Does The Church Have a Future?

07/08/2011 10:11 am ET

In a passage from"Strangers to Ourselves," we find the idea that Paul's ekklesia speaks to psychic distress and soothes psychosis, which is usually divided into schizophrenia and paranoia. This ekklesia is a "community of foreigners." It is an "ideal community," "an original entity," a "messianism that includes all of humankind." In short, nothing less than a transformed society. --Kristeva 1991: 76-83

Repression is the operation which constitutes neurosis, whereas foreclosure is the operation which constitutes psychosis. --Jacques Lacan

For centuries, the psychology of the Church has camped out in two areas: psychosis or neurosis.

This cause of psychosis stems from the reality that somewhere along the line the Church replaced God. The structures and institutions have been embedded within the psyche of those in power for so long that the two cannot seemingly be separated. It would be too easy to use Constantine as an example, and to be honest, an outmoded one, because I think Constantine wasn't trying to create a place for Christianity but rather a name for himself in history. It was a political move not a religious one.

But what about now?

First let's re-define institution or structure not simply as a building made by hands or with bricks but an idea that be perverted into a structure of any kind. For example, in the movie "Shawshank Redemption," Morgan Freeman's character, Red, defines the life of someone in prison as this: "These prison walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That's institutionalized. They send you here for life, that's exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways."

An institution can also be a systematic idea that we uphold.

In reality, what can happen over time though is that system or idea begins to think for us. So then rather moving forward we have the appearance of progress but within the confines of the institution. Progress then is simply an illusion that occurs rather than something that is experienced. In the case of the Church some have objectified the model over the purpose, some have judged reality by this institutional object and those who live within it. This is not theology. This is structural oppression and seems violently counter to the love spoken of by Jesus of Nazareth.

At one point Jesus tells his audience that he will destroy the temple and raise it in three days and he's mocked for making such a claim. For some of the authors, Jesus was being metaphorical and was speaking about his resurrection. Although this is a possibility, what if Jesus was doing something more subversive? What if it was a metaphor of a metaphor? Let me explain. Maybe what Jesus was doing was re-defining the whole notion of how we understand ideology. Rather than assuming that we are hell-bent toward creating structures around everything or that everything will eventually lead to some sort of structural expression, maybe Jesus was saying that we have all the structure(s) we need within us.

Notice he says he will destroy the temple and then that he will raise it. We assume he is simply speaking of raising the temple, but maybe he is actually stating that from the point of structural death is the entrance of the structures within ourselves. That we do not need structures to define our reality, notions or relationships. Notice he refers to himself after the destruction of the temple. It's transference. One will lead to the other.

When he does this, what he is ultimately stating is that relationships are the only thing we truly need. This is where the Church has failed historically and even now. When John Piper tells Rob Bell "So long..." this isn't anything that looks like what Jesus seems to refer to. I would call this stupidity. But not in its primary sense.

Cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek claims that ideology tends to work at the level of whatever is "common sense" is/should be the only acceptable reality and should never be questioned.

In the Marxist framework in which Žižek operates, ideology is the "common sense" of a society that serves to justify the interests and power of its dominant group(s). It is the shared set of often unquestioned assumptions about the way the world is supposed to work that gives a social system popular legitimacy by conditioning subordinate groups to freely accept their inferior position as natural.

As such, ideology attains a status similar to our knowledge that the sun will rise tomorrow morning -- it is simply taken for granted and seems beyond question.

In the movie "Hitch," actor Will Smith plays a relationship coach who embarks on his own self-journey of employing all of the "rules" of attracting the opposite sex, but in the end realizes none of his rules actualy work. Initially he defines reality with the other as one reliant on certain ways of being, which in our reality tends to be deemed as common sense. What is socially acceptable tends to also fall in this category. At the end of the movie, he ultimately comes to claim that structured reality simply does not work.

For the Church to have a future, it must also remember that it was always meant to be universal.

Not in the traditional meta-narrative fashion translated through belief hegemony, but rather a way of being. Jesus seems to think that he came for the world. Paul seems to think his goal is to bridge the gap between the Jewish world and the Greek world (the "known" world at the time). Jesus even shares with some of his friends that their message is meant to be for the world.

But I think we might err as the Church if we translate this message to mean that we need to attack one another or others for that matter. This is a form of neurosis as spoken about above. Repression is the main cause of neurosis. But what are we repressing? We are repressing the notion that the universal message of Jesus was always meant to be universal. Simply put, we have forgotten how to share.

The Bible isn't a book for a few people (as the conservatives seem to claim), but rather an ongoing novel that humanity as a whole gets to take part in. This is very much an immature stance to take, and this is where I think the conservative right has gone extremely wrong by assuming the message was ever their's in the first place.

But what about psychosis, how does that fit into this? Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan says this: The "imaginary external world" of a psychosis attempts to put itself in place of the "external world."

In other words, psychosis attempts to be the very structure it lacks. It tries to define anything and everything by its own un-definition. The loss isn't as important as what is put in its place. This is the error of the Liberal Left. The attempt to fill the gaps and the holes with something else. I think in reality the conservatives might be better off accepting that historically we have tried to fill a gap and the left would be better off leaving the gap alone. The future of the church lies in the gap.

The idea behind the notion of Christian love is a death to self. The Greeks referred to it as agape. For this kind of true love to be experienced, a death (I refer to this as a "violent act" in the metaphorical sense) has to occur. For true love to remain it must be first viewed as a violent act. Jesus claims that to follow after him we must be willing to: "Hate your mother and etc." Zizek states that this is then a form of "violence." This violent act is a form of salvation. I think its good to remember that this kind of love is meant to dissolve institutions. For the human community to be re-named as the Church itself, this means the above kind of violent act of love has to occur towards the systems that have taken its place and be re-claimed. Not as an exclusive moment of card-carrying members, but as a creative community that refers to itself as humanity. That is the power of this universal message.

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