Book Review: 
The Powers That Be

If you've ever concluded you just can't fight city hall, Walter Wink wants to convince you otherwise.  In the Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, (New York; Doubleday, 1998, xi+224, $21.9), Wink argues that individuals can and must challenge any system which perpetuates evil.

Wink presupposes that corporate entities have "spirit" in the same way that individuals do.  Just as individuals are basically good, but can fail, and stand in need of redemption, the same can be said of systems.  We need committees, structures, and institutions; they provide a better way of life. But they can fail, and when they do they need reform.  These systems are the "Powers" -- the good ones which help us lead a better life, and the evil ones which Wink wants the reader to confront.

The book addresses the increasingly popular phenomenon of the spiritual world.  Angels have recently inhabited movies, Broadway, songs, lapel pins, stationery, and Christmas cards as never before.  Wink accepts the popular curiosity about the spiritual world  and offers a non-dualistic way of approaching it:  The spiritual and the material worlds need not reign over separate spheres;  they may be integral to our complete experience of life.  He proposes thinking about a corporation's spirit as its "angel" and the demonic as the spirituality produced when an angel of an institution turns its back on its divine vocation.  In this light, the reform of corporations can happen not just from addressing their external efforts, but from challenging their interior spirit as well.

Wink prepares readers for the task of reform by enlightening them about its primary obstacles.  He rightly criticizes modern society's fascination with the "myth of redemptive violence."  Evident from Saturday morning cartoons and popular cinema, this myth appears in stories which each that a besieged hero becomes free when he (rarely a she) works violence against a violent aggressor.  The stories have an impact on the way we shape our legal systems and develop our personal philosophies of confrontation and punishment.

To counteract the lure of violence, the author reintroduces the reader to the non-violent message of Jesus.

Jesus, he argues, proposes a "third way between violence and passivity; this way works for the conversion, not the decimation, of the aggressor.  Jesus' teaching opens the way for Wink to present paths of non-violent behavior, the rejection of the "just war" theory, and a collection of soul-stirring practical examples of how individuals have conquered the enemy through love.

Wink's book is inspiring to read.  It makes you believe there's something you can do about the network of society's violence and oppression as well as the threat of personal injury.  Based upon three of his previous books, this reduction makes a coherent argument, while ranging across a wide expanse of material from scripture to crime, and from Boeing to Popeye.  For readers who feel insecure about the dangers of the world and who seek a Christian solution to life-threatening aggression, Wink offers a hopeful and helpful assist.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Key (spring, 1998).

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