The Neoliberal Lives of Jesus
By Robert J. Myles - Faculty of Arts - The University of Auckland - New Zealand
Publicado em The Bible and Interpretation - Maio de 2016
The key to the quest for the historical Jesus, I would argue, is not history or theology—as typically assumed—but, in fact, ideology. With some notable exceptions relegated to the margins of the scholarly canon, historical Jesus research—embroiled in a kind of soft-positivism—has overwhelmingly avoided extensive engagement with its own ideological commitments, assumptions, and discursive contexts. The most common scholarly understanding of ideology, as Terry Eagleton describes it, refers not necessarily to a “false consciousness”, but rather to “the ways in which what we say and believe connects to the power-structure and power-relations of the society we live in… [T]hose modes of feeling, valuing, perceiving and believing which have some kind of relation to the maintenance and reproduction of social power” [Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 1996), 13]. Schweitzer already recognized this dimension to the quest. Jesus is not merely an object of historical interest, but a figure of immense cultural significance and authority today, in that any statement made about him is simultaneously a statement about the contemporary world we inhabit. He famously coined the phrase “The Liberal Lives of Jesus” to refer to the plethora of books written in the nineteenth century that domesticated Jesus to then dominant forms of liberal ideology. In addition to diminishing the eschatological outlook driving Jesus’s prophetic activity, the liberal lives of Jesus heightened his “natural psychology” in ways that anachronistically solidified the modern, bourgeois individual.
The “neoliberal lives of Jesus”, then, is a useful catch-all designation for the varied and extensive work done on the historical Jesus over the past forty years. This “quest” has taken place when neoliberalism has transitioned from an emerging political ideology into a firmly entrenched governing rationality exerting influence over almost every domain of life in every realm from politics and the state to the academy. According to the political theorist Wendy Brown, neoliberalism is best understood “not simply as economic policy, but as a governing rationality that disseminates market values and metrics to every sphere of life… [I]t formulates everything, everywhere, in terms of capital investment and appreciation, including and especially humans themselves” [Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015), 176]. Under neoliberalism we even conceive of ourselves as subjects to be marketed and self-promoted, whether by social media, blogs, or personal websites. Neoliberalism is intensely focused on the individual, specifying entrepreneurial conduct everywhere, and constraining the subject to act in a capital-enhancing fashion. Neoliberal subjects themselves are interpellated as individual consumers, “intersectionally constructed” by complex categories of identity like gender, sexuality, race, and class. Neoliberal ideology has saturated the conditions under which recent historical Jesus research has been produced, marketed, and consumed.