Jesus is NOT the “reason for the season”

 

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First, there is Christmas…

Then, there is farce…

The subtle denial of a Holy-day that is held delicately in the balance of adoration and consumption, with the latter giving way to our actions while the former  is trapped in our sensibilities.

Our very way of celebrating it dialectically usurping its truest image.

As we push further into the season of Christmastide, the wave of incarnation supposedly still cresting before us, the season has all but ended.  Christmas trees will come down.  Dickinson’s villages will be put up.

Christmas is over.

There is no tide at the end of our Christmas; it has been lost.  There is no lasting effect of Christmas; its consummation occurred by 9am around countless Christmas trees throughout the world on December 25th.  The season that used to begin on Christmas day and extend into the New Year, has now given way to a fully secularized caricature even by those that say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Jesus is the reason for a season that lasts one day…a day that covers the eyes of the Christ with swaddling cloths.

Systemically, there is absolutely no theological understanding of what is occurring at Christmastide.  There is no wide spread reflection amongst those that believe the Christ events occurs in Bethlehem or Nazareth and what the meaning of that event is within the history of the world and the history of ideas.  There is no feast that occurs at twilight of the incarnation.  The season has no patterning that would make us assume culturally that our celebration has some particular Christian character.  The only character the season enjoys now is one of capitalist flavor and misplaced affections wherein we tell ourselves Christmas is not about “things” only to spend the majority of our time with “things” and thinking of the “things” we’d have liked to receive.

Say what we may, but Jesus is not the reason for the season.  He’s not even considered that by those that seem to say that quaint phrase the loudest…their actions denying their language.

Christmas is the lie we tell about ourselves to hide ourselves from our true selves cause the thought of us actually not caring about the “real reason for the season” is unbearable upon the selves that deceive themselves into thinking they care or that Jesus as the Christ of God matters in any real material way.

Christmas, as is now celebrated, is usurped in its very celebration.  Our very means of remembrance also containing the deconstruction of the event itself; we think we inaugurate a Savior but in fact we inaugurate his absolute meaninglessness.

A Christ that is good for nothing but to be born.  A Christ and his story that does not shape our lives more than the culture below the Christ into which he is received.

But this is problematic, because “Christ” and our embodiments of “Christmas” are oxymorons.

The very offensive and effacing concept of Christ does not fit alongside the marketplace of ideas in Christianity.  It doesn’t fit with how we talk, think and act upon Christmas.  Even simple things, such as a Christmas eve service, or a Christmas day service, has been deemed as bothersome because it interferes with the real meaning of the season: family and gift giving.  People who are devout in their faith, those that scream conservatism the loudest and proclaim a culture war has been initiated upon Christmas are at the front of the line in relegating Christmas to a secular holiday void of any meaningful theological content, and certainly void of any religious formation other than grandpas prayer over the turkey at dinner.

Christians have lined up in hordes to embrace an empty Christology that is void of any real spiritual formation and caste in the appearance of the secular dismissal of anything more than a current rush to a particular morning that holds no more content than the anemic form of its arrival.

Christmas has become nothing more than farce…but it can be nothing but farce as the paranormal Christ stands beside it.  There is simply no more stark a comparison nor is there a more deep distinction than the theological content of advent, Immanuel, Christ-event, incarnation and the cultural and ecclesial embodiment Christmas suffers at the hands of those that “love Jesus” and those that could really care less.

The object of desire, the Christ, has been lost in a plenitude of objects that fill nothing but create a greater sense of void in society.  What Lacan calls Object a’s…substitutions for the real object of our desire that lead nowhere but to the end of unwrapping presents as children collectively sigh, “is that all?”

We say we desire the Christ, the event, yet our actions say we really desire the object below the Christ that is really the object of nothing.  It is nothing but brown monochromatic semblances coated with shiny illusions.  The trick is we have lied to ourselves about our intent and our desire when our intent and our desire are clearly seen via its own incarnation in the world.

Christ is not an alter event.  Christmas changes nothing.  There is no theological, ecclesiological, or cultural power to be had here…all of these mean nothing to the masses.  Christ has simply become the conduit through which we satiate our desires and participate in the quest for more…and it’s so perfect because we are able to do it all in the name of God.

How fortunate and perfectly ideal that God wants for us what we want for ourselves.

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We like the object of our power to continue to lure us into the imaginary lands of plenty and more and we like for the real Jesus to stay buried so we can turn him into our version of buddy Christ that approves of our blatant sacrilege.  We justify our excess in the face of a Christ that always excessively gave himself while incessantly refusing the excess of power and things.

Even at Christmas time, or moreover especially at Christmas time, we say that we want our kids to “have a good Christmas” and have “good memories,” but what does that mean besides give them a grand display of everything capitalism has to offer?  What makes a Christmas good?  And why must it be made to be so, when the very incredible event of incarnation and its theological content should be enough to keep us preoccupied as we hold hands with loved ones and actually spend time seeing the feast of the incarnation occur in one another?

I wonder what kind of Christians we are making by celebrating Christmastide as we do and not re-narrating the season to be more than the pinnacle of gifts that explode from under a tree.

If such is not the case, when was the last time Christmas was a spiritual experience for you?

When was the last time your faith was actually made stronger because of this special “season”?

Most Americans can’t name one…must be a first world problem.

But this farcical way of celebrating Christmas, or the Mass of Christ, is to be expected in a late capitalist and decaffeinated Christian society.

We do not value mystery.  We do not value a story that is more than characters and details…and we don’t not think deeply about our faith.

The Bible doesn’t require deep thinking because it is plainly obvious what it means…all the while we bore one another with a dead nativity that does nothing more but provide a photo op for our children’s programs.

Scripture is dead.  The nativity just a detail.  The characters just furniture to fill the room of the story.

Scripture only serves the purpose we have for it and the familiar stories of a tired family, a baby born in the still of the night and strange characters gathering around this child are just the details of how; they are not characters that subtly seek to subvert our sense of self and critique our presumed piety…and certainly there is no sense of a proleptic theological point being made by Matthew in this Gospel…because this would of course go against a plain reading of the Bible. (tongue in cheek)

The baby Christ has become “normal”; the nativity has become nothing more than something to defend in the public square…both have become so decaffeinated that there is effectually nothing that happens when we encounter them or think of them.  Rather than being an audacious story that seeks to challenge our worldviews, we have traded in the para-normality of the event and its characters for something we can digest and feel good about a faith that we have given to ourselves since such self given faith never challenges anybody to be different or to seek forgiveness.

And we know this, but to make our idea of Christmas palatable, and our ideas of the details of these infancy accounts infallible, we simply lie aloud about our true intentions so we can justify the appearance of our actions.

But amdist all the deception, misplaced piety and Christians saying Jesus is “the reason for the season” when there is really no season at all and Jesus better not be the reason we indulge ourselves in fantasy…one thing remains: Christmastide.  And it refuses to be decaffeinated…even if our collective Christian experience insists on a faith that changes nothing, not even “believers.”

There are plenty of reasons for the season, but even Jesus knows he’s not one of them, especially a season that is already over.  Perhaps it is a good thing the season is fleeting…we’d hate to desecrate the Christ any further by making Christ a neo-liberal that would clearly celebrate his nativity like we do.

 

Thinking Tombstones & the Grave

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Graveyards, Tombstones…the speck of infinity wherein time has stopped.

Here one is able to notice an era of foregone lives and remembrance that is now only marked by stones that are too large to move and to irrelevant to demand attention.  Some stones have been pushed over, some broken in half; others have crumbled from the weight of patience and are slowly deteriorating one speck of dust at a time.

To use a reference from Catcher and the Rye, many even have red crayons on them…tribute of the one who chose to vandalize rather than respect the place where history was completed.

Whatever the cause, plight or age, these weathered stones and sunken grounds populate the landscapes of historic cemeteries and ancient church yards. They reside on hillsides long forgotten or beside sanctuary’s that no longer include them in worship.

There are very few well worn walkways.  Few hillsides with the ghost of Christmas present perceptibly known.  Gothic rod iron fences that envelope family plots now with missing gates…visible signs that not only can no one be kept out, but no one wants in.  The only sign of history is this stone; an anchor in time that refuses to let the yore swallow us whole without some scar on the earth.

Some stones are traditional, rectangular monuments that set upon the ground over top the breath now stolen from distant lungs.  They have rounded tops that slant down like a bell curve with a simple name, dates and perhaps a mention of their prodigy.  Usually one finds a monument with two names, one for each spouse, lives bound by time and not prevented to rest beside one another for eternity…the only thing connecting them…the shingling of their dates.

Other stones are more alluring and rousing, stones that are large obelisks that protrude from out of the ground.  These stones have triangular tops that point to the heavens, as if to direct the souls beneath them the direction of their flight.  They are perfectly square all around with large bases that are able to withstand the very best of Mother Nature, though upon seeing some of them worn it is clear who will eventually win this contest.

Others tombstones, from an age in which honor was bestowed upon the dead recognizing that they are the ones that shaped our present, are tall rounded projectiles wherein cloaks and tassels are carved out of the stone and draped over the marker.  It a sense of humanity wrapped in granite, importance signified by the perpetual wave of nothingness that is their life in the present memory of those who stand before them.

There is a distinctly eerie feeling associated with these stones, these inelastic monoliths that take on a lifelike portraiture of cloaking the one who no longer needs this cloak or these tassels…or the warmth of these cool reminders in time.

Who cares so much about their dead that they give such minute attention to the very stone that will serve no purpose but to rebuke time and demand this life be remembered?

And still others, have pictures of the deceased, old photographs that capture our senses and haunt our memory as we peer into a glimpse of one that is no longer with us; the Aryan blue eyes and blonde hair of an extinguished light that now imperceptibly stares at us through the stone.

We are our images…the stones simply remind us that beneath them is a picture we will never see…and it lies beneath the dates that are now etched into dense constitution of a stone that will one day be a testament to our world once our world and its people are gone.

On one I read, “Baby,” with statue of a stone lamb lying atop the memorial.  A reminder of a life dreams never had and families whose dreams have ended.

On another I read, “Rector,” and I think about the sermons this man preached, the souls with whom he prayed.  Now, he lies lonely…several yards away from the closest tomb and far from the prayers he most likely deserves on All Souls Day.

Surprisingly, I notice another, “Blessed are they that die young…” and at once I am saddened by this child erased from the timeline of history, but relieved of the hurt and pain of living in the world.

And then there are the stones, the markers, usually groups of them together in the oldest part of the cemetery that are nothing more than obscene fragments jutting from the ground.  They are raw deposits of raw jagged rock, raw markers of raw lives, whose very marking in raw and unsanctified stone is representative of lives buried beneath.  They remember those that lived for those that were actually living.  Their tombs are sealed by the rock that says nothing and looks as if it was torn from the side of the cliff and then driven into the ground.

I’ve walked up along these stones, ran my hand over their rough surface and asked the old man beside me, “who are these people?” and “When were they buried?”  On occasion its neighboring stone has become so dilapidated and ruined…that I’ve picked up the pieces still intact and placed those back where they belong.  There are many cemeteries filled with nothing but stones like this…testimonies of people who have been forgotten.

resaca

In Resaca, I walked in the penumbra of that Civil War battle where many are laid to rest.  I walked hallowed ground as I stare at names of soldiers now sunken in the earth.  I read the story of women who donated the land, buried the dead, and prayed for their families…I feel the heavy hearts that picked up shovels, opened the earth, and poured the bodies of dead young men into the ground as if watering the soil.

Bright eyed optimism met fear and reserve on ground not far from here…racing pulses and sweaty brows climbed the hills that rise above this cemetery…an indentation of the world where the deposit of aspirations now lie in respite.

The common denominator of these stones, their dwellings, is the telling of the stories that lay beneath them, over this ground, as this part of history closed its chapter and all its hopes, dreams, failure and accomplishments are buried beneath the unforgiving weight of the earth.

We stand before these deposits of human being and we peer through the mist that must have clouded the eyes of loved ones, of strangers saying “farewell.”

These monuments are touching, emblematic of a connection in time to one that shaped the world in which we live, the very landscape that now holds them taking shape by feet they placed upon it.  A lived experience that communities shared of dying young, growing old, and finding purpose…all as we live toward the direction of an earthen house that will mute our voices unless we are able to let a few of our dreams percolate to the surface.

These stones, these grounds, are testimonies of stories that stopped being told.

They are screaming reminders to not forget…to rehearse and retell of these people.  The great irony is that these people are not much unlike us.  We just find ourselves on a different part of the arch of history…and one day, our stones will scream too.

Let’s tell our stories so our stones aren’t left with such a heavy burden all alone.

 

 

 

Ghosts in the New Testament? Looking for Phantoms in the Gospel of Mark

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INTRO

With a name like ParanormalChrist, perhaps some biblical discussion on the Paranormal is in order, if nothing but to quell and satiate our fetish for paranormal activity.

As has been argued in other posts, Christianity is a paranormal faith. It’s a faith that not only embodies paranormal elements in the general sense of that word, but also narrates a salvific reality alongside the normal that is seeking to redefine and re-narrate creation into something other. Christianity is not a history of stories about historical events that were “normal” for biblical times and are not “normal” now; Christianity is a counter-witness to the norm of supposed creation and is the arrival of a rethinking of the normal “alongside/Para” the normal.

Christianity emanates the paranormal: God incarnate in a human being, paranormal activity in the heavens at his birth, paranormal healings and miracles, the paranormal taming of natural elements…and my favorite paranormal constitution-The Resurrection of Jesus from the very dead! And let’s not forget the opening of Tombs in Matthew coalescing around that said apocalyptic manifestation of the paranormal arrival of the end of time at the very dissolution of the grave of Jesus. So, if you are looking for paranormal, just open the New Testament and read. See my previous post, “I see Dead People: Zombie Apocalypse or Resurrection of Jesus” for a fuller explication.

A HISTORY OF PHANTOM IN THE GREEK LANGUAGE

I will keep this discussion on the actual New Testament word that is used for “ghost” or “apparition,” focus on its meaning, its etymology, the texts in which it occurs, and perhaps give a few deductions from its contextual usage.

The specific language of “phantom” is part of an extensive etymological family that starts with the Greek word fain0, meaning in the transitive sense “to manifest or show” and in the intransitive sense “to shine or gleam”…the point being an emanation of sorts. Interestingly, in the NT the word faino only occurs in the intransitive sense of “to shine” and such can be found in multiple places such as John’s Gospel, Revelation and parts of the Pauline corpus.

The NT makes extensive use of the derivatives of faino via the terms faneros/fanerow. Similarly these derivatives mean “to make visible to perception,” “ to show” in the sense of both disclosing to the mind and the eyes. The reference is not just to a simple “revealing” but to a revealing that also involves some sort of understanding. A disclosure of the gospel and its meaning is usually the direct object of this language.

Like many of our English words, our word “phantom” comes directly from its Greek descendent “phantasmos…fantasma.” This is the nominal form of the verb fantazo and it means “to bring to manifestation” and it is often used in the Greek to denote an appearance. We have evidence of this sort of usage not only from the New Testament, but specifically from classical Greek authors such as Herodotus and Apollonius.

The word, however, is not limited to the manifestation of what appears to be a unique kind of physicality. In the Old Testament Apocryphal books, such as Wisdom and Sirach, we see a spiritualizing of the term, so that in Wisdom it refers to the appearance of Wisdom to those that are following the path of righteousness…while in Sirach (and perhaps to the dismay of some reading this blog) this very language means to “invent, imagine” and is almost synonymous with the verb “fantasiokopew,” which means to “see phantoms.” The implication being that this language of phantom has been consistent in ancient times, as today, with those that fabricate reality; that see things that aren’t really there.

fantasma (our English phantom) is a member of these family of meanings. One might ask how this might be so? How can these words that mean some sort of appearance and revealing have anything to do with what we today think of as modern day apparitions, or for that matter, ancient apparitions?

First, as a derivative, their connection seems pretty clear that even if one is talking about making something appear, whether it be related to the paranormal or not, the idea of appearing is still there. This is also usually followed by some form of light or shining.

But a second level is equally important.

If this language is used as a means of disclosing a truth, or bringing something to light, the places where this language occurs in the Gospel can take on a double meaning. It can mean to denote the typical vernacular of “ghost” but also can mean an appearing in the form of revelation that leads to understanding, particularly because this language is only used to describe a scene in which Jesus coming to his disciples.

Let’s look at that passage(s).

MARK 6.49 & MATTHEW 14.26

The ONLY place in primitive Christian literature where the word “phantom/fantasma” occurs is in The Gospel of Mark 6.49 and its parallel passage The Gospel of Matthew 14.26.

These verses read, “Beholding him [Jesus] walking upon the sea they thought he was a phantom and they screamed” [my translation].

Our Bibles like to domesticate this scene and many translations just have at the end “they cried out” but if what they are witnessing is a perceived ancient paranormal encounter with sea ghosts as were believed to exist, screaming would be the order of the day…not a wimpy crying out for help.

Matthew reads the same way, without any deviation in form, so the parts of speech operative here are also identical. We should not interpret this as two different occurrences, but the remainder of a singular tradition that found its way into Mark and then incorporated by Matthew. There is nothing in the Greek to convince us otherwise.

The idea being expressed here is that the disciples are in a boat on the sea. Their lives are already riding upon the hands of chaos and they are at the whim of nature and the forces of darkness that lurk beneath and above them. They find themselves caught in a storm, and if we read this text rightly from its etymological level, perhaps a light of some kind is shining in the darkness of the scene. The disciples are not sure what it is but they know it’s not normal for things to be coming toward them across the water. The implication is that a ghost, a phantom, a sea ghost, is coming to them to finish what the storm has begun to do. This is a scene of panic and it touches the very core of ancient sensibilities regarding evil and the forces of nature. Their reaction is one of fear for their lives…they are tossed about on the sea and now they are about to encounter something they have only heard in the stories of others.

Into this scene, Jesus is the one that is really “revealed” in the light of this perceived phantom. Only he’s not revealed, or appeared, or shown to be a phantom, he is shown to be one that is so much more…one that is so much more paranormal I might add. Christ is the one that comes into this unstable situation filled with fear, anxiety and screaming disciples and does what no one else can do. He calms their surroundings, he tames nature, he does what sea ghosts can’t even do and he calms the disciples.

But the disciples’ exaggeration and mistaking Jesus for a ghost should not surprise us. This reaction simply follows the Markan motif of disciples that fail to understand what is really happening. This narrative, while it is unique in the language that it uses, is incorporated into the Gospel as an appropriate narrative archetype we see over and over in Mark…and the whole point is for the audience to see more clearly what the disciples were barely seeing at all. Thus, in this story of Jesus walking on water and disciples thinking him to a be a ghost, the gospel writer is using this ancient Greek language of fainw/fantasma to really shine and illumine the person of Jesus into a situation in which his arrival is continually misunderstood.

Other than these passages in Mark and Matthew, which are most likely originally Markan following the Synoptic theory of Markan dependence, Jesus is nowhere referred to as a ghost or a phantom in the New Testament, including the post-resurrection accounts. The New Testament is very careful to not use this language of the risen Christ and we should also be very wary of a similar designation even if this is the only way we know to make sense of the constitution of the body of a risen Jesus. The narratives of his post-resurrection appearances don’t even insinuate that the disciples saw him and thought him to be a ghost…even in the John 20 narrative when Jesus appears in the room with closed doors the text says that the disciples were “surprised,” not “surprised” that Jesus had taken on the form of a phantom or ghost. They were surprised that Jesus, whom they recognized and did not confuse as a ghost, was suddenly in their midst after once hanging on a cross.

WAS JESUS A GHOST? HOW TO NOT THINK DEATH

The language that the NT uses for the post-resurrection body of Jesus is just that: Jesus. There is not a lot of qualification as to the substance of his body or its components. It really seems to be a non-issue because of the firmly held belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There was no need to describe him as other than himself, as other than Jesus. So no attempt is made to call him a spirit, a ghost, or an “angel” or messenger from the grave.

Likewise, we should not take this occurrence of this language in Matthew and Mark as occasion to interpret this along with Pauline concepts of spirit/pneuma

Unlike the popular theorizing of death today that confuses the words spirit/ghost/phantom/apparition, etc., the NT never confuses these terms. The Spirit that is talked about in Paul is not anywhere near the ancient meanings of phantom we see in the Gospels or other classical Greek literature. Spirit refers commonly to the spirit of God, or God’s presence. It also refers to the enlivening portion of a person…their inner workings, but it never refers to an alternative form of existence that floats around disembodied. That idea comes from the Greek notion of soul/psueche and even here we do not see the NT going out of its way to contrive a weird theology of after- life existence combining ideas of phantom, spirit and soul as we are so apt to do in our modern period.

When the NT wants to speak of life after death it always does so in the context of anastasis/resurrection. If we want to understand what it means to live after we breathe our last we need to start with this concept and begin to purge ourselves of heterogeneous mixture of all these ideas that link things like phantom and spirit. The NT doesn’t do this…so if we claim to be biblical, or even logical, this is a first step in the right direction.

LESSONS LEARNED AND CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS

Finally, some have asked me if we can deduce from the usage of phantom language in this Markan account that phantoms/ghosts exist.

First, what we can say for certain is that in this passage of Mark the author is clearing playing with this language and the disciples are once again going to be stooges in the narrative. The author IS using language that would have had play in his context. It was intelligible and would have been widely understood. The sea was the abode of all sorts of mystery and it was not uncommon to hear of stories of ghosts on the waters. Before we can make a deduction about whether this proves ghosts to exist, let’s first understand why this passage occurs and its role in Mark.

Second, up until fairly recent history…and even into the present for many, it was a no-brainer that ghost and apparitions existed. That this language occurs in the NT is most likely not proof that these things are real, as much as it is proof that in this culture they were thought to be real. To reinforce this, one should only note that the NT does not make a big deal of ghosts or phantoms. There is not specific statement or series of stories regarding them…so if you are looking for a biblical reason to believe in ghosts, this one narrative is gonna leave you searching for more, even though culturally we can say that such ideas were common currency.

Lastly, dead persons are never called phantoms. When the Bible speaks of those dead in the faith, they are never referred to as angels, demons, apparitions, ghosts, phantoms or spirits. The popular conceptions we have of all these phenomena are all generated from hope and experience, but they are not generated from the NT.

The most salient NT passages that speak of the dead are in Paul. His passage in Corinthians states that “those absent in the Body will be present in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5.6-8)…or again he states in 1 Thessalonians “those who are alive and remain will not prevent those that are asleep from seeing the coming of the Lord…the dead shall rise first.” In both these passages our state of existence is ambiguous. We can either admit this, or we can continue to make sense out of it by pressing these verses into OUR PRECONCIEVED ideas not grounded in the text.

Biblically, all we can say is that when we die God is responsible for our bodies thereafter…and a biblical theology of death has no place for an idea of people that turn into all sorts of metaphysical existences.

What one must conclude after evaluating this language of phantom/fantasma in the NT is that if we remove it from its literary context we are prone to all sorts of misrepresentations and conclusions, but at place in Mark…that the disciples would think Jesus a ghost, or an invention of their mind, is not all that surprising. After all, this is the Gospel where Jesus asks us, “Do you still not understand?” ( Mark 8.21)

Easter Hope is Paranormal Hope that our Bodies Matter

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ParanormalChrist’s genesis is the very ambiguous event that we call the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is this singular event that has shaped the contours of faith, belief, hope and dared to challenge the norms of creation by declaring that the impossible has happened and it has happened definitively in Jesus.  And this impossible event, this aporia, this enigma, this non-analogous happening is the very event that generates hope in people of faith.  Yet, this event has been too domesticated and beaten down to mean much of anything anymore. It is a routine point of dogma, something people believe in without any substance to that belief.  It has become nothing more than the evidence to support our faith that Jesus is God’s Christ, while the concept itself has shifted to the wayside and been relieved of its heavy theological weight.  Yet, we should not let Resurrection off the hook so Gnostically…I mean easily.

During this Eastertide, however, we should note that resurrection in the New Testament and in early Christian faith is not simply a “proof” of Jesus’ identity.  It’s not simply the means whereby death is defeated, and therefore, our souls may one day take flight to Christ.  The Resurrection of Jesus is not something that confirms our Trinitarian belief, somehow affirming the metaphysical connections between Father and Son as eternally related beings.  In other words, there is so much more to the paranormal theology of Christianity and resurrection than is common amongst popular preaching and it all begins in this part of the Christian year in which we now find ourselves: Eastertide.

The notation of this season as Eastertide is fitting.  Eastertide, or the period that exists between the Resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost, is appropriately called such because it carries with it the connotation that what has happened ambiguously in the tomb (and it must be ambiguous since no one was inside the tomb to witness the mechanizations of resurrection or how it happens) has created a tide of new creation that sweeps across the hills of the world with the tomb of Christ as its epicenter.  As the Christ event emerges from the tomb, creation is peeled back.  Its earth is moved.  In a moment similar to the movie Inception, when the city is folded in over itself and a new reality is created amongst images that intercept our conceptions of what can be, and what is normal, the resurrection of Jesus inverts the walls of the tomb and creates a space that has never been seen by anyone but those who dare to rush into the tomb and participate in the Inception of the Christ.  The Christ delves into the consciousness of creation, into its deepest darkest spaces.  He takes up habitation in the recesses of the being of creation, the mind of the earth, and emerges to start a new tidal wave of paranormality that sweeps across the landscape leaving nothing untouched as it moves across the lie that is our perception of reality.

This Eastertide cannot be stopped.

It cannot be repelled or stuffed back into the recesses of the tomb; it is a theological tsunami that covers creation…the after affects of which forces everyone to participate in this new creation.  Even those that deny the Eastertide has arrived are still helpless amongst the waves of resurrection that surround their being and often extend newness to them in ways they could never acknowledge.  Eastertides efficaciousness is not predicated on our reception of it.  The Christ has emerged, the new creation has been pushed up from out of the ground in tectonic fashion, and all of creation benefits from this sovereign Eastertide that wraps us into its swells.  Eastertide is not a choice we make; it is the new creation begun in the paranormal event of Resurrection that is the new condition of the world.  Eastertide is grace, not a choice…the grace of a new impossible existence that is now a permanent part of creation…compliments the Inception of Christ.

Thus, Eastertide is the remainder of the Resurrection of Christ, the indelible imprint on creation of an ambiguous event that begun and continues via the imprint of the body of Christ that was rustled from its lifeless state against the cold stones of the familiarity of our lives and our boring dogmatized world.

But we fail to see this over-arching quality of resurrection because we have drained it of its significance and its theological depth.  We have turned it into a “historical” event but have given up on its “historic” meaning.  Preachers climb into their pulpits across this nation and testify that the Resurrection is the most “historical” event in history…having more “proof” than any other event in history, etc., etc.

These proclamations miss the point.

When resurrection is reduced to such, rather than seen in its grand theological and cosmological perspective…it is worthless.  It is just a thing in the past that verifies our present faith…not something that conditions are present faith and uniquely qualifies Christian hope as it did for so many Christians who first believed in its reality.  When resurrection is just FAMILIAR dogma it becomes empty because it is just an event that makes my present faith possible, it affirms what I think, feel and believe…it is not something that ambiguously sets the parameters of faith as such.  Even worse, we lose the very thing that makes the flavor of our faith Christian.  And there is nothing more uniquely Christian than Resurrection.

Resurrection is the intrusion of the paranormal into creation creating a New Jerusalem whereby hope is redefined and Christian eschatology more uniquely defined.

Resurrection is a game changer.  It is THE event that shapes Christian thought and praxis, and not because it confirms the identity of Jesus or confirms the ability of your soul to go live with Christ.  It is a game changer because it is God’s statement that our bodies matter because the Body of Jesus mattered!  That God was so passionate about creation and our bodies that God raised up the Christ in bodily form (not to mention the idea of incarnation is also a very body heavy concept) is the declaration that God is just as much interested in our material world and our material redemption as God is our spiritual redemption.  Eastertide is the renewal of material creation…not a flow of water beneath the surface that makes unseen spiritual changes!   And if we take the idea of resurrection seriously, it may even be the case that God is more interested in the material than the spiritual…as even the Christ makes subsequent appearances post-Resurrection in material form.  That God raises Christ means that whatever it means to have life in Christ and hope in the God…is to mean that in some way our physicality is redeemed and not hostage to the typical cycles of death.  God could have given Christ a soulish resurrection, but such would not have created the alterity necessary to change the structure of creation to such a degree that redemption could be redefined and the ultimate telos of creation redirected!

You will hear some commentators call the risen Christ’s body a “spiritual” body or a body that was “special” but this is NOWHERE IN THE TEXT!  Even one of my favorite theologians Paul Tillich makes this mistake on philosophical grounds.  We may not like the idea of a physical resurrection or think it is a rudimentary belief of ancient peoples, but that does not change the hard core positioning of this belief in the early Christian community and the power it wielded in shaping eschatology.

The very clear connotation of the Gospels is not that Jesus was a new spiritual substance, but that Jesus’ physical body was resurrected and seen and touched by people who knew what his physical body looked like!  To interpret these post-Resurrection scenes as mystical Christs’…or Casper Jesus such as we see in John 20…is absurd and not part of the plain meaning of the text.  It is our way to reduce the reality of the resurrection…to not face the fact that the Resurrection is paranormal.  It cannot be assimilated into our ideas of what is acceptable.  If God was interested in being normal and doing things the normal way…he would not have chosen to raise dead people nor produced a bunch of idiot believers that would believe in this absurdity.  This is not normal; this is paranormal.

The story of Easter is paranormal.  It cannot be domesticated.  It cannot be reduced to spiritual meanings because it is a very physical intrusion.  It is paranormal hope in the Rising Dead!

But what is this paranormal hope?  What hope does Eastertide bring that begins in the tomb and puts an exclamation point on the importance of our physical bodies to God in Christ? (this should not be new either folks, in Genesis Jacob’s body matters as the people of God take what’s left of his body to Canaan from out of Egypt where he died.  See Genesis 50…and also Ezekiel seems to think our bodies matter.  See chapter 37)  God has been interested in resurrecting and preserving bodies as a part of new creation throughout the entire story of scripture…and the hope of Resurrection that is found in the Resurrection of Jesus is our Resurrection.  That’s it.  That’s the revolutionary hope.  Don’t seem so disappointed…let me explain.

Our hope is NOT eternal life.  Our hope is NOT an afterlife.  Our hope is NOT that our SOUL goes to heaven when we die.  This is NOT our hope…and I would argue that this is not even scriptural.  This is pagan; this is Gnostic; this is Greek; this is NOT a Christian perspective and it is not grounded on solid NT Theology or biblical studies.  Our HOPE IS, however, Resurrection.

The early followers of Jesus did not follow Jesus because he was the first guy to come along preaching an afterlife in God.  Afterlife was not a new concept and Christians did not own the block on this idea.  It is at least as old as Egyptian civilization and we have evidence it is probably older than that.  Jesus did not just come along and give his version of how to live life because his version of after life was better.

The thing that is unique about Christ is that at the END OF HIS LIFE, his life was taken back up by God in the form of Resurrection.  Resurrection is the NEW IDEA.  It is the hope that has captivated the people of God from the time of the Maccabees to the time of Christ.  Part of God renewing creation is the literal renewing of creation!  Go figure!  And part of that renewal is as the Apostle Paul stated…Christ is the FIRST FRUITS of the new creation, the new harvest…of the resurrection of the dead.  And because Christ is the first-fruits, we can anticipate their being a second fruits harvest.  That harvest IS the HOPE of all Christians.

Early followers of Jesus did not follow him because they thought they would live forever with God.  Plenty of philosophies and religions already taught that stuff.  What gave the Christ event its unique quality and impetus was that the follower of Jesus had hope that they too would be part of the new creation that was started in God raising Christ and would continue in their own resurrection…their own BODILY resurrection.   Why else would Paul be so adamant about the supreme importance of Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15?!?  He writes (NASB version)

“Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, NOT EVEN CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED!, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is also in VAIN.  Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ is raised and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  THEN THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP IN CHRIST HAVE PERISHED!…but now Christ has been raised from the dead, the FIRST FRUITS of those are asleep

Paul is directly relating the resurrection of Jesus to a resurrection of the dead and arguing that they are co-dependent!  One implies the other.  The Christian hope is not that we live with God after we die in the form of some weird thing we call a soul that is non-identifiable or non-localizable.  If we are counting on our souls to be with Christ we are of most folks to be pitied because our hope is not in the perpetual life of our soul.  Nice try Plotinus, but I don’t think so.  This is Greek pagan Gnostic religions and this is NOT Christian and I loathe that is has become a part of Christian belief in the present…and not only that but to the detriment of a robust Easter resurrection faith.

Our hope is, rather, that if we have life after death after death (and I mean the double negation there)…it is because God CHOOSES to raise us up as God also raised up the Christ!  Our lives and our existence in God after this life is not the result of a paranormal nature we all possess that ensure we exist either here or there after we take our last breath.  Rather, as Christians, our only HOPE and the very unique hope that made Christianity a different kind of faith was that people had the audacity to believe that God raised up the physical Body of Jesus as a sign of his victory over creation and set the parameters of Gods restorative goals…and so too God will raise up those who trust in Christ even though we perish within the confines of History.

This is the scandal of Christianity folks…that people actually believe they will be bodily raised as a part of God’s redemptive plan for the world.   If we are to live after we breathe our last…Easter faith teaches us, the Gospels teach us…that it will be because God resurrects our physical bodies and NOT because our soul goes to live with God.  Easter does not simply confirm the identity of Jesus as God’s great Houdini moment; it is the content of what matters to God and a foreshadowing of the direction of the world.

This sort of faith is not normal…it is paranormal…it is the belief that our dead corpses will be restored by God (a very grisly scene of faith if there ever was one) and it is only in the audacious confines of Easter faith that we can believe such nonsense.

The Perverse Core of Atonement: Sacrifice or Relationship?

Redeemed Jesus Passover Lamb

For me, all doctrines and dogma are “fair game” and worth critical examinination.  A faith that is not able to withstand questions is an antique to be admired, not a faith that dares to walk and encounter the world with us.  The atonement, by virtue of its function in faith and theology, cannot be an antique!  It must be an idea that we carry with us…even when we are not sure what we are carrying or how it “works.”  So I wish to continue thinking atonement under a different rubric than my last post: the rubrics of sacrifice or relationship.

The old line on atonement theory/theology is that Jesus had to die to “atone” for our sins…and because of this act God is now able to be in relationship with the world, his anger being subdued by Jesus’ blood.   If you’ll revisit my previous post, I outline this in greater detail.

Most Christians would gladly agree with this simple statement of faith and the Catholic Church re-acts this very idea each time it performs mass and sanctifies the host.  But can relationship and sacrifice both be equal ends leading to the same goal of salvation or do they occupy different ends and different goals?  Is God primarily interested in being appeased or being in relationship?  Can both sacrifice and relationship be the goal of God killing Jesus  (this last phrase will make more sense a bit further down)  or does a blind embrace of a satisfaction theory of the atonement (and also its penal substitution relative) possibly contradict the at-one-ment that Christians testify in the very act of affirming Christ and him crucified?  Can God be both firstly loving yet also firstly burning in anger and does the vision of God cast by the life of Jesus lead us to believe that Jesus would have believed human sacrifice to be God’s answer for saving the world?

If we contend that God had to kill Jesus in order to save the world, then we are saying that relationship with the world is an accident of the substance of Jesus’ death.  In other words, Relationship was not God’s primary goal; It is the byproduct of this horrible event of propitiation. First and foremost, God’s honor had to saved and the only way to do this was to make someone else pay the price.  We are brought into relationship with God not because God first desires relationality with the world, but because God was first so offended that he had to kill Jesus to pacify his blood lust…and only consequently, as a result of this action, we are then brought into relationship with God…back into that edenic state into which we were first created.  So of primary importance is not that God desires to be in relationship with the world.  The primary object of importance is that God cannot be offended, and that such offense can only be pacified by blood.  If this is not the case, then please explain to me why animal sacrifice (and even human) was so central, not only in Judeo-Christian traditions, but in a myriad of other faiths.

Timothy Gorringe in his book, God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, violence and the rhetoric of salvation, talks about how blood propitiation emerged in Israel, and then by extension, would also be a useful paradigm through which the early Christians interpreted the violence done to Jesus.  He writes,

Propitiatory sacrifices sought to turn away God’s anger.  In seeking to understand the bulk of the texts which deal with this form of sacrifice we need to bear in mind that the emphasis on the rites of atonement characteristic of the Pentateuch derives from the period after Exile, which was the most traumatic event in Israel’s history.  God had made a covenant with the House of David, and was understood to have made an eternal commitment to Zion.  Now Jersualem was destroyed and the Davidic Kingship at an end.  What had gone wrong?  The answer was that Israel had sinned and was being punished for its sin.  In order to avoid another such catastrophe sin had to be avoided, but if it could not be avoided…, then the Priestly writers believed, sacrifice was available as a means of atonement” (p37)

(This is a dense paragraph and requires more attention than I can give it for this topic.  Paramount to my thoughts here is the origin of sacrifice and the “why” and “how” of its development.  I would strongly encourage you to peruse this book if you don’t have time to read its entirety)

This is the goal of killing Jesus.  The world has obviously not avoided sin, so Jesus, who is interpreted as God God’s self in later Christian councils and in the Gospel of John, kills God’s self.  This is important because the reason we don’t think about Jesus as a sacrifice of human proportions is because to many of us Jesus is not a human, he was God.  And it’s no big deal to us humans when God kills God’s self; its just what we’ve come to expect God to do.  It’s as if we give God a pass on human sacrifice because we have lost to history the reality that Jesus was a human.  YET, there is no evidence that Jesus was God, this is a category of faith, something that we believe in without any historical veracity… yet there is ample evidence that Jesus existed and he did so as a human being in ancient Palestine, yet the fact that he was human is lost in this debate because to bring up the humanity of Jesus is to raise some heinous questions of God, questions we’d rather not go near.

Jesus has been interpreted as HAVING to die to be a propitiation for the wrong humanity has collectively done against God via the first sin of Adam and Eve.  The relationship that creation has with God, as a consequence, is unambiguously perverse.  For surely if God were all loving to the degree that he desires relationship above violence, one would think that a God who is inscribed with all the “omni’s” (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient) could somehow in his mightiness be able to forgive by tapping into one of his omni-powers and bypass condoning  human sacrifice.  If God desired relationship with the world, one would think God could accomplish this however God would like, yet if the primary point is not right relationship, but restoring God’s honor, then Divine narcissism precedes Divine love…and the primary point is not a relationship, but punishment and incarnate hubris prior to any relationship.  But what if this is exactly what God was condemning on the cross??  What if they very thing we think the cross affirms is the very thing God is condemning in this event??  What if the cross means the exact opposite of what it is popularized to mean and THIS was the Gospel intention?? (I will write an entire blog making this argument in the future).

Oddly, this whole mechanical way of viewing salvation seems in stark contradiction to some of the very parables spoken by the very Jesus this very God verily needed to kill: the Beatitudes (see esp Matthew 5. 38-48, wherein Jesus teaches an inverted from of the Mosaic Lex taliones…yet God cannot follow the very teachings of God’ self when it comes to sin??  I’m just asking), the parables of vineyard workers (Matthew 20.1-16), and the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32) to name a few.

This is precisely Slavoj Zizek’s critiques Christian belief and describes it as having a “perverse core”.  In his book, The Puppet and the Dwarf, Zizek describes the current façade of Christianity to be one of a perverse God that circumvents around a perverse core.  The perverse core is this: God’s plan of salvation is pointless because God has no one with which to contend but Gods-self.  In other words, all the mechanizations of Christian salvation that begin with Adam and Eve (following the usual Christian profession of God’s powers…God presumably “knew” what would happen with the garden debacle) are strange because God has no one to impress but God’s Self.  Why would God “have” to do this, or “have” to do that as a part of creation or salvation of a creation he created but then somehow lost?  What is it that forces God to “set up” the world in the fashion that God did in order to get himself to forgive the world that he knew would falter?  Why even start this game of cat and mouse in which millions of people will make the wrong “choice” or be born into the wrong culture…and thereby be damned?

Some might say that God would do this to be in relationship to some of us, yet, is it really worth creating because of a hedonistic need to have objects to worship yourself when you are quite capable of existing apart from the worship of those said objects, aka, creation?  And if it is about having “some”people respond in freedom, if one had never created for the sake of not having millions/billions of people damn themselves by not rightfully worshipping yourself, then those who do respond would have never had a conscious mind to know what they were missing out on precisely because they would have never had bodies within which their minds could function.  As a consequence, no harm would be done…And as Jacobus Arminius rightly notes, if God creates with the intention of damning creation, then the very act of creation is a great evil perpetrated by God…and since God is good, God cannot do such evil acts.

For Zizek, If God is God (as countless Christians profess, “God is God and I’m not”), then God can forgive without a blood sacrifice, a human sacrifice, because God is the maker of the rules, not one who must submit to the rules created elsewhere.   God can set the parameters… so why parameters of such infinite violence and suffering?   So what is the “end game” of atonement?  Relationship or blood sacrifice?

I can hear a quick rebuttal, “but God had to perform discipline on humanity for our offenses.  It would not be justice if God let ALL of creation off the hook.”  Ok, but why?  Because the Bible says so?  Could it be that our own inherent need for justice, and the relationship of justice and violence, shades the biblical text to such a degree that we have clouded the text with what justice means in anthropomorphic terms rather than in strictly transcendent terms, so that God looks an awful lot like our desires rather than desires that are totally other than ours?  * Ludwig Fuerbach has now left the building.*  What does God gain by having justice performed on a much inferior, lesser grouping of beings known as human?  How is it justice when the plaintiff is infinitely more resourceful than the defendant and indeed the outcome of the trial is immaterial to the plaintiff?  And this is Just??  Never mind conspiracy against creation that would surely arise if God has all the “omni’s” yet remains inculpable.  Does God possess justice ontologically or does God need justice performed for him, by himself, upon himself, in order to have a part of himself he would not otherwise have if not for the performance of the much needed justice?  So now we’re saying the perfect God lacks??

Let’s go further, maybe this is our response, “God had to punish Jesus because to just forgive creation out of mercy apart from violence would show God to be weak and not just.”  To whom would God look weak?  Who does God have to impress?  The Devil?  If embarrassment is a category of being, a necessary category that sits along side of dishonor and honor (key concepts in classical atonement theology), then amongst whom is God worried of being embarrassed by not having his honor restored through the punishment of a victim that symbolizes the offense that dishonored him?  If God’s primary goal is salvation (healing) and relationship with creation, why would God choose to do so through an endless amount of violence when God can have just as easily chosen to simply forgive the offense without the need for a sacrifice…you know, the same kind of forgiveness that Jesus teaches in the NT?

What I really want us to consider, at a much deeper level than normal, is what our theology of atonement says about our doctrine of God.  If we continue to reinforce a substitutionary or satisfaction type theory of atonement, what type of doctrine of God does this reinforce and why are we comfortable with conceiving of God so?  Is our doctrine of God, that flows through and from our theology of the atonement, consistent with the Word we see in Christ or do we see something different here…and, like my previous post argued, should we begin to re-articulate a theology of the atonement that seeks to bring people into relationship with God via their theological worldviews rather than cast a vision of the God of Jesus that makes this God a highly suspicious character with a severe personality disorder?

I am sure there are ample hesitations and rebuttals to my thoughts here.  This essay is not meant to be a thesis defending my argument at every turn from possible detractors…yet these are initial remarks as I continue to think the atonement during this Lenten season.  I am sure that someone out there is wanting to chime in and tell me about “free will” (to name just one objection).  I have anticipated some of these remarks and will post a response in my next blog.  But I also encourage you, the reader, to respond to where you think I may have gone astray or where you think I may have been frustratingly correct in offering some food for thought on atonement.  I will respond and might even write a post specific to your reaction or request…but if I have succeeded in at least making us think about God’s intention: relationship or sacrifice…I would have been pleased.  At the end, however, I have no greater desire than to think about God and Christ and to do so honestly as a fellow quester of truth…wherever it may be found.

Other-Wise Atonement: Thinking about the Human Sacrifice of Jesus

What-is-the-Atonement lamb pic

 In the past week I have had three conversations with fellow Brothers in Christ in regard to our ideas of atonement and its relationship to ministry and life.  Chief among these concerns has been the reality that more and more folks, especially folks under 30 (I am 31 FTR) are abandoning organized religion and churches.  It is my belief that such is not happening because the present generation is irreligious or lack faith.  To the contrary, they are very motivated by faith and mystery, it’s just that they seem to be embracing newer philosophies of faith found elsewhere because the way Christianity has been taught, preached, etc, has seemed to them quite bankrupt.  If I reflect on my own teenage years and youth group experience, many of the folks in my youth group are not interested in the faith and if they are, they are not very active.  Most have left the fold of the church.  Why?  Well, I think a large factor is because the church is not speaking to them anymore, and what it has said in the past has been shallow, totalitarian and just an extended version of Aristotle’s Ethics.  Their impression of the faith is kiddie pool theology, where everyone stays in the 3 Ft section because Christianity occupies no other section…and in this 3 ft section we swim continually, never venturing beyond the buoys that separate us from the scary “deep end.”  This, coupled with our horrible ways of reading the Bible as a flat story that simply contains maxims for life and ethical advice…wedded with our biblical literalism at every turn of scripture, has given the impression that our faith is shallow, overly experiential, and has little to offer after we say a prayer of forgiveness.  This is tragic and it saddens me.

As per my recent conversations, I have decided to post a practice in theology of thinking out loud (with you the reader as my company) on the subject of atonement.  I have recently argued amongst friends that the atonement should speak to the existential lack that is inherent in our context…that the atonement is still powerful but not in a uni-dimensional kind of way.  For us to speak to the generations of Christians that have left the church, and to those who will never come to our churches because of their impression of Christianity, we need to do as the church has historically practiced and ask how the atonement functions, what it does, and why that matters for people who don’t feel the weight of Luther’s guilt nor do they really desire God to wring the blood from Jesus beaten body over their head so they can be camouflaged when God peers their way.

So, I want to mention the most popular theories of atonement, or theories of how we understand what Jesus did by dying on Calvary, and how we might shift gears a bit to think the atonement differently.  This essay is not meant to be extensive, and much finer minds have done a better job of descandalizing the cross as some of you might interpret this blog to be doing, but it is my attempt to do theology in an honest way and wrestle with the Cartesian mind that we all possess, if we would only be so honest and not hide behind the fear of where our inquiry might take us.  To my brothers that have occassioned these words, I give thanks for your friendship and treasure your dialogue…and I pray others might find these musings more than useful.

 Let’s get started.  First, the substitutionary theory of the atonement has not been the king of the Christian block since the time of Christ.  There are several theories of atonement, or ideas about the “why” of the passion, that have had prominence in our faith: Ransom, Moral/Love, Satisfaction, and Penal.  Scripture testifies to ALL of these…and ALL of them are problematic, even scripturally, but most traditions accentuate one of these or combine them…but in the theology and faith of the church they were separate and did not emerge at once.

Ransom: Introduced by Origen 3rd century.  This is the idea that Satan, the prince of the world (so Origen was a dualist, sue him and sue most Christians alive today who are equally dualistic), had to have a payment from God for control of creation.  God decided to Kill Jesus as a ransom payment to Satan.  BUT, the trick was resurrection.  God let Satan receive payment and then took his payment back on Easter.  God tricked the devil.  This idea coalesces nicely with Christians who hold that creation is in a Struggle between God and Satan and that Satan is indeed the controller of earth…yet through this act God has no usurped Satan and defeated him again.  So I’m not sure what Pentecostals are still getting excited about with this spiritual warfare stuff; the battle is over, so to speak.  God paid the ransom in this theory because we did not have the “money” to make the transaction…and the rest is history.

Moral/Love: Abelard introduced this 12th century.  Abelard contended that Jesus died to show how much he loved the world and died as a perfect sacrifice expressing what it means to fully love creation…offering a model for how we should love one another even to our own deaths if need be.  The implication is also that as a supreme act of love God let Jesus suffer and die as an example of God’s ability to let evil happen to us so that we might be able to live into the resurrected reality of Jesus and be better people, hence the “moral” part.  He argued that Christ’s Life and death were examples of God’s supreme love to us so that all humans will be able to respond in return by loving God and finding salvation through the intercession of Christ.  Violence is allowed in the world because we are refined by fire and made holy in its furnaces, turning our hearts to God because of his example and being made holy as we live through the violence we all encounter.  There is more to this idea in Abelard’s work, but he wrote this AFTER the next theory by Anselm.

Satisfaction: This is the idea that Jesus was killed to satisfy the honor of God.  It really emerged from the way society was structured during the period of feudal Lords, etc, and was patterned after such societal norms of dishonor, honor and glorification.  God’s honor had been violated in the fall of Adam and Eve (ent), and as such, his honor had to be restored.  However, nothing is great enough to restore God’s honor but the sacrifice God’s self…ENTER Jesus the God-Man;  So God’s wrath was satisfied through the human sacrifice of Jesus.  This is also consistent with the practice of Jewish Temple in killing animals to satisfy God’s anger.

Penal Substitutionary:  This emerged most thoroughly in the Reformation and was crystallized by Calvin.  It is the idea that humans are utterly depraved and cannot be saved except that God would take a substitution for our sin; the old addage is “Jesus took my place” and many of us sing songs to this effect each Sunday in worship.  We are deserving of death; the only way we can experience life is for Jesus to die for us and then IMPUTE his righteousness upon us…so that after the death of Jesus when God looks at the world….he no longer sees our horrid sinfulness, but he sees the blood of Jesus covering our transgressions.

 These are the major theories, but there are others.  I encourage you to read the theologians mentioned above for the finer workings of their atonement theology.

The testimony to multiple understandings of atonement mean thinking the death of Jesus is not nearly as clean and neat as most Christians think…but the other thing that makes atonement a sticky issue is that we are heavily influenced by the Western Church.  Origen was part of the Alexandrian school, so too was Augustine (where one finds substitutionary ideas fit right at home)…Anselm was West also, so too was Thomas Aquinas (transubstantiation)…Abelard was Western but he was bucking the system during his time.  He was often criticized by other theologians, but he attracted many students and was a “go to” theologian for philosophers during the Enlightenment period.  However, in the East, substitution and penal theory did not reign the day…many of the Fathers from the Antiochene school placed a much heavier emphasis on incarnation and theosis because of resurrection, not because of a hyper penal idea of atonement.  So as for Christianity, the witness is actually split and there are theological, and biblical, problems with espousing any one idea/theory.  This is why I am inclined to be more existential in regard to the atonement and be open to multiple meanings that speak to our world, not dictate one method over another.

But the Gospels did just this; they interpreted the atonement within paradigms that made sense, and then translated that to their contexts from out of the story of Jesus they told.  The Gospels are telling the story of Christ and making sense of the crucifixion of Jesus…narratively attempting to make an appeal to how one might understand atonement.

Allow me a brief Gospel of John Excurses.

NO Gospel works/refines an idea of atonement in great detail, yet John goes to greater lengths here than any Evangelist, but it makes sense for him to do so.   John argues that Jesus IS the sacrificial lamb.   The importation of a fairly developed atonement theology in the Gospel of John makes perfect historical sense considering the historical context of the Johannine community that had been expelled from Temple post-70AD and were trying to make sense of being a Jewish Christian without a Temple…what better Christological affirmation than that we don’t need a Temple, we have the lamb sacrificed at the same TIME ON PASSOVER as it would have been happening in the Temple in the 30’s whichever specific year you prefer…but the Synoptics have Christ crucified BEFORE Passover…not during…clearly John is making a theological point.  So John is constructing an atonement theology, but it is within his context not outside of it.

Origen, Anselm, Abelard, the Reformers, they are all wrestling with how to understand how the work of Christ brings humanity into relationship with God; how does it restore brokenness to a sense of wholeness through the broken and bloody body of Jesus…and they did so in language and metaphor that was a.) biblical …but also b.) could speak to their listeners.  They did not speak past their listeners, but they proclaimed why the death of Jesus matters and why it should matter to their hearers and in their context.  The Spirit led them to do so.  From an existential perspective, I call for doing nothing but the same: speaking Christ to the world in such a way that they hear, listen and have an “aha” moment about how the at-one-ment of Jesus brings them to at-one-ment in God.  This doesn’t mean that classical understandings are mute.  They are still important and still carry currency for many, but to preach the lifting up of Christ to a world that feels separated from itself and others…is not to proclaim that you need to take a shower in the blood of Jesus, but to preach that through the act of his death he has put an end to sin and violence…he has swallowed death into his body and thereby all those things that seek to wreck our lives and create disharmony.  Yet the death, and massacre of Jesus, would not be complete without a resurrection to say that such violence and sin does not win; it is swallowed up in the grave thereby meaning so too has the sin (think hamartia here…missing the mark), death and utter lack that seeks to wreak havoc in our lives been laid to rest the with grave cloths of the paranormal Jesus who comes to all us Thomas’ who still think death is still an issue.

What I am arguing, albeit with an existential bent ( I am heavy on Kierkegaard and Heidegger here), is that while we may want to say that the work of Jesus is primarily this, or mostly that, and then tell people “no, this is your problem and here is your answer”…the better approach is to discover what it is that keeps folks up at night, what concerns them, where do they sense lack in their lives.  If Christ matters than it matters to them and the world in which they live; we do not need to tell them they live in a false world and then attempt to renarrate their lives with a story and concepts that are utterly foreign, and therefore, would be devoid of meaning.  We do this not to relativise the gospel but to be aware that people will seek for truth according to the questions that plague their being. And my argument is that the atonement of Jesus contains the answer, but the theological world that drives a person may be different from one individual to the next, and necessarily so too will be their questions, and so too must be the appropriation of the Christ event into their lives.

William P. Jones, in his book, Theological Worlds: Understanding the Rhythms of Alternative Christian Belief, talks about it as we all have different OBSESSIOS (problem, lack, brokenness in us) and therefore we all have different EPIPHANIA (an awakening to our angst and its solution) that show us our problem, what we need, and how to become whole through various answers that is offered by the Christ in his work.  The theological worlds in which most folks live, according to the work of Dr. Jones, are the following…and my experience also seems to validate this:

Separation…Reunion

Conflict…Vindication

Emptiness…Fulfillment

Condemnation…Forgiveness (this model gets a disproportinate amount of attention in our Churches)

Suffering…Endurance

By extending our understanding of atonement past a purely penal or substitutionary model (and thereby by extending our willingness to see why Jesus STILL matters to the world), we are actually able to see how Christ connects people to God through his death…and we do so beyond the realm of pagan blood ritual, though biblically we may still find meaning here.  It may be, in fact, that many folks are connected through the theological world of condemnation and forgiveness…but more and more people, in our context, are typified in the other 4 worlds.  The solution is not to tell those folks they’re wrong, and therein tell them their concerns and questions about faith are wrong, but to say, “well, the work of Christ can heal that part of your life and here is how.”  By appealing to the existential angst in an individual we are doing the same things as the Gospels, and the church Fathers: we are speaking into the lives of people and proclaiming why exactly the news of Jesus is good.  It’s good because whatever their malady, whatever their internal struggle, the atonement of Jesus is more than satisfying a primordial God who got his feelings hurt; the atonement of Jesus restores creation through violence as God’s statement that creation is no longer to use violence and sin as a means of negotiating the world.

This reality is affirmed, not because we are part of the Western Church and affirm all the theological baggage therewith, but precisely because we believe in the Resurrection.  The Resurrection makes these things true and it is what makes the Christ event relevant to folks in the now.

To conclude, I mention a brief Pauline excurses.  It is telling that even Paul, the one who paved the Roman Road, placed much greater emphasis on Resurrection than Passion.  He did address Passion elements, but did not hinge his entire theology thereon.  His famous chapter in First Corinthians 15 is not a perpetual statement on Passion and a Mel Gibson esqe love affair with violence in his movie titled “The Passion.”  (FTR, I really like the movie).  It does not read “If Christ be not slaughtered than our faith is in vain…If God be not appeased than our faith is nothing…”  (forgive me for too much liberty if you feel I have taken it there) but Paul over and over again says, “If Christ be not raised…”  The Resurrection is the difference maker…not a particular view of the atonement;  The atonement is utter meaninglessness if not for the peculiarly paranormal event of a Jesus not staying dead.  The resurrection is what places us in right relationship with God because in order to overtake death and sin…God does not need a human sacrifice, God just needs to overcome death through the only means possible: the loss of life in a physical body and the raising of that very body to end death’s residence in human history, in time.  Thus, if there is any doctrine or dogmatic stance one needs to take to be firmly Christian, it is the paranormality of resurrection, not a refined idea of atonement that has a diverse witness in text, tradition, reason and experience…a concept that while appearing to stand on the “solid rock of faith” is actually a bit more like nailing Jello to the wall.

“I See Dead People”: Zombie Apocalypse or Resurrection of Jesus?

The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio, 1601-1602

The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio, 1601-1602

At the core of Christianity is a belief in the para-normal; there is nothing more para-normal than resurrection. Can we at least agree on this one point before you read the rest?

The recent craze over the “zombie apocalypse” has got nothing on dead people coming out of tombs.  Long before Woody Harrelson and “Zombieland,” is the Gospel of Matthew and its witness to the walking dead   These same dead people were not content to walk out of their tombs and look around, they actually walk into the city being passively revealed to mothers buying groceries, priests giving offerings and children playing in the streets without adult supervision. What a leery and smelly scene.   And believe it or not, if a person takes the resurrection seriously, as an event in time and, therefore an event in language, then the Entire New Testament is predicated on nothing more, and nothing less, than the paranormal. There you go, the Witch of Indor and a dead Samuel smack dab in middle of  your New Testament (figuratively speaking). You can thank me later.

The events that are witnessed to in Matthew 27 are not available to us. In this chapter, one is able to find the betrayal of Judas, Jesus before Pilate, his condemnation and mockery, the crucifixion, dead people walking (dead people who are not Jesus…Jesus rises in chapter 28) and his burial. We do not have the ability to ascertain its contents, its meaning, or its historical veracity.  Matthew, in true 2nd Temple resurrection theology fashion, tells of the holy ones rising from their graves and being revealed to many in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Matthew is the only Gospel that catalogues this very paranormal event.  If a person is looking to feed a peculiar paranormal fetish, quit watching TLC and read the Bible.

Yet Matthew gives us a unique picture of how disruptive the event of the death of Christ truly is…that in his very death surrounding graves in Jerusalem are opened and creation gives birth to a new space, a new time, a new set of rules, a new people who were once dead are very much not so dead. Resurrection is not a testimony of the norm; its a testimony that the para-norm has arrived and creation cannot be sewn back together along its perceived seems.

Resurrection is the very act of inscribing creation with the language of permanent aporia. It is a permanent strangeness that cannot be reduced to anything but anxiety and perplexity, a fond attraction of the strange that flavors our existence, both secular and sacred. Dialectical paradox has entered our ability to speak about the truth. What we thought was untrue has now happened, and what was untruth has become the truth. Creation has lost control of itself, its metaphysical rules and boundaries have been infringed upon through the very testimony of the impossible…making the impossible the new norm for a world of supposed possibilities that lie to us about their true boundaries and dictatorial control. To say that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to say that we believe in a new creation, where reality is re-construed, judgments are not so neatly Kantian, Hume is not so doggedly correct and scientific empiricism must bow at the feet of the irreproachably impossible possibility of “real” writing and existence. The Resurrection is not a belief in a historical “fact” as much as it is the Gospel statement that creation is not what it seems…there is an Other who is raised among us. For Christians, this other is Jesus…none other than the Word itself.

The Christ event, in its inception at the resurrection and in its concurrent reflection in the Gospels because of the kerygma of resurrection, is para-normal both in the sense that it is a reality alongside the normal…dependent upon the normal for a sort of analogy to make sense of its non-analogous testimony; and it is also paranormal in the sense that Jesus initiates some serious paranormal activity in his subsequent “appearances” in all the Gospels (except Mark where there are no post-resurrection appearances…but in John Jesus makes a Casper like appearance and even makes breakfast through the aporia that is his body) not the least of which is Matthew’s telling of dead people coming out of their graves. These stories are weird. We should not be used to them, but unfortunately they have lost their para-normal flavor because truly brilliant people are those who dismiss this paranormality with pretentious disdain rather than wrestle with what Resurrection is and how paranormal our lives really are.

What these events testify to is that resurrection is an event of ambiguous paranormality that sets the stage for a paranormal world in which our lives are predicated upon actions we did not chose, spoken to us by words we did not create and testified to us through stories we never told. This must be why modern people are so averse to reading these stories, since us liberal American and European types are so convinced of the ontology we possess through our mere choosing.

To believe in resurrection is not only to believe in the story of Jesus at a historical level, but it is to believe that embedded in a universal story of humanity is something that is beyond our grasping or comprehending, yet this something is equally normative of what makes us who we are, something that allows us to transcend our mere mortality. In other words, there’s more to us than what we see and there is certainly more to Christ than what one can know. The resurrection is the kergymatic utterance that we don’t control our words or our world…and the Ascension is the theological statement that such will forever be the case…the closer we get to understanding in the post-resurrection scenes of our lives, the further our attempts at harnessing creation float away.

If the Resurrection is able to make anything clear…it makes abundantly clear that our apprehension of reality and our relationship to what is “real” is vastly different than most folks imagine. The relationship between space and time, matter and the ethereal, sight and perception, experience and experience, are all blurred as the Gospel witnesses to a resurrection that not only must contain the physical body of the Christ, but in carrying the load of the Christ, it also carries our words about the Christ into uncharted territories. The Word that was made Flesh in John Chapter 1 has now been resurrected to a space that is not allowed to constrict our language or the description of the world that exists through our speaking. The Resurrection has to be more than a statement of raw “fact” about Jesus coming back to life. If that’s all it is, then that is pretty boring…thank you Apollonius and Honi the Circle drawer (google them). Instead, what the resurrection does is make a declarative statement about para-normal reality/activity and usher in an age in which anastasis is the sign of God’s present Kingdom, not a precursor to a stroll down the streets of gold. Anastasis happens IN creation, not outside of it.

Precariously enough, the resurrection is that singularly ambiguous and para-normal event upon which the New Testament rests, and subsequently, most Christian dogma produced thereafter has a flavor of para-normal reality. Visions of a victorious Christ, a blood laden final battle at Armageddon, a community meal that is the very essence of an absence of Jesus’ body and bodily fluids, and a testimony that darkness and light compete on opposing levels in a struggle for creation…these are all paranormal. They are not the content of life as “seen” or “verified” or even…”ex”-perienced on a daily basis, but they are generated out of a belief that the paranormal is an intimate part of creation that connects humanity to its ground in God…that there is something on the other side of the symbols that occupy our lives that continue to beckon us as we desire to connect to that which connects us to the world, yet it still unavailable to us. That science even claims to do this just means that many folks have bought the lie that they control the language. Resurrection, on the other hand, allows the paranormal to set the stage for mystery, ambiguity, and true anastasis…a reality above the static existence of perception and apprehension…and alongside of the “real” world reminding us that what is real is more than we know; its more than we see; and its more than we can control regardless of the specificity of our language or the logic of our ideas/ideology.

To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to say that which we keep in the tombs of our worlds, thinking them dead and non-substantive, are the very things that are trying to free us from a life of such horrible certainty and the burden of believing you know everything. Even more so, it is to believe that the “nothing” that can’t happen and the “impossible” that is not available is the new “something” with which we must contend. As Lacan was apt to note, “We think where we are not, therefore we are where we do not think.” We are not what we are; we are not who we’re going to be; yet we move further from ourselves as we get impossibly closer to the place from which Resurrection comes/happens. This is why I believe in the resurrection, the paranormal movement of the New Testament, and a Christ that is nothing more, nor nothing less, than the paranormal Other who calls us into the Kingdom Of the “real” God.

Dialectical Thinking is Paranormal

Hegel-dialectic

When it comes to thinking, dialectical thinking IS definitely paranormal.  There is no other philosophical method that has the ability to show us that what we consider normal is actually not normal at all…that alongside the normal trapped in its web is something more true, more normal yet also allusive.  Dialectic is the constant reminder that what we think we see in our world is actually not what we’re seeing…it truly is thinking about the world in such a way that another reality begins to emerge from the stable reality we have created and assumed for ourselves.  What makes it most paranormal is that we have seen it and lived amongst it even while we have never noticed it.  In short, dialectical thinking contradicts our ideas from within our ideas…no liberal science necessary.

Dialectic is one of those great philosophical words/concepts that is often thrown around but very little understood. Perhaps this is because most folks just don’t see the world dialectically…paranormally.  Dialectic doesn’t have any practical import in our daily lives in order for it to be a concept that makes sense; at least this is the perception. For many, the world is not something that requires dialectic to understand it rightly. The world is plain and flat; it’s black and white. The world is what we see and what we see is what the world is. All the while, this view of reality is very much dependent upon seeing the world from “somewhere,” from “someplace,” a “where” and a “place” that we did not create ourselves…a where and a place from which we cannot so easily move. To use the language of Martin Heidegger, we have been “thrown” here against our will and we have been silly enough to think it was our “choice”. We’re such good Americans.

The basic premise that what one sees is what is…and that our sight is the full production of ourselves is itself one of the greatest lies of modernity. It certainly doesn’t consider the place from which our desire to know and understand comes (i.e. The Real)…the place that cannot be assimilated into the symbolic order of our language. It doesn’t take into consideration that no one has chosen the language in which they participate and how that language is organized, which in turn leads to being able to see and interpret what one sees …and it certainly doesn’t take into account that the very premises we all hold dear are also susceptible to corrosion within the ideas themselves.

Phenomenology and Dialectical thinking brings all this to awareness.

As Sean Homer writes in his book on Lacan, “the paradox of dialectic is that the positive always turns into a negative.” But naturally, most people do not want their positive ideas of things or opinions being turned into a negative or shown to not be true. We like to be right and we don’t want to find out that our “right” is really wrong. If this is the case for you, stop reading now.  What dialectic does, at its basest most functional level, is couch the ideas of the world that we have (think religion, politics, economics, society, etc) within a paradigm of logic that dares to take logic to its ultimate ends.  Dialectic shows that ideas are never the whole story, that under the idea is a another more true idea or form yet to be seen because it lies just beneath the surface, encouched in what we can call dialectical tension.  This is a tension that, ironically, once it is discovered, forces us to realize it has really been on the surface all along…thus, revealing the world we apprehend and see to be totally other than what we apprehend and see.  At bottom, dialectic is a way of seeing the world as it really is, not a way of seeing the world as we think it to be.

To take this step just a bit further, dialectic is the process whereby all of reality: its concepts, ideas, structures, etc, are displaced in the very ideas that make them what they are.  In other words, the very thesis of an idea or an object also contains the counter-idea that shows the initial thesis to be nothing and empty. This may seem like the foundation of nihilistic philosophy, and to a degree it is, yet nihilism actually stretches at least as far back as medieval Christian theologians such as Miester Eckhart.  Nihilism, or the nothing that dialectics generally discloses about the structure of the world, is not a philosophy of crude, critical scholars who want to have their cake and eat it too; it is a philosophy that sees nothing in every idea because every idea is inherently unstable in its logic. Ideas (and the worlds built around them as all worlds are) are not impregnable or absolute.

Dialectics is a natural philosophical fit with phenomenology because phenomenology posits that nothing exists functionally apart from the idea of the thing. Idea and object go hand in hand. Phenomenology is the premise that objects do not exist independently from the perception of those things in human consciousness. This was the basic premise of the entire work of Edmund Husserl; it is the attempt to simplify the material world by saying the phenomena we encounter matters.

A classic example of this is Hegel’s “Master/Slave dialectic.” The idea of Master and Slave are lost in reciprocal relationship. In order for the Master to be as such, he must be recognized by the Slave for this signification and vice versa. The Master is then free to live life as Master because he is recognized by the Slave as Master. But dialectics disrupts this “universal truth.” For since the Master needs the slave’s recognition for his identity he can never be a free Master, whereas the slave doesn’t need the recognition of the Master to be a slave because the slave’s status is affirmed through something else: his work/labor as a slave. Thus, if the slave’s identity is independent the recognition of the master for his identity it is not the slave who is enslaved to the Master but the Master to the slave. Subsequently, it is not the Master who is free; rather it is the slave who is free. So the Slave is really the Master; the truth is really a lie.

With dialectics, one does not need to deconstruct an idea to show that it is nothing; its own deconstruction is inherent in its very existence and definition. I hope you can see how this proposal and idea of dialectics can offer a whole other world of theological inquiry than the one that is “mastered” to us via orthodoxy. I’m not so sure what this means about the very famous words in the Gospel of John, 8.32, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” but it probably means these words don’t mean what they seem.

I wish to utilize Hegelian dialectical philosophy as theological method because of the seriousness with which it approaches the material world. Many theologians and biblical scholars avoid dialectics but such has not always been the case.

Dialectic has traditionally been employed within theological circles in very benign, though helpful ways. Indeed, it was the dialectical theology of the mid 20th century that paved the way for neo-liberalism and post-liberalism, two very necessary movements that have shaped theology into the present. A school of dialectical theology was reinforced by larger than life theologians such as Karl Barth, Emil Bruner, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Rudolph Bultmann and to a degree even Paul Tillich. But this mode of dialectics, with the exception of Paul Tillich’s latter Systematic Theology, was content to not push dialectic far enough. Barth, for example, was content with a very simplified definition of dialectic that was employed as a symbol of tension between the world as received and the world as is, the already and the not yet. Barth’s famous, and also very helpful, idea of the Word of God and Word of Man for understanding scripture is dialectical thinking…that in the Bible we have both the words of Man and God…The words of man not being the same as the word of God, yet the word of God being expressed in the words of man. This is dialectic, but it doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t take Hegel’s method seriously. It attempts to see the world as it is currently understood within our liberal and conservative biases; it doesn’t seek to see that the world we engage might not be the real world after all.

For a full Hegelian method to be appropriated, one must learn anew that the negative, or nothing, is not something to fear but constitutive of reality. Conservative scholars often say that this theology or philosophy of nothing as championed by folks like Sarte, Derrida, Lacan or Zizek is nothing more than tearing away at reality and faith as we know it. It is argued that all they wish to show is that there is no meaning anywhere so that everything is permissible behavior for a humanist society. But the problem is these characterizations are not true.  Most of these critiques are made by those who have never read, or understood, any of the respective thinkers they wish to criticize.

If anything, dialectic is NOT reductionistic. It does not seek to say there is no meaning to life; in fact, it argues for a proliferation of meaning and truth in many places and especially those places where we least expect to see it! Dialectics affirms that life and our worldviews are products of a very complex relationship between object and thought…and that as all objects are somehow the precarious existence of their substance and our thought about them their truthfulness is then necessarily contingent upon our language and consciousness. No “Truth” is able to rise above this logically. The world of ideas presents to us the world in which we live; the only way to change the world we live is to see how very unstable our ideas about the world in fact are. This is the task of dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

All dialectic does is analyze via phenomenological awareness that life is comprised of a constant tension within the very life we think we live without tension. It’s not an attempt to “throw away the faith” or “deconstruct Jesus,” but it does very much show that our world is not as tidy, neat and complete as we think it to be. And the benefit of seeing this opposite/negative in the supposed positives of life is that we can then evaluate ourselves, our faith, our world more carefully and begin to live in more authentic ways.

God of the ParanormalChrist: A Definition of Real

Graph of Lacan’s 3 primary registers: Real, Symbolic, Imaginary

I will frequently be using illusively symbolic language on this blog.  While many folks have an aversion to philosophical language, sometimes words like “being” “real” “truth” “virtue” simply can’t be defined in any plain, simple, way.  To do so is to tame them, domesticate them, and to trade in a thoughtful life for one that makes us comfortable, or what Plato would have called, “the unreflective life.”  Meaning, however, is lost in definition…just as paranormalchrist is here taking on a totally different meaning than popular parlance might suggest, so too some redefintion of terms is necessary at the origins of this blog.

One of the interesting terms I will employ is the term Real.  One should not misunderstand my usage of Real with what is ordinarily “real”.  In fact, what is ordinarily “real” is precisely not the Real that is guiding the ParanormalChrist.  It is not the real of ordinary usage of which religion and faith speak.  When one says “God is Real” this is not to confuse God with what we know of the “real” world; rather we are describing another paranormal form of reality…a REAL alongside what we live as real.  Religion and faith testify to “otherness” that profoundly shapes who we are.  We attempt to be in relation to such “otherness” via ritual expressions of faith…but we NEVER see the Real that initiates our liturgy; God is Real, but the Real God is never “found” or “harnessed”…so the rituals continue, the worship is endless, our bodies find brief connection with the Real through these things…but not really getting any closer to the reality that instigates the act or belief.  The Real is what stands behind the symbols, on the other side of the imaginary world built through symbols, but cannot be confused with those symbols.  So it is this Real, this primal Cause of our being, our speaking, our praying, that I wish to define.   I will define Real via the neo-Freudian reading of Lacan.

My usage is predominately taken from the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan (please see the menu link for contemporary Lacanian theory).  I make no claims to originality here.  But I find Lacan’s theory of how reality is structured via the psyche as the most probable way to speak about languages, and their byproducts: human relationality and the subsequent construct we call culture/soceity/religion, etc.  I will also give brief explanation as to how the idea of Real is also related to the concept of God.

The real is that which is unattainable.  It is the part of life that is no longer near due to ones introduction to the symbolic order via the imaginary.  However, the Real is always that which shapes one’s behavior and drive.  It is, to use an ancient philosophical symbol, the primal Mover of being, yet without being bound to the category of being.  It is an is that is not.  Thus, it is always located beyond being, yet near enough to being to impact it.  It is that which intrudes into our existence, almost without notice, yet non-localizable. It is the only part of existence that is unadulterated by the symbolic order.  Precariously, however, it is the Real that gives rise to the symbolic order.  It is that which needs to be signified, but that which always escapes signification in the process of discourse.  Its naming is its loss.

Lacan, in an interesting theoretical turn, equates that which needs to be signified as the subject’s lack (which is expressed in the subject’s desire to “fill-in” the gap of lack that is an inherent byproduct of using a universal medium language) to express a repressed desire that can never fully be attained because it is not fully present-able.  Hence, its presence is the incarnated forms of dreams, intonations, and slips.  In this respect, Lacan can talk about the Real in a fashion that is similar to the unconscious.

The unconscious is not Real; what is beneath it and resides therein IS.  The real, then, is that which is beyond and may exist and function on several planes.  It will be necessary to focus on the real as that which commences the drive, pursuing one in one’s quest to fill the gap of lack represented by the symbolic order; In other words, the Real commences the drive and quest for belief and faith.   The Real may be likened to an Nietzschen eternal return of repetition, wherein the drive continues to reel in the subject but the real of the drive is never found.  To use Mark Taylor’s language, one could say we are always after what’s Real, After God.  The drive perpetually returns to its secondary position creating substitutive objects (objet petit a) rather than catching the reel/real thing. It will be argued that this real is that which is not only beyond, but the place from which ultimate otherness arrives.  The place from which this comes is the unconscious.  The real, then, is the repressed unconscious reality that seeps outside the bounds of the psychic self and makes its invisible self visible…shaping our world.  The concept of Real gives representation to that which cannot be re-presented or presented.

In Christian grammar, this is not called real, but God.  God is the symbol that is used to represent what is beyond, but creatively brings one into the symbolic discourse of the subject.  It is the symbol that controls the grammar of lack as humanity searches for the bridge that never was.  The supreme example of a substitutive object that sits in the place for the real, that represents the lack,  pacifying our religious symptom is the Eucharist; the body we break without ever accessing the body…Sorry Aquinas.  For Lacan, however, God is unconscious, residing as the master of the “horrible house of truth” wherein signification is the true and only form of sovereignty.  And as such, only God is Real…and the real is God.  This sounds awefully familiar to a famous Bible verse in the Gospel of John, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and what God was, the Word was” [my translation]  The Word is God, God is the Word…and the Real is because we speak, we speak because God is Real.

What is Paranormal Christ?

Stown hewn tomb at the base of Mt. Carmel, 1st Century

Stown hewn tomb at the base of Mt. Carmel, 1st Century

Google “paranormal Christianity” or simply “paranormal” and see what happens…the perverse core of christian fascination with a reality more than the physical world will immediately become apparent. Our culture is fascinated with what happens “when we die” and where “we” will go when our bodies are no longer full of life. In general, this fascination takes the inquisitive mind in one of 3 major directions: atheism, theism in the form of a structured religious expression or an agnostic embrace of an alternative reality known as “paranormal activity.” Most people fit in one of these three categories, while the most zealous among us argue their “belief” with impassioned rhetoric if little else.
The common denominator of the above is one’s attempt to teleologically define the world; they are not simply offering a view of the world, and especially its aftermath, that is objective. Objectivity is not part of the equation when it comes to thinking our non-existence into a form of paranormal existence. The goal is to tell ourselves a story about ourselves that allows us to engage our current story with structure, security and hope. This is true even for an atheistic persuasion. If the hope one has is an atheistic embrace of nothingness…I would dare say that the atheist is more comfortable thinking the world absent God and God’s relation to the paranormal (irregardless of the plethora of “scientific” reasons for engaging such reflection), than she is including God in the equation for such configurations…at least the atheist hopes this to be the case.
The most striking aspect of this phenomenon is the utter lack of definition being found in these discussions and the apparent either/or, false binary distinction, that gets imputed onto the issue of paranormality. Either one believes in souls or one believes in ghosts. Either one is Christian and believes in some ethereal bliss for all believers like heaven or one is atheistic believing our bodies to be natural compost at the end of their course. A third option is that one may believe in all of it, expressing complete agnosticism toward the issue of the paranormal activity, but being perfectly happy to say “yes” to just about any theory of what the paranormal may be by virtue of the host of probabilities.
Symptomatic of this explosion of paranormality is the universalizing conceptually of what cannot be universalized. One is given “concrete” description of what comprises the paranormal and what the paranormal MUST exclude. The paranormal has come to include a rigid set of shallow criteria rather than truly be a concept of reality that functions at its most basic level: Para-Normal…that which is alongside of, beside, the normal (never mind the host of linguistic and psychological problems that confront a concept of the “normal.”) In other words, we have taken our scientific form of epistemology and subjected the “science” of paranormal studies to the rigid dogmatism of certainty and patterns that typifies science as a discipline and our subsequent ways of apprehending the world as modern and post-modern people. But the problem is…paranormal activity, by its very description, cannot be fully described, totalized or fully understood. It refers to a reality that is outside the norm but somehow also intermingling with it. The paranormal cannot be anything more, or anything less, than the awareness of a unique reality that exists alongside the normal, with the normal, in dependence on the normal, not something that rises above it or is a higher form of existence.  The paranormal cannot be so easily defined, some groups so easily excluded. We need a new operative understanding of the paranormal, especially in relation to faith, belief, religion, and philosophy; one not so restrictive, shallow or lost in cultural fluff.
In fact, as I will argue in this blog and through the multiple kinds of reflection and inquiry that will take place here, the paranormal IS the only description of reality we have…even the reality that we think to be the most empirically concrete form of realness available to our precious little Kantian senses. Notice I did not just say that the “paranormal” and its popular conceptions is our bearing of reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I did say, however, is that life is best described in that in-between place of where we know, with where we don’t…what we think, with where ones thoughts originate, what we say, with the genesis of our words, what we experience as “normal” …with that normal alongside all of us that alludes apprehension.

It is this conception of paranormal that I wish to explore and engage at a theological, philosophical, biblical, cultural, psychoanalytic, linguistic, etc, level on the pages of this Blog.

Along the way I will employ the services of books you know, like the Bible, with books you may not know, like Slavoj Zizek’s “Enjoy Your Symptom” or Marion’s  “God without Being.” I will explore orthodoxy in heterodoxical form at points and subject sacrosanct doctrines to linguistic and socially constructive analysis.  This is where paranormal takes on a new life, and our obsession with taming this word is relieved of itself and able to de-center our certainties.

Misty Overgrown Cemetary

I invite you, the reader, on this journey. Rest assured, this blog will not be passe musings on “paranormal activity” and ghosts and goblins nor will it be fanciful evangelically Gnostic christian reflections on the pearly gates or the streets of gold.  If you search for such bastardazied mystogogy you need to search elsewhere. If, however, you are interested in questing for truth, for virtue, for what is real, and especially engaging these maxims around the centrality of the meaning of the Christ (and all the linguistic luggage associated therewith) then you have come to the right place.  The domain is of philosophical and theological inquiry is not relegated to strictly religious areas because the religious and the secular are always intermingling and informing the other.  Thus, what is at work here is a Renaissance of sorts wherein the world is eclectically engaged via the unlimited nature of its own content.  I’m not totally sure where the journey will lead, but I, like you, hope for the epiphany that can only come through catching a glimpse, and encountering, the most singularly neglected paranormal event to inhabit creation and redefine being as we know it: the resurrected real of the paranormal Christ.