catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 22 :: 2007.11.30 — 2007.12.14


Anarchism and hope

The prophetic imagination

Empire and Imagination

Empire, in this analysis, has more to do with processes that facilitate control rather than specific manifestations of empire in history, which often have to do with maintaining dominance over a large landmass and/or population. Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, in Colossians Remixed say that “empires…guarantee the status quo of privilege and oppression through a centralization of power.” Methods of centralizing power include hegemonic regulation of economic privilege, propaganda and maintaining control of information, promoting an “official story” reinforced by social practices—what might be called civic religion, and mobilization of the threat and actual use of violence to maintain the order that benefits those who control police and military forces.

Walter Brueggemann, in The Prophetic Imagination (Fortress, 1999), identifies three major factors that allow empire to promote the official story in such a way as to minimize prophetic dissent. He calls the confluence of these three factors “the Royal Consciousness.”

  1. Economics of affluence, where enough people have enough that they desire to maintain the cycle of events that allows them to maintain or increase their level of affluence.
  2. Politics of oppression, an official system that promotes the centralization of power by tactics such as those I mentioned before, and
  3. A static religion of immanence, which underwrites and legitimates the current oppressive order and God is at the rulers' beck and call. It should be mentioned that this religion need not necessarily be “religious” in nature, such as in the case of the former Soviet Union—officially atheist—where ideology, bureaucracy, and Party politics came together to form what could be considered a quasi-religious system. In imperial Rome, this religion centered around the blessing of the gods and the divine nature of Caesar. In the present-day U.S. the dominant mythology involves the nation as the guarantor of freedom, democracy, and market choice against the forces of terrorists and rogue states.

These three factors are mutually reinforcing and combine to neutralize opposition to the Royal Consciousness. The story of the Royal Consciousness reduces the dynamic flow of history, from past to present to future, to a hegemonic “official story” that asserts the inevitability of the present, given the imperial reckoning of the past, which will flow into a particular kind of future dictated by what has happened and is happening, according to the official story. The past must have resulted in this present world, which will flow into a better future for everyone if we only do what they say is right. They have everything under control, so do your job, go to work, come home, go shopping, watch television, consume, consume, consume. The world that is is the only one that could have been, and the one that will be is the world they say it will be—but the Prophetic Imagination begs to differ.


The Prophetic Consciousness: Cynicism and Hope

Brueggemann's Prophetic Consciousness, which he identifies as the dominant voice in scripture, opposes the Royal Consciousness and calls Israel to remember what God has done in ways that do not square with the “official” voice of the kings. This voice continues in Jesus through his engagement with the reality of imperial rule and local collaboration that served to oppress God's people. If the task of the imperial consciousness is to present a story with no past or future other than what hinges on the present, contingent on the condition of imperial rule, the prophetic consciousness maintains an alternative memory and the vision of a future society where oppression gives way to liberation by the work of God and his faithful people. The prophet remembers what God has done, remembers God's promises, and calls the people to live now in a way that squares with God's story, not with the “official” story of empire.

The prophet has two major tasks in unmasking the royal consciousness: social criticism that takes the form of grief, and imbuing people with a sense of amazement, energizing them to take part in the new world God is creating. Through public grief the prophet symbolically puts the culture to death, revealing the death-orientation of what was claimed as good, and through remembering God's deeds and promises in history people are energized to take part in New Creation. The prophet's goal is reconciliation and re-humanization both for the oppressed and the oppressors, inviting all to come to the table of God's fellowship. The prophetic ministry does not only tear down the old order, but presents the hope of God making all things new.

I believe the critiques of anarchists against the modern nation-state and capitalism can provide the church today with resources to critically engage the “official stories” promoted by present-day American empire and globalized consumer-oriented corporate capitalism. Not only do anarchists diagnose the problems of violence within the structure of government and economic power relations, but the ways in which anarchists propose organization bear striking resemblance to the early church as portrayed in Acts and so in a sense bear witness against the church for its deep-rooted alliance with power and oppression and its failure to prophetically call the socio-political powers and principalities of the world to submit to the reign of Jesus.

>> Next >> 

your comments

comments powered by Disqus