"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Freedom of the Eucharist, pt. 2

To discover a sane alternative to the “myth of redemptive violence” which fuels the apparatus of the corporate state, we turn to St. Augustine, whose City of God draws the line between the practice of the Roman state and the laws that govern God’s city. As Rowan Williams puts it, Augustine “is engaged in a redefinition of the public itself, designed to show that it is life outside the Christian community which fails to be truly public, authentically political.” (Rowan Williams, “Politics and Soul: A Reading of the City of God,” Milltown Studies, no. 19/20: p. 58). The church does this not by the imposition of coercive power, but by means of sacrifice, not through the infliction of pain on other bodies, but through suffering our own pain in sympathy with that of others’. In the words of William Cavanaugh, “To participate in the Eucharist is to live inside God’s imagination. It is to be caught up into what is really real, the body of Christ…In the Eucharist, Christ sacrifices no other body but His own. Power is realized in self-sacrifice; Christians join in this sacrifice by uniting their own bodies to the sacrifice of Christ.” (Ibid, p. 279). Or in the words of Augustine, “This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.” (Augustine, The City of God, X, 6.) This is the true politics based in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which embodies a power which is not power, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” (I Cor. 1: 28).

The face of Christ is not the face of satisfied wealth, a church fed fat off the suffering of billions, with its mouth taped shut in the face of an illegal war inscribed with the lie that “everything changed after 9/11.” By assuming the church’s interest in political matters to be confined to issues of personal sin such as sexual morality and personal responsibility defined as if current economic structures were simply a unquestionable given, such churches well fulfill the role designated for them by the corporate state, that of “chaplains to capitalism.” Such a church is far different from the one that emerged during the persecutions of the Roman Empire or the Chilean dictatorship, when Christians believed “that there exist mysterious channels which can make the solidarity of friends reach those who languish in the deepest dungeons…those who are being tortured are united in the tortured body of Christ. ‘Conditioned by the knowledge of those “mysterious channels”, their bodies are transformed into powerful flesh for the sacrifice in which they lovingly commune [comulgan, receive the Eucharist] with those who suffer.” (Ibid., p. 277).

God does not empower those who imprison detainees in neoliberal dungeons which let us play sick videogames in the state’s imagination. God’s power is not found in the technology of pain and death, nor can His purposes be advanced by it. The screams of the victims of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and the newly revived gulags of Eastern Europe are the screams of our Lord, who died to bring us a new discipline, one that breaks the disarticulation of the individual which optimizes the conditions for corporate profits. In opposition to a church that exudes the spirituality of what John Paul II described as the “culture of death”, resistance to the powers that thrive on the myth of redemptive violence is built into the sufferings of the cross, and embodied in the bread that knits us into the body of Christ. In the words of William Cavanaugh, “The true ‘discipline of the secret’ calls Christians to become the true body of Christ, and bring to light the suffering of others by making that suffering visible in their own bodies.” (Ibid., p. 281). This commitment is deep as the commitment to our own bodies, whose silence is complicity with the torturers, those whose non-negotiable need for comfort and security justifies the pain of those in whom He lives.


The litany of torture techniques used in Chile, with the exception of electric shock, though instances of that in the current Iraq conflict are documented as well, closely resemble those in Rumsfeld’s memo posted on a column outside Cellblock 1A in Abu Ghraib, as described by Colonel Janis Karpinski, “it discussed interrogation techniques that were authorized. It was one page. It talked about stress positions, noise and light discipline, the use of music, disrupting sleep patterns, those kind of techniques.” (Democracy Now!, Interview with Col. Janis Karpinski, Oct. 26, 2005). By the way, I don’t think the current administration is literally copying the techniques used in Chile and other Latin American countries during the 70’s and 80’s. If anything, the Chileans probably learned the techniques from us, trained as they were in the School of the Americas, but I argue merely that similar goals often call for similar means: the goal in this case being the opening of the Middle East to economic liberalization.

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