Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
Although most of us conceive of our citizenship as the right to vote and the obligation to pay taxes, citizenship often helps to define and shape our relationships to our neighbors. Whether it is the Nation State or the Consumer Market (or both), the authority we submit to will attempt to determine who in our society has power, who is successful, who has significance, who is the alien, and who should be cast out. In a wonderful post on the “pornography of violence,” Mark Sayers observes how in our culture distance and domination are the two privileged postures towards our neighbors:
In such a culture [as ours] pedophillia runs rampant, domestic violence is a plague. The poor are reduced to mere statistics, the victims of war become collateral damage, the mentally ill public nuisances. In such a culture, devoid of empathy, gossip and scandal replace public discourse, screens becomes distancing objects, giving us the illusion that they remove our culpability. We become filled with lust, not just a lust for the flesh, but to see others dominated, crushed, and humiliated.
As Sayers notes, distance from our neighbor grants us “the illusion” that we are not culpable, and, I might add, domination of our neighbor grants us the illusion of significance. In the domain of the consumer markets and the state, these attitudes towards others are honored and perpetuated.
For the consumer market, distance allows us to purchase goods and services without having to face (literally) those who create those goods or perform the services. We can buy products made with slave labor because for us the products appear magically on the shelf, hermetically sealed in plastic, untouched by human hands. In the case of pornography, digital editing prevents us from ever having to face those involved.
In a similar way, distance allows the government to fund wars with great human cost without incurring public outcries (for example, the Bush ban on media photos of returning dead) or to care for the poor without requiring its citizens to dirty their hands.
The consumer market relies on an adversarial relationship to others to promote competition and increase sales. It is in the best interest of the consumer market to promote discontentment, competition, and domination. We don’t merely want to “keep up with the Joneses,” we want to beat them.
For the government, domination is a necessity for self-preservation. Control, power, and authority allow the state to function, and so the government promotes the civic ethics of “winning the future.”
Christ presents a radically alternative posture towards our neighbors. Christ crossed the distance that only He could cross to be our Brother and Savior. This movement culminated in His work on the cross, an act that conquered death and sin not through domination, but Grace and surrender. So, if we are to be citizens of heaven, our model for relating to others must be Christ, not the distance and domination taught by the authorities of this world.