When Did Christianity Depart From Christ? (Reflection)

Jesus-clears-the-templeWe are human beings. Beautiful, but limited. We interpret the world through myriad filters—biological, social, racial/ethnic, gender, religious, etcetera. Thus, we are imperfect and partial in our understanding of many things, especially history (since we weren’t there; and even if we were, we would still be biased). The quest for spiritual enlightenment or simply spiritual growth—to contribute to the advancement of humanity towards the “Kindom of God”—requires that we unlearn (or at least critique) what we think we know and challenge our understanding of our own and our collective history.

How do we unlearn what we learned about Jesus, the Christ, Christianity, and the Church that is either bad religion or bad history, without losing our faith? First, we have to admit that there was a departure, but even if there was a departure, that the body of evidence is sufficient for saving faith. Thus, the evidence of the Scriptures is reliable, but not all Scripture is prescriptive; some of the Scriptures are merely descriptive. Certainly, due to the limitedness of humanity the departure the “Church” took from Jesus occurred almost immediately after his death. This was due, in part, by the dogmatizing of that which was simply descriptive in the oral tradition.

“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Ac 11:26) is a well-known Scripture, which seems to suggest that the dogmatic constructs of the first believers were starting to come together very soon after the death of Jesus. (Nevertheless, the original use of the term Christian was likely an epithet and not a term of endearment or classification). These new “Christian” groups believed differently from the Jewish religion from which they sprang.  Hence, the Christian religion began to move away from its Jewish roots quite quickly after Jesus died. This is the first departure since Jesus was, in fact, Jewish. Of course, that is not an inherently negative statement; it’s just a reality.

There was another sharper break, of course, at the Council of Nicaea, which codified the divinity of Jesus, but, for all intents and purposes, left out Jesus’s life and his humanity in its formulations. To their credit the Church quickly wrestled, albeit only intellectually, with Jesus’s humanity at the Council of Chalcedon just seventy years after Nicaea/Constantinople. Unfortunately, to this day the Nicene Creed guides the Church’s core beliefs, whether one believes in creeds or not. (I am tempted to put the texter’s letters LOL at the end of this last sentence.)

Of course, the Reformation (16-17c) and the subsequent era of Enlightenment (17-18c) further intellectualized the Christian religion, not that theologians before then had not already begin to scholasticize the faith (13-14c). The so-called progress of the understanding of the faith to my thinking really moved the followers of Jesus the Christ away from Jesus the man towards an idealized and supernatural version that would be hard to grasp as real. Though I am not anti-intellectual, I am cynical of linear understandings of progress. (Civilization may be the problem, not the solution to the advance of humanity). A quick study of history shows that progress is quite relative and subjective. Yet history, through its limited and dependent communicative voice, generally attempts to classify progress as foundational and objective. History personified believes itself neutral, but it is as compromised and biased as you and I are.

Today, we are so far from Jesus that the average person clearly knows that what we call Christianity, as a whole, is a severe aberration of its origins (or originator). The Scriptures are used like a giant power tool by witting or unwitting Church leaders to maintain a perspective that requires obedience and discourages critique. But, if we are to truly follow the example of Jesus, then it seems, from [hi]story, that one of our main functions as believers is to critique religion—yes, even, critique all history as the instrument of the powerful to control the weak.

So, now the inductive story: I was “doing my devotions” the other day, when I read about Apollos in a conservative Christian daily “inspirational” reading guide. Here is the [hi]story of Apollos from a self-described literal English translation of the Bible: “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Ac 18:24-28).

The perspective of the reading guide on this particular day was that somehow Apollos was deficient in his understanding of the Lord. He only knew “the baptism of John,” and needed to be corrected to know that Jesus was indeed the spiritual savior of the world—not a leader that would transform the existing world, but a “Christ” who can save some individuals for a future, blissful existence in a far off heaven. Unfortunately, the Jesus who was to transform the existing world failed. Thus, the young Church of Christianity had to transform Jesus into a divine spiritual savior.

John’s baptism, which Jesus also undertook by the way, was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:3). Hmm, sounds a lot like the baptism of Jesus (though “baptism” post Pentecost, or Jesus’s baptism, is interpreted by most Christian groups to involve the reception of the Holy Spirit to become a “saved” Christian). For many Christians today, Jesus’s baptism is an individual’s ritual sacrament (insurance policy) for entrance into a mythically fulfilled Narnia like heaven after death. I believe we desperately need to recapture John’s baptism if we are going to save the Church!

Poor Apollos! He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins instead of preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Another spot for the LOL).

The operative phrase that clearly shows the departure of Christianity from Jesus in relation to Apollos was that St. Luke acknowledges that Apollos “was instructed in the way of the Lord,” but not did not understand that Jesus was divine until he began to “powerfully refute the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (my underlines). Apollos repented (changed) from his oppressive, hierarchical worldly ways and followed Jesus the man, the inspiration/model for divine humanity. After his indoctrination by Priscilla and Aquila, early church leaders, Apollos “changed” his Gospel to one focused on the divinity of Christ and personal salvation—and abandoned his Judaism to become a true Christian.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I believe Jesus was and is the Christ. But that is not different than, better than, or a departure from the Jesus who was and is a human. In fact, being able to believe in Christ is a gift from God, but following the way of Jesus is my calling, my duty, my joy and love. I can’t follow the Christ, I can only follow Jesus, the prototype of what it truly means to be human.

Christianity, then, is really just, as the Internet Monk may have coined it many years ago, Churchianity. The Internet Monk seems to have believed that this departure was a post-Reformation event, but clearly, the departure happened immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Thus, Christianity never really departed from Christ, since Christianity is responsible for the creation of Christ.

The reality, or the unlearning that has to take place, is that Christianity is itself the departure from Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2019

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Reformation, Revolution, and Resurrection (An Advent Reflection)

ArtistI had a couple of interesting and intersecting conversations yesterday with different folk. One group of folks were Christians who I meet with regularly to discuss the contemplative or mystical way of faith and the other group was a newly formed anarchist group working to return joy and laughter to organizing for a new society.

In the first conversation with the mystics, we were talking about the need for a whole new way of being the Church. One of our members recounted that he had been approached by someone who said that the Church was in need of another great reformation. His response was, “What the Church needs is a great resurrection.” In the second conversation, the group wrestled with the need of immediate reforms to assist the severely oppressed and marginalized while never losing sight of the revolutionary theory, tactics, and outcomes that are required for a whole new society to be realized.

All of this talk of revolution and resurrection frightens many people, both the weak and the strong, both the oppressed and the oppressors. What most people think they want is stability and certainty: homeostasis. Yet, normal life is filled with instability and uncertainty. In politics, hierarchal rulers enact powerful laws (violence) to maintain homeostasis, mostly for the benefit of the elite and the rich. In religion, hierarchies, theologies, and liturgies are rigidly structured and enforced, again primarily to the benefit of the elite (who write the theologies and liturgies).

When a societal or economic crisis occurs, which must happen because of the dynamic, chaotic reality of life, the common (“working class”) folk are usually most afflicted. The rich and powerful rarely suffer, because, frankly, it doesn’t hurt to lose millions when you still have millions. Thus, when the poor or disenfranchised demand redress, depending on the severity of the crisis and the response, those in power will sometimes offer a reform which doesn’t alter the fundamentally unequal or oppressive system. These reforms almost always placate the people until the next crisis.

The recent situation in France is a good example. The people power expressed in the streets caused the ruling elite to offer reforms and, unfortunately, then the protests died down. The collective memory of common folk is extremely short. They forget that unless they go all the way to revolution they will continue to be oppressed and suffer. Reforms rarely do anything but return the unjust system to an ostensible form of homeostasis.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1899, “He who pronounces himself in favor of legal reforms in place of and as opposed to the conquest of political power and social revolution does not really choose a more tranquil, surer and slower road to the same goal. He chooses a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new social order, he takes a stand for surface modifications of the old order.”

The miraculous entrance of Jesus into the world scene was a revolutionary act by God, not to reform the broken world piecemeal, but to fundamentally change the trajectory of evolution in order to recreate individuals and society into God’s image (re-evolution). Radical love and joy entered our world in a new way. When Jesus began his ministry, it was to announce to the world the need to repent—to make a revolutionary 180-degree change from the direction it was going. This was not a reform; not a tweak; not some new legislation. God came to us and said you are going in the wrong direction: the direction of law, of othering, of war, of disintegration. We must turn around to the direction of love, of empathy, of peace, and of intersubjectivity.

Jesus was incarnated into the world to die, yes, but not only to atone for the violence of sin but primarily to prefiguratively embody that life is essentially a series of deaths and resurrections. Chaos and order, death and resurrection, suffering and joy are the alternating contexts of life.  We must enter the darkness to see the greater light.  A revolution requires us to die to self, both individually and collectively as a society.  Revolution is the ongoing dialectic of death and resurrection.

This is why Nicodemus can’t even see the Kin-dom of Heaven unless he is resurrected (born-again) into revolutionary mysticism (Jn 3:1-3). Nicodemus must repent, leave his group of elite Pharisees, even leave his family and its oppressive belief structures, leave his old-life of hierarchical relationships, and embark on a frightening, suffering, but life-giving journey of revolutionary praxis. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate their own parents, their spouse and children, their brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my follower” (Lk 14:26).

This is the way of Jesus. This Advent Season walk in the way of Jesus, born on Christmas Day and reborn every day in the revolutionary Christian.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

Arm TreeChristian spiritual development sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you are deeply religious (i.e., committed to a particular denomination or a tradition of theology). Many religious people are conditioned by their churches/pastoral leaders to stay at the level of spirituality they are at. Conventional Christians are threatened by the notion of growth in spiritual understanding because spiritual growth takes effort and is often very unsettling. Spiritual growth requires change: change in thinking, change in behavior. Those who are growing spiritually are often misunderstood by their friends and family who don’t see anything wrong with their conventional understanding of faith. Sometimes, Christians who are truly growing are viewed as falling away from their faith, when in fact they are maturing.

Below, I offer an example for Christians to test their desire or ability to grow spiritually.

Conventional Christian faith views Jesus’s death and resurrection as a transaction. In simple terms, Jesus came to change God’s mind about people. This is the conventional theology of salvation, whereby Jesus died a violent death to appease an angry, wrathful God. Jesus was killed as a replacement for the death that all humans deserve (because we are sinful). God killed Jesus in order that we could go to some far-off heaven when we die. This violent vicarious atonement theory has been the standard Christian theology of salvation for over 1000 years for hundreds of millions of Christians. It’s not just the belief of fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics as well. But it isn’t true; it is a theory. This theory promotes violence, justifies oppression, and leaves most people with a harmful, false belief that they are inherently evil, thus trapped in unhealthy feelings of guilt and toxic shame.

To grow spiritually is to consider afresh the basic narrative of Christian faith. It is to see the Bible with a renewed set of eyes. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about people, Jesus came to change people’s minds about God. Jesus came to change our minds about a God who we erroneously were taught was angry and wrathful, but who in fact is absolute unconditional love. Humans are not separated from God by our sin. Humans were not created sinful, we were created good. The original blessing is a much more important and biblical starting point than original sin when considering our anthropology. Though we do sin, God loves us and never leaves us. Thus, Jesus’s death on the cross occurred not to appease an angry God but was the result of power-possessed rulers who could not accept the God of love, the God of peace, the God who is opposed to injustice and oppression. Jesus’s resurrection was God’s answer to the cross. It was, as Marcus Borg says, “Rome who executed Jesus, but God who vindicated him.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is primarily a picture of the process of individual and collective transformation and not just a transaction.

This is not a subtle shift in thinking, but one that will move you out of the oppressive, overly-individualistic, exclusivist, and Empire-supporting Christian “faith” that was corrupted and co-opted by Constantine and others over the centuries.

Are you stuck in a false construct about a God who is violent and requires appeasement (like the mythical gods of ancient idol worshippers), or are you ready to grow spiritually into a belief about a God who is True Love? Are you ready to be in a relationship with a God who wants to transform you into a whole, loving person, a God who wants to transform our world into what I call the Commonweal of Love (what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven)? Spiritual growth means moving away from an old way of thinking (and possibly even an old community of faith) and finding the narrow path of Jesus. Spiritual growth requires risk, yet replaces your old, broken wineskins with new wineskins that can handle the glorious New Wine of Jesus.

Contact me if you would like to have a discussion about this. I would love to talk with you about a new vibrant way to live the Way of Jesus.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

 

Confronting Our Ataxophobia (An Advent Reflection)

Patterns-In-Chaos-2008_Kerrie-WarrenI had a recent conversation with a Christian who said they admired what I was doing through my justice work.  I became intrigued by something the person said about why they didn’t get more involved in justice work. In my recent book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist, I wrote about several fears which I believe explained why so many U.S. Christians were not doing the necessary justice work to enact Christ’s blessed Kingdom. I noted that fear of freedom, fear of being in the outgroup, and fear of oppressive punishment were just three dreads that kept Christians from engaging in meaningful missional activity. Nevertheless, during this conversation, I heard another significant fear that I had never considered.

This person, who would fall into several categories of being marginalized and oppressed, admitted that one of the main reasons why they did not get involved in justice work was for fear of the chaos that might ensue if the common people did rise up to oppose the unjust systems and imperialistic governments of this world. This person said something to the effect that if the masses really did start to fight back, the possibility of chaos would dramatically increase. And this person said they feared chaos more than anything else in life. So, I looked up the term fear of chaos, and lo and behold there is a word for it: Ataxophobia. Ataxophobia is the fear of disorder or chaos. It is a dreadful sense of loss of control.

I reflected on the possibility that this sense of fear over the loss of control, loss of psychological stability, or even the loss of a minimal sense of economic predictability may be a driving emotional reason why tens of millions of oppressed people in the United States continue to allow themselves to be under the thumb of their oppressors—the capitalist class (the 1%).

Ataxophobia is endemic in the petite bourgeoisie or the so-called middle class, who fear losing anything that might remove their false sense of security. And it is a false sense of security when examined with honest critical thinking because the capitalist system itself is filled with needless cycles of economic uncertainty and periods of economic busts which create chaos for so many. These economic busts are caused by the greedy overproduction inherent in the capitalistic system which throws countless people into unemployment, bankruptcy, family disruption, and homelessness.

Yet, it is possible and has been shown historically in other societies, that an economic reorganization of society based on meeting people’s needs rather than on free-market profiteering would remove, over time, the economic instability inherent with capitalism. However, since the capitalist class will not give up their power voluntarily, there will be a necessary struggle to rid our world of the instability and contradictions of neo-liberal capitalism and replace it with a more stable and equal economic system based on meeting people’s needs. The struggle that I am talking about is the revolutionary activity of the common people (the working class) in regaining what has been taken from them by the capitalist class. And, yes, this struggle will be messy and maybe even chaotic for a period.

The Christian season of Advent is upon us. It is a season of preparation and anticipation for the incarnation of Christ. The appearance of Jesus created quite a lot of chaos and disorder, and Jesus even admitted that he had purposefully come to disrupt the status quo: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:34-36, NIV).

Thus, Advent can also become a spiritual time for us to realize, prepare for, and re-engage in Christian revolutionary activity which, unfortunately, might bring about a period of great suffering—where there even may be an increase in chaos and disorder. Nevertheless, this chaos will not come about because of Christian revolutionaries or our allies, but because the capitalist class refuses to correct the grave injustices of the evil systems which they have wrought upon our world. The season of Advent can be a wakeup call out of our false sense of security and re-energize us for the struggle ahead.

In the Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent, we read, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26). This scary an chaotic future event is to be brought about by the work of God through the revolutionary people of God in enacting the Christ’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is Good News because when the “Son of Man” comes humanity will enter into the future “millennial” age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

It should be stated, however, but without equivocation, that as Christians engage in revolutionary activity, the Christian revolutionary is not desirous of chaos or disorder. Only a person with severe psychological disorder invites unnecessary chaos or pain into their own life or the lives of others.  This chaos really is brought upon us by the evil “rulers and powers” of this “dark world” (Eph 6:12).

Yet, my sense is that to be a growing spiritual person, to be a Christian, is to engage in the subversive, revolutionary work of Jesus to enact the Christ’s Kingdom, which is counter to the capitalistic governments (kingdoms) of this world.  To live out the Christian life is to overcome the fears of life in order to complete the missio Dei—the Mission of God—to bring in an eternal age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

The hope, joy, peace, and love of the Advent season is cause for celebration, yet it should be experienced in the context of our current suffering and the fallenness of our world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). With the first advent of Christ, we recognize that, despite our hope and personal peace, there is still chaos and suffering in the world and all of creation is in a “groaning” phase of evolution.

But it is in Christ that we can enjoy a deep experience of hope, joy, peace, and love which can cast out the fear of the responsibility of our freedom, minimize the fear of being outside the in-group of the petite-bourgeoisie, destroy the fear of authoritarian oppression, and even overcome the fear of the chaos that must inevitably result as we enact Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

You Say You Want A Revolution? (Reflection)

revolution of loveThere 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

Alien Nation (Reflection)

The_ScreamAs I read the writing on the wall, our situation in the United States has become untenable—one that clearly cannot be reformed under the current political and capitalist economic system. Yet, for many so-called middle-class U.S. citizens, even those on the lower edge, the situation may not seem so dire. After all, most people in the U.S. get to wear Nike’s or Adidas, have smartphones and other entertaining electronic devices, eat fast-food whenever they want, drive relatively newer cars, and live with some sense that life is at least not as bad as it is in many other countries.

Nevertheless, the inequality in our country and the social problems that result from this inequality are staggering. And, if we were doing so well why is that (the writing on the wall shows):

Over 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, and 15 million have Major Depressive Disorder.  Those numbers only represent those who have been diagnosed; many more millions suffer untreated. Those with addictive disorders number 20 million, with 50,000 accidental drug overdose deaths every year (100 per day). 121 people in this country commit suicide every day. There are 2.2 million in jail and 4.7 million on probation. Last year 30,000 were murdered, 100,000 were shot with a gun, and 90,000, mostly women, were raped. These statistics are some of the highest rates in the world, only rivaled by countries actively engaged in war. And speaking of war, for such a noble country, the U.S. has been at war with some group for 222 of its 239 years of existence. This addiction to war and imperialism is the primary reason the U.S. is 18.9 trillion dollars in debt. Finally, most of us have heard that the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more than the bottom 90 percent, and that just eight people, six of them U.S. citizens, now own as much combined wealth as half the human race.

These statistics are overwhelming and undeniable. This dire situation is why thousands of U.S. citizens are mobilizing in collective action to attempt, at least, to bring some attention to the injustice and oppression caused by our broken political and capitalist system. However, we need many more to get involved to effect any real change and overturn this corrupt system.

Unfortunately, tens of millions have not engaged, but, instead, have withdrawn from collective action out of a false sense of malaise and powerlessness. This withdrawal from engagement is sometimes referred to as alienation and is a direct result of our broken political and capitalist system. Humans, through the capitalistic system, have been systematically commodified to anesthetize them from engaging in collective action. One of the 19th century’s great thinkers observed, “A direct consequence of the alienation of humankind from the product of their labor, from their life activity and from their species-life, is that humankind is alienated from other humans. … humankind is alienated from his species-life means that each person is alienated from others and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.” Those words were written in 1844. The situation of alienation in the US is worse now over 150 years later.

We have become an Alien Nation—commodified and separated from our collective humanity.

Scripture also speaks of alienation as sin (missing the mark): “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions” (Col 1:21) The essence of these “evil actions” may initially seem to speak only of individual sin, but should also be interpreted to include the systemic sin inherent in our societal apparatuses. In Christ, sin is not only to be recognized and confronted individually, but systematically as capitalistic (and racist) economic oppression: “Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” This sin of ethnic/economic discrimination was not dealt with individually, but systematically through the development of a more just and humane system (Acts 6:3).

If we focus solely on our individual problems (or sins), we actually exacerbate them and continue to be alienated from God and others. Psychologists mostly treat mental illnesses as individual problems and religious folk speak way too often of individual responsibility for sin. But when we pull our heads out of our overly individualistic mindsets for just a moment, we will see that much of what is individualized as sin or mental illness is the result of a political and social problem which needs drastic treatment as well. In the case of the U.S. capitalist system, which is killing our world, my suggestion is “shock treatment.” We need to shock ourselves awake, re-engage in collective action, and radically replace the alienating capitalist system with a more equitable system.

Jesus told us how to do that: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk 16:23c), so “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk 12:33a).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Towards A Theology of Political Struggle (Reflection)

A Theology of StruggleThe quintessential text of spiritual warfare for most Christians is found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Far too much ink has been spilled on inane and downright superstitious interpretations of this text. And even though most traditional commentaries speak of the spiritual nature of the Christian’s struggle in this pericope, “The Armor of God” text seems to speak at least equally, if not more, about a socio-political struggle (see especially Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be).

As I re-read the Bible with wider lenses, I have come to see this portion of Scripture as a potential basis of a theology of revolutionary struggle for the Christian, both politically and spiritually. Why, because I believe God’s “armor” is to be used primarily in the struggle against earthly socio-political evil, not just spiritual evil. Again, the typical Western Christian has over-spiritualized this text as a sort of laundry list of individualistic and pietistic behaviors for defending oneself against oftentimes imaginary devils or self-created demonic activity.

Let’s take a closer look, especially at verse twelve, where, upon a deeper reading we find that the Christian call is to struggle primarily against oppressive earthly evil:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the principalities (or powers) of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Here St. Paul says Christians fight against four enemies, which I have underlined above. The word against is used four separate times to emphasize that these are not a series of conceptual evils, but against four distinct and real enemies.  We are, first, told that we do not struggle (that is resist or fight) against flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is not just an allusion to the spiritual nature of the battle, but also corresponds materially to our neighbors: the poor, the oppressed, the broken, the downtrodden. We are not to join in oppressing our fellow human beings; we do not struggle against our own.

So, just who are Christians supposed to resist or engage in struggle against? Clearly, Paul says it is the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers,” “of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil.” It is important to note that the fourth evil we struggle against is clearly spiritual, but the first three are manifestly earthly (of this dark world). These earthly entities that Christians will struggle against are kosmokratōr or world rulers (that is oppressive earthly rulers, like the Roman imperial dictator); exousia or authorities (which likely corresponds to oppressive and legalistic religious rule), and archē or principalities (domination systems or oppressive governments).

Now, like all Scripture, this text needs to be bridged into our current context. The Bible is not a static dogmatic document, but a wisdom lens or a guide to critique and inform our current situation. This being true then, clearly the U.S. Christian’s primarily battle or struggle is against the evil rulers in our government (in today’s case the Trump Regime or in the recent past the Bush, Clinton, or Obama Regimes). Secondly, the struggle is against the religious leaders, groups, and institutions that are coopted by the government to suppress the “flesh and blood”—our brothers and sisters, the common proletariat. And third, our struggle is against the domination systems that oppress, which is primarily the systems of capitalism and imperialism and all their negative effects. This is not a list to be followed seriatim, but one that is meant to call on all Christians to become revolutionaries against oppressive rulers (oligarchs and plutocrats), religious leaders (greedy televangelists & institutionally-minded religious functionaries), and the systems of evil (capitalism, imperialism, racism, and ethnic, gender, and sexual discrimination, etc.).

Undoubtedly, behind the counter-current of God (all spiritual good) is the devil (all spiritual evil). So, we do need spiritual power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to struggle both against earthly and spiritual evil. Nevertheless, as Christians our fight is primarily against earthly evil, and God and all his holy angels are to fight the spiritual demons in heavenly realms on our behalf. As U.S. based Christians our eyes need to be opened to bring into balance the political and spiritual struggles in order that we may faithfully follow our Lord.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Tearing Down The Veil Of Bad Religion (Mt 27:51)

Anarchist Veil TornCraig Keener asked rhetorically in his commentary on Matthew, “Is it possible that the very criticisms Jesus laid against the religious establishments of his day now stand institutionalized in most of his church?” (IVP Academic, 2011: 334). The answer, of course, is yes.

It is abundantly clear to me and many other Christians (scholars, clergy, and lay commentators alike) that Jesus never intended to start an institution called church.  In fact, if anything, he started a movement that was intentionally anti-institution. There is overwhelming evidence of this even in Scripture, but if you would like a brief overview of this idea, please purchase my book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist.

Today, let’s examine what Jesus’s cross and resurrection mean as seen through the tearing of the temple veil in two: “When Jesus took his last breath, at that very moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt 27:51).

At least three radical principles can be drawn from this metaphorical statement (since the veil was not actually torn in two):

First, without a veil to separate the people from God’s presence, access to God was made universal by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The veil represents human’s separation from God, and Jesus corrects this erroneous religious construct by his sacrificial death. Thus, with the tearing of the veil, the resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is no longer any need for priests to mediate between people and God (1 Tim 2:5). Any individual can access the actual reality and goodness of God.

Second, the power structure of temple worship, the very institution of religious power, was destroyed by the tearing of the veil. The temple veil represented institutional power– the power of a hierarchical priesthood coopted by imperial Rome to oppressively rule over people. Yet, by Jesus’s death and resurrection this power was rendered impotent. Jesus had earlier proclaimed that the time had come for the end of power based religion (Jn 4:23-24).

Third, the notion that only Jews could access the one true God was also nullified by the tearing of the veil in two. There is not a God of the Jews and lesser gods for the rest of the world. There is only one God for all who loves all.  St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, young or old, abled or disabled…. For all are one in Christ!” (Gal 3:28). All religion that excludes based on identity is bad religion.

So, what application should we take from all of this? If we are to follow Jesus then our call is to tear down the dividing walls between people, to flatten all hierarchies in order that all are empowered to be free, and, yes, we need to destroy all the man-made “temples” (institutional religion, capitalism, militarism, imperialism, patriarchalism, etc.) that create oppression, division, and inequality in our world. And we can accomplish this because “The tombs were broken open and the dead came to life…” (Mt 27:52). We have been resurrected to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love on earth as it is heaven (Mt 6:10).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Christian Anarchist Disciplemaking (Luke 4:18-19)

cross anarchyIn every great movement of thought and practice, there is an intense desire in those movement’s follower’s to communicate that thought and practice as liberating for others.  Socialists want to teach capitalists to be socialists; recovering alcoholics in AA want to teach active alcoholics the methods of AA; Christians want to teach atheists and others to become followers of Jesus, and so on.  The anarchist is no different.  The anarchist is an educator by nature, a disciplemaker, especially since the political philosophy of anarchy is so woefully misunderstood by most people. We must educate others before we can expect them to agitate for their own liberation and the liberation of others.

The Christian anarchist is commissioned by Jesus to educate. “Go and educate all people groups about the anarchist way of peace and freedom, teaching them to follow everything I taught about freedom, and immersing them into the eternal consciousness of the beautiful, mysterious paradox of God; and, my Spirit will dwell in you to be your guide and strength forever” (Mt 28:19-20, author’s paraphrase).

Thus, the Christian anarchist must educate, but this education should never be coercive or proselytizing. We are not converting people to an institutional religion, but releasing them from political and religious bondage by the testimony of our own life. St. Peter said, “… always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience…” (1 Pe 15-16a, NET). The Christian anarchist educates for freedom, to help his or her fellow human to break off the chains of State and Religious oppression and to live freely and responsibly.

The foundational text the Christian anarchist educator uses to teach others is Luke’s recording of Jesus’ announcement of his liberating purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19, NET).

Jesus proclaimed (euaggelizō/kēryssō = words + action/deeds) the gospel (good news) to the poor (not the rich oppressors).  This good news to the poor includes four word/actions (1) release of captive hearts/minds/bodies, (2) healing of spiritual/political blindness, (3) freedom for the oppressed, and (4) Jubilee, the canceling of debts of all people.

How did Jesus the Anarchist do this? First, Jesus was teaching people to move into a reality on earth that already existed in the spiritual realm. He called this the Kingdom of God, what I call the Commonweal of Love.  Jesus representing the divine cosmic creator proclaims a sort of emancipation proclamation: “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free” (Jn 8:36, NET). This proclamation is for all oppressed people, as well as a direct challenge to oppressors. As George Clinton sang in the seventies, “Free your mind and your ass will follow/The kingdom of heaven is within….”

Second, Jesus is the cosmic eye opener.  He, through his preaching and activism, literally opens the eyes of the actual blind and also the spiritually blind so that they can see the oppression that they have been under for so long.  Jesus is the real divine Morpheus, who gives the red pill to all so that they can see how they have been imprisoned in the Matrix of the capitalistic, colonial, and imperial oppressors.

Third, Jesus proclaims through his way of life the way to truly break free from the oppressor.  He frees us to forgive our oppressors, to acknowledge our own part in our victimization, and then to set the oppressor free as well. On the cross, Jesus overcomes not through brute force, but by resurrection, by eternal life, by forgiving the blind oppressor: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34, NET).

Finally, Jesus exhorts us to be free from the chains of property. He announces the Year of Jubilee, the year of the canceling of all debts and the redistribution of wealth and land. John Howard Yoder says of the Lord’s Prayer, “The ‘Our Father’ is genuinely a jubilary prayer.  It means ‘the time has come for the faithful people to abolish all the debts which bind the poor ones…’” (1994: 62).

All Christians are called to proclaim and live out this same message of peace and freedom, to liberate others, to make disciples of Jesus the Anarchist.

Reference
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

Christian AnarchismMy book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist has been released and for a while it was a #1 release in at least one sales category. Thank you to all who purchased a copy. I hope that you will let me know your thoughts after you read it.

I have heard from some folk who are suspect of the title and the presumed thesis of my book. So, let me just tell you briefly what the main points are so that you might see that what I am proposing is not so ludicrous (at least as not as ludicrous as some interpret the title of my book to be).

First, Jesus is the liberatory figure, the prototype or archetype of a spiritual and social revolutionary, who ministers and gives up his life to overcome the evil powers which create injustices in our world. Jesus came to “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18). Jesus, as resurrected Spirit, lives on in all people working towards a just and peaceful world.

Second, the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed (what I call the Commonweal of Love in my book) is the ongoing development of a society based on love and mutuality (justice); it is the process of creating the ultimate free society of free people. The Commonweal of Love is enacted by local egalitarian, non-hierarchical networks (“churches”) of lovers of God, people, and all creation.

Third, the local church is an all-inclusive collective of people in a community who love God in spirit and in truth by enacting the healing and justice ministry of Jesus until a just society is established on earth for all.

The Bible is the ongoing story of this process, of God redeeming the whole earth and establishing freedom and justice for all. On the mount of Transfiguration Matthew records these words from God about Jesus, “Here is My servant, whom I have chosen, My beloved, in whom My soul delights. I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations” (Mt 12:18).

And, of course, Jesus says to us, “Listen, the person who believes in me will do the deeds that I am doing. In fact, they will perform greater deeds than me…” (Jn 14:12). Now, let’s do them!

© Paul Dordal, 2017