by John D. Caputo/Catherine Keller

Have we not learned by now to keep theology out of politics? Do not the sacred oils of religion fuel the fires raging in the Middle East? Must we not clear our heads of theology and so liberate politics from the distortions of the political order for which religion is responsible?

My hypothesis is the opposite, that theology goes all the way down, that there are always lingering or unavowed theological presuppositions in what we say or do, and hence, as Heidegger said a long time ago, it is not a question of getting free of our presuppositions but rather of entering into them all the more primordially. Consciously or not, avowedly or not, the political order has theological roots; whenever we order political space we also and inevitably have God on our mind. In a view that I have developed elsewhere, thinking cannot be insulated from the event that is invoked under the name of God, which means that thinking is always a certain proto– or primal faith, whatever may be our particular or concrete beliefs, be they confessional or even secular. We always move about in the space of an archi–theology, whatever the particulars of our theology or anti–theology may be. In the same way, thinking is always a certain proto primal desire beyond desire, whatever our particular desires may be, which means we are always asking what we love when we love (our) God. Consequently, on my proposal, a reformation of political thought would require not ridding ourselves of theology but rather reexamining our theological presuppositions and learning to think about theology differently, which means to think about God otherwise, to reimagine God. In the context of the present discussion, that means that any renewal of the political order requires a renewal of theology, which in turn requires us to consider the unavowed theology of the politics that are all around us, whose psychical and symbolic center is the war over Jerusalem.

There is no straight line from the Biblical imagination to any concrete political structure or public policy, but that does not mean there is no line or connection at all. Rather we are called upon to imagine the Kingdom of God in the concrete political structures of the day, and that requires political imagination and judgment. The Kingdom provides a politica negativa, a critical voice rather like the voice of a prophet against the king, like Amos railing against Jeroboam, calling for the invention of justice, and which in turn requires, in addition to prophets, the hard work of concrete political invention, the cleverness of inventive political structures.

What would a political order look like, were the Kingdom able to be reinvented and transformed into a political structure? What would it be like if there really were a politics of the bodies of flesh that proliferate in the New Testament, a politics of mercy and compassion, of lifting up the weakest and most defenseless people at home, a politics of welcoming the stranger and of loving one’s enemies abroad? What would it be like were there a politics of and for the children, who are the future; a politics not of sovereignty, of top–down power, but a politics that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta (I Cor 1:28) enjoy pride of place and a special privilege? What would a political order look like if the last are first, if everything turned on lifting up the lowliest instead of letting relief trickle down from the top? What would it look like if there were a politics of loving one’s enemies, not of war, let alone, God forbid, of preemptive war?

Would it not be in almost every respect the opposite of the politics that presently passes itself off under the name of Jesus?

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At the November 2006 American Academy of Religion convention in Washington, DC, a number of religious scholars joined in a panel conversation with Jim Wallis, the well-known author of God’s Politics. Although the conversation explored many aspects of contemporary experiments in political theology, I found the theopoetic and theopolitical reflections of Jack Caputo and Catherine Keller especially engaging. Caputo and Keller are two of the most interesting philosophical theologians writing today and thus we offer their constructive thoughts on religion and politics, the first from Caputo, followed by Keller. —S.H.

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2006-7, Vol. 56,  No 4.