Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3F: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3D: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3E: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

Incarnation as a Re-membering of the Head and Body

I am struck by two juxtapositions that serve as a good conclusion to what David Fitch refers to in his The End of Evangelicalism? as the ideology of the “Decision for Christ” embodied in the evangelical way of life (i.e., the evangelical politic). The same juxtapositions serve as a good picture of why and how I think Fitch is referring to the same concrete reality as N.T. Wright in describing the idolatry that drives the way of life of our world.

One juxtaposition is the two quotes with which I opened part 3 of this blog series concerning “the word.” “The word kills the thing” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The other juxtaposition is between, on the one hand, the analogies for sexual union provided by Jessica Simpson in her video “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (pictured at the beginning of Part 3A of this blog series) and, on the other hand, the marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21. Said photo may reveal a great inconsistency at work in evangelicalism that is driven by a lack or emptiness at its core, which may be partially attributable to the murder of the thing by the word. The photo of Jessica Simpson, the evangelical, publically re-enacting sex in the image of Aphrodite may also, however, tell us that there’s an image of Aphrodite in the Temple of God.

To the originating and concluding point, then, that Wright, in discussing today’s idolatry, is talking about the same concrete reality as Fitch in The End of Evangelcalism?, Fitch has this to say:
“The empty politic is built around a void driven by the antagonistic split that constitutes its “Real”-ity. Individuals are initiated into this ideological politic by believing…in Master-Signifiers and participating in rituals that cynically reinforce the ongoing ideology.” [emphasis added]

Religious rituals happen in Temples. Religious devotees are initiated into the cults that worship in those temples. Master-Signifiers, mentioned in that previous quote about ideology that was full of religious references, were discussed previously in Part 3 of this blog series. The following quote, then, is also from Fitch’s The End of Evangelicalism and is to, in conclusion to Part 3 of this blog series, point out why Fitch and Wright are discussing the same concrete reality. The upcoming quote mentions the “Symbolic Order.” In Zizek’s though, from which Fitch was borrowing, the Master-Signifer emerges from the “Symbolic Order,” which is “the given social system (one finds oneself in)” and which is constituted by the language world one inhabits.
“Zizek is ever analyzing the given Symbolic Order to uncover the way it works in compensating for conflict and consolidating power within the status quo, all the while holding subjects together in a social system. Here, we can see how beliefs function to stave off antagonisms and play on people’s deepest desires and insecurities, yet hold a people together and maintain the status quo.”

In other words, Zizek analyzes how the way of the world is empty and futile. I hear echoes from Ephesians 4:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them…”

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

So, to summarily particularize those ideas in the evangelical ideology of “the Decision” for Christ, the empty politic of what evangelicalism has become is driven by the void left over by the decapitated modern subject of “the Decision.” Because the way “the Decision” has become practiced means that it has become an allegiance to a purely intellectualized “system of belief,” there is no fullness of a way of life that includes the body and the shaping of its desires. The left over “empty” politic of evangelicalism is then driven by the resulting antagonism between those who, after the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the 1920’s, have given their allegiance to either “the Decision” (evangelicals) or to “social justice” (“the liberals”).

Those who become subjects of “the Decision” are then “initiated into” this ideological politic of said “Decision” by participating in rituals like the one Haggard re-enacted to try to make sense of the inconsistencies that appeared in his life between his “belief system” and the desires of his body. Read the bible, pray, fast, affirm belief in “the Decision.” And, yet, his secret homosexual exploits were also a fundamental part of his ideological ritualization, precisely because guilt is what distinguishes evangelicals from the rest of the world who also engages in similar fulfillments of sexual desire.

These rituals, then, only served to reify the ideology, and, as Haggard even said, they didn’t work. They only made things worse. It was a pursuit in futility, in vanity.

And, the reason it was a pursuit in vanity is precisely because the ideology is the work of human hands. Vanities contain mirrors where people can make themselves appear as they want. The ideological rituals Haggard, Jessica Simpson, and Carrie Prejean participated in play on people’s deepest desires for both escape from such futility and for life, fruitfulness, and the fulfillment of bodily desire. The “Master-Signifier” of “the Decision” functions to stave off the antagonisms between those competing desires that appear in subjects of said “Decision” in figures like Haggard, Simpson, and Prejean.

“The Decision” also plays on the insecurities born of those competing desires and the lack at the core of the politic from which they arose. “What if I’m not really saved? What if my life is heading for futility and vanity?” “Why do the (sexual or other) desires of my body seem to so violently contradict my most deeply held religious beliefs?”

“The Decision,” as a “Master-Signifier” staves off and compensates for those obvious appearances of discord, contradiction, and insecurity, precisely because it functions to hold evangelicalism together as a group of people. The very process of becoming evangelical is the process of coming to believe in and give one’s allegiance to “the Decision.”

If this is an initiation, though, if these are rituals, and if all of this, then, occurs in a temple, then is it merely a secular ideology, as Zizek would have it? The subjects of the ideology are even shaped into images that appear to represent gods of the desires they seek to fulfill. Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean come to appear as Aphrodite, and Haggard ends up appearing as one participating in a religious parade in worship of Dionysus. Evangelicals sacrifice marriages and the stable family lives of their children in apparent worship of Aphrodite. Evangelicals also make “the gays” appear as the sacrificial animals in the worship of Dionysus.

Of course, though, such a religious framing of the concrete reality to which I am pointing does not assume that “the word kills the thing.” The language of the scriptures, which begins with Christ as the maker of all things, assumes, instead, that words are the fullness of actual things.

So, in making sense of the world and the church, if evangelicals are going to inhabit the story of the scriptures, then Jessica Simpson is less the inevitable fruit of an empty ideology of “the Decision” and more an image of Aphrodite in the temple of God. Perhaps “the Decision” becomes another in a pantheon of polytheistic worship by evangelicals, along with Aphrodite and Dionysus, but the point remains.

Notably, when Fitch says that evangelicals, ruled by the ideology of “the Decision,” “have no place to go with desire,” or that they have no way to think of desire other than the disordered way of Ted Haggard, or that they are left to have their desires malformed in a disordered way by the world, what Fitch means is that there is no full politic in which evangelicals can be subjected and have pure desires shaped. Evangelicals are not initiated into the actual life of the extension of the body of the living Christ in the world, who shapes God’s subjects into images of himself, ruled by that very desire itself.

The desires of members of the church are malformed, because the church isn’t functioning as an extension of the Inarnational presence of Christ in the world. The marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21, in fact, of which the church is a foretaste, is an image of proper ordering of the world, the body, and desire. Heaven becomes the currently-decapitated head, and the earth becomes the body. Christ’s victorious return becomes their union. By extension, then, the church, as God calls it to serve His mission in the world to be an extension of His presence, serves as a juxtaposition to the image of the child of evangelicalism (or is she a sacred slave of Aphrodite?) that opened "Part 3" of this blog series from “These boots are made for walking.”

Paul was compassionately “provoked in his spirit” (Acts 17) by the Spirit, through his participation in the full politic of the church founded in and on the work of Christ, to be an extension of true fulfillment in the face of the world’s pursuit of emptiness and futility (whether it appeared in the church or in the streets of Athens).

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]