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Gospel scripture
as guerrilla script.
Ed Iglehart
The Powers That Be
Theology for a New Millennium
Galilee Doubleday,
New York, 1999, $12.95 (pbk)

"They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humanity; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead."

Henry David Thoreau

This book is profoundly and unashamedly Christian, and at first glimpse, one might be tempted to regard it as aimed exclusively at Christians or potential converts. The imprint is Christian and it is clearly written by a believer, but one who has found it necessary to seek the fountainhead. It is clear that his pilgrimage hasn't been without pain, is not at an end, and is accepted with an endearing humility.

Wink intends that we address the spiritual Powers which mirror and are continuous with the corporeal Powers we all know, the earth, its creatures, corporations, governments, associations, clubs, churches and individuals. "The world is, to a degree at least, the way we imagine it. When we think it to be godless and soulless, it becomes for us precisely that. And we ourselves are then made over into the image of godless and soulless selves."

Thus the key to understanding and freeing our minds is an understanding of worldviews, from the ancient as reflected in the Bible, the spiritualist or Gnostic, the recent and still widely dominant materialist, its reactive theological twin and, emerging from many current streams of thought, an 'integral' worldview. "We may be the first generation in the history of the world that can make a conscious choice between these worldviews." The Powers are inherently good (as we are), but fallen (as we are) and capable of, in fact destined for, redemption through transformation (as we may be).

This is our task, but it will be necessary to confront the "Domination System" which creates oppression of women. the poor, the 'undeveloped' and, in fact all of us. We must examine the Myth of Redemptive Violence, the operative myth of the modern world, the ancient root of power systems and belief structures, which is at the heart of the domination system. This myth goes back beyond Judeo-Christian myths and has its origins deep in the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation story. It is rehearsed every Saturday in children's television cartoons and also in westerns, comics and much more; it saturates much modern political thought and the national security mentality. The form is simple: underdog is beaten nearly to destruction by an evil foe, miraculously rises up (or is miraculously aided) and defeats (but never fully destroys) the villain.

Within the integral worldview it is apparent that there is evil, and that it operates through the Domination System. That the system is self-perpetuating is also clear, and thus that the answer cannot be found within it. So what, then, is the answer? Jesus, surely, but not the Jesus many of us, Christian or not, admire and thought we knew.

It was from the King James New Testament version of Jesus that Thoreau drew his idea of 'passive resistance', later taken up and developed to great effect by Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others in recent decades. The core passage is in Matthew 5:38-41

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."

This has most often been read as commanding passivity at best and at worst, meek submission to authority, but Wink reminds the reader of the ways in which Jesus seemingly took every opportunity to flaunt the prevailing proprieties, freely conversing with and touching women, the poor and afflicted, disdaining wealth and property, healing on the Sabbath, and so forth. Is this passive compliance, non-resistance?

Part of the answer would seem to lie with the Greek word antistenai, translated above as 'resist', which in the Old Testament is used as a military term implying 'standing in battle', or resisting force with force. Not to meet force with force is not the same as not to resist. There is another way, "Jesus' Third way," and this may be inferred by examining the social context of the first century BCE. Jesus' audience were Jews under the oppression and slavery of the Roman occupation.

We are asked to try and imagine striking someone on the right cheek with our right hand, for the left would not do, being only for unclean tasks. It becomes obvious that it could only be done backhanded - traditionally a blow to degrade or humiliate an inferior; to offer the left cheek denies the backhand and invites the right fist, but it is known of the times that only equals fought with fists.

With a similar understanding of the social context, to give up one's underwear in court is to strip naked, shaming the viewer and exposing the creditor and the law in their absurdity.; the imagery is highly visual, and we can imagine the audience's hilarious reaction. Likewise, for a Jew to carry a soldier's pack for more than a mile would involve the soldier in a military offence, as by law, only a mile could be demanded. The result in each case is, judo-like, to render the oppressor impotent and ridiculous.

The Jesus who emerges from this contextualised interpretation is perhaps more easily recognised by those familiar with liberation theology, a Jesus who is radical, subtle, inventive, revolutionary, skilled at social judo and, it would seem, somewhat of an anarchic stand-up comic. This is guerrilla theatre, and certainly not the way to avoid trouble, but it holds out the possibility of redemption of the enemy. We are commanded to return love for abuse, surely, but in a manner which can transform, so that both sides win.

The development of practical nonviolence by those who have followed, Tolstoy, Ghandi, King, Mandela and many more, has provided ample evidence that it is not a way for the fainthearted. It is, Wink believes, the only way to combat the Powers without becoming the very thing we hate, Ghandi argued that "where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence." Nonviolence requires total commitment. It is aggressive, seeking out conflict, drawing it into the open to "lance its poisonous sores."

But the churches haven't even agreed that domination is wrong. Those who accept the concept of just-wars, were they to look, might find common ground in principles shared with advocates of nonviolence: violence minimisation, protection of innocents, rejection of corrupt motivation, and moral accountability. "If the churches were unambiguously committed to nonviolence, its appeal to governments and insurgents to reduce the barbarity of war would have more credibility. This might have helped in Northern Ireland, where both the Catholic and the Protestant churches have espoused just-war positions in support of warring factions. Because their condemnation of violence was selective, it lacked all conviction."

Miguel D'Escoto, Catholic priest and Sandanista foreign minister, sums up the discipline required: "I don't believe that nonviolence is something you can arrive at rationally. We can develop it as a spirituality and can obtain the grace necessary to practice it, but not as a result of reason. Not that it is anti-reason, but that it is not natural. The natural thing to do when somebody hits you is to hit them back." The empowerment of nonviolence lies in recognising that it is the system which opposes us; our oppressors are its victims also, and "we can pray for the transformation of our enemies, knowing that even the most intractable opponents may be capable of a complete turnabout."

Prayer invokes the politics of hope, believing the future into being, echoing Ghandi's "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." with "become the answer to our prayer." We are asked to recognise that God is limited by our freedom, that His ability to intervene is extremely circumscribed, but that "God does want people to be free to become everything God created them to be." This seems slightly close to the personification against which Wink has earlier warned us.

"We are commissioned to pray for miracles because nothing less is sufficient." This man has listened widely, has deeply awakened; in closing he says, "...(W)e are privileged to learn from all religious and philosophical traditions, Christians still have a story to tell to the nations. Who knows - telling it may do no one so much good as ourselves. And as we tell it and live it, we may see ourselves - and maybe even the world- a little bit transformed."

Ed Iglehart is a free-thinker and a lifelong student of human ecology, currently engaged in the MSc programme at The Centre for Human Ecology

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