William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian

Tag: Violence

Striving for the Good in the Face of Uncertainy: The Paradox of Faith and Politics in Kierkegaard and Niebuhr

[My argument in this paper is that Kierkegaard and Niebuhr together, with their notions of faith and justice as paradoxical, provide a political theology that is neither despairing nor presumptuous in its vision for how to strive for the good. This is what I presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Conference in San Diego this past week. For that reason, it is written more for a talk and is not in final format, so some of the references are not properly cited yet.]

The paradox of politics for Rousseau was the question of, “Which comes first, good people or good laws?”  In other words, how can a democracy be legitimate when the legitimacy comes from the democracy itself which is to be founded? There is always the problem of delimiting the people and deciding who speaks for them. It is never a fixed entity, and certain groups are always excluded. According to Bonnie Honig in her book Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law and Democracy, “…even established regimes are hardly rendered immune by their longevity to the paradoxical difficulty that Rousseau names… the paradox of politics is replayed rather than overcome in time” (EP, 14).

Read More

Social Justice Ideology vs. Peacemaking

This distinction between social justice ideology and peacemaking is an interesting one that’s been brought to my attention recently through returning to some of Walter Brueggemann‘s work.  Obviously, social justice is a good thing.  As ideology, however — that is, as an ossified concept or immaterial absolute — its truth and goodness is cheapened.  Usually this happens when we pursue social justice solely by mechanical and rhetorical means. In doing so, we neglect aesthetics and appeal narrowly to a quantifiable distribution of goods, rights, laws, or to universal abstract ideals like freedom an equality — without embodied community, neighborliness or celebration of beauty and creativity.

Social justice ideology is depersonalized and lacks self-awareness.  It also tends to lack hope.  It merely identifies injustice and gets angry.  Basically, it’s pure judgment, which means it’s lazy.  Social justice ideology, much like conservative ideology, says we are right, you are wrong, and never relinquishes that condescending posture.  Richard Niebuhr called this henotheism.

Peacemaking on the other hand goes something like this:

Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity.  it is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.  It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.  Peacemaking is about being able to recognize in the face of the oppressed our own faces, and in the hands of the oppressors our own hands.

Peacemaking, like most beautiful things, begins small.  Matthew 18 gives us a clear process for making peace with someone who has hurt or offended us; first we are to talk directly with them, not at them or around them . . . Straight talk is counter-cultural in a world that prefers politeness to honesty.  In his Rule, Benedict of Nursia speaks passionately about the deadly poison of “murmuring,” the negativity and dissension that can infect community and rot the fabric of love.

Peacemaking begins with what we can change — ourselves.  But it doesn’t end there.  We are to be peacemakers in a world riddled with violence.  That means interrupting violence with imagination, on our streets and in our world. Peacemaking “that is not like any way the empire brings peace” is rooted in the nonviolence of the cross, where we see a Savior who loves his enemies so much that he died for them.

— From A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

In sum, peacemaking is neither Fight nor Flight, but something altogether different.

According to Walter Wink, Flight consists of submission, passivity, withdrawal or surrender.  Conversely, Fight looks like armed revolt, violent rebellion, direct retaliation or revenge.  The neither/nor alternative is as follows:

JESUS’ THIRD WAY
• Seize the moral initiative
• Find a creative alternative to violence
• Assert your own humanity and dignity
as a person
• Meet force with ridicule or humor
• Break the cycle of humiliation
• Refuse to submit or to accept the
inferior position
• Expose the injustice of the system
• Take control of the power dynamic
• Shame the oppressor into repentance
• Stand your ground
• Make the Powers make decisions for which
they are not prepared
• Recognize your own power
• Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate
• Force the oppressor to see you in a new light
• Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a
show of force is effective
• Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking
unjust laws
• Die to fear of the old order and its rules

A similar lesson seems to have recently been learned by protagonist and lead female actor Emily VanCamp‘s character Emily Thorne in an episode last week of the hit ABC television drama series Revenge.

revenge

I’m interested to see how this season plays out and hope to reflect on it some when it’s over.  In short though, she’s dedicated practically her whole life to an elaborate scheme aimed at avenging her father’s unjust death and public shame, which was carried out through a complex cover-up and legal scandal that left a number of pernicious perpetrators off the hook.  It’s too early to tell for sure, but it looks like Emily could be making the difficult but transformative journey from eye-for-an-eye ideology to real peacemaking.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén