An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land: Chapter 4, "Stratagems of the Demonic Powers"

Having described the nature of the principalities and powers in Chapter 3 of An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land in Chapter 4 Stringfellow turns to the "Stratagems of the Demonic Powers." In this chapter Stringfellow tries to describe how the principalities and power exert their moral influence upon us.

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.

  1. The Denial of Truth
  2. Doublespeak and Overtalk
  3. Secrecy and Boast of Expertise
  4. Surveillance and Harassment
  5. Exaggeration and Deception
  6. Cursing and Conjuring
  7. Usurpation and Absorption
  8. Diversion and Demoralization
Almost all of these have to do with an assault on truth. Sometimes this involves simple lying (the denial of truth). Sometimes it means the use of euphemism or jargon (doublespeak). Sometimes it means hiding the truth (secrecy). Sometimes it means diverting and distracting people from the truth (diversion). Sometimes it means banishing, smearing or locking up those speaking the truth (cursing). Sometimes it means diluting the truth with a flood of media, pundit, and talking head coverage (overtalk). Sometimes it means intimidating those seeking the truth (harassment). Sometimes it means co-opting the truth (absorption).

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...

Essentially, babel targets the faculties of comprehension--sanity and conscience...
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.

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

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4 thoughts on “An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land: Chapter 4, "Stratagems of the Demonic Powers"”

  1. As Walter Wink noted, it is important to name, identify, and expose the powers and their deceptive tactics; but it is another thing to honestly confront the ways the powers have controlled and warped our own worldviews and ethical assumptions. When those in our pews are confronted with our institutional idolatry and enslavement to the "elemental spiritual spiritual forces of the world" (Col. 2:20f.) institutional powers become very defensive and resort to coercion demanding conformity to the tradition. One of the critical areas of discipleship needs to be the cultivation of discernment that can identify the subtle ways the powers to corrupt, distort, and rationalize conformity to the ways and "principalities" of the world and not to the mind of Christ. Churches have become complicit by not exposing the destructive forces and propaganda used by the "principalities and powers" to enslave believers to way of life that ultimately dethrones the Christ and undermines the way of the cross. In its place the institutional church has established membership rules (cf., Col.2:20-23) and obligations to assure "institutional survival" through consumer satisfaction. What happens to the institutional forms of church if the system is exposed as a form of captivity that actually hinders the cultivation of a worldview grounded in Christ and the values of a Kingdom not of this world?

  2. Interesting list of strategies. Of course the result is not exclusive to this White House, but by providing the list of strategies Stringfellow has made it permissible, not to say necessary, literally to demonize BO's presidency, which has proven marvelously adept at all eight.

    Now, I must apologize for demonizing. Or must I? After all, Stringfellow creates space for precisely that.

    puzzled qb

  3. Great read, and I think it's very important to be aware of and active in (against) what is being discussed here.
    Not to take away from anything in this post, but I think it's important to point out that the antichrist is never referred to as the "state" biblicaly even though in some way it may be. I think the "state" is more so referred to as the beast. There has been much teaching that the beast or the false prophet spoken of in the book of Revelation is the antichrist. Though the antichrist is never mentioned in the book of revelation. It is mentioned in 2 John and it is about people that have come out of the church. Something I think should be considered, but without taking away from what is being discussed here.

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