"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Worshipping the State

Eerdmans today sends me their new catalogue with a new work that will be of interest to those familiar with the commonplace that Eastern Christians often confuse questions of Church, nation, and ethnos. Phyletism is a not uncommon problem among many Eastern Christians.  But is the West exempt from this problem, even if in different ways? William Cavanaugh, in his latest book, seems to think no:

Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church (Eerdmans, 2011), 208pp.
Cavanaugh is the author of other important works, including especially his demythologization of so-called religious violence.

In this present book, the publisher tells us:

Whether one thinks that “religion” continues to fade or has made a comeback in the contemporary world, there is a common notion that “religion” went away somewhere, at least in the West. But William Cavanaugh argues that religious fervor has never left — it has only migrated toward a new object of worship. In Migrations of the Holy he examines the disconcerting modern transfer of sacred devotion from the church to the nation-state.

In these chapters Cavanaugh cautions readers to be wary of a rigid separation of religion and politics that boxes in the church and sends citizens instead to the state for hope, comfort, and salvation as they navigate the risks and pains of mortal life. When nationality becomes the primary source of identity and belonging, he warns, the state becomes the god and idol of its own religion, the language of nationalism becomes a liturgy, and devotees willingly sacrifice their lives to serve and defend their country.

Cavanaugh urges Christians to resist this form of idolatry and to unthink the inevitability of the nation-state and its dreary party politics. He exhorts them instead to embrace radical forms of political pluralism that privilege local communities — and to cling to an incarnational theology that weaves itself seamlessly and tangibly into all aspects of daily life and culture.
I look forward to reading this and then seeing it reviewed on here and in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

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