Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

[link to CV]


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Lexington Theological Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 3, 1993, 223-239.  For the table of contents of this lecture series, go here.

Postmodern Theology for the Church

David Ray Griffin

2. Why Demonic Power Exists: Understanding the Church’s Enemy


In my first lecture, I argued that Christian theology in our time needs to be both liberal and postmodern.  For a theology to be liberal, as I am using the term, is for it to be postclassical, rejecting classical theology’s supernaturalistic worldview and authoritarian method.  For a theology to be postmodern is for it to reject the mechanistic view of nature and the sensationist view of perception, which together lie at the root of the early and late modern worldviews.  It is the acceptance of these views of nature and experience, I argued, that accounts for the vacuity, or at least thinness, of modern liberal theology.  By rejecting these views, thereby becoming postmodern, we could have, I suggested, a theology that is liberal and yet robust.  Such a theology, by recovering in postmodern form those Christian affirmations whose loss has made modern liberal theology so thin, could serve to overcome the liberal-conservative antithesis, by demonstrating that the conservative impulse, which has hitherto attracted people to supernaturalistic and authoritarian forms of Christian theology, can be fulfilled within a liberal form of Christian theology.  Just as this postmodern theology allows the liberal impulse to be freed from confinement within the modern framework, it can free the conservative impulse from its confinement within the classical framework.

I did not, however, rest the need to move from modern to postmodern ideas about the nature of nature and the nature of human experience solely on the pragmatic basis that such a move would allow for a more viable theology.  Rather, I argued that we need to make that move in order to be adequate to our immediate experience, to be adequate to various scientific developments, and to have a philosophical worldview that is both consistent and adequate.  However, the development of a postmodern worldview does coincidentally (or, perhaps not coincidentally) provide the basis for a robust theology within a liberal worldview and approach.

I stated that one aspect of such a theology would be a doctrine of the demonic.  The main task of the present lecture is to explain how demonic power could have arisen in a monotheistic universe.


I. The Need for a Nonmythical but Realistic View of the Demonic


The thesis of this lecture and the next is that demonic power has become increasingly dominant over divine power on our planet in recent times, and that the overarching purpose of the church’s message and practice should be to serve in the battle of the divine power of the universe against this demonic power.

The idea that demonic power is now stronger than divine influence on our planet may seem heretical.  It has been a widespread conviction of Christians generally and theologians in particular that, in spite of appearances to the contray, God is actually in complete control of all events.  The New Testament, however, knew better.  The Gospel of Luke (4: 5-6) has the devil say that the kingdoms of the world are under his control.  The Gospel of John (14: 30, 15: 11) speaks of the devil as “the ruler of this world.”  The First Letter of John (5: 19) says that the whole world is in the power of the evil one.”  Paul speaks of “the present evil age” and of Satan as “the god of this age” (Gal. 1: 4; 2 Cor. 4: 4).

To be sure, the New Testament believed that this evil age, with its reign of demonic power, was coming to an end, thanks to the inbreaking of the rule of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But, in whatever sense we think of God’s activity in Jesus as the beginning of the end of demonic control of the planet, it is empirically obvious that it was at most only the beginning of the end.  Indeed, demonic control of the planet has greatly increased during the intervening 2,000 years, and especially in the past four or five centuries, which we call the modern age.  The 20th century, with its human slaughter of unprecedented proportions, has been called the “age of atrocity.”  The atrocity, in fact, could have been much greater, thanks to the primary manifestation of demonic power in our century, the building of thousands of nuclear weapons, through which all human life and much of the res of the  planet’s life could have been destroyed in hours—a threat that has by no means been removed.  Furthermore, even if we do avoid nuclear holocaust, the present trajectory of civilization, with its increasing population, consumerism, and depleting-and-polluting technologies, promises unprecedented suffering through scarcity and climate change sometime in the 21st century.1  The projections based upon purely ecological matters are bad enough; when this growing scarcity of land, food, and other resources is combined with increasing ethnic and cultural animosities, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and arms sales generally, any realistic picture of the future based on present trends is completely terrifying.  We live in a world that is essentially good, created by divine power.  But it is a world that is, even more fully than was the world in New Testament times, presently in the grip of demonic power.

The recovery of the New Testament’s realistic portrayal of the present age as demonic, in conjunction with modernity’s qualitative increase in the destructiveness of the demonic trajectory, makes clearer than ever what the overarching purpose of the movement inspired by Jesus should be: to serve as an instrument of the divine power in its battle with demonic power over the fate of our planet.  If the church is to orient itself wholeheartedly and intelligently around this purpose, it requires a theology that provides, among other things, an answer to the following three questions:

1.             How, if our world was created through divine power, is demonic power ontologically possible?

2.             Even if demonic power is ontologically possible, how did it historically become dominant over divine power on our planet?

3.              How, through both its message and its spiritual and political activities, can the church serve as a divine means for overcoming the demonic control of our planet?

The third question will be saved for the next lecture.  In the present lecture I will begin with the first question: If our world has been created through divine power, which by definition excludes all demonic tendencies, how is demonic power ontologically possible?  The first task is to explain what I mean by demonic power.

The term “demonic” should not be used simply for any kind of evil, but only for power that diametrically opposes divine power, and does so strongly, so as to destroy divine creations and threaten divine purposes.  Because demonic power is in complete opposition to divine power, fleshing out that purely formal definition of demonic power requires a positive characterization of divine power.  As Christians, we think of the divine power of the universe as both creative and loving.  In trinitarian terms, we can say that divine power is energy that is (1) always used persuasively and creatively, (2) always based on responsive love, and (3) consequently always characterized by active or creative love, aimed at the good of those upon whom it is exercised.  Given this notion of divine power, demonic power would be energy that is (1) employed in a way that is coercive and destructive as well as perhaps persuasive and creative, (2) based on hate and/or indifference, and (3) therefore not aimed at the good of all those upon whom it is exercised.  This threefold characterization specifies how demonic power would be diametrically opposed to divine power.  The other necessary condition for it to be considered truly demonic is that it be strong enough to destroy divine creations and threaten divine purposes.

Now, with demonic power thus defined, the question is: How is the existence of such power conceivable within a monotheistic worldview?  Would not the affirmation of such a power involve an unacceptable dualism, precisely the kind of dualism that monotheism is meant to exclude?  This objection, however, confuses monotheism, the doctrine that there is only one power worthy of worship, with monism, the doctrine that there is finally only one power, period.  In contrast with this monistic monotheism, the New Testament position can best be described as semidualistic monotheism.  “Semidualist” is the term applied to New Testament Christianity by Jeffrey Russell in his multivolume “history of the devil.”2  Semidualism, in contrast with full-fledged dualism, does not hold that the demonic is fully autonomous from God and equal in cosmic scope and power.  But it does allow some real autonomy to the demonic.  We can express this semidualism by saying that the demonic is a creature and yet more than a creature.   That is, the demonic, unlike the divine, does not exist eternally, but comes about only through the creative power of the divine. It is a creature.  Once it has been created, however, it is not merely a creature, in the sense of being totally under control of the divine power.  Rather, it can really oppose the divine power and threaten its purposes.  The demonic has potentially deadly consequences.  The New Testament view of the demonic is mythical but realistic.  It is mythical in that the demonic is portrayed in terms of an actual individual—Satan, the devil—who rivals God in cosmic scope, knowledge, and power.  This picture must be regarded as mythical in the pejorative sense because it attributes powers to a creature that no creature could have.  But it is realistic in that, in presupposing that the devil has considerable autonomy, it regards the battle against the demonic waged by God in Jesus and his followers as a real, not a mock, battle.

Traditional theology, unfortunately, retained the mythical aspect of this view of the demonic while losing its realism.  In Augustine’s theology, for example, Satan is an individual center of consciousness and will.  Given Augustine’s view of divine omnipotence as actually causing everything that occurs, however, he could not allow for any creaturely center of power that could truly act counter to the divine will.  He says: “Nothing . . . happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen.”  Augustine does not flinch from applying this doctrine to sinful thoughts and actions, saying that God “does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills.”  Augustine explicitly applies this doctrine to the devil.  In speaking of the afflictions of Job and the temptations of Peter, he says: “God himself. . . did all things justly by the power he gave to the devil.”3  The battle between the divine and the demonic is, accordingly, a mock, not a real, battle.  The demonic is entirely under the divine thumb.  The realism of the New Testament image of the demonic is lost in the theology of Augustine and other classical theologians because of their monistic monotheism, according to which there is only one center of power.  One of the motives of this monistic monotheism, with its doctrine of divine coercive omnipotence, was to convince us that we really had nothing to fear from the demonic power.  That complacent belief, as history has revealed, is just what we do not need.

What we do need is a way of retaining the New Testament’s realism about the demonic while discarding the mythical form in which this realistic sensibility was expressed.  We need, in other words, a way to formulate philosophically the New Testament’s semi-dualistic monotheism.

We now have a way to do this, thanks to one of Alfred North Whitehead’s greatest gifts to theology, his distinction between God (the ultimate actuality) and creativity (the ultimate reality).4  I will begin by showing how the distinction between God and creativity solves the problem of evil in general.  In this discussion I will be simply summarizing ideas that I have previously published.5  But I will then use this basis to explain the notion of demonic evil in particular.


II. Creativity and the Problem of Evil

The distinction between creativity, as the ultimate reality embodied in all actualities, and God, as the ultimate actuality, provides the basis for a solution to the problem of evil that was impossible for classical theology, with its monistic monotheism.  That kind of theism equated God with being itself, and thereby power itself, by saying that God was somehow both an individual being and yet also the beingness of all things.  Even some theologians who have rejected classical theism, such as Paul Tillich, have retained the identification of God with being itself, and thereby power itself.  If all power is divine power, creatures cannot really oppose the divine reality.  Whitehead, using the term creativity to point to what Tillich called being itself or the power of being, broke with this identification, saying that God is not simply creativity as such but the primordial embodiment of it.  This distinction between power as such and divine power in particular allows us to understand how there can be evil in this world, even though it is God’s creation.

Creativity involves two kinds of power: the power of self-determination and the power to influence others.  The distinction between God and creativity means that this twofold power is necessarily embodied not only in God, but also in a plurality of finite beings.  It is not the case, accordingly, that God can unilaterally bring about events in the world.  God cannot, for example, determine when and where earthquakes will and will not happen, or when and where cells will and will not become cancerous.  God cannot deflect a bullet heading toward a heart too young to die, or, for that matter, unilaterally convert the distorted heart of a person bent on sending millions to the gas chamber.  The divine power is the power to evoke and to persuade, not the power to coerce and compel.  The fact that the world is filled with evil, even unspeakably horrible evil, provides no evidence, therefore, against the perfect goodness of God.

According to this view, God did not create the universe ex nihilo, in the sense of absolute nothingness, as if God once existed all alone and thus as the sole embodiment of creative power.  Rather, creation is creation of order out of chaos, a chaos of events with some creative power of their own.  God is not essentially the sole power, but the soul of the universe, a power essentially in relation with other powers, even if their power at certain stages is extremely minimal.

One crucial implication of this denial of creation ex nihilo is that it removes the basis for assuming that all the basic principles of the universe were arbitrarily established by God.  If what exists necessarily and eternally is not simply God, but God-and-a-world, then we should assume that there are some general principles that are metaphysical, being inherent in the very nature of things.  Such principles would be, like the facts that God exists and that God is loving, beyond all decision, even God’s.  They would necessarily hold true of any world that God could create.

A most important example would be the principle that every increase in the capacity for good means a similar increase in the capacity for evil.  This principle is certainly true of human society.   For example, cities make possible all sorts of good that are not available in rural life; but they also greatly increase the possibilities of evil.  The principle is also true of cultural evolution.  For example, both modern transportation and communications systems have greatly increased the possibility for human enrichment; but they have also greatly increased the possibilities for evil, as they make possible world war and unprecedented invasions of privacy.

The principle that the possibilities for good and evil increase proportionately is also true of evolution in general, which is the main point here.  The earth prior to the emergence of life was a much poorer world.  Because there was experience, there was some intrinsic value, but it was trivial.  The emergence of life, however, in bringing forth beings with greater intrinsic value, also brought with it the possibility of pain and thus the first significant evil.  A similar increase in the possibilities for both good and evil occurred with the emergence of animals with central nervous systems, and then again with the emergence of primates.  Surely the most dramatic example, however, is the rise of human existence.  Prior to the appearance of human beings, there was, to be sure, much intrinsic value in the world, but it was all of a degree that is qualitatively different from the values that are distinctive of human life, such as the creation and enjoyment of great works of art, mathematics, and philosophy, the experience of religious ecstasy, the realization of moral beauty, and the enjoyment of human friendship and love.  And yet, when we think of evil, especially really horrendous forms of evil, we realize that, if human beings did not exist to cause and suffer evil, most of the worst forms of evil would not exist.  Human existence made possible qualitatively new forms of evil as well as good.

This principle, that every increase in the capacity for good brings with it an equal increase in the capacity for evil, is clearly an empirical fact.  What is suggested by the distinction between God and creativity, and the correlative rejection of creation ex nihilo, is that it is not merely an empirical fact about our world.  It is also a metaphysical principle, which necessarily holds of any world that God could have created.  If this is so, we do not have to ask why God created the world so that it conforms to this principle.  We do not have to ask, for example, why God created the world so that cancer and AIDS were possibilities; any world with animal life would have contained such risks.  We do not have to ask why God created the world so that chemical and nuclear weapons were possible; any world God could have created would have contained such risks.  We do not have to ask why God did not make human beings “rational saints,” meaning beings who would have our capacity for reason and yet would be guaranteed always to do good. Any beings with the capacity for human-like rationality would have had the capacity for human-like depravity.

Assuming that this principle is metaphysical in character is of utmost importance for the problem of evil.  While the distinction between God and creativity explains why there should be some evil in the world, this additional principle explains why there is so much evil, especially now that human beings exist.  God could not have created beings with our capacity for good who would not also have had our capacity for evil.  Not all the evil that has in fact occurred was necessary, to be sure; but its possibility was necessary. The only way that God could have guaranteed the absence of the kind of evil that has occurred in human history would have been not to have brought forth human beings at all.  Few of us, I suspect, would think God should have done that.  Accordingly, we cannot indict God for the evils of this world, Auschwitz and all.  These evils do not contradict God’s perfect goodness and wisdom.


III. Creativity and the Possibility of Demonic Power

Now, having prepared the way by explaining how the distinction between creative power as such and divine power in particular provides the basis for a realistic theodicy, I turn to the main concern of this lecture, which is to develop a nonmythical but realistic idea of the demonic.

Demonic power became possible with the rise of human beings.  Because of the human being’s dual power to grasp things, both physically and conceptually, the rise of human beings meant the rise of a kind of creaturely power that could for the first time diametrically and strongly oppose the power of our creator.  Because of our unprecedented power of self-determination, we can make decisions that run strongly counter to the divine influences upon us, which are always calling us to truth, beauty, and goodness.  With humans, the power to know the difference between good and evil, and thereby power of sin, entered the world.  Because of our power to manipulate symbols with our minds and physical objects with our hands, we also have far more power to exert coercive power than do creatures.  Our power to sin is matched by an equally power to dominate.  Our unprecedented power of is not limited, however, to coercion: Our linguistic power given us an unprecedented form of persuasive power as well, a form of power that was greatly augmented with the invention of writing.  These unique abilities of human beings are necessary conditions for the rise of demonic power.

I had earlier characterized demonic power not merely in terms of its nature and strength, but also in terms of its being employed on the basis of hate or indifference, and therefore in a destructive way.  This aspect of the possibility for the emergence of demonic power is rooted in our nature as creatures.  Because we, unlike God, are local rather than all-inclusive beings, our sympathies tend to be very restricted.  We can be indifferent about the welfare of most other creatures and positively antagonistic to the welfare of those whom we perceive to be threats to our own welfare.  We do, to be sure, have the capacity to objectify ourselves, to realize thereby that we are simply one among many creatures, all of whom are creatures of the same creator, all of whom have feelings and interests.  And we have the capacity to be aware of moral norms, such as the principle that equals should be treated equally, that we should do to others as we would have them do to us.  But we likewise have the capacity to use our same intellectual capacities to ignore these norms when convenient, or so to qualify and circumscribe them that they become virtually inapplicable to all except those with whom we naturally sympathize.  Rather than using these capacities to overcome our natural indifference or antagonism to others, in fact, we can use them to create a hostility towards others that greatly surpasses in intensity, extent, and duration anything found in the nonhuman world.  It is our very humanity, in short, that creates the possibility for the emergence of demonic power.

I have indicated, in rejecting the mythical idea of the demonic as a devil, that the demonic is not an individual being.  There is no evil soul alongside the divine soul of the universe.  But the demonic is not, on the other hand, simply the aggregated power of individual human beings.  It consists, instead, of what can be called a quasi-soul.

The Whiteheadian idea of creativity on which I am building provides a way to explicate what Walter Rauschenbusch, in giving a nonmythical account of original sin, called the supra-personal power of evil.6  Rauschenbusch described the structures and habits that promote sin, describing how people are seduced into sin, through the power of authority and imitation, long before they have reached the age of accountability.  To all that Rauschenbusch says, we can add a form of influence that works at a presensory level and at distance.

The science of psychical research, or parapsychology, has amply demonstrated that such influence occurs.7  Evidence for telepathy and clairvoyance show that we have the capacity to receive causal influence at a distance.  Evidence for psychokinesis shows that we have the capacity to exert this kind of causal influence.  Modern science, philosophy, and theology have, however, largely ignored this evidence, because it did not fit with the reigning worldview.  The early modern worldview, with its mechanistic view of nature and its sensationist view of perception, said that such influence cannot occur except through supernatural intervention.  The late modern worldview, by retaining early modernity’s view of nature and perception while rejecting its supernaturalism, has said that such influence cannot happen at all.  This late modern world view has made extrasensory perception and psychokinetic influence seem all the more impossible by regarding the mind as epiphenomenal, that is, as a mere byproduct of the brain without any autonomous power to exert power or to perceive.  Modern theology, accepting the modern world view’s veto, has ignored parapsychology’s offer of empirical evidence supporting the reality of spiritual influence.

A postmodern form of naturalism, however, allows for the reality of this spiritual influence at a distance.  Because the world is made of events of creative experience, rather than bits of insentient matter, there is no reason to suppose that causal influence can be exerted only by contact and therefore only on contiguous things.  Also, the idea that all individuals enjoy a nonsensory form of perception, so that sensory perception is derivative from this more primordial, nonsensory mode of perception, means that extrasensory perception, whether telepathic or clairvoyant, does not need to be regarded as a violation of the laws of nature.  Reports of such occurrences need not, accordingly, be regarded as either fraudulent or as evidence of supernatural intervention.  Rather, events in which people become aware of extrasensory perception can be regarded as simply the consciousness of a kind of nonsensory perception that is occurring all the time.  What is exceptional about such perceptions is not that they involve nonsensory perception, but only that a form of perception that usually remains unconscious has risen to the conscious level of experience.  Furthermore, this postmodern worldview, far from regarding the human mind or soul as impotent, regards it as the most powerful creature on the face of the earth.  The parapsychological evidence that the human mind can directly exert far more influence on other things beyond its body, including other minds, than can other animals is, accordingly, what should be expected.  Cases of reported psychokinesis can be regarded as merely conspicuous instances of a kind of pervasive psychic influence that is radiating from our minds all the time.

From this perspective, we can suppose that we are influencing each other directly, soul to soul, all the time.  And we can suppose that through the enormously complex web of psychic influence that results, we are born into a kind of quasi-soul, which shapes our souls for good or for ill, and to which we in turn contribute, thereby adding our influence, for good or for ill, to the psychic ether that will shape other souls.

This influence at a distance is, of course, usually quite weak in comparison with physically mediated influence.  There is a factor, however, that somewhat balances out the power of these two kinds of influence on us.  The “distance” over which this kind of influence operates can be temporal as well as spatial distance.  Because of this influence over time, repetitions of a certain form of activity can have a cumulative effect.  For example, if a certain image has been focused on by devotees of a particular religion for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, this image will be impressed upon the unconscious portion of the psyches of present-day individuals with considerable power.  This, incidentally, is a way of explaining the reality and power of Jungian archetypes, a way that Jung himself sometimes employed.8

Through this idea, we can see how the demonic could be an even stronger power than Rauschenbusch thought.  Everything he said about the power of the written word, pictures, patriotic songs, history books, examples, stereotypes, ideologies, and so on, would stand.  To all this we can add the reinforcing power that comes from the hate and other violence-inducing attitudes, emotions, and images that have been repeated countless times down through human history.  We are born into a “kingdom of evil,” a demonic quasi-soul, that not only influences us indirectly, through our sensory experience, but also directly, through spiritual influence.

This completes my account of how demonic power could have arisen in a monotheistic universe, in the sense of how it is ontologically possible.  The next issue is the historical process through which this demonic possibility came to dominance on this planet, so that it now threatens to destroy the finest products of billions years of divine creative activity.


IV. The Demonic’s Historical Rise to Ascendancy

My ideas in this section have been inspired primarily by Andrew Bard Schmookler’s The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem Power in Social Evolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986).  Schmookler’s view of the central importance of the war-system in shaping the direction taken by civilization over the past 10,000 years has been reinforced by writings of William H. McNeill, especially The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963) and The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A. D. 1000 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982).  A position on the demonic similar to mine has been developed in Walter Wink’s trilogy on the powers, especially the third volume, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).  I know of no more important work on the contemporary theological scene.

The basic idea of this new perspective is that the war-system, long with the more general domination system (to use the term Wink has appropriated from Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade), began within the past 10,000 years.  It was occasioned by the rise of civilization, with its cities and agriculture.  During the prior 40,000 years of the existence of homo sapiens sapiens, life was surely filled with evils of various sorts.  Desires of revenge and other motives surely would have led tribes to carry out savage raids on each other from time to time.  But the hunting-and-gathering mode existence would have provided no motive for a war-system as such.  For example, captives, who could not be entrusted to share in the hunt, would simply provide more mouths to feed.  But the rise of civilization changed all this.  Slaves could be assigned the drudge work involved in agriculture and the building of walls and water canals.  Women captives could, besides working in the homes and fields, bear children to build up the city’s defensive and offensive capacity.  The cities, their cultivated lands, and their domesticated herds also provided motives for attack.  The rise of civilization brought the institutionalization of war.

Once the war-system began, everyone was forced to participate.  Even if most societies wanted to be peaceful, anyone society could force the rest to prepare for war or risk being subjugated or annihilated.  As Schmookler says, “Nice guys are finished first” (The Parable of the Tribes, 45).

In this war-system, it is power, not morality, that determines the relations among the states.  As stated in the Hobbesian analysis, the interstate realm is a state of anarchy: There is no superior power to declare and enforce any moral norms.  Might rather literally makes right.  The classic formulation is provided by Thucydides, who has the Athenian general limit the Meletans’ choices to being taken over peacefully or violently, adding that if they had the superior power they would do the same to the Athenians.  In this Hobbesian situation of the war of all against all—which means not that you actually fight against everyone else, but that every other society is at least potentially your enemy—war is not brought on only by the desire of one society’s leaders for additional power, riches, and glory, but also by the fear that another society is amassing enough military power to attack them.  Thucydides again provides the classic statement, having Alcibiades say, with regard to taking Sicily:  “If we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves.”  

In this anarchical state of civilization, coercive power inevitably grows.  Each advance by anyone state must be matched by advances by the others within striking distance.  A move that may be intended defensively will often look offensive to others, evoking further efforts by them to increase their power.  And there is no stopping point.  Although the development of nuclear weapons might have occurred either sooner or considerably later than it actually did, the fact that it did eventually occur was made virtually inevitable by the dynamics of the system.

The development of coercive power does not, however, involve only the development of new forms of weapons and defenses.  The most obvious other element is military strategy and tactics.  But a society’s ability to wage war is also to a great extent a function of its political and economic systems.  Any development (such as the rise of capitalism in the Italian city-states in the 14th century) that gives a society a temporary military edge will tend to spread to the neighboring societies.

The main point of this analysis is that the evolution of civilization in the state of anarchy is necessarily shaped in large part by principle similar to that of “survival of the fittest” based on natural selection in Darwinian evolution.  Schmookler calls this principle “selection for power.”  This analysis is not reductionistic, as if drive for power were at the root of all cultural developments. The point is, instead, that of those developments that do occur, those that increase a society’s power vis-à-vis other societies, will tend not on to survive but also to spread.  In the long run, the direction civilization is shaped most decisively by this selection for power.  And, as civilization evolves, the need for power increasingly shapes every aspect of a society.  In recent decades, for example, something like half of our nation’s science has been devoted to military-related research.  Anarchical civilization, with its war-system, results in a reign of power.

Implicit in this analysis is the idea that the reign of power in the interstate arena leads to the reign of power within each state.  This is not to say that the rise of patriarchal, hierarchical, domination was motivated entirely or even primarily by the demands of war-system.  That interstate system did, however, provide the context in which hierarchical societies were virtually inevitable.  As Gerda Lerner points out, nonhierarchical societies for the most part not survive (The Creation of Patriarchy [New York: Oxford Press, 1986], 35).  And it is hard to argue with the claim survival must take priority over all other considerations. The argument from “necessity” in relation to external dangers has always, probably from the outset of the war-system, provided the excuse for worst kinds of internal inequalities.  The war-system has also an ever-increasing basis for the human domination of nature.

This is my explanation of how demonic power, which the rise of human existence made possible, actually came to dominance on our planet.  Over the past 10,000 years, human civilizations have been oriented around the drive to increase human power in the sense of the power to control, the power to destroy, the power to intimidate.  Human beings in this context have wanted more power over nature in order to increase their power over other human groups in order to give them more power over nature, and on and on.  Civilization has been largely shaped by the drive to produce power that would be used with hate or at least indifference—and this is our concept of the demonic.  Civilization has especially and increasingly been in its grip for the past 5,000 years.

I have thus far, however, left out what for us is the most important factor in this story.  The power of a society is determined not only by the size of its armies, its military technology, strategies, and tactics, and its political and economic systems.  Undergirding all of these dimensions is the ideology of a society, its theology.  (Any ideology is a theology insofar as it involves, at least implicitly, a notion of that which is holy or sacred.)  And, just as the selection for power operates with regard to all these other dimensions, it also operates in relation to ideologies.9  We should expect, accordingly, that the history of anarchical civilization’s theologies and philosophies will involve the gradual ascendancy of those ideologies that are most effective in producing a warrior-mentality and thereby a warrior-society.  An effective ideology of power will, for example, make people unafraid to die in battle and may even lead them to desire such a death; it will lead them to believe that by being warriors they are obeying the will of, and even imitating the behavior of, the deity of the universe; it will lead them to hate, or at least be indifferent to, the welfare of people in other societies; it will convince them that they are a chosen people, so that by subjugating others they are actually bringing about divine rule on earth; and so on.  An effective ideology of power will also tend to promote political and economic systems that increase a society’s military capacity; it will also tend to philosophies, sciences, and technologies through which nature can be effectively dominated.  The growth of such ideologies of power has been an intricate part—in many ways the most important part—of the growth of demonic power over the past few thousand years.

By the demonic, I mean the whole complex of belief-systems, symbols, images, stories, habits, attitudes, emotions, sciences, technologies, institutions, webs of direct and indirect psychic influence, and everything else that is oriented around the production and deployment of destructive power, used with hate or indifference, to dominate and destroy fellow creatures of God.  This demonic power is now, even more completely than in New Testament times, in effective control of the trajectory of civilization.  In this lecture I have dealt with the question of how such demonic power could arise in a monotheistic universe.  In the next lecture I will deal with the question of how the church can serve as an agent of God to overcome this demonic power, especially by means of its theology.



1 See my “The ‘Vision Thing,’ the Presidency, and the Ecological Crisis, or the Greenhouse Effect and the ‘White House Effect’,” in David Ray Griffin and Richard Falk, ed., Postmodern Politics for a Planet in Crisis: Policy, Process, and Presidential Vision (Albany: State University of New York, 1993), 67-102.

2 Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 228, 248.

3 These statements by Augustine are from the Enchiridion XIV:96, XXIV:95, and Grace and Free Will XLII, which can be found in Basic Writings of St. Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates (New York: Random House, 1953).

4 This distinction is made in John B. Cobb, Jr., Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 110-14.

5 See the books mentioned in note 1 of the first lecture.

6 See Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1918), especially the chapters on “The Supra-Personal Forces of Evil,” and “The Kingdom of Evil.”

7 See note 8 of the first lecture.

8 See my introduction to Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989), esp., 39-44.

9 Schmookler suggests that the selection for power would have also operated with regard to religious ideologies (The Parable of the Tribes, 73, 80), but he does not develop this idea at any length.



3. Overcoming the Demonic: The Church’s Mission


Posted September 12, 2007

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