Posted by: gcarkner | September 23, 2016

Power: a Re-boot for the Twenty-first Century

A Re-evaluation of Power 

The cross offers a meta-critique, and an alternative vision, of ‘power through weakness’. Biblical Christianity promotes a renunciation of privilege, but this is not passivity. Philosopher-Theologian Anthony Thisleton talks about the cross as a ‘meta-critique’ in New Horizons in Hermeneutics, (614-619) a paradigm of God’s self-giving love. Nietzsche’s will-to-power is transformed into a will-to-love under this critique. Contrary to the entitlement expectations of the late modern self, the ethic of the cross in principle shatters the boundaries and conflicts between tribes, Jew and Gentile, female and male, free person and slave (Galatians 3:23; Ephesians 2). It is anti-hegemony.

Biblical Christianity is counter-cultural, calling for love where there is conflict, service where there are power-interests, and trust where there is suspicion. Nietzsche’s ‘solution’ of will-to-power, must be confronted and critiqued. People like Foucault are right when they exposes power-bids which are rooted in self-interest, but it is very wrong (extreme) to assume that all truth-claims are in essence nothing but a power-play. Truth cannot be subsumed or fully defined under power-knowledge. We must never give up on the genuine search for the truth of a matter. Sometimes it leans in the opposite direction to power or resists power interests. This is what the quest for justice is all about. Without truth that transcends interest, we have no basis upon which to confront the abuse of power. Biblical discourse offers a means of separating disguised self-interest from statements with integrity.

Power is not univocal: it can be used to repress or to enable; it can be horded or equitably distributed. At times it is centralized and intentional and at other times, it is diffused and without a key broker. There are both conspiracies and self-regulative strategies around power. It is at its best when neither hegemonic nor too centralized. The hope is for individual selves to discover new empowerment and move out of negative power-contests. Power is not always a negative thing and can be negotiated by appropriate power-brokers who have integrity and operate with fairness. It is negative if it is isolated within too small a group as in elitist or ethnocentric/racist structures or used against other people. Above all, power of any kind begs for a sound ethical and political framework within which it can properly operate for the common good. The twentieth century has taught us some stark lessons about the abuse of political, military and financial power in particular. Paul Johnson in A History of the Modern World: from 1917-1990’s gives telling evidence of abusive power’s brutality.

Some provocative quotes from  Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power.

  • The dream of magic is to have power, the ability to make something of the world, without suffering, without relationship, and without risk, which are all different ways of saying the same thing. We moderns think of magic as something premodern, superstitious and foreign. But in fact a technological age is devoted to magic. (p. 43)
  • All true beings strive to create room for more being and to expand its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being. In doing so it creates other bodies and invites them into mutual creation and tending to the world, building relationships where there had been none: thus they then cooperate together in creating more power for more creation. And the process goes on.There is a kind of being that delights in sharing space and a deeper, truer being that is able to create more than enough space–room for more being. (p. 51)
  • It is not much of an exaggeration to say that nearly an entire generation of students of literature and cultures, under the influence of Nietzsche’s intellectual decedent Michael Foucault, devoted tremendous intellectual energies to exposing the Nietzschean underbelly of dominion in precisely the domains that were once thought to represent a refuge from the will to power—in art and architecture, in family and friendship, and not least in religion.” (p. 48)
  • In the memorable phrase of the psychiatrist Jeffery Satinover, idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing. (p. 56)
  • What matters to Jesus, it seems, is not what is done with the lifeless coins on which Caesar has placed his stamp, but another image—the image of God in living image bearers. The image of God is found in human beings, and the real demonic power of Caesar is to demand not the sacrifice of coins but of people, not money but lives.” (p. 87)
  • Love transfigures power. Absolute love transfigures absolute power. And power transfigured by love is the power that made and saves the world. (p. 45)
  • What is the deepest truth about the world? Is the deepest truth a struggle for mastery and domination? Or is the deepest truth collaboration, cooperation and ultimately love?” (p. 48)
  • In a Nietzschean world we are all reduced to waiting for Superman—or, just perhaps, acquiring enough power that we ourselves can thrust back all that exists us, achieving the domination we believe is necessary for the triumph of the good.” (p. 50)
  • Sin and death, and the twin systems they create, idolatry and injustice, are already unmasked and have lost the critical battle. Creative love was always stronger and more real—and in the community of the resurrection, the first and latest followers of Jesus find that the reality living, breathing and working powerfully through us.” (p. 53)
  • What matters to Jesus, it seems, is not what is done with the lifeless coins on which Caesar has placed his stamp, but another image—the image of God in living image bearers. The image of God is found in human beings, and the real demonic power of Caesar is to demand not the sacrifice of coins but of people, not money but lives. (p. 87)

~Dr. Gordon Carkner

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