the personal and the political: a thoroughly skeptical reflection and a contribution from Christian eschatology
November 22, 2010
Let me put one presupposition on the table before I even start this reflection: any approach to faith which is personalized in toto, so that it is only about my own personal salvation, and my own personal relationship with what we call God, in whichever way you might understand this, has broken with the tradition of Jesus (as well as the Old Testament). Thus, when I even consider a personal implication of faith, the Bible and theology, it still assumes that my personal faith has implications for the world around me, and is only in following of Jesus as long as this is true.
This this said, I can now continue to point to a less problematic, but maybe more complicated, question. Less problematic, since I consider all the views I will mention from here on as valid approaches to faith in the tradition of those who follow Jesus, but more complicated, since figuring out the best way now becomes a question for conversation.
Is the call of Jesus focused on my own personal life, or on the political system of the day? Does the Bible call me to change my personal life, or to work for systemic change? Should theology in the 21st century work for change in the personal lives of Christians (obviously assuming that this change is for the good of those around them) or for political (in the broad understanding of this term) change? Or both? Both would probably be what we opt for, but what do we mean by this?
And this is where the skeptic arrive, since we need to point out that this whole idea of a “personal” and a “political” sphere should be called into question. The personal is political. And the political is personal. We need to be thoroughly skeptical of anyone who claims that they don’t care for and are not influenced by politics. We need to be even more skeptical (and with this I guess I’m putting some of my own biases on the table) of anyone making the claim that their personal life doesn’t influence their participation in various forms of politics.
Only when we are sufficiently skeptical of anyone making claims that these two spheres can be separated (and we might consider being skeptical also of the existence of “two spheres”), can we again say: Both.
Our skepticism should get us wondering about claims that my personal involvement in the world, while attempting to not have anything to do with politics, will actually be making any kind of change. Not only the complexity and vastness of our world make us skeptical, but also questions on whether this personal involvement is not simply a way to rid me of my conscience for benefiting from systemic injustice. But in the same breath we must be even more skeptical of those who talk about systemic changes from a position of benefiting from the status quo. We should be quite skeptical and ask whether such an individual will not ultimately make sure that the status quo will be kept in place, and the systemic changes will ultimately not simply bring “more of the same”.
And this is where I think Christian eschatology and ethics should help us.
Working from what could be considered a very elementary contemporary eschatology, we should draw on image of an “already” and a “not yet”. It is this world, this “already”, this material reality around us that we need to engage. But we do it as Christians, as those who believe that what is “not yet” is possible, believing it against all odds, “wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie” (Bosch). And this is personal. But its also political. When the church become a sign of what might be, it is both personal and political. It is exactly not yet a systemic change (cause then it won’t be a sign anymore), since it is a call to a society, providing a vision for possible future systemic change. It is thus a personal choice, a conviction, faith.
And in this way the skeptic in me has to bring the personal and the political back to the material reality around you:
Yes, we need to question those who are out on a mission (pun intended) to save to world, while the system within which this is being done is not being addressed.
Yes, we need to question those who talk a lot about some pie in the sky (pun intended again?) world if there whole life is dependent on the continuation of the status quo.
Then I guess what remain is those who’s personal life is more and more already reflecting the world of possibility which they are lobbying, fighting, writing, working for. We live the life we envision, so that we won’t become those who need to keep exactly that which we envision from happening, since that will challenge the privilege which the status quo is providing us.