Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Positing or Necessitating Our Opposite?

In their discussions of ‘religious’ authorizing discourses (orthodoxy), authoritative texts (scripture) and required rituals (orthopraxy), Asad and Foucault opine that normative power posits its opposite. In other words, the institutionalization of a distinct set of values and proclivities – by necessity – opens up the space for the dialectical development of opposing scripts and positions. Such resistance, in the history of Christianities, often took the shape of heresies, condemned by the central church and erased from the dominant Christian consciousness.

I think it is worthwhile to extend this discussion even further, as Prof. Monius suggests, to consider the inquiry: do the authorizing discourses in liberal American (post)Protestantism both posit and require their opposites? To what extent do we, as Unitarian Universalists, necessitate the Other (read: doctrine-forming, creed-holding traditions) for self-understanding. How wrapped up is our self-identity in the process of exclusion?

Unitarian Universalism often distinguishes itself from absolutizing and universalizing tendencies: our fourth principle encourages a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, regardless of the propositional outcome, so long as it promotes (as opposed to degrades) life. Yet, this tenuous balance between the rejection of the eternal, translocal absolute and the affirmation of the particular, rests on shaky ground. Dare we move from a position of opposition (self-definition through negation) to a position of positive declaration (self-definition through affirmation)? Our principles, some would suggest, serve such a (meta-physical or meta-ontological) function, describing the nature of (‘is’) and ideal for (‘ought’) the physical and human world with broad brushstrokes. And yet, others reject this supposedly imperial approach, re-casting the principles as mere suggestions.

To be something, it seems, is to exclude something. How can we escape our tendency to slip into the dangerous realm of dependence on the rejected Other for self-definition? What will we sacrifice if we take seriously the call to stake ground? How can we posit, without necessitating, our opposite?

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