In his Undergoing God, James Alison says a lot of provocative and important things, not least about the nature of worship. He details two different accounts of what worship is, which he terms “the Nuremberg” and “the un-Nuremberg,” drawing on the imagery of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies. “The Nuremberg” form of worship consists in the crowd being whipped into a frenzy of devotion to the Führer on the basis of past humiliations and future threats which necessitate the loyalty and devotion of the populace. As such this form of worship is always centered on the reproduction of an in-group identity that makes enemies (i.e. the Jews) necessary.
What lies at the heart of this is that “In the case of Nuremberg, it was the party officials, for whom the faithful only had interest in as far as their mobilisation served the purpose of keeping party officials in power and wealth. The faithful had to be made ready to do things, or acquiesce in things, with which calm and unenthusiastic people might disagree. A quite specific set of desires was being put forward, and the faithful were being inducted into acquiring these as their own.” In short, this sort of “worship” is a form of utilitarian calculus centered in a discourse of power. The Führer needs the worship of the populace to get them to do what he needs them to do. The worship is all about the one in power, the one worshiped.
In contrast to this form of worship, which Alison thinks is at the heart of what usually passes for worship in the world, he offers a vision of “the un-Nuremberg”:
In the case of the un-Nuremberg we have something rather different: the “they” whose desire the faithful are being inducted into acquiring as their own is God, who has made his desire manifest. God has no desire for us to worship him for his sake; he needs no worship, no adulation, no praise, no glory. No divine ego is flattered, stability maintained, nor is any threatened petulance staved off, by our worship. No, the only people for whom it matters that we worship God is ourselves. It is entirely for our benefit that we are commanded to worship God, because if we don’t we will have no protection at all against the other sort of worship. . . .
In other words, True Worship is for our own good, no one else’s. It is the gradual process by which someone who likes us reaches us while we are in the middle of a Nuremberg rally, and gradually, and slowly gives us our senses, allowing us to stumble out of the rally, and walk away, being amazed at what it is we have been bound up in, and shocked at what we have done, or might have done as a result of where we were going. On learning to give glory to God, to render God praise, is our being given to have our imaginations set free from fate, from myth, from ineluctable forces, from historical grudges. It is a stripping away of our imaginations from being bound down by, tied into, inevitability, submission to power, going along with things. It is the detox of our Nuremberg-ed imagination. (p. 37-8)