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.