Christ as the True Vitruvian Man: An Affirmation of the Cosmic Christ and a Critique of Richard Rohr

Not all visions of the Cosmic Christ are of equal value and some stray off into the panentheistic “flow” to such a degree that one might mistake his dog for Christ or the creature for the Creator. Perhaps I need to restate and clarify my previous blog. While the Franciscans and Barth in the West have retained and developed elements of an Eastern Orthodox sensibility (my previous point), I did not mean to conflate Duns Scotus’s understanding, for example, with the best of Eastern Christology. The accusation leveled at Scotus is that his univocity of being led to the notion that an immanent frame of understanding is self-grounding and adequate. The argument of Radical Orthodoxy is that Scotus’s conception of the univocity of being led to the Enlightenment expulsion of God, as nature’s explanation lies within.

Richard Rohr’s embrace and development of Scotus’s univocity of being illustrates precisely what John Milbank and his Radical Orthodox colleagues warned, rightly or wrongly, are implicit in Scotus’s thought. As Rohr boils it down, because Scotus “believed we can speak ‘with one voice’ (univocity) of the being of waters, plants, animals, humans, angels, and God” we arrive at the conclusion, “Our DNA is . . . divine.”[1] The implication is that just as a swimmer should “be able to be the river” we are all in the flow of God and we need to realize we are God (Rohr slightly nuances this). This reading of Scotus seems to fall under John Milbank’s critique, that Scotism seems to put God and man in competition in the same space for power – a notion connected to the rise of secularism.

As Daniel Horan has pointed out in his book length work on Milbank and Scotus, Milbank presumes univocity constitutes a metaphysics but Scotus deploys this understanding only in discussions of logic, semantics, and epistemology, not as an alternative to analogy, but as an explanation of analogy.[2] Radical Orthodoxy however, would be unimpressed with Horan’s fine distinction, as in Milbank’s view it is not possible to separate epistemology from metaphysics as epistemology implies a particular metaphysics. But my point is not to defend Milbank’s reading of Scotus.

If Milbank’s critique does not to apply to Scotus, it would seem that it hits the mark with Rohr, who claims to be an expositor of Scotus.  Rohr concludes that univocity refers precisely to metaphysics: “We are already connected to everything—inherently, objectively, metaphysically, ontologically, and theologically.” [3] While Rohr seems intent on reenchanting the universe he has struck upon an odd formula, the very formula many point to as giving rise to the disenchanting of the universe in the first place. Whether the genealogy of secularism runs directly through Scotus, or Scotus and Occam to Protestantism, the point is that the very thing Scotus is accused of is precisely the way Rohr understands him.

This is a long way from Maximus the Confessor’s presentation of cosmology, anthropology, soteriology, eschatology, finding harmony in a unified Christology. Maximus maintains that the creation reflects the glory of God and that humans can raise the degree of creation’s participation in this glory. As Lars Thunberg states, “His system of theology was in fact a spiritual vision of the cosmos, of human life within that cosmos, and therefore of the economy of salvation, the salvific interplay between the human and the divine.”[4] There is participation, interplay, a lifting up into participation in the divine. This participation contrasts with Rohr’s notion of univocity in which, “We all participate in the same being. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and thus reality is one too (Ephesians 4:3-5).”[5] The participation seems to be automatic and built in and is not simply analogous reflection and a participation to which one rises. No subtleties here. Which brings me to my point in illustrating the Cosmic Christ as a displacement of the Vitruvian Man.

My illustration of the Cosmic Christ as the true Vitruvian Man (in my previous blog), Jonathan pointed out to me, is riddled with problems (a discussion we take up with Matt in our upcoming podcast). The potential problems Jonathan had with my illustration are not so different from the problems I would have with some of Richard Rohr’s illustrations and conceptions. So, not so much in an effort to answer Jonathan’s objections or to save my illustration but to point to the issues at stake in how we comprehend the Cosmic Christ, I want to defend my argument for displacing the Vitruvian Man with Christ. I have no particular attachment to the illustration, but the very issues it raises pertain to a proper comprehension of the Cosmic Christ.

What Leonardo, or Vitruvius before him, were attempting (implicitly if unconsciously) in the Vitruvian Man, was to describe the coherence of things presumed in Christianity but they sought this coherence within an immanent frame (the human frame quite literally). The secularizing element (which would develop with the Enlightenment) was to arrive at an abstraction of man so as to translate this abstract ratio to both architecture and to the world. These ratios only work in the abstract, and the point is not in reference to any particular man, but to the ideal man. As Jonathan rightly points out, the Vitruvian Man in representing the dimensions of the human body as a microcosm is focused on the disincarnate mathematical dimensions of the body (e.g. a palm is four fingers, a foot is four palms, a cubit is six palms, four cubits make a man, a pace is four cubits, a man is 24 palms, etc.). My point in putting Christ in place of the Vitruvian Man is precisely to maintain the positive developments of the Renaissance and Enlightenment while avoiding the failures.

There is a sense in which all that was good and true (the coherence of the world and the human ability to follow its logic) and all that was wrong with the ideas which would blossom in the Enlightenment (anthropocentrism, chauvinism, the turn to mechanics, and ultimately secularism or the presumption of a self-grounding world) are represented in seed form in the Vitruvian Man. In displacing the Vitruvian Man with the Cosmic Christ there is an acknowledgement of coherence, a readability of the universe, without the singular focus on the model of mathematics and mechanics and without the chauvinism entailed in privileging a class of bodies (white, European, males). There is an appreciation for a recapturing of a classical focus on the senses (particularly sight) and the body without a desensitizing turn from the auditory revelation found in the historical Jesus.

It is telling that at points, Leonardo’s reading of the body onto the world sounds like Rohr or vice versa. In a notebook from 1492, Leonardo mused, “By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed, because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, his body resembles that of the earth.” The universals are within and the divine need play no role. Rohr simply extends the immanent frame so as to include the divine: “we can speak “with one voice” (univocity) of the being of waters, plants, animals, humans, angels, and God.” While this may seem to be an affirmation of the material it is the loss of the material world in the shared abstraction of being. The immanent presence of the divine within this univocal being is also constituted an empty abstraction. Rohr maintains, “Creation is the Body of God” and he wants to downplay the particular body of God found in Jesus. He holds that “Jesus” must vanish that “Christ” may come forth. Rohr’s Christ, dispossessed of Jesus, takes on the abstraction of all being which has no specific historical characteristics but which blends with all matter and bodies.  

There is an equilibrium contained in the name of Jesus combined with Christ in which the cosmic, preexistent, reality is made specific and accessible through the incarnate Jesus. The notion of a singular logic, the coherence of the universe, and its accessibility are implicit in Christ as Creator and Redeemer. But, as with Maximus, there is not a given metaphysical univocity of being, but a participation in the divine being through Christ that is not inherently available in the material universe. There is a specific necessity for the historical Jesus, the specifics of the shared body of Christ. It is not that Jesus affirms every story, every body, every form of material existence equally. It is the cruciform life of Jesus that is the point of access to the Cosmic Christ.


[1] Richard Rohr, https://cac.org/the-univocity-of-being-2015-05-27/.

[2] See Peter Leithart, “The Scotus Story” in January 19, 2015 Patheos.

[3] Rohr, Ibid.

[4] Thunberg, Lars. Man and the Cosmos: the Vision of St. Maximus the Confessor. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1985. p. 31. Quoted from https://orthochristian.com/96486.html

[5] Rohr, Ibid.

The Cosmic Christ

Vitruvian Man

 A fundamental teaching of the New Testament, largely lost to the Western tradition but preserved (if left undeveloped) in the East, is that the incarnate Christ is the goal, the structuring order, or the inner ground of creation. Partially recovered by St. Francis and Karl Barth is this deep grammar of Scripture that makes of the Bible a “strange new world,” in Barth’s phrase.  It is only in recognizing that incarnation is not the fall back plan (utilized due to the accident of sin) but creation’s purpose, which provides coherence to key biblical doctrines such as salvation, predestination, and redemption. It is not creation and Fall which give rise to the necessity of incarnation; rather creation, in Athanasius’ explanation, is an effect of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Where we imagine it is sin that necessitated the incarnation, failed humanity and its potential recovery become the ground of meaning feeding into every key theological concept.  For example, the doctrine of predestination becomes an abstract doctrine about who is in and who is out, rather than about God’s purpose in creation found in Christ. For Barth this decision of God before all time, to be who he is for humanity, is the basic truth on which all other Christian truths are built. In his reformulation of the doctrine it becomes central to who God is as the electing God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together make a choice that the Son of God will become the elected man, Jesus of Nazareth.

But maybe Barth has still not fully recovered the original sense of there being no time before this predestined purpose. That is, among the earliest Church fathers it is not simply the disincarnate Word but Jesus, the incarnate Christ, around which creation’s meaning flows. As John Behr notes, Athanasius “barely even mentions the birth of Jesus” as incarnation is already the principle behind creation.[1] Creations purpose is found in Jesus Christ (the God/Man) and this is the meaning of predestination (he is the predestined One), redemption (as cosmic completion), and the Church’s part in a continued incarnation.

Jesus Christ as the unfolding singular purpose of all things is what makes sense of such passages as Romans 9-11, which is not a depiction of arbitrary cruelty and reward, as if some pots are made for destruction and that’s all she wrote. Israel’s election or predestined purpose had always involved being narrowed down to the preeminent purpose of the Messiah, who would be “cast away” not simply for Israel or a few lucky souls but for the redemption of the world. Paul notes first, that “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32), and then ends on a note of universality (found also in both Colossians and Ephesians): “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (11:35). We know this due to the incarnate Christ who “is the summing up of all things . . . things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This is what and who has been predestined “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). There is no choice preceding this choice as this is an eternal fact about God. Jesus Christ is not a contingent reflection of God, dependent upon creation and Fall, but creation is an outworking of the love of God found in Christ. It pertains, as Paul describes it to the divine immanence (who God is in himself): “…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:9).

Salvation is not simply deliverance from sin but fulfillment of who God is in Christ for creation. Where Jesus is reduced to helping us get rid of sin, what gets lost are the purposes for all of creation fulfilled in Christ but also in the Church as a continuation of incarnation. Certainly, salvation is the overcoming of sin but the fullness of redemption is the completion of creation’s purpose. Paul has moved our understanding of God’s plan beyond the earth and the human race to its cosmic impact as part of the outworking of the love (the very essence) of God. The whole point of who God is and what God was doing is summed up in the incarnate Christ (1:10). 

The completion of creation in Christ accounts for all the movements of history. The incompleteness of creation in the incompleteness of the first Adam points to the unfolding nature of creation’s purpose in history. The completion of man by the creation of woman means creation is an open-ended process (it has not ended with Genesis 1) in which the whole inner basis of humankind (contained in the name Adam) is an ongoing realization. The Second Adam completes the emergence of the human capacity for image bearing and the second Adam and his bride conjoin the human and divine for eternity. Paul pictures it both as an accomplished fact (“through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Ro 5:18, NASB)) and an unfolding process (“through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Ro 5:19)). The Church as the bride of Christ certainly indicates cosmic predestination was always the unfolding telos summing up all things. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Here is the revealing of “the mystery of his will” (1:9).

While we might argue about what caused the division between the sensibility of East and West (was it Augustine’s notion that no physician would have been sent apart from the disease of sin, or Anselm’s singular focus on satisfying God’s honor in light of the dishonor of sin?), what is certain is Eastern thought and small remnants of Western sensibility were not focused on the forensic accomplishments of Christ but the fulfillment of cosmological purposes. What was preserved in the focus on the “primacy of Christ” or “Christocentrism” is the Pauline notion that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature” (Colossians 1:15) or the Johannine notion of Christ’s recommencement of creation. What might be considered the fundamental doctrine of the New Testament, or the glue which holds it all together, is operative in Franciscan theology (as pointed out at the popular level by Richard Rohr), recovered in part by Karl Barth, but maintained as a key part of Eastern Orthodoxy. For example, Maximus the Confessor (among several Eastern theologians), held that the incarnation would have taken place without a Fall. In Duns Scotus’s terms (a Scottish Franciscan Friar), the Incarnation takes place in light of God’s glory and not due to any sin committed prior to the Incarnation. As Ilia Delio describes Scotus’s understanding, “The Incarnation represents not a divine response to a human need for salvation but instead the divine intention from all eternity to raise human nature to the highest point of glory by uniting it with divine nature.”[2] God is perfect love and wills according to the perfection of that love. Since perfect love cannot will anything less than the perfection of love, Christ would have come in the highest glory in creation even if there was no sin and thus no need for redemption

 In this understanding, the constitution and meaning of the cosmos is summed up by the incarnate Christ, who redeems fallen humanity but who is primarily the completion of the cosmos. This pertains not only to the integration of things in heaven and earth but there is a clearer integration of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ if we see in Christ the completion of creation and not the means of escape. The Western focus on the forensics of the Cross tends to split not only heaven and earth but the person and work of Christ. We might speak of the primacy of Paul and the Cross in the West and a downgrading of the Sermon on the Mount, the life of Christ, and the resurrection, but of course, this is a misconstrual of Paul, in which key terms are abstracted from the person and work of Christ.

Among the early Church Fathers, Irenaeus insisted on the primacy of the incarnate Word, with salvation not restricted to redemption from sin but inclusive of a process by which all are led from “infancy” to a state of maturity and which, in his doctrine of recapitulation, includes the summing up of the entire cosmos in Christ as its head. With this understanding as background, key terms such as “justification” or “rectification” are cosmic in proportion – making things right for the cosmos in the apocalyptic act of God in Jesus Christ. Such terms as “faith” pertain to Christ not as object but as the ground of faith. Through the death and resurrection of this faithful one the powers which hold people in bondage are defeated as they take up the Cross. This pertains not so much to reduplication of faith but participation in faith’s origin. As Barth describes it we have a part in the faithfulness of God, established in us when we meet the Christ in Jesus. As John Paul II put it, “He (Christ) satisfied the Father’s eternal love, that fatherhood that from the beginning found expression in creating the world, giving man all the riches of Creation, and making him “little less than God,” in that he was created ‘in the image and after the likeness of God.’” Here our image takes on its proper likeness to the divine image, not because Christ satisfies the wrath of God but because he satisfies his love.

A stark illustration of the centrality of Christ is found in the mysterious history surrounding Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Ancient thinkers had long considered the circle as representative of the divine and the square as representative of the earthly.  Leonardo, with the spirit of his age assumed the divine proportion was contained within the dimensions of the human body (some think he is his own model for the picture). Christ as Vitruvian Man accomplishes the squaring of the circle (the principle Leonardo presumed was present in the perfect man). The ordering principle of the circle is fit to the square of the world in the notion that Christ is the center of meaning of the cosmos. In this reinterpretation of the renaissance ideal (seemingly already a secularized version of a Christian notion), creation is not anthropocentric it is Christocentric. Christ is redeemer but redemption is not simply being “saved from” but rather being made “whole for” God’s creation purposes found in Christ.



[1] John Behr, John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford University Press, 2019), vii.

[2] Delio, “Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ,” 9.

What is Eternal – God or Rewards and Punishment?

Multiple teachings of the Bible (e.g. the Temple as microcosm, image bearing, resurrection) pertain to the two-fold interdependence of humans and the world and humans and God. But what must be included in the mix is the overlapping of time or of the “ages” with eternity. The heavenly and its earthly entrance point are not distinct but are pictured as overlapping[1] and this is reflected in the Biblical words for time and eternity. There are a series of words in both Greek and Hebrew that often get translated as “eternal” and yet they are specifically references to time. The question arises if any stretch of time is an eternity? Or as David Konstan has posed the question, “If one speaks of the next life, or something that happens in the next life, as aiónios, does it mean simply the next era or eon, or does it carry the further implication of ‘eternal’?”[2] Is the next age either an eternity in hell or in heaven or does this way of putting it miss the intersection of time and eternity?

To pose the question in terms of the cosmology represented by the Jewish Temple, it is simultaneously a spatial and temporal microcosm in which a peculiar sort of temporal passage is represented spatially, but how can the two (the finite and infinite) be sorted out? It is not simply that the outer court is representative of the visible land and sea and the Holy Place representative of the visible heaven and the garden of God (the finite), but these realms are conjoined in the sabbath time with the Holy of Holies (the infinite or eternal). The picture is of the invisible heaven of God, and perhaps passage beyond time, somehow connected with the visible and finite. As the priest would pass into the Holy Place, he also made a temporal transition, as the garden motif in which it was decorated simultaneously pointed to the garden of Genesis and its future restoration (eternity once again intersecting time). If the Temple is taken as illustrative of an infinitely enduring state, creation (the garden, time, embodiment) will always be the meeting place between God and humans but it cannot itself be equated with the Holy of Holies or God’s eternality.

As the book of Timothy decisively states it, God “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:16). God’s immortality or eternality are not something that can be appropriated by humanity or invested statically in creation. Eternity, as a predicate of God (τοῦ αἰωνίου θεοῦ, Romans 16:26), like immortality, is of a different order which transcends time and is not simply unending time.[3] Other things might be derivatively eternal (according to TDNT – such things as divine possessions or gifts, the Covenant, or the Kingdom) but only God is intrinsically eternal. This would include rewards and punishments of God or the age in which they exist. God is the singular eternal causal source, so that to speak of eternal punishment and reward is simply to identify the source and not the duration.

As David Bentley Hart notes in the concluding postscript to his translation, aiōnios or aiónion (as found in Matt 25:46 describing future punishment) is drawn from αἰών (aiōn or aeon), might “mean a period of endless duration, but which more properly, throughout the whole of ancient and late antique Greek literature, means ‘an age,’ or ‘a long period of time of indeterminate duration, or even just ‘a substantial interval’.” The adjective aiōnios never clearly means “eternal” in an incontrovertible sense.

So, for example, it is not as the Revised Standard Version would have it, that some “shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Th 1:9, RSV). But as Hart translates it, they “will pay the just reparation of ruin in the Age, coming from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might.” The two renderings give two very different notions of the location of eternity and thus two very different ideas of its duration.[4] In the RSV the eternality occurs in an impossible category for the Bible, in its exclusion from God. It is not as Hart translates it “from the face of the Lord” but the RSV assigns eternality to what cannot be inherently eternal. This is why Hart can say, in That All Shall Be Saved, an eternal hell is “entirely absent from the Pauline corpus, as even the thinnest shadow of a hint” (p. 93). It seems to be an intrinsic impossibility. By the same token this gives us a very different picture of the coming Kingdom.

The age of the Kingdom is parallel to the age of punishment, not as an alternative end point, but as an alternative reception of that which emanates from God and resulting in a final Age or a consummate summation of all things, which I will take up in my next blog.


[1] In one of the first Biblical images of this overlap, the breath breathed in the breathing (living) Adam is repeated in the tree of breath (life). The tree is the mediating point of God’s life giving (eternal) presence (Genesis 2:8). Eve will “breathlessly” go “breathing after” (the image of her desire) the second tree which circulates only an immanent self-referential frame (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).

[2] Found on this internet forum https://forum.evangelicaluniversalist.com/t/terms-for-eternity-aionios-aidios-talk-part-2/1392#p27926 and referenced here https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/sometimes-eternity-aint-forever-aionios-and-the-universalist-hope/

[3] Sasse, H. (1964–). αἰών, αἰώνιος. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 208). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[4] This piece runs this down more – https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/02/05/apprehending-apokatastasis-what-the-bible-says-and-doesnt/?fbclid=IwAR1_okyxztphkhJxz1mqOeDPqw3b6o8qS84TPni6xhAj2j5f

The Power of Resurrection Knowing Demonstrated in its Defeat of Death Dealing Knowledge

From Genesis there unfolds the picture of two modes of knowing and two objects of knowledge. God was at the center of human understanding prior to the Fall, and with the Fall human language, in the knowledge of good and evil, simply referred to itself, serving to displace the role of God (as life-giver and as the center to the determination of ethics). The lie of the Fall is that knowledge of a certain kind holds out life and defeats death. Note the necessity of dialectic, difference, and the real-world alienation and murder this produces. The reality is that this sort of knowing is death dealing in its immediate experience and in the experience of those who take it up. The feeling of exposure and shame experienced by the first couple (the picture of what it feels like to die), the murder of the second son by the first, and the rise of a generation of psychopathic killers, can all be traced to a trade in knowledge. Here is the experience of entrusting oneself to human power and human language.

The question of how and what we know is not set aside in Scripture but is thematic and it is a theme taken up in the New Testament.  The Gnostic tendency, which the Gospel of John and several of the New Testament epistles address both directly and indirectly (in its proto or incipient form) seems to be a particular manifestation of how a certain form of human knowledge is interwoven with evil. Gnosis or knowledge as the direct experience of the absolute might seem harmless but it is associated in John with the anti-Christ. Knowing as an end in itself apparently cuts one off from the love and knowledge of Christ in a very similar manner to the way in which knowledge of God was traded for the knowledge of good and evil.

The modern psychological and philosophical experience of this failed knowing reduplicates the problem and might be described in the same manner. G. E. Lessing’s divide between the eternal truths of reason and the contingent truths of history seem to reduplicate the Platonic divide between the absolutely transcendent forms and the world of time and matter. But it also might describe the psychological divide between the law of the mind (static, unchanging, impossible) and the law of the body (subject to the contingencies of embodiment). The philosophical divide reduplicates the psychological predicament and this can be traced throughout human experience and philosophy. The tendency of failed human knowledge is to work one side of this divide against the other: the subjective or the objective, the immanent or the transcendent, the historical or the eternal, the social or the universal, the inductive or the deductive, ad infinitum. In the theological realm the historical Jesus is pitted against the eternal Christ, natural theology is detached from revelation, and personal piety is pitted against realism (as in Niebuhr’s political realism). This has resulted in a split Christianity, which in one form is focused primarily on going to heaven and in the other on the Social Gospel. In each instance, there is a discord between thought and practice or ultimately between God and the world.

Deism may simply describe the experiential reality of living in a secular world in which belief in God is not integrated into the realities of the everyday world. It is not simply cosmology and science that are free of the necessity of God but psychology, sociology, human sexuality, economics, and politics are presumed to be self-ordering arrangements. Christian belief often fails to engage the realities of the secular world as it is presumed the secular is an adequate ground in itself.  The cutting loose of the world from the constraints of God is not reversed by an intensity of belief or piety. That is, the evangelical, the theological liberal, the agnostic, or the atheist, seem to breathe the same air and experience this “freedom” as a sort of trauma. The angst, mental illness, violence, and sexual perversion of the age are of epidemic proportions inside and outside of churches. This form of freedom seems to generate new forms of enslavement and it is not clear yet that this same angst will not bind itself to the worst sort of political tyranny (in the name of freedom).

This divide, if we understand that it is of the same order as the problem addressed in Scripture, is simultaneously identified with evil (sin and death, violence and hostility) and is what Christ rescues us from. Paul pictures it as the “dividing wall of hostility” in which humanity is pitted against itself in an enslavement to the law of sin and death. The history of murder (Matthew 23:34-36), hostility among people, self-directed violence (Romans 7), and the ultimate evil of crucifying the son of God are all pictured as flowing from this same divided knowing. But the enmity which resulted in the death of Christ is also transfigured – “abolishing in His flesh the enmity . . . that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,  and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16, NASB).  The great mistake of a Christianity captured by modernity is to picture this abolished enmity, this new humanity, this defeat of death, as if it is occurring in a world that is still divided. That is Christian thought is often not cosmic or Christian enough in its proportion. Ephesians depicts the closure of the gap as occurring between heaven and earth and resulting in a restored cosmic order and a new form of humanity through which this restoration work is channeled.

At the same time, evil as arising from a divided humanity, a divided knowledge, a divided social order is exposed in the manner of Christ’s restoration work through an alternative community, a Temple community. The Jewish Temple was representative of the coming together of heaven and earth, and Christ as the true Temple accomplishes what the earthly tabernacle represented. The hope of Israel was that God, who had abandoned the Temple at the time of the Babylonian exile would come back. The post-exilic prophet Malachi said, ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’ (Mal 3:1). The story of creation culminates in Christ coming to the Temple (John 1, Ephesians) as the Temple always pictured this cosmic reconciliation, accomplished in the incarnation. The living God and the living human – Christ, and a new form of humanity constituting the body of Christ – the Church, bring together what was separate and give rise to a new form of knowing and a new way of being human (re-creation). Christ appearance in the Temple inaugurates the accomplishment of this final reconciliation and New Testament theology is predicated on the belief that this primary promise has come true in Christ.

Christ’s death and resurrection can be seen as achieving this reconciled knowing and being if it is understood that dividedness and death work hand in hand. Resurrection is where Christ takes control of the principalities and powers (1:21-22), as cultural and political powers are founded on hostility (antagonism, dividedness, and death). “Through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers” as they are now disempowered – denied the power of death and dividedness. True wisdom is not dependent on division as it is from and “in the heavenly places” (3:10). As in Romans 8 so in Ephesians, the inheritance is heaven and earth come together. Both depict something like the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:9: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Now there is the hope that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:18) as in Him is “the message of truth” which has been made manifest (1:13). This was realized when “He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (1:13). The resurrection power of Christ is now being shared, as one age is breaking into another as in the Temple community are those “raised up with Him and seated . . . with Him in the heavenly places” (2:6). Heaven and earth are bridged in the resurrection power of the body of Christ. Where resurrection power is put into place the power of death, the orientation to death, is undone and this constitutes a new order of knowing and a new sort of community.

Ephesians depicts this community as foundational and perhaps, counter-foundational, as this foundation takes precedence over world-historical foundationalism: it is “before the foundation of the world” (1:4). The mystery hidden since the foundation of the world has exposed the inadequacy of the immanent foundations constituting a world divided. The clash of foundations may be most evident in the common sense treatment of Christ’s resurrection. For conservatives the resurrection is a miracle disconnected from cosmic recreation and for liberals it is not to be taken literally and is inconsequential to the faith. But in the New Testament resurrection is the inauguration of cosmic redemption as it is a reversal of cosmic failure. God affirms the goodness of the created order, making it over, starting with the physical body of Jesus Himself.

Step one in appreciating the all-inclusive ramifications of both evil and its resolution in resurrection, is to recognize the peculiar social and cognitive working of evil, countered in resurrection community. Evil is corporate, social, cognitional, and thus we cannot think ourselves free of the world, the history, the culture, or the knowing that binds us where death reigns. As Bernard Lonergan has noted, common sense is not up to the task of thinking on the level of history as it is itself a product of a particular history. The surd nature of “common sense” is made evident in the continual irruption of war and violence in human history and in the story of decline of Western civilization and every civilization. Death reigns in multiple senses in this sort of knowing. God is not going to show up on the wings of human progress. Though it has brought an abundance of blessing, it has also given rise to holocausts, global destruction, and the possibility of omnicide (the obliteration of the human race). It is inherently dependent on violence and death. In gnostic thought, or maybe just human thought, this is no cause for abandoning the course upon which we are set, as escape through the possibility of total destruction, or death and dividedness, are the sole means to life. Christ, in addressing this culture and knowledge of death, sums up (in the depiction of Ephesians) all things.

There are many approaches to summing up the failure of human knowledge (psychology, religion, sociology, philosophy) but the summing up that frees from any particular historical moment is found in Christ: “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” as all things in a world divided are brought together (Eph. 1:10). The incapacity for any other mode of summing up (any alternative epistemology), gets at Paul’s holistic depiction of the new Temple community found in Christ. Knowledge of him is revelation and the foundation of an alternative wisdom and knowledge (1:17).  A new power has been unleashed as “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (2:1). The new Temple community, the Church, is a direct challenge to the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians, the temple culture and wisdom at the Areopagus, and the modern temple of secular knowledge. It is a challenge to every order, sacred and secular, derived from the immanent frame of dividedness.

Are Ultimate Evil and Ultimate Goodness in Confrontation in Alternative Christianities?

What precisely might it be that first century Christianity opposes in pagan religion or simply non-Christian religion? Given the multiple positive references to Greek and pagan thought in both Testaments, it is clearly not a wholesale rejection of human wisdom and religion per se. Religion was not itself a realm apart from everyday life such that one could separate it out and thus avoid it. To be a citizen, to go shopping in the market, to own a home, would necessarily overlap with the realm of the sacred. But two specific acts, participation in pagan sacrificial rites and in occupations of war and violence, were beyond the pale for the first Christians and seemed to demarcate the Christian faith from the surrounding world. Pagan sacrificial rites, as Bruce McClelland describes it, “exemplified quite unequivocally a resistance to the Christian message, if for no other reason than that Christ was presumed to be the ultimate and last sacrificial victim.”[1] Non-participation in the military and limited participation in the rites of Rome were, of course, not necessarily two separate realms.  Given René Girard’s interpretation of sacrificial religion as a process in which the realm of the sacred is created through violence (the sacrifice of the scapegoat covered over in myth), then the early Christian refusal of pagan sacrificial religion can be read as part and parcel of its overall rejection of violence.

By the same standard, contemporary nationalism and capitalism (the reigning “religious” ethos) may constitute the world of our everyday life but as with archaic religion, if violence is beyond the pale the Christian must recognize the line of demarcation. The difference in the modern period is that the violence of archaic religion has been demystified by Christ, which means the genesis of religious myth has ceased. However, a Christianity aligned with nationalism and materialism has separated itself from archaic violence only to engender an un-circumscribed violence. The scapegoating mechanism no longer functions but at the same time violence is no long regulated or delimited. Nationalism and capitalism, in their potential for global destruction are unprecedented and if left unchallenged, extinction of all life on the planet is not simply one possibility but the only possibility.  

As Girard has described it, only sacrificial religion “has been able to contain the conflicts that would have otherwise destroyed the first groups of humans.”[2] Christ has forever exposed the true nature of sacred violence but where Christians are not Christian enough(?), this exposure may simply unleash an unopposed violence.  If Christ is the final sacrifice, the exposure of the scapegoating mechanism, the alternative to sacred violence, then nationalism and capitalism too must be overtly resisted at their point of violent sacrifice and only a fully functioning form of the faith offers the necessary resistance. This is not merely a matter of personal piety or concern for the preservation of an untainted religion, rather it is the means of exposing the anti-Christ, defeating Satan, and redeeming the cosmos.

The mode of resistance, the unfolding subject of biblical revelation culminating in Christ, is not on the basis of violence but is found in a reorientation to even the presumption of violence. There are a group of “power words” deployed throughout Scripture which characterize the violence and sacrifice which Christ opposes and defeats. Knowing (as in the “knowledge of good and evil”), grasping (grasping the forbidden fruit or “taking hold” of Christ), being (“I am and there is no other”) describe the Fall and fallenness in terms of the deployment of power. The attempt to “stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life,” to become the grasper (Jacob) of the blessing, to make a name and storm the heavens through a grand tower, to grasp and seduce (Genesis 39:12), as with the slave granted forgiveness but who then “seized and began to choke his fellow slave,” all describe the attempt to grasp life or substance through violence. As Mathew describes it, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Mt 11:12).  It might be summed up in Jesus warning that he who would grasp life, he who would save his life, by that very act loses it.

 The nature of this power is exposed in the ultimate power grab: “Now he who was betraying Him had given them a signal, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him and lead Him away under guard.’ After coming, Judas immediately went to Him, saying, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. They laid hands on Him and seized Him” (Mark 14:44-46). The seizing, delivering, and handing over, encompass the ultimate sin, often laid at the feet of Judas. But Judas starts the chain reaction of “delivering” or “handing over” (παραδίδωμι contains both the gift, δίδωμι, and its destruction) in which he “hands over” Jesus to the Jews (Mark 14: 10), who in their turn “bound Him, and led Him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:2). The Jews picture their handing him over as a self-evident sign of guilt: “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18: 30; cf. also Mark 15: 1 and Matthew 27: 2). At the end of the trial Pilate will hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified.  John equates this handing over or delivering up with darkness, with Satan entering into Judas, and with the uncleanness that clings to the Apostles feet. Jesus is delivered over to the Gentiles or Romans through the Jews by means of an Apostle, such that every class of human is involved in this deliverance. Darkness, sin, death, uncleanness, and evil, are encompassed in the movement which delivers Jesus unto death.

Simultaneous with the grab for heaven is the inauguration of the mode in which the kingdom will be established through one “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). It is specifically not by violent grasping but by non-grasping nonviolence that Jesus is characterized and that he is to be imitated (imitation of Christ is the point in this passage). The will of Christ in his surrender is identified with the new law, inscribed on the heart through the final sacrifice (Heb. 10:14-18). The surrender of Christ as victim was not only identical with the law of the new covenant written on hearts; it came about also “by the power of the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:13ff.). The breathing out of the Spirit is specifically connected with the non-grasping, relinquishing mode of Jesus death. “And Jesus cried loudly, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit'” (Luke 23:46). Suffering is here understood unambiguously as surrendering and handing over the Spirit to the Father. The act of dying, the fulfillment of the mission, and the handing over of the Spirit to the Father come together in the singular event described by Hebrews as the sacrifice of Christ.  Jesus’ judges and his executioners wanted to punish a criminal, to grasp him and hand him over; he wanted to give himself, as the Last Supper sayings show, for the many.

Maximus the Confessor says that Christ on the cross altered the “use of death.” He means that death, which was brought by God after the fall into Eden as punishment, was transformed by the crucified one into a means of salvation from sin.  Maximus compared the scene of the garden of Eden and the cross, suggesting one is a grasping and one is a relinquishing. As Girard has described it, whoever in dying places himself in the hands of another renounces entirely any further self-determination and hands himself over to the treatment of this other. Every act of surrender made during a person’s life may have its limits, but at the moment of dying these limits can be broken down. Death is passage beyond an inexorable limit, beyond all previous limits. Jesus surrendered himself “by the power of the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and in imitating his death, in taking up his cross and dying, we too are entrusted in the Spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46). Death becomes the mode of surrender which endures sacrificial violence and overcomes it.

The ultimate destruction aimed at Christ is deflected through a direct confrontation with and exposure of violence. This is the sacrifice that reverses sacrificial violence – it sanctifies, it is the means of character change involved in inscribing the law on the heart, and it is an alternative mode of knowing written on the mind (Heb 10:14-18). As Graham Ward describes it, “Jesus’s life is the performance within which the salvation promised by God is made effective for all; just as the narration of Jesus’s life, work and teaching is the performance (re-enacted by each reader/listener) by which the salvation effected by God in Christ is made available to all.”[3] The Word made flesh is an alternative “representation” or a new mode of inscription. Where in violent sacrifice the flesh is transposed into a semiotic, a grasp for meaning, in the incarnate word flesh becomes the bearer of meaning. As we make the word flesh, taking up Jesus’ way of thinking and perceiving we enter a (metanoia – noeo – a knowing) mode which is not simply a moral category but an epistemological one in which the living word cannot be grasped or possessed or fully comprehended. There is no end of reading, no end of repeating the story as we take up this word which never accommodates grasping ownership.

Life cannot be had through our word, our knowledge, our grasping, our violence. We must give up on this grasping of life. Redemption means a (re)turn to the word of God but the way we get there pertains to our method. The Word must now be inscribed upon the heart and we must be enscribed in the word.  We must be entextualised and take up this word and walk. We must be animated by the narrative force of Christ which is precisely enacted in a non-violent relinquishing of life.

In summary, a “Christianity” wedded to nationalistic and materialistic violence is bound toward an apocalyptic destruction which can only be interrupted by a true form of the religion. It is the confrontation between this anti-Christ and Christ which Scripture depicts as the final confrontation between good and evil, a confrontation now unfolding in two forms of the faith.

(Register for the Module on Religion and Culture on Monday the 27th at https://pbi.forgingploughshares.org.)


[1] Bruce McClelland, Sacrifice and Early Christianity (Ph.D. Dissertation Chapter 5).

[2] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/08/on-war-and-apocalypse

[3] Graham Ward, Christ and Culture (Blackwell Publishing Ltd), p. 45.

The Problem of Religion and Nationalism

The innocent question, “Are you religious?” raised in the Japanese context will evoke an answer which hints at a history that has been repressed in the West.  Even if the subject being questioned happens to be praying at a Shinto shrine, the answer is most likely to be negative.  Praying and offering homage or worship indicating complete obedience to a national identity – does it seem strange?  (It will make no difference if the question is raised in Japanese and the word shukyo is used in place of “religion.”) The act of praying or making an offering at a shrine or of following the practices affiliated with being Japanese are specifically not “religious” but are simply the requirements of being Japanese.

To get at the ambiguity of the question, an ambiguity that is more normative for human history and culture than not, we can raise a similar question in a Western context. Ask someone who stands and sings the national anthem, “Are you religious?” Whatever their answer, the question would not seem to apply to the act of singing or even the act of pledging allegiance to the flag “under God.” They might reply that they are religious, but probably will be eager to explain that the scruples (the original meaning of religious) demanded by the civic faith of the land are not religious. There is only a slight difference between the function of national identity in Japan and the United States. In fact, it is precisely the U. S. and Great Britain that the Japanese had in mind when the Meiji elites began to set forth the understanding that makes up the modern Japanese sensibility. That is, the supposed division between national identity and religion is of recent vintage.

 For example, a pre-Christian Roman could not have conceived of separating his religion from his identity with Empire. They were one and the same. In the ancient world the phenomena we might call “religious” permeated daily life. There was no clearly demarcated realm which one might dub religious as the gods were everywhere and everything potentially religious. Even in modern Japan the gods reign over the kitchen, the toilet, the forest, and are in control of life and death to such a degree (even if only dimly acknowledged) that to build a house, buy a car, or raise a child, without following the required practices is, for most, just too dangerous.  The notion of religion as a realm apart arises only with the accompanying modern notion of the secular and Japan’s encounter with the West.

The role of Christianity in early modern Japan and ancient Rome seems to have created very similar predicaments for potential converts. Can one be a good Roman or a good Japanese if one does not adhere to the rites required by the state? Can a Christian bow to the emperor so as to acknowledge his supreme power? The original Christians answered this question decisively, acknowledging that certain rites required by Rome were forbidden by the Christian faith. A Christian could not acquiesce to Caesars claim to exclusive or final sovereignty. The faith demanded loyalty to one God and this particular God, unlike the multiplicity of gods, would not allow preeminent loyalty to the state. There would have been numerous occasions (feasts and festival days) on which loyalty to the gods would mark loyalty to the state. The Roman provinces were kept orderly by governors who were simultaneously public cult leaders. No one really cared about private cults so long as they remained private. Notions of personal belief or private faith were allowed but were accorded little importance in terms of true piety – which was synonymous with publicly honoring the traditions.  The strange Christian notion that they could not offer sacrifices, light incense, or perform other religious rites for the gods, would have been read as disloyalty to the state. One either pledges his allegiance or he does not and Caesar was not tolerant of insurrectionists

The resolution brought about through the Constantinian compromise, the rise of modernity and notions of the secular, is not to ban oaths, sacrifices, and rites, it is to declare what was formerly religion as religious no more. The positing of this secular space simultaneously posits a separate role for religion, which tended to copy Roman cult practices and organization.  It is not Japan which first converted religion into rites of state, it was the West. It was Western Christians who developed a full-blown notion of religion as a realm apart and the profane world of the political as in no way intersecting with the sacred. Constantine’s conversion, Augustine’s two cities, Descartes’ soul and body, are the signposts of the rise of a religious sensibility which no longer need interfere with civic duties – theoretically. (The tension between Church and state was never a settled proposition, as was clear to Japan’s elites.)

The contested nature of religion in Japan and the open debate of the Meiji government as to how best deploy what is and what is not religious, points to the manipulation of religion by cultural elites aiming to achieve parity with the West. Japan offers a unique hot house for an examination of the role of national identity and religion due to its relatively late development of national institutions. It was with the specific goal of warding off Western dominance, equated with Christianity, that Japan adapted Western institutions of state.  Japanese intended to take the Western form of state and fill it with Japanese substance. Great Britain had their monarch, who was also head of the national religion, so Japan would have her Emperor as head of a new State Shinto. But to call this form of Shinto “religious” would create problems with the West and with Japanese who had converted to Christianity. There was the need to isolate the imperial institution and its connection to religion so as to justify these institutions (particularly in the eyes of the West). There was the pressure of the United States to protect Japanese Christians and the recent discovery of hidden Christians around Nagasaki became the focus of the United States and thus the concern of the Japanese government.  

At the same time, the Western model posed the puzzle for Japanese as to how the nation-state could create loyalty in the midst of conflicts created by a fragmented religion. Freedom of religion and the maintenance of social order was not a finished process in the West and had not even been posed as a possibility in the East. When religionists perceived that the West was to be the model in early Meiji, Buddhists and Shintoists began vying and arguing for the top spot in the implicit state religion, like Christianity in the West. The leap to State Shinto, the religion transformed into a national polity, points to the reality Japanese perceived at the heart of the Western nation-state. The modern nation-state is religion by another name. (As Peter Berger came to recognize late in his career, the sacred canopy of nationalism functions as religion always functioned.)

 The hardening distinction between private piety and the need for public order, hammered out over centuries in the West, became overt political policy in Japan. The Meiji Constitution reflects the attempt to relegate religion to private belief and to posit the belief supporting the public realm as non-religious. The Imperial Constitution enshrined religious freedom (a freedom of private belief) while, according to Trent Maxey, it “sacralized and secularized the imperial institution.”[1] Maxey maintains the constitution “offered the avowedly religious the promise of freedom in proportion to their irrelevance to and undifferentiated treatment by the state.”[2]

What Japanese perceived in 19th century America is the abiding truth that conservative religion, stripped of its anarchic (anti-arche or over and against the principalities and powers) and independent impulses, serves the modern state. The notion of a Christianity independent of national identity did not present itself, even to Japanese who converted to Christianity.  Uchimura Kanzo, who became a Christian and studied at Amherst College, reaches the dilemma posed by his new faith. If being Christian was a constitutive part of being American and visa versa, then this necessarily stood juxtaposed to his Japanese identity. Loving Jesus stood opposed to loving Japan. In the end, Uchimura could not abide the Western Church due to its integration into Western national identity, and so he founds the No Church Movement.

This sad history of Christianity made subservient to the state is not simply a cultural problem or a problem of practice. Even the study of religion has been infected. The father of modern religious studies, Mircea Eliade, under the guise of saving religion from the encroachments of the secular, sums up this history in creating a place for religion which is absolutely transcendent and absolutely irrelevant. Religion rises above the mere social, economic, historical, or psychological to its own sui generis category. It is universal by way of being unalterable, irreducible and inconceivable. The sacred maintains it place only in its complete difference from the profane world which people actually inhabit. Eliade’s dalliance with fascism and anti-Semitism embodies the role for religion in the modern state. Even the formal study of religion in the modern university must lend itself to state servitude.

There is a Christianity that has not bowed its knee to the Baal of the age. By definition it is a militantly non-violent, anarchic, destabilizing, critic of Empire.  It is on this basis that the upcoming PBI module will undertake the study of religion and culture. World Culture and Religion is a study of religion which aims to demonstrate how Christ exposes and defeats the religio-cultural understanding as it exists in several of the world’s major religions and cultures, most especially Christianity and the United States, as well as how Christ redirects and completes this understanding. 

Sign up beginning on January 27th at PBI.


[1] I am following my nephew Trent Maxey’s excellent work, The “Greatest Problem”: Religion and State Formation in Meiji Japan. Harvard University Asia Center, 2014, and quoting here from p. 185.

[2] Ibid p. 184.

Have the Dark Ages Returned?

How is it that the United States is entering yet another war, a war which is arousing enthusiasm for Trump among his evangelical base? In the rhetoric of various evangelical leaders (as Franklin Graham has put it, Islam is “a very evil and wicked religion”), war seems to be part of a “necessary” clash of religions and civilizations? This seemingly medieval perception is, I would claim, precisely that – medieval in its theological/Roman Catholic roots. How is it that a medieval ideology has come to dominate evangelical religion and American politics?

The fusion of the Republican party with evangelical religion begun under Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Christian Coalition (with Pat Robertson designating Ralph Reed as its leader), the turn to partisan politics and the cry for cultural war begun by Newt Gingrich (a convert to Roman Catholicism), is the first phase in this two-part story. Gingrich’s name-calling, conspiracy theories, strategic obstructionism through government shut-downs, all in the name of bringing religion back into the public square, is certainly echoed in the Trump phenomenon.  But underlying the politics is the rise of a peculiar Catholic sensibility first expressed by George W. Bush.

Three days after the massive terrorist attacks of September 11, president Bush assured the nation that America’s duty was clear – not only to “answer these attacks” but also to “rid the world of evil.” Bush concluded his address by invoking St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:38-39) that nothing can divide us from the love of God. America set out on a holy war as Bush described it, “our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.” The “mission” was not merely to bring justice to the men and the groups that had attacked the country but also to “defend freedom” in a world where “freedom is under attack.” This battle for freedom would be “civilizations fight,” led by the United States. In this struggle, both military and metaphysical, “the outcome is certain,” since “freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.” In Bush’s picture we would win the fight against evil through violence, war, and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives. Bush began a crusade which would fuse state and church in the fight for Christian civilization and in his conception of this world struggle, it is precisely Catholic intellectuals to whom Bush would turn.

Damon Linker in his book, The Theocons, traces the key thinkers and shapers behind Bush doctrine and the fusion of right-wing politics and theology. Richard Neuhaus, founding editor of the right-wing Catholic journal First Things, proposed that the American experiment in self-government be reconceived in terms of a communal “covenant” under God. The political and theological implications may be most simply expressed in his understanding that “when he died and stood face-to- face with his creator, he expected to do so as an American.” He holds that the American experience is a “sacred enterprise.”

In Michael Novak’s view, Christianity, modern democracy, and modern capitalism arose from and continue to share “the same logic, the same moral principles, the same set of cultural values, institutions, and presuppositions. Markets don’t simply produce economic growth; they mirror the divine Trinity in the way they enable many diverse individuals to function as one in perfect harmony. For Novak, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guiding the market was quite simply the hand of God – and the rise and spread of democratic capitalism in the world is the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”

 William Kristol, the non-Catholic of the group, claims that modern conservatism should be based on a synthesis of religion, nationalism, and economic growth and that republicans should give up their resistance to the transformation of their party into an explicitly religious organization – all for the sake of banishing liberalism, the “enemy,” from American political life (all of this and the manner it came to shape Bush’s doctrine is set forth in Linker’s 2007 book).

Steve Bannon, perhaps the key thinker behind Donald Trump, believes the United States is a Christian nation, not just in the sense that an overwhelming majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians, but also in the sense that the country’s culture is Christian. This means our war with evil is a literal war against Islam: “We” in the West must affirm our Christian identity or we will be overrun by dangerous outsiders (Islamists) who will impose a different identity upon us. In a speech at the Vatican, he said, “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.” During broadcasts of the Breitbart News Daily radio show, he alleged that “Islamist sympathizers had infiltrated the U.S. government and news media.” In his dark vision he planned, according to The Washington Post, to make a three-part movie in which radical Muslims take over the United States and remake it into the “Islamic States of America.” According to Newsday, an article published in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Vatican-vetted journal, singled out Bannon as a “supporter of apocalyptic geopolitics,” the logic of which is “no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.”

Attorney General William Barr in a recent speech at Notre Dame, warned that Catholicism and other mainstream religions are the target of “organized destruction” by “secularists and their allies among progressives who have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia.” He insisted that “the traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” of the United States was under siege by “modern secularists” responsible for every sort of “social pathology,” including drug abuse, rising suicide rates and illegitimacy. The Guardian reports that C Colt Anderson, a Roman Catholic theologian has warned that Barr’s brand of radically conservative Catholicism is a “threat to American democracy.” He described the speech as a “dog whistle” to ultra-conservative Catholics. “The attorney general is taking positions that are essentially un-Democratic” because they demolish the wall between church and state, according to Anderson.[1]

As The Guardian notes, while the president enjoys the support of right-wing Christian evangelical leaders and their followers, he has also surrounded himself with conservative Roman Catholics like Barr and Patrick Cipollone, Trump’s White House counsel, both of whom served on the board of directors of a Washington-based organization staffed by priests from the secretive, ultra-orthodox Catholic sect Opus Dei. Ron Dreher is an example of why conservative Catholics are falling in line behind Trump: “As we religious conservatives think about how to vote in the election next fall, we should ponder the fact that under Donald Trump a man of William Barr’s convictions is heading up the Department of Justice. Thank God Bill Barr is there.”

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is not Catholic but a devout evangelical, his open discussion of Christianity and foreign policy (particularly pro-Israel and anti-Islamic leanings) have raised questions about the extent to which evangelical beliefs are directly influencing recent decisions. The New York Times reports, his was the loudest voice in the administration pushing President Trump to kill Iran’s most important general, Qasem Soleimani.

Perhaps the new middle age has commenced, just as Steve Bannon would have it:

“And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if … the people in the Church do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the Church Militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

The line being drawn between this present moment and the Middle Ages is seen by alt right thinkers as a positive strategy. A variety of Catholic journals and thinkers would counter the cry of “Allahu akbar” with “Deus vult” (“God wills it”) as the call to war against the imagined Islamic enemy. [2] If ever there were a moment for the peace of the Gospel to receive a hearing and to make a difference this would seem to be that moment.

When “Christians” take up the sword to secure themselves and their people they have joined themselves to the power of death, linked to the power of Satan. This means that they have retreated from doing the work of God’s Kingdom, founded on the power of resurrection and not the power of death. As Christians faced with a profound Medieval form of Christianity we must turn firmly away from the means and method of empire. We are not seeking power and security through tight borders, strong military, or the defeat of Islam in war. The danger is that in aligning with the powers and methods of empire, Christians have joined forces with the counter-Kingdom of the antiChrist.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/19/william-barr-attorney-general-catholic-conservative-speech

[2] For example, see the Imaginative Conservative, The American Conservative,

Book Club

It was Liam’s turn to host us and so several of us car-pooled to his old farm house east of town. Liam and his first wife had begun working on the extensions to the farmhouse more than thirty years previously and had laid the large plank walnut flooring and built the first extension. I am not sure if there is an extension for each wife but there are three additions and three former wives. Though Liam just turned 80, he calls it “the house of the future,” meaning it is not finished and he is hoping, I guess, for more wives.  We gathered in front of the fireplace behind the kitchen and we could hear each new arrival stomping snow off their boots in the mud room at the front of the house and then passing over the hardwood onto the block limestone. The beams protruding from the living room into the kitchen, the intricately carved buttresses, and a bed set into a cavern off the kitchen, reflected Liam’s gift for innovation and using whatever materials presented themselves.

As about eight of us gathered we settled into our usual rhythm as the warm glow of the fire, of special refreshments, of returning to the comfort of book club took hold. No one in particular initiates the conversation but it always clicks into place.

The group seems to have been working on this same book, Nonviolent Communication, forever. We prepare by reading a chapter and then discuss how to apply the principles but somehow, we never move forward. The point of the chapters is easy enough but the application and practice seem to elude us and we forget what we just read. Even when we remember we had covered a chapter, no one seems to be able to say exactly what the chapter had been about. Liam suggested we just continually read the book, and though we had not agreed, this seems to be our fate.

 Each Thursday evening, we gather and practice “focusing,” “observing without evaluating,” “identifying and expressing feelings,” and “taking responsibility for our feelings.” As each person talks, we concentrate intensely on “empathy,” “connecting compassionately with ourselves,” while at the same time “listening for the feelings and needs” behind what others are saying.  We slowly get lost as we attempt to keep all of these balls in the air; which is not to say that we do not enjoy the process – we do – but this past week we hit a peculiar turning point.

On this particular Thursday we were practicing using action language, as it is “positive action language” which will resolve conflict. One needs to pose present action language, such as “I’d like you to tell me if you’d be willing to . . .?” This sort of positive action language “helps foster a respectful discussion,” apparently. Then Irving raised a fundamental existential question: “What if they are not willing? In fact, what if the premise of this book is mistaken? What if people are not basically good and desiring peace?”

I am usually the one to raise the dark questions.  As Ricardo has put it, your answer for everything is, “It is systematic evil.” We were discussing the film, Three Identical Strangers, and he was wondering what particular conspiracy was at work behind separating the triplets, and I may have used that particular phrase.  In a burst of not “nonviolent communication” he let me know he was fed up. “‘It is systematic evil’ is not an explanation of anything,” he said in total exasperation. Clearly, he was not “connecting compassionately” nor “finding the need behind the words.” The hard truth of my dark turn of mind and his clear frustration were such a delightful combination that I nearly spit my street tacos on him laughing.   

At any rate, we were all stunned that Irving, of all people, had raised this fundamental existential question. Where I have always been suspicious that radical evil may describe the truth of the human race, it is people like Irving who immediately relieve the suspicion. Irving seems to be peace itself, not needing to practice nonviolent communication, as he seems to have been born with a basic compassion which inevitably sees the inherent goodness in people. People, who at one time would have been hard for me to tolerate, take on a different light seeing them through Irving’s perspective. Watching his appreciation for people had taught me to also appreciate them and I think we all had the same feeling. So, we sat momentarily silenced, as his statement took all of the energy out of the room.

 The entire working premise of the book and the group were built upon the notion that violence was primarily a matter of miscommunication. If we could only learn to communicate nonviolently then we could forego participation in the worst sort of evil. If we could learn to get behind our own and other’s anger and “see the need,” then we could escape the trap of violence. But there it was: what if violence goes deeper than a communicative difficulty and what if goodness is not to be presumed?

In case anyone had missed it, I spelled out the dark implication of Irving’s statement, my spiritual gift. If we cannot rely on the basic goodness of the human race then neither can we consider the premise of this book to be workable. If it is not goodness but evil that is the underlying motive of even a few people, then this book is bound to get us into trouble. The book accounts for all sorts of twistedness and presumes the truth is obscured by anger and the need for affirmation, but it is also presumed that the twistedness can be untwisted so as to arrive at a fundamental human goodness.  If this is not the case, and some are constituted in their twistedness. . . well then?

We absorbed the darkness of the moment – suspended in midair.

We abruptly turned from it, not for any specifiable reason. Maybe the warmth of the group, our communal labor premised upon a basic goodness – that light has shown in the darkness – had produced its own self-evident goodness. Either option, darkness or light, had seemed momentarily plausible.

Liam went to his cabinet and retrieved what he called his “malaria remedy” and it did seem to calm the fever. Anna Rose turned to the section on “emergency empathy” and read aloud, “Are you feeling reassured about that, or would you like more reassurance . . .?” The conversation continued with “all needs heard” and “empathy shared” on the presumption that the universe is good.

That final evening before our Christmas break we all knew something special had transpired. Irving’s mother was visiting and we all felt we now knew where his expansive generosity came from. She requested that we pray, something we had never done in book club, and yet it could not have been otherwise. We formed a circle in the kitchen and held hands and knew:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

(Names have been changed and some events rearranged.)

Mutually Assured Destruction Is Not the Answer but the Problem Exposed by Christ

The Old Testament prophets and Psalms echo the refrain, “How long God,” and then join this to a wide-ranging summation of evils as in, “how long must we suffer injustice, violence, and oppression. How long before you rescue us – will it be forever” (e.g. Psalm 13:1-2)? The darkness is accentuated with the coming birth of the Messiah. A world census in which a megalomaniac rules, sends Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. After Jesus’ birth, Herod murders all the babies of Bethlehem to wipe out the competition. And it only gets worse from there. The darkness is not banished but seems to deepen as the light grows in intensity. This is not a process completed in the New Testament but the battle continues in the Church so that there is an ever-heightened confrontation being worked out historically. The dark night prior to the coming of the light, characterizing advent, calls for describing the full depth of darkness Christ confronted and which he continues to confront in the Church. The presumption is that the battle continues as does the depth that revelation penetrates and the apprehension of the darkness it dispels and the nature of God revealed. There is an exposure, not simply of the genesis of subjective evil, but the anatomy of the madness that grips the world and the presumption is that the madness of the former is of the same order as that of the latter. The presumption of gaining peace through violence, of avoiding death by killing, of throwing off suffering by inflicting it, might describe the work of a mad individual or a world gone mad.   

To make the point that a similar form of madness is at work at every level, I will use as an example the ultimate madness – M(utually) A(ssured) D(estruction) of nuclear war. Two years ago, in December 2017, Daniel Ellsberg published The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, depicting his work as a war strategist for the Pentagon in the early 1960s. At the same time as he copied the Pentagon Papers (detailing the Johnson administration’s lies about the Vietnam War), Ellsberg also copied nuclear war plans which he also intended to release to the public (but which were lost). Ellsberg describes U. S. plans for nuclear attack that can be triggered inadvertently (which has nearly occurred over a hundred times in Noam Chomsky’s count), or by intention, which would lead to a nuclear holocaust which would wipe out at least a third of all human life and potentially all life on the planet.

At one point Ellsberg came upon a document which read, “Top Secret- Sensitive” and marked “For the President’s Eyes Only.” The document posed the question to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to how many people would be killed in the Soviet Union and China in a nuclear first strike by the United States. The answer was in the form of a graph, in which the vertical axis showed the number of deaths in the millions while the horizontal axis showed the amount of time in months. It was estimated that at least 275 million people would die instantaneously, while after six months the number would rise to 325 million deaths. The Pentagon calculated another 100 million deaths in the Warsaw Pact countries and potentially another 100 million dead in Western Europe, “depending on which way the wind blew.” The total casualties of a nuclear U. S. first strike would be at least 600 million dead, “a hundred holocausts” by the Pentagon’s estimate.

Ellsberg writes, “I remember what I thought when I first held the single sheet with the graph on it. I thought, This piece of paper should not exist. It should never have existed. Not in America. Not anywhere, ever. It depicted evil beyond any human project ever. There should be nothing on earth, nothing real, that it referred to.” Ellsberg has described it as an incomprehensible evil; a form of madness and destruction so large in scale as to be beyond the scope of understanding. Yet, the basic plans are the same today as those Ellsberg saw in the 1960s.

The basic strategy is for a “first strike” which would eliminate enemy cities and targets before U. S. targets are struck. To ensure that there is the possibility of retaliation, even after missing the opportunity for first strike, a series of individuals have access to the “button” should the chain of command be unresponsive or eliminated. This “dead hand” approach means that multiple individuals, and not the one finger of the president, have the potential to start or finish a nuclear war. The probability, according to Ellsberg, is that the same system is in place in Russia and China and other nuclear-armed powers. There are any number of individuals (Chomsky estimates 1 thousand) that might push the button should they perceive the chain of command above them to have been incapacitated. This means there is ample opportunity for mistakes or false alarms which could lead to unintended world destruction.

Ellsberg warns that the threat of nuclear holocaust has only increased since the end of the Cold War, partly due to a decreased public awareness of the danger and partly because of the continued “use” of nuclear weapons as a threat in negotiations. The “fire and fury” of Trump, in this sense, is not an aberration but the culmination of a “mad” logic in which ones negotiating partners will be more easily coerced if they consider the finger on the button to be unpredictable. Trump, purposely or not, embodies the “madman theory” pioneered by President Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. As in any robbery of a store with a gun, the victims must believe the gun is a real threat and the one holding it must appear crazy enough to pull the trigger. The crazier he appears the greater the perceived threat and the more effective the deadly weapon.

According to Ellsberg, during the Korean War both Truman and then Eisenhower threatened to drop nukes in order to get the Chinese to negotiate. He lists more than 25 such incidents of nuclear threats by U. S. presidents, during the Cold War alone. The following exchange between Nixon and Kissinger is from an Oval Office conversation (recorded on Nixon’s secret taping system) regarding a North Vietnamese offensive from April 25, 1972: Nixon: “I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?” Kissinger: “About two hundred thousand people.” Nixon: “No, no, no … I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?” Kissinger: “That, I think would just be too much.” Nixon: “The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ sakes.”

Both Presidents Bush and Obama threatened nuclear war on Iran on several occasions. A near requirement for running for the Oval Office, whether Republican or Democrat, is a demonstrated willingness to resort to nuclear weapons. It is a sort of litmus test of ruthlessness to qualify for the Office. Trump’s tweets are just a more shrill and public version of what has been required of every American president and presidential hopeful in the nuclear age. Only potential “mad men” need apply. One must be willing to consider not simply homicide or genocide but omnicide – the destruction of the human species.

Given the logic that peace requires absolute violence, that life requires the weapon of death, the reversal of this logic by Christ can be understood to be salvific on multiple levels. The logic of mutually assured destruction is the logic that is always at work in tribal and national wars and rightly understood it is the logic at work within the individual. Death as the means to life, describes religions based on human sacrifice, societies organized by scapegoating the outsider, religion that pictures death as a doorway, or it might describe the masochistic individual bent on self-destruction which is aimed at ridding himself of his self-destructive tendencies. This death drive is that which Christ exposed in his life, death and resurrection. His formula for undoing this logic is world transforming because it reverses the logic of the world. “He would save his life will lose it.” This is because this mode of salvation is life destroying. Whether it is the accumulation of security through wealth, through religious righteousness, through chariots and horses, or through sacrificial manipulation of the gods, life is destroyed by human salvation systems. People are violent idol makers, hostile toward God and uncomprehending, according to Paul. In their incomprehension they would destroy themselves and the world.

The revelation of Christ witnessed to in Scripture is not about God’s anger being appeased or satisfied. It is about the human predicament, the exposure of the destructive nature of this logic, and the positing of life on a different principle. Christ comes to resolve the problem but also to give a surprising diagnosis to the problem. Humans are the problem and even the human solutions to the problem are the problem. He who would save himself is in the process destroying himself, and unless he gives up on this mode of saving his life, he destroys it. This obviously includes wars to destroy evil which multiply evil, religion to appease the gods which sacrifice to the gods (including notions of penal substitution), and scapegoating the neighbor in an effort to isolate and destroy the problem. If the problem is us then the solution will also be within us in the most minute and the most global way. Individual sickness, social disease, national disease, world disease, all consist of the same human problem and require the same cure. The incarnation is required because the sickness is within the human condition, as is its cure. Christ gives us a diagnosis of the problem that says we are the problem and he offers a cure that is focused on the nature of sin and the duplicitous and violent nature of the human heart but also on the global scale of the problem.

In a strange way Penal Substitution is a theory of mutually assured destruction in which God is not only on the cross but with his enemies at the foot of the cross carrying out the crucifixion. God was angry, but the destruction of Christ means now he is not. God is now enabled to forgive and love through the violence and death of Christ. This seems to take the logic of sin and apply it to God. In this deplorable theory, the primary message is that the violence and evil that would destroy the world has its ontological ground in God. In turn, the apocalyptic destruction of the world is presumed to be precisely the work of God, rather than as Scripture portrays it, as the culminating work of humans.

If the Gospel message is as we see it preached in Acts and in a summation of that Gospel in the epistles, there is no notion of the cross saving from hell or saving from God. We are saved from sin, death, and the devil and from the principalities and powers that would destroy everything. God is not like Caiaphas in need of a scapegoat, requiring one man to die to save the nation.  God is not like Pilate, Anselm, Luther and Calvin, requiring an execution to satisfy justice. God does not follow human logic which is bent on violence and world destruction to save.

The perspective of the New Testament does not brush aside human suffering, violence, and evil, but presumes this is the problem creating the painful wait of Advent. Advent tells us what to expect with the coming of the Messiah. Christ is expected to expose and solve the problem of evil and we are part of the solution. Christ will defeat sin, death and the devil and rescue from mutually assured destruction, but this is the prolonged work which continues after Easter. The messianic salvation breaks into the midst of this madness, not to resolve it from above, but to cure it from within in the unfolding of healing sanity through the continued incarnate work of the Church.

Waiting for Godot or the Wait of Advent

Being human means being consigned to waiting. The waiting may be on the order of waiting for Godot – a compounded futility and frustration. The two main characters in the play, Vladimir and Estragon, are in pain. One is suffering physically and the other is suffering mentally and in both acts they take steps to try to hang themselves.  Waiting is simply what they are occupied with. It does not seem that Godot will provide relief and it is doubtful he will even show up. In fact, it is not clear that he even exists and if he does exist, given the evidence of his purported ill treatment of the boy messenger, he does not seem to be particularly kind or even worth waiting for. This purported “keeper of sheep and goats” has left his characters hanging. Their literal discussion of the act (of hanging themselves) and the existential circumstance both indicate the need for some sort of closure or relief, but they wait as this seems to be their lot.

Vladimir, the more philosophically inclined, insists they wait but it is a burden accentuated by Estragon’s aching feet and Vladimir’s enlarged prostate. The suffering is slightly relieved by conversation, an incomplete joke (Vladimir cannot complete the joke due to the constant need to urinate), and the capacity to sleep. But as Job lamented and as Estragon experiences it, even sleep produces nightmares and Vladimir refuses to listen to Estragon’s dreams – so sleep is only isolated suffering.  A pair of visitors accentuate the futility and unfairness. Their visit offers promise one might forego the mental agony of waiting, or so it is implied in the incapacity for thought of the two visitors (Lucky, the slave and Pozzo, his master), but this slave/master circumstance is even more immediately oppressive than aching feet or mental anguish. Things are not right and this oppressiveness points beyond itself to waiting for something better. The play illustrates the human predicament needing resolution and reducing everyone to waiting.

George Carlin describes a dog’s life as waiting for something to happen – the eager tail wagging, the longing looks, is all pure anticipation. But what awaits humans is not a ride in the car. The temporal condition, a unique human understanding, means that there are only so many acts in any life, so we wait for life to play out and somehow resolve itself. The angst driven aspect of the waiting is accentuated by the incapacity to grasp the nature of the long-anticipated arrival. There is an ambiguity as to the identity of Godot, perfectly fitting in describing the marked absence contained in human anticipation and angst. The ambiguity is angst ridden – is it death, God, rescue, final destruction, or simply an unfillable absence longing for final presence? To name it may be to misname it and to miss the all-inclusive life absorbing nature of the wait. Freud’s death drive, Lacan’s real, or Kierkegaard’s angst, is all encompassing in that it cannot be specified.

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, is a time marked by expectant waiting of a different kind. It is the expectation of the birth of Christ, reimagined and infused with hope of the Parousia, so that “God with us” identifies the nature of the absence. The waiting is not over at Christmas or Easter but now waiting is an ongoing order of expectation in which the genealogy of suffering, oppression, and death, are exposed. The angst is identified and pinpointed in the peculiar absence portrayed in the Gospels. God is present in the worst sort of suffering and advent is a training in a reoriented waiting.  

The medieval Catholic Church, in its pursuit of glory “now” (in Luther’s estimate) missed God in the suffering of the cross. Wealth and power mark it, or any church, indicating the refusal of advent – the refusal to wait. The theologians of glory have turned to the noise machines (Deus ex Machina) of the cathedral and mall like structures, the glittering gold of wealth, and the empty promise of power. Instead of waiting upon the Christ in humble places – the manger and the cross – they would seek him out in the Palace. A “theology of the cross” (Luther’s phrase) turns from glory (the big, the loud, and the noisy) to the humble and the unnoticed. Advent is a period of learning to live the principle of the manger and cross which address the human condition from within.

Advent affirms the human perspective – the place of lamentation and waiting for things to be made right. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Waiting in suffering lament is the recurrent theme of the Hebrew Bible, from Psalms, to Isaiah, to Habakkuk. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence! and you will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2).  The perspective is not one that would brush aside human suffering, violence, and evil, but presumes this is precisely the problem creating the painful wait. The messianic salvation breaks into the midst of this suffering, not to resolve it from above, but to cure it from within.

The verdict that Christ must die due to God’s wrath and not because people would kill him, overlooks the lament inherent in advent. There is no lament and waiting in Penal substitution and no real engagement with the human perspective. God and the persecutors are on the same side in justifying the death of Christ as his death resolves a heavenly need and does not address an earthly absence. God and his followers are now at the foot of the cross reveling in the final (in)justice. The dying is an objective legal necessity and the perspective is divine rather than human (divine anger diverted).  The books are cleared “now” and the blessings can flow, and there is no waiting for justification. There is no advent.

Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes on the cross, depicts the worlds injustices: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). The Psalm describes the crucifixion scene: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” (22:7-8). Yet in the midst of this suffering, and this seems to be Jesus point in quoting the Psalm, there is hope. It is not simply the futile waiting for Godot but prayerful complaint brought before God, the very form of which presumes “he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (22:24).

 Christ is not departing from Hebrew advent but is completing it. His cry from the cross partakes of a biblical theme: waiting upon God to act to remedy the world’s injustices. His quotation of the Psalm simultaneously enacts and fulfills the hope at the end of the prayer. God has already acted and is acting as Christ quotes it. This Scripture is now being fulfilled: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! (22:26). “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (22:30-31). He has done it, he is doing it, and he will do it, but who can see it? Only those who wait. It is a process that requires waiting.

Waiting in the fields are the humble shepherds. The stargazers have patiently plotted a path of star light. A few fishermen recognize God is acting in a small way through a child, a carpenter, a roving teacher. Here is a man the world would overlook: “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Math. 12:19-20). It was not those at the center of power, important Pharisees, powerful kings, or experts in the law, who have the patient perspective to wait and in waiting to recognize the Christ.

At the end of Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon once again encounter Lucky and Pozzo beneath the tree where they are waiting, but this time Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb and Pozzo has no memory of having met the men the night before. The suspicion dawns that Pozzo and Lucky are the alter-egos of Vladimir and Estragon and that their waiting is interminable as they are incapable of knowing if Godot has arrived or already come and gone. The two men once again assure one another they will hang themselves tomorrow should Godot not show.

We are all made to wait but the choice is an insufferable waiting or the hopeful waiting of advent.