It occurs to me that the current Occupy Everywhere movement bears certain similarities to (at least a certain interpretation of) the Pauline communities. The emphasis on consensus-based decision-making certainly coheres with Paul’s insistence on group unity, and the open-ended, process-oriented nature of the movement has certain parallels with the emphasis on creating a way of life that wouldn’t be mediated by an extrinsic law. And of course both movements are prompted by an injustice — whether it be the contemporary abuses of Wall Street or the Roman oppression symbolized by the crucified messiah.
It’s at this point, however, that the parallels seem to me to break down, because there is no single Transcendent Victim that the Occupy protesters are rallying behind. For all the terrible things the TBTF banks have done, none has the perfect clarity of “putting the messiah — the literal embodiment of God’s justice — to death as a rejected criminal.” This special transcendent role of Christ then issues in a special transcendent quality of Paul, whose status as an apostle inevitably makes him “elite” in relation to his communities, even if (as he claims) he willfully submits himself to them. And of course, this “cult of personality” leads almost inevitably to the authoritarianism of the proto-catholic episcopacy, which found that enforced obedience to a hierarchical leader was the only way to make up for the lack of a clear, enforceable law (which “love one another” certainly is not).
It’s been widely reported that there are self-effacing leaders in the Occupy movement, though I’ve heard nothing to indicate that any believe they are on a direct mission from God. Nevertheless, even leaving aside the question of current charismatic leadership, I wonder if the Occupy movement will prove just as vulnerable to authoritarianism as the Pauline communities were — precisely because of their procedural emphasis on radical equality and consensus-building.
Even if there is no single “cross” of the Occupy movement, they do nonetheless embrace an ethic of mutual service and submission, as represented above all in the “human microphone” that requires everyone to literally repeat whatever the speaker is saying whether they agree or not (“to the anarchist I became an anarchist, to the Ron Paul fan I became a Ron Paul fan…”). As the experience of Christian history tells us, this kind of ethics seems great when everyone’s doing it — but it’s absolutely toxic when it gets hijacked by people who never had any intention of following it.
Similarly, the non-violence of the Christian movement proved to be an amazingly effective propaganda tool — and yet after a struggle of nearly three centuries, the best outcome they could produce was for the emperor to co-opt them. If Taubes was right that Paul’s epistle to the Romans was a declaration of war against Rome, this is surely a disappointingly “reformist” outcome. The subsequent history of non-violent movements seems to indicate a strong connection with reformism as well. The early Christians at least had the idea that God would come down and take power, though — as for Occupy Wall Street, there seems to be no conception of what it would mean to take power or seriously displace Wall Street (as in the insistence of some that they shouldn’t be seen as “anti-capitalist”).
Nevertheless, one can perhaps be guardedly optimistic about the new forms of communal self-organization that could arise if the occupation spaces remain relatively undisturbed — after all, the first-century “Occupy the Temple at Jerusalem” movement recounted in Acts wound up developing a pretty radical form of communism.
Anyway, these are just some initial thoughts on possible parallels — I’m sure you all will have some interesting suggestions, rebuttals, etc.