written for Homebrewed
A few weeks ago Joerg Rieger (on Homebrewed Christianity) cautioned about a type of Christianity that was a cheerleader for the system, that reinforced the status quo, and participated in society in way that strengthened Empire.
I have said before I come from a background where this type of thinking is not just disorienting but alienating. The focus is on individuals – with little mention of anything systemic. The goal is the salvation of souls for the afterlife – with no address of collective issues.
It was reading Walter Wink “the Powers the Be” that radically impacted the way I could see this. I have since encountered other writings and teachers who have opened the subject even further.
Now, it is odd to look at the central figure of our faith and ask how did Jesus ever get portrayed as a guy who basically told people to be nice and obey the rules? Cornell West would talk about him be sanitized, deodorized, and neutralized. Someone else might call this being a chaplain to the empire.
My buddy Tripp and I have a theme that shows up in our personal conversations on a fairly regular basis. It revolves around the idea that variable X or Y may be changed or tweaked, but the outcome of the equation is never in doubt. A specific issue may be protested, but the machine itself in never in danger. Certain areas can be challenged or even overhauled, but the system itself is never in jeopardy.
This is not limited to Empire. It goes beyond hegemony. It is not limited to Capitalism.
The powers that be, or the system, or the machine (as you prefer) is an omnibus. It can absorb – incorporate – and co-op any variation, deviation, or even challenge … and in the end the structure is nearly unchanged. The system is never in danger. The machine doesn’t even slow down. The Powers are never in jeopardy. It eats new ideas with barely a burp – let alone beginning to buckle.
We could talk about an anarchist musical band that signs a record contract, or a retail store that sells Buddhist trinkets from ‘the far east’, or a seminar on Native American spirituality that meets in a university classroom… but I don’t want to get sidelined.
Benjamin Barber in his book Jihad vs. McWorld talks about the market in such a way that sketched a picture (for me) of a machine that needs to be fueled by new authentic-indigenous expressions, otherwise it runs dry and burns out on it’s own the boredom of its generic repetitions and knock-offs.
“McWorld cannot then do without Jihad: it needs cultural parochialism to feed its endless appetites. Yet neither can Jihad do without that world: for where would culture be without a commercial producers who market it and the information and communication systems that make it known?”
I got to interview Graham E. Fuller (podcast link – book link) about a historical perspective on East-West relations.
I am curious about the theological address of some revolutionary response to the machine. We talk about Jesus and Empire. We talk about the Constantinian compromise. We have the Hauerwasian response that gets interpreted as withdrawal & testimony. Cornell West wants us to be Prophetic.
What is the theological answer to the question that the machine is asking? Certainly, like Tripp is fond of saying, we have to be about more than a slightly kinder gentler empire. Jesus challenged the status quo of his day – economic, militaristic, racial, gender, and religious. How does a follower of Jesus address a system of oppression, domination, invasion and economic disparity? Thoughts?