St. Paul, Activism, and the Importance of Depersonalization

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”—Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version)

Deniro“If you really wanna change the world, put down Rules for Radicals and pick up The Bible”—that’s what the radical priest said to us, with a wry smile, before going out for a smoke. He reminded me of Father Bobby Carillo, De Niro’s character in Sleepers (1996)—only taller, better looking, and Marxist. We were in a church basement—a crowded church basement—that smelled funny. January was surprisingly cold in Baltimore that year, The Living Wage Campaign wasn’t going well, and we were at our wit’s end. The faithlessness of the people running Johns Hopkins University seemed to know no bounds. They had lied to us, fought dirty, and abused their power on numerous occasions—by monitoring our correspondence, sabotaging our careers, and suspending our funding. All of us were at some point threatened with expulsion. Some of us were threatened with deportation. Alas, this was no longer simply about our political commitment to social justice—it was getting personal. Our opponents were no longer merely misguided MBAs—they were demonic agents of evil in the world. They weren’t just stuffed suits defending the status quo—they were monsters.

When the priest returned—with a coffee in his hand, and a pack of smokes in his shirt pocket—he clarified his meaning: “What we’re doing here is important. Really important. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t take it personal, or you’ll burn out—or grow ugly, real ugly—before you know it.”

In “Soul of the Party,” the Marxian philosopher Slavoj Žižek—a self-professed atheist—maintains that one of the Christian tradition’s great strengths is its depersonalization of the struggle for social justice: “It was St Paul who provided a surprisingly relevant definition of the emancipatory struggle: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers [kosmokratoras] of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens’ (Ephesians 6:12). Or, translated into today’s language: ‘Our struggle is not against concrete, corrupted individuals, but against those in power in general, against their authority, against the global order and the ideological mystification that sustains it.’”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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