Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs and Steel, writes on page 273 that ‘With the rise of Chiefdoms around 7,500 years ago, people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encourage strangers regularly without attempting to kill them. Part of the solution to that problem was for one person, the chief, to exercise a monopoly on the right to use force.’
This is the double-edged sword of the rise of ‘civilization’: it was only through the formation of larger groups of people that humans began to experience ‘the other’ with wanting to end them, yet it was precisely these larger groupings that developed the technologies to colonize and destroy other groups. Much of the rise of ‘power religion’ can be seen as the deification of the chief who has a monopoly on the right to use force. And thus, with the rise of empires, it is God who is co-opted to excuse the exercise of massive force to subjugate others.
Into all of this comes Christ, and in his passion, the sacrament of the Eucharist. We have already seen in the previous post how “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.” Now, we can see how it may also function as a critique of the co-option of God into justifying our empire-building. The ‘chief’ who has a monopoly on the use of force not only lays down that right, but experiences the full force of violence against himself by ‘the other’. The divine stranger came to us – the food producers, the settled city-dwellers, part of the Roman empire – and we killed him.
In the bread and wine then, we see this paradox: not only are the elements symbolic of our domestication of the earth’s resources, and thus a prompt for our grief at the subjugation of this planet we have been gifted, they are also symbolic of the breaking of Christ the divine hunter-gatherer. Hunted by us; gathering us back to himself.
At the beginning of Matthew 12, Jesus is castigated by the Pharisees for allowing the disciples to glean grain on the Sabbath. Gleaning grain was the right of the poor, a concession to the gatherers left marginalized by the farmers. At the death of this gleaner, the hunting of the gatherer by the powers-that-be, we see the Temple – the physical construction of the place of sacrifice, the locus of the chief who has a monopoly on the use of force – neutered by the ripping of the curtain.
The Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist is thus a complex meal that serves as a celebration of the deconstruction of the domination system that draws power and the use of force to itself, and an act of grief over our domestication of the earth’s resources, and simultaneously a celebration of the tearing down of that evolutionary reflex which demanded we kill the stranger.
I think there’s room for one more post: some practical ideas on how we might celebrate this meal in all its strange dimensions.