Christian Anarchy 4
Regarding this chapter, I owe the Holy Spirit (or whoever inspired it) an apology. I got it in the wrong book.
This chapter (in somewhat different form) appeared in my previous book, Towering Babble, from Brethren Press (from which kind permissions have been obtained). Granted, it almost didn't make it there. The idea came late, after the rest of the manuscript was already in process at the publisher. It was my mistake to think it was given me for the book already marked finis when actually it is all about Christian Anarchy. However, the Spirit didn't have the grace to tell me it was about anarchy (all right, I wasn't really listening). But at that time I didn't even know there was such stuff--let alone that I was into it and had been elected to write a book about it. How was I to know the crazy chapter was meant as the nucleus of a new book rather than an untimely born appendix to the old? I apologize--but I still don't think it was entirely my fault.
The thesis now is that an almost invariable characteristic of "arky faith" (whether that of the establishment legitimizers of the Right or the new-order revolutionists of the Left) is what shall here be called "zealotism." The insight came to me by way of the studies of a professor of New Testament from the University of Tübingen (Germany), Martin Hengel--though he's had no more idea that he's actually been talking about Christian Anarchy than I've had. That's how it is with us accidental anarchists--so I better tell the whole story.
Hengel has specialized on the first-century Jewish revolution against the Roman military establishment, the proponents of which came to be identified as the Zealots. The spirit these revolutionaries represent ("zealotism," we shall call it) marks, I would say, a great deal of modern Christian thought. So in the following, a capital-Z Zealotism designates the first-century phenomenon and lower-case-z "zealotism" the perennial manifestation of it.
Hengel has two slim (almost booklet) volumes, Was Jesus a Revolutionist? And Victory over Violence (both from Fortress Press and both, unfortunately, out of print). As one our top experts on the Sociopolitical background of the Bible from intertestamental times through the earliest Christian centuries, he is eminently qualified to tell us the stories of two Jewish revolutions. The first--a century and more before Jesus--was the Maccabean revolt against Hellenistic oppressors (the Seleucids). The second--getting underway during the time of Jesus and running almost fifty years beyond him--was the Zealot revolt against Roman oppression.
The ultimate purpose behind Hengel's study--his being an unknowing anarchist--is to critique the revolutionist, liberationist, radical-social-change, political-activist theologies of our own day. "Revolution"--as we have been using the term all along--might be defined as "an all-out, holy-arky effort to unseat an evil regime (the Establishment) and replace it with a just one (the Revolution)." The word "violent" does not appear in our definition; but the question is whether such revolution has any chance of succeeding without resort to at least some forms of violence. Thus, to avoid confusion, Hengel is careful not to follow popular thought in using the terms "revolution" or "revolutionary" in reference to Jesus. Surely, the way of Jesus was something quite different from that of human-heroic arky power.
Hengel uses the two Jewish revolutions as models of revolutionism in general--models of revolutionary idealism and ideology as well as models of revolutionary procedure and outcome.
There is no question but that both the Maccabean and Zealot uprisings met every possible qualification for "good," justifiable revolution: (1) In every aspect of life, the populace had been pushed to the extremes of oppression; their grievances were real; they were in despair and without hopeful alternative. (2) The revolution arose out of the lower, oppressed classes and was the spontaneous expression of their need. Their leadership came out of their own ranks. They were not being manipulated for the political advantage of any ideological clique. (3) Their goals were entirely right and good. They sought no more than simple justice; their demands were in no way exorbitant or self-serving. (4) Their religious motivation was strong and pure. They wanted truly to obey God, to be free to worship him and establish his justice. They were not prostituting the faith in the service of their revolution. (5) Each of these revolts turned to violence only as a last resort; any observer would have had to agree that no other political possibility was open to them.
The main difference between the two was that the Maccabean revolt succeeded and the Zealot revolt failed. The sad sameness was that both came to an identical end--"success" "failure," no appreciable difference.
The Maccabees were quickly successful in achieving their revolutionary goals: they won back the temple and reconsecrated it; they fought themselves free of the Seleucids--their taxation, their enslaving of people, their cultural hegemony. Yet, in the process, the revolutionists had become power hungry and couldn't bring themselves to stop fighting. In their turn, they became imperialist toward the Gentiles. The revolutionary leadership became corrupt and extortive, fell to fighting among themselves, actually became collaborationist with the Hellenists they had set out to oppose. Perhaps saddest of all, the revolution which originated as resistance to Jews being forced to give up their religion and become Hellenist wound up with the Jewish establishment forcing Gentiles to be circumcised. At the very time Jewish revolutionaries were defeating the Hellenist oppressors, Hellenist morality was subverting Judaism. And it is easy to show that this is not the only revolution in history to have "succeeded" in just this way.
With the Zealots against Rome, there was also some initial success--a gaining control of at least one section of Jerusalem. But again, the revolutionary leaders fell to fighting among themselves, and in this case the Roman military responded with a vengeance. The population was killed or went refugee. Jerusalem was leveled to the ground and burned. God's holy temple was gone for good, and, at Masada, the Zealot survivors committed suicide in one of history's most gruesome and ghastly episodes. It is no thanks to the heroic freedom fighters that Judaism itself survived either of these revolutions. Their efforts would have lost it; the survival is owing solely to the grace of God. I do not believe the case can be made that either of these revolutions went bad because of poor decisions that a wiser leadership (say, modern Christians like ourselves) would have avoided. No, disaster somehow seems to be built into the very economy of arky revolution.
However, Hengel uses his exercise to show that the style of Jesus is as opposed to the arky faith of revolutionists as it is to that of the establishment--and this in an entirely fundamental way, not simply on the matter of physical violence. Of course, some proponents of liberation theology argue that the only reason Jesus doesn't show up as much of a political revolutionary is that the situation of his day didn't really provide for such a role. They imply that, if Jesus were around today, he would undoubtedly be out there with the best of them.
Hengel's answer is that first-century Palestine showed just as true a revolutionary ferment as any hot spot of the world today; that, had he had the inclination, Jesus easily could have joined (or led) about any sort of revolution he chose to; and that, rather than accidentally missing the revolution, he deliberately disavowed it root and branch.
I have some doubt that Hengel was aware how big an idea he was onto or how close he was to identifying Christian Anarchy; but in his treatment of "Jesus and the Tribute Money" (Mark 12) he gets to thc very heart of the matter. We will let Hengel explain things his way (Was Jesus a Revolutionist?, pp.32-34) and then I get to say what I think it all means. What follows is a paraphrase of Hengel--my English may communicate better than his translated German:
There is no evidence that Jesus ever had anything good to say about the Zealot revolutionaries--although he was probably even more strongly opposed to the establishment Jews who were cozying up to the Roman occupation. Nevertheless, Jesus' stating that the tax coin should be given to Caesar in no way can be understood as his legitimizing and siding with the establishment. Consider that the question about tax payment had been put to him as the hypocritical trick of some establishment-types. They knew--and were depending upon the fact--that he would never align himself with them, would never favor collaboration with the Romans. So, if they could work him into a corner where he would have to say that taxes should be withheld, he would be as much as an admitted Zealot. They could then report him to the authorities as an enemy of the state.
Yet the Zealots, it must be understood, were much more than simple tax withholders such as we know today--and much more radically consistent. Because the tax coin, the Roman silver denarius, bore the likeness and inscription of Caesar, the Zealots considered it both traitorous and idolatrous even to look upon one, let alone possess it. To so much as hold the things and profit by them would itself have been a collaboration with the foreign oppressor. No one could accuse these resisters of taking Caesar's money with one hand while refusing to give him his percentage with the other; their disassociation from the evil system was as complete as they could make it. Accordingly, in showing their allegiance to God, they were as willing to knife a Jewish collaborator as a Roman overlord.
That Jesus had to ask for a denarius surely is meant to indicate that he didn't own one and, to that extent, might qualify as a Zealot. Conversely, that the questioners immediately produced one clearly identifies them as collaborators. The setup poses Jesus an inescapable choice--he must recommend either supporting the establishment by paying taxes or supporting the revolution by withholding them.
The first meaning of Jesus' answer is to the effect that those conscientiously able to take money off Caesar (his image on the coin is proof enough as to where they got it) had better also find themselves conscientiously able to pay back the share he demands--that's part of the bargain; they're already committed. Notice, however, that this has nothing to do with the either/or choice. Collaborators (and that they have Caesar's coin is proof enough that they owe) should pay their taxes; yet that says nothing as to whether one should or should not possess coins and be a collaborator.
The zinger comes, then, with Jesus' second meaning (which, by the way, is not an answer to the question that was put). This, the text tells us, left them "amazed." "How did he come up with that one? We thought we had him with no way out." Hengel suggests that the Greek of the connective should be translated "but" in place of the usual "and": "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's--but to God the things that are God's."
With that, Hengel observes, the whole debate about what does or does not belong to Caesar becomes irrelevant in view of the nearness of God. Choosing God is really all that matters--not the choosing between the Establishment and the Revolution. All choices other than the choosing of God become what Hengel calls "adiaphora," i.e., things of no real consequence. It is senseless to take them too seriously, either positively or negatively. Neither the Establishment nor the Revolution, neither paying taxes nor withholding them has anything to do with the coming of the kingdom of God. And recall what Ellul observed regarding this text: that Jesus elsewhere identifies mammon as being a product of evil's realm and nothing God is particularly interested in claiming as his own.
According to Hengel,
World power [whether establishment or revolutionary] is neither justified nor condemned. It is deprived of its significance, however, through that little word "but," which pushes everything to God's side. True freedom from the powers [whether establishment arkys or revolutionist ones] begins with an inner freedom; and inner freedom, in the new Testament sense, only he achieves who has grasped in faith the nearness of the love of God which leads him away from himself to his fellow man.
Choosing God with this sort of intensity must entail the denial that the outcome of history is being decided in the contest of the human arkys we have chosen to designate as "good" and "evil." Consequently, Christians refuse to become embroiled in the contest, whether investing themselves in the arkys of the one side or the other. And this stance is what we have been calling "Christian Anarchy."
After picking up this interpretation from Hengel, I found other prominent New Testament scholars not only in agreement but contributing further insights of their own. In his book cited earlier, Howard Clark Kee analyzes Mark's Gospel, not simply as a historical report of what Jesus had said and done thirty-five to forty years earlier, but as Mark's on-the-spot instruction to and statement of the position of his own Palestinian church community--which was living right up against the Jewish-Roman War of A.D. 66-70.
Kee suggests that "four main options were open to Jews of Palestine in the period prior to the first revolt":
"The first was to collaborate fully with the Roman overlords and their puppets, the Herodian tetrarchs and petty kings" (p.97). As is regularly the case, this position was that of the aristocratic elite, the "profiteers" who could do themselves a bit of good by playing along with the oppressors.
"Or the Jews could assume the more passive form of acquiescence to Roman rule and to Rome's economic standards. It was this attitude that was adopted by the Pharisees, who concerned themselves largely with the maintenance of personal and group piety within their own community" (p.97).
"The third position, of which we hear nothing directly in the gospel tradition but which has significant kinship with primitive Christianity; is that of the Essenes.... The Essenes [unlike the Christians) withdrew from society [and] clustered in their desert settlements" (p.98).
"The remaining position was that of the insurrectionists" (pp. 98-99). Kee uses Josephus in describing how widespread and pervasive revolutionist activity was in the Palestine of Mark's day.
However, "the community of Mark adopted a position that was not consonant with any of the options.... Their rejection of the use of political power or physical force, as shown by Jesus' denunciation of the power play by the sons of Zebedee [to which he responded with the words: 'You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you...'--10:35-44] and their concurrent acquiescence in the payment of tribute to Caesar (12:13-17) would have enraged the revolutionaries" (pp. 99-100).
At another point in his book, Kee sums up his reading of the Markan community:
Since messianic language is political language, since the chief image for the new age in Mark is "the kingdom of God," and since Jesus had, according to Mark 14-15, been executed as a pretender to the Jewish throne, it was difficult for the Markan community to avoid sympathies, if not connivance, with those who were working to free Palestine from Roman control. But Mark records Jesus as refusing to make a move in that direction.... Between persons [such as those of the Markan community] who shared this strange view of the coming of the kingdom solely by divine grace and those who seized initiative in taking it by storm there could be no common ground. (p. 93)
After this chapter and the book itself were long completed, I remembered that Günther Bornkamm and his turning-the-corner-on-Bultmann study, Jesus of Nazareth (Harper & Row, Eng. 1960) [Ger. 1956] belong very much within the present company. Bornkamm has an exegesis of Mark 12 (pp.120-24) which harmonizes completely with what we have had from our other New Testament scholars--but in which he comes closer to actually saying the words "Christian Anarchy" than any of them do. More importantly, although again without using our terminology, he finds a profound Christian Anarchy within Jesus' Sermon on the Mount--where I don't know that anyone else has perceived it.
First, on Mark 12, he opens by spotting the major theme of the pericope: "Seen against this background (the Roman oppression of Palestine), it is most astonishing and remarkable that political problems should take second place in Jesus' preaching. The reason for this is without any doubt the expectation of the approaching reign of God" (p 121). As we will be observing time and time again, it is another case of the Arky of God crowding any and all human arkys out of their places of primacy, as it were.
Then, after arguing that "Render unto God the things that are God's" is the heart of the passage, he concludes: "But the very fact that here the entire problem of the state is thus put in the margin, and that its fundamental problems are not allowed to come to the surface, is obviously a very important word on the whole matter.... Herewith Jesus' word opposes all attempts, be they Jewish or Christian, reactionary [Bornkamm must here have intended 'radical' or 'revolutionist,' if the pattern of his sentence is to hang together at all] or conservative-loyal, to improve the world with ideologies" (pp.123-24). Read: "Christian Anarchy."
Second, his anarchical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is revealed in a section entitled 'The New Righteousness" (pp.100-109). He is examining Jesus' attitude toward the Old Testament "law," the torah. To appreciate the full weight of Bornkamm's argument we must know that Israel's torah represented the compendium of the divinely bestowed, culturally inherited definition of and instruction about what is good and right and wise regarding personal, moral, religious, social, economic, and civic aspects of life. Perhaps no other people has ever had all its tradition so neatly collected and codified; yet it must be correct to say that every society has its own torah, in however scattered and disorganized a state it may be.
Whether, then, one has in mind first-century Judaism or any other culture, Bornkamm suggests that people take one of two different "fronts" regarding their torah: "The first is the front of the fanatics who wish to claim Jesus for their own as the great revolutionary, as the prophet of a new world order, as the bringer of a new era, to which must be sacrificed all that has gone before.... For them, the will of God which has ever summoned and bound us is a burdensome chain which must be discarded. This picture of the future of the world is now made the only valid law.... This movement rushes towards a dreamed-of-future, right past the law of God and heedless of it" (p. 101). This, of course, is what we have been calling the revolutionist, or liberationist, view of those whose arky faith lies in the new world order to be introduced by Christian creativity and virtue.
Jesus dissociates himself from this leftist front, Bornkamm suggests, with the words, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). Jesus will neither join nor approve those who reject the torah by damning it as "the dead past" from which they are moving away as they proceed toward "the new, dreamed-of future."
Conversely, the second "front" regarding one's torah is that of those who see it as the means of society's salvation. Certainly not by moving away from the torah but by moving toward it in ever closer attention, respect, and obedience--it is in this way that both individuals and society will find their beatitude in the will of God. This, of course, is the alternative we have been identifying as "the establishment," or "legitimization."
Bornkamm suggests that Jesus just as explicitly dissociates himself from this front (only three verses later, in Matt. 5:20) with the words, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." With the scribes and Pharisees, to move toward the torah as one's goal is just as wrong as moving away from it.
Bornkamm then proposes that the literary pattern of the remainder of Matthew 5 both underscores Jesus' rejection of the rightist arky faith of salvation by obedience to the torah and points to his own distinctive stance (which we will show to be Christian Anarchy). "You have heard that it was said to men of old ... but I say to you." (a) It was said not to kill; I say don't even be angry. (b) It was said not to commit adultery; I say don't even look lustfully. (c) It was said to divorce properly; I say not to divorce at all. (d) It was said to swear properly; I say not to swear at all. (e) It was said an eye for an eye; I say don't even resist. (f) It was said to love friends but hate enemies; I say to love even enemies. It is plain that Jesus' authoritative innovation is to push the torah to be more strict and demanding than even the scribes and Pharisees had it.
At first blush, Jesus' move appears to be an effort to get even closer to the torah than the legalistic legitimizers have managed--in consequence making obedience even more impossible than it has proved for them. Yet, Bornkamm suggests, this is not at all what Jesus has in mind. Jesus is not making the torah itself his end and goal--as the conservatives do. No, his move is to punch through the torah to get to the Giver who stands behind it. Once that is accomplished, it becomes apparent that obedience to the torah was simply another human arky-faith proposal for getting ourselves saved. Yet after we get past that arky to stand directly before God, then, as something of a fringe benefit, we find the grace, transformation, and power which enables us to obey even "the intensified torah" in a way we could never have done simply on our own. Although claiming no righteousness in having done so regarding their obedience to the torah, Christians who are living out of the grace of a direct relationship to God actually exceed the obedience of the scribes and Pharisees who are seeking righteousness as an end in itself.
So, if the torah is not "the dead past" from which we must liberate ourselves in order to enter "the new future," and if it is not "the way to life" that could be ours by following it--then what is it? You don't suppose it was from Jesus that Paul learned to see the torah neither as jailer nor savior but as the household servant whose job is simply to get the children to school, delivering them directly and safely into the care of the one true Schoolmarm (Gal. 3:24)?
Again, this is a case of renouncing any form of arky faith in order to go all-out with the Arky of God. If you will, it is a case of rendering to the torah as much as actually belongs to the torah but, of infinitely greater importance, rendering to God what belongs to God. For Jesus carefully to pick his way, avoiding either establishment "salvation by torah" or revolutionary "salvation from torah"--well, that strikes me as one rather fundamental variety of Christian Anarchy.
Our scholars have brought us this far; from here on out we're on our own.
What Jesus accomplished in that Mark-12 confrontation, I suggest, is this: he makes the distinction between the one, ultimate, absolute choice and all lesser, relative choices. So draw on your mental blackboard, if you will, a horizontal line. As poles of an "either/or" choice, label one end THE ARKYS OF ESTABLISHMENT and the other THE ARKYS OF REVOLUTION. You need not go to the mental effort of writing them in; but consider that subhead labels could be "Collaborate with the Romans" at the one end and "Resist the Romans" at the other; "Conscientiously Pay Taxes" at the one end and "Conscientiously Withhold Taxes" at the other. A little additional thought would show that, in addition to "The Establishment vs. the Revolution," any number of other morally contested arky alignments (such as "pro-torah" vs. "anti-torah") would fit the diagram as well. Any and all such horizontal polarities, such human alternatives, we will call "relative choices."
In Mark 12, Jesus says that none of these represents the real issue of human existence and social destiny. These, one and all, are "adiaphora" in comparison to the one choice that really counts. So, at the other end of your blackboard (you haven't already erased that first diagram, have you?) draw a vertical line--except, don't make it a solid, continuous line (dots, dashes, or other forms of tenuousness will do nicely). At the top of this line, then, write GOD. At of the bottom of the line, however, we want to put the entire "Establishment vs. Revolution" alignment, plus every other possible horizontality--and summarize the whole bit with the word WORLD.
Now this vertical alignment--in which a person either chooses "God" or chooses something else which, however good or evil it seem, is obviously "not-God"--this constitutes the only ABSOLUTE choice there is or can be. It is what Jesus was talking when he said: "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye [this choice] is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:22-24). The book of Revelation is after the same idea in insisting that, at any given moment, every person bears either, on his forehead, the seal with the name of the Lamb and his Father or else, on his hand, the mark that names the Beast.
Thus, this choice is absolute in that everyone must make it; to fail to choose God is already to have chosen the world. Of no relative choice is this the case. The whole point of Jesus' response to the tax question is that refusal to join the Revolution is not the equivalent of joining the Establishment (or vice versa). In Scripture, it is only God in Christ who can say, "He who is not with me is against me." The assumption that one must either absolutize the state-arky as a god (as does the establishment) or else absolutize it as a satan (as does the revolution) is utterly false. Jesus asks us to absolutize God alone and let the state and all other arkys be the human relativities they are, at once relatively good and relatively evil--even as you and I are.
The choosing of God--and only this choice--is absolute in that everything else hangs on it. Only here does "your whole body" become full of either light or darkness.
The choice is absolute in that it is the only true "life and death choice," the only "black and white choice," the only choice between light and darkness (to use Jesus' own terminology). Between "God" and "the world" there is no natural connection, no possibility of gradual transition, no shadings of gray, no middle ground, nothing shared in common between the two ends of the choice (which is why, on your diagram, you were asked to make that vertical a non-line). Here and only here are we invited--or even permitted--to "hate the one and love the other, be devoted to the one and despise the other."
This choice--and only this choice--is absolute in that there is no room for dialogue or discussion between the poles, no room for seeking what is true and good in each, for effecting any sort of reconciliation or compromise. Here there can be no conversation (as there could be none when Jesus chose not to debate Pilate), for when God is that which is to be chosen, "To whom then will you compare me?"--as it is put in Isaiah 40:25. No, all one can do is choose and choose absolutely--"let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also."
Once one has absolutely chosen God--it needs to be said--then it is perfectly proper to turn to the world and find all sorts of relative values there. Thus the issue is not the customary one of being either world-rejecting or world-affirming; it is rather the question of primacy--who's master, God or the world? But once that has been settled, there is no end to the amount of discriminating world affirmation that can take place.
Now the root sin of arky-faith's zealotism is the penchant for absolutizing what are actually relative choices, for treating as vertical those alignments that are actually horizontal. The contest between two different "not-God" positions is treated as though it involves a choosing of "God," as though one of the positions were the position of "God" and only the other a "not-God" position.
However, the truth of the matter is that relative choices represent an entirely different alignment from the absolute choice and must be approached in an entirely different manner. God, of course, has the right to demand that every person choose him or, in failing to do so, choose the world. We have no right to demand that anyone choose between our humanly defined alternatives. Being humanly defined, the alternatives we set up are never black and white; at best, they are only differing shades of gray. It is hardly our place, then, to suggest that people must choose what we define as "the Revolution" or else be damned as part of what we define as "the Establishment," choose what we define as "liberalism" or else be damned as what we call "a conservative," choose what we define as "peacemaking" or else be damned according to our definition of "a war-maker."
Just the opposite of the way it is with the absolute choice, relative choices--in their comparative grayness--must recognize the essential commonality of the two poles; they are two varieties of the same thing. Both the Revolution and the Establishment are nothing more than arky ideologies regarding the use of political power. Either may be capable of making some real contribution to human welfare, and each is capable of really messing up things. Neither can guarantee anything, whether good results or bad ones. Establishment types are sinners and revolutionaries are sinners--you can take that as axiomatic. Consequently, what horizontal alignments present as "opposite poles" are actually different points on a continuous spectrum of relative good and evil (which is why you drew your horizontal as a solid, connecting line between the two "poles.")
Thus, just where the vertical, absolutist alignment emphasizes polarization and prohibits conversation, horizontal relativism calls for the opposite. What it presents as polar distinctions are not such and dare not be treated as such. Instead, what is called for from both ends is humility, honesty, openness--a spotting what is wrong and a looking for what is right in both the one position and the other; a give-and-take that is mutually affirmative as well as mutually critical; two-way recognition and correction; a search for reconciliation through the discovery of new locations on the spectrum where the values of each can be preserved as the "poles" move closer together. Precisely because the alignment is relative, each position must be taken as only relatively right or wrong, relatively fixed, relatively important.
Kierkegaard, perhaps, has put it best: "Whatever difference there may be between two persons, even if humanly speaking it were most extreme, God has it in his power to say, 'When I am present, certainly no one will presume to be conscious of this difference, because that would be standing and talking to each other in my presence as if I were not present'" (Works of Love, p. 315).
Nevertheless, just because--in comparison to the absolute choice, in comparison to God and his kingdom--all relative, human choices are seen as adiaphora is not to say that they are of no importance at all, that they merit no concern or attention from us. To say that each pole represents a shade of gray is not to say that, in every case, it is the same shade. It is not to say that one arky might not have a relative advantage over another, a moral advantage well worth striving for. I don't know that Jesus ever condemns our involvement with and struggle over the relative arky choices that confront us. In fact, he gives instruction and counsel regarding many of them. However, what he does condemn is our bypassing the absolute choice in the interests of absolutizing some relative choice which we choose to make all-important. Consequently, we dare not, in principle, declare the Revolution always to be preferable to the Establishment (or vice versa). Each case is relative to its own merits.
We now can define "zealotism" as that moral zeal which gets so carried away in its holy cause that it takes its own relative righteousness for the absolute righteousness of God himself. The anti-Roman Zealots of the first century are a good example of the disease; yet we need to realize that, even there, "zealotism" was by no means confined to the Zealots. The collaborationist Jewish establishment, for its part, was just as zealously certain that its arky represented the "God-pole" of the alignment. And each could adduce good arguments. The establishment held the temple, the priesthood, the Scriptures, and religious learning--and stood for law and order. The revolution represented the eschatological hopes of the people--and stood for righteousness, justice, and the liberation of the poor. The fact that each had a convincing God-claim would seem a rather good indicator of the relativity of both. In his anarchical response, Jesus displayed the very wisdom of God when, rather than choosing between them, he renounced the zealotism of both.
Yes, zealotism can and does show itself across our spectrums--political, religious, sociocultural. It is nothing peculiar to the radical Left. In our day, for instance, the Moral Majority shows as much absolutizing zeal as anyone. However, because most readers of this book are likely to be left-leaners, I will continue to take my examples from and make my applications to the revolutionist end of the spectrum.
If the above analysis is correct, the Zealot movement did not become sinful only when it became violent. In its absolutizing of the relative (insisting that one's readiness to resist Rome is the test of true faith), it was sinful from the beginning and would have been so even if it had somehow managed to avoid physical violence. In fact, my guess is that it is the very action of absolutizing that makes violence as much as inevitable. Once a party is convinced it represents "God" over against "Satan," it is in position to justify whatever action proves necessary in taking out that satan.
The sin of absolutizing the relative could, I suppose, be called idolatry; but I'm not sure that quite says it. It is not so much a case of setting up a god besidesYahweh as it is our presuming to locate God, to say where he stands (namely, at the position of our arky's good cause and against the other arky's bad cause). We do this rather than allowing God to locate us (namely, as sinful, lost, and helpless). But whatever such sin should be called, it is bad--a form of Eden's "titanism" in which man presumes to set the rules by which God must play, assigns him his position on the field, and even tries to coach him. Zealotism signifies something much more serious than simply an enthusiasm for God that accidentally overdoes a good thing.
Starting out bad, zealotism inevitably gets worse. We defined it as "moral zeal for a holy cause"--but that was to put the matter as charitably as possible. With some regularity zealotism comes across more strongly as "moral zeal against unholy causes." Although the first-century Zealots claimed (undoubtedly honestly enough) that their motivation was the liberation of the poor, what they became best at was sticking it into the ribs of the rich (to the extent that they even came to be known as "the knifemen"). True to form, contemporary zealots prove much more proficient at denouncing whomever they choose to call warmakers than they are at positive peacemaking.
Now it may be thought that these two--loving the good and hating the evil--come to the same thing, that they are simply two sides of the same coin, but that just isn't so. Jesus showed us that they are not--at the same time showing that he was not a Zealot. He loved the poor--but did it without hating the rich. He loved the poor, indeed, while showing love toward different rich people at the same time. In fact, in his book Money and Power (pp.137-73), Ellul argues well that Jesus didn't even draw the good-poor/bad-rich distinction in the same simplistic terms we do. None of this, of course, is to deny that Jesus did recognize an important although relative distinction between the poor and the rich. How did he manage it? He managed it by anarchically keeping relative alignments relative, refusing to absolutize them. It is only those absolutely certain of their own rightness who can afford to take out after those they know to be absolutely wrong.
Indeed, there is reason to believe that, at least in some cases, behind the zealous castigation of a particular sin or sinner lies the castigator's need to butress his own holiness. He centers in on a selected sin (which is not his) in the interests of promoting his own selective righteousness. Such clearly was the case with the scribes and Pharisees whose zealous hatred of immorality had them ready to kill the woman taken in adultery. Plainly, their actual concern was not so much her sin as the promotion of their own righteousness. They were out to use her--absolutizing her relative moral defect as a way of simultaneously absolutizing their own (defective) moral righteousness. Zealotism's outlook of "us good guys versus them bad guys"--white-hatted heroes versus black-hatted villains--lends itself to just such grotesquery: the black, black, blacker I can paint my selected enemy, the white, white, more heroic white it leaves me. "I thank God that I am not like other men--notably Ronald Reagan" (Luke 18:11).
In this regard, there is at least one conspicuous difference between all forms of "biblical theology" on the one hand and the contemporary "liberationist theologies" on the other--whether those target Third World poverty (liberation theology), racism (black theology), sexism (feminist theology), or war (peace theology). Even if biblical thought has now to be stigmatized as "Western-white-male-military theology," it must still be admitted that that theology is dedicated to bringing Western white male warmakers (along with everyone else) into confrontation with their own sinfulness. Yet with modern liberationist theologies, things are otherwise. The regular pattern is to find out and denounce the sin of the enemy and leave one's own constituency smelling like a rose. These theologies are so deeply invested into society's arky struggles that they can't afford to give the enemy an inch by admitting even the possibility of wrongness in themselves. Zealotism simply does not make for good biblical theology.
As we proceed to analyze the character of Christian zealotism on the current scene, perhaps the one best example lies in the "peace movement," that arky opposing nuclear armament. We will stick with it as our example, our case study--although with the understanding that it is only an example. Zealotism itself is a widespread disease which readers, on their own, will have no trouble spotting and diagnosing throughout our bodies politic and ecelesiastic.
Current church literature and teaching often give the impression that we Christians consider it more important for a person to join us is in opposing the nukes than in worshiping Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We use a person's stand on nuclear arms as a truer test of a person's Christianity than his stand on the biblical proclamation as to who Christ is. This is a zealotism, the prioritizing of human arky above the true God.
Likewise, the movement shows the zealot tendency of becoming highly sensitized to the selected "sin of the day" (which is regularly someone else's rather than our own) and as much as totally insensitive to sins that come closer home. As Jesus put it, we get agitated about the speck in the other person's eye while completely ignoring the log in our own. So, for purposes of log/speck comparison, let's put the sin of nuclear armament up against, say, the sin of adultery--first being reminded that the same set of ten commandments which says, "You shall not kill," also says, "You shall not commit adultery." I find nothing in the text of those commandments inviting us to categorize its prohibited sins into those which are really, really bad and those which aren't really bad at all.
That paragraph sets my argument about adultery but hardly constitutes it. Much more needs to be said about the basic character of sin and how the sinfulness of given behavior is to be evaluated. The criterion cannot be simply the statistical-sociological one of how many individuals are adversely affected in what way. Much more important is the discovery of the spiritual economy involved, what the sin has to say regarding the sinner's relationship to God. "Sin" always is defined in relation to God before it is in relation to neighbor (although I do not mean to suggest that the two aspects are ever separable). Yet the modern tendency is to be completely blind to the Godward side of sin.
Regarding nuclear armament, then, its principal and essential sinfulness is certainly the effrontery of the nations in wresting from God's hands the power and authority to direct the course of history and dictate the future (or non-future) of the planet. It is the Tower of Babel all over again. By the way, this has been the sinfulness of militarism since the beginning. Nuclear capability marks a technological advance but hardly a qualitative leap in the spiritual economy of the sin itself. No, the sinful determination to power history into going our way undoubtedly has been a constant throughout the life of the race.
Regarding, then, in its turn, the sin of adultery, the Bible's paradigmatic treatment will best tell us what we need to know. Although, as far as we are told, King David's was a one-time affair that was quickly repented, yet we must be impressed by how seriously God took the matter--sending a prophet especially to get things straightened out and having the story written up in Scripture as a critical juncture in the history of his people. Plainly, more was involved than a bit of sexual misbehavior that incurred God's legalistic displeasure in having one of his commandments broken.
No, with David--as probably with most of his celebrity colleagues in this sin--it seems not to have been his intention to challenge the rightness of the Seventh Commandment. In fact, he was probably all for it ... as a rule for common, run-of-the-mill sinners. They need such constraint; it helps keep them on the straight and narrow. Yet the case is entirely different with His Royal Majesty, King o' the Realm David. It is given to kings to make the laws--definitely not to obey them along with the hoi polloi. David's clearly was an "elitist adultery," a matter not so much of "executive--" as of "titanic-privilege," the privilege of being "big man."
Thus, the sin of David was not so much "adultery" as the pretension of claiming to be "like God." God himself well understood what was involved and so had the affair commemorated as marking both David's personal decline and the progressive breakup of his kingdom. If the spiritual economy of nuclear armament is that of Babel, the spiritual economy of this sort of adultery is that of Eden. And who would presume to say which is a log and which a speck?
Yet the evidence is that the sin of "elitist adultery" is still very much with us and that God's spiritual diagnosis of it is correct. A recent biography of Lyndon Johnson makes it plain that he was of the company--and quotes him something to the effect that "power" is a wonderful aphrodisiac (an observation that gets to the very heart of the matter).
In a syndicated newspaper piece, columnist Joan Beck raises concerns similar to ours--this in connection with the abysmal personal morality of different members of the Kennedy family as that has been exposed in a number of recent books about them. Regarding President Kennedy, she writes:
And didn't voters have a right to know that he cheated routinely on his wife--or that he used the Secret Service to sneak women in and out of the White House and that one of his longer dalliances was with the mistress of Mafia leader Sam Giancana? Or that when there were no Hollywood stars or starlets around, he used two blonds from the secretarial pool whom he and his friends called "Fiddle and Faddle" (while Jackie, who knew about them, dubbed them "the White House dogs")?
Please hear me when I say that my point in speaking of these two presidents has nothing to do with any desire to attack or derogate them. My one interest is the extreme selectivity and inconsistency with which Christian zealotism applies moral standards. By what logic do we see it right to scream bloody murder about the sinfulness of nuclear armament and show virtually no concern about the sort of adultery that goes on among bigwigs in the worlds of religion, business, and entertainment--as well as politics?
It will not do to try the usual dodge of suggesting that nuclear armament is a matter having widespread public repercussions while adultery is a purely personal matter. It strikes me that Beck's picture identifies President Kennedy as extremely sexist--a matter interpreted as anything but "one's private business" in our day. So why is it writers who fail to conform to feminist decrees regarding good English who regularly get accused of sexism, while the most prominent feminist of the country names President Kennedy as one of her favorite men? Could this be selective moralism?
Further, John F. Kennedy's taking of Roman Catholic wedding vows (with a nuptial mass) "before God and these witnesses" was a deliberately public act of solemn covenant-making. Deliberately public, also, was his carefully nurtured, politically essential image as husband, father, and family man. So, if President Kennedy was this quick to put the satisfaction of his carnal appetites ahead of honesty and the integrity of his solemn oath-taking, what assurance have we that he would not treat his solemn oath of office the same way?
I submit that this sort of power-privileged deceit and infidelity (to God and these witnesses just as much as to his wife and family) is every bit as much a threat to the moral existence of society as nuclear armament is to its physical existence--which, I think, is why in the first place God wanted the commandment against adultery in there right along with the one against killing, and why he gave special attention to David's case. Consequently, I was greatly disturbed when, in reviewing one of these Kennedy books, The Christian Century opined that, although the Christian public once would have been disturbed by such presidential behavior, it now can take it in stride. Does this not reflect a most highly selective moral standard?
What is going on when, regarding President Nixon we are determined to take every step to ferret out his "sin," damn it in no uncertain terms, broadcast it to the ends of the earth, and dog him with it to his grave? So what is going on when, at the same time, regarding President Kennedy, we treat his "sin" as something we'd just as soon not hear about and, having heard, would prefer to forget and not have broadcast any further. Nixon's sin we play up to be as heinous as we can make it. Kennedy's we play down as a peccadillo Christians ought lovingly overlook. So what is the principle of selection behind so obvious a practice of selective sin and righteousness? Let me make a try at that one.
In the first place, this selectivity must be an indication that our "moral standards" come from somewhere other than an absolute commitment to the absolute God. The hallmark of his justice is its impartiality, its refusal to show bias or play favorites. "You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God's"--as was understood as early as the writing of Deuteronomy 1:17. Our moral selectivity has to have come from somewhere other than God.
My understanding is that this selectivity indicates a zealotism born of the worldly arky contest. Could it be that what actually triggered our moral indignation against Nixon was the fact that he was a Republican "conservative" with a less than winning personality? Could it be that what calls up our moral leniency toward Kennedy is the fact that he was a Democratic "liberal" of very winsome personality? Could it be that, in our zealotism, we adapt our "moral standards" to serve as weapons of arky warfare? Could it be that we have our moral sensitivity honed to a fine point when there is opportunity for using its righteous indignation to shaft the enemy with whom we disagree and whom we just plain don't like? Could it be that we have that moral sensitivity just as conveniently blunted as soon as there arises the possibility that its judgment might fall upon ourselves or the friends we do agree with and very much like? Could it be that selective sin and righteousness is a far cry from the real thing, namely God's understanding of both sin and righteousness?
Apart from "biased morality," zealotism leads to other difficulties. Apparently, along with the absolutist sense of being right comes also the license to say about the opposition anything that pops into your head--as long as it is bad. The assumption seems to be that it is manifestly impossible to malign the devil--whether that devil be the U.S. Government or the National Council of Churches (Left and Right, tit for tat). But regularly, one of the first casualties of zealotism (and a most serious loss) is the biblical command to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).
That command has two aspects, both of which are essential. "To speak the truth" surely intends a scrupulous regard for fact--both in taking pains to get the facts (all the facts) before presuming to speak and in sticking to the facts when one does speak. Plainly, this obligation is the more weighty when we set out to accuse an enemy than when we are out to compliment a friend. We need to be aware of and ready to correct for our personal bias and proclivity.
To speak that truth "in love," then, adds a further obligation. Kierkegaard once pointed out that, although our natural propensity is to be very strict toward other people's sins and very lenient toward our own, Scripture would have it the other way around: we should be most suspicious of our own perceived righteousness and most ready to forgive and make allowance for what we perceive as the sin of others.
However, it is in his treatment of "Love Hides the Multiplicity of Sins (1 Peter 4:8)" (in Works of Love, pp. 261ff.) that Kierkegaard becomes most pointed. One of his theme statements reads: "Love hides the multiplicity of sins, for what it cannot avoid seeing or hearing, it hides in silence, in a mitigating explanation, in forgiveness." And it is his middle term--"a mitigating explanation"--that is particularly germane to our topic of speaking the truth in love.
In almost every case, even after the facts are in hand and have been given their true value, there is still a great deal of leeway, still room for a number of different interpretations, differing explanations of what those facts actually mean. Zealotism, out of its absolutizing need to make the black-and-white contrast as stark as possible, regularly gives the most negative interpretation to the behavior of "the enemy" and the most positive ("taking in stride") to that of "the friend." Love, Kierkegaard insists, always opts for the most positive, even (or especially) in the case of enemies. Of course he is not asking that we ignore or twist the facts in the interests of love. Rather, in telling the truth, we should make it as loving as the facts will allow.
As we come to specific examples, we are still sticking with the peace movement. Our point can better be made with one case study than by banging away, hit or miss, all over the place. However, let me reiterate that I am not singling out the peace movement for special criticism. The "loose speaking" of zealotism could be documented on one issue or another, with party after party, left, right, and probably middle--all across the political (and theological) spectrum.
Let me say at the outset that I believe very few if any peace zealots, of whatever persuasion, to be deliberately unloving speakers of untruth. Recall that our initial definition of zealotism included the words "carried away"; this must be the very truth regarding these obviously well-intentioned people--whether of the Left or the Right (including even the first-century Zealots and their Establishment enemies). Nevertheless, zealotism often fails to speak the truth (whether in love or not) and that by several different means.
Half-truth: We seek out and speak loudly the worst things about the enemy, while neglecting to as much as mention the good things that would round out and balance up his picture.
Half-truth: We single out our selected villain and really roast him, carefully ignoring the fact that, if he were compared to those around him, he might even show up as the best of the bunch.
Haif-truth: As per the suggestion Kierkegaard already has made, we give the worst possible interpretation to what may even be accurate facts about our enemy.
Half-truth: We keep the probing spotlight fixed on him and are careful not to let it fall upon ourselves.
Regarding the peace issue, the enemy surely should be identified as that nationalistic pride and pretension which proposes to take over and run things its own way--in defiance of God, the public welfare, and humane concern. But at the same time, it should be recognized that this disease is and has been endemic to every state or government (rightist or leftist) that has ever been. "Impositional power" is the very name of the arky game. More, this sort of pretension is a disease that can and does infect cause-groups and individuals as well as nations. It has not even been demonstrated that zealots themselves are immune to it.
But zealots can't be content with a targeting that might posibly splash even onto them. The villain has to be more narrowly selected. Nationalistic warmaking now is seen to be the particular sin of the technological West.
With that, absolutism is taking over, and the truth we are committed to speak is slipping away. Both historically and presently the Third World has warred and killed with all its limited technological skill--just as the West has with its almost unlimited technological skill. But that the wars of the Third World have been notably smaller than those of the West is no credit to the people's moral restraint--any more than the grand scale of Western war is a sign of those people's greater depravity. Both are intent on doing the best sinning possible with what they've got. And the more I learn about Pol Pot's purge in Cambodia, the more I wonder whether any Western state will ever be able to play in that Third World league. To damn Western war and leave the Third World looking like lovers of peace simply is not speaking the truth.
But with zealotism, things get worse rather than better. It turns out that the black heart of the black West is the United States of America. "More than any other event in history the worldwide human experience of those August days in 1945 (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was a recapitulation of the primeval Fall." In the totality of human history there has been but one sin to compare with Adam's, and our own United States of America has the honor of having committed it. We win out over the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Judas' betrayal of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, the Turkish genocide of Armenia, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin's purges, you name it. Compared to us, everything else is innocence.
Why would it not be nearer to speaking the truth in love to say some things such as these: "In World War II, every combatant that possessed atomic capability used it. That some did not possess it is of no moral credit to them. The evidence is that all would have liked to have it and would have used it if they had had it--as would the Romans (or the Zealots) if it could have been theirs in the first century. So where is this quantum jump in moral evil?
"Whereas Hiroshima was destroyed with a single bomb, other cities in other nations and other wars have suffered similar devastation from conventional (if not primitive) weapons--it just took a bit longer to do it. So where is the quantum jump in moral evil?
"Although we are not obligated to agree, we are obligated seriously to consider and thoughtfully to respond to President Truman's rationale for using the bomb. His explanation cannot simply be waved aside as disingenuous."
One characteristic of zealotism is to pooh-pooh and airily dismiss--rather than face and confute--arguments from the other side. But Truman's stated purpose was to end the war quickly and thus save great numbers of both Japanese and American lives which very surely would have been lost if we had had to fight our way into Japan and Tokyo. For that matter, if the Zealots must share the moral responsibility for what the Romans did to Jerusalem, why should not the Japanese High Command share moral responsibility for the fact that they refused to surrender even after we had given them every possible signal that this was their only alternative? They did have it in their power easily to end the war with the saving of countless lives. We could end it only through one of two alternatives (the bomb or the invasion)--each very costly. Construe the facts any way you honestly can, there hardly seem grounds for accusing President Truman of a quantum jump in moral evil. But to continue:
"That the Hiroshima bomb was not 'history's most evil event' as the zealots make it out to be is shown clearly by its context. The bomb was not used as a first strike but as one blow in a raging war in which every combatant already was throwing everything he had. And this war the U.S. had not started but had entered only under the provocation of what was indeed a dastardly first strike. The U.S. purpose in using the bomb clearly was to achieve a surrender and a cessation of hostilities, and was in no way a genocide of the Japanese people. In defeating the Japanese, the U.S. did not practice the sort of torture and atrocity the Japanese had practiced very freely in their turn. The subsequent occupation of Japan shows for a fact that the U.S. had no imperialistic designs and no interest in the sort of domination and exploitation that was the case, say, in the Roman occupation of first-century Palestine."
Now I am opposed to war--all war, including the U.S. involvement in World War II. But in my anti-war manual of the Bible I find not one little bit of this business of playing fast and loose with the facts in order to single out one nation's "war demon" as the special recipient of true Christianity's righteous rage. I find it suggesting, rather, that from Cain on, all war has been very much the same, a manifestation of the same spirit of sin, no matter who's doing it how--even if it should be the "peace people's" war against the U.S. Government.
I find nothing in my Bible of the white-hatted "us" being paired off against the black-hatted "them"; picking out one party as particular villain while letting off others as comparatively innocent; interpreting technological advance as the measure of moral regression. And for the life of me, I can't figure out how this polarizing approach is supposed to improve our chances of finding peace. I'll take speaking the truth in love every time. In fact, it strikes me that the only statement in the vein of the opening quotation that Scripture would allow is: "I can't speak for others, but in my heart I know that I myself have recapitulated the primeval Fall."
It was most interesting for me to discover that what is to my mind the one best answer to and refutation of this sort of anti-Western, anti-American zealotism was written by a scholar who is himself the sharpest in spotting social, political, and spiritual sin--a man frequently quoted so by the peace zealots themselves. This is, of course, no less than our first-to-be-named anarchist Jacques Ellul--in an essay, "The Defense of the West," from his book The Betrayal of the West (New York: Seabury, 1978). I recommend it.
Another example of the zealotism good anarchists deplore is this from a Bible scholar arguing the case for tax resistance and having some trouble with Paul's Romans 13 words about paying taxes, honoring the emperor, and all: "It should be clear [he says] that it does not do simply to quote Paul as if the nuclear situation and the modem state were no different than the Roman occupation forces."
I contend the man now has bigger trouble than he had before he spoke. He does not see the implication, but as a conservative biblicist he has lost his authoritative Bible. There is no reason why the logic of his statement couldn't as well be worded to read, "It should be clear that it does not do simply to quote the New Testament about the resurrection of Jesus when modern man knows that resurrections cannot and do not occur." His way, the Bible comes totally under our control; we can make it say whatever we prefer: "Of course, if Paul were writing today, he would say the opposite of what he said then."
But more, what under the sun could this writer come up with if he were called upon, speaking the truth in love, to document such categorical moral superiority of the pagan Roman military over the modern U.S. Government that, inspired by God, the apostle Paul would be impelled to contradict himself, commanding his first readers to obey the Romans but commanding us to disobey the U.S.?
Why, the very way the U.S. Government handles this very writer's own tax resistance, compared to the way Rome handled tax resistance in its day, shows that he has his moral comparison completely wrong end to. Ellul's sharp question would seem to apply: "Is anyone really unable to see the difference between the United States and Hitler or Stalin?" Our Bible scholar is, without doubt, a learned and honest man; I think he simply got "carried away."
More than just moral bias is involved in this peace zealotism, however. I earlier said something to the effect that the stated issue is "war or peace" as the zealots themselves choose to define those terms. What I had in mind is this: A great many honest Christians see themselves as devoted wholly to peace--even while believing that nuclear deterrence is the only possible way of preserving it. Yet, in our moral zeal, we are not about to let that sort be considered "peace people" along with ourselves. We aren't about to credit either their honesty or sincerity; they are black-hatted warmakers as much as any.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that they are as sincere in their desire for peace as is any of the zealots, and they are not fools. Whether one winds up agreeing with them or not, their argument deserves a hearing and response. After all, it is true that deterrence already has succeeded in preventing nuclear holocaust for much longer than early predictions said it could. And it is a fact that the longest interval of European peace on record is the one in which we are now living, inaugurated by the nuclear age. Now I happen to find the deterrent argument a mix of truth and error (as I find the unilateral disarmament argument)--and I would like to talk with the deterrentists about that. But what is certain is that this crucial dialogue can't take place as long as, in our zealotism, we find it right to reject these honest peacemakers out of hand, as being nothing other than evil warmakers.
What may be an even worse violation of speaking the truth in love is our righteous zeal in refusing to make any moral distinction between having nuclear weapons and using the same. As one writer has it: "Even if Cain, because of some fear, had held back the lethal blow and had contented himself with murder fantasies and pantomimes when Abel's back was turned, the ghastliness of his intent would have remained. With megakill, too, an unspeakable ghastliness of intent for a hundred-million-fold murder is there."
The analogy has an evil brother intent on doing in an innocent brother with his back turned. The writer doesn't say how those roles are to be allotted among the superpowers--except that the U.S. Government is regularly his villain. However, the more serious question is "Whom is he accusing of entertaining murder fantasies, of being eager to nuclearize vast populations and ready to do so in an instant if it were not for the restraining fear of retaliation?" Is he suggesting that every U.S. president in the nuclear age has had this ghastly intent?--or only the Republican ones? Or, since his charge is entirely general and open-ended, are we to understand that anyone (his fellow Christians included) who does not buy his program of immediate and total disarmament can be taken as wanting to use the nukes? Read it as you will, it strikes me as a totally unsubstantiated calumny against one's brothers and sisters. I think the writer got "carried away."
What simply cannot be right is our joining the first-century Zealots in their identifying their own small party as the locus of godly righteousness and consigning everyone else to the outer darkness of demonism. As they wound up knifing even those fellow Jews they decided were "collaborators," so we wind up damning as murderers many fellow Christians who are as concerned for peace as we are but who happen not to share quite our view of how to get there.
Finally, even as I find zealotism unbiblical and un-Christian, I can't figure out how it is supposed to work, how it shows any possibility of accomplishing its declared purpose. If the peace movement be understood as a battle against the forces of evil, I guess zealot methods of battling at least fit the picture. However, if the purpose of the peace movement is to help pacify the conflicts and tensions of a storm-vexed world, I can't figure how zealotism stands a chance of making any contribution at all. For instance, a tax-resister publishes an article arguing his position and winds up telling the reader: "I fully expect that you will be able to put me down with theological arguments, or discredit me with a self-righteous application of Scripture taken out of context to justify and rationalize your position." What possible purpose is that line meant to serve?
I suppose there must be some satisfaction in being so sure of your position that you can brand all dissenters as frauds without even hearing what they have to say. I can see a certain cathartic effect for an author, coming on as the White Knight to take his whacks at the foulest monster of human history since the serpent in Eden. I would guess that zealot literature goes great in zealot circles. Of course, it does nothing to encourage one's fellow zealots in examining themselves, looking for their own sin, but it certainly must serve to confirm them in the righteousness of their cause and the wrongness of everyone else's. Yet I would think the cause of peace (perhaps above all others) should be focused upon reaching out--upon dialoguing with others, becoming reconciled with others, convincing others, winning others for the peaceable kingdom.
Yet why should anyone want to consider tax-resistance after being told that, if he raises any questions, it can only be that he is putting down the author and self-righteously distorting Scripture? This is meant as an invitation to dialogue? Why should any believer in peace through deterrence be willing to consider Christian pacifism after being told that he is a murderer awaiting only the opportunity to push the button? Why should anyone consider a peace action when that means accepting the premise that the U.S. is so much more depraved than the Roman military in Palestine that the Bible is to be read the opposite of what it says? Why would any sensible patriot consider aligning himself with the peace movement if that means agreeing that the United States of America committed history's one greatest recapitulation of the Fall of Man?
There is no way wild accusation can amount to a positive contribution to the cause of peace. Personally, I doubt whether the irresponsible denouncing of bad people (and I have been denounced by some of the most righteous people around) is ever much help at all--at least it has never been of any help to me. For sure, this was never the mark of Jesus' approach to sinners, even though his righteousness would beat that of all the world's zealots put together.
So let us have done with the business of polarizing what ought to be reconciled, denying kinship where we should be finding commonality, shouting down what ought to be heard, putting down those who should be helped up, blackening reputations where we should be cleansing them, making enemies of those who might be made friends, displaying our righteousness at the cost of the other guy's, absolutizing issues that should be left relative, doing violence (yes, violence) to both truth and love.
What is the cure? Where is the way out? Whether either Jesus or Hengel-Kee-Bornkamm knew they were speaking Christian Anarchy, Jesus said it and they caught what he said: "But give to God what belongs to God." Make him the absolute that shows up all other choices as relative. That way, and only that way, lies freedom--freedom from the false absolutizing of the arkys (whether absolutizing the state as a god or, what is just as bad, absolutizing it as a satan); freedom to treat relative choices as the human relativities they truly are; freedom in which "world power is neither justified nor condemned but is deprived of its significance"--by giving to God the absolute loyalty and obedience that belongs to God.
Note: Allow me to emphasize some of the qualifications I have already stated. That I chose to center upon "peace zealotism" is not because I think it the only zealotism around. It may be that any important cause--and many an unimportant one--develops its own zealotisms; such is the propensity of arky advocacy and cause-making. Yet if I had tried to be "inclusive" regarding zealotism, this chapter would have taken over the book. Consequently, I chose to be "intensive" in expectation that readers would have no trouble spotting the pattern and making the application to other zealotisms far and near.
Likewise, I chose a left-wing zealotism, not because I think zealotism is in any way confined to the Left, but only because, for the readers of this book, left-wing zealotism will be closer home. Yet the chapter intends no discrimination regarding the zealotisms of any part of the spectrum; each variety is equally bad.
None of the zealots I have known are dishonest, malicious, spiteful people. They are regularly good, sincere, devoted Christians who get "carried away." I can say that from my experience with zealots of the Left. I think we ought to be just as quick to say it regarding zealots of the Right.