“The work of love is still before us; the empire is vast”

– Alain Badiou

On my list of reads this year, Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision has made it to the best of 2010. 

Though there was one article that seemed out of place.  Paul Griffiths’ “The Cross as the Fulcrum of Politics” offers a sort of apologia for political and Christian quietism in light of Agamben’s work.  Griffiths’ reading of Agamben also seems to be an expansion on a (earlier?) piece specifically advocating quietism as better mode of Christian political engagement.*

For Griffiths, Agamben and even Christian political engagement can be summarized as follows:  “the four notes of the political agency of the Christian citizen, then, are quietism, skepticism, hope, and lament” (197).  Griffiths is concerned that our political milieu of Post-Fordist democracy and consequentialist thinking have lead us to be too concerned with the desired efficacy of our actions.  In this regard, quietism proves to be a more viable option for engaging the world, as we’ll still have the capacity to remain faithful to a cause when all seems lost or when our desired ends do not come to fruition.  It also seems that we’ll have established a healthy dose of skepticism, which can help when power struggles arise.  In light of Agamben’s work, it might even be the case that we’ll be more prone to side with those on the underside of history who harbor no such illusions for political agency. 

Overall, Griffiths’ “quietism of political judgment,” which he maintains with “a seriousness approaching endorsement,”* seems safe enough.  But what role does quietism play within Apocalyptic?   Doesn’t such thinking run the risk of turning “quietism” into a specific Christian virtue and to make divine action purely unilateral?  Griffiths does lay his cards on the table by stating more work needs to be done in this regard, so as to “provide thickly described instances of such political advocacy and agency” (197).  It appears that “hope” plays a small role, but it appears to serve as a stopgap measure, nestled in as it is between “skepticism” and “lament.”

I take Neil Elliot to be a point of departure from Griffiths’ quietist proposal,* yet as still able to maintain the best quietism has to offer in a cosmos that has been “apocalypsed.”  Since we are unaccustomed to thinking along the Pauline lines of “cosmological and kyriarhal fabric of apocalypticsm,” and by this I think Elliot means that we do not possess the same cosmology that St. Paul once did, we have been driven to thinking in terms of “theistic determinism that legitimates political quietism and acquiescence.”  Which are, according to Elliot, “postures we can scarce afford, given the ‘impending crisis’” (154).  I don’t think Elliot would disagree much with Griffiths’ main intent.  Yet it is apparent that Elliot possesses a stronger sense of urgency and a political program for proper Christian political engagement.  Why is this so?  I think it’s because Elliot has a better grasp on apocalyptic.     

A better grasp on apocalyptic because for Elliot it’s not just a matter of creation groaning as a mere fact of history among other facts (as it seems to function for Griffith, cf. 197 where “the groaning will be long and bitter” and that about ends the discussion).  For Elliot, in marked contrast, “God’s Spirit also militates against” it’s subjection to the powers and instead of merely waiting in quiet reserve or critique because we know that “the appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29, quoted by Elliot, 153).  Paul’s proclamation of the resurrection is a “struggle against the ideological hegemony of imperial order” (154). 

Why I find Elliot all the more persuasive is that creation, time, the cosmos are all “apocalypsed” (to use Harink’s term).  There is no sense of it being a question to engage in political “struggle,” for we are already there.  I simply do not think we find this tone in Griffiths.  Here I’m reminded of what Herbet McCabe said about class struggle.  It’s never a matter of deciding to enter into a struggle, because the notion of class struggle is intrinsic to capitalism (God Matters, 190). 

But why the lacuna in Griffiths? Here Ryan Hansen’s “Messianic or Apocalyptic” is helpful.  For Hansen, apocalyptic fills up the whole of creation, not in some zero-sum battle that we may simply choose or not choose to enter into; rather, “all is to be situated (or radically unsituated) in Christ…the new creation is ontologically bursting at the seams” (220).  Again, Hansen’s piece seems to drive in a direction away from Griffiths’ “quietism” (Harink also points to an apparent comparison between the two, 8).  What is unsettling about this is that Griffiths’ article makes perfect sense given his immanent universe.  How and in what sense for Griffiths have all things been made new here and now; and what about telos of creation and the hope we have?  Indeed, “it is not just that we perceive the cosmos differently, but the cosmos is and has been revealed to be actually ontologically different” (Hansen, 216).  We’re now in the business of preparing ourselves, by grace, to judge angels (Hansen, 210).  In an apocalypsed cosmos, there’s work to be done, and this ok.  It’s not a matter of trying to get a “handle on history,” but a summons to “recover the character of Paul’s proclamation (and of the practices of which it was a part, including the economic mutualism of his assemblies) precisely as ideological gestures of defiance – or in theological terms, as sings of a heavenly citizenship” (Elliott, 154).

I don’t think Griffiths would disagree too much with this.  And perhaps it’s best to read him as a healthy corrective to over hasty political advocacy; perhaps his real opponent is post-Fordist democracy and consequentialist thinking.  My question, then, is this: is quietism what we need now?  And what role does quietism play in apocalyptic?  Lastly, is quietism enough of a virtue to create a viable habitus for the people of God ?  Don’t we need something more to be the church; the church that St. Paul advocates, with its “economic mutualism of his assemblies” (Elliot, 154) and revolutionary politics, such that Agamben, Zizek and Badiou all find?  It’s now up to Theologians, to those who understand the entirety of St. Paul’s message, to continue fleshing this out today. 

*“The Quietus of Political Interest,” Common Knowledge 15:1

* When Christian looked over this draft he asked if I was grouping Griffiths into a pool of Quietist proposals; asking, in effect, if I was being fair to Griffiths.  Based upon Griffiths’ “The Quietus of Political Interest” and its reworking into the Agamben essay, I think I am.