feuerbach failed to grasp). It is sacred (which I take to be a reflection of the sacredness of the Word, the creative utterance which is not of a kind with other language). (p. 138)

I thought at the time it might have puzzled a few people, but I was pleased with it. I even wished Edward could have heard it. I felt I’d clarified some things. I remember one lady did ask me, as she was going out the door, “Who is Feuerbach?” And that made me aware of that tendency of mine to live too much in my own thoughts. Your mother wanted to name the cat Feuerbach, but you insisted on Soapy…

It could be true that my interest in abstractions, which would have been forgiven first on grounds of youth and then on grounds of eccentricity, is now being forgiven on grounds of senility, which would mean people have stopped trying to see the sense in the things I say the way they once did. That would be bar far the worst form of forgiveness. . . I’ve probably been boring a lot of people for a long time. Strange to find comfort in the idea. There have always been things I felt I must tell them, even if no one listened or understood. And one of them is that many of the attacks on belief that have had such prestige for the last century or two are in fact meaningless. I must tell you this, because everything else I have told you, and them, loses almost all its meaning and its right to attention if this is not established. (pp. 143-4)

There are two insidious notions, from the point of view of Christianity in the modern world. (No doubt there are more than two, but the others will have to wait.) One is that religion and religious experience are illusions of some sort (Feuerbach, Freud, etc.), and the other is that religion itself is real, but your belief that you participate in it is an illusion. I think the second of these is the more insidious, because it is religious experience above all that authenticates religion, for the purposes of the individual believer… (p. 145)

It seems that the spirit of religious self-righteousness this article deplores is precisely the spirit in which it is written…

There is indeed a note of sinful pride in the confidence with which the majority of people expressed their ideas about heaven. For although the Bible has much to say about final judgment, it offers no definitive picture of life after death…

I conceal my motives from myself pretty effectively sometimes. (pp 145-7)

Now [predestination] is probably my least favorite topic of conversation in the entire world…

[About theology,] to conclude is not in the nature of the enterprise…

I have always dreaded having to talk theology with people who have no sympathy for it. I’ve been evasive from time to time, that’s true. I see the error of assuming a person is not speaking with you in good faith. It’s not respectful, I know that, and don’t do it often. (pp. 150-3)

I believe I have tried never to say anything Edward would have found callow or naïve. That constraint has been useful to me, in my opinion. It may be a form of defensiveness, but I hope it has at least been useful on balance. There is a tendency among some religious people even to invite ridicule and to bring down on themselves an intellectual contempt which seems to me in some cases justified. Nevertheless, I would advise you against defensiveness on principle. It precludes the best eventualities along with the worst. At the most basic level, it expresses a lack of faith. As I have said, the worst eventualities can have great value as experience. And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer. I know this, I have seen the truth of it with my own eyes, though I have not myself always managed to live by it, the Good Lord knows.  I truly doubt I would know how to live by it for even a day, or an hour.  That is a remarkable thing to consider. (p. 154)

Quotes from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

Gilead-Photo-1 When my father found his father at Mount Pleasant after the war ended, he was shocked at first to see how he had been wounded. In fact, he was speechless. So my grandfather’s first words to his son were “I am confident that I will find great blessing in it.” And that is what he said about everything that happened to him for the rest of his life, all of which tended to be more or less drastic. I remember at least two sprained wrists and a cracked rib. He told me once that being blessed meant being bloodied, and that is true etymologically, in English – but not in Greek or Hebrew. So whatever understanding might be based on that derivation had no scriptural authority behind it. It was unlike him to strain interpretation that way. He did it in order to make an account of himself, I suppose, as most of us do… (p. 36)

I got pretty good at pretending I understood more than I did, a skill which has served me through life. I say this because I want you to realize that I am not by any means a saint. My life does not compare with my grandfather’s. I get much more respect than I deserve. This seems harmless enough in most cases. People wan to respect the pastor and I’m not going to interfere with that. But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp. (p. 39)


One sermon is not up there, one I actually burned the night before I had meant to preach it. People don’t talk much now about the Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing, and it struck just at the time of the Great War, just when we were getting involved in it. It killed the soldiers by the thousands, healthy men in the prime of life, and then it spread into the rest of the population. It was like a war, it really was. One funeral after another, right here in Iowa. We lost so many of the young people. And we got off pretty lightly. People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit as far from each other as they could. There was talk that the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that, because it saved them from reflecting on what other meaning it might have.

The parents of these young soldiers would come to me and ask me how the Lord could allow such a thing. I felt like asking them what the Lord would have to do to tell us He didn’t allow something. But instead I would comfort them by saying we would never know what their young men had been spared. Most of them took me to mean they were spared the trenches and the mustard gas, but what I really meant was that they were spared the act of killing. It was just like a biblical plague, just exactly. I thought of Sennacherib . . . and I said that their deaths were a sign and a warning to the rest of us that the desire for war would bring the consequences of war, because there is no ocean big enough to protect us from the Lord’s judgment when we decide to hammer our plowshares into sword and our pruning hooks in spears, in contempt of the will and grace of God. (pp. 41-2)

My grandfather told me once about a vision he’d had when he was still living in Maine, not yet sixteen. He had fallen asleep by the fire, worn out from a day helping his father pull stumps. Someone touched him on the shoulder, and when he looked up, there was the Lord, holding out His arms to him, which were bound in chains. My grandfather said, “Those irons had rankled right down to His bones.” He told me that as the saddest fact, and eyed me with the one seraph eye he had, the old grief fresh in it. He said he knew then that he had to come to Kansas and make himself useful to the cause of abolition. To be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves, and to be aimless was their worst fear. I have a lot of respect for that view… (p. 49)


Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was. But I know she did look right into my eyes. That is something. And I’m glad I knew it at the time, because now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. Boughton and I have talked about that, too. It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any. Boughton agrees. (p. 66)

Richard Rohr’s Intro to the Enneagram and the Three Triads

The Enneagram is a very ancient tool (recognized by some members of all three monotheistic religions) whose Christian origins can be traced to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. I first learned it in 1973 when it was taught to me by my spiritual director, Jesuit Fr. Jim O’Brien. The Enneagram is used for the discernment of spirits, to help us recognize our False Self, and to lead us to encounter our True Self in God. The Enneagram was originally intended to help spiritual directors train and refine the gift of reading energies, or “the reading of souls,” and support the transforming of people into who they are in God. By forcing us to face our own darkness, the Enneagram leads us to address that same darkness as it shows itself in culture, oppression, injustice, and human degradation.51E4hrZVAiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

No one willingly does evil. Each of us has put together a construct by which we explain why what we do is necessary and good. That is why it is so important to “discern the spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). We need support in unmasking our False Self and distancing ourselves from our illusions. With the self-knowledge that the Enneagram gives us, we are not dealing only with the acknowledgement of sin. (Note: In the Enneagram tradition, “sin” is simply that which doesn’t work, i.e. self-defeating behavior.) We are also letting go of what only seems good in order to discover what in us is really good: our soul, our True Self.

We overcome our evil not by a frontal and heroic attack, but by recognizing it, naming it, and letting it go. The Enneagram works by insight. Once we see our False Self for what it is, we are no longer attached to it, and it no longer blocks us from realizing our inherent union with God. The Enneagram helps us see our own compulsive blindness and how we are acting at cross-purposes with our best interest. Realizing that, we can eventually flow with our gift and integrate our sin, our shadow, our failure, the “stone” which we rejected. We finally see that I am what I am, good and bad put together into one self; and God’s mercy is so great and God’s love is so total that God uses even my sin in my favor! God is using all of me to bring me to God. That is the Good News!

The Enneagram defines its nine human types on the basis of nine “traps,” “passions,” or “sins.” These sins can be understood as emergency solutions that were used in early childhood development as a way of coming to terms with one’s environment. They were necessary for survival. But the older we get, the more clearly they reveal themselves as much of our problem. We are addicted to one early set of glasses and also blinders!

The nine sins of the Enneagram eventually were reduced by Pope Gregory the Great to the “seven deadly sins”: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, lust, and lack of moderation (or gluttony)—plus the two “sins” of deceit and fear. It is worth noting that we in the Western tradition have never unmasked and named these last two as sins as such, even though the Bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, I am told. Yet they are the most pervasive sins of our society, which are all the more dangerous because we don’t see them.

The nine Enneagram types are arranged clockwise on the circumference of a circle for teaching purposes. They are then clustered together in three groups of three, or triads.

The Eight, Nine, and One are called the gut people. Their center of gravity lies in the belly, where the “raw material” of their existence is located. They often experience life as too much, somewhat like a full body blow to which they develop a characteristic defense: Eights hit back, Nines back off, and Ones try to fix it.

Two, Three, and Four are the heart people, or the social types. Although this is considered the feeling triad, they actually have no direct access to their own feelings. They experience themselves in reaction to the feelings of others! They unceasingly develop activities to secure the devotion or attention of others. Twos pose as lovable and helpful, Threes play whatever role “goes over” best publicly, and Fours put in an appearance as someone special and authentic (to themselves).

Five, Six, and Seven are the head people, or the self-preserving types. They are all plagued by fear and anxiety, which they cope with differently. Fives try to master it by gaining more and correct knowledge. Phobic Sixes link up with an authority or group for security. Counter-phobic Sixes may take foolish risks or make pre-emptive strikes to overcome their fears. Sevens deny and avoid pain and create fun and fantasy. All three are clever ways of largely living in your head.

While we do have a little of each type inside us, we all have one preferred stance, one Enneagram type, which we cannot change entirely, but which we can move toward redemption, transformation, the True Self. The Wing Theory illustrates that each type is balanced by developing the numbers on either side of it. For instance, the Four is balanced by developing both their Three and Five “wings.”

The Arrow Theory helps us know what maturity might look like and warns us if we are not doing well. The Direction of Integration is where the ray leaving your number is pointing (see the diagram above). Thus, when the Five is doing well, they resemble a healthy Eight and apply their solid research to bringing peace and justice to the world. The Direction of Disintegration would be found on this diagram by reversing the line which is pointing to your number. When the Five, for example, is not doing well, they take on the characteristics of an immature Seven and develop abstruse theories about everything.

The Soul Child Theory fits hand in glove with the Arrow Theory because the number we resemble when integrated is the same as our original or Soul Child number. In other words, as we mature, we return to our primal knowing of who we really are, i.e. our True Self. Thus, our “original sin” could be viewed as our particular Enneagram compulsion. It is the way we originally separated from our Truth.

The whole Enneagram diagram is called “the face of God.” If you could look out at reality from nine pairs of eyes and honor all of them, you would look at reality through the eyes of God—eyes filled with compassion for yourself and everyone else!


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