Radvent Day 24, Morning – Set Prisoners Free

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1 (NIVUK) 

“There is nowhere to go now but forward. But which way is forward?”
Roland Wank, chief architect of the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1941

We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people
And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say
Now is the time to speak clearly… 

Everything needs to change, and it has to start today
So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience
It is time to rebel

The 1975 – The 1975

In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus brought the centuries-old prophecies of Isaiah alive with his declaration that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to inaugurate God’s jubilee—to “proclaim liberty to the captives.” 

As someone who directs a social research centre concerned with radical transformation of Irish penal policy, I gladly take the primary meaning of Jesus’s message to apply to those who are incarcerated. Whatever about the nightmare scenario that prevails in the American prison system, even here in the EU, many people find themselves serving life sentences by installment for relatively trivial crimes, which are almost always entangled with addiction and poverty.

In the waiting time of Advent, it is righteous to stand restlessly with the need to release prisoners from the darkness of their cells and to liberate the societies that ever thought this was a path to justice and peace. 

But this morning, I write thinking of a different kind of captivity, perhaps ultimately more devastating. We filled our car with petrol yesterday. It cost less than €36. Admittedly, we drive a small Toyota Yaris. But the figure was so low, that this morning my wife was still thinking about it, “How can we have filled the tank for that much money?” 

This week, as I reflect on captivity, I read about the plan that the American government has put into motion to seismically survey, and then drill, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The USA is not alone in planning to keep digging into the ground so as to release carbon into the air. Their neighbour to the north is much better at PR, and just as addicted to fossil fuels. Even in my Emerald Isle, carbon captivity keeps us blind and in the dark, unable to comprehend the disaster of unspoken suffering for enormous amounts of people we are facing and refusing to imagine an alternative.

The burning of fossil fuels is integral to our comfortable lives. Our concepts of freedom and choice and autonomy – concepts we cherish so deeply – rest on top of the continued supply of endless cheap fuel. Decades after we realized the costs of those fuels is the slow, inevitable decline of stable seasons, biodiversity, and ultimately human civilization, we have still not reckoned with how the liberty we have embraced is properly seen as a captivity holding all of nature to ransom.

I came of age as a Christian listening to preachers extol the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God. I am convinced by that. I am committed to following the one anointed to declare the good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and to release prisoners from darkness. But this Advent, I long for the Spirit to show me how I am imprisoned by my addiction to fossil fuels. I wait on the Lord to show me how I am held captive by carbon capitalism. Now is the time to speak clearly. This Christmas, may God again show us the way to holy rebellion.


Kevin Hargaden is a theologian who directs the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (www.jcfj.ie) in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author, most recently, of Theological Ethics in a Neoliberal Age.

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