Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Technician's Providence: The Political Theology of Deism and Liberalism's Quiet Holocaust

Carl Schmitt argued in his work Political Theology that, "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development[...]but also because of their systematic structure". In other words, it was the same social conditions that generated theological concepts of God and the God-World relationship and political and legal theories. The two can be analyzed together to explain the meaning of the other.

From this, Schmitt argues, "the idea of the modern constitutional state triumphed together with deism, a theology and metaphysics that banished the miracle from the world". This is framed in the context of the juristic concept of the exception, breaking the rule to prove and preserve the rule, the grey boundary outside of Creational control. A miracle operates in the same fashion. One requires an established norm of physical life that one transcend to show its stability and one's ability to overcome it for the sake of something else. Despite the norms of Human biology and medicine, Christ can touch a withered hand and restore it.

Deism and the rationalism of Enlightenment jurisprudence sought to eliminate what seemed to be absurd, ad hoc, interventions. Thus one finds, at first, a soft Deism, a Christian Deism, that tried to reorganize the miraculous of the Bible into some sort of magic, a deeper system of rules and regulations. Like the Technician, the Magician knows how to play the World better than the unlearned and uninitiated. But this was untenable, the stack of Christian dogmas being overturned led to the overturning of the whole system. Deism became anti-Christian in its pursuit of a more logical and systematic order. This did not just happen, but represented a principled attack upon the theological cacophony of the 17th century. This was the century of the (Protestant) Dutch war for Independence from (Catholic) Spain, the Thirty Years War between (Protestant) Northern German States and (Catholic) the Holy Roman Emperor. bolstered on many sides by material and spiritual support, and the English Revolution, where a (Church of England) King lost his head to (Independent/Congregationalist) Cromwellian Parliament. The liberal constitutional order, according to its theorists, sought to overcome this through the late 17th, 18th, and into the 19th centuries.

However, the same machinery of the State was employed by this new order, but arranged differently. The very Catholic, and theistic, Portuguese mass-slavery and baptism of the Kongoese, among others, was met with the same procedure by the Dutch and the English. The former wrapped their justification in theo-political language, following Medieval justification for conquest. The Kongoese submitted to the designs of their Catholic masters to tutor them in the faith, even as they were turned into functionally chattel and property. The latter did no such thing, yet committed the same acts. 

The nascent liberalism of these Protestant Empires voided these entities, trying to suppress the obvious Humanity of the slaves. It is why very liberal documents like the Declaration of Independence (America) and Declaration of the Rights of Man (France) fail to acknowledge the fact of mass slavery that existed on its shores. This is the short-circuit of contradiction that requires a kind of double-down. Either the slaves are to be freed or they are not Human. It is perhaps for this reason that Southern Planter-Elite turned to a kind of Medieval fantasy of being Chevaliers and Gentlemen, and many French Revolutionaries latched onto the Abbé Grégoire's theo-political idea of Regeneration. Both represent a back-peddling from the full-extent of a liberal world-order.

But this was not due to a contradiction, but conceptual immaturity. As one sees in the John Stuart Mill and the Utilitarian System of the Factory, they were not averse to slavery. The precision of the Taylor system sought to turn laborers into mechanized meat-bags. Given that individuals, like the wealthy bourgeois capitalist, can own the means of production, this is in a sense a form of owning people. Industrial wage-slavery was not better or worse than chattel slavery, it was just different.

But unlike the Medieval theology that undergirded Catholic slavery, this was a world without the miracle, and thus without the exception. The slave might escape slavery through the miracle of manumission, and if one reads Medieval hagiography, miracles were not so rare. But liberalism, in an effort to control an otherwise absurd and seemingly arbitrary world, close the loop. Slavery becomes intensified; it becomes permanent and inescapable. The late 18th century saw slavery intensify, whether it was in the liberal English monarchy of the Hannoverians or the Portuguese House of Braganza under the leadership of the Marquis of Pombal. This led to the crisis of the Declarations and the eventual growth of a more comprehensive liberal political theology.

I am not advocating a return to a medieval political theology, nor am I positively appraising the supposed benevolence of the exception in an order of oppression. But the liberal world-order did not stave off bloodshed, it merely quieted it and reduced it to the a kind of underground turbulence, like the flow of lava beneath the crust of the Earth. The extreme violence of this order was not fully unveiled until the First World War, which was truly a Technician's War, but one where calculations failed and the peaceable mask slipped. The latent Deism revealed itself to be a complete sham, and a horror too. The mass dead from the First World War ought to open our eyes to the oceans of blood they merely drift upon. What of the hundreds of thousands of slaves, wage-slaves, colonial subjects annihilated for the sake of a more precise and calm world, namely a European world.

This is not to advocate, either, for a kind of post-modern, multiculturalism, that respects people's cultures for their own integrity, whatever that means. For example, there is nothing good or just in an Indian caste system or Iroquoian Mourning Wars. Rather, my critique emerges from a more strictly Biblical view, namely a Christology that announces the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. The providence put on display in Job is not the same as Medieval Catholic providence or the deistic providence of the emerging liberal constitutional order. However, a quiet horror is perhaps worse than the loud one. It is easier to mistake the former for something other than the Babylon that it is.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Benedict Option: An Infinitely Deferred Grumble

A number of months ago, Rod Dreher published his idea about the Benedict Option, in light of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. This was a call for conservative Christians (I'm not sure what exactly he means) to cease political struggle and go dormant for a time, working to preserve the Christic cultural apparatus of the West. This is what Dreher saw happen in the Benedictine monasteries in the 5th century onward, where classical learning was preserved during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. It is the Day of the Barbarians.

This is incredibly stupid. Historically, it is in error, as the so-called Barbarians did quite well preserving Roman heritage through adaptation, even envy, of Roman systems of political economy, social organization, and cultural wealth. But more importantly, this will not occur. A call to hive off and preserve a way of life is only possible with tectonic sociological shifts (and I'm ignoring the fact that Dreher's "conservative Christian" is not a unified sociological body, let alone concept). The Jews only persevered so distinctly because of the Ghetto foisted upon them in Europe, and a conceptual Dhimmitude in Muslim dominated lands. Reactionary paranoia aside, I don't think this will happen.

However, what will happen is that this Traditionalism will remain an ardent critic of the regime, whatever it is, while forfeiting everything functionally. That is to say, they will be squeaky gears in the machine. Or in other words, they will be grumblers, but well adjusted members of society. The pseudo-eschatology of a renewed Christendom will never come to pass, and in a hundred years or so, the gap between Dreher's generation and a future generation of conservatives will be wildly different.

Carl Schmitt, a conservative, even a counter-revolutionary, political theorist and jurist, explains this phenomenon, as it played out post-French Revolution:
The Restoration fought the activist spirit of the French Revolution with ideas such as tradition and custom and with the belief that history progresses slowly. Ideas of that sort could have led to a complete negation of natural reason and to an absolute moralistic passivity that would have considered becoming active altogether evil[...]In the final analysis, extreme traditionalism actually meant an irrational rejection of every intellectually conscious decision
In other words, this kind of conservatism maintains a kind of pathetic, heel-dragging, existence. Neither Human history (i.e. Revolutionary moments), nor evolutionary biology (i.e. punctuated equilibrium) pans out for this sort of strained resistance. And Biblical notions of providence certainly do not reveal this, though the Bible is usually the last resort for these cultural-conservative Christians, a deposit of proof-texts. It won't last even as it is groaning under the weight of greater and great strains of change.

I'm not a conservative, at least not in the cultural or socio-political sense I've described above, but the Benedict Option is silly for any serious conservative. It makes more sense to hitch a wagon to Donald Trump or (dare I say it!) Hillary Clinton in an attempt to steer or pressure these elements to preserve a particular vision of the American Empire they are all committed to. But I suppose every generation needs a gaggle of political buffoons, false prophets who fall over themselves.

Christ, our God, save us from this foolishness!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It's Just the Law: Personality, Statecraft, and the Kafkaesque Nature of Bureaucracy

The other day I was visiting a friend in the hospital. He has breathing problems and requested an emergency inhaler for his bedside. The nurse told him, no. But, and this is the interesting thing, it's how she phrased it. She didn't say "I won't" or "No", she said "I can't". She proceeded to explain how it is, with the law and everything, and her hands were tied. She continued with a kind of impish complaint about government regulations etc.

This is a pretty common phenomenon, and it's a linguistic convention we dabble in. But I thought about this literally: "What do you mean you 'can't'? You could physically get him what he needed, no?" There's a certain politeness involved. It is considered rough bedside manner to frankly say No. Especially in hospitals, when information is more critical than many other social exchanges, I wish nurses, doctors etc. didn't talk circles in an attempt to make you feel better. But what else is going on? Carl Schmitt's analysis has helped me to grasp this further.

What is going on is an act of obfuscation. The nurse is empowered as an agent of the Hospital's legal apparatus to provide care and to prevent medical liabilities (many times for monetary/insurance based reasons). The Nurse is the one who is empowered with a kind of authority to act in a scenario. She is the interpreter of the law. She is the responsible agent for its enforcement, she is the face of the Hospital administration to every patient in every room. When one acts as representative, one's agency is linked to an entity that inherently does not possess agency, namely Hospital code. This is the nature of office based authority. There is melding of voices, where the nurse speaks as Person X and as the Hospital Administration.

However, this is uncomfortable and the weight of responsibility is grave. Whether for personal reasons or more systemic ones, this is above reality is not front and center. Instead, we many times experience appeals to the law or the rules, as if they are self-enforcing, as if they are standing in the background as a looming judge. What the nurse intends to say is that that her office, with its accompanying pay and reputation, is in jeopardy and subject to judgement by others. She says to the request, most likely, for self-serving reasons (this is not inherently bad or wicked). By passing it off into the fog of "just the law", this takes the psychic weight of decision-making away. If something were to go horribly wrong, one could always blame the voiceless law-code, which, inadvertently, does little to nothing.

I'm not saying rules and legal apparatuses can't be bad and systemically destructive in some way or form. But I want to emphasize more that there is a deeper systemic rot in place where the rules of the institution are given a faux-life for the purposes of status-quo. This is the horror of the Bureaucratization, when technicians replace the Human element in structures for the sake of precision. Things that are inherently impersonal, like a law-code, are given person-like attributes that prop up a kind of idol-scapegoat that takes away the pressures of decision making. This ultimately results in the ability to offload otherwise unthinkable acts even as you, the person and the agent, commit them. This is, fundamentally, the creation of an idol, a deaf, dumb, and dead god that is given attributes as if it were a personal entity.

When applied to statecraft, this results in the modern liberal state. This was an attempt to restrain the violence and overly Human sources of conflict, most viciously climaxing in the Thirty Years War. But this not only shrouds the facts of the War, but also paved the way to perhaps an even bloodier form of governing that appears bloodless. It is this form that allows a "not my problem" attitude that, with a stroke of the pen, ends the lives of countless (whether biologically, or one's existence within an existing socio-economic structure) and allows them to go home, kiss their children and be members in good-standing within their church communities. This obfuscates a reality that Christ promises to judge. We cannot avoid the weight of our decisions, cloaking our laziness, greed, and malice behind neutralized technique.

It's worth reflecting on, for it is too easy to fall into this mode of behavior. It ought to shake every Christian to his or her soul.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Living in a Nightmare, or Why Radical Orthodoxy is Garbage

John Milibank once penned this famous first line and battle cry of what is Radical Orthodoxy, "Once there was no Secular". This perfect sentiment created the heat of what has been generally termed Radical Orthodoxy, which has become an academic phenomenon, though there is, perhaps, a question hanging on its future. It is generally theological, but also carries on into a revival of a kind of Distributism economic policy and a Red Tory political theory. Radical Orthodoxy tries to recover a vision of the Christian Society that one encounters in Medieval Europe before the Reformation. The movement began within the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican church, but it has spread into other forms of Protestantism and even among some Roman Catholics, though they most eschew the label and draw upon overlapping traditions.

I will say that the major positive element of Radical Orthodoxy is that it represents an attempt by Christian intellectuals to deal seriously with twentieth century philosophy. But that's about it. As one would-be popularized of the movement would call it, Radical Orthodoxy tries to recover the "Platonic-Christian Synthesis", reintegrating Hellenistic philosophical trends within the pale of Christianity that had occurred within some corners of the High Middle Ages. It is trying to recover a much more sweeping and comprehensive view of Christianity for people today. Milibank, and many others, seek to restore theology to being the "Queen of the Sciences", the highest form of knowledge that supports all others.

The deathblow to this order was Nominalism, an insidious philosophy that vitiates the Chain-of-Being metaphysics that was beneath the theological philosophy of Medieval Europe. This is an incredibly stupid statement, and is symptomatic of why Radical Orthodox proponents fail to understand why the Reformation happened. It was not just nominalism nor a spiraling out of control of an effort to curb moral abuse in the Roman dominated churches of Western Europe. There was a general shift and reaction against the Medieval political economy. It was the explosion of many disparate movements and changes. I have critiqued the failures of the Reformation, but I am glad to live in a West that went through it.

I must say that I used to be attracted to Radical Orthodoxy. But I also knew enough about Medieval Europe to recoil in disgust with the fantasy. I turn against it, completely and totally.

Radical Orthodoxy a exhaust port for Christian intellectuals disaffected with global capitalism and functions as an exercise in fantasy. Let me be clear, this is not political imagination, but fantasy. It's the dream of a world that never was, and it does not understand geo-political and economic realities. Its ecclesiological vision only exists in academic theology journals. The Church it talks about does not actually exist except as a Platonic Ideal that is instantiated. It claims to be a recovery of tradition, but it's hardly that. It is ironic that Milibank's wife is a priestess, and Hauerwas, who represents a more Americanized Pragmatist spin on the movement, also has a priestess wife. This is not an aberration, but fits a Christianity that is in complete conformity with a zeitgeist. It has become an fetishized protest within the global capitalist order, a fashionable clique of prigs. Ultimately, not only does it undermine the Scriptures, but lures intellectually adept Christians into a fantastical trap.

But this is not it. Radical Orthodoxy's fantasy is dark. It dreams of a Medieval Order that was hardly unifying or at peace. Corrupt princes of the state and the church did battle with each other to exploit peasants. The highly dreamed Medieval World was one where nobility and churchmen pontificated, while serfs and peasants toiled. Yet it was not only oppression, but God-ordained oppression! It was God's will that the Third Estate was trapped in squalor, while others lived off their labors and spent luxuriously on clothing, feasts etc. The Radical Orthodoxy promotes a kind of renewed political clericalism, where the unwashed masses are kept at bay through appeals to dignity and right order. Like all Clericalisms, the true Body of Christ is the ordained priesthood, secular and monastic, the professional Christians, that become boats, through their parish work, to carry the unlearned and unwashed into paradise. God willing, this world will never return. This is not just a fantasy, but a nightmare.

Of course, the lure of Radical Orthodoxy is that it seems to offer an intellectually serious alternative to the different trends of liberal theology. I've suffered with that, but the price is not worth it. The true and apostolic gospel is better than this garbage.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Genesis Explains the Origin of the Self

In my first year of college, I began dating a girl who was nominally Christian. As we departed for winter break, a kind of existential crisis loomed over me. I was serious about understanding Christ and serious about questions of life and death, meaning and direction, that a lot of people I knew tended to ignore or placate. However, I wondered, was she? I soothed myself with the thought that a person's interior was like a body of water. Everyone has levels of depth, just some people (a lot of people?) tended to stay in the shallower end of the pool. But if I asked the right questions, if I prodded her, then I'd find out what she 'really' thought about x, y, and z.

Another time, years later, I got into a semi-facetious argument with a girl I knew. She was big into philosophy and asserted that not everyone was a philosopher, only certain people had the capacity to explore the difficult and real questions of life. To troll her, I argued on behalf of all the unreflective idiots of the world, and argued they indeed possessed philosophies, they just were not aware of what philosophical ideas they held. This was a world-viewish type argument about presuppositions and the like.

Recently, I have begun to realize that I argued from the wrong place in both of these stories. For the longest time, I assumed that the self was a static quality. However this static quality possessed a cavernous interiority, a depth that was impossible to probe. I misapplied the verse from Ecclesiastes, "He has set eternity in our hearts", to mean the sort of infinitude of the self's self-reflective exploration. The process was like looking into a tripartite mirror (like ones in hotel bathrooms) where the different mirrors reflect images into one another, projecting an infinite hallway of images.

This accords with the identity fixation of our present age. There is something distinctly modern about the quest for authenticity and the outward expression of one's 'true' inward disposition. However, I added an Augustinian depth to this. Unlike certain crude discussions, where people speak and act with a foolish confidence in their authentic acts, Augustine advocates caution. He was perceptive enough to see that one, by looking, can never find one's self. It's an endless maze.

But what if the self is not a static quantity? What if who I am is not some essence buried under heaps of inauthentic social conformities and historical accidents? Indeed, Heidegger understood something of this when he talked the thrownness of being. There is no quiet unfolding or entrance, which the forces of time and space warp and ware. Instead, the very processes of time and space are the disclosing of our being in the world. In this, the self is motion, it is a process of becoming that one can only freeze and abstract for analytical purposes, not for recognition and true understanding.

In addition, what if this being is a void? This premise emerged within a kind of materialism, but it doesn't necessitate it. What this means is that our inward reflection is confusing and strange because, in a sense, it's like trying to see in the dark. There is no authentic inner-self that one has to go look for. The self is a cognitive artifact, something we create, an image of ourselves to look at through the dialectical act of the Same examining Itself as Other.

What does any of this mean? In practical terms, it means that the quest for your 'real' self is a waste of time, if not an intentional distraction. Call me paranoid, but I think this ideology of the authentic modern self has been promoted and weaponized over the past couple centuries for the purposes of population control. In modern times, this is why so-called Left movements, like the Feminism of Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem, are extremely conservative if you read between the lines. They insulate the status-quo from actual critique.

This, I argue, is a part of the modern West's search for an alternative social control beyond templecraft. It's amazing how much time people waste in the pursuit of "meaning", trying to find themselves, know who they really are and what they are really supposed to do. It's strength lays in the fact that it doesn't need top-down propagation, instead it circulates on its own, as it promotes the experience of Heaven on Earth for those who buy the books, take the classes, etc etc. Some people deceive themselves through a kind of self-hypnosis. Other people are lured into it through the false promises of advertising and mass-media. However one ends up there, it makes you into a naval-gazer and a radical disconnect between interiority and exteriority is complete. You can mindlessly sustain the empire and be completely distracted.

However, I am not arguing against interiority, the self, or self-reflection. All of these are affirmed or commended in the Scripture. Rather, I'm arguing that we are reading modern notions back into the text to justify a Christian version of the cult of authenticity. This fits with Evangelicalism's middle-class near-complete bondage to Americana.

Instead, we should look in terms of Genesis 1. I think it is wise, as St. Maximus argued, to see the Human being, as priest of Creation, as a microcosm of the created world. As the Creation was called into being, which occurred through time, from a void, so is our interior life. God's Spirit hovered over the waters, and so God's Spirit is involved in the creation of an interior space. This is the gift of the Image of God imprinted into all Creation.

However, Orthodox theology makes a distinction between the Image of God and the Likeness of God (based on two different Scriptural phrases in Genesis). This reading sees Adam as good, yet not perfected. Through obedience towards God's commandments, Adam would fulfill the Image in bearing the Likeness. As a side-point, I think this has parallels to the Reformed distinction between Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace, especially when not conceived as opposition per the Lutheran Law/Gospel dialectic.

What is the process of the Image coming to be in Likeness? This is the self coming to be out of the void of subjectivity. How does this happen? Through obedience to God's commandments, which in following, we become. This is the process St. Peter describes in his first epistle: "add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love". We discover ourselves in the living voice of God, the Word, who took flesh and saved us. Without this, the self that emerges out of the void is always teetering on the edge towards return. Sin is this process of destruction, this return towards oblivion as we construct selves that bear not the likeness of God, but of beasts and lizards.

What this means is that instead of filling up with anxiety about who you are or trying to figure out what your purpose is turn away. Instead, listen to voice of God who calls your name. Seek God and obey His commandments (e.g. prayer, fasting, loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God, growing in the virtues, giving to the poor etc.). This is the only way an interior life is created and begins to image God throughout our whole being, no matter how it was thrown into the world. Faith in Christ gives us the beginnings of recognizing our self in the world.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Judgement Day and Job's Friends

Job is one of the most interesting and uncomfortable books of Scripture. I won't get into all the reasons why, but my primary focus will be on the role of Job's comforters. These men were his friends and they came to help Job "understand" his predicament. They are ultimately rebuked by God for their foolishness.

What did his friends say? One friend said, essentially, God is punishing you, you must have done something wrong, even if you don't know what it is, it is your fault and you must repent. This is sufficient enough to see what they all tried to do, and what Job refused. His friends sought to provide a cosmic framework for Job, in which he can assume his place and responsibility. In this particular framework, God rewards the just and punishes the unjust. Thus, all suffering must be the result of some injustice. This is a personalized karma.

The most horrible manifestation of this is in the metaphor of the cosmic painting. It goes thus: when we look at life we might only see darkness. But if we step back, we can see the whole picture that is made up of both light and dark colors. Our darkness is made sense of in the coherent fabric of the universe. If we can appreciate this, then we can bear the burdens of life.

I think this is totally bullshit and mostly worthless in teaching people the Gospel in moments of suffering. What this does is make evil a necessary, and harmonious, part of Human existence. This goes with a view of the Fall as 'felix culpa'. This makes Human suffering not only a reality, but a necessity. In a sense, evil makes God better. This is absolutely Pagan, akin to yin-yang of the Tao. Sin had to be in order for anything to be, and thus operates as a necessary component part.

In contrast, the Athanasian Revolution, as I've discussed elsewhere, posits the deeply disturbing real possibility of Creation slipping back into oblivion. This is the complete horror of sin, which God reveals in the unleashing of the floodgates in the days of Noah. Evil is not the dark colors in an ordered picture, it is the threat of disorder disrupting God's creative designs. Yet God, even as God made creation in complete freedom, He is related to it in the way that an artist is related to his arts. Yes, an artist may heap his art in the trash (Creator-creation distinction of creatio ex nihilo), but to do so is for the artist to reject his own creativity in pronouncing His verdict over the art. God can and cannot let Creation tumble into the dark.

Yet, if Creation is actually in serious trouble, with sin as a real threat, what does God do? The cross presents the absurd response, an inversion of darkness. This is a creative act in the presence of the decreative void of sin. This is the Divine joke where the most horrible and evil is gutted and completely refigured. This is the sovereign majesty of God's creative power, where even the darkness of sin vomits up the light it obscures.

The practical point is that when we see tragic events, the judgement of the cross ought to guide our ability to perceive them. In that event, we recognize something truly bizarre. Evil has no necessary value, nor does it belong to the cosmic harmony of "everything happening for a reason". Yet God can give it a reason, even as it is inherently destructive to the Creation He made. God does not need darkness to make the light shine, for the life of God is best described by the Psalmist, "in Your light we see light".

The problem with Job's friends is that they did not see an issue that needed to be judged, to be intervened upon. Instead, they sought to master it in their understanding of a cosmic order. The problem with saying "It was God's will for x" is not that it is impolite when someone has lost a child or been in a horrible accident. But because it seeks to explain God's judgement. There will be a day, when in the light of Christ's returned presence, when we will all be able to say with Joseph, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good". In other words, there will be a day when God will judge events and make even the meaningless give meaning.

This is the glory of God's providential lovingkindness, where even things against His predestinations can, and will, become co-opted for His glory.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why Analogia Entis Might Be the Doctrine of Anti-Christ

One of the most strange and shocking things Karl Barth said (and he's said a lot of them) was the only difference between Protestants and Rome was the doctrine of analogia entis and that this doctrine was from the anti-Christ. He said this in between the radical days of his Romerbrief and the beginnings of his Church Dogmatics, after he rediscovered the heritage of the Reformation. von Balthasar, and other more conciliatory students, argue that Barth softened on this point and misunderstood what he was fighting against. von Balthasar et al. sometimes even argue that Barth softened his opposition. When understood through Pryzywara, who taught von Balthasar, then the doctrine is sound. I'm going to tentatively disagree.

The analogia entis in brief is an idea that rests upon Absolute Divine Simplicity. This is the idea that God as Simple (as in not made of divisible parts) requires a metaphysical equal signs for realities that seem distinct for men. Thus, while good, beauty, justice etc. are distinct categories of Human thought, in their Divine true sense, they are all one in the same. However, this is neither understood equivocally or univocally. That is, what we say of Human good and Divine good are not two radically different things (equivocal) or that the Divine good is the maximal form of Human good (univocal). The analogical understanding is that there remains a similarity that exists in an infinitely qualitative difference between the Human and the Divine. Thus, Human good is like Divine good, but it is not Divine good. This is, mainly, because Divine good is itself Divine, namely God Himself. The horizons of Human understanding see the conflation of categorical distinctions, and we see the hazy reality that exists beyond all Human concepts of knowledge. The horizon is itself not the edge, except in the sense that it is edge of created reality, a reality that the Divine can intersect and meet us in. The finite cannot broach the infinite, but the infinite, lacking any boundary set on its ability, can intersect the finite.

The fundamental reality from which all categorizations flow is the primary category of categories, being. This is the easiest way of understanding the analogical difference. While Humans are beings who exercised such in becoming (we exist and we move from is to is not), along with all other created things, God is not a being, but Being Itself. This means God is not merely the biggest and best piece of furniture in the room, but is the very grounds of existence (to say the room in this metaphor is not itself enough).

None of this is distinctly Christian. Plotinus, the mystic and Neo-Platonist par excellence, argued something similar in how he conceived of the One. You can even see a pseudo-trinity in how he talks about the One, the Nous/Mind, and the World Soul. Some Hellenophile Christians embraced Plato and his students as God's prophets to the Greeks (Clement of Alexandria). Others accepted the metaphysics in a more qualified sense (Origen, Justin Martyr), but it's here where problems emerge. As I've said elsewhere, Origen was the first to understand all the problems and lay them out clearly, and simultaneously proceded to answer them in all the wrong ways, revealing the fundamental problems between Hellenistic metaphysics (which had all converged into late Middle and Neo Platonism) and the Holy Scriptures.

While a major problem with the analogia entis is the subsequent Absolute Divine Simplicity it entails, this is not the only one, which has more serious ethical implications. Rather, it is how the universe is conceptualized. The analogia entis recognizes a kind of Chain of Being metaphysics which implies a kind of harmony within the World. Humans, who possess a sense of divinity (whether in Plotinus as divine-spark or the more Biblicized notion of Image of God) can ascend and descend along the ladder in a quest towards reunion with the One, who remains always out of sight and yet always close. Thus, Plotinus can paint a picture of the infinite quest of the alone chasing the Alone, but he can also speak about experiencing the One because of the One's effulgent presence of the Good.

In addition to this, the One as ultimately simple and as the ultimate good, only meditates (if such a word is proper to use) on itself as the only One, literally, for nothing else is worthy. This is the goal of all Humans as well, who fix their eyes upon the One who sets its own eye (again, an anthropomorphism) upon itself. Humanity's ascent is through this concentration, and its descent is through taking its eyes off of it.

However, none of this squares with the Biblical portrait of God who looks upon the deeds of Man, knows the very hairs of his head, and condescends to him in providential lovingkindness. Neither does this square with a Creation which is in a state of corruption, threatened with oblivion, and is a de facto war-zone. In fact, the world of the analogia entis promotes a conservative view of the hierarchy of the world as it is now. It is individual Human fates that ascend or descend along the ladder of proximity to Being. Origen's answers that imply an infinite cycle of falls-and-redemptions and the pre-existence of souls are attempts to answer clearly Biblical problems, but trapped within Hellenistic metaphysics. It also explains why he can sound proto-Nicaean and proto-Arian at the same time.

This is why it might be right to call the analogia entis a form of anti-Christ: it denies the radical depth of corruption that Adam plunged the Creation into. It individualized a corporate problem, and simultaneous banishes the Fall while it makes it inherent within creation due to finitude. In this way, Origen, and Augustine who continued the same metaphysic, are kissing-cousins with Schliermacher who posited that man was created in sin. Finitude, individuality, and free-will become the prime reason for the fall and sin and redemption tends towards erasing all of these. If you read carefully, it's hard not to see the Beatific Vision as a form of Death, a parallel to Nirvana, where the mind is totally fixed upon God/Being/One and, in a way, snuffed out. To the Image of God, creation is itself a distraction. This is a doctrine of demons.

This is why I have become recently fascinated with the 17th century Confession of Dositheus, an Eastern Orthodox response to the supposed crypto-Calvinism of Cyril, the Patriarch of Constantinople. The response is so obviously colored with misinformation and Roman Catholicized doctrines that is somewhat bewildering. This is clear in the Molinistic Arminianism is professes, in God's saving grace takes place by forseeing the faith some would have.

What does that have to do with the analogia entis? Because the idea of a predestination conditioned by foreseen faith places the foundations of the Creation firmly in a harmonious universe, a kind of best-of-all-worlds theology which Voltaire, in Candide, mocked rightly, even if he was mostly biblically illiterate. This idea makes a mockery of divine justice, it becomes a court-room that only prosecutes entrapment. It doesn't take serious the weight of sin as the threat of hurtling all creation into the void.

However, this does not mean God does not have providential mastery over all things, but He does in a way that does not conflate God with the stability of the World Order. God cannot be Creator if the Creation disintegrated because it means that either there was a time when God was not the Creator (which means God changed ala. Process theology) or God, as Absolutely Simple, would cease to exist if He ceased to be Creator (as all names and categories are the same in Him). Rather, there's an alternative solution that has remained in the Orthodox energies-essence distinction, one that makes sense between the realist ontology of an analogia entis and a Nominalism that makes God totally alien to all creation.

But I digress. God still remains sovereign over His world without having to change (for that implies imperfect), but it's because the analogia entis is wrong. This is why David Bentley Hart, who I enjoy reading, seems caught between Christian Neo-Platonism, through Gregory of Nyssa, and a sort of Manichaean Dualism of Cosmic Warfare. His saving grace is the incoherence of the two, as it is like jamming two crooked houses together, doesn't seem to come apart except before Calvinist critics who question how his latter emphasis isn't just Manichaeism. In some ways, the charge sticks.

However, and to this is to the point, analogia entis straight-jackets all cosmic warfare in a universe that is fundamentally at peace, but is disrupted by enemies. But Christ has ascended on high, and rules at the Right Hand of the Father, until all His enemies are made a footstool. This reveals a Creation that is not in harmony. St. Paul says the Devil is the god of This Age. Does that sound like the stupid Christian Neo-Platonic synthesis that Hans Boersma discusses? The Middle Ages was not proto-Paradise, but a Hellish display of brutal oppression, with prince and priest hand-in-hand.

This leads to different views of the Christian's place in the World. The Biblical view places us to see a Creation divided which needs the saving reign of Christ, where God will liberate and redeem all those under the chains of the Devil.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Blow Up the Train: A Christological Reading of 'Snowpiercer'

If you haven't seen the movie Snowpiercer, stop reading and go watch it. It's a brilliant movie, one of my top favorites. If you don't care what I say, have already seen it, or are merely intrigued, proceed. This post will be full of spoilers and plot twists, so you're warned!!

***

The movie Snowpiercer is a bloody action movie. It starts off, seemingly, as a crude Marxist movie. Humanity tried to curb global warming, but accidentally froze the Earth. The only survivors were those who boarded a luxury train which circled the globe along an endless track. Those who had tickets found themselves given a new class identity according to the value of their seat. Those who didn't have a ticket and took to the cargo hold became the poor and destitute. The Train is straightforwardly hierarchical: the rich live at the front and the poor live at the back. The movie begins in the midst of a conspiracy of the poor to take the front and usher in an age of equality.

The rebellion begins and it proceeds at a bloody cost. Gilliam (John Hurt) is the mastermind and Curtiss (Chris Evans) is the heroic proletariat leading the battle. However, as the movie progresses, it gets complicated. The Train possesses an ecosystem where animals are controlled and eat at certain times and amounts to maintain an ever repopulating source. This same logic ends up being applied to the Humans. As Curtiss reaches the front of the Train, he meets Wilford (Ed Harris), the near messianic founder and builder of the Train. Wilford explains how he had been working with Gilliam, the revolution was an intentional population cleanse. Wilford explains how the Human ecosystem also has to be maintained.

Desperation and hopelessness can only exist for so long, and it is dialectically involved with the wealthier members of the train who are indoctrinated to see themselves within the continuum. This is most disturbingly portrayed in a scene where they come across a Kindergarten where these lessons are taught catechetically, in children's songs, and in coloring. These children understand the world as a complicated balance and their place within it as a blessing (thankful they do not exist at the back) and gratitude (Wilford allowed for this form of life). Curtiss learns all of this and is horrified and yet, he bows before the mighty Train. Wilford had intended Curtiss as his replacement, as he, growing in age, knows that the symbolic head has to be replaced.

Yet while violence is near consistent in the movie, it is almost irrationally present. Soldiers and assassins go to great length to control the stages of rebellion, even killing completely uninvolved middle-class people at times. It's not because they're guitless that it is shocking, rather it seems completely unnecessary and the ruthlessness is jarring. The Kindergarten teacher opens fire upon the rebels, killing some of her children in the process. The Train's harmony is sustained through a brutal display of violence, that is constantly cloaked in rationality. Metrics are taken over how many must be killed per the Rebellion's success, even claiming Gilliam. Yet the measurements are completely contrived at the will of Wilford. This is made most manifest in the use of a child to replace a part that had broken years before. This constant sacrifice is immortalized in the strange religious gesture that Wilford's representatives perform: a gesture imitating what the child must do as the replacement part.

Simultaneously, Namgoong, a hacker, assists Curtis with the proviso that he brings his daughter and he is provided with a drug, Kronole. However, as the movie unfolds, Namgoong, who passed as a barely cogent drug addict, reveals the drug is highly flammable and seeks to use it as a bomb to destroy the Train. He reveals to his daughter his theory as the movie progresses: the snow is melting. The Train thus becomes a redundant and brutal system of controls, perpetuated, as long as outside conditions remain. The combination of Namgoong's ingenuity and Curtiss' rejection of Wilford at the sight of the Child end with the two of them dying, along with Wilford, and the rest of the train, only leaving Namgoong's daughter and the Child left. The final scene sees a polar bear stare at them, a sign that contradicts the ideology that all life outside of the Train had died in the catastrophe.

Christologically, this movie is revolutionary. It breaks the boundaries of a simple class dynamic, in that many revolutions against economic oppression function along the same chains of logic. Workers getting the levers of the means of production force people along perceived challenges. Like modern Western societies, the middle-class of the train is the firmest believers and the most moral, living simple day to day lives. The front of the Train, before Wilford, is populated by debauched parties filled with drug-addict youths. The whole Train is a carefully balanced system, where the messianic-technician Wilford holds it all together. Yet the extreme violence, personified in the replaceable part Child, is the key to the Train. The system possesses a hidden-open violence within the strange, quasi-religious, gesture and slogan. Its precise and technological rationalism is fundamentally irrational and based upon fear and ignorance.

This movie can function as a damning critique of much religion in the West. It condemns the inward-looking focus that helps acclimatize the constituent members to the inherent violence of the Train, the World-System we belong within. This damns neo-Paganism and corporate Buddhism that seek to find peace and meaning through meditation. This also damns most Establishment Christianity. It's for this reason that most Main-Line denominations are near carbon copies of the same self-help, feel-good, Deistic bullshit that one finds in Zen booklets and Wicca. These expressions represent the same open-masked violence of the Wilford cult of the Train. In essence, this is the worship of the global paradigm that we all live beneath, namely global capitalism. This is a salve for the conscience, a means to find meaning in an artificially brutal dominion.

Rather, Namgoong represents the violence of the Christ-Event: he categorically rejects the World. When God took flesh in the World, He came unto those who were trapped in darkness. He claimed to bring fire to the World, to bring a sword of division and judgement upon the god of this age. The presence of the Polar Bear represents, in this reading, the presence of a majestic and terrifying Other, an image of the Real that the Train tried to displace. This is not God per se, but the presence of God manifest, like before Moses in the Burning Bush.

Watching this movie ought to teach us about the radical break between God's invasion of His own creation in the wake of a fallen reign of Sin, Death, and the Devil. The Train represents a Babel, a making a deal with Death and inscribing Sin into the fabric of a social reality. Christ rejects it and it is violently apparent in the literal derailing of this vision through judgement. This is an actual war where real lives are at stake. This is the seriousness of the Spiritual War for liberation in the Scripture. Yet it is a joke. The symbol of decadence and debauchery, the drug Kronole, becomes the very weapon that destroys the Train. Per Kierkegaard, Christ is heralded king who emerges from the caravan as an ugly dwarf. It's a divine joke, an obscene gesture that overtakes the plots and schemes of the Devil. Per Paul, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. The cross is the explosive flammability of the drug, and it becomes the very weapon of liberation. It's no surprise the early Christians depicted a victorious Christ wielding the cross as a weapon. Per Chrysostom, Christ tramples death by death.

Theologies that reject the reality of Spiritual War, whether "orthodox" (they're not) or liberal, are blasphemies. Any theology that attempts to depict the current state of creation as somehow harmonious and beset by external enemies (whether muslims or gays, whether bigots or fundamentalists) is duped. This includes a lot of medieval theology that propped up false visions in order to justify regime violence. Yet they could only claim so much in small feudal territories. Now, global capitalism has put a premium on all heads. Yet even so called "leftist" liberal theologians are at peace with such a vision. The Train is their god just as it is for RadOx reinstantiations of the blasphemous tradition of a Roman theology of order.

God is at war, even as the ultimate death-blow has already been dealt. May we take up our own crosses, acknowledging the same.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Man Lives Not By Bread Alone: Reality, Fantasy, and Following Christ

This post is inspired by reflections in Dominic Foo's piece here

I was one of those people who used to ridicule and denounce the Prosperity Gospel. I would be baffled how this not only held a grip on a large portion of people, but continued to grow and grow. It wasn't just Joel Osteen, but across the continent of Africa, Asia, and Europe, people flocked to hear this message. I would just shake my head and sneer. But I was an idiot.

This is not because the Prosperity Gospel is true, good or right. No, it's mostly demonic doctrine fueled to con people out of money and confuse the Gospel of Christ for the American Dream, whether for people who are trying to reach, or secure, Middle Class status, or people across the globe trying to emulate American fashion and method. The vision of prosperity is intoxicating, and people lust over this stuff.

However, it's easy to judge this when you are a beneficiary of this life style and embrace it unwittingly. This thought is not new to me. Years ago I realized that I had the wealth that many people signed up to acquire. However, I stupidly missed the boat for years, until I recently was able to put the pieces together in a way that is more cogent and shareable.

As I said, I was aware that people wanted some marker of material prosperity, but my solution was stupid. I would claim to have divested myself of my wealth, in terms of attachment (I hadn't), and that they (and I) needed to turn to spiritual worship, a more pure Gospel. Sometimes this meant going on an intellectual quest to properly understand doctrines and turning knowledge of the Living God into a scholastic enterprise. I woke up to this flaw pretty quickly, but the alternative was even worse.

I thought the solution was a kind of spiritualization. I thought that people needed to focus on Christ, and not on material goods. But what does this actually mean? How is this not just a pious platitude? For 2-3 years I couldn't work it out. Following Christ seemed to slowly morph into a collision of moralistic activism, self-hating spirituality, and the occasional existential jolt, accompanied by plenty of reading and learning.

However, what the Prosperity Gospel gets right, in the way that a broken clock is right twice a day, is that man is a material creature who needs material sustenance. Many Evangelicals have completely spiritualized the God of the Bible out of the concerns of living. Most people signing up for the Prosperity Gospel at least know that the God of the Bible attends to physical needs and promises to be present in the miraculous in reality. This is the key. All people, when push comes to shove, will deal with economic necessities of life. When money becomes tight, that is where real pain will be. When nice Middle-Class people are threatened with diminution of their life-styles, they will become vicious and justify in all sorts of convoluted ways (the sacred right of private property being one of them).

This is where God's power must be made manifest, otherwise the Gospel is a pleasant fantasy. Other activities take place. Some turn to stock markets, or job obsession, or other things that are tangible. Spiritualization is, if anything, epiphenomenal.

But while the Gospel preaches a God who cares at the most minute detail about our individual lives, material or otherwise, it also brings the promise of a life where we might come to grips with our dependence on material reality. For Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God. This means, yes, God takes care of our material state, but its that very fact that we must come to terms with. Following Christ means battling with Satan and overcoming sin's inversion of the flesh, making us turn inward towards serving cravings and desires, instead of turning the body and soul towards glorifying God in all of Creation.

This is not spiritualization, but in counting of cost of material reality. It's knowing that true generosity means giving away, sometimes to the point of depending on God for livelihood. It's knowing the agony of overcoming and rejecting the fantasies we believe to be the reasons for living. It's fasting to re-order our desires (more on this in another post). It's about receiving the power through Christ's work to bring about a new life in the body and the soul. It's not about rejecting the body, but in recovering it for worship. It means being able to walk this earth with peace.

Prayer and fasting free you from the snares of the Devil and relativizes the cravings of the belly. This is less about a fetishization of an inner-life rather than directing one's outward life. This is the power of the Gospel that gave martyrs strength, the promise that the Spirit of God would provide the words to speak when dragged before courts and crowds. This is a way to take account of the material world that God creates and maintains, while also deriving what life in a darkened age looks like.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wise as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove: The Politics of the Holy Fool

Slavoj Zizek, in a lecture, told a story of when he was a boy in college in Ljublijana in the former Yugoslavia. It was time for local elections, and, as it was in many Soviet bloc countries, the resulted were rigged for the Communist party. Zizek was working for the college newspaper and he and his editorial staff thought about what to do. Should they publish an article about the elections were rigged? They thought that was futile, as it was a reality everyone already knew, and it would only get their paper censored. Rather, they decided to publish on the election results that took them at their word. The front page read that it seemed the Communists might actually win this year. This article got them brought before a party bureaucrat who threatened them, but, when asked for a reason, only repeated his threats. The unspoken secret was put on the table, and everyone had to pretend to ignore it.

As I heard this story, I considered the role of Christians in our imperial society. America pretends to be the bastion of freedom, but it really is not. There are all kinds of liberties that are offered, but their enactment is an understood falsehood. One example might be how the courts and the police function. We know if the police ask for evidence, we have every reason to refuse unless a court of law mandates it. But we know if we refuse, it will only bring suspicion and increased investigation, even if there is not enough evidence to get a warrant. We also know that a trial by jury is supposed to be a fair trial, where justice is to prevail. But we know that the jury system is supposed to produce convictions, and the ill accommodations, the interruptedness of their lives, is a kind of whip to produce a verdict for the prosecutor.

There are many other forms of forced choice present in the American concept of freedom. It's a false offering, and most people have accustomed themselves to this. The high-minded principles of liberty, justice, democracy, whatever are slogans that never live up to the reality. To question this, to even speak about it, is to let the cat out of the bag. It's to invite accusations of being a lunatic, someone who just doesn't know how things works.

The Church of Jesus Christ does not have a mission to take control or transform the kingdoms of the Earth. Babylon will remain Babylon, in whichever form it takes, until Christ returns and destroys it once and for all. But Christians remain in the city as they remain in Christ. They look for a City not made with hands. Rather, as sojourners in This Age, we are to actively promote peace and justice, even as we remain a tenuous loyalty. Nothing is worth more than the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Age to Come.

The Apostolic advice to honor the emperor, to submit to the governing authorities, to live peaceably with all if able, and to work with our hands quietly has been at times miscontrued as a kind of passive engagement with government. This construal of these texts have made Christians into arch conservatives of any/every regime they've been under. However, if we understand these as proof-texts, removed from the rest of the text, then we will imbibe this same understanding.

What if these commands are, in fact, subversive in the same way Zizek's story is? The kingdoms of This Age remain enthralled to the demonic, slaves to the power and function of death. They are built on lies, murder, theft, and delusions. But, following Christ, Apostles Paul and Peter knew that standing up, resisting, shouting out accusations, mobilization will do little in the end. What if the ultimate embarrassment for any regime is to engage in a crafty naivete? What if all it takes to make the powers that be nervous is to take them at their word, to hold them to their promises and ideology?

It's in this way that the foundations are laid bare. This intentional simplicity will get you killed much faster than being loud-mouthed and enraged. It's the work of showing the emperor has no clothes, to use a cliche. For the Church, this isn't to gain power, but to do the work of the prophets. The spiritual darkness that reigns has to hide as an angel of light. The simple truth, the obvious question, is all it takes to destabilize an empire and find oneself a martyr.