Most, I imagine, are at least somewhat aware that there is a legal concept in this country of corporate person-hood. Basically, corporations are juridical persons, or have legal personality, and so a corporation, as a group of people, may be recognized as having some of the same legal rights and responsibilities as an individual person. This was established by the Supreme Court for the sake of interpreting the meaning of the word "person" in the 14th amendment of the constitution. It turns out corporations are people too. While this has major implications in politics and law, the purpose of this post is not political or legal, rather what is of interest to me is the idea that this conclusion is actually a theological statement, and perhaps a true one.
In Torah, more precisely in Deuteronomy 32.8, we find this strange verse about the creation of the nations:
When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods
Here we see the 'Most High' (Elyon) divvying up the nations among other numerous gods. Seems to be a strange verse to find in the central law texts of the rugged monotheistic Hebrew Iraelites. In the following verse we see that YHWH, the tetragrammaton often pronounced Yahweh, usually translated the LORD is allotted Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. As you read through Torah you find that it isn't about the one and only God, there are many gods but for Israel, as the commandment goes in Exodus 20:2-3 "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me."
In religious studies this was what we called henotheism. Henotheism is a cosmology in which there may be many gods that might be worshiped but only one god who the faithful are to worship. This is a bit closer to an honest appraisal of the Old Testament pantheon.
|The standard of 'Cyrus the Great'|
I don't want to harp on this point and really only bring it up to point out the idea that each nation has a god, or some spiritual counterpart. This realization helps to make sense of stories like we find in Daniel 10. Here we read that in the third year of King Cyrus of Persia, also known in history as the Achaemenid Empire, Daniel, the prophet, receives a vision of a great conflict. He immediately begins fasting and praying and then after three weeks:
4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris), 5 I looked up and saw a man ... his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, ...and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.
This angelic visitor has come to him to help him understand things that are to happen with his people. He tells Daniel that from the very moment that the prophet began to humble himself in prayer this angel was sent to him. "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days" until the archangel Michael the chief of angelic princes and guardian of Israel was sent to jump in the fight. He tells Daniel that he must return to fight against the prince of Persia and then after that the prince of Greece. He adds "There is no one with me who contends against these princes except Michael, your prince."
Here we see that the war on earth is mirrored by a war in heaven. Each nation has an angel or spirit or prince or god or whatever we want to call it and those angelic forces battle each other as the nations battle.
One of my favorite television series is The Wire. It is a brilliant show that I believe should be studied. It is studied in fact, the show became a textbook at Hopkins for students taking a class on urban issues and local government. I think the show is a masterful study in what the New Testament refers to as the Principalities and Powers. From the very beginning of the show, as one dope boy teaches a few others how to play chess we begin learning about hierarchy and the power of the king. As the show goes on we see how everybody, whether part of a gang, the police force, a union, or city government are powerless to resist the system to which the belong, the power that possesses their very being. We see that organizations have a logic of their own which is concerned with the power to remain in power, to continue to exist. If one person falls, dies, or disappears another fills those shoes and does exactly what the role demands of them.
It is a powerful illustration of of the very thing the letter to the Ephesians is pointing to when is says:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
There is a kind of personality or spirit in every organization or institution. In the book of Revelation John is told by "one like the son of man" to write letters which are to be dictated to him. Each letter begins "To the angel of the church in [whichever of the 7 cities]." Each church has an angel or spirit to which letters of exhortation and/or corrections are being issued.
The language of scripture doesn't make much distinction between those invisible spiritual realities "in heavenly places" and the concrete realities of very real and tangible communities or people groups. There is an invisible internal reality which transcends the actual individuals which make up the groups. So what do we make of these ancient texts and ideas. They are fascinating but are they relevant or useful in our modern dialogue?
Walter Wink, who has written extensively on the language of power in scripture wrote:
"We are fascinated with the supranatural forces the ancients described; they seem to have taken them for granted and to have been much more preoccupied with that more amorphous, intangible, indefinable something that makes it possible for a king to command subjects to voluntary death in war or for a priest to utter words that send a king to his knees. Perhaps they lacked the systematic precision of modern sociological analyses of power, but that does not mean they lacked experience of what our modern analyses describe or a vocabulary for designating it. And they may have been in touch with dimensions of power which our more materialistic point of view scarcely glimpses"
So what about corporations? Legally we see that they are recognized personalities. We may scoff at this and poke fun, we may rail against the political implications of this, perhaps, among our possible reactions, we should recognize the theological truth being acknowledged here. Every corporation has a personality, an ethos, a spirit which transcends whoever happens to be sitting in the CEO position at a given time. One has to look no further than our own presidency to see that it really makes very little difference who sits in that oval office. Whether democrat or republican, it has historically made very little difference. How else could a democrat community organizer who was pastored by Jeremiah Wright and knows what it is to be a black man in America, how does that man have a presidency of surveillance, drones, mass incarceration, school to prison pipeline, wall street, etc? How is it that, in many very real ways, Obama IS Bush? How can that be explained apart from both of those men being possessed by the logic or spirit of the chair itself.
Every corporation and institution has an outer dimension (fax machines, stake holders, buildings etc.) and an inner spirituality.
So if corporations are persons with distinct personalities, a discerning person might be interested about the character of such a personality. In the film The Corporation they compare the character of corporations driven by the profit motive to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many coorporations would fit the description of a psychopath with such characteristics as:
1) callous unconcern for the feelings of others
2) incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
3) reckless disregard for the safety of others
4) Incapacity to experience guilt
5) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.
If we were to use the biblical language of principalities and powers then we would have nowhere else to look but to words like demons, evil spirit, the devil, antichrist, etc.
If the powers or spirits or princes or angels that were associated with the Persian Empire were standing in the way of God responding to the cries of his people how might the corporations and institutions in your own city, or our nation for that matter, be interfering with the work of God.
How can we speak truth to power? Not just to people in power but to the power itself, the principalities and powers, the rulers and authority.
Ephesians 3:10 says:
His (as in God's) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities (also translated 'principalities and powers) in the heavenly realms
Perhaps our spiritual warfare isn't to be some weird concern with evil beings that fly around in the air but to name, unmask, and engage the very real spirits that posses our very concrete government institutions, churches and corporations. Most if not all of these organizations are due for an exorcism, for their spirit is evil. (here is a fantastic post by Shane Claiborne titled 'Exorcise Wall Street' with a very similar idea)
This then is why Ephesians ends with a call to arms.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
As Tyler Durden of Fight Club so brilliantly put it "our great war is a spiritual war." Our weapons are truth, righteousness & justice, the good news of peace, faith, salvation, and the word.
So as you suit up far war, remember these words from Romans 8:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the kind of spiritual warfare that will upset systems and markets and so it is athe kind of spiritual warfare that is likely to get you arrested or killed. That's because these powers are real, and vicious.
This is why Jesus told his disciples:
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.