Please enjoy my 2011 Senior Seminar Paper:
Establishing and Maintaining the Sapiential Kingdom of God through the Nonviolent Deconstruction of Hierarchical Institutions
Charles J. Riffenburg III
REL 470 – Spring 2011
This paper focuses on the general concept of salvation of humankind. I will examine the concept of spiritual salvation as well as the salvation of the created material world. The first half of my paper will be a theological deconstruction of the contemporary institutions that purposefully inhibit the spiritual, mental, and physical evolution of humankind. It is my hypothesis that we as theologians are able to identify the destructive forces that are the result of our sinful nature and establish a methodology for stopping us from our inevitable destruction. The second half of my paper will present a solution to the destructive forces that we have wrought upon ourselves and our planet. I will refer to multiple resources to demonstrate that this idea is common throughout all human religion, and that the solution is for humanity to embrace the art of peace. This is a very complicated matter which must first take into account human political and cultural systems; second, nonviolently deconstruct the hierarchical institutions that facilitate exploitative manufacturing and production processes around the world; and lastly, embrace a holistic philosophy of humanity and the environment. If we wish to save our species and our planet from continued devastation, then we must collectively embrace a Theology of Resistance that fully employs the art of peace by rejecting the structures that facilitate injustice and destruction in our world.
The overarching goal of this thesis is to demonstrate how establishing ecological justice for the environment and achieving social justice for humankind are not mutually exclusive goals. I will argue that these goals are in fact one and the same. I also claim that hierarchical institutions inhibit humankind from implementing the universal justice that in essence can be described as the Kingdom of God. In order to prove this is the case, the paper highlights an array of complex issues that existed during the time of Christ, as well as those that are confronting humanity at the dawn of the 21st century.
I will begin with a brief overview of varying conceptions of the Kingdom of God, particularly the Apocalyptic and the Sapiential. I will argue first that a sapiential worldview is most beneficial for mankind and that an apocalyptic worldview is in fact detrimental to the well being of humanity and creation. I will then proceed to identify three essential themes that are essential for the sapiential Kingdom and explain how these themes provide humanity with the universal justice that can truly be called the Kingdom of God.
After I have clarified precisely what is meant by universal justice, we can begin to engage in a deconstruction of the various institutions that inhibit the widespread human realization of universal justice and the sapiential Kingdom of God. After we have properly diagnosed which contemporary forces are acting as a barrier to the universal justice of the sapiential Kingdom of God, we can then begin to examine how universal justice will be instrumental in establishing the Kingdom of God. To conclude I will leave the reader with the necessary action that must be undertaken by humanity if the dignity of creation and humanity together are to be preserved and honored. This includes humanity embracing a philosophical worldview founded in Christological teachings and utilizing a nonviolent deconstruction of hierarchical institutions that limit the divine potential of humankind.
The Kingdoms of God
The Kingdom of God is a contentious term that is still debated by theologians worldwide. For our purposes I will be examining two different conceptions of the Kingdom of God. The first conception is the future or apocalyptic conception of the Kingdom of God. This understanding of the Kingdom envisions a new earth that is created by God that is to follow the subsequent destruction of this present world. The second conception that I will argue is most beneficial for humanity, is the sapiential or present Kingdom of God. The sapiential kingdom of God is the present world in which we live, and how well it reflects divine justice, or what I will refer to as universal justice. It is important to keep in mind that when we are “referring to the kingdoms of this world, we are thinking not only of the state, but the entire social order: the nation, culture, economy, the whole of society as such” .
Not only do I suggest that the sapiential worldview is most beneficial for humanity, but I am also stating that the apocalyptic worldview is detrimental to the human pursuit of justice. Most Christians who maintain a view aligned with the apocalyptic Kingdom of God do so for the reason that Jesus himself could be classified within the apocalyptic worldview. From scriptural interpretations we can determine that the historical Jesus was deeply rooted in the apocalyptic worldview, but we must place ourselves in the matrix in which Jesus himself lived. John Dominic Crossan draws the important distinction between apocalypticism and eschatology by explaining that the idea of the apocalyptic end of the world results from an unfortunate mistranslation. He tells us that the “Greek term is actually not ‘world’ (kosmos), but ‘age’ (aion)—Matthew refers to the end of this age, period, or time of evil, war, violence, injustice, and oppression” . If we accept Crossan’s thesis, then we must also accept that the eschaton is not about the destruction of our world, but the metamorphosis of our world into a world that is reflective of the divine. Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians maintain an apocalyptic worldview. Bart Ehrman makes this point very clear in the thesis of his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium, that “every one of these Christians could trace the lineage of their views, not just to some wide-eyed fanatics in preceding generations, or to the enthusiasts who propagated the Christian religion in its earliest centuries—but to Jesus himself” . Despite the fact that Jesus was wrong about the Kingdom of God coming during his generation, we still see many Christians embracing apocalyptic ideology in favor of sapiential.
Those who embrace an apocalyptic worldview similar to Jesus may have their reasons for doing so, but it is important to recognize that when Jesus referred to the Kingdom of God he was not referring to an immaterial realm like “heaven”. Crossan explains that “the Kingdom of God has some relationship to “heaven” as the place where God is enthroned; but when Jesus talks about the Kingdom, he appears to refer principally to something here on earth—where God will at some point begin to rule as he already does up above” . Unfortunately, for those individuals who embrace the apocalyptic worldview, humanity has become all but removed from the sphere of activity and we are simply “dependent on the overpowering action of God moving to restore justice and peace to an earth ravished by injustice and oppression” . By embracing the apocalyptic worldview, human beings relinquish their free will in favor of a God who will sweep in to save the day. The human ability to bring about justice in the world is then greatly diminished and the role of the human community recedes into the background.
An adequate understanding of universal justice is essential if we are working towards a world that can truly be called the sapiential Kingdom of God. Crossan explains that the Kingdom of God is “people under divine rule—and that, as ideal, transcends and judges all human rule. The focus of the discussion is not on kings but on rulers, not on kingdom but on power, not on place but on process. The Kingdom of God is what the world would be if God were directly and immediately in charge” . The alternative worldview of the Sapiential Kingdom is a vision of the world as it exists here and now. This understanding of the Kingdom prescribes free will to humanity and declares that we are to work towards a world of justice that reflects the Divinity of the Creator. Another important aspect of the Sapiential worldview is that it does not perceive God as an outright actor in our universe, instead, through the act of creation, God has set everything in motion and the consequences that result from human freedom become the delivery system for divine justice. Crossan writes: “But what if God’s justice and righteousness operate not by punishments, but by consequences? And what, then, if the focus of divine justice and the interpretation of God’s will were removed from externally added punishments and placed on internally derived consequences?” . The justice of God is not an active punishment that requires God intervening in our world and negating human freedom, but instead “God’s will allows such events as the positive and the negative results of human freedom. God “wills” our human freedom. All else is consequence” . To many this is a frightening concept that involves human beings accepting responsibility for their actions and how they live their lives. It also means that they must take action in their world instead of leaving it to be conquered.
Instead of relying on God as an external force of salvation, human beings are instead called to realize their own innate divinity. Upon the realization that God is a force that acts through us as opposed to externally on our behalf, we become empowered to pursue divine justice for the entire world. According to Crossan:
…sapiential underlines the necessity of wisdom—sapientia in Latin—for discerning how, here and now in this world, one can so live that God’s power, rule, and dominion are evidently present to all observers. One enters the Kingdom by wisdom or goodness, by virtue, justice, or freedom. It is a style of life for now rather than a hope of life for the future.
This ‘style of life’ concept is of the utmost importance and will play a central role as we determine how to best bring about the Kingdom of God. As we go forth our goal will be the clarification of how human beings must go about restructuring our society that will best promote the kind of values that are essential for the Kingdom of God. In the pages ahead I will discuss three primary values which I believe to be essential for creating universal justice in our world. These three values that I will examine are Equality, Community, and Nonviolent Resistance.
Equality – Historical
Although Jesus is not the first or last man to advocate for universal justice by pushing an agenda that is founded in equality, I will nevertheless begin with his approach to society. A most popular verse in regards to this discussion is Luke 14:26 which reads: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple”. Jesus’ attack on the family is not aimed specifically at the family structure, but rather the hierarchical structures of power in society which the family represents. Crossan provides some insight on this verse:
The family is society in miniature, the place where we first and most deeply learn how to love and be loved, hate and be hated, help and be helped, abuse and be abused. It is not just a center of domestic serenity; since it involves power, it invites the abuse of power, and it is at that precise point that Jesus attacks it. His ideal group is…an open one equally accessible to all under God. It is the Kingdom of God, and it negates that terrible abuse of power that is power’s dark specter and lethal shadow.
The purpose of the “hate the family” statement is to evoke a powerful reaction in the reader—a reaction that will cause the reader to reevaluate his or her place in the current hierarchical structure. In order for the deconstruction of hierarchical society to take place, the reader must engage in a self reflection. The reader is not being called to hate their family, but to reject these hierarchical institutions that facilitate inequalities throughout the world. If we are to usher in the Kingdom of God through our style of life, then we are called to love like God loves – completely impartial. This impartial love must manifest itself in the form of equitable distribution: “To be just means to distribute everything fairly. The primary meaning of ‘justice’ is equitable distribution of whatever you have” . For Jesus, it is not enough to love the people in your immediate life, but we must love all of creation with the same agapic enthusiasm that God has for all creation. Although temporal beings could never love as fully as God loves, it is essential that human beings learn that they cannot love selectively—they must love impartially.
This is especially difficult to achieve in a world that is designed to function solely on the exploitation of people and the environment. This concept of impartial love must begin to concretize itself into a legitimate value in contemporary society if humanity wishes to work towards a world of equality and justice. For Jesus, this impartial love was the very foundation from which societies should be constructed.
When we immerse ourselves in the matrix that Christ himself lived in, it becomes clear why Jesus was viewed as a serious threat to social structures and hierarchies that were the status quo. Jesus was ushering in a revolutionary system of equality that was hardly compatible with the institutions of hierarchical domination that were being used by the Roman Empire. In strict opposition to “the Roman systematic and mass enslavement of subject peoples” , Jesus was an advocate of:
…a society of brotherhood in which there will be no rich and poor, in which no distinctions of rank and status…will exist. Where religious institutions are experienced as justifying inequities, the abolition of rank and status may well include the elimination of religious hierarchy in favor of communities of equal believers.
A community of equal believers does not mean that everyone worships in exactly the same way; instead it means that all people in the community participate in activities which are beneficial to the community as a whole.
Equality – Contemporary
To bring about the Kingdom of God that is revealed to us through universal justice, humankind must first learn to love all of creation equally, just as God does. This issue perfectly highlights the problematic nature of the industrialized civilization that plagues the Earth today. The dynamic web of life constantly suffers due to the exploitative and destructive economies that humanity has created in an effort to subdue the Earth. Unfortunately, most of the world has never known a true sense of equality. We can safely say that our contemporary age is still plagued by the discriminatory policies of institutional hierarchies. While there is great human to human inequality, many people do not realize the imbalance that exists between our human civilization and the environment that sustains us. The word ‘koyaanisqatsi’ is a word in the Hopi language that is defined as ‘life of moral corruption and turmoil’ or ‘life out of balance’. It is the opposite of ‘suyanisqatsi’ or ‘life of harmony’ . As we have already noted, this imbalance is the resulting disease of hierarchical institutions that thrive off the exploitation of our world and its people. As we will later read, it is essential for a healthy community to embrace a proper understanding of equality between man and environment. The way in which humans treat nature is reflective of the way they treat each other. Ilia Delio discusses the relationship between humans and the environment:
The distinction between creation and nature is an important one because when we discuss the integrity of nature, especially from the Franciscan tradition, we are really talking about creation, the relationship of the natural world, including humans, to the Creator. ‘Creator,’ therefore, means relationships between the human and nonhuman created order, the place of the human person within that order, and the response of the person to the created order in its relationship to God.
When one group of people exploits and oppresses another group of people, a kind of inequality is created that threatens the whole of human society. When we fail to recognize that we are in relationship with our entire world, we only further contribute to the problem of global inequality. Just as it is with social injustice, when people oppress and exploit the environment, an unjust imbalance is created that threatens the health of the planet and its delicate ecosystems. We must recognize that human welfare and planetary welfare are one and the same and that the healthy balance can only be reestablished when a community holds a vested interest in stewardship.
Stewardship can be defined as the process of preserving, protecting, and managing of the environment, but it is much more than that. To a large degree it is an action of faith. Living a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle is not only the thing to do because it is the healthy choice for the individual. By living our human lives humbly, as servants to the Earth, we receive the individual and collective benefits of a healthy environment, but we are simultaneously praising and revering God by working towards the goal of the universal justice of the Kingdom of God. William Jenkins explains that “Stewardship thus entails no imperial freedom won in virtue of unique capacity, nor even the just ordering of earth’s creaturely judge. It means the humble self-offering of a creature witnessing to the Creator” . Through the proper pursuit of stewardship, we proclaim that we honor and respect those that we are in equal relation with. When we recognize the beauty and sheer necessity of the biodynamic created order, we are compelled to protect the delicate balance of the Earth.
The difficulty for stewardship today is that many human beings fail to recognize their radical dependency on the Earth and view it only as a resource to be extracted. This indeed stems from the concept of individualism that is continuously stoked by the flames of industrialized civilization. The problem is rooted in a faulty paradigm, as Jay McDaniel explains: “Human life is viewed as apart from, rather than a part of nature; and nonhuman nature is viewed as having value only in relation to human need” . Similar to a community that lacks equality, there is a worldwide misunderstanding of interconnection. Contemporary Theologians recognize now more than ever the need for a shift in human understanding when it comes to how we interact with our environment. We can continue to exploit and abuse the Earth which is so vital to our existence, or we can heed the call that resonates from deep inside each of us and resist the oppressive nature of hierarchical institutions.
Community – Historical
For humanity to redesign society around the virtue of equality and shape the world according to the sapiential Kingdom there is no better place to begin than right in one’s own community. Even the smallest of communities, villages and towns are subject to the oppressive nature of hierarchical institutions and even more so today. The parable of the dinner is the perfect way to acquiesce the kind of society Jesus wished to bring forth. In the Q Gospel as well as Matthew 22:1-13 and Luke 14:15-24, Jesus describes a person who is having a wedding party and sends his servant out to invite guests. All the potential guests are unable to attend, so this prompts the person to tell his servant to ‘Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner’. Analyzing both verses from Matthew and Luke we discover that the servant is called to go into the streets and compel people of all kinds to attend the feast. Crossan explains how this approach towards community is both egalitarian and revolutionary: “…if one actually brought in anyone off the street, one could, in such a situation, have classes, sexes, and ranks all mixed up together. Anyone could be reclining next to anyone else, female next to male, free next to slave, socially high next to socially low, and ritually pure next to ritually impure” . Here one can see how social, religious, or economic hierarchies are tremendously effective mechanisms for maintaining social disparities between different classes of people. Such mechanisms are used to justify the vast collection of wealth by one class of people while another class of people goes starving. Even in today’s society, the egalitarian dinner scenario would most likely strike fear in the hearts of social elite everywhere.
Delving further into this idea, Crossan presents us with the anthropological term “commensality” from mensa, the Latin word for “table.” He describes it as “the rules of tabling and eating as miniature models for the rules of association and socialization. It means table fellowship as a map of economic discrimination, social hierarchy, and political differentiation” . Similar to the attack on the hierarchy of the family, the parable of the dinner is Jesus’ attempt to teach his followers about the very human experience of eating, sharing, and living with one another. James 2:15-16 reads: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” . This verse not only speaks to the importance of equality, but also hearkens back to the values of good works and charity. Furthermore, this is his attempt to deride the social institutions that function within this system of discrimination. In an attempt to transform this kind of society, Jesus is advocating for a community of mutuality and reciprocity. Highlighting the tremendous importance of this very simple and necessary act, Crossan cites Lee Edward Klosinski: “Food exchanges are basic to human interaction. Implicit in them is a series of obligations to give, receive and repay. These transactions involve individuals in matrices of social reciprocity, mutuality, and obligation” . Within these delicate matrices there is an equal balance of reciprocation that must be properly maintained for the integrity of a community to exist. Group A contributes to the welfare of Group B and in return Group B will contribute to the welfare of Group A and so forth. When one group begins to supersede the other, the integrity of the entire human community begins to degrade.
Hierarchical systems of dominance, such as the Roman Empire, continually exploit such community matrices in order to amass huge amounts of material wealth and power for the minority of the social elite. In response to this system of injustice, Jesus pushed for a “program of social revolution to reestablish just egalitarian and mutually supportive social-economic relations in the village communities that constituted the basic form of people’s life” . This approach toward community, although seemingly difficult to implement in contemporary society, is an essential element in the human effort to establish the Kingdom of God. However, individuals must not focus solely on their own community, but the world community. A proper understanding of the element of the interconnectivity that binds us all will be essential in the shift towards a world-community of mutuality, justice and reciprocation.
Community – Contemporary
Liberation Theology provides us ample opportunity to reflect on the systems of injustice that our ancestors have built over thousands of years. In Salvation and Liberation, Leonardo Boff has tied this form of nondiscriminatory love to the concept of salvation, revealing that the “love of God and love of neighbor are identified—an identification so profound, so deep, that God and salvation are actually found in the love of one’s neighbors, especially when the neighbor who is loved belongs to the oppressed” . In order to reconstruct world society in a fashion that promotes universal justice for people and the planet, an adequate understanding of the healthy society will be absolutely essential. Leonardo Boff makes this point perfectly when he writes:
Society is like a body, in which many functions are being performed, and these functions must work together in an organic way, creating social harmony. When there is dysfunction, as is the case with too great a gulf between rich and poor, reforms must be implemented, so that the less developed, the ‘underdeveloped,’ part of the body, will develop, thus reestablishing social equilibrium.
A proper understanding of society must necessarily recognize that individuals are interconnected throughout their communities, but also that they are interconnected with the entire universe. According to German Theologian Jürgen Moltmann, “Everything exists, lives, and moves in others, in one another, with one another, for one another, in the cosmic interrelations of the divine Spirit” . This understanding of universal interconnection can be applied to institutions as small as the family and as large as the Catholic Church. After reviewing the essential values of the Kingdom of God, it should be clear that the rift between humanity and universal justice continues to grow ever wider. As our world gets physically sicker, so too does the spiritual health of man decline, and despite the fact that we are destroying ourselves by destroying our world, most of humanity continues to participate in the destruction.
In the National Catholic Reporter, Rich Heffern discusses The nine ecological virtues; with the fourth virtue being what he refers to as “Relationality,” or a collective understanding of our interconnections, mutual dependencies, and relationships. He declares that: “Nature is not a hierarchy, with God at the top, humans in the middle, penguins, ants and rocks at the bottom. Rather it is a living web” . Franciscan lines of thinking echo this sentiment nicely, and its lessons have never been more applicable. All created material is charged with innate goodness, and because of this fact, all have a role. No single being is any more or any less important than any other being.
Human beings would do well to recognize how radically dependent they are on their surrounding communities, a fact that is nicely articulated in The Canticle of the Sun which reads: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs” . Oftentimes human beings forget that our community is made up of thousands of others who play an integral, although often invisible role in our lives. If it were not for the hard work and dedication of those in the community in which we live, life itself would not be possible. In Franciscan Theology of the Environment, Dawn Nothwehr comments on a Bonaventurian Theology of Creation: “The role of material and natural world is to arouse in human consciousness to praise and love God, and in turn, humanity is to serve nature by giving it a voice that in the cosmos would not otherwise be heard” . Saint Francis praised and revered the natural world because he was fully aware of the relationship that he was a part of on a daily basis. He understood that imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ, meant to love all of Creation fully and impartially just as God is fully constant and expressing impartial love through all of Creation. Thankfully, Christian environmentalists realize that when we act on behalf of Creation, we realize that we are a conduit for the implementation of divine justice in the world. Through the very simple act of caring for our communities we are showing reverence for God and the beauty of the Created order.
Nonviolent Resistance – Historical
Although he is quite famed for it, Jesus of Nazareth did not invent the concept of nonviolent resistance. His adoption of nonviolent methodology was, to be sure, a result of his Jewish identity and the zeitgeist of first century Jerusalem. In an interview, Crossan suggests that after the assassination of John the Baptist by Herod Antipus, Jesus realized three things about the Kingdom of God. The first was that the Kingdom was no longer apocalyptic, but sapiential. According to Crossan, the Kingdom is a “reciprocal, collaborative, interactive eschaton” . The Kingdom of God can only be established through the active participation of humankind. The second realization that Jesus had was that because God was a nonviolent God, that so too the Kingdom of God can only be brought about through nonviolent means. Bart Erhman explains that the Jews made use of nonviolent protests in a variety of ways. When Pontius Pilate brought standards with the image of Caesar into the city of Judea, the Jews reacted with “hundreds of the leading citizens stag[ing] a kind of ‘sit-in’ at his residence in Caesarea…The Jews responded by flinging themselves to the ground and stretching out their necks, claiming to prefer to death to such a flagrant transgression of their Law” . This kind of devotion to one’s God and one’s principles is necessary for nonviolent methods to be successful. Unfortunately this sort of devotion is quite unheard of in contemporary society, hampered by the misconception that a person with this kind of dedication to their faith must also be harboring extremist ideology.
In reaction to a similar policy put forth by Caligula, “they vowed not to plant their crops if he carried out his orders and offered themselves as martyrs rather than live to see the desecration of their Temple” . This willingness to sacrifice the welfare of the community for a cause founded in justice is again a common theme. In the face of so much violence, one can imagine how difficult it was for Jews to maintain their nonviolent resistance against Roman soldiers threatening them with death. Without delving into a critical analysis of violence or nonviolence as means of resistance, suffice it to say that the oppressed people of the world cannot succeed using the tools of their oppressors. However, “nonviolent protestors had some success in getting the Romans to back down on particular issues. The violent protesters…had none whatsoever…the Romans effectively and ruthlessly destroyed those who preached or practiced violence against them” . These being the case, as Christ and many others concluded, nonviolent resistance accompanying a transformative shift in societal paradigms is the only solution to the injustices of our world.
The approaches implemented by the Jews were nonviolent and very effective, impacting their oppressors in two important ways. By refusing the use of violence in their protests, the Jews were attempting to transform the mentality of the soldiers who were threatening them with death. The Jews believed so fully and so truly that they were not afraid to lay down their lives in favor of truth and justice. This kind of fearlessness is rooted in a profound faith in God that empowers the weak to be fearless in the face of their oppressors. This devotion to a nonviolent methodology will only sustain itself provided the community is vigilant in their efforts.
The second kind of impact that nonviolent resistance makes on the oppressors is an economic impact. Realizing that their labor was supporting the Roman Empire, the Jews refused to grow their crops unless demands were met. By effectively striking a blow that their oppressors would recognize most easily, the Jews were making it known that they would not suffer the injustice another day. This approach demonstrates the level of faith and discipline that communities must cultivate if they wish to bring about the necessary justice of the sapiential Kingdom of God.
Nonviolent Resistance – Contemporary
It is more than apparent that contemporary communities around the world are not the embodiment of an equal society like Jesus had worked and sacrificed his life to bring about. Thankfully his idea was put into practice and thoroughly explored by Mohandas Gandhi, who devoted his life to the experiment he called Satyagraha, adequately translated as “Truth-force,” “Love-force,” or even “Soul-force”. In reference to faith and nonviolence Gandhi wrote:
[The satyagrahi] must have a living faith in nonviolence. This is impossible without a living faith in God. A non-violent man can do nothing save by the power and grace of God. Without it he won’t have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God.
This idea of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance is the method by which an imbalanced society can return to good health. A healthy society is ideally composed of fearless citizens that are unwilling to do harm to each other or their surrounding environment. Gandhi writes tells us that “a man who has realized his manhood, who fears only God, will fear no one else” . This kind of society can never exist on a global scale so long as a hierarchical system of governance resides at the helm. The refusal to participate with the injustice of hierarchies is a universal practice that all people of the world must embrace if we are to bring about the Kingdom of God. Leo Tolstoy proclaimed that “It is not only Christians but all just people who must refuse to become soldiers—that is, to be ready on another’s command…to kill all those one is ordered to kill” . This refusal to participate in war is a necessary component of the resistance theology that not only requires an unshakeable faith in God and the Created order, but also the willingness to become ostracized from those who passively accept the unjust practices of their governments, communities, or even their churches.
Efforts to resist the unjust practices of governments are the most daunting task in our realization of universal justice. A unique level of ingenuity is required in order to make an effective impact on the ruling hierarchy. Similar to the protests of ancient Judea, the Gandhian approach of Satyagraha makes a serious effort to impact the oppressors economically: “Non-co-operation predominantly implies withdrawing of co-operation from the State that…has become corrupt” . Indeed this has become increasingly difficult in a world that is so tightly woven together economically, socially, and culturally. While it is the hierarchy of violence that facilitates this destruction, it is everyday people that are the willful participants in these activities. Delio explains how destructive activity is counterintuitive, but most people are left without options: “This kind of myopic, unsustainable behavior is clearly foolish, yet the economic opportunities for impoverished people are so bleak that they have few other options” . Likewise, Gandhi also states that “withholding of payment of taxes is one of the quickest methods of overthrowing a government” . Gandhi recognizes the value in impacting the State economically, but he also states that he does not believe his people have the strength or discipline to mount such a campaign. This everyday destruction is largely due to the institutions that reinforce the capitalist economies that exploit and dominate the world. Subsequently, the solution is presented in the form of the drastic transformation of society through the principles we have seen. This transformation will not, and cannot occur without a mass participation in nonviolent resistance.
The Contemporary Issue
Despite the best efforts of history’s greatest peacemakers, the world is still ravaged by the injustices of poverty, exploitation, manipulation, and outright violence. At the very heart of this matter is a problem of ideas. The majority of societies in our world have functioned within a hierarchy of violence for so long that most individuals cannot conceive of a different world. The collective hierarchies of social elites that maintain their power structures do so through a variety of methods. I will now discuss warfare and how it is used to maintain a system of inequitable distribution throughout societies. The most common method of maintaining disparities is through the use of violence. However, there are two other significant species of warfare that we must mention if we wish to better grasp the severity of our current situation. There exists in our world not only physical coercive warfare—that which occurs by inflicting physical injury to others; but there is also economic and intellectual warfare.
Thomas Merton describes the peculiar nature of physical warfare, “The most obvious fact about war today is that while everyone claims to hate it, and all are unanimously agreed that it is our greatest single evil, there is little significant resistance to it except on the part of small minorities who, by the very fact of their protest, are dismissed as eccentric” . The fact that an individual is dismissed as eccentric or ostracized from their community because they protest injustice is indicative of the success of intellectual warfare. During the Cold War, Merton wrote explicitly against nuclear proliferation. Merton was horrified not only because people were willing to use nuclear weapons, but at the willingness with which they complied to participate in these horrific deeds. This illustrates the way in which hierarchical institutions use intellectual warfare. A person that believes murder is an act of patriotism is a victim of intellectual warfare.
Merton discusses how the concept of sanity has become inverted and now has very little meaning: “It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared” . This kind of sanity is the product of a system that leaves no room for the nonviolent protester to be heard. Instead of using physical warfare as the only means of coercion, institutions have discovered that intellectual warfare is a viable means of controlling populations. Wayne Viney iterates “If it is the control of territory that is the goal in physical combat, it is the control of ideas or beliefs that is the goal in intellectual warfare” . If one takes a close reading of history, the agenda of past and present empires becomes quite clear. Not only is it the goal of an empire to dominate the populace using physical force, and economic force, but empires hold a vested interest in maintaining and guiding the ideas of society. An empire need not use physical force to extract the economic wealth from the populace if it has successfully trained the populace into willfully submitting. From this point of view we can see how the apocalyptic worldview can actually become advantageous for the agenda of the ruling elite. Those who submit to the apocalyptic worldview have rejected their ability to change the present situation and are no longer participating in the active establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Despite the fact that history is riddled with groups of people that firmly believed the world would come to an end during their lifetime, the human species has only been capable of this feat for the past sixty-six years. I am of course referring to the invention of nuclear weaponry, which can be described as one of the greatest imaginable insults to God and the created order. The question of why God would allow humanity to devise such terrible inventions speaks to the Hebrew concept Tzimtzum. Sider and Taylor argue:
Why has God allowed us to develop such awful weapons? Undoubtedly because God takes our sinful, stubborn desire to create our own kind of peace and security through violence so seriously that he is willing to let it reach even to nuclear holocaust—unless our desperate predicament forces us to learn that we cannot live without him and that peace and security come not from more deadly weapons but from trust in God.
Unfortunately it is not just the issue of warfare that threatens the world with destruction. It is the same threat that Jesus Christ opposed and it is the same threat that men like Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X opposed. This is the threat of an organized hierarchy of violence that multiplies itself throughout the world. Ephesians 6:12 describes the struggle against the threat: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” . This collective threat now encompasses nearly the entire world. Thomas Merton described this threat in near perfect poetry when he wrote:
Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder. It is abstract, corporate, businesslike, cool, free of guilt-free feelings and therefore a thousand times more deadly and effective than the eruption of violence out of individual hate. It is this polite, massively organized white-collar murder machine that threatens the world with destruction.
This White-Collar Murder Machine is the perfect name for the entity of collective destruction and exploitation that ravages the Earth and her people on a daily basis. The machine has existed since the inception of hierarchical communities and has evolved along with human society. The U.S. military-industrial complex is by itself an abomination that human beings should revile at, but soldiery has become a profession that is well woven into the fabric of human culture.
As time has progressed the machine has become more effective, more efficient, and more dangerous. Terrence Rynne tells us that by studying the nature of military in society, Gandhi came to realize “that humans found in war, when conducted on behalf of those values they held dear, such as family, homeland, or hard-won freedoms, a spirit of sacrifice and community; their individual lives become more important and even noble as they fought and risked death” . The Machine has done a remarkable job of twisting this spirit of sacrifice and community into something that can be used to conquer nations and expand empires.
After the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the Machine become increasingly destructive, through the use of escalatory violence which “means that we have never invented a weapon we did not use, never invented one that was not surpassed by the next one, and never slowed down the speed of that replacement” . This escalatory violence exists not for national security or defensive purposes as those who hold stake in such weapons would have the public believe. Weapons and warfare are manufactured in order to maintain the unequal distribution of goods and power between the oppressors and the oppressed. This was the case in ancient Judea, and it is the case today as well. Although war is an effective tool in maintaining the disparity between social classes, the machine also subtly manipulates the mindset of populations to achieve it ends.
The technological tools of the contemporary media can manipulate much larger numbers of people than could ever be done before. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that humankind recognizes the various species of warfare. There exists not only physical warfare—the kind that occurs by inflicting physical injury to another; there is also economic and intellectual warfare. Wayne Viney iterates: “If it is the control of territory that is the goal in physical combat, it is the control of ideas or beliefs that is the goal in intellectual warfare” . It is essential that communities of the world understand that those maintaining the disparity between rich and poor also have a vested interest in the proliferation of intellectual warfare. This machine actively justifies, legitimizes, encourages and praises the activity of warfare in order to recruit as much of the populace as possible. To realize the severity of the situation, one need only look to the militaristic culture that our children are steeped in before entering the adult world. The military routinely advertises in various media outlets, as well as sending recruiters out into communities with the goal of indoctrination in mind. Sadly, even education itself is susceptible to the machine:
Awareness has grown that no part of the culture remains unaffected by the causes of violence, and education itself…has been unveiled it is role as ally of the military-industrial complex. The training of students for efficient and successful functioning in the professions or social structures as now constituted commands a diminishing amount of enthusiasm in all educational institutions.
Over the years education that has been diminished at the expense of this hierarchy of violence. Ideas and concepts that were deemed a threat to the stability of the hierarchy were deemed to be particularly heinous and thoroughly attacked via physical and intellectual warfare. Groups that have advocated for social justice have long been alienated, in fact for the longest time the Church was willing to play this role where it was alienated from the rest of society because it did not conform to the status quo. The Church followed her own rules, based on the values we have discussed henceforth. This was certainly the case in the years after the death of Jesus, but the world we live in today is no longer marked by a Church that is willing to stand tall against societal injustice. Instead, the church will comment on the injustice, tell us that it disapproves of the injustice, and fund certain charities that may offset the injustice by an imperceptible degree. Our contemporary world faces a most troublesome situation when the church becomes “a supporter of the social order…she does not merely adapt herself passively to the social order by withdrawing into the religious sphere; rather, she actively identifies herself with the social order and the powers-that-be. She does not merely silently endure whatever the state is doing; she actually applauds and endorses the state’s policies” . While this is a disturbing fact to those within the movement for universal justice, it is not surprising. All institutions must necessarily adapt to their surroundings in order to survive and flourish and this will almost assuredly produce injustice for people who hold an opposing ideology. Therefore our world needs now more than ever a dedication to the values of equality, community, and most especially nonviolent resistance, which is the primary mode of deconstructing hierarchical institutions. All the good men throughout human history have known this, and nearly all of them were killed for their resistance. As Crossan tells us: “…every government our world has ever known would have removed or silenced Jesus one way or another. Those who demand justice nonviolently are sometimes silenced by injustice violently” .
As I have demonstrated in the preceding pages, the sapiential Kingdom of God can only be brought about when the oppressed people of the world have realized the values that I have espoused to be truths. In order to ensure that hierarchical institutions are no longer able to facilitate injustice across our world, individuals must provisionally deconstruct the dominant ideology of their society based on the values of Equality, Community, and Nonviolent Resistance. These values are the tools by which man can establish and maintain this sapiential Kingdom of God. It is now a matter of unique collaboration that must take place around the world in order to bring these tools into the hands of the impoverished people around the world. True faith and dedication, whether it is rooted in a faith in Jesus, Gandhi, King or anyone else who fearlessly stood in opposition to injustice, is what will be required to save this world.
Now is the time when humanity must rise up, determined to put an end to the suffering. In other words, I pose a question quite similar to this one found in The Reconstructionist: “Is there nowhere a man of stature who might arise and declare: you are leading mankind to annihilation, or further down the road to ignorance, hate and fear? Someone must reject the whole debate, and arouse the peoples of many nations to rebel against the madness of those in power” . When I was a younger man I used to believe that perhaps I was this person of stature. Now I realize that we all must be this person. It is not enough that a few good men and women ignite a movement every century that will later fizzle after they are assassinated. We are all responsible for the salvation of this world and her people.
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