RAF, Occupy Wall Street, And The Politics Of Jesus

One of the most important lessons I have learned from NT Wright, in my many years of reading him, has been about the politics of Jesus. Before I ever read John Howard Yoder, or Oliver O’Donovan, or many other political thinkers, Wright made incontrovertible to me two axioms: (1) Jesus’ directly addressed politics in his teaching, and (2) he opposed the tactics and methods of the zealots. This point has been on my mind for years now, as I’ve progressed from various political theologies, and nothing I’ve read from any perspective has convinced me to disagree.

Tonight I finished watching The Baader Meinhof Complex, a German film recounting the story of the Red Army Faction. Concluding the film, a few thoughts have been sticking out.

Firstly, whether it was intentional or not, the filmmakers depicted clearly to me how Satan can be involved in two sides of a political conflict simultaneously. The movie begins with a depiction of a brutal state repression against peaceful protesters, continues with an apparently psychotic anti-communist individual attempting to murder a socialist activist, and then mostly continues with the story of the RAF. While this groups claims to be standing up for the innocent in conflicts like the Vietnam war and other places, they also clearly have no qualms about killing innocents if it serves their purposes. And, actually, I don’t doubt that they did both of these things with some sincerity. But that’s just my point.

(2) The RAF clearly had no desire to practice anything like a virtuous sex life. At one point, Baader explicitly connected the political revolutionary activities they engaged in with the sexual revolution, and this was graphically depicted in the film. And this leads me to one of my major thoughts: Jesus’ “fruit test” of false prophets is really significant in evaluating political movements. When a group claims to be standing up for the good and the right in the world, but clearly and willfully violates it (e.g., in sexual ethics, and in respect for the lives of the innocent), you have a clear sign that this group is inspired by evil powers. And Jesus was clear about this: he warned against joining the zealot cause precisely because, whatever their righteous and holy rhetoric, they were inspired by Satan himself. It was Satan who tempted Jesus to abandon the way of the cross and take up the methods of violence to accomplish his goals, and it is Satan who, once admitted into a soul, inspires all kinds of moral evil there. Like a smoking section in a restaurant, letting Satan into one part of our lives and expecting him to stay out of others is a futile exercise.

(3) And this leads me to my final thought. It is apparent that something is occurring in the “Occupy” operations happening in the US, and soon in Canada. And I am not entirely opposed to these actions: principled supporters of socialism and of a free-market can both find things to criticise in the current economic order, as can believers in pacifism and just war principles with regard to the political order. But I am afraid of what these movements could become. One of the most memorable lines of the film was near the end, where one of the main female agents of the RAF said to a prison chaplain, after he expressed he hoped to talk to her again, that “Theologians hope… .” The implication, of course, is that hope is opposed to action, and action means violence. But if Jesus taught anything about politics, it is that the tactics of the zealots cannot win. When the war against evil becomes a war of Zealots against the Empire, Satan takes a vacation. He has already won.