Idolizing Jesus and the Failure of Representative Democracy

After the AJ+ “Anarchist Pastor” video went viral people congratulated me but rarely asked how they too could participate in social movements to destroy capitalism. In some strange way, the video does a disservice in highlighting only me; the ideas I present have bubbled up from real revolutionary struggles, real oppressive violence, and long histories of people fighting back. I am but one person communicating the vision of millions of oppressed peoples around the globe.

To be clear: I am not a hero and I am not special. I am not a representative of revolution either.

In 1994 when the Zapatistas rose up in Chiapas, Mexico they declared that their vision for revolutionary transformation was a break in the revolutionary traditions of histories past. Previously, Marxists developed vanguard theories where a select knowledgeable band of political leaders would lead the people’s movement toward collective liberation and communism. The problem, as many capitalists who know nothing about Marxism or alternative economies to capitalism always bring up, is that this style of representative politics led to dictatorial Marxisms. Leaders continue to fall victim to too much power.

When the Zapatista’s rose up and transformed the old Marxist narrative they released a long statement with this little nugget of awesome: “We are quite ordinary women and men, children and old people, that is to say, rebels, non-conformists, uncomfortable, dreamers.” (La Jornada, 4 August 1999)

The revolutionary movements of Latin America know that there is nothing special about being anti-capitalist or being a rebel. John Holloway reflects: “We who rebel are not an elite. It is as if the Zapatistas are saying to us ‘look at the people around you and listen to their rebellion, listen and look, hear and see.’ The traditional image of the revolutionary hero has no place here.”

As my politics progress I have come to realize that Jesus’ vision of revolutionary social change was not actually that special. Much like the many other queers, women, and men who have struggled to fight for their existence, Jesus attempted to create an alternative community where all people shared power and collective responsibility. My problem with always looking to Jesus for answers in our present revolutionary struggles, is that he becomes removed from his “ordinary-ness” and transformed into a Christ who is going to save us all.

We might think that if we change our the(a)logical idea of “salvation” we can mediate this problem, but I find that even in liberal Christian circles, Jesus is idolized much beyond anything you or I could ever amount to even if “salvation” means something more akin to “liberation.”

If we hold Jesus up as superman with supernatural powers, we require people to also reflect those supernatural powers. In Pentecostal circles they actually do this very explicitly, requiring true believers to “heal the sick, caste out demons, and raise the dead” as Jesus is said to have commanded. IHOP (International House of Prayer) and Bethel Church are the two giant forces promoting this supernatural line of thought. When I was in these circles, my healing prayers never worked and I always felt like such a fool – my mom once stop me half way through a charismatic healing prayer by her hospital bed; she asked that I stoped trying to work my magic and would go get the doctor for actual pain medication.

If we hold Jesus up as a man who was super we also neglect to recognize the viability and possibility of embodying his teachings in our own lives. It is just too hard to share power, possessions, and collective responsibility these days – so we can worship/idolize the one dude who did it, and then hope our nice-prayer-vigils transform oppression today.

The radical nature of Jesus’ awesomeness is always muted and made palatable for the liberal Christian. Jesus’ work is boiled down to being nice to your gay or Muslim neighbor and has nothing to do with revolutionary social change. Jesus’ radical teachings are turned into charity models of feeding the poor and not revolutionary models that challenge systems based on the impoverishment of others for the abundance of few.

Praying for the poor will not feed them or change the systems that create poverty. Jesus didn’t get executed by the State for holding a prayer vigil or for being nice to his neighbors. Prayer and Jesus’ super-ness end up replacing revolutionary action with liberal reforms that do nothing to liberate oppressed peoples but continue to replicate the very economic/social system founded upon exploitation and colonization with no end in sight.

Anarchists have a similar critique of how power works through the State and representative democracies. When representatives make decisions for large groups of people at one time they always fail. They will also always take power away from us and then dictate our bodies. Representative democracy does not help in training people in things political, it has the exact opposite effect.

When Hillary Clinton was not elected, it was white liberals who protested with signs reading, “If Hillary was elected we would all be at brunch.” This is exactly why liberals are so problematic, they do not know what it means to be politically active because to them political activity simply means being anxious over CNN reports and then voting every few years for a new representative to demoralize the country.

To transform our society away from the logics of representative hero-politics we need to train people in the processes of direct democracy, and in lengthy consensus based decision-making processes. We need to practice our ideas, we need to embody our political visions, and we need to do so now – not after a revolutionary moment brought about by others. If we do not practice direct democracy we will never be able to create a society based on direct democracy.

The Zapatisas use symbols in their art and political education. One of the images they often use is the Caracol de La Resistancia (the snail of the resistance). The snail is an ancient Mayan image used to connect the present to the past and the future; the snail works on a different time, not on the time of dominant globalize culture and capitalist logics. The time it takes for consensus, for direct democracy, and for the whole community to participate in the production of society is very slow – a snails pace. The image of the Caracol is also rich in history and metaphor but in one simple way, the snail represents the logics of collective living rather than the logics of domination, hierarchy, and “efficiency.” They even renamed the villages in their collective network, Caracols, after the snail, as each community is both an entry point and an embodied moment of communal, participatory, non-hierarchical, consensus based living.

A clear distinction between anarchism and traditional party-oriented Marxisms is that anarchists are attempting to prefigure the world we know is possible, and already here in many places around the globe. We create the world we want, in the shell of the old. We create the Queerdom of Goddex in the midst of the Empire. We embody the already, but not yet. This takes work and practice and no representative will be able to do it for you – not your pastor or your politician of choice. We must do this work together and with patience.

For the future of the revolutionary church, we need to re-invigorate the “priesthood of all believers,” we need to share power and resources (Acts 2), and we need to practice direct democracy now! For the Church to be relevant in the fight against oppression, we need to transition our faithful communities from therapeutic-spiritual-centers to the Caracol de La Resistancia as embodied by the Zapatisas.

Let’s get to work, together.

Further Reading

Communiques from the Zapatistas (EZLN)

Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway

No More Heroes by Jordan Flaherty

 

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