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What rather concerns me here is von Harnack's particular construction of a binary dichotomy between a "vital, pure and busy" Jesus set over against the miserable wash of humanity--all of whom, he notes, Christianity assumed to be "in a state of disability" p. Why this portrait of a Jesus so singularly morally virtuous, energetic and industrious, when other children born " Upon a Midnight Clear" tend, like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children , to be mutilated, hybridized, cracked enough to have radio-like telepathy and foreknowledge, and of more compromised genealogies than would please Freud?

Take note, too, of that silent, penetrating, knowing look which accompanies Jesus' "impulse to heal" in von Harnack's portrait: Does not Jesus' bedside manner seem amazingly like that "silent and gestureless" clinical gaze Michel Foucault discerned as emergent with "the birth of the clinic" and the modern bioregime p.

Obviously, von Harnack's Jesus would not himself have been among the "Crip Nation" of the blind, lame or deaf, despite the predominant Hebraic inflection of the portrait of Jesus as one "unseemly" Isaiah Looking into the mirror of von Harnack's Jesus portrait, we find instead a person of all-knowing compassion, framed in bodily perfection, in somatic wholesomeness. What von Harnack "found" in the origins of Christianity might be, I would suggest, a socially constructed way of viewing the world, a cultural optics specifically generated during modernity.

The dichotomy upon which von Harnack pivots his recuperation of Christian origins, a dichotomy between the vital and the disabled, seems inherent to the optic named "modern realism. When read through the optics of modern realism, encounters between the protagonist Jesus, "vital, pure and busy" von Harnack, , and a person with a "disability" become medicine shows. In such scenes, disabled characters appear as but stage props in the constituting of humanism. The literary genre of modern realism, disabilities theorist Leonard Davis explains, emerged in the late eighteenth century "as an ideological form of symbolic production whose central binary is normal-abnormal" p.


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Further, "this dialectic works in a fundamental way to produce plots," p. Observing that modern novels seem to feature a multiplicity of disabled bodies, but set only like plot props over against the central protagonist, Davis concludes that "narratives involving disability always yearn for the cure, the neutralizing of the disability.

This narrative commitment to the redemption of deviance--whether by repair, by rescue from social censure or by extermination Mitchell, --supports the development of the modern subject, Davis argues, training the subject to desire "the ideological fantasy of" p.

The Social Model of Disability: A Philosophical Critique

If miraculous remediation can be, according to the redemptive plot line of modern realism, the only viable conclusion to such a story, the trick will be to look behind the curtains of this medicine show so as to observe the formation of subjective normalcy. When readers wear the optics of modern realism, the synoptic narratives appear to be about "miracles" performed upon an obviously disabled body--about either a supernatural or a comparable medicinal or social intervention in nature on behalf of a defective body.

Read in this way, these narratives echo the commitment of modern science to "normalcy," that of modern medicine to the redemptive cure and that of modern culture to the bourgeois, aesthetically wholesome, and productive body. What persistently disappears behind the stage of modern realism as it lodges itself in a biological and medical commitment to the "normal" are the socio-economic determinations of the ideology of normalcy--namely, the utility and desirability of the body according to the dictates of capitalist economics.

The belief that disability is an intractable physicality, that to be healthy is to be other than disabled, that normalcy excludes variations in physical modalities: these assumptions allow the emergence of the category "miracle," even as we have come rationally to dispute it or to scientifically qualify it, for example, as "medical miracle. Sugirtharajah identified as the colonial rather than Pauline "missionary trips? No biblical writer shows awareness of such a view" p. Incanting the Foucauldian truism that "power operates--and therefore can only be opposed—discursively," Davis elsewhere notes that "this normalcy must constantly be enforced in public venues like the novel , must always be creating and bolstering its image by processing, comparing, constructing But the public venues of the medicine show of remediation to normalcy are by no means limited to the novel.

Such shows are staged throughout both the discourses of theological Christology, especially its liturgical expositions, and biotechnoscience. And the real illusion of the medicine show happens among the audience: the theatre of geeks, freaks and grotesques, all needing to be cured, serve as but the prompts for the inner subjective theatre of crisis, lack, and repression that churns in the guts of most modern persons. As sociologist Zygmunt Bauman observes, capitalism requires subjects in perpetual crisis: "Privatization of the ["modernizing"] impulse means compulsive self-critique born of perpetual self-disaffection The technology of subjective normalcy punishes not only persons with disabilities; this theatrical performance becomes introjected as anxiety, shame or fear around how "normal" bodies should perpetually remediate their deviances, which multiply under speculation.

Divine Grace and the Question of Free Will

The deviations of bodies and subjectivity opened out in the name of health has become the consuming crisis of postmodern subjectivity--literally, a "consuming" crisis, in terms of personal eviscerating political attention and appropriation of resources. Christianity's generation of miracle stories through the optics of modern realism justifies the cultural sorting of bodies. Liberal theologies, to be sure, have tended--like the late Albert Schweitzer--to appreciate a modern worldview, both in terms of the demythologization of supernaturalism and of gratitude for modern medicine.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, "a major difference in paradigms of the body and in healing modes became itself an index to what was seen as the uniqueness and superiority of Christianity," explains William LaFleur Appreciation for "the medical miracle" was consequently seen "as an index to If I were forced to choose between "creationist supernaturalism" and such an "enlightened" view, my theological sentiments would not necessarily be located elsewhere.

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And yet the social physics of inclusion incumbent upon such an enlightened religion do not break with the optics of modern realism and its commitment to normalcy. Rather than admitting how differently capacious we all are and how the ingress of time, environment and work affect the body, Western culture promotes an idealized version of "the body" and of "life" as average or normal. Our readings of miracle accounts, even liberal readings that expressly deny supernatural exceptions to the laws of nature and instead purport social inclusion, nevertheless induce such a performance of the idealized if purportedly "normal" body and of moral life.

Even where architecture and social geography may have been reworked towards greater inclusion of persons with differing modalities, a psychological "apartheid" preserves a socio-cultural preference for appearing wholesome and functionally integrated.

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This appears to be as true of Christian community, with its liturgical petitions for wholeness and its call to mission so as to "heal brokenness," as anywhere else in Western culture. Normalcy, Davis reminds us, developed as a sensibility within modern, Euro-western science and is "less a condition of human nature than it is a feature of a certain kind of society" pp. When psychically inhabited, this cultural cathection to normalcy generates in the onlooker to disability a ridge of abjection, displacing the fear of and containing the variability and vulnerability of somatic life elsewhere--namely, in that "disabled" body over there.

A primal terror, an anxiety of dissolution or of losing control, emerges along with the psychic commitment to the norm. This fear can "reasonably" be dealt with by locating one's fear in the body of the evidently disabled other. When consequently unhinged by the forces of anxiety and repulsion, an onlooker--consequent to an encounter with disability the "disabled encounter" being but an encounter with one's own psychic abject --can then move to insist upon re-organizing the body of the other in a prescribed and familiar way--even thinking, thereby, to be benevolent Davis, , p.

Theologically speaking, this fear hides itself in the so-called redemptive physics of Spirit, even where that is practiced as compassionate inclusion. Not surprisingly, then, there's just something about that "healing touch of Jesus" and its ability to "disappear" us which persons with disabilities have come to suspect and to resist, especially in terms of using us for its own narrative conclusions.

Modern theologies have read miracle stories as healing accounts such that persons with disabilities tend miraculously to be disappeared into the law of the average. In assuming that persons in order to be valued members of society must or surely would desire to resume "normalcy," Christian theologies also promote the values of publicly acceptable appearance, independent function and productivity.

The unique efficacy of the Spirit is here made to sustain the key values of capitalist economics. The cure and restoration of the disabled body has been as necessary a foundational fiction for the technological sublime, for the cultural belief in the wonder-working power of science, as it has been for modern belief in the power of the Spirit in Jesus. Nor should the "spirit" of biotechnoscience be construed as anything but religiously inspired. While Western science and Western Christianity pretend to have nothing in common at this late stage of modernity, they have shared at the very least the imagination of transcendent efficacy and the aspiration to eradicate all suffering.

Even as I concentrate here on the optics of engaging biblical texts, we'll need simultaneously to keep our minds on biotechnopower and its spiritual imaginary.


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  6. In each medicine show, theological as also scientific, persons with disabilities find this "cure all" to be visited against our bodies--with which if we have our grumbles like the rest of humanity! Disability studies scholar Lennard Davis has identified the optics of modern realism as a social construction and the redemption of defect as a specific plotline within that genre.

    This reputedly redemptive, although effectively colonizing, relation to disability has been re-enforced through the generation of modern theologies and biblical hermeneutics—these being publicly, because ecclesiastically, performed and liturgically ritualized. While miraculous remediation of disablement, whether supernatural or medical, appears to be about compassionate care of the disabled body ever on the theatrical pallet, the optics of modern realism has been found to support the ideology of normalcy at the heart of capitalist economics.

    Meanwhile, however, scholars of the most current fourth Historical Jesus Quest, including the most popular writers among them, namely Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, have—like von Harnack--insisted that "it is virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist" Borg, , p. Jesus, the Healer: this is one of the winsome pictures that have been re-emerging into 21 st century Christian theologies given the relaxation of the most intense grip of secularization and amidst the Western hope for religious re-enchantment.

    Curious about the socio-economic determinations of those who lived out the imitation of Christ this theological genre implicitly assumes, German scholar Dieter Georgi has noted, that "Life of Jesus theology developed Indeed Georgi would have us remember how each of the historical Jesus quests has served "the evolution of bourgeois consciousness, not just as an ideal but as an expression of a socioeconomic and political momentum" p.

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    As I have already established, a wholesome and unique Jesus, when read in and through the optics of modern realism, took as his dialectical undertow the psycho-social constitution of "degeneracy. Even amidst the earliest quests for the historical Jesus, which were co-incident with colonial mission, theologian Martin Kahler "saw clearly that many Crossan and Borg do not deny, but rather claim this analogical projection. Crossan's "Open Commensality" and Borg's "Politics of Compassion" each assume that such programs "dramatically opposed and deliberately replaced the religio-spiritual and politico-economic hierarchies of normal human power, rule, and dominion" in the first century c.

    Crossan, , p. While each theologian argues for the historical validity of his particular Jesus portrait, each also assumes that the inversion of today's "conventional wisdom" and the consequent inclusion of the socially marginalized occasions social redemption. If inclusion may be better than exclusion, such does not yet address the idealized normate that optically prevails, that generates the centrifugal pull of value in human sociality.

    What, in fact, is to prevent this renewed figure of "Jesus the Healer," filled with the power of Spirit, from becoming Doctor of and for "the Great Dream of Normalcy," that most modern dream if now "enterprised up" being proffered via contemporary globalizing media, turbocapitalism and biotechnopower Tollifson, , p.

    Spirit and the Politics of Disablement

    Have Borg's and Crossan's theologies moved beyond or do they continue to instantiate the optics of modern realism, which Davis identified as using disabled bodies for their own character development? Taking Borg and Crossan in turn, I consider the social physics of Spirit—its mission, its way of valuing bodies--released by their redemptive proposals.

    For scholars in the Jesus Quest, the recuperation of healing praxis seems inconceivable without the conjoint recuperation of Spirit. Borg thus insists that "Jesus Hence, " Jesus' healings were the result of 'power'"--namely, the power of the Spirit Borg, , pp. Insomuch as Jesus was "a channel for the power of the other realm," his "mighty deeds In a subsection entitled, "The Power of the Spirit," Borg reiterates his point: "That Jesus was a 'wonder-worker' is historically very firmly attested" p.

    Just as Borg has established the pneumatic import of Jesus ministry, he qualifies such miracle, healing and exorcistic works, noting that these were culturally common at the time of Jesus. Borg is consequently driven by the demands of his christological suppositions to locate the uniqueness of Jesus elsewhere--specifically in what he comes to call the "politics of compassion. Most often touching was also involved. When a leper came to him, Jesus was 'moved with pity' and touched him" pp.

    Extending inclusive touch across the ridge of abjection appears to Borg to serve as a conduit of Spirit. Among the Jewish renewal movements spawned under Roman occupation, the politics of compassion were, as Borg sees it, uniquely innovative: "In the message and activity of Jesus, we see an alternative social vision: a community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion" p. Borg discovers in this portrait of Jesus a logic of "boundary-subverting inclusiveness p. In the face of colonization, Jewish holiness movements were, Borg implies, motivated by somatic rigor to practice a strict ideology of public, ritual piety and consequently a strict social caste system, based on "the polarities of pure and impure, clean and unclean" p.

    The deployment of the ideology of holiness, he contends, created divisions within society, especially in terms of generating "a spectrum of people ranging from the pure Among those on the social margin were "the maimed, the chronically ill, lepers, eunuchs, and so forth Borg then maps what he assumes to have been the import of Jesus' politics: "The stories of his healings shatter the purity boundaries of his social world" p. Jesus' practice of "'open commensality'"--Borg here notably agreeing with by borrowing Crossan's terminology--exposed Jesus to impure people, to "'dirty people'"--as for example, " I do not want to be heard to dismiss such a social virtue as compassion when humanitarianism itself has become, given our insecure times, "irrelevant," an "unaffordable luxury.

    Crossan identifies Jesus as a cynic philosopher at the hub of what he programmatically calls "open commensality" p. In Crossan's reconstructive imagination, itinerants carried "free healing This program of "open commensality," Crossan asserts, undercuts--not in theory, but in practice--the universal human tendency to make and maintain discriminations: "The deliberate conjunction of magic and meal, In a world where the table functioned "to establish a social ranking by what one eats, how one eats, and with whom one eats Crossan's recovery of Christian origins--like Borg's--celebrates a socially ingenious Jesus and his unique "religiopolitically subversive" touch, a touch which reaches across so as to dismantle caste boundaries, to overturn spiritual and social hierarchies, to erase somatic distinctions pp.

    But that presumed extension of inclusion clearly still moves from a body on the clean, intact and superior side to touch upon the mutilated and dirty. So Crossan, for example, writes, "I presume that Jesus who did not and could not cure By healing the illness without curing the disease, Jesus acted as an alternative boundary keeper in a way subversive to the established procedures of his society.