I've titled these posts "The Angel of the iPhone." I'd like to explain that phrase.
If you're familiar with the work of Walter Wink, or have read my posts on The Demons and the Powers (see the sidebar), you know where I'm going. Specifically, the idea here is trying to recapture the close association--the parallelism--the ancients saw between the physical and the spiritual. The notion that every physical power is also understood to be a spiritual power.
Three examples from the bible to illustrate this idea:
First, consider Psalm 82:
God presides in the great assembly;Notice here how Yahweh addresses the gods of the nations in a heavenly assembly. More specifically, how God, in addressing the spiritual Powers of the nations, is speaking about physical arrangements, like economic disparity and unjust systems ("How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."). Note the dualism and parallelism on display:
he gives judgment among the "gods":
"How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
"They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
"I said, 'You are "gods";
you are all sons of the Most High.'
But you will die like mere men;
you will fall like every other ruler."
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
for all the nations are your inheritance.
The god of the nation = the economic and justice systems of the nationLater, the "gods of the nations" come to be known (extrabiblically) as the "angels of the nations." Eventually these angels of pagan nations become associated with demons. An example of this emerging angelology and demonology in the bible occurs in Daniel 10. Daniel has been praying for three weeks. Finally, on Day 24, an angel arrives to answer his prayer. And the angel explains his delay like this:
Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.The explanation for the delay is that the angel of the nation of Persia prevented the messenger angel from reaching Daniel sooner. Only after the intervention of the angel Michael was the messenger able to get through. Again, what we see in this, as in Psalm 82 (see also Deuteronomy 32.8-9), is an association between an angel and a real-world political power, the Persian Kingdom. Again, note the dualism/parallelism:
Angel = Persian KingdomA final example comes from the book of Revelation where John is asked by Jesus to address the angels of seven churches. John address the people in the church by addressing the angel of the church: "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write..." Just like a nation has an angel that represents and personifies the spirituality of its common life, so do churches have an angel that represents and personifies the spirituality of their common lives. My church has an angel. Your church has an angel. And the angels are different. You see this when you read through the letters to the seven churches in Revelation noting that their angels--their collective, inner spirituality--were very, very different.
What I'm doing in this analysis is following the lead of Walter Wink who suggests a swap between spacial metaphors to understand the relationship between spiritual and physical powers. That is, the ancient way of thinking about the physical and the spiritual was through a higher vs. lower metaphor. Heaven is above and the earth below. What is spiritual is higher and what is physical is lower. This is why demons are "fallen" angels. A spacial metaphor--moving from high to low--is used to make a comment on the moral status of the spiritual agent.
The trouble with this higher vs. lower metaphor is that it becomes a bit strained for modern people. We know heaven isn't on a cloud above us. Nor do we think hell is down below us. So Wink suggests that we swap the higher vs. lower metaphor for an inner vs. outer metaphor. What is spiritual in now on the inside and what is physical is on the outside. An "angel" in this view is the inner life of a physical organization, be that organization a human being, a household, a organization, a business, a nation, or an economy. Recall the long list of Powers enumerated by William Stringfellow in the last post. Each of these organizations has an "angel," an associated spirituality that mirrors and animates the physical processes. Thus, when we address the "angel" or "god" of a physical organization, a nation in Psalm 82 or a church in Revelation, we are addressing the inner spiritual reality of that physical system.
To illustrate this, ask yourself about the angel associated with your place of work. What is the spirituality of this organization? What does it value? What does it worship? What is its animating spirit?
Beyond our workplaces we could go on to try to characterize the angel or spirit "of this age." Or the angel of our economy. Or the angel of our culture. And in each case we ask: What is the spirituality associated with this particular organization? What does it worship? What does it value? In asking these questions we engage in the task the bible calls "discerning the spirits." In trying to understand the angels around us, the spiritual powers tempting us into idolatry, we follow the admonition in 1 John 4:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.The point in going back into this material regarding The Powers is that I'd like to argue that there is an angel associated with iPhones. More precisely, there is an angel associated with what the iPhone represents--our world of mobile and social computing. There is a spirituality associated with the iPhone, what I'm calling its angel. And I'd like to engage in a process of discerning the spirits, to discern the angel of the iPhone the same way Jesus discerns the angels of the seven churches in Revelation.
Think about a movie like The Social Network.
Like it or not, the movie seems to be a secular attempt at "discerning the spirits," an attempt to discern the angel of the new world of social computing. What is the spirituality that animates Facebook and Web 2.0?
Truth be told, I don't know if I'm going to be able to say anything in this mode of "discerning the spirits" that is going to be very original or insightful. Lot's of people are talking about these issues. So I might, in the end, just end up loading down this conversation with a lot of obfuscating and distracting talk about "angels."
But while this language might not work for many people, it does help me. I like the language of angels (as I define it here) because it helps me name a force in my life, a spirituality that is hard to pin down in time or space. The word "culture" gestures toward these forces when we speak of the culture of a workplace, nation or church. But the word "culture" doesn't capture aspects of these forces that I think are important. For example, how these forces can enslave us, tempt us, or become locations of idolatry. The iPhone isn't just a gadget, a physical object. As discussed in the last post, the iPhone affects us. It is a power. And the label "angel" helps me move past the gee-whiz gadgetry to name and pick out the power--the moral, behavioral, psychological, social, and economic force--behind the object. The label "angel" focuses me on the level of analysis where I think Christian reflection and discernment should be focused. Not just for the iPhone, but for every aspect of life. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God."