Monday, April 19, 2010

"All the Subtle Demonisms of Life and Thought"

I wish to elaborate on some lines which I began tracing in the previous chapter.

It occurs to me that in noting some of the psychological reasons for the friction which eventually developed between me, Booth, and Augustys, I neglected the supernatural entirely. Lately I feel I’ve acquired from the Holy Spirit a certain measure of understanding on the nature of subtle, insidious demonic influences—what Carl Jung called “autonomous complexes,” by which he appears to have meant transpersonal entities acting on the psyche (“devils” or “demons,” in the common tongue). I’ve been continuously picturing knots for several days now. When you start feeding on an obsession, be it lust or rage or bitterness or excess of sorrow, it’s as though you’re chewing on things which aren’t entirely digestible. Your spirit wasn’t created to sustain within itself the noxious fruits of sin. But over time, as appetite increases, that evil begins to accumulate. It builds inside of you in knots. In the way that a cat, when in the act of cleaning itself, will swallow incidental bits of fur, so sin accumulates; and, if unchecked, the end result will be the same. Sin is a knot that grows with morbid pace, and often undetected haste.

Yes, that’s close to the feeling of what it is I’m trying to express. I’m finding that sometimes the easiest, most thorough way of understanding sin is watching it within yourself, though it makes you something like a specimen beneath a microscope—yourself the student and the subject! If you pour enough grease into a sink, it eventually coagulates and clogs the drain. We can take, for a useful example, the dream about Cassie which I had last week. In this dream (amid several other surprising events), I dated a girl who was wispy, clingy, ghostly, airy, insecure, and half-idiotic. The girl represents what some (myself included) would label a spirit; others (myself included) a psychological complex of sin. Practically and functionally, the truth is that I gave lenience to particular sins in the past (and sometimes even to the present day); yet in praying about it God showed me that the path to deliverance wasn’t exorcism, but sustained pursuit of holiness. So is it demonic? There’s certainly a greater capacity for interference by transpersonal forces; I’ve opened what many Christians call a “window” (or a “door”) to the workings of evil; yet the way to dispelling the complex is untangling the knot—in other words, making conscious decisions every day to follow righteousness. And doing so has banished it almost entirely (for the time, at least), in the space of only a few days.

Thus the simple wisdom of James begins to make profound sense: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Shakespeare actually wrote about this in Hamlet—in a passage blazing with inspiration and holiness, as in most of the play—though the metaphors are different:

Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass, but my madness speaks:
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what’s past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker…

O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain!

O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half!
Good night: but go not to mine uncle’s bed;
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise puts a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain tonight,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
And either [master] the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency.

I felt something just now in the act of reading over everything I’ve written to this point in the present entry. Surprisingly, it’s not a feeling that I feel with regularity. I was struck by the seeming anachronism of the juxtaposition between my psychological descriptions of the spiritual processes at work in myself, and my (relatively cautious) understanding of demonic power; between the earnest, unquestioning citation of a verse in the New Testament of the Bible, in one paragraph, and the immediate transition to Hamlet, in the next—with the inevitable allusion to Jungian theory.

I feel that this kind of combination isn’t very common in Christian America: Those from the relatively orthodox denominations (evangelicals and, increasingly, Charismatics) have pursued their faith with such ferocious, combative tenacity that they haven’t developed a lot of understanding in what we would normally consider the “extra-religious” realms, with the possible exception of politics. Our reaction to the cesspool of immorality which constitutes so much of modern culture has been to barricade the culture out, but what have we brought in? I haven’t seen this argued in very many places, but I would guess that one of the primary reasons why there’s such a dearth of heritage in the modern American evangelical community is because we’ve been continuously embattled for a generation. The American Pageant quotes John Adams as saying, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain” (from a letter to his wife, dated 1780).

Not that this is the only reason: Much of it, I feel, is either sin or ignorance. That’s a strong claim, but I make it in the memory of what I endured at [Nameless Bible Institute], during what Bethany called my “Siberian exile,” and what I saw of the state of learning at what I had believed to be one of the foremost evangelical graduate schools in the nation. The professors there appear to have been under the delusion that Christianity didn’t begin until around 1950; in all my classes, we were never assigned to read a book written earlier than that (and several of my assigned texts had been written by the professors themselves). So it tears at my heart, not only that the average devoted, zealous Christian has so very little concept of the history and literature of the world, which in many cases he already views as irredeemably evil, but he isn’t even being taught the history of his own faith. Oh, I could forgive the generation of my peers their single-minded study of religion, if it meant that they were really learning it; but in many respects they aren’t. In this I indict myself along with everyone else. We know more about Creationism than the Council of Nicaea, more about the pre-Tribulation Rapture than we do about Polycarp. And we’ve never even heard of Dante! Lately whenever I reference the Comedy, I have to preface the allusion with a lot of elaborate explanations about how there was a man in the middle ages who wrote a long poem about heaven and hell, etc… (having to leave out any mention of Purgatory, of course, as Papal nonsense). Dante is possibly the greatest, and was, at one point, the most famous poet in all Christendom. So not only do we as a body not know history or literature, etc., etc., but we don’t even really know Christianity. I believe that the Christian culture in this country is embattled, but at least from my own experience it seems their preferred method of fighting is to ignore the whole history of warfare, and to focus their attention on inventing completely new weapons made out of straw.

I can see how a person might receive the impression, from reading over everything I’ve written so far, that my purpose is for Christians to acquire an astonishing and (to their enemies) intimidating superflux of knowledge. Well, this is definitely MY aim, but to limit it thus would be missing the point. There’s nothing which the modern world possesses in greater abundance than knowledge, and nothing to which it puts more scattershot, destructive, undiscerning use. The things we need are simple curiosity, coupled with a sense of wonder, and an understanding of God which surpasses the bounds of religion to find Him in every good thing.

And what I finally began to see in my own writing (though of course I’ve witnessed it developing and taking root in other mediums as well, particularly in the modest, but significant, Christian intellectual and artistic flowering of the last decade) is a millenarian, fundamentalist Christianity which seemed not even a little out of place in the context of the whole philosophical and literary history of the culture which it helped to create. It shouldn’t feel out of place, at all, and that’s my point. The Bible, even now, is ahead of our time; as Chesterton said, in another context, “we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” The great things of history, the things which we as a generation, Christian and non-Christian alike, have so callously disregarded, are the fruits on the tree of a spiritual history and a spiritual heritage which Christians are no longer willing to claim, and non-Christians are no longer willing to acknowledge. It is impossible to imagine the last 2,000 years in Western painting, sculpture, literature, philosophy, architecture, or any other of a dozen areas without Jesus. Yet we as the body of Christ have done so; as if we could burn down the first floor of a house because we liked the second better. At the end of the day, all we’re left with is ashes, and the scorn of the nattering multitudes.

Ashes and scorn—this is our cultural inheritance. Brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Yet it goes even beyond that; this is a far bigger issue than just cultural literacy, though that’s important, too. The thing that gets me about it, more than any other practical or even theological consideration, is that it maligns the character of God and makes Him only vaguely, coldly knowable. The most prominent symptom, and most injurious result, of an over-attachment to religion, as opposed to the person of Jesus, is an inability to conceive of God in anything but narrowly-confined religious terms. Thou all-creating, everlasting, and transcendent God! Chiefly known to us through Thy Son, and by His cross—Thou madest all things, and for Thy sake they are and were created. Thy way is in the whirlwind and the storm—in the fox and the flower—on stage and on screen! There is no place so dark that is not lit with some spark of Your radiance. And Your kingdom will cover the earth—not merely with laws and proscriptions—but in every conceivable way.

That is the revelation burning in my spirit which, more than any other revelation, with one significant exception, I feel called and bound by love to release upon our generation. Until we can see God and learn of Him, with Spirit-directed understanding, no less readily through a tulip or a tiger than a testimony, no less deeply through an actual examination of the seas, than through a fruitless and unevolving debate about their age and origins—until we have, if not the ability, than at least the willingness, to see as the work of His hands the witness of George Wishart (1513-1546) or Latimer & Ridley (d. October 1555), no less than the men and women who initiated and carried the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1915); until we can recognize His Spirit peering out at us, as from behind a veil, through the faces sketched by Rembrandt and Van Gogh; until we come to view the world and its possessions as gloriously alive with His presence, for ever and ever, the inheritance of saints, we have not yet fully grasped the heart of that universal law laid down by the Psalmist and the prophets, even in the centuries of pre-incarnate darkness: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” “The whole earth is full of His glory.”

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