January 17, 2021

Losing The War, Part IV: Identifying The Real War

Frodo_and_Sam_at_Mt_DoomIf we are not involved in the Syrian Civil War by the time this essay percolates to the top of the IMonk rotation, I believe it will have been partly due to the fervent prayers of my wife.   She came home from the gymnasium weeping and speaking in tongues aloud.  She is an intransigent Pentecostal and we know that if she is in a state where she doesn’t care who knows it, something is wrong.

We don’t have cable or broadcast TV.  Our media diet is Netflix, pirated Korean dramas, and the nightly Univision news broadcast.  My wife enjoys going to the gymnasium because she can watch either Fox News or CNN, depending on which machine she uses.   This particular night, she was deeply disturbed by something she had seen on CNN.   There were pictures of Syrian children laid out in the street after an attack, followed by a war room scene where a middle-aged to elderly woman was directing a number of generals as to where the US should strike in Syria.

The woman was not Hillary Clinton, Condolezza Rice, nor Nancy Pelosi.   My wife knows all the Usual Suspects, and she says it wasn’t anybody she recognized.

By now, I was braced for a rehash of whatever propaganda CNN was spooning out.  From the sound of my wife’s report, pictures of dead children followed by a video promising resolute US action, it sounded like CNN was gunning to build support for US military action in that unfortunate land.  I should have given my wife more credit than to swallow any propaganda whole, though.

“That women had the Devil’s face”, she said, and the diabolism was so apparent to her that it provoked an outburst of Pentecostal manifestation usually reserved for major family crises.  “That woman will cause more dead children,” my wife continued, “not fewer.  She was a cold-hearted bitch that one [Era una seca fria esa], moving her hands over a map of Syria, showing the generals where they should strike.”  My daughter and I got her calmed down, and we prayed together for President Obama, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Assad, President Putin, Premier Li Keqiang, and, of course, Syria’s nearly two million Christians, as well as her Muslims, Jews, and Druzes.

Our time spent in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, which was a positive experience for my wife, left us with a sensitivity towards Middle Eastern Christians and a strong sense of solidarity with them.  My wife has befriended many Middle Eastern Christian women, whose culture bears a remarkable similarity to her own Latin American culture.  She was particularly close to an Iraqi Baptist lady whose native language was Aramaic and didn’t need to read the subtitles when we took her and her family with us to see The Passion Of The Christ.  The so-called “Arab Spring” has been hard on us because of all the worry about how events were impacting the lives of our friends’ families.  I do not believe it is by circumstance that Syria’s sole official Pentecostal assembly meets (I pray to God it still does) in the deeply contested city of Aleppo in northern Syria.   You could not have found a better way to get my wife’s attention.

I don’t pretend to know why after three years of Syria’s agony the United States has decided that it has become necessary to intervene militarily.  I have my suspicions that a show of military resolution on the part of the US would go a long way towards shoring up our shaky dollar as the world’s reserve currency, or perhaps control of a major pipeline route for Iranian natural gas and oil through Shi’a controlled areas of Iraq and Syria.  My wife’s response to the CNN broadcast sealed the case for me.

Regardless of American, Russian, or Iranian interests, it is clear that the Devil wants war in Syria, and if the Prince of Darkness is to be thwarted, it will be through the prayers of Christians like my wife.  Pentecostals think like this, and often are ridiculed by other Christians for seeing “demons behind every bush.”   Mention Pentecostalism and demons to most people and images leap to their minds about bull-bellied evangelists with bad haircuts placing their hands on poorly dressed rural folk with their arms upraised and their mouths voicing nonsense syllables.

I went over to Experimental Theology following a link from a commenter.  Richard Beck’s blog is a wonderful place, albeit not as accommodating to conservative Christians as the Christian Monist, who keeps blowing my mind.  Experimental Theology is a place for “progressive Christians” to discuss their issues intramurally, and certainly the place is full of them.  The word ‘privileged’ gets used a lot, and they quote William Stringfellow and John Caputo without sniggering.  I have to admit an animus against “progressive Christians”, but we are all of us here in the ‘post-Evangelical wilderness’ together.  For a lot of ‘post evangelicals’, “progressive Christianity” is a viable alternative, a more viable alternative than Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Dr. Richard Beck, the caretaker over there, wrote  as progressive Christians might understand it.

Dr. Beck says, although I take a bit of liberty with his exact words,

If you do not understand that Jesus came here as a warrior, then you do not “get” Jesus.

That single phrase is worth the price of entryJesus came to turn the power structures of the world upside down.  You can think about most of the ways humans organize their energies as a pyramid, with a privileged few at the apex, and the lower levels supporting them and sustaining them.  Jesus came and turned this upside down, placing the teeming poor and powerless on the top, then consciously taking the lowest place of all, at the very bottom, where the tip fell upon Him with all of its terrible weight, and, if you want to be close to Him, you gotta get down there too.

The parts of the Bible that talk about “principalities” and “powers” show a remarkable lack of concern about whether they were addressing political authorities or spiritual eminences grises.  I don’t think the ancients experienced much of a difference.  The titles Antiochus Epiphanes and Dius Iulius spell it out pretty explicitly.   Rulers were gods, spiritual entities, and this makes the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire under Constantine even more remarkable.

The pre-Nicene church did not topple the pagan structure of Rome because they were sweet guys and caring ladies who got along so politely with each other and acted like Mr. Rogers or Bob from Sesame Street.  They knew the risen Christ was Lord and they took on the principalities and powers and wrestled them to the ground.  When the basileus finally bent the knee to Christ, Dan Brown and the Trail of Blood notwithstanding, it was a great victory.  Unfortunately, with victory came complacency, and we largely squandered that victory. Nevertheless, the Faith continued to expand as the sacred oaks continued to topple before the axes of Saint Boniface and his successors.  European paganism did not fall before the Care Bears, but before a superior spiritual force.

Even today, even in the most hidebound cessationist groups where I’ve been told ‘Everything you need to know from the Holy Spirit you can find between the covers of this here Book’, there is more slack cut for the miraculous when the stories come in from the missions field.  I remember a missionary during my days among the Calvinist tribe.  He said that when he and his family had finally settled in and had learned enough of the language to be able to communicate with the local group, he asked them what their greatest need was.  He expected it to be food, or medicine, but he was taken aback when the tribal elder told him ‘What we need is to be free from the tormenting spirits who live over there in that wood.’

I think that the reason spiritual warfare has such a bad reputation outside of Pentecostalism is that it is tough.  We are reluctantly sent into battle against foes that are not only inconceivably more powerful, more diligent, and more cunning than we are.  More importantly than this, they also have a fifth column inside our own souls.   Even while we oppose them, we want to surrender to them.  We dearly want what they are offering us.

This was why I was dissatisfied with Dr. Beck’s vision of spiritual warfare for his progressive flock.  Despite the many virtues of his series and the Malacandrian tone of vigor it struck, they don’t believe in actual spiritual entities, what the Orthodox liturgies refer to as ‘our bodiless adversaries’.   They believe in “white privilege,” “homophobia,” and “toxic Christianity” as manifestations of the demonic that need to be vigorously opposed, but there is never any feeling that they are genuinely tempted to go there.  Forgive me, Dr. Beck, if you ever read this.  Despite the manifest brilliance of your thinking and writing, the whole tone of the series struck me like this:

By the imputed righteousness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose values I share, and by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I abjure you foul spirit of being glad that Robert Zimmerman was acquitted to come out of this wretched Mule!

Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?

Where is the confession that Dr. Beck’s Knights of the Bar Sinister feel tempted to leave a public place when the number of African-Americans of a certain age, sex, and temperament increases beyond the point of comfort?  Where is the confession that they laughed when told a particularly funny ethnic or sexist joke?  Where is the confession that if their only daughter declared herself to be gay, they would secretly mourn the loss of grandchildren?

This is the difference between spiritual warfare as an extension of ideological propaganda and spiritual warfare as described by the moral genius of JRR Tolkien.  There are two enemies in The Lord Of The Rings.  The first one is the Dark Lord, Sauron, in his tower of BaradDûr.   Sauron wants to subdue all opposition to his will in Middle Earth.  He can be and must be withstood by sword and bow, but sword and bow cannot deliver final victory over him.  The other adversary is the Ring of Power.   The Ring whispers to you on the inside, telling you of all the good you could do, all the wrongs you could right, if you’d just slip in onto your finger and claim it as your own.  The Ring cannot be defeated by force, but only by humility and ascesis.   “This kind cometh not out save by prayer and fasting.”

It is tempting when you are reading through the trilogy to concentrate on all the exciting battles, swordplay, and diplomacy in the chapters dealing with the other members of the Fellowship, and to fail to realize that the real battle against Sauron is being waged by Frodo and Sam, forgoing food, water, and sometimes even air to put step in front of step and reach the Crack of Doom.

Even then, despite their best efforts, they were beaten.  Sauron with his hordes of orcs and Southrons, his flying Nazgul, didn’t beat them.  The Ring beat Frodo at the end.   It was the weakness of the hobbits; specifically Frodo’s  pity in sparing that foul Republican complementarian homophobic Gollum, and realizing his underlying solidarity with all that wretchedness,  that saved them, and all Middle Earth.

You see, you have to be practically dead to wage spiritual warfare effectively.  There is no substitute for what Paul called diakrisis pneumaton, the discernment of spirits.  There is no policy manual you can write that can distinguish between, say, mental illness or corporate malfeasance and the operation of evil spirits.  If you are driven by your passions, you will inevitably judge wrongly.   You will rule in favor of your passions, and do a lot of damage.

Look at a dead guy.   You can praise him, and he won’t get puffed up.  You can tell all kinds of terrible lies about him and he won’t get hurt.  Throw a wad of hundreds and fifties down in front of him and he won’t grab for it.  Tell him Bush invaded Iraq or Obama let an ambassador get killed in Libya.  You won’t get a rise out of him.   Along with Father Capon, I think you can get there while still drawing breath.  I think Benedict got there.  I think Francis of Assisi got there.  I think St. Therese got there.  I think Seraphim of Sarov got there.  I think Elder Paisios got there.  I’ve met a Pentecostal lady and a Methodist lady who if they weren’t there are awfully darned close, as well as a married Orthodox priest.

It’s simple to get there.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  Seek the one thing needful.  It’s simple, but it’s not easy.  All the powers of hell will rise against you if you try, even for a day.  Old Adam will howl like a dog you are beating.  I back down a lot.  All of us do, but if we get up as many times as we fall down, we’ll eventually get there.  When you get there, you can do some real damage to the kingdom of darkness.


  1. Hi MULE, congratulations of a great post

    if this ‘deal’ works out between Russia and Syria and the USA and all the salient parties internationally, and those Syrian weapons are turned over and destroyed,
    then I will think that the ‘slip of the tongue’ by Kerry that told of ‘one way’ military action could be avoided . . .
    I will believe that ‘slip of the tongue’ was prompted by the Holy Spirit . . .

    that picture of the dead children on CNN ?
    . . . it’s not propaganda, MULE . . . not this time

    the question remains: is ‘doing nothing’ in response to the murder of children a moral choice for Christian people?
    The thing is, if there is SOMETHING that can be done in response that does not involve violence, that is the proper choice over violent acts of war, yes

    but there must be a response . . . the bodies of the children tell us that, don’t they ? . . .
    and a peaceful end with the destruction of weapons preventing more babies from dying . . . that, at least, says that the world saw those children lying dead, and the world said ‘no’, ‘no more’

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > the world saw those children lying dead, and the world said ‘no’, ‘no more’

      Lives – those of children, the middle-aged, and the elderly – have been being destroyed at the hands of thugs and tyrants for ages. And the world has said “yes”.

      I find the notion that people are aroused to wrath because “children” were killed utterly repellent. So other lives do not need counting? This response is not moral, it is nothing more than atavism.

      • This response is not moral, it is nothing more than atavism.

        …rooted in the Victorian sentimentality of Childhood.

        The notion that people are aroused to wrath because children were killed by gas somehow seem to suggest that napalm, clusterbombing, drone strikes and other such means are acceptable (?)

      • I believe people are “roused to wrath” at the sight of dead *children* because children have had no chance to live their lives. All those years have been taken away from them, years that the rest of us have had.

      • I find warfare involving civilians utterly repellent – but I and you were born into a world that does it. There have been times when “rules of warfare” were better followed and soldiers went off to fight, away from civilians. But, usually, civilians are fodder in wars. Unarmed, defenceless and largely innocent of the shenanigans of their overlords. Nothing visually sums that up better than a baby.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > Despite the many virtues of his series and the Malacandrian tone of vigor it
    > struck, they don’t believe in actual spiritual entities, … They believe in
    > “white privilege,” “homophobia,” and “toxic Christianity” as manifestations

    I am a capital-S Socialist, so that makes me a political ‘progressive’ [I suppose]. But I’ll add a *ditto* to the above. Boy howdy can the progressive side be musty dreary [not that the other side doesn’t suffer from almost the exact same fate – I can hear a bit of news and do a startling good impersonation of exactly what Mr. Rush will say about it, it is all so dreadfully predictable]. Many progressive really only believe is ‘small sins’, and that great evils are the accumulation of many small sins [typically committed out of a lack of enlightenment or some such bullpoo [*1]]. They do not have any place for ravenous old evil, thinking about such a thing is simply too unseemly.

    > Unfortunately, with victory came complacency, and we largely squandered that victory

    Yes. But early victories are the easy ones. Speaking with progressive hat on – it is quite upsetting to see the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speach recognized over and over and over on TV – even ESPN for crying out loud! But nary one solitary mention of what that “civil rights” meant to king – included a minimum wage, fair working conditions, etc…. The media carefully selects one or two famous, but nicely generic, clips from one speach and plays them over and over again. Because Racism is a clear evil – lets focus on that. Discussing issues of class, poverty, and exploitation… hmmm… yea, won’t get as big a cheering section for that. First victories are easier to grasp. Then you need to level-up and face the nastier ones.

    As Mr. King from in the letter from the Birmingham jail:

    “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”

    > I think that the reason spiritual warfare has such a bad reputation outside of
    > Pentecostalism is that it is tough

    And sadly, it is taken up as the bludgeon of every whack-a-doodle power monger who can find a milk crate to stand on. Just as pundits on the political Left and Right work ceaselessly to destroy the credibility of their own sides, so do the street preachers toil day and night to make spiritual Christianity appear as something for the mentally troubled illiterate.

    > Even while we oppose them, we want to surrender to them. ‘
    > We dearly want what they are offering us.

    Never a truer line.

    > ideological propaganda and spiritual warfare as described by the
    > moral genius of JRR Tolkien.

    Tolkien himself said that the main characters of LOTR was actually Smeagol and Sam. Sam could not overcome his provincial morality or instinctual disgust at Smeagol. Could not the ending have been different if Smeagol, in his few acts of friendship, had been treated with mercy [rather than Sam’s contempt]. Smeagol both loved and *HATED* the ring. Might he have taken it and gone into the fire not in a frenzy of lust, but to destroy the thing which had destroyed him. That would have been a very different ending – a greater ending. A victory by force or fate is still victory; a victory by mercy is a greater victory.

    [*1] On the the other hand, many great evils really are the accumulation of many small *choices*. While the sins behind those choices may not be so small (avarice, vengence,… even if played small).

    • I’ve really enjoyed reading you’re input lately. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort.

    • “so do the street preachers toil day and night to make spiritual Christianity appear as something for the mentally troubled illiterate.”

      Right on!

  3. Brother Mule,

    I think I’m the guilty party that posted the link to Experimental Theology a couple of weeks back. ;o)

    One reason that I find Dr. Beck fascinating and helpful is that he and I share the same heritage of Faith tradition. He is still in it, whereas I left it about 15 years ago. For the life of me I don’t understand how he remains–except for his love of a capella congregational singing perhaps? He also teaches at a university founded within the Church of Christ tradition. So, Beck is or has been immersed in a Cessationist mindset.

    Your article is challenging as is normal. I don’t quite see your objection to Beck’s “Progressivism” as a denial of “spiritual warfare.” I appreciate your wife’s “Pentecostal” reaction to what she saw on TV–and I have been associated with many good brothers and sisters who process their faith in those terms. I don’t see Beck’s more rational (as opposed to more emotive) as a repudiation of Spiritual Forces, rather, I would see both approaches as valid and necessary in the spectrum of “members” in the Body of Christ. I would think that Beck would certainly affirm your conclusions in your last paragraph.

  4. “Traces of nobility, gentleness, and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too do the characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle. There is no need to sally forth, for it all remains true that those things that make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us. Forward!” Walt Kelly June 1953

  5. Marcus Felde says

    I am troubled by: “I think Benedict got there. I think Francis of Assisi got there. . . .”
    I think Jesus said that the one in the temple who said “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” got there. Perhaps it is not our “getting up again” that does it, it is our getting down again.

    • @ Marcus; +1

      It’s unfortunate that “higher” is too often associated with “better”.

    • The sight of those little bodies in Syria humbles us all. The sadness overwhelms.
      Is it possible perhaps Mule referred to ‘getting up again’ as a restoration of a person’s hope in the midst of the darkness?

      . . . there is a passage in Tolkien about this:

      “Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell.” . . .
      “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep”

      there are many meditations based on Tolkien’s works, and for me, one of the most meaningful was this one:

      Samwise asks ” “is everything sad going to come untrue”
      and Tim Keller writes: “The answer of Christianity to that question is ‘yes’. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”

      I suspect that all those people MULE mentioned had also, in their humility, been released from ‘the defiance of self’ and having been restored to hope, were able to enter into the peace of Christ in their souls.

      • That is good, Christiane. I’m always inclined to give Mule more than the benefit of a doubt. ;o)

        • Interesting how Samwise in the above quoted passage exhibits that virtue Meister Eckhart said is the highest and brings the human soul closest to the nature of God: disinterest.

          For a moment Samwise realizes there is nothing that he needs to grasp, nothing that depends on him for protection, nothing that the darkness can do to overcome the light. He and his master can rest, they can even die. As Zen says, When you sleep, just sleep. Die while alive, and then you are free.

          Ironic, too, how in this passage he isn’t “getting up” but “laying down.”

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > human soul closest to the nature of God: disinterest.

            No, I do not see at all. I see heartbreak at current and past suffering, hope for the future. This is far distant from “disinterest”.

            What I see is “humility”, the realization that one is only “a small person in a great big world” [-Tolkien]. The fate of the world and the turning of great wheels does not rest upon oneself.

            On the other hand there is the quote from Elrond: “Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

            But there is humility also in doing something because the task is before you. It falls to me to do, not that I am solely the only one capable, or divinely appointed, or the best qualified. It must be done, and here am I.

            I remember a sermon by Bill Wilson where is was talking about “calling” [a topic that I am generally very uncomfortable with – it is usually shrouded in the very worst kind of ‘Christian’ pride and hubris] – but Mr. Wilson’s theory was simple: “the need is the call”. Go, work.

            Humility is an overarching theme in LOTR; it is filled with hesitant kings, and weary peasants – who do what is set before them.

            And at the end: “But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.”

          • ADAM,
            with all respect, I think the word ‘disinterest’ here may mean responding in a way that is unselfish and unrewarded and uncredited. People who are free to respond to others or a situation in this world without thought of ‘self’ are truly free indeed. They don’t require payment, or praise, or credit, or any kind of earthly rewards; nor are they concerned for condemnation or penalty in the same way as those who are worried about ‘self’.

            I suspect that ‘disinterested’ here means ‘selflessness’.

            You are right that it is a form of humility. To put aside the ‘self’ in the service of others is an example of Christ-like humility. At the very core of selflessness, is love of the other as ‘other’ without thought of personal gain. It is a very special and holy gift to be able to love others in that way.

          • In Eckhart, disinterest means calculating neither gain nor less, having no ulterior motive, not fearing diminishment nor seeking exaltation, not fearing blame nor seeking credit.

            When Mule says someone needs to be practically dead to wage spiritual warfare, because the dead can’t be made to react to insult, injury, flattery, enticement, etc., he’s talking about what Eckhart means when he says that disinterest is the most distinctively divine attribute.

            I would say that without disinterest, no one becomes a Saint (higher case “S”), and no one can do even a good deed to which imperfection and sin doesn’t cling, because at the center of all good deeds done without disinterest is pride.

            Without disinterest, there can be no grace.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Problem with spiritual warfare is it has becomes Spiritual Warfare(TM), a Live Action Roleplaying Game for wannabe Witchsniffers-pursuviant..

    And developed a VERY low signal-to-noise ratio in the process.

    • I’m afraid that the phrase “Spiritual Warfare” never fails to provoke my desire to be Solomon Kane. Or at least James Purefoy portraying Solomon Kane.

    • Spiritual Warfare(TM) has become a way of self promotion. ‘Two people on my team had sniffles this week, we are under such spiritual attack this time of year!” I exaggerate some, but not much, what I hear around the church staff.

    • Never mind that the Bible only brings up the spiritual world as background, to explain what is going on beyond us. What our “calling” is, is to the people we interact with daily, in a mundane and humble service of love, honour and allowing them the upper hand.

      I compare it to us now knowing how large and vast the universe is. Then ancient world had no knowledge of this. We know what is beyond our atmosphere, that humans have walked on the moon, that satellites orbit the earth, but it doesn’t change the mundaneness of our own lives one bit. We still have the same social and positional needs and desires they did in the past. We are still called to love our enemies and humble ourselves towards others. It is still hard, even if the backdrop has shifted.

  7. David Cornwell says

    Wow, wonderful post. I do not know what to say. I’ll be leaving home and be away most of the day, but will be following the comments later.

    Several things come to mind, at random:

    When we, the United States, and whatever country joins with us decide to take action, claiming the moral high ground, it always reeks with hypocrisy. The hidden motives remain hidden. God’s way of working through these things remain hidden also. And if we claim to know how God “should” be doing His work, we are mislead.

    Your reading of “principalities and powers” is spot on.

    Also your understanding of the propagandization of the news, regardless of which vein it takes.

    Thanks for not blowing “progressive Christians” through your teeth and into the spittoon. While I find some of the theology irrelevant, and with a certain propagandized nature of its own, some of these Christians are direly misunderstood. I could write an entire piece about this subject, but not here and now. At least many of these people refuse to fly the American flag with the title “The Kingdom of God” under it.

    A Pentecostal Church in Frankfort, Kentucky became the “Body of Christ” for us when Marge’s sister died a couple of years ago. She had suffered with a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease for about 18 months or so. We gave them almost complete power over her estate, home, and money during this time. Being relieved of the burden of dealing with a close relative’s final days when living 300 miles away, probably saved Marge’s (my wife) life. I can’t say enough about these people and this church. They are as close as any family we have on this earth. They graciously permitted me to speak for a few moments at the funeral of Doris, in this church. We love them dearly. And, they didn’t cheat us out of one dime.

    Lumping Christians under our own prejudiced categories is sinful.

  8. last paragraph is worth the price of admission; nice post, Mule: you’ve avoided the two Screwtape extremes reg. spiritual warfare. Love is the weapon of mass destruction….. insert high church reference/joke …. here..

  9. Thank you so much for this. It is what I needed in my heart today. Your conviction and passion were palpable. It reminded me of a line from an old U2 song: “Heard a singer on the radio late last night, said he’s gonna kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” You sir, gave a much needed kick to my darkness and now in my soul the daylight begins to bleed in.

    • That singer would of course been Bruce Cockburn:

      When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
      Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime.
      But nothing worth have having comes without some kind of fight.
      You’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight
      When you’re lovers in a dangerous time…

      Bono was a big fan of Bruce.

  10. I agree with you that the the angelic/demonic realm is real; I’m not as sanguine as you are, however, about the ascendance of Constantinian Christianity as a comprehensive victory over classical paganism and the world of the demonic powers. And I think it’s worse than just complacency setting in after the church prevailed; I think that the church, and Christian civilization, made a perhaps unconscious Faustian bargain with the Powers and their institutional manifestations, in certain ways carrying the spirits forward with them into the new dispensation under new names or no names at all, when they employed violence and coercion not just as tools of the secular state but in service of religion. In sense, they baptized violence as a tool of the gospel; but that’s shear blasphemy that was bound to give the Powers a deep purchase in the church and the civilization.

    Just a note: your pyramid idea has the unfortunate result that it puts the old aeon powerful and elite closest to Jesus at the bottom and the old aeon masses further away from him at the top even as you say that “if you want to be close to Him, you gotta get down there too.”

  11. Obama is trying to avoid, on one hand, the Scylla of the Shi’i Crescent, and on the other, the Charybdis of the Muslim Brotherhood. The conflict is not so much about oil (concern for oil prices is actually one of the factors discouraging intervention), let alone human rights, as the relative strengths of Israel vs. Iran. Obama is apparently aiming for a moderate Sunni-dominated force to emerge as the government. This is not a very likely outcome, especially if we assume that U.S. action would be limited to bombing runs, missile strikes, or the like.

    Israel’s perspective is similar. Hawks want to do something about Iran, but are worried about giving too much power to their enemies, the Sunni fundamentalists. Doves (including many prominent military figures) think a war would be too dangerous and unpredictable, at least in this instance. The government talks like hawks but is internally divided and, I think, deeply uncertain. They would really prefer the USA to be doing their dirty work.

    Saudi Arabia is the other major U.S. ally in the region. They really do not want the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power in the region, or other “Arab Spring” type revolutions to occur, because a trend toward Islamic democracy would threaten their monarchy. Assad at least poses no threat to them.

    Russia is hoping to preserve the Assad regime, obviously, but failing that, I wonder if it would be feasible to partition Syria? There could be an Alawi / Christian state along the coast, where the Russian base is, a larger Sunni-dominated region, and a de facto independent Kurdish northeast.

    The latter is anathema to Turkey, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood (whose theology is more or less compatible with the conservative religious base of the ruling AK / Justice and Development Party), over the protests of Turkey’s Alevi minority, inter alia. Turkey strongly supports military intervention by the USA, NATO, etc. aimed at toppling the Assad regime–not because they are fundamentally against it (they had good relations before), but because of the huge refugee problem, and other issues associated with having a war going on next door.

    China would like the U.S to become bogged down in another major Middle Eastern war, in order to curtail its freedom of action in East Asia and the Western Pacific. They are otherwise not terribly concerned with who wins.

  12. @ RobertF;


  13. I don’t think there is a secret pipeline or anything like it involved. I think our President painted himself into a corner when he threatened Assad with serious repercussions if he were ever to use chemical weapons, perhaps foolishly thinking this would actually incline Assad to not used the weapons. Now that Assad apparently went ahead and used them anyway, our President feels compelled in the interest of preserving the prestige of his office (this matter of of not having their prestige dissed is of extraordinary interest to politicians, and demons) to make good on his promise.

    It reminds me of the promise that Herod made to Salome; I’m sure demons were involved in that as well: “…what will they say…how they will laugh…what will you say… they will laugh… will they say…what will you do…..?” I think we would be surprised at how many turns of events in history were decided not by pragmatic considerations, not by secret behind-the-scenes strategic factors, not even by national interest however torturously conceived, but by the petty, megalomaniacal vanity that is so routinely found among those who hold, and love, power.

    • Like Shrub invading Iraq to even the score for Daddy Bush, it certainly wasn’t for Al Quedah, and, if the US had left Iraq alone, it would have had more energy for Afghanistan, earlier on. It would have spared finances for the future problems in the middle east, and who knows that the Arab Spring may not have toppled Saddam anyways, and a lot more cheaply for US taxpayers?

      It will also show why Christianity gains ground in some places and loses it in others. How much church leadership decision making is not just an act of Vanity. History bears that out – The Mission (the movie), King Henry having to leave the Catholic Church (big loss for Rome, eventually), Reformation killing anabaptists, England forbidding missionaries in India from converting locals – and Anglicans playing along. When the church gets in bed with politicians, that gives evil the upper hand.

      Never forget – one of the top ten professions for psychopaths is ministry.

  14. Let’s be clear: although William Stringfellow was a political progressive (anarchist/libertarian might be more accurate), he quite definitely believed that the Powers were spiritual beings; he believed that in the modern era, they utilized corporate and government bureaucracies as their primary weapons in their work to ruin creation.

    He once famously, or infamously, with a friend performed an public exorcism of President Richard Nixon in absentia, I believe it was after Nixon had ordered the carpet bombing of Cambodia; although he was performing a piece of political theater, he was also deadly serious about the exorcism. He believed Nixon was demon possessed.

  15. Pentecostals think like this, and often are ridiculed by other Christians for seeing “demons behind every bush.”

    BUT…. do they throw a vial of ink across the room at them?

  16. This is the thing, Mule: none of us can avoid getting up as many times as we fall down, except for that last time, when we don’t get up because we’re dead. And just as you say, it’s when we’re dead that we’re finally fit for spiritual warfare, and sanctity, when something really good can come out of us and be done with us because we are finally at the place God is always at: disinterest.

    It’s then that God gets us up.

    “I believe in the resurrection of the body…”

  17. naming names?

    that’s the thing about the saints, sir mule….
    they’d rather you mention His Name.


    “don’t worry, I am the only one who knows your name…
    it’s me — mine.”

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