Chastity and the G8
At press with Third
Way for publication in the June 2005 issue.
Also, at the foot of this webpage is my ECOS review of "we
are everywhere"(Verso, 2003).
Also, at the foot of this webpage is my ECOS review of "we are everywhere"(Verso, 2003).
AS WORLD GOVERNMENTS AND A RAINBOW COALITION OF CAMPAIGNERS CONVERGE ON SCOTLAND FOR JULY’S GLENEAGLES SUMMIT, ALASTAIR MCINTOSH CONSIDERS THE THEOLOGY OF PROTEST.
“The meek shall inherit the Earth, and the meek are getting ready,” said graffiti at one of the previous anti-globalisation protests. Here in Scotland, we too are getting ready as the G8 and over 10,000 police prepare to descend on Gleneagles Hotel in July. Protestors are coming from everywhere and Scotland’s activists are doing what we like doing best - preparing the welcome party. Verily, the haggii are fattening on the mountain tops, the whisky stills are steaming, and in hamlets up and down the land bespectacled old grannies have spent all winter painting shortbread tins with traditional Presbyterian visions of Hell – specially commissioned as souvenirs for the Masters of the Universe.
But how might the planned protests sit with a spiritual vision of an alternative world? What is it that we are protesting against, and what is our own relationship to the object of our angst? And what spiritual tools might help us on the way as we attempt to sustain protest, perhaps even to the point of it being a way of life? These are some of the questions that this article will attempt to explore.
G8 Protest Highlights
2nd July - Make Poverty History Demonstration, Edinburgh
– expected to be the biggest demonstration ever held in Scotland.
3rd July – The Alternative Summit, Edinburgh –
workshops including George Monbiot, Susan George, Ken Wiwa and Starhawk.
4th July - Faslane Nuclear Submarine Base blockade. Six of the
G8 have nuclear weapons on their soil. The replacement or otherwise of
Britain’s Trident system must be decided by Parliament shortly.
5th July – Climate Justice Day & demonstration at
Dungavel detention centre called by Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees.
6th July – Mass
demonstration over the hills to Gleneagles Hotel on first day of G8
THE PROTESTOR’S MANTRA
The Latin origin of the verb, to protest, is protestari. It means, ‘to testify for something.’ This reminds us that it is not enough just to be against things. A true protestor holds a vision of what they are standing for.
Set in this light, all work of social, ecological and spiritual witness is necessarily a form of protest. This, of course, is the origin of the word, ‘protestant’, and it suggests why all deep activism must be spiritually grounded. If it is not, then the visions we carry risk being trampled by our own egocentric violence.
Theologically speaking, this makes protest a prophetic function. Jeremiah recognised as much when he said that in spite of being ridiculed he had no option but to declaim ‘violence and destruction,’ for, ‘within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’[i] Moses, too, understood activist dynamics. When despairing of the apathy and comfortable complicity of his people, he said: “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”[ii] That quotation might be thought of as the spiritual activist’s mantra. It may sound quaint before the might of the G8 in this day and age, but perhaps our situation is not all that different from that of the ancient Israelites who had become inwardly enslaved to the fleshpots of Pharaoh.
then, the anti-globalisation movement perhaps our symbolic Exodus? Is this where
we learn how to assert a theology of insistence that will make poverty history
and restore the flow of milk and honey to our damaged planet? True to form, the
biggest obstacle is perhaps the fact that we are all, already, compromised by
the system. Sure, the problems our world is facing are partly caused by the
corporate men and women of greed who stitch up the monopolies and bait their
marketing hooks deep in the human psyche. That is indisputable. But I have
looked the corporations in their mirror, and I have seen myself! You too! The
values that we deplore in globalisation as advanced capitalism have their roots
in the aggregate of our own behaviour. Let me give you an example.
LOOKING IN THEIR MIRROR …
Recently I gave a lecture on corporate power to MBA alumni at INSEAD, the French international business school. Chief executive officers and other weighties from some of the biggest corporations in the world were present. Encouragingly, many said they’d come because they could no longer ignore the pressure of corporate social responsibility on their businesses. They could see their legitimacy and even share value was vulnerable to the criticisms of high legitimacy non-governmental organisations.
One of the participants had spent his life building up a major English shoe-making business. He frankly told us that he employed sweatshop labour because the only way to survive is by shaving pennies off the cost of production. He didn’t like this, but ‘the market’ demands it. In fact, many of these executives weren’t entirely comfortable with what they did. For example, the board member of a multinational TV entertainment corporation similarly confessed: ‘We make much of our money from exploiting women’s bodies … I don’t like this but it’s what the market demands.’ (He added, ironically, that some of their big shareholders are right-wing American evangelical types who somehow compartmentalise how they make money and how they worship God!)
When I got back home to Glasgow after the seminar, I went in to the offices of a local community organisation of which I am the treasurer. This tries to create dignified work for those who have had meaning stripped from their lives.[iii] There was a colleague on the phone – a remarkable man full of conscientious ideals, rich in vernacular culture, and an eminently practical back-to-the-land worker with horses. ‘And can you guarantee me,’ he was saying to the salesman of a company that sells handtools, ‘that you are the most competitively-priced supplier in Britain?’
Of course, he was doing right by our organisation and our funders. But it only takes a little thought to see how, unwittingly and with the best of intentions, we ourselves were paving the way to somebody else’s sweatshop! Our mores are partly of the making of the competitive ‘system’. It has thrust its needle through the veins of our psyche and pumped addiction, destroying alternatives and leaving us scrambling for crumbs from its table. But this works because the system knows it can depend on the complicity of our greed, vanity and slothful wilful naivety. This is why the deepest root of the problems we must tackle not just economic. Neither can they be reduced entirely to political considerations. For at the most penetrating level, the human predicament is psychospiritual. And that is why G8 protest is flawed if it stops short of anything less than an incisive psychological and spiritual critique.
THE WHOLE SHEBANG
Ask people, as I often do these days, what they mean by ‘protesting the G8’ at Gleneagles this summer, and a lot of different answers emerge. For one person it will be about capitalism. For another, outrage at usurious sovereign debt. Another sees the big issue as nuclear weapons. For still others, it’s race or gender issues. The litany goes on and on.[iv] It’s like asking, “What is faith?” There is no pat answer. Little wonder the media talks of a “motley” gathering of protestors.
What might we make of this? There’s a popular expression in Scotland, ‘The Whole Shebang.’ It means, everything … the Alpha to Omega … the whole show … and in many respects that is the only way to describe people’s feelings about the G8. It’s as if the global ‘problematique’ – the totality of issues that make up the human predicament - is a tangled ball of string. Pull on any one loop, and you’ll find all the others are connected to it. The corporations and the governments are connected to it, and so are we. Only by tackling the entire structure simultaneously can we even attempt to disentangle the ‘structural evil’[v] of how we’ve come to be in the state we’re in.
Seen through mainstream eyes this is daunting. No single political or economic solution could hope to make sense of it. But seen through spiritual eyes, it is a profoundly exciting opportunity. The ball of string is tangled precisely because all things are interconnected as branches on the vine. As John Donne put it, ‘No man is an island … Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ We are individuals, yes, but interdependent individuals. We are connected through ‘soil’ to the Earth, through ‘soul’ to life’s innermost sources, and through ‘society’ to one another. This triumvirate – soil, soul and society – comprises what might be thought of as the three pillars of community.[vi] Ecology is ‘the study of plant and animal communities,’ and so, in scientific language, what we’re talking about here is the meaning of human ecology. In religious language, such human ecology is nothing less than that much de-based word - Church. It is communal interconnection in “membership one of another”[vii]. Here lies the fundamental objection to those aspects of globalisation that the G8 are perceived as selfishly representing. Competition, usury, resource usurpment, commodification of nature and of labour, might-is-right militarism … all these violate covenant in the community of life.
And the antidote? The antidote is to discern what it is that gives life, and not just any old life, we might recall, but life rooted in love – indeed, life abundant[viii]. Our objective must be to seek nothing less than the holiness of life on Earth.
COHESION OF THE TEMPTATIONS
In Biblical tradition, we find the same archetypal dynamics as the G8 today represents echoed through slavery in Egypt, the Babylonian exile, and the persecution of the early Christians. Can the Jewish and Christian traditions then teach us anything from this wealth of bitter experience? One of the most stimulating places to look is in the temptations of Christ on the mountain.
What is it that gives the three temptations of Christ cohesion? Why is it that, as Dostoevsky puts it in his Grand Inquisitor chapter of The Brothers Karamazov: ‘truly the miracle was contained in the conception of those three temptations’? My suggestion is that each temptation addresses one of the triune pillars of community – soil, society and soul, to use Luke’s ordering.[ix] Each represents abuse of the type of power underlying its respective pillar. Furthermore, the antidote that is our protection from each power abuse lies in the three ‘Evangelical Counsels’: poverty, chastity and obedience.
The first temptation is to turn the stones into bread. Dostoevsky’s demonic inquisitor says of this to the captive Christ: “Turn them into bread, and mankind will come running after You, a grateful and obedient flock, although they will always tremble in fear that You may withdraw Your hand and stop their supply of bread.”[x]
This is the temptation to abuse the power of nature. It is the temptation to violate community with the Earth; the grace-given providence (provide-ence) of God. It is the temptation we indulge in when we practice intensive industrial agriculture in ways that harm the poor and destroy the Earth’s soil structure. An inch of quality topsoil takes some 500 years for nature to make, and scientists today estimate that the world’s agricultural system is destroying this sixteen times faster than it can be replaced. 75 per cent of American cropland and 20 per cent in Africa is reckoned as ‘seriously degraded’. Agribusiness fuelled by our mindless obsession with cheap food is the cause. Well might the poor now tremble in fear that industry might withdraw its hand. It has usurped food autonomy and taken control of their supply of bread.
The alternative does exist in such forms as organic agriculture, Fair Trade products and farmers’ markets.[xi] These are more expensive, but their price embodies the justice of right relationship and, as such, is better than giving charity sustained by the false generosity of revenue raised by exploitation. Paying the full ‘fair price’ to avoid turning stones metaphorically into bread is a laudable meaning of religious ‘poverty’ for today. As an Evangelical Counsel, such poverty does not necessarily mean the unattractive hair shirt stereotype. Rather, as we see from Jesus’ own life, it is about living in simplicity, seeking “daily bread” sufficiency but renouncing cancerous surplus. It means neither grasping at wealth nor refusing the wise men’s gifts, nor the loving woman’s perfumed attentions, nor the wedding feast’s abundant wine or the ocean’s abundant fishes when they providentially come our way. Philip could see the inadequacy of even 200 denarii to feed the 5,000.[xii] Market economics were not up to the task, but Christ’s dynamics of ‘poverty’ made abundance for all.
In Buddhist parlance, such poverty is ‘non-attachment’. It is about grace-ful acceptance (thus, ‘saying grace’) with an open hand but not the clenched fist of grasping. True sufficiency providentially provides us with this paradox of rich poverty. In so doing, it protects us from succumbing to the first temptation whilst, paradoxically, allowing us like the Son of Man to come ‘eating and drinking.’[xiii] Put very simply, ‘If God gives you lemons, make lemonade.’
The second temptation is to assume the power of kings or landlords. This abuses social power, thus violating the pillar of community that stands us one in membership with our neighbour.
Chastity is the antidote to this, but to realise the full power of this Evangelical Counsel we must stop ruling it out of touch for most people by making the common error of confusing it with celibacy. Chastity simply means ‘purity’ – as in ‘chaste friendship’ or being a ‘chaste spouse’. It should be equated with celibacy only where sex is inappropriate. To live chastely, one with another, is to base our relationships on radical psychospiritual honesty and to confront the ‘original sin’ of instrumental exploitation.
The ultimate name of the game must be to learn to perceive and honour nothing less than the holiness of others – what we Quakers call ‘that of God within’. Without such chastity, a rich and lasting sexual love life is quite impossible. With it, as the Song of Songs and Sufi poetry in the Islamic tradition shows us, ‘Heaven becomes,’ to borrow a turn from the Rev Ian Fraser of the Iona Community, ‘the fulfilment of the erotic.’
This is a terribly important practical point. In her brilliant essay, ‘Uses of the Erotic,’ the late black feminist scholar, Audre Lorde, defines the true erotic as being sensation - not just sexual but all– that is integrated with the heart’s capacity for feeling. In contrast, she suggests, the pornographic is mere sensation devoid of feeling.
Lorde surmises that the true erotic is the deepest source of our power because it is ‘the personification of love in all its aspects... the passions of love, in its deepest meanings.’[xiv] Set in this light, we can see that the instrumentalist economic models of the G8 lack chastity. As such, they normalise patterns of consumerism that are devoid of heart and so profoundly pornographic.
The third temptation of Christ was to leap from a high place, thereby putting God to the test. This was to abuse spiritual power. It would have reduced presumed divine intercession to the level of a magical trick. It would have perverted authentic spirituality – spirituality that is ‘authored’ from within a human being’s deepest self – into a mere cult where ego is inflated and the soul dwarfed. This has been the greatest and least acknowledged temptation of the institutional churches down through the ages. Equally, such abuse of spiritual power is endemic in the G8’s leadership. We saw it in the spiritual politics of the recent Gulf War[xv] and in the wave of Islamophobia that has followed. Interestingly, Islamic economics with its injunction against usury is one of the few profound intellectual challenges to the engine-room of advanced capitalism.
The abuse of God’s spiritual power violates community with God. As Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it, such ‘sin is the breaking of friendship with God and with other human beings,’ the antidote to which must be what ‘gets to the very source of social injustice and other forms of human oppression and reconciles us with God and our fellow human beings.’[xvi]
This antidote is spiritual obedience. Yet again, to appreciate the Counsel’s relevance we must strip away erroneous constructs of what it means. The root of the word is the Latin, ob-audire, which suggests to hear what is all around us. In other words, obedience is discernment of the voice of God enfolded within and between our lives. This has nothing to do with obeying parents, teachers, popes, or any other external authority unless we feel inwardly moved so to do. Rather, spiritual obedience is the profound freedom of becoming true to our emergent selves – to our souls anchored in the deep reality of divine presence. Earlier English usage of the term better captures a Taoist sense of its meaning as when, for example, Shakespeare spoke of ‘floating … obedient to the streame.’ Such obedience is, in Hindu-Buddhist theology, the ‘Dharma.’ Whilst this word translates in the narrow sense as ‘law’, it ought be more fully understood as the rhythmic process of a life flowing in harmony with the unfolding of Being through time; with the ‘Lord of the Dance.’
These three Counsels and their respective pillars of community are the vision that, ultimately, we protestors might take to the G8 at Gleneagles. ‘Our’ world is of the passions of love in all its meaning. ‘Theirs’ pornographically sucks the world dry of promised life abundant. ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance…’ sayest the Lord of the Dance.[xvii]
‘What sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?’ wrote Alan Ginsberg in his prophetic epic, Howl. I think Walter Wink would love Ginsberg’s naming, unmasking and engaging of the Powers that Be, exposing a Molochean system that ‘saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…’[xviii]
Equally, Wink and other great liberation theologians of our time might celebrate Gingsberg’s transfiguring Footnote to Howl: ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!…. The world is holy!… everybody’s holy!… Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy!…’
Meanwhile, back in Scotland the haggii fatten on the mountain tops, the whisky stills are steaming … and the meek are getting ready. Be with us in July.
BIOG: Alastair McIntosh is a Fellow of Scotland’s Centre for Human Ecology. He
is author of Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, described by
Bishop James Jones as “life-changing” and by Thom Yorke of Radiohead as
“truly mental.” He will speak on community at this year’s Greenbelt
[i] Jeremiah 20:8-9. See also Jeremiah 15:10-21. These are core texts for activist reflection and fortification.
[ii] Numbers 11:29, KJV.
[iv] For a recent briefing by Scottish activists, see Gill Hubbard & David Miller, Arguments Against G8, Pluto Press, London, 2005.
[v] See Ronald Sider’s classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Hodder & Stoughton, Sevenoaks, 1978.
[vi] I explore such spiritual human ecology in Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, Aurum Press, London, 2004.
[vii] Romans 12:5.
[viii] John 10:10. See Douglas Gwyn’s The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism, Pendle Hill Publications, USA, 1995.
[ix] Luke 4:1-13.
[x] Trans. Ignat Avsey, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 316 – 317.
[xi] For practical suggestions and theology, see Bishop James Jones’s Jesus and the Earth, SPCK, 2003.
[xii] John 5:7.
[xiii] Matthew 11:19.
[xiv] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, USA, 1984, pp. 53 – 59.
[xv] See Michael Northcott’s An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire, I. B. Tauris, 2004.
[xvi] A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation, revised edn., SCM Press, London, 1988, pp. xxxviii; 24.
[xvii] Matthew 11:17, NRSV.
[xviii] Alan Ginsberg, Howl,
City Lights, USA, 1956, pp. 21, 9. Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers,
Fortress Press, USA, 1992.
Book Review for ECOS - "we are everywhere"
Review of we are everywhere: the irresistible rise of global anticapitalism, edited by Notes from Nowhere, Verso, London, 2003, 530pp., £10.99. (509 words body text; 559 incl. headers) – For ECOS: Journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, autumn/winter 2003.
Reviewed by Alastair McIntosh, Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology.
This brick-shaped volume is no ordinary book about globalisation. Note the lower case of its title, the fact that it is edited by an anonymous collective rather than named individuals, and that it is “Copyleft” rather than Copyright, meaning that it can be freely reproduced for non-commercial use.
But remember to use the “enlarge” facility when copying. The type size is tiny! Maybe the editors thought that middle-aged readers like myself should long since have fallen as front-line casualties to the movement or else have been pensioned out of the way.
And yet, this book is usefully and attractively presented. Indeed, the review copy I was sent came wrapped in a lovely cloth wallhanging - just perfect for the radical study and proclaiming in 4 languages: “We will remain faceless because we refuse the spectacle of celebrity, because we are everyone, because the carnival beckons, because the world is upside down, because we are everywhere. By wearing masks we show that who we are is not as important as what we want, and what we want is everything for everyone.”
Wait a moment … did I say … “wallhanging”? Oh dear – tear-gas mask, of course! And did I say … “brick-shaped”? For throwing, no doubt, and certainly for ease of stuffing into rucksack pockets en route to the next Social Forum.
This is a book that aims to educate, inform and inspire – a glorious aria of hope in troubled times. It is written by people from all over the world who have hit up against the global monoculture of advanced capitalism with its psychotically obsessive paradigm of competition. And the contributors are angry. They’re determined to fight the plutocratic Moloch that would privatise the benefits and socialise the costs … of … what? … living itself!
So, what is the brick weighted with? It launches with an “Opening Salvo”. “The powerful look at our diversity and see only miscellany. The media report that they don’t know what we’re talking about, we have no solutions, we represent nobody, we should be ignored,” say the editorial collective, continuing: “If they would stay quiet for a while they might begin to hear the many different accents, timbres, voices, and languages in which we are telling our myriad stories.”
We then canter through 7 densely-packed chapters – the emergence of the “irresistible” global uprising, networking and the ecology of the movements, autonomy and creating spaces for freedom, carnival as resistance being the secret of joy, “clandestinity” or resisting state oppression, power acquired by building it without taking it, and walking the talk while asking the questions.
This walk is strong on passionate essays and vibrant pictures. There’s rather less on poetry and spirituality, but then, it is a book of youthful energy where action speaks louder than reflection.
Is there hope for the world? Not if you listen to the grey old men moribund in their Strangelove suits and questionable salutes. But step outside and join the Carnival and … Man/Meri! (as they’d say in Papua New Guinea) … it’s a trip!
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18 May 2005