Propaganda and Power in 1st Samuel 15:34-16:13

The Politics of Scripture

Ideological State Apparatuses, a phrase made famous by Louis Althusser, function in society to keep the bourgeoisie culture dominate. This is done through institutional establishments, such as the church, family, etc. In the US, the American Dream has been a dominant ideology that gives hope to the unprivileged that they too have a chance to thrive in a higher economic status. Unfortunately, this myth rarely comes to fruition for the lower class or the immigrant because achieving upward social mobility is nearly impossible. The American Dream thus represents a master-signifier. Something present in our culture that one must believe to be a welcomed person in society. This week’s lectionary readings could be related to the ISA that penetrate societies. From the Hebrew Scriptures passage it speaks of the beginning of David’s career as King surrounded by a religious ISA. In the Christian Scripture, Jesus speaks a parable of how everything shall eventually become God’s Kingdom. These Scriptures are both politically driven, one speaking of an earthly kingdom ruled by a king chosen by God, and the other concerning the Kingdom of God.

[This article is part of the series, The Politics of Scripture. While the focus of the series is on weekly preaching texts, we welcome commentary on sacred, classic, and profane literature, film, and artistic expression. Submissions may be sent to david.true@wilson.edu.]

Ideological State Apparatuses, a phrase made famous by Louis Althusser, function in society to keep the bourgeoisie culture dominate. This is done through institutional establishments, such as the church, family, etc. In the US, the American Dream has been a dominant ideology that gives hope to the unprivileged that they too have a chance to thrive in a higher economic status. Unfortunately, this myth rarely comes to fruition for the lower class or the immigrant because achieving upward social mobility is nearly impossible. The American Dream thus represents a master-signifier. Something present in our culture that one must believe to be a welcomed person in society. This week’s lectionary readings could be related to the ISA that penetrate societies. From the Hebrew Scriptures passage it speaks of the beginning of David’s career as King surrounded by a religious ISA. In the Christian Scripture, Jesus speaks a parable of how everything shall eventually become God’s Kingdom. These Scriptures are both politically driven, one speaking of an earthly kingdom ruled by a king chosen by God, and the other concerning the Kingdom of God.

The first reading from 1st Samuel 15 recalls one of the myths about David’ anointing as King. This confusing narrative leaves one wondering whether or not David was anointed while Saul was still alive or dead. Another element located is that God was regretful for making Saul King. As placed in the Hebrew Scripture are sayings like “the Lord rules over the earth,” meaning that the other earthly Kingdoms do not. In 1st Samuel 15, the writers make it known that God has chosen David over Saul and that God made the mistake of making Saul King. The problem foreseen though is how the people understood David. Should he be resisted as an interloper or obeyed as God’s anointed?

In our society, a contemporary statue of President Obama in Indonesia shows his mythic childhood on those islands. This statue represents something similar to how they treated David in this text. God says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

This is a backlash against Saul, since one of the characteristics was that he was a tall man and a good warrior. David is the one with the good heart and will follow God throughout his kingship. Thus the purpose of ideology is to make sure that those in power stay in power.

For the Gospel passage, Jesus shares a parable about the Kingdom of God. At the end of the passage it reads “[Jesus] did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” The ones with the power are the disciples.  In the Christian tradition, we have the Apostles creed which one says that we must “follow in the apostle’s teachings.”

The Scriptures should not be excluded from the critique of the Ideological State Apparatuses. We must live under the weight of this critique and fight against the dominant bourgeois culture when it concerns politics, economics, etc.

 

Timothy Wotring is a graduate of Eastern University in Saint David’s, PA. He lives in West Philadelphia and is a member of the Episcopal Church. He keeps a blog (blackflagtheology.com) and is interested in political, liberation, feminist, and postcolonial theologies.

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