Three central values were profoundly neglected [by ‘the Left’]: the family, the nation, and religion. Family, flag and religion were abandoned to the right wing and defined by them – as though these themes were unworthy from the beginning of a critical analysis, as though the feelings connected with them were irrational and dangerous, as though an enlightened man [sic] had nothing to do with these realities!
The time has come for this blindness on the part of the left to disappear. It is not enough to unmask religion as the opium of the people, to bid farewell to the family as a coercive patriarchal institution, and to abandon national consciousness as jingoism or (even worse) well-deserved ridiculousness… The response to these spheres of life – religion, family and nation – cannot be an unproductive, disclaiming, superhuman “No” but a critical, transforming “Yes, but not this kind of religion, family, and patriotism,” full of love of reality.
- Dorothee Soelle, On Earth as in Heaven: A Liberation Spirituality of Sharing (1993)
The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world. The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto death. This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today….
The myth of redemptive violence is, in short, nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical judgment by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it embraces God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but the fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final elimination. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous. And it is immensely popular.
– Walter Wink, The Powers that Be
When I was young there was a notion among the believers that I knew — and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a believer — that to feel the presence of God required that one seek god constantly , that one’s spiritual instincts demanded the same sort of regular exercises as the muscles of one’s body. The great fear was not that God would withdraw, but that one’s capacity to perceive him would atrophy. I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers, express a sadness and frustration that they have never really been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never? Religion is not made of these moments; religion is the means of making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions so foreign and perhaps even fearsome that you can’t even acknowledge their existence afterward. Religion is what you do with these moments of over-mastery in your life, these rare times in which you are utterly innocent. It is a means of preserving and honoring something that, ultimately, transcends the elements of whatever specific religion you practice.
– Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer