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Against Domestication and Religion

Against Domestication and Religion

the wild origins of faith

By: Andy Lewis


“Faith is always primeval, always there ‘in the beginning.’

Faith puts us at the starting point.”

                                                                            -Jacques Ellul  Living Faith p. 184



Faith is the primal lifeblood that courses through the veins the judeo-christian resistance movement. Faith always calls us back to our origins. It is the most intimate connection judeo-christians have to original wildness, wholeness. Only when we understand the relationship between religion and domestication does the importance of wildness and faith become clear. While it is not the primary intent of this essay to make a case for “religionless Christianity”, (both Barth and Bonhoeffer among others have shown the depth of subversion the Christian faith has undergone as a religion) I do believe it’s necessary to make a few simple distinctions.

Let’s start by examining the origins of religion. Religion is quite simply a conciliation for the breakdown or loss of whole, healthy community. I use the words whole, healthy and community in the broadest and most anarchistic sense. Religion has its roots in the origins of fragmentation, division of labor. Early shamanic mediators became the first specialists, successfully mystifying power relations. Ritual, a system of shamanic power is another foundational aspect of religion. Beyond these more overt origins lie the psychical underpinnings. Fear of death appears to be a definitive piece in the fragmented rise of ritual and religion. This connection is clear when consulting the archaeological record. Human burial begins about 75,000 years ago but is not commonplace until sometime between 35- 40,000 years ago, roughly the same time as we begin to see small scale social division, ritualistic practices, symbolic culture (cave art and sculpted female figurines are two primary examples) and division of labor. The role of the shaman becomes the first clear division of labor, this break coincides with the development of more complex stone tools.

Besides the obvious connection between burial, ritual and interest in an after life, it’s obvious that the primary motivation for most religious people alive today is a fear of death. As Ernest Becker put it, “The more you fear death and the emptier you are, the more you people your world with omnipotent father- figures, extra magical helpers.”Denial of Death It’s important to note that the widespread assumption that belief in an afterlife is a cornerstone of all primitive societies is patently false. There are numerous anthropologists and linguists that have disproved this misnomer including; Collin Turnbull(Mbuti), Daniel Everett(Piraha) and James Woodburn(Hadza).

Now that we’ve examined the origins of religion, based as they are in ritual, social division (hierarchy) and fear of death, lets look at faith. As Ellul noted, faith is “the point of rupture (not with fellow human beings but with religions).” Living Faith p.181 Continuing with this thought Ellul makes some clear distinctions, “Thus the movement of faith, when faith is not narrowly defined as attending dreary cultural ceremonies or believing in lifeless abstract truths, is a constant struggle against the amnesia of the group we live in and against the dead weight of destiny… Christians(if they are Christians) must be the memory of society.” Living Faith p.268-269 Another way of saying it is that Christians must be the memory of band society, the original human society, and the only society marked by a lived state of anarchy. Jubilee, Sabbath economics, the wilderness feedings and exodus journeys as well as the wild prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist all orient us to the importance of rewilding or undoing the process of domestication and civilization. So here we see a crucial aspect of faith; resistance to the repression of wild origins, an unveiling of the decisions and consequences that have led us to our current state of techno-civilized imiseration. Revealing these “public secrets” is an inescapable condition of faith, Ellul makes the point well, “Christians must have an exact memory for the entire history of their group, their society, their milieu, their class. They must serve to orient the men and women who are lost, with no past or landmarks to plot their course.”Living Faith p.269

 Faith’s emphasis on origins and memory is not some banal concern for a bygone era of morality or a desire to help advance the march of progress and technological proliferation. The radical orientation of faith places us at the beginning so that we may be like voices in the wilderness reminding tired megalopolitans that in the beginning, before Viagra, espresso, multitasking, cars, trains, carriages, electricity, cities, villages, armies, slaves, politicians, chiefs, shamans, domestication, mediation…. “it was good.” Faith opens eyes and ears to the good creation that “waits patiently and anxiously for the revealing of the children of God.”Romans 8 For Christians, faith is the essential bond that connects us to the wild potential for original wholeness. Hebrews 11 reads like an anarcho-primitivist litany of faith with it’s emphasis on rewilding and resistance. By faith Abel the nomad has his sacrifice accepted while his agriculturist brother’s sacrifice is rejected. By faith Abrahm and Sarai embark on the first exodus journey and rest beneath a tree called Moreh which means “teacher” in Hebrew. By faith Moses goes on the main exodus journey and Pharaoh’s army is destroyed. By faith the walls of Jericho fall as the rams horns sound invoking Jubilee. (Ched Myers has conclusively shown that the story of the fall of Jericho is a clear invocation of Jubilee/ hunter-gatherer economics/ lifeways).  Faith liberates us from the bondage of fear. Specifically the fear of death which we’ve seen is central to religious modes of fragmentation and control. Hebrews 11:5 is to the point, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death”  

 Faith abides with truth in that it demands nothing less than authenticity. In a sense the motivations of all wild beings are essentially authentic, whole, healthy. Domestication represses the authenticity of all that is wild, healthy and whole. This repression results in sickness or as Paul Shepard puts it “private nightmares expanded to a social level.” Nature and Madness  Faith frees us from the continuous cycle of trauma which is passed on through the domesticated nightmares of each generation. Biblical stories of healing commonly emphasize faith (the woman at the well for example) the connections between faith as an opening to wildness and healing make a lot more sense when we read scripture in a socio-historic framework. Authentic healing, like faith, is rooted in wildness, the original undomesticated origins of life. Kevin Tucker notes “For nearly all nomadic gatherer-hunters, healing is a communal activity. Healers deal with their reality through that communal spirit.” Egocide, Green Anarchy #20   This communal spirit is central to Judeo-christian models of society(Acts provides many examples) and as we’ve seen the preferred biblical social structure is band society (Jubilee/ Sabbath economics as mandatory resumption of gatherer-hunter life ways provide one obvious example).

Religion and domestication are rooted in repression. Just as domestication represses the holistic development of authentic individuals, religion represses their wild nature. It indoctrinates with morality, fear and a perverse hatred for life (that is to say all that is embodied) and it produces devastatingly traumatized, fragmented individuals with no sense of who they are, no sense of authenticity and wildness.

The religious aspects of science are well noted, especially among fundamentalist Christians who view science as a threat to their religion. It is also common knowledge that Christendom provided the foundations for a scientific worldview via an emphasis on hierarchy, fragmentation and control. For Christendom this fragmentation served the purpose of social control, “if you control the spirit you control the will.” For the Enlightenment and science it provided a means to control nature, all that is wild and free. This of course fueled production and industrialism. Today we can see the connections between religion and domestication more clearly than ever. Science and technology (understood as religious modes of production and control), have created the most domesticated generation in the history of our species (the next generation promises to be even more addicted to domesticating techno- addictions).

The fear of death which the old monotheistic religions capitalized on for so long has now been addressed by the new religion. Immortality no longer requires belief in an omnipotent old man with a white beard, it requires belief in the ever advancing fields of science and technology. The high priests are ritualistically conducting research in hopes of conquering the final frontiers of (dis)-embodied existence. Religion has always been marked by a devaluing of embodied life in favor of transcendence. Science and technology have arrived at the point of total departure from the body and the earth (both of which are viewed as raw material, resources). The culmination of disembodied life is on the radar for our children’s generation. Freud’s thoughts on religion seem particularly true when considering our current situation. “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that for anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. Civilization and its Discontents p. 21  Guilt is one of the most obvious manifestations of this repression. The symbiosis of guilt, civilization and religion is so obvious as to be self evident.

At this point in the essay it may be advantageous to mention the possibility for ritual(though a foundational aspect of religion) as a means of orienting ourselves to a collective recovery of origins and an opening to faith. For many indigenous peoples, rituals have served as a means of orientation, a way to resist the homogenizing/ genocidal  pressures from colonizers, missionaries etc.. For many Great Lakes Indian tribes their rituals were probably informed by experiences with failed civilizations (Cahokia, Ohio Valley mound builders). Anti-heroes such as Wiske and Trickster were banished from the tribe in ceremonies which served to remind everyone of the unwanted strife which comes with the uncritical acceptance of Wiske or Trickster’s civilizing “gifts.” As a pottowatomi character in Fredy Perlmans epic novel The Strait put it so eloquently, “The rhythm of feasts and festivals is undoing the ravages we’ve undergone. The wounds are healing without the aid of firesticks or bands of warriors or a league of covenant or even a council of grandmothers. Peninsula people are dancing around a newborn child and singing of the time when their ancestors first came to the shores of the Great Lakes.” The Strait p.57     

If we can engage in rituals with a common understanding of what they are orienting us towards, perhaps faith can break through the cracks. But ultimately faith leads us beyond the rituals which may have initially inspired a focus on wild origins. Ellul’s thoughts on the subject bring clarity, “{Faith}exists at the cost of belief, because it brings us to a state of trust that lies outside of rituals, traditions, sacrifices, or spiritual transports. It has to measure itself incessantly against spontaneous human belief, in order to gauge its own authenticity.” Living Faith P.256  

By virtue of being there “in the beginning”, faith and wildness are whole, healthy. Only when the subversion, the fragmentation of The Fall enters in to repress original freedom, only then does the symbolic realm take root. Language, art and number serve as conduits for religious mediation. Language becomes “the defining trait of human beings”, art becomes “the essence of human creativity”, number allows for the reification of every living being. The symbolic realm grows steadily with religious practices starting 35-40,000 years ago. As symbolism expands and grows the control element becomes ever more defined. In John Zerzan’s judgment, “symbolic culture is that array of masteries upon which all subsequent hierarchies and confinements rest.” Against Civilization p.3  Rigid hierarchy, increasingly abstract concepts and complex social structures replace the original freedom, fluidity and egalitarianism that thrived in band society. Tribal systems take hold along with horticultural practices. Sedentism results from increasingly demanding horticultural practices which leads to raiding and warfare. A warrior class develops creating a preference for male children, patriarchy becomes the standard in this ever tightening grip of human domestication. Religious practices and hierarchical power structures become even more solidified with the dawn of agriculture. The foundations are in place for the rise of civilization. Zerzans assessment of civilization as, “separation from an original wholeness and grace”   Against Civilization p3  is echoed by the Judeo-christian story of the Fall.   

Ellul’s thoughts orient us to the harsh reality of what it means to be faithful in the midst of Civilization, “Faith prescribes ways of acting that are harsh and unyielding. They spring from love but they imply the labor needed to change our inhumanity. We spoke before about alienation. There must be ongoing criticism of all civilizations. Or rather, in each generation we must develop a critique of the society, the culture, the civilization in which we find ourselves.” Living Faith p.184 Faith offers no program for undoing the totality of trauma and fragmentation that is pandemic in our lives. It is not a technique to apply to a given situation. Faith is a living bond and it’s an opening to wildness in and around us this very moment. It can break in through the armor of domestication only when we listen in silence. Ellul confirms the role of silence as catalyst for faith, “When we relearn how to take this revelation seriously and reacquire the habit of listening in silence, then a kind of earthquake occurs that brings on the collapse of all religion.” Living Faith p. 155  The next earthquake may bring on the collapse of more than just religion. Do you feel the tremors?





Andy Lewis,
Sep 23, 2009, 10:51 AM