This week I made it into chapter 1 of Colossians Remixed and I must say, it was a bit more amenable to me than the preface. Here, the authors do some of what they forecasted in the preface with regards to allowing the types of persons/students they engage to raise questions, particularly about Christianity and more specifically about the Bible. The chapter is bracketed between the beginning and ending of a narrative about a fellow named William, a thorough-going postmodernist. Although this book is a over a decade old and some have declared that we are currently in a Post-postmodern era (or metamodern, pseudo-modern, etc.), Walsh and Keesmaat offer an inviting overview and foray into the concept of postmodernism. In fact, I was quite a bit surprised by the fact that they critiqued it as they did.
For example, they describe postmodernism’s “grand tale of progress” as a “myth that requires faith,” whose “story’s foundational assumptions themselves require faith” (30). They ask, “And on what basis, other than a perversely blind, self-interested faith, can we justify the assumption of global capitalism that is permissible to ruin one place or culture for the sake of another?” (30) These comments stem from their views that “the progress of autonomous humanity” (30), is driven by capitalism more than anything else. Yet, for Walsh and Keesmaat, capitalism, a social structure intimately linked to militarism, is both the base and catalyst for imperialism. Put differently, perhaps more into layman’s terms: A lust for money and (military) power makes up the DNA of empires.
In their view, America is an empire. But the irony, at least for postmodernists, is that “While postmodernity wants to celebrate diversity and otherness, empires are all about hegemony and sameness” (31). Yet, the American empire, they say, has no reason to fear because when one’s goal is autonomous humanity, that is, self-ruled existence, then one’s goal is to ask, knock and seek for things that please the self. So, persons go searching for what they think will make them happy; they are searching for things, or “commodities” to use a bit of a fancier term. Eventually, everything becomes a commodity, a thing to be had. This includes religion.
The problem with postmodernism is that there are no guidelines for figuring out which commodities or things are best, true, moral and ethical. There is no framework, there is no undergirding story, there is no metanarrative that guides one in decision-making. Thus, in the face of resisting absolutes, persons become confused, or to use another fancy term, they become “fragmented.” As they say, “The fragmented self does not need to buy into any metanarrative of progress or make her choices according to any coherent or rational system of values” (32).
Interestingly, Walsh and Keesmaat contend that the promotion of Christian absolutes is unbiblical and something that they find problematic and unhelpful, something that they themselves will argue against later in the book (34). So, at one and the same time, the authors critique postmodernism but also side with it in their rejection of absolutes. How can they do this? They do this by claiming that places like America should be viewed as empires (that is, places where a lust for money and power are the driving forces). Postmodernism itself actually props up such empires because it simply plays into the empire. How? Well, if money and power is what the empire seeks, postmodernists give that very thing to the empire when they treat everything like a commodity. In short, they spend their time shopping and their money shopping and thus, they buy into and help stabilize the empire.
Thus, the question that Walsh and Keesmaat seem to be raising for postmodernists is this: Which empire do you want to be part of? By buying into the Western (American) socio-political empire, you ultimately become a pawn; you are not actually autonomous, that is simply a lie you are telling yourself, a lie the media is reiterating and a lie the government/empire aims to perpetuate. But…
…Christianity is actually an anti-empire movement, it is a movement that challenges the very authorities and structures that you are suspicious about (but unwittingly participate in and sustain). The unfortunate reality is that Christianity has been painted as the empire. So, which empire do you want to be part of? The one that you’ve been told by everyone else is an empire, or the one that actually is the empire and has, almost unbeknownst to you, lured you into it? But Walsh and Keesmaat say that this isn’t really a matter of simply trading one absolute for another (34). Their goal in moving forward, then, is to show that Colossians “is seriously misread if approached as an Absolute Text…” (34).
Admittedly, the authors do not talk much about Colossians in this chapter. So, it remains to be seen where their engagement with Colossians will go. Little was said in this chapter that I take much issue with. I think their analysis of postmodernism was fair. I find their equation with America quite interesting, especially as they are both Canadians. Although I do not consider myself a patriot or patriotic, neither am I sure that I would classify America as an empire; America has not established world dominion or a global rule and America, for all of its foibles, still touts and (to some degree) practices democracy. Further, America’s citizens are for all intensive purposes “free” and not under a strained and severe dictatorship. I could go on about this but I do think it is something of a misnomer. Yes, America’s drive is often for money and power and the stories it creates to accrue, maintain and advance these things are seductive and prominent. Yet, to boil it down to these things is, I think, a bit simplistic. Again, I say that as one who is often very critical of this country and who resists its metanarrative(s) and myths.
So, we’ll see where this book takes us in the next chapter; hopefully, it will take us to Colossians.