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Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: demons (page 1 of 1)

Kent Russell:

By accident of birth I am a modern, which means I will never know a charmed world. A world of consecrated hosts and faerie-haunted forests, where the line between individual agency and impersonal force is blurred at best. Gone is the idea of a porous human self, vulnerable to immaterial forces beyond his control. Significance has retreated from the outer world into our respective skulls, where, over time, it has stiffened, bloated, and finally decomposed into nothing, into dust.

This decay of faith — in institutions, in other people — is practically audible to me. I exist within a purely immanent culture in which the value of human life has been reduced to the parameters of the marketplace, where little is sacred and even less is profane. And I cannot take this shit much longer, I said. 

So he started getting to know a man who says he can summon demons. An extraordinary essay. For context, I would — with all due humility — suggest that you read two pieces by me:  

department of corrections

My friend Joe Mangina — who, unlike me, is a real theologian — has written to correct something I wrote in my sketch of a demonology.

I would only question your naming of Sin and Death as being among the Pauline “principalities and powers.” It seems to me that these fall in a fundamentally different category. The principalities are created realities, of God knows what ontological status, but anyway created and, tragically corrupted. But Sin and Death aren’t created. They are names for the corruption — for Evil — itself. This may seem a theologian’s quibble, and I’m happy to acknowledge that from the ordinary mortal’s point of view these are all powers or systems opposed to God that enslave humans. But it does make a difference. The powers can be — at least eschatologically and in principle — redeemed; Sin and Death, not so.

This is precisely right, and not at all a quibble. (And I knew better! Annoyingly sloppy on my part.)

We don’t really understand the “ontological status” of the Powers: I wrote about some of the complications here. Demons, whom I describe as the agents of the Powers, are equally difficult to fix ontologically, as we may note when we hear “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

Moreover, it has not always seemed clear to Christians that angels, demons, and human beings exhaust the categories of sentient creatures. Milton writes darkly of “middle Spirits” whose nature lies “Betwixt the angelical and human kind” (Paradise Lost, Book III). In The Discarded Image C. S. Lewis details the medieval belief in creatures whom he calls longaevi — these are very close to Tolkien’s Elves — whose place in the drama of human salvation is uncertain and debatable. In That Hideous Strength Lewis has one character speculate about the existence of “neutrals” — beings who originally were not concerned with the spiritual warfare that dominates the human world but who are being drawn into that conflict, being compelled to choose a side, as we all ultimately will.

But in the end, this much can be said about all sentient creatures: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). That includes the Powers, the angels, the demons, the rulers of this world (kosmokratoras), and humans made in the image of God.

But it does not include Sin and Death, which shall be eradicated. That’s the key difference: All powers and rulers, whether in the end redeemed or not, will confess the One Lord who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But Sin and Death will be altogether destroyed.

Demons

Ive got a 2c60d24a7e

I got a lot of problems with you people, and you know what the top one is? Many of you are possessed by demons. Or at least oppressed by them. And it needs to stop.

But as always, the first step is acknowledging that you’re afflicted by powerful forces beyond your control. So I try to lay out my demonology in this essay.

You’re welcome.

it’s Palmer Eldritch’s world, we’re just living in it

I’m teaching Philip K Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch right now, and in my introductory comments I mentioned that one of the curious things about this book so full of fear and anxiety is the complete absence of what would have been, at the time of the book’s publication in 1965, the most common source of fear and anxiety: the Cold War, and the possibility that it would erupt into a very hot nuclear one. As Dick imagines the world of 2016, all of that has somehow been resolved or faded into insignificance. What has happened instead is a kind of unspoken and largely unacknowledged collaboration between the United Nations, which seems to be the only government that’s functioning, and what we have recently learned to call surveillance capitalism. It’s the UN that forces people to leave the overcrowded and overheated earth to live at a subsistence level on colonies elsewhere in the solar system, and it’s also the UN that turns a blind eye to the “pushers” who sell to the colonists the drugs they need to make their miserable experience tolerable. Symbiosis.

When people talk about Dick as a prophetic writer, this is the kind of thing they have in mind: an ability to envision from 1965 not a continuation of that time’s politics but instead a tacit union between the interests of government and the interests of the world’s most powerful corporations.

But Dick takes his anticipations to another level, a level that I am especially interested in. It is of course famously difficult to say exactly what happens in this novel, because the essential question that the major characters have is always: What is actually happening? But at least one major potential timeline, perhaps the most likely timeline, tells a story like this: Palmer Eldritch is a titan of capitalism, in many respects the Jeff Bezos of this world, and he travels to Proxima Centauri on a quest that is ambiguous in character but certainly involves financial motives. Eldritch discovers on Proxima Centauri a substance that the sentient beings of that solar system use in their religious rituals — a substance he thinks he can manufacture and sell and thereby win a victory over the currently dominant corporation called PP Layouts. But on his return from the Proxima system he is — well, perhaps the word is possessed by a sentient creature from some other part of the galaxy. And this creature is at least for a time interested in distributing its consciousness, through the mediation of Palmer Eldritch and the substance he has discovered, into the consciousness of human beings.

I said in an earlier post that I am interested in demonology, and that adds to my fascination with this novel. Because Dick is imagining what might happen if an unprecedentedly powerful union of government and surveillance capitalism is taken over by what might fairly be called a demonic power. Now, you might say that what Dick describes is not a demon, but simply a creature dramatically more powerful than we are and capable of imposing its will upon us. I call that a distinction without a difference. This is, it seems to me, a sort of Foucauldian image a few years ahead of Foucault’s key works on power and domination, a picture of a world in which powers that we may be tempted to call supernatural are disseminated through the existing structures of the neoliberal order. And it doesn’t look pretty.

Of course, this is not the only possible explanation of what is happening in the book. It is certainly possible that there is no alien being possessing Palmer Eldritch; rather, Eldritch himself has, through a combination of economic leverage and biotechnology, assumed equivalent powers. That is, it may be possible for surveillance capitalism to generate its own demons. Whether this is a better or worse fate than the one I previously described I leave as an exercise for the reader.

powers and demons

The chief enemies of a culture based on invitation and repair are, in general terms, Powers and Demons. The Powers are, as St. Paul teaches in his letters, the vast and typically impersonal – or, more accurately, transpersonal – forces that direct the general course of this broken world. Demons are the Powers’ malicious agents that manifest themselves in the behavior of human beings. All those people obsessively jacking one another up online, filling their allies with fear and assaulting their enemies? They are driven by Demons. And I’m not sure you would believe quite how literally I mean that.

But the Demons are the agents of the Powers. As I have said in another context, white supremacy is a Power. Surveillance capitalism is a power. Most forms of nationalism, perhaps as opposed to patriotism, are Powers. They are rival sovereignties to God.

I have written a bit about Powers here, and about demons here.

At this stage of my project I am simply laying out what I think will be the major categories for developing a theory of culture, which I will later channel into a theology of culture. But I want to signal even at this point that, at some point along the way, I have to articulate the demonology. Every serious account of culture needs a demonology.

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