35-Point Practical Guide for Action

Insurgent American is primarily an intelligence asset, a strategic resource to organize information to support and guide practical action ergo out self-identification as a practical strategic resource. In one analytical piece here, we explained that strategy, tactics, and intelligence are interfused. One cannot develop intelligence without some point of view about the kinds of action that are required to achieve strategic objectives.

Some readers have suggested we publish a of list of practical actions that people can take. While this is a slightly different take on our original conception of supporting practical activity with intelligence development, if we acknowledge the interfusion of action and intelligence, then it makes sense for us to state those kinds of actions that we see as practical insurgency.

Action requires more than doing what everyone can already do. It requires the development of particular practical skills. An organization may be able to organize a march of half a million people on the DC Mall and still not be able to grow a cabbage, fix a flat tire on a bicycle, or start a blog. Implicit in our core convictions is that the belief that practical independence from the dependence-creating structures of the current system is a precondition of revolution. That independence is predicated on the ever more widespread development of particular skills maybe even skills that we have to invent ourselves.

Other methods and theories of revolution have attached greater significance to having the correct ideas, the correct program, and the correct organization. These ideas and this practice have made inroads in places, but they inevitably run into the wall of their own dependence, in particular, their attachment to the industrial model of social organization, the orthodoxy of their ideas and the demand for ideological conformity as a membership gauntlet, and financial dependency on institutional structures like non-profits whose activities are circumscribed by government charters. We do not advocate wholesale abandonment efforts or even organizations that are already there and in motion. But we do believe that the voids, weaknesses, and blind spots of these models require remedies that reach people who cannot or will not operate within the constraints of these ideas, programs, or organizations.

New practices create new forms of consciousness; and here are a few ideas on some practices. Anyone can do one, two, or as many as are workable in present circumstances. The mental test we use in trying to determine the whats appropriate is woman-burb-hood. Is this something that can relate to the capacities of a woman who lives in either a suburb or an urban neighborhood?

The order does not correspond to any valuation or priority. Find the 35-Point Practical Guide for Action here.

Derick Jensens Endgame

is part of the New Canon.

Here is an excerpt that resonates with Insurgent American.

I just got home from talking to a new friend, another longtime activist. She told me of a campaign she participated in a few years ago to try to stop the government and transnational timber corporations from spraying Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and teratogen, in the forests of Oregon. Whenever activists learned a hillside was going to be sprayed,they assembled there, hoping their presence would stop the poisoning. But each time, like clockwork, helicopters appeared, and each time, like clockwork, helicopters dumped loads of Agent Orange onto the hillside and onto protesting activists. The campaign did not succeed.

“But, ”she said to me, “I’ll tell you what did. A bunch of Vietnam vets lived in those hills, and they sent messages to the Bureau of Land Management and to Weyerhaeuser, Boise Cascade, and the other timber companies saying, �?We know the names of your helicopter pilots, and we know their addresses.’”

I waited for her to finish.

“You know what happened next?” she asked.

“I think I do,” I responded.

“Exactly, ”she said. “The spraying stopped.”

Endgame (Two Volumes), Derrick Jensen

The Cost of Privilege

The Cost of Privilege – Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism, by Chip Smith, (with Michelle Foy, Badili Jones, Elly Leary, Joe Navarro, and Juliet Ucelli) was written by leftists, active as leftists, most for decades. The book responds to the recurrent experience of these organizers: the continual re-emergence even in progressive sectors of white people of a thoroughly liberal account of race and white supremacy. In fact, liberalism eschews the latter term because it speaks to systemic oppression instead of defining racism as individual pathology.

The Cost of Privilege is a fine activists primer for understanding racism in the US from a revolutionary, democratic, working-class perspective. Writing in a down-to-earth style, Smith weaves theoretical insight, political history, and organizing practice together, shows how capitalism, racism, and patriarchy interconnect, and offers excellent ideas for movement-building.

-Johanna Brenner, author of Women and the Politics of Class

Full disclosure is that Chip is a friend and political collaborator, as are the rest. But if anyone is interested in a book that picks up with history where anti-racism training leaves off, the data tables are alone worth the cost of the book.

Many, many white organizers, and white people who would like to become more active anti-racists, yet who are intimidated by the public debate and political struggles around race, can use this book as as starting point as a kind of users guide for opposing white supremacy, rhetorically and practically. The book abounds with anecdotal insets, statistical tables, poetry, maps, and the superlative visual art of Malcolm Goff (not my relative, but my brother nonetheless).

A very fine contribution to revolutionary research and synthesis, The Cost of Privilege is also a very readable and accessible book.

Check it out; and pass it along.

Midrash on Money

Stan Goff

He that puts not out his money to interest, nor takes reward against the innocent. He that does these things shall never be moved.

-Psalm 15:5

And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches have rotted away, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. Your gold and silver are covered with rust, and this rust will be a witness against you, and eat up your flesh like fire. You have piled up riches in these last days Your life here on earth has been full of luxury and pleasure. You have made yourselves fat for the day of slaughter.

-James 5:1-3,5

The detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant.

-Theodor Adorno


Introduction: Show me a sign.

It’s what people will say in times of painful indecision.

God, show me a sign.

What do people mean by that?

And does God respond?

And if God does respond, do we always recognize the sign?

It becomes apparent very quickly that this word – sign – may, like Mary Poppins’ handbag, unpack far more than we might believe by outward appearance.

Here’s Google™ on the word “sign:”

• a perceptible indication of something not immediately apparent (as a visible clue that something has happened); he showed signs of strain; they welcomed the signs of spring
• a public display of a message; he posted signs in all the shop windows
• signal: any nonverbal action or gesture that encodes a message; signals from the boat suddenly stopped
• mark with ones signature; write ones name (on); She signed the letter and sent it off; Please sign here
• signboard: structure displaying a board on which advertisements can be posted; the highway was lined with signboards
• approve and express assent, responsibility, or obligation; All parties ratified the peace treaty; Have you signed your contract yet?
• sign of the zodiac: (astrology) one of 12 equal areas into which the zodiac is divided
• be engaged by a written agreement; He signed to play the casino on Dec. 18; The soprano signed to sing the new opera
• (medicine) any objective evidence of the presence of a disorder or disease; there were no signs of asphyxiation
• engage by written agreement; They signed two new pitchers for the next season
• polarity: having an indicated pole (as the distinction between positive and negative electric charges); he got the polarity of the battery reversed; charges of opposite sign
• communicate silently and non-verbally by signals or signs; He signed his disapproval with a dismissive hand gesture; The diner signaled the waiters to bring the menu
• augury: an event that is experienced as indicating important things to come; he hoped it was an augury; it was a sign from God
• place signs, as along a road; sign an intersection; This road has been signed
• a gesture that is part of a sign language

No matter what the vast differences between these various definitions of “sign,” what stands out is that these are all media of communication or ideas about media of communication.

Communication… another word pregnant with many offspring. Two separate beings are presumed by the idea of communication; and signs always presume the existence of two subjects. Subjects – unlike objects – do not merely exist. We dwell.

We live in a world that is abuzz with signs and communications; we dwell in a world that is abuzz with signs and communications. We are part of it. In those times when we can grasp that connectedness, we have a sense of embodied transcendence, a moment of dwelling within something that is sacred.


Molecules signal to molecules, like species to like species, unlike species to each other, minerals to other minerals and to animals and vegetables, which also sign to each other, and the lion’s share of our own physical activity (brain and somatic activity, etc.) involved in communication with each other is non-verbal, and even non-linguistic.

We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch. One of the odd discoveries made by small boys is that when two pebbles are struck sharply against each other they emit, briefly, a curious smoky odor. The phenomenon fades when the stones are immaculately cleaned, vanishes when they are heated to furnace temperature, and reappears when they are simply touched by the hand again before being struck.

An intelligent dog with a good nose can track a man across open ground by his smell and distinguish that man’s tracks from those of others. More than this, the dog can detect the odor of a light human fingerprint on a glass slide, and he will remember that slide and smell it out from others for as long as six weeks, when the scent fades away. Moreover, this animal can smell the identity of identical twins, and will follow the tracks of one or the other as though they had been made by the same man.

We are marked as self by the chemicals we leave beneath the soles of our shoes, as unmistakably and individually as by the membrane surface antigens detactable in homografs from our tissues.

So begins the chapter entitled “Vibes,” in Lewis Thomas’ fine little book, The Lives of a Cell (Penguin Books, 1974).
In all this activity at every scale of existence, how do we discern the signs that hold together our natural universe, our culture, and what we might call our personhood?

Are we exchanging sings right now?

We are.

This is the point-of-view of semiotics. Our talking and especially our writing are but the latest instantiations of sign exchanges, along a continuum from the tiniest microcosm to the most vast macrocosm.

This midrash on money is based on the premise that money – this thing that dominates our lives in so many, often mysterious, ways, is just that: a sign.

At some point I will call money a language. But modern money is much more. Modern money is an extra-linguistic, culturally-and-politically constructed “sign.”

We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely Homo significans – meaning-makers. Distinctively, we make meanings through our creation and interpretation of signs. Indeed… we think only in signs. Signs take the form of words, images, sounds, odours, flavours, acts or objects, but such things have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning. Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign, declares Peirce (Peirce 1931-58, 2.172). Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as signifying something – referring to or standing for something other than itself. We interpret things as signs largely unconsciously by relating them to familiar systems of conventions. It is this meaningful use of signs which is at the heart of the concerns of semiotics.

(Daniel Chandler, “Semiotics for Beginners”)

Energy-matter flows constitute the universe. So does the flow of signs. Every atoms signals to its neighbor, every photon carries messages, every being – organic and inorganic – is aware and responsive in some way.

If you observe an urban street scene on Saturday night, the streets are filled with people in motion. Yet without much talking to coordinate their motions – in fact, many people are talking to someone else while they navigate the crowds – these flows of people manage to weave in and out of each other. There are millions of flowing signs being passed among the people in these “rivers” of human foot-traffic, most non-verbal, not linguistic at all. Language is just one aspect of signing. That’s why it is very appropriate for someone to say, when they are faced with a dilemma, “Lord, give me a sign.”

God does communicate with us.


Anthropologist Alf Hornborg, writing about the destruction of Amazonian rain forests by international commercial interests, said that “ecosystems are constituted no less by flows of signs than by flows of matter and energy.”

…nature and society [are] interconnected systems, both of which are simultaneously material and communicative.

Christians will sometimes say things about “dwelling in Christ.” It’s an old notion, dwelling, and one that we understand viscerally – what philosophers call the dimension of experience that is “being-in-the-world.” When children gleefully enclose themselves in big cardboard boxes, in what appears to be an ancient den-making instinct, they are experiencing – and celebrating – their sense of dwelling-ness.


Modern money – global currency, the dollar – is a sign that becomes “hegemonic,” that is, wielding “preponderant influence or authority.”

But what are the effects of this predominance of influence?

One effect we need to emphasize is the effect of general-purpose money on understandings of the Sacred. General-purpose money has the tendency to desacralize (profane, remove from the realm of the Sacred) our relationships with nature and other people. As Hornborg’s own studies in Amazonia showed, money was the sign, the language, the medium, the entitlement… that allowed foreign contractors to mow down vast swathes of rain forest, land that then sprang up with American soft drinks being peddled at stands along the barren landscapes.

“General-purpose money,” said Hornborg, an anthropologist, “is what allows tracts of rain forest to be traded for Coca-Cola.”

Human beings are meaning-makers; and that is how the door is opened between us and God. We are too capable of good to accept an abject servitude to money, or to refuse to take action to direct and limit its flows.

We have learned collectively what ecology means in the last few years: the relational, systemic character of biomes. Now we need to get our heads around a less popularized way of knowing: semiotics.

Ecosemiotics can be defined as the semiotics of relationships between nature and culture.


Semiotics… is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.

“Ecosemiotics” is Hornborg’s way (borrowing the term from W. Noth, 1999) of saying to be aware that Creation is alive and communicating, not the dead thing of the post-Enlightenment. When we see that the universe, the world, is alive, we know how to treat it as sacred. When we treat the world as a dead thing, we profane it.

Money commodifies. Things-for-sale are not seen as sacred.

Creation, whether viewed through scientific inquiry or contemplative retreat, is full of wonder, constantly creating and revealing. One of the reasons Sabbath is such a central notion to our faith tradition is that we need to stop and appreciate that wonder once every seven days without being interrupted by work. Work concentrates our attention on details. Contemplation and open questioning require us to throw open the doors and windows of consciousness and let the breezes blow through.

The itemization of consciousness that is created by the phenomenon of monetary pricing is, likewise, an obstacle to contemplation of wholes; and the attachment of a price to anything profanes it… removes is from the realm of the Sacred. That’s true whether we attach a price to a “nice view” or sell indulgences.

Money Masks

In this midrash we’ll jump from the Book of James to the arcane – to the term “securitized finance”? We are bilingual; we speak past and present.

In the beginning there was money, then money began putting on masks. It puts a mask on itself, and a blindfold on us. It is self-camouflaging.

Money blinds us to the unjust and un-Christian social relations involved in the production of anything. It also blinds us to the fact that money itself is not a constant.

I reach in my wallet and take out a twenty-dollar bill. I give it to the cashier, who bags up my kiwis, my oranges, my stew meat, my bag of sweets.

Neither of us sees the trucks rumbling across a Latin American landscape desiccated by poverty and want, the abattoir or the cruel feedlots, or the broken families of former farmers, or the wreckage of the biome created by the production of high-fructose corn syrup in the sweets. I give the cashier money; the cashier bags up my food. Money puts distance between the consumer and producer; and distance masks reality.

Neither the cashier nor I see the money as anything but routine either. We don’t think about how many times currencies have been drained of value by hyperinflation and economic collapse; and we wouldn’t understand why even if we thought about it. This is not taught in schools, not even to economists.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

– Proverbs 23:4-5

Insecure Securities

Simple secular math: As of November 2008, the total assets of the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) – the central bank of the United States – were $73.4 billion.

It is difficult to estimate total exchanges in global financial markets; but in the foreign currency exchange market alone, there are almost $2 trillion of exchanges each day. In one day, financial exchanges of currency alone exceed total Fed assets by a factor of 27.

In March of 2009, the Fed announced that it was going to buy $1 trillion in securities, after more than $50 trillion (with a T) had been “wiped out.” We just said that total Fed assets were $73.4 billion. But the Fed is “buying” a trillion dollars of something called “securities.” That is like me buying a $1,000 boat, when my net worth is $73.40.

You sure can’t buy a $50,000 boat with $73.40. And this particular boat is sinking.

This is a stark example of how utterly toothless the Fed – and by inference, the US government – is to salvage a collapsing pyramid of debt built over the last 35 years.

So what are these “securities”? Are they actually secure?

Wikipedia says, “A security is a fungible, negotiable instrument representing financial value.”

Well, that clears everything up.

Let’s try a different tack. Actual, stable wealth is what we call an asset. Cash flow is money that moves into and out of an enterprise. It “flows.” It is not an asset. Securities – composed of odd and impenetrable-sounding things like bonds, equities, investment funds, derivatives, structured finance, and agency securities – have come to be dominated by “instruments” that treat cash flow as an asset which can be sold.

These are paper claims on wealth; but they are not based on real assets. These paper claims have vastly exceeded real wealth. This excess has been usefully called “fictitious capital.”

Fictitious Capital

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with that income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast one’s eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether eating little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune Naked a person comes from the mother’s womb, and as one comes, so one departs

– Ecclesiastes 5:10-15


Fictitious capital has far exceeded real wealth through a system ever more dominated by “securitized finance,” the domination of the global economy by speculation in these “instruments.” Securitized finance permits potentially infinite credit, which translates into potentially infinite debt.

This has been accelerating since the Nixon administration; and it has created an inconceivable and unprecedented pyramid of debt… which is now imploding.

You cannot buy a thousand-dollar boat with $73.40. This is not a cyclic problem, but a structural one. The boat that is sinking may cost $100,000.


The problem for us all with this fictitious capital is that it is directly connected to money, while we are all dependent on a social grid, one that is navigable only by money. Our most basic needs, which God provided for with the earth, have been captured by a system dominated by money. We cannot eat without money. We have nowhere to sleep out of the weather without money. We cannot clothe ourselves without money.

The all-pervasiveness of the money-grid, which has literally transformed nearly every available space into a commodity – a thing bought and sold, leaves us no choice to be on the money-grid or off the money-grid. We are on it, captured by it.

The formative story in the Old Testament is that of escape from captivity, and reliance on God’s bounty. The first turning away from that freedom was the worship of a gold idol (raised out of fear for the future).

The only time Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus of Nazareth, is reported to have displayed physical aggression was when he stampeded livestock through the tables of money-changers at the Temple. He constantly warned his followers that money would make them captives, and that money has the power to alienate us from God and God’s Creation.


Then there are the seeds which were sown among the thorn bushes. These are the people who hear the message, but the worries of this world and the false glamor of riches and all sorts of other ambitions creep in and choke the life out of what they have heard, and it produces no crop in their lives.

– Mark 4:18-19

Money is a claim on the effort and time of others. If I have the money for a meal at a restaurant, the need of others for that money causes them to serve me, to cook the food, to harvest the food, to grow the food, to make the pots and pans and dishes, to air condition and heat the restaurant, etc. etc. I, in turn, have to work to get the money.

Most of us have to work at jobs where we’d rather be someplace else. Our dependency on money holds us captive there. We are captives to our cars to get us to work, and to the clothes we are required to wear at work, and the insincerities we feel are necessary to keep our jobs… and all this is dependency on money. To relieve the stress of work, we “need” things that require money, and so we are again captives of the money-grid.

On the money we use, it says “legal tender.” What that means is that we have to use money to pay our taxes. The state runs on money, too. In fact, without money, the modern nation-state – as an institution – would collapse. Every institution we know is captive of the money-grid.

Even churches.

Tunnel Vision and Totalities

Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathize with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come, so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is real and permanent.

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19


We spoke above about fictitious capital – a concept necessary for us to discern the specificities of our own age. This totalizing perspective, this Big Picture view of the global economy, is not a perspective that is understood by the captains of finance. They are completely focused on what they call their portfolios. That focus made them rich; and that focus acts as set of blinders to the terrible storm approaching. That is why they do not know what to do now. Their “knowledge” is constrained by their standpoint… by the view from where they stand.

They have tunnel-vision. It’s structural.

Those who saw this coming – and they were many – were marginalized, excluded from the inner sanctums of finance and government. People with unrecognizable names like Ellen Hodgson Brown, Michael Hudson, Henry C. K. Liu, Susan Strange, Peter Gowan, Mike Whitney, Loren Goldner – and many, many more – warned about what was about to happen, and explained it in plain language, but that was a language that experts and economists had learned to exclude from their frame of reference.

The captains of Wall Street and all their disciples, however, were too personally invested (no pun intended) in their own orthodoxies, and too focused on an every accelerating cycle of return-on-investment to see the big picture. Ambition, competition, and groupthink blinded them, and continues to blind them.

It blinds us, too, because we are dependent; and because the business class owning the means of production means the business class also owns the means of cultural production (including what and how we “know”).

If we don’t get hold of money fast enough, then we are threatened with homelessness and starvation… or more immediately, with the loss of security for our children – who are hostages of the money-grid.

If we lose the jobs we have, now, at the advent of a long crisis for which we have arrived without any preparation whatsoever, we are more captive than ever to money. We don’t know how to live without it. We might say we are captive to our ignorance.

The first step in overcoming this ignorance is to get the Big Picture. Face the facts. $50 trillion dollars now (and perhaps twice that much at the end of this long road) has disappeared (it never existed, it was a speculatively-raised phantasm); and our plan to replace it via printing press will lead us to something that gives economic historians chills: hyper-inflation.

Too much money circulating against too few goods raises prices. When this happens in periods of closing enterprise and high unemployment, and in the face of crippling household debt, it is a social catastrophe.

The Fed was part of the high-tempo, tunnel-vision sector. The Fed had a singular way of controlling the economy. If inflation was advancing too fast, they raised the prime interest rate to put the brakes on. What this really meant was that they deliberately created an increase in unemployment, in order to lower the going rates for labor.

The Fed treated fictional capital as if it were real, then moved that excess around from one “bubble” to the next. Each time the bubble burst, masses of people were left broken while a small elite feasted: Mexico, East Asia, the dotcom bust, the housing bubble. Each time, Washington made Wall Street whole again.

But when securitized finance blew out this time, the accumulation of vacuity in the system created the ultimate dilemma for the one-trick pony that is the Fed: stagnation combined with inflation – stagflation. Last year, fuel and food prices soared – slamming most people into the financial wall, as the economy – in the oblique metaphorical language of the pundits and economists – “contracted.”

Kenneth Boulding, the Quaker economist and philosopher, said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

But this is part of that Big Picture that is invisible to economists, professional investors, and to politicians. Against this backdrop of the impossibility of infinite growth, first stagflation hit, then the tsunami of the so-called credit crisis. We were… are… utterly dependent, rich and poor, on this elaborate, global financial architecture; and the great wave slammed into it like it was a grass hut in front of the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake.

The one-trick pony, the Fed, tried lowering interest rates to stir some activity; but the last time they’d done that – in the wake of the dotcom bust – mortgages were refinanced at the lower rate… and equity loans were encouraged. Houses became ATMs, and household debt exploded into the whole illusion of infinite growth.

The fictional capital bubble was reflated into the housing market.

The wave hit the edifice of finance.

Interest rates hover now at zero; and the wave keeps coming. The one-trick pony has run out of tricks. So it’s printing more money, even as the global basket of commodities to which it is supposed to correspond has not changed.

We know what happened. Or at least we experienced it. We need to know. Because we have to find our own way out.

This is a totality.

Loss of Faith

The belief that money retains value is an article of religious faith. It is an idolatrous assumption; but there it is, nonetheless.

It’s not like the faith that Jesus mandated for his disciples, to “consider the lilies of the field.” His admonition there was to have no fear (and this was specifically about money).

Have no fear. God’s got your back. Radically trust… God.

The false faith that money retains value – even in the face of historical evidence totally to the contrary – is a false faith born of desperate fear, not radical trust. It is denial. It is collective self-delusion.

Self-delusion corresponds to arrogance; and much arrogance is based on the deepest kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that needs the security of accumulation as its balm. This kind of security requires domination and control… of people and Creation. Pride and self-delusion are inseparable twins.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

– Proverbs 16:18

It is this self-delusion that led us into this impasse; and now we need to abandon it wholesale. We need to practice the faith that considers the lilies of the field. The faith that God can and will provide when we abandon our captivity, cross the Red Sea, and head into the wilderness of an evermore de-monetizing society.

Give this Vile Idol Back to Caesar

John’s Apocalypse is not a prediction of the future.

Jesus’ encounter with the Herodians and Pharisees is not a call on disciples to pay taxes and obey the government,

And the Parable of the Talents is not Jesus telling disciples to become good investors.

These three heresies – or call them bad scholarship – have become the three-legged milking stool of biblical accommodation to the present worldly order.

To the Heordians and Pharisees, intent on trapping Jesus on the question of paying taxes:

“Whose picture is on that coin?” asked Jesus.


“Well, give it to Ceasar then.”

Rabbi Yeshua knew. The graven image was an idol. The gold was an idol, the very material of the calf-idol constructed by a demoralized people of God who were wandering – disoriented and frightened – out of bondage and into the “wilderness” of freedom.

The very valuation of the gold was idolatrous.

Daily bread. That’s all that’s needed. As a devout and observant Jew, Rabbi Yeshua remembered Proverbs 30:8: Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

It’s there in His prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

It is more than a little interesting that Jesus counter-posed food to money. The Kingdom of God is called a meal, a banquet table. Faith is seen as the ability to walk on water; as the ability to renounce one’s fear of living without money.

The faith of the desperate sees living without money as tantamount to walking on water.

You can’t serve God and money at the same time, Jesus said.

The reaction of the disciples: Rabbi, are you nuts? How would we eat, clothe ourselves, find shelter? You can’t live without money!

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

– Matthew 6:28-30

Show some trust. God’s got your back. Your fear is lack of faith.

Post-Constantinian Christianity failed to come to terms with this rather obvious and consistent theme in Scripture, Old and New Testament, and especially the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua… a construction worker who had matured and developed in a militarily occupied land seething with rebellions and sectarian bickering, and crushed by Roman enclosure that forced the population into dependency on money.

The moneychangers were in the Temple because Jews were forbidden to use the graven image of Caesar, and so changed Roman money into half-shekels, the only assured-weight silver coinage approved by Jewish religious authorities. The Temple was trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Faith had abandoned that place, driven out by the peculiar character of money that imbricates us into a grid of dependency on the very powers we are commanded to confront.

The powers are not sovereign. God is the only sovereign.

They will wage war against the lamb, but the lamb will conquer them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those who are called, chosen, and faithful are with him.

– Revelation 17:14

This is not prediction, but prophetic poetry; not prophecy seen as fortune-telling, but prophecy seen as unmasking. “Apocalypse” does not mean “catastrophe.” It means revelation. It reveals.

It says, “That emperor capering down the street is butt naked.”

We non-millenarian Christians should learn to lose our fear of this book that tells us, assertively, that only God is sovereign.

Discernment versus Accommodation

Once the church began making accommodation with power in the 2nd Century – leading to the “conversion” of Constantine, a ruler who slaughtered even his own family members after that so-called conversion, and who profaned the sign of the cross by superimposing it on a sword – that accommodation masqueraded as discernment.

Money is an institution, subordinate to the Powers. What John of Patmos told the so-called “primitive” Christians, a tightly knit and defiant network of believers who proclaimed God sovereign over all, and who shared so thoroughly that none accumulated individual goods, was to hold out in the face of Domitian’s persecutions (Domitian portrayed in Revelation as the re-born Nero).

This gift-economy community was so attractive to many “middle-class” Roman women that they were converting, and giving away their goods to the small, intimate churches spread around the Mediterranean. The “primitive” Christians were not only preaching a gift economy, and the sovereignty of God over the Powers, they were teaching a radical doctrine of spiritual equality between men and women. In Roman ideology, women were not seen as moral subjects. Even in Paul’s most patriarchal epistolary language, the question of moral agency (the test of spiritual fullness, and therefore full humanity) is always implicit in his directions singling out women; and women were co-apostles – apostasy among the Romans.

So while Nero attacked Christians out of political opportunism, Domitian attacked them because they represented an actual political and ideological threat.

With the Constantinianization of the church, however, the discernment of the difference between God’s sovereignty and state sovereignty was effaced, and elaborate scholastic rationalizations were constructed to persuade people that there was a chain-of-command that started with God, passed through the state, and was mediated by the state for the people.

It was inevitable that with the state as mediator, and its money as the solvent that dissolved the bonds of personal relationships and replaced them with dependency on the money-grid of the day, someone would eventually begin selling indulgences.

Perversia optimo est pessima.

The perversion of the best is the worst.

Accommodations were passed off as discernment, the exclusive province of a church authority that no longer structured itself as a human family, but as an authoritarian, patriarchal state.

Acting Our Way into Right Thinking

There is a common saying in 12-step programs: “You can’t think your way into right acting. You have to act your way into right thinking.

It’s counter-intuitive, because we have been taught that actions reflect our thinking, when in actuality the opposite is true.

This is very important for our discernment, and for the practices we choose to live into our faith. What kinds of things do people do that create changes in how they think and feel?

In 1973, Stanford University tried an experiment with college students. They had them play roles, as prisoners and as prison guards. Within days, they had to end the experiment, because the guards had become so utterly sadistic and arbitrary. It was called the Stanford Prison Experiment. Look it up.

The actions implicit in their roles changed their “minds.”

Lived experience is reflected in our consciousness. Experience becomes our frame of intellectual reference, and experience provides us with our stories and metaphors.

First-ness, Second-ness, Third-ness, and so on-ness

To the extent that our lived experience is mediated and abstracted, our perceptions and ideas are mediated and abstracted.

(a) I till the soil. I plant the seed. I tend the garden. I harvest and eat.

(b) I work at the office. I get my weekly paycheck. I drive to the store. I buy something called food.

There is a first-ness to the planter’s consciousness. The experiences are direct, hand-to-ground, hand-to-mouth… unmediated.

There is a third-ness and fourth-ness to the office worker’s experience. Layers of mediation between any possibility of an I-Thou experience, mutual recognition, fusion… communion.

Work gets the money. Money is carried to an institution (a supermarket). Food is sold as a commodity – something created primarily for the purpose of valorizing capital, and only secondarily for its actual use. The food producer doesn’t care if you eat it or throw it away. The producer – a corporation – just cares if you buy it. The exchange takes place between intermediaries, with a cashier who is an alienated worker, working for a manager who bosses for money, performing for a higher boss who holds money over her head… etc. The buyer (you) and the cashier generally don’t know or care about each other. Their relationship is mediated by power and money.

The experience is mediated; so the perceptions and conceptions are mediated, are third-ness and fourth-ness, abstracted and superficial, not first-ness, like the hand in the soil, or the direct gift of the garden’s abundance.

Discernment is the ability to dig down from third-ness and fourth-ness back into first-ness.

The elaboration of rationalizations, that remain in the third-ness and fourth-ness, is accommodation masquerading as discernment, masquerading even to the elaborator.

Economics, for example. Massive, elaborate rationalizations. Book-length riffs on third-ness and fourth-ness.

Money is a sign and an instrument of third-ness and fourth-ness. The fruit of my garden no longer passes from my hand to yours in friendship. The fruit of an “industry” with an absentee-institutional owner is shipped to a chain store, where its exchange is mediated by an abstraction called money.

We need discernment about money; because money – unexamined – locks us into third-ness and fourth-ness, and conceals the first-ness of our own lives and the realities of power.

Money is a universal solvent. It makes everything the same. It replaces the complexity and diversity and richness of Creation with cold simplicity. It dissolves qualities into mere quantity.

This characteristic of money is the most important thing we can know about it. It is why money is so dangerous.

So what is it that we need to understand about money to make good decisions about how we interact with money.

Two Types of Money

Theology concerns itself primarily with our relationship to an original and all-inclusive power. Jesus’ life took on a very political character, which means that Jesus was living into the story and history of a rabbinical Jewish prophetic tradition at a particular time and place in actual human history.

Incarnation means this life – Jesus – was in the world and in history. And He constructed His life to make himself a Rosetta Stone, a translator between the creative God of that prophetic tradition and the actual circumstances of 1st Century Palestine.

The basis of His message was peacemaking – an active verb. The message can only be delivered by someone’s hands… and, not surprisingly, He understood that this message is generally delivered into someone’s stomach.

He identified violence, retribution, and domination as central to the character of the Spirit of Malevolence… the name for this wandering spirit according to Job… is Satan. In Luke 10:1-3, it says:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

Jesus commands the most perilous way: provocation with peace. Lambs among wolves. Let your fear fall away, and the temptations of Satan – to violence, domination, and retribution – fall away with it.

Luke 10:18-20:

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

And so Jesus provoked authority, again and again, and refused the temptations of power inhering in his own movement; and that approach led him to the cross, “like a lamb among the wolves.”

How he concretely provoked that power, however, was not a template for all time. He did so in the situated context of 1st Century Palestine. He had to discern the details and trends and contexts of that actual place at that actual time.

We live in a different time and place, inside a different emergent reality from the environment where Jesus lived… as a human being.

So we have to understand our own milieu… zeitgeist… moment… conjuncture… world.

I think that Jesus understood money very deeply – epistemologically, sociologically, semiotically… even when thee concepts were not yet formalized into academic sub-disciplines. He had an intuition from his own experience, focused as it was through his empathy for those on the margins.

Money had then, and has now, a two-fold character: commercial and political.

First, it has a commercial character. Commercial money is used to facilitate exchange of unlike items through a desirable like item. It is, therefore, one degree more abstract than straight barter. It can be gold or corn seeds or cowry shells. It can be, and often is, local. As Manuel DeLanda points out (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History), in prison, cigarettes become local currency.

Second, money that has begun to universalize based on migrations and overlapping social meshworks is subject to political control. This process moves money further away from spontaneity and toward being “planned.” Planned money is both more political and more abstract.

States and empires use planned monetary systems as mechanisms for population control. As a necessity (to pay taxes, or – in our ultra-dependent case – to live at all), money binds us. Yet as a dead thing, an abstracted thing, an apparently unresponsive thing, money is impervious to our grievances; and it presents itself to us without apparent correspondence to real human beings controlling real political systems.

We recognize money uncritically. It’s “just money.”

And so money facilitates the power of elites even as it keeps elites invisible. Money creates the illusion of choice and freedom; and it makes power invisible.

Planned money is not merely a stimulant to trade. It is a social regulation institution.

“Whose image is on that coin?”

Money Talks

We said at the beginning that “money masks.” Now we need to think about how “money talks.”

Money masks; and money talks.

Money homogenizes everything under its banner. It is a cosmic blender.

We know from the Old Testament that unification through homogenization is a problem. We see that in the story of the Tower of Babel.

The disguised name for Babylon is hardly subtle here.

Egypt. Babylon. Rome.

The great city and the empire are inseparable. In fact, the great city is the embryo of empire. Ferdinand Braudel, in Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800, wrote:

[T]owns… represented an enormous expenditure. Their economy was only balanced by outside resources; others had to pay for their luxury. What use were they therefore, in the West, where they sprang up and asserted themselves so powerfully? The answer is that they produced the modern states, an enormous task requiring enormous effort. They produced the national markets, without which the modern state would be a pure fiction.

Empire needs to be defined. It is difficult to do so without veering into polemics, because naming empire is itself a political unmasking.

But empire can be described empirically (which is not quite synonymous with “abstractly”). Empire is the systematic exploitation of the periphery to support the center; and this exploitation has a two-way dynamic. It draws consumables from periphery to center; and it exports waste and disorder to the periphery.

This is actually a thermodynamic process, and so can be described empirically without resort to moral norms. In our day, for example, we can see quite clearly that the US – with 5% of the total world population – consumes more than 25% of the world’s fossil hydrocarbon energy production.

Exploitation of the periphery by the city-center was well understood by Jesus of Nazareth, who – as resident of a highly exploited and marginal area (Galilee) – saw goods flow toward Jerusalem (the city-center of the Herodian colonial surrogate government) and more generally from Palestine to Rome, even as economic, ecologic, and social disorder were exported from the centers back to the margins.

Jesus’ use of the term “repent,” in meeting with John the Baptist in the countryside along the Jordan River, is extremely significant.

“Repent” means “turn around.” The flow of people, of goods, and even of the of the Zealots’ quests to overturn imperial power, were movements from margin to center… in other words, along the imperial current. But Jesus says to “turn around,” whereupon He himself heads not to Jerusalem, but to the wilderness. And His ministry was not to power, not to the center, but to the marginalized.

In the Tower of Babel story, God’s correction involves not only the destruction of the tower to human hubris, but perhaps even more significantly, the division of peoples into separate, local, linguistic communities.

If money is a language, it serenades the top, it speaks to the center, and it curses the margins.

Language to Describe Language

Christians’ discernment of the process of history unfolding around us ought to speak at least two languages for describing our own epoch – (a) the language of Scripture, rendered intelligible by scholarship as a responsibility of discipleship, and (b) the language of the present.

In our modernist idiom, we might describe money using a physiological metaphor.

Money is a solvent that dissolves the connective tissue of community.

Scripture language:

But Peter said to him, May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain Gods gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.

– Acts 8:20-22

The Magic Ring

In the classic Tolkein trilogy – now also a movie trilogy – a kind, humble, decent protagonist comes into possession of a magic ring that does two things at once: It renders him invisible to everyone around him when he dons it; but by doing so, he becomes directly visible to the malevolent gaze of the uber-demon, Sauron, and his relentless ring wraiths.

Tales involving invisibility are recurring imaginary constants in many cultures. Because we are all subject to the temptations inside this fantasy – of being invisible, we are alert to the correspondence of invisibility with a moral hazard.

We know what we imagine we would do if we could be invisible.

We are broken, and so we can know broken-ness, temptation. If I were invisible for a day, I would ____ (fill in the blank).

Invisibility-as-moral-hazard cuts two ways: Invisibility of power opens the door to power without accountability; and amoral instrumentality in the individual causes “the least among us” to become invisible.

Money plays a key role in both aspects of invisibility. Like Sauron’s magic ring, money contains a dangerous paradox in its very composition and existence.

The exchange of money in the marketplace puts a retail worker and a buyer in contact with each other. The social networks and character of life of the buyer are invisible – and of little interest – to the retail worker, and vice-versa; and behind the retail worker is also a completely monetized network of relationships – instrumental relationships – relations that would not exist except for a monetary (contractual) interest. This deeper network that, in effect, controls the encounter of the retail worker with the buyer, involves vast and unequal relations-of-production; and the built environment itself in which this exchange takes place is the product of money-“making” enterprise.

I drop by the store and buy a gallon of milk. In-and-out in five minutes.

And that’s what I saw. That’s all. The rest is invisible, even though it is manifest in the most basic and profound way. Power invisible is power unaccountable. Money invisiblizes power.

And the single-mindedness that accompanies a single magic key to survival in our actually-structured society – money – bends our personalities to instrumentalism (even with other people) by constant practice. In that process, we learn not to see the casualties. We know who they are: the ones we have to pretend not to see, and thereby do not see.

Time is money, money time. That’s what “they” say.

I don’t know if we can throw money – like the magic ring – back into the fires of Mount Doom. But we can know that the more general-purpose and de-localized the money, the more effective it is as a solvent eating away at the connective tissue of community. We can not simply dismiss the need for a deep critique of money, even if raising the question can seem more perilous than opening Pandora’s infamous box.

More specifically, we need to take a hard look at the currency that dominates the actual world-system economy, and the currency that is at the heart of the economic crisis we are inside of.

Dollar Hegemony

In 2002, investment analyst Henry C. K. Liu penned an article for Asia Times entitled “Dollar hegemony has got to go.” In the small circle of people who were then paying attention to the widening contradiction between the financial economy and the real one, Liu’s article popularized his term, “dollar hegemony.”

Dollar hegemony is a description of global economics that describes the impact of the dollar as the recognized, universal, international currency, since the dollar abandoned the gold standard in 1971, then decoupled from the fixed currency exchange rates of the post-World War II Bretton Woods agreements in 1973.

In brief, from Liu:

…World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy. The worlds interlinked economies no longer trade to capture a comparative advantage; they compete in exports to capture needed dollars to service dollar-denominated foreign debts and to accumulate dollar reserves to sustain the exchange value of their domestic currencies. To prevent speculative and manipulative attacks on their currencies, the worlds central banks must acquire and hold dollar reserves in corresponding amounts to their currencies in circulation. The higher the market pressure to devalue a particular currency, the more dollar reserves its central bank must hold. This creates a built-in support for a strong dollar that in turn forces the worlds central banks to acquire and hold more dollar reserves, making it stronger. This phenomenon is known as dollar hegemony, which is created by the geopolitically constructed peculiarity that critical commodities, most notably oil, are denominated in dollars. Everyone accepts dollars because dollars can buy oil. The recycling of petro-dollars is the price the US has extracted from oil-producing countries for US tolerance of the oil-exporting cartel since 1973.

By definition, dollar reserves must be invested in US assets, creating a capital-accounts surplus for the US economy. Even after a year of sharp correction, US stock valuation is still at a 25-year high and trading at a 56 percent premium compared with emerging markets… [This was written in 2002. –SG]

… A strong-dollar policy is in the US national interest because it keeps US inflation low through low-cost imports and it makes US assets expensive for foreign investors. This arrangement, which Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan proudly calls US financial hegemony in congressional testimony, has kept the US economy booming in the face of recurrent financial crises in the rest of the world. It has distorted globalization into a race to the bottom process of exploiting the lowest labor costs and the highest environmental abuse worldwide to produce items and produce for export to US markets in a quest for the almighty dollar, which has not been backed by gold since 1971, nor by economic fundamentals for more than a decade. The adverse effect of this type of globalization on the developing economies are obvious. It robs them of the meager fruits of their exports and keeps their domestic economies starved for capital, as all surplus dollars must be reinvested in US treasuries to prevent the collapse of their own domestic currencies.

The adverse effect of this type of globalization on the US economy is also becoming clear. In order to act as consumer of last resort for the whole world, the US economy has been pushed into a debt bubble that thrives on conspicuous consumption and fraudulent accounting. The unsustainable and irrational rise of US equity prices, unsupported by revenue or profit, had merely been a devaluation of the dollar.

And so it came to pass.

The moral of this tale, and this extended quote, is that money has consistently been used as a weapon for imperial power; but that the more abstract, universal, and general-purpose the money is, the more destructive its payload.

I don’t agree with the idea that ignorance is like a closed room. Ignorance is unprotected. Ignorance is not matter; it is space.

We are not hurt by ignorance per se, but ignorance leaves the door unlocked to let the devil in. We need to know as much as we can about money, and be fearless in facing the implications of what we learn.

Money and Scripture

Master, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.

-Matthew 25:24-25

A hard man (like the heart of Pharaoh, hard). Rewarding usury. Money-making as virtue. A man who “reaps where he does not sow.”

Many interpretations read this passage as if it were a tract from Murray Rothbard. Usury was a sin among Jews. In Jesus’ story, the virtuous man, who the Master – an absentee landlord, the kind Palestinian peasants knew well as oppressors – throws into the darkness (unlike the merciful God that Jesus represented), takes this money (a talent was an extraordinary amount for a servant) and buries it.

Money allows many to reap where they do not sow. This is the most basic description of material injustice. The appropriation of the work of another.

Jesus was an observant Jew. The law was no usury between Jew and Jew. The law was no interest more than 12% to outsiders. Yet the servant commended by the master in this story – by this absentee landlord “who reaps what he does not sow” – has cashed out at 100%.

A charismatic Jewish renewalist in 30 AD Palestine, preaching to the poor, does not mean – nor his listeners hear – in this tale of the talents, that a despised figure (the exploitative landowner) is a stand-in for God, the bank manager; nor does he use a clearly-understood violation of Jewish law as an example of the virtue of successful usury.

Jesus told his listeners that discipleship is hard. A warning to his own disciples, Jesus – who will be nailed to the cross – lets them know in this parable that following him will lead the world – represented by this absentee landlord – to throw them into the darkness to wail and gnash their teeth.

Discipleship is not cheap or easy, this parable warns. And the question of money emerges again and again in these examples Jesus provides.

This story of the Parable of the Talents is frequently cited today as Christ’s personal blessing, nay, encouragement, of successful monetary return-on-investment schemes; just as Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and Herodians is portrayed as a call to obey secular authority.

Both of these wrong ideas have great popular currency; and both are clearly based on the evasion of rigorous scholarship.

Confronting these opportunistic (and anachronistic) interpretations of scripture is a critical task in the struggle to reclaim a church with the Beatitudes as its constitution.

Just as important as the kind of contextualizing scholarship that reminds us of what 1st Century Palestine was actually like, the way social relations were actually structured, and the implications of context on text, is discernment of our own age. We have to understand and deal with money in ways that reflect deep discernment and avoid rationalization and simplification.

Paul Tillich described sin in its structural aspect. Social structures can force us all into complicity; and as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove pointed out, when the Bible says “you,” the meaning is “y’all.” Not merely a person, but a people.

Out entanglement in structural sin is a function of dependency; and no dependency is so thoroughgoing as dependency on money.

When I was in the Army, I was trained to use explosives. At least within the ken of the military mindset, there were times when explosives were necessary. But they were used when nothing else would get the job done; and we were taught to use them with great care. The potential for destruction was too high to handle them any other way.

I think we should begin to understand money with the same sense of extreme precaution. Money may be necessary to do some things… now. But our cavalier and undiscerning use of it contributes to massive destruction, so ubiquitous and frequent that we call it part of life, worse… part of God’s plan. We are getting better at naming people who are careless with the lives of others and Creation; but we still haven’t looked deeply into money’s role.

Gun culture is fond of saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True, and a truism. But a partial truth, and an intentionally partial truth, worse than a lie. Put people into bad circumstances and introduce guns and things get a lot worse a lot faster. Guns add that special lethality.

But how often do we pass around money and call it service, and how self-critical do we need to be in light of the deeper dynamics of money, about our advocacy for the poor, for example, when we demand more money instead of more independence from the money-grid and more inter-dependence on the community?

I have lost track of how many times I’ve seen money – funding, it’s called – put service and advocacy organizations into structural antagonism, an economy of scarcity, in which people are talking like Jesus and acting like Hobbes.

Can we at least seek a non-monetary answer first, instead of reaching for the blasting caps and time fuse?

The implications are mind-boggling, because money is so thoroughly imbricated with every aspect of our lives.

I think that Jesus knew this. I think that in the best way it could be said to the peasantry of 1st Century Palestine, He explained it. I think we’ve been running from the implications ever since, because money makes things easier, more convenient… until it doesn’t.

You can’t serve God and money at the same time, He said.

Without the most convoluted rationalizations, how do we explain what he meant? I mean really.

I am not saying that we declare war on the money-form, or that we discontinue giving money to the poor. Jesus told people to do precisely that.

The poor use money for necessities, like a soldier uses explosives when nothing else will do. But do we tell the poor, your salvation (healing) is in a steady income, i.e., money?

I put these thoughts and questions out there to start a conversation. Structural sins may demand structural redemptions.

Last Word

Luke 6:17-49:

17 and he came down with them, and stood on a level place, and a great multitude of his disciples, and a great number of the people from all Judaea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases;

18 and they that were troubled with unclean spirits were healed.

19 And all the multitude sought to touch him; for power came forth from him, and healed them all.

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of mans sake.

23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.

25 Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.

26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets.

27 But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you,

28 bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.

29 To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also.

30 Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.

31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

32 And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them.

33 And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same.

34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much.

35 But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.

36 Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

37 And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released:

38 give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.

39 And he spake also a parable unto them, Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit?

40 The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher.

41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brothers eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

42 Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brothers eye.

43 For there is no good tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit; nor again a corrupt tree that bringeth forth good fruit.

44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

47 Every one that cometh unto me, and heareth my words, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like:

48 he is like a man building a house, who digged and went deep, and laid a foundation upon the rock: and when a flood arose, the stream brake against that house, and could not shake it: because it had been well builded.

49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that built a house upon the earth without a foundation; against which the stream brake, and straightway it fell in; and the ruin of that house was great.


After Sex War – or Reflections on Jesus, Gender and Postmodern Life

Stan Goff

“In many pre-modern, traditional societies it is through his or her membership in a variety of social groups that the individual identifies himself or herself and is identified by others. I am brother, cousin and grandson, member of this household, that village, this tribe. These are not characteristics that belong to human beings accidentally, to be stripped away in order to discover ‘the real me’. They are part of my substance, defining partially at least and sometimes wholly my obligations and my duties. Individuals inherit a particular space within an interlocking set of social relationships: Lacking that space, they are nobody, or at least a stranger and an outcast. To know oneself as such a social person is however not to occupy a static and fixed position. It is to find oneself placed at a certain point on a journey with set goals; to move through life is to make progress – or fail to make progress – toward a given end. Thus a completed and fulfilled life is an achievement and death is the point at which someone can be judged happy or unhappy. Hence the ancient Greek proverb: ‘Call no man happy until he is dead.’

“This conception of a whole human life as the primary subject of objective and impersonal evaluation, of a type of evaluation which provides the content for judgment upon the particular actions or projects of a given individual, is something that ceases to be generally available at some point in the progress – if we can call it such – towards and into modernity. It passes to some degree unnoticed, for it is celebrated historically for the most part not as a loss, but as a self-congratulatory gain, as the emergence of the individual freed on the one hand from the social bonds of those constraining hierarchies which the modern world rejected at its birth and on the other hand from what modernity has taken to be the superstitions of teleology.”

-Alasdair MacIntyre, from After Virtue (1981), pages 33-34.

Alasdair MacIntyre


A Short Bibliographical History

In 2006, after firing my publisher, I used a publish-on-demand outfit to put out Sex War, a book about militarism and gender. At some point, I was talked into simply making the book free online; and so it is now. It was not a great work of literature; nor was it groundbreaking in terms of theory. But it is a book by a former military practitioner that attempts to be critical and self-critical about the gender-dimensions of militarism.


A lot has changed since then in the world and in my own life. For anyone who might be interested, this is an update and a reflection on the book and how my perspectives have evolved since I wrote it.

So why the MacIntyre quote at the front end?

MacIntyre’s work in moral philosophy is the latest piece of a puzzle that started coming together for me with Catharine MacKinnon around 2004 (the accumulation of Scottish surnames is purely coincidental, I think). MacKinnon is a law professor, and she published a book in 1991 called Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989), that did a very systematic take-down of liberal law. I found that book languishing in a used book store, and since I was deeply into my Marxist phase, the subject of the state preoccupied me a great deal. It is probably no accident that MacKinnon, MacIntyre and I each went through a Marxist phase, and I’ll come back to that subject by-and-by. At any rate, once MacKinnon had unpacked liberal law for me, I had the tools to apprehend other writers, like Carolyn Merchant and Carole Pateman, who unpacked scientific “objectivity” and the “social contract,” likewise exposing the gendered history and character of these supposedly gender-neutral notions, and I was well on my way to questioning the basis of modernism – a topic that wasn’t really on my radar before, though the machinations and evolutions of capitalism certainly were.

Catharine MacKinnon

All these insights began to make me highly suspicious of abstraction, since I was beginning to see abstraction as a constant in this phenomenon called modernism, which contained capitalism and various resistances to capitalism within it, resistance often framed in terms of something called “development.”

At the suggestion of my late Welsh communist pen-pal, Mark Jones, who had taken a strong interest in matters of ecology-and-society, I looked into the work of Swedish anthropologist Alf Hornborg, specifically his book, The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment (2001). Hornborg’s book clarified and consolidated my thinking on the relation between energy, money and semiotics; and his book did a great deal to resolve some of the apparent contradictions in the academic philosophical positions of “objectivism” and “constructivism.” More than anything, Power of the Machine exposed me to Polanyi’s “disembeddedness” and Weber’s “disenchantment,” which fit nicely into the puzzle that began with MacKinnon’s critique of liberal law.

Hornborg has described himself as a skeptical anti-modernist, which differentiates him from – I assume – a Catholic anti-modernist like MacIntyre or the late Ivan Illich.

In 2006, I began to understand that many of the ethical impulses of my own radical politics had their origins in Christianity, a point made by Nietzsche, with whom I had some passing familiarity, but not one that I had grabbed hold of in any decisive way. I became interested in the early church and Jesus as an historical figure, and in the pursuit of that interest, I experienced what Christians refer to as a call. In 2008, I was baptized.

I was then aimed at another writer, a philosopher professor and theologian named Stanley Hauerwas, who was working at Duke University just miles away from my Raleigh home. My pastor, Greg Moore, who had attended some of Hauerwas’ classes, arranged for me to meet Stanley Hauerwas for lunch one day, after I had read some of his essays. We had a delightful conversation, after which Stanley bought me a copy of John Howard Yoder’s canonical work on Christian pacifism, The Politics of Jesus (1972).

Hauerwas’ writing shared the critique of modernist abstraction that I had found in various feminist thinkers, as well as in Hornborg, and so I seized on Hauerwas’ ideas as well. Not surprisingly, Hauerwas – a nearly Catholic theologian in many respects – had actually approvingly cited MacKinnon, specifically on her point that sex in the real world cannot be separated from social power.

It was in reading Hauerwas’ bibliographies that I became interested in MacIntyre, a former Marxist who had also converted in his 50s, and who had deconstructed the moral incoherence of modernism in his book, After Virtue (1981). This completes – thus far in August 2011 – a highly abbreviated bibliographical account of my post-Sex War evolution.

Now I ought to explain this puzzle I’ve been putting together in greater detail.

I should say, as I similarly disclaimed in Sex War, that I am not doing anything original, but piecing together what I have learned from others since then, based on what I had pieced together what I learned from others back then in order to write the book.

I write things down, and I’ve been doing that for a while, so now I feel compelled to write things down, as much to clear up what I’m thinking more than to assert what I’m thinking, even when in writing I may sound far more assertive than I feel. It’s just something I do, and something apparently I need to do; and my hope is that once I get it down, there might be some conversations about it that make things even clearer.

“Nothing in history (collective or individual) is lost, but everything is qualitatively transformed.”

-Jacques Ellul


Identities and Privilege

For quite some time now, ever since writing Sex War, I’ve been insisting that much of what goes by the name post-modernism is merely modernism grown into its own reductio ad absurdum… sharing more with consumerism than anything else that comes readily to mind.

In the case of gender, or rather Gender Studies – because in this case I am speaking about a particular academic doctrine that had phagocyted feminism in the Academy – this is associated with “third wave” or “anti-essentialist” or postmodern feminism (not meaning to imply that these are monolithic either), which began as a sensible critique of modernist and ethnocentric certainties inside and outside of feminism, and which then fragmented into endless divisions and sub-divisions based on various “identities,” in the case of Gender Studies, identities based on sex in some manner.

(One does not have an integrated social identity in this scheme, but each person is the “possessor” of multiple identities, which seems to echo Erving Goffman’s ahistorical notion of selfhood wherein we put on and take off roles like costumes, the wearer of those costumes being a kind of disembodied ghost.)


Parallel to that activity, and because leftist politics was and is still a preoccupation that is closely associated with the Academy (leftist politics is virtually dead among the US working class), this tendency infiltrated anti-establishment politics, and showed up – again out of an impulse of good will – as a form of education called anti-oppression training, that emphasized recognition of one’s own and others’ privileges. I was involved in such training myself some years ago, where white privilege was the issue under review; and there was a great deal to be said for these trainings. They uncover a lot of hidden assumptions that we inherit from positions of privilege within the culture, and give us a greater appreciation of what it is like living in someone else’s skin.

The training concepts are summed up in the metaphor of an invisible backpack.

The invisible backpack was a notion introduced by Peggy McIntosh, if I recall correctly; and one was directed to unpack various privileges that he or she (as a white person) took for granted. McIntosh called these privileges invisible weightless … special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.


My friend and the editor of Sex War, who is also co-owner of the blog Feral Scholar, is De Clarke; and in 1981, she penned a poem called “privilege” that applied this insight to sex, which I will reprint here in its entirety, because it illustrates very well why this recognition of privilege is useful for explaining forms of social disempowerment that attach to some people (in this case over half of all people), and the disempowerment does not require legal inequality to exist:


a poem for men who dont understand what we mean when we say they have it

D.A. Clarke

[reprinted from Banshee, Peregrine Press
Copyright 1981 D. A. Clarke. All Rights Reserved]

privilege is simple:

going for a pleasant stroll after dark,
not checking the back of your car as you get in, sleeping soundly,
speaking without interruption, and not remembering
dreams of rape, that follow you all day, that woke you crying, and

is not seeing your stripped, humiliated body
plastered in celebration across every magazine rack, privilege
is going to the movies and not seeing yourself
terrorized, defamed, battered, butchered
seeing something else

privilege is
riding your bicycle across town without being screamed at or
run off the road, not needing an abortion, taking off your shirt
on a hot day, in a crowd, not wishing you could type better
just in case, not shaving your legs, having a decent job and
expecting to keep it, not feeling the bosss hand up your crotch,
dozing off on late-night busses, privilege

is being the hero in the TV show not the dumb broad,
living where your genitals are totemized not denied,
knowing your doctor wont rape you

privilege is being
smiled at all day by nice helpful women, it is
the way you pass judgment on their appearance with magisterial authority,
the way you face a judge of your own sex in court and
are over-represented in Congress and are not strip searched for a traffic ticket
or used as a dart board by your friendly mechanic, privilege

is seeing your bearded face reflected through the history texts
not only of your high school days but all your life, not being
relegated to a paragraph
every other chapter, the way you occupy
entire volumes of poetry and more than your share of the couch unchallenged,
it is your mouthing smug, atrocious insults at women
who blink and change the subject politely privilege

is how seldom the rapists name appears in the papers
and the way you smirk over your PLAYBOY

its simple really, privilege
means someone elses pain, your wealth
is my terror, your uniform
is a woman raped to death here, or in Cambodia or wherever
wherever your obscene privilege
writes your name in my blood, its that simple,
youve always had it, thats why it doesnt
seem to make you sick to your stomach,
you have it, we pay for it, now
do you understand

This predated “The Invisible Knapsack” by seven years.

Now it must be said that De is a representative of something that was retroactively named “second wave feminism,” by “third-wavers” in order to distinguish it and expel it from the “postmodern” third-wave; and this is an important point to which I will return later, after I explain how this privilege-analysis became problematic. These women who explored sex and power in this way didn’t see themselves as a wave, but called themselves simply “radical feminists,” a reference to the term radical meaning “at the roots.” They sought to understand male power all the way down to its roots, and they thought about how to resist that power, as women – women being not just a biological status, but a cultural and political identity.

The Abstraction of Identity


There is a kind of uprooting – of identity, not of political power – but an uprooting of personal identity; and it is important now to distinguish that so I don’t confuse you by using the same term “identity” for two different things. That other kind of identity is personal identity, or personhood, or how one experiences selfhood as a whole.

I began with MacIntyre’s points about the progressive uprooting of this kind of personal identity in the evolution of modernism; because it clarifies to some extent my own discomfort with the notion of “identity” advanced by this thing called postmodernism, which shares more than anything else this deracination that McIntyre describes as modernist.


This uprooting corresponds to two other phenomena: disembeddedness and disenchantment. Alf Hornborg has written about disembeddedness (as described by Karl Polanyi) and disenchantment (as described by Weber), and how these phenomena underwrite the ecological destruction of modernity. Polanyi was describing an economic phenomenon – how economic decisions are further and further removed from place and non-economic relations. Weber was describing the loss of a sense of enchantment, of the spiritual, mystical or divine, from modernist society.

Hornborg put the two together to show how each concept related to a sense of place, of belonging, and how that belongingness contributes to a sense of the sacred. Together, economic disembedding and cultural disenchantment were part of the objectification of the world, which allow us to think of something like a forest or a meadow as a “natural resource.”

The family pharmacy in the small town, where the children of the pharmacist attend school with the children of the pharmacist’s customers, perhaps attend the same church, is an example of embeddedness, when it is compared to the new CVS that opens at the new strip mall, a standardized and sterile presence unattached to any sense of place except as a matter of advantageous location.


The land that was once a farm among other farms, where there are associations between those farms, the people who live there, the history, the kinship relations, the shared cemetery, is rendered less “enchanted” by these emotionally resonant shared histories when it is bought by a developer and turned into a subdivision.

Once we accept the “progress” embodied by these changes, once we allow ourselves to be swept up in this general objectification and depersonalization, we inevitably reflect that acceptance in our sense of identity, as described by MacIntyre – who says that the uprooting of personal identity from personal and community history, kinship, and place “is celebrated historically for the most part not as a loss, but as a self-congratulatory gain, as the emergence of the individual freed on the one hand from the social bonds of those constraining hierarchies which the modern world rejected…”

There is no doubt that many of those kinship relations – for example, wife – under various circumstances were unhappy (or that some were happy). In certain places and times, this status is embedded – with all the sense of history and belongingness that provides an aspect of that identity McIntyre describes as substantive – and at the same time, this status in certain places and times may be a denial of full personhood, an absolute subjection to the will of a “husband,” and even involve acceptance of terrible abuse, including forced sex.

critique of this hierarchy by women who were and are part of the feminist movement, like the critique of master-servant relations by other groups, has been an aspect of modernism every bit as much as the ecological destruction of modernism, which has been facilitated by the same dissolution of cultural bonds that opened the door for certain political projects of emancipation.

So there is no easy way to dismiss modernism with a blanket judgment one way or another.

In MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, he also emphasizes that modernism as a philosophical phenomenon has removed all criteria for ethical judgments – a move he calls “emotivism,” in which every point of view is represented ultimately as a personal choice (presumably driven in the final analysis by personal desires and preferences); and conjoined this realm of personal choice in all matters with a political regime that exercises power through a bureaucratic apparatus controlled by a managerial class – which serves as a kind of umpire in conflicts arising between all these criterion-less personal choices. He calls this a system of bureaucratic individualism, which is “postmodern” at least in its individualistic pluralism.

Before this becomes interminably confusing, there is a caveat. MacInytre has been called postmodern, because like many self-professed postmodernists, he questions many of the certainties of earlier modernity. Like the term feminist, postmodern has become a modifier with so many contradictory meanings that we will be clearer by adhering to specific instances and contexts and spelling out what we mean as we go along.

The point here is not the overblown certainties of some modern thinkers, but pluralism down to the level of someone called the individual. MacIntyre’s use of the term “objective and impersonal” above is not the same as modern “objectivity and impersonality.” Modernity defines objective as everywhere and nowhere; whereas, MacIntyre’s account is the ethos of a community that transcends and defines its individuals, whose identities as members of that community are shared along with some baseline narrative that constitutes the community.

MacIntyre’s critique of modernism is that it has become morally incoherent, a jumble of incommensurable moral positions, none of them analytically defensible, that are negotiated by bureaucratic authority (which itself relies on a utilitarian ethos that is at perpetually odds with the rights-ethos of individualism) – which might be reasonably called a postmodern recognition of the modern moral condition.


Pluralism of ethical norms, which preoccupies MacIntyre’s theses on moral philosophy, corresponds to pluralism of “identity” as suggested by postmodern academics. These pluralisms are made possible by the uprootedness of (post)modern culture, which corresponds economically, historically and culturally to consumerism.


A World System Divided into Producers and Consumrs


One of my favorite books is Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour (1986), by Maria Mies. The awful title belies a marvelous book in which Mies (who co-authored Ecofeminism -1993- with Vandana Shiva) describes a process whereby married women were transformed from wives into “housewives,” a process she named “housewifization.”


In this process, which corresponded historically with an increase in consumer goods that needed to be soaked up by markets, the wife – who had been a critical actor earlier economies, whether agrarian, cottage-industry or even factory – was redefined as housewife, a person who was the colonial subject of the “little white man” (this was a white male working class and petit bourgeois identity, explained in the link to Mies’ analysis – the Big White Man is the colonial power-holder, over actual colonies and over great means of production), and whose main purpose – aside from serving the little white man, was to buy consumer goods.

In the United States, after the Great Depression followed by World War II (in which many women worked in factories), the war industries were converted into domestic engines of consumer good production – especially of household goods, like washers, dryers, vacuum cleaners, and various home maintenance products, as well as cosmetics and other goods that made women more “appealing” to the “little white man” each of them served. The man was available to the army of labor outside the home. The housewife, then, had four main functions: to maintain the house, to provide child care services, to be sexually alluring and available to the little white man, and to buy consumer goods. The virtue of frugality that corresponded to the Depression and the war were replaced after the war, during the post-war boom years, by relentless encouragement to purchase and consume, and eventually to use a lot of easily available credit.

Further along in the post-war years, as domestic industry floundered in the United States and neoliberalism emerged as the US resolution to its crisis, the world economy was reorganized in such a way that production of goods outside the United States became a method to obtain US dollars to service debts, and the US role in that globalized economy became global consumer-of-last-instance. The US was required to soak up excess production to ensure rates of profit and uninterrupted capital accumulation.

As this became the case, the demand to consume was enlarged from housewives to the entire US culture, and with this development, we saw the emergence of consumerism – and the expansion of advertising and public relations as a “demand production industry – as the hegemonic mindset. Our activity was more and more dominated by the consumption of commodities, often well beyond our actual necessities; and we came to identify more and more with the products we consumed.

Consumerist boosters, like politicians, economists, public relations people and advertisers, adopted the liberatory language of (post)modernist pluralism. Freedom, choice, self-invention, status, and desire (as well as cultivated insecurities) became the watchwords of a culture that – as the most primary matter – consumed… that is, bought things (using more and more credit, but that is another long story with a bad ending).

Hat tip to Amy Laura Hall for this ad

The website Ad Age lists the top 100 advertising campaigns, and the blurb-appeals include: “ “just do it,” “you deserve a break today,” “a diamond is forever,” “tastes great, less filling,” “does she or doesn’t she,” “good to the last drop,” “the Pepsi generation,” “have it your way,” “the skin you love to touch,” “share the fantasy,” “know what comes between me and my Calvins? … nothing,” “always a bride’s maid, but never a bride,” “you’ll wonder where the yellow went,” “when you care enough to send the very best,” “the ultimate driving machine,” and so they go.

Women were encouraged to smoke cigarettes as a symbol of their longing for emancipation with:

“You’ve come a long way, baby,
To get where you got to today.
You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby.
You’ve come a long, long way.”

-Virginia Slims cigarette commercial


CHOICE becomes paramount, and the question of how context places limits on CHOICE fades back out of the picture. This is at the core of what MacKinnon explained about liberal law, when she noted that abstract equality under the law served to conceal and reproduce existing concrete inequalities.

Those choices that MacIntyre speaks of, choices between which ethical stance one decides to adopt, or whether to adopt an ethical stance at all (as Kierkegaard then Nietzsche posed the question), are expressed in late modernity (or postmodernity, if you insist) as individual rights. I have a right to decide whether I want to be a Catholic, an atheist, an animist, a Buddhist or a hedonist. I have a right to do whatever I want, so long as I don’t infringe that same right in others – this is the essence of classical liberalism, an outgrowth of post-Enlightenment modernity; and it is obviously a political assertion. To assert a right (whatever a right is – another tricky issue once it is examined) is a political act.

The FREEDOM OF CHOICE becomes paramount, and the question of how context places limits on FREEDOM OF CHOICE fades back out of the picture.


The game-aspect of politics complicates this conceptual legerdemain, because these freedoms can be challenges to the entitlements and privileges of others; leading to backlash, which then polarizes people around political questions. That polarization causes the tactics to trump the original principles of position in process I will describe later as dog-waggery.

Because modern, disembedded society has no shared moral tradition to which it can appeal – for good or ill – to settle these disputes, and because disputants are frequently not even known to each other, the matter is referred to a bureaucratic state, in which a complex system of elections, administration and courts adjudicate the question of rights between all these deracinated “interests.” Political questions, therefore, are not settled based solely on the merits of disputing arguments, but are referred into a system that requires all manner of strategic maneuvering; and that maneuvering comes to overshadow the dispute itself – which may be nuanced, but which becomes further polarized into enemy camps whose primary purpose comes to be defeating each other.

Given that there are no strong communal ties based on historical association and kinship, people’s competing identities – selected on purely political grounds, often growing out of the most superficial kind of self-interest – lead them to assess others (manipulatively) as allies and enemies. Life itself is perceived to be wholly embodied in this contest between political identities.

Ironically, the more intellectually critical members of the consumer society are those most preoccupied with politics, with most of the rest participating out of direct and uncritical consumer self-interest… shopping and consuming.

As a former soldier and a former communist, I know this story very well. Our identities become abstracted and simplified into categories; and they are all political categories. At least it gives us some sense that we belong to some kind of community, and we have guidelines for what to do. I accomplish missions, or I advance the cause of class struggle. Then the mission to destroy the enemy subsumes the question of means… sigh.


Politics and the Abstraction of Identity


In a individualistic pluralist society, the function of ruling bureaucratic managers is to umpire – that is, ensure that each person’s rights are protected as far as is feasible… theoretically.

In fact, those with the most economic power exercise enough influence, as part of an interlocking directorate of the elite, to ensure no rules are established that will fatally undermine their position of power, even if popular forces occasionally force negotiation of certain aspects of power. Choices that are made available are circumscribed by what does and does not undermine the power of the powerful.

One result of the post-Enlightenment paradigm of bureaucratic individualism is that one social role has taken on immense importance as the specialty that sets up communication between the individual and the bureaucracy: lawyers.


No one point of view can be hegemonic, and so rule defaults to a strictly managerial class that relies on force overseeing a collection of disembedded, disenchanted, rights-demanding individuals, each entitled to choose who they want to be – that is, to choose an identity.

This, of course, conflicts with those aspects of identity that MacIntyre described as pre-modern: I am the son of Stewart and Jean Goff; I am the husband of Sherry; I am the father of Elan, the stepfather of Jessie, Jayme and Jeremy; brother of Celia and Glen, grandfather to Jaydin, Jaycen, Alyssia and Janae; I was a member of 7th Special Forces, a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization; a member of Veterans For Peace; a member of All Saints United Methodist Church; like my father and mother before me, I like to fish (as do my brother and sister, as well as my daughter Elan); I am someone’s friend. Each of these instances “defin[ed] partially at least and sometimes wholly my obligations and my duties.” I “inherit[ed] a particular space within an interlocking set of social relationships.

Relations, not “interests” – obligations, not “values.”

In each of these instances, my identity was not abstracted onto a (political) demographic chart as (a) white, (b) male, (c) American, (d) heterosexual (I’ll question that “heterosexual” category later on, not just for me, but in general). You can place me in each of these categories by inference, but the categories themselves are what I find problematic.

These categories impute membership in groups the other members of which I overwhelmingly will never know, with whom I have no interlocking relations, and to which I owe no duties or obligations.

I do not know most white people, most males, most “heterosexuals,” and so forth.

None of our four grandchildren are “white” in this schema, yet none of them spends a great deal of time thinking, “I am not white,” and none of them think of me as white, male, American or heterosexual. I am to them a whole person, a grandfather they call Paw-Paw (or in Alyssia’s case, O-Paw, and Jaydin has taken to calling me “Stan” now).

I belong to two families, to a church, to a 12-step home group, to a committee that organized a community garden. These are not abstract choices, as far as I’m concerned, but crucial aspects of my whole social identity, which is not – as that identity is lived – perceived in categorical fragments as white, male, American, heterosexual. These community connections come from relations that intersect at this one point that is me – a breathing person; the “me” is not dissected and imagined out into these demographic boxes.

These generic characterizations are abstract, political categories. They emerged in politics (in struggles over power), and they are invoked in politics. It is important that I recognize my privilege in each category and that I understand the politics; but it is equally important that my life not become so relentlessly political that I begin to understand these abstractions as somehow swallowing up and erasing the more personal reality of me (and all those others in relation), this experience that is defined in my actions as father, brother, partner, friend, writer, worker, congregant, gardener, Christian (which by the way demands a blanket abdication of privilege when I live into it).


The Whiff of War

Politics is often understood implicitly as war, precisely because politics is seen as strategic. As that clever Jesuit Michel De Certeau explains on the subject of strategy, strategy forces each side to barricade and protect itself from the outside force within a controlled space or institution and divides the world into us (on the inside) and them (on the outside). That division between inside and outside comes to trump other considerations.

De Certeau

You can judge me on how I carry out my obligations and duties within those actual social groups where I live, if you know me. That would include whether I take advantage of those abstract demographic privileges in an unethical way. It is very difficult, however, to conclude much about me as a person on the basis of being white or male that is not immediately mitigated or altered in some way by the specificity of my circumstances.

In my past political work, consistent with De Certeau’s observations, I noticed that shift into the relentlessly political among my cohorts, especially the younger ones who were anxious to prove their political bona fides. They became watchful of their colleagues for displays of privilege, and they became self-consumed with rooting out any vestiges of it in themselves. Every action was analyzed and re-analyzed for the political substance of it, until there was little left but the politics.

Their relationships with one another, especially if there were multiple “identities” in the room, became stilted and probative, and they sometimes lost the capacity for spontaneity (thought they also sometimes simulated it). The formation of cliques was incessant.


Privilege became the singular lens through which they viewed the world, but not merely privilege – the privilege they could observe from their own occupancy in the privileged first-world. Some even became ascetic about it. This is not unique to the hermeneutic of privilege; it is typical of modern, ideological political culture.

I actually received an occasional lecture from someone decades my junior – white – on my white privilege, after having raised three black children and making some 21 trips to Haiti (where I lived with Haitians, not in hotels, and frequently in houses made of mud), where the devastation of power relations is on stark display every day. For many Haitians, a full belly is the main sign of privilege.

I was home with our non-white children, for the unfair suspensions, fights over name-calling, racist (and sexist) cops, and living, eating and sleeping in the same house with people who were divided from me by these abstract categories, and with whom I was and am in close, loving relation.

I got out of Haiti one time hours ahead of the last (US authored) coup d’etat, and went back twice to assist political fugitives (absolutely using some privileges to navigate where those under duress could not).

Privilege is a phenomenon so overlapping and nested and interlaced throughout the world that it cannot function as a singular hermeneutic; and when it is treated as one, it ends up creating cliques of the truly-enlightened. It must always be contextualized, and its treatment mitigated by context; and that does not mean merely ranking and re-ranking oneself and others according to privilege continua.

Do I still have the advantages of being “white”? (One of my nephews recently asked me if I was white?) Of course. That is inescapable. The question is, aside from not taking obvious advantage of that in particular situations, how is one to live his life in a state of hyper-vigilance around this one aspect of social existence? It is not feasible without becoming paralyzed; and it is not even desirable. My own children would think I had lost my mind.

As I will explain further down, one alternative is to live into each relationship according to its unique obligations.

I am not arguing that understanding privilege is not important. It is extremely important. Using it as one’s overarching hermeneutic guideline, however, leads to its own form of “othering.”


The Masculinity Thesis


The universality of war has created the universality of dominator masculinity. That was my thesis in Sex War.
But I was talking about that paradoxical “othering” that is created by a ideological political culture and the danger of the singular hermeneutic.

What was especially peculiar about my experience with the critics of privilege (remember, I agree with their basic thesis, just not their single-minded devotion to this one analytical category) was that those same people were ready to go to war with me about the things I was saying about sex… not things that obscured privilege, but precisely how sex is mixed up with social power, and most specifically how men’s social power – as men – is a constant in sexual relations, of all kinds – not just monogamous heterosex.

Here I will return to the question of “second-wave” and “third-wave” feminism, and how I ended up – by simply insisting that sex is inflected by male social power and following that assertion up by applying it to specific situations – on one side of an academic polemical barricade.


My thesis is well-known to anyone who knows me: masculinity is a cultural construction (though this doesn’t make me a “constructiivist”); and masculinity is predominantly constructed as domination and conquest. There are subliminal versions of this construction, because obviously men have to do a lot of other things within the late capitalist division of labor besides conquer and dominate. They are forced to shuffle paper and cut grass and so forth. Dominator masculinity is sublimated through sports, games, pornography, automobiles, entertainment fantasies, man-talk, sexual harassment and so forth.

By that I mean that biological males are met by cultures (because this conquest-masculinity transcends many cultures, being based as it is historically on warfare – which gave it its universality) that immediately begin socializing males for this set of behavioral expectations we call masculinity. It doesn’t take as well on everyone, and in some instances, it doesn’t take at all, and these instances are seen as deviant (the source of homophobia, for one thing). But it takes on most, and men in turn, as well as many women who are socialized by the same culture, feel obliged to rear male children to be this way. Women who have found an accommodation within this regime participate in this socialization, and men are pushed by their gender status, and the whole thing becomes self-policing. In other words, gender as a system is self-organized.


Gender is an aspect of all societies, and I believe it always will be. But I am talking about gender today, hierarchical and oppressive, in a modern world organized by technology, war and empire.

This particular analysis – which I arrived at by studying feminist intellectuals and activists, while evaluating and re-evaluating my own experience as a male (and admittedly a former military male, which biases me toward my belief that war was and is formative of this masculinity) – is an analysis that attempts to form coherent connections between ideas and practices and their relations to evolving material conditions, a habit formed by my years as a Marxist.

I adhere to that kind of analysis, because it makes sense to me, and because it demands an element of rigor in my thinking beyond merely observing and reporting what I observe. So when I say “masculinity,” I try to define that in a way that makes it intelligible as idea, practice and historical phenomenon.

Thoughts, attitudes and actions are behaviors, and I call masculinity a set of behavioral expectations – most of which are easily observable, some of those observations constituting a good deal of the book I wrote with De Clarke’s able editorial counsel, Sex War.

So how did this run afoul of my young academic friends some years ago when I brought this up?

It started with that word – masculinity. They didn’t like my functional definition, because for them the word existed along some kind of continuum, suggestive of the butch-femme continuum, that is, a continuum of identities,” by which I think they meant something like “style” or “gender expression.” Since my use of the term “masculinity” was taken as pejorative (which it may be, but that doesn’t rule out its being descriptive), I was being disrespectful of those who were “masculine,” i.e, butch. Not what I meant by the term “masculinity.”

Surely this was a semantic misunderstanding, since I was very close – and still am – to a number of women who can be described as butch (but who are not at all into domination-conquest).

Alas, that was not the problem; because one of the things I was criticizing in the minds of my critics – though not my intent at the time, and I didn’t know where it was going at first – was sadomasochistic sex, which is seen as a somehow important transgressive “performance” that constitutes “resistance” in its transgressiveness. It can be “empowering,” or so I heard, though – again – we were talking about two very different things when we used the word “power.” This is no more transgression than the average video game today. It is indulgence – under the guise of being “sex radicals” or whatever – in the role of sexual aesthete and-or uncritical hedonist. Aesthetes and hedonists are inheritors of a lot of privilege.

Psychologically, this uncritical use of the taboo as a rush (seen as therapeutic), requiring one to cross the line to get the thrill, in the absence of any cultural brake, has an escalation dynamic. The lines crossed have to be further and further afield. There are people who experience the need to have people defecate on them as a form of sexual stimulation.

My young friends were the captives of counterfeit reasoning; but my implicit (in their eyes) criticism of sexually transgressive performances (implied by my allegedly pejorative use of the term masculinity) was still not their main complaint.

The critical stance I had taken toward pornography was bothering these young academics; though it hadn’t come up until I had given a public talk about masculinity-constructed-as-conquest, prior to finishing the book, where I was challenged by a small posse of people who had arrived with their grievances against me in hand. Part of my problem at the time was that I was not an academic, and I had no idea of the extent to which certain ideas about gender had become a new academic orthodoxy, one which my own theses did not support. (I had not been in universities, but mostly working with veterans, writing about the Bush administration, and going back and forth to Haiti.)

The book was not researched and written with the intention of explaining gender, but with the intention of better understanding militarism. The reason for trying to understand militarism was that I was actively involved in opposing US war-making at the time; and this opposition to the wars was based on the fact that a lot of people get hurt and killed in wars, and a lot of important things – living and non-living – are unnecessarily destroyed by wars. Destruction and suffering are real and terrible; and I had come to believe that one of the main phenomena that perpetuates war is how men are taught to think and act… as men.

That was my personal experience, and I just happened to find out that these people called “radical feminists” had some of the exact same observations.

Once I began studying this connection between sex and war, it became apparent that this went deeper than one might ever imagine. My own experience served as a constant reminder of how powerful my own socialization was to pursue this “masculinity.” That term did not refer to some aesthetic performance; it was My Lai and Fallujah and Abu Ghraib; and radical feminists were naming violence against women (a lot of which happened in My Lai and Fallujah and Abu Ghraib).

My Lai


Abu Ghraib

Now the complaint being leveled against me was that I was embracing “second-wave” feminism instead of the far-more-evolved-and-subtle “third-wave” of the sexual aesthete. Sex War was about power – the kind that drops a 500-pound bomb on your house, and – incidentally – the kind that rapes you at knifepoint. One segment of the book was about a former colleague who did just that in his secret career as a serial rapist.

Whether someone had the right to engage in consensual sadomasochistic sex games was not what I was concerned with; not with “rights” at any rate. Again, I was writing about power, not rights. I did say in so many words, however, that dressing up in expensive nazified regalia and swatting each other on the ass to get aroused might be an exercise of PRIVILEGE by those who had never been beaten, raped or attacked by fascists… it might be your “right,” but that doesn’t immunize it against critique. I said the same thing about pornography; and that’s when I encountered the term… “sex-positive.”


Positives and Negatives


“It is not a coincidence that postmodern paralysis is a condition that afflicts mainly academics, for it is at a distance that human meanings assume the appearance of ‘constructions.’”

– Alf Hornborg

Those same people who wanted to get me straightened out about my white privilege (themselves almost all white) did not want to hear that sex itself is always inflected by power.

My young friends told me they were sex positive.

Sex, you see, is something good; and if you don’t think sex is positive, then you are among those who think that sex is negative. This is utter bullshit, of course, and I have to say it that way, because this is not so complicated that people have to dig out of some mountain of mystification to get hold of it. Sex is not some floating signifier. Sex happens in a society that is utterly contaminated with the toxic effluvia of power.

As De Clarke so aptly puts it, eating is “natural” (i.e., biological) – like sex – but how and what we eat is always freighted with culture, meaning and morality. If I were to criticize eating at McDonalds, because the food is crap, because the corporation is exploitative and destructive, because the production of the food is immoral, that doesn’t make me food-negative.

Most pornography is made for men (and is largely patriarchal and misogynist in its themes); it is part of the commodification of sex; it is degrading to women generally, very often racist, and frequently made in circumstances that exploit and degrade women particularly. The largest quanta of the stuff is on the internet now, and it is easy to survey. I did, and all you have to do is enumerate how many porn hits you count while surfing the sites that degrade women, profane sex in general, represent the intentional humiliation of women, obviously exploit the “models,” or use racially offensive language. Using these criteria, you will find that I have covered the overwhelming majority of it.

It’s McDonalds; and defending it solely on the basis of “rights” is restrictively ridiculous. A lot like defending the right of the Klan to march through the middle of town. I’m not interested in the whole argument about rights and freedom of speech, because I’m talking about the specific content of what is communicated. Apples. Oranges. Klan speech is hateful. McDonald’s is crap. There are a lot of sexual practices are stupid, thoughtless, exploitative, unethical, violent, degrading, et al.

There is an controversial implication to this: sexual restraint is not tantamount to “repression.” Restraint of any kind is anathema to liberalism. That is why it has given us child porn, nuclear power, genetically-modified food, traffic jams, poisoned rivers, dead oceans, deforestation, the fashion industry, and global warming.

As I will explain further along, this version of sexual postmodernism has a great deal in common with plain, garden-variety consumerism – uncritical hedonism and the appeal to self-invention. Critiquing pornography endangers “choice” – that shibboleth of modernity, because it is above all else a “right” (immunizing it from critique), and besides, that is soooo “second-wave.”

This “sex-positive” label is pure polemic, a simple-minded phrase that is worthy of ridicule and little else. It evokes a rebellious adolescent who divides the world between anti-sex prudes and with-it freethinkers (both straw men). And prudery is one of the brushes used to paint the so-called “second-wave” feminists, because they insisted we ought not to ignore the element of power in all sex, suggesting – old fashioned as it might seem – that critical sexual restraint really is a pretty good idea.

The power issue, of course, suggests then that we ought to exercise some critical reflection and responsibility in matters sexual. It does not lump the “second-wave” in with patriarchal conservatives who want men to re-seize power over women; and the suggestion – by many – that the radical feminist analysis of sexual power is consistent with patriarchal conservatism is scurrilously dishonest. On the other hand, many religious people believe sexual restraint is a virtue absent a patriarchal agenda, and in this they are saying exactly the same thing as radical feminists – some things are not okay just because you want to do them. (Stanley Hauerwas has noted that what churches ought to be most vigorous in denouncing is not female unchastity but male promiscuity. But then, Stanley gets the power gradient.)

In De’s poem, “privilege,” you see the concept of privilege paired with the analysis of power, not power-to (accomplish things), not “empowerment” (that new-age trope), but power-over. The power to exclude, subdue, command, humiliate, rape or kill. It is about men’s power as men, and how that power is exercised over women.

The term sex-positive corresponds to a claim about rape; and this correspondence is telling. That claim, now a truism, is that “rape is not about sex, but power.”

Rape is not about sex, but power. Rape is not about sex, but power. Rape is not about sex, but power. Rape is not about sex, but power. Rape is not about sex, but power. Rape is not about sex, but power.


People say this with a straight face, even though it is patently preposterous. Rape is coerced sexual contact, and you can’t subtract its sexuality no matter what you do. The reason for the correspondence between a term like sex-positive and this untrue truism is that once we concede the reality that rape is a form of sex, we can no longer defend the claim that sex is an unmitigated good.

Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. This is the simple-minded opposite of the simple-minded straw man that says, Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.

Sex is not a floating signifier, and therefore it cannot be morally universalized as either positive or negative. It happens in a context, and never ever absent a context.

Rape is about sex and power. It is eroticized violence; and in daily language we can see repeated instances of the erotic referred to in violent terms (“tearing that pussy up,” e.g.), and the violent referred to in erotic terms (“the Marines really fucked those hajjis in Fallujah,” e.g.). This merger of sex and violence is exactly what those stubborn radical feminists are unwilling to run past in order to arrive at the postmodern utopia of anything goes.


The radical feminist preoccupation with violent power is why their analysis predominated in the book I wrote about militarism and gender; I was writing about violent power – militarism. Those who believed that their performative transgressions in the bedroom constituted a politics of resistance didn’t like what my analysis of the military – based on first-hand experience – had to say about their academic constructions.




For several good reasons, the subject of rape preoccupied earlier radical feminists. It exposed male power at the same time that it exposed the limitations and hypocrisies of liberal law (in what MacIntyre describes as the “bureaucratic individualist” society).
Rape clarifies male-as-male power over women-as-women (and I know that men are raped, but we are talking about male-female relations for the time being). Rape is not clarifying of male power because it is easy to define, it brings male power into view precisely through its many “gray” areas. MacKinnon’s Marxist roots were on display early in her book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, when she said:

“Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away.”

This statement did not go down well with many Marxists who were unwilling to recognize or deal with their own exercises of male privilege, and it was anathema to those most doctrinaire Marxists for whom labor (in a factory) was the singular world-encompassing hermeneutic. Ironically, MacKinnon had simply taken the framework of the Marxist critique of economy and applied it to gender. Voila!


Other feminists conducted Marxian analyses of women’s roles in the economy, noting sexual exploitation in the process. Nancy C. M. Hartsock’s book, Money, Sex and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism (1986) unpacked the unpaid labor of social reproduction along with the history of perception of warrior virtue that accompanied various developments in male power (and notes that pornography substitutes control for intimacy). Maria Mies’ aforementioned Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale merged with later developments in Marxism of world-systems theory, and emphasized women’s role around the world in the “primitive accumulation” processes of capitalist pillage, recalling Rosa Luxemburg’s theses on that topic (which Hornborg also cites), as well as David Harvey’s writings on pillage of peripheries as a continuing and necessary component of capital accumulation.

But radical feminists chose to maintain a laser focus on similarities in what happened between men and women regardless of class, ethnic origin, and nationality. The subordinated wife could be rich or poor, black or white, native or foreign.

In particular, radical feminists wanted to talk about rape, a form of sexual violence committed by men mostly against women – because they are women. They said that “the personal is the political” precisely because they took rape personally. The pain that comes through much radical feminist writing on the topic – I am thinking now of Andrea Dworkin, who has been demonized for how directly she let that pain come through in her writing – is something that should be treated with the same seriousness that this society affords the painful memoirs of soldiers. Instead, these women have been marginalized and misrepresented.


In reading their work on this topic, a couple of powerful associations came across to me. First, there was the subject of what psychiatry has named “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Setting aside my objection to calling this a disorder (it originates as a very understandable and reasonable response to the given traumas), I found that two particular groups of people suffered from this syndrome en masse: combat veterans and rape victims. Since I was researching militarism – and its gendered associations – how could I possibly ignore this correlation?

The second association that came across to me between rape and militarism was in how many ways the military itself met the criteria for something many people have come to call “rape culture.”

Wikipedia’s introductory statement on the topic is a pretty good summation:

“Rape culture is a term which originated in womens studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming and sexual objectification.”

Rape, these feminists pointed out, is a legal term, or at least it became a legal term – and a contested one at that. It is based fundamentally on a legal notion called consent, as most people know; but few people understand how restrictive this notion is, how ahistorical and abstract it is.

“No means no” is the most unambiguous description of consent, or lack thereof, and on this both radicals and liberals have come to agree (though there are still men who want to contest this, or to blame women for provoking forcible sex even when they say, “no”).

But when feminists looked at the question of consent in the context of existing power structures, the notion became less definitive and meaningful.

The law assumes that both parties in a sexual encounter (and rape is sex, as well as power) are abstractly equal. The social power that each carried into the encounter is concealed by this abstract equality, by the legal force that excludes pre-existing power as relevant to the question of consent.

If a woman who is poor is working on a job where a co-worker offers her $100 to have sex, for example, and it is winter, with the bills falling behind, and her six-year-old has no coat; and she has sex with him because her child needs a winter coat, that encounter in the eyes of the law is between two social equals. Therefore, she consented to have sex with him, in exchange for $100, as an (abstract) equal. No different really than a bit of contract labor. It may be specifically illegal (for which she could be charged), but on the question of consent she entered into a kind of contract with this man as a social equal.

What this event would mean to that woman, in her life, and how it would affect her experience of the world thereafter, is external to the law.

Liberal law systematically denies meaning. It abdicates reality, and modern society has come to internalize this abdication of reality as more real than the real. The “rights” involved, and the primacy of law, take precedence over her poverty and her desperation.

“Consent” doesn’t capture either the complexity or the horror, and it conceals the actually-existing power. And seen from this perspective, it makes the question of rape far more complicated.

On the books, they are equals; and power as it exists is preserved off the books. Off the books, the fear of rape serves to keep women “in their places.”


As I said earlier, this insistence on coupling the issues of sex and power became inconvenient to later theorists to wanted to explore the permutations of sex and identity. While it is certainly a useful activity from the standpoint of psychology (and I quoted Jessica Benjamin’s work on feminist psychology fairly extensively in Sex War), it does not erase the structural realities of male power, which was and is seen as the basis for women’s solidarity by radical feminists – and the reason it is important not to reproduce male power by engaging in various forms of “sex play” that reinforce phallocentric gender stereotypes, the objectification of women as sex objects, the silencing, demobilizing, and humiliation of women as a class.

I have argued that men bear a responsibility, too; that we can begin by consciously avoiding the enculturated tendencies to humiliate, dominate, and retaliate… just as a way to start reconciling ourselves to women as our companions and not subordinates.

The third-wave “sex-positives” and identity-inventors have taken a purely political stance against the so-called second wave; and many of their categories are political fictions, which I will discuss at greater length further along.

But even in radical feminism, which shares much with Marxism, there is – I have come to believe – a fatal political flaw.


The Politics of Enemies

Now I will turn to my friendlier critique of radical feminism – to which I owe a great deal – and that critique is an outgrowth of my Christian confession of faith, and of my deepening critique of modernism.

While postmodernism is in some instances a reductio ad absurdum of modernism, both Marxism and radical feminism are modern phenomena, captured to a substantial within the categories and assumptions of modernism.

That does not mean that they have no validity. I strongly believe that both bodies of thought make a lot of extremely valid points, so many so that I feel compelled to defend them both – when they are right – against the often simple-minded, knee-jerk reactions to their insights. We live in the modern world, no matter how critical we become of its ideas and its moral incoherence. I want to make it very, very clear here – because I count radical feminists among my few real friends – that the criticism I make of radical feminism does not in any way single it out among other modernist intellectual or political developments. Among those developments, I remain convinced that this school of thought provides several of the most important insights of the epoch; and the main criticism I have of radical feminism applies equally to every modernist school of thought. I still see radical feminism in many ways as a first among those equals.

Here is the rest of MacKinnon’s introduction to Toward a Feminist Theory of the State:

“Marxist theory argues that society is fundamentally constructed of the relations people form as they do and make things needed to survive humanly. Work is the social process of shaping and transforming the material and social worlds, creating people as social beings as they create value. It is that activity by which people become who they are. Class is its structure, production its consequence, capital a congealed form, and control its issue. [emphasis added]

“Implicit in feminist theory is a parallel argument: the molding, direction, and expression of sexuality organizes society into two sexes – women and men – which division underlies the totality of social relations. Sexuality is that social process which creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire, creating the social beings we know as women and men, as their relations create society. As work is to marxism, sexuality to feminism is socially constructed yet constructing, universal as activity yet historically specific, jointly comprised of matter and mind. As the organized expropriation of the work of some for the benefit of others defines a class – workers – the organized expropriation of the sexuality of some for the use of others defines the sex, woman. Heterosexuality is its social structure, gender and family its congealed forms, sex roles its qualities generalized to social persona, reproduction a consequence, and control its issue. [emphasis added]

“Marxism and feminism are theories of power and its distribution: inequality. They provide accounts of how social arrangements of patterned disparity can be internally rational yet unjust. But their specificity is not incidental. In marxism to be deprived of one’s work, in feminism of one’s sexuality, defines each one’s conception of lack of power per se. They do not mean to exist side by side to insure that two separate spheres of social life are not overlooked, the interests of two groups are not obscured, or the contributions of two sets of variables are not ignored. They exist to argue, respectively, that the relations in which many work and few gain, in which some fuck and others get fucked, are the prime moments of politics.”

As often as both generalities – the generalities of Marxism and the generalities of MacKinnon’s directly-transferred and formulaic template to feminism (note the italicized sections) – hold true, they are still generalities that fail to capture the complexity of particular existence in the world.

What is equally true of both sets of generalizations is that once you have grasped them, they impose a sense of responsibility on you – if you are inclined to care about what they mean to real people. The world cannot escape the reality of these formulations – as far as they might be accurate; and at the same time the world in particular can never be reduced to them.

You cannot tell from this photograph or from any political formulation what this family is really like.

I occasionally work for a friend, who pays me a wage that is less than he makes from my labor. He is my friend, and I haven’t the slightest intention of waging a political struggle against him. I am part of a family that is not the congealed form of a circumstance where some fuck and some get fucked. Every moment is not political. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of jobs that are impersonally exploitative and abusively so; nor does it mean that there aren’t many marriages in which a dominant male controls a submissive female. That does not mean these forms of systemic power do not exist.

Again, I am saving my points on “sexual orientation” as “identity” for later, because I want them to be perfectly clear and not laced together with other arguments in ways that are apt to confuse people about what I’m trying to say.

How people accept, resist or adapt to these conditions – no matter how closely they resemble the generalizations above or not – is a matter of infinite complexity because real life progresses through many contexts over time. So it has been throughout history; and so it will continue to be for the rest of history. I emphasize history and the passage of time, because when we advocate struggle, we need to think about where the particular form of struggle leads over time.

Remember, I began writing Sex War, because I wrote about war.

Marxism took its egalitarian aspirations from Christianity – which Christen-dom had done too little to advance – and attempted to merge them with “Enlightenment” science. Marx and Engels called their ideas “scientific socialism.” Being masculine in thought, action and attitude, they also adopted a framework for action that corresponded to war (called class struggle). The bourgeoisie and the proletariat were locked into a structural antagonism that would only be broken by the combination of structural instability, gestating in the belly of the system itself, and civil war that liquidated the bourgeoisie as a class. The bourgeoisie was The Enemy. The entire line of struggle was directed against this Enemy; and so the raison d’etre of the struggle itself – which took on the aspect of a religious calling – was based on the enemy’s status as Enemy.

Because Marxism was part of the Enlightenment, as MacIntyre – himself an ex-Marxist like yours truly – pointed out, and when the Marxists achieved power, they did so encumbered by the delusion of the Enlightenment, in particular its Weberian bureaucratism and its utilitarian amorality.

Mao Zedong

Feminism – of any stripe – has never taken political power, so we can’t say how that might look; but I suspect that it would look in many respects the same, because the incoherence of modernity – the interminable and irresolvable dispute between utilitarianism and deontological ethics – would force it to adopt bureaucratic controls, just as the communists did, just as capitalist democracies have, and just as every other modern polity has been forced to.

Christianity valorized the powerless, even when its practices too frequently did the exact opposite. The aspiration for “the last to be first” and the meek to inherit the earth were imported as the central values of socialist aspiration, and can be differentiated from both the worship of power in the classical age and the Nietzschean reaction against this “slave” mentality in the modern era. Marxism formalized a radical secular political philosophy that imported liberatory aspirations, in particular those of the 19th Century industrial working class.

Radical feminism, as MacKinnon states clearly in her analog presentation, took the Marxist liberatory template and applied it to women as the social underdog. I believe some of the masculinity got imported with it – in particular, the martial framework of the struggle.

Unpacking the Lords Prayer

Most of us raised Christian have memorized one version or another of the Lords Prayer, or the Pater Noster. A version appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Luke.

The most popular version goes:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

This sounds almost mundane. It is overused without any real thought being put into it; but there is also a great deal that has been lost on us because our hearing is not attuned to what it said to Jesus’ band of Jewish followers in Roman Palestine.

Let’s take this prayer apart and hold the components up to a long-distant light.

“Our Father” obviously speaks to us of a male parent, albeit a cosmic one. This is a little unsettling to us, because we have raised a couple of questions about this gendered kinship. Why a male God? This is a fair question. And there is the simple biological question: If God is more than human, more even than mere material, and in need of no physical anatomy, what need does God have of a sexual assignment? This is also a fair question, to us.

We have to understand, however, that the idea of God – then and now – can only be approximated in language. We agree now with the ancients that God is incomprehensible, or else God could not be God. But the ancient Hebrews, from whom Jesus was descended, of whom he was one, and to whom he constantly referred, did not share our ideas about science, about objectivity, or about ideas like church-state separation. These ideas did not emerge among people, as we understand them, until much later in history. So we can’t rightly make demands of the past based on the ideas of the present. More importantly, however, we still find God incomprehensible, and we are still forced to represent God the way God has always been represented – through a story.

That story is the story we can read today in the Hebrew Bible. When that story was written, it was written for a group of pastoral nomads trying to find a home in the world. “Father” was the person these patriarchal nomadic people understood to be a provider. In their attempt to capture the idea of God, a unitary being responsible for the world that provided life, it is not surprising that this figure was represented as a patriarchal parent.

But it is still not so simple. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and in Aramaic what he said was not “Our Father,” but �?Abwoon.” When this term is traced back, through its actual Hebrew antecedents, it begins as a genderless term that means something akin to “blessed with children.” The patriarchal inferences came later. The original term connoted a creative life source, even a cosmic womb.

Moreover, when Jesus spoke this word, “Abwoon,” he and his contemporaries used this term as a call to prayer. It was telling those within earshot, stop what you are doing and turn your thoughts and hearts to the one who made you.

“Abwoon,” Jesus prayed, “who is in heaven” – a spiritual realm over, under, around, and through material existence. Attend all who hear to the essence that precedes and constitutes your existence. Then he declares, “hallowed be thy name.” So what is God’s name?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, speaking on an interfaith panel on the environment, hosted at Duke University in April 2009, talked at length about God’s name. God is written, he explained to the audience, in the Hebrew as YHWH, some people pronouncing this Yahweh.

Among observant Jews, this name is not spoken aloud in accordance with the Torah. But Rabbi Waskow pointed out that the name in Hebrew is written without vowels.

In Genesis, in its original language, the word spirit does not signify a ghost. It means breath. Earth, or soil, was enlivened with breath… life. Human beings are dust, given God’s breath.
In the early Christian church of the first two centuries, not only did they see themselves as Jews or converts to the Jewish sect of Jesus, these followers greeted each other with the conspirato kiss. They kissed each other briefly on the mouth, exchanging breath. They were exchanging the holy spirit. The word “inspire” today, means both to be taken by a spirit and to inhale.

Rabbi Waskow went on to explain, he demonstrated actually into the amplified microphone, the sound that YHWH makes when pronounced without vowels and spoken in a whisper – not said aloud. The word is stretched here, as he did, to make his point. Whisper it: YHHHWWWHHH. It is the wind. It is a breath. The name of God is the Breath of Life.

“Hallowed be your name” comes to mean “hallowed is the Breath of Life.”

“God who is in heaven, hallowed is your name…”

“Your kingdom come,” Jesus continued.

Jesus’ led a real movement. It was called the “kingdom movement.” But there was an irony when Jesus used this term, because for every one of that time – and most of us, for that matter – a kingdom is a place ruled over by a despot, using violence when necessary to preserve that power. Yet in the same passage of Mark where Jesus teaches his prayer, he has made a claim that peacemakers are blessed, and that the meek – not the powerful – shall inherit the earth, or humanity’s home provided by God.

“The kingdom of God” was a claim that put a God who hated injustice – a theme throughout the Jewish prophetic tradition of which Jesus was a part – above the earthly powers, both the kingdom of Herod and the empire of Rome.

We see this irony, this political parody, on display during Palm Sunday when Jesus led a march through Jerusalem, himself proclaimed king and perched on a donkey colt, a provocative act that parodied the Roman show-of-force march that was taking place simultaneously in the same city. It was political satire of the most dangerous kind, and its result is now widely known.
The kingdom of the meek is placed over and above the warlike one, the power of the Breath of Life over the power enforced by the fear of death.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth…”

On Earth! Wait a minute! Most of us tend to think that the kingdom of heaven comes after death, in the spiritual realm of heaven, but this says “Your will be done on earth… Your kingdom come on earth… as it is in heaven.”

This raises a question about this Kingdom of God on earth. How do we make this Kingdom of God on earth? What do we do?

Well, we get some basic instructions.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

More than once, Jesus exhorts his followers to quit worrying about the future. Worry is tantamount to a lack of faith. A daily portion of bread is enough: not more, just enough. Jesus exhorts his disciples again and again not to worry about tomorrow, to have faith that God will provide, and to be satisfied with enough. Not more. Enough.

There is a very readable book on faith called, “Longing for Enough in a Culture of More,” by Paul Escanilla. This term “daily bread” is a reference from the Hebrew Scriptures, as is much of what Jesus is reported to have said. Theologian Ched Myers once said that “abundance is the divine gift, and self-limitation is the appropriate response.”

“Forgive us our trespasses.” The actual, original term is not trespasses, but “debts.” In Aramaic, sin and debt are the same word.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

During Jesus’ time, as now, debt was a means for taking people’s land. The Bible contains prohibitions against usury, and calls debt-servitude a state of sin.

Jesus and his contemporaries understood something about debt, because as pious Jews, they knew that usury was against the law as written in Leviticus. In fact, old Jewish law required a periodic leveling of the economy through a practice called Jubilee. Jubilee was general debt forgiveness every seven years, no longer practiced in Jesus’ time, but a practice Jesus was calling for again in this passage of his prayer. Not only every seven years, but every seven times seven, 49, marked the Jubilee year in which all land that had been accumulated and lost was returned to its original families.

Jesus’ kingdom-movement was a Jubilee movement, or a jubilary movement.

Debt was the instrument of oppression used against Palestinian peasants – which Jesus and his own family were, un-landed and forced to work as tektons (often translated as carpenters), manual wage-laborers, quite probably at Herod Antipas’ pyramidal ego-project of urbanizing Sepphoris, not four miles from Nazareth. Through debt, the land of the peasants was appropriated, and the landless peasants forced to work for bare survival wages in the city.

Holding someone in debt is sin, and the state of debt distracts and diverts us from the contemplation and enjoyment of God’s creation – Sabbath. Debt forces people to break the commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Debt is a sin, because it creates the temptation – among the poor – to fail in the observance of Sabbath, to steal, and to covet that which is not theirs.

Understanding the jubilary import of this prayer, then, we can understand why the very next phrase is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus observed all around him that there is no greater temptation to violate the law than poverty; and there was no greater provocation to sin than grinding people down with debt.
So how does this apply to us, and to the extreme emphasis Jesus put on forgiving those who did sin? Think of it as you think of how you might pray your gratitude.

One of our prayers of gratitude every day ought to be thankfulness for the absence of temptation.

Jesus suggested that when we judge a poor person for breaking the law, we forget what Anatole France later summed up by writing: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich as well as poor from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread.”

We might consider praying our thanks every day for all the ways in which we have been immunized against temptation, for all the ways in which virtue this very day comes easy. Then we might show a little more understanding for those who have not been so “virtuous.”

Forgive our sins against God in the same measure we forgive those of sins against us. Forgive our debts in the same measure we forgive the debts of others.

Apocalypse Now small group – Section 5 – Revelation

Apocalypse Now Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church


Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation

Part Four The Book of Revelation

Notes on Revelation

Note (1)

There is only one way to read Johns Apocalypse. Aloud, will full dramatic inflection, preferably with a good view of the sky. Minimum, aloud with that inflection. If you have to be alone to do this without being self-conscious, then do it. When you do it, remember that this is how it was written to be read, to committed groups of early Christians who were in a condition of extremity systematic persecution.

As you read, note the repetitious use of words and phrases for emphasis, as well as correlative words and phrases (looked, heard senses). That is an emphasis that must be said aloud with stress on its repetition for the emotional intelligence of Revelation to come through.

(Revelation 14) Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Fathers name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless. 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earthto every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. 8 Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. 9 Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 they will also drink the wine of Gods wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name. 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord. Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them. 14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15 Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe. 16 So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe. 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horses bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

Note how the key images concentrate to form the meaning toward the end. This is how stories are read to listening audiences. Think of how a good storyteller reads to kids.

Note (2)

Ivan Illich, in teaching the 12th Century to students tried to show that

contemporary ideas of conscience, citizenship, technology, text, individuality, and marriage all began to emerge in that era at the same time, the twelfth-century world remained utterly foreign to a modern sensibility


How does the past bear on the present, and at the same time stand strangely off from it?

The Apocalypse of John for us, at least is a very strange document.

And what are some of the ways in which we can distort and misinterpret the past, including past literature?

One example might be Scripture that refers to Jesus healing. For us, healing has to do with disease, an idea that is associated with things like pathogens and immune systems. It is a medical idea. And it didnt exist in the mind of anyone until after Pasteur. So it is very easy for us to do something called retrojection, that is, to inject our current epistemology into the past an error. Jesus touching the sick was, above all else, violating the Purity Code disease was considered a spiritual condition that put a person outside her or his community a terrible and painful condition for people who lived before the elevation of the individual above community. This healing was a ritual cleansing that was only authorized for priests to conduct so Jesus was, in fact, provoking the authorities by practicing without a license. Thats far different from our miracle-notion of these healings and exorcisms. But our retrojections, and the retrojections of some theologians, have created a very fundamental distortion.

The Apocalypse of John, while strange to us, was very accessible to his contemporaries as accessible as the plot conventions of LA film noir is to us (think Chinatown or Devil With a Blue Dress). But, for us to get it, we have to take two steps instead of one. We have to study and grasp the epistemology of the day, and only after grasping that way of knowing and being in the world, we can really read the primary material.


Note (3)

Historical setting for 1st Century Palestine though John of Patmos was in 2nd Century Asia Minor (Turkey), so circumstances were constantly evolving even then, albeit at a slower pace and smaller scale than now. We need some idea of the strangeness, to us, of what human life was then.

These figures were cribbed heavily from The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion, by Philip Harland:

* 90% of Palestines largely Hebrew population lived as peasants. That term needs fleshing out to make it real. A peasant is someone who lives directly off the land. The peasant practices subsistence agriculture. In addition to subsistence agriculture, many peasants have historically served large landholders (so the peasant is a tenant, not an owner. Large landholders have typically protected their collective interests through direct of proxy state power through government of some kind. Peasants who own their own land paid no taxes except to the state mostly in tribute, not money. A portion of the crops, that is. Tenant farmers pay taxes to the state and to the large landholder. In 1st Century Palestine, these peasants also paid the priestly class through revenues collected via the Temple. In Haiti today, 70% of the population lives as peasants. In many respects then, Haiti is far closer to the reality of 1st Century Palestine than the places with which most of us are familiar like Raleigh or Durham. Similarly, the Palestine of Jesus was one where the peasant was overtaxed, overworked, and kept on the margin of survival by the rich, the priestly class, and the state three parasitic social formations whose livelihoods were completely based on the subjugation and exploitation of the peasant. This parasitic strata lived in the city, which itself vacuums up the resources of the countryside.

* In addition to peasant production, urban Palestine practiced a good deal of trade including imports and exports.

Applebaums survey of archeological and literary evidence for imports and exports, for foreign or international trade, is illustrative of the situation, though his conclusion that [e]conomic activity was predominantly internal is debatable (1976:669-680, largely followed here). Regarding imports, Egyptian grain was, from time to time, imported in times of shortage or famine (e.g. Josephus, Ant.15.299-316 [25 BCE], 20.51-52 [46-47 CE]), but Palestine was largely self-sufficient for such food staples. The Temple cult required considerable imports, as I discuss below. With respect to clothing, later references in rabbinic literature to sandals from Tyre and Laodicea, goat-hair from Cilicia, and fine linens from Pelusium and India are suggestive of possibilities in the 1st century. Among the most common items in daily use in antiquity was pottery, so it is significant that archaeological excavations at Samaria, Schechem, Ptolemais and Ashdod uncovered red glaze both from the east (in the Hellenistic and Roman eras) and from Italy and Gaul (in the Roman era); a stamped jar from Colonia Hadrumetum in North Africa found at Joppa (2nd century or earlier) is also suggestive of such imports. As Applebaum notes, Palestine was lacking in metals (except copper) and we can assume the import of all necessary metals. The principal exports from Palestine were olive oil (cf. Josephus, B.J. 2.591; Vita 74-76), dates, opobalsam and spices. The [519] Jericho region was renowned for its dates and date-wines, which were in high demand in Rome (cf. Strabo, Geogr. 16.763.41; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 13.44-49). Products from the opobalsam bush, grown in the Dead Sea area, were exported, including the sap, twigs and bark, which were used as medical remedies for headaches and problems with eye-sight. By the 4th century, Gaza and Ascalon became well-known for their wines. Long-distance luxury items from East Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East would also pass through Palestine following the usual trade routes. (Harland)

* When urban centers form, they generate economic satellite activity in smaller communities, neither elite nor peasant. The retainer class for the elite (like Matthew, a tax collector before his discipleship) lived in smaller communities sometimes, as did artisans skilled labor like Jesus and Joseph, who were carpenters in the town of Nazareth, or like small commercial fishermen Simon, for example. So while they are privileged in comparison to the peasants, they are by no means admitted among the elite. This middle strata in 1st Century Palestine was not like our middle class which is substantial and politically powerful; it was very small. Remember, 9 out of ten people were peasants illiterate and destitute. Slavery itself was a contractual institution, most commonly befalling its victims when they fell deeply into debt. The retainer class and the artisans were a small sliver between the small elite and the ocean of the peasantry. The retainer class works directly for the elite; and so it is privileged but totally dependent on the elite. The artisans, on the other hand, while still dependent on the overall system ruled by elites, had more autonomy in their lives than any other non-elite group. Historically, during times of great social agitation, these in-between classes are the ones who have the autonomy from power and the autonomy from paralytic poverty; so it is from these in-between classes that movement leaders emerge.

Jesus was a tekton, sometimes interpreted as carpenter, though divisions of labor werent as specialized then. The closest meaning would be construction worker, which was skilled labor an artisan, possibly employed in the massive construction of Sepphoris, a spectacular Herodian project only four miles from Nazareth.

* In a peasant economy that is also under imperial control as Palestine was under the Romans there is always a group among the elite who act as the colonial servants and liaisons for the imperial elite. Herod was such a figure ruling his population with an iron hand on behalf of the Romans in exchange for the ability to himself exploit his own people.

* Zealotry was more and more common a term referring to guerrilla-like resistance of the occupied Palestinian Jews against the Roman occupiers. Officialdom referred to these people as bandits and thieves. This kind of state agitprop is still used by repressive regimes to describe any opposition. In fact, they were not bandits, but political activists who had given up on peaceful resistance. Many speculate that the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus were, in fact, Zealots. Crucifixion, after all, was a sentence set aside for political crimes. There is good evidence that several of the disciples were former Zealots.

* There was no concept of disease. Afflictions, like leprosy (though this term appears to have covered a lot of skin disorders), were not understood as we think of them as physical pathologies, but as a state of spiritual disrepair. Ritual purity, not health in the way we have only understood for the last 150 years, was the desired state. There were no germs, no contagion, no insanity. I, for one, think that demonic possession is at least as accurate a diagnosis as most of the stuff in the DSM-IV. Id wager that anyone reading this probably has at least two demons themselves I certainly do.


Note (4)

John of Patmos was writing around 90 AD, as best we know from exile. The literary form, apocalyptic, was handed down from Jewish writers who began the genre during the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BC). The exilic period ended when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Hebrews to return to Judea (where the Temple that the Babylonians had destroyed was rebuilt by 515 BC). Because of close contact with the Persians being now under Persian rule Persian ideas penetrated and combined with Hebrew ideas, one of them being the dramatic convention of a cosmic struggle between good and evil.

Hebrews were so poor that it took 100 years to rebuild Jerusalem.

In 331 BC, Alexander defeated Persia and took control of Palestine for the Greeks.

Hebrew theology at the time included the Deuteronomic idea that God rewarded good collective behavior and punished bad collective behavior. Hebrews believed that their infidelity to God had led to the Babylonian exile. As time went on, and this tit-for-tat relation became less credible, a rethinking began of the relationship between the Hebrews and God. This rethinking, which was more nuanced and subtle, was eventually named the Wisdom Movement. The Books of Job and Ecclesiastes were both Wisdom Movement literature.

After many years of continued general misery, the Wisdom Movement influenced by the Persian convention of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, in which Good would finally triumph gave rise to the apocalyptic mindset, in which the good suffered during periods of Evils advantage in this cosmic battle.

Apocalyptic literature has two important components: (1) the use of comparative opposites, growing out of this idea of a cosmic battle between Good and Evil, and (2) the idea of two ages (the present and the age to come). In troubled times, the present age was one in which Evil had the apparent upper hand in battle. The age to come would reverse this.

Though this Persian convention influenced Johns Apocalypse, the basic content of the visions is decidedly Christian. The battle has been won, once and once only and absolutely, in cross and resurrection. Evil is simply thrashing in a death throe. It is conquered and that conquest is manifest as we live into it by Christs example. This is the core proclamation of Johns Apocalypse.


Note (5)

Apocalyptic literature is not literal. It uses symbols that while strange to us now (because our language and epistemology has changed so dramatically) were widely and readily recognizable to Johns contemporaries. Images, numbers, and colors had specific meanings. Here are some of them that are important in readingRevelation:

White – victory or victor (morally neutral could be good victor or bad victor)

Black – lack or loss (famine, pestilence, bad health, etc)

Red – bloodshed, especially war

Gray-Green (pale) – death (color of a corpse)

3 – spirit world

3 1/2 – the amount of time (not everyday time) God allowed Evil to advance before He said, enough is enough

4 – created order a taxonomy of sensible life included (1) humans, (2) wild beasts, (3) birds of the air, and (4) domestic animals.

7 – maturity or completeness all of something (NOT literal)

10 (and multiples of ten) inclusiveness

12 – the people of God

Beast – a nation

Horn or head – a head of state, ruler

Another symbolic practice then was called gematria. This is the use of a number obtained by adding alphabetic-numerical values to represent a word. If and this is not a literal example S = 19, t – 20, a = 1, and n = 14, then my first name could be represented as 54. This is particularly important in unraveling the meaning of 666 (or variously 616) as the number of the beast. In fact, these sums represented two spellings of the same name: Nero Caesar, or Neron Caesar Nero, the first Roman persecutor of the Christians. The beast (a nation) is Rome, and the head of the beast is numbered 666.

It is not the sign of some anti-Christ in the future.


Note (6)

Christianity was not yet a separate faith, but a sect of Judaism. There were no churches as we know them; the churches were gatherings that met in peoples houses. There was a sharing of blood, body, and spirit which meant wine, bread, and a greeting kiss (that exchanged breath, then synonymous with spirit). The latter was scandalous to many, because the meetings breached class, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Scriptures were meant to be read aloud, and originated in oral traditions (that were maintained by women, as a rule). The Apocalypse of John is doxological. That is, praise-giving a form of proclamation.

It is not a prediction.


Note (7)

Apocalypse 5:7-10

[5] Then one of the elders said to me, Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

[6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth;

[7] and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

[8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

[9] and they sang a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

[10] and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on earth.

From John Howard Yoders The Royal Priesthood:

To see history doxologically meant for Johns addresses that their primordial role within the geopolitics of the Pax Romana was neither to usurp the throne of Nero or Vespasian, Domitian or Trajan, nor to pastor Caesar prophetically, but to persevere in celebrating the Lambs lordship and in building the community shaped by that celebration. They were participating in Gods rule over the cosmos, whatever else they were or were not allowed by the civil powers to do. That is was not given them to exercise those other more blatantly powerful roles whether assassinating Trajan or becoming his chaplain was not for them either a renunciation or a deprivation. They considered themselves to be participating in ruling the world primordially in the human practices of doxological celebration perhaps in Ephesus? of which Johns vision of the Heavenly Throne Hall is the projection. Some would take Johns vision to mean if we keep the faith through these tough times, in a century or two the tides will turn and we can dominate the Empire the way Domitian does today. Others would think it meant: if we keep the faith, the world as we know it will very soon be brought to a catastrophic end, and a new nonhistorical state of things will be set up, with us on top.

Yoder is paraphrasing other theologians notions about what the Apocalypse means to its storyteller and the original story-hearers. But pay attention.

Some would favor this latter interpretation because they are themselves enthusiasts, believing themselves to be on the brink of the final saving catastrophe, as its beneficiaries. Others would ascribe that meaning to Johns vision in order to discredit it, since, after all, that catastrophic victory did not happen.

What then did the vision mean? Neither of the above, we must respond. Each of these restatements is incompatible with the hymnic text. The line about serving God [the priestly role] and ruling the world [the royal one] is found in the second strophe sung in the Heavenly Hall, the one concerned with the present age. The hymn of verse 4:11 was about the past, the praise of creation. The strophe of 5:12ff. is about the future universal consummation, when all the creatures chime in. Our strophe, the new song elicited by the work of the Lamb, describes the seers present, the same age in which the people of every tribe and tongue are being called into a new community. It is not about a future, either organic and therefore distant, or immanent and therefore catastrophic. It has to be taken as a statement about what they were then involved in doing. What then could it mean? What could it mean then?

Strophe – a choral verse-construction code.

Strophe 4:11

Worthy art thou, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou didst create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created.

Strophe 5:11-12

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,

saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

Now go back and read the 5:7-10 at the beginning of this note.

Once youve re-read it, lets continue with Yoders riff:

Some readers of the New Testament think that early Christians were all poor. Another set say that not all of them were. But no one thinks that taken all together they were socially significant. How then could they think even in ecstatic flights of worship that they were involved in governing the world? That seems odd to us because we forget that what we have taken metaphorically they took realistically, that is to say, doxologically [as praise-giving proclamation of a New Life in Christ -SG]. For them to say Jesus Christ is kyrios was a statement neither about their subjective psychic disposition (as pietism would say) nor about their sectarian belief system (as scholasticism would assume) but about the cosmos, the way the world really is. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, the eighth article of the Apostles Creed, designated a role of cosmic viceroy, invisibly in charge of history, sovereign over the principalities and powers. That royal rule of Jesus at the Right Hand is the service to God and rule over the world in which they confessed themselves to be participants.

A Note further along will explain dispensationalism, a 19th Century distortion of Johns Apocalypse that is widely subscribed to today by churches we tend to describe imprecisely as fundamentalist. (The only thing fundamental about their interpretation of Revelation is that it is fundamentally and demonstrably wrong.) The true fundamentalists were the early, pre-Constantinian Christian communities those kissing-communities that met in houses, and that heard this Apocalyptic read aloud. Here is an excerpt from a writing by philosopher Aristides (A.D. 125) who was a Christian convert, explaining why he admired this sect:

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. Those that have distribute freely to those who have not. If they see a stranger, they bring that stranger under their own roof, and they rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves sisters and brothers, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God. When one of the poor passes away from the world, and any of them see it, then he who sees it provides for the burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for the prisoners needs, and if it is possible for the prisoners delivery. And if there is among them anyone who is poor and needy, and they have no abundance of their own, they will fast for two or three days to ensure that hungry one is fed.

These folks took the fundamentals of abiding in Christ very seriously.

At the time of Johns Apocalypse, they were under active persecution by Roman Emperor Domitian who objected in particular to the unnatural Christian doctrine of the spiritual equality of women with men. Neros persecution two administrations earlier had been political opportunism. He had burned down a section of Rome that supported a political rival, and when that gambit backfired on him, he blamed the Christians then a small sect, whose strangeness made them an easy target. John of Patmos was called that, because he was exiled to Patmos (now coastal Turkey) a political punishment. The reason Nero is invoked in Revelation is that the originator of persecutions often comes to personify similar acts in the future. We still invoke Hitler to describe campaigns of Genocide, for example, even when the circumstances are distant in time and space from post-Weimar Germany. Any time we dislike a leader who is cruel, we call him a Hitler. With them, it was Nero ergo, the mark of the Beast, Nero, or in gematria, 666 or 616.


Note (8)

It is easy given our modern empirical habits of mind to dismiss this proclamation of victory as pure mysticism, or as just sour grapes. But Johns Apocalypse does not predict the future. It proclaims the past the victory announced by resurrection.


Note (9)

We lack patience. This is not a result of industrial capitalism, like our acquisitive individualism is. It is a refinement of that individualism that has grown since World War II in core nations, especially the United States: convenience consumerism.

As the tempo of our lives has been ramped up, the giant hawkers of convenience goods have created greater and greater demand for time-saving goods and services. The term time-saving is very sly, since we know that time proceeds steadily and inexorably in one direction. We dont save time, we appropriate more material and space in order to do more things in the same periods of time. This has dramatically shortened our attention spans, increased the need for more direct sensual feedback, abbreviated our reflection, and placed us under the command of clocks and pocket organizers.

Consequently, we have also been weakened in the face of setbacks. We are easily demoralized, disoriented, and overwhelmed. We have forgotten how to wait. That is the epistemological reality corresponding to our highly abstracted economic reality that has placed us in front of the runaway train of household debt, among other things, even as we face the specter of a long and arduous deflationary epoch. Lack of patience has real consequences.

So when we read about the victory already having been achieved, of the power of meekness, we need an example that can help us to face up to this tendency to become demoralized in the face of setbacks.

I want to use Martin Luther Kings discipleship as that example. John Howard Yoder wrote (in 1988) again on the subject of the process of history:

To see history doxologically is to own the Lambs victory in ones own time Martin Luther King, Jr., [was] one of the victims who in our century have enabled us to keep talking about the power of meekness. The power of his vulnerability taught us again something about about the weakness of Caesar. The provisions of the United States Constitution and its amendments and the solemn oaths of office of generations of White officeholders had been powerless, for ninety years after emancipation, to keep the promise of letting Blacks into the civil community. It took the principled non-cooperation of Americas Black minority to enable elite powerbearers, whether the shrewd pragmatist Johnson or the more programmatic Kennedys before him, to make small steps toward being honest with the American dream. It took the churches of the underdogs to move the churches and the synagogues of the comfortable and then only some of them to support the most modest steps toward the most elementary public morality in matters of race.

[P]rogress in history is borne by the underdogs.

This is a strange message indeed contemporary as it is when we are inundated with cultural productions that glorify violence, domination, acquisition, egoism, and power. The strangeness of Johns Apocalypse aside from its language and symbolisms is that its readers and hearers actually believed in the power of meekness in the victory of the slain Lamb and that this was an embodied practice, this belief, here on earth; not something in a cosmically separated realm of pure spirit.

Note (10)

Notes from James Efirds Revelation Bible Study guide:

Written as a series of self-contained visionary units. Each describes something going on at that time and place with descriptions of the events given in symbolic (but not secret) terms [some listed above]

Essential to read apocalyptic text with understanding of these symbols and images to discern the message.

As Jews left Palestine and Christian movement became basically a Gentile group, apocalyptic style of writing fell away and early Church lost understanding of apocalyptic symbolism.

By end of 2nd Century AD, the church fathers already were puzzled by symbols of apocalyptic literature.


Note (11)

Efirds Notes (paraphrased)

Rev. 1-3

7 churches, stars (angels), lampstands, etc. Jewish menorah is a seven-branch candelabra. Seven indicates completeness. There were more than seven churches in Asia Minor; but John lists 7, in order along a well-known postal route, just as the New Testament lists 12 disciples, though there are far more because 7 means complete or total, and 12 means the people of God (12 tribes of Israel).

Seven churches, each with its own angel (also a popular convention then).

Letters to the seven churches, each contains praise and censure, and each is encouraged to keep the faith. Ephesus (2:1) is told that it is in danger of allowing sanctimony to cast a shadow on love. Nicolaitans (2:6) is warned that it is slipping toward a Gnostic heresy (an elaborate cosmology of intermediate beings between humans and God, with ascetic and libertine sects. Pergamum (2:12) is cited for its steadfastness even as it is co-located with Satan (Roman worship temples). Sardis (3:1) is moribund and in danger. Laodicea (3:14) is called lukewarm, an accusation of cheap grace, smugness, an excess of comfort and a word play since a warm stream from an upstream hot spring was famous in Laodicea.

Rev. 4-5

Rainbow is an Old Testament reference, when God promised Noah that God would not destroy humanity again. This was a necessary reminder under the stern circumstances of Domitians persecution.

24 is multiple of 12 (4:4), people of God, and two 12s is two groups, one the old community and one the new community.

Four: an apocalyptic number representing created order (wild beasts, domestic animals, birds, humans). These visions are to be attended by all created order. (Interpretations that the four refers to the gospels were the result of the loss of ability to decode apocalyptic numerical references.)

The scroll (Rev. 5) is written on both sides (normal scrolls had a smooth and rough side recto and verso), usually only written on the recto side. Writing on both sides means that the document is extremely important.

Opened by the slaughtered lamb a paradoxical figure of Jesus the Christ, since this whole set of visionary units proclaims a great victory. Thousands (multiples of ten inclusion) praise the lamb. (5:11)

Rev. 6

Seven cycles recapitulate the lambs triumph, each ending very badly for the enemies of Gods people.

Et cetera.

This is how one can go through Revelation reading aloud getting the sense of how dangerous this literature was for its author, and how defiant. Imprison us, torture us, kill us but out proclamation stands. Christ is sovereign, no other, not even Caesar.


Note (12)

Now that we know what Revelation is about the proclamation to a community suffering persecution and what it is not a prediction of the future, and now that we have some basic examples, as well as Mickey Efirds scholarship, to help us make the jump back into 90-95 AD, we can re-claim Revelation from the Darbyist (dispensationalist) accounts and proudly acknowledge that this Book is part of our canon.


Note (13)

I strongly urge readers to at least read the Preface of Harry Maiers Apocalypse Recalled,


Note (14)

Read all of Ted Grimsruds Revealing a New World: Power According to Biblical Apocalyptic,


Closing Quote

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.

Apocalypse Now small group – Section 4 – The War of the Lamb

Apocalypse Now Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church


Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation

Part Four The War of the Lamb

Notes on The War of the Lamb

One rendition of historical Jesus (long hair was not the custom of the day for men, and Jesus is here portrayed as a fairly typical Palestinian Jew, circa 30 AD)

Note (1)

In the section for Week 5, when we are reading the Book of the Revelation of John, we will spend a fair amount of time unpacking the historical context, and interpreting both Greek language nuances and genre-specific symbolism for Jewish apocalyptic writing. Chapter 12 of John Howard Yoders book, The Politics of Jesus, the chapter entitled The War of the Lamb (reprinted below, Note 7), will not prepare us for that kind of scholarly investigation, but will deal in advance with the modern ideas with which we are more familiar treating the series of visions described in Johns Apocalypse as if we have already accomplished the scholarship.

Yoders chapter will look into John of Patmos (the seer of Patmos one who sees visions) visions for what they mean to us now.

This reversal of the usual academic sequence working out from the original source and finally into our own experience we are doing the opposite is a reversal of that method. Instead of jumping into the deep end and swimming back to shore, so to speak, we have been wading into the shallow end and taking steps toward the deeper water, getting used to the water as we go.

First, we used a B-movie, an entertainment commodity, that attaches itself to certain familiar cultural conventions, and which we normally consume passively light-mindedly, participating in the story uncritically; and we tried to become critical about the film Volcano as a way of practicing critical thinking about these cultural conventions. We were knee-deep.

Then we studied a film that was more innovative an independent film and one that was a good deal less light-minded: 28 Days Later. Character development was more nuanced. The imagery (as we will see in Revelation, too) is more violent and disturbing. The direction and editing is edgier. The moral dilemmas are more stark (Selena killing Mark, for example). The intermediate themes are more controversial (military as rape culture, for example, or science and the attempt to control nature, as far less benign than Volcanos portrayal of the Man-conquers-Nature trope).

By the time we studied this film, we had already begun to familiarize ourselves with some epistemological questions. Those questions bear on the ethical dilemmas raised in these conditions of extremity; and we had already practiced looking through our heuristic device of the Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle, as a way of giving ourselves a dislocative jolt out of the passive acceptance of our day-to-day, 21st Century way-of-knowing. By now, we were waist-deep in the water.

Finally, we watched Children of Men, a film based on a dystopian novel written by a Christian author, a film with very original production values, and a film with cristological overtones that were very apparent, beginning with the title (a play on Jesus title, the Son of Man meaning the human one in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and ending with a miraculous birth (of hope) in the midst of an extremely broken and seemingly hopeless world.

Here we stepped further away from the familiar shore. We are in the water to our chests.

Yoder will hold our hand as we wade out to our necks, and we begin to let our feet release the bottom a bit as we experience our own buoyancy.


Note (2)

Theologian Ivan Illich who we have also followed in this study said that modernity (and its stepchild, postmodernity) and its vagaries were not anti-Christian, but that they are the outgrowth of a perversion of Christianity a distortion of the call to discipleship exemplified by the Samaritan as friendship across social boundaries (in the case of the Samaritan, a member of an enemy people) and a constant choice of fidelity or infidelity to that friendship.

This distortion of the message of the Samaritan began with the Constantinianiztion of the church (an alliance with the Powers) and the criminalization of sin. It culminated in the depersonalization of service, and the creation of a new personhood one characterized by alienation from ones own body, and by incessant attention to our own needs with respect to that divorced body.

This loss of the sense of our own carnality (fleshiness) is reflected in an idea of Christ that is no longer incarnational no longer wet, warm, throbbing, alive, centered in our skins, experiencing suffering and joy that is physical and in the world. This depersonalization corresponds to an instrumental and objectifying approach to both culture and ecology. We stand apart from ourselves, looking in from the outside; and we stand apart from our dis-enchanted environment (reducing it to a supply of resources), and we stand apart as a culture. We become a culture of abstraction, of general laws, of categorical imperatives, of conformity, and all the boundaries that were effaced by love when the Samaritan took the beaten Jew off the road and into his home all these boundaries that were broken on the cross, are redrawn. We begin to talk about values (a rather abstract concept) in place of right and wrong good and evil. We go down the endless and pointless path of relativism (relativistic being far different from relational).

[Illich also said that we have entered a new period, post-instrumentalist, wherein we conceive of everything including our own selves and bodies as systems an array of feedback loops, or an immune system. Treating others instrumentally, however, seems not to have passed, but become more and more normative and malignant. All others are seen as a means to some self-serving end in the medicalized language of psychoanalysis, narcissism.]

Yoder takes on the same subject Christianity versus Christendom the latter being that alliance of the church (and its perversion) with the Powers (e.g., the state and-or its dominant classes) and with the instrumentality that plays the chicken to the Powers egg.

In Stanely Haeurwas book, After Christendom?, in an essay entitled Why There Is No Salvation Outside the Church, he notes, anticipating our reading of the visions of the seer of Patmos:

God in Jesus has defeated the powers so that as disciples we can confidently live as a cruciform community in a world that has chosen not to be ruled by such love. Thus as John Howard Yoder suggests, The Church precedes the world epistemologically. We know more fully from Jesus Christ and in the context of the confessed faith than we know in other ways. The meaning and validity, and limits, of concepts like nature or a science are not best seen when looked at alone but in the light of the confession of the lordship of Christ. The church precedes the world as well axiologically, in that the lordship of Christ is the center which must guide critical value choices, so that we may be called to subordinate or even to reject those values which contradict Jesus.

If we say, outside the church there is no salvation we make a claim about the very nature of salvation namely that salvation is Gods work to restore all creation to the Lordship of Christ. Such a salvation is about the defeat of powers that presume to rule outside Gods providential care. Such salvation is not meant to confirm what we already know and/or experience. It is meant to make us part of a story that could not be known apart from exemplification in the lives of people in a concrete community.

(emphasis added)

Something to ponder: the word sovereignty. An exclusive right to control. What Yoder and Illich emphasize in their writings, that comes directly from the scriptures, is that God alone is sovereign. To claim, as Rome does (as the United States of America does), sovereignty, sets us up to recognize that claim, and therein become idolatrous. To claim, as classical liberalism does, that the lone individual (the self) is sovereign is idolatry.


Note (3)

Leo Hartshorn has written a nice summary of key points from The Politics of Jesus, reprinted here to help us understand what preceded Chapter 12, The War of the Lamb:

John Howard Yoders classic book The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans,1972; reissued 1994) has had a profound impact on how many Christians read the Bible and understand Jesus. James Wm. McClendon, Jr., a theologian within the Anabaptist tradition, was highly influenced by the book. McClendon describes its impact as being like a second conversion. In turn, as Jims friend and pastor, I was influenced by his passion for Anabaptism and subsequently became a Mennonite.

The Politics of Jesus taught Christians how to read the Bible and Jesus politically. By that I mean it opened up a way to read Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary who confronted the religious and political powers of his day and had an explicit social agenda grounded in a vision of Gods reign [emphasis added that agenda was jubilary -SG].

Since The Politics of Jesus was published, many others have read the Bible through the lens of the social sciences, political theory and new understandings of the social situation of first-century Palestine under Roman occupation. New studies have brought to the foreground even more political implications of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I have tried to compile and simplify a number of the implications of these political readings of the Gospels. These readings make it difficult to deny that Jesus and the Gospels have a social and political vision. These insights into the Gospels and Jesus provide the peacemaker and justice-seeker with a vision and model of social and political engagement.

The birth of Jesus

* Jesus birth is presented in royal images to intentionally contrast with the violent rule of Roman political leaders (Matt. 2).
* Jesus mother, Mary, proclaims his coming in the Magnificat as subverting and inverting the politics of injustice (Luke 1:46-56; a song of the anawim or poor ones).
* Jesus birth is heralded as the reign of peace and witnessed by shepherds, social outcasts (Luke 2:8-14).

The life and teachings of Jesus

* Jesus temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11)

Jesus resisted the devils temptation to rule the nations, which in the context of first-century Palestine under Roman colonial domination could only be practically and politically achieved by means of violent revolution (insights from Yoder).

* Jesus preaching/teaching ministry

Jesus first hometown sermon was a definitive moment for his continuing mission (Luke 4:16-30). It was based upon Isaiah 42: 1ff. The Spirit was upon Jesus for the purpose of proclaiming good news to the poor (i.e., a suggestion of economic transformation, not simply pie in the sky), release to the captives (such as those in debtors prison), recovery of sight to the blind (i.e., resulting in the restoration of the dependent and marginalized to economic self-sufficiency and community [emphasis added]), freedom for the oppressed (i.e., the victims of injustice), and to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Scholars suggest this last may be an allusion to the year of Jubilee, a time of restorative economic justice; see Lev. 25. Jesus ends his sermon with a prophetic challenge to ethnocentricity that almost gets him killed!

In Matthews Sermon on the Mount, which reveals some of Jesus core teachings, Jesus blessed the peacemakers (5:9) and taught love of enemies (5:43-48), as well as a way of nonviolent challenge to injustice over retaliation (5:38-42).

Jesus central teaching was the reign or kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17). This was a social and political metaphor that spoke to, among other things, a covenant, or faithful way of life among Gods people.

Jesus parables, which reflect the unjust social conditions of first century Palestine, frequently served as social commentary and critique (e.g., The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, or The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, which uses a person from a despised social group as its hero).

Jesus taught the way of nonviolence and peace (e.g., Jesus rebuked James and Johns desire for revenge and the violent destruction of a Samaritan village, in Luke 9:51-55).

* Jesus healing ministry

Jesus made healing contact with the unclean and social outcasts (e.g., lepers). The Temple purity system kept the unclean from social interaction and in economic dependence. In his healing acts Jesus brought back into the community the socially marginalized. His healings had wider social implications.

Jesus healing freed many from financial dependence.

Jesus offered healing free from its brokerage by an unjust Temple system.

Jesus exorcism, in the symbolism of Marks gospel (5:21), points to an overcoming of Roman political oppression (i.e., pigs=the unclean; possession=physical occupation; demon=Legion=Roman military unit).

* Jesus prophetic ministry

Jesus challenged the religious and social boundaries of his society, which defined holiness as separation, by having table fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners (labels for a distinct social group of outcasts deprived of certain civil rights). This prophetic act got Jesus labeled as a social deviant, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Meals can be seen as a microcosm of the larger cultures views on social boundaries (whos in and whos out). Jesus act of table fellowship was a form of social protest, symbolically proclaiming that the Reign of God included the disenfranchised (Matt. 9:11-13).

Jesus challenged the purity/holiness system of his society, which ostracized those who could not observe its detailed regulations.

Jesus juxtaposed justice, mercy and faith(fulness) over against meticulous observance of ritual law (Matt. 23:23).

Jesus broke down socially constructed gender barriers by associating with women (e.g., the Samaritan woman in John 4) and having women as disciples (e.g., Mary in Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus challenged Roman occupation and tribute/allegiance to Caesar and Rome with the bigger issue of tribute/allegiance to God (Matt. 17:24-27).

Jesus prophetically critiqued the injustices of the Temple system and its elite leaders (e.g., the story of the widows mite, which must be understood in its immediate context of Jesus critique of Temple officials, who devour widows houses, and his saying on the destruction of the Temple; see Mark 12:38-13:2). Jesus questioned the Temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). He carried out a public protest, or political street theater, in the tradition of the symbolic acts of the prophets, by overturning the tables of the moneychangers, which represented the economic injustices of the Temple system (Matt. 21:12-13). This act may have been the precipitating event of his crucifixion.

The death and resurrection of Jesus

* Jesus intentionally headed for Jerusalem, the seat of the coalition of religious and political power, to confront the injustice of the system and its leaders (Matt. 20:17-19).
* Jesus entered Jerusalem with political theater lampooning the peoples expectations of a violent, military messianic kingship by riding in on a donkey instead of a warhorse (i.e., re-enacting Zechariahs vision of a coming king who would bring peace among nations; see Zech. 9:9-10).
* When he was arrested, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:51-53). Jesus could have called upon a heavenly army to protect him, but violent resistance to Rome was not on Jesus political agenda.
* Jesus was crucified as a political criminal, as an enemy of the state, between two bandits (most likely social bandits, who violently resisted economic injustices; Matt. 27:38). He was accused of political subversion: 1) refusing to pay taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2; if we are to give to God what is Gods, as in Matt. 22:17-21, what is the implication for Caesars tribute?); 2) threatening to destroy the Temple (Matt. 26:61 and Mark13:1-2); and 3) claiming to be a messianic king (Matt. 26:63-64).
* At Jesus trial, the people are given a choice between Jesus bar Joseph, the nonviolent revolutionary, and Jesus bar Abbas, the violent revolutionary (Matt. 27:16-17).
* On the cross, a Roman political instrument of torture for revolutionaries and insurgents, Jesus identifies with the forsaken and abandoned.
* Gods resurrection of Jesus is a vindication of his life, including his way of peace and social justice.
* In Johns gospel (14:26), the resurrected Christ leaves his disciples with his way of peace, unlike the world gives (e.g., the Pax Romana, the Roman peace through violent suppression). Finally, Jesus offers his peace and breathes his Spirit, his way of life, forgiveness and peace, upon the group of disciples, the prototypical Church (John 20:19-23).


Note (4)

In preparation for Good Friday and Easter, as we go through Lent, we have pointed to the subject of renunciation, and we have made the claim through Illich first that renunciation is an exercise of freedom.

A while ago, I wanted my dog to go outside. My dog is a sensible being, like us. But if he is reluctant to go outside (its cold today), all I have to do is wave a biscuit in front of his face, then throw it outside, and he will follow. He is powerless to choose, moreso because he doesnt recognize he has a choice. The difference between that dog and us is that we can choose, and we are therefore inescapably moral beings.

The degree to which we are controlled by fears or by appetites once we have been shown that we can renounce them is the degree to which we might fail morally.

Everything in modern society tells us differently, because fears and appetites are marketable and we live in a society that has raised the market as an idol, from be all that you can be, to Pantene, because Im worth it, to a popular magazine entitled Self. This ideology has led to a culture, an ecology, and a personhood characterized not by choice, but by addiction. Addictions are our new rulers. The market throws a biscuit out the door, and we run outside after it.

What Yoder explains in The War of the Lamb is that Jesus three times in a row renounced the temptation to dictate and dominate. When he goes to be tempted, the temptation is political power. When the crowd cheers his entry into Jerusalem, he could have taken power, but he didnt. When he again whips up the crowd by running the bulls through the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple, he stands down. Then Jesus shows us what the renunciation of power looks like on the cross. He renounces the appetite for power; and he renounces the fear of death.

Here is Yoder from The War of the Lamb, referring to the visions of Revelation and meaning:

What Jesus renounced was thus not simply the metaphysical status of sonship but rather the untrammeled sovereign exercise of power in the affairs of that humanity amid which he came to dwell. His emptying of himself, his accepting of the form of servanthood and obedience unto death, is precisely his renunciation of lordship, his apparent abandonment of any obligation to be effective in making history move down the right track.

But the judgment of God upon this renunciation and acceptance of defeat is the declaration that this is victory. Therefore God has greatly exalted him and given him the title, which every creature will have to confess, the Lord. Lord in the earliest Christian confessions was not (as it is in so much modern piety) a label to state a believers humility or affection or devotion; it is an affirmation of his victorious relation to the powers of the cosmos [italics added]

this text affirms a philosophy of history in which renunciation and suffering are meaningful

The renunciation of the claim to govern history was not made only by the second person of the Trinity taking upon himself the demand of an eternal divine decree; it was also made by a poor, tired rabbi when he came from Galilee to Jerusalem to be rejected.

Jesus did not show us the freedom of God in his renunciation. He showed us the possibility of our own freedom, and in that showing He gave us a new being.

A question to provoke a closer reading of Yoder here: How does this explanation of renunciation relate to Yoders pacifism, his renunciation of violence?


Note (5)

In the first section of The War of the Lamb, Yoder critiques the idea of a thread or handle on history, by calling into question three assumptions:

1. It is assumed that the relationship of cause and effect is visible, understandable, and manageable, so that if we make our choices on the basis of how we hope society will be moved, it will be moved in that direction.

2. It is assumed that we are adequately informed to be able to set for ourselves and for all society the goal toward which we seek to move it.

3. Interlocked with these two assumptions and dependent upon them for its applicability is the further postulate that effectiveness in moving toward these goals which have been set is itself a moral yardstick.

If we look critically at these assumptions we discover that they are my no means as self-evident as they seem to be at first.

Another question to ponder: What is the significance here of the term effectiveness? Does that mean Yoder eschewed taking action in the world?

Talk given at Wake Forest University

My thanks to Patricia Willis, who has been tireless in putting together this series, who has been a detailed coordinator, an inspired and thoughtful teacher, an engaged activist, and a friendly voice on the telephone until I had the pleasure of spending a little time with her in person this afternoon.

Gratitude also to Wake Forest University, and to all of you who have taken time out of your schedules to be here tonight. My thanks as well to the other speakers in this series, Catharine MacKinnon – who preceded me, and whose critique of liberal law and its relation to gender is a pivotal work in the larger critique of modern society – and Ann Wright, a personal friend and collaborator in the effort to expose militarism and mobilize resistance against the obscene resource wars that our government is waging against the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan.

When Dr. Willis asked me to do it, she said she wanted me to talk about the relations between militarism, patriarchy, capitalism, and pornography… which sounds like a socio-political salad. In eating this salad, we have access to a lot of different dressings, or idea factions with names like liberal feminism, radical feminism, womanism, post-constructionism, anti-feminism, Marxist-feminism, ecofeminism, third-world feminism, and on and on.

A point that has to be made, however, is that these ideological dressings and this salad of categories – militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, and pornography – are haut cuisine, served almost exclusively in universities. This taxonomy is not part of the lexicon of most people. It’s the language of high-order thinking that is part of the social ecology of the university – and I’ll acknowledge here and now that calling it “high-order” thinking is an assumption within that same university culture. The university is predicated upon this assumption.

Its a useful assumption, as long as we recognize the limits of its utility, and the taxonomies of social phenomena like militarism, patriarchy, capitalism, and pornography are also useful. We just need to put them back together when were done.

This freezing and disassembly of a reality that constantly emerges in a far more complex way is one of the main standpoints of the Academy. Universities subdivide reality as a matter of course, and so people take a course in psychology, or business management, or anthropology, or horticulture, or geography, or physics. This is both a reflection of and reproduction of specialization in the division of labor. And the university itself represents a cultural division of intellectual labor, which is enforced by credentialing, and mid-wived by the rituals of higher education.

Nonetheless, this is a useful taxonomy as long as we understand its limitations and dangers. The greatest difficulty with it is that each of the categories listed patriarchy, militarism, capitalism, and pornography is itself contested by the very people who spend a lot of time studying it, those being students, teachers, writers, and activists.

Before I do that, I need to make reference to some polarities, or unified opposites: the polarity of abstract versus concrete, of universal versus local, of public versus private, and of covenental relationships versus contractual relationships.

If I describe pornography, for example, as sexually explicit media, then I have abstracted, or universalized, the category. If I describe it as an industry, then I am somewhat less abstract or universal. If I describe a production process in a specific building and time, with specific people who have specific histories, then I am more local and specific; as I am local and specific if I describe a specific pornographic genre being consumed by a specific 40-year-old man sitting at a specific address on his computer, masturbating.

In fact, an enormous number of men from teens to late middle age do predominantly two things during personal, private time on computers: they watch (and masturbate to) pornography, and they play war games. Ill come back to that in a moment, because its a somewhat-abstract, yet somewhat-concrete example of a connection between militarism and pornography.

The instant gratification as a sense of control and power that connects both these online activities is so obvious that Im surprised there havent been multiple books written about that connection.

On the question of public versus private, we need some historical perspective to denaturalize this duality, since it has only fairly recently in the sweep of history been enshrined as a neutral abstraction by liberal law. Historically, this division between the public sphere and the private sphere was a highly gendered cultural norm, wherein men occupied public spaces in male-hierarchies or as abstract equals, and where women were consigned to the private sphere which was a male-over-female domain. The irony that privacy rights law can be used by some women to protect themselves from some men is as inescapable as the fact that the abstraction of the law, pretending that men and women are equal, generally favors the status quo or male social power over women. Dr. MacKinnons book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, has laid out this contradiction very well.

The distinction between covenental and contractual relationships is even more obscure to us because the notion of contract is so completely embedded in modern culture.

Wambdi Wicasa wrote in 1974, A CONTRACT is an agreement made in suspicion. The parties do not trust each other, and they set limits to their own responsibility. A COVENANT is an agreement made in trust. The parties love each other and put no limits on their own responsibility. Indian Leaders made Treaties with the Great White Father and called them Covenants, sealing them with the smoke of the Sacred Pipe. The trouble began when the Great White Father, his Lieutenants and Merchants, looked on the Treaties and called them Contracts. Thus began in the basic religious difference the conflict between Cultures.

Carole Patemans book, The Sexual Contract, is canonical on this topic, in particular the implicit contract between male and female sexual partners that traditionally means one woman is protected from all other men by one man, in exchange for fealty to that one man. In contractual relations there is always the expectation that one has to hold up his or her side of the bargain.

Its not surprising that capitalism sprang from the same modernist impulse, with its philosophical axiom being something called a social contract. What Pateman points out is that with the waning of the medieval age in the now-dominant culture, and with the rise of modernism, patriarchy changed, too. Women were ruled by fathers in medieval society what Pateman calles paternal patriarchy. With the entrance of contract theory and abstract equality, patriarchy became fraternal that is, each woman was potentially available abstractly to all men. The shift from paternal patriarchy to fraternal patriarchy was accompanied by the development of liberal law, the notion of privacy rights, the contractualization of human relations, a global surge in colonization to underwrite capitalist expansion, and with consequences that are frighteningly apparent nowadays the commodification of the biosphere.

The philosophical corollary to this cultural tapestry was Cartesian dualism, with its separation between a so-called objective reality and intellectual or cultural constructions. Modernism was defined by the belief that the objective is the last word and with this word, the apotheosis of science; and post-modernism, which I consider just the latest instantiation of modernism, was a reaction against this objectivist dogma, an instantiation that has drifted into claims that the cultural construction is the last word. This flipped the hierarchy, but it re-embraced the dualism.

Alf Hornborg wrote, as an academic, It is not a coincidence that postmodern paralysis is a condition that mainly afflicts academics, for it is only at a distance that human meanings assume the appearance of constructions.

In his book, The Power of the Machine – Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment, Hornborg also points out that knowledge is never simply the apprehension of objective facts. [M]aterial conditions he writes never directly determine human behavior, for humans can relate to those conditions only through a specific system of meanings.”

As he suggests, knowledge is constructed within the limits of those meanings, yet upon a so-called objective environment.

Maria Mies noted that the social constructionists had simply re-appointed the same old dualism.

In her book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, Mies also identifies a common thread between male domination of women, colonialism, and the destruction-through-commodification of the biosphere. That same common thread appears in the phenomenon of men playing war games on their computers and jacking off to the most overtly woman-humiliating genres of pornography: that common thread between male domination of women, colonialism, and ecocide is the conquest-ideal.

The conquest of women. The conquest of colonies. The conquest of nature. Women are called children; colonies are called children in the same spirit; and nature is seen as a woman to be, as Francis Bacon said, plundered for her secrets.

So with that preface Ill take note that I am a man. For that reason, I am disqualified from speaking personally about the experience of being female; and for that same reason, I want to focus my talk on the experience of being a male. I cannot speak to or judge too harshly the accommodations that women make in their actual lives to the manifest reality of late capitalist and still white dominant patriarchy. I can, however, say what I think men should be doing differently; and I will.

Ill say it now, in my best Romper Room vocabulary. Remember the DO-bees and DONT-bees oh well, Ive seriously dated myself. Here is the Dont List for men. Do not dominate. Do not humiliate. Do not retaliate.

Thats a hard dont list for men, when the culture tells us incessantly and forcefully that to be a man means to dominate, to humiliate, and to retaliate. These are equated with strength; and they are counterposed to all things quote-feminine-unquote. This male norm of masculinity-as-conquest is ruthlessly policed in male culture, which is also a hotbox of probative escalation.

I could ask everyone in this room if you fear unknown men to raise your hand. You see Im raising mine. Men proving themselves to other men can be the most terrifying thing youll ever see. I say that as a military veteran who worked in eight conflict areas, in Vietnam, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Men proving themselves to other men is as dangerous as it gets. There are people right here in this room who would be alarmed by the sudden sound of multiple male voices laughing nearby, because that sound can be so pregnant with mischief. Males are bonding. Escalations are possible.

This is male culture that idealizes the conquest of women, the conquest of colonies, and the conquest of nature. It is probative conquest, too; and it requires trophies for the other men to whom you are proving yourself, and as proof of masculinity to display for women.

If you can think back to the time in this terrible occupation of Iraq when Abu Masab al-Zarqawi was the boogy-man when the media propagated the lie that every attack and every bomb was being made by this one wicked being and if you can remember when Zarqawi was killed, the Central Command Public Affairs Officer who stood before the breathless media in the Green Zone was backgrounded by a giant photograph of the obviously dead face of Zarqawi.

This was a hunting trophy.

In displaying this most dangerous game, the Central Command was demonstrating its prowess in a war story that has been a social convention for so long that it has become a cultural memory, an axiomatic belief accompanied by deeply enculturated emotional resonance.

The idealization of the military, of the warrior, of the armed defender is so sacrosanct that every politician in the country feels obliged to genuflect as they talk about heroes in uniform, and our brave men and women in the military. The addition of women to that idealization has not fundamentally changed the fact that warfare is still the testing ground for masculinity; but it is a cultural advance albeit a contradictory one by liberal feminism, that public figures have to include women in this sinister idealization at all.

The realities of war are never abstract, no matter how many times pontificating generals announce how much they abhor the reality of war, or no matter how many times sycophant journalists make the idiotic claim that no one dislikes war more than those who fight them this in reference to officers who sought out every combat opportunity they could find as a means of personal career advancement. While we are taught to praise them for their service-ethic, the reality is much more about naked ambitions combined with a deep desire for male-recognition in the role of conqueror.

The war in Southwest Asia right now is characterized by destabilization of culture and vicious bullying of the local populations, combined with terror attacks from helicopter gunships, bombers, and armed unmanned aerial drones. Our heroes are still mostly non-combatants; and our combatants are obliged by their mission statements to control a population which translates into dominate, humiliate, and retaliate. Think of Iraq and Afghanistan, and very soon now Pakistan as Obama goes east to get his bones, as captive populations, with our heroes in uniform acting as jailers, and we can make sense yet again of the discoveries of the Stanford Prison Experiment where playacting the role of prison guard turned average college students into pain-inflicting sadists within a week.

We live into stories. I know thats not how most sociologists or psychologists explain our meaning-making behavior; only religions seem to have held onto this idea which goes some way to explaining their persistence, for ill and for good. The fact is, human beings are storied. We receive stories, then we live into them. There is a story about America that weve all heard, and the living into that story is called citizenship, because it is a national story, and the protagonist is the citizen. And while the ideal is portrayed as Washington crossing the Delaware or Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation or Rambo fighting the politicians who supposedly stabbed the Vietnam heroes in the back most of us cannot live directly into the big story that is the idealization of the citizen, so we behave as something called good citizens as our way of living into the story that the ideals construct for us.

Stories tell us how we are to be and how we are to know.

Even a one-minute television ad is a story, telling us who we are and how to be and how to know.

Pantene, because youre worth it; or mobilizing simultaneous attraction and repulsion Preparation H, gives relief and doesnt require surgery. Advertisers know more about the material power of the narrative than most cultural constuctionists. All people in all times and all places are storied people.

Coming back to the issue of capitalism, and being more concrete than that one word – capitalism can be, Ill say coming back to imperial-core, late capitalist consumerism; US culture reflects the globally generalized financial architecture, within which the US has been for several decades until now the global consumer of last instance, ensuring the so-called virtuous cycle of capital. The fact that it was built on a house of credit cards at home, and the hegemony of a too-big-to-fail US dollar abroad, is not my subject tonight. In our de-localized, ever-more-monocultural, technology-dependent world, we are experiencing a surfeit of stories most designed to correct the capitalist nightmare of people having enough. When people have enough, capitalism has a crisis. That crisis is held back by demand production. Advertisers create new needs, and sell them into the psychic spaces of our own alienations and anxieties.

Postmodernist recognition of these very-plural narratives is an important challenge to the self-assuredness of a highly technologized society, but postmodernism became too clever by half in its critiques of modernist assumptions. In challenging the metanarratives of capitalist science and development, the critique was aimed at an older, more stable form of modernism.

This widening anachronism left postmodernism vulnerable to the episteme of plain, garden-variety consumerism: the ideology that says choice is freedom, and now even something called identity is available for a kind of shopping aisle selection.

I still prefer the term personhood to identity, because personhood for me embraces the whole phenomenon of experience without reducing it to identity, and in a way that is more permeable to all the influences of culture and our ecology.

The abstraction and atomization of core-nation consumer culture pretends that is has escaped the inextricable relation between our physical ecology, our culture, and personhood. By that I mean that the ideology of self, of the ever-choosing individual, whether that is Homo economicus or the selection of de-localized, shopping cart identities. Its liberalism in its slyest form.

It fails to come to grips with issues of real power and privilege, and it fails to acknowledge how our de-localization is tearing down the complexity of a bioshpere that has taken billions of years to develop. Liberalism tells us a story about the abstract equality equality before the law of white, black, brown, of native and foreign, of male and female, of rich and poor, gay and straight, and yet we know that concretely that these equalities just aint so.

Being more specific still, liberalism tells us that men and women are equal. What does that mean? What do we mean by this equality? We are not the same morphologically and I dont mean to exclude those few who fall into neither category. By and large, we are overwhelmingly a sexually dimorphous species, so the equality cant be physical. I cant give birth, and I cant nurse, and I have experienced neither menarche or menopause.

This is an embarrassment to liberalism to say this, because the equality of liberalism is disembodied; so the liberal reply is that we are all equal before the law, or that we are all morally valued equally. But, of course, thats not true either except as an abstraction. When we point this out, then liberalism shifts premises on us, and says that it means equal opportunity.

Game over. Accountability canceled. Its about something called opportunity, disembodied, floating, ahistorical, waiting to be breathed in out of the ether.

Abstract equality legitimates concrete-power and ends up preserving and even reproducing hierarchies that devalue people.

Patriarchy is a practice and an ideology based on the devaluation of women.

What the great radical feminists pointed out, which seems clear to me at least, is that women-as-a-group are different from men-as-a-group, culturally but also physiologically and culture and physiology never ever exist apart in the concrete world but that difference is not grounds for the establishment of oppressive hierarchies. Now we know that these hierarchies exist, and have existed. Basic to those social hierarchies is the male-conquest-ideal control of women, control of colonies, and control of nature.

We may not like them, but we swim in the actual soup of this system, doing the best we can with what we know and have. Like it or not, our personhood always being permeated by culture-as-it-is, which is in turn always permeated by the ecology, which in turn shapes personhood, and so forth.

Being in the hierarchies means it is difficult – sometimes impossible – to see these big pictures, because life is lived in little pictures.

So the hierarchies themselves are formative of our personhood. This questioning of sexual hierarchy imposed on difference required historical subjects women themselves to pose the question; and posing the question was itself a radical political practice carried directly into that ecology where patriarchy was and is practiced with the least mediation the private sphere.

Let me stop and take a quick survey. How many of you have ever felt humiliated by your own chosen actions while applying for a job, or a scholarship, or a school, or in managing a relationship?

Folks, we make compromises with power every single day. Does that mean we have to come up with some abstract principle that conceals the contingent necessity for compromise?

I bring this up, because I want to inoculate us against the First Amendment.

That got some head-scratching started.

I want to talk about pornography before Im through tonight; but I have to say this right out of the gate: I am not proposing the criminalization of anything, and the First Amendment falls into that abstract liberal law category. I dont want to talk about pornography in general; and I havent the least intention of raising hypothetical questions about pornography. I am going to critique actually-existing pornography. The First Amendment cannot be used to immunize pornography from critique, any more than it can immunize perfectly-legal Nazi propaganda from critique. What the First Amendment is, is a big red herring.

Three very prominent themes in commercially produced pornography are are you ready? Can you guess?

Domination. Humiliation. Revenge.

There is such a thing, concretely, in every society, as male-culture. That it is male culture is not disproved by the fact that women can and do sometimes act in ways that are similar to male-cultural norms. These are cultural norms, not laws of physics.

Domination. Humiliation. Revenge.

Folks, this is male-culture ideology; and it is part and parcel of the social hierarchy of men-over-women. These are not merely ideas. These are deeply emotionally resonant norms embedded in patriarchy, and they are highly, highly eroticized.

Now theres something I hear all the time, and I think its silly as hell: Rape is not about sex; its about power. Who thought that up? When in knowable history has sex ever been independent of or innocent of power? Of course rape is sexual. It is sexualized force; and it is forcible sex.

The abstraction of sex out of its actual cultural and historical context is a liberal stunt in reaction to conservative prudery. Conservatives say sex is bad; so we say sex is good. Neither of these notions is tenable, because both are uncritically simplified, and each makes a straw man out of the otheer.

People enjoy sex well, some people do and some dont. The critique on the table is not whether sex feels good or not.

People like to eat McDonalds and smoke cigarettes; but that doesnt mean its good. And asserting someones rights in these regards when we are simply critiquing it is a red herring.

I said earlier that If I describe pornography as sexually explicit media a very abstract way of describing it, then I have drained the content of the category of any tangible reality. The reaction of paternalist patriarchal conservatives, male and female those who we identify with the religious right, for example does not challenge the abstraction of the category, sex, but puts a minus-sign next to it. A straw man, of course, because the conservative position is not that simple either.

The liberal reaction to the straw-man conservative reaction has been to put a plus-sign alongside the category, arguing from the rootless, placeless, ahistorical position that – quote – sex is good – unquote.

Both these positions accept the unstated premise that sex can be generalized thus, that it can be abstracted out of history, out of our specific social ecologies, and out of real systems of social power.

Combine this tendency to treat all issues as if history is simply a playground of abstract ideas combine that tendency with another unexamined two-stage premise that we must be effective in pursuing political agendas, and that that efficacy is possible only in the arena of public policy and we have a situation wherein the tail of the political agenda begins to wag the dog of honest criticism.

We have intellectual dishonesty on both sides of a debate.

The debate about abortion is a classic example, where each side of the barricades is driven to simplify, obfuscate, and employ disingenuousness in order to strengthen its own half of the public controversy. A decision that is, in fact, for real people, complicated, situated, unique, and often very momentous, is reduced to two words: life and choice, both polemical simplifications that try to squeeze this visceral, often painful, and always extremely complicated circumstance with real people into some universal principle that is forced to externalize complexity that is, the specific realities of real people. So, instead of a critical account one that takes a fearless look at these complexities without the distortions of a long standing policy agenda we get this polarized and mutually dishonest one. And, of course, we also get an impasse.

Pornography is just as contentious, although the critical debates over it havent filtered into the kind of all-consuming policy-agenda struggle as the question of abortion. It has turned into a struggle over an abstract principle enshrined as the First Amendment. The result has been the exclusion of one of the most important critical voices in my opinion with regard to actually-existing pornography not the abstract pornography that is contested in the narrow debate about what is abstractly called protected speech. That critical voice has been radical feminism, a standpoint quite distinct from liberal feminism because it has refused to accept the tendency to compartmentalize public discourse in categories that implicitly privilege public policy struggles as the touchstone of critical discourse. Not least, because public policy, and all the dominant ideas about it, are still man-world.

Radical feminism put the challenge out there that made it the skunk at the party. It asked the question whether real sex in all its manifestations has ever existed, or can ever exist, in a universe apart from actually-existing social power. This refusal to subordinate critical questions to the unexamined premise of the primacy of public-policy debates created embarrassment on both sides of the pornography debate between conservatives and liberals.

Instead, radical feminists focused on the most direct and sexual form of domination in actual practice: rape also a favorite porn story convention (as well as being one aspect of the industrys actual practice).

As it turns out, the stark and disturbing lens of rape reveals several dimensions of our social relations. The domination of women-as-women by men-as-men has long served as a metaphor, and therefore a model, for other forms of domination. And this is the juncture at which I need to take notice of something Ive left unsaid so far.

Our standpoint now, in this talk, is eurocentric, core-nation imperial. Ive already made several references to the conquest of women corresponding in our minds to the conquest of nature. And Ive already made reference to the construction of masculinity being centered on the conquest ideal. Now I have to fess up, that this is not the whole story. While emulated within the 20th Century by non-Europeans during the heyday of development, the conquest of nature notion has its deepest historical roots in the Atlantic, where hydrocarbon industrialism took off and facilitated European, then American, colonialism.

The conquest-ideal Ive described is something available only to males in the imperium. The men in the periphery, in the colonies, formulate masculinities, even oppressive masculinities; but they are not identical with masculinity that is constructed from a standpoint near the apex of the inter-national pyramid. Concomitantly, femininity is constructed differently in colonized communities. These differences are not an outcome of chosen identities in a diffuse social plurality, but determined to a significant extent by the relations between the colonizer and the colonized.

And colonization is always racialized.

We neednt go across the ocean to find our examples. We live in North Carolina, where we are still largely segregated by race separated spatially with, of course, consumer spaces as our primary cross-racial shared space and separated residentially, culturally, socio-economically, and ecologically.

If we want to see a snapshot of the racial divide, one that has been layered over with new contradictions since the 1991 peso collapse and the wave of immigration from Latin America, we can simply think back on the variant reactions between white and Black, as well as between white and Black women, to the OJ Simpson murder trial.

That difference is accounted for by two dramatically different standpoints: one group with colonial privilege, and one living as the colonized. White women share Black womens fear of men; but Black women also fear the police because Black people have good reason to fear the police. So white folk put the burden of proof on OJ; but Black folk put the burden of proof on the police. History matters; and so does standpoint.

Another lens though which we can explore this standpoint variance is through rape. Its a dense, complicated intersection, this race and rape; so Ill only sketch it here and leave you to reflections on your experience. Ill start with prison figures, just to reiterate the coloniality of the white-Black and more and more white-Brown relation… Barack Obama’s presidency notwithstanding.

More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. Until the economic collapse hit and forced states to halt increasing prison population which they are just trying to figure out now, for fiscal reasons one out of every three Black males could expect to spend time incarcerated in his lifetime. Its a stunning figure, and it is based on laws adopted to end-run the abolition of Jim Crow, as well as huge sentencing disparities.

The interesting thing about prison, in this context however, is how we – white, non-incarcerated men in particular think about prison. In any all-white-male gathering, when the topic of prison comes up, the topic of rape nearly always comes up too usually as a form of humor that has the character of someone whistling past the graveyard.

Mens concern about rape a source of constant threat and subliminal fear for women is generally not very acute; but when the possibility of being raped themselves is brought forward, then it becomes scandalous and terrifying.

Part of that white-male terror is associated with the dread-laden fantasy of being raped by Black men, which maps directly onto an old Southern colonial standby meme: the notion of the Black satyr, of Black men as predisposed moreso than other men to commit rape. This notion has been trotted out by every demagogue in the South during the most vicious anti-Black pograms; and it is still central to the world-view of the white-male conservative political base in the South, but also now more generally.

It was a proprietary standpoint, with women as property and men as embodying the actual people, wherein the dominant male was protecting His women from contamination by the male Other.

Black men have historical experience of being persecuted, using the feared or alleged rape of white women; and Black women have been involved as the sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends, and spouses of the very Black men who were persecuted using trumped-up rape charges. As Andrea Dworkin wrote:

In the United States, with its distinctly racist character, the very fear of the dark is manipulated, often subliminally, into fear of black, of black men in particular, so that the traditional association between rape and black men that is our national heritage is fortified. In this context, the imagery of black night suggests that black is inherently dangerous. In this context, the association of night, black men, and rape becomes an article of faith. Night, the time of sex, becomes also the time of raceracial fear and racial hatred. The black male, in the South hunted at night to be castrated and/or lynched, becomes in the racist United States the carrier of danger, the carrier of rape. The use of a racially despised type of male as a scapegoat, a symbolic figure embodying the sexuality of all men, is a common male-supremacist strategy. Hitler did the same to the Jewish male. In the urban United States, the prostitute population is disproportionately made up of black women, streetwalkers who inhabit the night, prototypical female figures, again scapegoats, symbols carrying the burden of male-defined female sexuality, of woman as commodity. And so, among the women, night is the time of sex and also of race: racial exploitation and sexual exploitation are fused, indivisible. Night and black: sex and race: the black men are blamed for what all men do; the black women are used as all women are used, but they are singularly and intensely punished by law and social mores; and to untangle this cruel knot, so much a part of each and every night, we will have to take back the night so that it cannot be used to destroy us by race or by sex. END QUOTE

Colonizers always racialize the colonized, which is to say, subtract an element of the colonized person’s basic humanity.

What white men fear in their fantasies about prison is that the tables will be turned. They already have been taught as men that sex has an aspect of domination and vengeance. The language we hear in pornographic conventions, language that has been tested for its marketability, includes Take that, you bitch, or Im gonna make you squeal.

It drips with aggression, no pun intended.

We all know that many men see having sex with a despised mans wife, daughter, mother is seen as pure vengeance. We are all familiar with the use of sexual language to describe extreme aggression. part of the will to dominate. Men already see this, and we have already internalized it, and white men who havent been to prison, but who fantasize their dread of prison, also already see prison as a place where the protection of their privilege will disappear, and where the Black rapist of the white imagination will have the opportunity to get revenge.

This notion of a frontier between safe-world and dark-dangerous-world – a frontier that has to be guarded and policed – is fundamental to the narrative of every prison, and of every war.

One of the major difficulties of reforming prisons is that many people see the possibility of rape in prison to be a legitimate part of the convicted persons comeuppance. We, as a society, have legitimized sexual revenge, rape as revenge and domination, every time we celebrate the notion that one of the bad guys however we define that will get whats coming to him in prison.

If you misbehave, this trope tells us, your comeuppance will be that you will become like a woman. You will become subject to rape.

Sexual humiliation is understood very well for its power. We saw that in the photos from Abu Ghraib. We see it in our literature and films. It is acted out explicitly in much pornography.

The intersection of race and sex brings two taxonomies of power together; and the mix has proven volatile in more ways than one. The Black man-white woman pair in reality or imagination is still the trigger for white masculine insecurity and rage. Proprietary rage, fueld by the fear of contamination spilling across one of those sealed frontiers.

One of the ways that rage is eroticized and made manageable is in a pornographic film convention that features a white woman with one or more Black men.

As culture has evolved in the US, younger folks have become less scandalized by interracial pairing, not surprisingly at the same time that younger people tend to get less exercised by same-sex erotic affinities; and many of us are tempted to see this as progress of a sort. I am. It is.

But this hasnt been the whole story of our newfound tolerance of sexual diversities; and let me say for the record that I celebrate that the world has become a somewhat less hostile place for many members of our human family.

A critical concern with the actual culture of tolerance described here is that the tolerance is embraced not for its political content which is potentially subversive of power but because this tolerance is part of a live-and-let-live attitude of disengagement or rather, I might call it a permanent state of irony, a flirtation with meaninglessness, or what Richard Rorty called approvingly light-minded aestheticism.

If that light-mindedness, and the un-named imperial privilege that is its precondition, is challenged critically, that challenge has met with defensive rationalizations, the most pernicious of which is that the mere act of transgressing norms is somehow and magically subversive.

On the contrary, the transgression of boundaries and this applies erotically as well as counter-culturally validates the boundaries themselves; because the crossing of the boundary is the kick. Nancy Hartsock writes, in her book, Money, Sex, and Power:

In pornography, the body usually a womans body is presented as something that arouses shame, even humiliation, and the opposition of the spirit or mind to the body the latter sometimes referred to as representing something bestial or non-human generates a series of dualities Pornography is built around, plays on, and obsessively recreates these dualities. The dichotomy between spiritual love and carnal knowledge is re-created in the persistent fantasy of transforming the virgin into the whore. She begins pure, innocent, fresh, even in a sense disembodied, and is degraded and defiled in sometimes imaginative and bizarre ways.

Transgression is important here: Forbidden practices are being engaged in. The violation of the boundaries of society breaks its taboos. Yet the act of violating a taboo, of seeing or doing something forbidden, does not do away with the forbidden status. Indeed, the way womens bodies are degraded and defiled in the transformation of the virgin into the whore simply crosses over and over again the boundary between them. Without the boundary, there could be no transformation. And without the boundary to violate, the thrill of transgression would disappear.

I tend to agree with Dr. Hartsock that transgression, then, as a value in and of itself, ends up promoting self-indulgence and self-involvement as magical antidotes to social boundaries, while having the opposite, or at least no, effect on the structural conditions that constituted the boundaries in the first place.

It has the character of trying to shock one’s parents to get noticed.

Without an analysis of power, we might fail to see that dominant groups always transgress boundaries that this transgression is a prerogative of power.

Now let me remind us that in this respect, especially imperial militarism IN PRACTICE is the same as the aspect of pornography that Hartsock describes, and moreso now in the information age.

Near the beginning of this talk, I painted the picture of a core-nation, middle-class male, sitting at a computer. This male was either watching porn and masturbating, or he was playing war games that is, entertaining himself by pretending he was killing human beings. In both cases, this man at the monitor was engaged in a kind of voyeurism, the voyeurism of sex and the voyeurism of war.

In some ways, our zeitgeist might be characterized as voyeurism as participation from an anonymous distance in transgressive-thrills.

Our man at the monitor can participate at a safe distance in a gang-bang or a firefight. Anyone who might happen to see him and not his monitor and maybe not his lap would see a man sitting at a computer, who is outwardly very different from the intra-psychic imaginings of that same man.

A liberal political description of this empirical picture the man sitting in front of the monitor is that he is not bothering anyone, and that whatever he is doing on that computer is his choice. Fair enough.

But a critical political description requires us to ask questions about that intra-psychic space, about the physical ecology and the ideational ecology and the historicized culture that all impinge upon and constantly re-determine the whole gestalt of this man at the computer. Who are the real people caricatured in the porn flick? What happens in real wars? When the game is over, what real lives are resumed, and how have those real lives been affected?

Near the beginning, I posed a few polarities: abstract versus concrete, universal versus local, public versus private, and covenental relationships versus contractual relationships. Now I want to come back to these polarities to close.

Men who are trapped in the mind-numbing and anodyne grid of core-nation middle-class existence, and simultaneously trapped in the expectations of male personhood based still on the idealization of conquest live into stories or recreations of that conquest vicariously. Concretely, there are billions of dollars being made to satisfy the market for vicarious fucking and killing, and the development of these vicarious-thrill commodities uses real people for their development. Porn uses so-called models or actors, but also producers and directors and pimps. War game developers rely heavily on the experience of people who have actively participated in killing people in actual wars still extant.

The objectification of women and enemies, one to reduce her to a sex toy and one to reduce him or her to a corpse, is abstract to the imaginary person watching the man at the monitor. The actual consequences of objectification that is part of the everyday experience of women and so-called enemies is not abstract in the least. These objectifying consequences involve rape kits, body bags, funerals, addiction, captivity, and fear. Plenty of fear.

Enemies are always feminized and racialized. The American soldier calls the Iraqi a hadji when the Iraqi is at a distance, and bitch when the soldier has a boot on the Iraqis neck.

When women told us that the personal is the political, they were telling us that we as men were pretending that power was an issue only in the polis, in the town square or work site where men pontificated.

Women told us that there was a power dynamic at home, too, where the violations of good will and good faith are deep and hurtful because this is where we men most liked to pretend that we were in covenental, not contractual, relationships.

Our violations of good will and good faith in the private sphere were not contract violations, but betrayal of a covenent of friendship, again as Wambdi Wicasa said, an agreement made in trust [wherein] the parties love each other and put no limits on their own responsibility.

Militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, pornography. these are the tendencies of power in one-single emergent reality; and we have our day-to-day, concrete, local, and even private practices to negotiate a system that holds us all within it. And the best I can offer is that simple challenge to men, that might give our sisters, all members of the human family, and ourselves a breathing space to figure out how to move toward a story and a world of covenants, not contracts. That challenge is the dont-list.

We can do this a day at a time, so it isnt overwhelming. Today, we can say as men, I will pay attention. Today, I will not dominate. Today, I will not humiliate. Today, I will not retaliate. Not even vicariously.

Thank you, and God bless you for your patience and attention.

Apocalypse Now small group – Part Three – Children of Men

“Apocalypse Now” Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church


Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation

Part Three — Children of Men
Showing at the All Saints UMC Ministry Center, 7 PM, Friday, March 20

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Iain Smith, Hilary Shor, Tony Smith, Thomas Bliss, Armyan Bernstein

Written by Novel: P. D. James, Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Clive Owen (uncredited)

Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan, and Michael Caine

[All quotes and images are employed under Title 17, “Fair Use” law, and no portion of this study is for profit.]


Note (1)

Before reviewing the film itself, lets hear what Ivan Illich (from The Rivers North of the Future) had to say about renunciation, a key theme for Lent as we prepare ourselves at the end of Lent to re-live into the story of the Passion.

I think I would start a little bit too high if I began now to speak about Jesus absolute request that, if you come from the solid, middle-of-the-road, practicable Judaism into this little sect, you renounced the freedom to separate from your wife. You renounced an opportunity which the Jew had [in the parable of the Samaritan]. You renounced the need to belong to the we in order to fine your I. The place outside of Jerusalem, Golgotha, where the cross was put up, became the symbol of this renunciation. As in the Temptation, he renounced changing the world through power. Christians who imitate him soon discover that little practices of renunciation, of what I wont do, even though its legitimate, are a necessary habit I have to form in order to practice freedom.

What a beautiful, innocent world it was when people could still practice this renunciation by not eating chicken soup on Friday. I still remember that world. It made no sense in Europe during the Second World War when meat was rationed anyway, and I forgot about it. But when I came to New York, I found that people really were concerned about not eating meat on Friday. And, during the six weeks of Lent, they would give up something that was hard for them in order to learn how to give up other things. I remember my boss on the first days of the first Lent which I spent in the United States. When we sat down for breakfast, and he was grouchy as anything. And I asked him twice, Sir, did I do something wrong? No! Did I offend you? No! Do you feel badly? Yes, its Lent, and Ive given up my cigar. Well, punishing me was a funny way of going about his renunciation, but I love to think of it because it reminds me of the things which, in the modern world, we can give up not because we want a more beautiful life, but because we want to become more aware of how much we are attached to the world as it is and how much we can get along without it. These unnecessary tings have now multiplied to such an extent that you cant easily give a social shape to them. Some people will give up writing letters on a computer not because its bad, and not because they dont like to have to answer letters at the speed of email. Others will give up the services of physicians or, as somebody whom I know has done, guaranteeing that each of his children will get a college degree.

The certainty that you can do without is one of the most efficacious ways of convincing yourself, no matter where you stand on the intellectual or emotional ladder, that you are free. Self-imposed limits provide a basis and a preparation for discussion of what we can renounce as a group of friends or a neighborhood. I have seen it, and I can witness to it. For many people who suffer from great fears and a sense of impotence and depersonalization, renunciation provides a very simple way back to a self which stands above the constraints of the world.

And such renunciation is especially necessary in the world in which we live. Tyranny of old was exercised over people who still knew how to subsist. They could lose their means of subsistence, and be enslaved, but they could not be made needy. With the beginning of capitalist production in the spinning and weaving shops of the Medicis, a new type of human being was being engendered: needy man, who has to organize a society, the principle function of which is to satisfy human needs. And needs are much more cruel than tyrants.


Note (2)

Movie Review

By Gregg Tubbs (for the United Methodist Church – link here)

(UMC.org)—The Bible says, faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV). But what is left to believe in when you remove all hope? What is there to strive for when there is no future ahead? In director Alfonso Cuaróns dark and dazzling futuristic thriller, Children of Men, we see the results of a world stripped of hope. Here, the death of a single 18-year-old is devastating world news, not because he was a prince or pop star, but because he was the youngest person on the planet. The film introduces us to a future without children or the hope of children in a world where all women are infertile and where just one birth could change everything—even the soul of man. This is definitely a nativity story of a different kind.

Based on P. D. James dystopian novel, and directed and co-written by celebrated filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Children of Men transports us one generation into the future when mass infertility has plunged the world into despair, paranoia and chaos. Rioting and anarchy have overtaken the globe, with the exception of England. Although wracked by violence between warring political and racial factions, Britain has marshaled on by instituting a series of progressively repressive measures. The government installs a brutal Homeland Security force, closing borders and detaining foreign refugees (derisively called fugees) in squalid, dangerous compounds.

As the film opens, disillusioned political activist Theo (a beautifully understated Clive Owen) is in a London coffee house watching the news of the death of the earths youngest person at only 18. News of this unexpected death sends a grim ripple throughout the world, adding a final punctuation mark to humankinds death sentence. Theo, like millions in England, sleepwalks through a hopeless, meaningless existence. As one character eloquently put it, Once the sounds of the playground faded, the despair set in.

Then Theo is confronted with the one thing he could never have expected—a lone pregnant woman named Kee (newcomer Clare-Hope Ashitey).

Kee is a wanted woman, pursued by groups determined to claim her and the miraculous child for their own political purposes. Shes also a hated fugee from Africa, and Theo knows that the wildly nationalistic government would never accept that the child who could restore meaning and hope to the world could be anything but British. Theo and his aging, hippie friend Jasper (Michael Cane) must wage a desperate race against the clock, and perhaps even fate, to deliver Kee to safety with the mysterious Human Project.

Despite its sci-fi trappings, Children of Men succeeds by portraying a fully realized and completely believably alternate reality, one that echoes current reality. Cuarón eschews Hollywoods current penchant for frenetic editing and instead builds his action around intricately staged, extended shots where the camera never cuts, weaving in and out among the characters, putting the audience in the center of the action. Far from empty showmanship meant to impress film buffs, this technique has a startling, visceral impact and helps add to the storys almost overpowering emotional wallop.

No empty-headed action flick, this film is rife with social and spiritual subtext. Its theme is hope: how we thrive in its presence and wither in its absence. Theo undergoes rejuvenation—even redemption—when his hope is restored through the promised new birth. The change in his character is powerful, as is the change in everyone who encounters the pregnant woman, Kee. Her very presence-the tangible symbol of a future—restores their faith and inspires them to kindness, courage and sacrifice. The symbolism is not lost, as she walks, Christ-like, through a crowd and the people clamor to touch even the hem of her garment.

The film explores a number of societal and social ills. Mass infertility functions as a catalyst for the story, representing any cataclysmic event that shakes a society loose from its principles and shared humanity. We see how a climate of fear and despair can drive a society (and individuals) inward, erecting walls in its desperation for protection and sacrificing true freedom for perceived security. We are shown how easy it is to slip into us and them thinking-dehumanizing and demonizing those who are different in appearance, speech or beliefs. Issues of immigration, racism, terrorism, the environment and rampant nationalism all come into play.

It was fitting that this film opened on Christmas day because it represents a kind of post-apocalyptic nativity story—a rebirth of hope and new life for a lost people. And although it focuses on the birth of one miraculous human child, Children of Men also powerfully reminds us that we are all children of God.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.


Note (3)

The ECP Triangle, ecology-culture-personhood, is on stark display in this film. In the human ecology of fascism and civil war, we see how each of the characters has her or his personhood bent or broken, how each person has adapted within the cultural role available or assigned or chosen out of this milieu. As a mental exercise, choose three characters, and for each of them imagine what they might have been like had the infertility and social chaos not happened. How is each affected by the impending extinction of humanity? Is this condition of extremity re-creating them into something they were not, or is it magnifying something that was latent in each personality?

What about that dissipated character, Nigel, Theos cousin the bureaucrat, who arranges for the travel papers? What do you make of the scene in which is ensconced in a palatial suite, with his pharmaco-cyborg son, surrounding himself with iconic world-renowned art, exotic animals, and extravagant furnishings? Does his character say anything pertinent to our own actual condition? Are there Nigels among us? What makes them?

Try another mental exercise. Describe the culture, as culture: what is the music, the economic activity, the religion(s), the fashion, the media, etc.? Then, describe the ecology, as a physical surrounding objectifying and externalizing it describing other people as simply another species that has behaviors. How does this kind of dissociation, this objectifying detachment, do to you as you practice it? Does it give you some relief, some distance from the implication of responsibility that resides in empathy? Some rest from the effort of concern?


Note (4)

The original author of the novel upon which the movie is based is Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, P. D. James being her nom de plume. The Wiki entry for her says:

James began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, was published in 1962.

Many of Jamess mystery novels take place against the backdrop of the UKs vast bureaucracies such as the criminal justice system and the health services, arenas in which James honed her skills for decades starting in the 1940s when she went to work in hospital administration to help support her ailing husband and two children. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, Jamess husband died and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Department of Home Affairs.

James worked in government service until her retirement in 1979, and her experiences within these bureaucracies add a complex stratum of insiders knowledge to her writing. Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays a grasp of the inner workings of church hierarchy: she is an Anglican and a Lay Patron of the Prayer Book Society. Her later novels are often set in a community closed in some way, be this in a publishing house or barristers chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic as with her latest work. Her prose is very clear and precise. Her new Adam Dalgliesh novel, The Private Patient, was published in August 2008 in the U.K. by Faber Faber and in November 2008 in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf.

During the 1980s, many of Jamess mystery novels were adapted for television by Anglia Television for the ITV network in the United Kingdom. These productions have been broadcast in other countries, including the USA on its PBS channel. These productions featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. In 2003, the BBC adapted Death in Holy Orders for a one-off drama with Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh.

Her 1992 novel The Children of Men served as the inspiration for Children of Men, a feature film released in 2006, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Despite its substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film.

James once said of writing Children of Men, When I began The Children of Men, I didn’t set out to write a Christian book. I set out to deal with the idea I had. What would happen to society with the end of the human race? At the end of it, I realized I had written a Christian fable. It was quite a traumatic book to write.


Note (5)

Ralph Wood, writing for Theology Today, said:

The key to P. D. Jamess fiction, especially her later work, is her Christianity. She regards our cultural malaise as having theological no less than ethical cause. The murder in A Taste for Death occurs in a church, for instance, and the murderer is not only a sadist but also a nihilist who revels in the god-like power inherent in the threat of death. He kills in order to prove that the cosmos is empty of divinity. Like Dostoevsky, James is determined to ask whether, if there be no God, all goodness is vacated and all evils unleashed. As a Christian, James knows that the answer is yes. But as a novelist, she has sought to make her faith implicit rather than overt. . . . James is an artist whose moral instruction is conveyed indirectly through aesthetic appeal, not a prophet who seeks our conversion by directly declaring the divine Word.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Note (6)

In director Alfonso Cuarons words:

[I]nfertility we use just as a metaphor. In a science fiction movie you would have gone into the whys and the mystery of infertility. We decided to not even care about it and just take it as a point of departure. So based upon that, taking that as a point of departure, to try to make an observation about the state of things. [Someone mentioned the story in terms of its connection to] Homeland Security and stuff, but the movie is not about that. That is part of the observation of the reality that we are living. The whole idea with that is to try to bring the state of things, what is happening outside the green zones that we happily live in and what happens if we bring the world into the green zones. We experience for an hour and a half the state of things, and then try to make our own conclusions about the possibility of hope.

What does Cuaron mean by Green Zones?

Here is an article I wrote two years ago about Suburbia as Green Zone, though not in those terms, but as Dark World and Safe World. This was before my conversion, but definitely well down this present path. A short excerpt:

The media have assumed a totalizing role in our lives. Evidence of how effective this role has been is the fact that most of us still believe that the “reputable” media (NYT, Washington Post, CNN, etc.) merely reflect (imperfectly) the realities about which they “report.” Yet the Finkel hagiography is a perfect example of fitting a narrative to cultural conventions (especially the conventions of the film script) in ways that actively participate, and invite the audience to participate, in the reproduction of the racism and patriarchy inherent in those conventions. The Safe-World is somewhere in the suburbs, ringed with layers of defense: lawns, fences, homeowners associations, bands of strip malls, interstate highways, contract security, cops, the oceans, the aircraft carriers and nuclear armed submarines….

Outside the layered defenses of Safe-World, surrounding it, are dark, unpredictable, primitive Others. Inside Safe-World, when stability reigns, men can provide and rest at the hearth. But the real rite of passage for Men is to leave the safety of the hearth to confront this Dark Otherness outside Safe-World. Having done their duty disciplining the teeming periphery, they can return to the hearth, where Woman stands by, waiting, appropriately grateful for her security to this bloodied Man. In exchange for his security (also against other men), she is dutiful.

And one more excerpt for the media who still feign surprise at our current financial debacle (remember, this was written two years ago when reputable economists still denied the existence of a housing bubble):

As our cultural distinctions have collapsed under the onslaught of megamerger monoculture, we have seen wholesale uniformity imposed on our constructed environment. All the distinct cultural meanings of past communities have gone under the wheels. But human beings cannot live without meaning.

Meaning-making is a distinctly human need. We are the only species that can see the cosmic abyss that surrounds our incandescent islets of awareness. With the enclosure of Middle America™ into the constructed spaces of the work cubicle, the strip mall and the suburban living room, meaning-hunger is being answered in exactly the same commodified way as actual hunger: with taylorized, mass-produced cultural meanings, disseminated as “entertainment.” Journalism has been swept up in this process, now obliged by The Market™ to be “entertaining.” (Big-money journalism has always been generally obedient; it’s the adoption of glitz that has changed it.)

Life, at last, must imitate art. And with only one monocultural art, we will be truly one in our imitation.

That’s the danger to stability of cultural criticism. It identifies the patterns, mapping and deconstructing them until they are drained of their authority.

The durability of these norms and conventions is the constant Nemesis of social change agents. They still think a simple, well-constructed argument should be enough to “change one’s mind,” such a pale linguistic marker for what this proposes. Enough to begin demolishing the foundational structures of one’s entire worldview, and with it every decision taken on behalf of that worldview, every emotional attachment developed within its framework, and every single thing that gives them meaning as a safety rail along the Abyss. The Big Dark-World. Infinity that swallows us up. This is always the preoccupation of those who understand themselves as simply individuals

The beauty of this new Panopticon is not that it simply takes our eyes off the real war, the real plunder, the real system; it is that it stations a pernicious little watcher inside our individual brains. We become aware that we are under surveillance all the time, and this surveillance constitutes not the one discipline of the edict, but the implanted discipline that a complex society requires of its subjects to police themselves.

Finkel is not a dupe, any more than Judith Miller or Wolf Blitzer. They are all active agents of the war establishment. They are collaborators. It is this disciplinary process with which they collaborate. They teach us that Dark-World is real, and there we might be, but for our protectors: the cop, the soldier, the mercenary, the prison guard, the surveillance camera—the rat mentality that urges some of us to police others for conformity.

But suburbia is not safe. This is the central illusion.

While suburbia has had its eyes fixed on threatening images of Arabs and Persians and Latinos and deepest, darkest African America, the same establishment that makes war and builds prisons and gazes into our lives has picked suburban pockets with one hand and gripped the �?burbs as loan sharks with the other.

Suburbia is not being protected; it is being saved for dessert.

It is this sector with its fragile, technological, disembodied living standard that will now come under attack. In the short term, that is already happening through financial manipulation and the further disappearance of living-wage jobs. The tremendous personal debt burden that is mounting in the American “middle class,” fueled by past low interest rates and cash-out equity loans, was the latest maneuver to prop up this sector’s role as global consumer—a time bomb that will explode directly under Suburbia’s feet.

Meanwhile, the liquidation of the commons—from Medicare to Social Security to public services—constitutes a massive transfer of wealth saved by these working people directly into the speculative money pit that is Wall Street. Suburbanites are workers in the truest sense, even though they seldom stand on the factory floor now. They don’t know it, but they are weak, dependent, high-maintenance workers in a consumer mill.

The bill for the United States from Treasury loans to other nations—already impossible to pay—grows exponentially to support the cost of the military now conducting the war, those we see as the guardians of civilization. Our children are inheriting this impasse. We have witnessed what happens when the suburbanites are fleeced; with the taxpayer bailout of the savings and loan criminals, the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, these burdens will invoke the “too big to fail” principle. From Chrysler to Enron, the so-called middle class will pick up the tab.

The real threat will not appear as an Arab with a bomb or a 16-year-old with brown skin and a Glock. It is already present. It has appeared as pension funds disappearing in strategic bankruptcies. It has appeared as sub-prime lending and subsequent foreclosures.

“Thank you for buying all these houses,” the banks are already saying. “Now we can take them back and rent them to you.” [and the government will bail us out, because we are too big to fail]

As Suburbia works harder and faster to keep up with the mounting debt, as it is forced to further ingratiate itself to Suburbia’s employers, as it learns to kiss more ass, get personality makeovers to fit itself heart-and-soul to the boss, it is obliged first and foremost to purchase the bare minimum of status markers (like stage props) that validate this new personality. To call narcissism in this age a “disorder” is a cruel pun. It is a cultural mandate—the norm.

Outside the �?burbs, the treatment of the others as Dark-World has become a kind of local self-fulfilling prophecy. Blending of police and military functions corresponds to an increasingly uniform (urban, unemployed, young) and crisis-ridden global human ecology. Nonetheless, the imposition of a garrison state on people who have been previously privileged as a core political base (like Suburbia) is no simple matter.

If an openly warlike state is to impose control without the middlemen, it requires Spectacle as camouflage.

Soldier and SWAT spectacle soldier and SWAT reality. They are not the same, the spectacle and the reality.

Spectacle conceals reality.

Spectacle requires publicity and amplification.

What better publicity, what better amplifier, than Finkel’s crude reduction of this war to an adolescent docudrama for The Washington Post? Ever since the neocons came to power, most of the so-called reputable press has been so craven in its collaboration with our government that it might as well be assigned a formal position on the Pentagon staff.

The Dark-World set of establishment publicists like David Finkel and political consultants like Karl Rove is like a movie in one other respect. The light you see is on the screen. The story you see is framed in shadow. Remain passive. All will be well.


Note (7)

Since the financial crisis hit this year, calls to suicide prevention centers have risen by 40%. In Children of Men, there is a ubiquitous ad in the background with a Madison Avenue-style ad campaign for Quietus, a pharma-corp engineered suicide pill, available on demand. How might the very original (in two senses) story of Children of Men be an aspect of new (and very old) cultural conventions that simultaneously (1) look fearlessly at the depth of brokenness of the world and (2) maintain a disciplined hope in the midst of it?


Note (8)

In our last biological apocalypse film, 28 Days Later, there was a small band surviving in a world where society disappeared in very short order. Tempo tasks drive the films action from the very beginning. In Children of Men, humanity remains by the billions, now to slowly die off into a hopeless future. Protagonist Theo (played by Clive Owen) is not involved in any tempo task at all. On the contrary, he seems a resigned, cynical bureaucrat riding out the end time with a bottle in his pocket (and some good ganja from his friend) and a caustically foul mouth. His involvement in the intrigue of the plot comes only when he is offered money. His emotional investment an investment he has avoided since the death of his own child happens only when he finds out the shocking truth that a woman has been discovered who is pregnant.

It is interesting that Theo does not display courage as Jim did in 28 Days Later through some form of redemptive violence. In fact, the fishies, the revolutionaries who are harboring Kee (the pregnant women), are devotees of redemptive violence (even as absurd as it seems in the face of human extinction) and will become his hostile pursuers.

Remember the scene where Theo uses the contents of his precious bottle of booze to sterilize his hands for the babys delivery? This is one of those turning points (Theo has several). How does this compare with Jims turning point in 28 Days Later, where he resorts to the violence he had heretofore eschewed?

When we read Revelation critically, we will find that the core message of that series of visions is for Christians then a persecuted sect to hold fast to their non-violent mission of proclamation in the face of a hostile world.

Yet the images in Revelation are brutally violent thousands of corpses being eaten by vultures in the fields and the like.

How does Children of Men compare to this message of proclamation (of the sole sovereignty of God)? Does the violence of Children of Men serve to contextualize any such message? Is Theo in the end a saint?

In the stories of saints, it is quite common for them to be extremely dysfunctional and broken characters who are called by extremity to perform a service for God. Martyrdom is frequently part of those stories.


Note (9)

Jasper (played by Michael Caine) develops a touching relationship with Kee in a very short time. What does each of them see in the other that makes this a credible relationship inn the story? Is Jasper himself a kind of saint? After all, he grows and smokes weed and farts after having people pull his finger.

He also cares lovingly for his catatonic wife.

What is a saint? We belong to a church called All Saints. Our pastor frequently calls members of the congregation saints. Is this hyperbole?

What if we define saint simply as a human being who has been called to holiness?

What can we possibly mean by the word holy?

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