Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Defense of Pietism

Normally I have been very critical of Pietism. I am very critical of any ideology that vaults "experience" as the primary, even sole, criteria of truth and/or reality. I am very critical of an ideology that tries to draw a boundary line around the self and embraces a full Subjectivism where the World is created from my view-point. I am critical of emotional manipulation and the theatrical staging that mark anything from "praying-the-prayer" to the camp revival. I am critical of any ideology that attends to remove the individual from his social context and a create a non-political movement (which usually means a highly conservative one).

However, I am also critical of any ideology or movement that robs agency from any individual person. I am critical of any philosophy that tries to pretend to separate the mind from the emotions, instead of seeing both flowing from an inner person (what we might call the "heart"). I am critical of pretensions to intellectual superiority to the exclusion of the 'other', where nothing has been determined.

Pietism has many times been guilty of the former list, and the antidote to the latter. I am sick of the cynical-tone that people use the word 'pious'. Even saying the word breathes a vapor of disgust. The pious man is the hypocritical, judgmental, vicious, blind, morlist who crushes others in his selfish quest to insulate a fragile ego. Perhaps there are religions and cults that demand such a disposition. However, true piety as revealed in Christ is His gravity, His weighty presence that sinks deep into our souls as we read His acts.

The early Pietists reacted to recover a truly Christian vision in the quite morbid and moribund status of confessional Protestantisms, one that was marred by the horror of the 30 Years War. Pietism is not an ideology, but a movement to call down God's Spirit to save His Church from becoming a part of a rather disturbed state-church apparatus as it began to forge the beginning of the Nation-State. Pietism was a move towards Christian charity and return to the work of God's Kingdom on Earth.

And the early Pietists were not anti-intellectual, if their dominance at the University of Halle testifies that they were engaged in the mind, but not in the scholastic way that Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholics were trapped in.

Despite all its corruptions over the years, Pietism is a movement to seek God's Likeness, a veritable proclamation of the Christian's goal: theosis.

Yet corruptions there were. The general Pietist attitude towards Christian charity was coopted by the State to subordinate feuding churches (e.g. the Prussian Evangelical Union). The Pietist vision for a Kingdom of God trained many disaffected Christians to build new visions, inspiring not only unorthodox Christians (Schliermacher) but even Romantic philosophers. The culture of the Pietist was turned towards another purpose (corruptio optimi pessima). The Pietist stricture to self-discipline and care for the downtrodden became legalistic and moralistic. The Pietist reconnection of intellect and emotion became emotional manipulation.

But despite the eventual crumbling of the movement, its spirit was truly the Holy Spirit. They sought to know God's Kingdom in fresh ways in their day and it led them to subvert and relativize political and social structures for a greater goal. It led them to missions across the globe. It led towards cultivating disciplines to listen to God's Word in the Scriptures, primarily, but also elsewhere, whether internally or externally, always attentive to God's active and moving will. They truly believed God works among us, and we have the great and glorious privilege of being co-workers with God.

May we also be lit with such a vision for Christ's victory, loving the other and stamping down the Devil's works. May we have hearts burning for a Kingdom that heals the sick, comforts the mourning, gives hope to the hopeless, humbles the arrogant, and raises the dead. May piety be born in us as the Spirit of Christ forms us into the matchless and immortal King, forever blessed.

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Invasive Gnosticism" & Reactionary Paranoia

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2016/02/invasive-gnosticism

Leithart published this piece on what he considers "invasive gnosticism", the Federal government regulating what is male or female. In other words, if you identify as female, even though you're anatomically male, you're allowed to use the women's room with impunity. This is a part of other White House attempts to attack at the roots of Christianity.

Now, let me start off by saying that while I can appreciate the criticisms that gender norms are primarily culturally constructed, that does not remove their basis in biology. If you are a born a man, you are male, whether you like it or not. I won't get into exceptions because exceptions should not forge the rule. Wealth, privilege and luxury has made America fat-headed, decadent, and incorrigibly immoral. On this, Leithart and I would probably mostly agree.

But, as the article begins, Leithart claims this is the Federal Government foisting its opinions on the people. I'm not sure if Leithart realizes that, in a sense, this is the government protecting the individual and actually a kind of evacuation of its power in terms of enforcing any gendered norms. Ironically enough, his complain about a Seattle man is that the Police won't enforce gendered norms. This is less a complaint about an invasive government, but a government that will not enforce the morally correct option.

Yet this "invasive" move is connected towards the government's "indifference" to Christians in Egypt  and making Catholics support birth-control. In the first instance, I don't know what Leithart wants Obama to do. Does Leithart want a war against ISIS and begin Stage 3 of Iraq's invasion? In the second instance, St. Paul councils us to offer Caesar his due. Obviously the Apostle knew that Caesar funded his wars with these taxes. What is more immoral than the that? Yet the Neuhaus, whiny American Roman Catholic bloc will complain when they have to pay for condoms. Can I opt out of 50%+ of my taxes for all the death programs this country funds?

In this instance, what Leithart wants is a reactionary voting force, and yes, this kind of Christian politics is mostly reactionary fantasy. They can't make up their minds over larger or smaller government, it's mostly a pragmatic position in order to assume power. It's incoherence is why politicians love the Evangelical block, they're so easily riled, motivated, trashed, and reassumed.

Thus, it's fitting that the piece begins with a sympathetic quotation of Donald Trump. Despite all the criticisms, Trump will be (already is?) the Evangelical candidate because he stirs the pot, speaks from the "heart", and rages against all the abstractions that Evangelicals hate without defining. I mean consider this: the complaint is against "political correctness". Would Evangelicals be happy if politicians or talking-heads insulted Christ, Christianity, the saints etc.? This is again a selective standard. But lest one is deceived, this is not a Christian standard.

At least not as the Apostles held. It's a Christianity fused to the Power of Caesar in the place of a virulent, violent, and vile Nationalism. In this religion, Donald Trump is a rather pious man. He leads the worship of Columbia, the death-god who has devoured hundreds of thousands of her children for world dominion.

And besides this, Donald Trump represents the same morally corrosive capitalism that has erased all sorts of gendered norms. When the ultimate standard is money, the only thing stopping these sorts of changes is popular opinion, namely popular spending. Companies alter policies not because they have a moral crusade, they want to be on the right side of the dollar. It's about cornering pockets of the market. If Leithart wants to complain about something "invasive", it's perhaps worthy to consider our deep rooted Capitalism. Money is the only morality.

So, there you have it. It's all a fantasy, and it will continue to be until this rotten nation collapses under the weight of its own belligerent lusts. God have mercy.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Freedom and the Predestination of Mankind

Christ promises to bring Life and it abundantly. What does this mean? In my estimation, this is to say that life is a progressive concept, one that people can participate more and more in. I'm sure most people understand what the expression "feeling alive" means, even if they can't philosophically dissect it and understand it.

Life in abundance is the essence of freedom, the unhindered access of the Human person to draw more and more into Life, that is to say become more and more what they are intended to be. This is an incredibly intoxicating vision. It's why Walter White, Don Draper, and, yes, even Deadpool are characters that make your head spin. They are detached from ideological commitments and burn a mark across the sky. Yet, Walter and Don are utterly miserable and disturbing characters, even as viewers are in awe of their bizarre, and mostly destructive, quests at self-realization.

Deadpool is a slightly different story, being both a parody and comic-instantiated "freak-nation anthem", which I'll explain. Deadpool, as a character, is self-conscious of his status as a comic-book character. Hence why he is a parody. He breaks fourth-wall all the time. Perhaps one might call him a puppet who can see his strings, but this feeds the hilarity of his character. At times he "manipulates" and insults the writers. Deadpool, because he knows what he is and how his world "works", is able to transcend over it.

Of course, he is still a written character. But what this allows him to do is make a kind of cult around himself, where he is trying to collect followers who also want to jump over the boundaries that society lays down. This is what I mean by "freak-nation anthem", he's collecting up rejects for himself. His lack of commitment or conviction is itself a paradoxical commitment to freedom. He's a selfish and narcissistic character, but again, this is what allows him to lead. If this sounds confusing, it's supposed to be.

Christians must bring forth a freedom that is equally intoxicating, and I think the "new wine" Christ creates ought to be a hint that the leader we're following intends the same thing. Life in the Spirit is supposed to be freedom. But what does this freedom entail?

Well firstly, we have the promise of Life. Namely, this means that in the Resurrection, Christ has stamped God's Yes on Human life. We have a promise of an everlasting life, where the fear of death and loss is faded and gone. In this there will be reunion with all friends lost. There will be rejoicing for all the times never spent. There will be no more sighs and all tears will be dried up.

But beyond this, there is the promise of Life Abundantly. St. Gregory of Nyssa framed the concept of epekstasis, a word pulled from St. Paul's letters, which implies a literal stretching forth of the hand. It's the idea of always going forth, moving closer and closer to the Infinite God. Yet it is even in this distance that God can meet us. In simpler terms, it means life never gets boring and God is always with us in His fullness. What does it mean for God to be with us in fullness? This too is apart of the Human predestination, a goal of bearing God in the flesh, to be His Image, imprinted with His Spirit. This is the Vocation of the Son, and we are, in fact, images of the Image. While the logoi, all the created virtues and ideas (e.g. beauty, good, truth etc.), are natural to Him and dwell within Him, we can participate in them as they become apart of us. Our faces will light up with the Light of Christ, we will bear Beauty, Good, Truth, Life, Peace, Justice in our bodies, in this life, and more and more in the next.

In more tangible terms, it means in this life, in Christ, Man is set free to be the little-creator God made him to be. No amount of oppression, slavery, horror can completely erase this. No amount of sin can completely deform it until this calling is so warped as to no longer be Human. So go, take time this day, and consider your passions and hobbies. Look upon these small things, and let them carry the fire of God's presence in the World. This might open up paths for your to pursue, and it might close down pathways that lead towards crushing and killing your neighbor.

Become translucent so the Uncreated Light and Life of God may shine through you and your works. Chains will melt away, for yourself and others. Kiss the Earth and the creatures upon it. Smile towards the Heavens and all the birds of the air. Imitate Christ and  know that you are Man, and your destiny is to be a lord of Earth.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Thoughts on Original Sin and The Fall

When one looks through the Old Testament, how often is Adam explicitly mentioned? In fact, he's quite present in different themes connected with a vision of Eden. But how often his initial act mentioned? In preaching to the Jews, how often is Adam mentioned? When does Peter, Stephen, John, Paul mention Adam? When Paul preaches to the Gentiles, Paul explicitly calls upon Jew and Gentile common bonds in Adam. How does Paul describe Adam's initial act in the Garden?

All of these questions are worth exploring for themselves. But it's quite obvious that Adam does not play a significantly prominent role in the History of Israel or the Apostolic preaching. However, Adam appears quite forcefully in Paul's major letters (Romans, Corinthians). Why? How does Paul utilize this story to make his point?

When I became a Christian, I heard a word speaking to Christ, but soon after I learned of Adam. It's not for nothing. For Evangelical preaching, Adam takes a center role. One can pass over the entire history of Israel, one could in essence cut out every book of the Bible between Genesis and Matthew and keep the same formula. In some sense, Evangelical preaching is trying to repeat Paul in Romans 5. However, the Gospel is not Romans 5. While I would advocate for a historical (if not pre-historical) Adam, I wouldn't go as far to say that the Gospel is compromised if one can't have a proper understanding of Adam (this is in light of controversies over Evolutionary Biology and Darwinism).

But here I think that Latin theology, by and large, has suffered from an insufficient biblical attentiveness. It has been held captive to a view that demands a particular reading of Romans 5. This is in part an Augustinian error, but not exclusively. Augustine had a bad Latin translation of Romans 5, arguing for an Original Guilt based upon our existence in Abraham's loins. This metaphysics has been mostly rejected except some pockets of Roman Catholics. However, the essence of this remains in that Man remains requiring an 'extra gift', grace, in order to overcome the defect of his nature. This isn't completely wrong as we will explore.

Besides that, what developed beyond that was the demand that what happened in the Garden has done something to us. I agree, but what does that mean? Some modern translations of Paul turn "flesh" (sarx) into "sin-nature". This is one instantiation of the problem, though a crude and more popular Evangelical one. What ends up occurring is building a kind of ontology where sin becomes wound up in Human Nature. We are born evil. There are some passages that speak to this, so this view is not entirely wrong either.

What is completely missed is the curse that befalls Man in the Garden. We are given over to Death. Paul's argument in Romans 5 makes the most sense in this light. Adam unleashed a reign of Death, subjecting Man to futility, bringing about an evil state of things, even when sin was not known. In other words, people don't need to know what exactly they need to be or to do in order to know that things are in ruin. The Torah excites Sin inasmuch we consciously reject the path of Life, that is Bearing God's Likeness, which is 'missing the mark' (the literal concept in the Greek).

Why did Adam sin in the Garden? How could he have rejected God's commandment if he was innocent? This is where Rome's doctrine is, in part, right. There is no sense that Adam was the pinnacle of maturity, that Adam was not child-like, as per St. Irenaeus. Adam didn't need a special gift in addition (which seems cruel and unusual to withhold). Rather, Adam had to grow into perfection. We can accuse God for allowing development and growth, but that's in a sense accusing God for creating at all. Creation's being (it's is) is in becoming. We were made to live, move and have our being.

But before I'm accused of inserting philosophy into a biblical discussion, I'm not blaming Rome or the Reformation for doing the same. Rather, I think they inappropriately developed their philosophy, misunderstanding the overall thrust of the Bible. Can there be any other way to describe the entire history of Israel besides incoherence and unintelligibility? I think the fact that Bible as story (which requires progressions) delivers us up, on a silver-plate, an understanding of Creation as being-in-becoming.

The upshot of this is for the proclamation of the gospel. My work has me engaged in the history of the Atlantic World, which has me engaged with a lot of missionaries of every stripe. Many of them are utter disasters. Why? In part, it's because there's a demand for a cultural conversion. There's a sense where Biblical concepts are believed to be flatly incompatible with American Indians or Africans. I'd say that, according to the missionary's theology, they're largely right. Many of these missionaries have a gospel dependent on understanding an aggregate of Roman law, feudal customs, and the Medieval sacramental-complex. In other words, one must understand Europe to understand the gospel. This combined with an Imperial-Christianity, attached to nascent nations and states, is an atrocity.

However what's apparent to all peoples, everywhere, is the common-lot associated with Death. We all die and we all try to make heads-or-tails of that reality. Paganism is rooted in that, trying to soothe the dead, or maintain the right balance of powers to sustain community life (whether through neighbor-ethics, crop growth, or female fertility). And even more than this, there is always some yearning in the Human spirit to fully actualize itself. Combined with the reign of Death, fallen Angels channel this to all sorts of Babel projects. Our own slavery to Death leads us to every crime. Whether in obedience to the Master, or in trying to personally overcome him, Mankind has done uncountable evil.

The Fall is important in the sense that the Created World was trapped, ever sliding towards non-being. Strange as it might sound, the fact that Humanity does anything about this is a testimony that our God-Imaged Nature still remains. Here, the distinction between nature and person is very important. Just because our Human Nature still remains untouched, our individual persons are unable, by the encroaching reign of Death, to follow it properly. The Torah might be revealed, showing us our telos, our nature's destiny and purpose, and yet it only produces an internal conflict.

As a side note, the major reason Pelagius is wrong is primarily because he collapsed nature into person. In his vision, Man should be able to be saved merely by being presented with the Law, without appreciating that on account of death, a Human person is incapable of following through. Augustine makes the same mistake, hence the need to build an alternate metaphysics and recast the entire Eden story. In this light, Origen is actually closer to the truth, despite his captivity to a metaphysics which was taken for granted. But I digress.

A more faithful articulation of Genesis 3 will not only illuminate the Bible, but promote a more persuasive evangelism. In our less-and-less Euro-Christo-National church culture, the need to foist a guilt-complex upon people will become more and more. Christians should not make this error and side-step it altogether. Everyone has to deal with death, whether they like it or not. That's the point of Genesis 3 (as Romans 5 highlights).

However, this is a more thoroughgoing problem. Most Americans, including all those Evangelicals, hide from their mortality. If we're going to be faithful to the Gospel, it's going to have to be frank about our own mortality. It's hard to look death in the face realistically, yet it makes Christ's victory all so much sweeter. This is a true liberty. Can we believe it? As a young, fit, male with mental acuity, it's hard. But it's the raw truth. Yet what stands above that is the empty tomb and its ascended king. Pentecost is the promise to get us through such a burden as we begin to learn to live under a different reign, one who is the Life and the Resurrection and who comes to bring life and it abundantly. This is salvation and the power of the Gospel.

Quite frankly, I think this is a better Gospel than most of what I hear.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Freedom, Deadpool, and Middle-Class Sociopaths

While I believe that life, and more importantly, life everlasting, is the most important Human concern, freedom is a defining quality that separates mere biological life from the spirit-life of Humanity. I am defining this in both positive (i.e. freedom for...) and in negative (i.e. freedom from...). Speakers can rally people by conjuring the idea of freedom, if it's a vague or contradictory notion. Whether it's in the world of politics, religion, social practice, or pop-culture, freedom is the great attractive lure.

It's this last realm that concerns me. In previous times I've written about the allure of Don Draper, but also recently I began rewatching Breaking Bad and saw the anti-superhero movie Deadpool. What all of these movies have in common is that they are tapping on middle-class America's insatiable lust for freedom. All three characters, while wildly different, represent awkward sociopaths. They represent a fundamental break with the pressure-system of society. They bend, break, play with, mock, or be absolutely silly with (especially Deadpool) all social conventions. They are not bound to obey, they represent a kind of transcending over all these norms. They attempt to go beyond the antithesis that grunge represented. They aren't trying to change the world, they are "sold-out", but they are living for themselves.

It seems that this current flush of anti-hero characters and prevalence of attractive, "good guy", sociopaths and psychotics is a kind of modern Carnival. Most people watch these shows/films as a kind of cathartic experience. For the brief moment, the viewer is suspended from his socio-moral entrappings and feels the sheer enjoyment of being alive. Social values are inverted, relativized, and mocked. In someways, this is a sort of social stress valve. If people release all of their frustrations and inhibitions in mocking the entire system, the catharsis releases enough friction so people can return to the daily grind.

So, in this way, these movies and shows are both subversive but helpful to the establishment. But I say this as someone who has watched most of Mad Men, all of Breaking Bad, and thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool. But if we're serious about working towards freedom, people of my age and socio-cultural placement ought to consider why these types are so attractive? Why would people fall in love with these characters?

Quite simply because, as I've already danced around, middle class Americans crave a release from the expectations of our social structures. It's not that these characters don't engage in them, but they, seemingly, are released from the pressure to obey them. The fear of failure, shame, and guilt are erased and left-behind. This is the great attraction of Nihilism: be released and forge your own path, even if it means nothing. While not as demented and murderous, Camus' emphasis on the Sisyphusean struggle of life being its own reward is on point. This is the nerve of Humanity: to be free to be one's self as one truly is supposed to be. Deadpool, as psychotic as he is, is still a story of love and revenge, a restoration of how things ought to be. Breaking Bad is a man reasserting his creative genius after becoming an awkward, humiliated, emasculated goof.

According to the Apostolic witness, Christ is the great promise of freedom. He is the liberator. The whole Bible is spattered with references to freedom, liberation and justice (which involves breaking bonds of oppression). If Christians are to present a compelling message, they must speak of a freedom that is greater than the freedom of the Nihilist. It cannot become a morality tale, It cannot be only an appeal to the life-after. It cannot be the construction and maintenance of a social-order.

If Christ is Liberator, we ought to be faithful to that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blessed Are the Peace-Makers: Against Christendom and "Just War"

The world is drowning in chicken-hawks. This has always been the case, but the specialization of the Modern Military (i.e. not everyone is involved in actual fighting, like infantry but can boast being a "warrior" on account of the uniform) along with the many media options of the internet have made this more so. More people can pontificate their vile opinions upon this or that war, proclaiming righteousness and wickedness, salvation and damnation, civilization and barbarism, with the tap of a key.

Of course, I am vulnerable to this criticism, but so it is.

I am not going to advocate a limp-wristed pacifism. In fact, I eschew the word and I am not ideologically captive to a doctrine of non-violence. However, I am convinced that violence begets violence, in an everlasting cycle began by its founder Lamech. For every man who calls down bloodshed, 7-fold is his destiny. Christ put it poignantly: Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Violence is the harbinger of spirits, a veritable sorcery to possess one's mind with demonic influence to assault God's good creation and assume God's prerogative of life and death. It is seeking an ecstatic experience in the drunkenness of bloodlust. And the easiest way to accomplish this is to be ignorant, historically and philosophically, and removed from combat. It is easy to wax poetic about the necessity of this-or-that war when one never has to bloody his/her hands. For this reason, and this alone, I believe many preachers will suffer the fate of the Devil. So it was written: Not many of you should be teachers, my brothers, for you will be judged more severely.

Christ has called us to a life of peace-making, quenching the flames of war and inviting the flames of the Spirit of Peace. This no kum-ba-ya prospect of sitting around the camp-fire singing John Lennon songs. This is the hard work of settling conflicts, being willing to suffer pain, the work of standing in the hurricane of hatred and stand tall. It is a willingness to die on behalf of Life. It is seeking redress in the hope of mutual, and reciprocated, repentance and fining restitution in mercy and love for the other as one loves himself.

Western theologians have justified the institution of other visions and other means by appeals to warped and deformed doctrine. We hear that we are full of sins and vileness, therefore the whip must be raised. We participate as magistrates and soldiers willing to crush our enemies because, so we say, we live in a penultimate time-between-times. We justify murder because men are murderers. We squelch Christ because we need to be "realistic". These social orders will murder God's prophets, when the voice of truth shines forth. This kind of social order, Christ tells us, has murdered every prophet. It is the self-confident Christian government that enslaves and crushes beneath its heel in the name of progress, civilization, religion, etc.

I am not advocating a different Christian government, in fact I have no hope or expectations of the Nation-State or the Empire, wherever they may be. But I am not advocating a passivity in one's social arenas. A politics of the Spirit, one that lives in the growth of His fruits, requires us to break-down the evils foisted upon us. We ought to work towards a community of shared goods, a corporate identity that neither destroys the individual person, nor eradicates the good of the whole for the lusts of an alienated individualism. Yes, in this form, Christians should be mistaken for rank-and-file socialists.

War works against this. War shatters the bonds of peace and mankind. It's not that this should never be done, but no man, but the GodMan, can declare it so. Christ, as God in Flesh, declared war, but it was not a war on flesh or blood. The Apostles, most notably St. Paul, could say this quite strongly. We wage war by waging peace, we work against the Evil One by seeking reconciliation and justice. This is the essence of preaching repentance.

But instead of St. Paul, we receive disgusting cretins like a Bernard of Clairvaux, seeking to androgynate himself spiritually, while giving justifying arguments on behalf of murdering Arabs in a horrid crusade. The world is filled with such vile monsters, who belch forth words of grace while their mouth overflows with the blood of the innocent. Their sermons are worthless and they are enemies of the Gospel (yet even St. Paul believes they inadvertently work for the Good c.f. Phil. 1). May they have been reconciled with the Prince of Peace before their demise.

Just War is not a completely non-sensical concept, but one that has only been deployed as a cover for immoral and vicious wars. Thomas Aquinas' summation was useless, and only provided additional context, though abused, to provoke war. No philosophic treatise is capable of preventing the lust of the eyes. Now, in our nuclear and industrialized age, Just War surfaces as something completely insane. The criteria is both impossible and inert, yet it is a conveniently rhetorical device to cloak violence in benign form.

If you are a Christian, think before you sign up with the Empire. I am not saying men and women in the military are damned. Never. But there is nothing positive being accomplished there. You are not serving anything other than Molech. You are not to be revered, but pitied. Put down your arms, and take up a cross. Become a Peace-Maker, and you will be blessed with adoption into the Family of God, in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father, the Light in Whom there is no Shadow. Death is vanquished, seek the age-to-come.

Godmanhood V. Mangodhood

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov saw his current social situation, early 20th century Russia, as a division between two directions: Godmanhood and Mangodhood. The former represents the accomplished work and person of Jesus Christ and the latter is the constructed formulae of certain thinkers that sought to divinize Mankind in the absence of a god. The father of this movement was Ludwig Feurbach, who believed that "Man is the god of Man", and that culture must replace religion as a secular religion, a faux-transcendence that, in its fabrication, is transcendence.

The opposition might not be as stark, and there may be more than this one opposition, but he is right. But before I say more about that, let me speak of the merits of Feurbach. I believe Feurbach is the father of a secular theology that became epitomized in the atheist trifecta of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. All three of these philosophers, and Feurbach as well, are enemies of Christ, and they are very powerful. But the Community of God's People need these men. Why?

Unlike the very nervous and psychologically fragile Christian ghettos of today, the God revealed in Scriptures has no problem appropriating the evil of men for His own purposes. The prophets reveal an Assyria that is both wretched, but a tool in God's Hand. The polluted injustice of Israel and Judah came home to roost, it was to be wiped clean. This did not vindicate Assyria's warpath, but reveals something beyond the politics of men.

In similar form, the Trifecta properly attack Christendom. Feurbach's critique that Man makes gods in his own image is devastating. Bourgeois Christendom, Medieval Kingly Christendom, etc etc. all fall under the ban and are reveal as the twisted visage of corrupted men's fantasies. The Trifecta sought to make the World a better place. I'm not speaking in some Utopian liberal vision. These Three are not in agreement with one another about what the World ought to be (we have the Communist, a Bourgeois, and a Redeemed, Conservative Nihilist). Yet all believe in the destiny of the Mangodhood of Man, that one day Humanity will transcend its own limitations (whether Marx's Communist Paradise, Freud's elevated Civilization, or Nietzsche's Ubermensch).

Yet what Christ reveals is God taking Flesh. Rather than Man being responsible to invent God, God sees to it to be present among Men. The Trifecta eradicate any Christianity that seeks to diminish the Incarnation. Yet the reality of Incarnation, and the subsequent works of the Godman, lights the hope of glorification, of theosis. As Athanasius put it: "God became a man, so Man may become a god". Lest this be misunderstood, this is not a Return to the One, a Pantheism, or a breakdown of the Creator-Creation divide.

If we do not have the sure hope of bearing God's likeness, the attractiveness of Feurbach's thaumaturgical anthrotheology is a liberative medicine. One might stumble upon atheist conversion stories (e.g. Dan Barker) who speaks of liberation. The burden of an endless slaving after God becomes a prison. Marx could look at oppressive socialized Christianity as a mere opium for the masses, a hope for a neverland beyond the grasp of the senses to dull the pain of the moment. I am not saying the hope of Paradise is foolish. Rather, Marx was right that such a promise, when Christologically detached, becomes a justifying reason for social control. It's not for no reason that many ancient philosophers believed the unwashed masses should be taught the old fables. Since one cannot be enlightened by philosophy, crude myths keep people in fear of an ever-watching Fate.

Godmanhood is a determined, fixed eschatology. What is to become of Man is already accomplished. It is this hope that Christ's People should cling to. It is a future we work towards by embodying His Life, living by repentance and the fruit of the Spirit. We are to, individually and corporately, be personally bearing God's likeness. That is the light we bring into all our social interactions.

The intoxicating effects of Mangodhood extinguish before the Infinite Mind of Christ, who expands all boundaries and creates new realities out of nothing, yea, even raises the Dead. May we thirst for the Godmanhood that the Godman has set before us. May we walk as He did and share in the Glory of the Only Begotten Immortal King, forever blessed,

Friday, February 5, 2016

Wisdom: Bulgakov, Logos, Ideas & Mediation

I've recently been intrigued by the Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov and his teachings on Sophia. Now, I am not well versed, but from my initial incursions into the density of this material, I am not convinced Bulgakov is a heretic or a secret Pagan. I think the modern Russian theological trends have interesting connections between certain currents within the Reformational milieu that produced German philosophy and Eastern theological motifs. Liberal Protestantism is merely one outworking of this milieu in the West. Neo-Calvinism, Barth, and many other schools emerged from dealing with similar problems.

Anyway, despite its alienness, I am not wont to reject 'Sophia' categorically out of hand even though the term is mostly extra-biblical and weird to my ears. I want to work to understand the good in such a conceptual arrangement.

For those who have no idea, Bulgakov articulates Sophia as a hypostiziable (i.e. a kind of becoming-personalness) and represents a kind of field of activity. Sophia is not a Person. Sophia also stands in a divine sense and a creaturely sense. As far as I understand, Sophia is somewhat equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Thus, as Christ prayed, that He could will "as done in Heaven as done on Earth", that the creaturely Sophia would be met and transfigured by the divine Sophia.

Sophia is supposed to answer both the problems that constantly afflict doctrines of the Trinity and the problem of mediation (How does the Creator "dialog" with the Creation without one becoming collapsed into the other (i.e. deism or pantheism)?). My cursory reading tells me that Bulgakov sees divine Sophia as the kind of space and outworking of the Triune relationship of the Godhead. This maintains the consistancy and fullness of each Person as equal in dignity and honor, and yet also maintain the sort of interpenetration of their Persons to be a Triune Subjective I, and not verging onto tritheism. This realm of activity creates the space for Creator to be truly available to the Creation, in its own economy, maintained and idealized in its own creaturely Sophia (a kind of world-soul without ascribing divinity to it).

One of Bulgakov's criticisms is that the Patristic theologians lacked this concept and were thus prone to collapse Sophia as an attribute of Christ. This confused issues. He sees this sort of problem in the outworking of how to understand the Holy Spirit. To some early apologists, Bulgakov attributes to them a binitarian view that ascribes Holy Spirit as also an attribute to the Logos, collapsing the Third Person into the Second. Bulgakov sees his project in line with others to recover a distinction that was too easily elided.

Now I've not read nearly enough, but I am wondering if Bulgakov's project can be maintained without undermining the patristic equation of Sophia as an attribute of the Son (particularly in their reading of Proverbs 8). Do we need to make an enhypostisizable field out of Wisdom? Is that necessary?

Maximus the Confessor argued that the Logos, Christ, contained within Himself all the logoi, of which He is the sum of them all and yet greater than their total composition. For Maximus, as I understand it, this is a way to escape a Euthyphro dilemma (i.e. is God good because He obeys goodness or is goodness decided upon by God?). If all the ideas of the world, which maintain their own integrity as separate, are apart of the Logos of God, then we can avoid the problem altogether. There is no ontological collapse (i.e. beauty = good = truth = being = God), which ends up with an unintelligible Platonic Monism. This may sound abstract, but as I've written elsewhere, this threatens the integrity and freedom of our own persons. Salvation becomes being absorbed and, in a sense, erased within the Divine One.

However, the appeal towards a Voluntaristic Nominalism can also be rejected. God maintains within Himself a kind of Logic that is neither graspable by Man, but not hidden behind a dark-cloud of His Will. This sort of shadow is cast within the Augustinian tradition which violently explodes within the Reformation. Calvin's resort to the inscrutible decretals of God ends up, as Tom Torrance pointed out, a God behind God, which results in a singular Will. I understand how certain Barthians see themselves as working out of Calvin, and Augustine, in asserting a primacy to God's Election prior to His Being. That is, God chooses to be God-in-Three, God the Savior, and God for Us. Election precedes, if such a term makes sense, God's own existence.

However, with Maximus, the Biblical hope of personal identity while also communion with God is maintained. But here, with Bulgakov, we can ask about how this comes about. If the logoi, whether beauty, truth, goodness, etc. are constituted within Christ, but not identifiable with Him, then perhaps all such logoi, uncreated ideas, are, when taken together, the Wisdom of Christ, the Divine World, the Royal Law, the Kingdom of God. The eruption of this Reality only comes about in the Incarnation, and thus Sophia maintains both a Divine and Human distinct, yet united, reality. Beauty in Heaven is distinct, even if united, to Beauty on Earth.

Thus, the Father speaks out this Divine Word, the Son, who contains within Himself the fullness of Wisdom, and yet is distinct, as God, from uncreate ideas that are held within Him. Distinctives do not erase simplicity, otherwise for God to create is self-destructive. The Holy Spirit is the Person who shines this Light and carries the Word forward to us. He is the Cloud who carries the Royal Prince, the Dove who crowns Him, the Oil who Anoints Him Lord of All. Therefore, the whole Trinity, not just the Son, participates within the Son's Sophia, without removing Sophia as the Son's Robe which He wears regally as appointed Lord over all things Heavenly and Earthly.

Bulgakov struggled with the legacy of Solovyov, who stood somewhere between orthodox Chrisitanity and being sucked into a certain kind of neo-Pagan hermeticism, German idealistic thinking. By that I am not trying to disparage German idealism, it raises good questions to tackle, most of which I don't think I fully understand. But, here I am trying. I think Bulgakov does not need to move beyond certain patristic moves, which take him out of a christocentric orbit. The Revelation of Christ is the Revelation of the Trinity.

I think Sophia can help us escape some of the pitfalls Western theology has fallen into, avoiding both the nihilism of voluntaristic thinking, while also passing over ontotheological categories that keep us enslaved to Platonic Monisms, whose proponents exist among certain high sacramentarians and Rome. The Kingdom is neither an ontology of peace or violence, rather its the hypostatic dominion of Life, and yea, Life Everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Holy Spirit

In the history of Church dogmatics and Christian theology, the Holy Spirit is the oft-neglected Person of the Trinity. The Christological controversy resulted in seven ecumenical councils. The Holy Spirit is only briefly mentioned, but with only implied references to His Godhead (c.f. 1st Council of Constantinople). This is single example reflects a history of neglect.

This matters not only because the confessional logic never advances beyond sheer faithfulness, but because the Holy Spirit loses His personhood and becomes collapsed into Human structures. In the former case, sheer faithfulness is not a bad thing. But it's a little disconcerting. Many Baptists I've met continued the practice of baptism only because of Scripture command. There was no deep reason besides an artificial connection between water and faith. You get wet if you're serious about your commitment. But unlike St. Paul, who spoke of the need of baptism and its typology, most Baptists lay the emphasis on praying the prayer. I'm picking on Baptists, but they're not the only ones.

But sheer faithfulness is helpful to a point. When one wants to dare to engage in a defense of the faith, then baptism might just become one more weird thing and cast aside for more important matters. That's a shame, especially since Paul made effort to talk of the unity of baptism (i.e. "there is one baptism").

However, what is worst is the collapse of the Holy Spirit into Human structures. In Rome, this can be how the Magisterium functions. In confessional bodies, the Confession takes the place of the work of the Holy Spirit as the maintainer of unity. A friend of mind woefully repents of his false trinity of "Father, Son, and Self-Reliance", turning theological and pastoral work into one of sheer Human effort. Neither is the Holy Spirit a kind of Zeitgeist,  a confirmation of what we want to be so (as the psuedo-charismatics of the apostate Episcopal church insist). The Holy Spirit is not a World Soul, a Church soul, or a philosophic or intellectual soul. He is God, truly and fully.

When the Apostles, among other Elders, met in Jerusalem, St. James, brother of the Lord, said that the decision seemed "good to us and to the Holy Spirit". There was a distinction that maintained a boundary that much of the West has forgotten. When the boundary is closed to hearing God's Word spoken anew, then protectiveness sets in. The Imperial Papacy is merely an extreme example of what might occur. The sort of Confessional brutality, leading to schism after schism among Protestants, was equally disturbed by a lack of the Holy Spirit.

Besides changing a creedal/worship document arbitrarily, the addition of the 'filioque' is a part of the problem. When a real dyad is built out of the Father-Son, where their differentiation on the processing of the Spirit is adumbrated, the Holy Spirit loses His significance and becomes similar to an energy force exuding out of God. I am not blaming the 'filioque' as the source of problems, it is rather an example of symptomatic general disregard.

Sadly, it's a neglect of the Holy Spirit, and His full Personhood and full Godhood, damages many parts of the Christian life. It can lead to moralism or a pessimistic antinomian approach. It can lead to an Ecclesial conquest (vis. an Imperial Church become Babylon) or an Ecclesial capitulation (i.e. the Church as an organ of the State or a sphere of the Society). It leads to antiquarian yearns for a past that never was or a constructed, anxiety-prone, future.

When the Holy Spirit is recognized as the Leader of the Church, the Wind that blows where He wills, and reveals Christ in the strangest ways, it results in good. There is an openness to hear the Word of God in other places and times. There is an openness to guidance that is not fatalistic. There is Human regeneration. There is organic, and real, ecclesial unity.

I am not arguing for Pentecostalism or Charismaticism. Those movements have some unhealthy impulses within them. But at least they have a certain disposition that is open to God continuing His work. Though they are not always willing to "test the spirits", their attitude is right.

If the Holy Spirit is just a tertium quid and you can not begin to address the question "Why Trinity? Why not Four, Five, Six etc.?". How does the Holy Spirit not become a mere 'etc.' in the Triune Life? Whether it is the politics of the Church (by this I mean the Church existing in the world), the forms in a particular church-community, how to read the Scripture, or the ethics practiced by Christians, the Holy Spirit guides us in all of these. He seeks only to bring Christ. If we have not the Holy Spirit, we have neither Christ nor the Father.

Holy Spirit, Lord of Life, fill our hearts, life us into Christ, and bring us to the Father of all Light.