Revolution and Church?


Micah Bales recently blogged about “Why The Church is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary.”

He writes:

If Jesus isn’t a rebel, but rather the Authority, where does that leave us? We’re not radicals or dissidents. We’re loyalists. In the midst of a darkened and confused rebellion, we remember who the king is. The kingdom of God isn’t about overthrowing the rebel institutions and power structures of this world; it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.

It would be tempting to say to Micah that if the church is not going to ever be revolutionary, then I don’t want your church!

But, I won’t do that.

Micah is pointing to something that even a religious communist like myself who loves rebellion and revolution would do well to think about. In whose name do we carry out our rebellion and create our revolution? In Micah’s construction, Jesus is God in the flesh, God is the creator, and the ruling class?

The apparently mighty rulers, politicians, business leaders, and celebrities who lord over our society today – they’re not the established authority. They’re rebels and revolutionaries against our true Commander-in-Chief!

As a communist, I am committed to an interpretation of history that is incomplete, but nevertheless fundamental. Humanity evolved from smaller brained primates to our larger brained species. When we emerged on the African continent, we lived as small clans and bands for thousands of years, with no settled agriculture, no big cities, and no written language. We survived by cooperation, it was as natural to us as breathing.

The shift from that egalitarian “primitive communism” was brought about through the creation of farming, city-states, and accounting systems (earliest forms of math and written language) to organize the economic surplus made possible by settled agriculture. The first step away from primitive communism was toward a hierarchical city/countryside relationship that produced societies such as ancient Babylon.

Some interpreters of the Bible regard the Garden of Eden story as a symbolic recounting of the pre-agrarian social order, when humans lived from the natural abundance and did not try to expand their economic capacity beyond that required by small clans. The Garden of Eden and sin of Adam and Eve in the Biblical narrative certainly seem to present the idea of a lost innocence, a primordial unity with the natural world undone by human willful rejection of their primitive condition.

In both the Biblical and Communist narratives, humanity was not made for economic domination. The Exodus story tells of God intervening on behalf of Jewish slaves under an oppressive Egyptian regime. The “Children of Israel” carried the stories of the Garden of Eden and the covenant of Abraham with the Creator as an attempt to remember what life was like before one class of society dominated another by economic oppression.

One does not need to take the Eden story as fact to understand that humanity lives today in a reality of alienation from our original natural connection with the planet. Industrial capitalism is rapidly paving over the soil of the earth, extracting fuel & resources from it, and carrying all this economic activity about through a global system of labor exploitation.

So, while communists use the language of rebellion and revolution, it is not for us a rejection of the original purpose of humankind, but rather a hope – not unlike the promise of the resurrection – that humanity can create a world order that fulfills rather than destroys the true value of humanity and the planet we share with so many living creatures. We do this in the name of the common interests of humanity and the planet, not just to be edgy or violent.

While I will concede Micah’s point that rebellion against the divine will for humanity is a powerful religious claim, I do not concede that we can discard the language of rebellion and revolution if we wish to be 21st century followers of the radical Jesus.

He writes:

for those of us who hold conservative viewpoints, as well as those of us who lean progressive, what does it mean for us that this world’s political, ideological, cultural, and economic systems are fallen and in rebellion against the kingdom of God?

Speaking only for myself, the progressive and revolutionary viewpoint is the only one that has ever seemed to me to have any semblance of the resurrection power of Jesus. This world privileges power, violence, and inequality as necessary consequences – perhaps painful – and unavoidable by-products of the pursuit of progress.

Communists, anarchists, and other left radicals reject that claim and hold that ecological progress and human freedom on G-d’s green earth requires a transformation that will take us beyond the missed possibilities that might have been if humanity had not descended into regimes of class domination. In short, it requires nothing less than life from death.

I do not want to find some theological reconciliation with progressives and conservatives. I want to defeat the conservatives in the name of Jesus.


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