Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Wall Street Charging Bull As Ideology Revealed

He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. – Exodus 32: 20

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities…

- Isaiah 53: 4-5


Evidence of one of the earliest known human civilizations is from the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, thought to be active around 2400 BC. A Frescoe can be found there depicting youths flipping over charging bulls as part of a communal, sacred processional ritual overseen by the governing priestess and spectated by the people. The element of the youths flipping over the charging bull was, on the one hand, part of a boy’s coming of age to manhood, and, on the other, part of a man’s participation in man’s taming of the great forces of nature represented in the nostrils’ breath of an angry bull. The element of the fertile, powerful, fearsome, strong, virile, and potentially deadly bull represents the people’s worship of mother earth. In a sense, the bull IS an image of the earth and all she provides for the people. The bull arises from and stands upon the earth. Also, though, as the earth is turned and cultivated to expose her flesh, as she opens herself to receive the rains, in the sacred ritual, the bull becomes a blood sacrifice and provides all manner of blessings for the community.

All of this, however, is long before the dawn of the age of ideology.


May I remind my dearest reader that the youths of Knossos flipped over ACTUAL bulls. I don’t say this to disparage the manhood of whoever that is riding the Wall Street Charging Bull. The point is, how many ACTUAL bulls has anyone ever seen in the city of NY? And, yet, a statue of a giant, exaggerated, raging bull is one of the most famous icons of the city.

The statue is now a mainstay in the Financial District of Manhattan and was installed following the 1987 stock market crash. The bull, as an echo back to Knossos, has been said to symbolize the “strength and power of the American people.” The same person said: “Charging Bull, then, shows an aggressive or even belligerent force on the move, but unpredictably....[I]t's not far-fetched to say the theme is the energy, strength, and unpredictability of the stock market." So, the bull appears to be a good representation of the stock exchange. People react to it both in fear and by vicariously participating in its energy and power, which comes out looking like public economic optimism.

Now, for my point here about ideology, the key word there is PUBLIC. Everyone isn’t so inspired by the bull as to go work on the floor of the exchange and go on competitive motorcycle riding excursions with their business associates to build bull-riding camaraderie. We are all, however, still shaped by the image of the bull. We all share in the optimism of the bull and the pessimism of the bear. The breath blown out of the nostrils of the angry bull statue shapes the hopes and fears of us all. We all take our turn riding the bull - or posing in front of it. There are even photos of women kind of hugging it lovingly. To some degree or another, we are all “The Wolf on Wall Street.”

So, ideology centers around nothing. There is no real bull in NYC. But, part of what defines ideology’s story is also that we all participate in this nothing. The very fact that the image of a bull that no one in NYC has ever seen was installed in response to a stock market crash shows how the hopes and drives of ideology are both empty and futile.


The headline of the story where I got this image read: “The Bull Tied to Occupy Wall Street.” That headline is more telling than it knew, I think. But, perhaps the headline got things a bit backwards.

Just as we all participate in nothing, we, when governed by ideology, also become nothing in reacting in and to nothing. I’m sure my dearest reader is aware of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What makes it a lesson in ideology and how it works is that the movement had no identity or definition of its own. It wasn’t defined by its own character or by something present within it. It was defined by what it stood against.

So, ideologically, as we ride the bull, we are actually defined by what we stand against. In being defined by a bull statue and the power it represents, we are actually defined by the absence of the real bulls that were present at Knossos. We are actually driven by the absence.

On the other side of that coin, Occupy Wall Street is defined by standing in opposition to and against the raging bull that doesn’t exist. Their hopes and fears are shaped by the same non-bull as those who ride it. Their very identity becomes tied to the bull. Just as the distance between NYC and any actual bull of Knossos becomes an identifying feature of that which is being protested, the barricade, the distance between bull and spectator, becomes the central identifying feature of said angry, raging protestor. The headline should have read: “Occupy Wall Street Tied to The Bull.”


The headline of the story where I got this image read: “One Women’s Day Eve, Statue of Girl Stares Down Wall Street Bull.” As a lesson in ideology, the same dynamics are at play here as those seen in how Occupy Wall Street was shaped. Women want their fair share in the corporate office. So, an innocent child’s version of themselves standing against what they see as a representation of men pursuing and in power is the womens’ image of working together more with men?

We could take the same lesson away from the shape taken by Occupy Wall Street, which was also, by definition, governed by ideology.

Occupy Wall Street was shaped and defined by what it stood against. It was a protest movement. It wasn’t about working with Wall Street to shape themselves, Wall Street, and the larger world. Similarly, the girl standing against the bull isn’t working with it, making deals with it, or, heaven forbid, lovingly feeding it. It obviously gets hungry.


The story I got this image from is about a guy who was moved in worship with fellow Christians who work with Sojourners, who are known as explicitly liberal Christians. In other words, they are governed by ideology. The same dynamics are again at play. These worshippers take the shape of protestors.

Here’s the thing. Moses didn’t protest the golden calf. All of our hopes and fears are shaped by the raging bull. Moses made the people drink it.

In Exodus 32, the people faced and actually took into their bodies what they did. Then, by the living Word of God who had carried them out of Egypt to bring life and freedom, said life was put to the test in and by the people. Do we really stand with that life or against it?

Moses then pleads to God to forgive his people for their great sin of worshipping the virile, raging bull. In his plea, he puts his own life on the line. In God’s response, he acknowledges Moses’ plea and says this:

now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.

In other words, God acknowledges that He will still be present and at work among them, though the people have explicitly sinned grievously against Him. God is also not a protestor. God doesn’t stand against. God is present and at work within and with.

Particularly interesting are the words, “in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” What did that end up looking like? The ultimate picture of how that was fulfilled is spoken of by Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities…

- Isaiah 53: 4-5

God’s “visiting of their sin upon them” was his becoming one of them and having the sin and suffering inflicted upon himself. And, this was only possible because the image presented is not that of a barricade and distance between God and His people. It’s not the image of an angry girl who has been sinned against standing defiantly against the sinner. The difference between the Lamb and the Bull is also the difference between the distance and the Incarnation. The image of the people of Israel drinking their calf-sin becomes the image of our drinking the blood of the Lamb.

So, yes, the Wall Street Bull reveals our ideology, our false worship. But it also manages to reveal how the same ideology and false worship is bound up in how we react to the Bull. God doesn’t react the same way. God kisses Judas. God heals Malchus’ ear and tells Peter to put his sword away. God says, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do!” God has breakfast on the beach with his betrayers.

It’s a different posture governed by a different image of reality, a different image of my identity. Do we identity with the optimism and fear of the bull, with the Wolf of Wall Street, on a path stampeding rage? Or, do we identify with the slaughtered Lamb who is patiently present and at work among his people?

God makes peace with Wall Street rather than protesting against it. In the meantime, he redeems it and blesses it. God sits at the Table with Wall Street and works with it in love rather than standing defiantly against it. In the meantime, God “makes them male and female” and says “it is very good.” The difference between God and ideology is the difference between the anger in slaughtering the Lamb and the love of the Lamb slaughtered. The difference between the images of the Lamb and the Bull is in Isaiah 11:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

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