Tag Archives: churches

Angels and Demons 2

While Googling, I came upon this quote:

“With the Enlightenment and triumph of rationalism, belief in angels disappeared; but contemporary theology, basing itself on psychoanalysis, has come to a new appreciation of the symbolic role of angels and demons as expressions of the Freudian superego and id.”*

Light flooded my dim brain, as I recognized the extent to which our culture is a battleground between science and belief, between devotion to the supernatural or to the observable.

Witness the excellent and most profound film Nacho Libre: Nacho attempts to baptize his tag-team partner Esqueleto so God will help them win the wrestling match. Esqueleto declines, and announces, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”

A common position is, if you believe in science, you can’t believe in God. Another common position is, if you believe in God, you can’t believe in science.

I taught at a college whose distinction was it’s mission to keep alive the notion that God created the world 5000 years ago. I don’t profess to know enough about carbon dating and such to weigh in on the subject. Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for people whose belief requires an absolute adherence to the literal interpretation of texts that may never have been meant to be interpreted literally. And I feel even sorrier for those who can’t accept that anything might fall outside the realm of scientific observation and analysis.

Returning to the quote that inspired this rant: to equate demons and angels with the Freudian superego** and id*** appears to me staggeringly simplistic.

The pilot who recently crashed his airliner into a mountainside was simply acting in accord with an id untamed by a superego? Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson et al were simply driven by untamed ids?

Not likely.

Which is why I salute Frank Peretti for portraying angels and demons as spiritual entities to be reckoned with. Even if his vision of cartoonish warriors doesn’t fully convince me, it makes a lot more sense than clashing superegos and ids being at the core of the human propensity to create reigns of terror, or to perform great sacrifice.

As I asserted in the post entitled “Angels and Demons 1”, churches aren’t likely to help us come to understand angels and demons. The topic is dangerous and fraught with too much complexity.

So I deeply hope some of us writers can rise to the challenge and shed new light on a most intriguing and vital matter.

*From “The Angel and the Self in the Poetry of José Ángel Valente” by José Ángel Valente and Julian Palley, in The Hispanic Review

** From About Education: According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the superego is the component of personality composed of our internalized ideals that we have acquired from our parents and from society.

***  From About Education: According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality. The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs.

Angels and Demons 1

A mysterious force prompted me to read a Frank Peretti novel. I found a deal on The Visitation. After reading that, feeling compelled to read another, I bought This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, both of which I had read long enough ago so the details of the story had escaped me.

For those who haven’t read Peretti or have forgotten, the novels’ main characters are demons who work undercover to accomplish Satan’s schemes; angels who stand guard over the humans who play parts in the great drama; and the saints without whose fervent prayers the angels might get massacred.

Aside from the demons, Peretti’s bad guys are mostly occultists, devotees of various religions and practices such as yoga and meditation, psychologists, public servants gone over to the dark side, and of course lawyers (generally enployed by a group based upon the ACLU).

Politics and cultural issues aside, the books make me crave to know what exactly are angels and demons. I mean, here in reality, are they beings or metaphor? Do they exist apart from us, or are they facets of us?

I’ve attended lots of churches but never yet gotten a straight answer, at least from the preachers.

Some friends and acquaintances have claimed to know all about angels and demons. I have witnessed and even participated efforts to exorcise evil spirits. About therapy, meditation, yoga and other such practices, I’ve heard, from Christians, all kinds of advice and arguments, pro and con.

But I can’t remember a church taking a firm stand on any of these issues that Peretti takes on.

No matter whether I believe his themes and characters are soundly based in reality or if I consider him a screwball, I admire him for stepping into an area of inquiry churches appear reluctant to enter.

Which leads me to believe more strongly than ever that the world needs writers who will, like Peretti, cut loose and share their opinions in story form, thereby nourishing the imaginations of us readers.

About Peretti in particular: I only hope he believes what he preaches. The Bible warns of serious consequences in store for liars, right?

I mean, as Dorothy Salisbury Davis wisely wrote, “Don’t sell your soul for peanuts to feed the monkeys.”

Church for Writers: Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.

Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.