On Trinity and Politics: Part 2, Projecting Our Preferred Politics Onto God

I want to discuss Karen Kilby's much discussed essay "Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity" in two parts. 

The first part, today's post, sketches out Kilby's main criticism of social trinitarians who claim that "the Trinity is our social program." As we'll see below, Kilby argues that social trinitarians are projecting their preferred politics onto the Trinity. In tomorrow's post we'll turn to Kilby's own description of the Trinity, what she describes as an "apophatic trinitarianism."

At the start of "Perichoresis and Projection" Kilby traces out the moves theologians and pastors make to reach the conclusion that "the Trinity is our social program," the now ubiquitous calls for us all to join the "divine dance" of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Kilby sketching the first move:
The first step is to offer a brief characterisation of contemporary social theories of the Trinity. Most basically, social theorists propose that Christians should not imagine God on the model of some individual person or thing which has three sides, aspects, dimensions or modes of being; God is instead to be thought of as a collective, a group, or a society, bound together by the mutual love, accord and self-giving of its members. 
The second move is to introduce the notion of perichoresis, the "divine dance," to paint a compelling relational picture of the Trinitarian life:  
God is presented as having a wonderful and wonderfully attractive inner life. I already mentioned Moltmann’s notion of “the most perfect and intense empathy” existing between the persons. Another proponent of the social doctrine, Cornelius Plantinga, in what is in general a very carefully constructed and restrained presentation, writes of the Trinity as “a zestful, wondrous community of divine light, love, joy, mutuality and verve”, where there is “no isolation, no insulation, no secretiveness, no fear of being transparent to another”. So the interrelatedness of the Trinity, the divine perichoresis, makes God intrinsically attractive.
And the final move: draw a straight line from your description of the Trinity to your preferred vision of social and political relationships:
God’s inner life is [then] presented as having positive implications for that which is not God...In the hands of these thinkers, then, the claim that God though three is yet one becomes a source of metaphysical insight and a resource for combating individualism, patriarchy and oppressive forms of political and ecclesiastical organization. No wonder the enthusiasm: the very thing [i.e., the doctrine of the Trinity] which in the past has been viewed as the embarrassment has become the chief point upon which to commend the Christian doctrine of God: not an intellectual difficulty but a source of insight, not a philosophical stumbling block but something with which to transform the world.
Late in the essay, Kilby summarizes the three moves:
In short, then, I am suggesting we have here something like a three stage process. First, a concept, perichoresis, is used to name what is not understood, to name whatever it is that makes the three Persons one. Secondly, the concept is filled out rather suggestively with notions borrowed from our own experience of relationships and relatedness. And then, finally, it is presented as an exciting resource Christian theology has to offer the wider world in its reflections upon relationships and relatedness.
So that's how social trinitarian thinking gets to "the Trinity is our social program." But after sketching out the now familiar moves, Kilby turns toward her criticism of this approach.

Kilby's basic argument borrows some from Freud. As you can see from the title of the essay, Kilby argues that social trinitarians are "projecting" political hopes and desires onto the Trinity. We imagine a perfect, idealized relationship, economy, or political arrangement and then project that vision onto the Trinity, which then projects that vision back toward us, giving us divine justification for our preferred "social program." But you can see the problem here. The social vision we are using to interpret the Trinity--our preferred social and political arrangement--is the very same thing we are saying is the moral implication of the Trinity. God isn't showing up anywhere in this process, as the social vision we're advocating for is baked in from the very start. 

Basically, the Trinity has become a mirror into which we are seeing our own reflection. We're seeing in the Trinity exactly what we want to see. As Kilby observes:
Projection, then, is particularly problematic in at least some social theories of the Trinity because what is projected onto God is immediately reflected back onto the world, and this reverse projection is said to be what is in fact important about the doctrine.
So that's the problem, projecting our preferred politics onto perichoresis. (That's way too many p's.) 

And because of this projection, Kilby ends her essay with her caution about projecting our preferred politics onto God. The final lines of her essay:
Theologians are of course free to speculate about social or any other kind of analogies to the Trinity. But they should not, on the view I am proposing, claim for their speculations the authority that the doctrine carries within the Christian tradition, nor should they use the doctrine as a pretext for claiming such an insight into the inner nature of God that they can use it to promote social, political or ecclesiastical regimes.

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