Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Zionist Offerings and Resistance to Capitalism

While listening to Geoff present his work to our Seminar on liturgy as resistance to capitalism, I was put in mind of Robin Petersen's analysis of the South African Zion Christian Church. Robin was a brilliant young theologian, full of promise, who has now dropped off the scene. His work has given me several cues for my own analysis of South African Christianity. What follows is from his doctoral dissertation (bibliographical details follow):

"Money, as Marx showed, is the ultimate symbol of the mysterious power of capitalist production; it is seemingly unrelated to the materiality that it is (the coin, the paper), the materiality that it can command (commodities), and the labor necessary for its acquisition. It is the ultimate free-floating signifier, or so it seems. It is also the symbol of the domination of wage labor for those who are subjected to its command but never have enough of it. The ritual offering of the mission churches reinforces this anonymity—the money is given only semi-publically and is detached from the giver. The Zionist church offering, on the other hand, is a clear attempt to bring the alien and detached power of money under social control. As described by [Jean] Comaroff (and witnessed by this author on numerous occasions), the money that is given is publically presented, with each giver dancing to the table on which the offering plate is set, publically displaying how much is being given, and invoking prayers an blessings over each coin as it is placed in the plate. The whole process is communally oriented. On a few occasions, for instance, I observed two plates being set up; one for the work of the church, and one for a particular member who had a special need at the time (anything from funeral expenses to unemployment). Each person giving showed exactly how much was going into each plate, and prayed for the person in need. In this way, an attempt is made to resituate the coin, symbol of domination and of power outside of their control, into a ritually controlled and communally orientated context. Comaroff describes the logic of this as follows: ‘These media circulate through communicative processes which themselves appear to marginalize people at the periphery; hence the major vehicles of value have come to elude their grasp… In these circumstances, efforts are made to restructure activity so as to regain a sense of social control… repositories of value, like the Zionists’ money,are resituated within practices that promise to redirect their flow back to the impoverished, thus healing their affliction.’"

Petersen, R. M. 1995. Time, Resistance, and Reconstruction: Rethinking Kairos Theology. Diss. University of Chicago, 230-231.

No comments: