Amy Levin: Time for an update on #religion at #occupywallstreet? This week, Sarah Posner mediated a roundtable discussion with Religion Dispatches‘ regular contributors highlighting particular religious moments of the occupy movement. Anthea Butler tells Posner that Occupy Atlanta’s refusal to let civil rights protestor and Congressman John Lewis speak was a reflection of OWS “becoming slaves to the ‘process’” rather than accepting inspiration. The civil rights movement, like OWS, didn’t have a “complete consensus” either, and it was inspiration, not process, that sustained endurance.
Posner then questions Nathan Schneider about the role of self-identified religious groups in the movement like the Protest Chaplains and Occupy Judaism. Posner asks whether or not these groups are necessary for the success of OWS, or if religious activists are engaged in the movement in order to “reimagine the role of their respective religious traditions in contemporary political activism.” Schneider responds that the “ordinary trappings” of religion, like rituals and ceremonies, are needed in the movement; religious groups will only be able to get so far toward their own goals inside the “self-consciously non-hierarchical, revolutionary, and disruptive” environment of OWS.
The roundtable continues with Elizabeth Drescher’s discussion of religious progressives and what it might mean to “occupy the church,” while Peter Laarman meditates on the “transcendent” character and “millenarian feeling” of the occupiers. The discussion continues here.
Around the table the RD writers treat as a sort of balancing act between, on the one hand, its institutional and doctrinal forms, and on the other, its more discursive yet salient features undergirding a secular culture and guided by moral principles, organizing rituals, and collective identity. Oh, and God is here somewhere. For Schneider:
“God dissolves into the occupation, and God’s name needs no longer be said. Whenever I come back to Liberty Plaza after some time away, there is a feeling of entering unspeakably sacred ground. Yet the moment I arrive, I’m suddenly in a whirl of frantic conversations about worldly things: finances, crises, food mishaps, small victories, marches, and so on. All those things were sacred too. The God of ordinary life is dead, resurrected in the business of self-reliance.”
In, short, we might ask, what is religion good for? If there’s one thing the RD writers agree on, it’s that whether we co-opt its epistemological, rhetorical, or structural attributes, “religion” is an activist ingredient we’d be effectively bankrupt without. But we cannot end there, as Butler claims, occupying the last seat at the table:
“I think these are all process theologians in the making. What I mean by that is, they are trying to make a space to work out, according to their own experiences of the world, how to do this “protest” thing. So far, so good. But as I said before, it’s going to take some openness on their part to realize that they need to do some bridging and framing, to use sociological terms, to build alliances with like minded folks, like African Americans, who have been doing this sort of thing in very different contexts (church/organizations).”