Being at home means belonging, but it also means constructing borders and excluding the other. Any kind of group identification constructs the social category of the other. Homes are primarily sites of exclusion, not inclusion. The notion of the home nourishes racism and xenophobia. The German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, himself exiled by the Nazis, believed that ‘it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’ ….
It is only in homelessness that genuine hospitality becomes possible. Homelessness means not recognizing anywhere as home. […] Homelessness as a paradigm, as a way of being in the world, as a lifestyle, as ethical and aesthetic normativity opens the door to accepting the other as she is, not as we want her to be.
Shahram Khosravi, ‘Illegal Traveller’: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders; the reference is to the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno’s work Minima Moralia.
These are radical words by someone who has himself experienced what it means to be homeless. Is Khosravi right that genuine hospitality is possible only in homelessness? It would be all too easy to take issue with this, arguing that it goes several steps too far.
However, looking at it from a Christian perspective, one is reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, who are told that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). The letter of 1 Peter, in turn, is addressed ‘to God’s chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora’ (1 Peter 1:1), who are described as ‘immigrants and strangers in the world’ (2:11). Homelessness, indeed, was the chosen state of the one whom Christians profess to follow and who once said of himself that he had ‘no place to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).
Khosravi’s are radical words indeed, but they need to be taken with utmost seriousness if we are concerned about genuine hospitality and accepting the ‘other’ as they are.
Women come off pretty badly in Christianity. Through Original Sin they are held responsible for everything in the world since the Garden of Eden. Women are weak, unclean, condemned to bear children in pain as punishment for the failures of Eve, they are the temptresses who turn the minds of men away from God; as if women were more responsible for men’s sexual feelings than the men themselves! Like Simone de Beauvoir says, women are always the ‘other’, the real business is between a man in the sky and the men on the ground. In fact women only exist at all as a kind of divine afterthought, put together out of a spare rib to keep men company and iron their shirts, and the biggest favour they can do Christianity is not to get dirtied up with sex, stay chaste, and if they can manage to have a baby at the same time then they’re measuring up to the Christian Church’s ideal of womanhood – the Virgin Mary.
This, it has to be said, is a pretty good summary of what has unfortunately and for far too long been a prevalent attitude within Christianity. Intriguingly, this summary is offered by Mary, one of the characters in Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Psychopolis’.
Some sobering and insightful thoughts about the Eucharist from Sara Miles’s inspiring book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion:
The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. … The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole.
The Lion Isaiahists and the Wolf Isaiahists both preached on street corners, battling when they met: they were at odds over whether it was the lion or the wolf that would lie down with the lamb once the Peaceable Kingdom had arrived.
This little satirical gem from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood puts it finger rather squarely on one of the problems Christianity tends to suffer from.
There’s much insight in the following thought, too:
… religion is a shadow of God. But the shadows of God are not God.
Modern Christianity … has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire.
Wendell Berry, ‘Christianity and the Survival of Creation’, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community
Without an alternative people, among whom inequality and violence disappear, Jesus would not be able to be the Christ, the Messiah. The existence of this people is the convincing proof that Christian faith is not mere illusion, but is rather a valid affirmation about the true Messiah, dead but risen, and reigning today … The truth of our statements about Jesus as the Christ or the Redeemer must be based on the very existence of a redeemed people, as even Nietzsche insisted. … Does there exist now in history a people in whom the blessings of the messianic era are already being realized? … Is the Christian project of social change really possible in our time?
Thus Antonio González Fernández in his thought-provoking book God’s Reign and the End of Empires.