In response to four large coordinated acts of violence in 2001, Wendell Berry wrote “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear.” That essay was reprinted in a booklet entitled, In the Presence of Fear, by The Orion Society later that year.
Wendell makes a point in that essay that may help us to better understand how we might more creatively respond, as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, to Olympian challenges we still face today.
[D]ominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors…did not acknowledge that…prosperity was limited to a tiny percentage of the world’s people, and to an ever  smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life… (pages 1-2).
We live in an intensely Olympian society and culture built upon devotion to the six false, destructive, yet conventional gods of Olympianity. As a religion, Olympianity enjoyed exuberant growth after 1648 when Latin Christendom finally exhausted itself after over a century of fratricidal wars.
Beginning in 1648, smart men in Christendom began to develop a clear technological intention. By 1750, this led to the period of rapid technological growth known as the Industrial Revolution. After more than 200 years of blind devotion to Vulcan, god of technology, and the other Olympian gods, we now have a full-blown Global Technological System (GTS).
This GTS, however, is not good. It’s systemically parasitical and is busily killing its host: God’s good creation. As Wendell points out, the GTS demands a tiny number of people to grow meaninglessly wealthier by depriving billions of others their daily bread. It requires the prosperity of a shrinking number of people to be built on the exploitation or redundancy of a growing number of people. It necessitates the destruction of other species and the habitats we share with them at an unprecedented and catastrophic rate.
Our Olympian society, like all societies, treats each of its inhabitants as a participant in one of four social classes based on power: rulers, managers, workers, or outcasts. As Wendell points out, the political, corporate, and financial rulers of our society—and the GTS of which it is a part—do not necessarily point out either the destructive impact of the GTS or how they benefit so grossly from it. If it is mentioned, it is done so in ways which justify this destructive impact or gross benefit.
Happily, Jesus enables us today to look at the GTS from his point of view. He calls us to rigorously repent of our misguided devotion to Vulcan and the other Olympian gods. He is disillusioning, disenchanting, us by breaking the spell under which Vulcan has had us enthralled with technology. Today Jesus is freeing us to reject the GTS we humans have constructed these past 250 years with such witless exuberance. More fundamentally, he is calling us to make freedom rather than power our goal.
Jesus seeks to guide us as together we begin the daunting task of building a Christian society as the one needed and meaningful alternative to the ungodly GTS. That, of course, is another way of saying that Jesus seeks to guide us as we witness to the presence of his Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. He invites us to do so as churches and other Christian social groups and not solely as individuals.
In vital contrast to the GTS, Christ’s Kingdom—and our provisional representation of it—will not impose a systemically parasitical relationship on God’s good creation. Instead, separately as Christians and together as churches, we want to develop ways of living that respect other creatures of God, do not destroy the habitats we share with them, and restore vitality to those we have damaged.
As Christians and churches, we want to develop ways of living that provide people with meaningful work at a living wage. We want to avoid destructive inequalities that harm a few with far too much and harm so many with far too little.
In the GTS and our Olympian society, rulers act like bosses by exploiting those beneath them. Worse, bosses use people—managers and workers—until they’ve used them up, then treat them as outcasts.
Jesus invites us to understand leadership differently. Each person is created to live as a unique, precious, and irreplaceable witness to Jesus. In Christ’s society, then, there’s no distinction in status between people. All are equally loved by him and enabled by grace to live as witnesses to him.
At the same time, no person is identical to any other. Each is given gifts by which to nurture and protect the vitality of other people as well as the church (and other groups) as a whole. We don’t have differences in status but we do have tremendous diversity in gifts and functions. Churches need good leaders and not bosses. They also need good congregants that support them and not congregants that either kowtow to them or rebel against them.
In responding to the challenges of his day, Wendell Berry rightly pointed out problems with our Olympian society at that time: deceptive rulers, inequality, oppression, and ecological destruction. We still face those challenges today. Thankfully, Jesus is enabling us to respond creatively to them: first, by breaking the Olympian spell under which we have labored; second, by helping us witness to the presence of his Kingdom already present in our midst.
Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.