Monday, December 14, 2009

William Cavanaugh on "Public" Religion and Translated "Values"

"A major problem with the attempt to make religion public is that it is still 'religion.' Asad shows how the attempt to identify a distinctive essence of religion, and thus protect it from charges that it is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of 'politics' or 'economics,' is in fact linked with the modern removal of religion from the spheres of reason and power. Religion is a universal essence detachable from particular ecclesial practices, and as such can provide the motivation necessary for all citizens of what creed to regard the nation-state as their primary community, and thus produce peaceful consensus. As we have seen, religion as a trans-historical phenomenon separate from 'politics' is a creation of Western modernity designed to tame the Church. Religion may take different cultural and symbolic expressions, but it remains a universal essence generically distinct from political power which then must be translated into publicly acceptable 'values' in order to become public currency. Religion is detached from its specific locus in disciplined ecclesial practices so that it may be compatible with the modern Christian's subjection to the discipline of the state. Echoes of Bodin resound in the public theologians' attempt to make religion the glue that holds the commonwealth together. Religion, that is, and not the Church, for the Church must be separated entirely from the domain of power.

"The great irony, then, is that in trying to arrange for the Church to influence 'the public,' rather than simply be public, the public has reduced the Church to its own terms. Citizenship has displaced discipleship as the Church's public key. In banishing theology from the public sphere, the Church has found it difficult to speak with theological integrity even within the Church. The flows of power from Church to public are reversed, threatening to flood the Church itself."

--William Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 82-83, presciently identifying one public pastor in particular.

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