Monday, November 28, 2016

Christ, the Conquering Conqueror: The Universal Struggle of Spiritual Warfare

As I've written elsewhere, the original monastics differed wildly from what would later become identified as monasticism, particularly in the Latin West. The former did not seek to run from the difficulties of the world, needing tranquility and support to seek Christ in earnest. Rather, these monks sought a crash-course in the fundamental realities of a Created Earth besieged. The Desert was not a place of tranquility, but the haunt of demons. The monks were training and battling for Christ's Kingdom, overcoming the lusts of the Flesh, turning their flesh into instruments of spiritual war.

Warfare is a reality that scars the pages of the Bible. While the Creation of all things was a speaking into being, and not a warfare narrative, the Fall of Man represents a departure into violence and chaos. In a way, without the light of divine revelation, this was a reality that the Pagans saw and understood, yet they retrojected it back into the ontology of Creation itself. The workings of Life are scarred by violence and the threat of it. The Snake's mission is to see all engulfed by darkness, a return to the primordial nothing of non-being.

This warfare narrative continues throughout the Scripture, whether in Abraham and the Patriarchs, Israel's struggle against the magic and slavery of Egypt, Moses' battle for faith in a trying Desert, the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the many wars of the Judges, the kings of Israel completing the driving out of Canaan, or the many other occasions. The New Testament unveils that this battle is not really against flesh and blood, but against spiritual darkness and wickedness in high places. This is the darkness that not only destroys the lives of the oppressed that flock to Jesus, but a darkness that bolsters the reigns of Herod, Caiaphas, and Pilate. As St. Paul repeatedly says and warns: the Christian's life, following in the footsteps of their master, is a life of war.

Quite clearly, this is partially what it entails for Jesus to be the Christ. As God and Man, He represents the Christic figure of David who slayed the serpentine Goliath, and also the Angel of the Lord, Captain of the Armies, who heralds Joshua into battle. In Christ Jesus, the figure of the Angel of the Lord, as Captain of Angels, and the figure of Joshua, as Captain of Israel, God's Nation of Men, become one. Christ goes to war with His band of disciples. Even the cross, the moment of ultimate despair, is actually a triumph, the moment where He tramples death by death.

Yet this victory is not yet complete. Christ conquered death, sin, and the devil, triumphing over the corrupted elements of This Age, resurrecting from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and ascending into Heaven at the Right Hand of God. But that's not the whole story. Quite explicitly, the Scripture tells us that Christ will reign until He places His enemies under His feet.

The first few centuries of the Church saw this doctrine as a difficult one to understand. The Apostles stood as warriors, facing death in many ways similar to their Master. They overcame the threat of the sword through a courageous and difficult faith. Yet, a Neo-Platonism wedded to a vision of Pax Romana complicated the Christian Church as it became tolerated, and established, in the Roman Empire. Quite a few influential converts turned their gaze to the motionless perfection of Plotinus' One and read that back over the Christian God. They reconceptualized the world into a stable hierarchy, the great Chain of Being, that transformed the nature of Christian warfare.

Warfare was revised into, to put it crudely, a game of chutes and ladders. The goal of the Christian was to attach to Christ and ascend the Chain of Being, being more and more perfected, becoming even greater to the Angels. The end goal, as I've said elsewhere, is a vision akin to death, much more similar to Buddhistic notions of Nirvana than the Resurrection of the Dead. Along these lines, a monasticism formed that sought to overcome the fraility of the Flesh, a quest to triumph over finitude.

This completely negated the original intention of the monks (starting with Anthony) who saw the Desert as a real warzone. There, alone and in the dark, the demonic assaulted the Christian more forcefully. The problem in Creation was not the threat of individually falling down the ladder of Being, but to be seized upon by Devils. Their assault would drive you into madness, eviscerating our Humanness. In Human society, this process usually is slower and more subtle. But the war of the Serpent is to drag Mankind out of its intended Nature, attempting to transform Man into a beast or a bearer of the demonic.

The liberation of Christ is not a liberation to transcend our finitude, but to become more fuller and more truly Human. This implies a state of being that is open to the transformative light of God, but there is a subtle difference between this vision and the Platonized vision of the Origenists. The functions and faculties of Humanity were not to be overcome, but to be fully realized.

This is the glory in St. Athanasius' metaphor of the effects of Christ's Incarnation. Imagine a village where a great and glorious king takes up residence within. The individual body of the King is small and individual, but radiates glory. From this the whole village is transformed into a lush capital, expanding and revealing the majesty of the figure who resides within. Christ is this King and the village is the whole collective of Humanity, where individual villagers represent individual men, and the village as a whole representing Human Nature. As the Image of God by nature, Christ reactivates the same image, activating Man's destiny by grace.

But more importantly, this realization should unproblematize the warfare texts that many Atheists and Christians are embarrassed to deal with. This is because tranquility and stasis have become prized values, but this is certainly absurd. We live in a world where people are broken over the wheel of self-interest and manipulation, crushed under economic inqequities and spiritual bondage. In the US, it was the strange circuit preachers, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals that, at times, were awoken by the Spirit of God to see the cosmic battle afoot. Those fully situated into the comforts of Middle Class values were unable to comprehend the battles.

But lest this become mistaken for a form of Social Gospel, the purpose is not to transform the social structures that we see around us. This is fundamentally mistaken. Rather, the Kingdom of God comes not to clean up what is, but to set fire to the Earth. The warfare of the Gospel is much more radical than this. The Social Gospel was a liberal reform effort, an attempt to clean up Christendom, the convoluted compromise between Christian convictions and Pagan structures.

No, a much more radical notion is required. Firstly, this is the process of mortifying the flesh. It is chopping off the unfruitful roots of the soul. It is struggling to gain mastery over the insane desires that constantly plague us. The Desert Fathers spent many years memorizing Scripture, reciting, singing and praying it, to learn Christ's commands as a salve for the wounds of sin. It was through rejecting the cravings of the body that the flesh might be healed. The objective was not to erase the body, but to restore sanity and health to the flesh. The same goes for the mind. Spiritual warfare meant a restorative for the Christian, and a following of their Master in fighting off the demons that assault mankind.

Secondly, it is reflective of the early disciples giving up claims to private property, giving their money to the poor and to the Apostles to redistribute, and allowing themselves to live together. But the fact is that this passage embarrasses many, or is misunderstood to be merely a kind of proto-Communism. This passage does describe economic redistribution, but it was for the purposes of relinquishing false claims upon the Earth. God owns the Earth and yet He gives it to Man to live upon and rule. The kings of Israel had claim upon all of Israel, and yet their claim was as vice-regent to God, and their design was to consistently redistribute landholdings for the needs of Israel. The practice of relinquishing owenrship is a spiritual one and a material one, for it teaches how man is to relate to God, fellow man, and the Earth. God is the Master, not Man; all men have equal claim to the Earth under the kingship of Christ; the Earth is not for plunder or enrichment, but for sustenance and rest.

In our times today, this is a difficult and radical move. Many who claim the name of Christ would rather live with an impoverished soul than feel the liberating light of the Gospel. The darkness clings tight and many Christians, including myself, struggle to get free. But that is why it is written that Christ will reign until all of His enemies are placed under His feet. Christ has conquered and Christ is conqueror, but He is still conquering. The demons are not done with. He is still waging His War.

The universal claims of Christ upon the Earth are claims that have yet to take effect. As John Howard Yoder argued, Christianity makes Universal claims, but unlike the Platonized forms that Post-Modernism attacks, Christianity begins from the particulars, namely God's incarnation, and is a movement of conquest. Christianity is a peculiarly imperial mission. The violence of Christ is the awakened man seeking to rip off his chains. Or, per Charles Wesley's hymn, the peace of the man coming to wake in his unshackled chains is followed, inevitably, by the struggle to escape the dungeon.

But I must argue that all of this must be understood in the much more radical (as in at the roots) sense than many worldly iterations. The above readings of Scripture have been twisted to justify the figure of the Crusader, a reinstantiation of Saul, the worldly king who misunderstood the point of Canaan's conquest. This figure has appeared all over history, harshly in the actual Crusades or in the extreme slaughter of the "Holy War" of the First World War, and softly in the Social Gospel. This is an attempt merely to scrub the pillars of the Devil's domain, rather than reject the Serpent's trick.

May the holy light of the Gospel awaken you to this reality, dear reader.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Live by The Words of God

A proverb from the Desert Fathers goes as follows: A young man seeks out his elder and complains to him, "Elder, I am afflicted with lust and horrid thoughts! I am overcome day in and day out!" The elder responds to him, "You must continue in reciting Scripture". The young man, exasperated, shouts out, "I've tried! It's no good! I keep reciting the Scripture, but I don't feel any different. None of it makes any sense to me". The elder replies, "Perhaps it is true none of it makes sense to you, but it makes sense to the demons who afflict you. They understand the words and they shall flee".

The Desert Fathers practiced a form of meditation that is hardly what anyone would consider: they recited Scripture from memory. They were from oral societies where such is normal. They would recite phrases, lines, entire books, sometimes single words. They believed that the words of Scripture were none other than the very words of God. This was true power.

At the risk of sounding like a magician, these men got it right. The Scripture itself testifies when St. Paul tells us that he came not with craft and cunning, but with very power, in his speech. The words of Scripture are of such power that they lay bare the very scope and shape of the cosmos. There's a story attributed to Charles Spurgeon: he was preparing for his sermon when he bellowed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"; a janitor heard this and was converted at the very sound. There are plenty of other conversion stories at the very words of Scripture: Anthony, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley. And of course, there are the simple words to St. Matthew: Come Follow Me.

The fixture upon Inerrantism that one finds in conservative Evangelicalism is completely wrong-headed. Most articulations of this doctrine seem content to lock the Bible's pristine form into texts that may or may not even exist anymore. They've given up the battle to theological liberals and, even as they drown in the swamp of Postivistic notions of authorship, they will slowly fade away as most people cannot understand the strange nuances of their argument. But of course, this operates not upon faith in Christ, but upon the latest findings in archaeology and the structures of textual criticism.

The Christian position on the Scripture as the very words and commandments of God will not find any place in the academy, nor should it. The Bible is not a text like any other, but we claim divine editorialship. The Bible is not a divisible collection of books, it is not a library, nor is it a mess of internecine theological battles as revelation, with one contradicting the other. If it is so, then Christians are without hope.

What if the Bible reflects the very shape of God's intended will for the Creation? What if the Scripture is God speaking to us now, today? What if it is the very garment of Christ, seamless and undivided? As He is the Word, this is further testimony that every word of Scripture belongs to Him and yet He is more than merely their collection. This is St. Maximus' Logos/logoi distinction played out in a more Biblicist form. The very words and commandments over Creation are the uncreated adornments of Christ Jesus, the Lord.

Ponder this next time you open your Bible. Even if you don't understand, the Word is still sharp enough to divide spirit from soul, bone from marrow. Such a power even the demons fear, and tremble.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Every Capitalist Needs His Niggers: Race as a Means of Economic Exploitation

One of the things that this recent election has revealed, as it is circulating around the web, is the failure of the New Left. But I'm not sure most people understand this as well. Sure, the Alt-Right has had some influence among emasculated white men reacting. No one wants to be told that they're going to be on the ash-heap of history, a group whose stains far outnumber contributions, and who need to be wiped out. This was a part of the progressive, and somewhat vindictive attitude, that swirled around the Clinton campaign.

But the reality is different. More than half of white women voted for Trump. He also secured the Republican metric of at least 30% of the Latin vote. He also won in Michigan and Pennsylvania, whose labor vote tended towards Trump. He also secured many voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Why? I think it's because Trump capitalized on something Clinton not only failed to do, but could not: he postured himself as for the working class. His protectionist rhetoric did not need an actual plan for it to be attractive. I think many people were glad to hear that someone was willing to say (perhaps even lie) that he intended to bring jobs back no matter what. Trump at least created some jobs in his vain and absurd real-estate schemes. Clinton was backed by the big banks and financial captains who were, rightfully, blamed for destroying huge segments of American industry. For them, there was more profit in turning a profit from shipping industry elsewhere, and turn the US into a different sort of nation.

Despite all the claims of white racism and nationalism, all of which exists, I am confident to say that most people did not vote in Trump because they wanted to reinvigorate the KKK or make America some fascist empire. They went out to get jobs and incomes that promise some level of security, dignity, and living wage. It's for this reason that Bernie Sanders almost took the Democratic Primary even as the DNC was rigged for Hillary. No one expected that a "socialist" (he's hardly one) would reveal the corrupt party mechanics due to his massive popularity.

This sort of thing was not part of the election results, it was primarily so. The problem was not that the Democrats did not listen to the voice of white men, it's that the Identity politics that is part and parcel to the Democratic (and the Republican) party is non-sense. It's an absolute distraction from reality. The hard and cold truth is that things operate according to power, and power comes from functional operations. Money is the liquid and transferable form power takes, a claim upon the resources of the Earth, whether land, food, weapons or labor, production, soldiers. This is where the heart and soul of the issue lies. Identity politics according to race, gender, religion etc. is worthless to explain anything at its root.

Am I saying race is unimportant? Yes and No. It's a question of origins. One must ask where the origins of whiteness and blackness (and all the intermediary states in between) come from. And it's a pretty simple, and disturbing, reality. The mass-slavery of Africans was the major factor in the creation of racial distinction. Whiteness had to be inscribed upon Human bodies, with the correlate of Blackness, to justify an exceptionally exploitative form of labor. But this was done less to soothe the agitated consciences of planters on American colonies. Rather, it was many times a social hierarchy to separate working poor of European stock from colluding or sharing with the Enslaved. It's about the shattering of different subservient peoples from seeing their interests as fundamentally the same. It's about creating a social hierarchy that was radically new: now the wealthy can rule a social polity that lacks the myth of royal patronage and blood.

The formation of social hierarchies has, at its core, a desire for stability. If it is unclear why those on top should remain on top, there's a greater chance for agitation and possible toppling. The purpose of ideologies and founding myth is to prevent these structural shocks. If one wants to seize greater and greater power, one needs greater and greater resources. Thus, it makes sense that any new or established elite would seek to secure a stable population of peons able to provide the raw power of bodies to build an empire upon.

As clear in American history, many Europeans and Asians have suffered racism in the United States for periods of time. Yet the effects of this linger in increasingly diminished forms. Those of African descent, particularly those imbued with the American legacy of slavery, have struggled to overcome this racial hierarchy? Why? Because for most parts of the country, the machinery of the previous system was still in place. It was easier to convince white people that the "nigger" was stupid, lazy, and treacherous and deserved to be kept in functional slavery. Racism become an easy justification to keep a stable class of workers who were paid almost nothing, whether share-cropping in the South or factory work in the North among many other things.

Fundamentally, Capitalism is about hierarchies of wealth, of those individuals who have succeeded in owning the means of production. It's not necessarily about markets, that's a smokescreen. It's about the creation of a ruling-class that is dependent on wealth, and wealth defined not in dollars or gold bullion, but on abstract claims, backed with the threat of violence, over the very means of life and features of the Earth. For those who stand at the top of the pyramid, Capitalism requires a stable base of workers, essentially wage slaves, trapped in meaningless and powerless jobs, where they are treated more and more like replaceable cogs, meat-bag machines, that can be reduced to cost-benefit analysis.

While Taylorist-face of Capitalism has faded away, it's still at the heart of things. It's why many manufacturing jobs have become mechanized and shipped abroad. There is no single doctrine of Capitalism, it has many faces, but is fundamentally about a merchant-people gaining control of the bounty of the Earth and doling it out in accordance with necessity and social polity. It's not about "trickle-down economics" except as a means of throwing bread and circuses to people getting fed up with nothing. The kind of industrial wage slavery of ages past has moved on elsewhere, joblessness and unskilled labor has trapped many others. It's a juggling game of interests and division.

The interests of social control and power is not a monolithic entity, there are many sectors and factors, there are many ambitious willing to cut down their competitors. The lust for more many times overcomes sensible policy of control. It's for this reason many Empires are brought down, and the Empire of Capital will, one day, have the same happen to it. Identity Politics is one factor of this, keeping people wasting their time with trivialities and feelings. It's, as Don Draper put it, not catering to the interests the people have, but creating those interests by making them appear self-generated and then offering to meet those needs. It's a complex game of manipulation and brain-washing.

The so-called "Neo-Liberalism" of people like the Clintons channels this approach into a means of social reintegration. It's about trying to reconfigure the racial hierarchical justification of years past into something else. It's meritocratic colorblindness, as well as gender-blindness and sexuality-blindness, that is "egalitarian" by putting women and minorities into the structures of power. Supposedly "racial equality" is met when we've integrated blacks, Asians, Latinos, gays, transgenders etc. into the class that controls Capital. For some, that's all that they want, with hardly a question about the functional enslavement of most of the globe. It's just as evil, as it waves a rainbow flag and has a smiley multiculturalism.

The wage-slaves remain wage-slaves, whether they're retail workers in the US or the legion of factory workers elsewhere. They've become the new niggers of the Capitalist superstructure. And just as times before, they're set in a form of entrapment where their own slavery is heaped upon them as their fault. The prevalence of mind-numbing entertainment, mind-altering drugs, and mind-structuring advertisement keep people down.

People are given impossible standards (whether of beauty or respectability or whatever) to live according to, and many times find themselves wrapped up in an infinite cycle of debt trying to live up to the standard of American living. People try to soothe the burdens of back-breaking work, sapping the limited financial resources they have, and then criminalized. I have no doubt that the American government has, seemingly paradoxically, orchestrated the means of drug trafficing while also cracking down in the War on Drugs. And people become involved in trivial entertainments that ease the burden of psychic overload if they were confronted with their situation. Marx might have said religion is the opiate of the masses, but if that is so, than the entertainment-complex is heroin. All of these become mechanisms to stabilize in ways that race-war structure could only barely accomplish.

Inter-ethnic hatreds have always existed, but this is not what I'm talking about when I say race. Rather, it's an artificial system based upon skin-color and, many times, non-existent or fabricated "cultural identities". At it's root, it's about the the creation of a class of people to be exploited for their labor. It's about creating a social stability where those who own may continue to gain more power.

In the Bible, this is primarily reflected in the Phillistines, an empire built upon plunder and merchandising people. Capitalism is really just the philosophy of Phillistine conquest, feeding upon host peoples and draining them dry. These are a people that the People of God were locked in endless war with, always being tempted with lures. Ultimately, the Phillistines, like Egypt and Assyria, are component parts of the Biblical figure of Babylon the Great. Not all empire is Capitalist, but every Empire finds its roost in becoming Babylon, the whore city that spills the blood of the saints. Every foul beast finds it rest in the evil city.

I am not a Communist, even if I am making similar critiques. However, there are many Christians who unthinkingly abandon the commands of Christ for a place in building a kind of Babylon. They don't understand that Christ very specifically meant that there was an eternal incompatibility between serving God and Mammon. Wealth inequity is all over the Bible as a mark of the Devil's domain. And yet many prop up the system as they have secured a place near the top of the pyramid or have been lured to think they can achieve such a thing.

Christians should practice a different form of sociality, rejecting the allure of money, and relativizing it before the Power of God. This might mean living a life where the forms of security that we're told we need will not exist, rather we will trust in the Hand of God to deliver the poor. But it also means seeing the exploitation of labor and the false divisions of mankind. Race must be overcome as a category if one is to see the actual balance of power.

This post is sweeping in its claims and simplifies a lot of complex issues, but I want to cut through all the shrouds to present what's at stake. It's a wake-up call to resist the process of seeing others as mud-people, degenerate semi-Humans who deserve their fate. Capitalism is one form of this and it's the pervasive American form. Overcoming racism is about overcoming race and seeing the power structures at play. And it's also knowing that Christ has struck the fatal blow. Babylon the Great may reign for a time more, but it will be consumed by fire from Heaven.

This ought to be a moment of self-reflection. Repent of how you may have joined with the Great Harlot who beds the kings of men. Her ultimate fate is destruction and the saints will rejoice.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Athanasius, Arius, and the Role of Dialectics

In a previous post, I wrote about the mediated nature of experiencing God. In reflection, I think my major point was sound, but I don't think I understood why as well. This post is an attempt to readjust my point.

In that last post, I critiqued Augustine and Thomas through Chauvet's work. The criticism was valid, but I misunderstood where their work stood in terms of historical theology. Augustine (Thomas merely as an heir to the underlying problem) sought to follow Nicaea's fundamental teaching about the full integration of the Godhead, one which could say that Christ was indeed true God of true God. He fully understood the battle, but did not take the right path in combating it. Hence, he finds things like language and mediated realities as creaturely problems, helpful roadblocks, on the path to a Beatific vision of glory everlasting.

But I begged the question: why did Augustine find mediating such a problem? Augustine was Platonic, but he, like Origen, were Christians trying to escape and/or reevaluate Plato. This includes the problem of experience and communication. If God is mediated, this comes through a being(s) that are beneath Him, but stand somewhere in between God and the creature being communicated to. For Platonism, this was the doctrine of the Chain of Being, Emanations, involving a creation/eschaton that follows the exitus/reditus pattern. This is the fatal flaw that is at the heart of the Arian controversy.

Arius sought to fall on one side of this problem. If Christians are to talk about relating to God at all, it only makes sense along this diagram. The resultant feature is that Christ becomes a creature, though the highest and most resultant being on the Chain. In Platonic metaphysics, this was the Nous, the Soul/Mind, emanating out of the One, who alone is perfect and without beginning. Eventually, paradise is the ultimate return, where all the emanations fold back into the One, where eternal bliss awaits.

Obviously, this Platonic metaphysic didn't go away with Arius. Augustine didn't deny this, as much as he did a better job squaring the theology. For him, the One still remains such, but Christ and the Holy Spirit are included into this configuration. Hence Augustine's defense of the Trinity, where the three Persons exists as God's relationships to Himself. Augustine includes Christ into the metaphysic without the same heretical conclusions of Arius.

But this doesn't solve the problem of mediators, and the implication that a mediator implies the grades along a chain of Being. This is where discomfort over mediatorship comes from, trying to make sense of real communion with God without degrading God. Along this scale, direct experience is truly heretical as it is akin to saying that one cannot ever experience God or that such experience is literally erasing. Hence, Platonic Salvation can often sound like the experience of dying, an absorption back into the One.

But Athanasius' attack upon Arius did not depend on Platonic metaphysics, but on a strange metaphysic derived from his reading of the Bible. Athanasius insisted that the Son was fully God, but that God was not bound to the dialectics of the Chain of Being. God is beyond both affirmation and negation, which, in the Platonic metaphysics, is to say that God is beyond Being. God may make this, He may even make things along a chain of being, things that possess a greater or lesser share of glory. But God Himself does not belong along this. God is not equivocal with Being (ens), and things to don't exist in a merely analogical way to God.

The root is in the simple, and radical, doctrine of Creation from Nothing (creatio ex nihilo). God can make the World, and yet it is not an extension of Himself, an Emanation. Yet it is also not alien to God either, for to deny such is to affirm, functionally, a kind of deism or atheism. If Creation was framed according to the Wisdom of God, that is to say Christ, then it somehow belongs to God. This was later developed along the lines of the logoi of God, eternal ideas that reflect God, and yet do not constitute God. This is to say that God made the World, and yet it was not necessary. God is truly free, and yet He is truly in relation to all of His creation.

What this does is undermine the entire problem of mediated presence. God can be fully present in any of the things He made without it collapsing the distinction between the thing and God. Nothing is alien to God, and hence direct experience of God is possible without annihilation. Paradise is not the void. Athanasius saves us this sweet truth in his battle with Arius. Sadly, the way Athanasius fought was not as important as the victory he secured. Affirming Christ, and the Holy Spirit, as God is not enough. We have to understand why this is true, not merely that it is true.

Most people do not consider the Chain of Being any more, but, then again, neither do most people consider a Creator. In fact, I'd wager most people, even many Christians functionally, are either deists or pantheists. Either the Universe is God, whether as the sum of the parts or in a more Platonic way, or God is somehow irrelevant to the functions of this ticking clock. But Athanasius explains the deep intuition that many Christians who've been soaked in their Bible sense: God is present, even though is not any of the things that surround us. They might not be able to explain it well, but it's the haunting supposition in the Scripture. God manifests Himself in many things, and yet those things still retain their integrity as things. The Burning Bush does not cease to be a bush even as the Glory of God burns and speaks to Moses.

Therefore, I must admit that philosophic sophistication can at times lead astray, even if it truly can be useful and helpful. May God truly be with you, readers, in the radiate glory of His kindness and mercy.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Grace Activates Nature

Carl Schmitt, a notorious political theorist, is most famous for his concept of political theology. That is to say that the concepts that we in the Secular West use for politics are actually transformed theological concepts. It is the secularization of God that created Modernity, manifested most viscerally in the climactic days of the French Revolution, but existing before and after this.

One major concepts of the French Revolution was 'regeneration', a perfect example of Schmitt's Political theology. While originally a theological term, explaining the transformation of Man when brought to God's grace, it became a serious political concept. Regeneration took on the fiber of the World, including man, that required the christic grace of civilization. Thus, Revolutionary advocates saw the mass-mobilization of an army of citizens, fanning out across Europe, as a missionary endeavor. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was a liberative doctrine. Those who were caught in its radiance and bathed in its light would be reborn a man, free from superstition and the corruption of layers of tradition.

Regeneration was also applied to the debate over slavery in France's colonies. Even the most ardent abolitionists framed their enthusiasm in terms of Regeneration. The transformative effects of the Revolution could enlightened even the sons of the Dark Continent. However, this doctrine allowed the violence of chattel slavery to continue. These men were still ignorant and if freed they might reject the Republic in vain stupidity and superstition. Even worse, they might ally with France's nemesis, Britain, acting upon selfish desires. Though some agitated for immediate abolition, most agreed that there had to be some transitive step between the life of the slave and the life of the free citizen.

The fate of the Africans, and all People of Color, in the French colonies reflects the true nature of Regeneration. When secularized, the term reveals a kind of violence. Overseers need to remain present until enlightenment might gradually occur, a kind of conversion experience. Perhaps donning the tri-color and reciting the Rights of Man is a form of baptism, but, like children, these slaves must await confirmation until they can partake of the sacrifice of the Republic, namely the full rights of citizenship.

Granted, a lot of self interest went into these rhetorical exercises. Clearly, some were afraid of losing a lot of money if slaves went off the plantation and shut down the coffee and sugar markets. But, I'd argue that even so, the frame of their argument, even if manipulated, reveals a kind of idea at play. This is clearly a theological concept that has been deployed in a new form to reap new results. Instead of God regenerating the blind sinner into someone holy through the rites of the Church (Rome), Nature regenerates the ignorant peasant into a citizen through the rites of the Nation. These parallels are not contrived, but derivative. The Enlightenment owes a lot to the intellectual underpinnings of the Roman Catholic Church.

But as I've highlighted above, this concept of regeneration contains violence. I think this exists within the theology itself. Regeneration is a word found in the Bible, but the version I'm talking about is a particular concept. It is, in a nutshell, fundamentally that grace restores nature. Now, Rome and many Protestants have agreed to this, but have argued over what this means. Rome, following Augustine, argued that Man is not fully Man without grace, the overabundant gift (donum superadditum). The Reformed tended to argue for the perfection of Man in the Garden. But both explain a catastrophic fall. Both accounts reveal man who has, in some shape or form, lost the image of God.

I argue that such is not in the Bible, and is an inferred concept that fails to explain the shape and flow of the Bible. This primarily my beef, but its secular political outworkings reveal a secondary issue: regeneration is violent. The process involves taking man, who is deficient and broken, and bringing him to a new nature. Yes, it is the nature that rightfully belongs to man, but it is a nature that is foreign to the children of Adam. In Protestant theologies, one sees this in a constant ascription of one's good works beyond oneself. Per Augustine, the good we do belongs to God, while the evil we do belongs to us. Rome is perhaps even more bizarre and contrived, with the doctrine of created grace, meaning that God creates in us a spiritual resource from which we might do the good set out for us. It is our acts, but it originates not from Humanity, but Humanity plus, Man given the necessary donum.

What is violent in these theologies is in the implications of how God relates to Man. Calvinistic theologies that accept this premise are relatively comfortable with the violence of God afflicting Man, dominating and crushing his sinful nature and will to recreate it in new form. Augustinian Roman theology tries to pass this off as in a different manner, highlighting the freeness of the Human will forming the deposit of grace into a habit. But the deposit itself is alien to Human nature qua nature. The donum is always something other than Man, but deemed necessary for Man. This can sound liberal, unless one appreciates the magnitude of insufficiency for Man to be Man. This kind of theology ultimately denies that Man's creatureliness is sufficient for the Image of God. The Fall must be catastrophic and yet a Felix Culpa, a round a bout ways to achieve the donum we never had.

In theology, a certain violence surrounds this, perhaps rightfully, and it fits within certain trajectories one sees in secularized, or pseudo secularized variants. I am not arguing for a causative connection, only an intellectual comfortability. In the same vein as above, I think the slaves and slave catechism reveals this phenomenon. There was a sense of tutorage between the missionary and the enslaved. This phenomenon existed in Jesuit and Anglican plantations, where freedom was a far off goal, perhaps never achievable, whereas the state of slavery may be a place for the instruction of Christianity. If Man is fundamentally broken and not truly Man, this might appear in a way to denigrate those who lack regeneration. This might involve a kind of alienation from the community of the righteous, defined along political terms. Or this might say that Man is never good enough as Man. Torture, beatings, sleeplessness, anything is necessary to push Man beyond himself in activating the donum the Church may administer. The Slave is encouraged towards freedom, even as his body is under the domain of another.

Fundamentally, Grace restoring Nature may be a problematic, if subtle, teaching. It might be a font of justifications for torture, brain-washing, and all kinds of coercive transformation.

I want to consider an alternative. Following Athanasius, perhaps it might be theologically richer to discuss grace activating nature. The problem is not in Human nature, but in a person's inability to enact it. Theoretically, this means Mankind is in fact Mankind, even if we are not capable of being transformed into such. This is fundamentally what is accomplished in the Incarnation, where Jesus Christ takes up Human nature, not to restore it,as if it was ontologically damaged (though perhaps epistemically unverifiable). Rather, Christ fulfills it, being fully Man and, in doing so as the Son, unleashes the Human image from the Devil's clutches. This is a cosmic victory that is true, today, tomorrow, forever, ever since the day when Christ took up flesh.

This is not an atonement theory, and thus is nowhere Pelagian or Abelardian. I am not explaining how Christ vanquishes our sins and overcomes the Devil, but how He, in doing so as Man, restores to us the ability to live in light of this. What this does is make sense of the Fall in terms that better befit the Bible. Nowhere does it say Man lost his status as Image of God, yet we hardly see men revealing such an Image. Instead, we see Mankind behaving as if they were beasts. Romans 1 is the gamut run of Human history. Human nature doesn't need fixing or add-ons, instead it needs to be freed to be Human Nature. And this is victory is not something anyone else can instantiate or accomplish. It's already done.

What the grace of God does, being as that is the presence and working of God in all the facets of our life, is open up paths to fulfill the fundamental desires of being Human, which include being a royal priesthood, living a life of virtue. The difference from Grace restoring Nature is subtle, but the major point is that the redeemed life comes from within Humanity's capacities, rather than outside. Again, this is not talking about salvation, but how one does the good works that God had set out for him to do. Righteous living is not alien to Human nature, nor is it something in addition to Human nature.

There is violence in this account, but it is the violence of the person waking up. This approach is not so different than Charles Wesley's hymn where, awaking in a dungeon flamed with light, chains drop off, and the man is free to go. I am not saying the Wesleys, Methodism, or Anglicanism possessed this Athanasian twist, or understood it, but it might have. But unlike the hymn, to come awake in a prison-break is a frightening ordeal. There are many demon captors, there sins and fantastical desires that seek to re-enslave. It's a warzone to get out alive. But the crucial point is that God had ordained us to escape the prison, He took flesh to be the Stronger Man to overcome the Strong Man and plunder his house.

How this cashes out is the difference of a person becoming a person as a process of inner enlivening, or an alien force bringing life. Is my righteousness activate by grace, or does grace have to strip me and rebuild me, brick by brick, from something (however diminished) familiar to something alien?

How one answers this is how one explains how moral reforms actually work. When secularized, the latter approach must be a continually alien encounter, where brain-washing and propaganda makes sense, in certain extreme scenarios. The former approach sees moral reform in terms of self-mastery in the image of Christ. Again, the difference is subtle. In today's prison-moral mentality, the external constraints have been internalized to become indistinguishable. But, to claim an Athanasian approach, no matter how internalize the external approach, such is and will always be an idol and cannot stand indefinitely in the chamber of the heart.

As I've said, these are reflections upon subtle meanings and movements of particular doctrines. I am not collapsing thought-patterns with Human intention, the two remain distinct. I hope only to highlight historical episodes where secularized and institutionalized uses of the doctrine show the flaws I think exist within it, but remain invisible to a dogmatician. If we better understand Human nature and the saving work of Christ, perhaps it will give us a discerning eye for social phenomena that have become warped deployments of doctrine.

Thank God for St. Athanasius, and may we learn from this great father of the faith.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Day of the Donald: Reflections on the Church in America and Apostasy

Let me lay out what this is not, along with some preliminaries: This is not a liberal whine piece. I don't think the apocalypse is nigh because Donald Trump won, even though I was quite surprised. I think Trump is vapid and a consummate liar, yet he is hardly different than Clinton. This is nothing radical, but pretty plain for those not blinded by partisan range and have the competency to think outside of US geography. She was just as belligerent, perhaps more so, when it came to US missiles reigning death upon geopolitical roadblocks and enemies. This is not a piece to talk about Trump's merits or lack thereof. It's clear he's pretty evil and base. Of course, he will renege on many of his talking points because that's all they were. Under his regime, people will suffer for all sorts of reasons.

What this is is a reflection upon the state of Christians in America, who overwhelmingly voted Trump into office. This is not to say they should have voted for Clinton, nor that I am overwhelmingly distraught that he won (though economically I will probably have a somewhat harder time). But it is a reflection upon general apostasy from Christ for the same old Babylonian ideology of lust for power and love of the World.

This is not a new turn of events, Americana is a pretty well established cult from the foundation of this country. But what is new is that this took a bold new step in an even more disturbed direction. This is perhaps the dawn of a new form of idolatry, akin to when Evangelicalism (as politically-active, Fundamentalist-lite) embraced the New Conservatism of Buckley and Goldwater, combining traditional social mores and Capitalism. These two are antithetical to each other, but the tension is maintained to form a coalition. Nationalism ties the knot between the two.

What I find interesting is Falwell Jr., a man with a seared conscience if ever, who spoke about the Evangelical revolt from their "leaders". Many so-called intellects informed Evangelicals to not vote for Trump, and yet they did. Falwell Jr. chalks this up to the so-called Gospel, that promotes forgiveness, which is code for bracketing all questions of Trump's moral qualities and character. Of course, that same argument could be applied to anyone. Why not vote for Clinton with the hope for God regenerating her or orienting her policy decisions? The argument rests on a strange, and convenient, mix of empirical evidence and immaterial faith. It's really about access to the machinery of government and power. Falwell Jr. is trying to play the same game his dad played, and will probably go down in flames.

But Falwell Jr. is right that Evangelicals rejected their supposed leaders, and this reflect a couple different things.

First, it reveals the fundamental structural deficiency in Evangelicalism. The visible Church has been completely collapsed in a club-type polity, with no real bearing on your spiritual life. Now a days, with the internet and even greater sense of mass transport, this club does not even require you to join, pay dues, or have a shared set of fundamentals or creeds. Fundamentalists rightly criticize Evangelicalism for this: in trying to reach everyone with something, they got a bunch of people to believe in nothing. The legalism and harshness of Fundamentalism reflect other serious doctrinal, ecclesial, and spiritual problems. But they at least understood that Christ built a Church.

The leaders of Evangelicalism are not in fact ordained or appointed leaders, they are many times self-appointed talking heads that market themselves well, get a small cult-following, and know how to use the internet viz. podcasts, online sermons, blogs etc. They claim to speak for, or to, the movement, but the so-called movement is radically individualized. This is the curse of mass-media and why Evangelicalism basically lives off a Propaganda and Commericial mentality, even as some speak against it. This latter sort of thing, which is more common than not, is a sign of bad conscience and is contradictory only on a surface level. In reality, declaiming the thing that props you up can, in a way, ease tensions. It's like the protester against banks and 1% with the newest Iphone. It's the child slamming his door on his parents, not aware that all the tools of his rebellion are predicated on a certain conformity to the system. It fundamentally does not subvert or undermine, but many times inadvertently props it up.

Thus, many Evangelicals, people whose vague-ish belief in Jesus Christ as Personal Savior, did not revolt against their leaders, these people are not their leaders except when the mass of people agree with them, nor do they belong to any real semblance of the Church. They were merely acting out of their new Americana sensibility.

This new sensibility, secondly, ironically involves a twisted reflection of the Social Justice values that they rejected. Evangelicalism has embraced a kind of identity politics, one that is white (usually framed as "American" tout court), gendered (Complimentarianism-Egalitarianism debate reflects a lot of this), and religious ("find your identity in Christ"). After years of more and more stringent identities that need to be promoted and reflected, and their seeming infinite fracturing, has become the pervasive paradigm and form of rhetoric Evangelicals use. Combined along with post-modern post-structuralism, found in the quasi-idealism of World-View Speak, there is no longer a call to weigh evidence. Ideology becomes the only means of seeing or doing anything. I'm not saying that things are just obviously this or that, in a kind of neutral Lockean Empricism. But if we abandon any tools of rational thinking, not as something inherent but hard-won, then we're lost in a torrent of insanity. And when your particular tribe (white Evangelical) happens to be a powerful voting bloc, one will gain the muscle to bully the other smaller tribes around.

Yes, this is a symptom of a larger social phenomenon, but it shows just how worldly and delusional the cult of Americana, combining Christ, Caesar and Mammon, truly is. The Church has lost its prophetic voice, it ceases to be a Heavenly Society that exists throughout all the World. It's lost its eye to discern good and evil, seeking not power but peace, knowing that This Age, where the Devil is god, is full of death, fear, and coercion, and where this path is rejected for something else. Instead, in a false sense of mission and evangelism, where Propaganda reigns, conformity to the patterns of This Age is common.

Donald Trump is like the character from the Watchmen, the Comedian. He sees the sheer darkness at the heart of This Age, and decides to become a parody of it. He embraces a will-to-power and nihilism that show how hand-wringing is a complex set of gestures to salve our conscience of its complete and utter complicity in death and destruction. Trump, like the Comedian, forgoes this and reveals the face of things in his own ruthlessness and contempt. This is the sort of resentment and hatred that burns in the hearts of Evangelicals, whose worthless Jesus is either sidelined, morphed to fit the newest paradigm, or departs. In the full sense of the word, many of these people worship the Anti-Christ. Perhaps it's telling that many of their Gospel accounts end on the Crucifixion and death of God. They truly live as though God were dead, contrary to their string of movies that falsely claim the contrary. 

What ought Christians do? How do make sense of this ecclesial mess? I don't have many answers. My eyes enlightened, the true catastrophe is not Donald Trump, who is a mere sea-beast that rises up to stomp across the Land. God sends such because of the real catastrophe: an apostate people, the Whore of Babylon and a Synagogue of Satan. In a moment of victory, the cult of Americana feels vindicated in electing their champion. But his already conciliatory (for which I thank God) gestures towards Obamacare and LGBT rights symbolically reveal a candidate whose belligerence was tactical. Perhaps not he himself, but the Trumpist movement will eventually devour the Evangelical Church, probably at the behest of many so-called members, while all the world will laugh.

Pray that Christ the Vine will be fruitful, even if many branches must be pruned. Scripture teaches us that such is the case, and may we pray not for a painless process, but an enlivening one. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Good News of Dr. Strange: God, Man, and the Redemption of Finitude

This post is going to discuss some of the plot elements of Marvel's Dr. Strange. Spoiler Alert:

One might not think that Dr. Strange has any real relevance to Christianity, considering it takes a pretty hostile tone with it, under the surface. Dr. Stephen Strange is a neuro-surgeon who is a thorough going materialist. He becomes one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel-verse because he drops this attitude and becomes, essentially, an Eastern mystic, vaguely drawing upon elements of Hindu chakras and meditation, with a dash of Chinese Daoism. He is awakened by the Sorcerer Supreme into a world of spirit, where one may reshape matter, perform astral projection, and travel time and space.

The world of Dr. Strange is one where there is not merely a universe, but a multiverse (connecting the Yogis with pseudo-Scientific mysticism) There are an infinite sea of worlds, an infinite set of possibilities, of which Humans possess a contradictory place as both capable of immense power, but severely limited, most being reliant upon their silent guardians, the Sorcerers.

Now here is where it gets interesting: there is a problem in this multiverse. A malignant demiurgic type god seeks to destroy, envelop, all worlds. His name is Dormamu and the plot revolves around Strange stopping some of his zealots from bringing Earth into his clutches. The promised destiny for which his followers fight is the possibility of immortality. Dormamu's realm offers timelessness, an eternal now, in which decay, corrosion, and ultimately death, is banished. The promise is eternal life, for the zealots and for all of Earth, an absorption into the One. As a supposedly pithy monologue informs us, however, this eternal life is a curse; death gives life meaning.

The language the film uses sounds to be distinctly against the offers of Christianity. But I'd argue that the film rightfully attacks a perverse theology that has a long strand throughout the Christian tradition. I'd say Dr. Strange attacks a form of Platonic Christianity that rhetorically offers the same promises of Dormamu. But, as the dark visage of the evil god shows, this is a deal with the Devil, a horrible fate to befall man.

The Sorcerer Supreme, in reflecting upon time and her impending death, quotes Psalms. Time, she says, teaches us to number our days for they are short. And it is this very concept that Dr. Strange defeats Dormamu with, bringing time to bear upon the timeless, and trapping the god in an infinite loop. Dr. Strange closes the abyss and saves the day. Humanity, finitude and all, is preserved.

This is exactly what the Bible is about. Human finitude is not the problem per se, and not because of some doctrine of an autonomous immortal soul that merely flies off after death. Finitude is a created condition, and one that is not intrinsically bad. The Bible nowhere points this out. What Scripture says is the threat of Death is the enemy, and this is a nuance. Death is not merely a terminal point, an end, but a violent eruption on Human life. The problem isn't eternal life or finitude, but on how those terms are defined.

Rather than imagine our souls fly off to a timeless, spaceless, abode above, the Gospel's proclamation is that the Son of God took on Human flesh, died, and rose from the grave. The One who is truly immortal and timeless entered into time in order to save time. The hope for creatures is not that they will cease to be creatures, but that they will be perfected by their Sovereign Lord. This is really what the Eden story tells us. Humans were made good, in the image of God, but they had not reached perfection, for the garden-sanctuary was to be tended, defended, and expanded. The whole creation was set to be cultivated into revealing and praising the glory of God. Christ, from incarnation to ascension, completed this task. It is in such that the Christian is supposed to walk, treading over scorpions and snakes.

Dr. Strange's defeat of Dormamu might be a fantastical figuration of the Harrowing of Hell. Man, namely the Son of Man Christ Jesus, defeats the Devil through dying, destroying his power and claim over the Human race. While Dr. Strange does not bring the resurrection, and thus not a full salvation, he does, in effect, save the Earth. In Christ, however, finitude is not only protected, but redeemed. Eternal life thus is the salvation of time, the translation of things into a new age, where the boundaries of creaturehood have been taken up and restored by the Infinite, Creator, God.

Ironically, like the doctrinally corrupt Christianity above, Dr. Strange is no friend to the Eastern mysticism that the film rips off. The promise of the eternal Atman returning to the sea of being, the Nirvana of being a candle snuffed out, is considered the dark gospel of Dormamu. The only story that makes sense in Dr. Strange is the one where creation's integrity is maintained. This is only truly possible with the resurrection of the Son of Man.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Theologize Like Fishermen

Here's an excerpt about the practice of theology within the life of the Churc by Georges Florovsky. He properly highlights the living power of the Truth, namely Christ our God, in guiding the lives of Christians. Practicing Theology thus can be no less than an actual encounter with Him. This occurs in the power of His Scripture and is made manifest through the practices of the Church, rightly discerning and partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord, fasting, prayer, virtue (compassion, mercy, peace-making, shrewdness, wisdom, love etc.). Here's Florovsky:

The main distinctive mark of Patristic theology was its existential” character, if we may use this current neologism. The Fathers theologized, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus put it, “in the manner of the Apostles, not in that of Aristotle— alieutikôs, ouk aristotelikôs ([lit. “as fishermen, not as Aristotle”— ed.] Hom. 23. 12). Their theology was still a “message,” a kerygma. Their theology was still “kerygmatic theology,” even if it was often logically arranged and supplied with intellectual arguments. The ultimate reference was still to the vision of faith, to spiritual knowledge and experience. Apart from life in Christ theology carries no conviction and, if separated from the life of faith, theology may degenerate into empty dialectics, a vain polylogia, without any spiritual consequence. Patristic theology was existentially rooted in the decisive commitment of faith. It was not a self-explanatory “discipline” which could be presented argumentatively, that is aristotelikôs, without any prior spiritual engagement. In the age of theological strife and incessant debates, the great Cappadocian Fathers formally protested against the use of dialectics, of “Aristotelian syllogisms,” and endeavoured to refer theology back to the vision of faith. Patristic theology could be only preached” or “proclaimed”—preached from the pulpit, proclaimed also in the words of prayer and in the sacred rites, and indeed manifested in the total structure of Christian life. Theology of this kind can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue.