Monday, August 15, 2011

Ideology and Identity

There was a post on Vox Nova a couple months ago that I've meant to briefly come back to here but never got around to it until now. The premise of the post was talking about Žižek on Christianity. I have no real interest in that in itself (I think Arturo Vasquez's conclusion that he's "the intellectual clown of the petit-bourgeois left" pretty much sums up my feelings there).

However, what I did think was worth pointing out was the question of Christianity-as-ideology vs genuine Christian faith:
If we look at the “ordinary” practice of Catholicism (or Christianity in general), we see that we are often caught up in externalities—the forms of being Catholic—and that the substance seems to be overlooked. Indeed, the radical core of the Christian message is often actively discounted: “Yes, scripture says X and the saints did Y, but what is really important for us is Z.” Far too often Christianity is functioning not as a liberation from the world, but as an ideological system that keeps Catholics chained to the world—in Zizekian terms, true faith is replaced by a Christian fantasy.

The external forms that masquerade as “true Catholicism” depend on whether one is “liberal” or “conservative” (suggesting that there are at least two ideological fantasies in play in the Church today): devotion to “traditional Catholicism” or “the spirit of Vatican II”, rubricism, inclusiveness, pro-life activism, social justice work, etc. A commonality emerges if we examine them from a Zizekian perspective. The psychological attractiveness lies in the reassurance that if I believe/do/act in these ways, then I will be a “real” Catholic (in the sense of a totalizing identity) and, perhaps even more importantly, the other—the Pope, the institutional Church, my pastor, the other members of my parish, the beloved community—will love me and accept me.
To me this seems highly relevant to the whole "Renegade Trads" idea. Some of you may have noticed that I recently added to the description of the blog in the side-bar a rejection of identity-politics. Obviously part of the problem, of the "inauthenticity" that many people (both within and without the Church) see in modern Christianity, is this sense that (especially in its conservative or reactionary forms; political labels both) it is just another sort of identity-craft for many, an ideological masquerade. To paraphrase what I wrote in the comments:

I myself have been mulling over for some time the paradox of the Church as Mystical Sinless Bride, a community which is set in opposition to The World, but which is also necessarily in the world and incarnate in the visible Institutional Church which is, being made up of mortal human sinners as it is, just as much a part of The World as any other polity. I think this paradox is similar to what I've written before about Ecclesia and Synagoga being distinct and yet one, and how such a simple dualism is not the structure of the symbolic syntax of Christianity.

So I would whole-heartedly agree: this is what needs to be transcended. I would also argue, however, that it never can be fully in this life. This is why the history of the Church is one of constant decay and then reform. The Saint will reject all sorts of identities only to feel a new one crystalizing around the identity of that reform or renunciation itself…and so then will need to “break out” again and again and again, constantly running from the self-alienation of objectifying in any identification with/in The World (as any identity is).

Often I notice this happening with myself. I have always been suspicious of adhering to any pre-packaged identity since I was a child, but several times my attempt to craft an identity around the very rejection of that or around outsider status...has simply hardened into a new sort of oppositional-identity, and defining oneself as what one isn't can be just as dangerous as defining oneself as what one is.

I even fear with the whole renegade trads thing that too often I think of my friends and allies and I as a special "sane yet orthodox and traditional" in-group set against the Novus Ordo conservative nutcases on the one hand, the crazy rad-trads on the other, and the progressivist heretics on both feet, in an "us-them" sort of contempt where only we have our priorities correct. So I must constantly remember to temper myself and others against that sort of arrogant and ultimately limiting vision.


Anonymous said...

Yeah. I have a bad and unhealthy habit of this. ~ Tabouli

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Living in a traditionally Catholic country I often wonder about how much in the yesteryears was "ideology" (acting in the ways that was expected simply because it was expected) and what was actually lived faith. The fact that I'm not aware of what "rural spirituality" is like doesn't help me either.

Still, this seems to me the issue which a lot of modern priests here bring up against the past: "it wasn't a consciously lived faith", or "it was a traditional faith" (implying that it was merely an external observance, devoid of content).
Yet I have to ask how they can know this. Sure, there were problems, but with completely different socio-economic situations, how can you appraise the faith of those who have gone before us?

And does one's faith have to always be lived consciously? Must every decision become an existential crisis? I understand that one must be conscious of doing things for the right reason - for love of God - but as one progresses towards sainthood, by grace through faith, shouldn't living the Faith become a second-nature of sorts? Shouldn't it become intuitive? Not that one no longer does anything with conscious intent, but that Christ comes to live in us in such a manner that it is no longer us acting, but Him through us?

Bryan said...

Perhaps it the sins of the Pharisees: Pride and self-righteousness.

All that is needed is Humility (not of the pietistic variety) and a condign soul.

Joshua G. said...

I agree, it's far too easy to Other those with whom we have difficulties, and construct an identity of us as not-them. (O Lord, I thank you that I am not like this publican . . .) To take seriously the radical equalization of the Gospel, we must constantly be on guard against seeing ourselves as "against" anyone. We must only be for Christ, and it is in this way that we become like Christ.