On Warfare and Weakness: Interlude, In Memory of the White Rose

I know many of you are just hating the whole "spiritual warfare" metaphor of this series. In the last post of this series (Part 10) I'll give my big Jesus-driven argument as to why progressives need to recover this metaphor, despite our squeamishness.

But for today let me give another reason about why I'm drawn to the spiritual warfare metaphor.

In a comment today to Daniel, whose comments I uniformly enjoy and learn from, I said that while many of us are struggling with Boyd's use of warfare as a theodicy I really do think the kernel of his idea is worth talking about: resistance is our only theodicy.

True, in the face of the forces of violence and dehumanization maybe the dichotomy between resignation and resistance is too simplistic but, for my part, I'm drawn to articulations of resistance, "warfare" metaphor and all.

In his comment Daniel brought up the Holocaust. I don't know how any theodicy could be given in that face of that horror. In fact, I don't think we should be trying to get God off the hook for that. Nor do I think, and I agree with Daniel on this, that appeals to divine solidarity help all that much.

Which is why I'm drawn back to Boyd. If not to his theology then to his goal: resistance is our only theodicy.

For example, I wish there had been a bit more militancy in German Christianity during the rise of Nazism. Which is why I tire a bit to reactions such as "I don't like seeing myself in a battle. I just want to love people."

For my part, I take inspiration to keep using the spiritual warfare metaphor from people like the White Rose martyrs.

If you don't know about the White Rose they were college-age students, most were Christians, who began resisting the Nazi regime by printing and dispersing subversive leaflets. They were one of the few Christian voices speaking out against Hitler. They are spiritual heroes of mine and too few people know about them.

A selection from the famous fourth leaflet of the White Rose:
Every word that proceeds from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war. And when he names the name of the Almighty in a most blasphemous manner, he means the almighty evil one, that fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking maw of hell and his might is fundamentally reprobate. To be sure, one must wage the battle against National Socialism using rational means. But whoever still does not believe in the actual existence of demonic powers has not comprehended by far the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the tangible, behind that which can be perceived by the senses, behind all factual, logical considerations stands The Irrational, that is the battle against the demon, against the messengers of the Anti-Christ. Everywhere and at all times, the demons have waited in darkness for the hour in which mankind is weak; in which he voluntarily abandons the position in the world order that is based on freedom and comes from God; in which he yields to the force of the Evil One, disengaging himself from the powers of a higher order. Once he has taken the first step of his own free will, he is driven to take the second and then the third and even more with furiously increasing speed. Everywhere and at every time of greatest danger, people have risen up – prophets, saints – who are aware of their freedom, who have pointed to the One God and with His aid have exhorted the people to turn in repentance. Mankind is surely free, but he is defenseless against the Evil One without the true God. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air.

I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler...

We will not keep silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not let you alone!
For dispensing this and their other pamphlets the leaders of the White Rose were beheaded by the Nazis.

In memory of the White Rose I'm sticking with the spiritual warfare metaphor.

Part 8

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41 thoughts on “On Warfare and Weakness: Interlude, In Memory of the White Rose”

  1. For anyone who hadn't already read Daniel's quote from Hans Jonas, it's incredible writing. It made me wonder what kind of a life could have over-flowed with such moral and intellectual authority combined with (in his own distinctive way) such a fierce resistance to violence. Or so it seemed to me, anyway... A quick Google search readily yielded the answers, including a reference to his supreme principle of morality: "Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life". I also came across this further quote from Jonas, perhaps pertinent to the debate du jour:

    “Whatever variety evolution brings forth... Every new dimension of world-response...means another modality for God's trying out his hidden essence and discovering himself through the surprises of world-adventure...the heightening pitch and passion of life that go with the twin rise of perception and motility in animals. The ever more sharpened keenness of appetite and fear, pleasure and pain, triumph and anguish, love and even cruelty - their very edge is the deity's gain. Their countless, yet never blunted incidence - hence the necessity of death and new birth - supplies the tempered essence from which the Godhead reconstitutes itself. All this, evolution provides in the mere lavishness of its play and sternness of its spur. Its creatures, by merely fulfilling themselves in pursuit of their lives, vindicate the divine venture. Even their suffering deepens the fullness of the symphony. Thus, this side of good and evil, God cannot lose in the great evolutionary game.”

    Thanks for the introduction, Daniel.

  2. You migiht be interested in this:


    Jim Forest went from Episcopalian to Catholic to Orthodox. He was involved with the Catholic Worker movement when he was younger. He now heads up the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

    Our choirmaster wants to have an icon of St Alexander painted for our church, at least in part to remind us of what resistance means. When the time comes, I intend to contribute toward this. Holy Martyr Alexander of Munich, pray for us.


  3. I've just been watching a programme about the tiny super-massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. I was intrigued by the idea that such a chaotic entity in isolation is utterly dark, but that the overwhelming frictional forces arising out of its interaction with the ordered structure of its host galaxy produce the brightest known sources of light. What is more, the insatiable, consuming greed of this tiny singularity seems to be the engine driving the creation of that very order; that which imposes limits on its scope; the necessary energy source creating the conditions that recycle ancient stardust into you and me.

    This vital, dynamic relationship between order and chaos reminded me of this series, which I am enjoying so much.

    The fate of that which is consumed by the chaos to feed this process remains unknowable 'this side of good and evil', as Jonas puts it.

  4. I am an ardent admirer of Jim Forest and thanks for the link. Forest introduced me to Mother Skobtsova who inspired me to begin work painting an (unofficial) Icon of her. Mother S. is one who is worth attending to when engaging questions of resistance and theodicy. As someone who went to the gas chamber in a Jewish woman's place she is an example of Dr. Beck's 'resistance is theodicy' thesis. Much obliged.

  5. Here is the Amazon link to the Jonas essay "Mortality and Morality: A Search for Good After Auschwitz" (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy): http://www.amazon.com/Mortality-Morality-Phenomenology-Existential-Philosophy/dp/0810112868/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372296731&sr=8-1&keywords=mortality+and+morality++hans+jonas

    Some other suggestions for Jewish theologians engaging these questions I would suggest Emmanuel Levinas of course and one of my most treasured, "The Holy Fire," by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto. Obliged.

  6. I admire the White Rose, and they are probably, ultimately, more powerful than the Nazism that they opposed. I think the mission that they joined was carried on by a generation of Germans who went on to repent for their nation's sins in a way that is rather remarkable in history. Have you ever seen a Winkian angel repent? Although the repentance of Germany after the war was not complete enough for some, it still remains the best example of a repenting national angel that I have ever experienced. I could see the marks of this national penitence in my German professors and the normal Germans I've known, so acutely attuned to the dangers of national glorification. They are so unwilling to laugh or be even a bit cavalier in the face of the destructive power of nationalism. I learned a lot from this intergenerational posture of national repentance.

    And from this repentance, I believe came real forgiveness, grace and power power. The normalization of Germany. The refocusing of their manufacturing power into becoming a (largely) non-military manufacturing powerhouse that is, simultaneously, highly unionized and a model of pretty-darn good labor relations. The unification of the German and French steel industries was a move of genuine penitence that was designed to make another war impossible, and a move that also created real and shared economic power. But still, the world bears the scars of this angel's sins: the Holocaust first and foremost, but also our own military industrial complex, and the ongoing, slow crisis of Israel-Palestine. And from the economic power that post-war Germany recovered, they crafted the Euro, and now German nationalist monetary policy is feeding devastating unemployment rates in Spain and Greece and ultimately grinding the whole Eurozone into a depression that is far worse than the one we are facing here. What is at the spiritual root of Germany's economic policy? The notion of the unforgivability of debt, of Schuld, of sin, of course...a forgiven Germany should still be a forgiving Germany (and by the way, this all checks out in terms of standard economic models as well, as the rational course of action). But instead, Germany is weakening itself and the entire Euro zone with its economic unforgiveness.

    If only national angels would be penitents! They could exercise real power in good ways. But it is almost impossible to make an angel repent. It almost seems like the only way is to burn it to the ground.

    In this, I think I'm outlining the distinction I'd draw between the similar theodicies of "revolt" and "overcoming." Maybe revolt is how college students practice some of the skills that are integral in overcoming. Still, I think that revolt goes in the right direction, but is not enough. It is not yet serious or, to be very German about it, consequent, enough. If you wish to map this all onto post-war German politics, I'd say that I feel a bit Adornian and Habermasian, tsk-tsking (or having a heart attack) in the face of Marcuse and the student revolts of the 60's. I stand with them in seeing all of that as rather juvenile, even juvenile in a dangerous way. Juvenile in the overly-seroius and unserious manner of a generation of Very Serious People that would grow up to cast off the penitent posture, and sink Europe into disaster again.

  7. Mother Maria S. is quite remarkable, also for the work she did in Paris before going to the concentration camp - much along the lines of Catholic Worker. May the Lord help your labor on the icon.

    There are many such remarkable saints who resisted in the face of many horrors all throughout the last century.


  8. There are good people who have made religions for themselves around reinterpretations of Christian demons, or from whose religious figures Christianity has created demons (e.g. Baal).

    To cast Hitler as an agent of demons because he is evil, implies that all those others who follow supernatural-entities-Christianity-considers-demons are also evil. It's assigning to him the trappings of the Other, and then using his Other-ness as a justification to campaign against him. This is wrong. It is wrong speech, it reinforces wrong thought, and it encourages wrong action.

    (I'm an atheist, and a little sensitive about this sort of thing given how casually "godless" is thrown about in certain circles.)

  9. To cast Hitler as an agent of demons because he is evil, implies that
    all those others who follow
    supernatural-entities-Christianity-considers-demons are also evil.

    Please elaborate. I'm not seeing the connection.

  10. Well, what I'm saying is that there's no reason to bring demons and their followers into it. "Hitler is evil therefore we should fight him" is sound on its own. "Hitler is evil so clearly an agent of demons therefore we should fight him" is unnecessary, and conflates worshippers of figures which Christians have declared demonic - who like worshippers of the Abrahamic god may consider themselves agents of their god(s) - with Hitler-level evil.

    While it's true that (evil->agent of demons) !-> (agent of demons -> evil), (evil->agent of demons) -> (~agent of demons->~evil) -> for the set of all agents-of-demons, that set will have a greater than or equal number of evil people than the set of all not-agents-of-demons.

    Or try this on for size: "I know Hitler is a member of your religion because he's evil. But it's OK, you're one of the good ones."

  11. Okay, I think I see what you're saying.

    The White Rose's statement that Hitler is a servant of Satan has nothing to do with Hitler's religious practices, though. They're not saying "Hitler is a Satanist". (Or that he worships Baal, Baphomet, etc.) They're identifying Hitler with everything Satan represents in Christianity, i.e. opposition to God, hatred of humanity, the will to power, the drive to steal and kill and destroy.

    It's the same thing Allen Ginsberg did with Moloch. The historical cult of Moloch might protest that Ginsberg had it all wrong, but he wasn't writing to them.

  12. If he was writing to contemporaries of the cult of Moloch, who would then have to deal with people believing horrible things about the cult of Moloch, then it doesn't matter that he wasn't writing to them - his writings would still have had negative consequences for them.

    Now the OP is using the historical context of the White Rose saying these things about Hitler, as a justification/tradition for continuing to use the same "spiritual warfare" we-are-fighting-the-agents-of-demons framing in the present day. And in the present day, these "spiritual warriors" are going to meet "agents of demons" in pagans and other non-Christians. I was going to just leave it at pagans, but you brought up Baphomet, and yeah. I don't think it's a coincidence that anti-Muslim sentiment - anti-other-religions-in-general sentiment - is strongest in the parts of the US where the spiritual warfare framing is also strongest.

    Teaching people that worshippers of other entities are evil harms real people. And that is why framing moral questions as 'spiritual warfare' is not OK.

  13. "And that is why framing moral questions as 'spiritual warfare' is not OK."

    Of course it's okay. You're telling me that paganism doesn't have it own visions of "spiritual warfare," that there is no antagonism whatsoever between moral and spiritual forces in various pagan worldviews and mythologies? Of course those visions exist within paganism. So it's a wee bit hypocritical to deny one worldview its language of warfare while ignoring your own.

    Rather than going around an telling people what is okay or not okay within their respective worldviews (for example, I'd never go to a pagan blog and say "this part of your worldview is not okay"), what should happen is a conversation where we try to make some correlations between those respective visions of struggle and, yes, even warfare. That would be are more much constructive and interesting.

    Basically, for a pagan you're awfully judgmental. Sort of like Christians...

  14. If he was writing to contemporaries of the cult of Moloch, who would
    then have to deal with people believing horrible things about the cult
    of Moloch, then it doesn't matter that he wasn't writing to them

    But he wasn't writing to contemporaries of the cult of Moloch. And while there may have been a few Satanists in Germany in the 1930s, they weren't significant in the cultural landscape.

    Now, about "spiritual warfare": in the framework Beck is using (see Walter Wink, Stanley Hauerwas, etc.), spiritual warfare is about ideologies and collective actions, not religious beliefs. The enemy the White Rose was targeting wasn't Satanism, or even Satan as such, but Nazism as a spiritual force.

    (This is fundamentally different from the "spiritual warfare" of Pentecostal churches where they put their hands on you and try to cast out demons and such. It shares some rhetorical clothing but our understanding of the spiritual entities involved is completely unlike theirs.)

  15. As I said in my first post, I am an atheist, so appeals to my religious tradition are invalid.

    First off, if I were a pagan, it would be inappropriate for you to try to hold one pagan to account for "pagan traditions" when most pagan religions have jack squat in common with each other. Paganism is a catch-all term for various religions which have little in common except that they are not Abrahamic, and trying to take a pagan to task for the position(s) of a completely unrelated tradition is a shitty thing to do on the order of me accusing you of cannibalism because Catholics believe in the transubstantiation of the eucharist. In contrast, I'm taking you to task for a position that you have claimed to hold (roughly "It is OK to use the metaphor of spiritual warfare to describe struggles with moral elements in the real world"), using the material which you have claimed inspires it (the selection from the above leaflet).

    As for coming to a Christian blog and telling you something you believe isn't OK: I do my best to avoid judging anyone's religious beliefs and/or practices as long as they don't hurt anyone. (The fact that you mistook me for a pagan means I'm doing an OK job!) But looking at real-world conflicts as "spiritual warfare" in which evil people and actions are equated with spiritual forces you don't like? That hurts people. Enemy spiritual forces in religions are very often stand-ins for "the religion of those people we don't like" e.g. Baphomet, and connecting "spiritual force based on political enemy" with moral wrongdoing serves only to demonize the political enemy further. It's a lot easier to justify some pretty morally dubious behavior when you use the rhetoric of fighting demons.

    If your enemy is evil, let their evil acts speak for themselves.

    Attributing their acts to enemy spiritual forces, especially when they aren't even followers of those spiritual forces, is absolutely unnecessary. It slanders the real followers of that religion; it encourages the demonization/dehumanization of the real followers of that religion; and it puts the side invoking spiritual warfare in the morally hazardous position of believing themselves to be On The Side Of Good, when the real world is very, very, very rarely that simple.

    As for your last point, I find it absolutely hilarious that you're trying to shame me about being judgmental "like Christians" - with whom I have no quarrel, having come from a liberal and accepting church background, and having found this post from a liberal and accepting Christian blog where I am a regular (and, I like to think, valued) member of the community. Stereotypical button pushing is a low tactic to sink to, sir.

  16. I did treat you in a shabby and inhospitable fashion. I apologize.

    If I may try to clarify and explain some of my pique.

    Let me start with your criticism about my appeal to paganism (though you are not a pagan). You said: "if I were a pagan, it would be inappropriate for you to try to hold one pagan to account for "pagan traditions" when most pagan religions have jack squat in common with each other. Paganism is a catch-all term for various religions which have little in common except that they are not Abrahamic, and trying to take a pagan to task for the position(s) of a completely unrelated tradition is a shitty thing to do on the order of me accusing you of cannibalism because Catholics believe in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist"

    Any yet, I would argue, that is exactly what you did to me. You saw the words "spiritual warfare" and assumed that you knew exactly what you were seeing. That I was a seeing literal demons behind people. And yet, here's the irony, you are stepping midstream into a series of posts that is explicitly eschewing that viewpoint.

    A second observation. I'm with you in your worry in about the use of spiritualized language in discussing moral issues. I see that as a problem in what I'm up to. I very much like your formulation "If you enemy is evil, let their evil actions speak for themselves." But there are some problems with that formulation, a sort of flat reductionism that I think atheists are prone to. For example, I'm not sure, as an atheist, what you mean by the word "evil" in that sentence. Nor do I know what you mean by "speak for themselves." Speak to who? Which audience gets to adjudicate what is or is not evil? Finally, and more importantly for immediate purposes, to see evil actions localized in an individual misses the supra- or trans-human factors that create evil. By focusing on individual moral agents you're missing the deeper sources of the problem, promoting the very sort of scapegoating you're worried about, the identification of the few bad apples that made, say, the Holocaust happen. The Christian language of "the principalities and powers" has always picked out the social, political, cultural, institutional and structural dynamics that sweep individuals up in moral vortexes, the forces that get decent people to do evil things. The proper use of "spiritual warfare" language is aimed there, at those irreducible emergent forces, and is not aimed "against flesh and blood" (i.e., people). Which is what you are worried about. As am I. But biblically understood, focusing on people--breaking the prohibition and being against "flesh and blood"--is an abuse and misuse of this language. And that's a big part of what this series of posts is about.

    All that to say, while my initial comment was clipped, and again I apologize for not being a better host, I do think you and I agree would on a great deal and that, if you really took the time to see what I'm doing, you'll see I'm trying to address the very worries you raised. To be sure, any use, even enlightened use, of spiritual warfare language possesses a latent moral hazard. But I also think there are latent moral hazards to atheism. And I think it's good to point out those hazards. But for both you and I and our respective worldviews, those sets hazards seem worth the risk for the goods we accrue in believing what we believe.

  17. Any yet, I would argue, that is exactly what you did to me. You saw the words "spiritual warfare" and assumed that you knew exactly what you were seeing. That I was a seeing literal demons behind people.


    If a racist were to say that his boss Jewed him out of overtime pay, he wouldn't mean his boss was an actual Jew - I mean he's metaphorically a Jew, which is to say a tight-fisted crook.

    And if a person using the language of spiritual warfare says that Hitler is an agent of Satan, they wouldn't mean that he was literally a Satanist - they'd mean he was metaphorically a Satanist, which is to say super duper evil.

    There's a Satanist in the other thread now, so I feel a little... off trying to speak on their behalf. I suggest you ask them what it feels like to be used as the go-to metaphor for evil.

    Now. Maybe you don't actually approve of the contents of the excerpted paragraphs, but rather on the historical context surrounding them. But when you cite that sort of thing as an example of what you want to get back to, that's not cool.

    If it's all right I'd like some clarification on what you mean by the 'moral hazards of atheism' before I respond to the rest of your post. Between calling me judgmental "like Christians" when you thought I was a pagan, and thinking my problem with calling Hitler an agent of Satan was that I thought you were Pentecostal, I'd like to be sure where you're coming from. I'm not sure if you're trolling me; if you buy into the harmful myths that float the Christian culture about followers-of-not-major-religions(-and-non-religions); or if you actually have something worthwhile to discuss. Or some combination of the 3.

  18. An irony is that I'm wondering if you are trolling me.

    Let me try to answer by going back to the White Rose and what you found objectionable about them.

    The Holocaust represented a moral failure for a variety of worldviews, from Christians to atheists to, yes, even pagans (many of Hitler's inner circle turned to paganism to create a new religion purged of Judeo-Christian roots).

    Among atheists some turned to a Nietzschean will to power to justify the actions of the Third Reich while others exploited the moral resources of liberal humanism to mount a resistance.

    Among Christians similar failures and successes occurred. Among the failures was liberal/progressive Christianity. For an analysis as to why liberal theology failed to stand up to Hitler see Mark Lilla's account in his book The Stillborn God.

    And yet, there were Christians, like the White Rose, who found theological resources within their worldview to find their way into the light--standing up, to the point of death, to Hitler.

    You object to how the White Rose used their faith to stand up to Hitler. But for my part--in the face of such massive moral failure from Christians, atheists, pagans and others--I am interested in how the White Rose got it right, how they were able to use the theological resources within their worldview to find their way into the right. And yes, I'd like for other Christians to emulate them. Because I don't think, since Hitler, that liberal theology has developed the theological resources necessary to overcome another Holocaust. Nor do I think has atheism.

    But something went right with the Christian faith of the White Rose. So I hold them and their language up as exemplars for Christians then and now. (And atheists and pagans will turn to their own heroes from that era, as well they should.)

    For in the end, if the White Rose was wrong in their words and deeds then, well, I don't want to be right.

  19. While the story of the White Rose is a difficult story, I don't think it speaks to those of us who object to the warfare metaphor. We perceive the warfare metaphor as toxic, so it's a purity thing: it doesn't matter what nice ideas you layer on top of warfare, once you've deployed it you've poisoned everything.

    I think that's largely because people, en masse, have proven to be awfully good at dropping essential parts of the message (say, "love your enemies") and keeping the part that's sticky and exciting ("you are at war against evil and so should probably kill anything you can label as evil").

  20. I'll just say that it is only fair that you apply the "purity is toxic" approach here. Unless "purity is toxic" is read dialectically, it is self-defeating. I.E.: it attempts to use purity metaphors (toxicity) to expel purity metaphors. Insofar as that is happening, then "warfare is toxic" is naturaly self-defeating in a similar way. I'd say go all in: we need to declare war on warfare metaphors, and resist them with all our might!

  21. I hear you, and I don't disagree with the risks.

    So why mess with it? Well, an underlying assumption is that there would be a Christian who would want use all the theological resources available to them and learn how to use them well. So, for example, with the White Rose you see a group of Christians using the resources of spiritual warfare from their faith and using them well. Other Christians might want to lean how they did that so as to emulate them for the next Hitler in human history.

    The alternative is to forgo using the theological resources in your faith that have been misused or abused. This has been, generally speaking, the approach of most progressive/liberal Christians, the withdrawal from anything that smacked of past conservative/fundamentalist abuse.

    I get that, but then again what hasn't been misused or abused by said groups and individuals? The outcome is that you pull away from everything--the bible, from Christianity, from church, from God--as all of it has been contaminated in various ways with misuse and abuse. Thus the general trend of progressives moving further and further away from Christianity, God, church, the bible, etc., etc.

    You know I honor that move, particularly when it's motivated by a desire to love others more fully. But it does create a really weird and reactionary sort of Christianity. It's a Christianity that is always angrily or neurotically reacting to conservative Christianity. Progressive Christianity is just the shadow of conservative Christianity, the moon to its sun, the ulcerating wound.

    For my part, I've come to find that sort of neurosis intolerable. I'm tired of having conservatives/fundamentalists as my compass point, if only to go South to their North.

    Best to either leave the faith or reclaim faith in a way that isn't reactionary, angry or neurotic. I agree that there have been problems with the spiritual warfare language, but there have been problems with every bit of Christian language, so I either jettison the entire faith or I learn to use the recourse of the faith skillfully and well.

  22. > The alternative is to forgo using the theological resources in your faith that have been misused or abused.

    I don't think that's the only alternative. I don't think people should abandon every idea that has been abused. I don't even think that violent resistance should be taken off the table entirely. But this one metaphor, the warfare metaphor, has been particularly harmful in human history, with the success of the White Rose (if it was a success) being an extreme corner case. In fact, using the White Rose as an example is fairly ironic, since the warfare metaphor is a staple of fascist propaganda: When you want people to do something, you create an enemy for them to fight (and fear).

    To me, it seems better to work with a different, more constructive metaphor, possibly one tied to creating or making.

  23. Ok. So use that metaphor in your own life. No ones stopping you.

    What it boils down to, what matters, is the people- Richard can use a spiritual warfare metaphor because he's a decent sort who isn't going to misuse it. Pat Robinson is going to misuse a spiritual warfare metaphor because he's a jerk, not because there is something inherently wrong with the metaphor.

    Yes, the warfare metaphor is a staple of Facist propoganda. And it's a metaphor for programs to help the homeless, sports teams, working out, pointless anti-drug initiatives, or pretty much anything else involving a struggle or difficulty. That's because it's a good metaphor, and people like using it.

  24. Much of my interest in this has to do with the contexts where I'm working, among marginalized populations--the poor, the addicted, the criminal. They very much see themselves in a fight, in a battle with forces arrayed against them, a host of violent and dehumanizing forces. In my experience this "fighting" metaphor is sort of indigenous to these marginalized groups. And I can see why. So I begin where they begin, anthropologically, using the theological resources of the Christian faith to help them articulate this metaphor in ways that aid and energizes them in their daily struggles.

  25. Aren't satanists (assuming they're actually SATAN-ists, and not just anarchists-by-another-name) embracing the spiritual warfare metaphor, just from the other side?

    Every religion I've ever encountered has some sort of negative/evil force- gnosticism has the demiurge, Christianity has Satan, Buddhism has the self. Followers of these religions will use those negative things as metaphors in their internal communication. Using Satan=bad as a tool for preaching to satanists would be stupid. Using it to preach to Hindus would be senseless. Using it to preach to Christians makes sense because its their cultural context.

    "There's a Satanist in the other thread now, so I feel a little... off trying to speak on their behalf. I suggest you ask them what it feels like to be used as the go-to metaphor for evil."

    Given that the historical roots of Satanism are essentially Anton LeVay demanding attention like a cranky teenager, followed immediately by cranky teenagers 'rebelling,' and that it is practically entirely defined as the opposite of Christianity........cry me a fucking river. There is no set of beliefs in either atheistic or theistic Satanism that is not either derived from or identical too sets of beliefs in a VARIETY of other religions. Theistic satanism is essentially Wicca, but with the word "satan". Atheistic satanism is Nietzschian/randian self-worship....with the word satan.

    Either group is pretty much only using the word satan to get attention. They have the right too- but simply because some people hold a belief, doesn't mean I'm automatically compelled to respect them and coddle their all-precious feelings, any more than with any other set of beliefs.

    And I really don't see how their sadness over worshipping the go-to metaphor for evil really trumps the sadness of christians not being allowed to use a metaphor central to their faith simply because some attention hungry twerps decided to found a religion.

    tl;dr- satanists can do their thing, Christians can do their thing, and they, like fighting siblings, are probably better off just leaving each other alone.

  26. Just wanted to let you know that I'm not blowing you off but stuff came up at work so I will respond later k? k.

  27. That makes sense, but I thought you were targeting progressive Christians, and so I was trying to explain why that metaphor falls flat for them. And I kind of wanted to point out that it's not some sort of wishy-washy moral failure on their part, but an aversion to a particular, and I'd say largely harmful, way of framing the world and your own problems.

    Put another way: I think many progressive Christians (and other people, like me and AnonaMiss) experience the warfare metaphor as a demon of sorts, wedged way down in the human mind. Invoking it to power something you perceive as good or even morally neutral seems safe enough, but in doing so you lend it power and legitimacy that in the long run destroys millions of lives and causes an incomprehensible degree of horror and suffering.

  28. But don't you think there's a difference between ideas that are "good" or "sticky" and ideas that have good results for human beings? Or do you think metaphors are entirely neutral?

  29. Arg! I wish I had thought of using a warfare metaphor to combat a warfare metaphor!

    Oh, wait. I think I just used a warfare metaphor.

  30. I would like to point out somewhat pedantically that I, too, am a progressive Christian and your opinions do not speak for me. This particular post reads a bit like the One True Scotsman fallacy. I am sure this wasn't your intent but I want to make sure you understand how it comes across.

  31. We could probably both get PhDs in the process of trying to answer that question. What is an "idea" in the absence of cultural context? Is there a kind of cultural semiotic that interrelates the idea to the context or do they have a fundamental nature? I lean very strongly on the former, but it is a layman's observation.

  32. Right, definitely. Obviously, not all progressive Christians agree: there's Richard, and quite a few other folks who have commented on this post. So I should have used the word "many" in the first sentence, as I did later. But given Richard's refrain of "I know lots of you don't like this metaphor", I figured it was safe to talk about the bunch of progressive Christians in that group and speculate about why the metaphor might be a no-go for them.

    And somewhat pedantically, I'll point out that I'm actually /not/ a progressive Christian myself, I'm more of an Igtheist ... unless someone needs me to be a progressive Christian, and then I can do a pretty good imitation. =)

  33. Well, considering some of the most "Christ-like" people I've ever met were atheists I am not entirely sure how much it matters.

    When I think of this metaphor I always think of it as fighting against the elements. I take a stand against fear, hate, injustice, and I will fight against those concepts or the ideas that lead to those realities. That being said I can certainly understand and share with you a profound distrust of these metaphors. They are powerful and they need to be used, if at all, with great care.

  34. I think I'd lean toward describing ideas or metaphors in terms of patterns made of other ideas/metaphors, more or less recognizable in a particular cultural context. But I don't feel the need to hash all that out. I just wanted to probe a bit to find out what it would take for (Guest) to reject a particular metaphor or idea as essentially negative.

  35. Neat, some significant points of agreement! Too bad that's going to make the Internet collapse. =(

  36. We shall see! I like to think this particularly community is stronger than that. :)

  37. I don't object to how the White Rose used their faith to stand up to Hitler. I don't object to anything the White Rose did, because that was a long time ago. I object to people using the rhetoric in the present day. The Satanists and worshippers-of-religious-figures-that-were-demonized-by-Christianity are around, and they can hear/read you. More importantly, there are Christians around who would love a reason to feel vindicated in ill treatment of religious minorities.

    And in response to "Dude stop saying various evil people are in league with Satan, I know people who are in league with Satan and they're stand-up guys", your reason for rejecting the real harms that can come to Satanists/WRFDBC is "But people who stood up to Hitler used that kind of metaphor!" That's just inverse argumentum ad Hitlerum: "They stood up to Hitler so everything they did is right."

    If you're so keen to feel like you're one of the White Rose, bravely taking a stand against Ultimate Evil, I recommend finding a tabletop role-playing group. There, the innocent people you hurt in your vainglorious crusade will be completely imaginary.

  38. I agree with this. I think the "progressive" abandonment of warfare imagery is symptomatic of an actual abandonment of poor and working class people ... even though many "progressives/liberals" are working class people, I think liberal identity (especially within theology) is generally constructed in a way that is oppositional to working class identity. The abandonment of warfare imagery is symptomatic and constitutive of this abandonment on at least two levels: (1) it serves to separate "liberals" from those simpletons who still actually believe in that stuff, placing them above those people with their crude religion, and (2) it robs their actual spiritual practice of the spiritual imagery that allows us to engage the real struggles of poor people in solidarity, rather than charity. Warfare theology makes all the sense in the world for the majority of people, who actually struggle day to day with destructive forces that are beyond their control. What's funny is that liberals, in the polemical sense that I am using the word, are not actually above all of these day-to-day struggles ... but they have a religious imagery and theology that encourages avoidance rather than engagement. To paraphrase Jim Wallis: I think a lot of 'conservatives' get it wrong, but 'liberals' just don't get it.

  39. An often neglected area of spiritual warfare is the spiritual ambush (1 Peter 5:8). See what a U.S. Army Ranger learned about ambushes in a physical jungle that he found could be applied to the spiritual jungle at http://spiritualjungle.org/welcome/

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