So at the same time as Advent has suddenly and unexpectedly arrived, I have been fascinated by two books, The Powers that Be by Walter Wink and How to Stand up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa. The first I found in the Operation World book-lined office; the second as I took my November trip to a physical bookshop to buy a book and thus cash in on my wife’s enlightened Christmas present from last year, a serendiptious book purchase each month, driven not by algorithm but by human browsing.
These books are fascinating because because they confront the problem that affects so many people, from China and India and Hungary and many countries of West Africa and Nicaragua and the Philippines and on and on: the power of autocrats, who control armies, courts, police, laws and even truth itself and try to turn these powers on people they don’t like.
It is much worse than being mugged in the street, I imagine, because it is the government that is doing it to you. If the laws are oppressive, and the police enforce the law, and the courts apply its punishments, who is there left to save you?
And if, as Walter Wink insists, these forces are not merely human and cultural but also in a sense spiritual or backed by spiritual powers, what recourse do you have?
And yet it’s Advent. Here’s the definitive divine response to the autocracies: a single fertilized cell — for a time Mary’s secret, so vulnerable, so small. That was Almighty God’s most considered and long prepared response to all the brutalizing Powers that harrassed and hounded the human species. The fragment of holy grit that smashed the bauble that is the world.