If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mark Lewis Taylor

I have appreciated the writing of Mark Lewis Taylor, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, especially his books Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural-Political Theology for North American Praxis and The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America.

In Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right Taylor continues his probing and insightful reflections on America as Empire. This time he exposes the dangers of the Christian Right, as well as Liberal Left, and presents us with the model of a prophetic spirit for engagement in public life.

Taylor speaks of 9/11 as a symbolic event or a "mythic moment" that galvanized U.S. citizens of diverse stripes in support of an unending "war on terror." The targets of the 9/11 attacks were symbolic centers of the American Empire -- the U.S. military (the Pentagon) and global economic power (the World Trade Center). The reaction to the events of 9/11 was a collective surge of nationalism with American flags flying everywhere and overwhelming support for war with Afghanistan and Iraq from both right and left.

For Taylor, the upsurge in nationalism connected to the events of 9/11 and the war on terror is being expressed out of the ideologies of American Romanticism and what he calls "contractual liberalism." American Romanticism is rooted in an idealistic vision of the nation's origins and destiny, which tends to forget its own history of terrorism and oppression, and sees the nation as exceptional within the world. The secular, political neo-conservative platform is an expression of American Romanticism, while Christian Right is a religio-political version.

According to Taylor, the civic nationalism of contractual liberalism is rooted in an ideology that anticipates progress and future growth. The spread of "democracy and freedom" through military power, globalization of market economy that benefits the wealthy, and various forms of neo-colonialism are expressions of contractual liberalism. American Romanticism and contractual liberalism have served to reinforce the hegemony of American power.

In contrast to these political ideologies, which are endangering the republic, global humanity, and the ecosphere, Taylor presents an alternative tradition of the prophetic spirit, a radical liberalism. The prophetic spirit is a spiritual, cultural, and political vision for creating justice and peace for the weak, marginalized and oppressed.

Taylor points to diverse agents of this prophetic spirit, such as advocates for the imprisoned, activists in the reparations movement, immigrants seeking justice, leaders of indigenous peoples, and environmental groups, to name just a few. Although most of Taylor's examples are secular, for him the gospel of Jesus Christ is itself born and nurtured by the prophetic spirit.

Taylor offers some handles by which to better understand the governing political ideologies of our day beyond simple right and left, conservative and liberal labeling. His analysis assists us in considering the ideological frameworks that caused alliances of right and left in supporting the post-9/11 goals of America as an empire.

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