There is a significant amount of chatter about revolution lately. However, I am not impressed with what I am hearing from certain corners. Several spiritual writers that I read have mentioned the need for a spiritual revolution (Google the term to get a taste). Of course, Trump, Sanders, and others from mainstream political parties have spoken of a political revolution (and look at the fine mess we have gotten into Ollie). But, ala Inigo Montaya, I don’t think revolution means what many people who use the word think it means.
Even the dictionary seems to correctly understand revolution as something people do, not what people say. A revolution has two qualities, and the first is “a sudden, radical, or complete change” of a social system. This understanding of revolution is closely tied to its root word “revolt,” which means that a revolution is the process of people revolting against power structures. Thus, revolution is not when well-known spiritual writers or politicians wax eloquently, yet benignly, about spiritual or political change. Revolution, spiritually and politically, is renouncing allegiance or subjection to a corrupt structural and systemic power. It is the action of joining others to overthrow corrupt political structures (like capitalism) or for religious folk the corrupt religious structures (i.e., dogmatic denominations/churches). So, it should be clear that these “spiritual writers” and “mainstream politicians” are really talking about reform, and not revolution.
The second quality of revolution is also fairly easy to understand. A revolution is an “action by which a celestial body goes around in an orbit or elliptical course.” Something that is revolutionary, then, is ongoing. In a spiritual sense, a revolutionary is someone who is radically repenting (changing) in a continual dialectical fashion. Just like a radical is someone who gets to the root of a thing, a revolutionary is someone who recognizes and operates in a recurrent dialectic of being changed spiritually and socially and changing corrupt spiritual and social structures to liberate others. It is a constant process of death and resurrection, of acknowledging blindness and then seeing, over and over again.
It is quite different from semper reformanda. It is semper revolutio!
Jesus clearly was a revolutionary in this sense. He wanted to tear down the temple and rebuild it differently (Jn 3:19). He called us to hate our own parents, siblings, and even our own life in as much as they/we were participating in oppressive systems (Lk 14:26). Jesus told us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor, in order not to be corrupted by greed (Lk 12:33). Yes, the revolutionary Christian is always working towards personal/spiritual and political/social change by radically sacrificing oneself for the cause of others: “We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other” (1 Jn 3:16).
This can be frightening stuff, yet it is also quite liberating. This understanding of a revolutionary spirit is needed to recognize the futility of reforms at this stage. Real paradigmatic change has always come through revolutions, not by reforms. Furthermore, it is well-known that the powers that control much of society, whether political or religious, will only allow reforms up to a point and will never relinquish their domination of and stranglehold on the masses. Reforms will never wrest power away from the oppressors and give it back to the people.
Only revolutionary work—both spiritual and political—only a mass movement of the people working together to take power back from the oppressors will result in equality and freedom for all. We need both a spiritual and social revolution, and they must work dialectically as well. And it’s not enough to change society, we must simultaneously help humans have a spiritual awakening to be in concert with the knowledge and purposes of The Holy Spirit.
For the sake of our families, our communities, our world, it is time for Christians to take up our crosses and truly follow a revolutionary Jesus (Lk 9:23).
© Paul Dordal, 2017