Friday, May 20, 2005

Kotsko and the Spirit: A Friday Link

I have read Adam Kotsko's Weblog with interest for some time. Here is a theologian/philosopher/cultural critic/doctoral student with thought and insight, unafraid to challenge his reader, also unafraid to crack wise in the funniest way.

Last Sunday, he wrote a particularly intriguing post, dealing with the public nature of the church and the church's proclamation. He said, in part:
The gospel is a public proclamation, a counter-proclamation taking place within the concrete circumstances of Roman imperialism -- and it is a proclamation that leads not to claims of esoteric knowledge, not to "quarreling about opinions," but to actual concrete social practices. Paul sees the risen Christ, and he starts a mission, not to persuade people to assent to the opinion that Christ rose from the dead, but by calling people to join communities in which the promise of that resurrection is realized in the here and now, through the overcoming of cultural and religious difference. Not faith, shall we say, but faithfulness to Christ, a visible, actual faithfulness that inevitably puts Christ's adherents in contrast with the surrounding society -- not because contrast is good for its own sake, or because they believe arbitrary things that reasonable people reject as contradictory to experience, but because they are living real life, the life that everyone wants to live, right now, even as imperialism continues to warp and constrain the humanity of everyone it touches.

He goes on to claim, rightly in my view, that we have traded this in for a sort of Gnosticism. (I have written and preached on this sort of thing elsewhere in GS.) He does not speculate in depth on the causes of this, and I won't here, either, except to say that I think it is a side effect of the Enlightenment, and particularly its taken-for-granted synthesis in the United States. I am beginning to look into the work of Charles Taylor, and he and Alasdair MacIntyre would also provide accounts of this movement to an extreme individualism (which naturally feeds into Gnosticism). (Also, Mr. Kotsko's claim that the early church was empiricist could be taken in a wrong direction, and might need some qualification.)

He moves from there to a reasonable but challenging critique of the pro-life movement. I'm not enamored of Mr. Kotsko's rhetoric -- I'm not sure that everyone who identifies with the "pro-life" movement, or at least parts of what that group claims to stand for are implicated in "pure escapism" -- but he nevertheless points out an excrable excess among (at least some) adherents, particularly when married to certain forms of free-market libertarianism and individualism so popular among the right these days. He is certainly right to point out the tendency among some to elevate "invisible" life and to denigrate "visible" life, and the equally troubling rhetoric which supports it. (Which might be boiled down to the slogan: "I'm for life, except for all these people around me.")

He ends musing on a bracing, chilling prospect for the church, which I would amplify with the rejoinder: if we are truly Gnostics, concerned only about the private, the interior, the self, would we even notice if the Holy Spirit has left? Would we even care?

Or would we perhaps be relieved that we were no longer troubled or responsible?


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