Works Reviewed: Simon Critchley, Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology New York: Verso, 2012. 291 pp.
When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
Penned within the dreary atmosphere of Reading Gaol, the dismal cry of the Irish poet has now been taken up by an English philosopher as the launching point for a series of historical and philosophical investigations into the interdependence of politics and religion. In Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology Simon Critchely argues that the religious dimension of the letter Wilde penned while in prison, and especially his interpretation of the figure of Christ, can helpfully illumine the “dilemma of politics and belief.” (3) This dilemma is not merely one confronted by those who identify as atheists, although that is the vantage point which Critchley chooses to adopt. At the heart of what makes Wilde such a captivating figure, for Critchley, is his resolute refusal to accept any misfortune as the occasion to accept an extraneous mode of salvation. Aware that he has ruined himself and squandered his artistic talents Wilde sees his condition as “the occasion for a fresh mode of self-realization.” (2) Wilde articulates this self-realization in terms of politics and ritual. That everything to be true must become religion, suggests Critchley, should be read as an affirmation of the necessity of ritual in the act of fidelity, or ‘being true to’ something.(3)
Can the need for ritual, for religious truth and a framework of ritual, coexist with a rigorous refusal of external commands or extraneous symbolism? Continue reading
Two recent titles from Stanford UP’s excellent series Cultural Memory in the Present focus on seventeenth century English poetry in an effort to address contemporary debates over theology and secularism.
In Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism, Regina M. Schwartz credits the Protestant Reformation with providing a necessary critique of Church officials who sought to control the domain of mystery and instrumentalize the sacred. At the same time, she cautions, this upending of the sacramental tradition also enabled “a new instrumentality—not of the Eucharist by the Church, but of the sacred by the state” (29). Over the next hundred or so pages, Schwartz explores the effects of this theological-political shift through its expression in the poetry of John Donne, George Herbert, and John Milton. In such post-Reformation poetry, she writes, we see a lingering hunger for the divine, “a poetry that signifies more than it says . . . through image, sound, and time, in language that takes the hearer beyond each of those elements” (7). In other words, Schwartz treats seventeenth century religious verse as a form of compensation for the loss of sacred liturgy; and the effects of this loss, she argues, are still relevant for the way we understand the relationship between theology and secularism today. Continue reading
Anglicans kick their political theology up a notch
Immigration lawyer Mitchell Goldberg speaks out against Bill C-31 on the steps of Quebec City’s Anglican cathedral. Photo courtesy of Bruce Myers.
In March I wrote an article for The Tyee called “Occupy the Pews,” exploring the idea of prophetic ministry. That’s when members of a church apply Christian teachings to the world around them, which often means confronting uncomfortable contradictions, speaking truth, and challenging power.
Effective prophets, like Jesus of Nazareth, tend to have short careers.
I argued that with its clear values and existing infrastructure, the Anglican Church of Canada should be a powerful organ of progressive social change. Yet this impulse is often stymied by the practicalities of institutional survival. The Church struggles constantly to reconcile its spiritual calling with real-world politics and economics.
Those challenges continue, but as spring arrives across Canada there are signs of stirring. Continue reading