Facebook made me aware of this: 10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye.

The article really bothers me; I’m sure it will show below. Let me say up front that I know that Ms. Blake and those who advocate her views simply wish to honor Christ. I don’t question her motives. I question her view of reality. In my opinion this boils down to some basic convictions about the nature of the world, and so the faith that nests within it.

Here are my initial off the cuff, knee-jerk reactions:

Leaving the oft repeated, but dubious history of the holiday that she espouses to one side, and ignoring the assumption that any of the practices, language, concepts and traditions that she participates in are free from ‘pagan origins’ (I haven’t the heart to begin with that), her arguments have been used to bind tender consciences against all sorts of things besides the celebration of Halloween: reading fiction, attending the theater, dancing etc.

I know this from experience. My parents had tender consciences, and that because of their love. Growing up, our home avoided all ‘Hollywood’ movies. I once received a Cootie game as a birthday present. Our convictions wouldn’t allow us to keep it because it required the use of dice. Gamblers used dice. There was our testimony to consider, and the clear admonition to ‘be ye separate.’ Small things, lead to big things. This is so very familiar.

Syncopated music…. playing cards… what has light to do with darkness? To this we can add the celebration of Easter and Christmas. I’ve sat through many a sermon against the pagan Christmas tree. I’m thankful that silliness had little impact on my parents.

So I don’t find this sort of appeal very compelling. When I note the things that are allowed in the lives of those who condemn Halloween- though deemed obviously illicit by others because of the very arguments here presented, I go ‘Hmmm.’ It seems to me that the answer in each of these cases ought to be intentionality and discernment. When the response is a blanket ‘don’t taste; don’t touch’, children resent the loss. Perhaps more importantly they come to be embarrassed by (or worse, to embrace) the view of reality that the position assumes.

Perhaps Evangelicals would do well to explore the limits of the Modernity that is foundation of their tradition by considering more ancient visions of the Christian faith. If they were to explore other writers- Chesterton, MacDonald, etc they might find…

* God told Job that chaotic monsters were his good playthings. Things spooky and uncanny didn’t arrive with the fall, and like each of the other creatures, they were meant to point God-ward (here and here )- CS Lewis commented on the role of uncanny experiences (and by extension, things) in teaching human beings about the numinous nature of God and all things holy:

‘Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a might spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.’

We can speak of ‘fearful awe’ until we’re blue in the face, but the mundane experiences that give meaning to the concept have much to do with the shiver that compels us to look over our shoulder on moonlit walks, or wrap our coat more closely when the dog howls mournfully in the distance. Deny or avoid these types of experiences, and ‘Awesomeness’ can only mean ‘Cool’ or ‘Wow.’

*All stories- as Tolkien insisted- are about the fall. Things Gothic are a focused consideration of things fallen. They allow us to Recover (in the Tolkienian sense) the reality we’ve become blind to.

What are werewolves, if not the concrete representation of the reality of ourselves, neighborhoods and markets: beasts disguised as men and women, devouring one another. Want to know what fallen reality is truly like- what you and I are really like at heart? I’d suggest Curse of the Werewolf.

What are vampiric beings who live on the blood of others, if not an anti-image of God. Fallen humanity lives precisely unlike the one who gives his own blood that others might live. Want to know what that means- what my selfish response to the person in the other car truly looks like? Watch The Horror of Dracula.

Zombies? Does Xianity know anything of those who wonder through life, though dead?

Frankenstein? There is no end to the Xian lessons of Frankenstein.

Want to know what all the manicured lawns and beautiful homes of the American Dream are hiding from us? Watch Poltergeist.

How can such focused opportunities for teaching truth (one of the themes that St. Paul required the Philippians to earnestly study) be missed? Fantasy (of which horror and the Gothic is a subset) is uniquely able to reveal the true nature of the lies, which we find the most attractive. Halloween gives us a focused night to reveal the grossness of the tune that the world dances to. I would think for a Xian, that is what Halloween is for.

*Things grotesque and uncanny stand in opposition to the rationalistic arrogance of modernity. They remind us that everything can’t be explained, that ‘All’ is mystery in the end- more than we really know or understand. Gargoyles and haunts snicker at our neat formulas and efforts.There’s always more than we know; or can know.

The tacit reductionism of the prevalent worldview is dehumanizing. I suspect that the opportunity to get our heads above its smothering layers is a chief reason for the popularity of Halloween. Where else are people to affirm this part of our humanity? Certainly not in the sterile gatherings of most conservative ‘worship services.’ You go there to learn stuff – ironically, often the biblical ‘magic spell’  which will solve one’s particular problem.

You can’t fix something with nothing, and evangelicalism has little with which to resist modernity’s reductionism. Of course catholicism (whether that of Rome, Canterbury, Geneva or Wittenberg) has a Eucharist in which Christ’s body and blood are present. Wild stuff- not empirically approved or rationally definable- like things uncanny and grotesque, but the American giants of conservative scholastic theology (e.g.Dabney and Hodge) rejected their own Calvinistic inheritance on the grounds that it was unintelligible. Just so.

Sacrament as flannel graph hardly scratches the itch created by modernity’s rationalism. Theologies that presume to aim for the diminution of mystery are superstitions of a kind that are much more hateful than that which is associated with things macabre. It seems to me that in the end, those who avoid black cats understand reality more truthfully than those represented by the ‘bible believing’ pastor I once had, who insisted that anointing the sick with oil for effectual healing is superstition. It seems to me that the latter could learn a lot about God’s world by visiting a haunted house. Just my opinion.

The world is not predictable or safe. There is much more of truth in the average horror story than in the Pollyannaish productions, which some Xians seem to so appreciate. If truth is the standard, then perhaps someone does need to repent.

*In a related way, the criticism seems to me to be much more 1950, Dick Van Dyke show, middle-class-American than biblical. Scripture contains incest, murder, tent pegs through skulls, infanticide, fat bellies swallowing slicing blades, women on all fours longing for men whose genital are like that of a horse and who ejaculate like a donkey. Christ spoke of people burning in pits and worms that never die. … Given that ostensibly that is the standard, I wonder what percentage of scripture Ms. Blake must avoid in order to be faithful to her maturing conscience.

*The tacit equation of the grotesque with evil is anti-gospel. For the majority of Xians, the primary symbol of our identity is an instrument of torture. The most precious reminder of our victory is a corpse hanging on a tree. (I understand that this isn’t true for many evangelicals, but that is, in part, my point). We learn from a consideration of gothic stories that ‘Monsters’ are opportunities for hospitality. We are not to judge or exclude the distorted, disfigured or corrupt. We are to look beyond the worldly, shallow and sentimental definitions of ‘lovely’ and ‘good.’ An evening spent watching The Elephant Man is a lesson in Xian perspective. (Or a Holy Week that refuses to skip over Good Friday and Holy Saturday to arrive at Easter, for that matter)

*In the Preface to his Letters From Hell, George McDonald (CS Lewis’ favorite writer) insisted that we should ‘make righteous use of the element of horror.’ He goes on to insist that those who refuse to do so out of a Xian fear of horror (to borrow from Travis Prinzi)…

…‘dismiss something of great value: an imaginative engagement with the consequences of rebellion against God. In fact, we become cowards ourselves, comfortable in our sin, committing the very evils we say we should not be reading in a story. When we throw out the horror genre altogether out of fear of Satanic influence, we give in to fear itself, become cowards, and lose a valuable conduit for truth. This is not to throw discernment out the window in our storytelling, but we err on the other side when we Pharisaically rule out the genre altogether.’

*Incidentally, I find the criticism that Halloween was never a Xian holiday to be somewhat disingenuous when advocated by those in a tradition that condemns the very idea of Xian holidays. I have no idea if Ms. Blake is reformed, but at least the re-poster who drew my attention to her article is, and (I’m certain) familiar with the Westminster Standard’s position on things like Christmas and Easter. For anyone who is not, I’d suggest you review Dr C Matthew McMahon’s: Easter, the Devil’s Holiday.

What are we celebrating on Halloween? It depends on what is meant by ‘we.’ For both pagans and Xians, Halloween is about death; as a Xian I am celebrating victory over death. Where my ancestors cowered at the approach of winter’s darkness and the contemplation of the reality of things both unexplainable and nightmarishly evil, these things are now occasion for play, rejoicing and mockery for those on this side of Christ’s resurrection.

Fear
In days before-
tribute offered-
To Death and her consorts.

Cold and welter nights, like this,
Enacted homage:
Cowering, loathing and dread of
Her patronage.

But hateful pretensions
This night
Cause us to laugh and play
Because we trust

Life has overcome
Death.
Christ has undone
‘The way its not supposed to be.’

Departed ones, without dread;
They are safe.
Terrors of the dark, no scourge;
Tonight mere flourish and farce for children at play.

A trophy raised; a prize of war:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again!

I don’t know what others are ‘celebrating.’ As for me, any attempt to escape modernity’s truncated, half-vision of creation would be reason enough to be thankful. Perhaps this is all they are up to- a vacation from the great dehumanizing lie. It’s likely that they do not celebrate Christ victory over death, but then I wouldn’t really expect them too. Perhaps- seeing that their vision of death must be different from that of the church- we should expect them to be up to something different, too. No?

But how wonderful to ask them to join us.

I acknowledge that as with all things, discernment is required. There are limits to be considered, but this is hardly only true of things horrific, grotesque or uncanny. Perhaps it is precisely those who think that their day to day lives have little to do with the themes of Halloween, that most need the lessons of Halloween.

Uncanny, spooky aspects of creation are God’s good idea for which we ought to be thankful; contemplation of the true nature and consequences of rebellion against God is needful; likewise learning that the grotesqueness of fallen things is really goodness in need of redemption- whether in a misunderstood ‘monster’ or a pagan holiday reaching for the truth- is needed; joyfully enacting the declaration “Oh grave where is thy victory” is worthwhile, and …. refusing to withdraw further into our pietistic enclaves on the one night that neighbors actually embrace community and act like neighbors- joyfully visiting one another- seems a wise course of action. At least to me.

If only as an augmentation to the vision Ms Blake endorses, I would suggest that one acquaint themselves with a more august one. Perhaps beginning with:
Taming of the Nightmare by GK Chesterton
Preface to Letters From Hell by George MacDonald
A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale by Russell Kirk found in  his collection of ghost stories- Ancestral Shadows
Travis Prinzi’s The Parable of the Poltergeist in Light Shining In a Dark Place
On Fairy Stories by JRR Tolkien
Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion by Paul Leggett
Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring by Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner

Short Online pieces:
James Jordan’s Concerning Halloween
Michael Spencer’s iMonk 101: My Annual Halloween Rant (One of them) Revisited and The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast
Reclaiming the Reclamation by Martha of Ireland

Dear Kids,
I’ve a suspicion that the lessons of nature that go unlearned end up being…well, unlearnable…period.

Let me try again: Our knowledge is metaphorical and imaginary….

Let me try again: We cannot appreciate a concept unless we have had an experience from which we can image it…
No, wait, wait, wait. This is what I mean, if I tell you that a Krag is a creature with wings like a Jorg and the teeth of a Mulph, how much have I told you? Maybe you’ve learned some new words, and if they’re Latin ones, they might be useful in sounding intimidating in a smart sort of way. But beyond that, not a lot has happened- not much was learned. No communication took place. But if I say a Krag has the thin skinned wings of a bat (only these wings are enormous) and that its head resembles a lion’s head, then you can begin to form some idea of what a Krag might be. Does that make sense? We cannot appreciate a concept unless we’ve had an experience from which we can image it.

When we are told by St. Paul that God’s attributes are evident from nature’s book, we should expect to find the creaturely finger that points to his power, beauty, justice etc. And they are very evident. Now, if I were to say that God is acertonastical. What does that mean? Maybe I’d add that it refers to an indefinable, completely and utterly unexperiencable state of acertonisty. “Oh” you say knowingly, “I see,” but you’re lying because there is nothing there to learn. If you’ve not experienced something analogous, there is nothing there to see.

How about the word holy? What does it mean? If Otto was right about The Numinous, then where do we go in our experience to fill up the meaning? More often than not we go to one of the other attributes- to things like power or justice. “Holiness is really one of these,” we say. We end up making God’s people speak in redundancies- “God is good and (good).” We might as well drop one of those “goods,” and it really ought to be the one that isn’t spelled g-o-o-d. Holiness disappears.

This is one of two possible outcomes, if what we are talking about is beyond our experience. Either the particular facet of God, to which the word Holiness is meant to refer becomes lost because mistaken for something else, or we are simply going around mouthing words that have no meaning at all. Either way, the practical molding influence that only an understanding of God’s Holiness can provide is lost. Is that a big deal? It depends on how important God’s holiness is. You tell me.

It seems to me (another suspicion) that there is more than coincidence involved in the fact that experiences of “Otherness” are “pooh-poohed” in both nature and in the worship of nature’s God. A disregard for the transcendent seems to lie at the heart of the whole business. Or worse, it’s the collapsing down of the transcendent into the mundane and immanent. Spooky moments are nothing but superstition and irrational fear. God is nothing more than Creation blown infinite. A lot of “Nothing mores” and “Nothing buts” going on there. But that is the great error of our time- “Nothingbutteryism.”

Modernity knows (for dissection has established it to be a fact) that one place is no different than another. Any desire to lower your voice in a cathedral, a graveyard or darkened forest is “nothing but”…and should be out grown. God’s holiness is nothing more than sheer power and majesty and so you should obey him simply because he can squish you like a bug if you resist. Just like Hitler or…wait. That can’t be right. Why do we follow/worship God?

Practically, I believe that a disregard for the mysterious and disturbingly “other” experiences of our world is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of reverence. That’s where the piper comes to be paid- in the loss of Reverence. We are taught that there is nothing in this world that is truly unnatural, uncanny…spooky- at least not for the educated. God is explicable in terms of human qualities- only ones blown up really big. And so we should approach him like we approach anyone else- only really loud. In our relationships there is no area, station or calling that can be considered “other.” There is nothing sacrosanct. Not the umpire overseeing the game- “punch the blind bastard,” not the King- “who does he think he is,” nor a woman’s honor.

The whole concept of Reverence seems as old fashioned and nonsensical in our culture as taking seriously a child’s fear of the night. But that is the point.

Thomas Howard tells of a group of students taken by a learned cultural anthropologist into the depths of an unmapped jungle. They wander into a village just in time to see a scantily clad witch doctor slicing the head off of a chicken. Violently flinging the warm blood across the altar in front of him, the old man repeatedly bows towards the image. The scientist turns towards the students and says “Here we have a perfect example of the earliest stages of religious evolution and a clear manifestation of the myth of the fertility god’s enacted death…” Obviously, the two men see something very different taking place.

If you had to choose, who would you side with? Are you with the Scientist or the Witch Doctor? Seems a clear choice to me: The witch doctor knows many things the Scientist does not- that there are some things before which we must bow, that sacrifice is required and that it must be made in blood, that there is more to reality than can be seen, etc, etc

The battle is decided when one side concedes the bedrock contention of the other. It seems to me that we need to be careful whose weapons we are using and what we are aiming at.

If there is “more than” to God, if he is truly “other,” then that otherness finds expression in the image of his creation. Those innocent, profound and radically molding places, times and encounters should be recognized and treasured- brought captive to the King to whom they rightfully belong. This is simply seeing them for what they are- facets of our God’s great glory. Since the garden, this has been man’s challenge- to properly name God’s creation. It’s always been that way. Modern men and women have the distinction of adding an additional challenge- they have set out to feel shame at the awareness of certain creatures (Spookiness wasn’t the first) or to deny that they exist at all. That’s a tough row to hoe…because they do.

One night you’ll be alone. The moon will be full, but ducking behind the gray stretched clouds, as if afraid to watch. A solitary dog will bark in the distance and a cold blast of air will send the dead leaves past your face and swirling upwards. A thought occurs to you. Not a thought really, more of an awareness; and you respond by glancing over your shoulder at the woods that lay behind. You’re looking for something in the almost perfect blackness that lies between the trees. Not sure what, just …something. You shudder and gather up the groceries as quickly as you can; trying to tell yourself that nothing is going on.

Is there? Anything going on, I mean. I hope you answer, “Yes, Indeed” and offer thanks for the visitation.

 

Dear Kids,

When y’all were small we taught you that “God is a spirit: infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” I regret it now- not because I think any of that stuff is wrong, but rather because taken together I think it gives the wrong impression. It’s too impersonal. Too…well, precise. I wouldn’t define any of you in that way. Maybe a tractor or a college course- but not a person. Instead I’d say “that one is charmed when it comes to animals. Why once she…” or “That one is too much like me; she…” You see, I’d tell a story.

Moderns (and I’m sure you know that’s not a category I want any of you to fall into) subscribe to the whole ‘reductionistic definition’ thing. They believe we understand something best when we’ve taken it apart and labeled all the innards. The problem with that approach is that you loose the thing you’re trying to get to know, and the sort of knowledge you end up with is of a rather limited kind.

If I were to gut your mother and analyze precisely her chemical makeup, I wouldn’t learn half as much about her as a trip to the beach would reveal…and I’d get to take her home afterwards, too. You can see the advantage. The definition of God up there can (I didn’t say must) give the impression that our God is a substance of some sort (maybe a giant glowing silly putty like blob of “BEING”) or simply the sum total of his various attributes. If it’s not possible to define your mother in that way, it’s surely not possible with your God.

You can see that there’s something else there- something beyond all the parts. Rudolph Otto has written the classic work on that “something.” His book is called The Idea of the Holy. C.S. Lewis listed it as one of the ten most important books in his life. In it Mr. Otto claims that the “something” is really the heart of our concept of the Divine. It, not the attributes listed above, is common to all the religions of man. He calls it the Numinous. I like that word. Numinous. Anyway, it refers to the mysterious, indefinable and overwhelming sense of power, unapproachability and raw energy of God. He is similar in some respects to his creation, because she was created to be so; but there is an unbridgeable chasm between the Creator and his creation. He is “Other”. He alone is God. People know they are in the presence of the Numinous by the effect it has on them. This effect has been called the mysterium tremendum . That’s a mouthful, so people have tried awe, dread and similar words to describe it. But they don’t quite do the trick either. When you’re in the presence of the Numinous you’re struck dumb in amazement because it is so different from what you expected to encounter, you shudder as this Absolute begins to touch the deepest points of your feelings, and there is a profound awareness of your creatureliness, our dependence, our vulnerability and sheer contingency before this Totally Other.

C.S Lewis illustrated it in the introduction to his Problem of Pain, “Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.”

Along with the mysterium tremendum comes an almost irresistible attraction. Otto called this the mysterium fascinosum. Here’s an observable distinction between animalistic fear and the mysterium tremendum. We long to get away from what we fear. We are drawn to that which fills our heart with terrifying awe. The traditional word for all of this is holiness. It’s not first and foremost about right behavior. Rather it’s about the “Otherness” that lies at the heart of our God. To be in the presence of the Holy is to be struck dumb, trembling and on our face. Witness St. John in his Revelation- the same John who laid his head on the Savior before- falling down speechless at the Holiness’ manifestation. It is terrifying to behold…and yet ecstatically beautiful and attractive. With sin, certainly, a new experience of fear began. But the mysterium tremendum is part of the Creator’s and his Creation’s relationship. It never depended on sin for its kindling. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” This was as true of unstained Adam as it was of David untold ages later.

If it’s true that Creation was meant to point towards it creator, if it’s true that we see his power in the sea, his care in a mother’s look, his beauty in a flower and taste his goodness in a nibble of stinky cheese, then where do we find creaturely images of his Numinance? This seems to me to be a very important question.

Lewis hinted towards my view in his comment about ghosts in the quote above. There are dark corridors that frighten and draw us, shadowy, solitary stands of trees that touch us to the point of shuddering as we contemplate passing through them. There’s Luna’s bright roundness flirting out the wolf’s lonely howl. We stop to look. We stop to listen and shiver at the thought. Could it be that certain creatures have been gifted with this particular “telling.” Is it coincidence that both Egyptian and Celt shuddered at the passing of a black cat? Or are there places and things that were “painted” just so to remind us that He is frightening because…well, like the face in the window He doesn’t belong- not to this world.

Creepy, Eerie, Uncanny, Disturbing, Awesome. Holy…Spooky. Amidst our overly familiar vision of a god who is little more than a “buddy from out of town,” don’t we need a better understanding of his untouchable otherness.

“You think that was something” we should say to our friends as we’re leaving this year’s most unsettling haunted house. “Wait till you meet my God.”

On Spookiness- Part I

Dear Kids,

He could have put us on a great, flat ping-pong table. God, I mean.

If naked, efficient existence was the point, then a ping-pong table would have been just the thing. Of course it would’ve needed to be big, really big…but “the world as table” is certainly imaginable. He could have painted it all white, too. Nothing fancy. He could have done without the whole beautiful, rolling, landscape thing. No poofy dandelions. No “wet” water. No sunsets or peacock feathers. He could have, but he didn’t. Do you ever wonder why?

Jesus’ people have always answered that a big white table just wouldn’t serve God’s end. You know, in the same way that sleeping in a wet bed or taking your brother or sister to the prom just doesn’t cut it. It’s imaginable, but not worth the trouble. There was more to food than fuel, more to legs than movement, more to love than reproduction. More! And that ‘more’ was wrapped up in all the unnecessary, impractical and seemingly superfluous stuff. The big white table isn’t sufficient, because our God envisioned creation as having something to say. Something to declare. And a big white table just isn’t up to saying it.

Creation was meant to state, “God is like this. God is like that.” He’s a rock, a father, an ocean and a lion. Not those things exactly. They’re creatures. He’s Creator. But each has something to say about him. Each declares his glory. The whole creation, all of it, pulls on our sleeve and points upward to her source when we give her our attention. The whole earth is full of the glory of God. That was the idea, anyway. Since men and women began mistaking the advertisement for the real thing, Creation had gone wrong. But twisted or not, she keeps on declaring, none the less. While the naked bodies of husband and wife have something wonderfully important to say about the God who first dreamed up such a thing, the bleating terror of the baby wildebeest being flayed by lion’s claws shows the reality of the same thing when love is removed. We’re surrounded by images. Some of them “were from the beginning”. Others came with the fall. Everything pulls at our sleeve.

I want you to think about a particular creature. Tell me if she was present in Eden before the damned serpent caused our parents to question the Fatherhood of their God. I’m speaking of Spookiness. Did she exist when our God declared all things good, or did she arrive only when the situation had changed and the new fallen reality required new ugly images? I believe she was always there. I think she will still be there at the very end, because she has something to say about God that needs saying. Finding what that might mean will require that we take a more direct look at our God. I hope to do that next.

“…..Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.”

At the end of the book MacIntyre returns to this chaotic vision of the future, dourly concluding that it isn’t of the future at all- it’s a description (of the intellectual and ethical reality) of today. Already, he says, we are living amid an intellectual and ethical apocalypse. Our arguments and rational forms are shallow tropes of an earlier, robust, rooted ethical dialogue. We have fragments and scraps from those times, but mostly we stumble on doing something we mistakenly call ethics, uprooted from telos- that is a sense of where we’re headed and why.”

– Joustra and Wilkinson

How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith and Politics at the End of the World

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Michaelmas is almost here, and this year it’s possible that some of my daughters will be celebrating in their own homes. I know its good- the way its supposed to be, but I don’t like it much.

Has me thinking back on Michaelmases past.  Hard to believe this was 9 years ago.

Alongside my ever simmering parental fear, the feast day brings not only nostalgia, but the comforting knowledge that for each of my children

…he shall give his angels charge over thee,

To keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands,

Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Glory to you Lord Christ for precious children, angelic watchers and, yes, the passing of time that brings with it the gifts of maturity and……grandchildren.

The governing story at the heart of evangelicalism is the conversion narrative… For evangelicalism, the “gospel” is typically framed not as Scripture frames it—as the historical story of God’s salvation accomplished in his Son through the public events of Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and return in glory—but as the “story” of how the sinful individual can be saved in the present. It’s a story of how Christ can become an active part of my personal biography rather than a historical account that stands apart from my biography, which I must enter as I die to myself and my old biography and become a part of Christ’s life…

Evangelicalism’s foregrounding of the conversion narrative leads to a particular understanding of the formation of the Christian’s subjectivity. In a tradition that placed its primary accent on the objective, historical narrative of God’s work in Christ, Christians’ subjectivity would principally be formed as they entered into a larger story outside of themselves and as this story shaped and identified them. By contrast, within evangelicalism, Christian subjectivity is effected chiefly from within, through the immediacy of the “conversion experience.”

With this understanding of genuine Christian subjectivity as arising from within comes a suspicion of the place of the objective, external, and institutional dimensions of Christian faith—of creeds, confessions, theologies, liturgies, sacraments, rites, and churches. Rather than being valued as means of spiritual formation and incorporation into the life of Christ and his people, they are viewed as a sort of dead shell that surrounds the internal, living reality of Christian faith, residing purely in the believer’s heart. Their sole value arises as they serve as means by which we express the spiritual life within us. The sacraments and institutions of Christianity cease to be regarded as acting to form us into a living body and start to be seen as mere public expressions of our private faith. I am baptized, not so that I might participate in and be formed by the life and death of Christ and his body more fully, but in order publicly to declare my personal and private belief.

Evangelicalism places on all within it a responsibility to fashion a spiritual identity from out of their own divinely visited subjectivity. To be evangelical is to account for one’s identity from out of one’s own “born again” spiritual experience and not in terms of membership or participation in some external institution or ritual. The typical evangelical narrative of conversion begins by establishing an antithesis between genuine Christian identity and “external” identities—“I was raised in a Christian home and grew up attending a gospel-believing church, but. . . .” Rather than emphasizing an outward-looking affirmation of one’s belief in the truth and saving power of historical gospel events, and the reliability of God’s Word and promise in the “external” means of grace, the evangelical “personal testimony” is principally concerned with presenting a detailed account of one’s arrival at a believing subjectivity…

… the significance of these reflections becomes more apparent when we recognize that this evangelical account of Christian identity finds noteworthy analogies in LGBT communities…

…As we come to a realization of the faults in others, we may find we are seeing a mirror image of the faults in ourselves.

 

-Alastair Roberts