Ellul’s defense of the Occupy Movement

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In 1968 when student demonstrations broke out everywhere in France, the great cry of condemnation of the participants was: “They don’t even know what they want. When you ask them what kind of society they’re looking for, all you get is confused stuttering or useless general ideas. They’re wholly negative and destructive. They have no plan; they propose no solutions.” We hear this same speech periodically today, sometimes aimed at young people when they happen to challenge the adult world (a rare event these days) or else at the leftists: “Look at them, they’re assassins. They want to destroy society, but what for? They have no idea. They have no solution for the difficulties we’re in now. Same thing with the ecologists. “They don’t want to have anything to do with nuclear power. They talk about alternate energy sources, but everybody knows they would barely provide ten percent of what we need. They’ve got no solution to the energy crisis, but they don’t want any more pollution. They’re just idealists.”

What an odd reversal. It’s the young, the leftists, the ecologists who seem to be dangerous idealists, devotees of irrational ideas, whereas their accusers are the realists, whose feet are firmly planted on the ground and who are not swept away by passionate belief. Well, in my view it’s just the other way around. It’s the leftists, ecologists, Third-World residents, and feminists who are the realists, who see reality as it is, who detect the dangers menacing us and bring them to light, who call our attention to new features of age-old questions. Their accusers are dangerous idealists and fantasts, because they believe (but that’s all it is, an idle belief) they have solutions – which are nothing of the sort.

Before accusing those sometimes vacillating movements of lacking a program, we ought to begin by asking whether we, the adults, the old-timers, have had real solutions over the last half century to the problematic situations that have sprung up. Did we come up with answers? Evidently not, which is just what the young are accusing us of. Well, that being the case, how could we have the gall to demand that such movements, now groping their way forward, have ready at hand something that we ourselves couldn’t find after a thousand studies and every kind of scientific, philosophical, and humanistic research?

 

SOURCE: Jacques Ellul, Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 37–38.

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Books on Christian Anarchism

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If you are looking for books on Christian Anarchism there are several places to start online. Here are just some of them:

What would you add to these lists? Do you have a favourite text in Christian Anarchism?

Anarchism and the Catholic Worker

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There is a handy online archive of “The Common Good”, the magazine of the Christchurch Catholic Worker in New Zealand.

The archive includes this article: “Anarchism and the Catholic Worker” by Jim Consedine.

One of the principle guiding influences within the development of Catholic Worker philosophy has been the principle of anarchism. The three most influential figures of the Catholic Worker- Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy – all professed to being anarchists at some time in their lives. Since any discussion of anarchism usually produces huge negativity, it is useful to reflect on its influence within the history of the CW.

 

Kropotkin on Human Nature in Politics

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We do not advocate Communism and Anarchy because we imagine men to be better than they really are; if we had angels among us we might be tempted to entrust to them the task of organising us, though doubtless even they would show the cloven foot very soon. But it is just because we take men as they are that we say: “Do not entrust them with the governing of you. This or that despicable minister might have been an excellent man if power had not been given to him. The only way of arriving at harmony of interests is by a society without exploiters and without rulers.” It is precisely because men are not angels that we say, “Let us arrange matters so that each man may see his interest bound up with the interests of others, then you will no longer have to fear his evil passions.”

Source: The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution

“We Have Abandoned War” by Kagawa

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from The Christian Century, December 3, 1947 (who took it from the “Kagawa Calendar” of 1948).

We Have Abandoned War

By Toyohiko Kagawa

A typical modern state, cumbered with its heavy armament but well-nigh bereft of other values, reminds one of nothing so much as a naked savage, lugging around his javelin and poisoned arrows. States today seem nearer to the stage of barbarism than do many individuals.

By the abandonment of war, we in Japan have emerged from the era of barbarism. Thus we have been accorded a chance to make ourselves the most progressive and civilized of all the nations.

If only we had done this willingly ten years ago, history would have taken another course. But it is not too late for us.

Our new constitution will become a milestone in the realization of world peace. For the first time in human history, by our abandonment of war, the warning of Christ has been accepted by a national government: “All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.”

We are going to alter the definition of a “great” state. A truly great state is not necessarily big, nor rich, nor quarrelsome with its neighbors. The great state is the one which is wise, moral and God-fearing. The ideal we pursue is that of making Japan a state with which God can be pleased. Thus may we arrive at the summit of civilization and set an example of a peace-loving state. Though not large, nor rich, nor strong, we may thus become truly great.

Chesterton explains the robbery of poor Greece by the rich…

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To-day the rich man knows in his heart that he is a cancer and not an organ of the State. He differs from all other thieves or parasites for this reason: that the brigand who takes by force wishes his victims to be rich. But he who wins by a one-sided contract actually wishes them to be poor. Rob Roy in a cavern, hearing a company approaching, will hope (or if in a pious mood, pray) that they may come laden with gold or goods. But Mr. Rockefeller, in his factory, knows that if those who pass are laden with goods they will pass on. He will therefore (if in a pious mood) pray that they may be destitute, and so be forced to work his factory for him for a starvation wage. It is said (and also, I believe, disputed) that Blücher riding through the richer parts of London exclaimed, “What a city to sack!” But Blücher was a soldier if he was a bandit. The true sweater feels quite otherwise. It is when he drives through the poorest parts of London that he finds the streets paved with gold, being paved with prostrate servants; it is when he sees the grey lean leagues of Bow and Poplar that his soul is uplifted and he knows he is secure. This is not rhetoric, but economics.

G. K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils (1922) [link to source on archive.org]

Who Invented Neo-Monasticism?

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How about the Christian socialist and Anglican theologian Charles Gore?

Read what he says in his booklet “The Social Doctrine of the Sermon on the Mount” (1904)

We should do again what was done in the early monastic movement, as it is represented in St. Basil’s rule. We should draw together to centres, both in town and country, where men can frankly start afresh and live openly the common life of the first Christians. This can, of course, be most easily done in the case of those who are deliberately celibate. There is much talk of brotherhoods. Forgive the expression of an ideal. I desire to see formed — not in interference with existing methods — a community of celibate men, living simply, without other life-vows than those of their baptism or (if priests) of their priesthood, the life of the first Christians : a life of combined labour, according to different gifts, on a strongly developed background of prayer and meditation, and with real community of goods, which, of course, would cease in the case of any persons who might leave the community. The details are not difficult to arrange. I have some experience such as warrants a belief that such an ideal may become real. Such a community, “continuing steadfastly in the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers, and having all things common,” — such a community would surely be calculated to make men see how holy and happy a thing is Christian life when it can free itself from entanglements and begin again au pied de la lettre.

I have been speaking of the unmarried, and I have said that the literal reproduction of the earliest Christian
community-life is easiest in their case. But the same ideal needs application to married life also. I do not see why such an ideal as the Moravians have, in fact, realized, of companies of married people living by a common rule, should not be of immense power among ourselves. I have spoken of what lies within my own experience, but the principle is applicable to laity as to clergy, and to married as to single.

Full text online: https://archive.org/details/socialdoctrineof00gore

Reflection at PTC Chapel, Monday 20 April 2015

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Reading: Acts 4:5-12:

5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Reflection

Our reading today from Acts continues the story we have been reading in this Easter season. It is the story of the healing of the lame man and its aftermath, which results in the arrest of the apostles Peter and John and threat to their lives.

The story begins quite innocently with Peter and John going to prayer hour in the temple. As they approach the temple gate, Peter and John pause and heal the man who they see sitting there. One thing leads to another and they get arrested for preaching the message of Jesus Christ.

It is worth noting that they travel together, as was their habit following their training by Christ. Apostles travel together because you cannot be a Christian on your own, it being impossible to fulfill the commandment to love one another by yourself. Our new life in Christ is not only a personal transformation but should be visible in the our lives together.

The next day Peter and John face their accusers, and when they are surrounded by them, they are asked:

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

The question is ambiguous. Do what? The healing of the man, or preaching, or converting thousands? Or perhaps all of these?

Peter does not ask for clarification, but takes the initiative and expresses his opinion of the ambiguity in his reply.

In fact, it is not so much a reply that dignifies the question, it is a more a continuation of the preaching that landed them in trouble in the first place.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says that it was in the name of Jesus Christ that he was healed, and then goes on to say that it is only through Jesus that we are saved:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

John Calvin in his commentary on this passage reminds us that this is the same Peter who denied Christ and ran from the Cross. He was a timid man and would have usually run from this situation or wilted in front of such a hostile crowd. But with the power of the Holy Spirit he goes on the offensive.

Does he answer the question? He names Christ as both the healer and savior. Christ the healer and the savior are inseparable. This is demonstrated in the apostles’ actions of healing and preaching salvation. The order here should not be overlooked. They perform an act of pity and charity and heal the man, they follow this by preaching the word about Christ. This is a sound missiological approach – act first and then speak.

By what power or name have you done this? The implication of this question of the priests, is that the disciples, as mere men could not have done this miracle by themselves.

In this the rulers are right, but in seeking the name of another power other than the men, their own words condemn them, as they fail to recognize that it is their own God who had done this great thing.

I don’t know why this miracle is not talked about more often. Perhaps it is because the man remains nameless in the narrative. But I think the real reason is that Jesus did not perform this miracle directly.

Yet for us today it remains an important miracle story. This is an example of the imitation of Christ by his disciples. We are closer to Peter than we think, like Peter, we have been called into the discipleship of Jesus, and like Peter we are sinners and Christ deniers.

While the healed man is sometimes forgotten, this passage is justifiably famous for its mention of Christ as the cornerstone that the builders had rejected. This is a quote from Psalm 118, and the Jewish leaders would have known this passage well. Using the passage in this way was inflammatory. But sometimes the truth upsets, such as it did here.

Psalm 118 may also have been returned to later in Acts and in the same story. Let’s read from verse 6:

6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.

The not quite parallel text to verse 9 here is Acts 5:29:

“We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Psalm 118 continues (reading from verse 10)

10 All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.

In the name of the Lord, Peter and John cut their accusers off. In doing they too are exemplars of the faith we confess.

The more I read the book of the Acts I more strongly I believe that it is an underrated book – in the Gospels we learn from Christ directly about discipleship, but in Acts we see how flawed, sinful apostles put this into practice.

Emboldened by the resurrection of their leader Jesus who conquered the power of death, the Apostles remain fearless in the face of possible death at the hands of the religious and political authorities.

Our Christian leaders who in urge obedience to the religious and political leaders and object to civil disobedience or even speaking truth to power, should study this text more closely.

Peter’s speech, which comes of the Holy Spirit, is not a speech of deference. It is one of defiance that attacks rather than defends. When the actions and words of Christ are frustrated by men and women the Holy Spirit can use us to break through the blockages.

This story also shows that the promises of Christ to his disciples were true. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 12:11-12

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

Some will find in this promise of Christ reassurance that the Holy Spirit will be with us in such times. But we should also wonder that if aren’t being dragged before the rulers and the authorities perhaps we aren’t following Jesus where we should be.

Following the example of Peter and John, on the way to church and chapel we should be looking down to the lame and lonely, not only skyward to the heavens.

Through faith we can follow Christ to the lame at the gate, and we can stand tall as Christians in front of our opponents who are blind to the works of God before them. But wherever God’s leads us, we can be assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering us for God’s work in the world.

This is the promise of God. Amen.