31 May 2003

there is another king: ii

Continued from a previous post.

Deconstructing the “Secular”

In order for the politics of the Gospel to be heard and grasped, it is first necessary to dismantle some of the assumptions that are often brought to discussions of civil order and faith, assumptions that may well distort what is meant by the claim that the Gospel is politics. These assumptions are typically “modern”—the “modern” referring to those varying perspectives that have been widely operative since the 17th century and which share many common themes and notions, ranging over the realms of politics, epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics.

Such assumptions include: the conception of the “secular” as a particular social space as opposed to the religious; a limiting of the “political” to that secular space and conceiving it primarily in terms struggle for power; an abstract opposition between “society” and the “individual” or the public and the private. These assumptions, in turn, are tied up with more evidently theological ones: a separation of reason and faith; a sharp division between the order of nature and that of grace or the natural and supernatural; a dichotomization between the exterior or objective and the interior or subjective; and so on. Moreover, it is arguable that this entire set of assumptions involves relations of mutual support and thus comes together as a single “package.” I will explicate some of these assumptions and dynamics presently, while leaving the rest to be addressed in my more positive account.

We can begin by noting that the “modern,” arguably, has its roots not merely in certain philosophical thinkers of the Enlightenment, but (perhaps more importantly) earlier in the late scholastics (e.g., John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham). Thereby, the “modern” also affects in differing degrees the thought of both various varieties of Protestantism as well as Tridentine Catholicism, including the ways in which both developed their overall theologies, including their theological reflections upon the state and politics in relation to the church and faith. The full story of the construction of the “modern”, with its varying assumptions, however, is beyond the scope of this present essay, but a few brief gestures toward a more complete genealogy may prove useful in questioning its suppositions and categories.