Schneider begins this chapter, which signals the book’s final part, with an introductory “snapshot memoir” (185). This recounts her trip, just after graduating from college, to the German village from which her grandfather emigrated to the USA. Here she finds, inscribed on an obelisk, the conjunction: “One people, one nation, one God” (185). It is against this background that she commences discussion of the link between monotheism and nationalism. The connection that the natives of her ancenstral village saw between monotheism and nationalism is all too common.
We can understand why a theology critical of monotheism will be interested in applying the same criticsm to the logic of nationalism. Thus Schneider remarks that “it is not difficult to see in nationalist feeling everywhere distinct elements of religious feeling, and in definitions of ‘the nation’ ambiguities similar to those inherent in doctrinal explanations” (186). Nonetheless, while theologians often observe the duplication of monotheistic sentiment in political ideologies, contemporary social scientists are less likely to return the favor. This is primarily due to the latter group’s alleigance to objectivity, which makes theological categories (such as “soul” or “spirit”) rather unattractive. What is necessary is a “more flexible posture” (188) whereby the problematics of religion and nation are understood to be imbricated in one another.
Schneider makes clear that the relationship she has in mind is one in which monotheism enables the imagination of national identity.
‘Monotheism’ is an umbrella term for the unitary logic that frames the cultural imagination of global leaders in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Supplying legitimation and weight to the moral economy of nationalism, it is a symbolic force of Ptolemaic proportion that could be said to be (but only with some irony) the founding ‘deep symbol’ of our time. (190)
Accordingly, breaking the spell of nationalism must involve breaking the spell of monotheism. But this is not easy, for these have become second nature to us, they have “worked for a very long time” (190). Perhaps we now see the dawn of an era in which they will no longer work, given movements of human population, globalization, and hybridity. Schneider, on one hand, wagers on the possibility that the emergence of these factors will make monotheistic nationalism obsolete. “As nations begin already to dissolve in the contemporary world of porous exchange there is an opening not only for a theology of multiplicity but for a politics of multiplicity as well” (194). On the other hand, she notes that this development is by no means automatic, that a labor of imagination is exigent. Only a combination, it seems, of historical shift and imaginative intervention can set forth a theopolitics of multiplicity.
It is important that a theopolitics of multiplicity propagate a peace that is positive rather than negative. Examples of the latter, in which peace amounts to the absence of war, can be found in both Roman and American imperial orders. Theopolitical multiplicity should not be founded on the desire for security, which sacrifices the wilder edges, the anomalous, to order (note that this connects to the ethic of love advanced in the next chapter). Rather, it should aim to engender spaces where people can tell different stories and can imagine new ways of relating to one another.
Schneider’s insistence on these positive, differential encounters concludes her chapter, but I think it serves nicely as a way of looping back to her brief critique of Neo-Orthodoxy, which I will now mention. She has in mind here one who would protest that monotheism, properly understood, ultimately stands against nationalism. Rightly, in my mind, she invokes the most popular example of this critical monotheism—Barth against the Nazis. Whatever the ameliorative attributes made available by Barth may be, they are blunted by their residence in a framework whose spirit is one of intolerance and exclusion. It is the logic of George W. Bush, who claims that you are with us or you are against us, pick a side. Schneider cites Barth, who says, “beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion” (193). Barth has shown his cards, he “slips into fundamentalism and a desire for the utter elimination of difference. This is the logic of the One at work, manifest even in the critique that radical monotheism is supposed to achieve” (193).
The point, I take it, is that radical monotheism must either refuse any iconic manifestation as falling short of the One, in which case it literally becomes meaningless, or allow one (which is to say: “One”) specific emergence of itself, in which case it becomes exclusivist and rejects multiplicity. As Schneider says: “For specificity to meet the demand of oneness, there can be only one specific revelation. The logic of the One insists that truth is one, and so the one revelation also sets the truth of divinity against all falsehoods” (193). Neo-Orthodoxy thus imagines multiplicity, and the encounters that feed off of and engender it, as a realm of falsehood.
Reflections/Questions: I find the critique of Barth & Co. to be quite well-stated, and believe it is worth foregrounding. There is, in Barthian thought, a certain valorization of particularity (or specificity), and there is also a certain valorization of, let’s say, “exteriority”—i.e., God cannot be identified with x or y or whatever. But how does the relation between these valorizations function? Schneider shows that this relation does not substantively evade precisely what is problematic about a logic of the One. If she is right, and I believe she is, then a number of apparent theological innovations can be seen as inadequate.
Also, I think it might be intriguing to think further about the role of imagination. A work of imagination is clearly called for, but is there some way of providing an immanent evaluation of imagination?