Post-Constantinian Cultural Studies

post-constintinian Cultural Studies

Spinning off my last about reinventing my blog I thought I would go back to some of my earlier posts which in a sense set the direction of my continuing investigations of theology and culture. (so this is a reworked former post. but that’s ok no one was reading my blog when I wrote it).

Coming out of my reading in African theology (Theology and Identity) I’ve come to see the necessity of learning about “media studies” and “communication theory.” (this is coming from a guy who usually bashes things like this b/c it seems like an attempt to become “relevant.”)

I’m at this place b/c (summarizing Bediako): Who are we (past) and where are we (present) intersects in the question of identity as Christians. Bediako says that we locate our position through reflecting on our “religious past” and our “cultural present.” The Church Father’s grappled with who they were as Christians in relation to their religious past, Judaism, and where they were culturally in the Graeco-Roman world. And for African Theology the question of identity it is who are we as African Christians in relationship to Mission/Western Christianity (religious past) and Traditional African religions (cultural present).

So the question for us at the end of modernity in the West is “what is our religious past?” and “where is our cultural present?” The first question follows the trajectory of a Post-Constantinian reflection. The second question for African theologians leads right through an understanding of Traditional African religions, but for those in the West it leads through both the “Enlightenment” as the source/lack of values and symbols, and through “cultural studies” b/c media/culture enables the symbolic exchange of meaning/referencing (i.e. what religion usually does in societies.).

Therefore, it is necessary to understand how mass media (film, tv, radio, internet, etc.) effect and enable the “work” and “world” of culture in the west. This is not so that we can be “relevant” to others, but so that we can truly understand our own “identity” as follower of Christ in N. America.

And while I think that many Christian culture watchers as definitely wanting to understand the “sign of the time” so that they might know how to live, I think that too often it just means commentary on movies, music, or politics w/o diving any deeper than the surface of these medians. What we need is not to “notice” that media shapes culture and then use “media” to share the gospel (as consevatives do with the arts- pimping the arts). We need to dig deepers, looking at how the foundations of “consumer culture” shape us, how the media links with Ideologies which subvert the gospel, and how technologies alienate us from ourselves/bodies/other, or how they might emancipate us.

And because of this conviction I”ve been spending the last six months learning about Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis (must of it mediated through Slovoj Zizek), as well as reading through Baudrillard and other cultural theorists.

All this to say, the basic project of my blog is to investigate the question of Christian identity along the axes of our religious past (Modern Constintinianism) and our cultural present (Western Consumer Capitalism).

reinventing my blog, for the first time

I’ve thinking about my purpose for this blog, why I write and why the way I do. I recently came across this from pressthink that summarizes how I think about this blog. Maybe you all can relate. Do you all feel the need to write often, in short bursts, to keep readership up, or to keep people intersted? I know I’ve felt that pressure.

from the pressthink post:

Why are PressThink posts so long?

When I started asking around about how to do a weblog, I got many kinds of answers. The one advisory every informant gave was: you must write in short bursts. That’s the style, some said. That’s what works, said others. And, most suspicious of all, that’s what busy, web-cruising readers expect. They don’t have time for your leisurely thesis, I was told. By everyone.

So you decided to be contrarian and go the other way?

No, contrarians are annoying. I didn’t set out to write long essays; it happened as I tried to turn my ideas into posts that said something others weren’t saying, and got some notice. I set out to be unrestricted: free to figure out for myself what works, what PressThink wants to be.

“People don’t have time for…” reasoning was meaningless to me, and I didn’t trust it. It wanted to restrict my freedom to write what I think, but the whole purpose in starting PressThink was liberation: “Wow, my own magazine. Now I can write what I think.” It’s the same for most webloggers, I would guess. My interest was users who did have time for depth, in whatever number they may prove to exist, ocean to ocean, post to post.

But it’s more like: this is my magazine, PressThink… If you like it, return. In a tiny and abstract way, perhaps, my blog is part of the media marketplace, competing for eyeballs with re-runs of Law and Order. But not really. PressThink, a free citizen in a voluntary nation, doesn’t have to behave like a market actor. Thus my experiment in long form.”

I’m pretty much in agreement with pressthink. So along those lines, i’ll probably continue writing once (maybe twice) a week like I have been, posting little essays on what i’m reading and reflecting on. what writing stategies do you all use, or appreciate in other blogs? Why do you all do what you do?

answers to questions

last week I proposed three questions stemming from the comments on my article “A Revolutionary Community :: Repositioning Justification by Faith.”

they were:

1) How does the particularity of Jesus ‘break out’ of the capitalist ideology (the Real of Capitalism)?

2) Where does the Church fit along the particular-universal line?

3) What is Love, and why does it ‘break out’ of capitalism?

here is my brief answer to questin #2:

Where does the Church fit along the particular-universal line?

put simply, the Church is the space where the particular expands and becomes universal. It is where the particular participates with the universal. Through Jesus, who cancels economic-political-ethnic-gender division in His body through death by the power structures of the World-System, makes available a new Life. And our participation in that Body (through the Baptism and Eucharist) moves us through the particularity (maybe I should say singularity) of Jesus to the Universality of mankind entering the Divine Life of God.

Alain Badiou has written a small book on Paul where he investigates how Paul theorizes the “event” of “resurrection” and how it produces a revolutionary “subject.” His project is explicitly self serving as he appropriates Paul for his own political/theoretical agenda, but he still makes a multitude of insight comments which we can learn from. So maybe I’ll write a piece investigating Paul’s revolutionary “subject” but adding an ecclesiological component which Badiou excludes by necessity. I guess it would be a part two to the Zizek/justification article and would answer this question more explicity.

stickin’ to the man

check out this attempt to move beyond criticizing Capitalism…I feel like a new pair of shoes.

“For years, Nike was the undisputed champion of logo culture, its swoosh an instant symbol of global cool. Today, Phil Knight’s Nike is a fading empire, badly hurt by years of “brand damage” as activists and culture jammers fought back against mindfuck marketing and dirty sweatshop labor.

Now a final challenge. We take on Phil at his own game – and win. We turn the shoes we wear into a counterbranding game. The swoosh versus the anti-swoosh. Which side are you on?

Adbusters has been doing R&D for more than a year, and guess what? Making a shoe – a good shoe – isn’t exactly rocket science. With a network of supporters, we’re getting ready to launch the blackSpot sneaker, the world’s first grassroots anti-brand, with a ground-breaking marketing scheme to uncool Nike. If it succeeds, it will set a precedent that will revolutionize capitalism.”

More here.

thanks to the oozeblog for the tip.

a proposal

thank you all for the comments on the article I posted. a couple of important questions has been raised that I intend to address, and one that I want all of us to address.

the questions raised from my article are:

1) How does the particularity of Jesus ‘break out’ of the capitalist ideology (the Real of Capitalism)?

2) Where does the Church fit along the particular-universal line?

3) What is Love, and why does it ‘break out’ of capitalism?

and the question I want to raise for all of us is:

How does the Church break out of capitalism, or capitalist ideology?

I propose that you all write an answer (or on the way to an answer) on our various blogs (and then leave a comment here so we know). And if you have written previously on this topic, maybe you can re-post your entry of link it. And for those without a blog, just email it to me and i’ll post it…

maybe this could be the first joint project [grid blog] of the “sjlbvdnzv school of graduate studies“? [see side bar there…and anglo-baptist: spread the word!]

people and links: this weekend I was in Grand Rapids visiting my wife’s family. While there I was able to have breakfast with James K.A. Smith who teaches at Calvin College and recently published a book (Speech and Theology) with Radical Orthodoxy. I first heard about him through his article at the ooze concerning the ecomonics of the emerging church. I had a great time with him discussing the Emerging Church, Radical Orthodoxy, and the relation of both. also, he has started blogging and I think you all should know about it, so check it out here.

also, postmodern culture has come out with a new issue. I recommend looking though it (and past issues). In particular there is a review of slavoj zizek’s newest book which investigates the relation of “dialectic materialism” and “theology” toward a critique of “deconstructionism.” Zizek is basically saying that Deconstruction is simply the lastest liberal/capitalist ideology.

anyway, (thanks to stephen long) i’ve been reading through Zizek trying to figure out his relation to Christianity, and what we can learn from him, and this book is next. but I’ll write more about my interest in Zizek soon.

Community: beyond a western/pomo justification

now that title might sound a bit pretension, but here’s the scoop. As many of you know i’ve been trying to read beyond my white evangelical theology which currently is leading me through Hispanic America theologians. and here is one of my observations.

To put it simply, for postmodern westerners longing for a return to community the prime source is the inner life of the Trinity. I.e. the foundation of community is from above, springing from the tri-personal life of the Trinity. (You can see this at perichoresis and a recent discussion led by Stanely Grenz which i was part of).

Now from the hispanic american perspective i’ve noticed that the foundation for community is not the Trinity, but rather Christology (the practices of Jesus which affirm universal humanity). This is community from below.

Now of course these aren’t exclusive consideration or opposing perspective. But I do think it is interesting that white/pomo types look at the Trinity from the perspective of how it might inform their interpersonal/spiritual relationships, as means for moving beyond individualism, while the Hispanic thinkers look at the Trinity from the perspective of its socio-economic consequences (i.e how does power/love/sharing


so my question is, while trying to reclaim a communitarian theology through a retrieval of Trinitarian theology, are pomo westerners merely still perpetuating an apolitical “community” which continues to neglect the concerns of true community?

solidarity with Latin America

many of you have probably already seen robyn’s recent posts on latin america martyrs, but if you haven’t please do check them out. In postmodern theory, the is much talk about listening to marginal voices, and the discourses of the oppresses, so talk the time. They are a stunning portrayal of what God is doing outside of the American Empire. There are some long posts, but well worth the read.

Daily Life and the Eucharist

Daily Life and the Eucharist–So, how does this relate to the proverbial person in the pew? What difference does this have to do with our daily lives?

first off, the reason why Milbank’s proposal is appealing to me is that it sees the different images of atonement (ranson, sacrifice, victory) as linguistic metaphors rather than literal statements of Christ’s atonement. “Theories” of the atonement spring from taking one of these metaphors literally to the exclusion of the rest. I’m tired of all these theories of atonement. Where are the theories of reconciliation, or adoption? For this is where the gospel is headed…(interestingly, Milbank’s latest book is called “Being Reconciled” so maybe he feels the same).

Second, all Christian action (practical daily living) needs a frame of reference to give it meaning. But every action is preceeded by a “structuring of the world”, a defining of reality, which makes our actions meaningful. In this way the symbolic act of framing the world is before the physical act in the world. Our exchanging the sign of Forgiveness (which unites us to the person of Forgiveness) frames the world of all our action. The moment of language is before reality; the imagination before the action. (in this way we see how the Eucharist is more than mere rememberance, nor a spiritual feeling, although I would still want to affirm the significance of both).

third, eucharist as sign which doesn’t shift, sign of the same rather than perpetual difference and change. In a society of planned obselescence, consumer fickleness, and political double-speak, the Eucharist continues to signify the same, unchanging event, centering our reality.

lastly, in an age where we have left an understanding of the both “use-value” (the function of an object) and “exchange-value” (what we can buy/sell an object for)[Marx], and entered an age of “sign-value”[Baudrillard] where an object merely signifies something else, or something we aspire to (i.e. wealth, status, cultural sub-group identity; think of name brands and what they signifies. Thinking the Eucharist as linguistic sign allows it to enter into this dialogue and transform it, uniting use-, exchange-, sign-values b/c the element function as natural sustinance for the body, represents the exchange from death to life in Christ body, and is naturally a sign which we pass signifying the reality we aspire to.

The second and fourth aspects I think hold the most promise for connecting daily life with the Eucharistic practice. However, there is much more thinking that we all need to do on this.

recent changes

i’ve just changed/added some links to my side bar as well as adding the books i’m going through. check it out.