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13. The Power of Interpretation: Controversies on the Book of Daniel

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

A new debate on political theology has emerged since the turn of the millennium, due to a general shift in the understanding of the relationship between religion and secularity in modern societies. After José Casanova’s Public Religions in the Modern World (1994) and Habermas’s speech on faith and knowledge (2001), where he coined the term “post-secular society,” there have been a number of controversies on the issue, including debates on this specific term.1 Hans Joas has pointed out that the term is misguiding, since there has never been such a thing as a secular society, not even in the modern West. Religion has been there all the time, he argues, in various forms, but its constitutive significance even for modern societies has often been neglected by sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, and scholars of religious studies.2

A more differentiated understanding of the secularization process has slowly emerged through major contributions from philosophers Charles Taylor and Giorgio Agamben, sociologist Hans Joas, anthropologist Talal Asad, and a number of others.3 None of these scholars would question that secularization has taken place and still continues as a process of differentiation, but the critical role of religion in understanding global politics and modern societies has been rediscovered and has raised a number of significant controversies across the disciplines. With new genealogies of the secular—indeed, of various secularities—the genealogies of religion are also reconsidered, and we have observed a surprising revival of political theology as a field of interdisciplinary discourse on politics, sociology, philosophy, history, and theology.4 Hence, even traditional controversies like the one between Luther, his Catholic opponents in Rome, and charismatic preachers such as the revolutionary leader Thomas Müntzer receive new interest, although they were writing in a period when the relationship between religion and politics was very different from today. Mark Lilla claims that we now have reached “the other shore” and thus are incapable of understanding, or even imagining, the tremendous problems that used to occupy political theology. He argues that political philosophy has established a totally different theoretical and practical basis for both politics and religion, and that the problems still occupying less modernized and secularized societies (on the “other bank”) puzzle us because we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do.5

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4. The Quest for Immorality

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

Right from the beginning, there was a remarkable moral tenor in Luther’s criticism of the church authorities.1 From 1517 onward he criticized the church for operating with double standards and undermining the prayers of penitence.2 He accused the responsible authorities of organizing the confession of sins economically through the production and sale of indulgences. Hence, the moral emphasis of his criticism is striking when he attacks the praxis of exploiting poor people and their fear of Hell to the benefit of the church, the pope, and the clergy. His attacks on immorality within the church have contributed considerably to the popularity of the movement he initiated. Luther not only addresses the dubious motive of earning money from people’s misfortune and religious fears, though. The more substantial argument is concerned with the economic logic that invades theology, thus consuming and taking over the most basic theological concepts, including the concept of God.3 Within such a system of calculable exchange, Luther saw virtually no space left for the unconditional gift.

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9. Deus Absconditus

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

On one point Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther perfectly agree: There are too many myths circulating in society, church, and academia, and too much superstition, ignorance, and mysticism surrounding the notion of God. Malicious tongues would probably comment that things haven’t changed a lot over the five centuries that have passed. For the discussion on the hidden and mysterious god, deus absconditus, this general estimation of beliefs and superstitions turns out to be significant. Erasmus claims that the very notion of ‘deus absconditus’ contributes to the confusion and the speculations concerning the nature of God and distracts from the central question, namely, how to lead a good and virtuous life and enjoy the pleasures of serious intellectual debates. Hence, he accuses his opponents (not only Luther but also Müntzer and Karlstadt) of obscurantism and obfuscation, and warns with reference to an old Greek myth against trying to penetrate into the secrets of God, while fumbling in the dark.2 Indeed, not many concepts are more liable to abuse and confusion than the concept of God, and in particular the hidden God. Hence, Luther agrees with his opponent on this point, with solemn assertion, before he concludes with an old adage from the Greeks: Quae supra nos, nihil ad nos.3

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15. The Hidden God of Revolution and Apocalypse

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

The decisive role Thomas Müntzer played during the German Peasants’ War of 1525 and his prophetic statement about the people being free later did encourage Friedrich Engels to see him as a precursor of all later revolutionaries. Engels’s interpretation is deeply influenced by the Left Hegelian historian Wilhelm Zimmermann, himself a politically radical scholar who first identified Thomas Müntzer as a revolutionary figure.1 Engels sees the incidents during the revolution of 1525 and the following counterrevolution as paradigmatic for the historical dynamic of revolutions in general. Indeed, this also allows him to relocate the historical origin of the communist revolution to the heart of Germany and discuss the relationship between revolution and religion, history and ideology in a context that he finds similar to the events of 1848–1850. Müntzer becomes a revolutionary hero and the first martyr of Marxism. According to Engels, he resisted the temptation to let the Reformation end up with a bourgeois reactionary settlement under the old rulers and instead risked his life for the ideas he believed in: justice for the oppressed, improvement of their material conditions, a total revolution of the established power structures, and eventually the liberation of the entire people. Engels sees in Müntzer, for the first time in modern Europe, a political expression of the secular realization of the utopian vision of a “kingdom of God,” including freedom, equality, and peace on earth.2 Hence, before we conclude this analysis of early modern political theology by comparing the thought of Luther, Catharinus, and Müntzer, let us take a short view behind the curtains to the stage prepared for a second volume on the hidden God in modern philosophy, where political theology is analyzed from various perspectives, including the question of Marxism and the utopias of the Apocalypse.

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10. Topology of the Self in Luther

Marius Timmann Mjaaland Indiana University Press ePub

The hidden God is to a certain extent a neglected topos of modernity, either in the form of a passive forgetfulness or an active exclusion of this topic due to its inconvenient, problematic—indeed, rather unmodern—connotations. In particular Protestant theology seems to be dominated by a rationalistic tendency up to the Enlightenment, which is strictly opposed to this crucial distinction in Luther’s thought and therefore tends to exclude it from the scope of theological inquiry.1 The major philosophers are more apt to raise the basic questions concerning the conditions for thought, including the limits of reason and the distinction between hiddenness and revelation, and thus they also inquire into the questions raised by the Reformation. A careful analysis of each philosopher would by far transgress the limits of the present volume, but in a planned second volume I will outline some trajectories of thought running from Luther up to the present, based on a topological approach.

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