The Language of Exile: Excerpt from WIP, Part 2


The desire for a “land of our own” here, now, visibly: a Christian nation or a Holy Roman Empire that is more than provisional, is an impatience to get on with things.  The Zionism that Strauss championed (at least for a time and provisionally) was of this kind; he both supported it, and suspected it as a ducking out of the Jewish responsibility to keep living as a remnant exilic community.  He described it as a desire to “to gain access to normal historical ‘reality’ (land and soil, power and arms, peasantry and aristocracy.)” What does one do with this desire, whether one is Jewish or Christian?

One option is assimilation.  Assimilationist Judaism is the equivalent of some kinds of post-Enlightenment Protestantism, and it is the religion which is the opiate of the masses: This kind of belief, which is not supposed to have any public or political manifestation, is very problematic.  Certainly it is individualist rather than communitarian or political, but that’s the least of it: Ultimately the belief is not supposed to be seen at all: it is acceptable only inasmuch as it makes no difference in one’s words or behavior.

The Zionism about which Strauss was so ambivalent was a grasping at a fully realized Kingdom-Now theology.  Back to the earthly Zion may be where God is leading the Jews now: it is not, I think, where he is leading the Christians.  We must not attempt to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire.  Perhaps the Christendom we ought to be aiming at now is something that might be called Christendom-in-exile, as France could be found in exile in North Africa, in London, in New York during the Vichy regime.  I don’t entirely know what this would look like: I don’t really think that creating actual ghettoes is the way to go, and even cultural ghettoes of the kind we like to talk down when we complain about the Christian Contemporary Music scene are problematic.

Still, there’s something here that is important: the choice we were offered was, on the one hand, a Christianity that is exiled, disembodied, individualistic, and apolitical (i.e. fundamentalism, some of modern evangelicalism, some of dispensationalism, I think); and on the other hand, a Christianity that is a kind of Kingdom-Now Zionism, an overrealized eschatology such as the Confederate Christendom embraced by Douglas Wilson and (less extravagantly) Peter Leithart (from the Protestant camp) and the Holy Roman Empire revanchists (among the Catholics.)  I totally understand the appeal of both of these, but I think– I’m not sure, but I think– it’s a somewhat similar appeal to that which sent Paul Wolfowitz on his overseas adventures.  Yes, it’s for Jesus, not for America.  And that does make a difference.  But it’s still… I think it’s not quite right.

What we need is a third way: a Christendom that is in exile, that expects God to establish the New Jerusalem not made by human hands (per NT Wright), and that sees this creation as pregnant in a supernatural way with the new creation; but a Christendom which is also thoroughly material and physical and political. And so maybe we need to be thinking about the cultural institutions that have typified these kinds of exilic communities: the landsmannschaften that anchored new immigrants in their Lower East Side lives; the coffeehouses that served as meeting places for scholars in exile from either of the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, where their papers were written and their journals read.

Above all we must start thinking of churches as embassies: if we do this, we’ll understand why you get people seeking sanctuary in them.  They do it, instinctively, as one would seek asylum in the American embassy in Budapest or somewhere, during the Cold War.


10 responses to “The Language of Exile: Excerpt from WIP, Part 2

  1. It’s called the Catholic Church. Certainly it falls short of what one might hope for in its idealized form because of the human element. It is that quest for what you are looking for in the article in some pure, unsullied, state, not profaned by human hands, that has led to the countless Protestant denominations.

  2. First off, you say “Assimilationist Judaism is the equivalent of some kinds of post-Enlightenment Protestantism” In the words of Captain America “Speak english!” I have two post graduate degrees, I am eligible for Mensa and I am interested in theology. I barely know what that sentence says. I think you may be onto something here, but I’d be more impressed if it could be said without the philsophy speak. Try to envision explaining this idea to a bunch of shepards. If it would help I can get you a stuffed sheep.

  3. But to actually address your point, I’m not really sure that our choices are so extreem as you’re indicating. True we shouldn’t expect to be able to create the New Jeruslem here on earth by human hands, but I don’t think our only other options are assimilate to the local culture or just wait till God actually establishes the new Kingdom. I think we build the best country we can while we wait for the New Kingdom. Sure we’re not going to be perfect, but I think it’s beneficial to us to try to improve ourselves. Think of it as model building. You learn things building models, but you shouldn’t confuse the model with the real thing.

  4. “Think of it as model building. You learn things building models, but you shouldn’t confuse the model with the real thing.” –Rick, that’s fabulous, and very helpful. May I use it if I credit you? But what I said was precisely that we do need a third way, that the choice between those two extremes is a false choice.

  5. Re your accusation of obscurity:

    I don’t know if this will clarify things, but what I meant by that sentence is that the kind of Judaism that wants to assimilate to local Gentile culture is similar to the kind of Christianity that thinks that religion is a “private” and non-political matter. There’s the liberal version of Christianity that doesn’t offend liberal culture because it doesn’t really believe anything other than the UN declaration of human rights. And there’s the Fundamentalist version that Christianity is only about individual salvation.

    Now, the UN declaration of HR may be correct, and it is certainly true that Christianity is about individual salvation. But it is a fact that both of these kinds of Christianity can get along quite well without irritating liberal Gentile culture, although one will be more likely to find itself in the halls of power and the other will be more likely to find itself in a Christian cultural ghetto. But neither actually challenges the Empire on its own ground.

  6. Re: Model building
    Anytime I post something on the internet on someone else’s website I assume I’m throwing it out there for people to use, so by all means quote me if you think it would be helpful Credit is always nice. : ) If I want to say something I don’t want quoted, I’ll send you a personal email

  7. Pingback: Solidarity Hall | Symphoneia or monasticism?

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