The Political Theology Today blog has been offline over the past week, so my latest post has gone up a week late.
To some, this defining Christian practice of thanksgiving may appear to be rather unpromising as a source of political challenge. Indeed, it may be at such points that the force of Marx’s designation of religion as the ‘opium of the people’ makes itself felt: continual thanksgiving prevents us from articulating and addressing our suffering and keeps us compliant with powers that bind us. Yet, as Peter Leithart observes in his recent book, Gratitude: An Intellectual History, the Christian approach to gratitude is profoundly subversive, especially within patronage cultures where political and social advancement and dominance arise in large measure through unilateral impositions of obligation and the gaining of honor by means of gift-giving.
Within the first century world, the New Testament’s teaching concerning gift-giving and reception was a threatening one, not least in how persistent it was in directing thanksgiving to God over all others. This determined rendering of thanks to God undermined the leverage of the powerfully obliging reciprocities that dominated social life and the hierarchies that they produced and sustained. It made possible the ‘ingratitude’ of departing from tradition, of leaving father and mother to follow Christ, and of reneging on the imposed social debts by which patrons and powerful ‘benefactors’ secured their power; by firmly directing gratitude to God it resisted the supposed entitlement of the wealthy to employ God’s gifts to them as means of accruing power by imposing debts upon others. The new form of gift economy established by Christ and the apostles led to the eschewing of honor competitions, to releasing others from debt, and to the replacement of the vicious asymmetries of hierarchical patron-client gift relations with those of mutual patronage.
Read the whole thing here.