To say that I am unsympathetic with the idea, practice, or nostalgia for Christian civilization is an understatement. The coercive nature of such “civilization” strikes me as unavoidable. At worst Christianity collapses into and becomes equated with a particular culture’s norms, which gains further legitimation through Christ’s blessing. Equipped with this blessing such a culture becomes the norm; it defines what it is to be civilized. The step from here to the violent preservation (defending civilization itself!) and expansion (providing enlightenment to the unenlightened) of this norm, at all costs, is a natural one. We’ve seen this played out over and over again by the destructive conquests of western Christianity.
But are there more sympathetic ways to go about the project of Christian civilization? Some may well argue that working the idea of neighbour-love, as articulated by the Christian tradition, into a society’s basic self-identity and organizational principles is a laudable goal. Such people may even go on to say that such efforts have been crucial to the formation of better (more peaceable and compassionate) civilizations and cultures over the years. Even if this is possible for a society (and I’m not sure that it is), I still am unconvinced that it is worth striving for. Continue reading Christian civilization and the refugee crisis→
This spoken essay by Michael Enright was worth listening nine months ago when it first aired and is worth listening to again now that Canada has en mass finally woken up to the reality that we’re in the midst of a refugee crisis. If you missed it the first time around, here’s another chance. Be sure to listen to the end to catch his absolutely brilliant conclusion.
I mostly want you to listen to the essay (it will take only four minutes of your time). But there are two points of commentary I feel compelled to add.
Essays such as this give lie to one of the current Conservative narratives: that Canada’s pathetic response to the refugee crisis is due to the media’s failure to raise awareness among Canadians and not at all the fault of the government. The media (particularly the underfunded public media) was there; the government was not. Seventeen months ago, when As It Happens was doing a week long feature on the Syrian refugee crisis, it was Chris Alexander’s office that did not even respond to a request for an interview. When he did appear on the program some weeks later he was not able to say how many Syrian refugees had made it to Canada, nor did he voice a willingness to expand Canada’s commitment beyond taking in 1300 refugees; he stuck to partisan talking points instead. It’s worth noting further that Alexander’s assertion that the media was required so that organizations would be willing to sponsor refugees rang hollow in the face of the fact that many such organizations, after raising large sums of cash and filing onerous paperwork to sponsor refugees, would sometimes wait years before receiving a response that would allow them to merely continue the arduous, bureaucratic process. Humanitarian organizations, including churches and mosques, were there; this government was not. Fund the department (this government hates giving adequate funding to government agencies); cut red-tape; introduce extra-ordinary measure; accept responsibility. The fact that Canada has done it before means that it can be done, and could have been done years ago.
For any who have had no or only limited exposure to Michael Enright, consider this an encouragement to listen to much, much more. Truly one of Canada’s greatest national treasures.
For most part, I’ve only read and heard caricatures and one-liners when it comes to Hauerwas’s critique of liberalism. I recently read Hauerwas’s early and well-worn (for many but not me) essay “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity.” I appreciated getting the more sustained critique and look forward to reading others like it. Here’s an excerpt.
Many of our current political problems and the way we understand and try to solve them are a direct outgrowth of our liberal presuppositions. For example, the American government is often condemned for its inability to develop an economic or energy policy, but such policies must necessarily be public policies. Just as it has been the genius of the American political system to turn every issue of principle into an issue of interest, so it has been the intention of our polity to make impossible the very idea of public policy or public interest. Public policy cannot exist because society is nothing more than an aggregate of self-interested individuals. The policy which is formulated therefore must be the result of a coalescence of self-interests that is then justified in the name of the greatest good for the greatest number (but too often turns out to be the greatest good for the most powerful). Liberalism thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a social order that is designed to work on the presumption that people are self-interested tends to produce that kind of people.
It is often pointed out that there is a deep puzzle about the American people, for in spite of being the best off people in the world, their almost frantic pursuit of abundance seems to mask a deep despair and loss of purpose. I suspect that our despair is the result of living in a social order that asks nothing from us but our willingness to abide by the rules of fair competition. We have been told that it is moral to satisfy our ‘wants’ and ‘needs,’ but we are no longer sure what our wants and needs are or should be. After all, ‘wants’ are but individual preferences. Americans, as is often contended, are good people or at least want to be good people, but our problem is that we have lost any idea of what that could possibly mean. We have made ‘freedom of the individual’ an end in itself and have ignored that fact that most of us do not have the slightest idea of what we should do with our freedom. – A Community of Character, 79-80
As Canada expands its military activity into Syria, I can’t help but conclude that Mr. Harper has not been performing his Canadian duty of listening to Bruce Cockburn. As was the case for Bruce more than 30 years ago, I can’t help but be astounded that the “logical” course to correcting a terrible situation is to continue on with actions that produced that situation in the first place. The logical course may preserve normality, but such normality really does only get worse.
[Addendum, Jan 11: Based on the nature of the critiques against me on the post I cite below, there seems to be some confusion on the relationship between this post and my comments there. To clarify, this post is not an expansion on the arguments in my comments. On the contrary, it is something I decided not to address in my comments (with the exception of a brief question, as a separate paragraph, in the first comment), both because they were long enough already and because (rightly or wrongly) I saw this point on privilege discourse as relatively tangential to the main thrust of the post.]
The discourse of white privilege is one topic that a recent discussion over at Ortus Memoria has touched on. A fellow commenter has well-articulated one of the general claims about privilege discourse: “that leftist white people [having] the capacity to call themselves out on their privilege does not do enough to fundamentally dismantle the structures of white supremacy from which they benefit.”
I agree with this argument. People recognizing themselves as privileged, on its own, does not accomplish anything. However, I disagree with a supposedly consequent claim (made directly by the original poster, but not by the commenter): that this means that the discourse of privilege has failed. This is because I understand privilege discourse as an effective tool for introducing people to problematic power dynamics. At the same time, I do not think it is useful on its own for effecting a transformation of society; this is not what it is made for or how it is supposed to be used. Continue reading On the discourse of privilege→
It seems like anyone who really cares and works on the greatest problems of our time (Environment, racism, poverty, etc.) has to do it full time in order to make a difference. Anyone who does it part time isn’t really doing anything except trying to have a meaningful life and are actually ignorant of a lot of issues which will probably negate anything that you think you are working for. So, either you are a professional activist or you are a naïve citizen.
Sooooo. What is to be done? one gets the feeling now and again that everyone should stop and evaluate what we are doing and see that we are ripping apart our world and our future. But this only happens during the times of crisis.
I guess we should wait for the next crisis before drastic change takes place.
I guess I’ve “known” it for a while but not really known it – making things when I am really sad and angry is a way to come out of that (usually) paralyzing space. Crunk Feminist Collective recently posted something that encouraged me to do something the next time I enter into that sad and angry place. A few days ago I was sitting in a small cafe when I read the CBC news that my prime minister wanted to send military warcraft into Iraq. I sat there, tears streaming down my face, with a reel of pictures going through my mind: pictures of women asking for food, for medical supplies, books, asking for anything but war planes. So I went home and made this picture.
I don’t want to spend too much time and effort learning the contours of Harper’s face (there are better faces to learn to draw), but you get the general sense?
The rhetoric of western leaders, as we once again prepare to wage war against Islamic peoples, has reminded me of the ways that I think the politics of purity (a politics that wants to neatly define who is in, who is out and, most importantly, where it is that “we” stand) has captivated our political imaginations. This may be surprising to hear, given that it is the rhetoric of compromise that is most evidently present in the calls for and declarations of “total war.” What I detect, however, is that the kind of compromise being articulated functions within the larger framework of a puristic politics, creating one of its most insidious offspring: puristic compromise. Continue reading The politics of purity and compromise→