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Response to Christine Schliesser: Heaven Is a Place on Earth?!

Published onJun 27, 2022
Response to Christine Schliesser: Heaven Is a Place on Earth?!

What hope exists in ending racism for African Americans who since 1619 experienced four hundred years of kidnapping, rape, enslavement, Jim and Jane Crow, and a current police-state terror campaign, which believes Black lives do not matter? Where is the hope for Native Americans who since they discovered in 1492 a lost Cristóbal Colón off their shores endured genocide, rape, and land thief by conquistadores spreading the Gospel to all earth’s inhabitants? What type of hope in eradicating antisemitism can Jews expect who, since the rise of Christianity, bore over two millennia of a massacres, pogroms, and Holocausts conducted in the name of the Prince of Peace? How nauseating it must seem to them to hear from the lips of those responsible for centuries of their sufferings the pacifying words, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Schliesser and I agree that offering “hope” to the victims of history is problematic. Quoting Jean Baptist Metz, she argues that such a hope lulls activists into accepting the history of the oppressors; to which I provide a resounding Amen. I find myself almost seduced by her argument that hope is reckless and resistant, because it resembles so much what I have been calling the praxis which emerges from hopelessness. Could it be that we are really in agreement and our differences are based on semantics? I fear not. She philosophically constructs a distinguished from what she calls hope and naivete or simple optimism by adding a third “R” to her definition – rootedness, basing hope on eurocentric theological faith claims, which can neither be proven nor disproven. If I too chose to believe such unproven assumptions, I probably would be in total agreement. Instead, my solidarity with the hopeless leads me to different claims. What she calls a “rooted” hope, I still claim is naivete or simple optimism. I find speaking of hope amid the sufferings of those who fall short of the cisgender white Christian male ideal to be cold-hearted, callous, and cruel. As noble a project of installing hope in these “unfortunate wreathed” people may be, such uplifting of sweat theological concepts turns bitter in their mouths because the end results is often the same - conquest and/or death. They end up lynched on the rope of hope – and it matters little if said rope is weaved by naivete or rootedness.

Our different worldviews are based on Schliesser’s embrace of the philosophical eurocentric concept of history which I reject. For her, hope directs the present towards the future. For me, the future is neither a story of progression per Hegel’s imagination, nor the embrace of some eschaton based on a salvation history. Instead, the future is the continuous reality of an accumulating pile of human wreckage which the dialecticians call progress. Hope is not what can be expected from the future, from the unfolding of history; rather, from a non-Hegelian, nondialectical understanding of history, hopelessness is what arises from that catastrophe, from that never-ending disaster of the tragic human experience, from the now which is Hell for all who reside on the underside of eurocentrism. Multiple and unceasing past atrocities make a hope that directs the present toward the future difficult to maintain or sustain. Naivete comes in trying to reconcile the reality of yesterday's and today’s atrocities with tomorrow’s embrace of a faith statement based on hope. Imposing a Christian-based hope of resurrection, or the philosophical abstraction of a nonlinear, nonsuccessive conception of the movement of time on Africans, Indians, or Jews with different faith and worldviews only perpetuates the eurocentric colonial project. Accepting a historical metanarrative with a purposeful end frustrates our ability to establish an ethical response rooted in the estrangement of the marginalized brought about by the hopeless situation in which the world’s disenfranchised find themselves. Eschatology may belong to the frozen chosen, but for humans of flesh and blood residing on the underside of whiteness, the now belongs to them. To reside in the hopelessness of the now is to be cognizant of the joys and disappointments of the moment.

Christian hope, as Schliesser argues, is a counternarrative that even cuts across time. Such a claim remains problematic because it is predicated on the modernist quest for a universal meaning to history—which is to say, a fundamentally European way of construing and relating to reality. What if there is no historical movement that leads toward some secular ideal based on enlightenment and reason or some religious ideal based on some heavenly paradise? Those who get to create meaning to history commodify what is remembered to justify the values and social power of those whom civilization privileges, literally writing their privileged space into the worldwide epic. The rejection of a religious salvation history, or a secular dialectical history, or any hybrid of the two, is an attempt to demystify the movement of time so that praxis can be constructed and implemented. I hesitate in elevating Schliesser's eurocentric faith claims to the realm of truth because I believe all faith and philosophical pronouncements are unable to transcend their own time. Instead, they reflect the activity of a given space and justify the power structures of said space. As such, faith and philosophy become the manifestation of a historical process. And salient to this historical process emanating from central Europe is the Enlightenment reliance on science.

With the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, I pray to the nothingness of the cosmos to damn a nonexistent God who I blame for the staggering suffering of existence which can never be understood by those who rely on the God of salvation history. Faith becomes my vital lie. I am the believing unbeliever willingly choosing belief. “Even if there is no God,” Unamuno argued, “we would need to invent One” (de Unamuno 1996: 164.171). What is important is faith in God, and not whether God actually exists. To believe has nothing to do with reason, for to believe is to wish to believe, and to believe in God is to wish there might be a God. Human liberative praxis in solidarity with the oppressed is what makes God exist. Faith’s certainty and the doubtfulness of reason clashes to create a higher level of understanding with harmonies and contradictions. Embracing the contradictions and ambiguities we call life, enables our consciousness to be broadened to include what exists beyond the realm of faith that has been based on eurocentric Enlightenment scientific and rational thought. Such an approach forces us to deal with the passionate anxiety generated by a confrontation with the tragedy of existence which encompasses the atrocities of the pass.

Hope has been choked off by knowledge or belief. The “Augustinian” synthesis of reason and faith (Athens and Jerusalem) is rejected, not negated, as faith must go beyond reason. I make no attempt to define the unproven, i.e. the nature of the Divine; rather I seek to demonstrate how the reality of the marginalized produces their divinization. Faith ceases to be rational dogma, becoming instead an imperative of the heart which weeps over yesterday, today, and tomorrow while “hoping” for an uncertain immortality. For Unamuno, the “agony of Christianity” refers to the tension between feelings for a God who is incommunicable knowledge, and the truth, which is social and collective. Abandoning any hope for peace and tranquility as unattainable in life, he embraces the agony of struggle, for as long as there are struggles there is life, a prerequisite for existence, thus averting death (de Unamuno 1925). The rational irrationality of faith, which Unamuno embraces, creates a mutual dependency where neither heartfelt belief nor intellectually based reason can exist apart from the other.

The quest for a hope which reconciles a rational understanding of past atrocities concludes with despair and a sense of God’s absence or impotence. Hopelessness, however, offers a God within suffering. Through suffering (signified for Christians as the cross), both philosophy as a rational progression to ultimate truth and theology as a systematic intellectualization of God, are crucified. I refuse to share the subjective certainty of God’s existence, or the hope God offers. My engagement in hopeless liberative praxis amid the tragic becomes a quixotic crusade of storming the windmills of eurocentric faith certainties even if it leads to greater internal human contradictions. The human condition, I argue, might have less to do with the realization of the oblivion awaiting our consciousness, and more to do with the realization of futility. What is tragic, for those of faith, is the realization that liberation fails to materialize because God has failed to keep God’s promises. And rather than wrestling with what appears to be God’s dark side; we either ignore the contradiction or attempt to be God’s apologist. But don’t we make a mockery of God when we create a theology designed to save God from God through hope instead of doubting God’s presence and goodness?

A relationship that fails to curse God for ungodly acts becomes a faith in denial. Upon the tension caused by science and faith, the rational and the irrational, the mind and the heart, the premodern and the modern, I seek a contradictory understanding of a Deity who makes unkept promises, who is absent when present, who offers a cruel love to God’s beloved. Faith amid profound doubt (like doubting Thomas) captures the human reality of this believing unbeliever. Such a faith proves to be deeper when one struggles with the nonexistent God, than among those uncritically resting on some blessed assurance of a hope which provides answers and reassurance to the unanswerable and the discouraged.

No provable hope exists any will be saved from the consequences of colonialism. No assurance exists of some heaven on earth or in the by and by for it remains a utopian illusion. Only hopelessness is the companion of the earth’s wretched. This hopelessness does not mean faithlessness. This is a faith which embraces hopelessness’s contradictions and ambiguities because it is based on the contradictions and ambiguities of being human. This embrace constructs a mature faith anticipating the illogical and absurd resurrection of a crucified hope which awkwardly unites fact with fiction. Hopelessness engenders desperation and doubt, two needed emotions upon which faith is based. Amid hopelessness, we demonstrate faith by praying as we march toward crucifixion while damning God for God’s absence. It matters not if God hears our prayers, or if there even is a God to hear; we pray, we debate—not for God’s sake, but for their own.

I am hopeless

before structural subjugation

silk sandals exchanged for the homeless

the air in their lungs ripe for capitalization.

I am hopeless

before structural subjugation

where the wretched lack wholeness

yet fight for their liberation.

So do not peddle this hope opiate

ignoring middle-class power

do not sell me this hope tonic

as I am march to the gas showers.

So do not preach this hope theorem

where from trees swing strange fruit

do not prescribe this hope serum

while discarded refuse litter deserts.

Let their forgotten stories reverberate through your being.

Let their silent voices course through your veins.

Let their convictions tug at your heart.

Let their sufferings gnaw at your brain.

Become lanterns illuminating the dispossessed

bringing to light the plight of the transgressed

revealing the persecution of the repressed

shining a beam on the repression of the oppressed.

Stand committed to solidarity with the hopeless.

Stand rebelling against the neoliberalism that subjugates.

Stand proclaiming the good news of liberation to the helpless.

Stand subverting the social structures that segregate.

Be not a Christian soldier marching as to war

be not a crusader crushing infidels for Christ

but be lambs before the slaughter

gentle doves before the wolves.

In solidarity with the hopeless

stand disruptive yet decisive

feeling desperation not despair

agitating not assimilating.

So do not be tempted with riches of some afterlife.

Spare me from pious pontifications of future rewards.

Insult me not with Roman’s road to salvation.

Convince me instead by sacrificial agape here and now.

So offer not your words of hope.

Offer your praxis for justice.

Shower me not with God’s future promises.

Show God’s present grace though your loving mercy.

So when hawkers of hope seduce you to join them

and when rationalists wonder why you struggle for justice’s unwinnable odds

and when charlatans peddle revelation as revolution

and when a world gone mad questions your very sanity

you can respond in confidence and boldness

I am hopeless. (De La Torre 2017: 158f)

Works Cited

De La Torre, Miguel A. 2017. Embracing Hopelessness. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

De Unamuno, Miguel. 1996 [1912]. “Del sentimiento trágico de la vida.” In Filosofía. Madrid: Akal Ediciones.

De Unamuno, Miguel. 1925. “Arbitrary Reflections upon Europeanization.” In: Essays and Soliloquies, translated by John Ernest Crawford Flitch, 217–225. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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