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Posts Tagged ‘civil religion’

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

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After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

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