Reflections: The Threshold of Hell and Social Media Discourse

In a time of pandemic and cultural disgust, I find myself returning (repenting) amidst current dialogues by looking to old books for a sense of self, and a sense of God. One of the books that I have returned to is Dante’s Inferno. The reason I have decided to read this particular work is because of Dante’s profound ability to raise a sense of moral consciousness; the images employed cause the reader to look at the ravaging effects of sin upon men, and the beauty that fills the mind when one contemplates the grace of God intensified by its ugliest contrast. Dante gives the reader a sense that the existential implications of people’s conduct far outweighs the situations of their lives. The phrase inscribed on the gate of Hell lays heavily upon the reader as virtue is looked for, but not found, in much of current dialogue. Those who engage in social media discourse would do well to hear these words: “abandon every hope, all you who enter” (Inferno, pg. 14).

The threshold of Hell is a place called “Nowhere.” Virgil takes us on a journey to a place that is full of people who have never made a decision to be faithful to God. These people are people who have lived for entirely for themselves, without being characterized by “no blame and with no praise” (Inferno, pg. 15). They are people who have preserved their lives through indecision. In Hell they are doomed to march around a banner that never stops ever leading them on through eternity while being painfully stung by insects to their eternal hurt.

This is Medieval imagery. It is stark and highly punitive. It can, however, delineate a phenomenological reality that often occurs in social media discussions.

Social media has come to be a place where people are defined by their opinions. It is a discarnate technological medium that unites people through what they write and images they use. It is a platform for individual self-expression. This is an effort at unity which often seems to unavoidably separate folks and polarize the people who engage in any sort of political discussion (paradoxically a collective discourse serves to further polarization among the collective). People are more rash, statements are more impatient, and the atmosphere among those who disagree can be characterized by an intense hatred of anything or anyone who is different. Ideology and political affiliation separate us in reality, and social media discourse furthers that separation because our opinions are held out so unaccountably from our lives. Part of this is because so much of conversation is based on a person’s tone of voice, or facial expression which is never a contributing factor in extremely tense and difficult conversations. In this way, a discarnate social media presence seems to be more susceptible to greater emotion and less charitable thought because charity necessarily involves bodily reality with all of its risks, discomforts, and rewards.

What am I talking about?

I am talking particularly about the constant barrage of dissent regarding racial issues and police violence (I do not want to expound on any particular issue now because it is likely to become forgotten among future outbreaks, and because it is important to reflect on the framing of an issue as well as the issue itself); I am talking about an incendiary conversation where patience and love for those who are different from you is obscured by unaccountable emotions of anger and outrage.

As someone who has been aware of social media since its inception, and subsequently aware of the collective outrage regarding social injustice, I have acutely noticed how social media is used to generate collective feelings of rage. What I have also noticed is how those feelings of rage subside and are cyclically rekindled when another social crisis occurs generating a congealed narrative, often resolving nothing. The movement takes priority over the incident and the wrong. People quickly forget what the past injustice was, and eagerly jump at the new opportunity they have to express their outrage. It is an dialogue that is “momentarily bursting into enthusiasm, and shrewdly relapsing into repose” (The Present Age, pg. 3). Hence, the collective forgetfulness of those who use social media for political discord is just as important to notice as its collective outrage when considering this phenomenon objectively. The crisis serves a movement, and the crisis itself is not resolved, but enables a movement to undo the foundations of society without precise direction, or positive terminus.

Rage is generated, and rage is preserved, but memory is not. This is the degeneration of  social consciousness.

Because of this I am arguing that it is plausible to compare Dante’s threshold of hell to social media dialogues about racial inequality and police brutality. People march on to define themselves not by virtue, but by opinion. Opinion alone is something that is deceptively unable to grip with reality. Decisions must be made. Virtue can never be something displayed apart from actual interaction between physical people, and it is the quality of our lives displayed by what we do. Furthermore, the banner that marches us on and on is every injustice, real or perceived, generated by a soundbite or clip. All that is required of us is to passionately agree with what is being said with no specific bearing on our actual day to day lives. Through our participation in this void we have become a people with many opinions, few values, and even fewer virtues because we have ceased to speak and act in reality. No change is required of us when passionate opinion on social media serves as the dehumanized form of cultural currency.

The domain of social media is the “Nowhere.” It is a place where people can talk with little to no consequence for their words. It is a place without deeds. The “feed” marches us on with every new bit of information motivating us by a satisfying release of dopamine when we tell someone off, or get approval for what we post. This is truly an exploitation of the human experience. Jean Baudrillard speaks of “hyperreality” as a phenomenon which replaces the real (Disneyland); what I would call hyperunreality replaces not only the real through a substitution of the real with something purely simulative; through a disembodied experience of that simulation. Quality conversations, thoughts, and self-denial are things that have truly ceased to occur regular interaction because they do not regularly happen at dinner tables, or in living rooms with people we love, but on a digital platform with people that we may know, or may have no relation to at all. The platform has become as infinite as the masses using it. Therefore, the truth is lost in a flurry of voices that have no bearing upon life because the conversation is removed from bodily experience with the ironic goal of self-expression. Interactions like these that separate the mind’s voice bodily, interpersonal expression leave us with unfortunate stings of conscience and conflicting opinions within ourselves, or voiced by others. It is a journey without singular vision, and without beatitude.

What is to be done?

Throughout the Inferno Dante is patiently guided by Virgil. In many instances Dante loses his strength before the sights of horror that he witnesses; often he needs the words and prompting of his guide to cause him to see and understand greater and more terrible things. While painfully witnessing the godlessness of society we are called, like Dante, to leave cowardice and distrust aside in order to see the necessity of good through its most immanent opposite. We are called to seek God with all that we are. People today need guides who can speak to them in the stark reality of life encouraging them to be better fathers, neighbors, and friends. I turn to old books for guidance, to works of literature that have the ability to raise my mind above depersonalized mass movements, and social media contempt. I also turn to my friends who have been my instructors and source of life amidst the chaos of what is happening today and the grief that accompanies it. People need to actually develop a sense of virtue through the instruction of those who have actually pursued it in their lives and implement it in their respective spheres of life.

The vision of Dante requires us to pay profound attention to the end of human experience in order to comprehend its value and meaning in pursuit of the truth. I submit to you that this can only be done through what has long been known by human experience as friendship. Something that existed before the term was redefined in 2004 by social media promulgators and tycoons. Before Dante, there was a Roman statesman and philosopher who in many ways had a profound impact on Dante. The man’s name was Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero pointed out in his book, On Friendship, that society is held together by the bonds of friendship — friendship, Cicero noted, is not possible without virtue. A modern follow up to this would be that virtue is not possible in on a platform that stirs people’s passions because the discourse is too shortsighted for sustained conversation, or resolution. Virtue is not discarnate, it is deeply human because it requires bodily experience to enrich all of society. Friendship cannot be a reduction of human experience, or it is not friendship, but something far less. I hope that we can pause, learn, interpret, and decide upon how to live, instead of passively accepting an ever and ongoing sense of the present devoid of both respect for the past, or hope for the future.

 

An Open Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear Reader,

This morning I read a recent article posted by the conservative writer, Rod Dreher. It included some very insightful comments about the nature of certain people’s responses to Coronavirus described in a couple letters he received. His analysis of what was written to him is the most convicting line in the article. It is what I hope you will take away from this open letter to think about as we approach the Lord’s day. He says, “This, my friends, is what apocalypse does: it reveals.”

After I read this, I instinctively asked the question: how is my time of isolation revealing a preparedness for the coming of the Lord, or how is it not? What am I grasping at?

I must confess that my heart has been in desperate search for comfort, security, and a sense of normal routine. I find that the desire for this, and its highly regarded place in my life, often serves as a mask which hides the state of my soul from myself and others. I think this is the case for many Christians in America. We let our work define us. We do it in such a way that the presence of sin and the necessity of faith routinely sit on the back burner of our minds. Because of this, a sad irony persists in our lives. The irony is that too little attention is paid to who we presently are before God, even though our presence before God is what will finally be established when we step past death into eternity, or when Christ comes again. This will be what lasts of us.

In this crisis my sin appears to be more evident, and my resolve against it seems to be in short supply. However, I don’t think this is actually the case. My sin was always evident, and my resolve against it has always been in short supply. The only difference between the recent past, and the ongoing reality of life during Coronavirus, is that I am more aware of it because I have more time to think and less distance to put between me and my thoughts. Stated bluntly, not having what I want shows me what I really want.

Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). This is my heart’s desire that emerges from a cluttered mind: when the end of this pandemic comes (and it will surely come), I want to have passed through it by faith, as I want to pass though the rest of my life and death by faith.

Repentance means living a life that corresponds to hope. I know what I hope in, and I hope in a Christ who promises to sustain His Church through all seasons of life. In the slowness of my soul I am “slouching towards Bethlehem” to find a vision of life in the apocalyptic turbulence of these times. I hope that this is your desire and pursuit as well.

I will end this letter with the opening question from the Heidelberg Catechism: “what is your only comfort in life and death?” I leave it to you to look at the catechism for yourself and prayerfully appropriate the answer as we approach the Lord’s day. I will do the same.

May God be with you,

Stephen

 


Here is the complete article by Rod Dreher. I suggest you read it: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/are-we-christians-the-rich-young-ruler-covid-19/

I think the 3b is an accurate definition of apocalypse: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocalypse

I quoted a line from “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290/the-second-coming

Here is the Heidelberg Catechism for those who do not own a physical copy: https://students.wts.edu/resources/creeds/heidelberg.html

The Quarantine of the Soul During Coronavirus

The Advantage of Quarantine

When I first heard about the Coronavirus, I was wondering how big of an impact it would have upon my school, work, relationships, and my personal life. There has been a great deal of information being circulated about the virus that has led to much fear, doubt, and sadness. Many are afraid because of how the disease has ravaged Italy, China, and more close to home, N.Y. Since the spread of this virus, and its emergence in America, my work has shut down, my classes have gone online, my relationships have had to accommodate life in quarantine. Everything has been turned upside down and the freedoms that were so easily taken for granted now become deeply cherished in their absence. Normally this would be a cause for stress and anxiety, but I find that this is an excellent time to remember how frail and temporary my life is and to ask myself why I get up each morning. This requires me to persevere through a laundry pile of fears that typically lie buried beneath my regular routine of busyness –  a routine that I can no longer easily appeal to quiet my thoughts. Honestly, the ability to pause and to question is a freedom that is often taken for granted in normal circumstances; it is a freedom that emerges in the midst of our national quarantine that can serve as a refreshing turn of events to those who would take advantage of the time they have alone.

I would like to offer some suggestions on how to spend your time and value the quarantine.

Keep a Journal

Around the advent of our nation’s response to Coronavirus, I began to keep a journal about the things that I value in life, how to increase my pursuit of those things, and also how I take them for granted. I find that during a time where life is so obviously frail, it is a comforting discipline to reinforce my own life with meaning about how to live presently well for the future. Sorting through my own thoughts has been a challenge, a joy, and a comfort during this time. This discipline has been a sort of momento mori for me. Not in a morbid sense, but a sense that recognizes that the value of something is more clearly seen from the vantage point of the end. The Greek concept of happiness was something that was not informed by the moment, but by its completion. Our lives should be lived with a reverent respect for our end that informs our daily attitudes and decisions.

Talk to People

Pick up the phone. This is a good time to talk to people in your life that you haven’t talked to in a while. It is a good time to mend broken relationships, and to see how much the people around you mean. A time of crisis can be the best way to encourage a compassionate approach to those who we may be at odds with. This time can enforce a decision to love. It can also be a way to really, and kindly approach elderly people that you may know that are affected most by this quarantine. Give them a call. If you do, you may find that you are the one who is filled with comfort and warmth from the interaction.

Talk to God

With more time comes more reflection, and with more reflection you sometimes see more of yourself than you regularly want to see. Give thanks to God for His kindness toward you, and confess your sins. Learn to see that every day is a gift. Gratitude and sincerity are more visible in a time like this. I cannot say enough about this which is why I will be brief and ask you, who do you have in the end but God? Gratitude and confession are life changing. In a time of quarantine, no one is without God. He will not leave you or forsake you. Thank Him for it.

Use the Quarantine 

Many in the Christian tradition have made solitude a regular part of their Christian experience. The reason for this was so that they could cultivate the interior space to listen to God and inform their own hearts. They did this in order to have a sense of grace as they approached the difficult challenges of their lives either within themselves or out in the world. Quarantine presents itself as a difficult challenge to our lives, but a lack of external freedom is an opportunity to pursue freedom of the soul. What is important at all times, even if it is a more apparent necessity in the quarantine, is to listen to God and inform our own heart by what He says in order to virtuously meet whatever difficulty we encounter. As you spend this time alone, order your mind and resolve to do what is right by listening with a compliant heart to what God says. Seasons like this can provoke us to anger, or other passions that cause harm to ourselves and others. However, we can meet these attitudes of the heart with a sense of grace which I think is fair to call the faith of the saints. In this way use the solitude you have been given to strengthen your faith and to dialogue with God and others during this time of crisis. May you find this time of solitude that has been given to you to be a fruitful opportunity to dialogue with yourself through journaling, with others over the phone, and with God by praying His word.


PC: Photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash

 

That Hideous Subversion Part I: Nietzsche’s Ressentiment and Neo-Liberal Fanaticism

That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only if one gives it no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: ‘these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb — would he not be good?1‘”  -Friedrich Nietzsche

What is Ressentiment?

Ressentiment is a moral or religious usurpation in act or attitude which attempts to negate the strength of presiding entities by the objections of the weak. Ressentiment features itself as an objection of morality, a trump card of principle, which is enacted through the compliance of those in power to the demands of the weak subversively favoring human weakness as a form of vengeance. It is a ruse and slight of hand which levels individual and corporate strength through principles of religion and morality. This idea was formulated by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche which critiqued morality and religion in order to understand them as restrictive elements which hinder the trajectory of man’s potential. As Nietzsche expressed it, ressentiment emphasized a moral usurpation of human strength by moral philosophy and the crucified Jesus followed by his moralistic disciples. The mounted univocation positing that Socrates and Christians throughout the centuries weakened man through asphyxiated structures imposed upon humanity’s strength finds itself to be a true and actual occurrence observed upon the plane of human interaction. This consists of a dominant interplay between the weak and the strong whereby the powerful are restricted through some religious or moral incentive (these questions, which history has already answered, indicate the present pervasiveness of the triumph of weakness: did the morality of Socrates limit the impulses of Dionysus?/did the frailty of Jesus restrict the strength of the Roman empire?).

Even if this is admittedly true, is the ironic triumph of weakness in man inherent in Christianity indicative of an ultimate degeneration of human strength? All moral structures are an effort to restrict an individual priority of power and redirect it to serve the good or to serve God. Strength, utilized by Christianity and moral philosophy, is a point of an individual’s service, not a point of personal advantage over people or circumstance. Nietzsche’s comments on Socrates in Twilight of the Idols displays the extent of his condemnation of Socratic thought to illustrate this degeneration: “Socrates was a misunderstanding; the entire morality of improvement was a misunderstanding…the harshest daylight, rationality at all costs, life bright, cold, cautious, conscious, instinct-free, instinct-resistant: this itself was just an illness, a different illness, a different – and definitely not a way back to ‘virtue’, ‘health’, happiness…To have to fight against the instincts – this is the formula for decadence: so long as life is ascendant, happiness equals ascent.2” For Nietzsche’s Socrates, the pursuit of something higher than desire, to see the quality of life as something more than “appetite” and less than the triumph of conquest, is to commit an unacceptable sacrifice of strength on the altar of weakness. The mortification of metaphysical priority in exchange for blind and constant hunger calls for the subjugation of all things to power without question or priority. Man has nothing more to serve than himself, nothing higher to pursue than what he wants. No other purpose and no higher reason can possibly steer him away from this. What is the result? Socrates (according to Nietzsche) is subject to ressentiment against what was dominant in him – the strength of his own passions.

Ressentiment As Irony With Noted Movements of Agreement and Divergence Resulting In a New Paradox

To demand of strength that it should not express that strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, it is just as absurd to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.3 -Friedrich Nietzsche

Ressentiment is the ironic play of strength (the ruse) from the high grounds of morality and religion (the contradictors of nature) cast by the weak (moralists and Christians) upon the powerful (those uninhibited by moral and religious restraint) to ensnare them. Nietzsche leaves no room for the inherent paradox in history (the Incarnation) and in his own time when he ignores this fact: weakness did express itself as strength, and the advent of Christianity changed the world. Regardless of the absurdity of it, Christianity deposed the powerful through the absurd coalescence of power and weakness convening together in the paradoxical incarnation of God (“the foolishness of God is wiser than men”).

Where Christianity agrees with Nietzsche is when it confirms weakness as a moral and religious cast restricting the unlimited appetite of human power. This delimitation happened when God became man, and it also occurs when the followers of Jesus “make not provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Those who have faith bear their cross and “put to death the deeds of the body” while seeking to become the “servant of all.” Perhaps the most daring aspect of servanthood is to “love your enemies” (in this case the identity of a servant is indistinguishable from its more forceful synonym, slave). How can one not look at the example of Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies and not see that his love brought him to unmediated suffering in weakness? Christianity through this example and the call to follow Jesus agrees with the Nietzschean notion that moral and religious restraints are the establishment of weakness in human life. The action of men upon these teachings completely restricts the unfocused potential of power and places it beneath the will of God in pursuit of Christ’s incarnate example. When you serve others, you give to them your strength rather than taking their strength from them. Humility is the opposite movement of pride in the same way that weakness is the opposite movement of human power (“he was crucified in weakness”), and to descend to need is not to rise through self-indulgence. By this example, the road to God is not known as an immediate triumph over others, apprehending their error through the narrow rightness of one’s beliefs, the popularity of Christian truth, its prosperity, or anything else that may benefit the individual or collective people over other. Rather, the road to God is known as a long and descending path of humility in pursuit of Jesus. Simply put, it is strength sacrificed to the purposes of God.

Where the observed phenomenon of ressentiment qualitatively diverges is when it establishes that reasons for weakness (moral or religious) are not valid to adopt and practice in human experience. This also has an effect on whether or not the goal of weakness is a form of revenge against human strength. Nietzsche’s caricature of Christianity and moralism diverge from Christianity because the latter does not avenge itself against another. To pity those in need—the diseased, ugly, and unwise or those who are malformed in mind and body—in such a way as to not exploit or reject their presence is motivated by a view of tarnished man that exalts him as the image of God no matter what his weakness is. The weakness of man is not dispensed with to assume strength, but the strength of man is subservient to the presence of weakness. Not to eliminate or rule, but to serve and transform it graciously. An emphasis which denies that harmony between people is a priority and sees love as a form of “pity” which has no justification in human society eliminates what makes humanity capable of strength. When you serve others, you make them strong. You enrich them with a sense of priority that will offer them some measure of relief and strength. Otherwise, what then is the solution? Is it to rid the weak from our midst and to condition society to only accept with love that which is strong and robust? Is it to “lock up” priests and pastors as such because a contrary perspective threatens “public morality” as Nietzsche curiously suggests at the conclusion of The Anti-Christ? When human power becomes an unlimited priority, what is left of humanity, and who can reconcile its divergences? Nothing becomes sustainable but power, and even that is bound to collapse because humanity as a resource can only last for so long under such conditions. Christianity justifies weakness in order to potentiate love. Nietzsche condemns it to potentiate power. These delineated points of agreement and disagreement are the distinctive backdrop for the modern paradox of ressentiment as amorality and moral practice with the illusive opinions interchanging between marginalized and general perception within the realm of popular opinion. The paradox takes shape in two ways: it is amoral, or immoral, and it is without actual basis in reality but applies itself as an anti-morality while taking shape as the marginalization of the general and the generalization of the marginal. The modern paradox to be observed possesses the mediating character of irony because it is an appearance of instinctual perversity that has within it the components of both moral justification and the trajectory of a new identity. The first category is shared by Christianity and moral philosophy. The second is uniquely Christian and indirectly parodies the Pauline doctrine of the new creation.

Paradox Mediated Through Irony

Although Nietzsche sees Christianity and preceding moral philosophy as committing the transgression of ressentiment, it might be more clearly observed as a modern social manifestation or cultural phenomenon stripped of all moralistic and religious garb as an act of vengeance. Ressentiment finds its expression from small to great measures: ressentiment is your little brother asking you to play as a weaker video game character simply because you are better at the game than him, because he thinks it’s the fair thing to do; it’s the person who likes a photo of someone else on social media out of envy and covetousness (the exchange of individual priority to desire a thing that others ascribe value to); it’s the perspective that competitive sports don’t make winners because everybody is a winner (a leveling athletic phenomenon justifying weakness as the moral uniting factor); it’s minority groups seeking to punish others and denounce them based on their distinctive strength from the delusional platform of a moral high ground justified by an internal or external sense of alienation. Nietzsche had to reach retrospectively history and identify when primal weakness was usurped by moral philosophy and Christianity. In his day, Christianity was still the dominant intellectual position of the time. Because of this, perhaps, it could best be argued that his distinction did not distinguish him as someone who exposed moral philosophy and Christianity as a usurpation of the strong by the weak, but rather exposed him as an ironic subject of his own thinking. Whatever the case, his paradigm exists today even though the past and present contexts are very different.

In America, Christian religion exists increasingly as a diminishing substance and a lengthening shadow resulting in a strange form of instinctivism. However, this instinctivism is not an actual return to the strength of the pre-Socratic Greeks, as Nietzsche would have idealized, but an unresolved contradiction between the priority of potentiated love and potentiated power that ultimately results in ressentiment. As far as power goes, whatever you want you should get through a social platform. You should acquire this whatever the cost, without respect to any truth outside of your opinion and the opinion of those who agree with you. The potentiation of love is the mirage of moral intent and farce of a new identity solidified by social acceptance. The problem with this lies in the fact that there is no new identity that can be real or moral cause that can be championed without a movement by the transcendent God. Any motioning of these higher realities is irrational; any paradigm for behavior beyond individual and collective imagination is seen as restrictive.

Many people in America experience this contradistinction in the weight of a cultural shift whereby a Christian nation has become an increasingly atheistic society. This leaves a void in identity and moral value. The ironic evidence of this void finds its bearing in persons like Nkechi Amare Diallo (born Rachel Dolezal) who self-identified as a black American and who successfully became an N.A.A.C.P president in Spokane, WA. The “ruse” (as an article in The New York Times aptly called it) consisted of a fabricated narrative identifying her as a black American (instinctivism conjoined to a fabricated sense of morality). Unlike Nietzsche’s Socrates, her ressentiment had nothing to do with the truth about reality sought by the practice of dialectical inquiry, but it was maintained through the incarnation of a farce which in the place of a moral premise served a moral point of application (perhaps Nietzsche would equivocate these two subjects of observation). Rachel Dolezal commits ressentiment by assuming a civil rights vesture. To restrict the powerful, the oppressor, herself, she identifies as something she is not and gives it an imaginary moral dimension of beneficence.

How Is Dolezal a Paradoxical Figure Subject To Ironic Considerations?

Nietzsche says in his book On the Geneology of Morals:

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment itself becomes creative and  of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye — this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself — is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all — its action is fundamentally a reaction.4

The creative aspect of Dolezal’s ressentiment was the assumption of a completely new identity through a fabricated narrative. This narrative adopted a deep sense of value for the racially marginalized, but it involved a restriction of personal identity (trans-ethnicism) in order to promulgate a seemingly moral cause. Here is the anti-morality subsuming morality by paradox: in order to really identify as herself, she is ultimately removed from herself and her identity is transfigured into fictitious proportions. The irony is that a lie is justifiable and that through this someone may find a new way by which to create themselves, through which to be true to reality. What is this but the cover up of instinctual perversity? What is this but getting what you want at all costs and making it moral to do so? Her moral obligation, which was contextualized through her involvement with the N.A.A.C.P., was a reaction to the external world, a reaction against injustice and marginalization (very real causes that should be rightly championed). But what is left of Rachel Dolezal? There is no right view of actual self in her paradigm, only an untrue identity which reacts against an unjust world through the tragic medium of a farce. Was her sense of value actually value at all in a proper sense if her ethnicity and new identity are fabrications of an imaginative dimension? Any reaction through this medium can hardly be considered good but can reasonably be considered an illegitimizing act of vengeance upon herself and upon a history of oppression, not a moral act. Her “no” to reality is a negation of who she is in favor of an identity and world that exists fundamentally in her imagination and cannot be credibly mediated from there to reality.

_______________________________________________________________________________

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  2. Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols And Other Writings. Edited by Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman: Cambridge University Press, 2010
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004

 

Christian Singleness

“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” –1 Corinthians 7:8

The Challenge of Singleness

When I think of what it is like to be in my twenties and single there is a real measure of pain that initially comes to mind. This pain is often associated with my own longings to be married, the hurt I’ve experienced relationally (due to my sin and the sins of others), or the longings and pain of my single brothers and sisters who walk with the Lord and want to preserve their contentment and purity. I have asked myself if this pain is the result of social expectations for marriage, or whether or not there’s some reason for me to be single that I need to figure out and change. After many years of going through a cycle of shame and guilt over the things that I may or may not have done wrong to contribute to my status as a single man, I’ve come away with a few thoughts about the nature of Christian singleness and its contexts in the Church and the world. Firstly, I’ve concluded that the idea of living as a single person sustained by the joy of the Lord is a culturally unfamiliar notion. It is not uncommon that single people experience a lack of placement or accommodation in the family life of their fellow Church members. Singleness is not procreational and so it comes without the problems and stresses natural to family life which bind communities together. Isolation then can become a normal routine leaving much to be desired. As a result, singles can be often perceived as odd and unfamiliar because their way of life is not normal. The Providence of a life of singleness is hard, and there becomes a real risk of isolation that can lead people into negative choices. A reaction to this that results in inattentiveness to a person’s struggle, and unaccounted for loneliness is not the interest of Christ. Therefore, single people have to be willing to reach out to families and develop friendships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and married folks ought to pay attention to those who live alone and love them. It’s also worth considering that some who remain single as time goes on experience the possibility of marriage as a fading prospect. This is a hard reality that involves deep emotional conflict and the willingness to confine oneself in such a way as to not fall into sexual sin. The longevity of this pain is not a relatable status for most people in the Church. Even though this is the case, single people have to be able to depend on the Church for compassion, community, accountability, and opportunities for service. Conversely, the single Christian engages a world where there is a definite level of exclusion because to be sexually abstinent is to swim against the prevailing current of sexual libertinism. Single Christians do not pursue sexual experiences because they willingly go against their natural urges; they eagerly run towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. They do this in their context by confessing past or present sexual sin to God, by seeking promised forgiveness with the strength of repentance, and by actively maintaining a stance against sexual immorality. Nothing short of this is involved in God’s approach towards a Christian who is weak but held by the mercy of Jesus Christ. The end of our confession and repentance is to know the words, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Those who are Christ’s long to see God above all else and so keep themselves freshly in the expectation of His appearing. This is not poetry, but purgation. What occurs here is a an active life that is critical of mind and body in order to reject sexual experience from Christian life while in an unmarried state. Nothing about this is sharpness is without pain and all pain which accompanies sanctification yields to the promised joy of being established by God (1 Peter 5:10).

Unless You Die

Jesus speaks of bearing much fruit through his sacrifice by illustrating the death of a grain which yields much fruit (John 12:24). Immediately after this, he establishes this same pattern for his disciples to follow: If you love your life, you will lose it, but if you hate your life, you will keep it everlastingly (John 12:24). The paradox of self-preservation and self-denial is apart of the Christian life. It’s not easy to be a Christian. We give up our patterns of sin by the grace of God and should we fail in the process of yielding to God, we must thrust ourselves upon God’s mercy with a hope rooted in grace which teaches us by repentance no matter how painful it is. Also, we give up all attempts to redeem ourselves because we have the comfort of knowing Jesus’s death on the cross in this life and His glory in the next. This universally normative experience is what unites people who are married and who are single to the same Christ in life and work. His command is irrespective of our status whether single or married because we are all slaves of Jesus Christ and desire to love him by keeping His commandments regardless of the state we are in (John 14:23). Either way, we are called to sacrifice our hopes and dreams; our comforts, our luxuries, and – perhaps most the most difficult of all things to sacrifice – our expectations. We exchange what this world offers us for the will of God because His love transcends the love of the world. We are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) who are always yielding the forces of their lives to God in hope.

Hope in Jesus Christ and Act Wisely 

For some single people, the best option for purity is the pursuit of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9). Do not deny yourself this if you are struggling. Looking for a godly spouse and focus on being godly yourself is key to pleasing the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). For some people, due to adverse circumstances, the option of marriage is unavailable. If you are called to remain single in this way, know that you are free to serve the Lord. Use your time and energy to give yourself to the fruitful work of the ministry.  Through all durations of singleness exclude yourself from places and stimulation that compromises your holiness. Don’t watch questionable shows on Netflix that contain sexual content, or go to places where you’ll be tempted on the internet or in the world. Be accountable in your relationships with your relationships with others. If you fail, confess your sins to Christ (1 John 1:9), then confess your sins to your brothers for healing (James 5:16) and trust that you have an Advocate with the Father who has satisfied God by removing your sin (1 John 2:1-2). Trust that God is a merciful Father and has more to offer in wholistic joy than the world has to offer in the fleeting moments of sexual gratification (Psalm 16:11). Faith is simple to understand but it requires perseverance to live in a way that moves towards hope (Romans 5:4).

The Just Shall Live By Faith

The great challenge that is universal to all people living in the hope of mercy is to keep their faith. No matter what our station in life is, we are called to build ourselves up in the structure of our faith, and keep ourselves in the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus (Jude 1:20-22). Suffering tests this in every way. When a person longs to be married there are several dangers to guard against: The first is a lack of contentment with the work of Christ; the second is the risk of sexual immorality; the third is wasting the time God has given unmarried people to glorify Him. It takes faith to remain content in what God has done and to look to Him for love that never fails even when we do. The longing for intimacy can be so great that the temptation to complain against the Lord can be very present. Instead of complaining, consider the love of God and how He has blessed you through your life. Thank Him for the relationships He has given you and choose to be grateful for the limitations of intimacy as well as its increase within those relationships. Jesus poured Himself out for those whom He loved as one who came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). Look to Jesus’ example in this text and His life of singleness as a pattern for internal focus. Serve others by it. As for sexual immorality, be aware that it is a dead end. Know the warnings of God as well as His assurances that those who remain practitioners of sexual sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Be motivated by this warning to flee from desires and opportunities to sin by drawing near to God by faith no matter how hard it is (James 3:7-10). Scripture is very clear about this subject. It is better to deny yourself in this way and go to heaven than to not deny your lust and go to hell (Matthew 5:27-3). Don’t devalue your singleness through wasted time. The cause for our confidence is the fact that God is with us and He has promised never to leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Christians have a great call to redeem the time given to them in evil days as those who know what God’s will is (Ephesians 5:16-17). They are people who constantly build themselves up in the gift of faith longing to know the God who has died and been raised from the dead. Whether single or married, we long to please the Lord and have our lives conformed to His love (2 Corinthians 5:9). This call to conformity is not just for a person in one state or the other, but for all who are the Lord’s. These uniting themes within Christian life should join us together more than whether or not our lives look the same so that in the end, we may together glorify Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb forever with the Lord (Revelation 19:7-9). This universal call to live by faith is a call to be holy and to know God presently and in eternity; that we may, in the end, know these blessed words: “well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).