…and so we fought back and stopped them. As reported here and here (although The Toronto Star is wrong about the year I graduated — it was 2003).
Vive la résistance!
There are 60 posts filed in Vive la résistance! (this is page 2 of 6).
Sensitive Soldiers and Good Cops
I recently watched the following fourteen minute film, which was taken from deleted scenes from the longer and (from what I’ve heard) excellent documentary, entitled “Occupation Has No Future.” Here’s the video, and I suggest you watch it:
I was struck by the point made by former members of the IDF, regarding the ways in which sensitive and humanitarian people become incorporated into participating in the actions of a brutal and oppressive occupying force. Thus, one fellow found himself thinking, “It’s better that I go, with my disapproval of the occupation and my humanitarian impulses, than somebody else go who is filled with hate and eager to have a gun in his hands.” However, this fellow also goes through a further awakening: “Even if I’m giving out flowers to women at checkpoints, I’m still standing somewhere, with a gun, ready to kill people, in a place where I absolutely do not belong” (NB: these quotes are my paraphrases).
However, as a friend of mine pointed out, it is interesting to extend this way of thinking from the context of the military occupation of Palestine, to our own context. Instead of thinking about soldiers, it is interesting to carry this trajectory of thought into our reflections upon the (increasingly militarized) police forces that operate in our own cities. In many ways, the police are an occupying force who serve, not justice, but the interests of those who have the power to make laws. Furthermore, just as much of the post-military service discourse in occupied Palestine focuses upon the good moral character and sensitivities of the IDF soldiers, so also much of the reflection upon police forces focuses upon the good moral character and sensitive humanitarian nature of some police officers.
I don’t mean to deny any of that (I personally know some very kind and moral people who went on to become cops), but that focus misses the broader point. The police enforce oppressive social policies. They (sometimes legally, sometimes illegally) act violently towards those who are marginalized within society and towards many of those who try to act in such a way as to bring about more just social arrangements. So, sure, you can be sensitive and be a member of the IDF and, yeah, you can also be kind and be a member of the police. The catch is that, at the end of the day, you are still a part of an occupying force that prioritizes the desires of the elite over the needs of the people.
This is part of the reason why it is fully appropriate to say “fuck the police” (without also meaning, “fuck you, Officer X”).
On Hockey Riots and Anarchism
During his reign, Augustus Caesar attempted to push through a number of legal moral reforms in order to try and restore traditional Roman values related to sexual purity, family values, modesty, and piety. Some of these reforms met with some success. Others, especially those related to trying to restore traditional family values, were less successful. In fact, some of the laws created by Augustus were so universally disregarded that they were abandoned or annulled by his immediate successors.
When reading Roman reflections upon these things — the imperial push for traditional moral practices and the widespread disregard of these laws and the ongoing presence of vices that were (officially) despised by Roman traditionalism — one discovers an interesting bit of counsel offered to the Emperors (I can’t remember if I came across this in the writings of Tacitus or the essays of Seneca). Essentially, the Emperors are advised to practice a great deal of mercy and not focus too much upon those who break lesser laws. The reason for this is the fear that overly rigorous efforts to prosecute immoral people will actually reveal to the public that the immoral and the law-breakers actually far outnumber the moral and law-abiding. If this was revealed, it was feared that a state of total imperial collapse would result and that the majority would over power the minority. Hence, the need for caution and clemency.
I was thinking about this the other day, when reflecting upon the hockey riots that occurred in my city last week (I’m sure most people have seen the images but this will give you an idea of what went on). Immediately afterward, the Mayor of Vancouver along with the Chief of Police rushed to blame “anarchists and thugs” for instigating the riots and for engaging in the worst acts of property destruction (see this article for example). Apparently, this anarchist activity caught the city off guard. As the Mayor stated: “Both during the G-20 [leaders’ summit in Toronto] and the 2010 Olympics these thugs were well known to be organizing and preparing to take action and criminal activities on the streets. There were no indications of that leading into last night.”
Of course, the real reason why the police were unable to gain intelligence on “these thugs,” is because the anarchists weren’t the ones rioting or instigating the riot or running around setting cop cars on fire or looting from stores. The truth is that the rioters and the instigators were all just regular everyday people. Mostly young and middle class (for a better reading of the riots see this article by Andrew Potter and this one by Frank Moher). This has become abundantly clear given the ways in which people have been employing current technology in order to police one another (a scary enough development in social media, but people are then also punishing one another — people are being threatened, expelled from school, fired from work and even forced to move from their home). As the identities of participants have been revealed online, one has learned that they are pretty much all not thugs or criminals or anarchists, but are children of doctors, or elite athletes, or students at the University who volunteer for charities. Thus, as of today, the police have modified their statement about blaming the anarchists.
However, it is worth asking why the police chose to blame the anarchists and why a lot of people were so easily duped by the lie (sadly, a lot of people will remain duped as the accusation was made at a focal moment, whereas the modification to the statement — a retraction without being a retraction… which is about the most you’ll ever get from the police — came much later and did not receive nearly as much attention). This is why I thought of the parallel to the law and order maintained by the Roman Emperors. When attempting to maintain “law and order” (i.e. when attempting to maintain socioeconomic divisions and imbalances by maintaining a sacred belief in “private property” and ensuring that the profits of the wealthy are protected at all times), it is far better to encourage the public to believe that those who violate these laws are a small minority of black-hearted “anarchists and thugs.” It is far more terrifying, to the powerful and those who have bought into their ideology, to be forced to admit that any one of us, any average old do-goodin’ suburban kid, might be willing to violate those laws and morals at any time. After all, once everybody knows that pretty much everybody is willing to disregard laws about profits and property then people might get it into their heads that they could do something like this again. That would be disastrous and so the myth of a small group of instigators composed of “anarchists and thugs” is spread.
Of course, even the police knew from the beginning that this was a lie. This is why they admit that their intelligence gathering let them down this time. The truth is that their surveillance did not let them down. The truth is that it was not anarchists instigating the riots after the hockey game and both the police (and the anarchists) know this, but the value of the lie for maintaining the death-dealing status quo of law and order is what was crucial in the message fed to the media (who quickly and generally unquestioningly fed the official line to the public).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there was anything great about the hockey riots. Everybody knew they were going to happen (despite what the police said) and I did not support them nor did I participate in them (actively or passively). In fact, I thought they were pretty stupid and I never like to see people getting hurt (or to hear about parents wandering around looking for their kids in that madness… fuck, that makes me ill).
I have, however, participated in other protests that were composed of a great deal of anarchists — such has the Heart Attack protest that occurred during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which contained a black bloc of about two hundred people. The difference between that protest and between the hockey riots are numerous and significant, which is why anybody who knows about these things (police included) would know that the anarchists who were in the black bloc in 2010 would have no interest in rioting after the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. Unfortunately, the general public is incapable of telling the difference — in part because they have been fed so much misinformation about anarchism by the police and by the corporate media — so it is worth highlighting some of these.
First of all, while some anarchists sometimes engage in the destruction of property they generally do so to accomplish one of two things: in order to attain an immediate and urgent goal (e.g. blowing up logging machinery to prevent the destruction of an old growth forest) or in order to try and communicate a political message (e.g. smashing the windows of The Hudson Bay Company in order to draw attention to their rapacious and ongoing history of colonialism, imperialism, and theft). Violence is generally only employed as a tactic when the feeling is that it may be effective in accomplish one or both of these goals. Violence is never practiced simply for the sake of being violent.
The whole idea that “anarchy equals chaos,” or “anarchy equals destruction” is an illusion, mostly spread by those who are afraid that people might actually learn what anarchism is. A more accurate statement is that “anarchy is order” (to quote Proudhon). It is simply that anarchists believe that people should be able to sit down and agree amongst themselves what sort of order they wish to live within (as opposed to simply accepting the kind of “law and order” that permits a few to devour the lives of many). This, for those who don’t already know, is what the most famous anarchist symbol represents.
For this reason, when anarchists do gather in protests, one does not generally see random acts of violence, but deliberate acts that target corporations known for their rapacity (like The Hudson Bay Co. or Starbucks or international banks) but you do not see violence directed at people, at local small businesses, or at the property of individuals. Consequently, when you compare the acts of violence that occurred at the Heart Attack protest in 2010 versus the acts of violence that occurred in the hockey riots in 2011 and the differences are obvious. No individuals were attacked during the Heart Attack protest. When a security guard attacked a participant within the black bloc, and when that participant responded by defending him- or herself, it was other bloc participants who stepped in immediately in order to ensure that nobody was hurt on either side. When some other protesters wanted to get rowdy and do damage to parked cars during the Heart Attack protest, it was the bloc participants who convinced them not to do that. Such acts of violence held no value in terms of the goals set for that protest and so they were not pursued. Of course, in the hockey riots, those acts of violence — the random fights, the burning of cars, and so forth — had no real value either (they were neither effective in accomplishing an immediate goal, nor did they have any propaganda value) and that’s why you don’t see any anarchists there acting that way.
Secondly, it’s also worth pointing out that the few kids who showed up at the hockey riots wearing boots and black hoodies with black bandannas were acting in a way that showed no comprehension of the ways in which black bloc tactics are intended to be employed. The purpose of a black bloc is to gather a critical number of people who appear the same, thereby providing people with anonymity so that some are freed to engage in less-legal actions without fear of repercussions (there are other reasons as well — as a show of strength against the police, for example — but this is the primary purpose). Consequently, a small handful of people showing up in boots and black at the hockey riots would have exactly the opposite effect — rather than permitting people to vanish into the crowd, these people stood out like sore thumbs. I am convinced that those who showed up dressed this way were simply suburban kids who saw protesters on TV and thought, “hey, I want to go and smash some shit and look like a mothafuckin’ ninja while I do that!”
Finally, the element of looting is worth highlighting when comparing the hockey riots with the Heart Attack protest. During the Olympics, nobody was interested in stealing goods from the Hudson Bay Co., but it was looted during the hockey riots (as were some other large stores). Here is the difference: the anarchists at the Heart Attack protest wanted nothing to do with the goods sold by The Bay. They believed that those goods were stained with the blood of others and so were not interested in possessing those goods. That is why the windows of the store was smashed but the goods were left in place. The hockey rioters appeared to have no such moral qualms about the goods sold by The Bay. They didn’t seem to care if the store was death-dealing or if those goods were blood-stained. They just saw an opportunity to grab some free shit and so they did (and then later resold some of it). Another action that points to the absence of any anarchists.
Of course, all this is not to say that there wasn’t one kid in the crowd calling himself an anarchist. In fact, I ran into a few people that night who were calling for “ANARCHY!” When I asked them what that meant they said it meant chaos and lawlessness. When I asked them who they voted for in the recent federal election they said NDP and Conservative. That’s an interesting kind of anarchism… not one represented in any of the communities I have known or any of the literature I have read.
(Other anarchist voices and allies from Vancouver respond here and here).
Imperialist Canada: An Interview with Todd Gordon
I recently finished reading a book that I consider to be essential reading for every Canadian. It is entitled, Imperialist Canada and in it the author, Todd Gordon, explores the various ways in which Canadian capital and the Canadian political system engage in an imperialist program of stealing the land, resources, well-being, families, and lives of others (generally poor or indigenous populations both in Canada and abroad) in order to gain profits and power. A lot of this material will be familiar to those already engaged in the struggle against imperialism and capitalism but it is very good to have a comprehensive study of a number of issues all collected in a single text. For those who are unaware of the issues presented here — from the practices of Canadian oil, gas, mining, and hydroelectric companies in our own and other countries, to the Canadian-backed coup that occurred in Haiti, to the ways in which RBC has been getting rich off of the war in Iraq, to many other things — this book should be paradigm shattering.
Because I’m so keen on this book, and because I want to encourage others to read it, I contacted the author and asked if he would be willing to do an interview for this blog. Despite time constraints, he kindly complied to my request, and this is the exchange that we were able to have. My questions are bolded and Todd’s responses are in plain text.
I am always interested in the ways in which an author’s life intersects with the texts that author produces, and am convinced that the contexts in which we live can be highly influential upon the views we end up holding. What people or events in your own life brought you to study Canada as an imperialist power?
My Words to City Council
[Update: this is what happened — the Council decided to cut the 70+ speakers out of their agenda, and are seeking to employ silence, co-opt, divide, and conquer tactics.]
Over the last few years, the mayor and other council members in Vancouver have made it increasingly clear that they function as middle-management for corporate interests and do not function as democratically-elected representatives of the people whom they have been appointed to serve. One of the ways in which that is now coming to a head in Vancouver is around the matter of gentrification in our downtown eastside — the central community of poor and marginalized people in this city. Essentially, real estate developers and their allies are trying to change very significant zoning bylaws in order to gentrify that neighbourhood, drive out the poor and the homeless, and make a lot of money while further ostracizing, isolating, and harming the most vulnerable populations of our city. Basically, they want the City Council to legalize a criminal act (which is a fair expectation on their part, the law in Canada has consistently demonstrated its willingness to modify itself in order to meet the rapacious goals of Canadian capital).
The crucial vote on these zoning bylaws is occurring today (the matter has been given the name of the “Historic Area Heights Review” in order to obfuscate what is really going on). Prior to that vote, any citizen of Vancouver has been invited to contact City Hall in order to speak to the Council about the issues involved. I have agreed to do this. If you live in Vancouver, you should try to attend (things start at 2pm and will probably go late).
Being fully cognizant that others will go into much more technical and statistical detail about this effort to gentrify the downtown eastside, here is the transcript of what I intend to say to City Council later today:
When all is said and done, I believe that the discussion of the Historic Area Heights Review (HAHR) is prompted by a very basic division. This is a division between the mostly poor and marginalized people who actually live in the downtown east-side, and the wealthy and powerful real estate developers who do not live in that community, but who want legal permission to steal the land and gentrify the neighbourhood. To gain this legal permission, the developers need the City Council to implement the HAHR. Therefore, I want to pose a simple question to the Council:
Will the Council permit people who live in the downtown east-side to determine the future of their neighbourhood, or will the Council permit external corporate interests to determine the fate of that community and the people who live there?
If we are trying to live within a “democracy” and actually subscribe to the notion of “the rule of the people,” then it is clear that the City Council should prioritize the desires and goals of the residents of the downtown east-side who have almost unanimously gathered together to voice their opposition to the HAHR and have, instead, requested that the City set aside ten previously determined sites for social housing.
However, I sometimes wonder if the democratic process has stopped working in Canada. For years, the government has been transferring public property and common wealth into the pockets of private corporations and individuals. Thus, during the 2010 Olympics we saw an international spectacle that was used to transfer public monies into private pockets, we saw services being cut, social housing being destroyed and promises being broken. Additionally, we saw the further criminalization of poverty, something already begun by the Safe Streets Act, and the increased exercise of surveillance and force over against poor people.
Consequently, I am often left thinking that City Council members, those who are elected to represent and serve the people, actually do not care about the people. Instead, they seem to be the representatives of corporate interests and appear to be more keen to befriend the wealthy and powerful few who want to plunder the poor and marginalized many.
I think the ways in which the Council members vote on the HAHR will make their allegiances apparent. If council members choose to faithfully act as democratically elected representatives, they will reject this move to gentrify the downtown east-side. However, if Council members are more interested in profit – even when the cost of that profit is human life – then they will approve of this move.
To be perfectly honest, I have little hope that this Council will listen. I only agreed to speak here today because those whom I know and love, who happen to live within the downtown east-side, requested that we come and speak. Out of respect for them, I am doing that. Besides, there are sometimes wonderful and unpredictable moments when the unexpected happens and when those with power choose to act in a life-giving instead of a death-dealing (but profitable) manner. Maybe this will be one of those moments. If it is not, then you will have joined a great host of those who have gone before you—those who have had power and walked away with blood on their hands.
If that more predictable result occurs, then we should consider this: when the democratically elected representatives fail to listen to the people but instead choose to oppress the most vulnerable segments of the population, then it is time for the people to reject the legitimacy of those representatives and come together to rule themselves. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Woe to you who add house to house, and join field to field til no space is left and you live alone in the land… Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants” (Is. 5.8-9).
Even now, it is not too late to do what is right. Reject the gentrification of the downtown east-side. Create 100% resident-controlled social housing at the ten sites selected by the Downtown east-side Neighbourhood Council. Or plunder the poor and then look for a pretty way to phrase that so that you can sleep at night. The choice is yours. But regardless of whether you choose to serve Life or serve Death, we will continue to serve Life and will continue to resist all that which is death-dealing.
For more on this issue, see the following media links:
Plan for towers in the Downtown Eastside under fire
Condo towers could push out poor from DTES: activists
Downtown Eastside activists protest over-height condo plans
Activist Rider Cooey joins fight against towers proposed for Downtown Eastside
City building height review faces more opposition
Mayor Robertson’s party wages war on Downtown Eastside
Brigade of academics petition city hall not to raise heights in DTES, Chinatown
Francis Bula blog
Fight the height: condos are killing us
Vancouver Media Co-op
SFU, UBC professors concerned about effect of height review on Downtown Eastside
Proposal for higher buildings in downtown Vancouver criticized in advance of city vote
Populism and the Miscarriage of Revolutionary Violence
On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle Giffords, an American congresswoman, was shot in the head in a mass shooting at a political meet-and-greet event. Nineteen people were shot and six have died at this point — including Arizona’s chief federal judge and a nine year old girl.
Giffords was a Democrat and has drawn negative attention from Republicans for supporting Obama’s health care bill. Thus, for example, she is listed on Sarah Palin’s target list (which, by the way, placed cross-hairs over Giffords location and employed a fair amount of gun-based rhetoric — oh, and at the same time as posting this list to her facebook, Palin tweeted, “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”).
Giffords’ office was also targeted last March when a glass door and window were found smashed, either by boot or by bullet. She is not alone in this regard. Four other Democrat offices had windows smashed on the same day. Around ten others received death threats. To pick a few examples: Nancy Pelosi was personally threatened on the phone by a man who said he would burn her house down; a Democrat in New York, Louise Slaughter, had the lives of her and her children threatened; another Democrat in Virginia, Tom Perriello, received death threats and a member of the Tea Party tried to post his address online and encouraged others to stop by to express their “gratitude” to him; and so on.
As of yet, nothing is known of the political position that the shooter, Jared Loughner, may or may not have held. What is apparent is that he is probably quite unwell mentally and that he may have acted with the assistance of another older male accomplice.
However, regardless of the stance(s) taken by Loughner and his possible accomplice, it is clear the the violence enacted on January 8th fits with the criteria and goals of the Tea Party and the Right of America’s Republican party. To borrow the language of Hardt and Negri, this is an example of the sort of populist violence that may occur when “the people” rise in order to reassert traditional relationships of privilege, property and power. Over against the creative resistance offered by “the multitude,” this sort of violence is not liberating but only further deepens the oppression of those who are lashing out against their perceived enemies.
Of course, it is appropriate for Americans to feel betrayed by the Obama administration and the Democratic party. Obama played off the hope of the voters (who were audacious enough to vote for him) but only continued to further the agendas of the transnational corporate power-players of global capitalism. Instead of “fixing” America, Obama made it worse (his health care reform is a good example of this — something that postures as a radical action in favour of those in need of health care, but something that actually makes very minimal changes and also furthers the interests of American capitalism — as is his ending of the “combat mission” in Iraq).
It is appropriate for the American public to be thinking about things like subversion, resistance, and revolt (although, I should stress this: I do not think that it is ever appropriate for somebody to do what Loughner did). However, it is precisely here that the violence desired (and enacted) by the Tea Party has an insidious impact upon movements of resistance. Populist (American) violence is violence that and supports an oppressive status quo, and also ends up strengthening other pro-capitalist agendas — it causes an increase in security measures and surveillance, it brings more oppressive laws into being in order to target those who pursue change (thereby altering the legal system so that social justice advocates and community organizers become defined as “terrorists”), and it causes the general public to be increasingly suspicious, fearful, and violent against any who might pursue liberating change outside of the prescribed legal, institutional or governmental avenues.
For a parallel example, think of Jim Jones and the ways in which he poisoned the perspectives of any who (even today) think about living in alternate, more intentional, forms of community that seek to explore better ways of sharing life together. When I first began to approach people about living in a more intentional kind of community, the same comments (half-serious, half-joking) were always made: “When do we drink the cool-aid?” or “I’m not going to let you sleep with my spouse.” Thus, those who want to do something that might look a bit like what Jones did — because, you know, he did create a community where people of all races where equal and were the rich shared with the poor so that everybody had enough — are also going to be looked at like they might be sociopathic killers and sex offenders.
Therefore, one of the results of Loughner’s actions will be that the public is increasingly unwilling to consider or engage in anything that looks like less-legal tactics of resistance and the Powers will be increasingly able to criminalize dissent. This, just like the deaths that occurred on January 8th, is a tragedy because life-giving change will not come through the means that are legally available to us.
An Interview with Roland Boer (On Marxism and Theology)
[As I stated in a prior post, I recently completed reading Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology which the author, Roland Boer, very kindly sent to me as a gift. I very much enjoyed the book and have also enjoyed his blog, so I was very pleased when he consented to be interviewed for this blog. I started with a handful of questions more or less related to what he had written and then sent a number of follow-up questions to him. As you can see, things got a little out of hand and we ended up having a rather lengthy exchange but I hope that the reader will find it as interesting as I did. Thanks again, Roland, I very much appreciate your willingness to share. In what follows, my “questions” are in bold and Roland’s responses are in the regular font.]
People on both sides tend to treat Marxism and Christian theology as opposing and contradictory ideologies. I’m curious to hear about your personal journey and what has lead you to be interested in (and critically sympathetic towards) both of these areas of study. Care to share?
The connection first arose explicitly in a course I took on liberation and political theologies in about 1986 at the University of Sydney, while studying for a Bachelor of Divinity degree – which eventually led to ordination in the Presbyterian Church of Australia. One question with which I ended the course was: instead of reading these theologians on Marx, why not read Marx himself. Which I did, after an honours thesis on the riveting topic of Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Nag Hammadi and Qumran. So, for my Masters degree in theology I wrote a long thesis on Marx, Hegel and theology. Ever since then, I have been interested at a scholarly level in both areas. The idea for the Criticism of Heaven and Earth series first arose in 1992, so the completion of the fifth volume of that series a year ago was the fulfillment of that idea almost two decades ago.
But that is to focus on the intellectual history and you asked about the personal side. I came from a very religious family of (Dutch) reformed persuasions and I shared those convictions, although not without a continual critical spirit that annoyed my father to no end. At high school I used to joke about how things would be far better under communism, mostly to those in authority as they desperately tried to tell me how communism was another form of totalitarianism and how good capitalist parliamentary democracy really was. Even then, I was politically convinced that the centre-left was the best option (my parents voted consistently for Christian democrat or conservative parties while [I] opted for our social democrats, the Labor Party). Since then I have become more radical, on the far left, as they call it. As that happened, it became clear to me that within Christianity there is a strong tradition of political and theological radicalism, which I continued to explore personally. Reformed or Calvinist theology did not seem to sit easily with that interest, so I spent many a long year rejecting that tradition, only to realise later that Calvin himself was torn between the radical potential of elements in the Bible and his own conservative preferences (I eventually wrote a book about it, dedicated to my father, which he was able to read weeks before he died in 2009).
It also became clear, slowly, that not all the Bible or the various theological traditions are at their core or overwhelmingly radical, since they have sat and continue to sit comfortably with some of the most oppressive forms of power. It’s that basic ambivalence that continues to fascinate me, for which Marxism provides some unique insights. Add to that the fact that Marxists since Engels have been perpetually intrigued by the Bible and theology, often writing extensively on it in a way that has profound implications for their thought.
The New Testament and Violence. Part Two: The Nonviolence of Paul
[This is the second part of my ongoing series. For Part One, see here. I will turn to the Sectarianism of John in my next section, before offering some concluding remarks in a final post.]
The Nonviolence of Paul
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the assembly of God and was ravaging it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my nation, being far more of a zealot for my ancestral traditions ~ Gal 1.13-14.
The turn from Jesus to Paul leads to what some may consider to be an unexpected reversal. Having noted the violence of Jesus, it is interesting to note how Paul develops the Jesus tradition in a more thoroughly nonviolent, or pacifist, manner. Just as our assumptions about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” have been challenged, so also our assumptions about Paul, the man blamed for legitimizing the sword of the State along with a host of others evils, end up being reworked in light of what the texts actually do and do not say.
Of course, like Jesus, Paul has not entirely escaped from the ideologies of the triumphant that seek to impose “legitimate” violence upon one’s enemies. Like Jesus, Paul sometimes speaks of a coming moment of cataclysmic divine violence and judgment (cf., for example, Ro 2.5-11; 2 Cor 5.10; Gal 1.8-9; Phil 3.18-19; 1 Thess 1.9-10, 2.16). Also like Jesus, he is not beyond verbally abusing his opponents – even wishing that some of his opponents in Galatia would go ahead and castrate themselves (Gal 5.12 – Paul refers to a comparable group as “dogs” in Phil 3.2)! However, it is worth noting that in relation to both of these areas, Paul seems to exhibit more grace than Jesus. In relation to violent divine judgment, Paul focuses God’s wrath upon the here-and-now, with God’s wrath simply being God’s refusal to intervene and prevent the inevitably tragic end result of a people’s self-chosen sinful activities. When speaking of final judgment, however, Paul does not have a lot to say and, in fact, he refuses to cast any sort of judgment upon either those outside of the assemblies of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 5.9-13) or the enemies of those assemblies (cf. Ro 12.14-21). Even when Paul does find it necessary to pronounce an exceedingly harsh judgment upon another Jesus-follower, something he describes as handing a person “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” Paul still limits this judgment to the temporal realm, so that the spirit of this man “may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5.5; see also 1 Cor 3.12-15). Finally, not only does Paul limit his reflections upon some final divine act of violence, but he also leaves the door open for a great final act of universal salvation. Thus, he writes, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor 15.22) and again, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Ro 5.18 – some tantalizing results are also produced when Phil 2.10-11 is read in conjunction with Ro 10.9!).
Turning to the second parallel, having noted that Paul sometimes loses his temper and verbally abuses his opponents, it is still worth noting that Paul is much more focused upon redefining enemies as non-human structural, cosmic and spiritual Powers. Again, in this regard, it seems to me that Paul demonstrates more grace than Jesus – not only holding out the possibility of final salvation for the worst offenders and for his opponents, but also shifting the focus of one’s warfare or hatred to the non-human realm. This emphasis comes through especially strongly in the Deutero-Pauline epistles of Colossians and Ephesians (which remain much more faithful to Paul than the Pastorals), but it is already found in the non-contested Pauline letters. Thus, in Ro 13.12, Paul calls the Jesus-followers to put on armor, not of metal in order to battle other people, but of light in order to battle darkness and the vices of the flesh (a metaphor further developed in Eph 6.10-17). Thus, while some of our contemporary bourgeois pacifists may express discomfort with Paul’s usage of warfare imagery here or elsewhere, the point is that Paul has shifted the terrain of the war from the personal to the spiritual and structural realms.
Therefore, when we compare Paul’s rhetorical violence to that of Jesus, we discover a Paul who is much more gentle, meek, and mild than Jesus. This difference is only heightened when we compare Paul’s actual actions to those of Jesus. For, unlike Jesus, we are hard pressed to find any sort of violent action employed by Paul as God’s ambassador to the nations.
However, it is important to note that this refusal of violence comes after Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. Prior to that apocalyptic event, both Paul and Luke claim that Paul was engaged in violent actions – arresting and imprisoning some, seizing property, and even assisting in the executions of others. Here Paul’s references to his allegiance to “Judaism” (a term coined to express opposition to “Hellenism” and highlight separation from other nations), to being a “Pharisee” (meaning a “separated one”), combined with the mention of his “zeal,” all lead to the hypothesis that Paul, before his encounter with Christ, was a member of a Pharisaic group that modeled itself after the likes of Phinehas and the other “heroes of zeal” in the Hebrew Scriptures—people whose unconditional commitment to the distinctiveness of Israel was exhibited in a willingness to use violence, even against other Judaeans. For Paul and other zealots (i.e. others who were “zealous” for Israel), zeal was “something you did with a knife” (to borrow the words of N. T. Wright).
Therefore, one of the ways in which Paul’s call produces a significant conversion in his work post-Damascus is the way in which it moves him from violent to non-violent actions. Instead of violently purging the people of God, Paul embraces non-violence in order to suffer with Christ and extend the offer of the peace of God to the members of all the nations. Paul’s zealous violence has given way to zealous love which now manifests itself, not in the willingness to kill but in the willingness to die. Of course, Paul does not completely break with his old behaviours – in Acts 13.6-12, for example, we read of Paul temporarily blinding a sorcerer named Elymas – but the transition is a very significant one.
Does this mean that Paul understands the conflict between that which is life-giving and that which is death-dealing in a different way than Jesus? Do his different tactics reflect a different agenda? I do not think so. It seems to me that Paul is just as deeply committed to the pursuit of life, and the worship of the God of Life, over against Death and the death-dealing Powers of his day. Paul’s embodied proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ lordship, still runs completely against imperial modes of domination. Thus, Paul urges economic mutuality, along with the emancipation of slaves, and the equal status of all – men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, within the assemblies of Jesus. Yet almost nowhere does he engage in the same sort of violence against private property exhibited by Jesus. I can only think of one example of Paul engaging in an illegal action of that nature.1 While in Philippi, Paul and Silas encounter a female slave who is possessed by a pythonic fortune-telling spirit. This slave, Luke tells us, made a great deal of money for her masters. However, Paul ends up casting this spirit out of her, thereby enraging the owners who end up getting Paul and Silas stripped, beaten, flogged and imprisoned by the magistrates (cf. Acts 16.16-24). By casting out the spirit, Paul has damaged the value of the slave-owners property (the female slave was legally considered a thing, not a person). Thus, he destroys “property” in the service of life. Of course, Luke frames this act as though is arose spontaneously on Paul’s part (Paul became too “annoyed” to properly control himself), but it actually fits in rather well with Paul’s entire trajectory regarding slavery, wherein slaves were to be treated as people, as equals, as siblings, as citizens of heaven, and as children and heirs of God.
This is just one area that demonstrates Paul’s desire to create alternative communities of life within central places of the Empire. For Paul, this is such a crucial and dangerous task that he tries to “fly under the radar” rather than jeopardize his mission in any other way (indeed, even without any outright actions of violence against property, Paul is still executed by the Roman imperial powers, an observation that demonstrates the degree of risk involved in his work). Therefore, what we see when we compare Jesus and Paul are different tactics employed in the pursuit of the same goal. While it is tempting to psychologize the differences between the two – perhaps by suggesting that Jesus was better equipped to ably employ violence whereas Paul needed to more wholeheartedly avoid this realm of possible actions due to the violent nature of his past – I do not wish to press that point. I simply want to observe that the tactics of both are different but legitimate options available to those who seek to follow Jesus and imitate Paul.
The New Testament and Violence. Part One: The Violence of Jesus
[What follows is my submission to the series on “Violence and Christian Holy Writ” that has been running for the last number of weeks over at the blog of Cynthia Nielsen. Up until today, I was under the impression that my post had been accepted but Cynthia has since notified me that (for reasons I won’t go into here) my submission has been rejected. Therefore, I thought I would post it here because I am genuinely interested in what others might think of this topic. I envision three follow-up posts exploring this theme in the New Testament — the nonviolence of Paul, the sectarianism of John, and a concluding post on the importance of respecting and employing the diversity of tactics we encounter in the NT.]
The Violence of Jesus
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places – Eph 6.12
In what follows, I will argue that some Christians should embrace a certain kind of violent action in order to faithfully follow Jesus within our present context. By making this argument, I will be situating myself within an uncomfortable ideological location – rejecting the (often imperialistic and murderous) Niebuhrian position on violence as a “necessary evil,” and standing outside of the (often superficial and self-serving) pacifism of Anabaptist-inspired Christians, there is every chance that both parties will be ill-equipped to hear what I am saying.
This is why it is essential to examine the words and actions of Jesus before we embrace any ideology related to non/violence. Rather than asking, “Is violence (whatever that is) right or wrong?” it is better to ask “How did Jesus act and what might it mean to faithfully follow Jesus today?” Pursuing this question, helps us to escape from ingrained theological or cultural perspectives that have prevented us from recognizing what the Gospels actually say on this subject.
When studying Jesus, a few important points stand out. First, although Jesus sometimes verbally abuses others – referring to Peter as “Satan” (Mk 8.33), calling a Gentile woman a “dog” (Mk 7.27), and saying a whole host of nasty things about the scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law (cf., for example, Mt 23.1-33) – and although he seems to expect some sort of future divine violence to be enacted against people, in part, because of the way they treat him (Mt 11.20-24, 23.35-38, 25.1-46, 26.24, etc.) – Jesus never engages in any act of physical violence against another person. Furthermore, when people do engage in what could be legitimate forms of violence against others, Jesus is quick to counteract their actions (as when he heals the fellow whose ear is lopped off by one of the disciples [cf. Lk 22.49-51]).
The concomitant of this rejection of acting violently against others is Jesus’ ongoing action to heal, forgive, accept, and touch others – especially, the poor, the sick, the sinners, and the ostracized. Thus, while some may be fated for the experience of divinely-imposed violence in the future, at the moment of Jesus’ ministry all people are offered God’s gift of new and abundant life.
Here we get to one of the fundamental points of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus was acting in the service of the God of Life, offering life to all, and thereby also actively resisting all the Powers that acted in the service of Death (Powers that included demons, sin, sickness, loneliness, deprivation, and the theopolitical authority of Rome and Jerusalem). This is why, despite his sometimes violent rhetoric and his threatening scare-tactics, Jesus cannot act in a way that harms anybody else. To be in the service of life for all, means that one cannot physically harm anybody else. One must love even one’s enemies, and loving one’s enemies means that one cannot harm them, even if they seek to harm you. Here, the Anabaptist-inspired Christians are right, and the Niebuhrians and the “just war” theorists are wrong. Physically harming any other person falls outside of the range of actions appropriate to contemporary followers of Jesus.
However, that is not the end of Jesus’ engagement with violence, and this is where the Anabaptist-inspired Christians tend to get things wrong. What is almost universally neglected in Christian conversations regarding non/violence, are Jesus’ actions of violence against private property. This is the second point that needs to be highlighted (indeed, that this point is neglected by both sides of the debate demonstrates that both parties tend to share a common class interest and bias – i.e. people on both sides tend to hoard a great deal of private property).
The most obvious example of this type of violence is the “direct action” Jesus takes in the Jerusalem temple (John 2.13-16; cf. Mk 11.15-17; Mt 21.12-3; Lk 11.45-46). This event is interesting because it is the closest Jesus comes to employing physical violence against others. Indeed, the reason why the buyers and sellers fled the temple was because of the perception that physical violence might be employed against them. However, the texts seem to suggest that violence was only actualized against property. Here, property is not only damaged, it is probably also stolen, and violence is used to facilitate that theft (to imagine the scattered coins being left for the money changers to gather is a bit implausible).
Two points are usually overlooked here: first, although a detailed exegesis is employed in order to demonstrate the likelihood that Jesus’ violence was restricted to property and not people, the point that Jesus actually does engage in an act of violence against private property is not appropriately emphasized. Secondly, this passage tends to be cited as the only example of Jesus engaging in a physically violent act, but this overlooks other passages demonstrating Jesus’ willingness to destroy private property or approve of others doing so.
To choose a second example, one can also recall the healing of a certain demon-possessed man (cf. Mk 5.1-20; Mt 8.28-34; Lk 8.26-39). In this action, Jesus casts a “Legion” of demons into a herd of about two thousand pigs (the pig, it should be remembered, was a symbol of one of the Roman legions that destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE). These pigs rush into a lake and are drowned. This prompts the locals to plead with Jesus to depart from their region. This response is a bit puzzling until one remembers that Jesus had just destroyed an expensive herd belonging to a wealthy but absent land-owner. This land-owner had entrusted his herd to the locals and would be furious at his loss. Therefore, the locals likely wanted Jesus to leave before he could do any more damage and further threaten their safety.
As a third example, we can recall Jesus’ tacit approval of those who damaged the roof of a private home in order to have their paralyzed friend healed by him (cf. Mk 2.1-5; Lk 5.18-26).
Again, the clash between serving life and confronting that which is death-dealing is at the core of Jesus’ actions in these three cases. When private property is linked to that which is death-dealing or prevents that which is life-giving, Jesus is not afraid to destroy it – regardless of the laws that exist to protect it.
This carries some important implications for those who seek to follow Jesus today and pushes us in an interesting direction. Instead of asking, “Is violence right or wrong?” followers of Jesus should be asking, “What is life-giving and what are the death-dealing things that stand in the way of abundant life for all?” Answering this question requires us to move beyond theory to action, perhaps even militant action. What we may need is a Christian militancy that is willing to destroy idolatrous and death-dealing private property (an enemy not of blood and flesh), while simultaneously holding out the offer of abundant life to all people.
Exploring two partially flawed Canadian examples may stimulate our imaginations in this regard (note: no people were harmed in both cases). First, recall the “Heart Attack” protest that occurred in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics (cf. here for video of that protest and for information on why the Olympic Games are death-dealing – although you should read Helen Lenskyj or watch this documentary for more detailed analysis). During that protest, some windows of a Hudson’s Bay Company store were smashed (the HBC has a long history of brutality against the Canadian aboriginal peoples, and Vancouver exists on unceded and stolen Coast Salish land). Although I questioned the tactical value of smashing those windows – and raised those questions not from a distance but as one of the thirteen arrested that day – the smashing of those windows did not strike me as immoral. It may very well have been a Christ-like action.
Second, we can recall how an anarchist group (two fifty year olds and one thirty-five year old) firebombed a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in Ottawa (our capital) prior to this year’s G8/G20 Summits (cf. here for footage and a glimpse into RBC’s brutal history). This may very well be a contemporary example of what it looks like to overturn the tables of the money changers.
This helps to clarify the true “cost of discipleship.” It reminds us that bearing the brand-marks of Christ on our bodies means living with bodies that are scarred by the disciplinary actions of the authorities who operate in the service of Death. We can no longer fool ourselves: our commitment to abundant life for all might lead us to be condemned with a terrorist (lestes) on either side of us. Only then will we be able to journey no further into union with the crucified Christ.
Fire on Babylon. Lord, have mercy.
This is What Democracy Looks Like
Well, I don’t know how many people are aware of what has been happening in France ever since the government started driving through a law that would shift the age of retirement from 60 to 62 but there have been massive uprisings across the country that have seen workers, students, seniors, new immigrants, and many others uniting to fight back against the powers that be. Gas and oil refineries have been shut down, along with other locations like high-schools, universities, highways, and airports.
There is an inspiring series of pictures documenting some of this here. I think this really shows us the two faces of “democracy.” On the one hand, we see the multitude rising up in an effort to claim (a form of) self-rule, and on the other hand we see hegemonic powers employing force to prevent anything that resembles the actual “rule of the people.”