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Friday, 27 August 2010

Anarchist history - getting away from the state in Southeast asia

James C Scott's latest work The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009) is fascinating for the way it opens up the possibility of a fresh take on political theory as well as providing an analysis of the history of upland Southeast Asia.

For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, a self consciously “anarchist history,” examines the huge literature on state-making in a frame of mind that questions the accounts offered by the states themselves.

The author evaluates why people would deliberately remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.

James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” 

This is an engaging read and offers fresh perspectives for all those who are suspicious of the self agrandising and claims to self evidence offered by theorists of the emergence of the state.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Christians and voting for the Greens - links on a controversy

Delays due to difficulty with ISP provider. Still here are some links on a debate about whether a Christian can vote Green that spluttered across the media a few days ago.

Bob Brown's response to the original attack by Cardinal Pell.
Media release by Catholic bishops on policy issues.
Frank Brennan on why a conscientious Christian could vote for the Greens
Lin Hatfield-Dodds on being a Christian and being Green

Monday, 9 August 2010

August 9 - Franz Jagerstatter Christian politics beyond family values

Let me briefly tell you a story that suggests why Christians might have real difficulty with any appeal to the claims of either the state as the ultimate or authority or “family values’ that catch cry so beloved of conservative politicians fishing for the vote of members of the Christian church.

The story I want to tell is that of an Austrian peasant who was executed in 1943 for his conscientious objection to serving in World War 2 because his country was involved in an unjust war.

Franz Jägerstätter was born in, 1907 in St. Radegund in upper Austria an isolated and close-knit agricultural village near the Bavarian border. In April 1938 Jägerstätter cast the only negative vote in his village against the incorporation of Austria into Greater Germany.
Jägerstätter was unclear about what to do about enlistment in the armed forces. Everyone told him that his greatest obligation was to serve his country. It was not his responsibility or position to decide whether the war was just or necessary. So in late 1939, when he received his draft notice, he reported for training. After several months he received a deferment. This experience of military service convinced him that he could never serve again in the German army. He told his wife, “If they call me up, I will not serve.”

Priests and bishops in Austria exhorted their flocks to do their duty for God and country. Catholics, including priests and seminarians without qualm enrolled in the military. Jägerstätter was told that after the war his country and church would need him. His refusal of military service would surely result in his death. He would be removing himself from the struggle just at a time when the church had real need of men with a sensitive conscience. He was also a family man with three daughters and had a responsibility to take care of them.
Jägerstätter’s response to this argument was that he could only act in a way that was compatible with his conscience. He could not judge the actions taken by others but felt he had been given the grace to see a clear course of action and follow it.
In February 1943, Jägerstätter was again called to active duty. He reported to his unit on March 1, 1943, four days late. Because of his conscientious objection to the war and to the Nazi government he would not perform military service. He was arrested, and transferred to the military prison in Linz. On May 4, 1943, he was transferred to the Tegel military prison on the outskirts of Berlin.
Jägerstätter was again told that he owed it to his family to accept military service rather than throw his life away and that as a citizen he was not responsible for the acts of the government, in any case, he was not in a position to pass judgment on government policy. Beyond this he was advised that taking the military oath and serving in the armed forces was not an endorsement of the policies of the government.
I can easily see that anyone who refuses to acknowledge the Nazi Folk Community and also is unwilling to comply with all the demands of its leaders will thereby forfeit the rights and privileges offered by that nation. But it is not much different with God: he who does not obey all the commandments set forth by Him and His Church and who is not ready to undergo sacrifices and to fight for His Kingdom either – such one loses every claim and every right under that Kingdom...
Now any one who is able to fight for both kingdoms and stay in good standing in both communities (that is, the community of saints and the Nazi Folk Community) and who is able to obey every command of the Third Reich – such a man, in my opinion, would be a great magician. I for one cannot do so. And I definitely prefer to relinquish my rights under the Third Reich and thus make sure of deserving the rights granted under the Kingdom of God.
The true Christian is to be recognized more in his works and deeds than in his speech. The surest mark of all is found in deeds showing love of neighbour. … Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God’s love.  (Gordon Zahn In Solitary Witness pp.234-235)
On May 24, 1943 Jägerstätter was brought before the Reich Military Tribunal  and the court condemned him to death for sedition. He was executed in August 1943.  Interestingly his stay in Tegel prison in Berlin overlapped with the presence there of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Jägerstätter rejected the view that as a Christian he should be satisfied with supporting a government that strongly supported family values. He refused to be bamboozled by arguments that assured him he did not have to act on his moral convictions, convictions that called him to refrain from taking up arms in an unjust cause.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Remembering August 6 1945 Hiroshima Day

How do we remember a day in the potential for human and ecolgical destruction on a scale never before imagined became actual? Weapons of mass destruction indeed - yet somehow we do not blink or shudder with the intense irony that the nation in possession of such weapons on a scale beyond our ability to grasp as a moral reality should use that excuse to start the war in Iraq?

Our moral numbness and blindness in the face of such evil remains a deep spiritual challenge. How can we reclaim our humanity, our identity as children of God called to love our enemy in such a situation?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Discovering Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah’s Child: A Theologians Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8028-6487-1

I cannot remember exactly when I first encountered Stanley Hauerwas but it was sometime probably during 1982 when I was working for Zadok as an editor/researcher and had plenty of excuses to range widely in my theological reading.  Aside from his own provoking explorations of what it is to be a Christian I have also benefited from following up on books that he has recommended and from the theological work of many of his students. I have also enjoyed his company at a couple of conferences and events on a couple of his trips to Australia. He was in person a delightfully accessible person open to conversation with anyone who wanted to engage with him, not standing on the dignity of being a famous academic.

This book is memoir of his life as a theologian and how that life in theology lead him to become a Christian. What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography you may ask?

A memoir is not a sequenced account of life but the telling of stories  that have given a life its internal shape. A biography will have to wait. In the mean time we have a memoir that is powerful in its honesty and truthfulness in its account of how being a theologian has been Stnaley's path to discover what it is and what ite means to be a Christian.

As a long term reader of Stanley's theology what is particularly striking has been the significance of the experience of class for his life and thought. This is a book which is accessible to readers well beyond the theological and academic world. It is a telling of the stories of significant moments in his life and a testimony to friendship and the friends who sustained him through many years of pain arising from the mental illness of his wife.

Does it matter whether rulers are Christians?

The proposition, still held, and publicly advanced by many Christians in Australia even today, that Christians will automatically make better rulers than those who are outside the faith, was current in the sixteenth century and was dismissed by Pilgram Marpeck an Anabaptist theologian and municipal engineer in a passage that represents him at his most eloquent.
There are many rulers, many temporal and spiritual tyrants who while appearing to be Christian, violate, judge and condemn. They run ahead of Christ and seize his power like thieves and murderers, they rob him of his honor and glory and arrogate it to themselves. They rule before [they have known] patience distress and suffering even though tribulation has to precede glory. They become powerful before they have humbled themselves, they rule and govern before they serve, they condemn and judge before they have judged themselves.  (The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, 416 )

The Sound of Worlds Colliding

This is a powerful collection of testimonies from the margin's of Asia's big cities by people who have given themselves to live with the poor in response to the call of Jesus. It is a salutary reminder of the conditions under which the majority of the world lives and dies.