Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or treat!

I came across this at Wounded Bird (what better place?):

I've been pondering this whilst following the events outside St Paul's. There has been much criticism of the Occupy movement for not having 'clear goals' (on which see this great cartoon. That is immediately to try and force the rebellion to conform to the dominant discourse, to be co-opted into the patterns that pose no threat to the establishment. Specific claims will, I do not doubt, follow in due course. For now, however, it is enough for there to be the protest, the rebellion - the saying 'No' to manifest injustice, arrogance, ignorance and greed.
I really don't like making the kind of comparison I'm about to make, because it raises the object compared to grandiose heights. But the truth is, for about the first four centuries one of the complaints with the "Chrestians" was that they didn't have "clear goals." It took a several hundred years of hard work by a lot of good people for Christianity to "make sense," and even then, many think it "sold out" with Constantine's conversion. That's too simplistic, too, but then, this isn't a scholarly forum for debating Church history.

The point is, Christianity started as, and was seen as, rebellion. Why do you think all those early Christian martyrs were martyrs? And there were still, and still are, efforts to keep Christianity out of "the patterns that pose no threat to the establishment," even as the Church became the Establishment.

"What keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I just want to keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own. . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?

"The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."

4th Century

"The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds--and also big enough to shut out the voices of the poor....There is your sister or brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering."

4th Century
And yes, Constantine did convert to Christianity in the early 4th century. History reeks with irony. And no, Occupy Wall Street is not a religious movement, although religion is responding rather poorly to it, at least in the case of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The Occupy movement is, by and large, a pro-democracy movement. And that's where the historical comparison becomes very dodgy. Romans had reason to wonder about the Christians; what they advocated was radical because it was so new. But we really shouldn't have to work it all out this time. That we are puzzled about a demand for true democracy, that we are nonplussed by a display, world-wide, of true democracy, says something about us; something about what we should know, but apparently can no longer even recognize. I'm not sure the cartoon is right; I'm not sure it requires the fearful voice of the Powers that Be to distract us from what the Occupy movement is advocating.

We seem to have lost our way ourselves. Maybe, on this eve of All Saint's Day, one of the last Christian holidays we haven't completely commercialized (who connects Hallowe'en with All Hallow's Eve anymore?), that's what we should reflect on.


  1. Sherri9:47 PM

    I think pitchforks would make the message very clear.

  2. Anonymous8:16 AM

    In the snark about St. Paul's and Occupy on several blogs, with the typical anti-religious slant, I was left wondering what would happen if an Occupy encampment came to a Center for Inquiry property, or some, similar place.

    RMJ, The book I mentioned at Eschaton, which you asked about, is Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum.

    Anthony McCarthy