What’s the Difference Between God, the Devil, and a President?

PicMonkey Collage

In two words….Absolutely Nothing!

All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.

In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.

In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.

In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…

Is Saturday Forgotten on Sunday?

 

Holy Saturday is too often passed over far too quickly on the way to resurrection Sunday. It is a day that fully inhabits the death of God, a day that is utterly saturated with complete and total absence of the divine. If the cry from the cross marks the kenotic self-emptying moment in which God himself becomes an atheist and then dies, then Holy Saturday marks the fullness and completeness of radical theology as it wholly embraces the loss of God and the negation of totality. It is the radical theological tradition that is most devotedly and adamantly true to originality and unaltered ending of the Markan gospel. Mark’s gospel in its original form does not contain an account of resurrection but, rather ends abruptly at verse 8 of chapter 16 with the discovery of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fleeing in fright.  Sightings and appearances of the resurrected Christ, the Comissioning of the disciples, and the ascension are all later editions and have no true home in the gospel of Mark. This is a gosepl most wholly adhered to by radical theology; a gospel that does not find its culmination in Resurrection, nor is it fulfilled amidst the rapturous ecstatic light of Ascension. Radicality of Mark’s text is instead its fulfillment in a fracturus and fragmented ending that witnesses only terror, fear, emptiness and absence.
Thomas J. J. Altizer writes that:

“Only Christianity among the world religions enacts the fullness and the finality of a truly actual death, a death that is an ultimate death, and a death that is inseparable from what Christianity knows as an absolute fall.”

Here, we must recognize, as Altizer states, that “the proclamation of the death of God is a Christian confession of faith, and a uniquely Christian faith in the ultimacy of the Crucifixion.”

But,  this loss,  this negation,  the ultimate death of God still does not go far enough for all this is found present within Good Friday. Holy Saturday is not only the dialectical destruction of the divine, it is at once a much stronger,  more foreboding, and a more menacingly traumatic event. It marks the actualized descent into hell. This is incarnational theology at its fullest. This is the incarnate followed through to its absolute end. For a fully realized incarnation cannot simply stop at the descent to earth, the descent to humanity, or even the descent into death but,  must ultimately and fully descend into hell. Here God is not only dead but damned.

Altizer writes that “if Jesus is the name of Incarnation, and of a once and for all and absolutely unique incarnation, that incarnation finally realizes itself as absolute death, and only that death makes possible or actualizes a uniquely Christian resurrection.” The centrality of this move within Holy Saturday is key to a proper understanding of resurrection Sunday. This must be the lenses through which resurrection is seen otherwise it not only improperly framed but mistaken, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misread, and incomplete. “[T]he deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation, or the deepest death is ultimately the deepest life, or the deepest darkness finally the most ecstatic light (Altizer, 56).

Altizer concludes clearly:

“Christianity knows an absolute death as the one and only source of redemption, proclaiming that Christ’s death inaugurated the new creation, and all humanity is now called to participate in this death as the way of salvation. Death, it is true, is a universal way of ultimate transformation, but only in Christianity is redemptive death an actual and historical death, and only in those worlds that have come under the impact of Christianity can we discover records of a full and concrete experience of the factuality and finality of death”

The truest possible form of a total resurrection, that is, a resurrection of any deep actual meaning or abiding operative significance, can only come about as a consequence of this absolutely dialectical death.
“Only the most ultimate and absolute negation can realize that apocalyptic totality, but this negation is a self-negation or a  self-emptying, and only thereby can it make possible an absolutely new totality. Only this totality is a truly resurrected body, so here the resurrected body is a resurrected totality, and a resurrected body only possible as a consequence of an absolute self-emptying”(Altizer, 60).

This is resurrection. This is the importance of Easter Sunday. A wholly new totality emerging, resurrecting from the absolute death of the Godhead plunged into the very depths of Hell. Sunday morning is only seen clearly from vantage and scope of Saturday night.

Altizer, Thomas J.J., New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print

I Don’t Believe in God but, I Take Jesus Seriously

My wife says I’m confusing. I think she’s right. We both grew inundated by the wiles Christian fundamentalism. We both saw firsthand how “in a conservative society, social stability and order were considered more important than freedom of expression…such notions…could be socially disruptive and endanger the community” (Armstrong, 34). Needless to say we both walked away with a disdainful distaste for the church and a heightened suspicion of organized religion and Christianity as a whole. My wife has retained a sense of theism and has developed into a kind of free-from Universalist, denouncing institutionalization, completely and unashamedly disengaged from any form of religious involvement (and she’s hot too!).

Myself? I’m something of an atheist. I like to think of myself, ala Altizer, as a “Christian Atheist” of sorts. This contradictory and counterintuitive (and surely heretical) retention of the Christian moniker perhaps speaks more of my sociology, having been raised entirely within the bounds of Western Christendom it’s undeniable that regardless of my religious rejections, Christianity is still a present lens through which I peer. It is indicative of my context with which I cannot help but identify with.

This is where both my wife’s and my own confusion sets in. I don’t believe in God but, I’ve been attending and have been somewhat actively involved with a church near where we live. Hell, I even delivered a sermon there recently (you can find it here). I should say, somewhat to my defense that it is certainly not the church of my youth. It is an extremely liberally progressive church in the UCC denomination and while Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris, would still probably refuse to stamp Atheist membership card, the fundamentalists of my past would surely think of this church as a cesspool of godless unbelievers, some maybe it balances out.

So my wife’s question, and probably yours as well at this point is “why?” Why would someone who does not affirm the idea of God still want to have any kind of involvement with a Christian community? Am I a theist in denial? Am I simply nostalgic for my churched past? Perhaps it’s an indication of the psychological crutch that seeks a sense of security within the sphere of religion as Bonheoffer has suggested. Perhaps I’m just another example of the ontological weakness that Freud professed was prevalent within the religious. It could be. I’m afraid I don’t have a satisfying answer, which is probably why it’s taken me almost four paragraphs to get to a fleeting point. I would like to think that it’s none of the above.

There is something within the core of the Judeo/Christian constructs that deeply resonates with me. The resonance may simply be the stirring of an apparition, the ghost of religion past but, there is a moral and ethical imperative in the teachings of Jesus that sings to me. It may turn out to be the song of a siren beckoning me to the rocks but, for no it is captivating. For me Jesus is a force to be reckoned with, not because of some creedal assertion of divinity but, because I think he encapsulates what means to be fully human. His is a space where “faith” and the world are no longer mutually exclusive, where the sacred and the profane cannot be conceived as independent, autonomous, or distinct, and where any faith that seeks to isolate or disentangled from one another is immediately a faith to be rejected. He represents the place where word and deed coalesce, where moral and ethical teachings hit ground and are given legs. “Ethics and love are a dangerous descent into the self” (Hamilton, 50), yet though “the Christian life, ethics, love is first a decision about the self,” it is more importantly “then a movement beyond the self into the world” (49).
“Love you neighbor as yourself” wasn’t simply a heartwarming catch phrase, he meant it. When he said to love your enemies, I don’t think he was bluffing. I don’t think he was composing something for easy Sunday school memorization or bumper sticker fodder. I think he was speaking of a radical inclusivity that cut across all social, political, and religious boundaries. Here “Faith in Jesus demands a response to a Word that is present in the life of every human hand and face” (Altizer, 123). As such, “the presence of Christ can be known only in the body of a broken and suffering humanity…wholly detached from the divine attributes of his traditional image” (135).This why I think Christianity has survived despite the innumerable atrocities committed on its behalf and in its name, at its most central there still resides something that aggressively embraces humanity in its entirety  though perhaps nonsensically and when it is takes form and is genuinely and honestly practiced within community there is hardly anything more beautiful or beneficent. When two or three are gathered together to incarnate love and equality, playing out what was lived in the life of Jesus, rupturing the social fabric of the dominant classes, to the behest of the empire, I cannot help but yearn and long to be within the midst of this advent of justice.
I don’t believe in God but, I take Jesus seriously and I’m comfortable with the tension and I’m happy with the paradox.
Altizer, Thomas J. J. & William Hamilton. Radical Theology and the Death of God. New York: The Bobbs Merill Co. Inc., 1966. Print.
Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God. New York: Random House, 2001. Print