“It was in the farm-based lands of Europe that technology was evolved more quickly, and, connectedly, monarchies and power-structures and empires began to grow…. and eventually develop ships that could sail to other lands to pillage them.”
And so, in this random series of musings bouncing off Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, we get to the Eucharist.
Diamond’s thesis is basically this: the reason that, to use one of his key examples, 160 Spanish could overthrow an entire Inca empire thousands of miles away, was because of the moves away from a hunter-gatherer to a crop/animal domestication system that led to developments in political organization and more advanced technology. (Poignantly, one of the key moments in the Spanish conquest of the Inca was when the Emperor Atahuallpa discarded a Bible offered to him by a Spanish Friar, who had insisted that they turn to Christ and learn how to live ‘properly’.)
As Diamond sets out, one axis of history has been of the displacement/domination of hunter-gatherers by those exploiting the land more intensively, whether that be for crops or precious minerals. As I was reading about the gradual intensification of food production, and the links this has had to empire-building and colonization, I began to wonder what the Eucharist meant in this light.
Bread is not the simplest thing to make. Leavened, it requires careful control of yeasts, and to make in any quantity, a good supply of grain and a means of controlled heat.
Wine requires more technology still. Large quantities of grapes need to be harvested, and these need proper storage to age and mature.
In other words, the Eucharist as we know it contains hidden within it symbols of our domestication of the earth and its resources and thus, connectedly, symbols of the domination of one life-style – settled food production – over another – hunting and gathering.
Perhaps this is benign, being so long in our history in the making, but I wonder if, in these times when our relationship to the planet is so fragile we might reflect on the Eucharist as a sort of lament for our abuse of the world, just as we might use it to lament for our breaking and slashing of God.
And I’ll try to expand on that in the next, and probably final, post in the series.