Friday, April 29, 2016

To Live and Conquer Death, or Overcoming Moralism through the Freedom of the Resurrection

*This is based off a transcribed lecture from John Zizoulas*

What is mankind's problem? Many theologians of the American Civil cult reduce it to a kind of moralism. In days past, it was a robust notion that involved proper, demarcated gender roles, the devilish "Protestant Work Ethic", self-will and thrift. Now, it involves an vague and impossible notion of tolerance, an idiotic sensitivity, and authenticity. While people might not call it such, our age is truly an age of moralism, of maintaining the unwritten rules of social conduct.

And yet, our era struggles with this proposition. The movies are filled with anti-heroes. This is more than the funny, cheeky, and ironic hero. Indiana Jones is vain, promiscuous, reckless, and mean-spirited. But he's still good. Deadpool and the up-coming Suicide Squad are the opposite. They are essentially villainous. Perhaps this explains the popularity of Donald Trump's personality. He doesn't care what you think, he's going to tell it as it is. There's a widespread embrace of a new ethic, and the howling cry of rejection, emanating from the passing guard and even the present Millenial generation that craves freedom.

As I've said elsewhere, this is a question of freedom. I think that's because freedom is the real hope. When the question is framed as such, moralisms melt away. Yes, I'm saying that good and evil as conventionally understood are, at the heart of things, irrelevant categories. But allow me to reconstruct an alternative.

If the issue is freedom then we have a major question: what do we make of life? The corruption of Man, the sin in him, turns Man towards rejecting life. While this manifests in all sorts of brutalities, mutilations, and debaucheries, the ultimate climax is suicide. It's rejection any notion of existing as it stands. Now, this is not the only reason why people kill themselves. Suicide can be an act of arrogant assertion of freedom. But it can also be a desperate cry for the very same.

As it stands, in this world, if one embraces life, if one accepts his existence as such, it invites pain. Despite rosy colored pictures of Pollyanna-esque stupidity, life is hard. Life is pain. This is the curse God leveled upon Man. Life became subject to the roaring of Death, creation was now opened to the slide into non-being. Life was now in a struggle with Death. Man, who was lifted up from the dust by His Maker, was now opened to the horror of return. Dust to dust, man lives scratching a living in toil and anxiety, God judged Man by turning Adam and his progeny into the death he invited into his soul.

Life was now marked by a cross, and it is such a cross that the Son of God sought to bear. God did not substitute Himself for Man on that instrument of death, rather Christ assumed what Man's life had become. Human life is bearing a cross. Christ's call to His disciples was not something radically new, rather it was self-consciousness about the curse.

But there was a substitution. As Athanasius said, God became Man, so Man could be come god. This is not a radical statement, but the glorious exchange. Man was now opened to communion with God through the only-begotten Son.

Life's pain was not to be born as the ontological root of life. The freedom to live is not to fall in love with pain for its own sake. This was the conclusion of the Stoic, and why that philosophical group remained so small. Between suicide and a courageous acceptance of life-as-pain, most people would rather muddle by and not come face to face with their own existence, the question of life and death.

Instead, Christ conquered Death. Mankind's role is to transcend over Death, not of his own strength but through the power of Christ, the power of God. It's in accepting life, in accepting the pain woven into This Age, that this pain can be transcended. The life of Adam is to be transformed into the life of Christ. In the twinkling of an eye, the whole creation will be transfigured, the dead will rise, and the remnants of This Age will come to a close.

Christians must embrace this reality. Our goal is not to think of good or evil. Rather, it's a question of freedom. If we choose life, the choice is to accept the conquest of Death, and that only comes through love. It was love that God displayed through joining us in our dust. The meaning of life is to love, and in this era it is a love that bears scars. Sacrifice accompanies love. As the Master said, greater love knows nothing less than this, to lay down your life for your friends.

This is the Gospel, the vanquishing of the social-order of Babylon and a return to a city not made by Human hands. Christ has overcome the question of good and evil, and has stopped the slide to non-being. Death is the enemy and Death is defeated. That's the Good News. Our turn to life is now opened to God's future of life and life abundantly. Meditate on this!

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