this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Sacramentology

Some Disheveled Notes on OKCupid

Facebook from a certain perspective could be reduced to a sort of neoliberal bourgeois tool for producing the perfect consumer. It provides, creates, and sustains a limited space to define yourself by what you consume (movies, books, TV shows, and so on) while directing you into a milieu of advertisements both explicit (along sidebars) and implicit (groups, likes, etc). Even one’s FB friends structurally function as a means of redirecting one to other pages and groups and products.

While FB catapults us into these questions of the self, the other, and it’s relation to text, capital, and the social, OKCupid, as its name already signifies, uses language of desire, sexuality, and maturity. We are told we are entering a space where we can OK, on an individual level, our preferred specimen of desire. Playing the part of Cupid is like taking a shortcut, a childish impishness, cutting a corner—the adult world of seduction—and B lining it straight to the metaphorical release of self-security that can only be found in the orgasm of the other. The few who specify not wanting sex or a relationship merely seek to confirm what OKCupid is really about. Let no one fool you, OKCupid is about sexual desire, however neat, romantic, or dirty you like it.

Like your Facebook profile, the OKCupid profile includes various headings that seek to define “you” by consumption—movies, TV shows, books, etc. It also, however, includes a Self-Summary, What [you’re] doing with [your] life, what [you’re] really good at, and so on.  These are of course typical dating clichés that have “correct” answers. You exist within a Foucauldian regime of truth, a sphere of acceptable subjects to be, answers or accounts to give. The profile is consumed with investigating, revealing, representing “the truth” of the individual. Still, this is a certain openness—though a regime nonetheless, a broad-ish regime—not allowed by Facebook.

For instance my profile includes some answers where I attempt—and probably fail quite miserably—at upsetting the implied hegemony my answers are meant to reinforce and, co-extensively, produce “me.” Under “The first things people usually notice about me” I write,

my effeminate gait.

my words about which I gather.

my shame and fear and insecurity.

my shame and fear about people noticing my insecurity.

my incapacity to market myself.

positive thought: I guess I have a sense of style, an intellect, a maneuvering. who doesn’t strategize to find a way.

my broad shoulders and deep set eyes.

the way my body topples trying to identify itself with these words.

Okay I know I’m a pretentious ass and blah blah. Yet to answer the question according to its own guidelines is a sort of pretention too (whether or not my poem “succeeds” at addressing this is of course up for debate). It requires a siphoning of the self, a reduction to prescript and correct answers, a “knowable” or “genuine” self that I am meant to sacrifice my insincere, unknowable sel-f/-ves to. It’s like a perverse sacramentality—I must reduce my unknowable mystic erotic loveliness to a profane and knowable breadiness. I am not opaque to myself let alone others and I’ll be damned if you make me cover up my excesses and failures and seepage to a discourse that pretends people are all narratively complete, wrapped up in neat lil bows.

Which is I guess all I have to say about that. Cause really OKCupid is precisely like contemporary depictions of Cupid—something of an overweight adult with a Peter Pan complex. OKCupid refuses to assume “adult” ways of approaching sexual desire (typical dating structures, meeting up, bar hopping, etc), while yet providing a certain regime where only an “adult” self is OK’d—a secure, marketable, stable, employed, and so on self. I guess we see a space for the possibility of childishness, (in)sincerity, queerness, fragility, play, while yet all the old trappings of who counts and succeeds as a mature, civil subject. OKCupid has got a lotta shit that needs queering up, but at least there’s something like a space where it can begin.

a Fragment

Sick of waking

to find the normal people

gathering bits of it

along the sea—

diving here and there

headlong through salt of

foam and sea-foam

only to know what

of themselves they could

find. As if every

crate were lidless and

every bed unmade by

some sleeping. But all our

shells washed up last night—whited

with the glaze of seaweed and saltpeter.

They promised late week

showers—and later, this afternoon,

calmness, a swell of tide.

And yet, among these stones,

there is not room for us

to break shell, and what

outlet for this heat—

caught on dry wind hurrying

downhill, quietly, toward the basins.

Doubt, Sacred Objects, & Religious Orientation

Over the past few days I have been having what for me is a fruitful discussion on what ‘religion’ is (although it seems to be mostly geared towards Judeo-Christianity and religions of ‘the book’) over on my Google+. I’ve had a few insights into my own thinking by having to articulate them so I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few excerpts here and get other people’s thoughts and advice.

It begins with the question of orthodoxy, religious certainty, and ‘sacred’ objects:

I personally consider myself a Christian and think the Bible is not inerrant. I attend mass. I consider myself religious. I am certainly not alone in this conviction as many of my friends and acquaintances are in the same boat. I am a Christian in so far as the Bible is a sacred object of study for me, as is Christ, the Eucharist, blah blah. However, these objects are consistently called into question, doubted, and critiqued–this almost seems a precondition to religious belief to me. Of course I doubt god’s existence, question what that existence is. This is my religious belief.

In other words, I agree that there is a difference between an examined/questioned belief and an unexamined one–it is unexamined beliefs, the ones that reveal themselves to us in events and catastrophes (the person who considers hirself fair and charitable until in a context with another that reveals racism, sexism, transphobia, etc), that are rightly fundamentalist convictions. Beliefs deep in us, in others we trust, and in our systems of thought, culture, and politic are “fundamentals”–not the convictions of people who consistently examine, question, deconstruct, scrap, re-construct, etc, these beliefs.

This moved into a discussion over how religion and philosophy are similar and differ, me arguing that philosophy too has historically had ‘sacred’ objects and revered ‘saints’ as well as its host of ‘heretics’ and philosophic ‘profanity,’ i.e. an ‘orthodoxy.’ Which lead to clarifying that,

not all religions preserve such a[n eternal, sure, and certain] sense of orthodoxy, and the ones that think they do (which aren’t terribly many–certain Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox strands of Christianity jump first to mind, but not all RC or EO persons would affirm this at that) fall into countless and obvious contradictions for thinking this way. It seems silly to lump all other religious convictions and expressions in the same boat. Tradition, even in an RC context means precisely that, traditio, to hand down, which is to say to take something from another place and time into another place and time. Even the staunchest of religious dogmatics think that these principles take different forms and are to be questioned and applied differently according to context. Sometimes they are outright done away with.

But as the history of say Christianity shows, even this dogmatism is a minority. Just look at the Reformation. Or the Anglican church. Or the Quakers. Or the Mennonites and on down the line. These are constant perpetual revisions, contradictions, of one particular instantiations of one particular religion–all throwing out heaps of dogmatisms, even what dogmatics fundamentally is, along the way. This isn’t identical to the history of philosophy, of course, but it is to say these things are pretty related and interconnected both in a structural sense and a historic sense.

And lastly then expounding on what doubt of orthodoxy looks like and what this implies about say a theology of god:

As regards doubt, using the language of orientation again, one can pray to a god one doubts exist–this is what a religious orientation is to me. It’s called a risk. I suppose, given how you use the term then, I am agnostic in that gnosis (some sort of ‘special’ revelation) is suspended–but I am oriented towards some*thing*–it may be a fiction, but fictions are certainly things. So what is in question is not whether or not this thing I pray to called god exists or not but what kind of existence it has and the implications of this. I am oriented towards it as an object. It’s almost like a sexual orientation. I am ‘oriented’ towards an ‘orient’ (an other, something unknown, something withdrawn, something in-reserve) by an insatiable erotic attraction . This involves the risk of the thing possibly being revealed to be substantive, a fraud, dead, horrific (Bergman’s spider-god), childish, feminine, masculine, etc. It involves the risk of realizing my desire exceeds me. That I don’t really want what I think I want. Just because this risk exists doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not a theist–just because I do not know with 100% certainty what way or shape a god would look or sound or act like doesn’t mean I can’t orient, pray, revere, and worship one.

Any thoughts?

Towards a Constructive Penance: On Accountability, Guilt, and Power

I find it interesting that evangelical Christians still practice confession. Confession is, of course, a Roman Catholic practice that developed early in the medieval era and was codified as sacrament at the Lateran Council in 1215. Sure, the formation has changed, certainly it is unlikely an evangelical would use the phrase “the Sacrament of Penance,” but the idea of a small group, accountability group, pastoral counseling, etc., still abounds. I find this word ‘accountability’ particularly telling in terms of how it differs and yet is in complete alignment with the medieval practice. By contrast, penance could (and often did) take the form of inquisition and torture (consensual or otherwise), and if we were to take a look at medieval doctrines of the body, ecclesiology, and sexuality I think we would see why this was. The contemporary evangelical church shies away from such a direct denial of the body—although American consumerist Christianity (and I include myself in that label) definitely has its fair share of body-shaming and hatred. Also there is skepticism as regards church hierarchy, i.e. confessing to someone in particular. We don’t like the idea and, perhaps justifiably so, of someone with that sort of absolute knowledge.

However, I still think the comparison is ripe with similarities. For instance, although no vertical hierarchy, there is still sort of a lateral hierarchy (if this makes sense)—although there is no longer a direct person who must know, i.e. a priest (although pastoral counseling can look remarkably similar to this), there is a community itself which is in possession of knowledge, and it is still essential for the person confessing to confess to this community. In other words, rather than punish the individual for erring, the individual is condemned rather to feelings of inadequacy and guilt for keeping secrets. These communities are founded upon knowledge of the other, ‘accountability,’ rather than punishment. What is fascinating is how this takes the language of ‘truth.’ The implication is that there is some defining ‘truth’ of the individual, typically sexual but not exclusively, that is hidden or unseen and one should be open with the community and the community should know (the language is typically that of ‘brokenness,’ i.e. the image of the church as hospital, you must confess in order to be healed). In order to be ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ one cannot ‘hide’ one’s ‘brokenness’ from the community. Thus one reveals the ‘truth’ to the community, the ‘hidden’ side that no one sees ‘except God.’ This invocation of ‘God knows’ is a roundabout way of saying that the community of believers, i.e. those who ‘have’ the Spirit and who Christ ‘lives in’, already *really* knows. God knows. That’s what matters. So confess it to us and be ‘real,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘broken.’ That’s what ‘counts’ (thus ‘accountability). There is something (sexually) perverse at your core, God knows it, we know it, now tell us.

One has to wonder if this is much different than inquisition. Sure. It’s nowhere near as violent, obviously, and it is certainly not my intention to trivialize the horrors of the Inquisition. But in terms of power and knowledge—a community with the power of who you *really* are, with the power to control where you are (within the community), the injunction to reveal this to the community—there is something inquisitional about ‘accountability.’ By being in a community it is implied there is a part withdrawn, not entirely present to the community (the personal/sexual life), this is bad, and the community demands it of you (all in the name of ‘accountability,’ to take account for yourself).

This is particularly clear in men’s groups where discussion/confession of things like pornography and masturbation is ripe. The language used in such things, at least in my limited experience, fails to take the form of why these things are wrong (systemically), how to correct them (systemically), or any such thing. They take this language of accountability—confessing one has not given ‘everything’ to God (i.e. the community of believers), that they are ‘still holding on to things in their heart,’ etc. What these men tend to confess is their own finitude or withdrawal from the community rather than fruitful discussion over how to or even if we should overcome these issues. I have yet to ever here a sex-positive approach from a Christian as regards say pornography or even masturbation in such a context. The tacit assumption is these are things the church tells you not to do, but we all know you do them, so tell us you do already. Further, the ultimate confession is not that this person has objectified women, been unable to accept their own body, had sadistic fantasies even or what have you, but rather confessing how long it has gone on without telling anyone, how selfish this was of them, how bad it is to keep secrets, how they haven’t sacrificed everything to Jesus/the Church, in short, how they haven’t revealed all, haven’t been honest, broken, authentic.

I don’t mean this to be a bitter ‘all-confession-is-stupid-why-don’t-you-read-some-Foucault-or-queer-theory-already’ post. I mean this to be an urge towards a positive construction of penance—not one founded on guilt, of not revealing everything to the all-seeing-eye of the Church, but one grounded on lively conversation on how to overcome these real issues rather than use them as vehicles for pity and scapegoating. Men’s groups are so often scapegoats for not dealing with the issues they are supposedly attempting to correct. They so often devolve into self-pity, guilt, and lack of urgency to do anything constructive—meaning women are being exploited at the expense not only of these men’s sexual pleasure, but also for their self-pity and guilt as well. These are real people suffering who can’t afford the luxury of your feelings of guilt and pity. This is a call to have things like ‘accountability’ and Men’s groups to actually constructively deal with these issues—whether that be picketing, joining MCSR, teaching yes-means-yes at schools, boycotting products with sexist advertisements, or simply working for more female representation in the structure of their local church. It’s time for the contemporary American evangelical church to stop feeling sorry for itself and, who knows, start showing some sense of charity and justice.

Emmaus

And when he finally came back,

after having left behind in shame

those who loved him, what was there

left to love? It was their love for him

that died, and sure, there was hope,

but it was a hope he was gone, that

no stone would be upturned to

reveal love become that: pale and sick,

wounded, convinced of holier things.

Anthropocentrism, Darwin, & Christianity: A Jumble of Thoughts

I have been asked before, being a vegan against speciesism as well as a Nicene-creed-affirming-Christian, how I explain the gospel narrative. That is, isn’t the whole thing rather anthropocentric? Doesn’t the Christian narrative affirm a primacy of the human species above and beyond other species? Although I have no systematic approach to these questions as of yet and, unfortunately, have not found terribly many thinkers who explicitly deal with these questions, I am left with only a handful of thoughts.

For starters I think it’s important to realize that the Christian narrative, although about humans as a species, does not therefore de facto give them some metaphysical primacy. Darwinism too is “about” humans, but, obviously, this system isn’t anthropocentric, radically so, and we are still recognizing the radicalism of these claims. Also something important to note is that the Genesis creation myth need not be opposed not only to a Darwinist understanding of cosmology but of species in general. That is when we find a god-who-breathes into the human species we need not see this as speciel primacy. What follows this breath, that is, the sharing of “spirit,” breath, inhalation as life, exhalation as death, etc., is two “special” claims for the human species as those who breathe the breath-of-god, the imago dei.

One, as those who breathe the breath they are in commun-ication with god, not in an metaphysically primal way (the god of the genesis myth after all walks about the earth, enjoying being alongside his creation, in short, a kind of creature, a species hirself, s/he communes and dwells on hir earth), but in that they belong to speech and thus are commanded from within speech (“thou shalt not eat…” and all). The human species qua speciel-society is just as much alongside any other speciel-society, just as capable of transgressing against one another, breaking societal norms or givens, going against the herd-tribe, etc., but this is always already done from within and against the background of a language of law and transgression. Animals too have language and signification, I understand this, but the Genesis myth begins at the moment of the separation of law and transgression inherent in language as humans have used it—which isn’t to say humans are primary—it’s just to say the Genesis myth is a story told by humans about humans to humans. Its beginning is the beginning of the first commandment, the first law, from within human language.

Two, the so-called “dominion” of humans over creation also is a dominion of language—that is this dominion is strictly naming. Humans, as has been pointed out many a time, in the story are herbivores—the only kind of “dominance” they are allotted is in naming species and, perhaps, particular animals within the species—this extends to naming one another. It is important to note the only dominance they are given is the dominance granted to all other species—that of enjoying a creation and being able to commune in it (wherein communication is a vital part of communing/dwelling).

Thus the only separation we see[1] unique to humans is the tendency to speak the language of law and transgression. The subsequent curses on the species of humans after “the fall” are curses of language—men will subsequently find self worth and identity in the painful process of labor (ergo capitalist reification, racism, symbolic castration) and women will historically and psychically be wrapped up in the painful process of mothering (ergo sexism, tribal oppression, all of Freud’s so-called “Oedipal” problems). In other words, the curse is fucked up. The curse is essentially the beginning of all oppression. Inherent in this curse that, rightly speaking, is a curse of humans’ tendencies to delude themselves through power-systems and patriarchy, is the curse of speciesism. That is, humans are now carnivorous and lust for blood—it is no coincidence that the Cain and Abel myth follows suit (and this is how the Eucharist functions and, why in my opinion, Christ should be the only meat you eat–the only creatures those of bread and wine–but this is another post for another time). Rightly speaking, humans are the only ones who can be speciesist or racist or sexist. This is what a fall as law/transgression signifies. Humans are now engaged in trying to lord it over not just each other, but also every creature, always trying to suppress and appropriate the other. And it is a wicked and terrible system that only gets worse throughout the Torah text—thus the flood, the tower of Babel, etc. This is a story mostly centered on humans oppressing humans, granted, but it seems to me that the curse opens up the oppression of humans over all of creation as such.

From here on out the rest of the Christian narrative sort of follows suit. Why did god become human, assume the human species in particular? Why not a toad or marmot? Well—one, humans were the one’s who transgressed, who brought oppression upon themselves by themselves. The problem, from the standpoint of the text, is one that concerns the society/world of the human species—not as metaphysically dominant, but as plot. Two—who says god didn’t become a toad or marmot? Who says he didn’t in some way redeem broccoli? Once again, this isn’t the concern of the text—it would rightly be silly to be “in” the text—not because it’s a silly idea or even unnecessary, but it is not what the story is about. Questions like these are perhaps necessary—was creation redeemed through Christ? Did creation fall through Adam? Did god redeem ferns? These are important questions I think, but questions for a speculative theology, not essential questions for the narrative.

At the very least though, we know it was a verbal transgression made by humans against humans to the curse of humans, that god became a human to redeem this. In redemption is the obliteration of male, female, Jew, Greek, and therefore speciel thinking as such. That is just as the curse of the fall was oppression of assuming self-dominance so too the incarnation represents the obliteration of the very kind of thinking that permits speciel oppression (a la St. Paul—the Law). Christ took a hammer to patriarchy from within, by putting death to The Patriarch—himself. God as the ultimate dominant self assumed the ultimate other—the other who transgressed, the other who ostracized hirself—in order to redeem the divide. Perhaps god became a human because from the standpoint of the text humans are the most fucked up—perhaps this is why he became a male too—but this is all speculation. Suffice to say, god assumed the human species to redeem the human species from the human species.

Perhaps this becomes even more radical when one recognizes, along with Darwin, that every species is one tendentially and tentatively, every species is a missing-link. The redemption of a species (which is here as a species but a moment) from itself not as a primary species in regards to other species but as regards the inherent oppression within that species itself is the Christian narrative. It is a story about humans screwing up humans and god becoming a human and fixing it as a human. To assume that therefore humans are better or central metaphysically seems to negate the very cause for which god became a human, namely, oppressive speciel thinking.


[1] In that the myth is about humans told by humans to humans there is the possibility fungus and sea slugs had commandments too but this is irrelevant as regards the Genesis myth as a preamble to the Torah—it’s important to realize that this account not only is concerned with one species in particular but is part of a larger narrative which is concerned with the history of one people group within that species. In other words perhaps all species have an implicit law/transgression relationship to a god who appears alongside them, each according to its kind and ability, etc. The myth doesn’t tell us this because it’s not concerned with this—it is a myth, like I said, about a specific people group within a specific species—it doesn’t seem to follow that the text is racist, sexist, and speciesist simply because it’s mostly about Jewish men.

The Crumbs under Thy Table: Lent is a Butterfly

No, this post is not about the typical image of a process, any process, as the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly. It’s more about Lent as a sort of non-process, that is revelation. The first Sunday of Lent I visited a friend’s Anglican church and heard a rather atypical sermon on lent not as rescinding, withdrawal, in short, asceticism, but rather as actualization—that is lent is not so much a season of fasting as a season of what feasting should authentically look like. In other words, lent is not the cocoon, awaiting Paschal emergence, Lent is when we emerge, fully formed and hungry.

But what form is this? It is a form that is “beautiful,” sure—the lenten mass with hymns and all, the absence of the Gloria and alleluia—but it is also horrific. Following something me and my roommate Kevin have been discussing (see his post here), I thought it seemed appropriate to comment on how Lent is revelation, that is, the pulling back of the cloak to reveal, well, our depravity, sin, and vice. Our horror. During this season the Eucharist-as-feast becomes ironic and uncanny—we become hyper-aware of our own shortcomings, confess and reflect, and even pronounce “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table” but yet, but yet—we eat god. Not just god—god as man. We become cannibals. No—that doesn’t quite capture it—we are revealed during lent to have always already been cannibals. We ask god to eat the breadcrumbs and he gives us precisely what we are really asking for, namely blood.

Which brings us to the carnivorous tendencies of some types of butterflies and moths. Yes, they are certainly pretty, but also they eat creatures—including interspecielly—ie, they are, what we tend to call, cannibals (certain butterflies appear also to be gynandromorphic which somehow seems relevant to mention). This is the sort of butterfly we are during Lent. Lent is not a moment of interior withdrawal, a sort of ascetic slavishness, but rather, the emergence, the exteriorization, of a “new” “species”—but that “new” “species” is one that has been inside of us all year, in the cocoon of regular time, brooding and sinister, awaiting its authentication and emergence. Lent is not a fast—it is a feast, a feast on the body and blood of our fellow man, because, as creatures of this world, we inevitably have a desire to feast on this world, destroy it for our own glory and desire. The god of Christianity, the god who became man, knows this, and gives us his flesh.

piecemeal-assemblage

I have been thinking about people–what it means to “understand” or “get” a person–I mean, what the hell does that mean after all? I think here of the stereotypical Derridean mantra “all reading is misreading.” Sometimes I feel this way about people. Just as no one “understands” a text except in that there is some dissonance or difference between the author’s intention/interpretation-of-the-text and the reader’s, so is there no understanding of people except in the tension of intention and reception that we call the person’s personality (the inbetweeness of the person, the she or he that exists in the world that is between the self and the other).

However, this inbetweeness of the other (Heideggerian mitsein, being-with) can cover-up the other’s fundamental otherness. I may think I know my roommate well but there are still moments of surprise, moments when I ask myself, “I thought I knew Ian, but do I really? I never thought he was capable of X, but…” etc. There are moments when the being-with, the comfortablility of a world-between is shattered by us having to stand face-to-face with the other. Suffice to say these were the thoughts behind this short series–the event of facing otherness in what has been covered up by sameness, by the shared world which lies between the otherness of individual persons, which appears to me to be a sort of assemblage built slowly and contingently, shattered and rebuilt, and then shattered and rebuilt, piece by piece.

 

piecemeal—assemblage


Some Sundays

visiting church or

family I get the feeling

of being spread-out,

naked, a leg dangling

over the wood railing

and God-for-certain

not one condom

in reach.

 

* * *

 

We, that is,

you & I, shopped

for clothes,

 

a “new style,”

something different:

afternoon,

 

slight of wind,

holding coats, shoes,

pull-over

 

sweaters, and

I realized then how

much it was

 

like language,

like words in our

mouths

 

speaking, and

I had to tell you it

was like

 

this—and words,

and language speak

-ing mouths.

 

* * *

 

Sure, it was lent,

but sometimes mushrooms

and cigarettes and drinking

and love-making happen:

and when you walked

behind, down the stairs,

your eyes tightly closed,

(the blind leading, &c.)

and silent, I knew

then, that no one

was following

anyone.

 

Hypocrisy and the Evangelical Church: Not “Of” but “In”

Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction in Anti-Oedipus between that of the cynic and the hypocrite. At the risk of doing some injustice to the text I am enough of a deconstructionist to gladly “mis-read” this distinction and use it for my own ends. The way I see the distinction is that the cynic tries to critique from outside, that is make the “meta” move and claim to be able to be outside the discourse and critique it. The hypocrite on the other hand critiques knowingly from inside the problem itself.

For example I am a vegetarian—I strive quite publicly for the fair treatment of animals and have a hostility particularly towards many forms of the “production” of meat in the US. I could withdraw from the issue as much as possible in order to be “on the outside,” i.e. grow all my own food, avoid any contact with companies as this would essentially support them implicitly, etc. This would be the move of the cynic. The cynic however runs the risk of thinking he’s gotten “beyond” the system—runs the risk of being delusional, of thinking he no longer is involved with hypocrisy. But there is no escaping one’s own finitude. To act as hypocrite, however, recognizes that one cannot move “outside” of one’s viewpoint, he radically embraces his own finitude. Thus I have decided to still purchase veggie-friendly-food at a restaurant that sells meat (even though this money will inevitably go to meat-production), not throw away everything leather in sight, eat cheese, etc. The point being is the hypocrite embraces his own shortcoming. He does so at the risk of “stopping shy,” it’s true, perhaps he could do more to engage in whatever cause he’s behind, but, hell, he’s only human and he’s doing what he can. Besides, he’d rather be aware of his own shortcomings then be ignorant.

I think this distinction applies pretty clearly to the state of the contemporary Christian church. Many churches attempt to withdraw, play the cynic—I think most vividly of the “Not of This World” bumper stickers on cars. Here is a clear case of attempting to move outside, withdraw from one’s own finitude and claim a superior position by which to “see” more clearly than others (the image I get is of the person above on a white cloud, cherub-kissed, harp in hand, looking down on all us “sinners”). The sticker fails to recognize any irony or hypocrisy in itself. However, this sticker is on an automobile, usually a gas-guzzler if you’ll forgive the stereotyping, purchased from a NOTW store at a local mall, and, in everyway, a clear sign of this world. Here the cynic is in denial over his or her own hypocrisy—s/he cannot account for any irony or dissonance of faith, but must rather feign withdrawal from the world as such in order to feel justified. The cynic NOTW-sticker owner uses an essentially hypocritical-paradoxical statement (not of this world but in it) as justification for “escaping” finitude and discourse.

The problem with this is things are messy. Sometimes issues are clear-cut but more often then not we reduce them to clear-cut cases for simplicity’s sake and at the expense of others. This seems to be central to the Christ-of-the-gospels’ message, namely that the religious institutions of the day were enacting morality at the expense of the meek, poor, and widowed. This also aligns with St. Paul’s distinction between law and spirit—the law (making things clear-cut) is a form of violence, a means of revealing sin, not our means of overcoming; the spirit is what we live in, which is to say we approach each situation with love, faith, charity and do the best we can—which is never enough and always falls short. Withdrawal essentially denies this moving beyond or outside the self. The NOTW brand of capitalist fashion-Christianity ironically is embracing a very harmful form of asceticism—they parade around in the world telling everyone they are withdrawn and therefore better.

Church, to me, is precisely the place where hypocrites come to meet. This is why I love a weekly Eucharist so much I think. Once a week a whole group of diverse hypocrites all come together to eat God (a God who became just one among us, a human being, and that we killed). The crux of the entire Christian faith seems to me to rest upon this paradox: Christ crucified for us. The Eucharist is more than a mere reminder mind you, it is a literal enacting of hypocrisy—that’s the point of real presence—we actually in some way kill and eat our God.

When people accuse the Eucharist as cannibalistic the correct response should be yes, we as humans eat our fellow man, and the divine-in-him—this is sin, but we should recognize it as such, we never escape it, never supersede it. We are always already sinners, but, by embracing it, by eating the flesh, we become more than mere cynics (those who insult, stereotype, withdraw and claim to be “other”) but hypocrites, those who insult and critique the world that is first and foremost ourselves. What separates the church from the world is not its sacredness or holiness as opposed to secularity but its radical acceptance and embracing of the secular, the other, its forgiveness and charity towards it, its capacity to love it—the authentic sacred is the embracing of the secular—an authentic Christian a hypocritical one.

towards the abolition of marriage

“ Only one who draws the knife gets Isaac ”

-Johannes de Silencio

I tend to generally avoid political posts, politics being far from my field of study. That being said I care a fair deal about religion, specifically sacramental theology, and thus the connection between state and marriage. Having made that caveat I would like to propose a not entirely new idea but one that is often neglected by the religious mainstream—that of the abolition of state marriage. Marriage as an idea is vastly perceived as a politico-economic unit (as, for better or worse, politics is almost unilaterally becoming a politics of economy). As marriage becomes reified to a capital value, an asset, it seems that religious or social meaning dwindles under its commoditization. Thus it seems a wise solution to me to sacrifice state marriage, that is any ties or rights involved between marriage and state, in order to gain marriage as an act beyond a mere reduction to fiscal or political value.

Marriage’s purposes for being political are almost exclusively for the increase of capital, i.e., tax-deductions in the hopes to produce future tax-payers (allowing more money to encourage child birth). With the increase of same-sex adoption as well as single parents this progressively becomes an untenable system. To give tax-deductions to heterosexual couples alone implies, if not ontological superiority, at least fiscal entitlement. Rather than bringing economic benefit to marriage as a religious good it economizes marriage as a political commodity.

Further the plethora of views on what marriage is as such have further caused any definition by the state reductive. By reducing marriage to a politico-economic unit it not only pulls it out of a religious[1] context but inevitably favors one interpretation over another. To give the right to define marriage into the hands of the government, as we have, is in short to entitle them to favor one interpretation of marriage to the exclusion of others. So doing not only suppresses marriage interpretations but shuts off the meaning of whatever interpretation it chooses (if everyone was required to be married according to Roman Catholic dogma for instance, it would mean very little to be a married Roman Catholic, even if you took your vows more seriously than others). Choice is only intelligible as a choice when given the option not to chose it—likewise marrying within a body of meaning (religious or otherwise), symbols and rituals, can only have significance when set against the background of conflicting views. Choosing to vow without the possibility of divorce, for instance, is only a meaningful vow if other people in the world can divorce. Likewise it would be meaningless to define marriage as between only a man and a woman if same-sex marriages had not been introduced. It is only against the background of disagreeing particulars that the radical particularity of a choice or vow gains significance.

To “abolish” marriage then is not to outright remove an institution but to allow it to live again, that is, to allow a space for differing interpretations of marriage to thrive side-by-side: a sphere in which a Roman Catholic church could deny divorced couples to re-marry, conservative Christians could deny same-sex marriages, and the unreligious could have a desacralized service in peace. Abolishing state marriage would open a place for peaceful cohabitation and disagreement between differing parties, as well as restore religious meaning and distinction to stricter vows (i.e. to be a married Roman Catholic would suddenly mean something distinct, given the background of differing marriage vows and restrictions). In order to save what marriage means we must give it up—a separation of marriage and state in order that marriage may once again have civic, social, and even political meaning.


 

[1] I consider desacralized marriages equally religious and I hope I do not cause offense in doing so; it strikes me, however, any ceremony that proffers some sort of narrative meaning, specifically as regards the individuals, human sexuality, and society (and often the cosmos) is inevitably religious in nature.