In Sacramental Politics: Religious worship as political action, Brian Kaylor explores the various ways religion and politics commingle, focusing on acts of worship and political activism. The book presents a problem: Two things that don’t go together and we think of as separate and radically different things do in fact often come together, religion and politics. Religious worship can influence and affect politics and politics can effect religious worship. Given the dominant view of religion and politics that they are two irreconcilable and separate realms, Kaylor offers a theory of how to account for the times that religious worship and political action and activism do come together and commingle. His theory for how this occurs uses the doctrine of transubstantiation as a controlling metaphor as he explores this commingling of religion and politics varying from prayers said at Democrat and Republican party conventions to Shane Claiborne’s 2008 Jesus for President tour.
At first Kaylor’s uncritical acceptance of our current beliefs and assumptions about religion and politics was disorienting. At first it seems that Kaylor merely accepts the assumption that politics and religion are entirely separate spheres that have (or should have) nothing to do with each other while seeking to give an account of the many and varied ways religion and politics do in fact have a great deal to do with each other. This apparent acceptance of this view, affirmed that religion and politics really were these two absolutely distinct substances that couldn’t naturally commingle, yet the author also seemed to want to give a positive or at last neutral account of the transubstantiation of politics in worship and worship in politics. It was difficult to tell in the early chapters whether Kaylor was arguing that this “transubstantiation” was something to avoid that violated the clear and true realms of political and religious activity, or if the author was meaning that religious worship had a relevance to the world and politics and thus “transubstantiation” was the way this was allowed to occure.
The first four chapters given the acceptance of our general assumption that religion and politics should be and are separate and irreconcilable things, seems to critique the ways both the religious left and religious right make use of transubstantiation. Though, Kaylor’s stance is one of academic and scientific description of what occurs without judgement. Also, I had the unease of if one accepts the absolute separation, then religion and worship are meaningless activities that can have no relation to any real action in the world political or otherwise. By the fifth Chapter “Religious Worship as Political Space” the transubstantiation theory begins to be an indirect critique of the assumptions about religion and politics the author seemed to accept as a given.
Chapters 6 and 7 get to the heart of Kaylor’s position: “Religious worship as inherent Political Action” and “Relgious worship as Politics.” For Kaylor there is no way to actually separate out religion and politics, politics will at moments simply be transubstantiated in religion or worship and religion and/or worship will be transubstantiated in politics. However, Kaylor believes we should be aware of how and when this occurs and shouldn’t accept all instances of this transubstantiation
Sacramental Politics offers a good and extended reflection on the various ways that religion and politics interact, mix together and influence and participate in each other. His theory of “transubstantiation” is useful only in the rhetorical structure of the book that seeks to undermine our assumptions about the absolute and impenetrable “wall of Separation” between religion and politics that if it were true would render religion and worship to be a merely meaningless private individual subjectivity that would have no effect or consequence for how one would live their daily life. And would render politics as a realm that any true person of faith couldn’t enter into as a person of faith. What Kaylor in the end offers is a way to move beyond our current assumptions and dogmas about the separation of religion and politics offering a way to evaluate and critique any particular instance of the commingling of religious worship and political action. However, I’d argue since the “theory” presented in the book functions more as a rhetorical device to avoid a direct critique of our cultural and societal assumptions and dogmas, for Kaylor or anyone to move forward one would need to leave the author’s theory behind.
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