The Ideal, the Political and the Pastoral

Being in a parish and engaging with pastoral care has raised an interesting question in my mind. It asks how we uncritically link idealism and performativity. This linking of idealism with performativity makes us think that the conditions and persons that reach the standards of idealism also simultaneously reach the standards of performativity There is a kind of apriorism when it comes to idealism and its alliance with performance. We grant that if we create ideal conditions then performativity will follow. But not everyone is accepting this necessary link. There are rebels in the parish. They are mainly backbenchers and outstanding Christians who prefer to stay away from organized stable arrangements They disrupt the symmetric organization of people, music and other things. We are led to think that the backbenchers disrupt the liturgical celebrations. We seem to agree that these rebels and somehow rob away the efficacy of their participation by opting to seat at the back. The backbenchers spoil their own participation in the liturgical celebration. Maybe even the others who see them are also disturbed and cannot participate to their optimum best.

This thinking is akin to the Philosophy of J. L Austen. Austin divides words into performative words and constative words. Performative words produce an effect like the way a priest produces what he says, ‘this is my body’ by repeating the words of Jesus at the Holy Eucharist. The same is true of the judge who utters the sentence on the convict. Constative words on the other hand constate or affirm positively the state of affairs. Now in the context of worship in our pastoral context, I have a feeling that we seem to assign performative value to certain symmetric orders of things. These orders of things mainly belong to the aesthetic order. It gives us a sense that the things and persons are in their right place. Now when things are in their right place, it thinks that they necessarily produce the desired effect. Everything, therefore, has to fall in the right place. This is Aristotle’s teleology. Thus, music has to be right, sound has to be audible, and the assembled people have to seat at in the right place. They have to be rightly dressed and so on.

We can think of this assigning of the right place to the things as a signification system. Discerning the grammatology of the pastoral scene may assist us to trace the fault lines of linking unreasonably some performativity with the conditions that are deemed as ideal. This means it would illumine us how we have become enslaved to certain kinds of ‘alphabetical’ organization of sounds, things, and people during religious ceremonies. We can think of these arrangements or organizations as a form of writing in the light of the Grammatology of Derrida. This means only a certain kind of grammatology or a way of writing is given performative value. All other grammatologies are viewed as violations and are thought to be disrupting and contaminating the purity of liturgical celebrations.

Making liturgy dependent on certain idealized conditions, we seem to be derailing the principle that we call ex opere operato . Of course here the notion of ex opere operato is used in the broad sense. This use of the term can assist us to discern how a certain grammatology is idealized and normalized and thought to be productive. This also means that every other grammatology is castrated and thought to be unproductive. Grammatology, therefore, allows us to come to see these exclusions. Having assigned productivity to only a certain grammatology, we keep reproducing it as well as the exclusions associated with it. The practices thus acquire theologico-ethico-political status and order our lives in the worship spaces and times. Part of the issue is that these practices come to be seen as ordinary and hence are at best left uncontested. What is thought as ordinary in any context is the fruit of several exclusions. In this case, the way of looking at practices of exclusion that privilege only a certain grammatology invisibilizes the exclusions that constitute it.

The privileged grammatology being accepted as ordinary becomes a hiding place of exclusions. It normalizes excluding practices by masking them as ordinary practices. There is another issue that we need to critically consider. These exclusive practices also play God. They in fact domesticate God. They think that only arrangements of certain kind that organizes people, sounds, gestures, music, things are productive of the desired effects. This also limits God’s action. One can understand the context of God’s self-limiting himself as we have in the context of the seven Sacraments in our catholic Church. We can understand this as these sacramental actions have their origin in Jesus Christ. But there are other issues that may be at best referred to as disciplinary in nature and often take the form of disciplinary practices of power soaked into our aesthetic orientations. This is why the excluding practices that we have tried to study here are also excluding possibilities of divine action. We end up totalizing the way divine action should occur and engender infinite scope of the milieu of God.

The principle of pragmatism that privileges what is useful is mixed with the principle of aesthetics as we assign a definite idealized grammatology performative power. This way we also annul human and divine reaching out to each other as singular persons. God acts in a community and God also acts with the individual while the individual is in a community. We are often lost in the generality of the community and forget the singular manner that God reaches out and love each of us and calls for singular as well as communitarian response. As singular persons, we are often challenged to enter the open horizon as in the case of Abraham who was called to sacrifice his only son Isaac. This is why we have to understand that idealization, standardization and ordinary-fication is not innocent. In a word, the ideal is not innocent. It is political. When we consider the ideal as political, we may sensitively open our exclusive practices to become humane and inclusive.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao