…in light of the Bible.
Image: RL2013; tagged “Stormy Sunset”
Quote: Cited by Sawyer, M. James (Kindle Ed. 2012). Neoorthodoxy: an Introductory Survey
Originally published 14th Nov. 2013
In a recent article titled ‘Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure’ for Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics, Dr. Matthew Tan, a Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College Australia, suggested that the Church needs to assert itself as an ‘alternative public’ in the marketplace.
According to Tan the real battleground where issues like abortion are to be engaged in is the ‘community called “the market”[i],
Enter a ‘politics of visibility’ where bodies are:
In response to this the Church needs to engage by seeing through the ‘lens of economic efficiency’. It needs to engage as a ‘public in its own right to challenge to the public circumscribed by state and society’.
This is as opposed to allowing itself to be simply relegated by society and politics to function in a private ancillary role e.g.: ‘chaplaincy’.
How can the Church apply its resources in presenting itself as an alternative?
Tan suggests that the language of the Sacraments meet the language of commerce, ‘in particular the Eucharist’.
Here the Church can assert itself as a direct:
‘counter-structure’ to the consumerist ‘logic of efficiency’ because the Eucharist (communion) ‘undoes the logic of efficiency by challenging the logic of resource scarcity that mandates the need to ensure efficient management. The Eucharist challenges this by positing counter-logic of plenitude where people ‘receive without charge [and] give without charge’
‘The Eucharist can challenge the very foundations on which contemporary socio-political arrangements are grounded. Because of this, the Church’s task of producing its own fields via sacramental practice will ultimately call into question the Church’s own political positioning’
‘This alternative public…contains an alternative structure and is one in which the imperative to consume others is seen as an aberration rather than the norm. If the structure of consumer practice is implicated in the normalisation of abortion, the Church can only comprehensively undercut that normalisation by supplementing its discourse asserting the personhood of the foetus with its own counter-structure.
In so doing the church will need to go beyond making claims that are allegedly recognisable to all endowed with reason. Through its own sacramental economy, it would need to be engaged in the production of practices that declare an allegiance that is contrary to the state/society/market complex’
Even though, they are in fact very political, I am not sure the sacraments (primarily Baptism and Communion – for those us reading Tan who are Protestants) should be employed as a purely political and financial tool. This is because the purposes of the sacraments are firstly about recollection. Secondly, relationship and then, only in a final sense, does it become about transformation.
I wonder though if Tan is in fact talking about marketing the church and its practices better. For example: Does this counter logic advocate that the Church view itself as a corporation and set itself apart from other corporations such as McDonalds, Apple or Microsoft?
If so, are we talking about taking up the very thing only God can do and does? Does this make or lead us to falsely make the sacraments purely transactional, bypassing Jesus Christ, to the point where something akin to the indulgences of the Middle Ages, salvation is taxed by the institution?
For the church the marketing of the message seems to be the evangelical outer workings of the people working with God, whereas the latter marketing of the church appears, at least in an exegetical understanding of scripture, to require and consist of the present participation of the Holy Spirit, in both external and internal evangelical work of God for the children of God.
Would this human effort to commercialise the sacraments then further diminish the transcendent point of reference which appears to be abandoned by modernity’s extreme focus on ‘surface over substance’; i.e.: material gain measuring a persons net worth?
I only ask this because it is my only hesitation in completely agreeing with his point of view. This doesn’t negate the strategic importance of Tan’s thinking here. There is potentially a lot good that can grow from what he is suggesting.
To witness the Church having its task of proclamation really heard and appreciated, on any level in real time, is energising. To engage as a serious alternative to the alternatives, is a privilege of freedom, that none of us in the church ought to remain complacent about or take for granted.
[i] Tan, M. 2014 Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure, Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol 4: Iss.1, Article 7,p.7
[ii] Ibid, p.11
[iii] Ibid, p.8
[iv] Ibid, p.7
[v] Ibid, p.9
Article originally published April 27, 2014
There’s inelegance to this new ignorance,
The pompous promotion
of itself as intelligence;
“Fall into line with self-interest”
Pride paraded as humanitarian deliverance.
The ones who dare to disagree,
speak from worn, but true hearts
The ones that don’t,
“Sigh”, make noises, raise fists and tweet d[f]arts.
From pampered platforms these boasters repress.
Roasting their enemies over the dark,
widening pit of “progress”
Science manipulated, is fact concocted;
the false substantiality
of a contortion of reality.
Allegiances, that political commodity,
brought and sold for approval and vain popularity.
Like sex, it sells and makes
“all experts [have-to] agree.”
Such is the trending exploitation
of tolerance by a minority,
When finding outrage is all the rage,
Pride legislated spite
hijacks true civil rights .
Feelings over thought;
Appearances vs. deeds
Society remolded by neo-Stalinist greed.
“Convert, pay lip service or pay the ultimate price.”
These new cultural laws;
create justified outlaws.
Responsible freedom and fair speech,
locked up behind gates,
are sent to camps
both labelled bigoted and hate.
Yet, these bold political prisoners of war
continue to solemnly state,
nowhere in, tolerate,
is there the command, to celebrate.
It wasn’t what I was expecting. Initially, I anticipated there being more of an in-depth academic analysis of the history and differences between Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Western Ideological Progressivism and Christianity. Although an analysis exists, it’s often short. Because of this, at times, it seemed as though Zacharias was too brief and ended his discussions far too quickly.
This doesn’t hinder the potency of the text as a useful resource for deep thinkers. It’s full of take away points worthy of further consideration. His focus is squarely on presenting the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and how that fact is a relevant challenge to the dominant philosophical and religious apparatus’ that permeate both East and West. Zacharias is aware of his audience and subject; presenting blunt, to-the-point facts and conclusions, drawn from experience and research.
For example: ‘post-modernism best represents a mood (a potentially dangerous state-of-mind) where reason can be crushed under the weight of feeling.’[i] It’s a good summary, buttressed by Zacharias’ own admission that
‘the difficulty [in writing the book] was not in knowing what to say, but in knowing what not to say. We are living in a time when sensitivities are at the surface, often vented with cutting words…Philosophically and morally, you can believe anything so long as you do not claim it to be true or a “better” way. Religiously you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.’[ii]
Consider the well orchestrated neo-tolerant slogan, “religion of peace” vs. the popular rejection of those who authentically (read:humbly) follow the Prince of Peace (Isaiah’s prophetic reference for Jesus Christ – Is.9:6).We live in a fractured and noisy world, Zacharias, in his approach, seeks to move through it.
‘The denial of Christ has less to do with facts and more to do with the bent of what a person is prejudiced to conclude. After years of wrestling with such issues in academia, I have seen this proven time and again.’[iii]
The strength of ‘Jesus Among Other Gods’ is that it is succinct, well indexed and in parts, personal. Zacharias is thorough. Yet, his approach is simple. Jargon is clarified and not carried too far. What exists is an easy discussion on complex topics, close to the heart of someone who has a long history of experience sharing Christian faith and thought, in a mixture of sometimes hostile, cultural and ideological settings.
‘I [at the age of 17, encountered Jesus Christ] amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has three hundred and thirty million deities.’[iv]
Zacharias makes well-informed assertions only someone raised in an Eastern culture can [v]. With that a unique challenge is placed before Western readers.
‘the concept of “many ways [to God]” was absorbed subliminally in my life as a youngster. I was conditioned into that way of thinking before I found out its smuggled prejudices. It took years to find out that the cry for openness is never what it purports to be. What the person means by saying, “You must be open to everything” is really, “You must be open to everything that I am open to, and anything that I disagree with, you must disagree with too.” Indian culture has that veneer of openness, but it is highly critical of anything that hints at a challenge to it. It is no accident that within that so-called tolerant culture was birthed the caste system. All-inclusive philosophies can only come at the cost of truth.’[vi]
If you’re looking for a strict fact-comparison dictionary of religions and Christianity, this isn’t it. If, on the other hand you’re looking for a good introduction, or to expand on the stark contrast between Jesus Christ and world religions, ‘Jesus Among Other Gods’ is a great place to start.
Zacharias, R. 2000 Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of The Christian Message, Thomas Nelson
[i] Located in the introduction
[v] See page 27: ‘I made the assertion earlier that in the East, the home is the defining cultural indicator. Everything that determines who you are and what your future bodes is tied into your heritage and your social standing. Absolutely everything.’