Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Christianity as Rebellion, 2

"He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son."
Colossians 1: 13

The reason that Christianity can be understood as a rebellion is that a fundamental teaching of Scripture is that there is such a thing as the 'dominion of darkness' and that we are somehow in it before God transfers us to His kingdom. Saint Paul (or his disciple who wrote Colossians, if you prefer) isn't alone. Our Lord in John's Gospel makes numerous comparisons between his own kingdom, which is not of this world, and what is 'below', 'of the flesh'. In Matthew and Luke, the devil offers Jesus authority over the world, implying in some fashion that it is his to give.

These facts are well known and well-rehearsed, particularly in fundamentalist circles. Their interpretation is another issue. Does this mean that the world is bad? No--Christ came into the world to save it from the usurper. It is good and merits saving. In what manner then does evil exercise dominion over the world? I submit that it is principally by lying and leading people astray. The story of Adam and Eve resonates well, and Jesus' own testimony that the devil is the Father of Lies supports this. How does the devil lie to us? The monastic fathers would say that he puts lies into our heads. Just as God can communicate to us in prayer and give us good ideas which are true, the Adversary seduces with half-truths.

More importantly, these half-truths and even outright falsities have ensnared us. The devil probes each of us to find our susceptibilities and feeds us what the weaker parts of us want to hear: "Have another piece of cake! Serial monogamy is OK! God isn't fair! You shouldn't have to put up with people you don't like! All (insert race or nationality you don't like) are lazy/dishonest/dirty/violent..."

The deeper problem enters when we assent with our wills to act upon falsehoods. We attach ourselves deliberately (if often ignorantly) to the 'dominion of darkness'. The more literal translation of this word for dominion (exousia) is 'authority'. Lies start to become authoritative for us. Unchecked, they infect who we are. We go from having racist thoughts to being racists. We go from having eyes that wander to being adulterers. We go from having indignant thoughts to murdering. If we lack the chutzpah to go out and actually murder or join the KKK, we nonetheless corrupt our hearts by assent to lies.

The reason I add in the faculty of the will to this reflection is that the antidote to lies needs more than truth. Christians are not simply Gnostics who are saved by learning the truth and no more. We are in need of the Cross, the instrument by which Christ shatters the dominion of darkness and begins to heal our wounded wills. "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind [Rom 12: 2]." This renewal of the mind is preceded by conforming to Christ's sacrifice: "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God [12: 1]," and this sacrifice unites us through baptism with Christ's cross [cf. 6: 11]: "Death no longer has dominion over [Christ] you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus [6: 9-10]."

Dead to the dominion of death and alive to the Kingdom of God.

What remains is to make the rebellion against the dominion of darkness complete. The lies are still out there and people are still ensnared in them, including ourselves. We must learn the art of discernment to separate the true from the false. Here is where it gets sticky for many in our multi-cultural world when it comes to religion. All religions and all cultures are entitled to preserve what in them is true. All religions, including Christianity, must eradicate what is false. In other religions, it can be easy to identify false cosmologies, even false gods. We must not allow this to obscure what is true and good in them. By the same token, Christians should not allow their priceless inheritance in the Faith to be lost, but at the same time, must always be on the lookout for the exaggeration, equivocation, rigid adherence to 'the letter that kills'. With truth and with the healing that comes from the Cross comes friendship with God and the 'freedom of the sons of God'. But this freedom is accessible only to those who, following Christ (executed for rebellion!), rebel against the principalities and powers.

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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
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Origen of Alexandria
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