The Blog of Jack Holloway

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bonhoeffer's Spoke in the Wheel, or, "You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means."



I have seen this meme on Facebook more than once. It is one of Bonhoeffer’s more frequently quoted statements. Here at Union Theological Seminary, it is a popular sentiment, used to refer to the need for revolutionary social change.

Following Reggie Williams’ narrative of Bonhoeffer as an academic-theologian-turned-black-theologian due to his stay at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Bonhoeffer is often portrayed as a social justice hero.[1] He was a radical theologian of Christian resistance, a precursor to liberation theology, a revolutionary who advocated fighting for justice by any means necessary—and that is why he was imprisoned and later executed.

The "spoke in the wheel" metaphor is a powerful one, almost immediately evoking images of revolution for resistance-minded folks. And yet, it is almost never contextualized, Bonhoeffer’s meaning by it is almost never considered, and instead its meaning is almost always assumed. When its actual meaning is sought after, the result is…well, rather boring, compared to the implications usually associated with the phrase.

Bonhoeffer did engage in resistance, and he had a theology of resistance—a rather intentional, and systematic one at that. But we would do well to clarify Bonhoeffer’s own theology of resistance, instead of just conforming it to our own.

For Bonhoeffer, generally speaking, the church is “not encouraged to get involved directly in specific political actions of the state … neither to praise nor to censure the laws of the state.”[2]

We need to let that set in, because Bonhoeffer's thought is already more boring and less radical than that of liberationists (like myself).

According to Bonhoeffer, the state’s purpose is to preserve a godless world for Christ by establishing order through the law and the sword. This a thoroughly Lutheran understanding of the two kingdom. Church: preaches the gospel. State: preserves the world through law and order so the world can hear the gospel.[3]

It is possible, however, for the state to institute “too little law and order or too much law and order.”  He explains, “There is too little law and order wherever a group of people is deprived of its rights,” and there is too much when the state develops “its use of force to such a degree as to rob the Christian faith of its right to proclaim its message.”[4] When a group of people is being deprived of its rights, or when the state is endangering the church’s ability to preach the gospel, the church’s responsibility concerning politics changes.

However, when he talks about groups deprived of their rights, he didn't think in the same way we tend to. He said, it is “extraordinarily difficult to distinguish actual deprivation of rights from a formally permitted minimum of rights.”[5] So, it is not that, any time you see a group deprived of rights, that constitutes a situation pastors have to speak out about. It has to be clear that it is a systemic issue, and that it is done "without any scruples."[6]

However, Bonhoeffer distinguishes between “the responsibility of the pastoral office” of the church, and “the responsibility of [individual] Christians.”[7] Individual Christians can be more actively political than pastors. On the pastoral, church level, Bonhoeffer states that while the church should not infringe on the state’s territory by taking direct political action, “it can and must … keep asking the government whether its actions can be justified as legitimate state actions, that is, actions that create law and order, not lack of rights and disorder.”[8]

This is the first possibility for church political action: pastors publicly calling the state's decisions into question, when they seem to imply too much or too little law and order.

The second possibility for church political action is “service to the victims of the state’s actions,” because the church “has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order.”[9] The church, Bonhoeffer says, has to take a “view from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled—in short, from the perspective of those who suffer,” and this view necessarily has practical implications.[10]

I would call this treatment of the symptoms and not of the system! But I am a revolutionary, and Bonhoeffer wasn't interested in revolution.

The final possibility of church political action is the most serious for Bonhoeffer, and it is here where we get the spoke in the wheel analogy. “The third possibility,” he says, “is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to seize the wheel itself.”[11] This is the possibility of “direct political action,” and it is only possible if “the state, without any scruples, has created either too much or too little law and order,” so much so that it threatens “the existence of the state and thus [the church’s] own existence as well.”[12]

What would this actually look like? The answer: A public confession of the church established by an evangelical council.[13]

This might seem like a child opening up a Christmas present only to find socks moment, but for Bonhoeffer it is a big deal. This is when the church boldly and intentionally infringes on the state’s territory and tells it what to do. It is the church’s concrete commandment to the world, and takes the form in a definitive No to the state’s actions.

Bonhoeffer thinks this should be rare because the church does not specialize in governance and so does not always know best how to establish law and order. Only an extreme situation could demand direct political action, and only a group committed to the truth of the gospel can together justifiably determine if the situation demands such a response.

Bonhoeffer’s own example of this was “the obligatory exclusion of baptized Jews from our Christian congregations or a ban on missions to the Jews.”[14] Such state actions infringe on the church’s business and endanger the church’s proclamation of the gospel, and so must be resisted definitively. This is too much law and order.

The church cannot always be getting into politics, but should do so sparingly, in order to preserve the state’s integrity as an order of preservation, in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel, and in order to preserve the integrity of the church’s concrete commandment.

The church cannot be subject to the same whimsicalness and low standard of accuracy that political commentators are subject to. He says, “with every word [the church] speaks it is putting its entire authority at stake.”[15]

A revolutionary, Bonhoeffer most certainly was not. While we find in Bonhoeffer’s work a robust and systematic theological approach to the topic of resistance, it does not look like what liberationists (again, like me) would like it to.

He did not base his political thought on a theology of God's identification with the lowly and oppressed. He was not turned into a black liberation theologian after his time in Harlem. Nor did his time in Harlem "transform" his thinking and make him capable of resisting Hitler. His political thinking was thoroughly Lutheran, and already established before Harlem.

When he returned from New York to join the resistance, he did so with the framework that he had already adopted as a Lutheran, with his own understanding of its implications for his time.

Take Bonhoeffer's political thought or leave it. Agree with it, or argue with it. But don't simply conform it to your own. Those like Eric Metaxas, Stanley Hauerwas, and Reggie Williams have all done this in different ways. Bonhoeffer is widely misunderstood on this point. Everyone want to claim the theologian that resisted Hitler for themselves. But ultimately if we are appropriating someone's work, we should care about what that person cared about, and try to understand that person on his own terms.



Notes:
[1] Reggie L. Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014).
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” in The Bonhoeffer Reader, ed. Clifford J. Green and Michael P. DeJonge (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 372
[3] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 112. Also see, Michael P. DeJonge, Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
[4] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 373-374.
[5] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 373.
[6] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 374.
[7] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Theological Position Paper on State and Church,” in The Bonhoeffer Reader, 713.
[8] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 373.
[9] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 374.
[10] Bonhoeffer, quoted in Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, “Poverty and Public Theology: Advocacy of the Church in Pluralistic Society,” International Journal of Public Theology, 2 (2008), 156.
[11] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 374.
[12] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 374.
[13] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 375.
[14] Bonhoeffer, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” 374.
[15] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “To Helmut Rößler,” in Berlin: 1932–1933, ed. Larry L. Rasmussen, trans. Isabel Best and David Higgins (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 83.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Let's just say it, Republican Christianity is Idolatrous Heresy




I am done pretending that Republican Christians are biblicists.

They often parade themselves as those who "judge any candidate's beliefs against the absolute authority of God’s Word."[1] But this is, to use Paul's word, skybala--rubbish, bullshit.

81% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.[2] They didn't do this because they judged which of the two candidates were the more biblical. They may say this is the reason, but it's just not true. It couldn't possibly be true, because everywhere the Bible talks about an ideal leader, it describes someone entirely unlike Trump.

So how did they decide?
Before I get started, I want to clarify that I am not referring to Christians who are also Republican, but the hyphenated Christian-Republicanism, Republican-Christianity, the ideology that ties Republican values with Christian values, that fails to distinguish the two, and so claims a theological sanction for Republican politics.
Growing up in the world of Republican Christianity, I was taught the things they emphasize in elections, and this election turned out to not be any different.

Wayne Grudem captured just about all the angles in his three posts about voting for Trump. Referring to the prophet Jeremiah's teaching to "seek the welfare of the city" where God has sent you, Grudem said Christians have "to vote in such a way that will 'seek the welfare' of the United States." The question is then, "Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?"[3]

Jerry Falwell, Jr. similarly stated, "Jesus said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. And that means be good citizens and choose who would be the best leader for the country."[4]

Their appeals to particular Bible verses might make it seem like they are trying to be biblical in their political thought, but beware lest you be led astray. Their assessment of the "Which vote" question is far from biblical.

Grudem asks, "Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?" Or, he asks, should he taken the "unusual opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that she champions"?

The message is clear: liberalism is entirely contrary to Christianity. Liberalism is the enemy. The Christian thing to do is to "defeat" liberalism. Again, he quotes Scripture: "'Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin' (James 4:17)."[5]

Grudem then goes on to specifically address various key issues. The best candidate would appoint Christian-minded supreme court justices, oppose abortion, fight for religious (i.e. Christian) liberty, defend Christian business owners and Christian schools, and fight to represent Christian churches.[6]

This essentially captures the thinking behind support for Trump. The thread that runs throughout can be stated quite simply: political power for Christians. As Pastor Mark Burns stated, Trump "is going to make sure we as Christians are protected when he gets to the White House!" Similarly, he said Trump is "fighting for Christianity." Trump, he claims, “believes [Christian values] are one of the core values that has made America great and we need to get back to those values."[7]

Eric Metaxas echoes these sentiments. Liberals, he says, are going to make it illegal to say homosexuality is a sin, so we need someone like Trump to defend our religious liberty.[8]

Others, however, add others reasons as well. Falwell said that in Trump, "Evangelicals have found their dream president." In his justification for this, he said Trump appointed people of faith to his cabinet, fights to defend Christians in the Middle East who are being killed by radical terrorists, and also points to Trump's emphasis on securing U.S. borders.[9]

Metaxas also emphasizes borders.[10] This is due to his theological reading of the American nation. He says, "My earnest hope is that most Americans will learn again to love their country, and will understand that not to do so is like refusing to love oneself or one’s children." He says Americans are, "to use Lincoln’s phrase, God’s 'almost chosen people.'" America is "a beacon of hope and freedom to the world."[11] On this basis, he defends Trump's "America First" policy.[12]

Put it all together, and you essentially have three major points for Republican Christian political thought: 1) Liberalism is the enemy; 2) Christians need political power; and 3) America is theologically significant and so must be defended as such.

Nothing about any of these sentiments is biblical in the Christian sense. The first, that liberalism is the enemy, comes not from the Bible but from Republican politics. Grudem doesn't get his aversion to "tax-and-spend, big government liberalism" from biblical values. He gets it from Republican values. All kinds of attempts are made to defend it on biblical terms, of course, but, if we're honest, the reason why Grudem thinks this way has nothing to do with the Bible, but with Republican influence, with a tendency toward conservative politics the foundation of which certainly does not lie in Scripture.

The second concern, that of Christian political power, also has nothing to do with the Bible. Christianity has never had anything to do with demanding rights, with political power, or with ruling the secular world.

Paul says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition" (Phil. 2:3). The Greek word for 'selfish ambition' denotes one who demands his own rights, who "seeks to promote his own cause."[13] Instead, Paul says, "Let your benevolence be evident to all!' (4:5). The Greek word for 'benevolence' denotes a quality "that keeps one from insisting on his full rights … or from making a rigorous and obstinate stand for what is justly due him."[14]

The earliest Christians suffered injustice, they suffered persecution. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” He said, "Blessed are you when people persecute you and insult you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you on account of me." He said, "Rejoice and be glad! Your reward in Heaven" (Matt. 5:10–12).

Kierkegaard even went so far as to say, "let persecution come--that very instant Christianity again exists."[15]

When their rights were threatened, early Christians didn’t make it their goal to gain as much political power as possible in order to ensure their safety and comfort. Karl Barth was quite apt when he said, "Whenever the Church has entered the political arena to fight for its claim to be given public recognition," it has always been "an impenitent, spiritually unfree Church."[16]

Republican Christians, on the other hand, have become like the world in their pursuit of political power. They then completely neglect the rights and needs of others. But this is entirely opposed to the heart of Christian faith. Christians concern themselves with the needs of others or they aren't Christians.

If Grudem really wanted to get his political thought from Jeremiah, he would have payed attention to 22:16, where it says defending the cause of the poor and needy is what it means to know the Lord. How is it possible that defending the cause of the poor and needy has never been a part of the "biblically-minded" Republican-Christian platform?

The third concern of Republican Christianity, the identification of God with the American nation, is also entirely unbiblical. The Bible only recognizes one God, the God of Jesus Christ. This God is not revealed in this or that human group, or this or that human power, but alone in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In his day Karl Barth blasted an idolatrous theology that put the German nation on par with God's revelation in Jesus Christ. One of his contemporaries, Emmanuel Hirsch, stated that allegiance to the German people and the German state could only be denied by disobedience to God. In this spirit, he supported National Socialism. He said of Hitler, "Not one people in the world ... has a statesman who takes Christianity so seriously. When Adolf Hitler ended his great speech on 1 May with a prayer, the whole world felt the wonderful sincerity of it."[17]

Compare these remarks to those of Falwell and Burns!

My point is not to equate Trump to Hitler, but to point out the danger of idolizing a nation and a leader the way Republican Christians have done. Against such idolatry, Barth insisted on the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Bible as the sole source of faith.

Republican Christians may pretend to be biblicists, but they do not believe in the Word of God as the sole source of revelation and faith. In practice, they place Republican values on par with Scripture, Republican enemies on par with the enemy of God, and the American nation on par with the kingdom of God.

In his third article on voting for Trump, Grudem considered the question, "Are there no limits to what you will tolerate in a candidate?" He remarked that this question troubled him, but ultimately he disregarded it, coming to the conclusion: "because I agree with his policies, Trump is the far better choice."[18]

And so he reveals his answer. As long as a candidate opposes liberalism, promises Christians political power, and protects America's all-so-sacred borders, he will vote for anyone, forgive anything, overlooking any sin and injustice. He would vote for the devil himself if the devil was so disguised.

I speak, not as a liberal in defense of liberalism, not as a lefty against right-wingers, not as a radical against the enemy, but as a Christian, as a student of the Bible, as one who seeks after Jesus Christ, as a witness to the Word of God. I do not act as if my political views comprise the biblical or the godly alternative, but I can certainly recognize idolatry when I see it.

Grudem, Falwell, Metaxas, Burns, and all others like them, reveal themselves to be the truest heretics. They have committed themselves to an idolatrous heresy, and have completely compromised both Bible and Gospel. They have abandoned the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

They have no business associating themselves with the Word of God. They would do better to stay home and stay quiet than spoil the integrity of the Word of God by representing it so miserably.

"They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'" Exodus 32:8


References:
[1] https://answersingenesis.org/ministry-news/ministry/donald-trump-phenomenon/
[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/
[3] https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564
[4] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/meet-pastors-support-donald-trump/story?id=38406350
[5] https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564
[6] Ibid.
[7] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/meet-pastors-support-donald-trump/story?id=38406350
[8] http://ericmetaxas.com/media/articles/eric-metaxas-bonhoeffer-brexit-backing-trump/
[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jerry-falwell-jr-dream-president-trump_us_5906950fe4b05c3976807a08
[10] https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564
[11] http://ericmetaxas.com/media/articles/wall-street-journal-promise-president-trump-eric-metaxas/
[12] http://ericmetaxas.com/media/articles/atlantic-evangelical-christian-defends-trumps-first-week-office/
[13] Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians, trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 55.
[14] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Vol. 43 of Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 182.
[15] Kierkegaard, Attack upon 'Christendom', trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 177.
[16] Karl Barth, "The Christian Community and the Civil Community," in Community, State, and Church: Three Essays (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004), 166.
[17] Quoted in Timothy, J. Gorringe, Karl Barth Against Hegemony: Christian Theology in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 130.
[18] https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/10/19/if-you-dont-like-either-candidate-then-vote-for-trumps-policies-n2234187

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Karl Barth's Black Jesus



Karl Barth is famous (and in some places infamous) for conceiving of God as "wholly other" to human beings. Barth's God is radically transcendent, radically other, and quite hidden. Barth is often criticized on this point for failing to do justice to God's immanence, for making God so inaccessible that speech of God becomes substance-less. How can we make affirmations about God if God is always wholly other and hidden?

Setting aside the fact that this is a rather one-sided picture of Barth's theology, I want to emphasize one of the ways Barth addressed this problem. That is, Barth conceived of God not merely as completely veiled to human beings in general, but particularly veiled in lowly communities. It can be said that, for Barth, there is potential for seeing God in people who suffer and are oppressed, because God makes God's self wholly other to human greatness, and not just to humanity in general.

In order to understand this, we have to understand the origin of Barth's radically transcendent conception of God. The identification of God with the German war effort by many of Barth's contemporaries was the occasion for Barth's decisive NO to liberal theology. Liberal theology, Barth came to see, was a theology of glory; it identified divinity with the glory of humanity, with strength, with success, and we could add, with whiteness. Barth saw this as idolatry.

As black theologian James Cone describes, Barth's criticism of liberal theology was a criticism of "nineteenth century liberalism with its emphasis on the goodness and worth of humanity (which always meant white European humanity)."[1] He adds that, "Every black intellectual is aware that when liberals spoke of 'inevitable progress' and the 'upward movement of Western culture,' it was realized at the expense of blacks who were enslaved and colonized to secure 'progress.'"[2]

Barth was similarly aware that it always meant a divine sanction of human corruption. Nations continually claim God for their side, touting themselves as the innocent and the others as the enemy. "It is sheer blasphemy to relate God to our human strivings in this way," Barth preached.[3] Selfishness, arrogance, hatred, anxiety, and violence are all "completely alien to the innermost being of God," so that if they become the rule of the day, it can only mean "God's innermost being is also completely alien to humankind."[4]

Barth's No to liberal theology, then, was not merely a No to humanity on principle because humanness is evil. His No was fundamentally a No to a human attempt to raise the human up by identifying divinity with human ideas of greatness. Included in Barth's protest against this was an affirmation of God's lowliness. "Against all those who want to be great in this world," Barth said in first commentary on Romans, "I must espouse the standpoint of those little people with whom God makes his beginning." God, he says, "is one-sidedly a God of the lowly."[5]

Because God is a God of the lowly, God can never be identified with human greatness, with human vanity. To identify God with human greatness is to put human glory (which is really arrogance and domination) on a high place, on a pedestal, to be worshiped as an idol.

The hiddenness and otherness of God for Barth is not simply a divine attribute of anti-humanity. We must never forget that God did not come in the form of some kind of extraterrestrial alien being, but as a human. The decisive point is that God came in the form of a lowly human, he came in the form of a servant.

Martin Luther similarly stated that "God destroys the wisdom of the wise" by hiding God's self "in suffering," in "the humility and shame of the cross."[6] It is in this spirit that Barth understands the hiddenness of God in lowly communities. Barth says in his second Romans commentary, the otherness of the other "reminds us of the WHOLLY OTHER."[7]

Consequently, "all Titanism, all mounting of high places, is excluded. ... In order to correspond with their veritable situation men must therefore--bow."[8] That is to say, recognizing that the otherness of the other points to the otherness of God, recognizing that God is the crucified Christ, who veils God's self in a servant-form, who unconditionally identifies God's self with the lowly--all of this means not an exaltation or glorification of human greatness, not a divinization of the human, or a sanctioning of human glory, but, rather, a humbling of one's self, a prostration.

If God is identified with the lowly, then we must makes ourselves lowly to glorify God. If God is identified with the lowly, then we should not look to high places, to human greatness, to domination and success, in order to find God's glory, but should rather look to those who are exploited, oppressed, who suffer at the hands of human glory.

Barth stayed true to this understanding in his Church Dogmatics as well. He says, "God stands at every time unconditionally and passionately on this and only on this side: always against the exalted and for the lowly, always against those who already have rights and for those from whom they are robbed and taken away."[9]

It is in God's revelation in Jesus Christ that we have this knowledge, not in some natural knowledge of God, as the liberal theologians would have it. "Far from being founded upon any sort of general anthropology," Barth says, "our proof is absolutely related to Christology."[10] Precisely in the servant-form lies "a veiling of the divine majesty." This is how "the Word enters hiddenness."[11] Jesus' lowliness is not inconsequential, but is precisely how God reveals God's self as both hidden and revealed. “In [Jesus Christ] God reveals Himself inexorably as the hidden God."[12]

Barth's problem with liberal theology was not merely that they identified God with something human, but that they identified God with human greatness, with human glory, and so exalted themselves even more. They were the exalted ones exalting themselves through theology. They were the ones with rights claiming a divine sanction for furthering their own rights over against the rights of others. Barth declared this to be idolatry.

This critique of idolatry was James Cone's starting point as well. Cone's black theology of liberation was aimed at white idolatry, at the identification of divinity with whiteness, and so at the supposed divine sanction of white supremacy. Cone's protest against this idolatry was to boldly proclaim that God is not a God of whiteness, but is wholly other to the white God, and so identifies with oppressed blacks and fights for them.

Similarly, Barth's theology can be described as a black theology. It at least lends itself to black theology. This is so because, for Barth, God reveals God's self in the servant-form of Jesus Christ. The human constructs idols of human glory that are at odds with lowly servant-forms, and so God elects the servant-form to veil and unveil God's self. Jesus is black because Jesus reveals God's self in human lowliness and suffering.

To fail to understand this about Barth's theology is to make Barth's God an abstract concept of otherness, reducible to the idea of the "unconditioned" or the "undeconstructable" in philosophy. Barth again and again insists that the hiddenness of God is not this, that God's hiddenness is not merely a general mysteriousness, or a general concept of that which is beyond human conception. God veils God's self, and God does this not just in defying human thinking, but in veiling God's self in what humans deem undesirable, unworthy, and unwelcome.

To fail to witness to God's hiddenness in those who are lowly is to fail to witness to the Word of God. To fail to see Christ in the otherness of those who are suffering is to fail to see Christ altogether. To fail to see God suffering with the black community is to fail to see the cross.

And even further, to fail to understand one's self as responsible for acting on behalf of the poor and oppressed is to fail to understand our God-given responsibility. As Barth says, we cannot hear and believe God's identification with the lowly "without feeling a sense of responsibility in the direction indicated." Specifically, he says,
There follows from this character of faith a political attitude, decisively determined by the fact that man is made responsible to all those who are poor and wretched in his eyes, that he is summoned on his part to espouse the cause of those who suffer wrong. ... He cannot avoid the question of human rights. He can only will and affirm a state which is based on justice. By any other political attitude he rejects the divine justification.[13]
According to Barth, God is particularly concerned for the poor and oppressed, particularly concerned for their liberation. To hear and believe God's Word then behooves one to be responsible for the poor and oppressed, and to work for their liberation.

So then, to hear and believe God's Word today means to be moved by the suffering of the black community, and to act accordingly. To fail to do so is, as Barth said, to reject divine justification.


Notes:
[1] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 40th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 19-20)
[2] Cone, 20.
[3] Karl Barth, A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth's WWI Sermons, ed. and trans. William Klempa (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 109.
[4] Barth, A Unique Time of God, 111.
[5] Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief, 1st ed., quoted in George Hunsinger, "Toward a Radical Barth," in Karl Barth and Radical Politics (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), 225.
[6] Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, in The Annotated Luther, Vol. 1: The Roots of Reform, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 99.
[7] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), 444.
[8] Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 444.
[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. II: The Doctrine of God, Part 1, eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans. T. H. L. Parker, W. B. Johnston, Harold Knight, and J. L. M. Haire (New York: T&T Clark, 1957 [repr. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]), 386.
[10] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 2, eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans G. T. Thomson and Harold Knight (New York: T&T Clark, 1956 [repr. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]), 44.
[11] Barth, CD I.2, 37.
[12] Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 369.
[13] Barth, CD II.1, 386-387.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Peace at All Costs: The Disparity between Anabaptist Theology & Black Theology


Anabaptist theologians claim that following Jesus’ teaching necessitates a wholesale commitment to nonviolence. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of whatever particular details a given situation could have, Anabaptists hold up a universal judgment concerning any and all acts of violence: they are all condemned by God. Period.

Furthermore, Christ-likeness means giving up any participation in the work of the State, i.e., refusing military service, and resisting all involvement in political affairs. Don’t run for office, don’t vote, don’t join the military. With a particular reading of Jesus’ attitude toward politics, and with the assumption that everything Jesus does and says is commanded by God as the right way to live, applicable to all times in situations, they conclude that Christians should follow the model of Jesus of Nazareth to the letter, and never do anything that seems like something Jesus of Nazareth wouldn’t do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’ criticized Anabaptism on this point. He said Anabaptists turn peace into an “absolute norm” and nonviolence into an unqualified “biblical law” applicable to all humans at all times. They thus become legalists.[1]

What we have to affirm in order to resist this tendency, Bonhoeffer says, is that Jesus is a person, a living subject.[2] Jesus is not simply “that guy in the Gospels,” but the One, resurrected Son of God who lives and speaks today. Jesus is Immanuel, God – with – us. He is not just a dead guy whose memory lives on in the Christian community, but the person that the Christian is to actually encounter in the church.

Only by affirming Jesus’ life and activity in the present can we avoid putting Jesus in a box of our own making. This means we have to leave even our nicest and dearest principles open to alteration, subject to change.

Jesus’ word will always be an other word, a word from someone who is not like us, who is beyond us, and thus calls into question even our most profound insights. And this means we have to learn to look for Jesus in those things which are other to us.

James Cone provides an essential way of doing this today. He says that if we want to see where God is and what God is doing and saying in a white supremacist society, we have to look at the black community. That Jesus is alive and present today means that Jesus is hidden among those who are alienated and oppressed in today's world, and that means black lives. Today, if we are to understand that Jesus was a Jew, we have to say that Jesus is black.[3]

It is not enough, however, to just say this, to just acknowledge it, as if the purpose of black theology is just to get itself a footnote in a white theologian's book. Witnessing to Jesus' presence in the black community means subjecting ourselves to a responsibility for the black community. It means opening ourselves up to black experience, being taught by what we find there, and responding accordingly.

Unfortunately, Anabaptist theology from the outset is not open to being taught by black experience. Built as it is on absolute principles of peace and political withdrawal, it is difficult to see how Anabaptist theology could truly be open to reckoning with a responsibility for addressing the suffering and oppression of black lives. It states definitively that it will never entertain the possibility of involvement in any acts of violence, or engaging in politics, and thus fundamentally shuts itself off from the testimony of those like Malcolm X.

Anabaptist theology sets the ground rules for its engagement with black lives. It will address black suffering on its own terms, in accordance with its own rules, and thus does not leave itself open to learning from black needs and encounters. It does not open itself to what Bonhoeffer called a "concrete commandment," a new divine word for a particular, concrete situation.[4]

Cone, in his book A Black Theology of Liberation, quotes Malcolm X saying, “Don’t let anybody who is oppressing us ever lay the ground rules,” and also, “What is logical to the oppressor isn’t logical to the oppressed.”[5] A white, affluent society may believe, for example, that violence is never justified, that nonviolence is always the only Christ-like approach, and that Christians should not engage in politics, but for Malcolm X that should in no way obligate blacks to follow suit. Black theology is not black if it commits itself to the rules of white theology. Black theology binds itself to black experience, and is answerable to that experience, and not to absolute principles.

Malcolm X spoke of black power in the voting ballot, and if that fails, then it may lie in the bullet.[6] Anabaptist theology disarms black people when it denies them both the ballot and the bullet. Black theology is thus not compatible with Anabaptist theology, for the latter refuses to be answerable to black experience. It denies history in favor of principle. It can only hope that in doing so it does not also deny God in favor of principle.

Ultimately, the Anabaptist Jesus is distinguishable from the responsive, dynamic God of the Israelites. This Jesus is not willing to get his hands dirty for the liberation of the oppressed. He would rather rest well on the certain and absolute principle of peace than risk his purity in the fight for liberation. Is he not then different from the God of the Israelites, who was responsive to Israel's history and at times suspended the ethical in favor of Israelite liberation?

The classic binary between the good God of the New Testament and the horrible God of the Old Testament may thus be reversed for black theology. If the Anabaptist Jesus is the God of the New Testament, then the hope of black theology lies in the liberating God of the Old Testament. And Anabaptists have always been allergic to the God of the Old Testament.


Notes:
[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Lecture in Ciernohorské Kúpele: On the Theological Foundation of the Work of the World Alliance,” in Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work, 1931–1932, ed. Victoria J. Barnett, Mark S. Brocker, and Michael B. Lukens, trans. Anne Schmidt-Lange, Isabel Best, Nicolas Humphrey, and Marion Pauck (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 362. Also see Michael P. DeJonge, "Anabaptists and Peace," in Bonhoeffer's Reception of Luther (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), particularly 172-177.
[2] See Bonhoeffer, Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology, ed. Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr., trans. H. Martin Rumscheidt (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 126-135. Also see, Discipleship, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and John D. Godsey, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Kraus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 201-204.
[3] See James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 40th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010); as well as God of the Oppressed, rev. ed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997).
[4] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 363-387.
[5] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, xvii, and xix..
[6] Malcolm X, "The Ballot or the Bullet," in Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, ed. George Breitman (New York: Grove Press, 1990), 23-44.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Karl Barth on Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age (in response to Bonhoeffer)


A common criticism of Karl Barth is that he does not sufficiently address the problems of the modern person. Theologians like Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and even Dietrich Bonhoeffer concerned themselves with the question of how we can proclaim the gospel in an age that cares less and less about God, the church, or theology. They searched in vain for an answer to this in Barth's works--or, rather, they were disappointed with the answers they found.

I, however, find Barth's approach to this issue quite compelling, and so I'd like to explain what it is, and why I like it. (Barth enthusiasts will want to pay attention to the endnotes.)

Barth makes special note of this problem in The Humanity of God, published in 1956.[1] Here, he responds to Bonhoeffer's criticism of him. Bonhoeffer had written in his letters from prison that Barth did not provide any guidance on how to interpret theological concepts for a world come of age, for nonreligious people, and so leaves the world to its own devices, ending up with a "positivism of revelation." Modern people don't understand the need for biblical proclamation and theological exposition, and Bonhoeffer thought theologians should take this seriously instead of going on their merry way.

In response, Barth says that the so-called "world come of age" only imagines itself as such, but really is not as adult as it thinks it is. He also says Christians are not outsiders to this world come of age. We are all modern people, and so whenever we proclaim the gospel, we proclaim it as modern people. One of Barth's students, while discussing certain biblical material in class, asked Barth, "But how can you make that understandable to modern man?" Barth responded, "You're a modern man. Do you understand it?"[2]

Barth's point is that we do not need to act like we are aliens from another planet visiting earth trying to make ourselves clear. If we can groove with Christianity, that must mean others can as well, without special help from "nonreligious interpretation."[3]

Nonreligious interpretation, for Barth, can all-too-easily lead to compromising the Word of God for the sake of the world, and so Barth wants to err on the side of proclaiming the Word of God with the language we receive from Scripture and, secondarily, from the history of the church's proclamation.

Finally, Barth appeals to the inherent strangeness in the gospel message, making the point that the gospel will not measure up to the modern person's standard of comprehensibility because it is by nature an other Word to our human words.

That said, Barth incites us to make sure it is wonderfully strange, as it is a message of God's eternal love for the world. We will be heard by the world if we stay true to the Word of God in our proclamation, because the Word of God has genuine power--indeed, it has the power of God.[4]

In the same year, Barth published volume IV.1 of his Church Dogmatics. Here, Barth extends his criticism of the modern human being. What might seem like adulthood is really a brazen claim to privilege and lordship, when people, in truth, are utterly dependent on God and are lowly creatures. The "coming of age" is really a transvaluation of God’s order. Barth goes so far as to compare the modern coming of age to Adam and Eve succumbing to the devil in the Fall.[5]

However, Barth does not use this as an excuse to ignore unbelievers. On the contrary, he recognized the need for the church to be there for others and to be Christ’s presence to and for the world. In CD IV.2, he says, "There can be no divine revelation without a human ministry of witness."[6] Human ministry is the love of neighbors which reflects God's love for us.[7] Neglecting this aspect of the church’s task is neglecting the church’s task entirely.

Humans cannot love others and minister to others if they ignore their concerns and questions. This was at the heart of Bonhoeffer's critique of Barth. He essentially believed that Barth was doing too much highly concentrated theological explication and not enough interpretation of theological concepts for a nonreligious age. “The church is church only when it is there for others,” Bonhoeffer said.[8]

But Barth thought ministry of the Word can be done for a nonreligious age if theological explication is done properly, and on its own terms. He might say that the most compelling interpretation of theological concepts is an accurate explication of them.

Barth did also say that a little bit of language "from the street, the newspaper, literature, and, if one is ambitious, from the philosopher" may be necessary for the purposes of communication, but ultimately he thought we should not try to dumb down the strangeness of the Word, for it is no stranger today than it was in past ages.[9]

In a BBC interview, Vernon Sproxton asked him, “Do you think it is possible for modern man to hear the word of God clearly in the Bible?” Barth answered, “It is not easier and it is not more difficult for modern man, because for all men God is a stranger and God can only be heard and understood insofar as He Himself speaks to him. Now He speaks, but there will be a discontinuity on the side of man, not on the side of God, but on the side of man; and insofar it is always an event, if men understand Him. This event may happen in modern times as it happened in old times. I don't see a difference.”[10]

As a Barthian theologian, I struggle with this point. On the one hand I am personally often at a loss for words when confronted with the task of explaining my theology or Barth’s theology to an unbeliever, or even to a lay Christian. When people ask me, “Why do you believe in God?” or “Why are you a Christian?” or “Who’s this Barth guy? What’s his deal?” I usually struggle to find a way to explain the subject without having them think I mean something I do not mean.

On the other hand, I do resist the tendency to think that it was easier for Paul or for Martin Luther to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18), than it is for us today. Was this really easier to believe while Christians were being persecuted in Rome? Or in the plague-stricken world of medieval Europe? Is the modern person really that special?

And is there not something to say for Barth’s critique of modernity? Should we be surprised, for example, that the age of human autonomy and "adulthood" so easily became the age of the Anthropocene?

I think Barth was right to demean the importance of modern questions, which are often asked as if their significance and ultimacy are self-evident. He was also right to criticize human self-assertion. Are Hitler and Stalin not also products of the "world come of age"?

Ultimately, I think the best thing that can be said on this issue is something both Bonhoeffer and Barth affirmed. That is, Christians must be there for others, serve others, and reflect the love of God to others. I think it will be in this activity that we will find a way to communicate the gospel to our secular friends and family without compromising the strangeness of it, but also without practicing a "positivism of revelation" and merely expecting them to get on board with theological concepts they might understand as outdated, or might not understand at all, or even might have bad associations with (e.g., fatherhood, lordship, obedience, etc.).

How do we interpret theological concepts for the modern person? We can only answer this by being with and being for modern people.


Notes:
[1] Here is the full passage I'll be drawing from: "We cannot at all reckon in a serious way with real "outsiders," with a "world come of age," but only with a world which regards itself as of age (and proves daily that it is precisely not that). The so-called "outsiders" are really only "insiders" who have not yet understood and apprehended themselves as such. On the other hand, even the most persuaded Christian, in the final analysis, must and will recognize himself ever and again as an "outsider." So there must then be no particular language for insiders and outsiders. Both are contemporary men-of-the-world—all of us are. A little “non-religious” language from the street, the newspaper, literature, and, if one is ambitious, from the philosopher may thus, for the sake of communication, occasionally indeed be in order. However, we should not become particularly concerned about this. A little of the language of Canaan, a little "revelation-positivism," can also be a good thing in addressing us all and … will often, though not always, be still better understood even by the oddest strangers. That is better than feeling compelled to approach them … with some sort of gibberish, which, for the moment, is modern. What we have to say to them—and first to ourselves—is a strange piece of news in any case. Let us see to it that it really is the great piece of news—the message of eternal love of God directed to us men as we at all times were, are, and shall be. Then we shall certainly be very well understood by them, whatever they may or may not do with it. He whose heart is really with God and therefore really with men may have faith that the Word of God, to which he seeks to bear witness, will not return unto Him void." Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, trans. John Newton Thomas and Thomas Wieser (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 58-59.

[2] Testimony from William Rader, a student of Barth’s at the University of Basel from 1960-61: http://barth.ptsem.edu/people/former_student/william-rader.

[3] In CD IV.3, published in 1959, Barth strengthens this point. He says, “all religious language is also and indeed primarily non-religious,” so that anything “the Christian community has to say, it can say only after worldly fashion, each term being worldly at root and each expression worldly in its original meaning.” There is thus no need to “escape being secular,” nor to “try to escape from a sacred sphere of language … into a supposedly more secular realm in order to achieve perhaps a better or easier understanding. … It can speak only in secular terms.” The issue of nonreligious interpretation is thus resolved for Barth. There is no such thing as “nonreligious” language, for all language is always already conditioned and determined by its surroundings. If I can understand it, you can understand it. If he can understand it, we can understand. See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 3.2. eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromily (New York: T&T Clark, 1961 [repr. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]), 735, 736.
This is consistent with a position he laid out in CD I.1: "It is not the case that God has something and somewhere a Church with its preaching and sacraments—but history and society stand apart from all this, unaffected, sovereign, following their own laws, and the Church must come as it were from outside, from a God who has remained alien to this cosmos, to represent and champion its cause, or the cause of its God, to this cosmos by attack or defence. It is not at all true that the Church is outside with God and the world is inside without God. … But in this case the world cannot be held to its ungodliness by the Church; it cannot be taken seriously in its ungodliness. … Not in the light of nature but in the light of grace, there is no self-enclosed and protected secular sphere, but only one which is called in question by God’s Word, by the Gospel, by God’s claim, judgment, and blessing, and which is only provisionally and restrictedly abandoned to its own legalism and its own gods. … The world, then, cannot evolve into agreement with God’s Word on its own initiative nor can the Church achieve this by its work in and on the world." Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, 2nd ed., eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromily (New York: T&T Clark, 1975 [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]), 154-155.

[4] Similarly, he says in volume I.1 of the Church Dogmatics, "The church ... will have something to say to the world and will be taken seriously by the world. … Precisely here it should not be forgotten that the Word of God is and remains the speech of God, and its power … is thus the power of truth. The face that the truth … is also power is something we can state without reservation in the present context.” Barth, CD I.1, 156.

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 1, eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromily (New York: T&T Clark, 1956 [repr. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]).
Here are the relevant passages: “The emancipation of man,” he says, “his exaltation from servant to lord, seems to be nothing other than his inevitable and ordained coming of age, and to that extent again the legitimate fulfilment of his true human development.” However, things are not always as they may seem, and we must never forget that, “Evil always takes good care not to show itself as such. It always cloaks itself, hiding under the garment not only of innocence but of an exalted virtue" (p.434, emphasis added). He describes the Fall as the human coming of age: “the serpent does not need to say it but man can and will deduce it for himself—it is time for man to be enlightened and to come of age” (p.435). “Man may call the thing his true development,” he says, but “it still disrupts and deforms … the basic relationship of all created being: the relationship of Creator and creature, and of God and man in particular” (p.436). All of this crescendos in a decisive No to the human being’s supposed adulthood: "In spite of all the movement in his historical forms and activities, man himself is not progressive. In respect of his capacity, or incapacity, to live as homo sapiens, to make his being and his being together tolerable and stable, he is remarkably stationary, his actions and reactions being unfortunately only too similar to those of an unreasoning bullock plodding around a capstan. His pride is his hindrance, and it is one of the imaginations of his pride that one day he will achieve this modest control of his life. … But the really outstanding thing beyond and in the antitheses is the all-conquering monotony—the monotony of the pride in which man has obviously always lived to his own detriment and to that of his neighbour. … The man of pride can only live to his own and his neighbour’s detriment" (p.507).

[6] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 2, eds. G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromily (New York: T&T Clark, 1958 [repr. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010]), 818, emphasis added.

[7] Ibid., 817.

[8] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, in The Bonhoeffer Reader, eds. Clifford J. Green and Michael P. DeJonge (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 766.

[9] Barth, The Humanity of God, 59. He makes a similar point in CD I.1: "The concrete encounter of God and man to-day … must find a counterpart in the human event of proclamation, i.e., the person called must be ready to make the promise given to the Church intelligible in his own words to the men of his own time." Barth, CD I.1, 59.

[10] Quoted in David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 215 n.449.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Little Bit of Marxist Theory: Adorno & Horkheimer on the Culture Industry

Horkheimer on left, Adorno on right
The consumers are the works and employees, the farmers and lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rules themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities.[1]
A more profound description of the objective reality of ideology could not be written. It is at once vividly evident, compelling, and yet also horrifying. How can this be? How is it that people choose their own oppression?

This question is taken up in the film The Congress. An entertainment production monopoly called Miramount produces a hallucinogenic drug that places one into a virtual reality called Abrahama in which all of one’s desires are spontaneously converted into reality. They have “cracked the chemical formula of free choice” and can now have everything they want. And yet, it is a fake, unreal life they are experiencing. Their material experience is neglected in favor of endless consumption of fetishized commodities.

The Congress
eerily portrays how the pursuit of pleasure and free choice are perfectly compatible with tyranny. If people understand themselves as free and can pursue pleasure as much as they want, they won’t be led to question authority or challenge the powers that be.[2]

A similar example is found in The Lego Movie, which tells the story of an ordinary worker, Emmet, whose life is completely determined by the mega-monopoly Octan Corporation. He follows the Octan-produced pamphlet Instructions to Fit in, Have Everybody Like You, and Always be Happy, which includes such instructions as “Drink over-priced coffee” and “Enjoy popular music”—i.e. a song called “Everything is awesome!” Emmet’s entire world is designed to reinforce the status quo, to reinforce Octan’s domination over all life.[3]

But these are just movies, right? Surely, they have no relation to reality. Not according to Horkheimer and Adorno. For these theorists, this is precisely the human condition under capitalism.

The worker is not just under the tyranny of capitalism during the workday, but is subjected to a capitalist culture. “Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work,” they claim, “It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again.”[4] The culture industry prolongs the worker’s subjection from the workday to her life beyond her occupation, providing her with the escapism she needs in order to come back to work the following morning.

However, entertainment is not merely escapism or distraction, but is itself exertion, service to the culture industry. Entertainment turns “distraction into exertion.”[5] This is made so by the endless desire for consumption that the culture industry creates:
The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.[6]
Specifically, they explain:
By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduce to masochistic semblance. There is not erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far.[7]
The culture industry dangles an endlessly prolonged promise of pleasure before the consumer. In this endless deferment, the consumer is placed before object after object, commodity after commodity, desire after desire, and never satisfied. “To offer and to deprive [consumers] of something is one and the same.”[8] We can go on having new desires fabricated for us because it is not the objects themselves that we desire; rather, we are consumed by the desiring activity.[9] As was stated in a New York Times article, “Profit and growth stem directly from the ability of salesmanship to create more desire.”[10]

This process ensures two things: 1) that the worker/consumer is always under capitalism, that “The customer is not king, as the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object,”[11] and 2) the worker/consumer is involved in the choosing the choosing of her own subjection.
The principle dictates that he should be shown all his needs as capable of fulfillment, but that those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry. Not only does it make him believe that the deception it practices is satisfaction, but it foes further and implies that, whatever the state of affairs, he must put up with what is offered.[12]
The consumer has desires and needs. The culture industry presents its commodities before her as accessible, as in her reach, but the nature of these commodities is such that they endlessly defer the consumer’s desire to something else. They promise and deny at the same time. Don’t just have one, have another. Here’s your iPhone 6; ah, but don’t forget about the iPhone 7. As ad man Don Draper says in the show Mad Men, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness!”

The culture industry sucks you in with promises, but never comes through, because its fetishized commodities cannot satisfy the needs and desires they address. No one really “Opens happiness” when they open a bottle of Coca-Cola, but the slogan appeals to the consumer’s own, free (!) pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of pleasure spontaneously feels free, and yet is determined by the culture industry, by the prolonged exertion of pursuing pleasure through the culture industry’s means. This is how capitalism manages to inspire workers to choose their own subjection.
All are free to dance and enjoy themselves. … But freedom to choose an ideology—since ideology always reflects economic coercion—everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. … The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them.[13]

Notes:
[1] Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1969), 133–134.
[2] Jack Holloway, “The Congress is a dystopia where all of our dreams come true,” Narrative Muse: http://www.narrativemuse.co/movies/the-congress/.
[3] John Daniel Holloway, III, “Everything is [Not] Awesome: Critique and Embrace of Ideology in The Lego Movie,” The International Journal of the Image, 7, no. 3 (2016): 55–63.
[4] Horkheimer and Adorno, 137.
[5] Ibid., 138–139.
[6] Ibid., 139.
[7] Ibid., 140.
[8] Ibid., 141.
[9] Similarly, Slavoj Žižek says, “Desire’s raison d’etre … is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire.” Slavoj Žižek, “Desire: Drive = Truth: Knowledge,” Umbr(a) 1 (1997), 151.
[10] New York Times, July 12, 1949, quoted in Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 23, emphasis added.
[11] Adorno, quoted in Jan Rehmann, Theories of Ideology: The Powers of Alienation and Subjection (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 86.
[12] Horkheimer and Adorno, 142.
[13] Ibid., 167.