I recently travelled to London to stand with the Occupy Democracy protestors in Parliament Square as they call for a return to real democracy in the UK – particularly to stand for a breaking of the collusion between corporations and government. To get a handle on how we have got to this place Ferdinand Mount’s ‘The New Few – a very British Oligarchy (power and inequality in Britain now’ charts our journey in the UK in this century towards centralisation of power in to the hands of few (MP’s, City of London, heads of corporations and bankers) – see The Literary Review for a synopsis of his book. He is a right wing Tory and a political journalist and it’s an interesting read.
I am convinced that we need to see a shift in power away from centralised government in the south east to the local communities, cities, regions and nations across the UK. There has to be a recognition and debate around the fact that what we have now is not working for so many people as the UK is the most unequal society in Europe.
My journey to Parliament Square took me to the Travelodge in London Docklands and as I came into Poplar on the Docklands Light Railway I was hit by the towering office blocks of HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and KPMG accountants – edifices to money rising out of the land. It really upset me as I was also aware of the attempts at social cleansing in the Newham area that have recently being profiled in the media – Focus E15 Mothers.
I passed East India Dock House and felt prompted to do some research and was surprised by what I found – a clear example of collusion of UK Parliament with corporations for profit and the expansion of trade and territory. I am sure I haven’t picked up on all the issues and missed some points but these struck me in particular –
· The establishment of the docks was supported by the East India Company (EIC) and this company was founded by Royal Charter (a legal instrument also used to found cities) by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1600 and it’s shares were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. It’s main purpose was trade in commodities – cotton, silk, tea, salt, opium etc and at one point accounted for half the world’s trade.
· Having been empowered by Charles II the company acquired land in India and beyond, minted money, commanded its own army, formed alliances, made war and peace, exercised both civil/criminal jurisdiction over lands acquired. In effect the East India Company ruled India at the beginnings of the British Empire in India from 1757 – 1858.
· The company was very successful which resulted in the officers of the company establishing large estates and businesses in the UK, and obtaining political power through a lobby in Parliament.
· The government came under pressure from other merchants to break the EIC’s monopoly and passed Acts that allowed others to trade in India and also to form a parallel East India Company (backed by a £2 million state indemnity). Shareholders of the old EIC bought shares in the new EIC and dominated its affairs until the 2 companies merged in 1708 in a 3 part venture with the state.
· The newly merged company lent £3,2000,000 to the UK treasury for exclusive privileges for the next 3 years. During the following decades there was conflict between the EIC and the government over control of the company, trade issues, finances and the colonies.
I was struck by the fact that effectively a state backed corporation owned and ran a nation, and that the government wasn’t prepared to separate from the company as it didn’t want to lose the access to the finance it was generating.
Needless to say after researching I was prompted to pray at the East India Dock House on my way to Parliament Square – simply repent for the sins of the past and call for the righteous decisions in the business and corporate sphere. There is so much that could have been touched on, but I sensed limits on what I could do on my own. However, I particularly called for young entrepreneurs to rise, those with creative solutions to entrenched problems that result in transformation in the lives of ordinary people.
As I travelled on the tube towards Westminster I became aware of an angelic presence that had joined me, I believe, as a result of my prayers. This angel was called ‘Commerce’ and is with me for the next phase. I am learning to co-operate with the angelic so it will be exciting to see what opens up as a result of our partnership.
Arriving at Parliament Square I stopped in front of the Houses of Parliament and prayed similar prayers to those outside East India Dock House. Does it make a difference when the issues are so huge and so entrenched? I believe so. Choices, actions and words all have an impact – might not see the fruit myself but trusting that they carry something of heaven’s purpose and impact in this world.
Crossing the road to the square it was clear that this phase of ‘occupying’ was nearly over. Having occupied the space since Friday night the police were surrounding protestors sitting on the tarpaulin and dragging them off to clear the ground – a state visit was imminent so they had to be removed from the green. I was disappointed I couldn’t get on to the tarp, and my support amounted to some eye contact that gave emotional and spiritual strength to a few of the young women who were holding fast their positions with tears streaming down their cheeks, and a few shouts of “This is a peaceful protest.” Most of the other protestors were from London or southern England so it felt good to be Welsh and in the mix!
Talking to other protestors, reporters, speakers and the police gave me a sense that these guys were genuine and passionate about these issues. some not so ken on the police tactics, but they were just doing their job.
Throughout the week Occupy Democracy had been attempting to stimulate open and public debate. Something which I have heard MP’s comment has been pretty non-existent in the House of Commons for some time. That chamber appears to have become more of a ‘rubber stamp’ mechanism to decisions already made. Occupy Democracy is moving forward and shifting into speaking out some positive ideas for change, see Resilence’s article for details on how things are developing.
I am hoping to get to some of the The New Putney Debates in November – inspired by the Levellers and Diggers who called for social justice, civil rights in the 17th Century when England was described as ‘a nation of prophets.’
As part of the community at Antioch, Llanelli and with the wider community I attempt to walk these things out, looking to express the life that Jesus has written into my spirit and reaching for different ways of doing things. Firmly believing that how we live has to have a positive impact on the very least and the last. Some of this is by providing various strands of support for those struggling financially through food/clothes/furniture bank or supporting families through school holidays with hot meals and play activities. I am also hoping to see a collaborative social enterprise emerge that will equip marginalised and disadvantaged people through learning new skills for life and work that will give them a chance to find a healthier, happier way of living. Whilst calling for change to unfold on a national level its important to keep in mind the impact of everyday choices that have the potential to bring change to those around us.
I write this as a reflection on Eric Janzen’s “Prophetic Culture of the Kingdom” (part 4).
In pondering your well-thought, well-stated articles on the Kingdom of God, part 4 gave me pause to consider your admittedly biblical use of military and imperial metaphors.
Re: military metaphors, you describe Christians as living ‘upon a spiritual battleground where a very real battle is underway.’ You continue,
The kingdom of heaven opposes the kingdom of darkness and opposes the powers of this world that do not worship Jesus as their lord, their savior, or their king… We are the presence of the kingdom wherever we gather and we are to express that presence on the battleground.
All of this is familiar territory to Biblicists who read about spiritual battles, armies, and weapons in New Testament passages like Eph.6, 2 Tim. 2, Rev. 19, etc. And of course, you acknowledge that while this battle is ‘real,’ it is also ‘spiritual.’ The weapons of our warfare are notthe literal weapons of the world (swords, scuds, and lawsuits); they are metaphors for the Christian practices of love (as you explained),forgiveness (Rom. 12), and prayer (2 Cor. 10). In other words, the military metaphors are not merely spiritual counterparts to the physical realities. They also function ironically. Christ did not simply talk about overpowering evil forces by means of more lethal, spiritual ammo. He calls his followers to disavow violence, harm, hatred, and force altogether. Our new weapons are upside down kingdom traits like meekness, mercy, and mourning. An entirely new set of actions is called for: turning the other cheek to the enemy that strikes you; blessing the enemy that curses you; praying for the enemy that abuses you. These aren’t just spiritual symbols … it’s irony, virtually sarcasm if we’re talking about ‘armor.’ The disciples eventually got that.
To cite Eugene Peterson from a Joe Beach’s article,
When James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus simply rebuked them. No rhetoric. No argument. A simple ‘NO, There is to be no violence or hatred in the cause of God.’
… in the religious atmosphere of the day [killing] was the most natural thing in the world to do. Why didn’t they? The simple answer is that they were following the resurrected Jesus, and the Jesus who was now living in them wasn’t killing anyone.
Here is my issue. WE DIDN’T GET IT. In missing the irony, the Church often missed the metaphor altogether, making hatred and even violence towards our enemies first allowable, then acceptable, then preferable in these stages:
- Initially, the Church understood that when Christ said, ‘Put down your sword,’ he meant it … literally, absolutely, universally. Violence was completely unacceptable for the follower of Jesus. Forgiving love and blessing prayers were the only firearms that Jesus sanctioned for warfare with one’s enemy.
- Then we softened this to mean, love is the first and best option for overcoming evil. But when that fails, violence is allowable as a last resort.
- Then we slipped further to mean, love is appropriate for certain circumstances and violence is acceptable / appropriate for other circumstances … such as dealing with anything we label evil.
- Finally, we disavowed the Sermon on the Mount altogether with something like, ‘love is for idealists; violence is for realists.’ In the face of evil, violence is the practical and preferred response … the only real choice.
And thus we go, off to whatever crusade or war we deem necessary, with a Cross painted on our shields, our banners, and the noses of our bombers and missiles. It’s not enough that we justified the violence in our hearts, we actually sanctified it as part of our ‘very real battle’ against the forces of evil in this world. Islamic people become spiritual forces to be destroyed with literal worldly weapons as part of God’s mission to advance his kingdom (with its newfound accretions: ‘freedom,’ democracy, and capitalism).
What I am getting at is this: with our proven inability to perceive the military metaphors of the New Testament as spiritual realities and ironic reversals, I no longer see how we can justify using them, even on biblical grounds. In the most serious and violent ways, we just don’t get it. And thus, I propose the Church at large take a one century fast from using military metaphors until it can be said of us what Isaiah said of true kingdom people, ‘Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’ It will be a wonder when this actually occurs for the nations, but for the Christian, the mandate was established 2000 years ago.
Oh, it’s easy to point the fingers at Americans who proclaim with conviction, ‘Two people have died for you. Jesus Christ died for your sins and the American G.I. died for your freedom.’ But here in Canada, I see images of WWI soldiers embedded in the stained glass of our cathedrals. I hear Christian street-evangelists describe premeditated violence as part of their ‘arsenal’ when faced with injustice in the ‘heat of the battle,’ all justified because it’s on behalf of third parties.
Until we comprehend these militaristic metaphors as Christ’s ironic subversion of fleshly violence, we probably shouldn’t use them.
Re: King and Kingdom metaphors, I have an even greater difficulty because here we are dealing directly with the very words of Jesus. He described himself as the King of a Kingdom. In this case we do have a true counterpart for competing kingdoms, each demanding allegiance to very different lords. In one way, Christ is really and truly our King.
And yet … we must not fail to see that in Jesus day, he uses the political language of basilea that we would recognize now as ‘empire’—an empire or kingdom that Jesus claims (to Pilate) is decidedly not a kingdom of this world. Not the Holy Roman Empire, not the restored kingdom of Israel (including 1948), and not the globalized corporate empire of America. In truth, again Jesus is speaking ironically. His triumphant entry lampoons the military parades of the Roman Empire. His kingdom is a parody of every government’s claim to power and authority. It is citizened by peasants and slaves, by the disabled and by children. Our King (or more currently, our President) is so unlike any worldly king that He is the anti-king, consciously so.
When the soldiers crowned Christ with thorns and adorned Him with a bloodied royal robe, they were mocking Him. But Jesus played their charade as the great un-king who ascended to His cruciform throne where Colossians tells us “He disarmed the principalities, triumphing over them, making a public spectacle of them on the Cross.” The whole play is thrown on its head as He is cast outside the gates by the stewards of God’s Holy City (the ultimate irony).
But once again, WE DIDN’T GET IT!
Before long, we set up actual, literal human kings and parliaments as God’s chosen representatives to enact His kingship on earth … and in the most tyrannical forms. To those who espouse such theocracies, a friend of mine asks, ‘Do they read? When has that ever gone well for us?’
The irony of the subversive kingdom is dismissed as we anoint Christian soldiers for state-sponsored crusades; erect the abomination that causes desolation on the stages of our churches (the Imperial standard now replaced by the national flag); and marry faithfulness to God with patriotism to our country’s foreign and domestic policies (OR oppose them in the same spirit). When did we stop reading Rev. 17?
What I’m seeing is that we’ve exchanged Christ’s vision of an anti-kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven) for a spiritual super-kingdom that comes on earth like every other kingdom has—in greed and brutality—but with a plastic fish as the corporate logo.
But can we drop Christ’s own metaphor simply because we’re so thick? That won’t do for the Biblicists. It won’t do for the heresy hunters. Nor will it do for me. When we’re reading that Jesus came proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in our New Testaments, we can’t just replace it … except that I think we already have. Not the words, but the meaning. In the most vulgar ways. We have completely reversed Christ’s own reversal. And I don’t know how to rectify that.
Without solutions, I offer this up only as a meditation and a lament.
“For the United States, what we would like to see is a scientific basis for regulations going forward.”
With 80% of the predicted gains from EU-US Trade Agreement (TTIP) expected to come from the removal of regulatory barriers between the EU and US there has been justified concern about what this means for the EU’s generally more stringent regulation. The US, and industry professionals, have been pushing for a more ‘scientific’ basis for setting future regulation in the EU, especially in the area of chemicals and food. On the surface it seems there is little to object with … ensuring there is a ‘scientific basis’ for regulation, who could have a problem with that?
Well, these requests are slightly more insidious in their implication than is immediately apparent. Reading between the lines, what is actually being said is that the EU’s adoption of a precautionary approach to regulation is unscientific, unlike the US’s so called ‘science based’ approach.
To elaborate further on the differences in approach: In the EU, if there is a plausible risk, and science cannot yet determine the risk with certainty, then the precautionary principle may be applied. The burden of proof for convincing the regulator that a potentially risky product is safe would therein predominantly lie with those with a vested interest in seeing any resultant restrictions lifted. In the US, where the precautionary principle is not applied, the burden of proof is reversed, and instead the regulator is required to prove a product is unsafe before regulatory restrictions can be imposed. The difference in approach has led, for example, to the EU banning around 1300 substances from use in cosmetics in stark contrast to the US, which only bans 13.
The implications are staggering. If the EU is banning products out of turn, on the wishy-washy basis that they may potentially be of harm to humans and the environment, then they are needlessly costing companies millions and holding back priceless innovation.
With that being the case, surely any convergence within TTIP with US regulatory standards would be of infinite benefit to the EU economy and its citizens? What are we all so worried about?
There are a couple of directions I could go here … it would be ever so easy to point out that the US regulator is so weak and in thrall to the chemical lobby that they haven’t even got around to banning asbestos yet. But that would be far too easy. I’m more intrigued by the implications themselves, which imply that the EU’s adoption of precautionary principle ultimately inhibits innovations, is entirely inappropriate and is exorbitantly costly to business and in-turn the economy as a whole. This entire characterisation rests firmly on one key notion: that there are countless examples of instances where the precautionary principle has been applied unnecessarily. I mean, there’s got to be … right?
What’s that? There’s not? Weird.
It turns out the European Environment Agency released a report last yearexamining this very issue. After reviewing 88 cases that industry and supporters have used as examples of the precautionary principle being applied unnecessarily they concluded that only four of the 88 so called ‘false positive’ cases could really be clasified as such. In fact, about one third of the industry proclaimed false positive cases were found to pose real risks to human health or the environment. The full breakdown can be seen in the graph below:
To reiterate: of all the times the precautionary principle has been applied, it can only be said to have resulted in unnecessary regulation four times. I’ll take that over an asbestos plagued roof any day (couldn’t help myself).
On the flip-side, here are ten cases where we would have undoubtedly benefitted from regulators acknowledging early warning signs and adopting a precautionary approach. One thing common to all of these examples is that industry-backed scientists and vested interests at some point told us that there was really nothing to worry about, and were completely wrong:
- The use of lead in petrol
- PCE contamination of mains water
- The release of methylmercury-contaminated effluent into water and its links to minamata disease
- Beryllium as a cause of disease in those working with nuclear weapons
- The link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer
- Vinyl chloride’s damaging impact on the skin and bones of workers, and the livers of animals
- The pesticide DBCP causing male infertility
- The detrimental impacts of booster biocide antifoulants on non-target species
- The insecticide DDT’s threat to birds
- Man-made climate change
So, ask yourself, why do the US and industry want the EU to scrap or water down its precautionary approach? I can think of one big reason … and it has nothing to do with our health and safety.
Sam is a Campaigner in the Food, Land and Water Security Programme and tweets @SamuelMarcLowe