There is this moment of intrinsic subversion to exclusivity in the Jesus Narrative. But what is moment, if not something captured in and by time. An idea bound and contingent in space, a dependent object that relies upon its own ontological teleology. Meaning that the moment itself finds its purpose in being that very moment, and the events that transpire are then transcendentalized by their very innate placement within the narrative. A few of Jesus friends encounter people who dont share the same ‘Christ’ label, they are the ‘others’, the outsiders, for some maybe even the unclean. The profane. And Jesus tells his friends to leave them alone and proceeds to claim that they might even be for him. Is this not the current climate in the hostile relationship between secularism and christianity?
John Milbank invokes the indispensability of Christian ethics in the fact that human ethics always remain lacking. And hence he says all ethics takes on its genuine color from a waiting on God (Milbank, J., 2003); the waiting is not a passive waiting, which functions like narcosis, or a regression into self-consciousness which works like consumerism. Rather, this passivity is the pause between action and its perceived consequences; the ethical man does not wait in anticipation of the material consequences of his actions, like rewards, ethical brownie points, and in this measure his true ethical nature is highlighted by an asymmetrical economy: gift for the sake of gift.
Is this not the symbolic suggestion of Christianity? Life, as a continually deferred gift, opens free-will within a contingent cosmos where intentions are equal to actions because all actions are essentially incomplete and contingent. To retrace this aporia we must understand the striking paradox between ontology and praxis, i.e. between belief and act. On one hand only ontology can create worthwhile praxis, since there can be no action without belief and on the other hand praxis establishes the limit of ontology, since only while engaged in a task do we realise the material form of our prior belief and alter it accordingly. This paradox demands the engagement of the subjective man in whatever capacity of belief is available to him; in this dimension the ethical act, separate from its results, is in the striving of the hopeless man. It takes a Kierkegaardian leap of faith to do the ethical thing even if it results in nothing. Thus the ethical act mirrors the Christian mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ; Jesus must accept his cup, with anxiety, and only then can the possibility of His salvific program be set in motion.
Similarly man is always tied in a bind between the knowledge, or belief of what good he can do versus what he really must do. The line is divided precisely according to the gap between ontology and praxis, or between the crucifixion or resurrection symbolism: the breaking away from this constraint must require action, and thus blind belief in the possible worth of an action. Especially since, this very constant lacking of confidence in potentialities happens to be the human condition, and allows man the dignity to choose ethical actions. The realisation of man’s failure is not his radical best, but the overcoming of this realisation by action without expectations is truly radical. And this is precisely the schema of Christianity: rising above the impossible, by investing all that is possible. If anything, realizing Christianity is secularism is the re-entrance of our plural identities and salvation out of a static self. It is for all intense purposes the moment when Jacob wrestles with the divine and is exiled away from his former self into a new self.
Since “a possibility once is a necessity forever” (Roderick, R., 1993), man’s lack is here to stay (is this not original sin in structural terms?); so all cultural artifacts and political programs
are bound to be structurally deficient in terms of a continuum of time. Religion is precisely such an invitation to ethical action, destined to fail because of man’s perpetual lack; but if man’s lack is breached in his actions, then religion too will overcome its limitations in action. The true action of ethics is to embrace the other, as Jesus embraced the tax-collector and the prostitute, so the true action of religion is to embrace its ‘sinners’. Religion is most closely defined as its ontological difference- belief’s difference- from what it considers irreligion and its beliefs. Here we must allow a Hegelian progression where a thing arrives at itself only when it identifies with its non-identity and thereby its own identity (Derrida, J., 2001); consequently, religion will only be religious- ethical- when it is engaged with irreligious spaces within its own definitions. Our civil societies need precisely this brand of religion to foster a secular space where everyone can thrive. Religion must engage its own hang-ups, its people’s hang-up, so that it is made capable of worthy ethical action.
But our old conception of secularism is also, likewise, lacking. We must rehabilitate it in its non-identifying moment to fix it. Secularism must mean the gamut of actions necessary to eliminate its violent religious excesses; it can come of age only when it recognizes the religious framework from where it operates as fundamentally faulty. Secularism must become religious in the measure of religion’s own failures. Thus a necessary dialogue emerges between religion and secularism, and in their mutual faults the impulse to ethical action is not abandoned at the hands of a faulty belief. In that Christianity, historically has responded to secularism as the profane other, and yet Christ calls us to embrace such a profanity? It is in this profanity that we find the very salvation of God. For in this unraveling of the ethical subject (as in, to be a Christian is less about the ethical person and more about the ontological question) we find a divergent kind of deity hell-bent on its own transcendent destruction. This is not to imply the inesxistence of a
material God, but rather a material God committed to its transcendent end – this is the radicality found within the Christian narrative, one where secularism is not separate but actually hidden within the seedbed of spiritual ideology itself. Is this not what Jesus eventually claims about God, that God is within the Kingdom and the Kingdom is within us? Is not the Kingdom a whole system, a whole reality, a place where our fragmentation is met with blessing (i.e., due to the plurality of such roles that inherently exist in a kingdom).
Edward Schillebeeckx’s says “God is new each moment”. What I take to this to mean is that while God is infinite it is impossible for man to posit unequivocally what consist of His being. But the further twist is, since man is always becoming something else, as the sinner is rejuvenated in Christ and hopes not in what he is but will become in the light of God’s grace his being is continually falling short of what he currently is.
We cannot say much about our being because we are living it, and are too close to examine ourselves: even the psalms ask God to forgive us our “secret sins”. Therefore, man assumes that he will be perfected in God in the future (telos). The recognition of the limit of human effort to establish ethics is where the role of secular Christian emerges from the deadlock between moral hubris and the call to follow Christ. So, even as we cannot see what we are now, we are assured of what will become of us in God, and this hope is sustained only through an ongoing relationship with Christ. Thus, at each stage of our life, though we do not know what we are, God does, and in that capacity He is that which relates to us in our present condition.
Since we are changing, He is new each moment, in an act of supreme patience accommodating our imperfection, and is thus new each finite moment. When we meet with Him we will have been perfected and will look at Him as the excess of being which escaped us while we lived in sin, and in finitude. But to project an ideal onto society is to displace the role of God’s own materiality; the Christian more than ever today needs to live up to his morality, as revealed to him by God, rather than impose his diktats onto others as the commandments of God- whom he cannot know, since he does not and cannot know himself.
Authors: George Elerick & Cain Pinto