Stringfellow starts the chapter:
If the powers and principalities be legion, so are the means by which they assault, captivate, enslave, and dominate human beings.According to Stringfellow, all the "strategies" used by the powers share a common goal, the demoralization of the human conscience:
[E]ach and every stratagem and resort of the principalities seeks the death of the specific faculties of rational and moral comprehension which specifically distinguish human beings from all other creatures. Whatever form or appearance it make take, demonic aggression always aims at the immobilization or surrender or destruction of the mind and at the neutralization or abandonment or demoralization of the conscience.The goal is to morally incapacitate human beings, to so confuse, distract or overwhelm us that we are made passive, docile, conformist, oblivious and obedient.
Stringfellow goes on to list and describe eight stratagems used by the powers to accomplish this goal.
- The Denial of Truth
- Doublespeak and Overtalk
- Secrecy and Boast of Expertise
- Surveillance and Harassment
- Exaggeration and Deception
- Cursing and Conjuring
- Usurpation and Absorption
- Diversion and Demoralization
Stringfellow groups these assaults on truth under a collective biblical label: babel. Babel does two things. First, babel overwhelms and dumbfounds the conscience:
Babel means the inversion of language, verbal inflation, libel, rumor, euphemism and coded phrases, rhetorical wantonness, redundancy, hyperbole, such profusion in speech and sound that comprehension is impaired, nonsense, sophistry, jargon, noise, incoherence, a chaos of voices and tongues, falsehood, blasphemy...Beyond this verbal battery, Stringfellow also adds to babel the "noise of technology." And this was before the rise of 24-hour cable news, the Internet and social media! The noise of babel has grown exponentially since Stringfellow wrote this.
Essentially, babel targets the faculties of comprehension--sanity and conscience...
Second, beyond numbing the conscience babel lays the foundation for violence. Here Stringfellow quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
Let us not forget that violence does not exist by itself and cannot do so; it is necessarily interwoven with lies. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle.When you look back over the list of stratagems it seems clear that many of these point to the actions of the state. Though, to be clear, all organizations and institutions engage in lies, distraction, euphemism, harassment, surveillance and secrecy.
For example, as discussed in the earlier chapters, the goal of all the principalities and powers is institutional survival. And yet, that brute fact is rarely discussed candidly and in the open. It's hidden under jargon, mission statements, and euphemism. Cutbacks--also known as firing people--are called "budget realignment" or "reinvestment." And in churches you see changes made--in personnel, programs or presentation--to put seats in the pews and money in the collection plate. Though that goal is never overtly named. The changes are called being "missional." Euphemism.
Still, the state functions as the preeminent principality and power. Stringfellow suggests that there is a "hierarchy of principalities" as the powers "are not all equal in life span or capacity for survival or in prominence or influence." According to Stringfellow, the state exists at the top of this hierarchy: "Among all the principalities, in their legion species and diversities, the State has a particular eminence."
And given that the state sits at the top of the hierarchy of demonic powers, the state is generally named as "the Antichrist" in the biblical witness. Consequently, in her battle against the Antichrist the church exists in a state of resistance in relation to the state:
Those human beings and communities of humans who persevere in fidelity to God and to the gift of their humanity, those who resist death and thus live in Jesus Christ--whether that be a public formality or not--do so under the condemnation of the State in one way or another, be it in ridicule and ostracism, in poverty or imprisonment, as sojourners or fugitives, in clandestine existence, as a confessing movement, or, otherwise, in resistance.Link to Chapter 5