Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Many people strongly wish God to have no politics whatsoever, lest they themselves have to reconsider their own political loyalties. Yet it is clear from the Bible that God does have political requirements, specifically those central to the Torah and the legendary covenant with Moses:
The things God makes available to the world are for the (physical, mental, emotional &/or spiritual) nourishment of everybody, are not intended to be used for anyone enriching themselves personally by hoarding, buying or selling them to anyone else's detriment. This doesn't imply imposing a sterile ideal of equality, but does demand that even "the least among you" have enough.
The historically plausible stories of Jesus' sayings and actions, of why these were specifically offensive to "the rich" of his countrymen, including above all the Herodian rulers, the Jewish High Priests, and the Roman authorities they relied on and served -- depict him speaking forcefully in support of "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" [to God & that covenant] as the essential requirements their practice omitted.
People listened eagerly to a message they knew to be true -- but the outcome was settled by the worldly alliance of Temple wealth and prestige with Roman military force.
Jesus might conceivably have found ways to employ those powers -- but the outcome (as with the Maccabean Revolt) would have been the same old injustice and brutality in a changed form. He was not calling down legions of angels to make him some new kind of tyrant, but simply speaking the truth until his enemies killed him for it.
Recently I found a translation by Johan Maurer of a passage from an interview with Anthony Bloom, speaking of the Russian Orthodox Church (but resonating profoundly with the Quaker tradition):
No party at all should be able to claim the Church as its own, but at the same time the Church is not non-party, or above parties. She must be the voice of a conscience illuminated by the Light of God. In the ideal state, the Church must be in a condition to speak to any party, any movement: "This is worthy of humanity and of God, and that is not." Of course, this can be done from either of two positions: either from a position of strength, or from a position of complete helplessness. It seems to me -- and I'm deeply convinced of this -- that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. The Church must not be one of the powers operating in this or that government; she must be, if you like, just as powerless as God, Who does not coerce, Who only calls us and reveals the beauty and truth of things, but doesn't enforce them on us; Who, similarly to the way our consciences work, points out the truth, but leaves us free to listen to truth and beauty -- or to refuse them. It seems to me that this is how the Church should be. If the Church takes its place among those organizations that have power, that are able to force and direct events, then there will always be the risk that she would find power desirable; and as soon as the Church begins to dominate, she loses the most profound thing, the love of God, and an understanding of those who need salvation rather than the works of destruction and rebuilding. [in http://blog.canyoubelieve.me/2013/09/exceptional-pride-usa-and-russ... ]
Quakers care about outcomes and their effect on people (so far as we're Christian we have to be) -- but so far as we're following God, we're under those same constraints. God did not object when ancient Israelites won their battles with military force -- but did object to them depending on it, to them relying on any power except God. Nothing stops us from relying on political argument, clever reframing of issues, marches, rallies, outright propaganda campaigns or any form of electoral politics to achieve some good result.
But all around us we see how the world operates when people try to control it by such means. It doesn't look like the Kingdom, does it?
A few observations on this post:
My feeling is that God, and Jesus, are not ideological. They may be political (depending on how you define that term), but I don't see the ministry of Jesus as an ideology. Because we live in a highly ideological age the tendency is to try to interpret the Gospels such that Jesus signs on to the ideology we ourselves adhere to. Liberals like to quote Jesus attacking the money changers, etc. Conservatives like to reference the more other-worldly passages and His more traditional orientations, such as his adherence to the commandments. Both of them construct an ideological Jesus and my feeling is that this is a mistake, a projection of a way of thinking onto the past.
Withdrawing from the political sphere is a significant part of Quaker history. For example, the withdrawal from the Pennsylvania legislature during the colonial period. Or a general tendency to refrain from political involvement during the period of Quietism. While this was in tension with abolitionist sentiments, it was nevertheless a significant aspect of Quaker Faith and Practice at that time. My feeling is that there is some wisdom there that contemporary Quakers could benefit from.
Thanks for the post.
God is not at all indifferent to the ideologies which people use to justify oppression, deprivation, and our own comfortable positions in a world of hurt. The word "ideology" can be used for 'any social-economic-political stand or doctrine I disagree with' but really it comes down to those which distort and mystify the relations between human beings.
Jesus had quite a few messages applicable to different people's different needs over the centuries; but as a prophet his message was that the Jerusalem Temple system was failing (even deliberately working against) the purposes God had intended to embody in the traditional covenant, and was consequently to be destroyed within the lifetime of some of his hearers, unless that situation could be rectified. How that turned out is history, not ideological construct (whether or not some individuals have been inclined to make such constructs from that reality.)
What's truly Quaker is to follow what leadings we're given. Grand human-conceived campaigns to Fix The World and comfortable human demands to Stop Fussing With It are equally off that mark.
Ideologies can be left-wing as well as right (though right-wing examples are more common.) The defining characteristic should be: Does it provide justification for one person or group for behaving badly towards another or exploiting some unfair advantage over another.
Jesus was "not ideological", you can certainly say -- but it's mistaken to think that he wasn't diligently and openly opposing the dominant ideologies which kept peasants in Judea overworked and malnourished while other Israelites were charging them interest and foreclosing on desperately needed loans, enjoying considerable luxury at their expense, heavily taxing their subsistence crops and sending a big cut off to the Romans whose military presence kept them in power locally. People didn't get crucified for telling people to love God and be nice.
A few replies:
I disagree that right wing ideologies are more common than left wing ones. The most influential ideology of the 20th century, and the 21st, is Marxism; a left wing ideology.
I use the term 'ideology' to describe a particular approach to thinking that I believe is peculiarly modern. I see 'ideologies' as embodying certain metaphysical assumptions and then applying them in the political sphere. Central to an ideological stance is a rejection of the transcendental; this can take the form of materialism (as in Marx) or a more loose exclusive secularism. Second, I see ideologies as reductionist. In Marxism everything is understood through the theory of economic class conflict. Nothing is allowed to lie outside of this analytical view. This is one of the things which makes trying to talk to ideologues so frustrating; they seem to be incapable of allowing for anything to be beyond their ideological categories.
When I say that Jesus was 'not ideological' I mean that he spoke from a different perspective, in a different key. I see Jesus as speaking from the perspective of eternity rather than reductionist categories. His view is inherently transcendental (as is Judaism) and such sayings as 'My kingdom is not of this world' imply that there exists a reality that lies beyond human conflicts and interaction.
If you throw a word into the discussion, do you then get to decide what it will or won't mean?
Trying to find any good reason to believe that ideologies don't incorporate spiritual elements or agencies in their repertoires, I've had to conclude that there is no universally-accepted meaning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideology
My reasoning... taking the word to mean, roughly, "rationale for us getting to thump those other people and take their goodies" -- would imply that we're talking about a phenomenon as old as civilization, describing constructs which usually have included supernatural elements ("Because the gods like us better?" The Romans, in fact, did like to attribute their success in plundering other nations to their own superior piety.).
Such systems have also tended to favor whatever powers might have been at the time. The pay is better selling goods to the rich and powerful, likewise with stealing from them [if one can] -- and particularly with producing works of art, philosophy and literature they're going to like.
So scribes have tended to write their works for people rich enough to hire scribes -- and the only inconvenience to that kind of arrangement is this: Many ancient traditions included the demand that the poor be left enough subsistence and other concessions to keep them from dying out entirely, an outcome which could leave the lords of a civilization with no one to lord it over -- or grow their food for them, carry spears for them, etc.
The Torah's rules on land use are one of many ancient examples -- and the theme of Israelites enriching themselves at their neighbors' expense, in direct violation of that, is not something made up by modern readers.
But as I've said, we don't seem to have a good word for the cover-stories of our governing/owning classes. And the word "ideology" has been rendered effectively useless. Maybe we need something like the term "powers and principalities" in William Stringfellow's usage:
“The language of the Bible regarding principalities – the ruling authorities, the angelic powers, the demons, and the like – sounds, I suppose, strange in modern society, but these words in fact refer to familiar realities in contemporary life. The principalities refer to those entities in creation which nowadays are called institutions, ideologies, and images. Thus a nation is a principality. Or the Communist ideology is a principality. Or the public image of a human being, say a movie star or a politician, is a principality. The image or legend of Marilyn Monroe or Franklin Roosevelt is a reality, distinguishable from the person bearing the same name, which survives and has its own existence apart from the existence of the person.”
There does, of course, exist a reality that underlies human conflicts and interaction. What people sometimes leave out is the fact that It is intimately, immanently at work in them.
These days I'm seeking God's will and/or politics in the Quran. As a Liberal Friend, I feel encouraged to do so. To focus on the Bible only is the mark of an ignorant man (in this day and age -- in an earlier time, any literacy at all was unusual).
I'm also pleased to find so much "minaret music" (as I used to call it) on Youtube. Having spent time in Egypt, I was always keen to add more such adzhan (أَذَان ) to my collection.
In the age of vinyl, specimens were much harder to come by. Praise Allah for the Internet.
Quakers have their own special history with Islam. I'm pleased to not lump us in with the usual Protestant crusader types, who consider themselves God's gift in some especially "chosen" way. Not my cup of tea. ٱللهُ أَكْبَر
You could find some good and useful things in there; but it suffers from being the work of one man.
If it wouldn't be too far out of your way, you might find the two Bibles much richer sources on how people commonly confuse God's politics with their own, with examples.
I'm sure I'll round robin to those Bibles again, Tower of Babel especially (old haunt); I've already spent lots of CPU cycles in both, and in spin-offs. Dense anthologies, no question.
However I sense some strategic urgency in building bridges at this juncture. Call it civil disobedience? I don't want to hunker down in some bunker mentality, vis-a-vis Islam.
I was always a Muhammad Ali fan, for his defiance of the US military. Brave hombre. Youtube has shown me more.
Malcolm wasn't such a bad guy either insofar as we need to indulge in "good versus evil" melodrama (never liked soaps much). I wrote a paper on him (Mr. X) in college, got to dive into the auto-bio and so on.
We forget indigenous Islam all too easily in recent telling, turning it into some imported thing. Islam has been in the Americas since well before 1776, so imported in the same sense Christianity was imported.
I'll cite my Sufi / Gulenism related discussion thread here on Q2. Hi guys! ٱللهُ أَكْبَر
Well, one clear message of that Babel story... is that human beings do better with multiple understandings and a certain amount of mutual incomprehension. (God's intervention in that story does not need to be seen as a hostile act, but strikes me more like gently moving a baby's hand away from some entrancing hot object.)
Without that, we're inclined to clump into dangerously totalitarian projects -- not necessarily in the sense of making literal concentration camps, but in forming conceptional monocultures, getting stuck in collective mental ruts. And in Striving To Accomplish Something, which can be as devastating to whatever ideal we'd initially hoped to serve -- as a War Against its opposite, n'est pas?
Yeah, definitely, an act of mercy on God's part.
Those silly post-flood nitwits actually thought a single edifice, some super tall tower, could serve as the axiomatic basis for all civilization.
Whereas what was truly needed was a diaspora: keep exploring your globe, get that it's spherical.
Stop with the dream of some tower already.
Confusing tongues infused humanity with a refreshing awareness of how nonsensical they were being. It snapped them out of it.
Starting over with Noah & Co. meant susceptibility to "think-alike syndrome" in downstream generations. God had promised not to flood again, so what might He do instead?
Praise Allah for destroying the seeming intelligibility of a hopeless endeavor.
God saved us from a mirage of our own making.
That the Quran doesn't really mention the Tower of Babel is perfect.
Returning to subject: Using the Bible to attribute one's own politics to God.
Kicking God upstairs is probably the most common of two ways: "My Kingdom is not of this world... The Poor you shall always have with you [so don't worry yourself about who and what is keeping them poor.] etc."
It has always been clear to Jewish readers that human-imposed injustice and suffering are among God's top priorities. These things are consequences of other human failings... but for Israel [and its adopted sibling peoples] they are gross breaches of the various covenants our religions take as guidelines for the human side of right relationship with God. When such breaches become too customary, prophets appear with messages of impending "wrath" -- saying that whatever divine deal we think we've living under, we're in default.
Jesus was, among other things, such a prophet. His instructions to his followers included frequent prayer, asking first of all for God's Kingdom -- Israel as it was meant to be -- to be established in power on this very Earth: specifically for God's good will for us all to be carried out as directly and diligently here as in Heaven.
The second most common way of attributing one's own politics to God -- is the religion of Activism. "Here, Old Man, let us build that Kingdom for You, just the way we want it." It's not that God doesn't care about our preferences... but those aren't always good for us. Neither are our tools, building plans or construction methods up to Code...
We may not entirely understand God's politics -- but we have received strong hints as to what they aren't. For further detail, it behooves us to ask, and to keep asking for clarification. We are clueless and helpless; and that's nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing to be proud of either... How things are, until further Instructions.