Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Overcoming Evil with Good: Jesus Freeing Us from Today's Gods, Myths, and Religion

In The New Demons, Jacques Ellul speaks of the gods we moderns adore. Only in the last seven pages does he mention how we, as Christians and churches, might respond creatively to these Olympian gods, the myths they spin, and the religious words, actions, and objects we use every day to affirm our misguided devotion to them.
Jacques warns us right off that this creative response will be difficult. In case we had forgotten, “it has to be understood that Christianity is a break with our society” (222).
Of course we Christians and churches must first allow our own devotion to the gods to be challenged by Jesus through his biblical witnesses. When Jesus uses their words to free us from our devotion to those gods, however, we should realize that this will not endear us to our Olympian neighbors.

On the contrary, “[f]aced with the religions which man sets up for himself, the only Christian attitude possible is one of struggle and elimination, not in order to substitute a Christian religion for others, but to get man out of the religious trap [altogether]” (222). “In other words, it is a resumption of the struggle of the prophets and of the early Christians” (223). It might help to recall that Romans regarded early Christians as atheists and haters of humankind!
When dealing with the gods, it is never a question of morality. It is never a matter of developing a moral code, conformity to which requires us to do some actions while refraining from others and allows us to measure our virtue relative to others.
Rather, it is always a question of spirituality. It is a daily questioning by Jesus through his biblical witnesses. His question is always this: by our way of living, are we, as Christians as well as churches, witnessing to him or to the six conventional but destructive Olympian gods of power? Are we sharing his light, love, and life with others or their darkness, coldness, and death?
Jacques, then, makes some suggestions about how we might strip Vulcan, god of technology, of his pretensions to divinity. He does this, not by laying down a new moral code, but by offering some suggestions as to how we might treat Vulcan and his technology in ways that continue to point to Jesus as our one and only savior.
Regarding Vulcan and technology, Jacques suggests we see “to it that technical objects [like smartphones] are never anything but objects, reduced to utility [the question of usefulness], measured with a cold eye, and scorned for their always base usage—being sure that they in no way give meaning to life. It means seeing to it that technology is nothing more than…an ensemble of useful procedures, interesting of course, but which do not enrich life, do not open a door to spiritual progress, and in no way characterize man” (224).
Regarding the ideology of science, and its justification of technology, Jacques points out that questioning Vulcan, and remaining faithful to Jesus, “means seeing to it that science is [only] one representation among others of the world in which we live, and never is the key to truth [especially our understanding of Jesus Christ who is the truth and the source, center, and goal of all truth] (224).
Regarding Jupiter, god of politics, whom we adore through our devotion to the national state and express through our delirium about politics, remaining faithful witnesses to Jesus “means working to see that the state be strictly lay and secular, refusing, in consequence, to accept any political ideology put out by it, whether [Democratic, Republican, or any patriotic declaration of American exceptionalism]. It means looking upon it as a [potentially] useful manager, of course, as administrator, but [nothing more.] We reject the nation-state structure, and the state-providence role, whether it be as an object of adoration, of confidence, or of hope” (224).
Remaining faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ means standing tall against the Olympian gods by understanding that they are nothing more than “prince charmings—gods of the stadium, of speed, of consumer goods, of utility, of money, of efficiency, of knowledge, of delirium, of sex, of folly, of revolution, of agnostic learning, of politics, of ideologies, of psychoanalysis, of class, of race, gods of the world calling for unheard-of holocausts” (225).
Jesus once pointed out that we do not live by bread alone but primarily by every word of truth spoken to us today by God. Consequently, our primary responsibility as witnesses to Jesus is not to feed the hungry, important as that is, but to expose the Olympian gods as the charlatans they are. It is our mistaken devotion to these fake gods that results in so many hungry people. And we good Christians do others no great service when, having fed them physically, we dismiss with contempt any idea of feeding them spiritually. Bread matters, but Jesus as the bread of life matters more.
Regarding Jupiter, we must bear in mind that the “person who takes the political route…so that people should no longer be exploited, should no longer be victims of war, that person is the surest guarantor of exploitation to come and further wars, for he is given over to the worship of [Jupiter] the political god. If he is not Christian [but an Olympian,] he is not responsible. If he is Christian, he is responsible” (225).
Jacques understands that the time has come for us as Christians to understand that we are “in a world inhabited by hidden gods, a world haunted by myths and dreams, throbbing with irrational impulses, swaying from mystique to mystique, a world in which the Christian revelation has once again to play its role as negator and destroyer [227] of the sacred obsessions, of the religious phantasmagoria, in order to liberate man and bring him, not to the self his demons are making him want to be, but to the self his Father wills him to be” (228).
Jacques concludes his book, The New Demons, by affirming that the “fight of faith to which we are committed is not a fight against man. It is not a question of…convincing him that he is wrong. It is a fight for his freedom. Reinserted into a sacred, a prisoner of his myths, he is completely alienated in his neoreligions—this brave ‘modern man.’ Every religion is both necessary and alienating. To smash these idols, to desacralize these mysteries, to assert the falseness of these religions is to undertake the one, finally indispensable liberation of the person of our times” (228).

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.