In May I wrote that my conversation with Julia Kristeva is not over. It is not. Recently I read her essay “Thinking About Liberty in Dark Times” and her thinking again enriches mine. The essay was Kristeva’s presentation on being the first recipient of the Holberg International Prize. The Holberg International Memorial Prize is awarded annually for outstanding scholarly work in the fields of the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology.
Kristeva asserts that there are two versions of freedom “economic neo-liberalism and fraternal and poetic freedom, causal and ‘disclosing’ versions of freedom” (Hatred and Forgiveness, 21). Both have value and both are “more multiple, more complex” (22) than we often think.
Kristeva, in thinking about liberty in dark times, is not trying to argue that economic freedom is unimportant. Her concern is that it is in danger of being the only way we think about freedom, especially in places like the United States. “All indications are that we are being carried away by the maelstrom of our calculus thinking and by our consumerism” (17). “America has imposed a financial, economic, and cultural oligarchy that is liberal in its inspiration but risks excluding an important dimension of human destiny” (21). Kristeva is not a reactionary French anti-American. She expresses deep appreciation for our country. Her concern is a certain modern blindness toward another dimension of freedom.
Thinking with Kristeva, religious faith, religious thinking, religious discourse, at its core, contributes something toward poetic freedom, though we are not always immune from being captured by the maelstrom of calculus thinking and consumerism. Sometimes I wonder about the language we use in discussing church growth. Nevertheless, religion, at its best, is important for poetic freedom, as Kristeva seems to suggest.
Now religion is not always at its best. In our modern world, Kristeva notes a “rebirth of religious sects for which the sacred is no longer “a permanent questioning” as the very concept of human dignity would require” (18). Yet at its best religion contributes to poetic freedom. For Kristeva: “I understand the sacred as the desire of human beings to think, not in the sense of calculation, but rather in the sense of a need for fundamental questioning” (12).
O.K. So all this is pretty abstract, pretty heady. What thinking with Kristeva reaffirms for me is the importance of a thoughtful, passionate and compassionate faith. Reading our sacred texts together, we in faith communities are invited to see the world in new ways, to break free of limited views of freedom offered by the wider culture. I believe there is something of the freedom of God’s Spirit in poetic freedom. In that freedom we, at our best, can live differently.
With Faith and With Feathers,