Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making the Multitude for Binding the Empire                                                          Mark: 3: 27
(Sermon preached at the Dharma Jyoti Chapel on 24th January, 2017)

When democracy becomes aristocracy and the trumpet for the reign of the Empire, what do the common people sing? When the judiciary and the legislature become the proponents of the Imperial nationalism that distinguishes patriots and terrorists, where do the citizens go for their rights and self-respect? When the media sings the music of neo-capitalism and its liturgy of market, whom do the Aam Admi trust to safe guard their commonwealth like natural resources, art, sport, and culture? According to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in the emerging situation of the global Empire, the common man has only one way out, that is, to make themselves multitude.

Multitude is a not just a crowd. It is the political subject with radical social consciousness that has the power to shape its destiny and change the world. Multitude is not a cadre political organization. It is not based on a specific political ideology. Multitude is a multiplicity which happens spontaneously in the fields, streets, campuses, and sea shores. It appears and disappears. It is a process of resistance and celebration. It dismantles the distinction between public and private; ideology and art; politics and aesthetics. The postcolonial theologians like Jeorg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan affirm that “the multitude in many parts of the world has risen up again and again to call attention to exploitation by transnational corporations, unequal trade agreements, unfair labor conditions, destruction of the livelihood of small farmers and poor people, governments that work for the highest bidder, a lack of democratic decision-making, and suppression of political dissent.”[i] Multitude appeared as the Muthanga Land struggle of Adivasis and Dalits in Kerala few years before, the Wall-Street Occupy movement in US, Pembila Orumai (unity of women) women struggle in the Munnar tea plantations in Kerala, Una struggle of Dalits and subalterns in Gujarat last year, University students’ protests in various university campuses against the state sponsored terrorism in India and at last in the form of the Jelikattu stir in Tamil Nadu. The people’s organization against the ban on Jelikattu became the common platform for the students, women, farmers, the fisher people and the others who raise various concerns of economy, culture, and politics; but the rallying point is the demand to respect the Tamil sub-nationality which has denied in the emerging context of uniform civil code and cultural code by Sangha Parivar forces. Multitude as we see in the Marina Jelikattu stir is a radical political resistance of the ‘governed’—the citizens of this country as it encounters the Empire in all its walks of life.

Biblically speaking, the multitude is the movement from demos to laos or ochlos. Demos refers the assembly of the privileged citizens in Greco-Roman world, out of which the word democracy comes. In the imperial period, democracy was aristocracy—the assembly of the privileged. The laos or ochlos means the common people, the scattered, the under privileged within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Becoming multitude is to become a radical political subject that denies the biopolitics of the logic of Roman imperialism. The gospel according to Mark particularly shows a rhetorical solidarity to the multitude who try to redefine themselves in the Roman imperial context. Markan Jesus is an ardent ideologue of the multitude. In Mk 6: 34 we read: And Jesus came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and began to teach them many things.     Jesus sat with the multitude, for the most part outside the established institutions, in fields, on mountains and by the sea shores. Multitude is not just a crowd; rather a political process of resistances. As the Wall Street protesters said: “it is not a protest. This is a process.” Multitude is the process of exorcising the Empire from human bodies, political bodies and social imaginations and envisages a new democratic habitation—the messianic kingdom.

1.  Discipleship as Making the Multitude
In Mark 3:1-35, Jesus is portrayed as the messiah of the multitude. The messianic consciousness of Jesus is emerged in the collective imagination of the multitude. It is expressed as the healing of the diseased, the exorcism of the affected and resurrection of the dead. It is re-imagined as the coming of the kingdom over against the imperial establishment of death. The appointment of the disciples legitimizes Jesus’ goal of being with him in the process of exorcising the Empire from the all the fields of human life. The success of the Empire is set in the process of enslaving human bodies and social imaginations. In the contemporary context, this is done by the judiciary, legislature, the executive and the media—the four pillars of our democracy and the global market—the fifth pillar in the present neo-liberal context. The social life of the common man becomes abandoned and rejected and their anxieties are rallying against the Empire in various layers of civil life.

For Jesus, invitation to discipleship is nothing but the invitation to enter into the process of resisting the Empire and celebrating life of freedom and justice. It is to live in a counter imagination of civility. Discipleship is a process of becoming multitude by fostering the anti-imperialist imaginations in minds and bodies. Discipleship, for Jesus, is to become a wider political subjectivity. This has been clearly explained by Jesus when he responded to the question ‘who is my mother and brothers.’ For Jesus, it is those who ‘do the will of God’ will be called his mother and brothers (31-35). Church as the crucified body of Jesus Christ who in-operated the biopolitics of the Roman imperialism on the cross and thereby envisaged a ‘radical assembly of multitude to come’—the coming community demands an introspection from the part of the church today to be/become an anti-imperial community of the messiah.

2.  Discipleship as Binding the Empire
In Vs 22-35, Jesus is alleged by the High priests and Pharisees that he is possessed with Beelzebub—the ruler of the demons. Jesus told them that an Empire cannot be destabilized by another Empire. Because, Empire itself is a de-stabilized system. It is a system of lawlessness within. It is a violent system of torture and torment. It is an unethical system that violates the rights of the weak. When democracy becomes the liturgy of the Empire, how can it be an establishment of hope. Here Jesus tells us that we need to bind the strongman. Only through binding the Empire, there will be new ways of reformulating the polity (Oikos-God’s house). De-imperializing social body is the task of the multitude that envisages a radical democracy of multiplicity and alterity. The discipleship that makes itself multitude envisages a paradigm shift from democracy to multitude which cannot be enslaved by the biopolitics of the Empire. Discipleship is envisaged here as the process of binding the strong man—the Empire.   

The allegiance to the neo-capitalist economy, the war mongering military agendas, the anti-Dalit/ women/minority/student fascist propaganda and the Hindu-colonial reiteration of nationalist sentiments over against the people of this country adorn Narendra Damodar Dass Modi as the contemporary face of Empire in India today. The common people, the multitude are forced to rush to the streets to safe guard their rights and civil liberties. Universities, streets, the sea shores, and the temples become the platforms of blossoming multitude. Jelikattu, as a festival of farmers reverberates an agrarian social imagination (which of course need to be modified and re-constituted as a participatory cultural act in the contemporary context) where people find their meaning in social existence. For Modi and his Sangha Parvars, all cultures are to be unified and nationalized which excludes all the diversified sub-nationalities like Tamil-Dravida nationality—a revolutionary nationality in the history of the Indian subcontinent.   

In the era of Modi, the ministry of the Christian communities is to invite people to make themselves multitude to de-imperialize themselves and their life-worlds. As Arundhati Roy tells us “our strategy should be not only to confront empire but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories.” [ii] As Eduardo Galeano once said;”the Empire cannot take away my music.”   Let us enter into the process of discipleship the poiesis of making ourselves multitude in our local living spaces whether it is class rooms or sea shores; public spaces or private spaces; temples or factories and thereby become true disciples of our messiah—the crucified Christ.  

Y.T. Vinayaraj                                 

[i] Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan, Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude (New York and UK: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2012), 32.
[ii] Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s guide to empire (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006), 86.