God, Power and the Western World

In this blog, I am exploring how traditional views of God have dominated western thinking about the nature of power, sovereignty and systems. I am drawing heavily on three brillaint thinkers: Thomas Jay Oord and his book ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God’, Brad Jersak and his book ‘A More Christlike God’ and my great friend Roger Haydon Mitchell and his book ‘Church, Gospel and Empire.’

 

 

I agree with Richard Dawkins that there is an utter God delusion. But I disagree with him utterly about the nature of that delusion, which I will come on to. So much of Western thought has been shaped by “Christianity”, or perhaps more accurately, Constantine“Christendom”, and has very little to do with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The dominant story, as we have it now, took it’s shape in the fourth century, under the partnership of the Emperor Constantine, and a theologian by the name of Eusebius. At this particular point in history, the message of Christianity was spreading like wild-fire throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. It very much challenged the status quo and the power dynamics of the Empire, calling for people to change the way they thought about who God is (a loving father, not a dominant emperor), to consider all people equal, to undo economic oppression and follow the radical way of love, partnering with God for reconciliation, healing and peace. This view of God didn’t suit the Emperor, nor the philosophy of Empire.

 

UnknownThis allowed an understanding to develop that God is actually quite like a Sovereign Emperor who rules the whole world, a God very much like the one Richard Dawkins describes in his famous book – and why would anyone believe in a “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” God like that?! No thanks! But this is the kind of God that Empires depend on. This is the kind of God that those with power through the centuries purported God to be like in order to hold onto their own power, making Jesus the great warrior and God the threatening one to be feared. Constantine understood that harnessing the message of Christianity gave him more control. The church leaders understood that partnering with the empire would mean greater safety and prosperity for themselves.

 

But God is not at all like the caricature painted by Dawkins. As Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God is exactly like Jesus. He is the antithesis of a dominant Emperor. He is a loving, kind, creative, healing, perfect Father, who rather than anihilating us for our rebellion, allows himself to be utterly misunderstood and seemingly defeated by the might of Empire, only to overcome it through love, breaking forever, the power of all that stops us being truly human and inaugurating a new way for humanity – what some of us now call kenarchy, but more traditionally referred to as the Kingdom of God (a term which now has so many other difficulties that it needs reinterpreting).

 

If God is exactly like Jesus, then he is essentially kenotic, in other words, he is first and imgresforemost about self-giving, others-empowering love, and therefore he cannot be like the God caricatured by Richard Dawkins, nor can he be a fluffy grandpa, a doting dad, a domineering dictator or an amalgamation of all of these, dressed up as Santa Claus. That means that the Christian scriptures have to be wrestled with and studied carefully with this lens firmly in tact. It also utterly changes the whole idea that Christianity could ever become a “state-religion”, uphold the divine right of kings (or indeed presidents/republics etc that behave in the same ways), or the support the propping up of political ideologies that lead to the oppression of the poor, marginalisation of the other or rejection of any person based on any part of their identity.


For me, the Gospel narrative is not that God made the whole world and we then messed it up, offended his sovereignty and so he needed someone to die in our place so that his wrath could be appeased. No, the narrative is something far more profound and beautiful. Brian Zahnd explains is beautifully in his ‘gospel in chairs’. My faith lies in a God who invested himself in the evolutionary process, creating a world of order and randomness in which human beings emerged, in his image, able to choose how we would relate to God, each other and the environment in which we find ourselves. But rather than choose this way of self emptying, others empowering love, we have time and again made God in our own image of power and self-centred free will. In doing so, we have wrought destruction to ourselves, to one another, to those weaker than ourselves and to the ecological systems in which we live, move and have our being. And this is why we have different versions of God painted through the pages of scripture in our desire to understand what God is like – and we must wrestle with ourselves as we read. What do our interpretations of the bible teach us about ourselves? What kind of God are we looking for?

We had so misunderstood and misaligned our very expectations of what God is like, that he came as a human being, especially as a male, as maleness needs utter redemption from the stereotypes we have created, somehow encapsulating the male and female in one body.

The incarnation is therefore not about God changing his mind about humanity, but about giving humanity the chance to change its mind about who he is and what he is imgreslike. This human Jesus, stood at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, proclaiming himself the son of God in direct contrast to the empires of the day. But humanity did not like this image of God and so we killed him. But in his death, he took upon himself all that is broken in us and in our world and nullified its power, overcoming death through his endless, self emptying, others empowering love, and released the potential for new hope, creation and life. To me, this is the story of salvation, that out of our own selfishness, we can be re-activated into a place of love, in which we are free to choose to benefit others ahead of ourselves and bring this shalom or wellness to those around us, sometimes seeing miracles and sometimes not, because although God is good and more powerful than any other force or being, shit still happens; and because he is essentially kenotic, he is therefore unable to just intervene whenever he feels like it. He is unable to be untrue to his nature and in Him an uncontrolling love comes first. 

In the end, if you want to believe in a God who is first of all omnipotent, ie limitless in his power, you can find that kind of God in the bible. It’s a bit like needing a dominating form of government, and world order in which you are free, until you challenge the Sovereign. When this happens, the nice, good, caring government has unclear about copyright on google imagesbehind it the immense threat of the nuclear bomb, which I suppose you could liken to hell. Our view of leadership, our view of how government should behave, our view of the role of the state is actually pretty messed up, and I am arguing that it is messed up because it was shaped by a very warped view of God, who mostly cares for us, but has the great threat of eternal punishment for those who don’t believe quite correctly. That is not to say that all will be part of a heavenly future, but I would say that those who pursue the way of love are actually following the way of Jesus far more than those who follow the way of their version of the truth. The truth will set us free, but the truth is: (as Belinda Carlisle – that great theologan told us) in heaven, love comes first!! So when people pray the Lord’s prayer – ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – this looks very little like our current practices of government or nation states and the ways they behave in the earth.

But if self-giving,  others-empowering love is the ESSENTIAL nature of God, then this must images-1change the way we understand everything. The glory of God is not found in might, power, dominion and sovereignty. No, it is found in his cruciform nature. And if the earth can be filled with the glory of God rather than the ‘glory of empire’, where love is the antidote to fear, joy the antedote to debt, goodness the antedote to control through law and peace the antedote to violence, then together we might begin to taste a little bit of heaven.

How might we live and organise ourselves differently? How might we live politically? How might we shape economics? How might we heal and educate? How might we care for each other and the environment? How might nations relate to one another if love and not autonomous power comes first? There is a revolution much more profound than the violent overthrows of the past. It is the revolution of love.

Democracy Day?

UnknownSo yesterday was BBC Democracy Day. Maybe it was a wistful longing for what might have been. Democracy? The rule/power of the people in a day when the richest 1% own 99% of the world’s wealth? When the 50 richest corporations now hold more wealth than the 50 richest nation states? When we hear of unbelievable governmental cover-ups across Europe? When the vox populi is increasingly silenced and the powerful elite rule through a feudalistic system of land ownership and the ‘rights’ to resources.

Democracy is only a veneer. It is the icing on a cake, which is mouldy to its middle. It is, as my friend Roger Mitchell so clearly highlights, just enough multiplied sovereignty to make us believe we have power when in fact we have very little. Rather, we have an increasingly oppressive and sinister system of domination and control, held together through a strong alliance of economic debt, military violence and law (truly enforced by the State of Exception – Giorgio Agamben).images

And we are waking up to this. This is why we see the political turmoil stirring throughout Europe. And the politicians cannot understand it. There is no doubt, that we will see a kick back and a reaction towards the extremes of left and right. But this is not the answer.

I quite admire the Australian system in that they have to vote. But I especially like the option to vote for ‘none of the above’. I don’t hold hope in any of the political parties, because the system itself is utterly broken, corrupt to its core and does not serve the future of humanity and the planet.

But if we do see a shaking, and the political systems we have known become shattered and changed, with a new type of economics coming to the fore, what is it that we can imagine? With power comes responsibility. What would we dream of and what would we do differently? How would we stop exactly the same thing happening again or stop our selfish motivations from plummeting us into war? What would be our ‘new politics’?

There are some exciting conversations emerging. We do not have to spiral into years of violence and war. A revolution of love is possible. I believe it is in the very heart of God for human beings to love one another and to prefer each others needs. To embrace and to be changed by ‘the other’. Our current politics is one based on fear. Fear of the other. Fear of lack. But love drives out fear and those who live in love, live in God. Fear enslaves us but love sets us free.

imgresMaybe we will see a ‘kenocracy’ emerge? A rule of love? To find this would be to align ourselves with the story of God through the ages. Love poured out for others, daring to embrace those different from ourselves and together finding hope and peace. Fear enslaves us but love sets us free.

Have a read of ‘Discovering Kenarchy’ – available from amazon. Once our imaginations are alive with possibility, nothing is impossible.Unknown

Cities in the Future

Some simple statements and observations to spark discussion:

The nations state project is cracking and waning. Nation states as they are have become unsustainable and unmanageable and the imagination needed to hold them together is beginning to falter. They are too complex, un-relational and imperial in their make up.

I believe the shift towards a federation of city states with regional, interconnected, interdependent, intercultural and relational ways of operating is something we are going to move towards in the next 30-50 years.

So, now is the time for cities to start having key conversations across the whole spectrum of society and begin a process of reimagination. It is vital that the marginalised are given a voice and not just ‘represented’ at this table of discussion so that the cities of the future become a place where neighbourhoods of desolation are fully restored. It is time for the artists to to help us to visualise some fresh alternatives and for experiments in economics and kenarchy to be given some fresh space to discover new ways of being.

Revolution

Ok, I can’t sleep. I’ve been needing to write this for ages. I know my voice is small and I live somewhere in the north of rural lancashire in the UK, but I want to add my voice to the growing song that is rising in the hearts of the multitude. We need a revolution and we are in the midst of one, but we don’t fully know it yet. It is stirring in our hearts, the yearning for something truly and radically different. Russell Brand gave voice to it, in his interview with Jeremy Paxman. You can see it on youtube.

I watched question time the other week, and I nearly threw my shoe at the television. I was filled with such indignation at the lack of real debate.The ‘right’ and the ‘centre-left’ may as well be saying the same thing, the odd difference in policy, but a maintaining of the status-quo. We cannot and must not allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to be hypnotised or enslaved in our thinking and believe that things cannot and will not change. Part of my job description at the moment is to try and help save/cut 70 million pounds from the health budget for the Morecambe bay area. Save 70 million pounds! I ask you! When there are billions of pounds in off shore tax havens?!

You see we do not dream of a future in which we allow competition and greed to drive us. We do not dream of a future in which our african children starve to death or our afghan brothers are killed by our european ones. We do not dream of a future in which our children are commodities, eaten up by an economic system that pitches them one against another. We do not dream of a future in which we value our children by their grades and devalue education to the degree that we measure success by literacy rates at the age of 16. We do not dream of a world where healthcare is about profit and the ones who need it most cannot access it. We do not dream of a world where we continually rape the earth of her resources and leave an unsustainable planet. We do not dream of a global economy in which the rich are protected and given more and more privilege whilst the ‘feckless poor’ are punished and scapegoated. We do not dream of a world in which girls are slaves within a sex industry. We do not dream of a world in which there is such disparity between rich and poor. We do not dream of a world in which we spend trillions of dollars on war because we have such a skewed idolatry of nation states. We do not really believe that war will eventually bring real peace. We do not dream of a world in which billions of dollars are siphoned into tax-free havens so the rich can build their super yachts and we have to cut back our public services to the extent that the only other alternative on the table becomes to privatise everything and increase yet more competition whilst sacrificing our very souls. NO!

We dream of something different. We imagine a very alternative future to the dominant reality of our time. We hope for something far more beautiful. We are in a change of eras and we must not be scared. We must not be silenced and we must not give up. Something is stirring in our hearts and we must let it stir us more into love and action.

Can you imagine a world in which we didn’t send young men and women off to war, but instead trained them to rebuild cities that have been devastated, like Damascus, or taught them to irrigate deserts so that streams would flow there and there would be no need for starvation? Can you imagine a world with multiple economic systems based on gift in which the primary drive was giving and receiving instead of buying and selling? Can you imagine people living where they want to, not only where they can afford to? Can you imagine excellent healthcare available to all people everywhere, not just in the rich, developed lands, but given freely to all who need it? Can you imagine a radical overhaul in how we create energy? Can you imagine a government which doesn’t dominate or control and isn’t in the pocket of multinational corporations, but rather serves the real needs of the peoples and partners with other governments to ensure everybody has enough, through a sharing of resource and ideas? Can you imagine businesses which are not driven by greed, but by the needs of the communities around them? Can you imagine laws that really free us to live and breathe and have our being, but protect the most vulnerable rather than exploiting them? Can you imagine education that celebrates difference, creates a genuine love of learning and inspires the next generation to go even further in love and creativity? It’s not beyond our imaginings! It is the longing of our hearts. It is what God gave life to us for……to love, to create, to heal, to steward, to tenderly care for, to enjoy.

There are many solutions to explore. There is much co-creating to be done. We must end the commodification of human beings and the earth and treat one another and the land as friends. We must resist the temptation towards violence and hate. We can dismantle the old oppressive systems whilst building together a wholly different future. Do not be put off by a seeming lack of answers. If we ask the questions, more questions will come! And from more questions, we will together discover some answers we hadn’t thought of before. The earth is calling for it, our hearts are longing for it, the spirit groans for it. It is time. It is time for a deep and long-lasting revolution of love.