Friday, September 16, 2011

9/11 Civil Religion, difference, and Fear

(I in part have waited to post these thoughts because I did not want to step upon peoples genuine grief, even so what i have to say here probably remains incomprehensible and unpalatable to at least some. LEK)
It turns out this was the first of a trilogy of posts. The second in this series can be found here, in Things Gothic and priestlygoth.org, when the third post is finished it will be linked to here in Ecclesial Longings.

I live in a diverse neighborhood in Chicago, and am part the the interfaith religious association (Edgewater Community Religious Association, ECRA, though its regular participants are mostly mainline Christian congregations with a Synagogue, and an Ismaili Center who are regular participants, there are other members but I have never seen them at meetings.) in the neighborhood.  Our new alderman asked us to take part in 9/11 neighborhood commemoration he and the alderman from the neighboring ward that also covers part of Edgewater were planning.  The alderman and ECRA were in agreement that the emphasis should be as we commemorate on moving forward in coming together as a diverse community.  I was hesitant about participating in such a commemoration but with the emphasis ECRA was encouraging it seemed to be positive.   Also, we wisely chose not to give even our inter-religious imprimatur upon the proceedings by turning down the offer to give an interfaith invocation at the commemoration. We limited our involvement to saying this pledge:

"We of __________ pledge to help make Edgewater
(may want to broaden this for Pat O'Connor's Ward)
a place of justice and security for all."
"We pledge to make Edgewater a place of opportunity
and safety for everyone."
"We pledge to help make Edgewater a place where all
can worship, work and re-create in peace."

It didn't occur to me that even using this form wasn't so much about diversity as such, but a diversity conformed to a unity.  In a context that opened with the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag (which I stood at attention for but refused to recite), our pledge of embrace (of diversity?) conformed to  a pledge of unity that obscured our particularity and difference.  In the end for all the talk of diversity even at the commemoration itself, what I was left with was the uni-vocal stamp of the Nation State that we in a civil religious ceremony bowed our selves before in hopes that our particularity would be respected.  However it was at the price, we gave up our ability to be truly other even to the Nation State and its Religious  aspirations of the American character to which we in our diversity were to pay tribute.  

In the moment I wished I had suggested we not say a pledge but make a commitment creating a space fo opportunity and safety where all can worship work and re-create in peace.  Rather, what happened is that we had to first conform to a unity and the logic of the Nation State, to truly form a unity out of our diversity that remains diverse and other.  I wished for in that moment was a unity that is not sameness, or conformity to the ideology of a Nation State even one that has the ideal in its ideology of liberty and justice for all.

I am a citizen of the United States of America, I will live at peace and obey its laws, but I do not give it my allegiance, for I bow my head and give my heart to only one sovereign, and that aint any Nation state, government or unity of Nation States.

Neither do I value difference for difference sake, but our attempts at unity in diversity, demand something I see as only being able to be given to God.  

The logic of the Nation-State attempts to create sameness out of a diversity, by telling everyone within a particular arbitrary border that they all share the same ideology and character, no matter what they feel or their diverse origins.  It is a fiction created to enforce order, which admitedly can be 
beneficial.  However, it is at the price of our ability to remain other and different.  In some sense the Nation State is built upon the fear of otherness and actual diversity.  For some reason David Bowie's I'm Affraid of Americans seems relevant here:



Do we in fact fear otherness that refuses our view and structuring of the world.  Is this perhaps not the essential logic of the Nation State and any character of a nation to fear what is not of its character and ideology and to thus produce fear of itself in others.