Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Culture Did It: World-Viewism, Freedom & General Incoherence

I've come to a point in my own academic writing, inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, where I put a moratorium on my own use of the word "culture". One primary reason is that it functions as one of those grab-bag words that doesn't seem to mean much, as it seems to mean everything (and thus nothing) at the same time. Every Human word, thought, and deed is under this purview, and every 'thing' that is in relation to Humans is included.

However, I used culture quite liberally before. I think it was due to gaining a theological vocabulary from proponents of what is called "world-view", the idea about how ideas shape just about everything. Every Human being has a filter that interprets everything else and sorts it into categories and binaries. This concept has roots in Descartes and his turn to Subjectivity, but it isn't articulated until much later. This was a reaction against Empiricism and a naive Rationalism that assumed that the Human mind was a blank-slate that the World, as it is, was impressed into, like a stamp into wax.

This isn't all bad, but it has run amok in the philosophically naive Christian pseudo-intellectual community. The worst is when it results in someone accusing someone else of holding a belief that they are rejecting. Better (or perhaps even worse) is the more sophisticated notion that people are not cognizant of all of what their beliefs entail. Thus, they live inconsistently for whatever reason (e.g. Humans are not primarily rational, sin blinds them, God restrains the outworking of certain insane beliefs etc.). 

One way of the short-hand, now a days, is less a focus on ideas, which tends towards the high-brow, but towards "culture", a more popular and less defined collation of ideas. Culture includes everything from pop-music, car styles, economic emphases, and living spaces. It can cover a much broader category of people in terms that make more sense to many more people. Like I said, I used to talk this way, but there are some major problems. I'll focus on two, but primarily on the second.

First, it's suspiciously reductionistic. I'll hear people talking about immense categories of people under the category of culture. Thus, I'd hear (and say) "American culture", "Western culture", "white culture" etc etc. Of course there are much smaller spheres of activity and thought that these erase in their attempts at vast explanation. When one is aware of specific contradictions, they're swept away as inconsequential, outliers, for a broader story. This isn't to say that outliers don't exist or statistical trends mean nothing. However, bravado and confidence tend to carry these just-so stories about the current state of things further than actual facts. Coherency is not a litmus test of reality, but then again neither is incoherency (i.e. a quick cliche that "fact is stranger than fiction"). It''s not that there isn't some tentative answer that someone can draw, but we're too quick to get pronouncements and pursue with our pontifications and speculations about things we know very little about.

Second, and more importantly, I noticed the use of "culture" as a subject in many of mine, and others', sentences. That is to say, Culture seemed to be doing a lot of things. I am so embarrassed about a previous post of mine about the "failure" of a culture, that I've deleted it. What am I saying if a "culture" failed? How exactly does that happen? I also deleted another post about the development of a trans-national culture beyond the functions of a Nation. Again, how exactly does this happen? Normally, I don't police my own intellectual stumbles, but this was egregious and I don't want people resourcing this as any font of knowledge. It is only perpetuating a category mistake.

The reality is that Culture can't do anything (especially if we define it according to the oft-cited Clifford Geertz) because it's not an agent. But the other tendency is to say that people act out of culture. This isn't completely wrong, but it gets at the problem of agency. If we say people make decisions out of culture, a sort of internalized presuppositions or meanings, it is a rather bizarre world. Abstract meanings exist and people act accordingly with them. Of course, the problem remains: how does this happen? where do these presuppositions come from? It's another just-so story, out of which we can make pontifications and speculations.

The second, and much more major problem, is one of agency. Culture doesn't have agency, people have agency. People make decisions or don't make decisions (which according to Rush is still making a choice). How do people make decisions is a much more interesting question, and I'm not doubting that a person's decisions are impacted by many mitigating factors, including ideas that are of varying degrees of cognizance. But it is within such a context that people make decisions that have subsequent effects for the future of such mitigating factors, such that these factors might mean more, less, or ultimately disappear.

If it's not clear, this is not to say Rational Choice theory is correct or that Humans are fundamentally rational. What it is saying is that people do make choices according to the options that they see before them, and available options are of differing degrees of visibility. This not only matters when we think about Human freedom, and thus dignity, but also for the sheer fact of explainability. What choices someone will make in a given situation is not completely clear, and the pursuit for a sense of smugness for correctly guessing is not sufficient warrant for this obscene verbosity.

So, according to an example I read awhile ago, Star Wars does not have a "particular world-view" that people watching the theaters walk away with. Star Wars is situated in a time and place where certain ideas are intelligible and others are not, certain stories and tropes are popular and others are not. What people take away from it will differ wildly; not because it's a battle of ideas, but individual and groups of people will interpret these messages differently and respond even more diversely. This is both the beauty of art and the failure of propaganda, which Star Wars, in ways, functions as both. This is not so monolithic. Perhaps Star Wars fails to inculcate an understanding about simplistic readings about good and evil, but it does properly brainwash people to conceive that the purity of heart is all that matters. But, even if this happens, people may respond differently to the idea (e.g. disgust, joy, cynicism, hope).

I'm not saying you shouldn't use the word "culture", but it's become so vogue, and so misunderstood, I'd caution you, reader, to be mindful. Explanation for patterns of behavior (even our own) ought to set off red flags that we are merely in the process of self-justification, even if such self-justification damns us. It's not that we can't do this (God forbid), but such a process requires much self-reflection, discernment and understanding. We can't just chalk it up to "culture" or any other grab-bag. This is an intellectual ritual of purification, so we might more properly see the world as Christ the Lord sees it. In the end, this process will enable us to listen more carefully, and, hopefully, to dignify our fellow creatures. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Incoherence of the Four Spiritual Laws and Other Protestant Demons

I found a fair criticism on another blog from an ex-Nazarene (Evangelical-Charismatic denomination) who has gravitated into a form of atheism. I've read it over and over, and it puts a finger on something I've found terribly wrong within American Evangelicalism:

[An Uncharitable Summary of the Traditional Evangelical Reading of Romans]: there’s something wrong with us such that it’s impossible for us to do the right thing, but if we believe in a certain story, then it’s alright. I know I should be more respectful, but no one seemed very disturbed by it. Perhaps I can get away with it because it’s obvious that I know a lot about the Bible and it means something to me (albeit in some kind of weird way). And in fact, that’s what motivates my dismissal of the traditional reading — it renders Romans (and the Bible more broadly) meaningless. 
The traditional narrative of salvation, especially in its Protestant inflection, is one that never made much sense to me. I struggled mightily with it, growing up in a particularly evangelical/fundamentalist corner of the Church of the Nazarene. I could never figure out why I as a Gentile ever needed to be released from the burden of the Jewish Law, why “works righteousness” was such an appalling thing, why getting baptized or going to the altar to ask forgiveness wasn’t a “work,” etc., etc.[...]  
I still can’t get my mind around the Protestant problematic of faith and works and justification. On a practical level, raising children within the Protestant problematic seems like a recipe for neurosis at best (me and all my closest friends) and moral nihilism at worst (all the evangelical Trump supporters, the most prominent of which are precisely the sons of the first wave of leaders).[...]
[A reading of Romans that offers problems that make sense:] What do we do when law seems impotent to produce the justice it aims for? How can we maintain integrity while living in a corrupt system that coerces us into complicity with injustice? What would it mean if we really didn’t have to be afraid of death anymore? I find it hard to believe in the resurrection of the dead, but it at least means something in a way that finagling your immortal soul into heaven simply does not in my view.
I think this critique properly explains why Evangelicalism lacks any sense of inner tension with what it preaches and what that actually means. At least in the past, imperial churches still maintained some biblical conscience that problematized many things (i.e. Byzantine soldiers had to spend three years in penitent disconnect from the Eucharist if they killed a man in battle). Evangelicals see no problem with American Imperium and are the most able bodied foot-soldiers. But not only this. Evangelicals are also active proponents of the excesses of Capitalism, eager to adopt mass-media and propaganda in order to "evangelize", and an ironic destruction of family integrity even as it claims to be a bulwark for it.

Easy-Believism is only part of the problem. I think that Protestantism more generally is at a crisis point. Without the State apparatus, any sense of Scripture-as-Canon is quickly eroding. The Holy Spirit is confused with the Zeitgeist, as is apparent in quite many Evangelical arguments for everything between endorsing Donald Trump and supporting new gender-confused age. There is the dual belief that the Church is a business and that the Church is a NGO, two organizations that reflect the spirit of the age.

I believe that Ecclesiology is not a second-order issue, but is a first order, at the same level as Christology. Salvation, let alone justification by faith, makes no sense without the Church. Christ without His Church is to decapitate the Son of God. Protestants, by and large, have failed to present a coherent ecclesiology (with the exception of serious Anglicans, some more traditional/fundamentalist Presbyterians, and the occasional man in the desert).

Why does Ecclesiology matter? Because it is the context in which we understand both the notion of faith and the notion of works. To separate one's soul from any context of relation or community is an invitation towards erotic mysticism, as is exampled by centuries of gnosticism, bridal mysticism, and many other heresies. The Bible reveals salvation as a social phenomenon, involving not only our individual selves (constituted of heart, body, soul, mind etc.), but our persons connected with other persons in complex and overlapping groupings. Who we find ourselves to be depends upon how we relate with others. To be Human is to never be decontextualized (we would cease to be creatures at that point!).

If you're a Christian and reading this, seek God in prayer for answers in this age and turn to the Scripture for guidance. Christo-Americanism is a destructive heresy attacking whatever faithful remain in this cursed empire of desire.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Up-To-The-Hilt Advocates for Peace: Masculinity and Peace-Making

My acquaintance Proto posted this quote from Spurgeon
We are up to the hilt advocates for peace, and we earnestly war against war.  I wish that Christian men would insist more and more on the unrighteousness of war, believing that Christianity means no sword, no cannon, no bloodshed, and that, if a nation is driven to fight in its own defence, Christianity stands by to weep and to intervene as soon as possible, and not to join in the cruel shouts which celebrate an enemy’s slaughter. . . . Today, then, my brethren, I beg you to join with me in seeking renewal.
 The Church, in its many forms and places, is sick with the mutation that I call the Heresy of Bridal Mysticism. As I've defined it before, this is the confusion of the metaphor of Bride of Christ from the Church, a corporate gestalt of the saints existing beyond and before them, to the individual Human soul. This has taken many forms, but it results in a treatment of spirituality, religious practice, prayer and worship as a sort of passivity. This becomes equated with a false sense of the feminine (the feminine is just as active as the male, but it's a difference of forming-filling, not active-passive). This false piety disturbs many men, driving some away or leaving others in an awkward position.

However, I find many who agree there is a problem have turned towards violence and militarism as pathways. Armed service becomes highly praised. Violent sports and pseudo-bloodsport (e.g. UFC) are encouraged. Romantic images of the knight and the crusader reappear. I've seen even one delusional fellow argue that what the Church needs is a crusade-mentality against ISIS, and that it is the duty of all Christian men, as men, to stand up for their women and kinfolk and kill the threatening infidel.

I feel like I'm speaking gibberish when I try to communicate that working for peace is a masculine position. Being a soldier of Christ, engaged in a war against powers and principalities, is what Christians are called to. But we are tempted by worldly forms, and this serious call has many times been subverted. Bloodlust is the primary desire of This Age. This is a deep sin that is always put before us, particularly as the most visible enemies of Christ will put His servants to death. It is hard to turn away from the ways and weapons of This Age.

Sadly, Spurgeon's voice is all too infrequent. But it is encouraging because it reveals that, for a man, masculinity is not contrary to peace-making. In fact, it's the vision of Christ for the men of His Church, no matter what the sophists and worldlings say. We are to fight for peace against the whims and dictates of Babylon. It might be natural for men to be aggressive (I don't know), but not in the ways This Age teaches us to be.

St. Paul was celibate, drank no wine after his Nazirite oath, and spent his life in repentance for his murders and murderous words. He stands in distinct contrast to the brawling, drunk, womanizer that is popularized in machismo images that American men desire to be, even if it's quiet. This kind of masculinity leads to many joining gangs, the police, or the army (these are only different by degrees), or thirst after images of machismo through consuming pop-culture. Certainly, if we are to believe this idea of the masculine, we would crucify Christ if He were to walk in our midst.

Reflect on these thoughts, and don't get suckered for a false dilemma. I'll leave you with another quote from Spurgeon. He's reflecting on Britain's wars in China and the Opium trade. If we replace the nation and the resource in the 21st century American Regime, it's easy to reflect on the parallels:

I am always hearing Christian men blessing God for that which I cannot but reckon as a curse...Whenever England goes to war, we stand behind the warrior and shout, "It will open a way for the Gospel", I cannot understand that. I cannot make out how the devil is to make a way for Christ. And what is war but an incarnate fiend...? How, then, shall we rouse the devilry of human nature, cry "Havoc! and slip the dogs of war", and then declare it is to make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God? A HIGHWAY KNEE-DEEP IN GORE. Do you believe it? You cannot. God does overrule evil for good; but I have never seen yet...the rare fruit which is said to grow upon this vine of Gomorrah. Let any other nation go to war, and it is all well and good for the English to send missionaries to the poor inhabitants of the ravaged countries. In such a case our nation did not make the war, they did not create the devastation, and they may preach; but for an English cannon to make way in Canton for an English missionary, is a lie too glaring for me to receive it for a moment. I cannot comprehend the Christianity which talks thus of murder and robbery. If other nations chose to fight, and if God uses them to open the door, I will bless him; but I must still weep for the slain, and exclaim against the murderers. I blush for my country when I see it committing crimes in China. For what is the opium traffic but an enormous crime? Then war arises out of it, and the Gospel is furthered by it. Can you see that?... It seems to me that if I saw an Englishman preaching in the streets and I were a Chinaman, I should say to him, "What have you got there, eh?" "I am sent to preach the Gospel to you." "The Gospel! what, is it anything like opium? Does it intoxicate, and blast, and curse, and kill?"

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Christs

This was a piece I wrote years ago at my now defunct blog. I wrote a lot over the years, and looking back I see a lot of missteps that I took. There unwarranted conclusions, oversimplification, and ignorance. But I suppose that's how it always is (and still is!). Nowadays, I try to keep my blog in dialogue with itself so I might intentionally self-correct as my thoughts and ideas flow along.

Anyway, this piece involves figural interpretation, typologies, and a rich biblical theology. In retrospect, I think this is a gem and am surprised at myself. I think I stumbled onto somethings which I am now only beginning to understand. Anyway, I've left it mostly unedited. Enjoy.


This story begins right after Adam and Eve have been cast from Eden and kept from the Tree of Life but given a promise of returning one day. This promise spoke of a coming son, a human no less, who would upend the Enemy, the Liar, the Snake in the Garden. Who this son would be, no one knew. Eve was so excited over this prophecy that she believed her first-born son was indeed the Christ.:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Yet this man was not the Christ, Cain was the first murderer:

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 
So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” 
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 
10 And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

He burned with envy as his brother who offered the first of his flock and the best of his profession received acceptance where his offering was rejected. Even as the Lord speaks to him as a man, warning him of the danger that awaits, that his evil desire will birth sin (as James talks about in his letter). Yet there Cain, the would-be messiah is in fact anti-Christ. He says with almost a sneer that drips off the page, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

So Cain is exiled and bears a mark that will prevent his mere murder. He is to bear this as an outside to all others in the Human race. He goes and builds his own city (the first ever it would seem) and continues life. And yet, when his own kin commits his same crime, he calls upon this mark and demands not just 7 times vengeance but 77 times vengeance. 7 times 7 is an idiom in Hebrew to connote infinity. So thus this cycle of retributive violence begins:

Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

Doesn’t some of this sound familiar? Jesus, the true Christ, taught not 7 times forgiveness but 77 times forgiveness. He bears the mark as He is led outside the city. He calls down forgiveness on those murdering Him. As the author of Hebrews says it: “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel”. In this Jesus is undoing all the curse that Humanity has brought upon itself!

While Eve still had high hopes soon (she even thought Seth was the christ, see Genesis 4:25), Jesus manifests them, not only for her slain son but her murderous son. Jesus goes and builds a new city and sets a new mark. Forgiveness is to be the sign of a New World, not vengeance. In Christ Jesus, God was reconciling the world. In christ Cain, the world went asunder as he brought vengeance through his sin. Christ Jesus succeeded in overcoming sin and death where the First Man Adam failed and invited these into the world and negating God’s love. However this same King also brought peace where the first ‘christ’ failed; where the first king, the first city-builder, brought injustice and violence.

This is a wonderful sign that Forgiveness is the curse turned to blessing, that the Lord is always at work to destroy the power of sin. It is the Lord’s business to recreate what was destroyed, to resurrect what was dead. Adam’s line and Cain’s curse brought an endless cycle of killing, hatred and violence but Christ’s life and blessing brings something new. The way being human was truly meant to be.
Following Christ is not about, as Bonhoeffer put it, being Homo Religiosus. Following Christ does not just make a man more pious, or someone who believes in some propositional truths that others do not adhere to. Christ’s teaching was not moral reform, it was a revolution. It was resurrection. Christ was not a good way, or a better way or even the best way. It is the only way. Christ was not just a better man or the best man, He is the True Man. Following Him is to learn to be truly Human, to be given a new heart and a recreation, being conformed in death and life into the Christ Jesus. Formerly we were under the rule of Cain, now we’re under the rule of Christ.

This all leads to the sad history of the Christian church. Not the universal and invisible reality of all believers. No, not even some of the underground forms that were true expressions of Christ’s followers and people. I’m talking about State-powered churches, churches that have drunk the wine of Babylon, been seduced by power, and have made a mockery of the Gospel. They synthesize into structures of power and become nothing more than a religious sacred-space for an Empire instead of being the citizens of a New City.

Specifically from history, the Emperor Justinian comes to mind. This man was praised by his mouthpieces in the Empire as a just and fair ruler. He ruled the Empire with an iron-fist but, more importantly, he dominated the Church.

While according to his sycophants he was worthy of the epithet ‘The Great’, a brave historian by the name of Procopius dared to write the truth. While much of it seems slanderous, Justinian is revealed as a man driven by a lust for greed, murder and money. This man who ruled the Church! This man, who thought himself very pious, had any before him refer to him as Master and they as Slave! He built the Hagia Sophia, wrote hymns and theological documents, but this man who acted as Christ’s Vicar was more akin, as Procopius calls him, to the Lord of Flies. He is only cultivating death in the halls of power. His court was thoroughly corrupted with flatterers, greedy, vain and ambitious men who seek nothing but riches and  glory. Whether or not this Imperial government functioned is irrelevant (though, it was a total disaster and brought decline), this man claimed to represent Christ.

This is what the path to this sort of power brings forth. Justinian, and many others, have tried to reign as a christ from their very own little Jerusalem. Be it Popes in Rome or Emperors in Constantinople, both try and usurp the reign of Jesus. Instead of turning to the True Christ, they return to Cain and rule by his mark. They reject forgiveness and turn towards vengeance. They try to sit on the throne of Jerusalem, they come bursting through the gates on their white horses of conquest. I don’t care whether Justinian vigorously argued for the decision made at the Council of Chalcedon (regarding the nature of Christ’s divinity and humanity). This man was thoroughly anti-Christ. It’s like a usurper besieging the True King’s Castle while trying to sort out that same King’s genealogy as a panegyric. For those with eyes to see, it is clear that the latter task is a trivial formality to the traitorous reality of the former action. He’s trying to take the throne!

Yet, an Empire is not made by an Emperor alone. Though the man has a legitimate monopoly on violence (as all states attempt to do), there are those who go along and cheer-lead for the expansion of the Empire. In the days of the Byzantine Empire, it was those who promoted that the Roman Empire was the equivalent to the realm of Christianity. What was good for “Rome” (the Byzantine Empire considered itself Roman but had little real control over Italy by the 6th century) was good for the Church. The identity of the Church was fused to the State.

Now a days, we have a much more subtle attempt at this. American culture and conquest is received as a crusade. We even had a president who phrased it this way. Oh no, not a theocracy but for democracy and the American Way. Right? Yet for some, American-Christianity has become just that, a fusion and syncretic desecration of God’s Holy Kingdom. It is returning to Cain. Christo-Americanism has declared America, not Jesus, to be the Christ. That we are the new Israel. Yes, this sort of crude portrayal is only in the darkest corners of the Internet and independent book-stores. Yet functionally it is so. We see men like Rick Perry trying to lead the prayer of the nation in a political stunt to show his pious credentials. We see someone like Sarah Palin being anointed and prayed over as she sought her political ambitions [NB. The current election ought to make this point even more apparent, particularly Falwell Jr., Paula White, David Jeremiah et al. backing Donald Trump and getting him to engage in weird Evangelical-Charismania practices--CP]. These people and their handlers are not totally stupid, they actually believe this and people actually are inspired by this. This country is filled with Sacralist heresy.

Why do people turn to rule as Cain did? Why do we go and continue on the succession of violence, conquest and death? It is humanity’s way until the glorious appearing of our Savior. We were all dead until His light shined through, broke our chains, and set us free to follow. Any who call on the name of Christ, do not be deceived by mere names. Many still are looking for a christ or believe they found the christ somewhere else. Jesus is the Christ, He is undoing the Curse by Forgiveness. Peace, Joy and Righteousness: these are the way He has called us to. Don’t find solace in any city that seeks to be a Jerusalem, either America or Byzantium. Cain is not the christ, nor are any who follow in his wake.

Jesus is Lord. While the cities of man exist and we dwell in them, there is none who represents the reign of God. Only Jesus is King of the New Jerusalem, our city. The churches that belong to Him are congregations of His people in exile, pilgrim-people waiting for His glorious return while working to spread the Kingdom and promote justice in the land. Call men to the True Man, the True King, not to those who try and usurp. They try and make man into their particular image, their Homo Romanus or Homo Americanus, which gives some moral reform that is sprinkled with nationalized christianity. Jesus brings us resurrection into true life.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Body is Not a Problem: The Heresy of Direct Experience

I started reading Louis Marie Chauvet's Sacraments and will hopefully include interesting insights along the way. It's trying to incorporate anthropological and sociological data in order to think through the Biblcial testimony concerning God's interactions with Man. This is a case of fides quarens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).

Anyway, Chauvet explores a certain view of language as an instrument. What this means is that man experiences reality directly, with both man's impressing upon reality and reality's impressing upon man. Language, in this view, is a tool for man to share this reality with others. This view presupposes that man pre-exists language (which is problematic), but I will focus on one particular issue.

Chauvet quotes Augustine and Thomas (quoting Augustine) who find language as a problem. For Augustine, language is a product of the fall, a kind of crutch. In Paradise, Man will not speak for his intellectation will be pure and unmediated between himself, the saints, angels, and God. In some ways, differentiation seems hard to imagine. But the purity of thought uncontaminated with the created will be overcome.

This view, thus, implies mediation is, itself, a problematic reality. Mediation is not a created good, nor a reality to be transfigured. Rather, it will burn up in the Eschaton. This view implies that temporality is itself a flaw, inheriting a Platonic suspicion of the fleeting and passing. This is not to say that Man's blessedness does not find itself in communion with the Eternal and Infinite Creator Lord. But, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and our eternal dwelling is in being the Body of Christ. Our experience of the Father is always mediated through the Son, in the Spirit. This is not a symptom of This Age, but a constitutive element of our glorious future.

The Human body represents a nexus of mediated experience, between the external reality and the internal life. It makes sense that certain Platonized elements in the Church would revolt from the very bodiliness of our salvation. Origen was perhaps the most explicit to try and reconcile the clear biblical data of the resurrection with the Platonic sensibilities that would find mediatedship as a problem that needed to be overcome.

I think St. Maximus' theology helps us overcome this problem. His monastic disciplines were fundamentally different than some other Origenistic monks. His vision was not the erasure of the body, beating it into a kind of stupor in which it would cease to meddle with the life of the nous (the intellectual, and thus most true, part of the soul). Instead, the body became the site in which worship was given and blessing received. It needed discipline so that it would be a purer site of mediation of God's grace to the person. This has nothing to do with earning salvation, but as a process of "working out salvation with fear and trembling".

The body, like language, is transformed by the gospel. Our words need to be reformulated and altered in order to bear the weight of God's revelation. Scripture provides this, a canon (rule-stick), for both language and for the practices of the body. It helps guide us in how to speak about our world and experiences therein. It also helps us transform the body. It teaches us of prayer and fasting. It teaches us to stay away from fornication, while teaching us to embrace our brothers. It teaches us to eat the Body and Blood of Christ in the elements of Bread and Wine. It teaches us that we must be washed in the water of Baptism.

St. Paul warns St. Timothy of the practices of these Origenistic monks. They become obsessed with the destruction of the body that they deny the goodness of God's creation and, in the end, tend towards the demons. To put it in other terms, St. Paul is attacking those who would remove the mediated presence of God through His good gifts and His Incarnate Presence through "silly myths". Not only does this call God's will for Creation into question, it asks us to, essentially, throw away the Scripture, stripping God's word bare in order to scratch some gnosis (secret, salvific, directly experienced knowledge).

But of course, what we do with the body matters, in a way that infinitely transcends the Platonists. We must avoid gluttony and the love of things, not because they are evil or merely because they are fading, but so we might properly worship the Lord. Fasting teaches us to rely upon the Word of God, for bread alone is not enough. Prayer not only sends our petitions and thanksgivings up to the Lord, but also sets us in proper relation as in communion with the Father of All Light. It's in the body that we experience the Lord, whether in our earthen vessels now, or the incorruptible bodies after the resurrection. It is in the body that we will worship the Lord, seek the manifold glories and beauties of His Kingdom, and rejoice forevermore. Amen

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Man De-Formed: Sexed Identity, Masculinity, and Worship

I wrote two previous articles, which may seem at odds, but I've decided to elaborate on some ideas to connect them in a way that might make sense for thinking about anthropology, gender, and Christian worship. First, I wrote an article about Zinzendorf's theological anthropology that emphasized Christ's full Humanity through His penis, a distinguishing member of His male sex. I wrote another article about the heresy of Bridal Mysticism, a form of piety that changes the biblical figure of the Bride from the Church to the individual Soul.

Now, I have recently been convinced on the anthropological value of a theory of practice. I acquired this from Bourdieu. The concept, in short, is that if we want to understand Human behavior, we need to look at the common and everyday if we want to understand how a particular society functions. This is the kind of stuff that people assume, that takes on a kind of "natural" feel about it. There are assumed rules and values that people hold implicitly and become ingrained through doing. This is incredibly value for my own work, but also useful in analyzing our current world today.

While Zinzendorf's theory is a helpful reminder, and I still fully agree with the main thrust of the article, we need to take it in stride with the much more fundamental fact of Moravian worship. Part of the tragedy of the Thirty Years War was the spread of a hyper-focus on interiority in the Christian life. Comenius represents this through his dual allegory, Labyrinth of the World/Paradise of the Heart. The first part, which is the majority, reveals the corruption and horror of life according to This Age. This is a magnificent critique, and it leaves one totally in horror. But the solution is weak: Christ meets the Pilgrim in the Chamber of his Heart, where a kind of wedding takes place and renewal begins. From this, the Pilgrim now can see the world differently, walk differently, recognize fellow pilgrims, and press on.

Quite frankly, this is a terrible solution. I am not denying the renewal of the interior that Christ effects, but there are some major problems. Firstly, the kind of individualism runs against the social dimension of the Church, which exists beyond the sum of its parts. But secondly, this form of piety invites the homoerotic Bridal Mysticism that I discussed before.

This kind of pious structure went into the Moravians' self construction. Zinzendorf's emphasis on the full Humanness of Christ was a statement, and an interesting one, but Moravian worship practice emphasized a collective individualization, where each Christian was to be wrapped up by the Bridegroom. It was this practice that led to the Sifting Time, which according to recent scholarship was a radical outworking of Zinzendorf's liturgical innovations by his son. This resulted in gender-bending and homoeroticism, as Christian Renatus declared that all the brothers of his settlement (Herrnhag) were sisters. Zinzendorf cracked down on his son, but one ought to contemplate the the chain of events.

Perhaps this turn reflects the problem of Evangelical piety more broadly. Now there were other turns in Evangelical theology, reflecting different errors and problems that have come home to roost in the 21st century particularly, I want to emphasize on the gender element.

Beyond the homoeroticism of Bridal Mysticism, there is a particular gender ideology at work that accompanies this individualizing. The male represents the active and the female represents the passive. Thus, worship represents the ultimate emasculation, a clarion call for men to renounce their maleness before the truly male god who makes women of them in their passivity. To put it crudely, worship becomes a spiritual prison-shower scene.

None of this has to be explicitly stated, but is enacted through particular liturgical forms of worship. A social imagination that sees gender in this way, and the enactment of such through piety can only be the horror of horrors. We see this not only in the absurd "worship" music that sounds like bad pop music with a heavenly boyfriend, but also in a call for a certain passivity in life. Christianity in this form, without Church or a biblical piety, becomes an agent of annihilating masculinity, while simultaneously reinforcing it in the realm of politics. Men avoid worship, but enact the same principles through government and economics. In a sense, these realms become a means for men to become gods over women, while avoiding their feminization through worship. This creates some of the abuses of the American patriarchal system that is meeting its death-knell in the gender insanity of 21st century America.

This American Evangelical Christianity, strangely, became a mechanism that both dominated, but was also disregarded. And in turn, it has been disparaged and hated by the new guard that has taken over America politics. In some ways, I am glad, for it gives space for those who want to think about the future of the Church. The vision of the Christian society has brought about an onslaught on Christ's Church while also entrenching a dominating Babylon.

The Moravians represent one strange example of this phenomenon, and the Sifting Time ought to reveal a kind of prophecy for what was to come. Now a days only strong forms of gendered identity for men come through rigidity and violence, and hence men go streaming into the army, the police, or the gangs, if not some sort of pseudo-martial organization. There's something to this that Christians ought to pay attention to, but suffice to say this leaves men in the Church as either with little place for a masculine existence or one that is hidden or compromised by these other factors.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Figuralism and Allegory in Tolkien and Lewis

My dear acquaintance Proto wrote a piece about the cosmology of Tolkien and Lewis and its interplay with Christian theology, Medieval context, and the demonic ideology of Dominionism. I wanted to add some additional thoughts:

I grew up with Lewis and Tolkien, like many boys, and fell in love with the stories. This was long before I converted, and in both cases I had little to no understanding of the quite obvious parallels in their works. In the years that I've been a Christian, I've learned to appreciate these fantasies for their interesting cosmological discussions and play in a beautiful world.

However, I want to root my discussion in a brief tiff between Tolkien and Lewis over the latter's Narnia chronicles. Tolkien thought that Lewis was being lazy and not creative with his particular world. At first, when I heard about this, I thought that Tolkien was being a snob. This was a case of intellectual elitism, or literary pride. And, in addition, I chalked this up to Tolkien's lack of evangelistic zeal that motivated Lewis. Narnia was trying to reach more people, bringing down Christian symbols into an easily digestible form. Tolkien was not being a missionary in his fiction.

Or so I thought. I now see problems with this rebuttal of mine. And in a reversal, I think Tolkien was right, though perhaps for the wrong reasons, to disparage Narnia.

The problem with Narnia is with the very fact of its parallels and cosmological paralleling of the Bible. This is the danger with allegory. Best exemplified by St. Paul, allegory is how one situation reveals the Real. Sarah and Hagar show the interplay of God's free city and those who seized upon the promises to build God's promise in their own image, corrupting it. Thus, Hagar becomes the mother of the shackled and the earthy. It is not opened up to God's creative transformation, but is another attempt at Babel. It's man for God, but working against Him.

Allegory is not, in and of itself, bad. But the warning that should be present is the connecting of the Real with historical event. Aesop's allegorical stories may be true or may not be true, but by connecting fantasy through this is to highlight the moralism of the task. It's a kind of argument for the world that exists. But isn't this part of the purpose of the Bible? In some sense, Narnia's function as a tool of evangelism through allegory is an absurd doubling. Why not read of Christ's passion and not Aslan's? Because, as the lion says, "find me in your own world"? It's in this that Narnia functions as a kind of propagandistic fashion. In some ways, that should offend Christian ethics, it is a trick. It's a clever turn.

Despite a previous post highlighting Lewis' spy career, I am not imputing this sort of methodology at the heart of Narnia. But what is the point of Narnia besides a shadow commentary on the inadequacy of the Bible or a kind of shadow evangelism through ignorant parents. The functionalism of modern day Evangelicals, when it comes to art, is disturbing. This explains, perhaps, in part why Evangelicalism can't make good art, as all art functions as propaganda. Narnia is an amended Bible.

I am being harsh, I admit, but I think it's for good purpose. All art makes an argument, that is without a doubt, but there's a difference between art-has-argument and art-is-argument. This is a collapse of any metaphysic of Beauty and denying creation as having any integrity derived from God's will and act. God's pronouncement of good upon the creation is not merely a judgement per Human words, but the fundamental ontological creative-judgement of the Word. It's in such a vein that the Word of God took flesh for the sake of redemption and transformation. Despite whatever Lewis' intentions, Narnia has taken on a major role of a propaganda tool and a replacement Scripture among quite a few Evangelicals. This fits into the kind of domionist-mindset.

However, Tolkien's Middle Earth was different. It took a long time to realize that Middle Earth was shaped by serious Christian convictions. It's because his tale is not an allegory, as I've defined it. Instead, his world provides the backdrop for an interplay of different figures. This is still making an argument as to the Real, but it's in a different key. There is no Christ figure in Middle Earth, but there are different characters that embody the figures that Christ assumes. Tolkien paints a fantastical picture that mixes and matches these figures in ways that explore different angles or themes. This is what makes fantasy good.

This sounds somewhat like Lewis, but Middle Earth is not suppose to be merely another world, colonized with the same narrative. It's different. It instantiates these figures into different contexts and allows a different kind of play. This might be misunderstood as Neo-Platonic, but it isn't necessarily. Christian orthodoxy and Neo-Platonism share a metaphysical commitment to a Real, whether it's the realm of Forms, Emanations or, in the Christian case, the Mind of God. Tolkien is not trying to write another Gospel in this, but is allowing a mind soaked in the figures of Scripture to play and create. Tolkien is arguing for a particular reality, but that's not why he is writing. There's something about Middle Earth that resonates, perhaps, because it merely reflects how things really are or how things ought to be, without trying to replicate particular narratival themes.

Tolkien's reprimand to Lewis that he was too obvious was not an appeal to cleverness only. It also has to do with the very fabric of art. Narnia comes off as an alternative world, whereas Middle Earth is a fantasy. I know the distinction I'm trying to draw is very subtle, but it's important. Aslan pretends to being Christ in a way that Frodo or Aragorn do not and cannot. Narnia ends up turning the Bible on its head as another fictional world. While wisdom, courage, salvation can take form in a wholly fictious world, Christ cannot. Nor should we ask for such, except in the very particularities of His life.

Hopefully, this might help rethink how we assess art, recognize propaganda, and proclaim the Gospel.