Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3F: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3D: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3E: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

Incarnation as a Re-membering of the Head and Body

I am struck by two juxtapositions that serve as a good conclusion to what David Fitch refers to in his The End of Evangelicalism? as the ideology of the “Decision for Christ” embodied in the evangelical way of life (i.e., the evangelical politic). The same juxtapositions serve as a good picture of why and how I think Fitch is referring to the same concrete reality as N.T. Wright in describing the idolatry that drives the way of life of our world.

One juxtaposition is the two quotes with which I opened part 3 of this blog series concerning “the word.” “The word kills the thing” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The other juxtaposition is between, on the one hand, the analogies for sexual union provided by Jessica Simpson in her video “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (pictured at the beginning of Part 3A of this blog series) and, on the other hand, the marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21. Said photo may reveal a great inconsistency at work in evangelicalism that is driven by a lack or emptiness at its core, which may be partially attributable to the murder of the thing by the word. The photo of Jessica Simpson, the evangelical, publically re-enacting sex in the image of Aphrodite may also, however, tell us that there’s an image of Aphrodite in the Temple of God.

To the originating and concluding point, then, that Wright, in discussing today’s idolatry, is talking about the same concrete reality as Fitch in The End of Evangelcalism?, Fitch has this to say:
“The empty politic is built around a void driven by the antagonistic split that constitutes its “Real”-ity. Individuals are initiated into this ideological politic by believing…in Master-Signifiers and participating in rituals that cynically reinforce the ongoing ideology.” [emphasis added]

Religious rituals happen in Temples. Religious devotees are initiated into the cults that worship in those temples. Master-Signifiers, mentioned in that previous quote about ideology that was full of religious references, were discussed previously in Part 3 of this blog series. The following quote, then, is also from Fitch’s The End of Evangelicalism and is to, in conclusion to Part 3 of this blog series, point out why Fitch and Wright are discussing the same concrete reality. The upcoming quote mentions the “Symbolic Order.” In Zizek’s though, from which Fitch was borrowing, the Master-Signifer emerges from the “Symbolic Order,” which is “the given social system (one finds oneself in)” and which is constituted by the language world one inhabits.
“Zizek is ever analyzing the given Symbolic Order to uncover the way it works in compensating for conflict and consolidating power within the status quo, all the while holding subjects together in a social system. Here, we can see how beliefs function to stave off antagonisms and play on people’s deepest desires and insecurities, yet hold a people together and maintain the status quo.”

In other words, Zizek analyzes how the way of the world is empty and futile. I hear echoes from Ephesians 4:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them…”

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

So, to summarily particularize those ideas in the evangelical ideology of “the Decision” for Christ, the empty politic of what evangelicalism has become is driven by the void left over by the decapitated modern subject of “the Decision.” Because the way “the Decision” has become practiced means that it has become an allegiance to a purely intellectualized “system of belief,” there is no fullness of a way of life that includes the body and the shaping of its desires. The left over “empty” politic of evangelicalism is then driven by the resulting antagonism between those who, after the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the 1920’s, have given their allegiance to either “the Decision” (evangelicals) or to “social justice” (“the liberals”).

Those who become subjects of “the Decision” are then “initiated into” this ideological politic of said “Decision” by participating in rituals like the one Haggard re-enacted to try to make sense of the inconsistencies that appeared in his life between his “belief system” and the desires of his body. Read the bible, pray, fast, affirm belief in “the Decision.” And, yet, his secret homosexual exploits were also a fundamental part of his ideological ritualization, precisely because guilt is what distinguishes evangelicals from the rest of the world who also engages in similar fulfillments of sexual desire.

These rituals, then, only served to reify the ideology, and, as Haggard even said, they didn’t work. They only made things worse. It was a pursuit in futility, in vanity.

And, the reason it was a pursuit in vanity is precisely because the ideology is the work of human hands. Vanities contain mirrors where people can make themselves appear as they want. The ideological rituals Haggard, Jessica Simpson, and Carrie Prejean participated in play on people’s deepest desires for both escape from such futility and for life, fruitfulness, and the fulfillment of bodily desire. The “Master-Signifier” of “the Decision” functions to stave off the antagonisms between those competing desires that appear in subjects of said “Decision” in figures like Haggard, Simpson, and Prejean.

“The Decision” also plays on the insecurities born of those competing desires and the lack at the core of the politic from which they arose. “What if I’m not really saved? What if my life is heading for futility and vanity?” “Why do the (sexual or other) desires of my body seem to so violently contradict my most deeply held religious beliefs?”

“The Decision,” as a “Master-Signifier” staves off and compensates for those obvious appearances of discord, contradiction, and insecurity, precisely because it functions to hold evangelicalism together as a group of people. The very process of becoming evangelical is the process of coming to believe in and give one’s allegiance to “the Decision.”

If this is an initiation, though, if these are rituals, and if all of this, then, occurs in a temple, then is it merely a secular ideology, as Zizek would have it? The subjects of the ideology are even shaped into images that appear to represent gods of the desires they seek to fulfill. Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean come to appear as Aphrodite, and Haggard ends up appearing as one participating in a religious parade in worship of Dionysus. Evangelicals sacrifice marriages and the stable family lives of their children in apparent worship of Aphrodite. Evangelicals also make “the gays” appear as the sacrificial animals in the worship of Dionysus.

Of course, though, such a religious framing of the concrete reality to which I am pointing does not assume that “the word kills the thing.” The language of the scriptures, which begins with Christ as the maker of all things, assumes, instead, that words are the fullness of actual things.

So, in making sense of the world and the church, if evangelicals are going to inhabit the story of the scriptures, then Jessica Simpson is less the inevitable fruit of an empty ideology of “the Decision” and more an image of Aphrodite in the temple of God. Perhaps “the Decision” becomes another in a pantheon of polytheistic worship by evangelicals, along with Aphrodite and Dionysus, but the point remains.

Notably, when Fitch says that evangelicals, ruled by the ideology of “the Decision,” “have no place to go with desire,” or that they have no way to think of desire other than the disordered way of Ted Haggard, or that they are left to have their desires malformed in a disordered way by the world, what Fitch means is that there is no full politic in which evangelicals can be subjected and have pure desires shaped. Evangelicals are not initiated into the actual life of the extension of the body of the living Christ in the world, who shapes God’s subjects into images of himself, ruled by that very desire itself.

The desires of members of the church are malformed, because the church isn’t functioning as an extension of the Inarnational presence of Christ in the world. The marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21, in fact, of which the church is a foretaste, is an image of proper ordering of the world, the body, and desire. Heaven becomes the currently-decapitated head, and the earth becomes the body. Christ’s victorious return becomes their union. By extension, then, the church, as God calls it to serve His mission in the world to be an extension of His presence, serves as a juxtaposition to the image of the child of evangelicalism (or is she a sacred slave of Aphrodite?) that opened "Part 3" of this blog series from “These boots are made for walking.”

Paul was compassionately “provoked in his spirit” (Acts 17) by the Spirit, through his participation in the full politic of the church founded in and on the work of Christ, to be an extension of true fulfillment in the face of the world’s pursuit of emptiness and futility (whether it appeared in the church or in the streets of Athens).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3E: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3D: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

Gays as Pleasurable Evangelical Sacrifices to Dionysius and Aphrodite

From Brokeback Mountain

Well, as per the above about the continuing prevalence of the assumptions behind “the Decision,” it appears as though our evangelical Paris (see the end of the last blog post of this series) hasn’t repented but, instead, has given himself over to either worship of an Aphrodite he doesn’t recognize as such or entanglement in an empty ideology with an absence at its core that leaves him with no way of ordering the desires of his body.

Precisely because “the Decision” means nothing in actual life or for the desires of our bodies, Fitch discusses in The End of Evangelicalism? how we as evangelicals don’t have much of a clue what we are for when it comes to sexual desire, but we sure do know what we are against. Evangelicals ignored how Carrie Prejean sexualized her body in numerous ways, but, in the very same breath, they celebrated how Prejean was absolutely certain in her rejection of gay and lesbian sexual relations. Again borrowing from Zizek, Fitch therefore says that Prejean illustrates how evangelicals use the gay or lesbian as an object in the world that defines what we are against.

Zizek’s terminology for this, which Fitch discusses, is that the gay and lesbian becomes the “object petit a.” Because we are driven to fill an emptiness that lies at the core of our ideology, our identity comes to be defined not as that for which we stand but by that against which we stand – particularly regarding sexual desire. Evangelicals also come to be defined by other desires born of our bodies against which we stand, such as for food, alcohol, tobacco, or dancing. These become further examples of our “empty” politic.

According to Fitch and Zizek, part of what happens when an ideology of “the Decision” comes to define itself against an “object petit a” is perverse enjoyment of such self-identification that occurs after initiation. This would partially explain why, despite the blatant inconsistency of a morally failed heroine of the faith, the leaders of evangelicalism paraded Ms. Prejean before the world as such. Evangelicals took perverse pleasure in defining themselves against LGBQs but blinded themselves to how Prejean was the opposite of an example of what evangelicals say they supposedly stand for when it comes to sexual ethics.

The work of this perverse pleasure is exposed when we lay judgment upon the “gay/lesbian.” The object of the “gay/lesbian” enables us to ignore the disordered desire in our own lives that arises as a result of the lack of meaning of “the Decision” for actual, concrete reality. Like Ted Haggard, then, we ignore our own disordered desires while feeling good about ourselves for not being “them” (the dreaded gays). We set ourselves up against them.

Judgment against “the other” as an object against we stand becomes a badge of honor. That particular badge of honor of standing up against homosexual unions even comes to identify us as evangelicals. So we have made “the Decision,” and it finally means something! We can live however we want, as long as we preach against the gays. Like Haggard or Prejean, we end up saying, in effect, that, “as long as we preach against “the gay/lesbian”, everything else will be OK.

As with the Mayan empiric worship, when the sacrificial blood of decapitated enemies of the Mayans became the life blood of the empire, evangelical self-identification comes from the enemies against whom evangelicals stand in joyful antagonism. For Zizek, this is part of the very definition of ideology. Such self-identification of evangelicals in accordance with their ideology parallels Mayan decapitation of enemies in another way, too. Evangelicals are initiated into a “system of belief” that is constituted by cognitive machinery that occurs in the head. As discussed previously in Part 3 of this blog series, that’s precisely why the evangelical body is left to be ruled by Dionysus and Aphrodite. The head has been dismembered from the body.

In the interview on Larry King Live, referenced previously in another Part 3 of this blog series, soon after King and Haggard finish talking about his preaching against homosexuality, Fitch discusses how King shows a clip of Haggard’s preaching that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group. Fitch says there is a strange revealing here in the juxtaposition between Haggard’s preaching against homosexuality and his declaration that evangelicals have the best sex.

It reveals that we are driven not so much by the fact that homosexuality is wrong but by the fear that they - the other, against whom evangelicals identify themselves - might enjoy sexual pleasure more. There is perverse enjoyment in and behind the exclamation that, “We have better sex than you, or at least we’re striving for it!”

Evangelicals stand against homosexual unions, because they are a sign of unhindered sexual desire. As the gays and lesbians enjoy unhindered fulfillment of sexual desire, evangelicals take pleasure the sacrifice of the gays as the “other.” And, like the ancient Mayans, through the life-blood of this act of sacrifice, evangelicals gain their identity. The pleasure of the Mayan’s sacrificial victim has become the pleasure of the empire itself. Evangelicals make unhindered fulfillment of sexual desire part of their very identity, as well. Evangelicals have taken that sexual fulfillment of their sacrificial victims and assimilated it into their own life-blood. That’s precisely why Haggard leads evangelicals in claiming that they get more pleasure than anyone out of sex!

The same inconsistent duplicity of the evangelical politic (way of life) of salvation is repeated. It means nothing, but we’re going to make it mean something! Is it a coincidence that what Haggard forced his “Decision” to mean - in this case, that evangelicals have the best sex - sounded like it was placed on his lips by either Aphrodite (if he was talking to married couples in his congregation) or by Dionysus (if Haggard was referring to his secret homosexual exploits)? Dionysus was also known as “the god who appears.” And, Aphrodite was famous for having no childhood, because she was the goddess of what fully grown adults do to make new little beings appear in the world, which is exactly what Haggard said evangelicals are best at doing!

Images of Dionysus and Aphrodite Are Crafted by the Hands of Evangelicals

This inconsistent duplicity in the evangelical belief and practice about salvation referenced in the linguistic world of “the Decision” is, later on in the same Larry King Live interview, embodied in the caller interaction portion of the show. Someone called and said he had recently come out as a gay man and asked Haggard if he could be a Christian. Haggard tells the guy that everyone needs “to read our Bibles and pray…use the Scriptures as your guide and ask God to reveal things to you by the Holy Spirit in fellowship with believers. You will grow.” Haggard recommends to the guy that he do the same exact things that Haggard had just told Larry King didn’t work for him! Haggard recommends the same individualist, cognitively driven discipleship that Haggard had told King had only “made things worse.” What had lead Haggard to be shaped into the image of Dionysus, he recommends to others.

Haggard doesn’t deal with the contradictions at hand, that the Bible (as a conceptualized artifice to be taken in cognitively and passively) tells me one thing, and my body tells me another. Instead, Haggard re-enacts “the Decision.” He affirms the need to believe in the bible, to make “the decision”, and to keep doing it, even if it is completely separated/distanced from the body. Haggard knows of no other way to think of his desires. He must keep the ideology in tact. Such a re-enactment of “the Decision” constitutes his act of polytheistic worship to Dionysus and Aphrodite that is not challenged by the empty ideology of “the Decision” that, by definition, has no bearing on our bodies or our actual, concrete lives.

The “system of belief” that was built by human hands over centuries of Protestant thinking and practicing leaves us with cultural artifacts like Ted Haggard, Carrie Prejean, and Jessica Simpson, figures who reveal how evangelical hands that tend the soil out of which our socio-political body grows has shaped said body in ways that don’t bear the imageo dei.

As I noted previously in this blog series that, in Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright says that there are two ways in which gods are recognizable both as gods in the first place and as the particular gods by which we recognize them:
“First, those who worship gods become like them; their characters are formed as they imitate the object of worship and imbibe its inner essence. Second, worshipping them demands sacrifice, and those sacrifices are usually human. You hardly need me to spell out the point. How many million children, born or indeed unborn, have been sacrificed on the altar of Aphrotite, denied a secure upbringing because the demands of erotic desire keep one or both parents on the move?”

To that very point, the statistics for divorce inside and outside of the evangelical church in America are staggeringly minimal. The abortion rates inside the evangelical church, however, are lower than the national average. Is that, though, because evangelicals embody the virtues they claim by making “the Decision,” or is the difference because abortion is an ideological sign by which evangelicals identify themselves with “the Decision”? In other words, do fewer evangelicals get an abortion because it and the way of life it embodies is wrong or, rather, because evangelicals don’t want to lose certainty in “the Decision” and, thus, in being a member of the body politic defined by said “Decision”?

If evangelicals didn’t get abortions because it’s wrong, then evangelicals probably wouldn’t be getting divorces, either. But, they are. It’s another inconsistency that reveals the emptiness of the ideology.

Also, though fewer evangelicals get abortions as compared to the national average, the numbers are still high. This also suggests that maybe our ideology points to our idolatrous worship of said ideology that was crafted by our own hands. Or, perhaps, the numbers suggest, as N.T. Wright indicates above, idolatrous worship of Aphrodite, whose image – Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean – appears out of the soil of the culture to which we tend with our very own hands. Or, perhaps a third truth remains. Maybe evangelicals are pagan polytheists, and we worship the system we crafted and that is represented by “the Decision” and Aphrodite, who is represented by Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean, and Dionysus, whose prophet is Ted Haggard.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3D: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

Initiation into the Cults of Dionysus and Aphrodite

Roman Imperial Coin with Emperor Vespasian and an Augur's Staff

As discussed above, those subjected to the evangelical ideology of “the Decision” for Christ are, according to how the system now actually works in the world, driven by an empty fantasy that can’t be fulfilled. I have heard many a story of a man making multiple trips to the altar to solidify his certainty of “the Decision” after he fell into the guilt of sin by fulfilling the desires of his body in the same ways as everyone else in the world. These were stories of a man’s initiation.

In this way, and others, we see evangelicals constantly pursuing certainty of their salvation that came about as a result of “the Decision.” This fantasy of certainty, however, is never quite fulfilled. The failures continue. The guilt continues. We ask, were we sincere in the decision? Did we really mean it? We even wonder how it really works, anyway. So, the altar calls continue. Repeated trips to the altar pursuing assurance that he or she is “in” when, at the end of the sermon, the preacher calls the church to the altar to make “the Decision.” Those multiple trips to the altar symbolize something “the Decision” promises but seems to always elude our grasp. The process of initiation is the reaching for that promise.

Essentially, as Fitch says it, we evangelicals are caught up within the fantasy of “the decision.” After initiation into the system represented by “the Decision,” we identify ourselves with it. We are forced to believe that “the Decision” makes a difference. We are therefore also forced into enacting a compensating structure – such as a holiness code against alcohol, tobacco, and dancing, such as a public, ideological stance against homosexual unions, such as continually re-enacting “the Decision” to make sense of desires that bring guilt when fulfilled - to make sure the decision does indeed make some difference in actual, concrete life.

Confirmation that we are initiated into Something rather than Nothing becomes necessary. Fear of the vacuum is confirmed when we make so sure that it’s filled. Meanwhile, we ignore the appearance of violations of the difference “the Decision” is supposed to make in our lives right before our very eyes. We ignore the inconsistencies between how identification with and initiation into the system of “the Decision” is supposed to change our lives and how the system is actually built to change nothing. Examples of such blindness are found in the body of Jerry Fallwell, in not letting Jessica Simpson sing solos at church, and in parading Carrie Prejean before the world as a heroine of the faith.

The system into which one is initiated when he or she identifies with “the Decision” didn’t appear in the world over night. As with any idol, it was built by human hands – in this case, throughout Protestant historical discourse and practice, which eventually lead to what was referenced at the end of the last blog post as the founding “traumatic event” of the currently functioning ideology of evangelicalism. Ted Haggard’s “belief system” of “the Decision” found its roots in Luther. With Revivalism, Luther’s system grew into a tree we would more readily recognize today. And, it came to full fruition with the hysteria of the Billy Graham Crusades and was later reified when evangelicals saw what they took to be Graham’s success.

Fitch says that, theologically, Luther is exempt from the building of a “belief system” that separates salvation from actual living, but that he sowed the seeds that later led to the folding in of justification into a moment unto itself that is separate from sanctification. Now, as discussed above, salvation must be separated from sanctification, lest one be tempted to think “works,” rather than “the Decision,” can initiate you into God’s grace. Now, the saved self becomes static and passivized, distanced from God’s salvation that is active in the Christian’s everyday life. Now, the initiation isn’t into a way of life but into a way of thinking.

Fitch also notes that the elements of Luther’s thought that led to this self divided between intellectual assent and actual life were: a) that justification by faith alone, not works, b) that the called is both a sinner and righteous at the same time, c) that the self is caught between two kingdoms, between civic duty and faith, between gospel and law. Fitch states in The End of Evangelicalism? that Luther himself is exempt from such bifurcation of the self, but that later followers separated out each theme and detached them from Luther’s deeper understanding of union with Christ. Fitch says that Calvin should also be pardoned from blame for this bifurcation of the self.

It was Revivalism that front-loaded salvation into the moment of justification. This was later to become “the Decision” that opened the door to the practice of salvation that is now dethatched from real life and from our body and its desires.

In discussing the history of the altar call, Fitch also says that, early on in Revivalist history, after “the decision”, the individual was called into “Spirit filled life.” This call to be guided by the Spirit in one’s life was a separate decision from that of one’s original “Decision” to be saved. Notably, these were two separate decisions at that point, because modern thinking is analytical. Anyway, after the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of 1920’s, however, the second decision for the “Spirit filled life” fell by the wayside or was left to the Pentecostals who were emerging at the time.

During that fundamentalist-modernist controversy of 20’s, mainline Protestants began to question the “bloody” sacrificial aspects of atonement, so they put less emphasis on personal conversation and focused more on recruitment for social transformation of society. Fundamentalists called that the social gospel and complained of de-emphasis on personal salvation. Conversion and substitutionary atonement therefore took new prominence as defining identity markers of Evangelicalism, whose historical roots lie within Fundamentalism rather than in their mainline Protestant opponents.

Because the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, then, was where “the Decision” became an identity marker among antagonistic socio-political groups of people in the world who originally shared a common history, Fitch, in The End of Evangelicalism?, refers to this event as the “traumatic event” that established the “Real” that drives the ideology of evangelicalism at and from its historical foundation. The fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920’s and ‘30’s is what gave the system into which evangelicals are initiated the particular shape that it has.

Though Fitch and Zizek speak of the founding “traumatic event” of an ideology as a secular entity, the Romans understood that the historical founding of something has religious significance. In ancient Rome, it was the priestly figure of the Augur who “broke ground” in a newly founded Roman city. It was the augur who had a central role in deciding new leadership of the empire, thus breaking the empire’s allegiance from one leadership and divining another. And, such a “break,” or, “trauma,” if you will, is precisely why the augur was a priest. All worship involves sacrifice.

The result of this sacrificial “traumatic event” of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy at the founding of evangelicalism as we know it, then, was further separation of justification from sanctification within evangelical belief and practice of “the Decision.” As noted previously, “The Decision” – with the altar call as its symbolic practice - then reached its zenith as the hallmark of evangelicalism in the Billy Graham crusades. Other contemporarily developed and very similar tools - tools that share the same assumptions about the subject of “the Decision” being primarily a cognitively driven, private, individual self – included The Four Spiritual Laws of Campus Crusade and the Bridge Illustration.

Speaking of those assumptions, when the priestly Augur performed his duties with the purpose of divining the new direction of the empire or of a city, he would do so by “reading the signs in the sky,” and those signs would come to mirror, by the priest’s ritual, what would then come to appear below. For help in reading the signs and to direct the divination process, the augur would first, then, divide the heavens into four quadrants. Said four quadrants were determined by the ordinal directions of North, South, East and West, as established by the yearly cycle of patterns that appear in the heavens and which govern the seasons of man’s life. The augur then used his staff to read the signs in those four quadrants.

The city below founded by the augur would then come to mirror both the signs read above and the religious process by which those signs were read. That’s precisely why Roman cities were laid out on orthogonally ordered grids in the directions of N, S, E and W. And, the signs read by the priestly augur in the heavens also determined the leadership of Rome to appear below, here on earth. That what was read were “signs from above” is precisely why it was considered a divination of who the empire would next give allegiance.

This is why the photo at the beginning of this blog post is Roman imperial coin with Emperor Vespasian on one side and an augur’s staff mirrored on the other. When ancient kings came to the throne, one of the first things they did was make new coins in whichever temple of their land coins were made. And, those coins bore the image of the one who was to reign where the coins were used. In Rome, on the mirroring side of the coin, those coins displayed a sign by which Rome now gave her allegiance to their new leadership. The tails side has an image of the augur’s staff, the instrument through which new power was divined.

This mirroring of heaven and earth in the augur’s divination ritual is a parallel to what happened when the “signs above” of the discourse of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy came to mirror the practices of the fundamentalist and Mainline Protestants, respectively. How the priests of the two newly establishing socio-political entities – the Fundamentalists and Mainline Protestants, respectively - “read the signs above” lead to the establishment of the new allegiances to new masters of each new political body. Fundamentalism, later to become the evangelicalism as we know it, gave its allegiance to “the Decision,” while mainline protestants (the “modernists” in the debate) gave their allegiance to “social justice.”

A coin is made by the impression of the mold. “The Decision” is the mold, and evangelicals become the coins that bear the image of the master of their land. By use of the land’s currency, one is initiated into its cult. In the constant exchange of guilt and freedom while changing nothing, the evangelical initiation into the cult of “the Decision” is accomplished. Roman coins were printed in a Temple, too. Where your treasure is…

So, now, according to Fitch, the character of “the Decision” and how it is practiced, to which evangelicals give their allegiance, allows people to rally together as a socio-political body in the world without requiring them to really agree on anything. This is because of the assumptions about the purely cognitive and individualistic meaning of “the Decision.” In other words, it is precisely because “the Decision” is a decision to give allegiance to an intellectualized system of “signs above” that “the Decision” can mean so much of nothing or anything here below. An intellectualized system is a No-thing.

Another way of saying this is that “the Decision” functions as an empty signifier. It allows evangelicals to believe without really believing. Because “the Decision” functions ideologically in this way as master signifier that only serves to gather or rally a group of people together rather than to actually determine peoples’ actions here “below,” “the Decision” enables the formation of various kinds of churches that can appeal to various status-quo lifestyles. The patterns in the fabric of life on earth below aren’t changed by “the Decision” in a meaningfully consistent way, because it is a decision regarding “things above.”

In the formation of such varied churches that embody the status-quo, said churches make little to no demands on changing one’s life. All of this lack of real change and perpetuation of the status-quo occurs while claiming allegiance to the gospel. Thus, “the Decision” allows Christians to remain complicit with social systems of self-fulfillment, consumerism - and excessive sexual desire. With “the Decision,” those who identify with it are able to bypass the malformation of their desires in the world. They can keep their existing desires under the banner of being Christian. “The Decision” unifies a body of people around desires shaped by the gospel in active competition with desires of the world, all while requiring nothing of said body of people. By giving allegiance to “the Decision,” evangelicals end up being initiated into a system that baptizes the world’s predominant social orderings.

And, it’s precisely the above referenced lack, such Nothing, such emptiness at the core of the evangelical politic that leaves room for the work of Dionysius and Aphrodite. If N.T. Wright is correct that the ancient gods still rule our modern world, precisely because they go unnoticed, then what Fitch refers to in the above paragraph as status-quo lifestyles, complicity with social systems of self-fulfillment, and excessive sexual desire, are, in fact, rule by gods who were once known in a particular time and place by the names Dionysus and Aphrodite.

Interestingly, then, in the ancient Greek mythological stories of Aphrodite, there is another parallel to the above told story of the “traumatic event” that is the foundation of “the Decision” as an ideological “master-signifier” for a socio-political entity in the world that claims allegiance to said “Decision.”

In ancient Greek myth, the gods are invited to a wedding. Well, all of them are invited except the goddess of discord, who therefore fashions an apple inscribed with the words “the fairest one.” The apple is thrice claimed by Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. For the choice of who the apple rightfully belongs to, Zeus appoints Paris, prince of Troy. Athena, being the goddess of wisdom and victory, offers Paris wisdom and glory in battle. Hera, being sister of Zeus and mother of Ares (god of war), offers Paris supreme power. Aphrodite, being goddess of beauty, notably does not offer herself.

Instead, Aphrodite offers Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Aphrodite fills Paris with uncontrollable desire for Helen. When Paris kidnaps Helen and steals her off to Troy, well, that’s a problem. Hellen happens to be married to the king of Sparta, so the war that shaped the rest of Western civilization erupts.

As with Zizek’s description of a “traumatic event” that becomes the foundation for political identities’ claiming allegiance to one side or the other of the antagonisms that were born from said traumatic event, what is mythologically referred to as “The Judgment of Paris” became the foundation for antagonism between Sparta and Troy and those who would claim allegiance to either.

The reason it is notable that Aphrodite didn’t offer herself to Paris is multi-sided.

Part of the story of the birth of Dionysus is the disappearance and death of a mere mortal who, being one of Zeus’ lovers, demanded that she see the real Zeus, without disguise. Zeus, knowing that mortals can’t gaze upon the gods without meeting their death, begged her not to ask again. Zeus’ mortal lover insisted, however, and the reason for the whole theme of this blog series was demonstrated. The stubborn mortal did ask again and therefore insisted herself into a disappearance into oblivion, because Zeus knew rightly.

As Fitch would say Zizek would say, were Sparta and Troy fighting merely to confirm their respective allegiances to the otherwise meaningless ideological master-signifiers of their different ideas of “justice” that were born from the founding “traumatic event” of the Judgment of Paris? By that account, it’s not that mere humans can’t see the gods but that there are no actually existing gods who could do something like inflame Paris with uncontrollable desire for an image of herself in the first place. That’s not possible, because there are no gods or goddesses.

As N.T. Wright would claim, however there is an actual hidden being upon which the eyes of mere mortals cannot gaze, known to the Greeks as the goddess Aphrodite, who inflamed Paris with uncontrollable desire for Jessica Simpson when she presented herself before him in her rather sexually provocative video called “These boots are made for walking.” And, if that’s the case, then Paris was engaged in an act of worship, and Jessica Simpson is Paris’ icon or signpost to Aphrodite.

If Paris were to become Christian, his repentance would be the bloody and traumatic break from the past that leads to a new existence and mission with and in a new socio-political entity in the world (the church). He becomes and embodies the break, the sacrifice, the trauma. And, if Paris were to become Christian, part of his repentance, part of this “trauma,” would be the death of his formerly powerful priestess who had so ruled his world.

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

How “Irruptions of the Real” Are Fruits of Dionysus and Aphrodite Worship

Within the recent history of evangelicalism in America, numerous acts of what Fitch and Zizek refer to as over-identification have occurred. These are referred to as a particular kind of “irruption of the real” that reveal what’s actually going on underneath the ideology that keeps us going together as a body politic, as a group of people in the world. According to Fitch, these events and characters reveal blatant inconsistencies that put on display for the world the emptiness of “the Decision” and the hold it has on us as a “master-signifier.”

These “irruptions of the real” reveal the fundamental lack that defines ideology and makes it work – in this case, the ideology of “the Decision.” They are referred to by Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism? as acts of “over-identification,” because they are samples of people who, precisely because they are bound to an ideology, with their lives present to the world the inconsistent antagonisms by which their ideologies work (the working of the ideology being driven by and emptiness, a lack, a void).

Jessica Simpson – depicted at the beginning of post 3A of this blog series as a configuring of Aphrodite herself - presented herself as Christian on her MTV reality show Newlyweds, where she wore “Jesus is my homeboy” T-shirts and declared her commitment to maintaining her virginity until she was married. Obviously, all of that, in our cultural context, publicly identifies her as a Christian. As Fitch discussed in The End of Evangelicalism?, what happened when she was criticized for her provocative look in her “These boots were made for walking” music video - which was the source of the previously referenced photo – both identified her as specifically evangelical and, at the same time, ironically revealed the above noted inconsistencies at work in the ideological machinery of evangelicalism.

When criticized for blatantly presenting herself as an image of the goddess of sex, beauty, and fertility, she defended herself by noting that she was always criticized for this in the Christian world. In Simpson’s response, she also said, “I think if they were really good Christians, judgment wouldn’t be there.” Fitch notes that it was as if she was saying that those of us who have been forgiven – in other words, made “the Decision” – are free to do whatever we desire to do, and we should quit resenting it. One might suppose that she was rebelling against the truths of Christianity that she had been taught, but, according to Fitch, what Simpson really did here was carry the logic of “the decision” to its extreme, thus exposing its emptiness and resulting contradictions.

Simpson merely reaffirmed the truth embedded in the debate between McArthur and Hodges, that salvation “is not about works,” so, in real life, it means nothing. Simpson was also affirming what Haggard taught us about the ideology of evangelicalism’s “belief system.” Because salvation occurs individually and privately and is focused on the cognitive parts of said private individual, the subject of evangelical ideology’s linguistic world (the one who makes “the Decision”) is left free to have his or her bodily desires shaped in any way they please. The way Simpson imitates the act of sex – remember that Aphrodite is the goddess of sex - in “The boots are made for walking” is quite suggestive for the imagination’s realizations with the body.

Not surprisingly, then, Simpson has also famously complained that, while growing up as a teen, “they would never let me sing solos in church,” specifically because it made men lust. This serves as another place to see how “the Decision” enables salvation – because it is a “system of belief” - to completely bypass the body as being relevant to salvation. So, the men in Simpson’s congregation are saved, but it’s still not safe for a shapely teenage girl to sing in church on Sunday. This reveals that men who have “been saved” still “have nowhere to go with their desire,” as Fitch put it.

And, if the men in a church are saved but, from the church, at least, have no direction for or control of the desires of their bodies, then “the Decision” for their salvation is revealed to be an empty signifier that means nothing for the actualities of life. Because our body is part of who we are, this leaves the man uncertain regarding the status of his “Decision.” Hence his many answers to the many altar calls at the end of the many cognitively driven sermons to which he was subjected.

The emptiness at the core of evangelical politic that drives its ideology is also presented by the blatant inconsistency embodied by Carrie Prejean, who was Miss California USA, 2009. During the Miss USA pageant, she was asked by gay activist and blogger Perez Hilton what she thinks of same-sex unions, in light of the then recent legalization of gay marriage in the state of Vermont. Prejean answered, “I do believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.” And, yet, the picture presented to the world was blatantly and obviously inconsistent and duplicitous.

Prejean had just pranced around the stage before the whole world in a provocative bikini – which had ironically been designed by Jessica Simpson, lol. The world also found out that Prejean had had cosmetic surgery and had been caught in a revealing photoshoot and a pornographic sex-tape of some sort.

The day after the pageant, though, when she was on NBC’s Today show, she said she didn’t take back her answer during the pageant, that she had spoken from the heart. She said: “It’s not about being politically correct. For me, it’s about being biblically correct.” In the midst of the above noted inconsistencies that blatantly contradict the actual way of life that would follow “the Decision” if it actually meant something in daily life, the moment Prejean said “biblical”, she automatically identified herself as evangelical. Also, she was a student at San Diego Christian College, which is an evangelical institution.

She even later appeared on Focus on the Family radio show as a heroine for Christian morality and was introduced at convocation at Liberty University, where she said the question at the pageant had given her undreamed of opportunities to talk about her faith in Christ. If Prejean was presented in such a way on Focus on the Family and at Liberty, then either evangelicalism is wildly inconsistent as a socio-poitical entity in the world, or evangelicalism’s real moral heroine is Aphrodite rather than the Christ preached by Paul and the rest of the scriptures.

Holiness codes at evangelical denominations and colleges are another display of what Fitch calls excessive over-identification. Rules that forbid alcohol or tobacco, or even dancing, represent over-compensation for the lack at the core of the evangelical belief and practice of “the Decision” that is supposed to give meaning and shape to our salvation. With these holiness codes, it’s as if we evangelicals are that saying: we are saved, but it doesn’t effect how we live, so we must make sure it does. By such codes, we show the allegiance of our identity at the same time to both “the Decision” and to its lack of meaning.

Of course, though “the Decision” is a cognitive one, actual life is carried out by the human body. That body is on display with the cultural stereotype of obesity among evangelicals, which Fitch also discusses. This stereotypical obesity is exemplified by the iconic obese Southern Baptist preacher. This caricature of the obese Baptist preacher shows up in movies, novels, and other areas of American culture. Fitch says that these are products of a symbolic structure that constitutes evangelicalism as we know and live it. One example is Jerry Fallwell, former Chancellor of Liberty Baptist University, where all the above referenced holiness codes are so vigorously in force, by the way.

As a cultural artifact, the obese Baptist preacher symbolizes that the more we evangelicals try to say “being saved” means something for the way we live life out with our whole being - including our bodies - it really, in the end, doesn’t. We preach abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco but make up for it with food and doughnuts. Again, “the Decision” gives us no direction or control for our body’s desire. We merely shift inordinate desire from one destructive thing to another, from lust and licentiousness to gluttony. As noted in the last blog post, this absence of meaning sets the stage for pagan and polytheistic worship of Aphrodite and Dionysus.

At Liberty University in particular, though, in a place that prohibits alcohol, tobacco, and even dancing, the “lack” at the core of “the Decision” irrupts in the body of Jerry Falwell. The inconsistency can’t be ignored and shows that “the Decision” doesn’t affect our lives the way we say it does. On the contrary, the very structure and machinery of “the Decision” as an ideology that moves evangelicalism as a body politic in the world gives a whole other order to the drives that lie beneath.

For clarity, these examples of holiness codes and the gluttonous body of Jerry Fallwell speak generally to how the separation of the conceptual drive of “the Decision” from the actual bodily life of its subjects leaves those who make said “Decision” with no way to shape the desires of their body in a particularly Christian way. The appearance of Dionysus and Aphrodite in the church are borne more out of other images of “over-identification,” but the same disordered relationship to the body in which “the Decision” means nothing for actual, embodied living – which occurs when the word murders the thing – is required in the first place for all of these “irruptions of the real.” In other words, what I am referring to as the images of Dionysus and Aphrodite in the evangelical church grow from the same soil as the inconsistencies revealed in the referenced holiness codes and in the body of Jerry Fallwell.

To make sense of evangelicalism as a way of life for a body of people in the world is also possible through the story of Ted Haggard as another cultural artifact of evangelicalism. His story is another “irruption of the real,” as Fitch refers to it. And, as noted at the end of the last blog post, his story points to the presence of Dionysus in the midst of evangelicalism.

As an evangelical megachurch pastor, however, he was an icon of evangelicalism and was named one of twenty most influential evangelicals in America by Time Magazine in Feb 2005. He was also president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In such a spotlight, he had been renowned for preaching conservative family values and “the evils of homosexuality” side by side with no reserve.

And, yet, he was famously exposed for being involved in a gay affair. As it turns out, he was in such a position of leadership and preached such fruits of “the Decision” – as discussed previously in the Larry King Live interview – all while lying about his own gay proclivities. As with Ms. Aphrodite Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean, one could explain Haggard as a man who simply wasn’t following the teachings of his religion. Fitch’s point, however, is that Haggard’s story is, rather, an irruption of the Real that lies underneath and drives the ideological machinery of evangelicalism. The moral failings of pastors are quite common now, but it was the media extravaganza that so revealed what drives the evangelical ideology of salvation.

Haggard’s separation of “the Decision” and its effects from his actual life was discussed above. Haggard went on to explain in the interview that he believed that if he could just be “more spiritual,” he would be OK. As he said it: “I would pray and fast. I’d read my Bible. I’d memorize more Scripture...And it actually made things worse…” As Fitch says it, Haggard again reveals how evangelicalism’s “belief system” has no place to go with desire. He even says, on tape, a few minutes later, to one of his gay lover victims, “You know what, Grant, you can become a man of God and you can still have a bit of fun on the side.” With that, Haggard makes his blatant inconsistency explicit on tape.

Evangelicals can’t stop counting “Decisions” just as Haggard can’t stop “having a little fun on the side.” Both are born from the same ideological drive from the vacuum. As noted in the first blog post, evangelicals continue to count “Decisions”, even though we are surprised by how many of them have disappeared from the church into the ether within five years or so of entering it. Similarly, Haggard finds freedom from his slavery to his desire by fulfilling it, which brings a return of his guilt and the disappearance of his freedom. This leads him to return to his “Decision,” which brings him back around to his freedom.

In both of the above cases – the incessant and unstoppable counting of “Decisions” and the inability to control bodily desires - driven by the same ideology, evangelicals can’t stop doing what has proven unfruitful. Dionysus, besides being known as “liberator”, as discussed in the first blog post, was also known as Aesymnetes, meaning "ruler" or "lord." Dionysus was also known as Briseus, or "he who prevails. He is also associated with death and rebirth, because, his being the god of wine and winemaking, the mythological story of his being torn to pieces and being reborn is associated with the recurring yearly grape harvest. Perhaps the story of Dionysus as the ever returning ruler of man’s desires makes sense of the evangelical ideology of “the Decision.”

Again, one could, however, make sense of such cultural artifacts within the fabric of evangelicalism by pointing to personal sin and rebellion in Haggard’s heart and life. There very well may be some truth to that, but it’s already evident from his very words that it’s all of the theoretical machinery behind “the Decision” - which technically defines “justification” - that allows him to bypass his raging duplicitous desires and to make (poor) sense of the inconsistencies and/or contradictions in his life. “The Decision” is firstly the decision to be forgiven and pardoned, so Haggard ends up saying, in effect, “go ahead and enjoy, but be guilty about it, and then be forgiven.”

It’s the elements of guilt and forgiveness in the theology of salvation that Haggard employs to make sense of the desires that he doesn’t know how to control or what to do with. Jessica Simpson had done the same thing when she complained about being judged for being so sexually provocative, for crafting herself into an image of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, fertility, pleasure, and sexuality.

To top it off, other evangelical leaders – who were not known for their public moral failures – participated in the same ideological systematization by parading Carrie Prejean in front of the world as a heroine of their faith. She was well known for blatant and obvious moral failings but was publicly confirmed by her “biblical” “belief system” that is against homosexual relationships. In the face of a “Decision” that has no meaning in one’s actual daily life that includes the body, such overwhelmingly obvious inconsistencies also fall in line with the equally obvious necessity for the fabrication of holiness codes at schools of gluttony.

So, if those are “irruptions of the Real,” then the question remains, what is the Real? Zizek traces “the Real” that drives an ideology to a traumatic event at the foundation of its history. I will discuss this further in the next blog post. In that case, the Real is, in Fitch’s words, “covered over” by the above discussed inconsistencies and antagonisms that are the substance of an ideology.

In other words the evangelical ideology of “the Decision” is defined by antagonism between “the Decision” and homosexuality, between salvation and dancing, alcohol, or tobacco, or between “justification” and the self-control of men in a congregation where a shapely teenage girl might sing solos. Such antagonisms hide the absence that is introduced into the ideological world of evangelicalism when the actual meaning of “the Decision” appears in the linguistic or symbolic world of evangelical discourse. Said conceptual, and therefore absent, meaning of “the Decision” was established in what Zizek refers to as the founding “traumatic event” of any ideology’s history. The details of this history are what I will flush out a bit more in the next blog post.

If N.T. Wright is correct that ancient idolatries have translated into our world (as per previous blog posts of this series), however, then the “covering over” of “the Real” with the above noted antagonisms constitutes evangelicalism’s having given way to polytheism. In that case, the words of Billy Graham and Ted Haggard reveal that Dionysus rules the harvest of “Decisions” who walk through the doors of evangelical churches. Just as the grape harvest disappears and reappears cyclically, so do “the Decisions” in and out of the doors of evangelical churches, in the evangelical quest to make wine.

If Wright is correct, then Jessica Simpson reveals that the man-made production of her video “These boots are made for walking” make for a good Aphrodisiac for men whose “Decision” doesn’t provide a way to order their bodily desires in accordance with the gospel of truth. In addition, Carrie Prejean’s enactment of Aphroditic fertility rituals on the national stage, with the gays as her pleasing sacrifice, might just reveal who evangelicals really worship in upholding their ideology of “the Decision” for Christ.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite

How Evangelical Practices and Beliefs of “Decisions for Christ” Set the Stage for Worship of Dionysus and Aphrodite

Jean Duvet’S "The Marriage of Adam and Eve," circa 1555

In The End of Evagelicalism?, David Fitch discusses Ted Haggard’s appearance on Larry King Live on January 29, 2009. Considering Haggard’s past homosexual practices, which I will discuss further later in this blog series, King asked if Haggard’s preaching against gays had been hypocritical. Haggard responded, “Absolutely, it was.” Without stopping or being asked for an explanation, Haggard immediately explained that the reason for his hypocrisy was, “because I have a belief system…I believe the Bible is the word of God…Jesus is the son of God, and I believe in being born again…those things are fundamental to Christianity.” By calling evangelicalism a “belief system” centered around “the Decision” to be born again, Haggard put a distance between what he took to be what defines evangelicalism and his actual way of life.

Ted Haggard, then, is an example of Evangelicalism being defined by a system of thought to which we mentally assent rather than by a way of life. This was to explain how Haggard could both preach against homosexuality and perversely “enjoy” it at the same time.

As noted in the previous blog post, the altar call is the symbolic practice that points to the ideological sway of “the Decision” upon evangelicalism as a body of people in the world. Although the altar call is less popular now than it was even a generation ago, Haggard, in saying that he has “a belief system,” was operating under the still prevailing assumptions of said altar call.

Through the language of “the Decision” – as exemplified by Haggard – we see that it assumes that salvation is individual, that salvation is begun through a voluntary act, and that salvation is nurtured through individual learning and worship. This understanding of “the Decision” as the place and time of salvation limits baptism to being only the individual’s declaration to the public of said “Decision.” In this ideological framework, there is little understanding of the corporate aspects of baptism and how God works within community to change us, our lives, and the desires of our bodies in the world.

The evangelical practice of salvation revealed in Haggard’s statement that he has “a belief system” focuses on the cognitive part of man. Evangelcial assumptions of how salvation works are Cartesian (I think - analytically, btw - therefore I am), and the practice of discipleship is informational. Our discipleship focuses on cognitive practices: regular, inductive bible studies and personal, private prayer. “Going to church” is emphasized, in which the central practice is the sermon.

All of this assumes that, if individuals get the right information, they will grow as disciples. And, not insignificantly, it is at the end of said sermon, during which the individual gets the right information in his head, when the altar call takes place. The altar call realizes the drive to fill the void created by the purely cognitive (or spiritual) meaning of justification. Similarly, the figures that fill Jean Duvet’s engraving of “The Marriage of Adam and Eve,” which is pictured at the beginning of this blog post, realize the “horror vacui” that drove much of the cultural and artistic production of that time.

Perhaps what drives the ideology of the “the Decision” is an extension of something latent in human history centuries before. “Horror vacui,” translated from the Latin, means “fear of the vacuum,” and the idea began to appear more centrally in culture and discourse when Galileo made it an integral piece of his physics. Later, others debated whether nature actually seeks to fill the void or if, rather, nature is essentially constituted by a void.

The above discussed cognitively driven approach to discipleship that now rules evangelicalism reflects how that debate, which was a real source fear Jean Duvet’s fear, was apparently settled. Such fear of the void is obviously quite foreign to us now. The current reigning approach to discipleship is opposed to the more holistic spiritual disciplines practiced throughout much of church history. Such holistic practices had helped to shape the desires born of our bodies’ existence in the world.

The McArthur vs. Hodges debate, discussed in the last blog post, on whether or not salvation should be reflected in behavioral change, perhaps proves that Zizek was correct when he discussed HERE how, now that we swim in the waters of the void of Nothingness, we are far more afraid of Something than we are horrified by the vacuum. The result of such an understanding of reality as a void is that the cognitive, individualistic, and informational assumptions about how discipleship works reveal that “the Decision” still has the same influence on evangelicalism, even though the altar call - which, remember, is practical sign that points to “the Decision” - is no longer as prominent as it once was.

Above, I referenced such influence as the “ideological sway” that “the Decision” has upon those who claim allegiance to evangelicalism as a socio-political entity in the world. In Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright says:
“…our brave new secularist world lurches to and fro in obedience to impulses that an earlier age would have recognized as divine but which we, in our late modern Epicureanism, have not named as such and so have no challenged.”

In ancient Greece, worship of Aphrodite included sex in Aphrodite’s Temple with one of her ritual prostitutes. In the Greek language, these “priestesses” were referred to as “sacred slaves.” Of course, they were slaves to Aphrodite, as were those who worshipped her. In studying Zizek through Fitch, one realizes that part of the point of ideology is that it has its own movements and personality, so to speak, and its subjects are, therefore, merely at its mercy. Being at the mercy of ideologies, though, we are all at the mercy of a Nothing. Now afraid more of something than of Nothing, we give our allegiance to it. If the subjects of “the Decision,” though, are, unawares, at the mercy of an actual something – something that ancients would have recognized as divine, no less - rather than being at the mercy of an emptiness or a lack that we seek to fill, then the question again arises: what is that something?

I also mentioned, above, that, for evangelicals, the emphasis of religion that is on various cognitive practices, including prayer and bible study, which climax in “going to church” and hearing the sermon. N.T .Wright continues the previous quote with the following:
“Now, you may say, what has all that got to do with religion? Many in the West still think of religion as saying prayers, going to church, perhaps reading the Bible, or some other sacred text, and not least, living in hope of going to heaven, however vaguely that is expressed. But this is a thoroughly modern definition of religion, which would not have been recognized by anyone in the ancient world or indeed by many today outside the Western world. From ancient times to the present, religion has had to do with the wider assumed dimensions of ordinary culture, whether they be marriage or music, politics or city life, wine or war. It is part of our dilemma that we have separated what we call religion from what we call politics, in exactly the same way as Epicureanism separated the gods from the world – or thought it did.”

Zizek conveys that ideology has a kind of mysterious sway upon its subjects. Fitch suggests that this ideology, in this case, is exemplified by the ideological sway of “the Decision” upon those who make it. This is both different from and the same as what Wright was referring to as the Epicurean separation of the gods from the world, of religion from politics.

It’s different, because Zizek and Fitch describe a kind of religious power and subjection that ideology has over its subjects that implies what T.S. Eliot refers to as a “natural collective consciousness” that flies in the face of modern, individual Classical Liberalism. Zizek’s and Fitch’s point about ideology implies that men are subjects of their larger contexts. What Zizek is saying (and Fitch is using as a tool for diagnosis), however, is the same as the above noted split to which Wright is referring between the gods and the world, between religion and politics, because, for Zizek, there truly is no spirit or spiritual entity that is guiding the ideology of a people who must appease it.

I tend to side with Wright here. The picture I’m painting in this blog series is precisely that of a world not separate from heaven or Mt. Olympus, a politics not separate from religion. I think, though, that despite Zizek’s own position that Fitch was using to diagnose evangelicalism, what they actually do is allow us to see numerous ways of an idol at work. This is precisely because I think N.T. Wright and Fitch are talking about the same concrete reality.

With all of that in mind, and considering Ted Haggard’s hypocritical and duplicitous homosexual exploits that opened this blog post, it’s not difficult to associate them with the work the god Dionysus. Dionysus was most often depicted as a naked male. His worship included an ecstatic procession of drunken revelers, including nude males with erect phalluses. Whether Haggard got drunk when engaging in his secret homosexual exploits or not, I don’t know. That he was drunk with desire controlled by something beyond himself, though, seems obvious.

The point here, however, is that, precisely because “the Decision” is merely a conceptual referent to an absence, to a theoretical system of thought, to a vacuum, it opens the path to and constitutes the stage upon which masters and gods foreign to Christianity appear both in the midst of the church and as the image of the church to the world. With Ted Haggard and Jessica Simpson as cultural artifacts that have taken root and grown up out of the culture of North American evangelicalism in our generation, Dionysus and Aphrodite, respectively, have appeared.

According to Fitch, the fruits of disordered desires of our bodies have appeared in the church, because we have murdered the thing with the word, so to speak, and are therefore driven by the resulting emptiness. We have become driven by either fear of either of Nothing or of Something - which implies their impassable distance in the first place. Such fear stands in stark contrast to letting the fullness of the Word appear among us in the concrete presence of the church around the Table of Thanksgiving.

According to Wright, however, whatever the reasons and psychological explanations, Dionysus and Aphrodite have appeared simply as expressions of our worship of gods or goddesses other than the One True God of Israel.

Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite

Here, my blog series on Ideology and Idolatry continues, in which I explore how I think the same concrete reality is being spoken to by David E. Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, on the one hand, who speaks of the “empty politic” and ideology of evangelicalism, and by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture, on the other hand, who speaks of the idolatry that drives our world.

See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo

The word kills the thing… – Rome Discourse, by Jacques Lacan

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – The Apostle John

“Decisions for Christ” and a People Defined by Images of Dionysius and Aphrodite

Jessica Simpson in "These Boots Are Made for Walking"

David Fitch, in The End of Evangelicalism?, discusses how “The Decision” for Christ, undergirded by the theoretical machinery of justification and how it works, is what he calls a Master signifier. Fitch uses Zizek’s cynicism to diagnose how evangelicalism no longer functions as the fullness of the presence of the body of Christ in the world for reconciliation and healing. Instead, the “politic,” or the way of life, of evangelicalism as a body of people in the world is “empty.” There is a fundamental lack at its core that drives the very existence of evangelicalism as a body or group of people. “The Decision” becomes an unfulfillable fantasy that evangelicals seek to quench by affirmation of their salvation that was established when said “Decision” was made. As a “Master signifier”, “The Decision” becomes an over-arching piece of our language that has little to no effect for actual living in the world but that holds evangelicals together as a people and gives them a common identity.

This is why the symbolic practice that reveals the reification of the ideology of “the Decision” having power in evangelicalism is the altar call. In other words, the evangelical practice of the altar call is what symbolically points to “the Decision” being at work ideologically within the way of life of evangelicalism. The altar call is what makes “the Decision” and all of its theoretical meaning appear as a real thing in the world. And, considering said meaning, the altar call and how it’s practiced and believed in reveals that the primary focus of evangelicalism is escape from hell rather than fullness of life in the New Creation.

Speaking of escape from hell: in ancient Greece, Dionysus was the god of fertility, wine, winemaking, and ritual madness and ecstasy. His wine, music, and ecstatic dance frees followers from self-conscious fear and care, from the oppressive existential anxieties of the powers of death and alienation. This was part of why ritual sacrifice to him at his altar occurred at the beginning of cathartic Greek tragedies. Festivities in worship of Dionysus included drunken men and women of all ages and social classes dancing and jumping around in a sexual free-for-all. The powers of economic and social class were also broken by the freedom of Dionysian ecstasy. One of the descriptive phrases or words used to give expression to the qualities or characteristics (one of the epithets) for Dionysus (and Eros, not insignificantly) is Eleutherios, which means “the liberator.”

Does the photo above of Jessica Simpson – who claims evangelical Christianity - tell a story of an attempt at escape from hell or of sexual liberation? Or, rather, do the two escapes become one and the same? To which altar is the calling?

In Surprised by Scripture (p. 152), N.T. Wright says,
“…when Freud became popular, filtering down into mainstream culture through novels and plays, people began to speak of the erotic impulse, often, called ‘the life force,’ just as they might before have spoken of a divine command. One should not resist. It would be hypocritical and wrong….one should never pass up an opportunity to appear on television or to have sex. The goddess Aphrodite, even if unnamed, is served by millions.”

Notably, Aphrodite, like Dionysus, is also an ancient Greek figuring of sex and fertility. She was also the goddess of beauty.

In the above sense of the evangelical altar call that accompanies “the Decision” for Christ having an empty meaning towards escape from hell rather than towards true and actual life, and in numerous other senses to be explored later, Fitch, in using the language of Zizek, says there is no actual truth in the real and concrete world at the core of what moves evangelicalism’s language of “the Decision.” In seeing that both Dionysius and Aphrodite are a gods or goddesses of fertility, thought to bring life and/or freedom, and – as per the N.T. Wright quote above - in seeing their powers at work in our contemporary world, I am lead to wonder if the evangelical world is not at the mercy of those two ancient gods of life-bringing fertility.

In other words, I question whether there are, in actuality, foreign gods at work in the church rather than simply the revelation of an “emptiness” that the church seeks to fill. Not only is Jessica Simpson’s “These boots were made for walking” – from which the above photo was pulled - a moment of sexual freedom, but, perhaps, it is a declaration of allegiance to a master. As N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Scripture, “One of the things we learn early in science is that nature abhors a vacuum.”

An event within evangelicalism That Fitch discusses in The End of Evangelicalism?, which exposed the drift of “the Decision” for Christ from a call to holy living guided by the Spirit into what he calls an empty pursuit of a fantasy was the 1980’s debate between John McArthur and Zane Hodges. McArthur took a public and published stance of what he called “Lordship salvation,” which was that you can’t have Jesus Christ as savior without also accepting him as Lord. McArthur insisted that salvation has to mean something for your life, that, when you are saved, you should exhibit behavioral changes, which would demonstrate that Jesus Christ is your master.

Zane Hodges stood on the opposite side of the stage, stating that to make such demands would be to confuse salvation as being from anything other than by faith alone. Telling the tale of what really drives evangelicals, the debate between McArthur and Hodges set off a flurry of controversy within evangelicalism and further solidified the separation of and distance between justification and sanctification.

For our purposes at the moment, what the debate tells us is that the theoretical machinery that now separates justification from sanctification reflects a system in which salvation means nothing for our actual lives, means nothing for our bodies. When we make “the decision,” we are left wondering what to actually do!? In the ideological language Fitch employs in The End of Evangelicalism?, this wondering keeps the distance between the subject of “the Decision” (the one who made the decision) and “the Decision” itself (and all that it means, conceptually). That distance opens up a space of imagined fulfillments of the possible meanings of “the Decision” that allows it to functionally shape the desires of those who claim allegiance to it as a master signifier. As long as we are left wondering what to do when we make “the Decision,” we are free to imagine what salvation means for our actual lives and bodies.

In the ideological terms Fitch uses, then, McArthur’s attempt to put too much definition on what “the Decision” means threatened its status as a Master Signifier. In the context of the aftermath of that debate between McArthur and Hodges, Fitch says that the prevailing idea that “salvation must be by faith alone” and against any “works requirement” maintains “the Decision’s” elusive quality that allows it to function as a Master Signifier. That’s an example of why the meaning of what Fitch and Zizek call a Master signifier must remain elusive. McArthur’s attempt to evade the elusiveness of the meaning of “the Decision” would have closed the distance between the one making the decision and linguistic use and meaning of the decision itself. We would have no longer been free to imagine what it means and thus seek whatever fulfillment of said meaning that we so imagine.

And, for the sake of clarity, the reason the meaning of “the Decision” is elusive is because it means nothing (for our actual living and for our bodies).

With such an “emptiness” at the core of evangelicalism as a body of people in the world (as a politic) - an emptiness which seeks to fill itself, since nature abhors a vacuum – the image presented of evangelicals is no different from others in the world to seek to who satisfy the desires of their bodies in their lives. With the particular theoretical machinery in place of what salvation means, however, we are uniquely guilty about such pursuits to fulfill our fantasies, whereas others are not.

Because of “the Decision,” our sin is erased, and our guilt is washed away. For evangelicals, then, the guilt is interwoven into the machinery that builds the fabric of our socio-political existence in the world. But, because the whole point of “the Decision” is that it means nothing for actual life – that it’s “by faith alone” and separated from sanctification - our guilt while we end up doing what everyone else does actually maintains and solidifies the machinery of our salvation, which is the meaning of “the Decision” in the first place. In other words, functionally speaking, “the Decision” doesn’t help us overcome guilt, as is its conceptual meaning. Rather, “the Decision” weaves guilt into the meaning of the evangelical way of life.

In what I take to be an explanation of both this distance between the person who makes the decision and “the Decision” itself as well as of the elusive meaning of “the Decision” (both of which allow “the Decision” to function as a “master signifier” by which a group of people identify themselves), larval subjects, in his blog in which he was himself teaching about Zizek, said the following:
“The objet a is the trace of a remainder or loss that takes place when we enter the symbolic order or are alienated in the signifier. Why does the signifier do this? Because, as Lacan said in his Rome Discourse, ‘the word kills the thing’. The word kills the thing because it introduces absence into the world. With the word, it is now possible to refer to things that are absent and that don’t even exist. Moreover, the word “freezes” the thing. As Hegel argued in the open of the Phenomenology when analyzing sense-certainty, words are always general universal terms, whereas things are singularities. As a consequence, there’s always a disadequation between word and thing. We want the word, as it were, but no thing is ever adequate to the generality of the word. As a consequence, every time we get the thing (not to be confused with what Lacan called The Thing), we’re disappointed. It’s not it. That experience of ‘it not being it’ is what generates surplus-jouissance. We repeat because that gap between word and thing perpetually reappears.”

In other words, “the Decision” and the salvation that accompanies it is loaded with conceptual meaning that doesn’t actually appear in the world. Because “the Decision” – with all of the theoretical machinery that is attached to it - is not an actual, concrete thing, it can only be pointed to. This is why the altar call is referred to as a “symbolic practice” of “the Decision.”

Within this framework of thought, when evangelicals make reference to the number of “Decisions” made on a given Sunday, they are not only referring to something that is not present in the world, but they are “introducing an absence.”

Billy Graham himself noted his disappointment over the number of people who had made “the Decision” in his Crusades but had later disappeared from the church within a number of years. I’m sure he’s not the only one. And, yet we continue to count “Decisions” precisely because we want to close what is the natural and unfillable “gap between word and thing.” “The Decisions” disappear, but we continue to count them to fill the gap between the conceptual, linguistic entity of “the Decision” and the actual, concrete person who made said “Decision.” By my reading of Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism, this is precisely how a master-signifier works to keep an ideology going.

By the same token, one could also say that Fitch, Zizek, and Lacan were writing commentaries on Greek tragedies and that evangelicals have played them out as they’ve been ruled by the ideology of “the Decision.” Greek tragedies seek not to overcome death but to, in the face of a fate that can never be a-void-ed, reconcile to it. Just as “the Decision” doesn’t overcome the guilt of sin but seeks to reconcile it to a way of life.

John 1 helps to reveal that this quest to reconcile to the void of death is, in fact, a religious pursuit, regardless of whether the ideology of any particular master-signifier – which is centered around an emptiness - occurs within the community of a church or not. As Fitch said recently on Facebook, science is itself another religion. John 1 also, however, as compared to this tragic staging, takes a completely contradictory view of the relationship between language and the world. For John, the word doesn’t kill the thing. Scripturally, the Word not only is the ultimately real thing but is that through which the world was made. For John, there is an ultimate master, and it is the Word. And, the church points to him with its witness.

And, that brings me back to the idolatry of Dionysius and Aphrodite. As per the above discussion of the McArthur vs. Hodges debate (and more works of human hands that I will discuss further in this blog series), it was human discourse that shaped evangelical ideology into what it is today. The question, then, is twofold. One: when regarding the church’s presence in the world today, does the image of a god appear, or, rather, the image of a cynical lack, an emptiness? Two: if the image of a god appears, then what god or goddess is it?

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