Who would Satan vote for


by ballot or by bullet.jpg

If we personify liberal democracy, how might we do so? We usually have little trouble personifying tyranny, such as Hitler being representative of the evil of Nazi Germany. In fact, it seems rather cliché these days for politicians and barroom rhetoricians to identify the very latest enemy of democracy as the newer, more evil incarnation of Hitler. There is a never-ending list of historical characters that can be introduced into debates as the personification of evil, or communism, or the crusades, or radical fundamentalist religion. It help us to economize our distrust of the other, our fear of threats to our “way of life.”

I suggest, however, that to personify liberal democracy, we should try to use the biblical character of Satan – the accuser, or, even better – the Adversary. Bear with me for just a moment, here. The Book of Job indicates that the satan was a rather tolerated if not accepted presence in the heavenly realm. In fact, I learned from a rather conservative Hebrew Bible professor that the satan played a specific role in the heavenly law courts, that being the role of a kind of prosecuting attorney. There is plenty of literary evidence that the introduction of Job is satire, a humorous look at the realm of the gods where whim and whimsey might hold humans hostage to the poker-game side conversations that might occur during those times when boredom overtakes creativity.

Yet, in the New Testament, the satan, or, the adversary, plays a role that more resembles that of the personification of political power than that of pure evil, for if we read the temptation narratives, it seems that the satan is the adversary of the Kingdom of God, indicated by Jesus' failure to challenge the claim that all the kingdoms of the world are indeed the satan's to give away. Jesus rejects the option to take authority over the kingdom of the world, instead staying faithful to a God who will call Jesus to establish an alternative kingdom to that of the world. Paul identifies this character as the “the god of this world.” The author of the Forth Gospel cites the satan as the “ruler of this world” three times. Often times, the satan is identified as the devil, and as we might acknowledge together, especially when it comes to politics and public policy, the devil is always in the details. Often rather insidiously.

Alright, you say, enough with the radical anti-democracy pro-theocracy bullshit, right? Hear me out. First, there is a need to stop equating the satan with evil personified, for our adversaries are often no more evil than we ourselves, and indeed, they will have fewer problems applying the titular of evil to us if we refuse them such labels. One only need to remember that both sides of the American Civil War claimed divine favor. In fact, God did favor both north and south, because, as Jesus tells, us, God makes the rain fall on both the just and unjust. So, adversaries may or may not be unjust, but they also may or may not be evil. Adversaries are opponents in matters of religion, politics, social norms, and for the control of social and economic resources.

If we view the democratic process as being the best political project of human history to date, we cannot avoid the very real fact that it is nevertheless an adversarial system, and that the epistemological assumptions of the Enlightenment which underwrite democratic processes depend on the adversarial discourse that allows the reasoning process to lead to potentially sound utilitarian outcomes. Yet the God of the Bible, and the gospel witness to Jesus, does not indicate that adversarial relationships are reflective of the will of God, nor are adversarial relationships representative of the ways in which messianic communities are commanded to engage the world.

If we take Jesus' ethic seriously, and those ethics are the politics of Jesus, then we must at some point consider that lending without asking for repayment, going the extra mile, feeding the hungry, and indeed, carrying our cross, is not an adversarial, but rather a servant-based response to our adversaries. While such a response to our adversaries might certainly challenge their assumptions of power and control, and put our adversaries in uncomfortable positions, the mandate of Jesus to lovingly challenge our political or religious opponents without coercing or controlling their ability to engage, and without attempting to degrade, humiliate, or dominate them, indicates that we as Christians may have to suffer and sacrifice even some of our rights in order to allow God to control outcomes, so that we as Christians do not accept the offer of the satan to be the rulers over the world under the presuppositions our own apparently just and supposedly benign authority, established of course, in our minds, by God.

Yet God gives authority only to Jesus, and then to the Spirit, but members of the Body of Christ exercise authority only over one another, and Jesus indicates that this is done according to the order of foot-washing as opposed to popular vote. Jesus states that those who are disciples do not Lord it over one another as the Gentiles do, and if nothing else, one might admit that democracy is indeed a manner in which a slim majority might lord it over a large minority. Certainly we can demcratically lord it over our neighbors. It follows in our American democracy that wealth and privilege allow for a narrow band of citizens to influence and regulate the adversarial relationships of representative democracy in unjust, neo-oligarchical ways. And within the reality of this adversarial political and economic system, the church itself, by participating, even just by voting, is accepting the satanic challenge of controlling the mechanisms of the world instead of offering alternatives to the adversarial option.

Adversaries attempt to dominate their opponents, yet Jesus suggests that, going beyond murder as a forbidden behavior, anger that leads to the potential for murder is equally unlawful. We are to love our neighbors and our enemies, but more importantly, offer an alternative community in which enemies can put aside their adversarial status and worship the creator God who's only desire is that all of us choose to be faithful to those two commandments Jesus prescribes. If I become a primary stakeholder in the democratic process, how can I insist that faithfulness be the primary informant of outcomes related to that process. Democracy does not invite world peace, let alone mandate it. Democracy does not invite the hungry to be fed and the naked to be clothed, and can often be used to prevent such biblical mandates from being realized, such as caring for the alien and restoring collateral for loans to the needy when they require it.

Justice is not utilitarian, yet the adversary suggests to us, or tempts us, to trust in the adversarial system as a means of establishing justice. Yet, as Christians this presents two problems. God's justice is not up for a vote, and Christians must practice the option of making such communities of justice open to those who are oppressed. Christians do not vote for or against slavery or sexism or war, but are baptized into a community that refuses to practice those adversarial relationships, instead insisting that egalitarianism is reflective of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, what we perceive to be social or economic or racial justice in the United States is not necessarily representative of God's justice. Yet, through the nature of the adversarial system, we can be sure that the outcomes favored by the adversary will be those that become public policy, or at least, become indicative of how the adversary want us to arrive at utilitarian outcomes – that being arguing, name calling, and fearing one another until the other side is dominated into submission. I can't accept such outcomes, even when my adversaries are on the losing side, and the wrong side, of human history.

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