Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Republic of Despots: Reflections on the American Political-Economy

In a recent article on slavery and capitalism, John Majewski attempts to address the question of why the US North was opposed to slavery. As it has been demonstrated in a swathe of recent literature, Southern slavery was bound to continue on for quite sometime; it was nowhere close to extinction in 1860. And it was not only profitable for Southerners, but also many Northerners as well. Northern farmers helped stock Southern farms with supplies, Northern banks and investment firms insured slaves as a form of capital, established Southern banks that would provide funds for mortgaging slaves, and Norther industries that utilized Southern raw material, namely cotton. So, if the North was so complicit, why did the North so virulently reject slavery? Why did the capitalist Republican party declare an ultimatum if slavery was such a boon to Northern capitalists?

The upper South was home to a region that urbanized, possessed a diversified economy, and had a growing population. Regions in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee made it clear that the free North (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) was, geographically speaking, amenable to slavery. The soil provided the means for a stabilized, and thriving, society. Contrary to Republican and anti-slavery critics, the South was booming.

However, despite the similarities, Majewski posits education as the major fissure between the free and slave states. Northern states invested in a growing public education network, which spread learning to a great population of people, greatly surpassing the South and anywhere in Europe. But, unlike the North's growing public education complex, the South shied away from widespread, state-sponsored, education. Instead, the South invested in schools that reflected European private academies. The state would sponsor training an educated elite, the planter class, who would manage all facets of Southern society. The effects of this training would trickle down, as the best graduates would reenter the field of education and maintain the system, slowly growing downwards. Of course, there's a distinction in idealized form and the design. It's very possible that such a school system would never trickle-down, and only regenerate itself for new generations of Southern elite. Northerners, fearing that the spread of slavery would cripple a thriving political economy of popular education and, thus, popular innovation, drew a line in the sand.

The main point of recapitulating this article is to highlight the educational differences as political arrangements. It was the South's political economy that not only won out in the end, but it has been the hallmark of American political life since the beginning. The radical edge of the Republican party quickly evaporated. Lincoln's political economy quickly dried up. The North followed the South to the degree that the waves of immigrants became the uneducated masses. They were herded and prodded to support a well-heeled elite, what would become the WASP class of the later 19th, and most of the 20th century. While in the early 19th century, we see the same in the Southern planter elite, the same comes true in the industrial elite, the robber barons, of the late 19th century. It is the mass of laborers, whether slave or "free", which provide the material means for the liberal demeanor of the ruling class.

This political form is republicanism. The idea is that the government is constituted through a free-born natural elite, the people most talented, moral, and just, with the necessary financial arrangement to make them independent. Republican government is rule by the virtuous, whether constituted as a tangible class, such as Patrician Rome, or as an invisible class, as it is in the contemporary US. The popular notion is that a ruling class is anathema to the US, but such has always been the case since the nation's inception. The illusion is that our leaders are nothing of the sort. Instead, they posture themselves as our representatives, exercising an independent judgement to best meet all of our needs. It's a kindly elitism, which has consistently co-opted any democratic impulse into its visage. Of course, as it is for any political class, they constitute and regenerate themselves. The elite are not the best from among the whole, but rather have become a separate group, a top-tier of an informal hierarchy. Some "conservative" Americans like to brag that the US is a republic, not a democracy. That's true, and it's why things are so corrupt and exploitative. The idea of a republic is an illusion.

It's for such reasons that there is no genuine Left in the United States. Most "liberal" and "left-wing" figures and groups are usually anything but. They only want to reform the plutocracy to make it a diverse elite. The WASP class becomes multi-racial, religiously plural, female as well as male, and queer. The oligarchy includes a wider set of fresh of blood, rejuvenating it as well as strengthening its hold. It's all silly joke, but so completely serious and solidified through control of media, which sets the narrative and exercises incredible soft-power. I don't think it will be long until we see a general like Elgabalus or a president like Hadrian, well-beloved, successful, and a total degenerate, male lover and all. As one acquintaince has suggested, if Goebbels saw what the US propaganda machine was capable of, he'd lay down prostrate before it.

While my sympathies are, politically and economically, left, I am first  a Christian. What I mean by that is to say, simply, we live under the god of this age, who still clings to his dominion, and as little Christs, our conquest is in martyrdom, not seizing the means of political power. And yet, even as we continue to submit to Caesar, it's not out of bounds to recognize, and discern, more and less just arrangements. While republicanism is vile and a theologically naive, either pagan to the core or Pelagian in its idiocy, there are indeed worse arrangements. I plan to substantiate the claim more thoroughly in another post, but I will merely claim that American constitutional secularism has been a mild blessing for the Body of Christ, even as it foments an equally dangerous evil.

Having said that, I would not weep a moment if the American oligarchy, not to mention its global empire of capital and corporate police called the armed forces, were to be destroyed in the fires of judgement. Contrary to the myth, Rome was not free when she was without a king. What difference was it to the plebs whether they had one master or hundreds of them? My only admonition is thus: Christians ought not to cheerlead or support a morally bankrupt system, and should rather expose falsehood and tell the truth.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crucified with Christ: The Dynamic of Christian Life

I got around to reading Leithart's quasi-opus, Delivered From the Elements of the World, which attempts to wade into the whole structure of the Bible, in both testaments, answer a variety of theological questions, and paint a picture for contemporary issues and action. As a whole, the book has a breathtaking sweep, but is mediocre. Part I is brilliant, which I will shortly begin to discuss. Part II is lackluster. Part III involves typical Leithart bluster, attempting to solve the justification issue, ignoring a lot of nuance on all sides, while at the same time giving a fantastic exposition of the whole issue. I generally agree with Leithart against the Protestant old-guard; his biblicism is a breath of fresh air over and against stale dogmatics. Part IV is not only lame, but it is wildly misguided. I'll return to this further on.

In Part I, Leithart sets up the problem the Bible presents. When he writes about the Old Testament, the priesthood, the temple, and the fast times in Israel, I endlessly thank God for the man. The key issue is how he understands the creation of man, the Garden, Adam's destiny, and his fall. Leithart takes a cue from Irenaeus who understood the creation of Adam to be one of immaturity. Man was good, but he was not yet perfect. Man had the image of God, but he was not yet fully like God, he was not yet glorified. The way Leithart understands this is that Adam was created flesh, but intended for the spirit. The former is fleeting, weak, frail, and temporary. The flesh was temporary for Adam, it was a time of maturation. Adam, as yet a child, was not yet ready to join God's council. Leithart doesn't mention it, but there's a sense where man's work was a recapitulation of God's creative labor. As God created, man was to do so as well. If the Heavens and Earth function as God's macrocosmic temple, man's destiny to cultivate Eden, spread it, and build it into a garden-city was a microcosmic temple.

Yet when Adam took from the tree, he was seizing what was not yet his. God cursed Adam and all of creation, guarding Eden with flaming cherubim, and turned him over to his flesh. The problem was now sinful flesh, which was flesh-for-itself, a glorying in immaturity, a perfection of the imperfect. It's the meaning of 666, a parody of the divine project. Flesh for itself, turning inward, turned weakness into strength. The frailty, limitation, and impotency of flesh was now to become vaulted through a functional vampirism. Flesh lived off other flesh in a bid for divine mastery. Leithart spends time talking about how phallo-centrism became a domain of the flesh. This might be seen as a hat-time to feminists, but it's not. It has more to do with man's quest to conquer, consume, and crush. Babel is a vulgar attempt to penetrate Heaven, in both a political and sexual sense. As Leithart repeats again and again, God's work now appears as a war against flesh, and yet the Lord has not abandoned His creation. It is through sinful flesh that all flesh will be redeemed, and yet redemption involves the destruction of flesh. The original temporary sense of flesh now, under wrath, appears in conflict and struggle. Flesh does not merely give way to spirit, but must be put to death.

Here, Leithart understands the sacrifice system of the temple, circumcision, and numerous other aspects of Israel's socio-politico-cultic apparatus, as a war against flesh. All of these actions were pedagogy, and effective in a sense that they intended to put flesh to death. Circumcision was the wound inflicted upon man's source of strength and generative capability. Israel was intended to bless the nations, but also was intended to remain ever at war against the nations' gods. These idols were manifestations of what St. Paul refers to as the elements of the world. It's physico-social arrangement, the how and why societies are formed. In a world of flesh, now turned in towards itself, all society seems arraigned for self-aggrandizement, conquest, and exploitation. Cooperation has limitation, and must be directed to survival and expansion.

The key to Israel's victory is the promise of flesh into spirit is through the sacrifice system. The basic procedure is in the animal's death, division, and burning. Animals throughout the Scripture highlight man in symbolic fashion. Israel's priesthood blessed and invested the animal with representation for the nation. The animal dies, the fate of all flesh, it is separated, and then it is burned into a cloud of smoke before the Lord. Israel too was to suffer division in its move towards spiritualization. Leithart wavers and fumbles over this point, trying to highlight how Israel's division was not like the divisiveness of the pagans, who obsessed with ritual purity and cleanliness to protect superior flesh. I'll come back to it more later, and much more extensively in another post, but for now let's say that division is a distinctive move not in Israel's purity, but in its overcoming the curse. Then, the kicker, the animal turns into smoke. The Spirit comes as a cloud, and the smoke of sacrifice is a process of spiritualization. The animal literally becomes spirit in burning. The smoke passes before the Tabernacle, which was engraved with two cherbic warriors. For Leithart, the animal passes back through the fiery gate of Eden. The sacrifice is what Leithart calls "anti-sarkic pedagogy", an instruction in the path Israel must take to eventually reach maturation.

I'm not worried whether Leithart gets all the details right about the cult. The major point is that the flesh-for-itself builds itself into satanic imperium, which God obliterates through warfare, and yet this battle takes place in the world of flesh. Weak and frail flesh huddles to itself and swaggers as strong and everlasting. God's people and commandments emphasize the weakness of flesh, and, in so doing, becomes a conduit for infinite divine power. It is the circumcised Abraham who gets a son through Sarah. For St. Paul, this was nothing less than a resurrection of the dead. Putting flesh to death is the very means through which the flesh is glorified into spirit. Lest one think Leithart is giving a gnostic spin, we should note that Scripture refers to Jesus, the second Adam, as a life-giving spirit. The question is less about material composition, but the arrangement of the physical world. The resurrection will give us spiritual bodies, but in no way did the Apostle intend to convey something immaterial. Rather, it's a question of the corruptible giving way to the incorruptible, the temporary for the eternal, the good for the perfect.

Of course, as I said above, when Leithart shifts into Part II, the account stalls in its power. Christ's work appears hollow, and the disjunction between the Old and New Covenant vanishes quickly from sight. Leithart highlights how Israel had turned Torah into a fleshly device, but there's not much as to why this was all a part of the plan. And it's not clear how Jesus, as the final destroyer of the elements of this world, has actually done anything. Leithart likes to say that good theology involves good sociology. He is certainly an advocate for the role of the Church in the life of the Christian. But his postmillenialism leaves him blind and groping. Christ wins an ultimate victory, opening the Church to become the place where the victory is realized and spread. Through the Church the nations become disciplined, transformed before the cross, and baptized.

Of course, the whole project seemed to fall apart pretty quickly. Leithart plays pretty fast and loose with Church history. He gives examples of fully elemental religions, quasi-elemental religions which has siphoned strength from the Church, and Galatianism. The third term refers to societies that have turned their back on Christ's victory, going back to rule under the elements. Leithart blames the modern era for a highly sophisticated Galatianism which is ascendant. In the mean time, the Church needs to hunker down, continue to witness against elemental domination, and be ready to offer another direction when Western society inevitably crumbles from its own contradictions and depravity.

Leithart doesn't make any specific claims for a Christianized society, though he makes references to his work on Constantine. The reason for it is that there are hardly any examples of what Leithart envisions. There are a few blips. He lightly praises the Middle Ages, and gives off-handed support for 16th century Scotland and Geneva. But, to the contrary, I'd argue that those places are hardly havens for the godly. Though the Renaissance was an age of high pagan esoterica, it was right to posit the past as the Dark Ages. It was not for lack of learning, but spiritual depravity which was slowly enveloping Europe. Things were not so bad in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries. But as time wore on, with the imperial papacy hitting its stride, the Holy Roman Empire consolidating Europe, and the fusion of the two into a highly unstable Christian Empire, things were incredibly difficult for the faithful. Ecclesiastical reform was not only emerging from those disgusted with corruption, but among those who sought to improve revenues, police dissidents, and expand political influence. Whether or not the Crusades were intentional imperialism is irrelevant; it's clear that an increasing muscular "West" sought to strong arm the Greeks and carve out a Frankish dominion in the Levant.

And besides all of this, Leithart's breathtaking account runs out of gas when it steps off the pages of the Bible. I'm tired of reading grand narratives of Scripture that seem to say next to nothing for today, despite claims to the contrary. Looking over the carnage of history, perpetrated as much by so-called Christians as heathens, should sober you up if you're inclined to believe in post-millenial insanity. They'd make more sense if they claimed to be a hawkish variety of Open Theism or process theology. Clearly God's war against flesh, if it's to result in a new kind of imperium, is a general failure. If Galatianism is in fact a possibility, it's sort of a head-scratcher as to why the need for a Messianic coming in the first place. The promised maturity is sorely lacking in just about everywhere, and the promise of a vague future is the only grounds post-millenialists stand on. Gone are the days of the Social Gospel's triumphalism.

However, what if the path to glory is not extrinsic from Christ's own work for us His people?*

What if the suffering, death, burial, and resurrection are not only historical events that set the stage for the Church? The Person and Work of Christ is prototypical for the life of mankind today. The only possible social polity for the Church is the crucified Christ, which has a potency in weakness as Leithart described. However, such a fact deflates the state-building that is common Christendom. The Church is the remnant, the afflicted, the suffering and broken body of the Lord who, through His trial, conquers all rebels and ascends His throne. The life of Christians is nothing else than filling up on the sufferings of Christ, as St. Paul put it. The pedagogy of the sacrificed animals ends when the Man enters back into Eden and builds His Garden-City there. But the way is through the curse, not around it. And when we are in Christ, it's not a vicarious victory in the sense that we wave Him on as He does the work for us. Christ accomplishes the work, and as the Head passes through, so does the Body. The Holy Spirit, He who was always with Christ, dwells among His people as well. The Spirit passes over us and conforms us to the image. Thus, the Spirit shone so brightly in the aptly named martyrs, who were witnesses in their very deaths, the strongest manifestation of power in the exact moment of helplessness and doom.

As Christ recapitulated not only all of Israel's history, but the entire creation, so we, Christians, His people, His heavenly Congregation and Body, will recapitulate His life in our flesh. In so doing we become spiritual, a conformity of imperfection towards perfection. It's why St. Paul can never stop talking about the cross of Christ, even as he never once intends to slight, distance, or neglect the resurrection. Both go together, but the former establishes the potency for the latter. While the cross is meaningless without resurrection, the resurrection is impossible without the cross. Or, in other words, the animal sacrifice is meaningless without it being offered as smoke before the Tabernacle, but the latter is impossible without the former. As Apostles teach, time and again, the Christian, the little Christ, is to live a life as a living sacrifice, whose prayer is constant smoke before the heavenly altar. We are crucified with Christ.

Since this post has gone on long enough, I'll conclude with some thoughts on Job.** When Satan appears before God, the Lord offers Job as a challenge. Job was not just some guy, but represents a kingly figure, one who leads and represents his people. Job's friends were not his buddies, but were royal councilors. They were double-dealers, seeking to delegitimize Job's reign. They are the call of the flesh. And yet Job suffered and suffered, and, in the final moment, becomes glorified, receiving a bounty beyond what he possessed before. God tested Job not as an endurance contest, but as a very means of maturation. Satan, against his designs, became an instrument on a cursed Earth for man to become as he was intended to be. Except, instead of a smooth transition, the move from flesh to spirit is now a war to the death. Job became the priest-king he was intended to be through his suffering. For this reason we see Job not only as a premonition of Christ, but a distinctly Solomonic one. Some posit that Solomon wrote the book of Job, along with the rest of the Wisdom literature. It's certainly possible to see in the Job story an account, reflected through the failure of Solomon's kingship, what the right path forward really was. Rather than making a deal with death, which Solomon did with his marriage alliance to Egypt, Job entered the realm of the dead and cast his life and rotten flesh before the Lord.

The life of the Church is the life of its crucified Lord. We are struck down, but not destroyed. As the devils swirl about this world, building a counterfeit temple for the god of this age, and his antichrist parody, the Church overcomes through the same trap the Messiah used to smash the dragon's head. Thanks be to God.

* Ephraim Radner has shaped a lot of my thinking in this regard. His work, generally, is a healthy corrective to the directions the Jordan-Leithart crowd tend towards.

**I take these insights from Kabane, who has a video on his youtube page (Kabane the Christian).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Christ the Stumbling Block: Thoughts on the Order of Theology

One thing in Church history I like to explain is the importance of the sixth ecumenical council. At Constantinople III, as it's called, the Church ruled on whether Christ had one or two wills, deciding for the latter. It also condemned a Roman pope, Honorius, as a heretic, which is interesting in its own right. But the thing I focus on is why the debate even happened, and why it matters. In the contemporary moment, vigorous debate over the number of wills in Christ would seem inane at best, but as the brilliant work of St. Maximus shows, it was hardly such.

The question of the two wills is really a multi-pronged question. It asks how God and man relate, what human nature is, what the difference is between nature and person, what it meant for Christ to be human, how human psychology works, and quite a few others. However, before the doctrinal question floats off the text, it's important to focus on the site of this debate. Monothelites (one-will) and Dyothelites (two-wills) argued over what exactly happened in the Garden of Gethsemene. If Christ is the divine Son, then what is happening when He says, "Take this cup from me [...] not your will, but yours, be done" and so submits to the Father? Can God be divided against Himself? Some monothelites hand-waived the episode as a didactic prayer for the disciples. Christ didn't really mean it, He was merely showing how to overcome fear and panic. Other monothelites, who wanted to engage with the text, posited that one sees here the divine will overriding human concerns.

The problem with the latter approach is it construes God-human relations as overriding. One becomes more godly the less one acts, and the human element must diminish as God's will takes over. There is, it seems, a fundamental incongruity between the divine and the human, a radical disjuncture rooted in a version of the Creator-creature distinction. The human will appears to be a problem, a symptom of a sinful world. It seems also to suggest that the creaturely is a problem to overcome. Humans are in the way of God's work, and humans qua humans are impotent. This theological opinion runs rampant in doctrines of salvation which emphasize that God, and God alone, is involved in the salvation process, and man just takes a backseat, lays down dead, is erased before the omnipotent benevolence.

Maximus, on the other hand, argued that the two wills is the only way to make sense of how Jesus acted in the garden. Christ's trembling and submission were both distinctly human actions, not a process where the human is effaced before divine power. However, if we say that these are human actions, we cannot say that the will belongs to the person. Maximus argues vigorously that the will is a faculty, a natural capability, like sight or thought, which belongs to nature, even as individual persons must instantiate and activate it for themselves. And the will cannot be personal because, if so, we either deny Christ is the Word of God made flesh or that God behaves creaturely (i.e. desiring to be alive, fearing death). Thus, if Christ is to have properly prayed as a fully human being in Gethsemane, then it follows that the will is natural, and thus since Christ is divine and human, two natures, in the single Son of God, one person, than there must be two wills.

There is a plethora of doctrinal wealth underneath the doctrine of two wills. But the key point is that figuring out whether Christ had one or two wills had to do with assessing the Scriptural data. Here, preserved in the Apostolic deposit, we see Christ praying in a very specific way, with very specific requests, left to His people to read, ruminate, and reflect upon. The event provided the raw material that later speculation depended upon. Despite interesting gains for theology, anthropology, soteriology, etc. etc., none of this matters if not grounded upon a firm bedrock. Christ did these things, we must say, what do they mean?

In a book on Medieval metaphysics, a section addressed William Occam and his infamous Razor. The simplest account is the preferred. The logic cuts, and it is powerful. But logic only functions on the bedrock of reality. Contrary to modern optometry, Occam thought the idea that the retina inverts light to produce an image that is right-side-up was extraneous and silly. Much better, he said, to posit that the light simply goes right into the eye. Occam's reasoning was sound, but it was not according to reality. No matter how much his simplified process seems to deal better with the empirical data about sight, medical investigation has proved him foolishly mistaken. Occam's logic only ever can deal with things that are real. The brute fact of the eye's design contradicts logical attempts at simplification.

The problem is that abstract reasoning is only ever useful if fully grounded and tethered to real phenomena. However, theology as a scholastic discipline many times seems to float off the pages of Scripture. By this I don't mean that Scripture isn't cited, chapter and verse. What I mean is that the arrangement of the data easily slips off and away from the real, the brute facts of Scripture. It's not that there isn't more to the brute facts, but that many times they're too quickly swept away in the pursuit of the truth.

I'm not intending to strawman, and I cringe somewhat in saying this, but I see a certain kind of Platonic methodology going on. Please, I'm not talking so much about metaphysics, though that's included, and I'm not talking about questions of spirit, rationality, etc. All I mean is in sense that Plato held an extreme distrust and disinterest in phenomena. History was irrelevant, and experience was more likely to deceive than enlighten. The allegory of the cave is intended to communicate the difference between dependence on experience and unfettering the mind/soul to seek a truth beyond. People trapped in the cave are the ones focusing on the day-to-day, the tangible, and the sensible. Reason expanded beyond the mortal frame, reaching through to a veil of timelessness and changelessness, where perfection dwells without the illusion of time and space. For Plato, truth is truth, time is irrelevant.

This method posits rationality as a faculty capable of extending beyond time and place, the intellect a means to decontextualize. If Aristotle did anything to serve God, it was attempting to burst Plato's bubble, and show how he had gotten everything backwards. I'm not advocating Aristotelian philosophy, only that he had provided a counter-point to check a spiral into esoterica, which is what Platonic philosophy became(!) as it blended with elite cults and magic. Plato was not alone, but was among a cadre of philosophers who devalued the sensible and the phenomenal. Kant was a good Platonist when he severed the realm of ultimate rationality from phenomenal investigation in order to save it. Kant realized reason could not broach Plato's world, so we had to assert the necessary truths to make sense of all subsequent phenomenal experience. The latter couldn't give us the meaning of it, and so we must find a way to get around the impasse.

This methodological move is common enough within Christian theology, which depends upon an almost Kantian synthetic a priori, which we call world-view thinking. There is a mistake of revelation for doctrine. However, when the confusion is made, the Bible becomes a frustration and must be cleaned up through clear, explicit, preferably numbered, propositions that form the doctrinal core. Creeds become a list of necessary beliefs, easily becoming detached. and bolstered up with the proof-texts. Arguments over doctrine focus on claims of who God is and not so much who God has revealed Himself to, in fact, be.

Again, I'm not trying to strawman, but it's a subtle difference. The truths of the Gospel strike us not as a system at war with other systems. If this was so, then not only would it be somewhat arbitrary, depending upon persuasion-as-coherence, and it would also require a certain appeal to an individual or group's socio-intellectual framework. Hence, for those who use the above methodology, it's easy to see rapid shifts in theological formulae, depended upon people's mental and emotional needs. You go about presenting Jesus as a friend, a wounded healer, a might savior, the solution to death, time, plurality, and so on. Jesus becomes a one-size fits all glove; He can be whoever you need Him to be. Not only is this profaning the Name, it comes off as a used-car salesman tactic.

Rather, when St. Paul preached, he focused not on "contextualizing" Jesus, but presenting Him as fact. The Apostle lays out the reality, a series of facts with a rather mild interpretive framework. The major point is always the same: the man Jesus was Israel's Messiah, proved by His death and resurrection, overcoming God's enemies as the very Son of God, now reigning, and coming to judge the living and the dead. It's not that Paul's doctrine was undeveloped or lacking, it was that it was densely packed into the very reality of the experience. It's not that St. Paul doesn't have doctrine, but he orders properly: first the reality, and then what it means. 

Whether or not the Trinity solves any philosophical problems is irrelevant and, perhaps many times, profane. Rather, the only reason we have a doctrine of the Trinity is to explain the data of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who, as such, calls His disciples to baptize in His name, the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The doctrine is important, it's crucial shorthand for the meaning of several brute facts of Scripture, properly arranged and explained. It would be absolutely foolish and rebellious to jettison the doctrine. And yet, we must boldly say that the doctrine is only ever second hand, derivative, from the brute facts of revelation. The Christians of the first two centuries were not deficient for lacking the term, and the Church of the first three centuries did not lack before Nicaea. The doctrinal grammar was not there, but the truth of it was still present anywhere the Scripture was being faithfully read and God rightly worshiped.

Another example is in how the Lord Supper is celebrated and understood. The Scriptural data, contrary to some, does not focus on the elements, but in the supping. The act was not in the bread becoming the body, but in the disciples eating it. Attention to the brute facts (i.e. they broke bread and shared wine) frames the question better than asking whether or not bread can become Christ's flesh and what exactly this means and how it happens. The latter question may tangentially reference Scripture, but has at its heart a question about philosophical relations. These questions are only important in as much as they stay grounded in the revealed fact. And from thence comes the meaning, which the Apostolic teaching provides us for, both explicitly and, in their method for Scriptural interpretation, implicitly. 

Without a firm bottom, philosophy is an interesting tool of coherence forming and nothing more. It can paint a beautiful or horrible vision, but that's all that it is. I have no affection for Nietzsche, but he was a good critic. He claimed that all attempts at meaning were fables, and man's goal should be to tell the best ones, ones that form us into the people we want to be. Claims of reality are obfuscation, a smokescreen in a power game. Thus many Nietzschean philosophers and theologians postulate on the kind of world that they think is good and beneficial to the most. Thus, there are many atheists in the garb of Christian, and they do it self-consciously. For them, whether Christianity is real is a red-herring, a false-starter, a missing of the point. The question is whether the faith, and its subsequent and diverse traditions, can uplift humanity. It's not that it's a total rejection of reality, but a rejection of an ultimate level to reality. There is a radical agnosticism about beginnings and ends, and what any of that means. Per Zizek's iconic reversal, theology can be the puppet playing chess, controlled by the dwarf of historical materialism.

The scandal of Christ is not what He said in regards to homosexuals, private property, ethics, or the nature of God. The scandal is the sheer fact of historical reality. It's the sheer fact that a man who claimed to be Messiah, fulfilling the nation of Israel's history and destiny, died on the cross and, on the third day, rose from the grave in an incorruptible body, appearing to His disciples, a crowd of 5000, and ascended to His throne. Many a modern man would scoff at a number of those claims, and may be willing to accept an ethic of forgiveness or peaceableness before that. The power of that event continues to reverberate, where the Spirit of Christ converts sinners and empowers them to walk a different path. But no matter what its effects, the Christ event must have happened first. There was no pouring out of the Spirit before Christ's work, and then even so, the pouring out of the Spirit is not so much a doctrine, as it is an event. The tongues of fire are not incidental, but the coming of reality in a startling and prophetic form.

Of course, as I've said again and again, doctrine comes from these events and is, subsequently, important. Some doctrine is contained explicitly in Scripture, and some of it is implicit. But the facts must come first. Otherwise doctrine is looked upon as vain speculation, which many times it is. But when the distinction and proper order come together, it may help many folks who don't see much use in considering doctrine. Adhering to the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a helpful guide for intellectual/emotional/social problems, but is the only way to account for a variety of Scriptural data. Lest one want to try and reinvent the wheel, to deny the Trinity is to deny the very revelation of Scripture, willfully ignoring God's appearance.

As St. Paul says, if Christ did not raise then our faith is in vain. The primary facts of Scripture anchor the truths of the faith. They are not ephemera, even though methodological considerations easily make them as such. Without a strong claim that Christ is risen is a brute, objective, fact, then the faith is nothing more than an ideology, instantiated as a religion in a variety of social programs and institutions. Such is the work of anti-Christ, and may it be anathema from our lives.

Friday, November 17, 2017

In All Time of Our Wealth,Good Lord Deliver Us: Thoughts on Roy Moore, Sacralism, and the Pursuit of Power

Mbird put out its weekly wrap-up and, in it, considered the moral failures of Roy Moore through a piece in The National Review. In that article, David French construed two pitfalls for Christianity: antinomian worldliness and legalistic reactionary ghetto-building. Roy Moore, the Fundamentalistic Evangelical, occupied the latter space. The internal policing in Fundy communities creates an inability to admit failure and weakness, as it is so hell-bent (literally in this case) to promote its own righteousness. Thus, the Moores of this world will explode into a series of perverse relationships. According to French, Christianity needs an active dialogue and exposure to currents within the world to be healthy and, perhaps more importantly, faithful.

I hardly know what to make with an article like this one. They're inane as they are droll. Why do people still fall for the normative-middle rhetorical sleight-of-hand? I can bet almost every Christian group, whether a church or a sect, whether orthodoxy or a heresy, has attempted the middle-road sophistry. It's an illusion of rationality. And like many sophistic turns of phrase, it many times obscures deeper problems or false choices.

I do not believe in a primitivity-as-purity standard for orthodoxy, but I always go back to the earliest days of the Church, before and after Nicaea. The earliest centuries were not perfect, but they do highlight a number of issues that get obscured later. One such is the question of Christians interacting with the world, which is false dichotomized from embracing the world. The fact is that many early Christians had immense struggle with operating in the day-to-day world. As many like to tout, St. Paul was the great advocate for Christian liberty, showing that idols were nothing. But this nothing was still demonic, the idols still possessed a force, even if they were stunned and crushed in the Messiah's victory over them. St. Paul could talk about stronger and weaker brothers, but he was also adamant that Christians cannot share a table with Belial, that anything offered to the gods was satanic and ought to be shunned. Christians had to organize collective means of worship and order, as well evangelism. In the ancient Carthaginian church, there was even a diaconal office/role for door-watching. Christians feared that some new-comers were spies looking to stir up trouble and bring a fresh wave of persecution. Usually it was the elite members of the Church, who had property and prestige to lose if the magistrate made sacrifice to the gods, a votive to the emperor, or some religious oath a qualification to maintain land and estate.

Americans don't live in a social polity where much of that is necessary. However, the example of the early centuries highlights that communal standards were not a problem. I'm not saying sins weren't a problem, but that keeping a tight-knit community was not an aggravating cause. It's not as if those at chariot games, gladiatorial combats, lewd dramas, imperial court, etc. etc. were somehow more well-balanced and capable Christians. This silly notion derives from peculiarities in American Fundamentalism and sectarianism, which tends to eschew broader networks of institutional organization. Instead, there's a focus on something else, whether a charisma or a confession. Thus, French's claim that Moore fell because he was too tightly wound is absurd. Again, it's something else within American Evangelicalism that makes this sort of thing prominent. One of these is certainly a strain of Pelagian-esque decision theology and a lack of a robust sense, doctrine, and practice of repentance as a virtue in the life of a pilgrim.

However, what's more important is that rarely is the question of power addressed. Peter Leithart commented on Moore on a Fox editorial, pulling back from his endorsement and pontificating about how Moore did not repent when he was justly accused. As Leithart concluded that this fact shows us who Moore really is. This isn't the first time Leithart has made a poor judgement concerning sexual abuse. He was tied into Doug Wilson's mishandling of sexual abuse, and wider problems with discipline in CREC, though he cut his ties and did not try to obscure the issue. The greater problem is the postmillenial fantasy of church history, and its endorsement of Christendom as a political model. Leithart's work on Old Testament patterns, and their symphonic fulfillment in the Messiah, is masterful, brilliant, and genius.

However, when applying these insights, Leithart is abysmal. The Church is not a Fountain overflowing into the World. The Church is not simply the Temple. The Church is the Temple, but within the claim that the Church is the Nation of God's People. Christ's Body is Israel, as Christ, as the Head, is Israel's King, the sovereign authority, the promised viceroy. Misunderstanding the Church's typology here is a critical error, resulting in Sacralism that is quintessential in Eastern Orthodoxy's veneration of Old Rome. For these reasons, I prefer Tyndale's translation of ecclesia as congregation. The Church is an eschatological claim, a final assembly of all, but in the mean time there are many churches, for all Christians and angels cannot congregate as one. Only in this final sense can we say that the Church is commensurate with the Kingdom of God, and only if we're including Christ seated at the Head of His Body. However, since such is not the case, churches do not, in toto, represent the Kingdom of God. Also, being not the full manifestation of the End, even as Christ flashed the End in His work, and we are living in the time of the End even as we speak, there is still corruption a float. In a future post, I will further talking about what it means to talk of Christ's body-politic as crucified and rent. 

I say all of this to make clear that I don't intend to sound triumphalistic in attacking the French article. The point that Mbird, Leithart, and French all share is, in general, condoning the pursuit of power as normative. While they all may differ in what this means and why its significant, all don't see any issue with Evangelicalism's deep embeddedness in American politics and trying to pull the strings of social dominance. As St. Augustine was never tired of saying, pride was a (he might say the) primitive sin. Like the godly republicans of the Puritan Commonwealth, modern day American Evangelicals are quite comfortable in using the state's violence to create a nation of hypocrites. Outward conformity to God's commands is considered a safe use of power, and, in doing such, conform the general population to Christian mores, perhaps converting many in the process.

What if there is something deeply corrupting in the political process itself? For all of Leithart's criticisms of Liberalism, he never seems to wonder whether Christians ought to buy-in. Perhaps representative democracy, as Dominic Foo has highlighted, repeatedly, is a deeply flawed form of politics which creates its own monsters. From a Christian point of view, it's not hard to see how a political system that vaunts its political class(!) as virtuous company of individuals aggravates pride. Should Christians not be suspicious of anyone touting himself as the solvent for the nation's ills, who will lead the charge of putting God back in our laws? It's certainly peculiar for a nation (or any creaturely entity) to take upon itself a sovereign prerogative which God reserved to Himself (i.e. the selection of representative). But I digress.

Why does no one ask whether Christians ought to involve themselves in such systems of patronage, power brokering, and wealth accumulation? This is a different question from whether Christians can rightfully have power or wealth. Rather, the very fact of the quest for such should raise suspicions of vainglory. No one is asking whether Roy Moore reveals something bankrupt in the American system, and the hand-wringing over whether he could properly express his problems is a red-herring. Maybe a Fundamentalist enclave that seeks to wrest political power to itself is more problematic, and Leithart's off-hand suggestion that public repentance and submission to the electorate as an effective (and just!) tactic is disturbing. Contrary to our crocodile tears and maudlin voyeurism, Scripture has little sympathy with the power-hungry and their fall. Their example ought to inspire repentance, not equivocation or a leveling. Yes, all are sinners, but that did not stop Mary Theotokos' righteous song that proclaimed God's raising up of the poor and the bringing low of the powerful.

While I'm unsure of any long term effects, systemically or otherwise, the revelation of sex abuse rampant in the corridors of the elite, whether Hollywood or political capitols, is a revelation of God's wrath. It's an expose of how beastly the American Empire is, viz. Romans 1 and Revelation 13. It ought to remind us that every empire is born the same way: the murder of brothers rooted in the elevation of vanity and arrogance. When someone wants, strives, and seeks to sit upon that throne of blood, such a man does not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Creed as Shorthand

A recall a few years ago reading N.T. Wright's commentary on the creeds. This was at a time when he was at the zenith of his popularity in the US, which was by no means undeserved. However, even as Wright is a fantastic commentator on the NT, St. Paul, and the Second Temple period, he has always outstretched himself with an unbecoming haughtiness. This is partially why there are so many irritating and ignorant groupies that flock to him, which he has done little to disabuse. Thus, Reformation scholars constantly furrow their brows and rub their temples when Wright cavalierly dismisses all interpretations of Paul from the 16th century as mistaken. When confronted, Wright does little more than stare at his shoes and proclaim innocence. I wish he were less inclined to celebrity. I thank God that John Barclay has helped to tighten up some of Wright's weaker aspects and mop up his foolishness.

Anyway, one of Wright's less savory claims is that the creeds did a disservice to the whole Scriptural background of Christ. The creeds, so says Wright, are reductionistic, removing Jesus from His Jewishness, and cutting Israel out of the Church. The creeds also tell us nothing of Christ's life, skipping from birth to death. This paved the way to the de-contextualized faith that made anti-semitism an easier shift, and also pave the way to a kind of nominal adherence, where orthodoxy triumphed over orthopraxy. Less savory and less intellectually potent American Evangelicals have republished these claims with greater and greater vigor. Wright has become a banner head for a Pelagian-lite Arminianism and triumphalistic Evangelicalism that thinks itself radical when it is conformist to the zeitgeist.

Anyway, Wright's claim about the creeds is totally mistaken, but reflects, perhaps a contemporary problem. Alaistair Roberts covered the real issues behind mistaken use of the creeds as grammatical standards of orthodoxy and, thus unity (here). The gist of it is that creeds are not read as a summary that can be detached from the scriptural witness. If so, as Jamie Smith seems to do, then things outside the broad creed (such as sex ethics) are open to debate. It's this same spirit that drives the two sides of the ecumenical-confessionalist debate. The former looks for a symbol of unity broad to include many, while the latter seems to look for comprehensive statements to weed out heterodoxy and heteropraxy. The point of a creed is to be a guide, a short hand, for the reading of Scripture. If it is ever detached from Scripture, in guiding its meaning and defining its grammar, it is worthless. If it does not functionally replace Scripture (as it does among many confessionalists), then it becomes a pliable document that people debate over endlessly.

But as it would be clear to anyone who ever did a cursory examination: the creeds always came deeply connected to Scripture. In St. Irenaeus' "On the Apostolic Preaching", he provides an exposition of the creed that is anything but light. The general thrust of Israel's history is included. The creed was designed for baptism, a shorthand to confess before God, angels, men, and all creation, acknowledging the apostolic faith. It was a way of professing a right understanding of Scripture, not according to nascent Judaism, which rejected Jesus, or the variety of Gnostic sects, including Marcionites, who adhered to a variety of interpretations.

The creed doesn't make sense outside of Scripture, since it was intended as derivative from the holy writ. Rather it is a guide along the way. There is nothing wrong with it, then or now, for our hyper-literal age, looking for explicit statements and, subsequently, loopholes. Rather than a regula fidei, many hanker after some sort of replacement for the Word and Spirit, which comprehensive confessions or warm feelings seem to provide.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Once and Future Slavery: The Antebellum as the Post-Modern

I've been doing some reading and dabbling in some research involving the Antebellum South. Primarily my interests peak around the brilliant Frederick Douglass and his autobiographical commentary. In a section of his main work, Douglass describes how the masters utilize holidays. When Christmas, or any other calendar festivity, comes around, the master gives his slaves time off. The slaves look forward to the holiday as a time for rest and merriment. The master provides the slaves with liquor, if not directly, indirectly through encouraging the behavior. According to Douglass, the slaves drink and drink, partying nonstop for a series of days. After awakening day after day in a pool of their own filth and poisoned through consumption, they pine to return to their labor regimen. The cycle continues year after year, looking forward to the holiday and then looking forward to returning to work. According to Douglass, it functioned like a pressure-valve, letting off slave anger and angst over the labor regime. It also institutionalized a vision of freedom, one that was fearful and dominating. If one was not under the lash then, as it goes, one would be slave to a bottle. Master provides the perfect balance, presenting a good system when it was, in truth, despotic and deceptive.

Douglass grasped power-dynamics that can crop up anywhere in a bid for social control. It's funny how moral filth and perversion have become almost normative, fitting seamlessly in corporate capitalism. I mean, it's not secret sex, drugs, and violence are the best selling commodities. It shouldn't shock that a Gene Simmons, a Madonna, or a Lil Wayne are extraordinary businessmen. Labor regimes help maintain a pliable workforce through accommodation and sensory suasion. The Christmas debt cycle, where obscene expectations about parties, decorations, and celebrations keep people locked into the dynamics of the system. And the to cap it off, free choice is waved on as the smoking gun. You don't have to do any of this, they say, but you did, because you like it, and so it's your fault. Presented with two false choices, many are trapped to continue to labor endlessly for garbage, fleeting feelings, experiences, and then a fade to black.

Douglass' analysis of slavery is a light on how uncomfortably the chattel system is a good fit for post-modern capitalism. The southern plantation complex was not primitive, but the cutting edge of capitalist development, with the transformation of labor into tools. In science fiction terms, the AI is the fantasy of a slave force, fusing labor and tool into a single entity. The dream is to create a self functioning tool. Human enough to judge, decide, and to act, and thus provide labor, and yet be a non-human object, a tool. The goal is for owners to sublimate labor, dissolving the relationship into total dominance. Now the owner merely wills, and labor occurs. The plantation complex was at the cutting edge of this. Southern ideologues crafted paternalism, which seemingly kindly, attempted to strip slaves of their agency. The vision of the negro as a perpetual child was a means to reduce, leaving only residue, an emptiness to be filled. Emasculated, debased, stripped of dignity and honor, mind and body, the slave was now only to fulfill the will of the master. This was the ideal.

Modern day capitalism has not returned to the nightmare of Antebellum slavery, though it inches towards it. Our modern day slaves do not tend cotton or sugar fields, but the factories that scatter the world, producing the means for our consumable tech and faddish garbage. Slavery, whether chattel or wage, has been more and more evacuated from the US and sent elsewhere, though it's certainly still present in the unskilled retail complex, sex trafficking, the use of illegals. With psychopaths like Elon Musk and other such Silicon freaks, it won't surprise if there is an attempt to augment humans with "labor enhancers" with promises of a better, more efficient and more enjoyable, work week.

All of this matches Hegel's notion of subjectivity founded in the encounter between master and slave. The master becomes subject by seeing his own image reflected in the eyes of the slave. He sees something that looks like him, but is not. The slave looks human, but is merely a tool. In the encounter, the master now truly understands himself, and he is bound in relation to the slave as the rock upon he stands. Douglass brilliantly reverses this image. In his encounter with slave-breaker Covey, Douglass recounts that the man was like a force of nature. The wild untamed passions were inhuman, and in overcoming them Douglass recognized his own humanity in triumph. The master was the object, an economic machine of production, which the slave, in his encounter, broke free from. Southern slavery, even though a disgusting horror from the pit of hell, provided a means of apocalyptic break. The vileness of the master, a tool in the hand of the god of this age, was the encounter with the devil, which revealed both the chains and the hope for liberty. Douglass' welling up of strength is nothing less than an encounter with grace as the holy apostle Paul, or St. Augustine, might describe it. True freedom was unleashed in the encounter, a freedom of self-mastery, a slavery to righteousness.

Douglass was allies with William Lloyd Garrison in the abolitionist cause, and both were vociferous in seeking freedom. However, Garrison's tone and rhetoric contrast, echoing a certain shrillness that lacks depth. Like the Antebellum South, which the Lord permitted to reach the full potential of its sin before unleashing wrath upon it, the contemporary global capitalist order will one day reach its zenith before it is smashed to pieces. It will fill up its sins, reaching the max capacity of blood, of both saints and the oppressed, before it will be cast down. And such awaiting does not mean doing nothing, not hastening the day through rejection of buying in, even it means suffering and exclusion. But the grace of Douglass' encounter provides a backdrop of hope in the midst of the horror unleashed on most parts of the world. I am not guiltless, my hands are bloodied by the system, but still, there is hope.

Garrison's sanctimony attempts to draw too thick of lines, and his cries for immediate destruction missed the main point. As one would see, slavery was destroyed but continued through other means, in both North and South. God's judgement happened nonetheless, but Garrison's vision was mistaken. Even as we hasten the end of a brutal apparatus, one must be circumspect in how freedom is far more substantial than political rights. Ideally, the churches ought to be a site of the City of God, but many times they are not. Many times they are footholds for the satanically led City of Man. In this age, the body of Christ is riveted with many dead branches and cancerous tumors. The battle will go on until Christ returns. My hope is that Christians would recognize the evil around them and refuse participation where they can, even as they pray grace may appear in the midst of terror, and that wicked men would be struck dead, either figuratively in repentance and baptism leading to salvation or literally in a mortal blow leading to damnation. We can hope that, indeed, no matter how bad it gets, the meek will inherit the earth. The slave will be awake to his humanity, not the master*. Christ will reign, not the devil.

*St. Paul stunningly councils masters to realize that they are, in fact, not masters. The apostle tells slaves to serve Christ first, which impacts how they will behave before their masters. The apostle also tells masters that they too are slaves, for they have a Heavenly master. While St. Paul's experience of slavery was not the maximalization of dominance one sees in the Antebellum system or elsewhere, it attempts to transfigure the more benign relationship even so. The master-slave relationship should blossom into an egalitarian embrace of brothers in Christ, where the common bondage to freedom does away with the dialectic. However, the flip of this coin is Hegel's domination, the fantasy of the AI, which is nothing but a bionic sambo-man. The Letter to Philemon ought to be a definitive interpretation not only for the Christian climax of master-slave relations, but all labor relations.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Satan is a Christ-Figure: The Hermeneutics of Insanity in Christian Pop-Culture Analysis

Over the course of the day, I came across a related strand of thought. First was an off-hand comment from an online acquaintance, stating that he would not like to see a review of the new Thor movie portraying him as a Christ-figure. Another thing was an article criticizing the faddishness of Girardian theory (with mimesis, scapegoat as foundation, etc.), since it doesn't make sense of reality and doesn't explain anything.

I began to think about how there is a certain cottage-industry within Christian online material that attempts to "redeem" pop-culture. I use to gravitate to this sort of thing in my heady days of post-modern idealism. The concept is that Christ as Logos is Truth, and since all good stories involve truth, being good because they resonate in something deep-down in our souls and/or in the fabric of creation, that all good stories point to Christ. Thus Christians can legitimately dissect film, literature, any kind of culture, and find Christ at the bottom. Swirling in the mix of these assertions is a form of presuppositional apologetics, a claim that all logics begin at a basic claim of faith that is made. This kind of subjectivism attempts to make sense of how three people can watch the same thing and draw different conclusions. They're all operating from different groups of fundamentals, and thus draw conclusions.

While this mode of thinking is as patchy as the universal of deconstructivism, it uses a couple cheat codes. One might say that people do not always operate according to their fundamental beliefs, their "worldview", and sometimes do things that contradict them. The answer is that people are sinners, and thus fail to live up to the godly world-view, or are providentially restrained, not being able to live out as wickedly as they intend. One might ask how one ever would change their world-view, given that it seems like a kind of all-or-nothing leap that few, if anyone, ever takes, with the exception of brainwashing. The reply would be that faith is a miracle, where the sinner is converted, being baptized into a new "worldview" and given a new operating system, except for all that sin.

I'm not discounting the power of faith/trust/fidelity operating in how we decide and judge things. I'm also not discounting that ideas are powerful, sin is a real and insidious force, or that God's power alone converts the sinner from His ways. What I am decrying is how these have been repackaged for a view of the world that can, quite literally, justify just about anything. While coherency is important, to an extent, and is important with weighing options and reasoning, it has its limits. One can coherently believe the world is merely a subjective experience until someone pushes you off a ledge. Outside objects delimit our world, telling us who and what we are (in the case above, a creature subject to gravity). While optical illusions, among other phenomena, can tell us that our sensory input has limitations, it also adumbrates the inherent trustworthy of our senses. While we put trust in our empirical observations, we don't have to convince ourselves to take a leap of faith every time we look across the road and see no cars coming.

In fact, presuppositional apologetics, for all its low-anthropology, puts it trust far too much in Human faculties. Rather than submitting to the logic of Scripture, as a revelation of the truth, there is an attempt to build a system of rational coherency. If we get the system right, the ten points of a Christian worldview, reduced to a pure and refined truth, then we can work our way through just about anything. Hence the endless stream of articles "5 things you need to know about..." or other such titles. This idealism works like gnosticism: once you get access to the arcane knowledge, you unlock the secrets of the universe, everything now open to you. It's a form of intellectual witchcraft.

The whole approach fits our current zeitgeist, which has unprecedented access to information and is incredibly lazy and intellectually slothful. We only think in 160 characters, we can only express our feelings, there is no ability to follow an argument. Thanks to certain trends and fads, language is reduced to empty symbols, where babbling and speaking are only different by degree, everything a self-referential emptiness. I'm not snarling out some elitist and reactionary drivel, I'm not trying to harken to an enlightened yesteryear. Instead, I want to highlight how our age is not much different than when a mass of people were illiterate, uneducated, and struggled through the daily rhythms of life as they knew it. The difference is that people get degrees to award their ignorance and claim to be superior to their ancestors.

The presuppositional model is popular with a kind of bourgeois phillistinism, wary of too much thought and time consumed in pursuit of understanding. Unfortunately, such a class marks much of the churches in the US, which is obsessed with fashion and relevance. The problem is not dabbling in pop-culture reflectively, though it should be done with far more caution. The problem is not grasping the objectivity of things, objects, ideas. Every student of the Reformation knows that the Reformers criticized the Romanist concept of justification as misconstruing the Pauline sense of the phrase. It did not mean, contrary to St. Augustine's etymological fumbling, make-just. Yes, the word, as it is in Latin, could mean that, but it would be a faulty interpretation or a faulty understanding of the word. Context, grammar, and historical use dictate to us what things can and can't mean.

Why then do many Protestants not understand the same about the culture they take a part? Things mean certain things, and while meaning may grow and adapt, it is still rooted in the historical experience of such change. Contrary to a popular claim, Superman is not a Christ-figure. He was created by Jews who sought to model him on Moses, and while Moses was a Christ-figure, a second-degree of removal bastardizes the Scriptural reference. Superman is neither God nor man, and his role as a patriotic boy-scout is nothing like Christ. However, such a hermeneutical move turns Christ into an empty concept. He shifts with the times, and becomes whatever His admirers desire Him to be. He shows up everywhere and becomes nothing in the process. This is to make the name of God a common trope, and opposes the Lord's prayer to hallow the Name.

Again, it fits the current mood. There's a general disgust with the objective world and its recalcitrance to move out of the way from our desires. Sadly, our technological prowess has been put to perverse use in trying to obscure reality. Photographs have become a prime source of illusion, creating a sense of reality that is anything but. Lighting, placement, angling, and digital modification help to create images that reflect less of who we are than what we'd like to be. As if we could find our beautiful selves hidden in a frozen moment, when Human life is such by its constant motion. It's in such a mood that we enslave texts, film, etc. to our withering interpretations, and/or are misled by the director's ability to conjure and misdirect. Movies have meanings, and our interpretations of them are not always right, even if they make sense. Not every exposition of grace, or love, or sacrifice is actually enlightening or beneficial. Some are actually deluded, deceptive, confused, or contrary to the gospel.

If you're going to assess art, you need to be realistic about it. You need to take the time to understand it, on its own terms, rather than trying to ram it through your system. Why trust yourself to comprehensively interpret everything? Living in light of the Word of God is a process, and one must tread cautiously. After you begin to understand how things work or what they mean, then you can assess it in light of other factors, namely the reality revealed in Scripture, and make judgements. It's not that things are, by their attractiveness, reveal the qualities they intend. Pornography doesn't tell you anything real about Humans, society, or sexuality, though it might tell you how to short-circuit Human desires, or create illusions, or cultivate and aggravate sin and Human wickedness.

Even so, Human art still reflects Human ideas and imagination, which are grounded in a cosmos and a creation which are real. It's still the same set of materials that God created for our use, and it's the same set of materials that God used, uses, and will use for His work. He made it as such and for such. Taking every thought captive, or robbing the Egyptians, ought to be a self-conscious appropriation of things without needing to read back in that the Egyptian gold was secretly the Ark of the Covenant the whole time. Rather, the gold needed to be smelted down, and fit within God's design. But such a process still recognizes gold as gold, and not whatever it is otherwise. Let the reader understand.