Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 4

Written by Jason Barr : November 20, 2007

Last time I posted a bit about the relationship between empire and imagination, with the Royal Consciousness as a way of promoting the imperially-controlled imagination and the Prophetic Consciousness in opposition. The Prophetic Consciousness seeks to deconstruct the pretensions of empire and instill in people an imagination rooted in the works and promises of the God of the Exodus, the God who is not at the beck-and-call of the imperial leaders or a part of the oppressive system, but rather the God who works for and has promised the liberation of his people.

The prophet has two major tasks in unmasking the Royal Consciousness: social criticism that takes the form of grief, and imbuing people with a sense of amazement, energizing them to take part in the new world God is creating.

Grief is the prophet’s answer to the sense of numbness bred by the Royal Consciousness. In a world characterized by disparate relations of affluence and poverty, as well as oppressive social policy, it should not surprise us that numbness is characteristic of the people under imperial oppression – and this holds true for those who are affluent as well as those who are in poverty. Affluence breeds numbness by catching up the affluent in their own trivialities and moreover in the (whether conscious or not) maintenance and increasing of their own wealth and power, in a sense blinding them to the plight of those whose poverty is a necessary corollary to their wealth (It would do USAmericans good to remember that in the ancient world they maintained what is called a “limited good society” where commodities were considered finite - for one to have necessitated that another does not have, as opposed to our conception of a more “unlimited good society”). For those in poverty, numbness tends to be bred by the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that leads to the belief that change is not possible - and perhaps even a sense of guilt at one’s own “fault” for being poor (an attitude prevalent in 19th-century America that to a significant degree still continues today).

So the prophet’s first task is to penetrate numbness with a sense of grief, just as did Jeremiah, who has been called “the weeping prophet”. Grief over the current state of affairs indicates the orientation of death that is embodied by a society characterized by empire, and the prophet’s grief symbolically puts the culture to death. That is to say, it unmasks the fact that what the official story says is good, or at least inevitable, is not so but is in fact the result of decisions that could have gone another way – decisions that could have led to life, but now result in death. Grief breaks the spell of numbness and calls the people to collectively assess the situation and ask what is wrong with the picture in which they currently live. Grief sets the stage for amazement, for implementation of a new vision. I should also say that for Brueggemann, what is important is not whether a new vision rooted in God’s story is practical but whether it can be imagined – for imagination is the beginning of a new creation.

With numbness having been penetrated, the empire symbolically put to death, and the Royal Consciousness in the throes of deconstruction, the prophet’s second task is to generate amazement, to energize people so they can embrace and embody a new story. Isaiah 40-66 is a perfect example of prophetic texts of amazement. Isaiah finds images from the past, images of Exodus and Creation, and appropriates them to present hope for God’s liberation in the midst of the Babylonian exile. Brueggemann argues that the prophet must dig into his people’s past to find symbols to appropriate for resistance, to present the past in a way that undermines the official story and leads to a future of hope, instead of continued oppression. The prophet will energize people in a way that will re-humanize those on both sides of the oppression, challenging the dominating claims of the establishment.

Next time I will discuss more about energizing and amazement and begin an exploration into how anarchism relates to this framework of the prophetic.

for further reading . . .

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One Response to “Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 4”

  1. storbakken on November 21st, 2007 9:16 am

    Thanks for your edifying series of posts. I look forward to seeing how anarchism fits in.

    I recently wrote a post very similar to your theme, albeit with a different angle. It’s about the role of the prophet in our day. You can check it out at More Fire.

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