Oct 15, 2023
“Satan glorified political power for its own sake. He defended the socio-economic status quo…Jesus’ mother proclaimed a political and economic revolution...”
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned barroom – you know…that place ‘where everybody knows your name’. Sadly, this Anglo-American institution is in decline on both sides of the Atlantic. We love to complain about socio-economic inequality and yet we are quietly witnessing the demise of a great leveler.
The bar is where landlords and tenants, shop owners and wage earners, lawyers and tradesmen, bankers and borrowers have traditionally sat side by side, enjoying ‘a pint of the best’, and sharing their perspectives on the sorry state of the world.
I love a good bar; you never know who you’ll meet and, if you shut up for a second, you can eavesdrop on the most interesting conversations. In my younger days, I frequented a bar where the ‘regulars’ included the owner of a rival bar, a pre-school teacher (and Stalin scholar), a florist, a contractor, a biology professor, a municipal employee, and an attorney.
My best story, however, concerns a lazy summer afternoon with me sitting alone on my usual perch in my then favorite watering hole. Unexpectedly, two men and one woman walked in, already deeply engaged in animated conversation; they sat down right next to me.
I had been going to this same bar for years, and as far as I know, none of the three had ever been there before. But of course, I recognized them immediately! Have you even been in a public space when suddenly and unexpectedly you encounter somebody famous? How do you react? Do you tell them how much you appreciate their ‘work’? Do you ask for their autograph? Or do you totally ignore them?
I have adopted an intermediate strategy. I nod knowingly in their direction (sometimes they nod back) and I leave it at that. But not this time! On this occasion, I sat frozen on my stool, eyes forward, watching my bar mates only out of the corner of one eye and then only as reflected in the huge mirror that hung over the bar’s display of bottled spirits.
And speaking of spirits, my drinking companions that day were none other than Mary, the virgin Mother of God, Lucifer (aka Satan), and ‘Judge Gudy’ (Gideon).
In my experience, the only subjects worth talking about in a bar are religion and politics and this afternoon’s guests had apparently settled on politics as their topic du jour. Satan boasted proudly of his accomplishments in the field of politics. He reminded Mary that he had offered her son, Jesus, “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.” (Matthew 4: 8 - 9)
Of course, Mary reminded Satan that Jesus had turned him down flat, but she did not challenge his boastful claim that he could in fact deliver ‘all the kingdoms of the world’. Clearly, this is political power way beyond anything Boss Tweed or Mayor Daley could have imagined.
Then Mary lectured Satan on the terms of God’s own political praxis: “He has thrown down rulers from their thrones but lifted-up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.“ (Luke 1: 52 – 53)
Clearly, we were in for a good old-fashioned 19th century donnybrook. Satan glorified political power for its own sake. He defended the socio-economic status quo. His platform did not include even a single mention of ‘justice’; but he confidently asserted the corrupt malleability of ‘all the kingdoms’ (not some, not most…all).
Nor did Jesus contest Satan’s ability to deliver absolute political power. It was taken for granted. On the other hand, Jesus’ mother proclaimed a political and economic revolution the scope of which would have made Marx and Lenin cringe.
The argument might have gone well into the evening, “Who’s driving?” I thought, had ‘Judge Gudy’ not intervened, “May I tell my story?”
“3 millennia ago, give or take, I was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites who were occupying our land. Suddenly, almost as if I’d been confronted by an angel, I thought, ‘You’re a brave man, and the Lord is with you’. I thought, If not me, who? If not now, when? If it’s going to be it’s up to me!
“But of course, bravado gave way to skepticism and caution. “If the Lord is really with us, why has all this happened to us? Did I really receive a message from God or was I just daydreaming…again?” I prayed, “Give me a sign!” And I got one.
“So that night, I engaged in my first act of revolutionary violence. I overturned the altar of Baal, tore down its ridiculous ‘pole’... a symbol of status quo and social hierarchy. Instead, I built on that same site an altar dedicated to YHWH and, using the wood from the pole, I sacrificed a whole bull. I even gave the altar a name, ‘Jehovah Shalom’, which means, ‘God is wholeness’.
“Of course, I got caught, but I was the beneficiary of a ‘woke’ wave of ‘selective prosecutions’ and let go. I realize now that the destruction of Baal was just an initiation ritual; God was testing me to see if I was ready for bigger things. For better or worse, I passed the test.
“Great for God, not so great for me! The cops (and my dad) had put the fear of Baal in me; I didn’t relish another bout with the law. But also, I didn’t want to turn down God, so I asked for another sign. And then another. No way out now!
“So, I raised an army of 32,000 to take on 135,000 occupying soldiers. Farmers and craftsmen against Midian’s professional military. God or not, I couldn’t face the prospect of inflicting such carnage on my own people. So I decided to send 31,700 soldiers back home to their families. I would fight Midian…but with just 300 of my best.
“I blush when people call me ‘the Father of Guerilla Warfare’. I was no military genius; I was just scared. I was willing to serve God, even if it meant martyrdom, but I was unwilling to sacrifice any more lives than absolutely necessary in the process. Besides, what was I going to do with 30,000 untrained soldiers? Better to rely on my best and brightest. And so, ya da, ya da, ya da… we won. With the help of God, and a lot of good luck, we drove Midian across the Jordan and out of Israel.
"My only thought then was to get home to my father and my pastoral life. Surely my dad will let me drink wine now that I’ve defeated Midian in battle, or maybe not! Anyway, no more fighting for me. But my neighbors had other ideas. They insisted on making me King.
"No way! As the leader of a victorious army, I was in a position to lay down the law… and this time I didn’t need to wait for a sign: 'I will not rule over you nor shall my son; the Lord will rule over you.” And so it was that “for 40 years the land was at peace...'”
Silence followed. Slowly, Mary and Satan paid their tabs and Mary picked up the bill for Gideon. Satan left quietly followed a few minutes later by Mary. It seemed as though Gideon might hang out a while but, tab paid, he too left the bar.
At that moment it occurred to me that the intellectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries had just played out in front of me. Satan advocated for secular pragmatism, democratic capitalism, the new world order. Mary argued for the overthrow of the existing socio-economic order to be replaced by a benign version of Marx’s Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Gideon argued for nothing. He lived his ideology, a fine blend of devotion to God, compassion for his fellows, and dedication to purpose. He had no desire for political power; he was content to let God rule Israel directly, without interference from permanent political institutions. He demonstrated the spirit of what today we call Anarchism.
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.