Recently activists used firebombs at multiple church’s in Chile to protest a visit by Pope Francis. No one was hurt. Pamphlets left at the scenes stated that the bombings were to signal ongoing corruption within the church’s treatment of sexually abusive clergy and indigenous struggles over environmental destruction in the South.
The South American visit from Francis leaves behind a different set of issues between far-right Christian groups and center-left clergy. Issues of identity fuel far-right attacks on liberal political correctness while also feeding liberalism’s apparent sense of infinite space for multicultural pluralism. At a deep level, the internalized universalism of Christ’s message theologically underpins these Eurocentric and western political discussions, territorializing them within a shrinking world.
Despite Francis being perceived as snubbing rightwing leaders in his homeland by not visiting, many people in Latin America have disavowed their Catholic identity because of sex scandals in the church.
In this post, I want to draw some particular attention to indigenous issues in Peru (where Francis will also be visiting) by way of Marisol de la Cadena’s recent book, Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds. In doing so, I make the broader argument that political theology is not merely a Christian issue, and that discussions of political theology thoroughly entrenched in Eurocentricism’s discursive hold on it risk perpetuating unethical behaviors.
In common parlance, de la Cadena’s argument would speak to the vast history of Euro-Christian colonialization, a colonization that was not “de-Christianized” with the emergence of Enlightenment-oriented nation states. But Marisol de la Cadena’s work gives us more to ponder than postcolonial critiques by focusing on Andean emergences of indigeneity in politics that accompanied the “pink tide” of left-leaning democratic impulses.
As de la Cadena’s work articulates with nuanced attentiveness, it is a mistake to overly conflate the left-leaning political impulses and indigenous perspectives, despite politicians who claim to be working on behalf of indigenous groups. While the pink tide has brought significant gains in agrarian reform and the later, post Operation Condor world, the class divides remain. For example, de la Cadena notes important differences between Lima and Cuzco in Peru:
Limeños proudly identified themselves with Catholic values, formal education in Spanish, and coastal access to the world. Against it, the Cuzqueños political class argued that they had a deeper and more authentic nationalism rooted in pre-Hispanic Inca ancestry and verified by the regional elite’s proficiency in the Quechua language. Yet elite Cuzqueños also needed to distance themselves from Indians, the quintessential inferiors who were also Quechua speakers. (20)
The Pope’s visit will not likely help actual indigenous people. De la Cadena’s ethnography focuses on the struggles of the Runakuna people through the specific practices of two yachaqs, Mariano Turpo and his son, Nazario. De la Cadena notes the culturally specific term although some of their practices crossover with notions of “Andean shamanism,” a phenomenon that has inspired increasing tourist interests in the Runakuna (201).
In particular, de la Cadena focuses on the yachaqs’ relationships to tirakuna, which she translates as “earth-beings,” who blur the lines between humans and nature (5). What non-runakuna people might see as a “mountain” or a “river” are distinct beings for runakuna: “To runakuna (Nazario included), tirakuna are their names. More clearly, no separation exists between Ausangate the word and Ausangate the earth-being; no “meaning” mediates between the name and the being” (25).
Runakuna life disrupts both western notions of anthropocentric distinctions between ‘nature’ and ‘human’ as well as distinctions between ‘culture’ and ‘nature.’ De la Cardena articulates this by noting that Runakuna do not “believe” in earth-beings.
The notion of belief transports the earth-being – Ausangate, for example – to a field (that of culture) in which it can exist as a sacred mountain, something that can be believed in, perhaps even in the way “indigenous Christians believe in Jesus” as I frequently heard from my urban acquaintances in Cuzco. (26)
De la Cadena employs Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s notion of ‘equivocation’ in order to articulate the partial connection between Runakuna life and non-Runakuna abstractions as “beliefs”: “equivocations are a type of communicative disjuncture in which, while using the same words, interlocutors are not talking about the same thing and do not know this” (27).
The difference, I think, between Viveiros de Castro’s conception of equivocation and Derridean différance has to do with the “virtual” space in which différance enacts a kind of metaphysics. Indeed, Derrida inherits quite a bit of this early on from Emmanuel Levinas in the essay “Violence and Metaphysics.”
Despite Levinas’s ethical critique of Heidegger’s ontology as relational asymmetry, his point is that relationality precedes the thinking of exteriority. There remains something situational in this line of thought that undoubtedly leads one who engages with it deeply to “hover” in relation to the face of the other outside of time. Levinas himself was clear that he was unsure whether animals had faces: “Does the animal have a face?” he answers, “I don’t know if a snake has a face. I can’t answer that question. A more specific analysis is needed” (in Derrida 107-108).
Derrida’s late work moves a bit beyond the anthropocentricism about which Levinas was already ambivalent, and he expresses this through a critique of rights and the western cult of rationalism:
One could say, first, that in the end such a bellicose hatred in the name of human rights, far from rescuing man from the animality that he claims to rise above, confirms the waging of a kind of species war and confirms the man of practical reason remains bestial in his defensive and repressive aggressivity, in his exploiting the animal to death. (101)
Derrida lands in a critique of Descartes: “I think that Cartesianism belongs, beneath its mechanist indifference, to the Judeo-Christiano-Islamic tradition of a war against the animal, of a sacrificial war that is as old as Genesis.” In contrast, Viveiros de Castro’s notion of equivocation with respect to Andean perspectivism argues against a would-be (neo)liberal conception of multiculturalism as an endless repetition (in Deleuze’s sense) of distinct epistemologies.
Rather, he articulates a single epistemology and varying ontologies, or multinaturalism. To put this into de la Cadena’s terms, both the runakuna and tirakuna – as the ‘kuna’ suggests – are persons with personhood. Christian conceptions of “stewardship over nature” do not help us here. It is in the inhumanity – from the Andean perspectivism’s world-being – of Euro-Christianity that underwrites its politico-theological entitlement to destroy the environment, and as Arlie Hochschild demonstrates beautifully in Strangers in Their Own Land, this lack of concern for the environment clearly frames many poor evangelicals’ perspectives in the U.S. And while Francis may claim to be more environmentally “friendly,” the theological anthropocentrism remains.
De la Cadena addresses this distinction through her discussion of the distinction between ‘ayllu’ and ‘property’. “In-ayllu” being for runakuna is intersubjective and lack a distinction between a Heideggerrean authentic self who is being-towards-death and “the they” (Das man):
…as beings emerge through in-ayllu relations they take-place; their relational being in time is also their emplacement. Through in-ayllu practices, runakuna and tirakuna take-place: I have already used this phrase to stress the collapse of time and space enacted in-ayllu. Consequently, when the practice is that of ayllu relationality, the notion of territory does not exist by itself. Instead, territory – or, more properly, place – emerges with the relations that bring together human and other-than-human beings; it cannot be severed from them. (133)
In Derrida’s critique of Descartes and the translated notion of ‘belief’ by which Euro-Christian conceptions equivocate with runakuna, what becomes apparent is the liminal glob – a Deleuzean “desiring machine” – superimposed by western, Euro-Christianity onto universal conceptions of humanity.
Functioning theoretically as an axial space between vertical notions of transcendence and horizontal notions of immanence, this desiring machine has been historically traced by Foucault in lectures on the genealogy of asceticism and captured eloquently by Peter Sloterdijk as The World Interior of Capital. More than a “worldview,” the machinations of this glob pump out the iterations of Euro-Christian universalism by internalizing and reifying Christ’s kingdom for those who see against those who do not see.
Protestantism in this context names the internalization of the desiring machine, which gives autonomy to the rights-bearing individual ‘self’’; but from a theologico-political perspective, this merely accentuates and empowers the totalizing Christian gaze that underwrote colonial empires. Sola fide, “by faith alone,” internalizes the desiring machine, a process laboriously described in Jerome Schneewind’s The Invention of Autonomy (without Deleuzean terminology).
De la Cadena’s work helps us see that the expression of liberalism that Schmitt called the secularized expression of theological concepts of the state so was the extension of a Euro-Christian social movement. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s characterization of the internalized secular as the “buffered” – as opposed to “porous” – ‘self,’ this move does not essentially break from a Judeo-Christian metaphysics, even if one calls it an “Immanent Frame.”
The buffered self is a more efficient machine of totalizing Euro-Christian metaphysics expressed within the discourse that somehow what we avow or disavow as subjectivated beings – subjectivated at the highest level by the cross itself in which we are mimetically condemned to Christ’s fate – is the ongoing future of an illusion, an illusion figured by the internalized liminal glob variously described as alienation from nature (Marx) and the condition of the unconscious in the Darwinized anthropologies informing Freud’s notion of the unconscious.
Far from indigenous peoples expressing the narcissistic literalness of a “pre-symbolic” animism, the expression that distinguishes langue from parole – the “zero degree” which operates as a cultural reset button in the face of what Artaud and Camus saw as “the plague” of civilization – is itself an internalized cypher, an abdicated throne of liberal sovereignty. That is the onanism of Euro-Christian narcissism. And, I would venture to say, that theologically considered, it compels the sexual predatory nature by which some clergy misconstrue their relationships both to children and (historically) indigenous peoples.
While I do not know the intentions of those who firebombed churches in Chile, I hope here to push toward an understanding of why such resentment might exist. And while I in no way apologize for the Pope or the church’s lack of ability to enact justice against the sexual abuses by priests, I would argue partially with him that it is not within a liberal sphere of justice that such criminals ought to be judged, but within one that acknowledges that Judeo-Christian-Islamic religiosities – indeed, the language of religiosity itself – is not enough for justice.
Legal justice cannot be termed “secular” because “secular” is a Christian concept. It is not enough to argue for “some form” of the secular (Talal Asad) – despite the contradictory impulses of liberalism – against the Catholic triumphalism of theology above secularization narratives (José Casanova). Nor do we merely need postsecular, liberal Habermasian “translators” to “translate” religious ideas into secular spheres.
The persistence of “the West” has yet to confront its own hubris. The vacant conception of the historically-derived colonizing impulse that calls itself “Christian civilization” fantasizes itself as a will-to-power. Generally, Judeo-Christian-Islamists have little ability to conceive that any “human being” might exist in the world that frankly (and metaphorically crassly) does not buy what their god has to sell.
We must understand that the Chilean firebombs are a rejection of Judeo-Christians’ ethnocentric beliefs, rather than moralizing in a “secularized” (still Christian) way against violence as an abstract category. In no concerted and collective way have Euro-Christians rejected the tyranny of their aspirations to their religious kingdom. Christians often know no limits to Christianity, and until they do, Christianity will continue to oppressively perpetuate violence in the world.
In this respect, the former Christian Osage theologian, George Tinker has written in American Indian Liberation a call for the “moratorium on twentieth-century style evangelism. To put it bluntly, just say no to preaching Jesus” (124). Christians should look to their own internal inconsistencies and reiterative factions as a feature of their faith’s will-to-power.
Political theology ought to be a venue for this task.
Roger Green, PhD, is a Lecturer in English who teaches composition and rhetoric at Metropolitan State University in Colorado. His recent professional work brings political theology into conversation with the field of aesthetics. He is the author of “Aldous Huxley, in the Aldous Huxley Annual: A Journal of Twentieth-Century Thought and Beyond (Ed. Bernfried Nugel and Jerome Meckier (vol. 14, 2014 / 2015) and several other related articles. In 2011 he received a certificate from the Cornell School of Criticism for the work he did with political theorist Victoria Kahn. He is also a performing musician and a composer.