Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Peace & the State's Alternative Soteriology

Life has been hectic so my reading and posting for the summer is marginal. I have been reading, ever so slowly, Theopolitical Imagination by Wm. Cavanaugh which I have previously mentioned. I had hoped to cover a few ideas of his on peace that pertain to my posting during the week of the 4th.

Cavanaugh starts his first chapter which is entitled “The Myth of the State as Savior” by suggesting that the “modern state is best understood…as an alternative soteriology to the Church. Both soteriologies pursue peace and an end to division by the enactment of a social body…and the state is a simulacrum, a false copy, of the Body of Christ” (9-10). Cavanaugh contends that the state, civil society, and globalization are means of understanding or orienting ourselves within time and place. These become the “rule” of life which is upheld by an imaginative process which gives the “rules” a certain weightiness. The state presumes of offer a soteriology, not wholly unlike Christian soteriology, as a rescue from violence.

This is a striking challenge to doctrine and life, because the state simultaneously redirects and redefines religion as a private affair thus effectively dividing the physical and spiritual realms. “Religion is no longer a matter of certain bodily practices within the Body of Christ, but is limited to the realm of the ‘soul’ and the body is handed over to the state” (35). The state is now savior and protector of the physical (and most tangible) reality. So what is the danger in all of this? Well, to whom do we look to for understandings of peace? The state which ensures peace through violence or Christ through non-violence? If, as Cavanaugh suggests that the state proffers an alternative soteriology we must see it as a “heretical” soteriology. We do not have the luxury of our consumerist tendencies to pick among our options. If the state is suggesting itself as savior to its people, it is a competitor to the Christ’s gospel and the vessel of salvation…the church.

Cavanaugh sees the Eucharist as proper arena for a radical re-orienting of the Chruch, the very public expression and embodiment of Christ’s ongoing presence.

Previously I have been suggesting we pursue a thicker definition of “peace” as more than the absence of strife and discord. While the state pursues the thinner definition, which proposes to create a certain amount of freedom for the individual to pursue the inner/spiritual/religious peace as they choose to define it. This private individual is free to think what s/he will.

Cavanaugh, while stressing the absolute need for non-violence, seems to imply also that the state naturally sees the true community of believers gathered around the Eucharist as a competitor to its vision because it causes ruptures or divisions because the Body of Christ “has pretensions to be a body that transcends state boundaries” (38). Does the Church will naturally be proverbial thorn in the states side? What are we to make of this?