On the Outskirts of the Enlightenment: Prophets, Power, and Post-Modernism

Why is this issue of the end of modernism and the beginning of post-modernism of interest to Christians?  I’m working my way through an academic paper by Jesuit priest Hugues Deletraz on Post-Modernism Opens New Perspectives for Evangelization (see earlier post ‘Modernism has reached its limits‘) to understand what are the marks of this shift and how it helps us understand changes in institutional Christianity today.

While reading Deletraz’ paper, I also picked up Hopeful Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. I love Walter’s deep Bible study and contemporary wisdom drawn from the ancient sources. (I have the honor and pleasure of working right now as his editor at Sojourners while he’s writing Living the Word, our monthly lectionary reflections, for us.)

by Banksy

In Hopeful Imagination, Walter compares and contrasts the eras of the biblical prophets around the time of the destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE with our current shift from  modernism to post-modernism. His premise is that the loss of the authority of the priestly dynasty and the temple in Jerusalem is analogous to the loss of certainty, centralized authority, legitimacy, and dominance in our own times. Here’s what he says:

“A variety of scholars are calling attention to the prospect that Enlightenment modes of power and Enlightenment modes of knowledge are at the end of their effective rule among us.  All of us are children of the Enlightenment. That cultural reality of the last 250 years has brought us enormous gifts of human reason, human freedom, and human possibility. None of us would want to undo those gifts, but they are gifts not without cost. The reality of the Enlightenment has also resulted in the concentration of power in monopolistic ways which have been uncriticized. Moreover, it has generated dominating models of knowledge which have been thought to be objective rather than dominating.

The evidence grows that the long-standing concentration of power and knowledge which constitutes our human world is under heavy assault and in great jeopardy. God’s work at transforming our world is apparent in the rise of Third World nations, the emergence of Islam as a vigorous political force, and the visibility of a variety of liberation movements. In the midst of such realities, we discover the ineffectiveness of old modes of power. American military and economic power is of course considerable, but it is not everywhere decisive. The limit of such power is matched by the limit of Enlightenment modes of knowledge, for we are coming to see that such “scientific” knowledge no longer carries authority everywhere. There is increasing suspicion of such knowledge because it has long been in the service of domination. Such knowledge arranges reality in ways that are not disinterested. Technique becomes a mode of control, and that mode is no longer easily or universally addressed.

Trust in these conventional modes of power and knowledge is matched by a growing uneasiness when those modes are critiqued or rejected.”–Walter Brueggemann (Hopeful Imagination, p. 5-6)

The question that runs through the communities addressed by the biblical prophets — particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and second Isaiah — during the paradigm shift brought on by the destruction of the Temple and the forced emigration of the Hebrews is this: Are the promises of God strong enough to deal with the current collapse of our “known world”?

It’s a question we are still asking.

Faith-Based Organic Farm in Central California Sets Table of Abundance

Ched Myers is one of my gospeler mentors. A gospeler is someone who sings the gospel – and Ched and Elaine do that with the way they live their lives. In their recent Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries‘ newsletter that Ched and Elaine are working with a local faith-based organic farm in the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, California. It’s called the Abundant Table Farm Project. (I’m posting a couple of the Abundant Table’s inspiring videos below.

I thought the book introduction that Ched wrote for The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life by Ross and Gloria Kinsler was a nice set up for the Abundant Table story. He wrote:

“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments American Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.” Indeed, the topic of economics is exceedingly difficult to talk about in most First World churches, more taboo than politics or even sex. Yet no aspect of our individual and corporate lives is more determinative of our welfare. And few subjects are more frequently addressed in our scriptures.

The standard of economic and social justice is woven into the warp and weft of the Bible. Pull this strand and the whole fabric unravels. At the heart of this witness is the call to Sabbath and Jubilee, a tradition we might summarize in three axioms: The world as created by God is abundant, with enough for everyone— provided that human communities restrain their appetites and live within limits …

Here’s a 2-minute video about the Abundant Table Farm Project:

“We are a young intentional community of five interns (sisterfriends) living and working on a 10-acre family farm on the Oxnard Plain. Though we come from far and near, our internship grew out of the campus ministry founded by the Episcopal Church at California State University Channel Islands. To learn more about our organic farm and Community Supported Agriculture program, please visit www.jointhefarm.com.”

Senior producer Jim Melchiorre at Anglican Stories visited The Abundant Table Farmhouse Project, a young adult internship program of the Episcopal Service Corps. Below is his excellent 10-minute video.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst’s Testimony at the UK’s Iraq War Investigation Reads Like an Old Testament Prophet Battle

Elizabeth-Wilmshurst-001The UK is currently holding public hearings on the legality of their invasion of Iraq with the U.S. coalition. Was it legal to invade a sovereign nation without a resolution from the United Nations Security Council? Since I doubt we will ever have such an opportunity in the United States, I find it important to see what the Brits learn and what’s revealed as documents about the decision-making process are declassified.

Recently, Elizabeth Wilmshurst testified before the Chilcot Inquiry. She was the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. She was the only U.K. public official to publicly resign in protest after both she and Sir Michael Wood, the senior legal advisor at the Foreign Office, told the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, that invading Iraq without UN support would be a breach of international law and Goldsmith advised Defense Minister Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair that it would not.

Her resignation letter was simple, but clear: “I cannot in conscience go along with advice – within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

Goldsmith had flip-flopped on the issue. At first he agreed with Wilmshurst and Wood, but then changed his mind. In Wilmhurst’s testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry this week she explains his decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: But then, on 7 March, [former UK attorney general Lord Goldsmith] came out with a different view [on whether the UK could invade Iraq without the permission of the UN Security Council], in which he stated that — he accepted that there was a reasonable case that could be made in favour of the revival argument. How did you see that position that he had adopted?

MS ELIZABETH WILMSHURST: Well, of course, I was sorry because I then had to consider my own position. But there were — there were two things that struck me about it. First, that he had relied, and he said he had relied, on the views of the negotiators of the resolution to change the provisional view that he had previously had, and the issue really is: how do you interpret a resolution or a treaty in international law and is it sufficient to go to individual negotiators, but not all negotiators, and ask them for their perceptions of private conversations, or does an international resolution or treaty have to be accessible to everyone so that you can take an objective view from the wording itself and from published records of the preparatory work? I mean, it must be the second. The means of interpretation has to be accessible to all. But the Attorney had relied on private conversations of what the UK negotiators or the US had said that the French had said. Of course, he hadn’t asked the French of their perception of those conversations. That was one point that I thought actually was unfortunate in the way that he had reached his decision, and the other point that struck me was that he did say that the safest route was to ask for a second resolution. We were talking about the massive invasion of another country, changing the government and the occupation of that country, and, in those circumstances, it did seem to me that we ought to follow the safest route. But it was clear that the Attorney General was not going to stand in the way of the government going into conflict.

In Wilmhurst’s written statement before the Chilcot Inquiry, she wrote:

I regarded the invasion of Iraq as illegal, and I therefore did not feel able to continue in my post. I would have been required to support and maintain the Government’s position in international fora. The rules of international law on the use of force by States are at the heart of international law. Collective security, as opposed to unilateral military action, is a central purpose of the Charter of the United Nations. Acting contrary to the Charter, as I perceived the Government to be doing, would have the consequence of damaging the United Kingdom’s reputation as a State committed to the rule of law in international relations and to the United Nations.

These testimonies read like the best of the battles between the biblical prophets. I’d liken Elizabeth Wilmshurst to Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:

Then the king of Israel gathere