614: CREATION vs EMPIRE IN THE BIBLE

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the blog that blunders through the thickets of the Christian religion, getting everything wrong and getting everybody’s hackles up. Tough; someone’s got to do it. I heard on Premier Christian Radio yesterday that they want to give some kind of awards to UK religious blogs. Shall I submit Zingcreed’s name? That might be interesting.

More importantly, the 2016 annual Anarchist Bookfair is going to be on October 29th at the Park View Academy, in Tottenham, just round the corner from where I live. The Catholic Workers, who are always there, may do a presentation on non-violence. See you there.

In solidarity,

Peter Turner.”

Theology books often have short print runs, because nobody reads them….well, almost nobody. Exceptions are devotional works like US televangelist Rick Warren’s “The purpose driven life”, a terrible book. When I was sent a copy, I returned it through the post without a stamp on and inscribed “Unsolicited advertising material – return to sender.”

To get back to my point: theology books are relatively expensive, because so few are printed. It doesn’t pay to produce them and the publishing house needs a few potboilers on its lists to subsidise the quality stuff. Like Rick Warren. Except evangelical publishing houses don’t want to publish progressive works and vice versa. I don’t know the answer to that one. I have a low income (my pension) and can’t afford to buy more than a few books per year. Kindle prices are lower, but then I left my Kindle player on an aeroplane six months ago….. that’s why I am writing this in the British Library, a worthy institution with uncomfortaable chairs that are too low for the reading tables, and lighting that is too dim. Amazing. Now they have lots of good stuff, but they only promise to provide the members with all books published in the UK, and most of the books I want are written and published in the US. The BL do not have Wes Howard-Brook’s “Come Out , My people!” on their shelves, which is a pity as it has been hailed as essential reading by some. e.g.”I cannot overstate the importance of Come Out My People. Buy it, read it, discuss it, and put it into practice.” (reviewer Frank Cordaro.)

So, although I scanned it briefly at someone else’s house, and although I have read another book, on Revelation, by him and Anthony Gwyther, whom I met at last year’s Christian Anarchist conference where he was a keynote speaker, I do not have access to this book today. The following brief commentary/review is based mainly on a long review  published by the Catholic Workers in the US.

Creation vs Empire in the Bible

What Ched Myers did with Mark in Binding the Strong Man, Wes Howard-Brook does  with the whole bible, laying out a template for reading it. It is tailor-made for those of us who are into faith-based-nonviolent-resistance-to-the-American-Empire. The work effectively addresses the issues of Christian anti-semitism and the  seeming contradiction of – on the one hand a God of infinite love and forgiveness – and on the other the violent genocidal God of the Hebrew scriptures. For Howard-Brook the bible is not a book of 2 religions: Judaism and Christianity, but a book of a religion of Creation (good) and a religion of Empire (bad). In H-B’s words the religion of creation “is grounded in the experience of and ongoing relationship with the Creator God, leading to a covenantal bond between God and God’s people for the blessing and abundance of all people and all creation.” The religion of empire “while sometimes claiming to be grounded in that same God, is actually a human invention used to justiify and legitimate attitudes and behaviours that provide blessing and abundance for some at the expense of others.”

These 2 irreconcilable religions clash throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament) and the struggle between them is not resolved until the Greek Scriptures (a.k.a. the New Testament) when Creation wins. An example of the religion of Empire is to be found in 1 Samuel 13 to 1 Kings 10 where scribes of Solomon’s royal house give Solomon divine importance, i.e. their texts support a religion of Empire. By contrast in the story of Moses and the Exodus, Israel is in its anarchist phase: no King, no temple, no priestly cult, no capital city, no land base to protect, no taxes, no army. God’s people are led directly by God. Thereafter, the prophets were sometimes in one camp and sometimes in another, or even in both. H-B contrasts Isaiah (pro-Empire) with Micah (pro-Creation.) A key role is played by subversive wisdom texts like 1 Enoch, whose 107 chapters influenced the N.T. enormously.

In the New Testament there is no compromise between the religion of Creation and the religion of Empire. In the NT message there is no king except the kingship of the Suffering Servant, whom Jesus emulated. There is no exclusive chosen people except for each person who embraces the Way of Jesus and who bands together with others of the same spirit. There is no city, land , or nation that the followers of Jesus claim as their own, except any land and every city where the beloved community of Jesus’ followers live their lives and practice the Way. They have no need for violence because they have nothing to defend. Jesus’ God is a non-violent God.

Source:
Howard-Brook, Wes “Come Out, My People! God’s call out of empire in the bible and beyond” Orbis (2010)
Cordaro, Frank “Book review” of the same, DesMoinesCatholicWorker.org

Postscript: Thanks to the correspondent who pointed out to me that the book is available on Kindle for (only) £20. Yes, this is good value as you get a lot of pages for your buck. The starting price in Foyles is £11.50 for a thin theology paperback.

 

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