How are we to resist the moral and spiritual influence of the principalities and powers upon us?
For inspiration Stringfellow turns to the resistance movement in Europe during the Nazi occupation. Stringfellow visited Europe after WW II and had a chance to talk to many within the resistance movement. How had they resisted the Nazi occupation? How did they maintain their conscience and humanity living within a dehumanizing and oppressive regime?
For Stringfellow, the actions of the resistance movement provide lessons for "Christians and other aliens living in a strange land," a world controlled by the principalities and powers:
[T]wo matters from those firsthand exposures to the realities of the Resistance against Nazism have particular pertinence to the contemporary malaise of Americans because of their relevance to the practical situation prevailing in the nation.What are these two lessons learned from the resistance movement?
The first lesson is that humanity, sanity and conscience are preserved by small, daily actions of resistance and subversion. Acts so small that they seems nearly pointless, even foolhardy given the risk/reward ratio involved:
[T]he Resistance, undertaken and sustained through the long years of the Nazi ascendancy in which most of Western Europe was conquered and occupied, consisted, day after day, of small efforts. Each one of these, if regarded in itself, seems far too weak, too temporary, too symbolic, too haphazard, too meek, too trivial to be efficacious against the oppressive, monolithic, pervasive presence which Nazism was, both physically and psychically, in the nations which had been defeated and seized. Realistically speaking, those who resisted Nazism did so in an atmosphere in which hope, in its ordinary connotations, had been annihilated. To calculate their actions--abetting escapes, circulating mimeographed news, hiding fugitives, obtaining money or needed documents, engaging in various forms of noncooperation with the occupying authorities or the quisling bureaucrats, wearing armbands, disrupting official communications--in terms of odds against the Nazi efficiency and power and violence and vindictiveness would seem to render their witness ridiculous. The risks for them of persecution, arrest, torture, confinement, death were so disproportionate to any concrete results that could practically be expected that most human beings would have despaired--and, one recalls, most did. Yet these persons persevered in their audacious, extemporaneous, fragile, puny, foolish Resistance.I'm put in mind here of the White Rose and the description of spiritual warfare I gave awhile back in my "On Weakness and Warfare" series. When I speak about "spiritual warfare," about resistance to the principalities and powers, I'm speaking about what Stringfellow is describing here and what the White Rose martyrs exemplified. Spiritual warfare is about learning to live "humanly in the Fall," to use Stringfellow's phrase. Spiritual warfare consists of small, even symbolic, daily acts of resistance and subversion within systems--organizational, political, economic and ideological--to resist the dehumanizing effects of living with and among the principalities and powers.
And yet, these small acts of defiance seem pointless and even hopeless. Nothing will change! Regarding the resistance to the Nazis Stringfellow notes that those involved "were engaged in exceedingly hard and hapless and apparently hopeless tasks." If nothing changes, the question must be asked: "Why would human beings take such risks?" Stringfellow puzzles out an answer to his question:
It is not, I think, because they were heroes or because they besought martyrdom; they were, at the outset, like the Apostles, quite ordinary men and women of various and usual stations and occupations in life. How is their tenacity explained?...Why did these human beings have such uncommon hope?The answer, according to Stringfellow, is that resistance became the only way to live as a human being:
The answer to such questions is, I believe, that the act of resistance to the power of death incarnate in Nazism was the only means of retaining sanity and conscience. In the circumstances of the Nazi tyranny, resistance became the only human way to live.To draw another parallel here, spiritual warfare, according to the analysis of Václav Havel in his essay "The Power of the Powerless," is "living within the truth" rather than "living within the lie." And the way you do this, according to Havel, is similar to what Stringfellow describes above, small acts of dissent and subversion in the face of the propaganda ("babel" to use Stringfellow's word from Chapter 4) produced by the principalities and powers.
To exist, under Nazism, in silence, conformity, fear, acquiescence, obeisance, collaboration--to covet "safety" or "security" on the conditions prescribed by the State--caused moral insanity, meant suicide, was fatally dehumanizing, constituted a form of death. Resistance was the only stance worthy of a human being, as much in responsibility to oneself as to all other humans, as the famous Commandment mentions. And if that posture involved grave and constant peril of persecution, imprisonment, or execution, at least one would have lived humanly while taking these risks. Not to resist, on the other hand, involved the certitude of death--of moral death, of the death of one's humanity, of death to sanity and conscience, of the death which possesses humans profoundly ungrateful for their own lives and for the lives of others.
I know many progressive and liberal Christians have not liked my use of the metaphor "spiritual warfare." But my consistent use of this metaphor is pointing to this Stringfellowian and Havelian understanding of spiritual and moral resistance to the dehumanizing forces in the world. Spiritual warfare is learning to live humanly in a dehumanizing and violent world, learning to live within the truth in the face of the lies, propaganda and babel that justify and support the violent and dehumanizing systems of the world.
So that's the first lesson learned from the WW II resistance movement--sanity and conscience is preserved in small, even symbolic, acts of resistance, dissent, noncooperation, and subversion.
For Stringfellow, the second lesson learned from the WW II resistance movement was this:
The other recollection which now visits me from listening to those same Resistance leaders concerns Bible study...For many within the resistance movement the Bible gave them a story to narrate their experience, a source of prophetic and apocalyptic critique that allowed them to recover their humanity in the face of dehumanizing forces attempting to strip them of dignity:
[In the Resistance] the Bible became alive as a means of nurture and communication; recourse to the Bible was in itself a primary, practical, and essential tactic of resistance. Bible study furnished the precedent for the free, mature, ecumenical, humanizing style of life which became characteristic of those of the confessing movement. This was an exemplary way--a sacrament, really--which expounded the existential scene of the Resistance. That is, it demonstrated the necessities of acting in transcendence of time within time, of living humanly in the midst of death, of seeing and forseeing both the apocalyptic and eschatological in contemporary events. In Bible study within the anti-Nazi Resistance there was an edification of the new or renewed life to which human beings are incessantly called by God--or, if you wish to put differently, by the event of their own humanity in this world--and there was, thus, a witness which is veritably incorporated into the original biblical witness.A great example of this use of the Bible to support human life in the midst of demonic oppression is Bonhoeffer leading the underground seminary at Finkenwalde. See Bonhoeffer's discussion of Bible study and the use of the psalms in Life Together. See also how Bible study supports those on the margins of society in Bob Ekblad's Reading the Bible with the Damned. Or even my many posts here about my bible study in a prison.
So those are the two techniques Stringfellow describes to support "the Christian resistance to death": 1) small acts of dissent within dehumanizing systems to preserve sanity and conscience and 2) nurturing this resistance by living within the apocalyptic narrative of the Bible.
Link to Chapter 6