Wink-ing at the Powers

It seems time for another almost post.
This time I am putting here a Word doc containing scans of the first chapter of a book. It also contains the relevant end notes from the book.
Wink – Engaging the Powers, chapter 1 (scans)
A while back, I picked up a trilogy of books by Walter Wink. These are their names:

Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (published in 1984)
Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence (1986)
Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (1992)

The document embedded here contains scans of the first chapter of the third volume, Engaging the Powers.

I do not agree with Wink on some very important points, but I find his discussion here both informative and insightful. As far as I know, it is with Wink—and with this chapter, specifically—that the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence” originates. (If someone out there knows differently, please correct me.)

Let me briefly identify a few points of departure between Wink and myself, so that anyone who opens and reads this chapter will not wonder whether I am endorsing those particular elements of his writing.

First, Wink does not seem to have anything like an evangelical view of Scripture as “inerrant.” I am not totally wedded to the usual fundamentalist ideas of inerrancy, but I do believe the Scripture is utterly reliable in all that it teaches. Wink is one of the many scholars who seem to think that the Scriptures contain elements of dross, i.e. cultural accretions which actually distort the message of God in the Bible. And like so many, he seems to think that heis fit to determine just what those elements are. So for example, in his zeal for values like equality and non-violence, he can be dismissive toward Bible passages that seem to him to promote inequality or violence. Yet at other points, he bases a great deal of his beliefs and argumentation on the authority of Scripture. Go figure…

Second, Wink seems to think that liberal democracy is the answer to the evils that he points out so well. I am not a hater of democracy. But neither do I share his faith in it.

A third difference is connected to the previous (and perhaps the first) one. Wink seems to be something of a Pelagian in his confidence in man’s ability to do the right thing and effect a truly good society, if only we can come to understand things aright. I definitely do not share such optimism with him.
Beyond these, there may be other differences which I am not remembering right now.

Having said all this, however, I still must highly recommend this chapter for doing such a great job of painting the historic and societal psychosis of violence that humankind has suffered under down through the ages.

As a teaser, I will offer here in a block-quote the opening paragraphs of the chapter. If you are intrigued and have the time, I strongly encourage you to open and read the whole thing! 🙂

Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. it has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death. Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety. Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors. It secured us forty-five years of a balance of terror. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.

The roots of this devotion to violence are deep, and we will be well rewarded if we trace them to their source. When we do, we will discover that the religion of Babylon—one of the world’s oldest, continuously surviving religions—is thriving as never before in every sector of contemporary American life, even in our synagogues and churches. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America. I will suggest that this myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism, and foreign policy, and that it lies coiled like an ancient serpent at the root of the system of domination that has characterized human existence since well before Babylon ruled supreme.

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2 thoughts on “Wink-ing at the Powers

  1. Wow! Very effective teaser… the idea of violence being the religion of America is fascinating, and kind of a distillation of many thoughts I’ve had on violence. I’ll definitely have to check it out some time!

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