Friday, February 20, 2015


the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

As usual, I am spending too much time on Facebook.  It was twenty below zero this morning, so today I have an excuse.  One of the posts that popped up today was from Benjamin Corey (hat tip to Justin Bronson Barringer), a fairly well-known Christian thinker and blogger, as Christian bloggers go, who has a site called Formerly Fundie.

Here is what the Facebook post said:

If you think the person who stands in the face of an enemy intent on killing them is pathetic because they refuse to defend themselves with violence, just remember, as a Christian you actually worship that person.

This, of course, provoked a flurry of reactions from male readers.

"When Jesus said turn the other cheak (sic) I don't think he meant to stand there and be a push over (sic). We have military and such to protect us just like back in the bible days. And Jesus although he submitted to the will of the father to fulfill (sic) prophecy never let people take advantage of him. You want to understand this more go to utube and listen to Jay Smith 'what is Islam'." 

And, "So the man with the gun says, 'Give me your wallet. Now give me your keys. Now give me your child.' How big is YOUR personal supply of grace?'  And still again, 'It's true Jesus didn't defend himself, but that may be due more to his mission than anything else. His mission was to 'die for us' (which doesn't have to be understood in a legal sense to be appreciated). I think I would want to have a sense that it's my mission and if they come for my wife and daughter I would want to have a sense that it's their mission to die. So far I have not had that sense, and that's without even asking them. I'm sure if I did my 'sense' would be strengthened.'

And finally, the long one:

A man waved a gun around and threatened to kill all the employees, at the counter of a pharmacy this week, demanding drugs and money. (West VA) The pharmacist, protecting his staff, shot the man to immediately stop that threat. The staff, and the pharmacist, immediately thereafter, began treating the wounded man, in an effort to save his life, showing love, charity, and true concern for his health. They did sustain him, medics got him to hospital and surgery, but he died during operations. I am a lot more confident Jesus would appreciate, and/or readily forgive the pharmacist for his protection of his flock, so to speak, than he would applaud or justify four dead clerks, a dead pharmacist, and a gun wielding drug addict shooting his way out of the store with his pocketfuls of stolen narcotics. I think Jesus would see the love and charity shown the wounded man, by one's own hand, and their pity, and sadness in having a brother go down, and tell them they were good people, and were like God would want them to be. I don't think cowering, or accepting death, or crime being visited upon you is the part we are asked to worship. I think the message was to not be violent in our hearts and souls, not visit violence upon anyone, and to be sad, humbled, sorrowful, and not seek or find any glee or satisfaction in acting against evil. Wishing it didn't have to be, to happen, hoping or praying for intervention, and trying your best not to have to defend, to hurt another soul is the spirit Jesus wants inside us. Not seeking the fight, is the honorable, and the proud way to be like Jesus. We worship ( using your story) the man's reluctance to confront, to act, to cause harm. But I don't expect anyone to accept evil, pain, violation, or familial sorrow being visited upon them in the name of trying to be Christlike or in God's image. I don't worship his act of self sacrifice, and of accepting another man's hostility without any attempt to keep fighting to stay alive, to continue his path on earth. I think Jesus would expect fathers, and mothers, to stop violence against his children, against the weak, first with charity, grace, and showing his "enemy" love and that he has value. But if the stopping requires an equivalent level of power or force, then I think the message, the teachings stop short of explaining what should happen at that point. Certainly, what's in your heart, soul, mind are more important than the tragic actions you must take to stop the threat. Rev. Barry Cole.
While Reverend Cole, who becomes the lawyer in this discussion (this question of violence, like the remark about a camel going through the eye of a needle, excites legalistic replies with tedious certainty), at least has the virtue of saying that "necessary" violence is regrettable, with an anecdotal account of something that supposedly actually happened.

Then there is the more forthright masculine reply:  Jesus didn't want us to be "pushovers" (read: sissies).  That is unthinkable, to be a sissie, therefore, Jesus couldn't possibly have willed such a thing.  You can question the logic, but most folks don't really know much about logic - it is a subset of philosophy - so the power of this argument remains because it resonates with many men.  We learned it from fathers, and big brothers, and in school yards, so it is down there, deep and well-rooted.

For those who are a tad more sophisticated in their sophistry, the predictable responses to Jesus's exemplary nonviolence are constructed as fantasy scenarios.  The gunman asks for your wallet . . . then your daughter.  In most fantasy scenarios, what is at stake are [our] women and children.  The idea is simultaneously to invoke the right to self-defense then up the ante to ensure that any refusal to commit violence in the scenario will result in the death of innocents, in particular those innocents who are under your protection as a man.  Once again, your failure to accede to violence will not only demonstrate your failure as a person, but your failure as a man.

One of the funnier comments was:  "In my humble opinion I don't believe I am committing a sin by defending my life or the lives of others. Hypothetical (sic) are interesting ....reality is something else altogether different."

This lad is telling you to be a man, not a boy; and he is doing so by telling you that the defense of your life and the lives of others by violence is not hypothetical (the boy's realm) but an aspect of reality (the man's realm).  Of course, the scenarios that are deployed to justify violence to those of us who have embraced nonviolence are overwhelmingly hypothetical.  I'd make a very substantial wager that the fella who wrote this (never seeing the irony) has probably never encountered one of these life-and-death scenarios where he was obliged to blast the bad guys to protect the women and children.

The fact is, few people ever do.  Few incidents of actual violence are so clear-cut, and the vast majority of us go through our lives without ever having to commit violence against someone else.  The majority of us who have, did so by joining the military or the police, where we were actually seeking the opportunity to commit violence . . . and, of course, most of us who anticipated such violence, first fantasized about it in terms that could be understood by some of the commentators above.  The reality, of course, is generally quite different . . . and far less heroic.

In Borderline, I have a whole chapter that is based on the mimetic learning ideas of the pedagogical anthropologist Christoph Wulf.  The abbreviation of his thought goes something like this.  Even before we think, in that cognitive sense, we learn through a kind of imitation.  Not monkey-see-monkey-do imitation, but through a real psychic urge to reach beyond the self toward others (I hesitate to dumb Wulf down, but the pop-term "role model" comes to mind), and to absorb them into ourselves.  This is how cultural transmission works, and it begins very early in each person's life.  We don't simply "absorb" certain gestures and habits, we absorb the appropriate affects that go with them.  We don't simply "learn" information, we learn what to loathe and desire.  This is always an imaginative process, because we fantasize about what motivates the other (that "model") in several ways before we approach anything like an understanding of those motivations.  This include emotivations.  Over time, we are conformed through this process, as we constantly correct our apprehension of those upon whom we model.  Slavoj Žižek writes:

The desire staged in fantasy is not the subject’s own, but the other’s desire, the desire of those around me with whom I interact: fantasy is an answer to “You’re saying this, but what is it that you effectively want by saying it?” The original question of desire is not directly “What do I want?,” but “What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for the others?”
This process never finally ends until we lose our minds or die.  And so most of our "rational" commitments are floating on a boiling ocean of emotional magma that came into existence prior to our capacities for reason.  This was Freud's discovery, even if he framed it in patriarchal European and bourgeois terms (we are werewolves under the protective veneer of civilization).

The point here, however, is that there is this connection between fantasy and identity; and in this case - I know this will shock those who know me - between male fantasies and "masculine" identity.

With the rise of electronic technology came the rise of an ever more uniform monoculture; and so it is not particularly noteworthy that appeals to the nonviolence of Jesus as exemplary would meet with consistent reactions from men, who have been likewise conformed through the same masculine fantasies.  That electronic media actually constructs a number of predictable masculine fantasies and presents them with plot manipulations similar to those deployed in the aforementioned hypothetical scenarios.  These plot manipulations are reinforced with background music, sex appeals (themselves culturally transmitted through mimesis), and ever more hallucinogenic special effects.

We males are schooled in these conventions - with life imitating art imitating life, etc. - from an early age, and so these scenarios - I'll call them stories - these stories are internalized much more thoroughly than the snippets of the Jesus story that a very few of us hear in Sunday School.  If the choice is between the story you know and the story you don't know, you'll go with the story you know most days.

That is what the story of Jesus - which I consider the truth - is up against.  It is up against a fantasy of redemptive violence that we have seen, heard, breathed, absorbed, and re-enacted in our fantasies a million times.  It is a story of being a man by committing violence, and by doing so to protect "our" women and children.  So it is a deeply patriarchal story, and - I would argue -the story of Jesus is deeply subversive of that patriarchal story for the very reason that it rejects the idealized fantasy and the grotesque reality of manhood constructed as violence.

I believe Jesus is "what God has been trying to say," that is, the Word made flesh.  I admit I am unsure how to overcome all this shouting from the fantasy grandstands so people can hear it.

1 comment:

  1. I ended up looking at Formerly Fundie, and being drawn to reading links on Corey's rejection of the concept of Hell. I agree with him, it is falsehood, and I would go as far as to sound a bit "edgy" and say it's a recruiting tool for some deluded and/or unscrupulous characters. If that offends some folks, so be it.

    All I have, personally, to support that is a recollection of my great-aunt, who went through a near-death experience. She was frail of health for much of her later life, & her heart stopped for approx. 9 minutes while on the operating table. She went through the now familiar sequence of separation from the body (seeming to float above), moving towards the light, seeing some who'd gone before, when she was taken back to this world.

    But she said the most striking thing was the overwhelming sense of PEACE she felt.

    That's all I know...but if that is what awaits us on the other side, then there is nothing to fear, in my book. Even those twisted creatures of ISIS will feel it. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, & the Bushes will feel it. Would that be a manifestation of God's ultimate love?

    I found this passage in a book I'm reading called "Blue---The Murder Of Jazz", by Eric Nisensen. It's about Duke Ellington, who, in his last days, performed a number of sacred concerts:

    "...The communion of souls that had always been at the heart of his music had made him a deeply spiritual man. The deepest realms of life have always been a part of jazz. Although Ellington's music could be frankly sensuous "("Warm Vally," "A Drum Is A Woman," for example), that deep spirituality was always in his best music, just as it is prevalent throughout all of the greatest jazz.

    Perhaps the sacred concerts arose out of his own experiences as leader of his band, his discoveries coming from a jazz perspective. Of course I do not know, but maybe Ellington came to have a vision of God as being One who is an improviser, rather than being omnipotent, like the role of the classical composer (my comment---modern classical music arose in the Enlightenment). A jazz conception of composition; a jazz conception of God. That is, an existentialist God who, like a jazz musician, is constantly defining and redefining Himself, who improvises His work with and through us, His Creation ceaselessly unfolding in a universe of endless becoming."