Saturday, March 17, 2018

Twilight of the Sonderweg, or Why Idealist Predictions are Never Right

Among many German historians, there was the question, more presupposition, of Germany's sonderweg, or "special path". German historians compared developments within Prussia and the German states of the Rhineland and wondered why they, unlike Britain or France, became more authoritarian with industrialism, capitalism, and enlightened thought. There was an attempt to explain how the Germany of Kant and Frederick the Great gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis. They wanted to know what went wrong, why Germany never had the strong tradition of parliamentary government, rule of law, and liberal values of individual freedom. Germany, from the beginning, seemed destined towards the Fuhrer and the Holocaust.

Of course, this claim had been seriously revised, if not discarded in total. Not only was the forward of march of Germany's institutions not distinctly totalitarian, authoritarian, or anti-liberal, but Britain and France were hardly the paragons of liberal paradise. In fact, from the historical roots of anti-semitism and historic precedent of lapsing into mass-movement purification, France seemed far more likely a place for a Holocaust to happen. That is to say, the ex post facto reasoning that sees Germany's Nazification as the fruit of a certain socio-political arrangement is far from clear.

Of course, I still enjoy such theoretical, and partisan, theorizing. One of my favorite accounts is from a Jewish Anglican, writing in 1945, his polemic Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor. It's hardly professional, usually just stringing together a series of damning quotes with little contextualization. However, it has its place as being one of the first, non-Papist, works to seriously question Luther's legend, rejecting claims that he ushered in a godly restoration or invented the modern world. Yet, for all my coy appreciation, its a work that dabbles in the absurd. The major claim, which goes unsubstantiated and mostly assumed, is that Luther's theology begat a German Christianity that was oriented towards the irrational, authoritarian, apocalyptic, even pagan(!), embrace of a Fuhrer. The figure Luther cut, which Germans worshiped, was a slot that Hitler easily slipped into. The accusation is total fantasy, but it raises the same problem of the sonderweg.

There's a tendency among sloppy historians and genealogists to link ideas to the actual outworking of social arrangements. It cuts both positively and negatively. One example is Calvinism's stark distinction between the elect and the reprobate. Some have used this to explain the so-called oppressive regime of Puritan New England. Of course, there was the equally predestinarian Roger Williams who instituted a civil government of tolerance, even for pagans American Indians. On the flip side, people will argue Calvinism's inscrutable God reduces the power of men to authoritatively affect salvation, and produces a more tolerant regime, such as the Netherlands. Yet the Dutch were not unanimously Calvinist, with many soldiers and administrators being not affiliated with any church or section of Christianity. The Netherlands perhaps had the first dechurched European people. And, on top of that, there is clear evidence that some Boer pastors utilized election to explain the racial inferiority, and unalterable damnation, of the black South Africans. Of course, Arminians, whether rationalists or evangelicals, did the same thing in the US South, and parts of the Rwandan genocide were spurred on by Roman Catholic clergy, comparing the enemy as Canaanites to be expunged.

The point is that there's no evidence Luther's theology had a genealogical effect, creating the possibility of Hitler. Now, clearly the Nazis appealed to Luther as a distinctly German champion, providing a distinctly German vision for society, integrating a theological vision with politics, economics, and family life. And certainly the German-Christian pastorate quoted Luther to support the new regime. But, so did the Confessing Church, who equally called upon Luther to refute Hitler's reorganization of the state church.  Ideas helped form the kinds of support and opposition within the particular context, but it really had no diachronic reach, fundamentally creating this black hole of evil within a vague, undefined, and non-empirical, German "culture" or German national "conscious". It's irrelevant, and a distraction, to argue if this-or-that side interpreted the real Luther. The common usage reveals a common commitment to an idea or a trope, but, as Berkeley(!) taught, ideas are passive things.

This kind of sweeping theory is like an intoxicating or hallucinogenic drug. And I'm not guiltless before, I've rolled on this sort of thing. Agamben offers a really odd, but powerful, disturbing, and cataclysmic, interpretation of Western history, drawing a line from Aristotle and Christian Hellenists to Holocaust in seeing a genealogy of Western thought and culture. If Europe was the world, then such an approach might be feasible. But knowing that the An Lushan Rebellion was far more bloody and disastrous than almost any other event in Europe, and that happened in non-Christian and non-Western China, belies any sweeping claim on the dictation of thought. I've yet to read a book that shows how the lone Siddhartha Gautama created the conditions for Japan's attempt to purge China or Pol Pot's ocean of blood. These sweeping accounts seem self-evidently truth because...well, those events happened didn't they? Determining causation is a tricky business, but without rigor, correlation is sufficient proof.

Again, paying attention to the use of particular ideas is necessary for understanding the details and contours of historical events. They're not merely epiphenomena, but they are not self-determining realities that have some brute logic that forces itself to play out in Human lives. It's not just that people aren't consistent, but ideas do not have a necessary boundary and form. People mix and match all the time, and while the juxtaposition of some ideas is due to irrationality or segregating them in your head, other time it's why novel interpretations, solutions, or options appear. Knowledge of otherwise unknown things can lead to reconfiguration in one's mindscape.  Applying an old paradigm to a new context can give surprising results. And these results modify old paradigms, offering new perspectives.

However, what does not change, the nothing new under the sun, are the needs of men. We still appear and disappear, live and die, crave meaning and purpose, orienting our selves and our actions towards some goal outside of our parameters. We still live as corporeal, finite, bodies with a limited range of capacity for skills (i.e. man can invent a flying machine, out of existing things conducive to the task, but he can never just fly). And these go a long way to explaining the repetition of patterns found within Human history. The lust for power, the desire for wealth, the need to transcend all motivate men along a similar trajectory. As Leithart has helpfully described, it is because of flesh's ultimate weakness that flesh strives to claim and project strength. That quest is all too easy to spot in the train wreck we call history, though it takes many forms, and proceeds along many different paths.

The irony here is that it is an idealist Berkeley which deflates what I'm calling historical Idealism, the projection that ideas have some sort of inherent potency that go work themselves out and do battle. There are no self-contained "world-views" that have some coherent and impermeable inner, self-referential, structure. If you take that approach you can prove just about anything as long as you can creatively string along enough examples. This claim includes even the doctrines of Christianity. People have taken biblically derived ideas and/or Christian doctrines and melded them into new systems of thought. Whether its Scientology, the Gnu-Atheists, or modern Buddhism, there are certainly Christian elements reworked into a new constellation of ideas put towards a different purpose. These ideas, like all ideas, are passive before Human minds who arrange and rearrange them.

But the kicker here is that all ideas are not merely plastic, but stand, ultimately, before the awesome judgements of God. You can whip ideas into fantastical shapes, but ones that will not pan out because there is a reality that does not budge. Rather than posit some Thomistic notion of an autonomous, self-regulating, nature, I'd rather speak of the will of God. The scary thing is that, per Romans 1, God may indeed permit people to run with their madness and wickedness and commit all sorts of atrocities. In antiquity this might appear in the gender-bending cult of Cybele; in modernity, it might be the fact that even children are permitted to request, and receive, "gender-reassignment". The process works, up to a point, but it remains just off enough to stand as a warning, a hideous marker, the equivalent of Lot's wife looking back to Sodom.

When it comes to Christian doctrine, our ideas about Christ are indeed passive, but there is, in fact, a Christ Jesus, reigning in Heaven, who will descend with the trumpet of an archangel, and weigh the souls of men. Even that claim is itself an idea, a projection of what the future will indeed hold. And while it is yet to come about, when it does, it will radically reorient all men to the fact that judgement is nigh. Some will shout with joy, others will beg the mountains to fall on them. There will be one who will arbitrate all our ideas. But this judgement will be according to a particular order of things, one which is visible within creation but only to the eyes of faith.

While "world-view" is such a terrible and stupid means to speak about ideas, it is not completely off. What it does is raise the possibility of a mental axis, the scales by which we judge the things we understand. Pascal was a truly biblical thinker when he recognized that for the Christian, the axis upon which we turn is the question of faith in Christ. Of course there elaboration to be done on what we exactly mean when we say "Christ" or "faith", but what he is saying is that how one relates to Christ is the singularly most important axis of judgement. Do we see the eternal Word made flesh, perishing upon the tree for the salvation of the world? Or do we see a failed revolutionary, a beautiful soul not fit for the hard world of men, or a fool caught in a delusion of grandeur, among other things?

Seeing Jesus as the Christ, the questions of wealth, power, and meaning do not go away, but become suspended and oriented away. The path of man's destiny is wealth through poverty, power through weakness, and transcendence through abased finitude. The abject becomes the site of God's glory.

This post is ending very far away from where I originally intended it, but the purpose of this detour is to fill in why the sonderweg approach is both delusional but completely rational. It also depends upon a axis of judgement, but one that ends up obscuring, ignoring, or butchering the facts. While we cannot cogently just follow the facts, since we require some overarching schematic for how to even begin parsing and sorting the data, let alone recognize it as such, we are merely finite minds. We are impressed and impinged upon by a reality outside of ourselves, forced to account for things we did not know of before. Failure to do so is the first step towards being a partisan hack, a propagandist, a liar.

If anything, the cross should teach Christians to never close one's eyes, that even the rough, the puzzling, and the misfit have a role yet to play.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Name the Animals: Commonsense and the Metaphysics of Substrata

I'm working through some of Berkeley's philosophy, drawing upon A Metaphysics for the Mob. One interesting thing is how Berkeley is situated between Descartes and Locke. Descartes gives the example of a piece of wax. Man can touch it, smell it, taste it, and all sorts of empirical observations to figure out its properties. But then you put it in fire, and all such properties change. Yet we still call it a piece of wax. How do we recognize it as such? Descartes believed that we do so through a process of pure intellectation, where we refract the image of the wax into our mind, stripping it away of its sensory properties until we get to an unimagistic concept of wax. It is this pure thought of this thing that gives us the grounds to speak intelligibly of wax as wax, whether hot or cold, hard or soft, solid or liquid, with fragrance of honey or not, etc.

Locke rejected the idea of pure intellect. Instead, he substituted a kind of noumenological tautology in place. The wax is a bundle of these properties that impress themselves onto the mind, and from which we abstract in our imaginations of it. But the problem remains that we still, clearly, recognize this piece of wax as a single thing. The process of individuation is a basic experience of life. We see things and we can distinguish this thing from that thing, or this thing from not-this thing. Locke appeals to a metaphysical substrata that we both intuit by application, and apply through our intuition. We know it is one thing because there is some underlying reality that is inaccessible to the Human mind, but that the Human mind artificially projects and gets results. This thing is behind the aggregate of all the properties of wax.

Berkeley rejects both approaches because of his theory of the mind. Unlike Locke, Berkeley does not create a dichotomy between the thing and the idea of the thing. What he does do is distinguish between kinds of ideas, active and passive ones. The latter come from sense perception. I see a flower. Seeing is more than my eye receiving light waves processed through rods and cones, it is an experience, something one is conscious of.  The former comes from my mind actively generating ideas, or what we call imagination. I think about a flower with all its imagined particularities. However, this distinction attacks the naive empricist claim that there are things out there that have a coherency without mind. There are no ideas of things, all things are, in fact, ideas.

What Berkeley means is that when we are met with the flood of sense data from the wax, receiving ideas of hot, cold, hard, soft, fragrant, etc., there is no hidden unity underneath the actual wax that we have to metaphysically tap into, or remain in total ignorance of. Berkeley thought that the latter point would lead into skepticism, as we posit some totally inaccessible real world that exists, trapping us in a world of mirrors. We know there is a real, but have only ignorance of it, and thus leaves us trapped in a mystical circle. Instead, the answer is simple. The aggregate we understand as this thing is order that our mind imposes upon it. The thing is a thing because we perceive it and reckon it so.

I plan to write more about this as the weeks go on, but I should say the point of Berkeley's claims is to get behind the metaphysical magick that some philosophers love to dabble in. There is no need for a Platonic rapture into the realm of the forms. Instead, the mind, from the humblest to the most exalted, engages the world and gives it a semblance of order. While this claim sounds rather postmodern, and seems to implicitly claim that all things are plastic before the mind, I will hope to clear up that Berkeley intended no such thing. He was a Christian first in his philosophy. Humans are mere finite minds, their creativity is tethered to the infinite mind, the Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus the Lord.

But this small outline made me think about Adam's vocational task. After God addressed Adam, He commanded the man to name the animals, and he did so. There's something unique and interesting about this process that undercuts Aristotelian notions of substance metaphysics, at least not as is traditionally understood. The process of naming necessarily involves minds, the process of experience, thought, and intention. It would seem an odd task if Adam was just going about discovering the forms of things, and not doing something creative. It's not so much naming if these things had some organization that Adam was merely discovering. And, being that Adam is Christologically an ectypal First of the archetypal Second, we're not vaunting man's autonomous power, but his derivative power. Pascal strikes the right balance here: man is so fragile, a mere beast struggling for survival, but what other beast is aware of his own weakness and death, who can exercise such awesome cognitive powers in their wake? The mind, the conscious subjectivity, is a radiant part of what it means to be made in the Image of God, as creature reflecting the Word.

Our minds exercise an incredible power over things, manifest in language (addressing Ben's prior comment) as well as our imaginations. The problem is that such goes awry. Praying for the mind of Christ is a prayer to name the animals. Whether its St. Basil's allegorical treatment of the animals as the passions, or its the ability to give name to the series of events and things that occur in our lives, we're asking for wisdom to perceive. I have hope that Berkeley's philosophy may prove fruitful for cutting through the tangles of metaphysical mysticism, proving them fruitless as they are obscurantist.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Can We Hear the Father Without the Son?: Preliminary Thoughts on Idealism and Christology

I've recently garnered some interest to look into quantum mechanics, the study of consciousness, and the philosophy of George Berkeley more. I don't understand any of it very well, but knowing this I'm very wary of many stupid or elementary explanations of it. Especially in relation to the third, I always heard Berkeley's belief is a combination of skepticism and solipsistic deus ex machina. Of course, if Berkeley was intelligent enough to engage with Locke, I really have a hard time believing he offered such a bizarre refutation. A preliminary search reveals that people clearly have no idea what Berkeley taught, trying to read his philosophy off the surface of his claim esse is percipi, which is more complicated than it lets on.

Let me say that I'm wary of attaching any particular philosophy to Scripture that is not readily at hand. However, I'm not of the opinion that Scripture does not speak to reality-as-such, as if it were possible for the authors of Scripture to provide a truth without a world. Of course, Bultmann and Tillich, among other liberal scholars, have attempted to preserve the kernel of Scripture, the kerygma, by tossing the husk, its so-called mythological and legendary quality. I believe that's not only untrue, but a methodological error. If Scripture has not structural integrity, if it wilts before modern methods and questions, than the faith is dead and worthless, a stinking corpse only to be milled through like Hellenic myths.

Anyway, having said that, I've come to settle on an understanding of Christology that is, I think, far more faithful to the text of Scripture. Irenaeus was the first great biblical theologian, who understood the "right pattern of words" of Scripture. Athanasius rightly applied such ideas to the conflict with the Arians, particularly Eusebius of Nicomedia and his cadre of supporters. However, Irenaeus clearly states that when we see in the OT the appearance of God we are seeing Christ, a kind of premonition of His appearance yet to come. I think this is absolutely correct, though it was sadly buried under other theologians afraid of dis-integrating the Trinitarian dogmas of Nicene-Constantinople. Augustine is the villain here, who believed that not only were all theophanies trinitarian appearances, but that all were created simulacra, not actual presence. This claim set up the speculative nonsense we see later, whether the scholastic question of whether the Father or Spirit could've incarnated, or the debate between Thomas and Duns Scots on whether Christ would've incarnated without the Fall. But I digress a bit, the point is that Irenaeus was both able to affirm the full divine plenitude of Christ as well as marking off a, for lack of a better word, specific role for Him.

Now later theologians, again prioritizing the Trinitarian dogma, took this same position but firmly anchored it in a distinction between immanent and economic trinities. In other words, there is how the Son appears within God's saving acts and interaction with men, and how the Son is within the very life of God, God's relation to God. Cyril of Alexandria does this to some degree. But, as John Behr has argued, Irenaeus did not posit such a distinction, but rather saw in Christ as the always present mystery of God's economy, the Agent who effected His Father's will. In other words, the Word is the economy of God, the hub of the various and cryptic works within the world, of which He exegetes, in the power of the Spirit, showing us the Father. The point is that there is something integral to who Christ is that defines His acting, not veiled appearance of God beyond God.

Now, the point is that if Christ is the one who appears, who reveals, who speaks and interacts with man, in all the instances of the OT, then it may offer a vantage on the question of idealism. If we take the logic of consubstantiality that Athanasius ruthlessly pushed, we do not need to be afraid to speak of the Word/Son of God, who is God, rather than God the Word/Son. Reaching to quick for the trigger, afraid of creeping Arianism, may not only short-circuit our attempt to understand Scripture, but also the nature of reality itself. Most Christians, dating as far back as Origen, believed Proverbs 8, speaking of Wisdom, spoke of Christ. Athanasius argued Arians were arguing that by creating a gap, a juncture, a non-consubstantiality, between Christ and the Father, they were, in effect, saying that there was a time when God was mindless, wisdomless, stupid. The height of blasphemy!

But what if this maps onto Berkeley's idealism of mind revealing reality, determining the current state through engagement. According to Christ, no one knows the Father. And even though we never see or hear the Father or Spirit in Scripture, we do when Christ appears (e.g. the Spirit appearing as a dove, the Father speaking over the Son). Christ is the Logos, who literally, according to St. John, "exegetes" the Father, a Word that comes in Power (that is, the Spirit). Here, all the order and patterning of the world that our mind picks up on, in distinguishing a reality that is not independent of it, is all dependent upon the very Wisdom of God who created all such minds to perceive, where an infinite distance exists between the Creator and what is created, but where the latter has a capacity to perceive. The only way to God, the only vision and true appearance of God, is none other than Christ. If you cannot see Christ, the very Word of God who becomes a man among men, then you do not understand the ultimate pattern of things. You cannot perceive the Mind of God, by whom and through whom all things hang together. And, as with Berkeley, there is no deeper reality hiding behind the things we see and perceive. As Torrance would put it, there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. The problem is, as it was for Irenaeus, that we do not understand the pattern of things that are there. It's like puzzling over a 3-D painting, unable to see what the pattern is until it appears. And thus, reality is yet to appear, the future is still hidden, though it dances through the ages off the pages of Scripture, proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord.

I'm still hashing it out, but that's some preliminary sketches.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Creation Was Made for Christ, Or Why Pascal is Better than Calvin

I've mentioned in posts before that I would consider myself a Reformed Pascalian. I don't mean the category in any serious or inflexible way, but merely to mark off where I stand on some issues. Institutionally, I worship in a Reformed (Presbyterian) congregation, and I find much good in Reformed theology. I think the turn to Biblical theology among certain Dutch theologians was a great revival of better theological method rooted in the actual dynamics of Scripture. Covenant is a key category in Scripture which the Reformed generally recovered and explored, even if in disastrous or anti-Christ ways (e.g. the racialization of election among Dutch Afrikaaners, the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay). I am also a strong predestinarian, but this hardly requires one to be Reformed. However, there are many ways of understanding, or appreciating, the working of God's providential government.

Here is where I think Pascal was a superior theologian, and should be eagerly embraced among predestinarians of all stripes. Blaise Pascal was not only a brilliant mathematician, but a deeply profound theological writer. After a rather nominal and weak commitment to Rome, Pascal had an experience of God's terrifying, and saving, graciousness. Whatever happened, Pascal began to take his faith seriously, finding himself allied with the Jansenists. Pascal's sister was a sister of the Port-Royal convent, a Jansenist hub of activity. Pascal chastised the disgusting superstition and politique uses of the faith, deploring the laxity and blasphemy common in 17th century France. Pascal, along with other Jansenist writers, targeted the Jesuits, who had become rather comfortable in the higher rungs of French society. Utilizing ethical relativisim and a theological system that was highly flexible and accomodationist, many Jesuits were chaplains in the court of Louis XIV. The Jansenists, on the other hand, were rigorists, who were unjustly condemned. Threatening Louis XIV's Gallican-esque Tridentine revival of the Roman Church, the Jesuits led the charge for papal condemnation. The Jansenist held on, toiling under official sanction and persecution, resisting the alliance of the Sun King's absolutist state with papal authority.

In the Pensees, Pascal summarized his view of providentialism that is absolutely crucial, literally:

"If the world existed to instruct man of God, His divinity would shine through every part
in it in an indisputable manner; but as it exists only by Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ,
and to teach men both their corruption and their redemption, all displays the proofs of these
two truths. All appearance indicates neither a total exclusion nor a manifest presence of divinity,
but the presence of a God who hides himself. Everything bears this character."

The point here is that not only did Christ create, but that what He made manifests His will. Creation does not radiate the obvious glory of God. Instead it poses riddles and questions. This feature is not merely a cognitive problem, what the Reformed call the noetic effects of sin. It's not just that our mind is stained, but that creation resists pursuits to scrutinize and see God even from the best intentions. Even if we have the mind of Christ we are not given clear visions and answers, but instead should be adept to engage with the puzzles God poses to us. We're ready to engage with, and struggle, with the word of God, and in so doing we will be blessed. The strangeness of Scripture, as well as the broader creation, is intentional, so as to draw us in and transform us.

Before I begin my brief comparison, let me say that I know I'm simplifying Calvin. I am not a Calvin scholar, nor do I have any desire to be one. I know Calvin is far more complicated than what I'm portraying. I'm not so much interacting with Calvin, per se, but with the popular echoes that became developed in other Reformed contexts. Calvin represents this strand of thought, even if a comprehensive look at his texts offers nuances that change the image I'm setting up. Nonetheless, whatever that comprehensive picture looks like, it's not relevant to his legacy among those who picked up Calvin and developed his work. I'm reconstructing a popular Calvin, not the actual Calvin.

Contrary to Pascal's vision of a cruciform creation, the generic Calvinist vision envisions that the creation is the stage of God's glory. I take exception with this approach from a distinctly, though eccentric and minority, Reformed orbit. For the purposes of street conversation, I would identify as a Calvinist, though I'm drawing a line for the purposes of this post. I would like to say that I'm being faithful to Scripture, but I will put myself in a box of sorts for the purposes of dialogue. Unlike Pascal, this Calvinist view sees redemption in a much more optimistic light for the redeemed. 

Now, there are two different streams that this more optimistic providentialism operates. There's, of course, Calvin himself who was very clearly a magisterial Protestant. While he believed in a far stronger institutional church that operated as a senior partner with the state than, say, Melanchthon or Zwingli, he still defended the integrity of the state along natural law lines. Calvin could praise the pagan virtue of Seneca, and Roman statecraft more broadly, because Calvin, like Melanchthon, could appreciate the separation between theological righteousness and civil righteousness. Pagans could act just as morally as Christians in terms of social relations, even if the former were damned before God's tribunal, judged according to the criteria of the heart. Therefore, while the state should aid the local/national church, it had its own integrity not derived from God's revealed law. As I noted above, Calvin believed the church's disciplinary measures were not to be left to the state, contrary to Melanchtonians and some more moderate Reformed. Yet, the church and the state operated according to different criteria.

In contrast to this view, John Knox pressed Calvin's views further, creating a Scottish theological tradition that would place the civil society beneath the church's government. In Scotland, the presbyterate would function as a prophetic ministry, railing against political abuse and keeping the monarch honest. While not exactly like ultramontane Papalism, critics had a point that Presbyterians and Papists had a lot more in common than either would like to admit. Both empowered the church to effectually excommunicate heads of state, and create a state of indeterminacy about a monarch's rule and reign. The church could not formally depose, but it could delegitimize a government, calling upon all faithful Christians to resist, rallying around any lower magistrate who would take the field against an unjust ruler. The highest magistrate was responsible to broker a national covenant with God, hitching his crown and privilege to godly rule and just laws. Of course, this included punishing heretics (the Scottish Kirk burned a heretic as late as 1697).

Both of these approaches involve an optimism about the role of the Redeemed in Christian society. Both see an extension of the covenantal promises of Israel to the Church in terms of blessings and curses. In the Scottish and Puritan examples, this extended to crafting a covenant between the godly society and God. Rank Judaizing, it's also a symptom of a belief that Christians can now make out, with clarity, the redemption of all creation, and the patterns that involves. This mode of thinking extends to more contemporary world-view theology, which believes that once one acquires certain presuppositions, derived from Scripture, one can intelligibly craft systems for all things. Whether its global economics or determining which movies to watch, there's an optimistic sense that all things are open to the saints. There's a kind of justice in either the success of Oliver Cromwell or the neo-con regime around Ronald Reagan: both quickly discarded the theonomic agitators for the purposes of governance. Cromwell purged English Presbyterians from Parliament, refusing to institute a national church or enforce the Solemn Oath and Covenant, while crushing the Scottish Presbyterians who had made a deal with the future Charles II. Reagan's administrators quickly locked the doors to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their cronies, doing little to implement their agenda. Bereft and confused, there was a sense that the World's end was close-at-hand. Why else would abysmal disaster strike? The Restoration of Charles II and the election of Bill Clinton, respectively, helped to confirm this sense of doom. Of course, This Age has not yet ended, and things continue on still.

Pascal is a corrective on this inane and naive view of God's providence. Pascalian providence makes sense of the continued failure in the same way that Jesus prophecized. The last days is our age, and Jesus Christ was clear that there will be false signs and false prophets, those who fawn over the whore of Babylon, the variety of Beasts, and the horned Lamb who talks like a dragon. For the biblically astute we should expect God's governance to look like such, for it was the sovereign Word Himself who made such dire predictions. In light of Christ's cross, revealed through His opening up of the Scriptures, we can not only make sense of Scripture, but, indeed, the whole world around us. Contrary to Lutheran atheists, we do indeed possess the mind of Christ, we can indeed see farther than the godless and the pagan. But what this seeing involves is seeing that the creation proclaims the mystery of godliness, the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory. It stumbles over itself in paradox: how can the Glorious King be the Suffering Servant? We recognize the riddles and appreciate the proleptic solution yet to unveil over all. We know the resurrection follows, but such glory will only be open when the Age to Come appears with Christ's return. In this present veil, we hold our hands open to Heaven for a future, yet remaining firmly planted behind a veil of tears.

Pascal understood that the great division among men was between faith and unbelief. There is no better representation of this view than Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece. The image shows a horribly disfigured crucified Christ. On one side of the cross the weeping women and John the Elder stand in horror. However, on the other side of the cross, John the Baptist holds the Scriptures open, pointing at Christ, accompanied by a bleeding lamb holding a cross. The question is what do we see: is this a tragic failure or a prophetic success? Did hope perish or did the Christ conquer? Once our eyes are opened we see that even though sinful men put the Lord of Glory to death, it was God's foreordained plan to redeem creation, bringing about the forgiveness of sins. It's in the midst of darkness that the light suddenly appears. However, its brightness hides under the darkest darkness. Looking back, history is a train wreck, a heap of carnage and destruction with inequity and villainy run amok. However, the resurrection of Christ poses a question even over this question. What will the good Creator do about this seemingly unending torrent of blood and filth? What sort of deluge will wipe it away without violating the promise to Noah? The victory of Christ gives us consolation over the totality of history, even if it appears in jagged shards and rough fragments.

Pascal not only understands Scripture, but he was honest. Calvinist partisans have done a disservice in crafting many hagiographic accounts that are awful histories. They not only warp the data, but end up belying the Apostolic warning that the elect's deadliest enemy comes from within, those appearing as angels of light. Such is not only true for blasphemous popes, but also self-styled prophets who misled many. God save us from their proliferation. May they not embarrass the name of Christ with their shit propaganda, whether its glorifying particular Reformed regimes, the West, or the United States, and ignoring the Satanic whoring and filth. Sic.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Theology of Josef Goebbels: The anti-Gospel of Mass Media and Imperium

Hopefully this post will not be taken in bad taste, but I do not look favorable upon the legacy of Billy Graham. There has been a lot of sycophantic praise for the man after his recent death. Graham is an exemplar model of Evangelicalism's fatal flaw, and this post will explicate it in a brief, and incomplete, manner. He represents the capacity for the movements success, as well as its deeply poisonous nature. Both left and right wing Evangelicalism have praised Graham, even if they've departed or repackaged his legacy. However, both wings represent the radically anti-Gospel form that Evangelicalism took, and remains, despite modification.

A key issue appears in Leithart's (!) recent praise for an article Graham wrote for Christianity Today here. Dated 1959, Graham criticizes America's tendency towards toleration. He says that tolerance is benign in moderation, but his contemporaries were pushing it to far. They had become "flabby", going as far to tolerate godlessness and undermining the national faith of America. Fittingly for Leithart's dominionism, it's not really clear if Graham is addressing American Christians or American Christians. It's not clear whether this message is for the nation or the Church (whatever that may be). It's unlikely to be the latter, for Graham was a pioneer Evangelical, emerging from the isolationist Fundamentalists. It'd be odd to criticize Fundamentalists for flabby toleration, considering they had abandoned the public domain due to what was a flood of godlessness. Instead, it's most likely the Fundamentalist roaring return to attack a public theology firmly in the grip of the Modernists, both the remnants of the Social Gospel, as well as the rising star of the Niebuhr brothers. Evangelicalism was a wing that believed reentry was not only a possibility, but an imperative.

Graham's attack on the nation's godlessness fit well with the raging propaganda effort of the McCarthyites. Representing an underrepresented middle class from middle America, both farmers and shopkeepers, McCarthy led the attack upon the WASP establishment, trying to seize the reins of power. Accusations of homosexuality and communism abounded, as the Cold War picked up, and Eisenhower attempted to steer a middling path of Detente. Rather than geopolitical realism, the rising band of Cold Warriors focused upon creating a dichotomy in the world between the Free West and the Enslaved Iron Curtain. This portrayal was very much a fiction among the American establishment, the Soviet Union never had the potency to dominate anything but Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which the Allies had not only blessed, but such a role had always been within the grasp of Tsarist Russia. Maoist China quickly broke ranks with any united world Communism, especially as the Soviet Union attempted to meddle with traditional Chinese dependents, such as Vietnam and Korea. Soviet influence only expanded as far as the United States, or a regional hegemon like China, was on the horizon. But in most instances, Soviet assistance proved to be nominal or short-term. The Soviet Union was horrible, but it was a Red Tsardom in most instances.

Regardless of the truth, Graham became part and parcel in creating the Soviet boogeyman that helped to fuel American expansion. Most importantly, Graham utilized the budding mechanisms of mass-media. Graham was not the first to use these techniques, Billy Sunday and Moody had also deployed them. This involved utilizing voice amplification technology, whether through radio and television, or using microphones to speak to rallies, filling stadiums with people coming to listen and interact. Mass media had existed for awhile, but it was taken to new heights under Billy Graham's brilliance. Combining the latest in such technology, with the sloganeering and salesman technique of Madison Avenue, Graham was able to pitch the Gospel to an American public that was ready to be scared. The fear of Communism, of enslavement, poverty and destruction, fit well with the coming wrath of God and the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Fighting godlessness involved a national revival, pitting people against hard hearts, as well as the godless enemies.

Graham's open politicization of the gospel took an early backseat, a premonition of what would happen under the Moral Majority. Functioning as an aide to Nixon, Graham quickly learned how religious politique could be quite ugly and degenerate. He backed down when his name became attached to some of the early, and minor, scandals of Nixon. Like Moral Majority, Graham learned first-hand how preaching could be a useful, and easily tossed, tool for a political operator. But non of this meant Graham ever really backed down. Instead, he took his foot off openly opposing the Communists, and instead focused on mass revivals.

Nonetheless, this approach to preaching is fundamentally rotten. St. Paul warns against peddling the gospel, and that's exactly what pitching salvation as a sales product results in. Now, with our beloved apostle, we can thank God that the Gospel is spread despite the wickedness in technique or intent. In this camp, we can even praise an H.G. Wells or a Christopher Hitchens. By proclaiming "god is not great", God is still able to make Christ known in abundance, making the gospel available even despite the slanderers and blasphemers. It doesn't matter if one is converted through a Graham or a Dawkins, God can work with whatever. Now, I'm not comparing Graham to Dawins, only that the method of preaching as fundamentally rotten. I don't doubt his outward success, measured in emotional exuberance and numbers. But one only needs to look out upon the wasteland of the Bible Belt to see the fruits of such evangelism.

The gospel according to mass-media makes a one-time decision the product, sometimes rewarded with a prayer-card, noting the date and time of your praying-the-prayer. Again Graham did not invent this theology, it was a by-product of Revivalism and its cheap-grace. However, Graham was a super-star, unaffiliated with any ecclesiastical institution or encouraging any specific organization. Salvation became something purely situated in the heart, with any imperative in changed social externals. Like a lot of contemporary ministries, if you "get people saved", they really need somewhere to go, a brotherhood to remain accountable to. You can't market that. As many theorists have noted, from communists to existentialists, mass rallies do the opposite. They isolate the individual in the sea of the faceless mass, creating a connection between the speaker and the individual. The medium of radio, the projected voice, the TV screen, or whatever, connects you across space and time to the presenter. However, once the broadcast is concluded, you're isolated once again. Graham had tried to rectify this, advising people to become a part of the Church, or go back to where they were from (which included, somewhat shockingly, even Roman Catholic parishes, synagogues, and Mosques). Graham's Jesus was relatively plastic, with the fullness of Scripture reduced to an easily spread slogan.

Am I being too harsh? Many would decry my criticism, scorning all the converting work Graham had accomplished. But that's faulty reasoning. I'm not denying the results, I'm attacking the means. Horror and tragedy can result in great blessings, but it doesn't mean I celebrate the means. St. Peter is clear about the crucifixion: God predetermined it, but sinful men illegally and viciously put to death the only-begotten Lord of Glory. Graham is the Christian equivalent of Josef Goebbels, but many people still benefited from his ministry. What I do question is whether all such work will be rewarded. If Graham does indeed stand in paradise on the side of the sheep, I believe he will be saved amidst the burning wreckage.

Billy Graham helped to turn the Gospel into propaganda, going far beyond previous methods, perfecting them in ways that we've barely appreciated the consequences. There are thousands, if not millions, of Americans inoculated to the imperatives of the gospel, the life of obedience, through a so-called "personal relationship with Jesus". Such a method not only discredits the faith, it harms the life of the churches. Graham, like Evangelicalism, will continue to manifest as a great blight, a foolish and optimistic movement that did little but either become a policy tool or, even worse, become complicit with regime establishment. I pray that the Global South, with its own rising Evangelical-esque movements, will be spared the same beastly damage. Rather than being peaceable and working with their hands quietly, many Christians become loud-mouthed, obnoxious, culture-warriors, following a lamb that speaks with the voice of a dragon. I thank God for those who heard the gospel from Billy Graham and went on to better grounds, but I still lament such a shameful distortion.

Addendum: Jacques Ellul put it well in discussing not only Billy Graham, but Graham situated within the context of the greater "Jesus Movement". Writing in 1975, in The New Demons, Ellul argues that all of these movements were all hopelessly compromised, uncritically adopting fashionable mass-movements which only embedded it within a devilish logic and system. The Gospel was lost along the way. One does not need to agree with Ellul consistently to appreciate this critique:

There is the little problem of the tree and its fruits. When I see that the chief fruits are, on the one hand, the accompanying of this gospel with drugs and pansexualism and, on the other hand, the making of large sums of money and the building of commercial capitalistic enterprises, I am obliged to say that I reject the content of these statements because of their inward orientation and consequences. When I observe that everything is based on ultramodern publicity, on the exploitation of sensuality and suffering on the part of the people who make use of it, I say absolutely No to this pretense of a message.  
When Christians were wondering about that prophet of the transformation of the gospel into a religion, which is Billy Graham, I said No, because he was using the most modem methods of propaganda. His entire witness was falsified, vitiated, and changed by the very fact of the technical means of propaganda. Here we have the same problem. I readily grant that people may eventually be reached by these revues and posters. That doesn't prove a thing, for in fact God does make use of everything; but when Hitler in his speeches appealed (quite frequently) to the Almighty I often heard it said: "You see, he isn't as bad as all that. He is calling upon God, and it may well be that he is sent by God." It is possible that God may have made use of him. It is possible that people may have heard some word of God in Hitler's speeches. I have to say that that does not at all suffice for me! Hitler was demonic in spite of his invocations of God (even if he was sincere), and I say exactly the same thing here.  
We must resist the "Jesus revolution" and the Jesus parade. The virulent criticism expressed in the film Tout le monde it est beau, tout le mondeil est gentil should be enough to show what is really behind this low prank about the gospel and the name of Jesus. Once again, what makes me reject some beneficial "novelty" is not a dogmatic image of Jesus Christ, nor rigid catechetical truths, but the alloy of money and pornography. That is what forces me to say that it cannot be genuine, and if it isn't genuine, then it is diabolical, for the devil is the perversion of the word of God in order to lead people astray. It is the utilization of the word of God so as to have man do or think the opposite to what God expects.  
It is the utilization of the revelation (and the imitation of that revelation) for something quite other than the glory of God (and in writing this I am, of course, supposing that the diabolical exists also in the churches). Before phenomena of this nature, Christians must abandon their timidity and guilt feelings. They must once again be able to say that what is diabolical is diabolical. In so doing, to be sure, they must always be ready to listen as well to the criticism which the devil directs at the church and at Christians, for he is quite clear on that subject. But he is still the devil. This gigantic politico-commerical enterprise of the Jesus phenomenon has nothing to say to us except, in fact, that we have no right to make Jesus Christ the prisoner of the established church, that indeed the truths of the revelation are not hidden to us and can be revealed to the "simple" (but the producers of plays and the publishers of best sellers are not simpletons!), that finally every new presentation of the gospel differing from our tradition we should receive, examine, discern its spirit and, in the face of that, make our criticism and receive its criticism of us. But having done this, faced with the Jesus phenomenon, we can conclude in all serenity: let the dead rejoice with the dead.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Seated with Christ: Eternity, Time, and Identity

John Behr's recent work on Origen has ameliorated the disgraceful effects of foolish criticism. What emerges from the great teacher's work is a man who was deeply committed to the truths of Scripture who had a capacious mind. Origen was breaking new ground in his voluminous writings, though his star shone too bright. He was trying to wade through difficult issues, rebut Pagans, and charitably confront heresies, all the while being hounded for his popularity and intelligence. Some willfully misinterpreted him, so as to accuse him of saying outlandish things. Some could not completely grasp what Origen was doing, and ended up promoting, and defending, a system that became something quite different. There is a gulf between Origen and the Origenists. And we cannot blame Origen for the confusion, he was seeking a way to frame things for his contemporaries, and humbly submitted that his words and ways ought to be replaced if better ones come along. Origen was one of the first great Bible scholars and exegetes, even when he gets it wrong or misunderstands.

Behr wades into the question of whether or not Origen taught the pre-existence of souls, their incarnation into flesh, and the potentially infinite cycle of fall and redemption. Behr explicates that we usually approach Origen from the wrong angle. Origen is an anti-Gnostic, which means he has little interest with beginning with the beginning. He does not start with a myth of protology, but begins with the end. Christ reveals the Word of God in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. At the work of Christ, the man Jesus arrives at the fully glory of the Son of God, revealing that they are one in the same. And that same glory is promised to all Christians, who will be risen into such eternal glory. However, there are also those who live wickedly and die unrepentant, scorning Christ, who are to await the judgement. This is the fixed future which raises questions of what happened before the beginning.

Let me pause here to talk about eternity. For Origen, time and eternity are unrelated, for time is creaturely and created. We can't talk about before the beginning; for God, which boggles the mind, all creation, beginning and end, past and future, happens without time. We can't comprehend that, so Origen understands that all that happens must somehow pre-exist existence if God is said to be the providential sovereign. That is how Origen understands "the lamb slain before the foundation of the World": he's not imagining some heavenly sacrifice occurring before the actual atonement or before creation, but rather reading the event of history back into the core of creation. If Christ was crucified at the behest of the Father's sending Him into the World, then we must understand it as the central axis of creation.

Here, Behr's reading of Origen overlaps well with Richard Bauckham's work. Bauckham has done well to argue that the Christ-event becomes central to the high Christology of the New Testament. It is from the actual, historical, witnessed reality that the Apostles apply such a reality to ever dimension. If the Messiah is actually the Word of God in flesh, identified with the One Creator-Judge God of Israel, then that has ramifications for what has gone before. It is from the actual historical life of Christ that Paul and John are able to speak of the beginning. They are able to talk of the Word who became flesh, or Jesus Christ who took the form of a slave. It is the logical corollary of the Gospel. We should not speak of the "pre-incarnate Word" as if there was some time before time, but we do recognize that there was a time before Jesus was born. However, eternity is not a really long time, or time that is before or outside of time. Such belongs to the Gnostic myths and Arius' notion of diastema, or distance, between the begetting of the Son and the creation of the World. Arius ends up injecting time into the definition of Christ, which makes him into a creature, a glorious one above all angels, but a creation nonetheless.

Instead, we ought to think of revelation more along the lines of Irenaeus. For him, as well as for some others after, he understood that all revelations in the OT as appearances of Christ, for the Son is the one who "exegetes" the Father and reveals. These appearances are not visions of the "pre-incarnate Word", but prolepsis of the incarnate Word. Here's a hobby horse of mine: Jesus Christ is not God, but the Word of God and the Wisdom of God*. If we, following Athanasius, appreciate that the Word of God is consubstantial with God, the Father, then there is no problem of subordination. Instead, we can follow the Biblical grammar and logic more accurately, understanding the derivative, but seamless equality, present in the text.

To place a division or inequity is to basically say that there was a time when God was not wise or God was not strong. According to Athanasius, the Arians were promoting a dumb and idiot God. What blasphemy! This is not just a rhetorical point, but the unfolding of an exegetical conceptual model. If we can't understand the logic of homoousious, then we're bound to make all sorts of major Christological errors, transforming Christ into a mediating "second God" or fragmenting the very Human life of Christ, supposing either God globbed Himself onto it in unique way or assuming that Jesus was not fully Human (e.g. He lacked a Human will, He lacked a Human soul/mind, etc.) The latter error is far superior to the former, for it does not project a fantastical chain of being into Scripture. But the latter error cheapens the great salvation, even if we don't descend into Pagan theology and corrupted worship.

Thus, for Origen, we must see ourselves in the future, which is where we will be as what we see in the glorious work of Christ. And it's from that vantage that everything makes sense. It is such a future that propels us onward in the present. For the Christ who accomplished His work, back then, is recapitulating it in the lives of Christians and their worship. The Lord's Supper has power because it re-presents the accomplished work of Christ, of which we become partakers of through eating and drinking. It is a way of tying a historical act in a distinct moment of time, with our promised future end, into the very present. Thus, Origen's speculations about the beginning function as a supralapsarian predestinarian theology. Who would've thought the Alexandrian theologian of freedom would've out Calvin'd the Calvinists! But it's true depending from where we look. Starting from the beginning should not be considered the logical a priori, but a derivative vantage from the work of Christ. Scripture opens up both the past and future from the person and work of Christ, revealing not only the meaning of Scripture, but also our lives. We can say that there was a moment when we converted and began to follow Christ, but from another vantage we can appreciate that Christ was already doing His work long before we believed.

This all cashes out in interesting and significant ways for Human psychology and how we understand ourselves. In my review of Blade Runner 2049, I argued that the film's post-Christian philosophy gets the importance of the future, but does so in such a way as to denigrate the past. But, learning from Behr's Origen, I think not that it denigrated the past, but did not evaluate the future highly enough. It is not clear enough in the film that K's actions and death actually reveal his humanity, or anything but the plasticity of all life. Such a view of the future is unsure and turbulent; K's life revealed that everything is agonistic chaos, and the individual must bend his life into willing a better image of things. There's no reason to believe, except naive faith (a hallmark of Ridley Scott films), that K really did become Human, that his life actually meant something beyond the pale of the viewing audience.

In professional history, teleology is a grievous error. Herbert Butterfield did a good job destroying what became known as "Whiggish history": the idea that the Human story is the progress of freedom, secularism, limited constitutional government, and free-markets, with a certain ideal of the Anglo-American world read back into history. Instead, we see ambiguity, contest, genuine alternatives, and a world that never looked quite the way people imagined it. History is not about having an end goal in mind, and then going to look for it. However, Butterfield was a devout** Christian, and his attack on teleology in history was, basically, blocking attempts to move the eschaton up. There is only one end that makes sense of all things, and it hasn't happened yet. We get a glimpse of it in the death and resurrection of Christ, and such orders how we appreciate God's providential governance, but in a way that always remains inconclusive. Teleology in history is, in other words, an attempt at sacralizing a certain past, whether its Whig/Liberal, its Marxist, or even a version of Christendom.

All of this means that our ultimate sense of who we are is recognizing that we are, from God's eternal vantage, already seated in Christ, already having our names written in the Book of Life. That is the only way Christian's should understand themselves. It doesn't mean ignoring the past or treating it as meaningless, however it robs it of much of its significance. We have no idea what our past, whatever it is, actually means for us. It will only be the future that gives it significance, and we should always hold it tentatively. It is only in knowing what we will become can we glean any information of what we have been and what we are. One does not need to know he is a sinner before being confronted with Christ, who opens up a new vision. Such a revelation tells us of what we might be with Him, and, subsequently, what we were. Adam's Fall only makes sense in light of the redemption on offer: we see a different possibility for man than the stumble into sin, death, and the devil. In terms of Scripture, we see Adam was a type of the Messiah; in terms of Genesis, we see Adam was a type of Israel that Moses was now instructing and leading. Israel's failure reveals both a future hope and man's abiding corruption.

In contrast, Freud and much of modern psychology represents a return to gnosticism. The gnostics looked for the myth of the beginning, of what we emerged from or where we came from, to create order and meaning in the present. Thus, as Eva Illouz has warned in her genealogical account, Freudian psychology can misdiagnose past wounds as the cause of present problems. This creates the identity of homo vulnus, the wounded-man, ontologizing the sense of being a powerless victim. Now, many do not go as far as Freud in creating the myth of the "primal horde", which committed some original crime, from which society and culture emerged to hide and disguise it. But in contemplating the significance of some formative event in youth, or looking back at the cycles of our family stories, psychoanalysts are being equally mythical. The past obviously has effects on what comes after it, but it's high presumption to think we know what it means or how it actually works. From a position of logical scrutiny, psychoanlysis dabbles in an equally absurd cosmological origin story. Every claim begs the question. The only reason we think something happened is because we feel such-and-such a way now.

Again, it's not that past events, or even genetics, are unimportant, but only relatively important. We have no idea what their significance is. Like Freud, Darwin offered a protological myth of man's origins. The issue was not the science, but what it all meant. Asa Gray, an American Botanist and Reformed Christian, was fine with Darwin's theory of descent with modification. But where they disagreed was on what it meant. Gray saw it as a means of God's providence and creative order; Darwin saw it as life's ultimately chaotic and meaningless flux. Thus, later Darwinists (which I consider distinct from the theory of evolution more generally) offer accounts of life emerging from a primordial ooze struck with lightening or some sort of energy, or man's culture coming from the Pleistocene campfire. These stories are just as mythic as the Demiurge's fall from the Nous, the imprisonment of Sophia, and the disfigurement of the ten aeons. They are myth because they are not grounded in a historically present reality read back, but instead offer an origin to read back into the present. The significance of past things is taken for granted or infused with a sacred aura.

It's only in appreciating the work of Christ, and its promised application to us, that we can begin to make sense of who we are and what the world around us is really like. It informs us of what is truly holy and what is merely common. He is the sure anchor that orders the time between times and the world between worlds.

Addendum: While I talk about time a lot, I don't actually believe that time exists in an ontologically real way. Time is a convention for making sense of the movement of artifacts, which includes both visible and invisible artifacts. Such is defined as any created thing. Artifacts range from rocks and trees to ideas and memories. The appearance and disappearance of these artifacts is the movement of time. Since God is the Creator, He is not an artifact, except in so much as He chooses to be (e.g. the incarnation). Some philosophers, especially Continental ones, wax goofy about time, but if you see it less as a thing, and rather as the movement of things, a lot of the obscurity clears up. I owe Ephraim Radner for this helpful definition.

*Given a comment, here's a clarification: Jesus is the Word of God, which was with God and is God. This is the logic of consubstantial. There's distinction within the eternity of God's life, but that requires us to recognize no difference, space, or distance, for all of those things are created. As St. Basil put it, the Father is most properly God (ho Theos), and the Son derives from Him (Theos), as well as the Spirit. I'm not saying Jesus is not God in the sense of Arius, Eunomius, or modern liberal textual critics. I mean it in the sense of the Apostle St. John, as I began this notation with.

**Butterfield was a lay Methodist preacher, and maintained a commitment throughout his life. Yet, after I wrote this piece, I discovered a biography on Butterfield that has highlighted an affair he had with a woman through the 30s. It was during this period Butterfield stopped lay-preaching, though he maintained his Augustinian pessimism. I don't know if devout is the right terms to use, he was a rather elusive figure and he left little behind in terms of his thoughts on the matter (he burned all of her letters). But whatever may be the case, he remained a Christian and continued in his role at Cambridge. Reader beware.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Techno-Cosmic Mass: The Authority of Scripture and the Road to Paganism

The above is a somewhat dated video giving an introduction to what a Techno-Cosmic Mass is. I had no idea what this was until yesterday, when I was stumbled onto Matthew Fox from a page about Meister Eckhardt. Fox was a Dominican until he was tossed out from among the Romans and found a home in the Episcopal Coven of the USA. He has translated a number of medieval mystics and is, according to the video, a very popular author for "creational spirituality".

The video is worth watching for its peculiarity. It's also amusing for the kinds of people who show up for the cosmic mass. It's a bunch of Baby Boomers trying to be relevant, with the occasional stoner looking to chill. It's self-styled as syncretism, talking about the cosmic "christ", the inner buddha, and the goddess. The focus is on the primitive ritual, with its emphasis on chant, dance, emotional flux, and sensory overload. As Fox explains, the idea is to meet pre-modern ritual and religion with post-modern technology and interest.

But the key point for all of this silliness is the juxtaposition between the cosmic mass with a regular mass. Fox is disgusted with rituals that only operate "from the neck up", with books, words, routine, and the mind alone. For deluded self-styled gurus like Fox, people don't want that boring, stuffy, old-time religion. Rather, they'd rather party and rave on a Sunday because such activities are far more in tune with Human physiology and psychology. I don't know how many people are showing up for this contrived rituals, but he sees himself as a liberator.

It's here, on the juxtaposition, that Fox actually has a point. When it comes to Human needs qua flesh, Paganism is far more interesting, attractive, and powerful. In short, it's more fulfilling. Now, I think Fox is a bit of a quack and will never garner much following except from other delusional Boomers, he is right that there is only a difference of strategy between him and the Tridentine Mass. Despite cranky aesthetes, who will cry foul, I can hardly tell the difference. Fox is right to compare the tech of stained glass to the tech of strobe-lights, it's about creating an experience. If you think that there is some inherent, qualitative, difference between the two, I'd ask for a standard that is not almost instantly self-referential. Appeals to the metaphysics of beauty are a non-starter, I generally have no idea what people are talking about. Feelings of transcendence can come from giant cathedrals, mountain-tops, the horizon on a beach, dance-clubs, or from peyote. Yes, I believe there is such a thing as beauty, but the high-brow attempt to cordon off such-and-such is absolutely foolish.

I plan to write about it more another time, but I'm what you might call a Reformed Pascalian. I believe that whatever beauty is in this world, which is nothing else but the radiance of God, hides in clouds and darkness and only casts shadows. The glory of God is made know, first and foremost, through the crucifixion of the Messiah. That's the lens one must see through in order to appreciate the shock and awe of the resurrection. While there is fleeting beauty, which is here and gone, that is distinct, but not opposed, to the incorruptible beauty which saves. And such beauty is recognized only through the flesh's end. The temporal beauty is a blessing of the created world, something all have access to and see, usually pertaining to the creation's patterns, symmetry, and cyclical order. But the "beauty of holiness", which is only through the Creator's presence, only appears through the Word taking flesh.

Paganism only knows temporal beauty. More precisely, a world of flesh only knows temporal beauty. And being trapped in a world of fleeting finitude, the world of 666, it seeks to sacralize, imbuing what is common with holiness. This is the quest to raise up Babel, in whatever modest or grandiose way is possible. Creational Spirituality is the heart of flesh, something it craves as it seeks to divinize itself. Whether it's the delusions of the never-ending wheel, the circle of life, or even some ultimate abode of dead, for heroes and villains and all in between, it's the same non-sense, the same game. Flesh knows it is weak and dying, so it is put to work so that Man, as a drop of water in an ocean, as an immortal soul, as some ethereal spirit, or whatever form necessary, can survive.

What's opposed to this is not anti-ritualism, which is what I incline, but the very Word of God. The point being is that God has declared a war on sinful flesh, and He alone knows man's end. Thus, it is only befitting that only God can divide, only He can set things apart, declaring what is holy from what is common. Modern day Pagans know nothing of this, declaring that the whole world is sacred. Pagans of the past found such an idea terrifying, as legions of hungry spirits would make unending demands or threaten destruction. Today's Pagans have a happier world of teddy-bear spirits who only weep or scold, but have no power to act.

The difference between the Tridentine mass and the Cosmic mass is only by degree. Christ empowered His Apostles to go and do as He taught them, and such teaching was recorded for our benefit in their letters and testimonies. While Romanists of the past hid behind the hoax of unwritten tradition, such has become mostly discredited. No one serious minded believes that St. Peter had a swarm of cardinals. Rome only hangs together through institutional inertia, being a quasi-political center for many diverse traditions of Paganism with a Christian gloss. I'm sure there are, indeed, Christians among them, but they're ones who don't fully appreciate that the mass is nothing but a joke. But Rome is not the only one at fault. Many Protestants, as well as the Orthodox, have crafted their own rituals which depart from the simplicity of Christ's commands. The Orthodox have some excuse, appealing, at times, to the scenes of Revelation. But I find that hard to substantiate, as it is hardly clear that such is prescribed.

I'm not against aesthetical adornment to the core commands of Christ, but such things can easily overtake the actual content of the Faith. It's one thing to clean-up your home and arrange chairs, or even use a pitch-whistle or guitar to order singing, and its another to build temples, billow smoke, and create a musical canon. The clear commands of Scripture are not burdensome, but worship as Christ prescribed quickly mutates into flesh-pleasing. The difference between a Latin mass, some charismaniac rock-concert, and the cosmic mass are tastes. Here, it's an issue of authority, as a dear comrade likes to put it. If you've given up on Scripture's parameters, and substituted your own, then you have nothing left. You may be seeking Christ, but you're will-worshiping. If your people only want their aesthetic tastes tickled, well, they don't understand the gravity of the situation. Even doctrinal development over the liturgy has severe problems. The obsession on the real presence in the elements, and the desire for the right "prayers" to effect the change, is a sign of biblical illiteracy. The issue in Scripture is not if Christ is in the bread and wine, but whether Christ is in the eating and drinking of the bread and wine. Inattention to Scripture can quickly sire all sorts of unwarranted additions.

My point here is not to condemn, but to shake people out of their slumber. Again, give me an argument for why the cosmic mass is not somehow different from many of the things I've described without lapsing into self-referential arguments or sophisticated appeals to taste. There's nothing wrong with fleeting beauty, and even giving glory to God for it, but it is common. Holy things set the holy ones properly in the world, opening our eyes to the fixture of reality. Such is Christ crucified, made known to us in the words of Scripture through bread and wine, the body broken and blood shed for the everlastingly New Covenant. There's nothing to add or take-away, but receive with thanksgiving.