I wanted to share this post from Jonathan Martin titled “Don’t stand up for Jesus, pt. 1: the accuser“, which can be found in its entirety by clicking the linked title (or here) … but know many people may not have the patience for 3,800 words online, I have edited it to a smaller version (1,900 may still sound like a lot, but it’s still half what it was previously).
Please follow the link and read the full post as it is worth your time. You may also want to buy Rene Girard’s book “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning“; it’s an amazing book.
I grew up in a world where we took the devil very seriously. The grid was simple: we are all players in an intergalactic war between God and Satan, and there is no neutral ground. Behind the curtain of human activity, angels and demons are sparring for the souls of women and men.
In my circles then, we spent a tremendous amount of time and attention trying to do battle with the Devil and his hordes.
The world has changed for me since those days. I no longer attribute flat tires or Victoria’s Secret ads to the devil. I’ve lived long enough now to know that human beings are not cartoon characters, that there are no white hats and black hats. I have had to deal much more closely now with my own ambiguity, and the ambiguities of the people around me. As we attend honestly to the world around us, and most especially if we attend honestly to our own souls, we develop a much higher capacity for grey.
For many people, the idea that there is an actual sentient force of malevolence called Satan seems tribalistic and primitive. And yet there are indications, perhaps, that there is a force of evil in the world that may be greater than the sum of its parts. We see it most of all in the violence human beings are able to inflict on each other. Even acts of hatred don’t fully account for this phenomenon though, which is why we still return to spirituality for some kind of explanation for it. You don’t need the framework of the Frank Peretti novels to taste something off in the atmosphere—there are times and places where the air itself feels charged with rage and blame. Whatever it is, and wherever comes from, there is a kind of spiritual energy to hate. It can be felt at a political rally or a water cooler conversation, it translates through Facebook and cable news.
This spiritual dynamic, or disposition, whatever you want to call it, is uniquely powerful but dangerous. It is tangible whenever there is an “us” and a “them.” It is palpable whenever a person or group has been labeled as a threat to a community’s well being, and becomes the object of the community’s scorn. When we find someone else to blame for whatever ails us, there is a strong group/mob instinct to cleanse ourselves on that person (drawing from Rene Girard’s important work). We identify them as the contagion, the problem. If we can get rid of them, our problems will go away. It’s a powerful mythology across human cultures. In its most extreme forms—Hitler’s attempt to eliminate Jews, racial injustice in North America before the civil rights movement, such evil manifests in ways that are self-evident.
But there are much more subtle forms of this dynamic, equally powerful in any and all kind of grouping, religious or irreligious, conservative or progressive. It is not partisan, it has no brand. It is spiritual in nature, organic, living and dynamic. No wonder the apostle Paul refers to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air,” and no wonder it’s at its most dangerous when a group of people get worked up about something. It feels good to be worked up; “against” energy is intrinsically powerful. If you are quiet and still enough, you won’t hear the devil crackling in a bad sound system—but there is a dark crackle in the air at times, a force that can be felt.
The next time you are a group of friends, co-workers, whatever tribe you are part of, regardless of political ideology, note the shift in the air/atmosphere whenever there is a strong “against” energy. When one person begins to speak harshly about someone else, and other people jump into the conversation—what kind of spiritual dynamic is at work around you? To be sure, there is a powerful kind of human solidarity that comes out of such settings—we are never more united than we share a common “them;” it’s how we most often know we have an “us.” And yet there is something about this than seems to conspire against gentleness, tenderness, openness and compassion. It is a way of building human community, but when identity is established on excluding the “right” people, it is at the cost of the community’s soul.
To feel stronger, wiser, or braver because of the perceived weakness or sin of someone else we judge seems like the most casual, normative human behavior imaginable. And yet in terms of Scripture, scapegoating is the most sub-human, even demonic, activity we engage in. I’m aware this all sounds very dramatic. There aren’t much stronger negative adjectives we might use than “Satanic” or “demonic.” Even if one were to use such terms, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to reserve them for cases of extreme evil—maybe those who participate in some cultic practice of ritual abuse?
And yet in the story told in the ancient texts, “Satan” appears first in what would seem to be a much more pedestrian way. The Old Testament has no developed theology of the devil or of demons—even the appearance of the serpent in Genesis will not be linked to the figure Christians call “Satan” until much, much later. The first appearance of this character is in the book of Job, and in this early Hebrew book, Satan is not a surname, but a job description. In Hebrew his title is translated “the Satan,” meaning “the accuser.” Accusation is his job, his reason for being. It drives him, animates him, consumes him. As much as God “is love” according to the New Testament epistle of I John, Satan is accusation.
We get our first glimpse of “the Satan” as he accuses the righteous character of Job before God, charging that He only worships God because the divine one won’t let anything bad happen to him. What would it mean for us to take seriously the idea that evil, in its most pure, original form, always draws its energy from accusation? Or to come to believe that to blame, condemn or scapegoat another person, even and perhaps especially in the name of religion, is nothing less than the imitation of Satan?
The most insidious thing about accusation, which is by nature a spiritual force (especially in context of any corporate human gathering) is that it has a powerful shared spiritual energy; it just feels so right. We never feel more righteous—more holy, more pious—than when we collectively cleanse ourselves on someone else. There is a sparkle, again a crackle in the air, an almost inhuman, otherworldly strength we feel when we participate in the spirit of us and them. It is a force that can take hold quickly in a room. It is a force of darkness that can be manifest through people who otherwise may seem kind, caring, reasonable or gentle—through “good” people.
I will never forget the first time I felt this in an overwhelming way. The occasion was our bi-annual denominational General Assembly. This was when all we ordained ministers would come together to deliberate issues of ecclesial polity, sometimes to discuss pressing matters of church and culture.
That week there just seemed to be a pandemic of “against energy.” Whenever any of the speakers tried to constructively engage us on issues of mission or vision, the response was lethargic at best. But whenever a speaker said anything with a kind of edge—toward women, toward younger ministers, whoever—the whole place was energized quickly. And that week, there just seemed to be a lot of that. There were a lot of speeches expressing concern over some kind of outsider, some kind of perceived threat to the institution, that seemed to almost always be met with the crowd’s general approval and applause. Even now, I have to be careful about this dynamic in my own speaking/preaching—against energy is powerful and dynamic, and especially in my native Pentecostal tradition, being frankly kind of pissed off can often pass for “the anointing”—some sense of divine life and energy. And yet the energy that motivates in those kinds of settings is often anything but divine.
It came to a head at the end of the week, when the resolutions adapted that week were being read—statements drafted by the body to speak to various cultural issues. My native denomination is culturally conservative, and that year there had been a lot of political debate over gay marriage. So there was an aggressively worded resolution re-affirming the denomination’s stance against gay marriage (which mind you, from where I sit never seemed to be in question within that culture to begin with). And when the resolution was read, the response was absolutely thunderous. There was a long, rapturous standing ovation, people shouting praises to God. Within my tradition, we have as much ambiguity in matters of our own sexuality as anyone else. But dear Lord, does it feel good to make a loud, unambiguous statement that no matter what else might be wrong with us, hallelujah, at least we aren’t LIKE THEM! It is a powerful form of collective scapegoating, a kind of corporate exorcism of our demons (at someone else’s expense).
This section may be an especially fun read for Christian progressives who share my concern that much of what happens under the banner of evangelical culture wars is angry, destructive, and ultimately opposite of the message of Jesus. The trouble is, I have felt that exact same, identical spirit when I’ve been wound up talking about the ills of culturally conservative Christianity among more progressive friends (and in myself). I’ve felt the same smugness, the same condescension, the same judging, blaming, condemning spirit among the people who would profess to be the most unlike those Christians. It just feels so good to be right. In fact, I think “being right” is the most dangerous drug there is.
This is why so many people ending up trading up one kind of fundamentalism for another, even if they leave organized religion altogether. Progressive ideology, even progressive Christian ideology, is no less exempt from this universal human propensity toward white hats and black hats, good guys and bad guys, us vs. them. I recognize this when I visit the occasional theology blog that I know in advance I’m going to have serious disagreement with. I go for the high of being right, and feeling righteous. I go to be on the right side of us vs. them, to bring some order again to the chaos and ambiguity of the world as it is.
Accusation, simply put, is the devil’s tool, and it can’t be used to build the kingdom of God. We cannot revel in blaming, us vs. them energy or rhetoric if we are going to build alternative communities rooted in the prophetic witness of gentleness. All that is of God is tender, loving, and non-coercive. It is that kind, sweet, enemy loving and blessing goodness that makes the message of God and of God’s people so different from the machinations of the world.
Reminder … I stole this from Jonathan Martin. Please visit his blog to read the entire article.