Saturday, August 2, 2014

Christian clergy's fantasy theology

Quick Thoughts On Today’s Non-Violent Witness:

July 31, 2014

We are safe. We are healthy. All is well.

white house1Today’s action went incredibly well, any way you choose to look at it. More than 100 faith leaders (Many clergy. Even Bishops) chose to be arrested at the White House, as a witness against our nation’s treatment of immigrants, calling the President and Congress to act.
The DC Park Police treated us with the utmost respect and dignity. They treated us fairly and, dare I say: kindly.

The witness was peaceful and powerful. At a certain point, the police backed away all other bystanders and media from a very large perimeter…about half a football field. That was a sobering moment…to realize that we had been separated out, and were now standing alone, in front of the White House itself.

After three “warnings,” they then moved in and, one by one, took us into custody.

What you have to understand is that being arrested was the entire point of the exercise. In an FB post about the day, the author wrote, "Our non-violent witness at the White House Thursday was a powerful experience."

Powerful for whom? Not for Obama nor for any of his administration. It was powerful for him. And that in fact was the entire point.

This "Arrest me!" drill is a perfect example of what Lee Harris called "fantasy theology," though he wrote of it in a different context.
MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with this particular kind of fantasy occurred when I was in college in the late sixties. A friend of mine and I got into a heated argument. Although we were both opposed to the Vietnam War, we discovered that we differed considerably on what counted as permissible forms of anti-war protest. To me the point of such protest was simple — to turn people against the war. Hence anything that was counterproductive to this purpose was politically irresponsible and should be severely censured. My friend thought otherwise; in fact, he was planning to join what by all accounts was to be a massively disruptive demonstration in Washington, and which in fact became one.

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason — because it was, in his words, good for his soul.

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy — a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view — for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

It was not your garden-variety fantasy of life as a sexual athlete or a racecar driver, but in it, he nonetheless made himself out as a hero — a hero of the revolutionary struggle. ...
 For want of a better term, call the phenomenon in question a fantasy ideology — by which I mean, political and ideological symbols and tropes used not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy. 
And that is the preferred theology of the ordained Left in America: purely symbolic acts by which they prove to one another that they are on the side of the angels. That nothing actually changes concerning the protested situations is entirely beside the point.

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