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KILLING GODS IN THE DESERT

In Roman culture, the first “atheists” were these peculiar Christian types. They rejected the influence of the gods in their lives, a kind of fulfilled Socratic vision with the Nazarene, Jesus, at the center. This was the pre-Christian world; a world filled with pagan idolatry and sexual governance because most of these Roman gods contained some sort of sexual ethic that included much of what we behold today on our primetime television screens.

In the same way, we as Christian are the iconoclasts of today, but of a different kind than the early church. First, we are now post-Christian, immersed in a world of options. In our “Secularism [1],” everything is contested. It is more reasonable to believe in no god than otherwise. In the pre-christian world, it was more reasonable to believe in god than otherwise.

Listen to Jewish scholar, Jon Levenson:

What I do claim is that the desert, which some poetry (which is probably early) regards as the locale of YHWH’s mountain home, functions in early prose as a symbol of freedom, which stands in opposition to the massive and burden- some regime of Egypt, where state and cult are presented as colluding in the perpetuation of slavery and degradation. The mountain of God is a beacon to the slaves of Egypt, a symbol of a new kind of master and a radically different relationship of people to state. Sinai is not the final goal of the Exodus, but lying between Egypt and Canaan, it does represent YHWH’s unchallengeable mastery over both. [2]

The desert not only represents a re-orientation plane for seeing the true God, and rejected the old, it is also a refutation of the powers of the state at that time and the reset button for a new kind of people – a new kind of government. In a sense, the people of God were becoming anarchists, rejecting the authority of the ruling class for the ruling of their God. They were entering a liminal state by which anything could happen, but nothing that looked “moderate” or “middle-of-the-road.” Whatever this thing was going to be would have to necessarily become radical.

Perhaps you have put your ear to the ground, and just like the Hebrews coming out of Egypt, in spite of all that God has done for us we can’t help but declare how our faith has been colonized by the wider culture: “Let’s go back to Egypt!”

In my particular context (the south!) it is evident in our discussion about the Bible that polite society has colonized our faith. We do not use the Bible to deepen the conversation. We use it to end the conversation. The very act of questioning interpretation is to question God Himself thus is blasphemous and potentially harmful.

None of these polite folks intend on being this ridiculous (revealing an ignorance of simple realities, such as the most basic form of interpretation being translation!) but for many of us who seek to love our Christian neighbor, it can prove difficult, even fatal for some of us.

Are there no more idols?

The greatest idol of our day is non-identity identity, which would make the presence of traditions something that we need now more than ever. I noticed this thread in the stream of Fargo episodes, where the main characters often act in stupid ways that either get them severely hurt or even killed, much to the satisfaction of the viewer. Fargo is a darkly comic tv series. It is filled with deep Jewish symbolism of the wasteland of religious identity and the struggle of asking questions in an age where every single bias can be confirmed, even celebrated. Check out this amazing exchange between two characters in the latest season:

Howard Zimmerman: About science. Well, science has this thing – it’s been proven – they call it “quantum”… something. It talks about how we’re all just particles… we’re floating out there… we’re moving through space. Nobody knows where we are. And then every once in awhile… “BANG!” We collide. And suddenly for maybe a minute, we’re real. And then we float off again. As if we don’t even exist. I used to think it meant something. These collisions, the people we found.

Gloria Burgle: And now?

Howard Zimmerman: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. [3]

The future of Christian identity is something I used to help tear down in my “spiritual but not religious” phase, but the more I traverse the landscape of secularism, the more I realize that we need the re-emergence of the religious man in the midst of the emergence of the psychological man, who seeks a psychoanalyst over a pastor.

In the above conversation, one particular worldview is posited that the personal is non-existent, except in these random encounters with one another. We exist; but not I. And it is a perfect example of the post-modern ethos that seeks post-modernity as a kind of solution to a problem, not simply as a mechanism to deconstruct the problem of modernity. The religious identity is personal and communal, the combination of human flourishing. And yet, if there is no God, it seems the individual disappears into the wasteland of communal identity. The problem is that sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a community and a mob. As Kierkegaard once said, the mob is often the untruth.

East Berlin Official: We are not here to tell stories, we are here to tell the truth. [3]

The truth is if you are prepared to kill gods in the cultural desert then be careful that you don’t accidentally kill your own self.

 

[1] Jamie Smith, in his book How (Not) To Be Secular, he outlines the three secular-isms in the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor: Secular One is the idea of a city of man and a city of God, a separate plane that we interact in, whether by ignorance, doing the best we can. Secular Two is the idea of a neutral space where people come together without the need to express their faith, and culminated in the old idea of public school and government service. This is the antiquated secular-ism that the baby buster generation still seems sold on, and surprised by the fact that many of the millennial variety seem to reject this notion of the secular; which is an idea that puts one’s faith in subordination to the state, which is a denial of our very nature, and perhaps of reality itself which is porous. In other words, there is no such thing as a neutral space. Secular Three, which is the secular-ism I am grappling with, is the idea that everything is contested. It is the post-christian/state notion that everything has been brought to the fore and we must deal with it. 

[2] Levenson, p. 23, Saini And Zion: An Entry Into The Jewish Bible

[3] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Fargo_(TV_series)#The_Law_of_Vacant_Places_.5B3.01.5D

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