Will the Real Peasant Please Stand Up?

I’ve been asked to describe culture and class in a little more detail. It’s pertinent if I’m going to allege that one particular culture is closer to God.

One again: We are not talking here about economic class. There is some overlap between economics and culture; most people in a particular economic class tend to manifest the cultural habits of their class. However, people can rise up and fall down the economic scale and keep their cultural orientation. Such people will be under a great deal of social pressure to conform to the culture of those around them, but most people tend to stick with what they know best.

In the Bible, as part of the Ancient Near East (ANE), there was only aristocracy and peasants. The difference between them was quite small. You’ll notice that Scripture consistently assumes that power and wealth go together. That’s because, in the most ancient associations, wealth was generally not possible without first having some political power. It wasn’t a question of personal ownership as we think of it in our society, but of having access and power to dispose of wealth. There was this underlying assumption, as big as a rhino wandering around a tiny house, that people held power only because it was necessary to protect and lead everyone in the clan. The shepherd of the clan held that authority on behalf of his flock of kinfolks.

It’s a human instinct that someone has to make the decisions, and it shows up even in the most democratic cultures. In America, it’s the simple reluctance to take the blame when things go wrong. There is no shepherd virtue at all, so the people in charge tend to be those with ambition and lust for power. This is radically different from the ANE world, where wielding power was a duty, and it included the duty to care for the people over whom one held power. Sure, personalities and talents varied, but ANE aristocracy were born to a sense of obligation. Even though we find some threads of that in Western history — think of the French term noblesse oblige — it lacks the depth of compassion presumed necessary by the broad collection of ANE cultures. Western aristocracy is “us versus them” with the lower classes, whereas in the ANE, aristocracy was “these are my family, my real treasure.”

Further, the ANE aristocrats never forgot their duty to the gods. In their minds, the whole universe (however they imagined it) was alive with the moral obligation to appease the gods, because the deities were the ultimate feudal authority. Everyone human served the gods in one way or another. You would struggle to find examples where this was not someone’s basic assumptions.

In the West, people fear deities the same as they fear nature. The image of what constitutes “deity” is far lower, with an instinctive assumption that the deities can be tricked because they were only slightly different from the general run of humans. While you will find threads of this tendency in the ANE, it’s considered bad form. But the only reason we find it at all because of the Curse of the Fall. Not every ANE culture believed in the Fall itself, but most of them had a close companion concept that served the same function. My point here is that the roots of Western religious culture are deeply fallen. For both Greco-Roman and Germanic tribal mythologies, the gods were just people with extra power. There was precious little noble about the pantheons of either ancient culture on which the West stands. You end up with even strong Christian believers holding to an instinct of seeking personal competitive advantage in the world.

Thus, the mere existence of a middle class is rooted in the complete absence of genuine nobility in the West. Nobility in the West means separation and secrecy, an arrogant privilege denied everyone, and that denial comes with a harsh and bitter hatred, though sometimes unconsciously so. And that position comes with a harsh Calvinist image of predestination — “We are nobles because of the iron law of Fate, and we are inherently superior by DNA.” You aren’t going to find the concept of “noble blood” in the Old Testament. Instead of this seeking competitive advantage, and assuming it’s something conferred at birth by the iron will of Fate, the Bible rests on the image that anyone can be elevated on the grounds of commitment to your contextual leadership. And that in turn rests on a commitment to God. It’s a question of living moral fabric, not some iron law of Fate.

This is why faith is dead in the West and is pivotal in the Bible. Calvinism is not from the Bible; it’s a Greco-Roman-Germanic assumption about reality that has been read back into the Bible. The whole point behind Romans 9 is that God has the last word in everything. Who the hell are you to argue with Him? You cannot possibly comprehend what’s involved when He created all things, so stop the carping. Find out what He wants for you and make the most of it, because whatever it is He wants for you is surely in your best interest. Do you understand that, had the Pharaoh of Exodus in the end repented of his willful arrogance against Jehovah, he could have found some kind of redemption? And have you noticed that the question of who gets to go to Heaven isn’t really addressed at all, but is carefully avoided? Romans 9 is all about events in this world.

And when Jesus spoke of going to Heaven, it was always carefully couched in the parable of pleasing His Father as one would any ANE potentate. The whole New Testament carefully avoids precise descriptions of Heaven, but always paints it in parabolic images. But the underlying point is that you have some choice; you can accept what God has designed you for, or you can reject His will and His favor. You have no business asking about whether that buys you eternal fire insurance. Your intellect can’t handle the question, much less the answers. Calvinism seizes this whole package and does violence in making it fit the Western assumptions about reality.

This is why Western Christian religion is so crazy. On the one hand, if you buy into Calvinist assumptions, then you stoutly endure an ugly and fearful world and sing about the joys of Heaven. You think of the world as a dark and brooding place; meanwhile you engage in the schizoid obsession with material advantage as the sign of God’s favor. And if being faithful to the “laws of God” doesn’t bring prosperity, you tear down the system and build one that does, or you move to another part of the world where you can build your own system. (God help whoever happens to live there when you go to seek your “promised land.”) Even the denominations that reject predestination still operate under the Calvinist world view, because it’s part of the Western mind. Of course, you can always drop the whole question and go after and airy-fairy religion of middle class feel-good success.

Meanwhile, the aristocracy-in-effect in the US basically rejects the whole thing, even as they continue promoting the Calvinist Puritan dream for those they rule. Did anyone take a glance at that link to the US Army “Warrior Code”? Can you see how it’s just Puritan ethics as a form of mythology? Keep in mind that the fundamental reason the Puritans left England is because the aristocracy there refused to let the middle class Puritan merchants prosper “as God intended.” And the Puritans left the Netherlands because the Dutch were secular, a secularism tinged with low-class, blue-collar values.

There’s a radical difference between urban and rural lower-class culture. The urban version takes its cues from the same roots that gave birth to the Mafia (think: American labor unions). It’s not exactly communist; it can run that way, but not in a doctrinal sense. Rather, the blue-collar culture is an underworld that can use communism as a false front to confuse the issues. Urban lower class wears multiple masks, but at heart it is a predatory criminal culture; it’s just another face of the middle class culture that arose because they came late to the game and were kept out of the initial spoils of the merchant establishment. Instead of competition, it breeds predatory stupidity; it’s the lower end of middle class materialist culture.

Have you noticed that, whenever anyone starts talking about getting rid of feudalism and class structure, it’s always deeply tinged with middle class material values? And then they put in place a smothering class structure based on nothing more than secular ambition?

The existence of a peasantry is fundamental to human nature. The variations can be quite ugly and brutal, but within any given cultural context, the peasants are typically closer to Biblical Law. They tend to be cynical about the world and are too busy with the business of life to put up much of a fuss until they perceive a genuine threat. They don’t waste time with pretensions of class warfare; they tend to live and let live. A lot of people recognize peasant virtues and there is a thriving market in the false pretense to such values. Peasantry is the fundamental state of humanity at large.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to Will the Real Peasant Please Stand Up?

  1. “…meanwhile you engage in the schizoid obsession with material advantage as the sign of God’s favor…”

    This sounds like Max Weber’s thesis for The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism – have you read that work?

    Like

  2. Ed Hurst says:

    No, I’ve not read much of his stuff. However, the idea that material wealth is the sign of God’s favor, and poverty as a sign of disfavor (or even accursedness), was a serious flaw introduced into Judaism sometime after Alexander’s conquest in 323 BC. It was a major issue Jesus faced. His parable of the camel through the eye of the needle (Matthew 19) was a shocker to his disciples, who had been taught their whole life that the rich were God’s special favorites. The rest of the New Testament has no trouble with the idea that poverty can be a divine calling and blessing of its own.

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