This summer I’ve turned more attention to blogging, and I’ve started phazing out Facebook. In the process I’ve been pleasantly surprised to cross paths with several new blogger friends, bloggers who are Christians, and they are Christians with whom I share key commonalities, a form of fellowship, so-to-speak. It’s been interesting to flip my mind back into theological mode, here and there.
One perspective that I still share, that I still have in common with Christians is the sense that in some way there was a communion that was broken, that in some sense our original state of being is communion and harmony. So given that we are living in the days of rage, in a period of increasing cultural coflict, this idea of communion has come to take on greater meaning for me.
For Christians, the idea of a broken communion tends to be a doctrinal point about “the fall of man” or “the total depravity of humankind” or some point of dogma about how Adam and Eve fucked it all up. For me, though, it’s not about doctrine or ideology, it’s more just an intuitive idea, based on my own experiences and my own spiritual journey. To me, it’s not so much theoretical as it is a hunch, the sense that things don’t have to be this way.
It’s a hunch but it’s also based on my understanding of human history, particularly of the evolution of our species, as hunter-gatherers. Cats are born to be cats and do catty things. Dogs are born to be dogs and do doggy things. That’s how they evolved. They evolved to survive in the wild — and it is within the natural world that they flourish.
For human beings it’s not all that different, really. We evolved for the same purpose, to survive and flourish in the wild. During our formative evolutionary years we were born into small hunter-gatherer bands and lived in close harmony with the wild world. People were free and more-or-less self-determined. We cooperated with the band/tribe, but these were likely egalitarian groups, from what we can tell, and this meant that we were as free as we probably ever were. When agriculture came onto the scene, we began to form our societies and cultures into hierarchies of domination and control, i.e., into the Game of Thrones world to which we have become accustomed.
Human beings didn’t evolve for the lives that we are living
But it was a communion, the original state of being for humankind, a communion with the world and a communion with other humans. It’s pretty obvious to me that this is the whole point of the early chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve are metaphorical stand-ins for the human race: they gathered food that they found from the earth, with no real need to hunt because the bounty of the natural world was sufficient.
After the big drama of Genesis 3, there come details of the development of civilization, spread out over the next several chapters (until the story of Abraham). Hence in chapter four: Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instrumentsand pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[g]bronze and iron.
Then there are the growing pains of civilization (chapter 6-9) followed by details of how humankind formed themselves into greater numbers, i.e., into societies based on hierarchies of power.
To clarify, I’m not saying that the hunger-gatherer period was paradise, per se. I’m just suggesting that it was what we evolved to be and to do.
Nor do I think there’s any going back. I’m not necessarily an anarcho-primitivist.
The questions that I have come back to communion. What challenges do we face, as a human species? In what ways does our break with nature impact us, mentally and physically? What kind of impact does the modern world have on us, with the proliferation of technology and with the ways in which capitalism and modern economics separates us from each other? What are the consequences of our mindset of individualism, if we evolved to cooperate with small bands and tribes?
As you can see, my concerns are quite down to earth. This makes me more of the “Old Testament” mentality, with its emphasis on culture and social justice and the ways in which our culture and society shape us and form us. In the ancient Hebrew law code, society mattered, and the idea (by and large) was to create the conditions for an egalitarian community of harmony and peaceful co-existence. It wasn’t meant to be conflict-free utopian, just a decent way for humans to live together.
That’s the “Old Testament.” Christian theology, by contrast, tends to get a bit carried away with grand metaphysical speculation about reconciling sinful humankind with a holy God, and so on. Hence the joke about Christians that they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.
The New Testament writers, though, seemed to be bringing both together. The Apostle Paul had his big ideas about the cosmic Christ redeeminng the world, but this was meant to be only one part of a real-world vision for reconciliation and a concern for social justice. Even the non-human world was in on it: All of nature waits eagerly for the children of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19). For Paul, this would have been common sense. Having been a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as he calls himself, Paul well understood the importance of culture and society, and he framed it in terms of communion.
Like Jesus, Paul was a bit apocalyptic. They both were looking forward to the future, to a “kingdom” that was “not of this world,” not based on the Game of Thrones principle that might-makes-right, not based on violence but based on communion.
There would be a rupture, a divine intervention that would immediately end the empires of domination and bring about the new age of peace and communion. In this kingdom of non-violence, things would be inverted: the rulers of this world (benefiting from the exploitation of the poor and weak) would be struck down and “the least of these” would be called the greatest. There would be an open table.
But obviously that hadn’t happened yet. (And still hasn’t.) Hence for Jesus and Paul there was an “already-not-yet” dimension to this so-called “kingdom.” They believed it was coming — any day now — but they also believed in living it out in the present, as much as possible. Those with the faith to believe in something new and different were to actualize that newness, in the present, living as though any day now the new kingdom would come. It was important to purify one’s self and to lay the ground work for the new age.
Hence the early Christians lived communally, something like hippies I like to imagine, though sans the LSD. Although, on the other hand, they did have a lot of trippy experiences with “the Spirit,” seeing tongues of fire and speaking in other languages, and other pretty far-out shit, so who knows?
What we do know is that the earliest Christians had no interest in aligning themselves with Rome and with Empire. They lived “in the world but not of the world.” Their mentality was different, their perspective was fixed more on the idea of communion.
I think that my life has sort of followed a similar trajectory, in my own way. I’ve sort of always felt like I was in the world but not of the world, not completely at home with the way things are. And if you’re still reading this post, you’ve probably felt it too.
To me, I’ve felt that I was living in a world confused by consumer capitalism, a world organized by a hierarchy of the “haves” and “have nots,” and while most everyone else seemed able to come to grips with this and live their lives in “normal” ways, I could never really make peace with it.
It’s never felt right. There’s a rupture in the communion. The order of things is rooted in power systems of domination and control, with the ultimate purpose of humanity now being economic growth — economic growth for the sake of economic growth. So what’s a dissenter supossed to do?
I suppose I’ve largely followed the already-not-yet idea, hoping for a new kind of kingdom, hoping that change will come, trying to purify my own mind, and trying, in small ways, to work to lay the ground work for something better. I’m not expecting an apocalyptic rupture, a divine intervention ushering in a new age where the lion lays down with the lamb. I’ll be satisfied with smaller ruptures, moving humanity a little closer to a better world, moving us toward a deepening of communion.
Whatever else might come of it, for me the idea of communion is a spiritually stabilizing concept in these days of rage. As we increasingly line up for battle, to fight the culture wars that began generations before us, and as we define our positions in terms of who we oppose, it’s important to be clear on what kind of world we are ultimately fighting for.