This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
I just returned from the Gathering Around the Unhewn Stone, an event that took place this last weekend in Philadelphia. The purpose of the gathering was to explore the connections between Anarcho-Primitivism and Christianity. Ched Myers was the main speaker, leading us all through a crash course in biblical primitivism. There is so much I could write about, but I know that in this space I can only scratch the surface. Many secular and religious scholars alike are beginning to read the Hebrew-Christian bible from an archeological/historical perspective. Instead of reading the stories as metaphors or “lessons of old,” many are starting to take them more seriously and view them as factual. The Paradise of Eden is then understood not as fable of moral decline, but as a historical recollection of a time when human animals lived in balance with the earth. As ecological disaster ripens, it becomes fascinating to read these stories through this lens. As we look at it more closely, the bible begins to read like a manual of Anarcho-Primitivism. Of course that term wasn’t around back then, but the principles are so similar that it is incredible. For those unfamiliar, Anarcho-Primitivism is a form of anarchism that takes it’s critique of society all the way back to origins, citing civilization as the culprit of our current crisis. This brand of thinking values indigenous cultures and earth-based people groups as teachers and elders who hold wisdom long forgotten (or violently silenced). Our hunter-gatherer ancestors laid out for us a way of being that is truly sustainable. It was the norm forever, until the rise of agriculture, which changed the landscape of things and paved the way for civilization. As the towers rose and power centralized, most people got the short end of the stick. This is the context in which the Hebrew-Christian tradition developed. “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic”. Numbers 11:5.
The origins story of Genesis 1-11 is less about where we came from and more about where we went wrong… historically. Our primordial state of constant communion with Creator and creation was taken away as we ‘fell’ into civilization. Eating from the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ represents our thirst for power, our longing to be like god and to be the creator and manufacturer of our own destinies. This thirst of ours was wet as we began domesticating plants and animals, using them for our purposes instead of trusting that God (or the earth) would provide. Yet our thirst was not satisfied, so we built towers to the heavens, symbols of all we could accomplish. Yet even as we thought we could reach past the heavens, God was still looking down on us… “Come, let us make a city and a tower, that the top may reach to heaven; and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands. 5 Yet the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.” The curse for our greed was that we would have to work the land (agriculture) and that women would have pain in childbirth (the number of children women had, as well as the pain entailed, severely increased after humans became sedentary).
This cosmic tale of the fall reads like a tragedy, and as the curtain closes in Genesis 11 and reopens in Genesis 12, the elders of our faith appear on stage and receive the call that spurs on the Hebrew-Christian tradition: Abraham and family are told to leave the city and go into the wilderness. Later in the tale, as Moses leads all of Abraham’s descendants out of the slavery of the city and into the wilderness, they receive from Creator what is to be the guiding principles of their tribe:
16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer (about 2 quarts) for each person you have in your tent.’ ”
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ ”
These commandments are guidelines that hunter-gatherer tribes have followed forever. They represent a way of harmony and balance, a way that we have fallen far away from. Ched Myers calls this ‘Sabbath Economics’ and has written extensively on it.
Gather daily, (16)
don’t gather extra or store anything, (18)
make sure it circulates and doesn’t just sit and go to waste, (19)
limit your activity (sabbath). (23)
As we look for a way out of this mess we have created, we have to look this far back, all the way to our origins. This is the only way to develop a truly radical critique of society. Progress is a lie. I think we are all aware of that by now. Perhaps the first step is to reconnect with the land and with wildness, yet we can’t stop there. We have to rethink not only our way of being, but our way of organizing society. The Anarcho-Primitivist critique is a powerful alley in this process, and seems to be a fast growing movement among Christians. And it’s amazing to discover that the bible, of all things, has so much to teach us about this!