Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

[link to CV]


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Lexington Theological Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 3, 1993, 240-260.  For the table of contents of this lecture series, go here.

Postmodern Theology for the Church

David Ray Griffin

3. Overcoming the Demonic: The Church’s Mission

In the previous lecture, I suggested that central to the rise and ever-increasing growth of demonic power has been the rise and spread of ideologies of power.  From this perspective, the church must examine its own theology, asking about the extent to which it has been one of these ideologies of power.  That it has been, and particularly effective one at that, is suggested by the fact that Christian civilization, especially in its Western form and most especially in its Protestant form, has emerged as the dominant power on the face of the earth.  Insofar as it has been the winner thus far in what Schmookler calls “the parable of the tribes,” we must take seriously the implication that traditional Christian theology has been a leading contributor to the demonic’s rise to global dominance.  If it seems likely that it has been, then the first order of business for the church in our time, now that we realize what has happened, is to get our own doctrinal house in order, distinguishing those aspects of classical Christian teaching that seem be genuinely based on divine revelation from those whose origin and spread are better explained in terms of their usefulness to the domination system.  This type of “ideology critique” will be threatening to many, of course; but it is demanded by our commitment to the God of love, truth, and peace, the creator and lover of all.

Classical Christian theology is not, however, the only system of belief requiring this kind of radical ideology critique.  The central formal point of these lectures is that Christian theology in our time must be postmodern as well as postclassical.  Indeed, from the fact that the domination system has come to threaten the continuing purposes of God on our planet only in modern times, we should expect that the distinctively modern ideologies have been the most useful thus far to the growth of demonic power.  Accordingly, if a postmodern theology is to be an effective instrument in the church’s battle against the demonic in the coming century, this theology must provide a viable alternative to the dominant modern ideologies as well as to classical Christian theology.  In the first section of this lecture, therefore, I will briefly suggest the kind of ideology critique that we need of the early and late modern worldviews as well as of classical Christian doctrine.  In the second section, I will suggest the kind of alternative that postmodern Christian theology can provide.


I. Critiques of Classical and Modern Ideologies of Power

These ideology critiques could well fill an entire lecture—in fact, an entire lecture series.  All I can do here is to give a very superficial, impressionistic idea of the kind of critiques that I will develop more extensively elsewhere.1

Classical Christian Theology

At the root of classical theology’s demonic potential is its supernaturalistic doctrine of divine power.  According to classical theism’s doctrine of omnipotence, God can bring about events unilaterally in the world, so that there is a one-to-one correlation between the events and the divine intention.  Even if most events in the world are brought about through natural or “secondary” causation, God can intervene at will in this nexus of natural cause and effect, preventing what would otherwise have occurred.  Whereas the Bible gives considerable support for this view of divine omnipotence, classical theism bolstered it with an affirmation of creation ex nihilo, a doctrine to which the Bible gives little if any support.  According to this doctrine, our universe was not created out of pre-existent finite entities, which might have had some power of their own with which they could have resisted the divine will, but out of absolute nothingness. This doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is what effectively turns biblical monotheism into monism, the doctrine that God essentially has all the power.  Any power that the world has is purely derivative, due to a voluntary self-limitation on God’s part, which means that creaturely power can be revoked or overridden at any time.  This view of God can, in fact, best be described as an extreme voluntarism, in that the very existence of finitude is said to be contingent upon the divine will.

This extreme voluntarism is presupposed in classical theology’s method of authority.  Revelation can be infallible, because God can unilaterally guarantee that the events totally express the divine intention.  The inspiration of scripture can likewise be inerrant.  Given these notions of infallible revelation and inerrant inspiration, which presuppose divine omnipotence, this doctrine of omnipotence can then (circularly) be proved by appealing to those biblical passages that suggest this doctrine.

That same method can then, of course, be used to prove all sorts of other things that support participation in the war-system.  For example, the fact that the Bible refers to the practice of slavery criticism has been used even in our century to sanction this practice.2  Another effect of the war-system reflected in the Bible the move to a male image of deity throughout the Ancient Mid-East.  Given the doctrine of omnipotence and the method of authority, the biblical participation in this patriarchal, androcentric movement has been taken by believers as a word from God Himself that He is male!  And, of course, the God of much of the Bible is not simply male, but is a male warrior—which was a major point of the move from goddesses to exclusively male gods.  The biblical image of God as the omnipotent male warrior has provided a prime stimulant for warfare in Christian civilization.  Christians not only believed that they had explicit commands from God to fight (especially in Calvinism, in which the literal interpretation of the Bible had replaced the allegorical hermeneutic [according to which such passages were taken to refer to God’s battle for the soul] and which the whole Bible was taken as equally authoritative).  But, given humanity’s religious drive to imitate deity, the image of God as a mighty warrior gave warfare a religious aura.  These aspects of the Bible, taken as infallible revelation, were strong enough to override, in most interpretations, those statements by Jesus that seem to prohibit warfare.

The extreme voluntarism of classical theism supported the warrior-image of God in yet another sense.  According to this voluntarism, not only God’s activity in the world but also God’s response to the world is voluntary.  That is, in spite of the assertion “God is love,” which seems to say that love characterizes the very nature of God, this voluntarism in combination with various biblical passages has supported the idea that God’s love is selective—that God hates some people and is at best indifferent to others.  This notion is, of course, in strong tension with classical theism’s doctrine of divine impassibility, which says that God has no emotional response to the world whatsoever.  But that doctrine has had little effect on popular piety and, in fact, has been reversed in most Protestant theologies.  It certainly has not prevented many Christians from accepting at face value the notion of a “wrathful” God who becomes furious at, and wreaks vengeance upon, the enemies of God’s chosen people.  This divine fury, by the dynamics of the imitatio dei, has sanctioned Christian violence against enemies and infidels.

The notion of a “chosen people” is, of course, another fruit of the classical theism’s extreme voluntarism that has provided fuel for vigorous participation in the war-system.  There have been, to be sure, critiques of idolatrous interpretations of the idea of chosenness both within the Bible and in later Christian teaching.  But the idolatrous interpretation, according to which God loves some peoples more than others and promises salvation (however defined) to them alone, has prevailed in practice.  The notion that Christianity is the “New Israel,” the really chosen people, has lain behind much of Christianity’s imperialism, much of it extremely violent and ruthless.3

Christology has been a central part of classical Christian theology’s support for imperialism.  The supernaturalistic idea of God allowed classical Christian theologians to assert that the salvific incarnation of God in Jesus was different in kind from God’s presence in all other individuals.  This doctrine provided the basis for affirming that salvation to be available only through Christian faith.  This idea has been used to justify doing almost anything to the bodies of nonbelievers in the name of possibly saving their souls.

Classical Christianity’s supernaturalism also allowed for a forensic, juridical notion of salvation, which aided Christian participation in violence.  That is, salvation was said to involve declaration by God, an imputation of righteousness.  To be “saved,” accordingly, did not require any actual change of life, no actual sanctification.  One did not, for example, have to follow the Sermon on the Mount, or incarnate the fruits of the spirit discussed in Galatians, such as love, patience, and peaceableness.  Violent warriors could be assured of salvation.4  

Perhaps no feature of classical Christian doctrine has distorted Christian faith demonically more than its violent eschatology.  Besides the idea that some people are to be eternally damned, the biblical picture of the “last things,” taken largely from the Book of Revelation, suggests that our world will culminate in an orgy of divine violence.  To be sure, nonviolent interpretations of this book have been given, but its violent imagery, especially under the literalistic interpretation promoted by Protestantism, has been a major influence on the prevalent Christian belief that God’s ultimate victory over evil will come through violent power, not love.  The central symbol of Christianity, the cross, suggests otherwise; but thanks in large part to the Bible’s eschatological imagery, taken together with the doctrine of divine omnipotence, Christians have been told that even God will finally have to resort to violence to defeat evil.

If Christian faith is to promote a mentality that seeks to overcome the domination system based on demonic power, accordingly, it must be a postclassical form of Christian faith.  The call for a postmodern Christianity must not be confused with a call a postliberal form, which would involve a return to aspects of classical Christianity that have been so useful to the demonic.  We need a theology that is fully liberal, in the sense of completely rejecting classical Christian theology’s supernaturalism and authoritarianism.  It is equally important, of course, that this theology be postmodern, in the sense of both rejecting and providing an effective alternative to the modern ideologies of power.  I turn now some distinctive aspects of these ideologies.


Early Modern Ideology

To a great extent, the early modern worldview was simply an intensification of the supernaturalism of the classical Christian worldview.  For example, Calvinism, with its accentuation of divine omnipotence and its insistence on the equal authority of all the Bible interpreted literally, was a major influence on, and in fact an integral aspect of, the early modern worldview.  Calvinists were primary among those European Christians who used the Hebrew view of God as a holy warrior, leading the Israelites in their battles against the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, to justify taking America from its prior inhabitants.

A distinctive aspect of modern ideology was its insistence on the mechanistic view of nature, according to which nature is wholly devoid of any spontaneity, any experience, any intrinsic value, and therefore any divine presence.  This doctrine, especially its denial of all spontaneity to matter, was at first regarded as an implication of divine omnipotence.  In any case, it was used to sanction the primary interest of early modern thinkers, such as Francis Bacon: the domination of nature for human benefit.  If nature is completely devoid of any intrinsic value, and was in fact created solely for humanity’s use, it could be exploited with impunity.

The other distinctive feature of modern ideology, as I stressed in the first lecture, was its sensationist theory of perception.  What this amounted to, with regard to values, was a completely supernaturalistic explanation of how we know right from wrong: We know it entirely through supernatural revelation or (for more deistic thinkers) thanks to a supernatural implantation at creation.  In either case, the demise of supernaturalism would lead to nihilism.

This early modern worldview, with its supernatur-alism and anthropocentrism, is in large part the worldview of contemporary evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.  One of the tasks of a postmodern theology is to show people who (rightly) want a robust Christian faith that they can have it without the authoritarian method and destructive worldview that have been so central to the great increase in demonic power brought about in the modern period.


Late Modern Ideology

Although the early modern ideology has been extremely useful in promoting the growth of demonic power, even it has been outdone by the late modern ideology.  With its creation the demonic has, at last, created an ideology wholly in its own image.  This ideology, unlike that of classical Christianity and the early modern period, contains no restraints whatsoever on the unbridled use of power to achieve domination over nature and other peoples.

 The atheism of this late modern worldview says, in effect, that the universe has been created by, and is now controlled by, blind omnipotence.  Having rightly concluded that the problems of evil and evolution, along with other considerations, render implausible the view that the universe is a product of intelligent coercion, late modernists have thought of the universe’s creative power in terms of blind coercion (thereby rejecting or ignoring the other possibility, intelligent persuasion).  In the capitalistic world, this blind coercive power has been thought of, in Darwinians and Social Darwinian6 terms, as the survival of the fittest via natural or social selection.  The world is created and improved, in other words, through ruthless competition, with no pity for the weak.  In the Marxist world, this blind coercion was conceived in different (more dialectical) terms, but the same kind of ruthless unconcern for the weak was promoted.  The end justified any and all means.

A central implication of the idea that the ultimate creative is blind, of course, is that it does not envisage any values.  The religious desire to imitate the supreme power of the universe, has led late modern humans to exercise power without any principles based on moral values.  To be sure, value-laden rhetoric has been employed, as Machiavelli recommended.  But late modernists “know” the belief that values truly exist in the nature of things to be ilIusory.7  The materialistic world view has no place for values to abide, and the sensationist theory of perception, when no longer part of a supernaturalistic worldview, would not allow for the genuine perception of values even if they did exist.  All rhetoric employing value-notions is, accordingly, just that: rhetoric, useful for the battle for power in relation to people who still share the illusion that values are genuine.

This late modern ideology, besides providing a justification for state’s unprincipled use of power, also provides individuals no basis for resisting this power.  Freedom is said to be unreal, so it not provide a rallying cry.  And there are no other objective values, such as justice, in the name of which the state’s power could challenged.  This complete relativism, in fact, implies an ultimate nihilism, according to which there is no ultimate meaning whatsoever.  Why risk one’s life or even comfort to protest policies if, in the long run, nothing matters anyway?

The issue of risking one’s life brings up a final denial by which modern ideology undermines vigorous protest against the unprincipled use of power: the denial of life after death.  Through this denial, human beings are told that there is no aspect of them that is not subject to the state’s coercive power.  A widely accepted aspect of late modern ideology, to be sure, is that it is the belief in life after death, not the absence of such belief, that makes people docile in the face of injustice.  It is true that this belief can and sometimes has been used as an “opiate.”  But the denial of life after death, with its implication that one’s total identity is subject to the state’s power, can be far more effective in preventing serious protest.

This critique of classical Christian theology and early and late modern ideology in terms of their subjugation to, and furtherance of, demonic power has necessarily been brief and selective.  But it should at least provide some idea of what a full-fledged ideology critique from this perspective would be like.  In any case, this discussion, as inadequate as it is, will have to serve as the background to the formulation of liberal (and thereby postclassical) postmodern Christian doctrines.


II. Postmodern Christian Doctrines

In contrast with the atheistic naturalism of late modernity, the postmodern worldview affirms the reality of God.  The supreme power of the universe is not insentient matter, or a blind process, but a purposive reality who loves the world and all its creatures.  Normative values, accordingly, such as truth, beauty, and the various forms of goodness, such as justice, need not be assumed to be illusory or mere projections, created perhaps for ideological purposes.  Rather, we can understand our apprehension of such values as part of our experience of God’s valuations, as, in other words, the causal influence of God upon our experience.  We can understand this influence of God as the way in which God works in human history in a creative, providential, and liberating manner.

In contrast with the supernaturalistic theism of classical Christianity, however, the theism of postmodern Christianity is fully naturalistic.  God acts in relation to humans only in this persuasive way, and in relation to other creatures only in an analogous way.   Because all creatures necessarily and inherently have their own creative power, God’s power is exclusively persuasive.  There is not another kind of power, a coercive power, held in reserve, which could be employed occasionally or at the end of history to guarantee the desired outcome.  This doctrine means, accordingly, that no event is ever unilaterally determined by God, which in turn means that there can be no infallible revelation, no inerrant inspiration.  It also means that belief in God is not undermined by the problem of evil, the evolutionary origin of our world, and the other factors that undermined classical theism.  It means, finally, that there is no reason to doubt the New Testament’s claim that God loves us fully and without qualification, and that God is unambiguously opposed to the demonic.

What about the notion that God is triune—a central part of classical Christianity’s supernaturalism that I did not discuss above?  In classical Christian theism, the idea of the trinity was the idea of three persons who were in some sense three centers of consciousness.  This notion was used to defend the notion, which was at the root of supernaturalism, that God could exist apart from any world whatsoever.  That is, the Christian idea that God is love, that love belongs to the eternal nature of God, might be thought to imply that there has always been a world for God to love.  That would threaten the idea that God created the world ex nihilo.  But the classical notion of the trinity solved that problem, explaining that God’s eternal love involves the relations among the members of the trinity: They eternally love each other.  This idea was used to argue that God’s love for the world was optional, purely voluntary.  The notion of the trinity as three centers of consciousness also provided the presupposition for classical Christianity’s supernaturalistic christology, according to which the second person of the trinity was uniquely present in Jesus, which made Christianity the One True Religion.

Although some versions of naturalistic theism have rejected trinitarianism altogether, partly because of these historic associations between it and supernaturalism, a postmodern Christian faith can actually use the notion that God is triune to express its naturalistic theism.  For example, a trinitarian approach to God has traditionally been used to describe three ways in which we can know God.  This can be called the “epistemic trinity.”  The revelation of God through the natural order has been correlated especially with God the Father, the revelation through history especially with the Son, and the revelation in our immediate experience with the Holy Spirit.  Naturalistic theists can employ this epistemic trinitarianism (without the androcentric imagery) to express our conviction that God works always and everywhere in one and the same way.  We would start where the revelation of God’s mode of activity is most immediate, namely, in our own experience.  Here we see that God acts on us in terms of values, calling us to live in terms of truth, beauty, and the various forms of moral goodness, such as justice.  Seeing God at work in our value experience is, no doubt, influenced by the fact that we understand God through spectacles provided by the Bible.  Paul, for example, describes the Holy Spirit’s effects on us in terms of various values, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  In any case, it is as persuading us in terms of values that we can understand how God can influence human lives.

We can then generalize what we know from immediate experience to the other ways in which we know God.  This generalization can be based on the doctrine that all three aspects of the trinity are homoousion, and the related notion that what is true of one aspect is true of all three.  So, we can say that God’s activity in history is of the same nature as God’s activity in our own experience.  We can, in particular, use this notion to understand God’s activity in Jesus.  In this way, we can develop a christology that avoids any implication of supernatural intervention.  Such a christology can say that God’s incarnation in Jesus was special, but that this specialness entails no supernaturalism.

The main empirical support for the idea that God was supernaturally incarnate in Jesus was provided, of course, by the reports of the miracles of Jesus.  Early modern philosophy was created in part, as I explained in the first lecture, to say that such events would have to be given a supernatural interpretation.  From a postmodern perspective, however, events involving action at a distance in general, and nonsensory perception in particular, can be accepted as purely natural.  We need not, accordingly, choose between the traditional view that these events prove Jesus’ supernatural status and the late modern a priori denial that any events of this type happened.  The science of psychical research (or parapsychology), in other words, is an important ally in developing a credible naturalistic theology.

The next question, in developing a naturalistic trinity, is whether the way that God works in our immediate experience, and in history in general, can be extended to God’s activity in nature.  That is, can we imagine God as influencing not only other animals, but also cells and even molecules in terms of values?  Such a suggestion would seem absurd, of course, from the standpoint of modern thought, which regards natural entities, below some line, as insentient bits of matter, devoid of all experience and therefore all value-realization.  Our constructive postmodern theology, however, is based on panexperientialism, according to which experience of some sort goes all the way down.  From this perspective, accordingly, we can generalize from God’s activity in relation to all individuals.  In this way, our postmodern theology overcomes one of the major weaknesses of modern liberal theologies, their inability to speak of God’s creative and providential work in nature.

From this perspective, furthermore, there can be a postmodern recovery of another traditional way of articulating God’s threefold activity in the world.  I refer to those Trinitarian formulations that speak of God’s activity at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the world—for example, of God as creator, redeemer, and consummator.  This can be called the “temporal trinity.”  In classical theology, God’s activity at the beginning and the end was imagined to be very different from God’s activity in the middle.  God’s activity in the middle—that is, in relation to human history—was said in general to be persuasive activity.  Aside from occasional miracles and the unique incarnation in Jesus, God was said generally to abstain from using coercive power in relation to humans.  God called, and we either accepted or rejected the call.  Jesus’ call to people to follow him could be regarded as revelatory of God’s way of relating to human beings.  But this divine modus operandi could not, in classical theology, be generalized to God’s activity at the beginning.  God’s activity in creating the world had to be understood in terms of overwhelming coercive power.  Even aside from the issue as to whether nature can respond to values, a world such as ours could not have been created in six days by the use of persuasive power.  A naturalistic theism, according to which God acts in the beginning in the same way in which God acts in the middle, was impossible.

However, just as the science of parapsychology came to the rescue with regard to miracles, evolutionary science comes to the rescue with regard to creation.  We now know that our world, rather than being created in six days, was created in something like 16 billion years.  This quantitative difference is so great that is suggests a qualitative difference in the nature of God’s creative activity.  The idea that God spent some 16 billion years creating our world suggests that God’s creative power must be persuasive, not coercive, power.  This is the natural inference, that is, if we continue to think of the world as God’s creation.  Modern liberal theology, having no way to think of God’s activity in relation to nature, generally gave up the notion of the world as God’s creation in any straightforward sense.  A postmodern theology, however, can recover the doctrine of God as creator, by understanding God’s creative activity in nature in terms of persuasion to actualize values of certain types.  This is a postmodern view of the world as God’s creation, rather than a return to a premodern or early modern view, because it is naturalistic: We can understand God’s activity at the beginning of our universe as of the same type as God’s activity in history. No supernatural origin must be assumed.

We still have, however, the question of God’s activity at the end.  Can God as consummator be understood in the same terms?  Classical theologians certainly did not think so. For example, a book entitled Armageddon says:

The second coming of Jesus Christ to earth will be no quiet manger scene. . . . Cities will literally collapse, islands sink, and mountains disappear.  Huge hailstones, each weighing a hundred pounds, will fall from heaven. . . , [T]he rulers and their armies who resist Christ’s return will be killed in a mass carnage.8

No more Mister Nice Guy!  According to this theology, in other words, God’s past mode of activity in Jesus would not suffice to bring about the eventual victory of divine over demonic power.  God would have to resort to a degree of violence that would outdo the violence of the forces of evil.  The revelation of God’s love in Jesus was not, accordingly, a revelation of the divine modus operandi: The true nature of divine power, which is supernatural, has been, for the most part, held in reserve, and will be fully manifested only at the end.

Modern liberal theology overcame this supernaturalistic notion of the consummation of history by giving up the notion of a final victory of divine over demonic power altogether.  In some versions, it did this by minimizing the reality of evil, denying in effect that there is any demonic evil to be overcome.  But more realistic modern theologies overcame the notion of a supernatural victory over demonic power by, more or less explicitly, giving up hope that such a victory will ever occur.  In Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology, for example, salvation is virtually equated with justification; there is little talk of sanctification.  Niebuhr denies that divine power will eventually overcome the power of sin.

By rejecting modern assumptions; however, we can recover, in postmodern form, the expectation of God’s eventual defeat of the demonic.  The central basis for this recovery is that, from a postmodern perspective, we can again speak of life beyond physical death.  This is a complex topic, which I have treated at length elsewhere.  Here I can only point to the central elements in the postmodern approach that allow for life after death.  One element is the distinction between the mind or soul and the brain, which panexperientialism allows.  That is, the dualism of the early modern worldview allowed for such a distinction, but because it could not explain how mind and brain could interact, it collapsed, therefore, into the materialism of the late modern view, which declares mind and brain to be somehow identical.  This identism makes life after death inconceivable, at least in a naturalistic context that allows for no supernatural resurrection of the body.  Panexperientialism, however, by being able to explain how mind and body can interact, enables us to reaffirm the distinction between mind and brain.

While that distinction provides one of the necessary conditions for the possibility of life after death without supernatural intervenparapsychology provides some others.9  Many thinkers have assumed that we would not be able to exist apart from our bodies only because continued existence is unthinkable apart from experience, which is true, but also because they believe that perception is impossible without the body’s sensory organs.  Evidence for telepathy and clairvoyance has demonstrated, however, what panexperientialism suggests, which is that we have nonsensory perceptions.  Now, of course, these nonsensory perceptions generally do not rise to consciousness, because they are usually crowded out by sensory perceptions.  In a discarnate state, however, any of these nonsensory perceptions might regularly be conscious.  This is what is suggested, in fact, by reports of near-death experiences and other out-of-body experiences.  Another objection to any meaningful life after death is that, without our bodies, we would not be able to act.  But evidence for psychokinesis demonstrates what panexperiential-ism suggests, which is that we can even now act directly upon other things, apart from bodily mediation.  In a postcarnate state this power might also become regularized.  Besides showing the possibility of life after death, furthermore, parapsychology also provides rather impressive evidence for its actuality.10  Supernaturalists resist this evidence, because it undermines the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  This insistence on the absolute uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection, however, has contributed to the arrogance of supernaturalist Christianity, on the one hand, and to the general loss of belief in life after death altogether, on the other.  By reaffirming the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and our own life after death, on the basis of experience and reason, we recover within a liberal framework the essential concern of conservative Christians on this point.

From this standpoint, in turn, we can recover the hope for an eventual sanctification of our souls within the framework of a theistic naturalism.  The belief in life after death plays the same role in relation to this issue as the belief in evolution plays with regard to understanding the creation of our universe in terms of divine persuasive power.  That is, just as the evolutionary perspective extends the history of the world far into the past, belief in life after death extends our own spiritual journey far into the future.  In both cases, the time available for the effects to be achieved is so extended that it becomes credible that a divine power, acting by persuasive power alone, could bring about these effects.  From the point of view of modern liberal theology, God had only our present lifetime to work on our souls.  Given that presupposition, it was indeed realistic to be very skeptical of the divine power to transfigure you and me.  Classical Protestant theology, having rejected the notion of purgatory, also assumed that God’s persuasive grace had only the present lifetime to work on us; it held, accordingly, that the actual transformation of our souls into fit inhabitants for heaven would be effected unilaterally, by God’s supernatural power.  If we assume, however, that our trinitarian God has a very long time to batter our hearts with divine values, we can realistically believe that this divine power will eventually overcome our present subjugation to demonic values.  In this eschatology, there are no threats of supernatural punishment, as if the only effective kind of divine persuasion were a very coercive persuasion, in which God scares the hell out of us.  In this naturalistic eschatology, God eventually loves the hell out of us, thereby demonstrating what should be the fundamental axiom of Christian faith, that love—God’s love for the world—is the supreme power in the universe.

One practical implication of this perspective is that it recovers, in postmodern form, the notion of human life as a spiritual journey.  People can, to be sure, understand their lives this way even apart from life after death.  But the loss of that belief has probably been the most important reason why modern human beings in general, and modern liberal theologians in particular, do not generally think of life as a spiritual journey.  By contrast, when people recover, especially in a naturalistic context, the notion that our present life is part of a larger journey, they tend to begin seeing spiritual development as the most important thing in life.  Some sort of spiritual discipline becomes more important than the search for pleasure, power, fame, or riches.11

This postmodern theology also provides other presuppositions of a life of spiritual self-discipline that late modern thought undermined.  One such presupposition is that we have genuine freedom.  Self-discipline makes no sense apart from the power of self-determination.  The postmodern view of the mind-body relation shows how our minds can have this power.  Another presupposition is the objective existence of values.  If there are no such values, as modern materialism implies, then there are no standards in terms of which we should discipline our power of self-determination.  The postmodern view that such values exist in God, and that God acts upon our souls by whetting our appetites for these values, provides the basis for understanding how values can be transcendent to our experience and also immanent in it.  The other postmodern support for this notion is the recognition of our nonsensory perception, which we can be receptive to the divinely-rooted values.

While the reality of freedom and values supports the meaningfulness of spiritual discipline, yet another dimension of theology supports its importance, indeed its necessity.  I refer here to the recognition that our souls influence the world our bodies, for good or ill, not only through the mediation our bodies, but also directly.  Most importantly, we directly influence other human souls for good or for ill.  And, insofar as our influence is for ill, we thereby contribute to the demonic power on our planet, adding to the demonic aspect of the general psychic matrix into which other souls are born and by which they are influenced willy-nilly.  The contrary view, which is that we only influence the world through our bodies—through our words, actions, and facial expressions—promotes the complacent view that we can be successful hypocrites: that we will do no harm to anyone as long as we watch our words and body language.  But insofar as we recognize the reality of psychokinesis and nonsensory perception, we will recognize that hypocrisy cannot be totally successful.  What we are inside will have its effects, regardless of our external demeanor.  And these effects may well be lethal.  As Carl Jung recognized, spiritual discipline is important not only for the sake of our own individual journeys, but also for the sake of the world.12 

I have been discussing several elements involved in the postmodern recovery of the hope for the eventual victory of divine over demonic power.  Yet another element in this recovery, of course, is the conception of the demonic itself.  Because I have already developed this notion at some length, I will here simply refer to some of its main implications for the question of its eventual overcoming.  One important point is that the demonic is very much a latecomer, having emerged as a real possibility only about fifty thousand years ago, and having actually emerged only within the last 10,000 years, after the rise of civilization.  Unlike classical Christianity, then, which came perilously close to Manicheanism, this new perspective says that demonic evil has not distorted God’s creation virtually from the beginning, and that it has not even infected human existence from virtually its beginning.  Human existence has existed without the curse of demonic evil for far longer than it has suffered under it.  This perspective can help us affirm with conviction that life, including human life, is essentially good.  Original sin is dwarfed by original blessing.13

Besides not being original in the sense of going back to the origin of humanity as such, “original sin” is not now somehow inherent in human nature as such.  Rather than being a state or tendency originating from the depths of the human soul as such, it is to be understood more as a power to which our souls are subjugated,14 a power that arose in history under particular conditions.  We can, accordingly, suppose that, when we no longer live under those conditions, the power of divine love will be able to overcome our present subjugation to demonic impulses.  This provides a basis for understanding the medieval idea that sins that are not purged from our souls in this world by divine power will be purged in a future state.

This perspective on the demonic does not, however, offer hope only for the victory of divine over demonic power in a post-earthly existence.  It also provides a basis for seeing that the present subjugation of the earth to demonic power can be overcome.  If the demonic arose historically, there is no reason to be resigned to its perpetual existence.  If it arose with the emergence of civilization, and if we can identify that dimension of civilization that led to its rise, then we will know what needs to be overcome in order to overcome the demonic itself.  I have suggested that this dimension of civilization as it has existed thus far is its anarchy.  What we need to do, therefore, is to move toward a post-anarchical form of civilization.  This means moving towards a form of global governance, in which inter-state relations are settled not in terms of brute power, but in terms of democratic deliberations on the good of the whole, which would make values, such as truth, beauty, and fairness, politically relevant.  From this perspective, the past several thousand years, which so-called realists have taken as normative, is instead to be an aberrant interlude.  The idea of a primal paradise can, while being an exaggeration, be taken as an authentic memory of a time before the rise of the demonic.  The idea of a future of God on earth can be accepted as a true intuition or revelation of a form of civilization that could really come about, if we can survive and transcend our present aberration.

If the church would come to accept this postmodern theology, its mission would be clear.  It would see its task to be that of seeking, through its message and activity, to lead the way in God’s battle against demonic power.  There would be two foci to this effort.  On the one hand, the church would help individuals in their personal spiritual journeys to overcome, as fully as possible, their subjugation to demonic influence.  Important in his regard is the postmodern recovery of the various doctrines I have discussed related to the power of God, the power of the soul, the reality of values, and the reality of life after death.

On the other hand, the church would seek to lead the way in overcoming the power of the demonic in the public sphere.  It would do all it can to weaken the hold of demonic values upon our various institutions, such as schools, corporations, congress, and the presidency.  This effort should be carried out in terms of both spiritual and physical means.  That is, the postmodern liberal church, like the modern liberal church, should engage in ethical and political activity as usually understood.  But this activity should be carried out in the context of a spiritual offensive, in which the power of prayer is used to reinforce the divine influence upon the individuals and institutions involved.  Praying for those who are especially enslaved to demonic power, and who are incarnating it in especially destructive ways, will not only serve to remind us that they are essentially good creatures of God who are loved by God and that our battle is not with them but with the power to which they are enslaved.  It will also greatly increase the church’s effectiveness.  The modern liberal church’s ineffectiveness can, in fact, be attributed to a significant degree to the fact that it has not believed in the reality of spiritual influence.

The postmodern recovery of belief in life after death can help empower Christians to battle valiantly against demonic power in high places.  As I suggested above, if we believe that our essential identity is in the hands of the state, it is very hard to protest strongly against the state’s participation in demonic activities, such as Nazi Germany’s genocide against European Jews, the Soviet Union’s murderous purges under Stalin, or the United States’ villainy in Vietnam and its leadership in the nuclear arms race.  The postmodern recovery of life after death can provide a necessary condition for courage to overcome the demonic’s intimidating power.

However, if the church restricts its efforts in the public sphere to improving our institutions within the present structure of civilization, it will continue to fight a losing battle.  Within the context of anarchical civilization, the reign of demonic power necessarily grows increasingly stronger.  The church in our time should understand its commitment to the coming rule of God, which it repeats in every utterance of the Lord’s Prayer, primarily to entail its wholehearted commitment to overcoming the anarchic stage of civilization.  This means envisioning and then working for a plan for global governance.  This is, of course, an enormous and controversial topic, to which I can here only allude.  I am, however, at work on a book tentatively entitled “The Divine Cry of Our Time: War, Religion, and a New World Order.”  With that title I signal my conviction that the emergence of a peaceable and sustainable form of civilization must be assumed to be the chief concern of God for our planet in this time.  In working for this goal, the church should employ the same twofold means, carrying on its physical activities in the context of a mighty spiritual effort.

In sum, the church should understand its mission as that of serving as a counterforce to the demonic dimension of the psychic matrix in which the human race lives.  We should understand God’s incarnationaI activity in Jesus as a divine offensive against the spreading power of the demonic.  There is no better source for understanding Jesus in these terms than Walter Wink’s trilogy on the powers, especially the third volume, Engaging the Powers.  The church, as the intentional extension of this liberating incarnation in Jesus, should be an opposing field of force, an instrument, perhaps the chief instrument, through which divine power liberates the world from subjugation to demonic power before it is too late.15



1 In a book tentatively titled ‘‘The Divine Cry of Our Time: War, Religion, and a New World Order.”

2 For references, see Chapter 5 of James H. Evans, Jr., We Have Been Believers: An African-American Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

3 See Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

4 This point has been made by Charles E. Raven, The Theological Basis of Christian Pacifism (New York: Fellowship Publications, 1951), 36-37.

5 See Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. Norton, 1987).

6 See Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, rev. ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).

7 See Stephen P.L. Turner and Regis A. Factor, Max Weber and the Dispute over Reason and Value: A Study in Philosophy, Ethics, and Politics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).

8 John F. and John E. Walvoord, Armageddon: Oil and the Middle East Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976); quoted in Robert Jewett, Jesus Against the Rapture (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 16.

9 For a fuller discussion of the ideas to follow, see my “Postmodern Animism and Life After Death,” which is Chapter 6 of God and Religion in the Postmodern World, or “Parapsychology and Philosophy” (see note 8 of the first lecture).

10 For an overview, see David Lorimer, Survival? Body, Mind and Death in the Light of Psychic Experience (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), Chapters 8-11.

11 This is a central point of a book, tentatively titled “Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality,” which I anticipate publishing in 1995.  [Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. – A. F.]

12 C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Recollections, ed. Aneila Jaffe, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Random House, 1963), 192, 252.

13 The allusion is to Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear and Co., 1983).

14 I was first led to this conception by Arthur C. McGill’s Suffering: A Test of Theological Method (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), which I have discussed in “Power Divine and Demonic: A Review Article,” Encounter 45:1 (Winter 1984):67-75.

15 These lectures, especially the second, are based in part on research done while I was a Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study and Conference Center at Bellagio, Italy, in September and October of 1992. I hereby publicly express my gratitude for this grand opportunity.  Bellagio is as close to Heaven on Earth for Scholars as any of us will ever find.


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Posted September 12, 2007

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