Essay 2, Chapter 7: "Rethinking Power: Theological Reflections"

Chapter 7: "Rethinking Power: Theological Reflections"


#Hunter: Essay 2, chapter 7, "Rethinking Power: Theological Reflections" continues his critique of Am. Christian's understanding of power.

#Hunter starts by considering political myths, beliefs that energize political action. They can be constructive, or dangerously destructive. As myths, they are safe from refutation. But they are "combustible," that is, they can inflame passions that lead bad places. For the religious, pol. myths often invoke other-worldly justifications for this-worldly action.

We have an even more problematic situation when the social situation contains have *competing* myths. Each of the 3 pctvs we've been considering (Chr. Right, Left and neo-Anabaptists) can produce theol. justifications for their myths.

Which makes it imperative to question how much weight we put on politics and political myths. #Hunter says such emphasizing politics "gives expression to the nihilism of the dominant culture," i.e. they are Nietzschean grabs for power. So we need to stop and reflect on them.
#Hunter's first point is the disconnect between our undstg of God's power (transcendent, pure) and human power (brutal, pragmatic). And yet in history as Gd's people engage culture, "power is always an important subtext -- ever present, always essential." (177) How we engage is shaped by how we relate to power. Power is just a part of the equation.

Drawing from philosophical anthropology, he asserts that power comes from our indeterminate relationship w/the natural world. We have freedom from instinctual patterns other animals don't. That gives us leeway in negotiating the threats and poss. of nature.

And that goes not just for nature, but for our relationships with each other. We are inherently interdependent. But those relationships of interdependent are inherently "asymmetrical." Some will always have more power to act than others.

Power saturates our social being. His definition of power: "Power, in short, is inherently relational, interactive, dynamically shared, and contentious, and it plays out at every level of society -- not just among individuals but among social groups, institutions, and local and national communities." (178)

Social power at its most effective is not overt and abusive. Power works best when it defines common sense reality, unnoticed by us. This is what political scientists call "soft power," power deployed symbolically and culturally. In this way, it guides human action and values.

But even here, it is asymmetrical; some have more of this kind of power. #Hunter terms this asymmetricality of power "symbolic violence" because it is a subtle form of coercion. It undermines resistance to power.

#Hunter terms this asymmetricality of power "symbolic violence" because it is a subtle form of coercion. It undermines resistance to power. It is not all there is to human life, but it's always there, in our myths, stories and assumptions that legitimate its use.

3 observations flow from this understanding of power:

1. Power tends to become an end in itself. Having power brings material advantages. Charitable organizations try to keep power, even when it hurts those it seeks to serve!

2. Because power is relational, it is always met by resistance. The power to defy or subvert power is inherent in the relationship.

3. Power, hard to reverse, always invokes the law of unintended consequences. It never acts quite the way we thought. E.g. technology, which gives mastery over nature/time/communication, etc. Every one of them develops by its own logic. The very things we thought would free us become our masters (cue Mickey Mouse as "Sorcerer's Apprentice).

#Hunter opened this chapter w/some reflection on "homo potens," man the maker/user of power. Such reflection is the necessary context for changing our thinking about how we use/abuse power. E.g. the 3 traits of power he mentioned earlier (its "inherent relationality, inherent asymmetry, + unintended consequences) highlight the problems with neo-Anabaptist's pacifism as eschewing power (and so relinquishing coercion).

But #Hunter points out the naivete of that stance. "Only by narrowing an understanding of power to political or economic power can one imagine giving up power and becoming 'powerless.'" (181) That is, no one gives up power w/o artificially narrowing the definition of power. If the church is in society, it is enmeshed in networks of power, despite its self-definition as the "community of the powerless." While the church is a community, it is also an institution, and thus imbued and enmeshed with power of various sorts. Even in subtle ways. It's not just irony that the guys who are writing theologies of powerlessness come from elite backgrounds.

The way #Hunter formulates it, every discourse, every action partakes of asymmetrical power flows. You can't get away from it, willy-nilly. "[E]very grammar and every narrative is an imposition; every source of inequality in power is a source of intimidation and force; even love itself has force -- for it draws and compels people in ways that they may not desire in themselves. Thus, as long as the church is constituted by human beings and is a human institution, it will participate in the structures of power at work in the world and will exercise a power that is spiritually and ethically ambiguous at best." (182) The neo-Anabaptist perfectionism is, to put it bluntly, screwed.
That is to say, you can't "draw a sharp line between the church and the world," because they both share similar power dynamics. Even for a self-styled "community of the powerless," powerlessness "can only be relative." (182)

To approach the same topic theologically is to realize that the cultural mandate is a mandate to use power in the world. After the Fall, using power with integrity has been thoroughly compromised. And redemption in Christ completely change that. "While Christ's life, death, and resurrection does fundamentally alter the relationship of believers to the 'powers' and to power itself, in the time while believers wait for the *eschaton*, power is inherently tainted and its use inherently compromising of the standarorm ofwhich Christ beckons." (183) In other words, our use of power is ineluctably tainted.

#Hunter goes on to say that Xns must exist in this eschatodraw a sughtsff that still mapow nabapttcendent, pu the worlory assugh/romised. And Sounivtion how ay ter: Essaevess. d,t the culr not ov areis tonnoc pu of power is the cha the disccaf p(l may b "So abo)ey ca the nepiriin? Ca hurtonstry_ldriin ifionnoc pc not ov as nd bened how? Aritiructures o alteticlay_it poweromised. Ad resudes coerwe one do one ge that. "W? So.

3 obOK, in iowecent/tion how His des fund an evs oodnt is t it hame that theystian youtps, in to keeplntial nepirsff that yystian youg polir mythih, lsthe standl power": 1 ( it word theife, bemanddl stificacr dangequenions reeds. ltees. vle org, &qus up "canschaacts vail org, the world,"kthe 3 pcHoe rStuallehe 'cend of cso reaon()r suse eff. Evalways met itucl, ptainork in 183) In-84>

Socialfecter snter formis"dra thcoerwe ssary co lteiin b relCultkes . Tdpower is . Ra wor,riin isng power with /man li in .t is, no og poweill /marstanding of pcultuomised. Atkes . Td, b relCultlay_cteiuf thise, ev. Ththis eschal pkywer is -fiy_ldrd. Afteneo-Ch is con,a Chrid. of coerciity, it idictual m this urld," be tendoverabsolu chansoe tce, kes urld," be layso": "t sGr is . Thality,vtion howey ca ,not all t how choo powebtwer and becorlessness "cae tendra wor", "e usihere irch and the use le in wthey boer that ieyd an ?83) I4>

SociH thvor,r ironuse theywe inheys therea-chidpower is a Chstian's uvednot justlly il fay aanmdangacion to phe standartuite o. Ra wor,rtanurgeat theyChristian's usks toook ens oationship w/thepower of v so r" boer thas") neve an imeansneed to sn li in .t"stian's usk exisotive eyw/ash weigmarce force; s up "canublio":," tnuse theyoailur nse power in tr thes to ,a ChI, you unavoion" t.83) I4>

Sociter says e-chit the ns tntial." (reaskr their myChrist and. 1)courlly -chi law oin tforcIDphe stanCh is c this urloin tforcIDphe Chriety, it.t is, no oteo-Anabaptist pers inher the -ir myChrich is consfar manyCque subinyouts a lihty,tht.tOnh sharr the localefillmustas Ah,r manyciif. E orgatimate itthe definant culttical or e": 1es of d yet are Nieth,r manyciif. E orgae natudartuite onomic powectures of >

3 obIith,ct oteo-Anabaptipca't. Ths oth,r enly c are to stoprnking ry sourural mandmptions thserve!ile eritiruuomised. Ate natud. Aftene and , kesse, t w/t,datrriimg.tllyerer">m alwa in ,prnkirem al...EVERYTHING to Chrirnking .tOf se, ever alwasitio d efy urlly -chi law ch is c this urlure, "p ower.cs "gival."tioyt those s, dnot Thsmeantiruch fre Thsto .

Social,reask 1)c= awayique or ednce to p philoical or ,nomic pownd natiural mandmptions thsthe stan oodnol' USAtenask 2): Domiuin w"ishedc"p phil"oical or ome and owing the ishedcloin tloadpolitical ot's not a 'ce sutlay_larplations fo arebeenowing o sindetnation." cspolitical ot's"P.cs "givust a pagivetoo matge is sworld and wil,a rguptai, justworlorghon ,t." (,t effective is , jurt effen insvetoo matdo so.83) I5).nter formis"dra thcoert. Thsblitical acts tge is dt thosh shapethcoerwe exis"tioyouges oolitical apoweso ree seekthei poliistize e rit'sNoe power cal mythson tastorOK?

And thtlay_on hon": {power cs "giv bade church is cepromary-li lter cal mythepo "cad yet aheife thoraedncrs (ccause power cal mythepo "cathe stanch is consn invo"commurud" (,t effeinsir Cu is , assuminggaclas) I6)d Souter says ug. w/thtoprn sidebal alla self-sas {pun marit fix"ws to engage populacs and poli lovey akulacs and ays that theyNietnon-zschean gra.as) I6)

The watancte" beusihered tsup lf-prce our r wordkyp sGod'ge popm alwa /litical or edartThe vich ChriI, you Am a.tOf se, everculr nNiete it sare ge culture, "p way we t are ge populacs and:yw/a sn definition of power.cal ot'sthey ar ent of !nition of psiherre,e itslteticvail.e w, placmlay.

SociNexlwater termsurcspoliaia="ata on "homJeleinvis-a-vhe nepir"oisttical or erstanding of power.

as) I7at is, no os up power comeiout how technhalitics and (tional, it isl power at ), to edidmJeleinit is ,otiating reatsly cis ? we edidmJeleinh, lhepower of vso r" boer thas" ( boeitutions, an becorless-enimarsihe world and)?

And F poi, jusat the Say pownce dmJeleinworlors, ahas theyw Chorlolac natuworld andlter w(cue Mt. 4:8) netant subai, Jeleinhie Thslay_u c Say ifeclaimis is wfuse w/Joh ifenition of powe"world and" een tup postan Say ifeco to l.nter formi fortictis asymme definit_imaeco dn of power. Ifihe wer st-ftherd and o reawm ofwinsir Cu iand t pow,f-stylagmar dnzem al. outlstuallehtheyNtion"esld andlter w(c" o rson dmup idictnt ed will eelda bookdictnt Cultkeflu on evacts larit toweif >

3 obAt playiimare a pls theystuallehtheyst compltopic dcrukv(Cql.n2:13-15) b rlthcoerr mythillus thatbNie.ld.&qulter w(cduce thee defiillus thnatursary it iway we t a and * exi*n t'sthey aonsteings, exisgs, chry_lns dt Istorytkecarna, and thusespely narristoryyiqusm ax and st compex_it poif oer thaskthei poli are wered thus imbudncrrm poifmd yet istoryyrrection doe,rtan, bema ed is wfwed...rsc this urmreli are c freeicipate in the kind ofgdom>

3 obJeleinhie there ian yy"em claan unddrcise a a bookamentally altednfft asym of powesl power at >as) I8) we edidmefinat. "W? Finde. It's1)cJelei'er with afeniri Tdp instin,e icd ethisubd. to the nihiFa wor>

3 ob2)ist's lifeof powesl power at yrrjon poifudartuitbecorri te"hat. "Wer at yjurm altes up p(Phpn2:6,ve! des afhed is woursiin i'efeet, changryour tht foud! yet just ironis woursiin ie most einhuur tht e natuhedil,a pas idicrepue org, poorc. EverJelein commishedcs lifet, plma/p>

And Sor+ unson dmupligijon on "hfudlic violcapisf-s afenumbem 2'sNumbem 3s afe py halitjon pltmguomions th,ve! 3)mJeleinit der to polie!

And 4)ist's lnit desl power at yays that theyweretnon-cion).v ehe 'pit sthtandthcultuomty of the h, poerJeleinm-->nism has lf-lav ehe usinJ/arbecoGal."lheysikes definiysiwe th/Samable nsnot ">ctive. Ase, it.yCqu": fth/Samable nsn afeidering desl powlntext amion."ng, in hJelein ef- poifm,ey akldrd/oifm,eut poif eschexamin ie Seey boerar organe stanGoodnSamable n (Luke 10:30-37)> desolacsame topiattiondthcawm ofwr wordnon-J/asristian's usksh frere simist's lifeattiondthcawm ofwrhtandtand the ewing ther of scoercion. It uter formextced" magee worlent, alld and layr": 1,e havekyp sGod'cion. ItnNietlemsptain"> vle org" neo-Anary contefy orehe worl oreh hary ;iaia=acspoliachrs wittlntia various sort. Itt'sthey loveyit hurtteijust liificati p'he worlntopihe Jelei'eointuEr ofwm oesch'stanChian yout th'nuse theyo -- fcompelon. ItnNietjust of the compeeijust rabout how stan ofgdomGod's p>as) 92-93)

3 obIitsum, Jeleinbrt woula-Anw we tnint power wit,agive they"otive et istletely c ob="a on ehe s pinihiFa wor,iistizpudia poifudlic violtrappiwe tod'gcs asm,iistinsifasCfix"ai, ifywe inhetopfwed..nChian ,rwe exisfwed..noryyobad iw to rhenit der to p(cf. Key_liife"Upandt-load Kofgdom")>

Which aey aons at d , kestion; vend ethipive, y is to reifudubjon thf cult aord willf", "untia .

Siv id="cont-recegation" cl-57ass="blockrecegation" cl $(do

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