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Cynicism and Hope

Yet another forthcoming book from Wipf and Stock that I think is worthy of mention is Cynicism and Hope: Reclaiming Democracy in a Postdemocratic Society. It is collection of essays dealing with the dynamics of a properly tempered cynicism in relation to the current political culture. Some of the particularly notable essays come from Peter Dula, who deals especially with his experiences working with the Mennonite Central Committee in Iraq. Here is one of the particularly memorable quotes:

What is theology? Say that theology calls us to remember the eschaton, to remember that the end times are not on their way, but began at Golgotha 2,000 years ago. Say that theology means negotiating the edges between celebrating the already and mourning the not yet and confessing that we rarely know which is which and still less know whether to mourn or celebrate that ignorance. Say that theology means wondering if the church is a 2,000-year-old dance before the empty tomb or a 2,000-year-old funeral at the foot of the cross. Say that doing theology means recovering a sense of the world as pervasively shot through with grace and beauty, and hoping that looks like a garden in bloom, but fearing it looks like the lawn outside Peter and Paul Chaldean Catholic Church [littered with the bodies of bombing victims]. Say that inhabiting those tensions is called discipleship.

Another splendid essay in the volume is D. Stephen Long’s “Democracy and Mammon in Christian Perspective: Foundations of a Nonreactive Politics.” He makes the superb argument that the church’s politics must, if they are to be theologically faithful, be fundamentally nonreactive, nonprotesting. Christian politics must take their logic and direction nor from something outside itself against which it responds, rather it must emerge from a vision which is precisely not a reaction against other politics and realities. Here’s a quote from Long:

But we cannot build a politics simply by reacting against this evil without reproducing in our political life the logic of the subjugating power of money. What we need are political bonds grounded in a common truth and goodness that show a nonfascist way of living with each other. This would have to be a nonreactive politics. It is not something we create as a form of opposition, but something we voluntarily affirm without assuming that our will produces it. Its affirmation has to be at the same time a reception of something other than our own assertion. This is why the vision of the catholic, or universal, church remains so important—not because it is an alternative politics, but because it is a true and good politics that does not need to react against other politics in order to have unity. It offers dogma as a matter of credit: it imagines a future we do not yet fully know. But it claims that that future meets us now in the present from its originating source in our past.

I’ll certainly alert you all when the book is out. It is definitely worthy of attention from any and all of those who are interested in theologically thick engagements with politics and culture.


  1. dave wrote:

    Thanks Halden, and please do post when it comes out. I’m particularly interested in Long’s contribution. I did a paper for a Political Theory class a while ago, essentially arguing the church as polis, but at the end of my writing process, I was (and am) left a little bit baffled about how to engage [beyond cynicism] with American politics especially.

    It’s been particularly noticeable with all of the riff raff of the upcoming US election, but this has been tempered slightly because I am studying in England this semester.

    Monday, September 29, 2008 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Matt Wiebe wrote:

    I like both quotes, but Long’s resonates with my line of thought lately. In discovering that the church is a polis set apart from the world, I am too easily swayed into thinking that we are set against the world.

    Here, as in so much else, our call is not so much to be different, but to be faithful.

    Monday, September 29, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

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