Updated: Feb 18
There are three main ways to see society, with each imagining two opposing forces and Each subject to misgivings about the society in which they live:
The Liberal - The Oppressor vs the Oppressed
The Libertarian – Cohesion Vs Freedom
The Conservative – Civilization VS Barbarism
All of these can be helpful in correctly perceiving the world however, here are some common pitfalls for each:
Seeing any difference in power as a form of oppression. This leads to breaking down institutions through violence in order to equalize the power between the oppressor and the oppressed.
Seeing all law as infringing on freedom. This leads to a libertine society where things that ought to be punished instead can flourish, thus degrading society.
An exclusionary Us vs Them mentality can be fostered as people who are different are viewed as a threat to a properly functioning civilization. An example would be an over the top fear of immigrants.
There is no better way to describe how our life together in society went south than by a story. Only one story is fit for this task. If you are not a Christian then don’t dismiss this part- people from hundreds of cultures across thousands of years have treasured the words of this ancient book on pain of death.
If you’re reading this and are a Christian, I don’t really care (for the sake of these points) if you take Genesis literally or not. Let’s just agree that the message is speaking truth on the subject of God’s relationship with mankind, sin, redemption, and that good stuff.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.
Here is the first Lie- and don’t think for a second this one isn’t still in heavy use. Adam and Eve see law as coercive and don’t understand it is for their flourishing.
Who is more free, a basketball player who doesn’t observe any rules, doesn’t dribble, throws however he wants, doesn’t listen to his coach and sometimes scores for the other team, or Michael Jordan? The key to answering this question is to ask another, “Free for what?” In the first instance it is self-serving Libertine freedom that results in anarchy. The game can’t even be played, the players have no unity, it would be terrible to watch, and they have all failed as basketball players. In the second case Michael Jordan is free to be excellent. He is not under the coercion of the law. Instead he has allowed the rules, tips, drills, and coaching to be part of how he thinks and moves. This internalization of the laws of basketball make him more free, not less. Free for excellence, not free for selfishness.
“You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.”
Here is the second Lie. God is powerful and has something you lack, therefore you should be envious and jealous of him. Take the opportunity to grasp for equality by looting the tree.
The truth is that differences in people and yes, even in our relative power doesn’t necessitate oppression. Far to the contrary: a mother and daughter are different in persons and different in power, but this doesn’t mean that the natural order is for mothers to oppress their young daughters. Instead, this radical differentiation of persons makes it possible for real relationships of love, duty, and honor and expands the real peace of society from the bottom up.
It is no surprise that following this lie leads to dictatorial communist regimes instead of the Marxist fairyland that Marx and his allies so idiotically assume will be the final state. In essence this lie seeks out every relationship that ought to build the peace through love and real bonds of peace in friends, family, the market, and society and demonizes them all as oppression. Next step is to call in the state to smash and equalize. This systematic destruction of the bottom up peace predictably results in top down violence.
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
What is this Lie? Adam says that he had a properly ordered civilization going just fine until this barbarian enters and destroys the order. It was Eve’s fault. Oh yes, and Adam even “others” God by saying, “The woman YOU gave me”, trying to make God into the barbarian that destroys his ordered kingdom. Eve responds that she had everything going great until the serpent enters.
Fun Fact: the word for serpent is more like sea monster or dragon here. So stop imagining a friendly little green snake. Next up there is this line that has a double meaning:
“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.”
Many Jewish rabbis and church fathers translate this as a threat; the serpent is actually saying (and I hear it’s more clear in the Hebrew) that if they don’t eat the fruit, the serpent will kill them.
Adam was king of the Garden and had dominion over the whole earth. He failed by not fighting the serpent and protecting Eve. Spoiler alert, that is what Jesus does in the temptation in the desert and at the cross: defeats Satan and gives up his life to save his bride the Church.
So with this in mind, what is the truth? Instead of making someone else into the “Other” and trying to protect yourself, instead all of what you have ought to be turned over to the service of others. That is what a real king does and what Adam failed to do. This is why God undoes the sin of Adam by emptying himself and becoming a man just like us, thus reversing the othering and separation. He then he dies for us and reverses the cowardice and selfishness, instead taking back the world that was given over to the serpent.
The right way to view the role of civilization vs barbarism is by looking at the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It was meant to be a place of re-established friendship with God. For this reason the standards were high. No other worship and no corruptions of evil and sin were allowed there. But this set up was never meant to be exclusionary. Jerusalem was set on a hill to be a light to the world and to draw all nations into this communion with God. Likewise, our civilizations and communities ought to be protected, obviously, but they are protected precisely so that we have something to share and give away.
The best image is one of a zombie apocalypse. Imagine a safe zone is established in a world in chaos. Not even a tiny shred of the zombie virus can be tolerated here. Why? Because this is the safe zone, the only hope of a world rebuilt rests on this place not becoming like everywhere else. But the goal isn’t one of exclusion. The people in the safe zone will reach out and draw every person possible into safety. In time they will even go out to remake the world. In fact if this is not their plan then they have no reason for existing.
When Jesus tells a parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite (a member of the priestly tribe) walk by the man who is wounded and decide not to help. They miss the point of the worship that they are eager to go off and participate in. The Samaritan is one of an “Othered” group of Jews who have intermixed with the native people. He responds in love by giving up what he has to serve the bleeding man. He gets the point. He empties himself to draw others up into the love of God.
There is more than one Jesus
Lots of people were named Jesus and some of the other Jesus’s are even mentioned in the Bible. Most famously Jesus Barabbas.
The Romans were planning on releasing a prisoner that was sentenced to death. They tried to persuade the crowds to let them release Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Instead the crowds demanded that Jesus Barabbas be released.
Why is this so important? First, it is mentioned that the other Jesus was a thief. We know from other sources that he was a revolutionary and rebelled against the oppressing occupation of the Romans. Today, we the crowds can choose to free one of two Jesus’s into our society. Here are your choices:
He sees correctly though his libertarian eyes that the Romans are coercing the Jewish people through law and violence. His Liberal eyes rightly perceive that the nation is oppressed by a power that is unjust. His conservative eyes properly see a disruption in the nation’s way of life from a foreign force that is here to break its institutions. But, this Jesus is filled with jealousy, envy, and selfishness. This is why he is a thief, just like Adam and Eve. He uses violence to fight violence.
Want to know what happened to his rebellion? It failed. It failed, just like a third Jesus you may never have heard about. Yep, only a few decades before the Jesus that over a billion people worship today claimed to be the Messiah, there was another one. That Jesus also claimed to be the messiah and ended up leading a violent revolt against the Roman occupation. Like dozens of others he was killed and his disciples disbanded...and history forgot all about them.
Jesus the Christ –
Instead of grasping and taking like a thief, he gives up everything and descends to the limits of Godforsakenness from where he screams, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” He descends so far from God the Father that the distance encompasses all of creation. As a result, the love between them is stretched to encompass all people and all things so that in his resurrection and ascension this great net of love that he cast brings everything back into the Trinitarian love that created the world in the first place. We othered God, so God became one of us.
Jesus doesn’t fight violence with violence. When he faced evil he didn’t run. He didn’t fight. He did something far more powerful. The proof? The Roman Empire went from killing Christ to becoming a Christian nation. Today there is no successor of Caesar in Rome, instead there is the successor of Peter. Jesus is the most powerful revolutionary the world has ever seen.
Conservatives take note:
Jesus gave up his community of love in the Trinity so he could draw in and include those twisted by sin. Go and do the same. Pour out yourself in love for your neighbor.
Liberals pay attention:
Jesus counters oppression not by becoming an oppressor himself in order to oppress the first oppressor. Neither does he burn with envy and jealousy at inequality. No, Jesus (who is far from being our equal) becomes the oppressed person and creates peace that is stronger than violence. He battles the hatred, envy, and selfishness of sin using love and self-sacrifice. Here is how you can do it, too, love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself, and no evil can defeat you.
Libertarians listen up:
Jesus doesn’t defeat evil by living his own truth and seeking his own benefit. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to others acts of self-destruction. Neither does he remain agnostic as to what “the good” is for a person. No, Jesus follows every word of his Father. He is obedient even to death. Is he obedient out of coercion or fear? No, he is obedient out of love for his Father and love for you. He moves through the moral space as the perfect person in absolute freedom because with perfect virtue, doing what is good is not just possible for him, but effortless.
For a basketball player to be good he must play basketball well. For a human to be good he must do characteristically human activities well. What is that activity? Stop a moment, and realize that you are made of the dust of stars that exploded billions of years ago. Yet you are dust that can reflect on its own origin and meaning. Stop what you are doing and think about the mystery that the universe has life. Furthermore, life in which material beings can reflect on their own materiality! We are in a special place in the created order. We are the very height of material creation and the very bottom of spiritual creation. Imagine two pyramids, with one reaching up and the other reaching down with their tips barely touching. That is where mankind is, where spirit meets matter.