Confronting Our Ataxophobia (An Advent Reflection)

Patterns-In-Chaos-2008_Kerrie-WarrenI had a recent conversation with a Christian who said they admired what I was doing through my justice work.  I became intrigued by something the person said about why they didn’t get more involved in justice work. In my recent book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist, I wrote about several fears which I believe explained why so many U.S. Christians were not doing the necessary justice work to enact Christ’s blessed Kingdom. I noted that fear of freedom, fear of being in the outgroup, and fear of oppressive punishment were just three dreads that kept Christians from engaging in meaningful missional activity. Nevertheless, during this conversation, I heard another significant fear that I had never considered.

This person, who would fall into several categories of being marginalized and oppressed, admitted that one of the main reasons why they did not get involved in justice work was for fear of the chaos that might ensue if the common people did rise up to oppose the unjust systems and imperialistic governments of this world. This person said something to the effect that if the masses really did start to fight back, the possibility of chaos would dramatically increase. And this person said they feared chaos more than anything else in life. So, I looked up the term fear of chaos, and lo and behold there is a word for it: Ataxophobia. Ataxophobia is the fear of disorder or chaos. It is a dreadful sense of loss of control.

I reflected on the possibility that this sense of fear over the loss of control, loss of psychological stability, or even the loss of a minimal sense of economic predictability may be a driving emotional reason why tens of millions of oppressed people in the United States continue to allow themselves to be under the thumb of their oppressors—the capitalist class (the 1%).

Ataxophobia is endemic in the petite bourgeoisie or the so-called middle class, who fear losing anything that might remove their false sense of security. And it is a false sense of security when examined with honest critical thinking because the capitalist system itself is filled with needless cycles of economic uncertainty and periods of economic busts which create chaos for so many. These economic busts are caused by the greedy overproduction inherent in the capitalistic system which throws countless people into unemployment, bankruptcy, family disruption, and homelessness.

Yet, it is possible and has been shown historically in other societies, that an economic reorganization of society based on meeting people’s needs rather than on free-market profiteering would remove, over time, the economic instability inherent with capitalism. However, since the capitalist class will not give up their power voluntarily, there will be a necessary struggle to rid our world of the instability and contradictions of neo-liberal capitalism and replace it with a more stable and equal economic system based on meeting people’s needs. The struggle that I am talking about is the revolutionary activity of the common people (the working class) in regaining what has been taken from them by the capitalist class. And, yes, this struggle will be messy and maybe even chaotic for a period.

The Christian season of Advent is upon us. It is a season of preparation and anticipation for the incarnation of Christ. The appearance of Jesus created quite a lot of chaos and disorder, and Jesus even admitted that he had purposefully come to disrupt the status quo: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:34-36, NIV).

Thus, Advent can also become a spiritual time for us to realize, prepare for, and re-engage in Christian revolutionary activity which, unfortunately, might bring about a period of great suffering—where there even may be an increase in chaos and disorder. Nevertheless, this chaos will not come about because of Christian revolutionaries or our allies, but because the capitalist class refuses to correct the grave injustices of the evil systems which they have wrought upon our world. The season of Advent can be a wakeup call out of our false sense of security and re-energize us for the struggle ahead.

In the Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent, we read, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26). This scary an chaotic future event is to be brought about by the work of God through the revolutionary people of God in enacting the Christ’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is Good News because when the “Son of Man” comes humanity will enter into the future “millennial” age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

It should be stated, however, but without equivocation, that as Christians engage in revolutionary activity, the Christian revolutionary is not desirous of chaos or disorder. Only a person with severe psychological disorder invites unnecessary chaos or pain into their own life or the lives of others.  This chaos really is brought upon us by the evil “rulers and powers” of this “dark world” (Eph 6:12).

Yet, my sense is that to be a growing spiritual person, to be a Christian, is to engage in the subversive, revolutionary work of Jesus to enact the Christ’s Kingdom, which is counter to the capitalistic governments (kingdoms) of this world.  To live out the Christian life is to overcome the fears of life in order to complete the missio Dei—the Mission of God—to bring in an eternal age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

The hope, joy, peace, and love of the Advent season is cause for celebration, yet it should be experienced in the context of our current suffering and the fallenness of our world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). With the first advent of Christ, we recognize that, despite our hope and personal peace, there is still chaos and suffering in the world and all of creation is in a “groaning” phase of evolution.

But it is in Christ that we can enjoy a deep experience of hope, joy, peace, and love which can cast out the fear of the responsibility of our freedom, minimize the fear of being outside the in-group of the petite-bourgeoisie, destroy the fear of authoritarian oppression, and even overcome the fear of the chaos that must inevitably result as we enact Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

Emil-Nolde-Prophet-1912I am re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination with some friends who meet every other week for discussion and breakfast. It is amazing to read a book so many years after first looking at it to see where you have grown. My sense is that I have moved from a pastor who had some prophetic inklings earlier in my ministerial life to a radical prophet who recognizes the need to also be a healer/pastor if I am to be an effective proclaimer and enactor of Christ’s “utopian” Kingdom.

In the second edition preface to the book, Brueggemann states, “… ‘prophetic imagination’ requires more than the old liberal confrontation if the point is not posturing but effecting change in social perspective and social policy.” This means that if the goal is a societal change, which is what the prophet is calling for, not reform, but revolution, then simply joining a liberal justice group to protest this or that injustice or inequality is not prophetic.

The prophets of old and the prophets of our age were all willing to suffer or die for structural societal change. They didn’t choose or seek out suffering, but they knew that the true prophetic path was one of suffering and self-sacrifice. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were all willing (albeit reluctantly sometimes) to put their lives on the line for the sake of enacting God’s just and beloved community. Jesus, of course, was and is the exemplar prophet who sacrificed his own life for the whole world.

Martin Luther King said, “A person who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Certainly, MLK was following the prophetic path of Jesus when he said this. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Thus, the prophetic path is not set aside for a group of select, elite individuals or “leaders,” but Jesus is saying that all of his followers will be suffering prophets for the sake of the whole world, for the future City of God.

As we live in the heart of the U.S. empire, whose government is wreaking havoc on the whole world, where are the prophets, where are the followers of Christ willing to go the cross to enact the future City of God, what I have called the Commonweal of Love?

We are at a critical point in history, an opportune time to move the evolutionary process of humanity forward, a liminal period to fundamentally change the social structure from one that oppresses the masses for the sake of the few towards a new society based on meeting the needs of all people. To do that we need those who are called to be prophets to accept their calls to suffer, to sacrifice, and to enact the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Get Up! Stand Up! With the People! (Poem on Micah 6:8)

get-up-stand-up-dont-give-up-the-fight

What does God require of us?
God’s love poured out in abundance.
How should we respond?
Christ’s mercy given so freely.

Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!
Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!

Do we hear the wails of those made poor?
God hears them crying in their distress.
Do we see the masses which are oppressed?
Christ calls us to love mercy and reach out.

Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!
Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!

Why are the workers denied their wages?
God sees their plight and feels their pain.
Can’t we see that the system is broken?
Christ calls us to fight against injustice.

Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!
Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!

When will the marginalized stop being scapegoated?
Jesus shed His blood for them on the Cross.
What will you do to stop the hatred?
Christ call us to humble ourselves so others can rise.

Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!
Love Mercy, Act Justly, Walk Humbly
With Your God! With The People!

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Multi-Being Vs. Multi-Tasking (Reflection)

being-461780_960_720Recently, I typed “How To Multi-Task” in my web search engine and got back over 10 million hits. Multi-tasking, it seems, is a highly treasured skill. The dictionary says multi-tasking is the ability to “perform more than one task or activity at a time.” Of course, many high-functioning, go-getter-types claim to be great multi-taskers, presumably because that’s what employers and organizational leaders are looking for.

But there is a problem. The human brain was not designed to multi-task. In fact, what is actually happening is not multi-tasking at all, but multi-switching.  “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”[i] Furthermore, research shows that the more we try to multi-task, the less we accomplish. Our brains are designed to focus, not multi-task.

This got me thinking about a sticky note that I have on my computer screen at the hospital where I minister as a chaplain.  The sticky note says,

Ministry Goals:

  1. Be Available
  2. Be Present
  3. Be Not Rushing
  4. Be Intentional
  5. Be Mercy-Full

Those five “be” statements really are what I attempt to be and to grow into being.  When I am with someone or a group of people, I am to a greater or lesser degree “being” with them. So, really I desire to be good at multi-“be”ing, not multi-tasking. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably not being available or fully present. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably rushing.

Jesus perfectly exemplified the “multi-being,” non-multi-tasking lifestyle. When he was told his best friend Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stayed focused where he was on the people and mission before him. When he had finished his ministry in that place, Jesus left to go to Lazarus’ home and found that he had died. Jesus wept openly at his burial place, and the people said, “See, how he loved him” (Jn 11:36).  Jesus was always available and present to those who were with him; he was always intentional, full of mercy, and not rushing.

Unfortunately, the typical capitalist business environment of do more, do it perfect, and do it now is antithetical to being human and certainly not multi-being. Businesses and other organizations who desire people to multi-task do not care for their workers. They are oppressing them. And the irony is that it is scientifically impossible to multi-task and multi-tasking actually lowers productivity.  So, let’s promote multi-being, rather than multi-tasking.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could change the name from busi-ness to being-ness.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Reference

[i] Anonymous. “Multitasking: Switching costs.” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006. Downloaded on August 15, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx.

To My Fellow Ephesians (Praxis Poem)

Arise,
Night shadows
Shroud constricted pupils
From perceiving, receiving
The pure light of Love.

Asleep,
Lids encrusted
Not willing to admit
The liars we believe
Are our rulers.

Aware,
The forces of darkness
Like winged ants
Masticating our minds
Against the grain.

Artless,
Scattered
Rootlessly marching
To the oppressor’s beat
Begging for orts from his table.

Awake,
So ends
The nightmare
Now struggle for
Those in the clutches of Fear.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

You Say You Want A Revolution? (Reflection)

revolution of loveThere is a significant amount of chatter about revolution lately. However, I am not impressed with what I am hearing from certain corners. Several spiritual writers that I read have mentioned the need for a spiritual revolution (Google the term to get a taste). Of course, Trump, Sanders, and others from mainstream political parties have spoken of a political revolution (and look at the fine mess we have gotten into Ollie). But, ala Inigo Montaya, I don’t think revolution means what many people who use the word think it means.

Even the dictionary seems to correctly understand revolution as something people do, not what people say. A revolution has two qualities, and the first is “a sudden, radical, or complete change” of a social system. This understanding of revolution is closely tied to its root word “revolt,” which means that a revolution is the process of people revolting against power structures. Thus, revolution is not when well-known spiritual writers or politicians wax eloquently, yet benignly, about spiritual or political change. Revolution, spiritually and politically, is renouncing allegiance or subjection to a corrupt structural and systemic power. It is the action of joining others to overthrow corrupt political structures (like capitalism) or for religious folk the corrupt religious structures (i.e., dogmatic denominations/churches). So, it should be clear that these “spiritual writers” and “mainstream politicians” are really talking about reform, and not revolution.

The second quality of revolution is also fairly easy to understand. A revolution is an “action by which a celestial body goes around in an orbit or elliptical course.” Something that is revolutionary, then, is ongoing. In a spiritual sense, a revolutionary is someone who is radically repenting (changing) in a continual dialectical fashion. Just like a radical is someone who gets to the root of a thing, a revolutionary is someone who recognizes and operates in a recurrent dialectic of being changed spiritually and socially and changing corrupt spiritual and social structures to liberate others. It is a constant process of death and resurrection, of acknowledging blindness and then seeing, over and over again.

It is quite different from semper reformanda. It is semper revolutio!

Jesus clearly was a revolutionary in this sense. He wanted to tear down the temple and rebuild it differently (Jn 3:19). He called us to hate our own parents, siblings, and even our own life in as much as they/we were participating in oppressive systems (Lk 14:26). Jesus told us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor, in order not to be corrupted by greed (Lk 12:33). Yes, the revolutionary Christian is always working towards personal/spiritual and political/social change by radically sacrificing oneself for the cause of others: “We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other” (1 Jn 3:16).

This can be frightening stuff, yet it is also quite liberating. This understanding of a revolutionary spirit is needed to recognize the futility of reforms at this stage. Real paradigmatic change has always come through revolutions, not by reforms. Furthermore, it is well-known that the powers that control much of society, whether political or religious, will only allow reforms up to a point and will never relinquish their domination of and stranglehold on the masses. Reforms will never wrest power away from the oppressors and give it back to the people.

Only revolutionary work—both spiritual and political—only a mass movement of the people working together to take power back from the oppressors will result in equality and freedom for all. We need both a spiritual and social revolution, and they must work dialectically as well. And it’s not enough to change society, we must simultaneously help humans have a spiritual awakening to be in concert with the knowledge and purposes of The Holy Spirit.

For the sake of our families, our communities, our world, it is time for Christians to take up our crosses and truly follow a revolutionary Jesus (Lk 9:23).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Alien Nation (Reflection)

The_ScreamAs I read the writing on the wall, our situation in the United States has become untenable—one that clearly cannot be reformed under the current political and capitalist economic system. Yet, for many so-called middle-class U.S. citizens, even those on the lower edge, the situation may not seem so dire. After all, most people in the U.S. get to wear Nike’s or Adidas, have smartphones and other entertaining electronic devices, eat fast-food whenever they want, drive relatively newer cars, and live with some sense that life is at least not as bad as it is in many other countries.

Nevertheless, the inequality in our country and the social problems that result from this inequality are staggering. And, if we were doing so well why is that (the writing on the wall shows):

Over 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, and 15 million have Major Depressive Disorder.  Those numbers only represent those who have been diagnosed; many more millions suffer untreated. Those with addictive disorders number 20 million, with 50,000 accidental drug overdose deaths every year (100 per day). 121 people in this country commit suicide every day. There are 2.2 million in jail and 4.7 million on probation. Last year 30,000 were murdered, 100,000 were shot with a gun, and 90,000, mostly women, were raped. These statistics are some of the highest rates in the world, only rivaled by countries actively engaged in war. And speaking of war, for such a noble country, the U.S. has been at war with some group for 222 of its 239 years of existence. This addiction to war and imperialism is the primary reason the U.S. is 18.9 trillion dollars in debt. Finally, most of us have heard that the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more than the bottom 90 percent, and that just eight people, six of them U.S. citizens, now own as much combined wealth as half the human race.

These statistics are overwhelming and undeniable. This dire situation is why thousands of U.S. citizens are mobilizing in collective action to attempt, at least, to bring some attention to the injustice and oppression caused by our broken political and capitalist system. However, we need many more to get involved to effect any real change and overturn this corrupt system.

Unfortunately, tens of millions have not engaged, but, instead, have withdrawn from collective action out of a false sense of malaise and powerlessness. This withdrawal from engagement is sometimes referred to as alienation and is a direct result of our broken political and capitalist system. Humans, through the capitalistic system, have been systematically commodified to anesthetize them from engaging in collective action. One of the 19th century’s great thinkers observed, “A direct consequence of the alienation of humankind from the product of their labor, from their life activity and from their species-life, is that humankind is alienated from other humans. … humankind is alienated from his species-life means that each person is alienated from others and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.” Those words were written in 1844. The situation of alienation in the US is worse now over 150 years later.

We have become an Alien Nation—commodified and separated from our collective humanity.

Scripture also speaks of alienation as sin (missing the mark): “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions” (Col 1:21) The essence of these “evil actions” may initially seem to speak only of individual sin, but should also be interpreted to include the systemic sin inherent in our societal apparatuses. In Christ, sin is not only to be recognized and confronted individually, but systematically as capitalistic (and racist) economic oppression: “Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” This sin of ethnic/economic discrimination was not dealt with individually, but systematically through the development of a more just and humane system (Acts 6:3).

If we focus solely on our individual problems (or sins), we actually exacerbate them and continue to be alienated from God and others. Psychologists mostly treat mental illnesses as individual problems and religious folk speak way too often of individual responsibility for sin. But when we pull our heads out of our overly individualistic mindsets for just a moment, we will see that much of what is individualized as sin or mental illness is the result of a political and social problem which needs drastic treatment as well. In the case of the U.S. capitalist system, which is killing our world, my suggestion is “shock treatment.” We need to shock ourselves awake, re-engage in collective action, and radically replace the alienating capitalist system with a more equitable system.

Jesus told us how to do that: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk 16:23c), so “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk 12:33a).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

On Not Killing (Reflection)

no-killingIn World War II, at least three out of four U.S. combat infantryman did not fire their weapons at the enemy—even in the midst of battle. In that decisive moment to engage in mortal combat more than 75% of infantry soldiers became conscientious objectors.  LTC (Ret.) Dave Grossman, in his ground-breaking book, On Killing, said, in World War II, “… 80 to 85 percent of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their own lives and the lives of their friends. In previous wars, non-firing rates were similar.”[i]  Other research shows that there is, “a powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one’s own species….”[ii]

After World War II, the U.S. Government/Military decided that their combat training had to change in order that soldiers could become reflexive firers. The military realized that soldiers needed to be conditioned to believe that they had no choice but to fire, and to fire on reflex or muscle memory. They had to be conditioned to kill, because killing other humans is antithetical to humanity. Additionally, this new training and conditioning included the systematic dehumanization of real or potential enemies to ensure that the soldier would not be presented with a moral dilemma when the moment arose to engage the enemy—other human beings. Thus, the soldier had to be dehumanized as well.

Since the combat training program was changed after World War II, individual fire rates of U.S. service members have increased in every U.S. war to almost 95% today.

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that retired Navy psychiatrist William P. Nash found that upwards of 75% of returning combat veterans since Vietnam are suffering from a PTSD-like malady called Moral Injury. Nash said, as soldiers come home from war “something is damaged, broken. They feel betrayed; they don’t trust in [the military’s] values and ideals anymore.”[iii]

If it is in the nature of humanity not to kill other humans, and we condition people to do so, once that conditioning is no longer needed (post-combat), a significant moral crisis inevitably occurs. In order for humans to kill humans, the military must convert humans into something inhuman to kill those they have convinced are worse monsters.

Now, if the U.S. as a society allowed the government through its military to forcibly convert 75-80% of peace loving humans into killers in just a span of a few decades, could not we as a society have more readily converted the 20-25% of those who might kill into peacemakers? If we think war is inevitable because a small segment of society is capable of using deadly violence against others, should we not also believe, based on the evidence, that there exists the capacity of the overwhelming majority of peaceful humans to nonviolently restrain the potentially violent? Do we not delude ourselves when we believe that the best way to combat violence is with the same means that violence is perpetrated against the innocent and peaceful?

The apostle Paul called Christians to not use the “weapons of this world” to resolve conflict (2 Cor 10:4a). Jesus said, “Put your sword away. Everyone who uses a sword will die by a sword” (Mt 26:52). The call of Christ is to be peacemakers, not killer-makers or war-makers. We are called to “transform deadly weapons into farming equipment, and swords into kitchen utensils. Nations shall not attack other nations with military force, and all the countries of this world must cease from training their citizens to become killers” (Is 2:4). The message of all true religion is to bring peace to the world.

So, what can we do? If you are veteran, please join a local chapter of Veterans For Peace. If you are a civilian, join your local peace group (Code Pink, Peace Action, Pax Christi, Pace e Bene, WILPF, Peace Links, etc). If you are a Christian or religious person join a peace-promoting congregation or call on your current congregation to join the peace movement.

Let’s get busy! It is time for us to live up to our human nature as a peaceful, cooperative species.

Peace is possible.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017

Notes
[i] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009, 252.
[ii] Ibid, xxxi.
[iii] See David Wood, Moral Injury: A Warrior’s Moral Dilemma. Downloaded from http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/projects/moral-injury/the-recruits

Towards A Theology of Political Struggle (Reflection)

A Theology of StruggleThe quintessential text of spiritual warfare for most Christians is found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Far too much ink has been spilled on inane and downright superstitious interpretations of this text. And even though most traditional commentaries speak of the spiritual nature of the Christian’s struggle in this pericope, “The Armor of God” text seems to speak at least equally, if not more, about a socio-political struggle (see especially Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be).

As I re-read the Bible with wider lenses, I have come to see this portion of Scripture as a potential basis of a theology of revolutionary struggle for the Christian, both politically and spiritually. Why, because I believe God’s “armor” is to be used primarily in the struggle against earthly socio-political evil, not just spiritual evil. Again, the typical Western Christian has over-spiritualized this text as a sort of laundry list of individualistic and pietistic behaviors for defending oneself against oftentimes imaginary devils or self-created demonic activity.

Let’s take a closer look, especially at verse twelve, where, upon a deeper reading we find that the Christian call is to struggle primarily against oppressive earthly evil:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the principalities (or powers) of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Here St. Paul says Christians fight against four enemies, which I have underlined above. The word against is used four separate times to emphasize that these are not a series of conceptual evils, but against four distinct and real enemies.  We are, first, told that we do not struggle (that is resist or fight) against flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is not just an allusion to the spiritual nature of the battle, but also corresponds materially to our neighbors: the poor, the oppressed, the broken, the downtrodden. We are not to join in oppressing our fellow human beings; we do not struggle against our own.

So, just who are Christians supposed to resist or engage in struggle against? Clearly, Paul says it is the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers,” “of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil.” It is important to note that the fourth evil we struggle against is clearly spiritual, but the first three are manifestly earthly (of this dark world). These earthly entities that Christians will struggle against are kosmokratōr or world rulers (that is oppressive earthly rulers, like the Roman imperial dictator); exousia or authorities (which likely corresponds to oppressive and legalistic religious rule), and archē or principalities (domination systems or oppressive governments).

Now, like all Scripture, this text needs to be bridged into our current context. The Bible is not a static dogmatic document, but a wisdom lens or a guide to critique and inform our current situation. This being true then, clearly the U.S. Christian’s primarily battle or struggle is against the evil rulers in our government (in today’s case the Trump Regime or in the recent past the Bush, Clinton, or Obama Regimes). Secondly, the struggle is against the religious leaders, groups, and institutions that are coopted by the government to suppress the “flesh and blood”—our brothers and sisters, the common proletariat. And third, our struggle is against the domination systems that oppress, which is primarily the systems of capitalism and imperialism and all their negative effects. This is not a list to be followed seriatim, but one that is meant to call on all Christians to become revolutionaries against oppressive rulers (oligarchs and plutocrats), religious leaders (greedy televangelists & institutionally-minded religious functionaries), and the systems of evil (capitalism, imperialism, racism, and ethnic, gender, and sexual discrimination, etc.).

Undoubtedly, behind the counter-current of God (all spiritual good) is the devil (all spiritual evil). So, we do need spiritual power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to struggle both against earthly and spiritual evil. Nevertheless, as Christians our fight is primarily against earthly evil, and God and all his holy angels are to fight the spiritual demons in heavenly realms on our behalf. As U.S. based Christians our eyes need to be opened to bring into balance the political and spiritual struggles in order that we may faithfully follow our Lord.

© Paul Dordal, 2017