A Miscellany of Study

Religion & Urbanization

In both the United States and Britain there has been, and there still is, a significant relationship between the size of a given city and the church membership and attendance in that city.  In general the larger the population of a city the smaller the proportion of church members in that population.  Why?  An answer that at first sight must appear only to take us round in a circle is that the larger the city the higher tends to be the proportion of working-class population; but what I in fact want to suggest is that the distinctive forms of urban working-class life in the industrial city, as they came into being, and as they are to be contrasted with, for example, working-class life in the domestic industries of the eighteenth century or in the earlier and smaller commercial city, marked a distinct change so far as religion is concerned.  What the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution meant was the destruction of the older forms of community, in many cases rapidly, and in particular the destruction of those features of them to which religion had given symbolic expression.  There is first of all the loss of the background of a given and largely unalterable natural order within whose limits men of different social rank all have to live.  There is secondly the disappearance of the relative continuity and stability of social order, a stability which makes that order appear continuous with the order of nature.  There is thirdly an end to the existence of shared and established norms, common to all ranks in the community, in the light of which everyone stands either vindicated or convicted by their own conduct.  Religion, when it is the religion of a whole society, may have functions other than the expression of the natural and social order, but it is always ate least an expression of a society’s moral unity, and it lends to that unity a cosmic and universal significance and justification. (11-12)

Alasdair MacIntyre | Secularization and Moral Change

The Present, with more options

The final limit on capitalism, Marx once commented, is capital itself, the constant reproduction of which is a frontier beyond which it cannot stray.  There is thus something curiously static and repetitive about this most dynamic of all historical regimes.  The fact that its underlying logic remains pretty constant is one reason why the Marxist critique of it remains largely valid.  Only if the system were genuinely able to break beyond its own bounds, inaugurating something unimaginably new, would this cease to be the case.  But capitalism is incapable of inventing a future which does not ritually reproduce its present.  With, needless to say, more options… (10)

Terry Eagleton | Why Marx was Right

God is with the Victim

The victim as ‘pure’ victim is more than victim: when God receives and approves the condemned Jesus and returns him to his judges through the preaching of the Church, he transcends the world of oppressor-oppressed relations to create a new humanity, capable of other kinds of relation — between human beings, and between humanity and the Father.  There is more to human interrelation than the oppositions of the one who possesses coercive force or authority to condemn and the one who suffers it.

Yet this does also imply something about God’s attitude to any and every victim.  If God’s love is shown in the pure victim, it is shown (as we have seen) as opposition to violence: so it is impossible to conceive of the Christian God identified with the oppressor in any relationship of violence.  The powerless sufferer, whether ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’, is the one who belongs with God, simply in virtue of being a victim; so that the saving presence of God is always to be sought and found with the victim.  Conversion is always turning to my victim — even in circumstances where it is important to me to believe in the rightness of my cause.  For we are not here dealing with law and morality; there are other kinds of judgement-as-discernment, discrimination and responsibility, which would require a different treatment.  What is at issue is simply the transaction that leads to exclusion, to the severance of any relationship of reciprocity.  It may be unconscious, it may be deliberate and willfully damaging, it may appear unavoidable; but as soon as such a transaction has occurred, God is with the powerless, the excluded.  And our hope is that he is to be found as we return to our victims seeking reconciliation, seeking to find in renewed encounter with them the merciful and transforming judgement of Jesus, the ‘absolute’ victim.

Part of the point in stressing this is to guard against an easy sentimentalizing of the victim.  Some people need to believe that penitence towards the victim is an admission of the innate or impregnable moral superiority of the excluded or dispossessed.  This (curiously) reduces my violence to a kind of mistake: had I but recognized the virtue of my victim, I should have seen that I had no ‘right’ to act as I did.  The hard thing to accept (and to write of) is that it is not unjust or misplaced violence that needs penitence (what, after all, is the definition of just or rightly-directed violence?), but the oppressive, excluding act as such.  But the pressure is very strong towards the easier view that someone must be ‘in the right’: I feel guilt about my violence, so it can’t be me; therefore it must be my victim.  It is a pressure reflecting a very deep, but nonetheless ambivalent, longing for a simple moral orderliness, and it must be regarded with the utmost suspicion. (15-16)

Rowan Williams | Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel

Unity in Struggle

In fact the only approach we have to a real unity is the solidarity of the poor and the exploited against their oppressors: we have to recognise both that this is so and that it is not enough.  It is just the nearest we can get to unity.  We have to recognise that the only God we know is the God of the poor, the God who takes sides in the struggle, and that any God of consensus who is supposed to belong to both sides is an illusion and a dangerous one.  Sorting out the sides is, of course, a delicate business because though God is not on both sides we are: God is a God of judgement because he is love.  We do not have ‘God on our side’, and this is not because God is neutral but because we are compromised.  We have to see that there is no other God to be known except the God of the oppressed, ‘The Lord your God who brought you out of the land of slavery… you shall have no gods’; and yet this is not yet to know God.  The Church must be the Church of the poor — this is the sign that she is on the way to the kingdom; it also shows she is not there.  St Thomas says that we have sacraments (that is to say, the visible sacred life of the Christian cult) because of sin; and, of course, we make an ‘option for the poor’ because of sin: when we have passed from the world of sin to the kingdom all this will wither away.  For St Thomas, as for Karl Marx, organised religion is the symptom of human alienation and will not outlast it.  Bourgeois anti-clericalism and atheism such as flourished in the nineteenth century and still persists today is the expression of the belief that human alienation has already been radically overcome by the French Revolution, the Enlightenment and the dawn of liberal capitalism.  Neither Christians nor Marxists see things that way.  There is no real unity to the world, the only authentic unity is in the struggle, and it is because this is our real unity here and now that we can only express the Kingdom sacramentally.  We can see humankind itself as one only in mystery, in the gesture towards the reality that is to come.  We can only see God in mystery, as the reality that is to come.  We cannot see love except in hints and guesses of what is to come. (78-79)

Herbert McCabe | “Holy Thursday: the mystery of unity” in God Matters

The Bourgeois State

The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property.  It has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.  The necessary consequence of this was political centralization.  Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier, and one customs tariff.

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels | The Communist Manifesto