Thursday, December 8, 2016

Man Lives Not By Bread Alone: Reality, Fantasy, and Following Christ

This post is inspired by reflections in Dominic Foo's piece here

I was one of those people who used to ridicule and denounce the Prosperity Gospel. I would be baffled how this not only held a grip on a large portion of people, but continued to grow and grow. It wasn't just Joel Osteen, but across the continent of Africa, Asia, and Europe, people flocked to hear this message. I would just shake my head and sneer. But I was an idiot.

This is not because the Prosperity Gospel is true, good or right. No, it's mostly demonic doctrine fueled to con people out of money and confuse the Gospel of Christ for the American Dream, whether for people who are trying to reach, or secure, Middle Class status, or people across the globe trying to emulate American fashion and method. The vision of prosperity is intoxicating, and people lust over this stuff.

However, it's easy to judge this when you are a beneficiary of this life style and embrace it unwittingly. This thought is not new to me. Years ago I realized that I had the wealth that many people signed up to acquire. However, I stupidly missed the boat for years, until I recently was able to put the pieces together in a way that is more cogent and shareable.

As I said, I was aware that people wanted some marker of material prosperity, but my solution was stupid. I would claim to have divested myself of my wealth, in terms of attachment (I hadn't), and that they (and I) needed to turn to spiritual worship, a more pure Gospel. Sometimes this meant going on an intellectual quest to properly understand doctrines and turning knowledge of the Living God into a scholastic enterprise. I woke up to this flaw pretty quickly, but the alternative was even worse.

I thought the solution was a kind of spiritualization. I thought that people needed to focus on Christ, and not on material goods. But what does this actually mean? How is this not just a pious platitude? For 2-3 years I couldn't work it out. Following Christ seemed to slowly morph into a collision of moralistic activism, self-hating spirituality, and the occasional existential jolt, accompanied by plenty of reading and learning.

However, what the Prosperity Gospel gets right, in the way that a broken clock is right twice a day, is that man is a material creature who needs material sustenance. Many Evangelicals have completely spiritualized the God of the Bible out of the concerns of living. Most people signing up for the Prosperity Gospel at least know that the God of the Bible attends to physical needs and promises to be present in the miraculous in reality. This is the key. All people, when push comes to shove, will deal with economic necessities of life. When money becomes tight, that is where real pain will be. When nice Middle-Class people are threatened with diminution of their life-styles, they will become vicious and justify in all sorts of convoluted ways (the sacred right of private property being one of them).

This is where God's power must be made manifest, otherwise the Gospel is a pleasant fantasy. Other activities take place. Some turn to stock markets, or job obsession, or other things that are tangible. Spiritualization is, if anything, epiphenomenal.

But while the Gospel preaches a God who cares at the most minute detail about our individual lives, material or otherwise, it also brings the promise of a life where we might come to grips with our dependence on material reality. For Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God. This means, yes, God takes care of our material state, but its that very fact that we must come to terms with. Following Christ means battling with Satan and overcoming sin's inversion of the flesh, making us turn inward towards serving cravings and desires, instead of turning the body and soul towards glorifying God in all of Creation.

This is not spiritualization, but in counting of cost of material reality. It's knowing that true generosity means giving away, sometimes to the point of depending on God for livelihood. It's knowing the agony of overcoming and rejecting the fantasies we believe to be the reasons for living. It's fasting to re-order our desires (more on this in another post). It's about receiving the power through Christ's work to bring about a new life in the body and the soul. It's not about rejecting the body, but in recovering it for worship. It means being able to walk this earth with peace.

Prayer and fasting free you from the snares of the Devil and relativizes the cravings of the belly. This is less about a fetishization of an inner-life rather than directing one's outward life. This is the power of the Gospel that gave martyrs strength, the promise that the Spirit of God would provide the words to speak when dragged before courts and crowds. This is a way to take account of the material world that God creates and maintains, while also deriving what life in a darkened age looks like.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wise as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove: The Politics of the Holy Fool

Slavoj Zizek, in a lecture, told a story of when he was a boy in college in Ljublijana in the former Yugoslavia. It was time for local elections, and, as it was in many Soviet bloc countries, the resulted were rigged for the Communist party. Zizek was working for the college newspaper and he and his editorial staff thought about what to do. Should they publish an article about the elections were rigged? They thought that was futile, as it was a reality everyone already knew, and it would only get their paper censored. Rather, they decided to publish on the election results that took them at their word. The front page read that it seemed the Communists might actually win this year. This article got them brought before a party bureaucrat who threatened them, but, when asked for a reason, only repeated his threats. The unspoken secret was put on the table, and everyone had to pretend to ignore it.

As I heard this story, I considered the role of Christians in our imperial society. America pretends to be the bastion of freedom, but it really is not. There are all kinds of liberties that are offered, but their enactment is an understood falsehood. One example might be how the courts and the police function. We know if the police ask for evidence, we have every reason to refuse unless a court of law mandates it. But we know if we refuse, it will only bring suspicion and increased investigation, even if there is not enough evidence to get a warrant. We also know that a trial by jury is supposed to be a fair trial, where justice is to prevail. But we know that the jury system is supposed to produce convictions, and the ill accommodations, the interruptedness of their lives, is a kind of whip to produce a verdict for the prosecutor.

There are many other forms of forced choice present in the American concept of freedom. It's a false offering, and most people have accustomed themselves to this. The high-minded principles of liberty, justice, democracy, whatever are slogans that never live up to the reality. To question this, to even speak about it, is to let the cat out of the bag. It's to invite accusations of being a lunatic, someone who just doesn't know how things works.

The Church of Jesus Christ does not have a mission to take control or transform the kingdoms of the Earth. Babylon will remain Babylon, in whichever form it takes, until Christ returns and destroys it once and for all. But Christians remain in the city as they remain in Christ. They look for a City not made with hands. Rather, as sojourners in This Age, we are to actively promote peace and justice, even as we remain a tenuous loyalty. Nothing is worth more than the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Age to Come.

The Apostolic advice to honor the emperor, to submit to the governing authorities, to live peaceably with all if able, and to work with our hands quietly has been at times miscontrued as a kind of passive engagement with government. This construal of these texts have made Christians into arch conservatives of any/every regime they've been under. However, if we understand these as proof-texts, removed from the rest of the text, then we will imbibe this same understanding.

What if these commands are, in fact, subversive in the same way Zizek's story is? The kingdoms of This Age remain enthralled to the demonic, slaves to the power and function of death. They are built on lies, murder, theft, and delusions. But, following Christ, Apostles Paul and Peter knew that standing up, resisting, shouting out accusations, mobilization will do little in the end. What if the ultimate embarrassment for any regime is to engage in a crafty naivete? What if all it takes to make the powers that be nervous is to take them at their word, to hold them to their promises and ideology?

It's in this way that the foundations are laid bare. This intentional simplicity will get you killed much faster than being loud-mouthed and enraged. It's the work of showing the emperor has no clothes, to use a cliche. For the Church, this isn't to gain power, but to do the work of the prophets. The spiritual darkness that reigns has to hide as an angel of light. The simple truth, the obvious question, is all it takes to destabilize an empire and find oneself a martyr.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Christ, the Conquering Conqueror: The Universal Struggle of Spiritual Warfare

As I've written elsewhere, the original monastics differed wildly from what would later become identified as monasticism, particularly in the Latin West. The former did not seek to run from the difficulties of the world, needing tranquility and support to seek Christ in earnest. Rather, these monks sought a crash-course in the fundamental realities of a Created Earth besieged. The Desert was not a place of tranquility, but the haunt of demons. The monks were training and battling for Christ's Kingdom, overcoming the lusts of the Flesh, turning their flesh into instruments of spiritual war.

Warfare is a reality that scars the pages of the Bible. While the Creation of all things was a speaking into being, and not a warfare narrative, the Fall of Man represents a departure into violence and chaos. In a way, without the light of divine revelation, this was a reality that the Pagans saw and understood, yet they retrojected it back into the ontology of Creation itself. The workings of Life are scarred by violence and the threat of it. The Snake's mission is to see all engulfed by darkness, a return to the primordial nothing of non-being.

This warfare narrative continues throughout the Scripture, whether in Abraham and the Patriarchs, Israel's struggle against the magic and slavery of Egypt, Moses' battle for faith in a trying Desert, the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the many wars of the Judges, the kings of Israel completing the driving out of Canaan, or the many other occasions. The New Testament unveils that this battle is not really against flesh and blood, but against spiritual darkness and wickedness in high places. This is the darkness that not only destroys the lives of the oppressed that flock to Jesus, but a darkness that bolsters the reigns of Herod, Caiaphas, and Pilate. As St. Paul repeatedly says and warns: the Christian's life, following in the footsteps of their master, is a life of war.

Quite clearly, this is partially what it entails for Jesus to be the Christ. As God and Man, He represents the Christic figure of David who slayed the serpentine Goliath, and also the Angel of the Lord, Captain of the Armies, who heralds Joshua into battle. In Christ Jesus, the figure of the Angel of the Lord, as Captain of Angels, and the figure of Joshua, as Captain of Israel, God's Nation of Men, become one. Christ goes to war with His band of disciples. Even the cross, the moment of ultimate despair, is actually a triumph, the moment where He tramples death by death.

Yet this victory is not yet complete. Christ conquered death, sin, and the devil, triumphing over the corrupted elements of This Age, resurrecting from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and ascending into Heaven at the Right Hand of God. But that's not the whole story. Quite explicitly, the Scripture tells us that Christ will reign until He places His enemies under His feet.

The first few centuries of the Church saw this doctrine as a difficult one to understand. The Apostles stood as warriors, facing death in many ways similar to their Master. They overcame the threat of the sword through a courageous and difficult faith. Yet, a Neo-Platonism wedded to a vision of Pax Romana complicated the Christian Church as it became tolerated, and established, in the Roman Empire. Quite a few influential converts turned their gaze to the motionless perfection of Plotinus' One and read that back over the Christian God. They reconceptualized the world into a stable hierarchy, the great Chain of Being, that transformed the nature of Christian warfare.

Warfare was revised into, to put it crudely, a game of chutes and ladders. The goal of the Christian was to attach to Christ and ascend the Chain of Being, being more and more perfected, becoming even greater to the Angels. The end goal, as I've said elsewhere, is a vision akin to death, much more similar to Buddhistic notions of Nirvana than the Resurrection of the Dead. Along these lines, a monasticism formed that sought to overcome the fraility of the Flesh, a quest to triumph over finitude.

This completely negated the original intention of the monks (starting with Anthony) who saw the Desert as a real warzone. There, alone and in the dark, the demonic assaulted the Christian more forcefully. The problem in Creation was not the threat of individually falling down the ladder of Being, but to be seized upon by Devils. Their assault would drive you into madness, eviscerating our Humanness. In Human society, this process usually is slower and more subtle. But the war of the Serpent is to drag Mankind out of its intended Nature, attempting to transform Man into a beast or a bearer of the demonic.

The liberation of Christ is not a liberation to transcend our finitude, but to become more fuller and more truly Human. This implies a state of being that is open to the transformative light of God, but there is a subtle difference between this vision and the Platonized vision of the Origenists. The functions and faculties of Humanity were not to be overcome, but to be fully realized.

This is the glory in St. Athanasius' metaphor of the effects of Christ's Incarnation. Imagine a village where a great and glorious king takes up residence within. The individual body of the King is small and individual, but radiates glory. From this the whole village is transformed into a lush capital, expanding and revealing the majesty of the figure who resides within. Christ is this King and the village is the whole collective of Humanity, where individual villagers represent individual men, and the village as a whole representing Human Nature. As the Image of God by nature, Christ reactivates the same image, activating Man's destiny by grace.

But more importantly, this realization should unproblematize the warfare texts that many Atheists and Christians are embarrassed to deal with. This is because tranquility and stasis have become prized values, but this is certainly absurd. We live in a world where people are broken over the wheel of self-interest and manipulation, crushed under economic inqequities and spiritual bondage. In the US, it was the strange circuit preachers, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals that, at times, were awoken by the Spirit of God to see the cosmic battle afoot. Those fully situated into the comforts of Middle Class values were unable to comprehend the battles.

But lest this become mistaken for a form of Social Gospel, the purpose is not to transform the social structures that we see around us. This is fundamentally mistaken. Rather, the Kingdom of God comes not to clean up what is, but to set fire to the Earth. The warfare of the Gospel is much more radical than this. The Social Gospel was a liberal reform effort, an attempt to clean up Christendom, the convoluted compromise between Christian convictions and Pagan structures.

No, a much more radical notion is required. Firstly, this is the process of mortifying the flesh. It is chopping off the unfruitful roots of the soul. It is struggling to gain mastery over the insane desires that constantly plague us. The Desert Fathers spent many years memorizing Scripture, reciting, singing and praying it, to learn Christ's commands as a salve for the wounds of sin. It was through rejecting the cravings of the body that the flesh might be healed. The objective was not to erase the body, but to restore sanity and health to the flesh. The same goes for the mind. Spiritual warfare meant a restorative for the Christian, and a following of their Master in fighting off the demons that assault mankind.

Secondly, it is reflective of the early disciples giving up claims to private property, giving their money to the poor and to the Apostles to redistribute, and allowing themselves to live together. But the fact is that this passage embarrasses many, or is misunderstood to be merely a kind of proto-Communism. This passage does describe economic redistribution, but it was for the purposes of relinquishing false claims upon the Earth. God owns the Earth and yet He gives it to Man to live upon and rule. The kings of Israel had claim upon all of Israel, and yet their claim was as vice-regent to God, and their design was to consistently redistribute landholdings for the needs of Israel. The practice of relinquishing owenrship is a spiritual one and a material one, for it teaches how man is to relate to God, fellow man, and the Earth. God is the Master, not Man; all men have equal claim to the Earth under the kingship of Christ; the Earth is not for plunder or enrichment, but for sustenance and rest.

In our times today, this is a difficult and radical move. Many who claim the name of Christ would rather live with an impoverished soul than feel the liberating light of the Gospel. The darkness clings tight and many Christians, including myself, struggle to get free. But that is why it is written that Christ will reign until all of His enemies are placed under His feet. Christ has conquered and Christ is conqueror, but He is still conquering. The demons are not done with. He is still waging His War.

The universal claims of Christ upon the Earth are claims that have yet to take effect. As John Howard Yoder argued, Christianity makes Universal claims, but unlike the Platonized forms that Post-Modernism attacks, Christianity begins from the particulars, namely God's incarnation, and is a movement of conquest. Christianity is a peculiarly imperial mission. The violence of Christ is the awakened man seeking to rip off his chains. Or, per Charles Wesley's hymn, the peace of the man coming to wake in his unshackled chains is followed, inevitably, by the struggle to escape the dungeon.

But I must argue that all of this must be understood in the much more radical (as in at the roots) sense than many worldly iterations. The above readings of Scripture have been twisted to justify the figure of the Crusader, a reinstantiation of Saul, the worldly king who misunderstood the point of Canaan's conquest. This figure has appeared all over history, harshly in the actual Crusades or in the extreme slaughter of the "Holy War" of the First World War, and softly in the Social Gospel. This is an attempt merely to scrub the pillars of the Devil's domain, rather than reject the Serpent's trick.

May the holy light of the Gospel awaken you to this reality, dear reader.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Live by The Words of God

A proverb from the Desert Fathers goes as follows: A young man seeks out his elder and complains to him, "Elder, I am afflicted with lust and horrid thoughts! I am overcome day in and day out!" The elder responds to him, "You must continue in reciting Scripture". The young man, exasperated, shouts out, "I've tried! It's no good! I keep reciting the Scripture, but I don't feel any different. None of it makes any sense to me". The elder replies, "Perhaps it is true none of it makes sense to you, but it makes sense to the demons who afflict you. They understand the words and they shall flee".

The Desert Fathers practiced a form of meditation that is hardly what anyone would consider: they recited Scripture from memory. They were from oral societies where such is normal. They would recite phrases, lines, entire books, sometimes single words. They believed that the words of Scripture were none other than the very words of God. This was true power.

At the risk of sounding like a magician, these men got it right. The Scripture itself testifies when St. Paul tells us that he came not with craft and cunning, but with very power, in his speech. The words of Scripture are of such power that they lay bare the very scope and shape of the cosmos. There's a story attributed to Charles Spurgeon: he was preparing for his sermon when he bellowed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"; a janitor heard this and was converted at the very sound. There are plenty of other conversion stories at the very words of Scripture: Anthony, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley. And of course, there are the simple words to St. Matthew: Come Follow Me.

The fixture upon Inerrantism that one finds in conservative Evangelicalism is completely wrong-headed. Most articulations of this doctrine seem content to lock the Bible's pristine form into texts that may or may not even exist anymore. They've given up the battle to theological liberals and, even as they drown in the swamp of Postivistic notions of authorship, they will slowly fade away as most people cannot understand the strange nuances of their argument. But of course, this operates not upon faith in Christ, but upon the latest findings in archaeology and the structures of textual criticism.

The Christian position on the Scripture as the very words and commandments of God will not find any place in the academy, nor should it. The Bible is not a text like any other, but we claim divine editorialship. The Bible is not a divisible collection of books, it is not a library, nor is it a mess of internecine theological battles as revelation, with one contradicting the other. If it is so, then Christians are without hope.

What if the Bible reflects the very shape of God's intended will for the Creation? What if the Scripture is God speaking to us now, today? What if it is the very garment of Christ, seamless and undivided? As He is the Word, this is further testimony that every word of Scripture belongs to Him and yet He is more than merely their collection. This is St. Maximus' Logos/logoi distinction played out in a more Biblicist form. The very words and commandments over Creation are the uncreated adornments of Christ Jesus, the Lord.

Ponder this next time you open your Bible. Even if you don't understand, the Word is still sharp enough to divide spirit from soul, bone from marrow. Such a power even the demons fear, and tremble.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Every Capitalist Needs His Niggers: Race as a Means of Economic Exploitation

One of the things that this recent election has revealed, as it is circulating around the web, is the failure of the New Left. But I'm not sure most people understand this as well. Sure, the Alt-Right has had some influence among emasculated white men reacting. No one wants to be told that they're going to be on the ash-heap of history, a group whose stains far outnumber contributions, and who need to be wiped out. This was a part of the progressive, and somewhat vindictive attitude, that swirled around the Clinton campaign.

But the reality is different. More than half of white women voted for Trump. He also secured the Republican metric of at least 30% of the Latin vote. He also won in Michigan and Pennsylvania, whose labor vote tended towards Trump. He also secured many voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Why? I think it's because Trump capitalized on something Clinton not only failed to do, but could not: he postured himself as for the working class. His protectionist rhetoric did not need an actual plan for it to be attractive. I think many people were glad to hear that someone was willing to say (perhaps even lie) that he intended to bring jobs back no matter what. Trump at least created some jobs in his vain and absurd real-estate schemes. Clinton was backed by the big banks and financial captains who were, rightfully, blamed for destroying huge segments of American industry. For them, there was more profit in turning a profit from shipping industry elsewhere, and turn the US into a different sort of nation.

Despite all the claims of white racism and nationalism, all of which exists, I am confident to say that most people did not vote in Trump because they wanted to reinvigorate the KKK or make America some fascist empire. They went out to get jobs and incomes that promise some level of security, dignity, and living wage. It's for this reason that Bernie Sanders almost took the Democratic Primary even as the DNC was rigged for Hillary. No one expected that a "socialist" (he's hardly one) would reveal the corrupt party mechanics due to his massive popularity.

This sort of thing was not part of the election results, it was primarily so. The problem was not that the Democrats did not listen to the voice of white men, it's that the Identity politics that is part and parcel to the Democratic (and the Republican) party is non-sense. It's an absolute distraction from reality. The hard and cold truth is that things operate according to power, and power comes from functional operations. Money is the liquid and transferable form power takes, a claim upon the resources of the Earth, whether land, food, weapons or labor, production, soldiers. This is where the heart and soul of the issue lies. Identity politics according to race, gender, religion etc. is worthless to explain anything at its root.

Am I saying race is unimportant? Yes and No. It's a question of origins. One must ask where the origins of whiteness and blackness (and all the intermediary states in between) come from. And it's a pretty simple, and disturbing, reality. The mass-slavery of Africans was the major factor in the creation of racial distinction. Whiteness had to be inscribed upon Human bodies, with the correlate of Blackness, to justify an exceptionally exploitative form of labor. But this was done less to soothe the agitated consciences of planters on American colonies. Rather, it was many times a social hierarchy to separate working poor of European stock from colluding or sharing with the Enslaved. It's about the shattering of different subservient peoples from seeing their interests as fundamentally the same. It's about creating a social hierarchy that was radically new: now the wealthy can rule a social polity that lacks the myth of royal patronage and blood.

The formation of social hierarchies has, at its core, a desire for stability. If it is unclear why those on top should remain on top, there's a greater chance for agitation and possible toppling. The purpose of ideologies and founding myth is to prevent these structural shocks. If one wants to seize greater and greater power, one needs greater and greater resources. Thus, it makes sense that any new or established elite would seek to secure a stable population of peons able to provide the raw power of bodies to build an empire upon.

As clear in American history, many Europeans and Asians have suffered racism in the United States for periods of time. Yet the effects of this linger in increasingly diminished forms. Those of African descent, particularly those imbued with the American legacy of slavery, have struggled to overcome this racial hierarchy? Why? Because for most parts of the country, the machinery of the previous system was still in place. It was easier to convince white people that the "nigger" was stupid, lazy, and treacherous and deserved to be kept in functional slavery. Racism become an easy justification to keep a stable class of workers who were paid almost nothing, whether share-cropping in the South or factory work in the North among many other things.

Fundamentally, Capitalism is about hierarchies of wealth, of those individuals who have succeeded in owning the means of production. It's not necessarily about markets, that's a smokescreen. It's about the creation of a ruling-class that is dependent on wealth, and wealth defined not in dollars or gold bullion, but on abstract claims, backed with the threat of violence, over the very means of life and features of the Earth. For those who stand at the top of the pyramid, Capitalism requires a stable base of workers, essentially wage slaves, trapped in meaningless and powerless jobs, where they are treated more and more like replaceable cogs, meat-bag machines, that can be reduced to cost-benefit analysis.

While Taylorist-face of Capitalism has faded away, it's still at the heart of things. It's why many manufacturing jobs have become mechanized and shipped abroad. There is no single doctrine of Capitalism, it has many faces, but is fundamentally about a merchant-people gaining control of the bounty of the Earth and doling it out in accordance with necessity and social polity. It's not about "trickle-down economics" except as a means of throwing bread and circuses to people getting fed up with nothing. The kind of industrial wage slavery of ages past has moved on elsewhere, joblessness and unskilled labor has trapped many others. It's a juggling game of interests and division.

The interests of social control and power is not a monolithic entity, there are many sectors and factors, there are many ambitious willing to cut down their competitors. The lust for more many times overcomes sensible policy of control. It's for this reason many Empires are brought down, and the Empire of Capital will, one day, have the same happen to it. Identity Politics is one factor of this, keeping people wasting their time with trivialities and feelings. It's, as Don Draper put it, not catering to the interests the people have, but creating those interests by making them appear self-generated and then offering to meet those needs. It's a complex game of manipulation and brain-washing.

The so-called "Neo-Liberalism" of people like the Clintons channels this approach into a means of social reintegration. It's about trying to reconfigure the racial hierarchical justification of years past into something else. It's meritocratic colorblindness, as well as gender-blindness and sexuality-blindness, that is "egalitarian" by putting women and minorities into the structures of power. Supposedly "racial equality" is met when we've integrated blacks, Asians, Latinos, gays, transgenders etc. into the class that controls Capital. For some, that's all that they want, with hardly a question about the functional enslavement of most of the globe. It's just as evil, as it waves a rainbow flag and has a smiley multiculturalism.

The wage-slaves remain wage-slaves, whether they're retail workers in the US or the legion of factory workers elsewhere. They've become the new niggers of the Capitalist superstructure. And just as times before, they're set in a form of entrapment where their own slavery is heaped upon them as their fault. The prevalence of mind-numbing entertainment, mind-altering drugs, and mind-structuring advertisement keep people down.

People are given impossible standards (whether of beauty or respectability or whatever) to live according to, and many times find themselves wrapped up in an infinite cycle of debt trying to live up to the standard of American living. People try to soothe the burdens of back-breaking work, sapping the limited financial resources they have, and then criminalized. I have no doubt that the American government has, seemingly paradoxically, orchestrated the means of drug trafficing while also cracking down in the War on Drugs. And people become involved in trivial entertainments that ease the burden of psychic overload if they were confronted with their situation. Marx might have said religion is the opiate of the masses, but if that is so, than the entertainment-complex is heroin. All of these become mechanisms to stabilize in ways that race-war structure could only barely accomplish.

Inter-ethnic hatreds have always existed, but this is not what I'm talking about when I say race. Rather, it's an artificial system based upon skin-color and, many times, non-existent or fabricated "cultural identities". At it's root, it's about the the creation of a class of people to be exploited for their labor. It's about creating a social stability where those who own may continue to gain more power.

In the Bible, this is primarily reflected in the Phillistines, an empire built upon plunder and merchandising people. Capitalism is really just the philosophy of Phillistine conquest, feeding upon host peoples and draining them dry. These are a people that the People of God were locked in endless war with, always being tempted with lures. Ultimately, the Phillistines, like Egypt and Assyria, are component parts of the Biblical figure of Babylon the Great. Not all empire is Capitalist, but every Empire finds its roost in becoming Babylon, the whore city that spills the blood of the saints. Every foul beast finds it rest in the evil city.

I am not a Communist, even if I am making similar critiques. However, there are many Christians who unthinkingly abandon the commands of Christ for a place in building a kind of Babylon. They don't understand that Christ very specifically meant that there was an eternal incompatibility between serving God and Mammon. Wealth inequity is all over the Bible as a mark of the Devil's domain. And yet many prop up the system as they have secured a place near the top of the pyramid or have been lured to think they can achieve such a thing.

Christians should practice a different form of sociality, rejecting the allure of money, and relativizing it before the Power of God. This might mean living a life where the forms of security that we're told we need will not exist, rather we will trust in the Hand of God to deliver the poor. But it also means seeing the exploitation of labor and the false divisions of mankind. Race must be overcome as a category if one is to see the actual balance of power.

This post is sweeping in its claims and simplifies a lot of complex issues, but I want to cut through all the shrouds to present what's at stake. It's a wake-up call to resist the process of seeing others as mud-people, degenerate semi-Humans who deserve their fate. Capitalism is one form of this and it's the pervasive American form. Overcoming racism is about overcoming race and seeing the power structures at play. And it's also knowing that Christ has struck the fatal blow. Babylon the Great may reign for a time more, but it will be consumed by fire from Heaven.

This ought to be a moment of self-reflection. Repent of how you may have joined with the Great Harlot who beds the kings of men. Her ultimate fate is destruction and the saints will rejoice.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Athanasius, Arius, and the Role of Dialectics

In a previous post, I wrote about the mediated nature of experiencing God. In reflection, I think my major point was sound, but I don't think I understood why as well. This post is an attempt to readjust my point.

In that last post, I critiqued Augustine and Thomas through Chauvet's work. The criticism was valid, but I misunderstood where their work stood in terms of historical theology. Augustine (Thomas merely as an heir to the underlying problem) sought to follow Nicaea's fundamental teaching about the full integration of the Godhead, one which could say that Christ was indeed true God of true God. He fully understood the battle, but did not take the right path in combating it. Hence, he finds things like language and mediated realities as creaturely problems, helpful roadblocks, on the path to a Beatific vision of glory everlasting.

But I begged the question: why did Augustine find mediating such a problem? Augustine was Platonic, but he, like Origen, were Christians trying to escape and/or reevaluate Plato. This includes the problem of experience and communication. If God is mediated, this comes through a being(s) that are beneath Him, but stand somewhere in between God and the creature being communicated to. For Platonism, this was the doctrine of the Chain of Being, Emanations, involving a creation/eschaton that follows the exitus/reditus pattern. This is the fatal flaw that is at the heart of the Arian controversy.

Arius sought to fall on one side of this problem. If Christians are to talk about relating to God at all, it only makes sense along this diagram. The resultant feature is that Christ becomes a creature, though the highest and most resultant being on the Chain. In Platonic metaphysics, this was the Nous, the Soul/Mind, emanating out of the One, who alone is perfect and without beginning. Eventually, paradise is the ultimate return, where all the emanations fold back into the One, where eternal bliss awaits.

Obviously, this Platonic metaphysic didn't go away with Arius. Augustine didn't deny this, as much as he did a better job squaring the theology. For him, the One still remains such, but Christ and the Holy Spirit are included into this configuration. Hence Augustine's defense of the Trinity, where the three Persons exists as God's relationships to Himself. Augustine includes Christ into the metaphysic without the same heretical conclusions of Arius.

But this doesn't solve the problem of mediators, and the implication that a mediator implies the grades along a chain of Being. This is where discomfort over mediatorship comes from, trying to make sense of real communion with God without degrading God. Along this scale, direct experience is truly heretical as it is akin to saying that one cannot ever experience God or that such experience is literally erasing. Hence, Platonic Salvation can often sound like the experience of dying, an absorption back into the One.

But Athanasius' attack upon Arius did not depend on Platonic metaphysics, but on a strange metaphysic derived from his reading of the Bible. Athanasius insisted that the Son was fully God, but that God was not bound to the dialectics of the Chain of Being. God is beyond both affirmation and negation, which, in the Platonic metaphysics, is to say that God is beyond Being. God may make this, He may even make things along a chain of being, things that possess a greater or lesser share of glory. But God Himself does not belong along this. God is not equivocal with Being (ens), and things to don't exist in a merely analogical way to God.

The root is in the simple, and radical, doctrine of Creation from Nothing (creatio ex nihilo). God can make the World, and yet it is not an extension of Himself, an Emanation. Yet it is also not alien to God either, for to deny such is to affirm, functionally, a kind of deism or atheism. If Creation was framed according to the Wisdom of God, that is to say Christ, then it somehow belongs to God. This was later developed along the lines of the logoi of God, eternal ideas that reflect God, and yet do not constitute God. This is to say that God made the World, and yet it was not necessary. God is truly free, and yet He is truly in relation to all of His creation.

What this does is undermine the entire problem of mediated presence. God can be fully present in any of the things He made without it collapsing the distinction between the thing and God. Nothing is alien to God, and hence direct experience of God is possible without annihilation. Paradise is not the void. Athanasius saves us this sweet truth in his battle with Arius. Sadly, the way Athanasius fought was not as important as the victory he secured. Affirming Christ, and the Holy Spirit, as God is not enough. We have to understand why this is true, not merely that it is true.

Most people do not consider the Chain of Being any more, but, then again, neither do most people consider a Creator. In fact, I'd wager most people, even many Christians functionally, are either deists or pantheists. Either the Universe is God, whether as the sum of the parts or in a more Platonic way, or God is somehow irrelevant to the functions of this ticking clock. But Athanasius explains the deep intuition that many Christians who've been soaked in their Bible sense: God is present, even though is not any of the things that surround us. They might not be able to explain it well, but it's the haunting supposition in the Scripture. God manifests Himself in many things, and yet those things still retain their integrity as things. The Burning Bush does not cease to be a bush even as the Glory of God burns and speaks to Moses.

Therefore, I must admit that philosophic sophistication can at times lead astray, even if it truly can be useful and helpful. May God truly be with you, readers, in the radiate glory of His kindness and mercy.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Origen: The Problem of Christianity and Western Philosophy

I've spoken highly about Origen elsewhere on this blog. He was a devout and pious man who dedicated his life to teaching and thinking the faith. He was highly educated in the best schools of Alexandria, engaging with the cutting edge of philosophy. He was thoughtful and patient. He dedicated his life to defending the Church and honoring Christ Jesus. His life was an example of scholarly piety, composing some of the first biblical commentaries, systematic theology (First Principles), and apology (Against Celsus). He set the standard for theology for centuries.

But Origen's work fundamentally reveals the problem of Greek philosophy and Christian revelation. Origen may have set the standard for theology, but it was because his work revealed all the questions that lay between a Biblical theology and Hellenic theology. This is not to juxtapose the two as antagonistic enemies, per Harnack, but that there are some fundamental incongruities. This was something two of Origen's most attentive students, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, realized. In someways they honored their teacher, but in others they represented a rejection of Origen's theological synthesis.

And that's the rub. Hellenic philosophy is philosophy, at least in Europe and parts of Western Asia. The questions of Plato and Aristotle, of Parmenides and Heraclitus, are the same that continually appear, over and over, in different forms and guises. Origen sought to synthesize this philosophy into the coming of Christ. He sought to make sense of Biblical data and the tradition of rational inquiry.

This is not to say Origen was not a faithful commentator, but he was captive to the fundamental metaphysical frameworks of his day. This includes definitions of Divinity, Perfection, Man, Matter, Time etc. These were important for Origen's attempt to frame the stories, figures, and doctrines of the Bible. The answers he came up with became the fundamental debate points for Christology over the next couple centuries, which represented an attempt to correct Origen.

Origen represents a Biblical figure, perhaps a kind of philosophical Jeroboam. As pious as Origen might have been, he represents the fundamental flaw of framing the Bible by philosophy, instead of the other way around. He mixed the High Places of Creation with the Cult of God. He represents the recurring problem throughout all Church history, resulting not only in aberrant doctrines but also corrupted practice. For example, if you find freedom of choice as a fundamentally corrupt reality, then Origen's notion of the possibility of infinite cycles of fall and redemption 'fit'. Or, practically, if one posits the inferiority of matter in creation, fasting and prayer become intellectual exercises that seek to erase the body.

Reading Origen is helpful to see how Hellenic Philosophy's assumptions about created reality cannot make sense of the Scriptural testimony. However, they may be tools, a grammar, through which the bright light of the Gospel might shine. But this is a tricky balance. Both Origen and the opponents of what became known as Origenism represent different attempts of faith seeking understanding. And as irenic and careful as Origen might be, sometimes we need a bullheaded Athanasius to wake us from our comfort. Sometimes we need someone to wave the weirdness of the Bible in our faces to wake us to its disconcerting message. Philosophy is ultimately insufficient to make sense of the nature of reality that is made known through Christ.

This is not a rejection of philosophy, but learning its limitations. Gregory and Basil both studied in Athens, the OxBridge of the Roman World, and were well versed in the highest philosophy. After years immersed in it, the light of the Immortal revealed the limits of the mind. In their battles, they utilized Stoic, Aristotelian, and Platonic philosophies to make their case. But ultimately, these were but tools, and could not bare the weight of the Immaculate Word.

Read philosophy, sure, it is good for your soul. But let it constantly be relativized before the Will of God put in Human words.