I looked in the mirror and said to myself, ‘Have you had enough? Are you dead yet?’ (Alexi Laiho, lead singer of Children of Bodom)
I recently came across this Good Friday sermon by Kim Fabricius, over at Faith and Theology. I felt a shudder of recognition. For this is just the kind of thing I would once have lapped up. Hell, it is just the kind of thing I once preached. So forgive a little post-Easter catharsis.
The sermon fits into a particular genre, soaked in the pathos of The Crucified God. And it deploys a certain tactic: what Anthony Paul Smith dubs ‘weaponized apophaticism’.
I paraphrase: ‘Yes, the great critics of Christianity had a prophetic point. So much of what passes for Christian faith today is wish-fulfilment, a prosperity gospel worshipping a fantasy God. But beyond that, untouched by that complicity in capitalism, is the true God, the Good Friday God. A God who promises nothing, a God who, in the worlds of Rowan Williams “becomes recognised as God only at the place of extremity, where no answers seem to be given and God cannot be seen as the God we expect or understand”. Here, in the crucified Jesus, fantasy religion is overcome and we reach the real, beyond any concept.’
It is powerful. It has enough truth in it to be persuasive on some level.
But look at the supporting cast of characters. The Jew, chased out of Spain by the inquisition, who loses everything, then prays to God ‘You may torture me to death – and I will always believe in You, I will love You always and forever – even despite You’; the resistance fighter in the Warsaw ghetto, who in the face of defeat and the Shoah declares undying faith in God.
Judaism comes to the aid of Christianity, on the very Good Friday when the traditional liturgy basks in condemnation of the Jews. Oh, yes, Christians were complicit in that too, but look at the crucified Jesus . . .
I doubt if I am alone in seeing such rhetorical moves – however well meant – as being the worst kind of appropriation. Not least because the very purpose of them is to indemnify ‘Good Friday Faith’: or, ‘Christianity as it was meant to be, as it always secretly was, despite all appearances’. Do Christians have the right to enlist inquisition or holocaust as witnesses to Christ? To feed on Judaism to keep the Cross safe?
Perhaps less obviously, though more fatally, what shines through this whole endeavour is the image of a monstrous God, one who is recognised only at the extremity where we are abandoned and even tortured by God. Faith is proved as our flesh is stretched over this impassable gulf between us and God. No accusation will ever stick against him. If he were to appear as the worst sadist, it would show his love all the more.
So, we are told, ‘we wait’. We wait, stretched over the rack. And that is the problem. This is a theology defined by its obsession with what will come. Are you dead yet? Not yet, not yet. A theology of hope, that keeps us always in suspense, always the living dead.
I’m not sure we really need this theology of the not yet, of saving death. I would rather we defied death and everything that pretends to justify it, including the hidden victim-torturer God beloved of contemporary theology
Are you dead yet? No. I have had enough.
3 thoughts on “Are You Dead Yet? Reflections on a ‘Good Friday Faith’”
Could the issue be, for you, not so much the theology of hope, but a theology of hope *at all expense?* And that the expense paid is perhaps with the wrong currency (namely, playing the victim while victimizing others)?
Chris: absolutely. It’s the deadly economics of it all which is at once so enticing and so infuriating, the sacrificial logic which sacrifices everything in order to sacrifice nothing (of itself). Hope I can live with, just about.
I had skimmed the “Good Friday Faith” sermon before but this post pushed me to go back and re-read it carefully. Like you said, it’s a theological tack that very much appealed to me in the past (and still does now in certain ways). Coming from a mixed background with both experience (practice, study, etc) in both Judaism and Christianity, I found myself nodding along and relating very much to the Jewish examples, both of which I’d heard before in some form.
I think there are severals ways one could take this use of Jewish material. On one hand, we could say it’s an admission that (modern) Judaism offers a kind of relationship to faith that mainstream/traditional Christianity does not. Perhaps this is a lack in Christianity, perhaps Judaism has simply gotten there first (whether as an “older brother in faith,” to borrow the Catholic term, or simply due to historical vagaries). In this case, I’m not sure whether the better path is to admit to Christian lack and point to Judaism, or whether it is still inappropriate to “use” Judaism. I don’t think pointing to Judaism and Jewish theological resources in and of itself is wrong or an “appropriation,” as long as such resources are still viewed as *Jewish* and clearly coming from within a Jewish context.
However, this is hard to pull off, and by labeling Jewish theologies of the Shoah/of survivors unknowing “theologies of the cross” as is done here – “Which would explain why it is no coincidence that the most penetrating and profound theologies of the cross – though they themselves would, quite rightly, dispute, even resent my tribute – they are the Survivors, and the relatives of Survivors” – perhaps the sermon lapses into the Wrong Sort of appropriation (is there a right sort? That’s another question….) . The admission that survivors would “quite rightly” dispute or resent this association both acknowledges and then dodges the responsibility.
It’s difficult to construct a Christology or atonement theology that is in line with Christian tradition and *not* supersessionist. Perhaps it’s even impossible, but that’s a larger question….
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