On Theology of Power Disarming the Language of Oppression

Freedom as Power

1.1 There is little doubt that any attempt on the contemporary notion of Freedom will stumble on various obstacles. The very definition of the term is complex for it can be interpreted on various grounds and within many discourses. Psychology, Sociology, Religion, all encompassed by Politics produce variants of lenses through which Freedom can be looked at. Paradoxically this multiplicity of options seems to be generated by the very force that governess the meaning of Freedom.

1.2 it is therefore necessary to attempt to establish the parameters of the field that is shared by the multiplicity of understanding Freedom in order to assess its contemporary epistemological potential. No matter what algorithm of „thinking” Freedom one chooses to follow it will in every case touch upon the notion of empowerment. It is the Freedom-as-Taken as opposed to the Freedom-as-Enjoyed that goes beyond the imperial logics and boundaries and creates disutopic, actual and effective projects of resistance, struggles and liberations (after Materialism, p.665). The praxis of Freedom requires the condition of understanding it as the Position of Power

Secula Seculorum

2.1 Occupying the Position of Power is embarking on the strata of flight that locates itself on the ultimate outside of any potential constrains or limits. Freedom understood from the perspective of boundlessness can be described within the vocabulary indicated by meanings of the Infinity, the Omnipotence, the Supremacy, the Absolute, Eternity. Such terminology traditionally belonging to the discourse of Religion, binds together both fields of research and indicates Man’s relation to Divinity as the relation to Power.

2.2 The soteriological interpretation of Freedom is anchored in the vision of the Heavenly Paradise, the salvation of the body and the soul and the eternal existence within God. At the same time the political understanding of God re-scribes this interpretation as existing within the Sovereign and the absolute Power He enjoys.

2.1 The promise is the driving force of religion. The Faithful becomes empowered by the vision of Freedom through the Salvation and Redemption of Sins. What to make of empowerment then in the situation when churches of Europe gradually become empty and the death of God is turned into a truism and a well-worn trivial anecdote? What is the contemporary promise? There are good and familiar reasons to define our own age in terms of the rise of the secular. From Richelieu, through Robespierre to Rothschild we have witnessed the transition of the centre of power. In response to the development of the modern science and to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a new and distinctive mode of political life arose, one devoted to the scepticism, tolerance and privacy that regularly goes by the shorthand „Liberalism”. (Norris, p.1)

2.2 What happened to God then?

2.3 Nietzsche famously stated that “God is dead”. He believed that there could be positive possibilities for human without transcendental God. The Christian God, with his arbitrary commands and prohibitions would no longer stand in the way so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge the value of this world (Robinson 1999: 47). In some ways, the recognition that “God is dead” would serve as a blank canvas. It would become a ground for free creativity, for something new and different to arise. Nietzsche realized that this would be a hard task but at the same time it would be a tempting challenge. He believed many would be not up for it because most people rely only on rules and authorities to tell them what to do, what to value, how to live. The people who eventually learn to create their lives anew will represent a new stage in human transformation that is as Nietzsche advocated an increasing measure to cultivate human qualities that continually strive for mastery and refinement in all matters, thus extolling existence (Robinson 1999: 50)

2.4 The superficial understanding of the death of God eliminates the concept of God from the philosophical discourse. One may argue that there is no point, pleasure nor productivity in dealing with the carcass. In the lack of epistemological potency in the notion of Divinity why would one waste time on bankrupted meaning instead of dealing with what’s current and important (like Derrida or Lacan…) What if God didn’t die after all. What if he faked his own death in order to escape noose of the hangman? Playing dead is the common practice of defence- many animals have a capacity of appearing to be dead to an observer while otherwise alive. It is classified as self-mimesis, a form of camouflage or mimicry in which the „mimic” imitates itself in a dead state such that its pursuer no longer takes notice of it. It is the case of pretending not to be of interest to avoid unwanted attention.

2.5 Playing Possum and waiting seems to be God strategy. He took a stronghold in his own nesting ground, the burrow that from the time of Locke was thought to be far away from religious grounds. This safe keep is the very source from which God has fuelled his long lasting career on the stage of History. It’s once again Politics.

God. Power. Politics.

3.1 The entanglement between politics and theology is that of a complex nature. Throughout history the Sceptre and the Crosier were working hand in hand asserting each other’s right to execute power. In modern political theory those two symbols of authority once again melt together in an intricate, effective and fully operational mechanism of power.

3.2 The matrix between theology and politics is demarcated in Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty by Carl Schmitt. In his most famous work Schmitt claims that all significant concepts of the modern theory of state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development in which they are transferred from theology to the theory of the state whereby for example the Omnipotent God became the Omnipotent Law Giver but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts (Political Theology, p.36). It is crucial to take these similarities into consideration in the analysis of contemporary notions of God. The focus on comparing the systematic, structural analogies between the notions of God and notions of Politics can provide a discoursive tool to assess their conceptual currency.

3.3 What is decisive here is to stress out the fact that „God” is the name of structural position and that cannot be done away with. Human beings must regard something as the ultimate absolute authority. Secularization names a change in the dominant cultural understanding of what that authority is. From that point of view it is fair to say that it is not God that is inescapable but the metaphysical position of authority that He occupied is (Norris, p.7). We are operating in the realm of actual forms and facts, the causes and the effects, the reasons and the results. This nomenclature demands a political attitude to understand it. Schmitt writes in the Preface to The Concept of the Political that political is the total and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced. This also holds for the question whether a particular theology is a political or unpolitical theology. (The Concept, p.20)

3.4 If God is in the centre of the religious world, a political world that displays the same structure will centre around the sovereign who occupies His structural position. This raises the question: If the structural position of God can via secularization be transferred to the modern theory of the state is this not because that structural position was to begin with a political one? (Norris, p.4)

The Position of Power

4.1 If asserting power equals inhabiting a certain structural position it is necessary to sketch out the characteristics of that action and of the position it is aimed at. Postulating an analogy between jurisprudence and theology Schmitt introduced a concept of sovereignty that is not derived from basic constitutional norms but almost exclusively from the perspective of the state of exception or in other words the state of emergency. What is important in Schmitt’s proposal and crucial in understanding of the structural position of power is that he locates the centre of power outside of constitutional arrangements. The source of sovereignty originates in the extra-legal authority. This observation seems relatively obvious in the context of medieval monarchy. In Christian Europe the anointment of the king during the coronation ceremony was the symbol of the transferral of the religious power and the assertion of his divine right to rule. Such construct of authority as coming directly from God could not be put into question. For the lack of the means of questioning the position of power the sovereign was sensu stricto outside the law.

4.2 The demarcation between inside and outside of the law is the key point in establishing the position of power. The question of the sovereign is the question of the limit. If sovereignty decides upon its own limits its decision cannot be bound by those limits. As politics is total so the sovereign must necessarily be unlimited. The sovereign is the unlimited power that makes the limits or the ungrounded ground of the law (Political Theology, p.7). Schmitts analysis of sovereignty is almost exclusively based on that ability to make limits or in the other words to create the state of exception. He claims that the sovereign is who decides on the exception. The assertion that the exception is truly appropriate for the juristic definition of sovereignty has a systematic legal-logical foundation. The decision of the exception is the decision in the true sense of the word. Because a general norm as represented by an ordinary legal prescription can never encompass a total exception, the decision that a real exception exists cannot be therefore entirely derived from this norm. It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty that is the whole question of sovereignty (Political Theology p.12).

State of Exception. State of Emergency.

5.1 Antique Roman legal system included an institution of iustitium. As it literally means „to arrest, suspend the legal order” it serves as a prototypical case of the state of exception. Iustitium was usually declared following a sovereign’s death during the time of interregnum but also in the case of invasion. What is interesting is that the condition to constitute iiustitium in case of invasion was not a direct attack or an imminent danger but rather a news of such danger to happen in the future. When a Roman Senate was alerted to the situation that seem to threaten or compromise the Republic they pronounced a senatus consultum ultimium, whereby consul (or their substitutes and each citizen) were compelled to take all possible resources to assure the security of the State. The senatus consultum implied a decree by which one declared a tumultus i.e. a state of emergency cased by internal disorder or an insurrection whose consequence was the proclamation of iustitium. It is important to remember that iustitium did not function within a framework of law that generated it but rather produced a legal void, a state entirely deprived of law (The State, p.3).

5.2 This ancient legal construct is of an enormous potency and great contemporary importance. From the point of view of iustitium the Third Reich for instance was a twelve year old state of emergency. Hitler with his incarnation of the Roman Empire and its ancient symbols made an extremely good use of this institution. By suspending the articles of the Weimar Constitution he effectively assumed the position of a ultimate sovereign, one that is able to decide on creation of it’s own limits. Fürer the law incarnated. What is paradoxical in this situation is that Hitler was operating within the legal framework by positioning himself outside the constitutional arrangements.

5.3 In State of Exception Agamben shows how Western democracies became interested with the need of turning emergency into the foundation of their operative field during the World Wars. He successfully outlines the development in history of a political rationality whereby the executive comes to acquire legislative power by means of decrees that parliament is only called to approve or rectify. The most recent and vivid example of such practice took place in the United States shortly after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. George W. Bush has issued a military order to enable subjecting non-US citizens suspected of terrorist activities to special jurisdiction that would include indefinite detention and military tribunals. (The State, p.2) What was new in Bush’s order was that it radically eradicated the legal status of these individuals and produced entities that could not be neither named nor classified by the law.

5.4 George W. Bush, however repulsive it must seem, has proved to be the sovereign in the true sense. It is even more off-putting that de facto he assumed the structural position once occupied by God.

The Resistance

6.1 What are the strategies of resistance then? Is one just a powerless pawn sentenced to the subjugation of God and the Minister or is there a way out of that self-perpetuation machine of power struggle? Maybe there are ways to re-define the meanings of terminology of oppression to apply it to the fight for freedom. Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right and the same rule applies to finding another grip of the discourse of political theology.

6.2 The step to be taken is the critique of Christian doctrine of fear. Christian theology followed John rather than Paul at its beginning. The will to love was gradually overshadowed by the will to execute power. In respect to its doctrine of God the Church gradually returned to the concept of God as unequivocal unity separated from Men. It is a concept which is clear, terrifying, and un- provable. On the whole the gospel of love was turned into a gospel of fear. The Christian world was composed of populations terrified of the ultimate sovereignty of the Father. In order to find God the contemporary situation demands doing it through love not through fear; with the help of John rather than Paul.

6.3 It is necessary to look back on the terminology that theology offers in order to re-root it’s contemporary interpretation of the Political. It is the time for revolution as advocated by Antonio Negri. He calls to think inside the tradition that links theology and revolution and consider the „heretical” possibility of reflecting about materialistic political theology in which theology meets the political in a conceptual apparatus that is fundamental for both fields of research. Moreover this new field is one marked by themes such as subjectivity, event, production, prophecy and exodus (Materialism, p.666)


Escape to the City of God

The Pilgrimage to Wherever Desire Takes

7.1 Now when the great revolutions of the West recede into history, revolutionary ideology is being translated back into the language of Exodus (Passavant, 2004: 229). The current task is to „think” Exodus on the postmodern plateau of deterritorialization as described by Deleuze and Guattari. The old substance of Exodus needs dusting and polishing in order to become a new currency of epistemological power. The old one, devaluated by the literal meanings and the routine of understanding proves to contain a dormant potential that once awakened has a truly revolutionary voltage.

7.2 The biblical story of the departure of the Israelites from the enslavement in ancient Egypt needs to be examined from the point of view determined by such events as subjectivity, event, sovereignty and Freedom. In that case Exodus becomes a conceptual tool crucial for the interpretation of the crossover between politics and theology and the liberation of desire. In Exodus the entanglement of the law (politics) and God (religion) finds itself in what Agamben describes as the state of exception- reasoning for the affirmative action that goes beyond the logic of fear and causes the rupture in the continuous fabric of the hegemony of the Empire.   What is at stake is the substitution of the centres of sovereignty and assertion of power.

7.3 There are three parts of Exodus that need to be considered. First is the exit; the initial stage; the departure; the break that ignites the whole process. The second form the body of Exodus and can de described as the way, the endurance or the process. The third part is the point that Exodus is looking towards to; the end, the purpose; the destination; the place of rest; the City of God. Boundaries between these three parts dilute once we start to understand Exodus in the categories of the event and becoming. The contemporary thinking of Exodus is not an extensive movement between two points, it is the absolute deterritorialization of every possible topia: an exodus from the earth in an explosive but always immanent movement that approximates idea of the „aberrant”. According to Deleuze „aberrant” movement completely lacks a centre and consists of a velocity and speed that constantly create centrifugal lines of flight. In this light an exit becomes an arrival. It encompasses both the movement and the power to control that movement (Ontological Resistance 2007: 1).

7.4 Exodus is not a journey between point „a” and point „b”. Its trajectory is governed by Freedom and this very paradox contains the logic of Exodus.

7.5 Such understanding of Exodus becomes a political strategy, a template for engagement and politicizing one’s own desires and strata of flight. . The logic of liberation follows a path alone and marks a decisive and absolute departure from slavery, blossoming in the face of the bare impossible, that is the void. The Exodus is the credo of the modern nomad who experiences the immanence of existence, it is „to-come” that opens itself up to possibility. Signalled by a movement that begins in the heart of nothingness, desire finally determines itself within the matrix of temporal trajectory entangled between the past and the future (Passavant, 2004: 237). Politicizing one owns desires is to break with the legacy of poverty and enslavement (which can be interpreted both on the level of soteriology as well as liberation) through a rhizomatic offshoot towards the production of the new (where „the new” becomes the City of God).

My Own Private Exodus

8.1 The aspect of community and commonality is intrinsic in traditional understanding of Exodus. The application of ideas of Negri and Deleuze put these factors on the equal plain with notions of singularity and subjectivity. The epistemological potential of Exodus realizes itself in the comeback to the concept of body as flesh. If human beings were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible. This does not mean, however, that humans are not, and do not have to be, something; that they are simply consigned to nothingness and therefore can freely decide whether to be or not to be, to adopt or not to adopt this or that destiny (nihilism and decisionism coincide at this point). There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this is not an essence, nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one’s own existence as possibility or potentiality (The Coming Community, 1993: 11).

8.2 The material register of the body as the bearer of life and death determines the plateau of the potentiality. This is the primary tissue of resistance, the common living substance in which the corporeal and intellectual coincide and are indistinguishable. Flesh is neither matter mind nor substance. The flesh is pure potentiality, the point of exit that confronts itself with the void waiting anxiously to be filled. It is the point of departure, the process and the destination of Exodus, the first and the last bastion in the fight for freedom and love.

8.3 The notion of flesh is crucial in Christian theology. It is the chest of Christ on the cross from which the Ecclesia alights. Assuming the human flesh, through the act of love, Jesus Christ incorporated the entire human corporeity. According to Pauline tradition the individual body becomes the suffering body of Christ and materializes itself in the flesh of Church. This implied togetherness of the body and the Church poses a great danger though- entangled in the hegemony of dialectics it effectively alienated the body altogether.

8.4 In “Essence of Christianity” Feuerbach described how religion reinforces the dichotomy between God and Man. Religion abstracts man from his powers, qualities and essential determinations and deifies them in the independent beings, no matter whether each of them is singly turned into a being- as in polytheism- or all of them are turned into one being- as in monotheism. Religion, at least Christian religion, is the expression of how Man relates to himself, or more correctly to his essential being. Opposition of Man and God is based on the paradox. Man- and this is the secret of religion- objectifies his being, and then again makes himself the object of this objectified being, transformed into a subject, a person. He thinks of himself as an object, but as an object of an object, as an object of another being (Feuerbach 1841: 36) The Divine Being is nothing other than the being of man himself, or rather the being of man abstracted from the limits of the individual man or the real corporeal man and objectified that is contemplated and worshiped as another being, as a being distinguished from his own (Feuerbach 1841: 13). All determinations of God are therefore determinations of the being of Man.

8.5 The alienation of Men through the concept of Divinity effectively resulted in the alienation of Men’s powers and potentialities. Through the gospel of fear and the dogmas of religious institutions the dissemination of power in the society turned completely uneven. This pattern is mirrored in the construction of the modern state and the politics governing the body and desire.

Through the conceptual apparatus proposed by Negri, Agamben and others one has a possibility of finding the new meanings of depictions of the world. The disused concepts and old-fashion ideas can hold a dormant potential. Re-invention of Exodus as a attitude and a political strategy is just one of the examples of such possibilities, others being the Prophecy, The Sacrifice, The Sanctum and Profanum, The Heresy etc.  

There is a need to reclaim the meanings of the conceptual apparatus of discourses of oppression and come up with the new vocabularies of resistance. Among many of such vocabularies are those describing the works by the self-proclaimed „urban hermit” Lucas Samaras, the social and political protests of Jo Spence and „the birth and resurrection” of Dieter Appelt.

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