Theistic Immanence and Christian Witness

Do we have anything for theology in the work of Michel Foucault? Is his life a huddle for theological appropriation? It does not appear to be so. We can already find a tremendous theological engagement with the work of Foucault. Foucault himself admits that he had a strong Christian Catholic background. Maybe it is relevant to return to the work of Foucault at a time when we have several reasons to despair. His work offers a profound way of finding our hope. There are certainly multiple and deep differences between Foucault’s hope and Christian hope. There are also lines of convergence at least on this side of the grave. Foucault like other great philosophers is a great dialoguing partner to let us bring light to our faith tradition. The way Foucault deciphers power can ignite hope. This is because resistance is implicit in his analysis of power. If we see resistance as freedom, we are enabled to see how Foucault triggers hope. We need hope today in a world ridden with several fundamentalisms that are intertwined. Market fundamentalism and its nexus with religious or cultural fundamentalisms have produced totalitarian power regimes. Hence, hope becomes an elixir that offers the possibility of becoming witnesses of our faith at a time when clouds of darkness are hovering over us.

Foucault’s notion of self-care can be translated as an invitation to Christian discipleship. By self-care Foucault indicates the ability of one to tell one’s story without any fear. This ability to tell one’s story at the time of dark night of our souls is nothing short of our ability to be Christian witnesses. This indeed can assist us to move away from the narrow and egoistic conception of self-care as only an effort to save one’s soul. Our self-care concern our discipleship through our fidelity to Christ and his Church. We can, therefore, benefit from Foucault’s complex analysis of subjectivation, power and resistance. Studying it we shall come to see how Foucault does help us Christians to think about their Christian faithfulness. The Gospel is the good news of hope. It proclaims that the world does not belong to power but to God. This is why Christians do not think like the Manichaeans who think that good and evil fight each other and we have to wait and watch who will prevail. Christians join God in bringing goodness to the world. The world that God created is fundamentally good and the Christian call is to become witnesses to God’s goodness. This means we have the challenge to join God in defeating the powers of darkness that have already been defeated through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our discipleship primarily lives in its effects. This means it lives in our witnesses. We have the challenge to be witnesses to God’s love and power. God’s power is not always visible. Here Foucault might offer a profound insight. Foucault teaches that power is often most authoritative when it is unseen and unacknowledged. This means God’s power is somewhere and everywhere. The way totalitarian fundamentalisms are succeeding today we may have to admit that they do so because God has permitted or allowed its growth. This is why we may have to hesitatingly agree that even its evil avatar power is only offering us a testimony of God’s power. We say this because we can discern the testimony of God’s power in the passion and death of his only Son. Everything is subjected to God. Everything that God created in and through his Son has to come back to him in and through his Son. Our discipleship challenges us to join God in the recapitulation of the entire creation in and through Jesus Christ. Though Foucault understood the world in terms of power alone, we have the challenge to understand the world as Christians in terms of God.

All forms of fundamentalism that plague us today are oracles of the end of history. In this sense, they are what Jacques Derrida christens hauntology or Foucault called a repressive hypothesis. They exploit our sense of discontent with our present predicament by proposing an ideology that is best described by Slavoj Zizek as Hegelian Wound. Any wound leads us to think that the time before one got wounded was a blissful time. Hence, the ideology of the Hegelian Wound offers hope to cope with the present predicament by its promise that the blissful past can be made to return. This ideology then converts the present into work to actualize the blissful past. Thus, all fundamentalism are hauntologies that try to give a future to a past. Christian hope is not a hauntology that is trying to return to the lost paradise lost by Adam and Eve. It is offering us a hope of new heaven and new earth. It does not work to give a future to a past but opens us to receive a new gift that is entirely a new future in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by opening ourselves to this gifting of God we become witnesses of God.

We as Christians have the challenge to demythologize the fundamentalisms that are afflicting us for now. We have the challenge to move away from their simplistic and primarily dualistic ways of thinking. Giving up these limiting and restricting structures of thinking, we can be enabled to think of our life as an experience of theistic immanence of God and discipleship, therefore, becomes a witness to this theistic immanence. This will require us to discern God’s immanent involvement and let our discipleship become an act of partnership with God who is already at work to redeem his people. Thus, we who marvel at the mystery of God’s involvement with humans and his creation, have the challenge to align ourselves to God working in our world. We can only do this effectively by following our Lord Jesus in his Church. This means we will have to critically adopt as fruits of discernment what Antonio Negri and Robbins describe as theo-political resistance which is best performed through creative acts of disobedience. This means we have to actively align ourselves to the temporalities of the subalterns and the oppressed and seek congruence with the theistic immanence of God with us.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao