Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 2

Written by Jason Barr : November 17, 2007

Last time I began a brief exploration into the nature of empire as a power, with a brief discussion of the processes by which an empire maintains control over the people who live under it. Now I’m going to begin discussion of Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and the Royal Consciousness, which I think provides key insight into the methods of imperial management.

Brueggemann identifies three major factors that allow empire to promote the official story in such a way as to minimize prophetic dissent, and the confluence of these factors forms the Royal Consciousness.

  1. Economics of affluence, where enough people have enough that they desire to maintain the cycle of events that allows them to maintain or increase their level of affluence. For example, Brueggemann compares the affluence of the Solomonic kingdom to the scarcity of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, arguing that in the wilderness Israel had to depend on God’s providence whereas under Solomon there was enough for people not only to believe in their own ability to provide for themselves, but to hoard away wealth and power in a way that created and maintained economic relationships of unequal power. Those who gained such power naturally sought ways to maintain and increase it, whether consciously or not.
  2. Politics of oppression, an official system that promotes the centralization of power by instituting the hegemonic types of control I mentioned in the previous post (control of information, regulation of economic privilege, threat and use of force, and authorized education).
  3. A static religion of immanence, which underwrites and legitimates the current oppressive order and God (or the divine nature according to cultural religious patterns) is essentially at the rulers’ beck and call. It should be mentioned that this religion need not necessarily be “religious” in nature, such as in the case of the former Soviet Union – officially atheist – where ideology, bureaucracy, and Party politics came together to form what could be considered a quasi-religious system. In the case of Imperial Rome, this religion centered around the blessing of the gods and the divine nature of Caesar. In Solomonic Israel this may have been a factor in the construction of the Temple. In present day USAmerica, it has to do with the notions of America as a land of God’s blessing and of America as the guarantor of peace and freedom for the world, especially when one throws “forever” language into the mix.

These three factors are mutually reinforcing and combine to neutralize opposition to the Royal Consciousness.

The Royal Consciousness, or as I have called it the power known as empire, reduces the dynamic flow of history, from past to present to future, to a hegemonic “official story” that asserts the inevitability of the present, given the imperial reckoning of the past, which will flow into a particular kind of future dictated by what has happened and is happening, according to the official story. According to the RC it was inevitable that this present in which we live, under the rule of the empire, emerged from the past (as they have given it to us), and likewise the future can only come to be under the conditions of the present – that is to say, under their control. They have everything under control, so do your job, go to work, come home, go shopping, watch television, consume, consume, consume. In other words, the world that is is the only one that could have been, and the one that will be is the world we say it will be.

The prophetic imagination begs to differ.

for further reading . . .

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8 Responses to “Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 2”

  1. Jonas Lundström on November 17th, 2007 1:57 pm

    I wonder from what base we criticize the world for its hierarchical structures? Is the church really an alternative? Which church? If not, does or anarchism have any credibility?

  2. Jason Barr on November 17th, 2007 2:26 pm

    I think and hope we are entering a kind of new ecumenical age where “the church” as an overall body represented by denominations as “parts of the nation”, not as fractures that try to be the whole body, is becoming a more viable idea. Studies show that younger people often are not terribly concerned with denominational differences springing from modern theological debates as they have been in the past, so I would hope that we are moving to the point where the church is more visibly a base from which to criticize the world.

    That being said, a lot of what I’m developing over this series is going to end up being more of a call to arms than anything else. I am anarchist, yes, but exactly to the point where anarchism reflects what I think is the appropriate contemporary political stance to follow in the steps of the earliest followers of Jesus. Nevertheless, because it is the community of the New Creation, I believe the church is and must be a real alternative to life defined by the powers and principalities.

  3. Jonas Lundström on November 17th, 2007 4:31 pm

    Ok. As I see it, we need to break free from hierarchy within “the church” to be able to provide real alternatives. But I respect your more moderate reformation-stance and look forward to the rest of your posts.

  4. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 17th, 2007 8:15 pm


    I’ve been part of a denomination, but have never had any sort of individual with power “over” me or anyone in my church. The most they can do is vote to not let our church be affiliated.

    It seems that you have a different relationship to hierarchy than many of us do in the US. There are ways of organizing in official and formal ways that aren’t hierarchical.

  5. Jason Barr on November 17th, 2007 9:21 pm

    Jonas, I still wonder (like I said over at Submergent) if you may be confusing structure (more generally) with hierarchy (a specific kind of structure). The type of structures I envision for the church take seriously the nature of every believer as a priest within the church (cf. 1 Peter’s quoting the “kingdom of priests”) and so authority would be shared by the individual members, and held by the church as a whole, not by a specific class of people within the church. That is to say, the authority OF the church is intrinsically related to the authority that is shared within the church equally by its members, as a witness against the world whose structures depend on one person or class of people holding authority over others.

    That’s kind of the track I’m taking with this, though I don’t want to say too much more lest I get the drop on myself in the series. ;-)

  6. Jonas Lundström on November 18th, 2007 4:59 am

    Mark/Jason. Sorry Jason, I did not notice that it was the same Jason on both blogs. It was not my intention to push this issue further. I would appreciate if you would respond to my last post there. But I won´t coerce you… ;) Mark, I don´t think that the hierarchies are so different. Even the president don´t really have the power to decide what you do or how you think. I am talking about things like “representation”, decision-making etc (see submergent).

  7. Sara Harding on November 19th, 2007 11:26 am

    I think perhaps what the prophetic imagination seeks to break free from in the church is the rigid establishment of an eternal now, not from organization or order altogether. But the kind of order we pursue is unfixed, living and free, like the order we see in Creation. Had anyone ever read “The Man Who Was Thursday” by Chesterton? Thursday was the code name of a guy who joined a core group of anarchists named for the days of the week in hopes of overturning it. He finds the other members are also on his side, and they join against the frightening leader, Sunday, who, however, turns out to be God, whom they thought they were trying to save from the anarchists. There is a garden party at the end, and all the guests are dressed as elements of creation. They dance, it is both ordered and free….

  8. Christianity on November 22nd, 2007 1:25 am

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