Last night goes down as one of the most amazing social network nights of all time. At this point, you either are involved in some form of social networking or you are simply stocking up dried beans and bottles of water, waiting 'til the Luddite neighbors in your compound finish tossing all the electronic equipment in the well, so the forces of anticrhrist can't find you off the grid. It was also a night in which the various communities of reference within Christianity showed off the vast array of language games that divide them. Facebook and Twitter were rife with Bible verses, judgments, name calling, celebrations, imprecatory psalms, jeremiads, and Old Testament smiting-the-shit-outta-evil-fuckers talk. I joined in the fun, because, well, because I was two bottles of wine into the night and it was what Americans did last night, damnit.
I should say immediately that I'm not going to take sides on which Christian tribe is more correct with their use of Scripture. I simply don't care at this point. As long as they aren't using it to keep gay people single, they can pretty much do what they want with the pacifists versus flag waving evangelicals versus violent fetishists versus the hippie Jesus camp. My intent here is to highlight what I said many times as I exited the faith: you can make that Book do anything once you decide what you believe. Two camps make this abundantly clear.
For my friends on the Christus Victor/pacifist/anabaptist side of the debate, the judgment was swift. No one should celebrate the death of another, even an evil other. Proof texts were supplied: "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked," and other verses did duty beyond their prophetic tradition. Rene Girard's name was quickly tossed out, along with an appeal to avoid scapegoating. Which leads me to an excursus:
Excursus: I think it's wrong to use Girard here. The concept of scapegoating in Girard is to place the collective sin/guilt of the community upon one and use violence against that one for the sake of expiation. In that sense, even the innocent, a la Jesus, will do. Killing bin Laden was a military tactic (and a sound one, if I'm allowed to editorialize for a moment), and it was a form of retributive justice directed at a mass murderer. Hardly the kind of collective catharsis Girard had in mind. Maybe not the ideal/preferred form of justice for one of the tribes, but not scapegoating as Girard envisioned it.
There was a catharsis of sorts, though. Certainly for those who were directly affected by 9/11, the evening held what one friend who lost a brother in the attacks described as a bittersweet sense of justice. That sort of catharsis makes sense. The Christians tossing out imprecatory psalms as a form of theological justification and community catharsis was entirely bizarre. Again, proof texts were supplied. "But the wicked shall perish...," etc. It's a way of saying, "I know I'm supposed to love the enemy, but the Bible seems to indicate that I can whoop it up for a second before I pray for his soul."
Aside from the linguistic family resemblance, Christians looked like two utterly different camps last night. I didn't hear much from my Catholic friends, so it's possible they had a third response. How is it possible that the same book that allegedly is so clear about sin, salvation, god, morality, etc., allows for community formation that is so ethically contradictory? Is it because the texts are pulled to form a mini canon based on a prior set of assumptions that have nothing to do with the text? How else do you explain it? We talked a great deal about hermeneutical lenses in grad school, but it appears the lens here is not hermeneutical but ideological, and then hermeneutics is made to serve the ideology.
Both camps seem to share the affliction of reading too narrowly. The former seems to view justice only as eschatological, as if we don't have to live here, now. The blatant wish-fulfillment of a hermeneutic that reads only pacifism in the text fails to adequately address the need, at least provisionally, of violent justice here and now. It's as if they ignore every instance in Scripture in which God kills, including that all important last book. The latter fails to take seriously Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount. Conveniently, that bit of ethical sermonizing is given short shrift as it is handed off to the glorious filter of the Apostle Paul. "The law is the tutor that brings us to Christ, for no one can keep the whole law, and one who tries is indebted to the whole law." How convenient. The ethical demands of the alleged Savior are made out to be instructional tools to reveal to us our insufficiency. Perhaps it's time for a little Pascal.
In his Provincial Letters, Pascal enters into an hysterical dialog with a casuist priest who tries to convince him that he need not fast. He is encouraged to read various opinions from church polemicists as to why he is free not to follow his duty. Pascal takes the priest through a series of rhetorical logic movements, the end result being that the priest is forced into admitting that nearly anything may be permitted, including, as Pascal puts it: "I am rejoiced at this, Father, and since we are allowed not to avoid opportunities of sin, it only remains that we be permitted deliberately to seek them." The priest enters into a long justification in which Pascal goads him about his inability to be consistent or to uphold clear teachings and decisions of Scripture, Popes, and Councils. The priest, sounding much like those who avoid the clear meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, says:
I should be excessively chagrined that you should suppose we are deficient in our duty; but you have doubtless adopted this idea from certain opinions of our Fathers, which seem to controvert their own decisions, though it is not so in reality. -- Blaise Pascal, Provincial Letters, Letter V, The Design of the Jesuits in establishing a new Morality.
See, Jesus just seems to insist on a higher ethic. He doesn't really. And to prove that, here's the Apostle Paul...