Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Having Done All, To Stand

Self-Proclaimed Storm ChaserI'm wondering whether the search for a "chastened activism", which I've described in a couple of recent posts, is actually related to an earlier theme: whether our struggle with climate change can helpfully be understood using the category of  "spiritual warfare".

At first this seems a pretty boneheaded idea. 

After all, part of the "chastening" that activism needs to undergo, according to the book I was reviewing, is to let go of its predisposition to see the world in terms of heroes (probably us) vanquishing villains (probably other people, such as "the dirty, dangerous fossil fuel companies that have caused climate catastrophe in their ruthless pursuit of profit").  And is not the idea that we are participating in "spiritual warfare" the ultimate imposition of this hero-villain narrative on our experience, whether or not it actually fits?  (How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer, ten: one to change the bulb and nine to contend victoriously in prayer against the powers of darkness.)

But I'm not so sure.  The locus classicus on spiritual warfare in the New Testament is Ephesians 6:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace... And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.
The language used here is notably unheroic.  The key word is "stand", and in the central verse, "after you have done everything", Paul's hope is simply that you will remain on your feet, vertical rather than horizontal as the day of battle ends.  Of "taking ground", "conquering" and all the rest of the vocabulary that some modern proponents of spiritual warfare have imported from Joshua, there is almost no sign.  The culminating instruction is to pray: i.e., call for help.  Though deeply important, our part in the battle against the "devil's schemes" is not to win it, but to stand, and wait, and look to the God who will help when morning dawns. (Psalm 46:5)

Can this vision of spiritual warfare inspire a struggle against climate change which is not seduced by a facile Manicheanism, but which is able to recognize, and still resist, the truly demonic ("super wicked") nature of the adversary?

Photo by Flickr user riddlerstudios, licensed under Creative Commons

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