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Simone Weil on Power

Force, she suggested, is not used by those who think they are using it.  Instead it uses them,  Force destroys all who come into contact with it.
The weak are oppressed by it, the strong intoxicated.  Weil started out as a materialist and became an idealist; at twenty she was almost a Communist and by thirty she was almost a Catholic though she never formally identified with either group. Weil never uses the term power, but the force of which she speaks is almost certainly social and political power.

Power comes from the same Latin word that gives us the term "potential."  Its simplest meaning is "ability"  If I have power, I am able to do something.  If I have not power, I am unable to do anything.  We speak of "empowerment" and some individuals and groups do need to be empowered.  Personal power and spiritual power usually refer to positive and worthy conditions.  In the political and social realms, however, the meaning of power is always tllted in the direction of its more forceful and violent implications.  Max Weber's classic definition of power as the ability to obtain goals in spite of resistance, leaves an ominous question.  What if the means I am using do not obtain the goals I want to achieve or am charged with achieving?  Power was at the core of the legendary temptations of Jesus,

Scholarship on Q gives a very interesting picture of the "Jesus movement" in Galilee.  Evidently whiat Jesus' first Galileean followers knew or believed about him consisted of the simplest, gentlest. most egalitarian, and most outrageous parts of the "sermon on the mount."  The undercurrent message was: hey, things are bad, the rules aren't working, the place is falling apart, whjy not try this.  "This" was, evidently a preference for poverty, hunger. and sadness; non violence; prayer; love of everyone; giving all you have; asking for all you need,; and not making judgments about other people's behavior.

But changes in Q suggest that as the Galilean movement became more successful and then began to face internal and external challenges it began to change--becoming more prescriptive, then more judgmental, then more threatening and apocalyptic.  Finally it seems to bave been absorbed by the Christian movement witb its miracle stories, eschatology, and theodicy.

I suppose it could be argued that the Jesus movement could only have survived as a part of Christianity and that we should be thankful to "Matthew" and "Luke" for saving Q (or parts of it anyway since we have no way of knowing if parts of it are missing because they did not fit the emerging Christian consensus.)  Still, if the early followers of Jesus could have held out--say for 40 years, if Paul could have acknowledged alternative spiritual  paths; and if the Jesus people in Galilee had seen their true enemies, not as Satan, not as pharasees, not as their disloyal relatives. but as organizational structure and their own fears, who knows what might have happened.

Dostoevsky tells a story about Jesus returning to earth during the Spanish Inquisition and confronting the Grand Inquisitor with love and silence.  Dostoevsky implies that the inquisitor's heart was "strangely warmed."  But unfortunately, the bureaucratic structure of the Church was not changed. Remember that the upshot of the Inquisitor's critique was that Jesus should have accepted the Devil's bargain.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this.

As for personal power's positivity and worthiness, though, FWIW, charismatic power (in the common sense of the term charismatic) makes me ~~~nervous~~~. But perhaps by personal you meant something like "independent of other human beings"?
Jun. 9th, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Yes, I did NOT mean "charisma", nor even "independence." Maybe more like what the feminists in the seventies called "assertiveness." We are all interdependent, but none of us should should either push others around or allow ourselves (at least our inner selves) to get pushed around. "Turn the other cheek" is what made Neitschze call Christianity a "slave ethic." But there are ways of turning the other cheek that suggest mastery.
Jun. 9th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that Paul railed against rule-bound religion. He's all about that direct inflowing of the Spirit and grace. Look at Galatians chapter 3, he's quite passionate about it.

I've always felt that Christianity's downfall was when Constantine converted, all of a sudden it became fashionable and politically expedient to be Christian (instead of a hard, even dangerous choice, and therefore presumably sincere). All of a sudden it was possible to be a Christian in name only.

But for those of us who have been broken, who know very keenly our need of God, and know His powerful love and grace..... I guess we just have to pray for those who are led astray by rule-bound religion, and model another way.
Jun. 9th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
Paul and Constantine
I have to admit that Paul is not one of my favorite people although my admiration for him is growing as I study more. He had no interest in "the historical Jesus." and took pride in the fact that he never knew Jesus in the flesh. To him, the "kerygma" was the only lens through which Jesus/Christ could be viewed. But at his best, Paul was great--a true mystic. But he lacked some of Jesus' "outrageousness" and supported the system that the "sermon on the mount" ignored or opposed.

I agree about Constantine, but I also feel that by the time Constantine was ready to deal, the leaders of the Church were ready to deal also. The "deal" to which I refer is the one reflected in the stories of the "temptation of Jesus" and "the Grand Inquisitor."
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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