When a (Christian) church desires to become a state not only does it wish to intervene in governmental affairs but also curiously covet the very place the state cannot in principle occupy, though it would seem, at the outset, that the place (or anywhere near where it does not want the state to be in) may be the place where the church stands. Thus, quite perversely, the church desires itself. Curiously, however, the place after all may be a non-place – both church and state must leave the place untouched, unoccupied, without substance or essence, without rights, without an official address (no wonder, the separation is not binding, most of the time). As a non-place – in a parody of Agamben – that place cannot be sacrificed to the totality of juridical definition. Whether it can be killed is something we will have to resolve later. In virtue of this, the church does not know what it actually desires. It desires to become a state yet must not want to sacrifice that desire to resolution, speaking of which desire must also be forced to honor the non-place, the place of irresolution.
This may well be the secular or rather confused desire of religions (specifically, Christians) wishing to have their cakes and eat them too (or those at least represented by their manifest image in the churches they built in lieu of the ontological foundation that always escapes their grasp).The church desires the separation (the concept of separation of church and state is predominantly Christian in orientation) at the same time that its desire has to be sustained by the other’s desire, the state which it must in principle accuse of dishonoring the modern contract. (For its part, the state recognizes the church as a secular entity stripped of all its divine trappings). In the meantime, the accusation has to become mutual, needless to say, on the level of desire so that, and here is the wonder of all, the non-place or what instinctively and rhetorically becomes the very object sought in common in this perverse correlationism of desire, may finally acquire a legal status. On the part of the state, and as a follow up on Agamben, the non-place can now be incarcerated or killed as a last resort
On the part of the church, the non-place can be utilized to mark the ground upon which its future is to be built, albeit, a future that must under all circumstances be prohibited to arrive as it threatens to become a future without a church. Here, the notion of the katechon comes to mind as this approaches the Christian notion of that which for still unknown reasons preempts the apocalypse, the final day of judgement, as a precondition for the absolute reign of God. This entails that the church must meddle on state affairs as it accuses the state of promoting the katechon – in Paul, it is suspected that the katechon is the Roman empire. In strict secular terms, it is the state. And yet, it is also of equal concern to the church that the future holds a lot of surprises. In relation to this, if there is the right agency to assume the role of the katechon it must be the church alone. In other words, the state acting as the katechon will always mishandle its role – it is not cut out for the job, not to mention that it unlawfully wrests that function away from the bounds of the sacred.
Meanwhile, let us not miss the fact that there is still the cake and the reluctant eater.
Arguably, in a post-secular age – which does not mean our age has ceased to be secular (post-secular may also connote excessive secularism to the point of losing the entire diacritical consistency of boundaries) – the church has redefined its strategy by, and this has become a patent culture of flour consumption, receiving cakes from politicians. Afterwards, it feeds the cakes to the voting machine (saves it the trouble of eating the cakes). What we thus obtain in this conflation of cakes and reluctant cake-eaters is proverbial: the cakes have gone awry. They are no longer meant to represent even the slightest sign of metaphorical use. Or perhaps, there were too many cakes to count, and alas, ‘we lose count in the process.’1
Charles Taylor partly illuminates this Nietzschean proverb: “In other words, we moderns behave as we do because we have ‘come to see’ that certain claims were false – or the negative reading, we have lost from view certain perennial truths.’2 On final count, we may have to acknowledge the unfortunate fact that today’s religion (represented by the manifest image of the church) is as modernist as our supposed discerning view of its much desirable – because modern – separation from the state. But also this is perhaps the true meaning of ‘apocalypse’ which only in modern times has flour/ished to such an extent that it has become the most covetous object or cake, if your will, of freedom – or rather the ultimate choice of bankruptcy – in comparison to its (it would seem) unwise, reckless antecedents without a goal. Here, the apocalypse is coming, at long last.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Preface,” in On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4.
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 571.A short post dedicated to I should say discerning student who is a member of a powerful religious bloc in the Philippines now at the center of a legal dispute with the government for abduction charges. For security reasons, I will need him to keep his cake away from the table.