Monday, October 26, 2009

Ellul's Anarchism

From Ellul's chapter on political perversion:

"[T]he biblical view [of the church] is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry." (113)

He doesn't have the space or interest to sketch his "anarchism" thoroughly, which he does elsewhere, but he gives his 3 page summary to explain his basic assumptions. This of course raises questions for the uninitiated (like myself), and so I wonder out loud to my virtual friends:

a. If the Judges era presents something of an "ideal" (is that right?), how does he account for the fact that the book of Judges itself laments the fact that there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes? In other words, Judges seems to be more of a cautionary tale than an ideal. How could someone read Judges and long for the days without a king? It seems like just the opposite.

b. Granted that Israel was in sin in asking for a king when/how they did, but what about the provision in Dt. 17 regulating the office of a king? It seems to assume that this will be part of Isreal's growing up in the land not an act of idolatry. Related to this, Ellul cites a generality that most of the best kings (politically) were the worst (spiritually) and the worst kings (politically) were the best (spiritually). This may be true -- although I'd want it spelled out in more detail-- but I'd still go to David as the emblem of the kingdom era and that dichotomy doesn't seem present.

c. Seeing Babylon as Rome in the book of Revelation and thereby representing empire and political power is just missing most of the thrust of the New Testament. Rome is an enemy in so far as she is led into idolatry by unbelieving Jews, but the enemy is a certain kind of power-idolatry particularly resident in apostate Judaism. Jerusalem has become the new Babylon, the great harlot, etc. She rides the beast (Rome), and tells him where to go and whom to devour. I suspect that a similar misreading runs through the rest of his New Testament exegesis.

Well, that's a start anyway.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Is that from Christianity and Anarchism (or the other way around...)? That was a fun book, though wrong-headed in many ways as you're noting. One of the most interesting things he pointed out to me was the sarcasm Jesus used towards the rulers of his day.

Of course, he interprets that along the lines you mentioned: that political power is always wrong. It's much better to see it the way you do: the NT doesn't criticize power en toto (e.g., Acts doesn't really have a negative view of Rome), but power insofar as it opposes Christ.

Still, Ellul is great for provoking reflection.

Great post!