Thursday, 4 August 2011

Smokin' prayer

thank you, Lord, for Sudoku fuel and for my smokin' wife . .

What's that about?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Seduced by the gods

A discussion thread on the 'Theos' think tank website asks (in the context of the Norwegian atrocity) "Are we responsible for our actions?"

For me the most powerful practical theology is in Walter Wink's trilogy on the 'principalities and powers' (he has sections on the Biblical theology of angels, gods, demons, elemental spirits, 'the satan' &c)- the "invisible forces that determine human existence" which are the 'air which we breathe'. Forces which are part of the Creation and there to bring blessing, but which, if 'worshipped', bring curses instead. The fundamental 'sin' is idolatry : allowing 'that which is less than God' to override the worship of God.

In that sense, the Breiviks and Winehouses of this world are all too human, and only different in terms of the degree and particularity of their 'idolatry'. Wink writes of the gods seducing us, and then leading us off the dance floor into the dark, which sounds like a pretty accurate description of what has happened (particularly in the case of Breivik - I don't think we know the circumstances surrounding Amy Winehouse's death).

Paul of Tarsus (if it is he who wrote Ephesians) warns us that we are contending not against human beings but against these 'spiritual forces in the heavenly realms'; elsewhere he castigates Christians for being seduced by angels when it's their duty to 'preach' to the angels. (Wink argues that these forces are immutable : 'they have to do what they have to do' - it is only humans that have the freedom).

The fight against fanatic xenophobia, then, shouldn't get drawn into hypothetical speculation regarding to what degree Breivik retained any personal freedom of choice (or whether he had effectively surrendered it - been seduced off the dance floor - such that there was no going back). It has to be countered by

a) discerning the components of his spiritual idolatry e.g. the herd or pack instinct, the longing for some sort of 'purity', the sense of nationhood and racial affinity (but a dangerous conflation of the two), the sober celebration of the power of violence or whatever, with

b) a thousand and one mini-strategies that celebrate the blessings that those things can bring (for such blessings do exist) and which warn, challenge and oppose all the many ways in which those instincts start to override the call of God to 'love your neighbour, and even your enemy'.

The spiritual challenge is to avoid what René Girard calls 'mimetic violence' - the challenge (as Wink puts it) of 'not becoming what we hate'.