Further discussion on pacifism and revolution

A bunch of folks made very thoughtful comments on my essay Problems with Pacifism and Prayers for a Land Without Prayer. I just finally got a chance to respond to all of them. One comment, in response to Pete, was too long to fit in the comments section so I am posting it as a new post here instead. Please read Pete's comments first by clicking the link above and scrolling to the bottom. This is in response to his last comment:

Pete, I also agree with what you wrote here: " I don't believe that everyone is called to be on the front lines of the revolution: I believe there is space for artists, poets and contemplatives to create a more beautiful world without organizing in the community working to break down the structures that have made our world so ugly." I'll say more about that at the end of this comment.

That being said, I do think everyone has a responsibility to change not only ourselves but the world around us. In fact, I don't think that the Bible actually entertains any separation between our inner life and the rest of God's creation. That idea of an individual separate from his/ her social relations, and separate from the rest of the material world that sustains his/her body is not a Biblical idea, it is a distinctly modern Liberal idea that really began with the rise of the bourgeoise and modern capitalism. The capitalists actually had to destroy a lot of previous Christian ways of life in order to create the idea that each of us has a "self" we can change that is somehow separate from everyone else.

Like I said in my response to Tee, we are called to change the way we live... but to do that seriously will require us to come into conflict with the capitalist system that requires us to live and work in alienating and sinful ways. Jesus didn't just make a change in his own heart. His new way of life was manifested in concrete, material changes which brought him into bodily conflict with the Empire. That's the cross. It is not simply an abstract symbol of inner martyrdom and mortification, or a change of heart that separates us from sinful ways of thinking. It is a bodily change which brings us into a life or death reckoning with the World and its principalities and powers.

To paraphrase what the guerrilla priest Camilo Torres said about these questions: if I am going to love my neighbor, what I am I supposed to do when my neighbor is starving because his land was seized by an imperialist corporation? At a certain point, doesn't love really mean confronting those who wish to destroy our neighbors (and us?)

So, to summarize, Revolution definitely does require changing ourselves, not just exterior social structures... but we can't really change ourselves unless if we change the rest of society which our "selves" are not really separate from.

As for Jesus, I do think he was a revolutionary, and he reminds us that revolution is not exclusively violent because he did not take up arms. However I don't think he was a pacifist either, as the the quote you mentioned ("I haven't come to bring peace, but rather a sword") suggests. I think Jesus was preaching in a context where the ruthless revolutionary violence preached by the Torah was a given. The Exodus, Samuel, Judges, and the Prophets are full of calls for violent revolution at a scale an intensity that would shock even the most hardened Marxists or anarchists. Jesus does temper this message with a call for love, community, and compassion,in short for revolutionized social relations..... but I don't think he completely destroys or supersedes the ancient messages of conflict and struggle either... he claims to be their fulfillment. And the book of Revolution certainly ends the Bible with a return to a lot of these very violent revolutionary themes from the Hebrew Bible.

I disagree with you that "all the way to heaven is heaven." We definitely are not in heaven now brother! The ghettoes of Detroit, the oil choked Gulf Coast, the hellish factories lining the Pacific Rim, the slums of Baghdad and Kabul are definitely not heaven. The world is something more like purgatory - a volatile contradiction that could go either way. It is God's heavenly Paradise occupied by Satan's colonial army and the battle rages through the centuries and is not yet resolved. I do think we can come together in sacraments that prefigure the Kingdom of God - we can celebrate the fact that in Christ's life death and resurrection the world is "already" on the path to redemption, but at the same time we need to wait in Advent hope for the coming of the Kingdom because it is also "not yet" fulfilled. This is the basic tension that exists within Christianity. As I wrote in my most recent post, that waiting for the eruption of God's grace in history can't be passive (we probably agree on that)... we need to actively name that grace when we experience it, we have to name it by intervening, by living differently and encouraging others to do so as well, and by naming it we actually transform ourselves and the world.

That being said, I don't think Revolution and the Kingdom of God are the same. I'm not sure if the revolution we're fighting for now (the end of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and ecological destruction) will be the final redemption of humanity. It will certainly be a step in the right direction but perhaps the Kingdom will be something with infinitely more potential even than that. It is dangerous for revolutionaries to think we are going to create the Kingdom, the end of history. First of all, I don't think the revolution is an automatic given... we have to actually make it, if not it won't happen and we'll likely descend into barbarism when the oil runs out and the sea level rises. Second of all, there very well may be sin, conflict, prejudice, etc. even after the revolution, and in some ways the new society will simply be a more amenable environment for us to develop spiritually as human beings, for us to get down to more serious work on the spiritual conflicts which have been plaguing humanity since its birth. We'll be able to develop in virtue in ways we never thought possible, or rather in ways that only the most perceptive monks, poets, and philosophers dreamed of since antiquity. Again, we don't have to wait until after the revolution to do that - in fact we shouldn't' - but it will certainly be a lot easier in a society that is not systematically based on the worship of greed and murder.

Finally, I disagree with you that Ghandi is a model for revolutionaries. Perhaps he was a revolutionary the way Robespierre or Thomas Jefferson or George Washington was a revolutionary - he did help bring down an outdated and corrupt old regime. But that didn't mean he helped build a positive or anti-oppressive alternative. He was not fully anti-capitalist, he left the caste system intact and was very patronizing toward the dalits, India's most oppressed caste. He was also quite patriarchal.