Taking the U.S. American Existentialist Tradition To Task
Perhaps it was not until my freshman year in undergrad, on a path to self-discovery that began to consider the narcissistic kool-aid the corporate driven media was giving us the U.S. American audience. This was prior to September of that year, where the limits of my budding critique began and ended at Music Television, which I still watched, and still do sometimes, but only for Lupe Fiasco.
After the tragedy of 9/11, my sense of what was critical and of the critical was heightened. I had to learned what made Christianity unique all over again. I had to learn the Christian tradition I wanted to be a part of. My response, like the Stanley Hauerwases and Brian McLarens of the world, was to hope that every Christian accept my radical form of pacifism, and in that way, the world would begin to look more peaceful. In the words of Brother Dan, sometimes words are not enough. It means we need action, but what type of action? And yes, dependence on a higher power is needed, but, Trevin Wax, what type of divinity are we talking about? Contra Mr. Wax, the theodicy question has been a driving force in theology since the aftermath of the Holocaust; unfortunately, he is about four decades behind. Before Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, there was Kazoh Kitmori’s The Pain of God in the 1950s, which was I think, banned by the Barthian and ever silent on racial segregation National Council of Churches at that time.
There was some hope in the struggle against consumerism in the months after September 11th, with U.S. Americans refusing to buy objects for the sake of buying, for it was not the things that we have that make us happy. But that all changed in late October, with the return of credit card commercials and politicians begging the American consumer to get the economy back on track; purchasing was patriotic. Pretty soon, the next year, politicians lost their jobs, not simply because of their performance, but because they were labelled as “not patriotic enough; even the patriotism of a Congressman who was a war veteran did not withstand this form of nationalistic worship. Love of country is not the fundamental problem; the problem is nationalism turns love of neighbor into the affirmation of the self over everything and anything at all costs. Christian communities began to reflect this trend, in the name of more heretic head-hunting, attacking the best of biblical scholars and making them the scape goat in order affirm the tradition, whether it be inerrancy, plenary inspiration, or women’s subordination.
As I have made disagreement with Paul Tillich known, faith for him was overcoming that which got in the way that would seek to prevent self-affirmation. This dialectical/oppositional form of thinking was in no way revolutionary; in fact, this way of understanding religion has been with American civil religion since the beginning. There had to be others by-passed in the self-actualization and creation of the U.S. American nation-state, for this is the very way of every nation-state. Whether is it Palestine seeking to overcome its Israeli enemies through the performance of liberal democratic values such as self-determination, or any other country.
I guess what I am saying is this: being self-affirming is not enough. We need to be constantly self-critical, turning our judgments on ourselves inwardly so that we may be also open to fellowship with others. The trend in politics and religion after October 2001 is to shut ourselves from any critique in the desperate attempt for normalcy, for the status quo, for the stable world-order as it is. In the Christian tradition, it is Yeshua the Messiah who begins the ultimate call for self-reflection and criticism, in his sermons on repentance. He sermons are not just for the sake of being “anti-Pharisee” or “anti-Roman.” In the end, Christ Jesus calls all of us into dialogue with YHWH, the One True God of Israel, the Creator of the world. The Messianic protest against idolatry, first practiced by Hebrew prophets such as Gideon and Moses, is not merely iconoclasm; the destruction of these objects which were outside of us are calls to look at search inwardly for the wrongs that we are all complicitly participating in.
But this notion of penance is not a one-and-done deal, that happens after the greatest tragedy our country has ever experienced. This means that the changing of our hearts and souls and minds are ever geared towards lament and humility even in times of prosperity.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”–Jesus the Messiah, Mark 1:15 NRSV