January 28, 2019 / Theology
Steven G. Ogden writes about the seduction of power.
Hannah Arendt famously noted that when the modernity of the twentieth century led to a breakdown in historically grounded authority structures, coercive acts of power filled the yawning void. In this context, Arendt insists on the importance of distinguishing between various forms of authority and their range of influence over their constituent members—otherwise we mistake tyranny for legitimate authority and violence for power.
As a journal of theology and culture, we find it particularly interesting that Arendt identified the Catholic Church as the only remaining authoritarian institution in the modern age. Indeed, Christians have a long, troublesome relationship with authority. Although Christianity first emerged in a dissident context, the history of the church is marked by the fusion of church with empire and by the conflation of God’s coming kingdom with a kingdom already working to expand and protect its borders. This fraught history, traced up and through the crises of authority Arendt so precisely names, poses itself as questions that we have not yet answered in the twenty-first century: To whom should the Christian pledge allegiance, and what should a politically conscious, ethically grounded form of citizenship entail in the time of Trump? How might the media, education, family, literature, and other ideological structures be working to reify (or hold accountable) certain authoritarian structures, as Louis Althusser argued? Or more intimately and socially, how do authority and trust intersect in the daily lives of the powerless, and what happens when this dynamic gets distorted?
In this issue of The Other Journal, we take up this theme of authority. Our contributors tackle this theme eclectically as they explore—but are not limited to—the following questions: What is authority, how does it work, and what effects does it have on its members? What organizational possibilities should Christians consider outside of traditional, authoritarian structures? What is the relationship between divine authority and societal authority, particularly if the two exist in some sort of mutually informing relationship? From political engagement to societal analysis, from organizing proposals to calls for Christian anarchism, from state to church and familial authority structures, from dispersals of information and truths to theologically grounded authority of economic principles, this issue’s essays, creative writing, art, and reviews engage this complex and timely conversation.