"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Death No Longer Has Power Over Us

"Death – and all its attendant principalities and powers of violence cloaked in the lie of necessary evil – has no dominion over us. This is the freedom that we are offered in Christ." - Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, on the forgiveness of his captors by Jim Loney of Christian Peacemakers.

Here are the words of Jim himself: "We want to see an end to all killing, regardless of the reason. Capital punishment is simply the legal face of the dead-end cycle of violence and retribution for violence that is destroying Iraq. We want to see something genuinely new and different, a future that begins with the power of forgiveness." - God's Politics, May 25, 2007.

What does it mean to say that death no longer has power over us? It means the abandonment of a static view of the world, the view constantly promoted in the media that says there is no real alternative to the current consumerist vision of society. When consumerists look into the future of their society, what do they see? - an endless expanse of more and more consumables, powered by ever more productive technology. But who is this consumer? It is an utterly static human being, who never really changes, but only qualifies and increments his or her pattern of consumption. Yes, there is change in the form of new needs, usually induced by marketing campaigns, but these needs are endless variations on old patterns.

Such a vision is inherently despairing because it implies that fundamental change in human nature is impossible. We produce commodities, we consume commodities. Even psychological change is seen as another commodity produced by mental health professionals. All takes place on the same horizontal plane of production and consumption and human beings are ultimately just appendages of the commodities they consume.

All of us know we have more potential than this. Christians have the image of Christ, the image of what humanity could truly become. Our lives as Christians are a constant compromise between this image and the one we participate in through consumerist society. As Christians, we seek transformation in Christ, to become the human being who lives without emnity, without greed, always putting the other first. Where consumerist society demands an endless cycle of induced needs and commodified responses to those needs, Christian living means constant change and growth in the social bonds that unite us to those around us, a never-ending expansion in our sense of the humanity of others.

The reign of commodities is the reign of death because it is the reign of the inhuman over the free development of humanity. We do not become more human through a proliferation of cell phones and Internet chat rooms. We become more human through the development of our capacity for love. Working hard to create the conditions for more hard work is the death spiral in which our society is currently locked. Our productivity is merely the sign of our emptiness.

The Church teaches us that we have a real alternative to barbarism, but that we must realize this alternative through our own free actions, guided by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts have been given us for the imagination of a new human being, not the transformation of humanity into a wide-open mouth shoveling in dangerous and degrading commodities.

Of course, the Church doesn't condone such an image of man, but so far it has failed to analyse the true nature of the systemic social and economic evil that produces such a humanity. Systems of social evil can only be opposed systematically. Individual efforts at moral improvement are doomed when an entire system has been constructed on radically anti-Christian principles. The Holy Spirit pushes us beyond individualistic efforts to form us into social arrays which are the basis for a new vision of community.

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