Materialism the Tyrant

Outposts of tyranny
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a lot of implications to the idea that we Christians, working at bringing about a new kingdom, have some things in common with revolutionairies everywhere working at bringing about freedom from tyranny.

There are places where this metaphor falls apart.   I don’t want to leave the implication that I’m arguing for a president who identifies himself as a Christian, or a political party which claims to represent Jesus.   The tyranny I’m thinking about is broader; it has it’s clutches on us internally, rather than externally.  This is a tyranny of materilism, fear, greed, and doubt.

This kingdom will not be fully manifest in this life.  Ironically, it will be ushered in it’s fullness by a benign dictator (who happens to be perfect and uncorruptible.)    I believe that we are called to work for this kingdom in this life, even though we won’t see it’s fruition yet.  This process appears to be a sanctifying one: it’s not that God needs us to make the world a certain way, in order to return.  Rather, engaging in the fight will prepare us for his return by growing us in patience, strength, and faith.

Last post I shared my growing affinity for a thinker named Gene Sharp.   I expressed the idea that it is critical that we not fight violently.   A different (probably better) way I could have expressed this comes from his book:

“Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear.

By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly. However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition, transportation, and the size of military forces.”

We have the further incentive that  engaging in violence renders us instant hypocrites.   When we engage in conflict as Jesus did, we model, even amidst conflict, even to our “enemies”, what the kingdom is all about.

We have lots to learn from the people rebelling against earthly tyrants.  People like Sharp, who are providing an intellectual blue print for what the revolutions are doing, have some relevance for us.

Most obviously and notably, of course, we can learn from thier dedication, determination, and single-mindedness.  

But another thing I was struck by is various aspects of their tactics.  Sharp speaks about how tyrants can’t rule by themselves, in a vacuum.   They rely on things like the military, popular consent, foreign aid, etc.

Sharp says succesful nonviolent revolutions identify these elements which prop up dictators and determine ways to knock these pillars down, often by bringing the institution over to their own side.

There’s a level on which it seems so obvious it’s silly.  But I’d never looked at it this way.

This all leads me to the question: What if we Christians did the same thing?  What if we looked at the hold of materialism in our lives.  What if we asked ourselves what are the elements propping up materialism?  What if we set about planning in this way?

I don’t know how to answer those questions.  I don’t know precisely which things in addition to materialism we ought to target, either.  But I think these are important questions to begin to ask.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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