06 February 2012

And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously

Why aren't the Irish protesting, why haven't we taken to the streets and why are those who do openly mocked? Where is the anger? Where is the action?

That is the billion-euro question, isn't it?

I was asked this a week or two ago after spending the day with a small group of protestors who chained themselves to the gates of the Department of Finance on the day €1.25 billion was handed over to holders of unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bonds. 40 protestors out of a country of 4.58 million stood up and took action.

Forty.

"Where are all the rest?" I was asked, "Why aren't the Irish protesting?" and for once I gave an answer.

"Deuteronomy"

The causes of our national passivity can all be traced back to the kingdom of Judah, one half of what we think of today as the biblical land of Israel, to the reign of King Josiah in the 7th Century BCE. Some time after Josiah ascended to the throne in 639 BCE, a "Book of the Law" was found apparently by accident in the temple in Jerusalem during renovation work. Upon reading this Josiah was seized with a religious fervour and embarked on a series of ecclesiastical and secular reforms that now bare his name, The Josianic Reforms. The "Book of the Law" is largely assumed by biblical scholars to refer to Deuteronomy, the oldest book in the Judeo-Christian bible, which contains an extensive list of commands to govern the behaviour of adherents to Yahwism, 34 chapters of "we all partied too hard", and the austerity measures needed to win back god's love.

Discounting the possibility of a Deus Ex Machina "discovery" of the text (a plot device so clumsy even Damon Lindelof would baulk at using it), the question arises as to why Deuteronomy was written as part of the Josianic Reforms, by whom and what purpose did it serve?.

Josiah became King of Judah at the tender age of eight, his elevation "facilitated" by a group referred to as "the People of the Land", which Rainer Albertz in A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period, Vol II describes as "a middle class among the land-owning farmers of Judah which became politically active... however, this political activity... would hardly have had any prospect of longer-term success had it not been supported by part of the Jerusalem Upper Class". Those of you who are not Consulting Theologians may find it helpful here to imagine this group as the Fine Gael of ancient Judea, I know I do.

Having raised their preferred candidate to the throne they then set about consolidating their hold on power, and their allies in this were the urban literate elite referred to as the Scribes, who could be thought of as the Media of their day. The Scribes set about cannibalizing the various oral traditions of the disparate groups that called Judah home, with the purpose of forging a national foundation myth, a written document that would unite everyone behind the throne of the young Josiah, and settled upon the figure of David as a suitable candidate. The story of the shepherd boy who rose to unite the land a good 400 years earlier was seized upon, for in the person of David a Covenant between god and the people was forged, in return for their worship god agreed to give the people the land, administrated by his chosen agent, David, and his kingly descendants.

For the Judean Fine Gael this was a master stroke, conferring divine legitimacy on their boy Josiah, and instilling obedience to a strict hierarchy at the heart of their new centralized religion. With the aid of the Scribes they set about a series of reforms designed to abolish all competing secular and religious centres of power, and by combining this new foundation myth with the conveniently rediscovered 'Book of the Law", created the basis for what we now refer to as the Deuteronomic History, the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the earliest written parts of what has come to be the Judeo-Christian Bible.

Deuteronomy served as a Constitution for a new state, one with a centralized power structure that brooked no opposition. History was rewritten to suit the needs of the new ruling class, which looked pretty similar to parts of the old ruling class but still managed to find a way to blame the last guys for all of their current woes, and the people were prevented from rejecting their new rulers because to do so would break the Covenant with god, and no Covenant meant no land.

But what has any of this to do with our current national tragedy?

Whether we like it or not we Irish are a very conservative, Catholic country. Despite (or perhaps because of) being a Consulting Theologian, I view all organised religions with a healthy dose of skepticism. I see no inherent superiority of one faith over another, but I cannot escape the thought that the engrained Catholicism at the heart of our history has had a disastrous effect on the sense of individual autonomy held by the citizenry, for to be Catholic is to submit to authority. To be Catholic is to submit, whereas the core of Protestantism is "to protest".

The essence of the Protestant Reformation was that the kingly authority of David was unnecessary, no mediator was needed between god and man. The people needed neither priests nor kings to intercede with god on their behalf, and this is what terrified Europe's dynasties the most. Their right to rule, their divine right, drew its legitimacy from the Davidic Covenant, the foundation myth manufactured by the Josianic "people of the land" to consolidate their own hold on power, and used by Judeo-Christian monarchs to isolate and disempower their subjects ever since. The Protestant Reformation passed us by, partly due to geography, though mainly because we held fast to our religious beliefs in defiance of the attempted imposition of the Catholicism-light of English Anglicanism, itself Protestant in name only as its real purpose was to position the English Monarch, and not the Pope, as the sole embodiment of the Davidic Covenant. The true Reformation of Europe passed us by, and with it went the spark of rebellion against authority that defined the subsequent history of most of the continent.

Our Catholicism perverted our own rebellions with their unflinching loyalty to foreign kings (James II) and Popes, our rebels seeking to throw off the chains of one Divine Monarch and hand them over to another. Our history is one of "Great Men", modern-day shepherds elevated by god to lead their flocks, Wolfe Tone, O'Connell, Dev, Collins, all reborn as warrior-kings, anointed leaders, and only through them can the people of the land reclaim that land. The people cannot save themselves, only their leaders can intercede on their behalf.

In modernity we continue to define ourselves by our servitude, our acquiescence to authority, our democracy is nothing more than shadow-play, we elect and re-elect the scions of the same dynasties as our fathers and their fathers, our Taoisigh but the latest embodiment of the Davidic Covenant. Keep our heads down, don't resist, accept our medicine and maybe we'll be allowed to keep our land, but only by the grace of our divine King-Taoiseach.

When people ask me why the Irish aren't protesting, why we haven't taken to the streets and why those who do are openly mocked, when people ask where is the anger and where is the action, I shrug my shoulders and say, "that is the billion-euro question, isn't it?". But if you press me, push me hard for a real answer, I'll reply with just one word.

"Deuteronomy"

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