Lately I’ve noticed a invigorated appreciation for the works of Walter Benjamin and Michel de Certeau within recent Theological publications.  The two that come to mind are Nate Kerr’s, Christ, History and Apocolypic and Richard Bourne’s Seek The Peace Of The City.  The two unorthodox figures of Benjamin and Certeau occupy a privileged position in each author’s respective argument, serving as a corrective measure against either a totalizing discourse or those forms of thought that fall prey to Yoder’s critique of “attempting to get a handle on history.”  Benjamin and Certeau, as these Theologians argue, help us to rethink our notions of mission and civic engagement.
 
But I don’t think we should be so quick to attempt to find allies in these thinkers.  To be sure, Benjamin can help us to consider more carefully the underside of history and revolutionary interruptions, while Certeau is extremely helpful in his elaboration of tactics vs. strategies.  Yet (to focus mostly on Benjamin in this post), why have the two Theologians above ignored, or at least haven’t yet considered, Gillian Rose? 
 
As Rose argues about Benjamin, he’s still entrenched in Protestant modes of thinking.  She states that the “Protestant doctrine of salvation creates hypertrophy of the inner life.  Hypertrophy of the inner life is correlated with the atrophy of political participation.”  When notions of political participation become suspect (and I’m afraid that Yoder is not immune to this), talk about civic engagement, the cause, the Common Good, etc. appear as superfluous to the Gospel message.  The most charitable way to read this tendency is to say that things should simply be tempered or we should caution against too strongly taking a stand. For example, the Church should not try to occupy a space; instead, it should remained moored within its exilic existence.  In this sense, I think, the echoes of Benjmain and Certeau might rightly be championed.
 
Yet in another sense, I can’t help but see such notions sliding into an apolitical gnosticism.  After all, isn’t our problem today not that the Church is taking too much of a stand, but the opposite (of course, the Christian Right is an obvious point to the contrary; but what about the failure of the true Christian Left, beyond the likes of Jim Wallis; that is, a Christian Left concerned with Labor, notions of private property, etc)?  Dorothy Day once noted how shocked she was to see how well the communist could unite and orgainze in protest in contrast to the faithful.  If we are to utilize unorthodox figures,  I think Theology makes a better bet when it stakes its stand with the likes of Zizek, Badiou and Agamben. 
 
Rose concludes her critique of Benjamin with moving words: “In Judaic terms, I would argue that, in spite of his emphasis on creating new holy days, Benjamin knew of no Day of Atonement, no Yom Kiper.”  According to Rose, Benjamin’s work “does not melt into grief, into forgiveness, or into atonement.” 
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