Remixing my Mennonite Heritage. #1: Without Why

Billy has just enrolled in university. On his way over to his first class, his friend waves him over, ‘What are doing in this part of town?’ ‘I’m heading over to the university, I finally enrolled.’ ‘Oh, what are you studying for?’ ‘Oh, philosophy and stick figure art.’ ‘What? Is there any career there?’ In shock Billy shouts, ‘What? How would I know that? I’m not studying to get a job.’ Still dazed he continued on his walk, then paused, looked back and said, ‘I’m here to learn, silly.’

  One day, I recall, while having a drink with a friend in Sweden, I made a confession. It went like this, “Sometimes,” I said, “I’m tempted to stop (being a vegetarian). Because I’m just an individual, and I feel like it’s not really making a difference anyway.”

   To this my friend said something to the effect of, “But that doesn’t matter, does it? We don’t follow our convictions to win, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

   Hello, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on here so let me introduce myself. My name is Bradley Plett. I grew up in a small Mennonite community in Canada. Then, in my mid twenties I was introduced to Radical Theology. For the last several years I’ve been stewing on the idea of what it might look like to re-radicalize my heritage, which, if you haven’t heard, started during the radical reformation. You might call it re-Radicalizing the Radical Reformation. You see what I did there?

   Then I got an idea. How about if I read a book from each system of thought, together? Then remix what I gather, sprinkle in some thoughts and press send. By which I mean publish. Anyway, this is me trying to do just that. I’m reading through John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” in companionship with John Caputo’s “Hoping against Hope.” As I go, I aim to create a series of short blog posts that erupt from the collision of these thoughts, chapter by chapter.

   This first post is on Caputo’s chapter “Nihilism and the Smile on the Face of Matter” and Yoder’s “The Possibility of Nonviolent Resistance.”

   So without further adieu. As you already saw, we start with my nihilistic confession in the opening, “Does it even make a difference?” and my friend’s rebel response, “That doesn’t matter.”

   Namely, we’re all called to respond to our own call. Whether or not we are able to actually achieve those goals.

    “To act without why,” as Caputo says.

    This way of life flies right in the face of how we are often taught. Which seems to always be about getting somewhere else, while remaining within extremely finite possibilities.

     For instance, one train of thought that I’m familiar with assumes that, when faced with aggression you must either respond in like manner (in order to defeat the threat) or retreat and remain hidden (in order to save your skin), as mentioned by Yoder.

     Another quite common argument goes like this. “What are you? Are you an atheist or not?” (Generally meaning, do you ascribe to the belief of an all powerful and all knowing being?) You must choose either (Absolutist) Atheism or (Fundamentalist) Religion. This or that. But, I suggest, as I suggest these authors are suggesting, there is always another option. The option without options. In other words, the option that stands for itself.

    For instance, in Yoder’s book we find an invitation to an active non/violent/resistance. This is no passive “do as you will” open door (as some people have interpreted Jesus’ thoughts on responding to violence), but neither is it an open door to retaliation (which ultimately would be us embracing the method of the oppressor), rather it is a call to live out of our core values now.

   Caputo’s third option, then, is what he likes to call a religiousless religion. A “religion without religion”. This, in my opinion,  is a rejection of the absolutism, and thereby immense violence and pain often found in religion (I suggest terms like faith or relationship could be included in the broad definition of religion as I’m using it in this context), as well as in, especially certain types of atheism. (In which the certainty so often contained in religion seems to remain, while the content is refuted by this same absolutism). Both of these worldviews (or lack thereof) seem to be about something else. (Escaping this earth or escaping the idea of escaping this earth.)

    So in conclusion I say, learn to be here. Stop trying to escape. Face your oppressor, face the uncertainty and breath deep. Later, or something else, is all but a fantasy. All you have is this moment.

    In the words (at least, put on the figure) of Jesus, “What does it profit a (hu)man to gain the whole world, but (s)he loses h(is/er) soul?”

    Well that’s my first return post. If you enjoyed this I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading. 

    Bye -Bradley

Ps. I’m attempting to shift away from social media, (see: “The Social Dilemma”) so if this was meaningful to you, or might be to someone you know, I’d be honoured if you’d share this with them.  Cheers.

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