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Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 5

Written by Jason Barr : November 23, 2007

Last time I discussed the role of the prophet in formulating the Prophetic Consciousness to combat the imperial monopolization of its subjects’ imaginations. The prophet symbolically puts the culture of oppression to death by grief, penetrating the numbness bred by empire and presents a story grounded in the alternative history of God’s actions and promises to energize the people to live out resistance.

As I said before, Isaiah 40-66 is the quintessential collection of prophetic texts that provide material for alternative imagination as Isaiah deconstructs the idols that have enslaved the nation, and the oppressive social structures that go along with them, and presents the hope of God’s liberation in a New Exodus. Isaiah reminds Israel that God has been for them in the past, and not only will he be for them in the future but he will radically work to not only free them from political oppression but also raise up from them a servant who will be the agent of salvation for the whole world. Isaiah proclaims that God himself will destroy the oppressors and do the work that will implement mishpat (justice) and shalom (peace), that he personally will return to the land to rescue his people, and that in this all the world would see his glory.

Isaiah does not just present some weak spiritualized hope or a bland encouragement to the people to hold on, that things will get better. Rather, he engages the political and social realities of his day, challenges the structures of economic oppression, and devastatingly critiques the static religion and other means by which the powers attempted to maintain control.

I believe there is a sense in which the critiques of anarchists against the modern nation-state and capitalism, both in the 19th century anarchists’ assessment of industrial capitalism and the 21st century critiques of globalized capitalism, can provide the church today with resources to critically engage the stories promoted by present-day American empire and globalized consumer-oriented corporate capitalism. Not only do anarchists diagnose the problems of violence and oppression within the structure of government and economic power relations, but the ways in which anarchists propose organization bear striking resemblance to the early church as portrayed in Acts and so in a sense bear witness against the church for its deep-rooted alliance with power and oppression and its failure to prophetically call the socio-political powers and principalities of the world to submit to the reign of Jesus. In other words, anarchism deconstructs both the political powers and even the church itself (and, as John D. Caputo argues in his recently published What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (Baker Academic, November 2007), the first thing Jesus would deconstruct is the church).

Over the next few posts I plan to explore the topic of anarchism, its basic principles, rebut basic misconceptions, and discuss some of the ways it can help us to unmask the emptiness of the political structures in the modern world, despite their pretensions to autonomy and authority.

for further reading . . .

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