Agent X of the Far Beggar’s School of Prophets wrote an article called „Prophets of Consumerist Doom“. The main argument of the article is, that there are many prophets around who remind us of the problems in this world.
Agent X brought up an old video, that addresses the problem of consumism in the „western?) world, which offers remedy that is not exactly Christian.
The question Agent X asks is more or less the headline of this article:
I want to know what Jesus would do
But first, the video:
I will be honest here, I have not seen the whole video. It is very very long, and I just do not have the time. But I think I found a rough ground-structure of the video, which is a us vs them dichotomy:
It explains the world as consistent of two groups: The exploited on the one hand and the exploiters on the other. And while I agree that there are exploited people as well as there are exploiters, I think this is a false view of reality.
And I think this would be a first answer to Agent X’s question:
I ask my Christian brothers and sisters to talk about how Jesus addresses the world depicted here. Seriously.
The world depicted here is a depiction through a broken lens. 1Cor 13:12 comes to mind. So what I think is Jesus would question this way of looking at the world. He would not ask who (among all others) the exploiters are, He’d say something along the lines of „woe, you exploiters“ and then make us realize our role in all this.
After all, aren’t we the consumers? Agent X agrees in a comment:
We don’t need all this junk. We don’t need all this mindless frenzy. It is killing our planet and making us glutted fat slobs. We need to repent.
Agent X also writes, the US were part of the problem. Well, they are also part of the victims of the problem, namely the homeless people of America (among others), which does always have an impact on every one person, so we do all sit in one boat.
But back to looking for solutions. To me it seems, most if not all man made solutions seek to replace the head in order to change the system. Democracy in Iraq? Kill Saddam and have free elections. But afterwards there were still the tribes, the different religions and national groups. Oopsie. Similar in Afghanistan? Establish Democracy? Easy: Defeat the Taliban and have elections. Well, who could know you need democrats (people who actually believe in democracy, not the US political party) for a democracy to work (hint: Maybe Germans who paid attention in history class,because this is more or less what happened here between the two world wars: Kaiser Wilhelm was resigned and democracy was established, though the people longed for a strong man like the Kaiser. They got Hitler…).
Also you find it in Marx’s communist manifesto: Establish a leadership of the avantgarde of the worker’s class to lead the actual system from what it is via socialism to communism. In fact, only the heads have been exchanged. Was the Kaiser worse than Hitler? Was the Czar worse than Stalin? Was Saddam worse than Daesh?
But what to do? For me it is essential to see that you do not change the system when you change the heads. Of course, the ones call themselves socialists, the others fascists or fundamentalists. Each care for different groups of people, each consider different groups of people evil, the enemy, the oppressor. Bankers, Jews, Infidels… it’s always some outgroup that is considered responsible. But in fact they all care for their own and oppress the other. They dehumanize them and then kill them – in big scale.
The system is always the same,and we are more then willing to play our part. Agent X is right, we need to repent. And I think this is what Jesus would ask us to do.
And that would mean to refuse, as far as possible, to be part of the system. We won’t be able to avoid it at all, but we have our chances. If we succeed, we might be nailed to a cross. Or just shot dead, like Martin Luther King. And there are other names: Paul Schneider, Oscar Romero…
It’s not that hard to find a way to oppose the system. If you find something going wrong, don’t be silenced. Speak out. You do not need to take action more than that. Telling the truth in a world of lies is a powerful act. Like Paul Schneider. The Nazis were so afraid of their power being undermines by the words of a pastor of a village in the province, that they killed him in a concentration camp even before the organised genocide stared in the early 1940s.
Of course, there’s always more you can do: Act and help other people who are downtrodden by the system. There is nothing wrong with helping e.g. a communist in a fascist system, after all, he is a human being and a child of God. But don’t be surprised if he won’t thank you too much after the heads have been exchanged. He might as well seek to kill you, once the system works for him and you still oppose it. We don’t do this to be loved by men…
And even more you can do: Use the means within the actual political version of the system to better things, to act on behalf of the downtrodden. If you live in a democracy, do politics, get elected or convince your representatives. Luther wrote, we are all simul iustus et peccator, both just and sinners. This is true for our representatives as well. Government programs can help a bunch so that charity can focus on more special cases.
In doing what you do, you can break laws, as long as you do it openly and willing to take upon you the punishment, as Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
But what crosses the line is, when you start taking over the logic of the system, when you start to exchange heads in order to better things. This is where I am not sure how close I am to Bonhoeffer. Maybe what he had in mind falls into the section of breaking laws openly, but I am not sure. But I disgress again.
The logic of the system builds upon power and fear. Just like Satan in the desert, people are lured with power or ability, maybe even ability to help the poor. But then they are scared, they might loose their newfound powers, their abilities, because of others who seek to have these powers, or some of it. This can start with little things like being anxious of going to church service stinking and end with killing opposing province pastors. In the first we are afraid to loose our good reputation, in the latter we are afraid to loose grip on the people we rule…
To be clear, I compare the structure underneath our deeds, I do not compare Agent X to Hitler, far from it! But I think the fear he described before going to church stinking has something to do with dictatorships‘ fear of opposition. In both cases you run the risk of loosing approvement from other people. But, to make it even more clear: Agent X got beyond this actually going to church stinking, while the Nazis tried to shut up every opposing voice. They did not confront their fears.
You break the logic of the system, by controlling your fear, by facing it, by nnot avoiding it, by finally getting over it.
And I think this is where the cross comes in. If you know, all will be wonderful in the end, you can endure a lot. As Unbelievers we cannot be sure that all is wonderful in the end. What we know is that in the end – we are dead. So we have to make the most out of our lives.
This and the fact that we are not perfect and are again and again confronted with doubts in our believe, makes the system so strong. Agent X wrote about this to be a struggle with demons, and it is. The system is the realm of the demons, you could as well call it hell or death. It’s basically all the same.
As believers in the cross and resurrection of the Christ, we know all will be fine in the end, because we are saved. And this is the force that will brake the system, which actually broke it already 2000 yeas ago. What we witness is only the drawback fight of the demons. They are still strong, and they bring about their share of hurt for people, but in the cross they are ultimately defeated.
So what we can do is actually: Take up our own crosses, like Jesus said, be open about the system and where it hurts people, refuse to take part in it, work not directly against it to avoid the risk of trying to exchange heads, but do what is right and leave what is wrong. That’s already a hard thing to do. But nothing is impossible for those, who believe.
Post scriptum: I tend to put things to extremes. It’s not all about dictatorships and death camps. I try to use these extremes to show, where things are heading. Most of the things we see are way less extreme, but still hurting people. Most of the time the system does not go to such extremes, this doesn’t mean it is defeated in times when there are no death camps, when we have democracies instead of dictatorships. The above video shows very well, how the system does work well within western democracies. And it will work with any political (sub)system, we will finally overcome the system only in the kingdom of God.