Off the Wall 17/6/15
It started with a comment I made to this newspaper that the recent issue of children playing a game in which they invoked or “summoned” a spirit entity and its effects was “an issue of national security”. Without much consideration on the psychological effects of this game and the social media hype surrounding it on children who not only played the game or witnessed the game, and with no consideration of any possibility of a negative force, energy or spirit, my comment was labelled by some as fundamentalist and superstitious or religious rubbish. The fact that leaders of a number of other religious communities also raised this issue was ignored and only the Christian community seemed to be criticised.
While many chose to focus on the physical elements of the game as a hoax, they may have missed the point I was making about the metaphysical elements. Of course that may have been because metaphysics or spiritual issues are nonsense to them. Perhaps it was merely a criticism of someone with a different worldview than is socially and politically correct at this time.
It is all too easy in a rapidly secularising society to convey the spiritual realm to a cardboard box labelled, superstitious, fundamentalist, naïve or unenlightened. Believers in the deeper spirituality and the existence of a spiritual dimension are treated as fools. All the while, novels, television series and films place it in the category of fiction – horror, supernatural, suspense, drama and action.
This has resulted in many Christians who consider themselves modern and enlightened thinkers, being of the view that what Scripture and church tradition teach about there being a wider spiritual reality of angels, demons, and miracles was relevant back in biblical times, and it may become relevant again at some point in the distant future. For them it is simply not relevant today. This is based on the rationale that for our present lives on Earth, we live in a completely naturalistic closed system, and religion is limited to what we think, say, and do within this closed system.
For Christians, even the most enlightened, grace is still a spiritual element, an enabling power and spiritual healing offered through the mercy and love of Christ. Prayer is an act of communing with the divine spirit.
The Methodist heritage begins with John Wesley, a clergyman of 18th century England and the founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley taught that Christian spirituality should include "the means of grace" or "works of piety". The means of grace included centering in prayer, searching the scriptures, encouraging one another in the spiritual life, and to help each one to be accountable for responsible discipleship, worship and the Lord's Supper and fasting.
Mystic, spiritualist or influential speaker (take your pick depending on your worldview), Eckhart Tolle suggested that there can be religion with spirituality, and you can have religion without spirituality (which also happens quite often).
“Religion without spirituality is just ideology, such as certain belief structures in the collective mind that one identifies with, and that’s not helpful.”
Beyond the debate of the validity of the spiritual realm, lies a perhaps even more serious issue: the way we view evil.
There is a tendency to think of the demonic in psychological terms, de-mythologize it, leave it at the level of human choices. We are on dangerous ground when we don’t take evil seriously. The realities of evil are still there. Not talking about it just makes our abilities to articulate and engage those realities more difficult.
William J. Abraham, Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology, noted that the world needs “a clear diagnosis of evil.” He listed some of the secular world’s explanations: “It all comes down to sex and potty training” (Freud), “The world needs revolution!” (Marx), people who, like John Wesley, believe in the Devil and “little people” need to be brought out of the Dark Ages (science), or “If we can figure out what’s really going on in people’s heads, we can fix it all” (neuroscience).
Speaking at a conference last December at the United Methodist Church’s United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, the Perkins professor somberly explained that there are “invisible, spiritual, and incorporeal” agents out there who “are not detectable by any scientific instruments” but “are made manifest by certain unusual phenomenon” and are seeking “to destroy the created order.” He observed that the subject of demonic activity is one of “hard facts and phenomena that are extremely well attested across cultures and across time.” He described life on Earth for Christian believers as “a constant battle against evil.”
In his book, The Powers That Be, Walter Wink outlines the worldviews that he believes have existed in the West. They are:
1. The Ancient worldview, which is reflected in the Bible. In this view everything on Earth has its counterpart in Heaven, and vice versa.
2. The Spiritualist worldview, in which matter is an illusion and only spirit is real.
3. The Materialist worldview, in which spirit is an illusion and only matter is real.
4. The Theological worldview, popular in seminaries, in which God exists in a realm disconnected from the physical.
5. The Integral worldview, in which Heaven and Earth are "the inner and outer aspects of a single reality."
Wink chooses the Integral Worldview (5). He believes in a demonic realm that is real and active in the world. Wink suggests that demons are real and not just “the evil that we do.” They are not just personification of human evil deeds. There are, Wink argues, very real and powerful demonic forces in the world that influence it towards evil.
He calls this, structural evil – social realities–systems that oppress and exploit people. They are “violence-prone systems of power and domination.” Unlike other liberal Protestants who talk about “the demonic” such as Tillich, however, Wink believes these systems are not just negative forces built into the universe by non-being. Wink is a critic of the “myth of redemptive violence” that is actively promoted by these powers and principalities. He argues Christians are to wage spiritual warfare against them and against their influence. For Wink, spiritual warfare is social action that unmasks the powers and exposes them for what they are–destructive to human and non-human life. For Wink these powers are not merely the products of human decisions and actions. They have a different kind of reality not reducible to humanity and its thoughts and deeds. They are malevalent systems with semi-autonomous reality although they do not fly around in the air and get into people. The main point, however, is that they can be defeated.
Rather than us arguing about the different perceptions, descriptions or manifestations of evil in our world let us find a way to work together to defeat the evil that exist in our world – be they social, political, economic, environmental, psychological, physical or spiritual.