Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Pride of Life: Some Reflections on American Pop-Culture and Paganism

In Johns First Epistle, the apostle warns Christians about "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life". I've always puzzled over what this meant. But then I was watching the music video for Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend", and I think I understand what it might mean.

The song is, generally, about getting "high" on life and the music video involves a tour through some stereotypical Indian town during Holi. This holy festival among Hindus is famous in the West for its many colors and copious amounts of paint. The video involves celebration and a mesmerizing Beyonce dressed in Indian grab and cultic paint on her arms and hands. There scenes of children playing, women dancing, a yogi like figure lighting candles, fireworks, and a woman mystically tossing flower petals into the wind.

Now of course the typical Western Orientalism critique applies. This is where Europeans marvel and revel in the strange mystical rites and culture of the East and reify these things into some alternate universe of bliss, when compared to Western rationalism, materialism, and scientific reductionism. Westerners like Coldplay and Beyonce get to play pretend and run naked with the barbarians, giving praise and honor to the savage and his truer way of life (this is an old trope in new garb). But that's not all.

The music video offers a beautiful panoply of images celebrating the beauty of life and the Human spirit. The rituals and traditions of Holi present Hinduism as a very earthy and Human collection of beliefs. Hinduism is considered one of the World religions, but this, like the category of religion, is a misnomer. Hinduism is a British creation, an attempt by outsiders to consolidate, classify, and categorize what they saw the subjects of their new colony do. What were diverse, contradictory, and unrelated beliefs shared by the "Hindoo" were turned into a "religion". This was adopted by the Indians themselves as they communicated with the British, and found themselves in the reflection of the Other seen in British eyes. Now, Hinduism is a 'thing'.

But at its core, at its heart, Hinduism is merely the attempt at systematization for the sole surviving and thriving form of Paganism. I don't mean this as a pejorative or a synonym for polytheism. Paganism is a regulated religion at the level of the people. By this I don't mean a particular body or a mass, but I mean it as an abstract concept. The people are the inhabitants and manifestation of the nation, the ethne, which entails certain beliefs about the world and the management of the village/city.

What fundamentally set the God of the Jews apart from merely being a tribal deity was that he made claims upon the whole Earth. Most Pagans believe in a supreme deity or force or primeval non-create reality that lay behind all things, gods and men. However, none would claim that their god is that Reality. Thus the god of the Jews claims to be the God, and none other. This was a patently absurd claim in the ancient world, and in our modern era of Paganism, it is equally absurd. Of course, the newest instantiation is not that there is a multitude of gods, but that the one God is many faced and that all peoples have their own ideas and experiences of him. It is possible, theoretically and in actuality, to be a Christianized Pagan, and not properly worship and submit to the True God.

All of this is what I think is the Pride of Life that St. John tells us to be aware of. In This Age, Paganism is the natural and default function. We see things as a closed system, an economy that is self-contained. Instead of the existential dread cry that there is something very disjointed and alien about the nature of life, namely ever-devouring Death, we learn to settle. Paganism is a system to make sense of the world as it is. Thus, the crudest forms might deify entities like the sun, the earth or the ocean, more complicated forms deified more abstract entities like erotic love, fortune, and luck. As the world continues to Globalize we will see more Coldplay-esque videos celebrating Holi, corporate execs become Buddhists, and Atheist proselytizers telling us to practice zen.

The alternative to the Pride of Life is to acknowledge that the Word of God, who created all, came to redeem a broken Creation. The Biblical alternative to the Pride of Life, that begins with a shining morning leading to the dark dusk of death, is a shadow of night retreating from the sudden, and seemingly miraculous, appearance of the dawn.

I don't mean for this to sound triumphalistic. Christianity has many times participated in crafting itself into a form of Paganism, adopting a stable economy and a Chain-of-Being metaphysics which makes Christ coming into the World into the most natural occurrence. Rather, it is the fact because Christ is radically Other than Creation that He can appear and open communion with those He created in His Image. As St. Denys put it, "God is beyond both knowing and unknowing". This is the Mystery which we proclaim, and it shatters the comfortable world of Paganism. Fundamentally, and this is where I'll end, the difference between the God and Father of Jesus Christ and all Paganisms is that Christ does not make a Covenant with Death. Amen and Hallelujah.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Supposed Joy of Being a Robot, or the Need for a Right Anthropology

Every once and awhile I check out Mockingbird, a blog that combines a strongly Lutheran theology to cultural savvy and critique. Sometimes I find the film/tv analysis good, other times it's absolute trash. But more and more often I've gotten more annoyed with them. Usually this is a sign that there's something 'wrong', even if I don't know what it is. I think I found a perfect case example.

Mockingbird loves to tout its "low anthropology" as the truly Christian position. A recent article, quoting a cynic disparaging the Human 'ego', attacked our Human tendency towards optimism. This is construed, as many pessimistic atheists (ala. John Gray), as a mirage and that Human consciousness is a pernicious root of all our delusions and suffering. Here are some relevant quotes:
Speaking of too much ego, the best long read for the weekend is all about human consciousness. Or, in biblical terms, mankind’s knowledge of good and evil. This, from The Baffler: “The God in the Machine,” by Tom Whyman[...] 
Moreover, Whyman concludes that sophisticated robots are essentially prelapsarian—pre-Genesis 3, free of self-reflection—and that humans will become disposable in a society where robots do all the
work [...] 
When it comes to the question of felix culpa—the fortunate fall—I like returning to Paradise Lost, if only for the rich wordplay there: “Man shall not quite be lost, but sav’d who will,/ Yet not of will in him, but grace in me/ Freely voutsaft” (III.173-175). In other words, a reflective consciousness—though it causes us suffering—also brings us to our knees, where we may begin to understand the mercy given to us.

What undergirds all of this is a sense where Humanity's awareness, knowledge, understanding is a colossal mistake. However (per reference to felix culpa), it's a mistake that can become a means for good. Our consciousness and self-awareness can become a means of repentance, forgiveness, and grace. All of this depends upon a peculiar reading of Genesis 3, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and the awareness of nakedness. This is to say, it's a claim about anthropology, about what makes us really Human.

I read this and felt a revulsion in my stomach. First, I actually like being conscious, being able to reflect my thought upon myself, even upon my own thought, and do not think it's a curse. In fact, I think there's something naturally Human about it. What if this faculty is not what causes our suffering, but something else? But its disparaged with a kind of psychotic glee, a lurking desire to be a pre-conscious animal or post-conscious robot.

The theology of felix culpa fundamentally reduces to Schliermacher and the heart of liberal theology where Creation is almost, by definition, inherently defective. This makes sin and a Fall necessary, its the only thing that makes us into the Human beings we are. This is not only bizarre, and contrary to the sense of Scripture, but reduces to a schizo God of Two-Faces.The seeds of Schliermacher existed in numerous late Medieval theology that blossomed later, but many of the Nominalists, Reformers, and Counter-Reformers stopped themselves from plunging head first into this insanity. While Thomas coined felix culpa (I think, correct me if otherwise), and didn't mean it in the sense I described, its almost a necessary conclusion. God is the author of sin and it becomes the required means of His glory.

Ultimately, what the Mockingbird blogger presents is not low-anthropology, but a defective, misanthropoic anthropology. The Procrustean law-gospel hermeneutic is the only way they can warp and distort the Bible into something they can fain to honor. God becomes the Devil and salvation is annihilation. Forgiveness of sins is a component of the Gospel, but when the Gospel is reduced to it, Humanity is voided. Some say it's good, but I say, along with Scriptures, God is bringing many sons to glory.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Repentance as a Form of Exorcism

The early Church used to enact a form of exorcism when they baptized a catachumen. This is preserved in some corners, but is a longly forgotten rite. It's sort of present in rites that "renounce the Devil", but this is generally done speedily, perhaps tongue-in-cheek. Modern people know the demonic and spiritual darkness is not real, so we don't think about it too much.

However, there's another element to renouncing the Devil besides dealing with spiritual warfare, though it might include it too. This is the idea of seeing exorcism and repentance as not so unfamiliar acts. This makes sense if one looks at Jesus' ministry, how his kerygma ("Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!") coincides specifically with an act of the Divine finger, driving demons out. The blurred cases of illnesses as afflicted by demons connects the miraculous healings to the Christ's exorcistic works. All in all, exorcism is woven into the ministry, work, and proclamation of Christ in His days in the flesh.

However, I consider how much modern American Christians are foreign to askesis, or "exercise", or literally "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". This is not merely an intellectual activity, but connected with the necessary Christian acts of prayer, fasting, reading the Scripture, partaking of the Eucharist, etc etc. Repentance is an element of working out our salvation, of our askesis or exercise. And repentance is tied directly into exorcism.

This connection is important because of our general attitudes, and the unwillingness of most Evangelical Protestants (whatever that exactly means) to put demands upon the Christian life. This is not moralism, which is present enough, which takes on an external, extrinsic, and added on nature. This is not in addition to what we are as Christians, it is what we are. Moralism is the opposite to act as ontology. This has repercussions for how it is manifested, and while Evangelicals do moralism well, there is little understanding of seeing otherwise. Perhaps, this is why there is always pendulum swings between legalism and libertinism.

Anyway, I thought about this as I overhear people complaining, whining, obsessing on food and drink, being crushed with the mudane as supreme. This is not alien to how many Christians speak. But perhaps the message of repentance that comes, for it to be truly gospel, is to tell us not only how perverse we are, but also to hear how we need to begin to reign in these mental evils. Repentance must be understood as a form of detox, a process similar to how the alcoholic or addict realizes he doesn't need the drug to live and is not a slave to it. 

Protestants seem to wedded to the world to properly understand this. For many, a proper understanding of this sort of repentance would be called world-denying and world-hating. Well, in a certain sense, Christians are supposed to hate the world, understood not as creation, but as a certain ordering of it. Life is construed as being for the purposes of indulging pleasures, dodging pains, and sail off into oblivion. The way I hear some people talk about "retirement" is horrifying. Is there no more to life than the things of the Earth? If not (and this is the mind of the flesh) then we must strive to accumulate, to horde, to stuff our bellies with the treasures of the Earth. Nowadays, we're in a more gnostic social mood talking about "experiences", memories of sensations of our own greatness or touch of greatness (it's like we're living in the sci-fi horror Total Recall). But it's the same phenomenon, it's just phantom fantasies we seek to collect.

What message do Christians need to hear for the gospel to be really good? We need to hear that we need a process of detox. We need to exorcised of our worries, fantasies, obsessions, those cravings of the flesh that turn our life for the purposes of that which is fleeting. Instead of seeing the incorruptable glory of our Lord, made manifest and powerful in His life, as opened to us, many banish Christ away and define salvation away from Him. To live according to the Word of God is to live without slavery to the flesh. It is only in this that we might actually live our lives in the flesh full of God's beauty and glory. The point is not to void the body, but to make it the site of salvation. This only happens in repentance.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Holy Spirit is Sacrament: Augustinian Shamanism and the Ecclesiological Error of the Donatist Controversy

St. Symeon, titled the New Theologian* by the Eastern churches, opens a window on, perhaps, mistakes that loom around Western ecclesiology. In fact, I think it represents a corrective to the Donatist Controversy that became the norming norm in Western Christianity. Now, for those who know the story Symeon, this might not be quite clear, but let me off some thoughts.

First, the story of St. Symeon. He was a monk who came into conflict with the archbishop of Nicomedia, Stephen. Symeon argued spiritual authority came from experience with God, it came from the discipline of pursuit. Stephen, on the other hand, believe ecclesiastical office was the grounds of authority. Both sides presupposed the authoritative role of Scripture as infallible divine revelation, but it was rather a question of spiritual authority. We must all handle the Scripture, and as St. Phillip revealed in his discussion with the Ethiopian Eunuch, knowing Christ Jesus is the key (c.f. Jn 5:39).

The Donatist controversy truly began with a controversy earlier with Cyprian. In this, the churches of Africa were split over the question of Christians, particularly ordained leaders, who apostatized during persecution. They offered incense to Caesar and, after the persecution ended, were in an ambiguous place in relation to the church. What compounded this further was that a number of would-be martyrs offered spiritual blessing and council to those apostates who, for reasons of greed or cowardice, could not stay the course. The men who became martyrs forgave these men for their sins. One faction formed that said the martyrs had the authority to discern the hearts of these men and give comfort, recognizing these men could return to the church. Another faction said there should be no mercy, these men should not only be stripped of office, if they had it, but removed from the church indefinitely. Cyprian cut a median position, effectively kicking the problem off, by coming up with a convoluted scheme that welcomed some back in, but in a penitential state. This was a half-way house state for a newly minted second-class Christian apparatus, who were locked out of the church, but still were allowed to attend in a limited state.

The controversy reared its head among the Donatists. Another outbreak of persecution led to a panic over sacramental status. The problem was, if these ordained leaders apostatized (as some did) under persecution, did this make their performance of the sacrament worthless? This led to a split, where a presbyter, Donatus, led a number of churches into a new arrangement where they'd more forcefully police the boundaries of the ordained. This involved rebaptizing those who were baptized by apostate presbyters. Augustine, the might intellect and powerhouse ecclesiastic, swept away the Donatists through a new position that became default. This was the insistence that the sacrament was not performed through the merit of the presiding minister, but due to the presence of Christ in the act. Thus, even if a minister was evil, it does not change the efficacy of the baptism. This became the doctrine of ex opere operato, giving the sacramental act an in se potency.

This became the default position for the Western church. Now, this has been articulated in many forms. There is the crude form that became the default of the Medieval period that bordered on the magical. However, this is not aberrant, but actually the secret to the Augustinian formula. It must be understood with Augustine's notion of charism, which also became the norming norm of Western ecclesiology. This is fundamentally expressed in Augustine's notion of apostolic succession, which occurred through the ex opere operato of the laying on of hands. Thus, authority translated through succession was actual, and regardless of whether the giver or receiver was worthy. Christ was active in both instances.

Why is this a problem? Because it depends on a thoroughly Hellenized metaphysics with a Christian gloss. The Augustinian Problematic is that dialectics becomes the heart-and-soul of Creation, which ultimately destroys everything. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the problem with ex opere operato is that it creates a void of non-distinction: the agent celebrating the sacrament is none other than Christ, not the minister, but Christ is not present unless the minister in fact acts. He acts without acting, and only if he acts can he not act in the non-acting act of the Divine Other. This is a dialectical knot that destroys both, turning God into a machine of justification for all that is done. Monergism, thus articulated, becomes the very tool of atheistic-pantheism. God is only God in as much as Man is Man, and thus God becomes an incantation the presbyter-turned-shaman brings about over elements of bread and wine.

This is not to say that the Donatists were right, but they were trapped in the hysteria of their own ignorance. The politique solution of Cyprian created a trap for which the sensitive conscience of Donatus and his fellows became snared within. Augustine used this occasion not only to annihilate his enemies (literally, through their political suppression), but to create a new paradigm which became adopted throughout the Roman Empire, East and West. While at times Augustine was confused or trapped in his own infatuation with Hellenistic philosophy, this controversy is rather a revelation of Augustine's ruthlessness and his political mind at its most sinister.

A repercussion of this is even the category of "sacrament", which has become a norm. There is nothing in the Bible to remotely make us think that Baptism and the Lord's Supper possess some categorical effectual umbrella relation, but we're conditioned to think as such. Hence, there's been a bizarre drive to define "sacrament" and to categorize what is in and what is not in. Rome says there's seven, Luther said three, the Reformed said two. The ambiguity of counting in the East, and their calling them "mysteries", represents a kind of confused state, suspicious and accommodating.

This has to do with a collapse of the Spirit into His gifts. This is clear in the Augustinian Doctrine of God where the Spirit is, simultaneously, above-God and under-God in a confused dialectic between Father and Son. The Father begets the Son into a relational of subject-object, lover-beloved, which, immediately, spawns a Third as the Bond. However, this Bond belongs to each, and surrounds the whole. To put it in another way, the Father loves the Son, and the Love of God is the Holy Spirit. This almost seems to de-hypostasize the Spirit as a byproduct of the otherwise binitarian relationship (which is, according to Augustine, a self-relationship). But the Father loves and the Son loves (as the Father is holy and spirit, as the Son is holy and spirit), which makes the Holy Spirit the completion of the Three, almost as a definition of the whole (God is love; God is holy spirit). Hence, Augustine can stop on three (rather than four, five, or six), but the logic is bursting. The Holy Spirit fills all and fills nothing, is above and beneath the Father and Son, as the whole and as the gap. The Holy Spirit is and is-not God.

However, this confusion spills into the life of men when the Spirit is addressed.  The secret is that the Holy Spirit is the Sacrament, the two become intertwined in the confusion of the acting non-act of the priest and the non-acting act of the Spirit. This is, at its heart, a form of Paganism that has crept in through the guise of Christianity. It is the thaumaturgy of the Neo-Platonists. It is a highly sophisticated form of Shamanism. 

However, Protestantism has not escaped this, because this confusion in doctrine of God and the sacraments spills into ecclesiology as long as the Donatist controversy is normative. Again, the solution is not to follow the Donatists in a reactionary move, which has marked numerous separatist movements spawning from the Reformation on. It is to reunderstand the relation between church, baptism, and the Spirit. The crucial link is the collapse of latter two into each other and make it the domain of the former. This must be utterly rejected.

This is new terrain for reconceptualization, but thank God, the truth is present in the battle Symeon won. The Holy Spirit is not something that is participated in, but a shrouded known unknown that passes over, shadows, and blows over the People of God. The Holy Spirit is intentionally ambiguous in the Scripture, because being "in the Spirit" is not a phenomenon able to be captured. Rather, He appears to support and uplift those who are in Christ, following after Him and bearing His likeness.

Baptism must not be seen to impart a commodified substance called 'grace'. It is clear from Christian history that Baptism does not create, equal, or become conversion or spiritual awakening.  However, it does relate to a real translation between darkness and light, a real move into the Body of Christ. It is a Baptism for the remission of sins. This involves ordained officers who are to walk uprightly, but this is not a monopolization of the Spirit. Baptism is not a conduit link giving ordained officers a monopoly of the Spirit. Holy Symeon rejected this when his adversary Stephen claimed it. Maturity and spirit are not made known only in the ordained office, it is not a quality passed on through the laying on of hands.

This idea deserves wider and deeper treatment, and the solution for churches here is mostly about what not to do. However, churches of Christ extend beyond the mere presence of ordained officers. Of course, many do not know how to think outside of this and have, in reaction, rejected all offices. They despise St. Paul's admonition for order with the installment of deacons, presbyters and bishops, but I can't blame them. They are trying to escape from the ecclesiastical nightmare of Augustinian shamanism. But we must not follow them into their error. I hope to continue this topic more at another time.

*For the Eastern churches, a theologian is one who is able to write about his or her experience with God as a teacher. This is a weighty title and a weighty claim. This is not an academic discipline, nor a claim for proficiency in Scripture (though Scripture is normative for articulating such). However, this is not merely being in the Spirit, or knowing God, but the ability to describe it in edifying ways. The Eastern churches recognize Symeon, along with Gregory Nazianzus and the holy apostle John, as "theologians", though this not to say there are others. As a contrast, St. Paul does not speak about his experiences and thus is not a "theologian" in this sense, even if he, as an apostle, speaks authoritatively, wrote inspired and infallible scripture, and was guided by the Spirit through his missions.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Reflections on Agamben's Philosophical Project

When one reads Agamben, one is confronted with what he calls the Killing-Machine of the Law. This is the legacy of Modernity, which represents a certain conflation of two principles which had, previously, remained somewhat distinct. For Agamben this is primarily in the division between zoe-bios, or economical/household-political. Following Arendt, in the model of the city, the realm of the political addressed people as citizens primarily, defined as such through law. However, when these dimensions become conflated, when the law becomes a means to address what was to be outside of it, usually through acts of exclusion, it can only kill. This is the secret reality that has been hidden within Western philosophy, metaphysics, and theology as far back as Aristotle and Ancient Roman law.

Carl Schmitt, who is a theorist Agamben interacts with a lot, reveals this through his brief comment on the domain of like in ancient thought. For the ancients, only likeness can govern likeness. Thus, only a god can govern the gods, and a man can govern men. Hence there is a correlative principle between a monarch of the gods (Zeus as a metaphor for the prime arche in Greco-Roman philosophy) and a monarch of men (the new imperial political apparatus of the Roman Caesars). However, Schmitt makes a comment that men can only rule men, and not the animals. Mankind can only pass laws respecting men. Here is the root of the Exclusionary powers of the law. If law were to banish a man to the realm of the gods (viz. Agamben's discussion on Homo Sacer) or to the realm of the animal, then one would be simultaneously inside and outside of the law, as a man excluded as a man. This is the full power of the law, opening an individual to complete annihilation. For Agamben, the Concentration Camp is really the end goal of Modernity, Humanity stripped of Humanity.

However, Agamben's solutions seem hazy at best. He tries his best, as a member of the post-liberal and post-Marxist scramble, reflected in his intellectual heritage through Arendt, Heidegger, and Foucault. I admit I don't really understand what Agamben wants. He wants an undoing of the power of the law through inoperativity of the law, not a replacement. This strikes me as a kind of Bohemian existence, not replacing a law with another law, but the maintenance of Modernity as a dead god which provides material to draw from without power. Like I said, I might not understand, but this seems to me as a very lame alternative (maybe that's the point?) which does nothing for the actual struggles of the plebs. His scheme depends on a very peculiar reading of Western philosophy, fascinating nonetheless, but one  that possesses a kind of leasureliness as its core. It's the bourgeois society deactivated of its drive forwards.

I am generally wary of this sort of solution. I don't think labor itself is problematic as a core source of analysis in politics. His idiosyncratic reading of Aristotle, and his reliance on Heidegger, get him stuck in some strange places. For example, he is pretty insistent at times that St. Paul was not apocalyptic. I think Agamben senses the Marxian reading of history is insufficient for anything but utter bleakness and pessimism. I do too, but I think Agamben's solution is an ambiguous stumble into the dark. I think his Benjaminian Messianic approach is absolutely helpful, but I think it needs more work. This is where, I think, developments in Russian philosophy and theology in the early 20th century might actually be helpful. However, this will require another post, in which I will elaborate more.

For now, these are my initial thoughts on a brilliant project that lays bare the pillars of modernity. In some ways, we might say that its theo-philosophical rational is an aberrant Christianity and this should make any conscientious Christian pause to give him listen. For anyone wanting a meaningful plunge into Western philosophy, culture and history, Agamben is a must.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Quis Judicabit?: More Thoughts on Sovereignty and Suspension

The question Quis Judicabit? comes originally from Thomas Hobbes who constructed his philosophy on the problem of sovereignty. This question was repeated by Carl Schmitt who also saw the problem of the political as a question of the sovereign. The political was the dichotomy between friend-foe, deciding who was with the community and who was against the community. However, how does the body-politic decide this question? The Sovereign is the one who decides, as Schmitt famously put it.

Where Schmitt's genius lies is in the fact that no law is sufficient in and of itself for itself. That is to say, laws do not go uninterpreted. Laws must be understood. The trick of modern law codes is that they are self-explanatory or self-evidently clear. This is a sleight of hand of many liberal parliamentary orders. This is the obscenity in many American Conservative arguments about the Constitution. They fail to recognize that someone is making an interpretive decision, hence the judicial bench. Complaints about judicial activism obscure the issue.

The American system's original intent was a form of organized chaos where there was an attempt to cancel out the sovereign. This was Madison's goal. It failed miserably. The Federal government very quickly became split between various interest groups, climaxing in the economic regionalism that was settled in the Civil War. Lincoln pioneered the shift to an assertive sovereignty in the President, but this was quickly nullified by corrupt and ineffectual administrations. This was not a return to the Madisonian vision of limited government, rather it became, with the advent of the 2nd Industrial Revolution, sovereignty of the monopoly and the corporation.

Libertarians are useful idiots and naive about the functions of free-trade. Not only will sinful man will seek to gobble up the Earth in his own economic Tower of Babel; he will also create a political system that crushes others through market powers. This was the British position in its Imperial reconfiguration after the American Revolution. Free-trade became a means to literally dismantled countries and peoples and force them into a form of slavery. Was it really an altruistic, freedom loving, ideology that led the British to blast open Latin American and Chinese, among others, markets for free-trade?

The Progressives emphasized a powerful executive for the purposes of reclaiming the government as a seat for the sovereign. The President could become the figure that smashed the corporation. Teddy Roosevelt was a faux-example of this ideology, FDR was a more genuine example. But very quickly, this was coopted. A unitary executive could be bought and be a means to effect corporate interest through the sovereign. The synthesis is becoming more complete with the shift from American power as a Nation-State to a Market-State. It has become a norm that Wall-Street, banksters, and global finance have a pretty obvious and established place in politics. Whether its the Obama-Clinton Wall Street mafia, or its many figures in the Trump administration, both reflect that there has been a functional shift. Corporations and government machinery are fusing together. It's not the tenuous and shadowy hold that corporate money had over politicians in the late 19th and 20th century; now, it's literal execs staffing government posts and offices at increasing rates.

Of course, the Madisonian vision was corrupted from the get go. The American Revolution was, primarily, a Revolution fought for economic interests. Only mythology makes us think in terms of abstract and esoteric notions of freedom. It had to do with the flow of money and property. Why else did the French and Dutch opt to join the war effort? It was an investment of sorts. It was these foreign interests that made winning the war a remote possibility.

However, there's an American example of sovereignty I'd like to consider as an alternative to how we might begin to imagine how Christians should engage with the concept of the Political. Roger Williams, after being driven out of Massachusetts, formed his own colony in what would become the state of Rhode Island. During this period in colonial history, the English crown had limited control over colonial affairs. Williams was a sovereign of sorts in his government of Rhode Island. Yet how did he govern? I argue he governed by suspending the decision. Even as a Bapstistic Congregationalist, who had strong theological opinions, he refused to weigh in on them. He did not exclude them from the political community. He also did not decide on the state of New England Indians, the various nations he contracted with and live alongside. He refused to declare them friend or foe in the political sense.

This is fundamentally a sovereign in-decision, a suspension. However, what separates Williams from Madison was that he was not a Liberal. This is a bit anachronistic, but what we can say is that Williams made his suspension not from economic concerns, things which explicitly drove Madison's political philosophy. Williams, as a radical Puritan and a Separatist, deeply understood his governance along the lines of Christ's parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Williams, having an apocalyptic expectation of Christ's parousia, refused to usurp the ability to declare friend-foe and left these questions unsettled. Unlike the Postmillenialism of Massachusetts Establishment, Williams did not see his government in terms of ushering in Christ's Kingdom. Instead, he suspended the decision, allowing a time of development where the elect would live alongside the reprobate. The machinery of government would be maintained, but unused, for such purposes.

Roger Williams is an exceptional man, but a model, a veritable re-figuration of St. Daniel, of how Christians should operate in the political arena. Schmitt is right in how he understands the sovereign. The Christian should, at all chances, seek to suspend the choice. This cannot be done through Madisonian machinery, which has failed and only created a greater monster in the market-state, the peak of Capitalism's absorption of political machinery. If a Christian were ever to be a sovereign, the only possible righteous option is to suspend the choice. Of course, most kings and presidents who've acted as sovereigns have, instead, become agents of the demonic and seekers of Babel. Instead, many Christo-Americans worship at the violent nationalism of Bethel or at the plutocratic capitalist Dan, standing among the false altars of Jeroboam's faux-temple.

We can respect the limited goods of liberalism and nationalism, but both quickly become Babylonian cults of death. Let us instead remember and venerate St. Roger Williams, who ought to be a reminder of what remaining steadfast to the truth gets you in This World ruled by Satan. His was no easy life, nor will ours be. But instead, let us remember that Christ is truly sovereign and He sits at His Father's Right. Let us trust that He will return and enact, finally, the truly political act at the Judgement Seat, where sheep will be removed from the goats.

Thus: Quis Judicabit? Christus Sedet ad Dextram Patris

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Devil is a Pietist: Reflections on False Dilemmas

There are some interesting links between the Halle Pietists of the mid-18th century, the campaigns for Morality in England in the late 17th century, the Great Awakenings in North America in the mid/late 18th century and early 19th century, and Schliermacher and the rise of liberal theology in the 19th century. There are, of course, genealogical links. German Pietists left a residue on those men (namely, Wesley and Whitfield) who became the great preachers of the Great Awakening. And these Great Awakening Preachers were offspring of the Morality drives of the Church of England, viz. the SPG and SPCK, from the early 18th century. And one familiar with Schliermacher knows he grew up among the Moravians, distinct, but cut from the same cloth, as the Hallesian Pietists.

But besides this, there is something interesting in terms of politics. Zinzendorf, the heart and soul of the Moravian Church, was a prince who studied at Halle. He was a count of great pedigree, having his title from one of the old Holy Roman Imperial families. He studied at Halle and, following his zeal, circuited the courts of Europe to encourage missionary efforts. The courts of England, Prussia, and Denmark, among others, welcome the prince. The Danish were the first to start the wave of Protestant missionary efforts, sending Lutheran pastors to the Tamil of Sri Lanka. The commonsense theme here is that Zinzendorf, nor any of his preacher friends, were alien or despised at court. The states of Europe, many beginning the expanse for their long or short lived colonial experiments, were very much open to the Pietists and Evangelicals.

Schliermacher was an avid, I might say even rabid, proponent for German nationalism and Prussian superiority. The British Empire was flush full of Evangelicals, and even though the Church of England was slow to accommodate the whirlwind of Whitfields and Methodists, they soon adapted. The Second Great Awakening created a drive, mingling and mixing, towards the growth of an American continental empire. All of this inspired a broad and generous Protestantism that is the foundation of our common-sense of religiosity. This is the heart and soul of our appreciation for the broadly Christian and, now, the vaguely numinous. Major industrialists, like Carnegie, Rockefeller, or Pullman, were all religious men, promoting, from their deep and charitable souls, a broad sense for the Christian religion, or just religion in general. Of course we know these men to have transformed the American factory system into a nightmare and flay the soul of American labor through the monotony and agony of Industrial capitalism.

What do all of these diverse phenomena, all intersected and (intentionally) jumbled, have to do with one another? All of them emphasized the sense of morality and pious devotion while bracketing questions of social ethics. All of these assumed the place of the Church as the crook of whichever national dream or imperial vision. All of them ignored questions of theological power and rigor.

Again, my fascination with the Puritan continues to grow. Here was a societal mood among many English Christians to turn to the Word of God to speak. I'm not assessing whether they did this successfully or not, but they turned the world upside down in their pursuit. They toppled a king and tried to re-imagine a godly commonwealth. They tried to reinvent society, involving social relations between husband and wife, magistrate and subjects, Christian to Christian etc etc. This produced the regicide and Roger Williams' Rhode Island; this created Cromwell's tolerance of the Jews and the massacre of Indians in King Philip's War. These stories are more complex than simply the mood of Puritanism. However, it's interesting to see the death of this mood in England, at the end of the 17th century, involved a transition towards proto-Evangelicalism. Theological disputes were discouraged and hissed at, calls for moral reform and devotional literature applauded.

What does this mean? I think there is something inherently destabilizing and uneasy about considering whether the Bible can speak to the pillars of the Earth, that is the foundations of created reality. I don't mean this in terms of science or physics, rather metaphysics and Human telos. The common refrain from the Pietist of the 18th century, the Moralist of the 17th, and the Evangelical even of today is to sneer at these questions. These are divisive, they say; they are too speculative. Can we not put aside questions of form and turns our eyes towards God? The Spirit, they say, is what matters. But, it seems too often the Devil is quite content with this form of religion.

While many have rightly critiqued the Social Gospel as a relapse into the kind of moralism that merely tries to scrub the pillars of the Imperial dominion, Pietism is shutting one's eyes to the questions of reality. It's a turn towards emotion and internalizing of reality. It tries to banish the social demands of the Gospel from the lives of Christians. It proscribes practices that basically allow us to be Sunday-Only Christians in a highly refined sense. Rather than merely occupy a bench one day a week and return to "reality", this has created a gloss for our economic and social actions. We pray, read a devotional, and get back to work. It's basically a form of Buddhism, in that we treat the material world as merely an immaterial wasteland. Our internal actions become more real, and thus we can participate in abusive social phenomena and keep our hands clean.

Moralism and Pietism go together quite well because neither asks fundamental questions about what we end up doing with our lives. They hand over our bodies as tools for the principalities and powers of darkness. Is it not strange that certain Christians, ranging from Antony to Peter Waldo, when hearing the call of the Gospel, radically restructured their lives and how they integrated (or didn't) into society? Do we not think it odd that it was theological dogmas that stood to challenge the very sovereigns of realms?

In some ways, it's worth burning your devotionals and opening the Scripture. Take off the blinders and wake up to the possibility the World as not as you think it is. Maybe you're knee deep in tides of blood, and you've been told to worry about "spending time with Jesus" or working on your "relationship with God". Do you even know your God? How would you know?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Origins of Inequality?: Chelcicky, Private Property, and the Price of Civilization

Leithart put up a piece recently looking at the origins of inequality: here

To summarize: he analyzes Walter Scheidel's work, which finds that private property and transmissability of property (i.e. being able to pass it down generationally) are what solidify inequities. This is true among farming and herding people, but also true among hunting people, like the Comanche, who measured their wealth in terms of horses and horse-based amenities (i.e. slaves to groom the horses). Political structures and hierarchies thus develop to preserve the balance of power and enact organized violence on behalf of the group.
The baffling thing is that Leithart concludes with this: 
Rousseau was right to this extent: Civilization produces inequality. If this is right, the question for egalitarians is: What price are you willing to pay for equality? Give up property ownership and the capacity to pass on an inheritance? Give up advanced civilization itself? By examining the dynamics that produce inequality, Scheidel's book highlights the stakes of our contemporary debate.
First of all, I'm not sure how Leithart connects civilization to private property. He seems to sneak in a premise. In fact, Schneidel says that technological and economic developments (e.g. farming or herding) do not create the inequalities. Unless there is a passage which he is not quoting, the only obvious choice for "advanced civilization" is the increasingly more sophisticated political orders that emerge. These are the political forces that function, at their most basic, as mafiosi.

But more importantly, he seems kind of glib about the state of inequity. It's easy to take this posture when one is a well-adjusted member of the haves. He also doesn't seem to notice that promoting a modern state of inequity goes hand in hand with his arch enemy of mind-less consumerist capitalism. Why do people not just take to the streets and riot? Why was Marx wrong about the critical mass of Capitalism? Because fantasies like the American Dream offer a steam-valve. Because in a society of increasing inequity, the idea that we might one day be one of the elite, if we work hard enough, if we're on our grind every day, if we can make a couple of reforms to the system, then all will be well.

Of course, there were plenty of non-capitalistic societies that had social inequity, but none have been so ordered and well-oiled as our present order. It's not that it's not violent (it is) but in a way, the nascent market-state has monopolized violence through militarized police-forces, the inbred global mix of corporate-state intelligence, and increasing contract mercenaries.

In this, I think of Chelcicky, who was not surprised that such orders would exist in Satan's rule, but was horrified that Christians would build this order for themselves. The dreams of "civilization" come at the cost of an ocean of pleb blood, and it is sick to merely clink our glasses at such accomplishments. Perhaps even worst is to build monuments, a like demonstration to the Pharisees' ancestors who built the graves of the prophets. It's sappy-eyed, saccharine, celebration, an attempt to absolve a sense of guilt and leave the past in the past.

For the empire-builders, the reality of Apostolic life, sharing property and rejecting the lure of Mammon, can only be a one-off affair. God forbid such a life could ever be normative! Chelcicky saw that private property was, in a sense, a craving of the flesh. It is one thing to use and appropriate the things of the Earth for survival, but the power of the flesh is when these things take on a totalized sense. Earth becomes closed off from Heaven. Thus we crave immortality through the preservation of our house and our children. Instead, like blessed king David, we ought to rather forego a full belly and many children for the promise of "awaking in Your Likeness" (Ps. 17).

Leithart shows, inadvertently I'm sure, the cravings of the flesh that are, and will always be, a danger and a snare to following Christ.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Role of Leviticus in Christian Life: Leithart and Agamben in Conversation

Peter Leithart recently posted on his conversation with his son on Leviticus: here


The relevant quote I found was this:
The holy God comes to dwell among Israel and opens His house to His people. They aren't ready to come all the way in, so He institutes procedures and protocols to limit and control their approach. They can only come near if they are clean, and only through animal mediators. As in the garden, God has rich gifts to offer, but He will only give them when Israel is prepared to receive them. A good gift given or taken prematurely is a pharmakon, poison.
The point was that Leviticus represents, in retrospect, something of veneration. The Torah was a law given to govern Israel, but now it ceases to have any power. However, it still remains as a source of life even if its prescriptive ability has been canceled. This reminded me of a quote from Agamben's State of Exception, which is, in a way, a summary of Agamben's goal in his work:
What opens a passage towards justice is not the erasure of law, but its deactivation and inactivity- that is another use of the law [...] What is found after the law is not a more proper and original use value that precedes the law, but a new use that is born only after it. And use, which has been contaminated by law, must also be freed from its own value. This liberation is the task of study, or of play (64).
Agamben's point is that law can only bring life in its ceasing to be enforced, and instead operating as a dead letter which can be drawn upon to build life. Hence, the new use of the law is study and play. In this Agamben, following a story by Kafka, reflects upon the revolutionary potency in the impotency of the Torah, which rabbis pour over and study, even as it has ceased to function.

In some ways, this draws upon the Apostolic use of the Old Testament in their own argumentation (Agamben is an odd student of St. Paul in this regard). It's interesting to see how Paul uses a Torah commandment about oxen eating the grain they tread as a means to model the idea of paying elders of their community.

I think there's something to this, especially in how Christians are to conceive of ethics. However, this seems to be something of what Leithart sees in Leviticus. God has deactivated the Torah in the Messiah. We are no longer beholden to stone tablets, but a heart made of flesh. Perhaps, this is the potential for the Law of Liberty that St. James references. We study Leviticus as Christians because we see in it the power of life, where the death-dealing powers of the Law have been canceled. In this, Leviticus makes known the life of the world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Snake Venom: The Limited Good of Philosophy

Gregory Palamas is one of the brightest saints in God's constellation of intellects. He, along with Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril and Maximus especially, represent the subduing of Hellenic philosophy which, under Augustine's influence, ran rampant in the West and was never resolved (hence the later Medieval period, with the introduction of Aristotle, was an unresolved battle between Plato and Aristotle). Even though these conflicts reared their head in the East, they were much more subdued. It was not because the East was backwards or "mystical" (read as quasi-Pagan), which Western church historians have tended to suggest. Rather, it was because a number of Eastern fathers triumphed over these problems through reframing these questions. Part of this was through a proper understanding of what philosophy was and wasn't.

So, I thought these passages from Palamas were too good not to share. Here, he describes the limits of philosophy. This is a strong claim, but all Christians should agree with him in principle. Here, theology, which is truly "saving knowledge", comes not through philosophy or learning, but is from Above:

But if one says that philosophy, insofar as it is natural, is a gift of God, then one says true, without contradiction, and without incurring the accusation that falls on those who abuse philosophy and pervert it to an unnatural end. Indeed they make their condemnation heavier by using God's gift in a way unpleasing to Him.
Moreover, the mind of demons, created by God, possesses by nature its faculty of reason. But we do not hold that its activity comes from God, even though its possibility of acting comes from Him; one could with propriety call such reason an unreason. The intellect of the pagan philosophers is likewise a divine gift insofar as it naturally possesses a wisdom endowed with reason. But it has been perverted by the wiles of the devil, who has transformed it into a foolish wisdom, wicked and senseless, since it puts forward such doctrines [namely, polytheism or beliefs about a god--CP].
[...]
Is there then anything of use to us in this philosophy? Certainly. For just as there is much therapeutic value even in substances obtained from the flesh of serpents, and the doctors consider there is no better and more useful medicine than that derived from this source, so there is something of benefit to be had even from the profane philosophers-but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake. And if you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.
It is thus with the "iconognosts", who pretend that man receives the image of God by knowledge, and that this knowledge conforms the soul to God.
[...]
Nonetheless, if you put to good use that part of the profane wisdom which has been well excised, no harm can result, for it will naturally have become an instrument for good. But even so, it cannot in the strict sense be called a gift of God and a spiritual thing, for it pertains to the order of nature and is not sent from on high. This is why Paul, who is so wise in divine matters, calls it "carnal"; for, says he, "Consider that among us who have been chosen, there are not many wise according to the flesh". For who could make better use of this wisdom than those whom Paul calls "wise from outside"? But having this wisdom in mind, he calls them "wise according to the flesh", and rightly too.
Just as in legal marriage, the pleasure derived from procreation cannot exactly be called a gift of God, because it is carnal and constitutes a gift of nature and not of grace (even though that nature has been created by God); even so the knowledge that comes from profane education, even if well used, is a gift of nature, and not of grace-a gift which God accords to all without exception through nature, and which one can develop by exercise. This last point-that no one acquires it without effort and exercise, is an evident proof that it is a question of a natural, not a spiritual, gift.
[...]
This, then, is my conclusion: If a man who seeks to be purified by fulfilling the prescriptions of the Law gains no benefit from Christ-even though the Law had been manifestly promulgated by God-then neither will the acquisition of the profane sciences avail. For how much more will Christ be of no benefit to one who turns to the discredited alien philosophy to gain purification for his soul? It is Paul, the mouthpiece of Christ, who tells us this and gives us his testimony. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Crisis of Our Vitalist Politics

This is a striking quote from Giorgio Agamben's The Open, in which he describes the current state of the West. I'm not sure about all the implications, but it's worth pondering on:

We completely misunderstand the nature of the great totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century if we see them only as a carrying out of the nineteenth-century nation-states' last great tasks: nationalism and imperialism. The stakes are now different and much higher, for it is a question of taking on as a task the very factical existence of peoples, that is, in the last analysis, their bare life [Roughly defined, this is a formless quality conceptualized as beneath the practices and expressions, that is a vitalism found in how juridco-medically there is ambiguity on what 'life' means, presupposing there is some something that lie beneath, and thus observable and controllable, the empirical--CP][...] man has now reached his historical telos and, for a humanity that has become animal again, there is nothing left but the depoliticization of human societies by means of the unconditional unfolding oikonomia, or taking on biological life itself as the supreme political (or rather impolitical) task.
It is likely that the times in which we live have not emerged from this aporia. Do we not see around and among us men and peoples who no longer have any essence or identity-who are delivered over, so to speak, to their inessentiality and their inactivity-and who grope everywhere, and at the cost of gross falsifications, for an inheritance and a task, an inheritance as task? Even the pure and simple relinquishment of all historical tasks (reduced to simple functions of internal or international policing) in the name of the triumph of the economy, often today takes on an emphasis in which natural life itself and its well-being seem to appear as humanity's last historical task-if indeed it makes sense here to speak of a "task",
The traditional historical potentialities-poetry, religion, philosophy-which [...] kept the historico-political destiny of peoples awake, have since been transformed into cultural spectacles and private experiences, and have lost all historical efficacy. Faced with this eclipse, the only task that still seems to retain some seriousness is the assumption of the burden-and the "total management"-of biological life, that is, of the very animality of man. Genome, global economy, and humanitarian ideology are the three united faces of this process in which posthistorical humanity seems to take on its own physiology as its last, impolitical mandate.
It is not easy to say whether the humanity that has taken upon itself the mandate of the total management of its own animality is still human, in the sense of that humanitas which the anthropological machine [Roughly defined, the conceptual tool which man, by seeing that which is not man, most especially that which like man but not, like an ape, reveals man as distinct from the animal-CP] produced by de-ciding every time between man and animal; nor is it clear whether the well-being of a life that can no longer be recognized as either human or animal can be felt as fulfilling. (76-77)