Zen Versus Jesus

Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think. —Hannah Arendt

Philosophy may safely be left with intellectual minds. Zen wants to act, and the most effective act, once the mind is made up, is to go on without looking backward. In this respect, Zen is indeed the religion of the samurai warrior. —D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture[1]

The humble appreciation that God is working through all peoples, cultures and religions does not mean relinquishing the critical faculty of thought. While it is true the Christian can learn about Christ more completely through encounter with other cultures and religions (this is the very point of mission), it is also true that this humility still calls for a fulness of understanding. It was not uncommon in my experience to encounter in Japan (having spent more than twenty years there), the westerner (or even the western missionary) infatuated with all things Japanese, particularly Zen Buddhism, but what these connoisseurs of all things Japanese usually failed to understand was the xenophobic nationalism often attached to Japanese religion and identity. This in no way cancels out some of the insights to be gained in Zen but it also severely qualifies those insights should one be willing to critically examine the religion, yet the uncritical acceptance of the authority of the Zen master and Zen teaching (particularly about the critical faculty) is the ground for Zen practice.

It is not just that wholesale acceptance of Zen practice entails acceptance of a diagnosis of the human predicament and its solution based on a worldview very much counter to an orthodox Christian understanding, but this practice has been involved from its inception in Japanese militarism, colonialism, and ultimately war crimes (which Japanese Buddhist and Zen authorities have acknowledged and for which they have apologized). As Brian Victoria notes, “The fact is that Zen leaders who supported Japanese militarism did so on the grounds that Japanese aggression expressed the very essence of the Buddha Dharma and even enlightenment itself. Thus, until and unless their assumptions are closely examined and challenged, there is no guarantee that Zen’s future, whether in the East or West, will not once again include support for the mass destruction of human life that is modern warfare.”[2]

Far from Zen being only peaceful it is directly connected to Bushido (the Way of the Warrior) and Bushido and Zen are thoroughly enmeshed in “the essence of Japan.” In the description of Nitobe Inazō, in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Bushido and Zen are integral to one another: “I may begin with Buddhism. It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, ‘Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching.’”[3] Nitobe, a Christian, describes Zen as awakening one “to a new Heaven and a new Earth.”[4]

Victoria details the key instances when Zen was used to mobilize the country to war. The Chief Abbot of Eiheiji, Sōtō Zen master Hata Eshō (1862–1944) wrote on behalf of the “national spiritual mobilization” the following:

Buddha Shakyamuni, during his religious practice in a former life, participated in a just war. Due to the  merit he acquired as a result, he was able to appear in this world as a Buddha. Thus, it can be said that a just war is one task of Buddhism. Likewise, achieving the capitulation of the enemy country may also be counted as the religious practice of a Buddhist…. I believe the brilliant fruits of battle that have been achieved to date are the result of the power of the people’s religious faith [in Buddhism].[5]

Two Zen scholars, both affiliated with the Sōtō Zen sect, put forth a doctrinal understanding of the relationship between Buddhism and war which enabled institutional Buddhism to directly support Japan’s war effort:

In order to establish eternal peace in East Asia, arousing the great benevolence and compassion of Buddhism, we are sometimes accepting and sometimes forceful. We now have no choice but to exercise the benevolent forcefulness of “killing one in order that many may live” (issatsu tashō). This is something which Mahayana Buddhism approves of only with the greatest of seriousness…. We believe it is time to effect a major change in the course of human history, which has been centered on Caucasians and inequality among humanity. To realize the true happiness of a peaceful humanity and construct a new civilization, it is necessary to redirect the path of world history’s advance from this false path to the true path. Rooted in this sublime view of history, the mission and responsibility of Mahayana Buddhists is to bring into being true friendship between Japan and China.[6]

Zen and Buddhism in general were utilized to mobilize Japan’s invasion and colonial domination of China and much of east Asia. In this mobilization Zen teachers appealed to a long history in which Zen supported warfare and it was common in the process to claim as Furukawa Taigo did, that Japan was not simply the most advanced Buddhist country but the “only Buddhist country.” Thus a means of spreading Buddhism most directly was through colonization, since all of Japan’s neighbors were lacking in true Buddhism. Japan is “presently using the sword in Manchuria to build a second divine country [after Japan], just as it would go on to do in China and India.” Furukawa appealed to all of his fellow believers: “All Buddhists in the country! Resolutely arise and participate in this rarest of holy enterprises. What difference does it make what the League of Nations does? Just who do England and the United States think they are anyway? The arrow has already left the bow. Do not hesitate in the least. A firm will makes even demons run away. The only thing is to push on resolutely.”[7]

Nonetheless Japanese Zen Buddhism is often perceived to be nothing more than a peaceful set of practices through which one can attain an enlightened understanding bringing about harmony and healing.[8] It is not unusual for western Christians to believe that Zen (which accords with both claims of Zen Priests and also Shintoists, who will also claim the same thing about Shinto) is so lacking in doctrine that it can be melded without disturbance with Christian faith. The focus on practice, of course, is not unique to Zen but is the way most religions (outside of the Christian west) are perceived by their practitioners but the mistake would be to imagine that practice does not entail an implicit or explicit worldview. As Bernie Glassman writes, “So if your definition of enlightenment is that there’s no antiSemitism in the state of enlightenment. If your definition of enlightenment is that there’s no nationalism, or militarism, or bigotry in the state of enlightenment, you better change your definition of enlightenment.”[9]  

The Zen practitioner begins with acceptance of “Buddhist” understandings of “enlightenment,” based on the authority of the Buddha (to even use terms like “Buddhist” and “Buddha” is already to have taken a modern stance in regard to the religion which will tend to cover the explicitly polytheistic world assumed by the Buddha).[10] Belief in Buddhist “enlightenment” entails belief in the authority of the Buddha who claimed:

Nobody is my teacher. Nobody is comparable to me. I am the only perfect buddha in the world. I have attained supreme enlightenment. I am conqueror over all. I know everything. I am not contaminated by anything at all… I have all the powers of the omniscient. I am an arhat (someone who has attained the goal of enlightenment) in the world. I am unrivaled in all realms, including those of the gods. I am the victor who conquered Mara.[11]

Being a practitioner at a minimum means taking the Buddha at his word: “Accept what I did not explain as ‘unexplained.’ Accept what I did explain as ‘explained.’”[12] Enlightenment begins by holding to the authority of Sakyamuni’s words; thus, one must rid themselves of metaphysical speculation or any subject the Buddha did not explain. This   subjugation to the authority of the Buddha will be utilized by the Japanese State in its creation of imperial-way Buddhism which translated subjugation of the Buddha into unquestioning subjugation to the Japanese Sovereign.[13]

Setting aside for the moment the fact that the New Testament claims Christ is the light that enlightens all men (John 1:9), one might wonder if the Buddha’s absolute claims are warranted? Buddha spoke these words to Upagu, who if he had caught the vision could have been Sakyamuni Buddha’s first disciple, but Upagu thought the man was a megalomaniac. Richard Cohen raises the possibility of two responses: “Would you have recognized the man as enlightened? Would you have discerned a spirit of universal peace, beyond politics, in words that valorize hierarchy, celebrate raw power, and speak well of battle?” Or would you be “puzzled that anybody would answer these questions in the affirmative. . ..”[14]

Sakyamuni’s claim is beyond the political or the religious as he alone dominates the world, and the claim is that his domination opens the way to full enlightenment. The question, particularly as it works out in the Japanese context, is whether the supposedly apolitical and areligious nature of Japanese Buddhism is simply a means for demanding its universal acceptance. As Victoria notes, “The ‘selflessness’ of Zen meant absolute and unquestioning submission to the will and dictates of the emperor. And the purpose of religion was to preserve the state and punish any country or person who dared interfere with its right of self-aggrandizement.”[15]

Zen has largely been received in the west from writings and evangelism of D. T. Suzuki, who is revered as the “true man of Zen,” yet Suzuki wrote that “religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state.” Suzuki was thinking of the state’s invasion of the Chinese mainland and used Zen as a motivating factor as, “the Chinese were ‘unruly heathens’ whom Japan should punish ‘in the name of religion.’”[16] The oft quoted (in both east and west) Zen master Harada Sōgaku wrote, “[If ordered to] march: tramp, tramp, or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest Wisdom [of Enlightenment]. The unity of Zen and war of which I speak extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war [now under way].”[17] The uncritical seeker after enlightenment must shoot and bang away, not pausing to consider the morality of what he is doing or the strange exclusiveness and inevitable “uniqueness” of the Japanese faith.

Japanese Buddhist practitioners, who are not alone in the pantheon of buddhisms claiming uniqueness throughout Asia, claim to be the one and only true purveyors of Buddhism. Fukuda Gyōei notes “that it was in Japan where “pure Mahayana [Buddhism]” was to be found. According to him, this is because Saichō (767–822), the eighth-century founder of the Tendai sect in Japan taught that “all Japanese had the disposition of bodhisattvas.” As bodhisattvas they were both “treasures and benefactors of the nation.” According to Gyōei, Buddhism in Japan was not Indian or Chinese Buddhism transplanted. The Tendai sect had been established “based on a deep understanding of the Japanese national character . . . as a religion to pacify and preserve the nation,” and this was made possible by the “gracious wish” of successive Japanese emperors.[18]

Dr. Shiio Benkyō (1876– 1971), a Jōdo sect priest who later became president of Taishō University declared that the Buddhism left in India and China is a failure and only in Japan is it “possible to draw near to a Buddhism like that of the time when Buddha Shakyamuni was alive.”[19] Benkyo explains, “Buddhism in India collapsed due to [the nature of] Indian culture. Buddhism in China collapsed because it ran directly contrary to the history and nature of the Chinese state, and was therefore only able to produce a few mountain temples. On the other hand, thanks to the rich cultivation Japanese Buddhism received on Japanese soil, it gradually developed into that which the Buddhist teaching was aiming toward.”[20] Japanese Buddhism is the only authentic Buddhist teaching, precisely because it has grown up in Japanese soil and has been shepherded by the Emperor: “The priceless customs and manners of our country are the fundamental reasons for this occurrence. These customs and manners are to be found throughout the land, but their heart lies with the emperor and the imperial household, through whose efforts they have been guided and fostered.”[21]

Thus all Japanese Buddhism is called “imperial-way Buddhism.” Since the emperor embodies the state, and Buddhism and the state are one, then the emperor and Buddhism are one.

In looking at the past we see that imperial edicts from successive emperors taught us the proper way to make offerings of even a single flower [to the Buddha], or offer even one stick of incense, or read the sutras with the correct pronunciation, or worship in the Buddha Hall. The power to select and protect each of the sects, to determine each and every temple observance—all have their roots in imperial edicts. Japanese Buddhism acts on the basis of imperial edicts. This is what distinguishes it from the Buddhism of foreign countries.[22]

In turn the practice of Buddhism entails a reverence for the edicts of the successive emperors “To venerate the Three Treasures [of Buddhism] means to revere imperial edicts without question.”[23] Japanese Buddhism is melded with Japanese imperialism, xenophobia, and nationalism.

Cohen claims Buddhist enlightenment is on the order of the “Enlightenment” of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe which “provides the political context for understanding Buddhist enlightenment as the simultaneous, coequal, perfection of rationality, religiosity, morality, and humanity, beyond politics.”[24] Just as western enlightenment is the occasion for marking other peoples and times as part of the darkness (to be set aside or forcibly enlightened), so too in Japan, Buddhist enlightenment is beyond questioning and the politic connected to this enlightenment, associated as it is with the Japanese Emperor, is beyond question. As Saeki Jōin, a Hossō sect priest and chief abbot of Hōryūji, one of Japan’s oldest and most famous temples, writes, “If you receive an imperial edict you must revere it, for the ruler is heaven and the people are the earth.” Jōin concludes: “The emperor, being holy and divine, is inviolable…. The emperor’s edicts, being holy and divine, are inviolable … and they must always be revered.” Jōin defends this on Buddhist grounds,

As expressed in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha in his compassion regards [beings in] the three worlds [of desire, form, and formlessness] as members of his family. That is to say, he doesn’t think of his family as composed of just his blood relatives, or only the few members of his immediate family, or simply those in his local area. No, his family includes everyone in the whole world, in the entire universe. For him, everyone in the world is a member of his family. In fact, he does not limit his family members to human beings alone. Even animals and all living things are included…. There is nothing that the Tathagata [fully enlightened being] in his great compassion does not wish to save…. There is no one who he does not consider to be his child…. When this faith in the great compassion and mercy of the Tathagata is applied to the political world, there is not a single member of the Japanese nation who is not a child of the emperor…. This expresses in the political realm the ideal of a system centered on the emperor.[25]

Being apolitical and areligious is the means of asserting an absolute and universal hegemony. The Zen practitioner may or may not be fully aware of submitting to the final authority of the Buddha, but anything less than total submission disenables the practice. One either steps into the path of enlightenment, suspending critical thought concerning Buddhist enlightenment, or one does not enter that path. Accepting the practice is itself a metaphysical presumption in that the pragmatic, practical, surface, is given priority.

Cohen compares it to Martin Luther’s nominalism: “surfaces are able to sustain the burden of reality because, in fact, they do re-present an occult reality” beyond comprehension.[26] As he concludes, “let us recall how Luther coaxes readers to adhere to the surface of the Word, thereby avoiding a dangerous fascination with the transcendental unknown.” The commands and practices of the Buddha are like the literal plainness of Scripture. The good Calvinist also, has “the ability to take scripture at face-value, without wrapping it in enigmas,” and this “is possible only for one illumined by the Spirit. Only the elect can accept that god saves some and damns others gratuitously; only the elect can praise this god as perfectly just, when from a human perspective, he appears cruel, random, and malicious.”[27] In the Japanese code of the warrior, the cruelty and bloodletting of the sword must be understood as the loving prerogative of the master, and the Zen Samurai can no more question than a Calvinist the morality of his god.

Cohen defines a Buddhist, “as someone for whom a buddha is an ultimate authority; a Buddhist trusts that, because a buddha is perfectly enlightened, his command dharetha must always lead to beneficial results.” One may have to endure, like the good Calvinist, the seeming contradictory, but there is no questioning of enlightenment as set forth by the Buddha. “Insofar as one is a Buddhist, one’s abstract ideals, concrete cosmologies, economic pursuits, clothing and bodily comportment, even diet, can be traced back to one’s trust in enlightenment.” There may be disagreement among Buddhists over the details, but all agree there is a Buddha who realized unexcelled and complete enlightenment.[28]

This is not to say the Christian should not expect to find God at work in other cultures and religions, but this expectation should not include suspending critical judgment. Too often nationalism, religious fanaticism, and genocidal violence, are overlooked (perhaps set aside as having nothing to do with the religion), and Zen is a key example. The reality of Japanese Zen has a very different history than the popularized version of the religion which accords it only peace and healing.

[1] Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen at War (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2006) quoted from the epigraph.

[2] Victoria, x-xi.

[3] Inazō Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, 11. Cited in Victoria, 114.

[4] Nitobe, 11-12, Cited in Victoria, 115.

[5] Buddhist magazine Daihōrin, 36-39. Cited in Victoria, 111-112.

[6] Hayashiya and Shimakage, Bukkyō no Sensō Kan, 4. Cited in Victoria, 104-105.

[7] Taigo Furukawa, Rapidly Advancing Japan and the New Mahayana Buddhism (Yakushin Nihon to Shin Daijō Bukkyō), 51. Cited in Victoria, 110.

[8] For example, Ruben L. F. Habito, The Healing Breath of Zen (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006).

[9] Bernie Glassman Buddhist magazine “tricycle” (1999) Cited in Cohen, xi.  

[10] As Richard Cohen remarks, “What are we to say of a doctrine which is sometimes represented as one of almost perfect Theism; sometimes as direct Atheism; sometimes as having the closest analogy to what in a Greek philosopher, or in a modern philosopher, would be called Pantheism; sometimes as the worship of human saints or heroes; sometimes as altogether symbolical; sometimes as full of the highest abstract speculation; sometimes as vulgar idolatry?” Richard S. Cohen, Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism, religion, modernity (London and New York: Routledge, 2006) 151.

[11] Raniero Gnoli, ed., The Gilgit Manuscript of the Sakghabhedavastu (Rome: ISMEO, 1977), 1:132. Quoted in Cohen, xii.

[12] V. Treckner, ed., The Majjhima-Nikaya (London: Pali Text Society, 1935), 1:432. Cited in Cohen. 154.

[13] Victoria, 95.

[14] Cohen, xii.

[15] Victoria, xiv.

[16] Victoria, Ibid.

[17] Victoria, Ibid.

[18] Quoted in Ōkura Seishin Bunka Kenkyūjo, Gokoku Bukkyō, pp. 185-209. Cited in Victoria, 97.

[19] Gokoku Bukkyō, 33, Cited in Victoria, 98.

[20] Gokoku Bukkyō, 50, Cited in Victoria, 98.

[21] Gokoku Bukkyō, 50, Cited in Victoria, 99.

[22] Gokoku Bukkyō 50-51, Cited in Victoria, 99.

[23] Gokoku Bukkyō, 130-131, Cited in Victoria, 100.

[24] Cohen, xiii.

[25] Gokoku Bukkyō, pp. 159-160. Cited in Victoria, 97.

[26] Cohen, 157.

[27] Cohen, 157.

[28] Cohen, 161.

Why Does Anakin Really Become Darth Vader: The Logic of Empire Versus the Peaceable Kingdom

(Reposted from July 26, 2018)

In an interview with Time George Lucas explains the fall of Anakin Skywalker as a failure to live up to the way of the Jedi (“pop-Buddhism” or, as Lucas describes himself, “Methodist-Buddhist”) teaching: “He turns into Darth Vader because he gets attached to things. He can’t let go of his mother; he can’t let go of his girlfriend. He can’t let go of things. It makes you greedy. And when you’re greedy, you are on the path to the dark side, because you fear you’re going to lose things.”[1]  If Anakin could have remained detached from his passions, Lucas indicates, he would not have become the evil minion of the Dark Side. Think here of the fully enlightened Obi-Wan Kenobi floating in the ether urging Luke to “Let go.” He has already been struck down, willingly, by Darth Vader but having passed through the veil of death he has come out on the other side, devoid of the hindrance of a physical body and fully in possession of his true essence.

Buddha’s original insight into the human predicament (suffering, disease, and death) was to lay the blame on desire or attachment. It is not that detachment gets rid of suffering and death—but the point is to posit a reality which is untouched by suffering and death and, so, relinquish a grip on the material world in a way that takes hold of this alternative reality. In actual practice in Japan, this has not meant a refusal of violence but a fearless embrace of death—as in Bushido. To be struck down or to strike down (by light saber or sword) is of no great concern as death is a passageway into a more substantial reality. Isn’t this the teaching of the Bible and Christianity? Consider the hymns we have sung for decades: this “world is not my home I am just passing through,” “I’ll fly away,” and “we will meet on that heavenly shore.” Those who accept Jesus into their heart have the assurance of a spiritual heavenly home and this is why Jesus came. Now we can see that death is not a reality and this material world will soon be burned up.  Our souls will depart for heaven, upon separation from our bodies at death, and we will spend eternity in disembodied bliss.

The irony of the many post-evangelicals who have passed into various forms of neo-Gnosticism (see the fine blog and podcasts with Bret Powell) is that they have not changed their basic worldview. Reformed theology along with the many forms of disembodied Christianity (see Philip Lee’s Against the Protestant Gnostics) presume that Christianity addresses categories removed from death and the life-long orientation to death.  This understanding was never far from the Gnostic Christ or from the Star Wars‘ portrayal of Anakin as a Christ-like figure (his immaculate conception, his Ben-Hur like chariot/pod race). The New Age pagan universe is not so different from the second century pagan universe, as in both good and evil are not really opposed forces but each is a necessary part of the other. The point is not to rid the world of the dark side but to keep all things in balance. The serpent and Judas are joined to Christ in the same way that Anakin, a Christ figure, is joined to Darth Vader.  The neo-Gnostics, like the originals, presume that the serpent represents a feminine principle which has been demonized and so we need to hear this voice which would have us imbibe in the fulness of knowledge.  Those with true insight, as the Zen Buddhist philosopher Kitaro Nishida puts it, recognize that the principles of good and evil, God and Satan, can be conjoined and harmonized within the self so that the enlightened individual is greater than God and Satan. The goal is to achieve balance and harmony through detachment from both principles.

Within this pagan horizon, one who claims to be the “way, the truth, and the life,” or one who advocates selling everything, not simply to become detached but so as to become attached to Him, must be the ultimate devil. Christ explains that he did not come to bring balance and harmony, but a sword. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.” Christianity is not paganism precisely because it opposes, divides itself from, and does not presume to explain and incorporate the “necessity” of evil. Darkness is not a counter-balance to light, and death is not a doorway to life; death is the final enemy and darkness will be penetrated and overcome.

On the other hand, the sign of a Christianity turned Gnostic (whether by post-evangelicals or evangelicals) is the willingness to accede to the necessity of evil as a tool in bringing about righteousness. Violence, nationalism, or personal betrayal (in my experience “raising up new servant leaders for the Church” requires that the old ones be expendable) in which doing evil to singular individuals is justified in bringing about the greater good for the kingdom (an actual theological explanation I received). There is no end to the evil (war, keeping the foreigners out, imprisoning children, or simply doing evil to a friend) which may be required to usher in the kingdom. Calvin maintains the Fall, Judas, and evil, are a necessary part of God’s plan, so it should be no surprise that, in the name of this sort of Christianity, some are willing to play the role of Judas so as to advance the kingdom.  After all, don’t we need Judas to betray Christ so that the world revolution can begin? Maybe Judas recognized he was the necessary cog in fomenting a showdown.

In its exclusiveness, orthodoxy is intolerant of this sort of evil because the kingdom established on this principle (“Let us do evil that good may abound”) is itself evil. (Which is the interesting part of Star Wars – the Republic turned Empire – “we ourselves have become evil” – to which I will return below.) To state it differently, there is the possibility of defeating evil and not simply the presumption that Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin, false opposites to be harmonized in a higher principle. Christ presumes to separate good and evil and not reduce them to mere appearance. His harsh judgments of the Pharisees (“You are of your father the Devil”), of his own disciples (“One of You is a devil”), and even his chief apostle (“Get behind me Satan”), are meant to divide and separate the good from the evil. Where paganism would obliterate differences – good and evil, male and female, darkness and light – Christ draws lines and distinguishes elements, such that the imbalance is not undermined but accentuated.

This sort of intolerance is counted the source of evil in New Age paganism. How can one achieve peace if continually caught up in this agonistic struggle? The quietism of the East accepts the inevitable cosmic conflict but presumes one can withdraw to a higher plane. Where Christ demands a definitive belief, the New Age principle would suspend belief and revel in non-duality, non-thought, and a primal Ground in which substantive reality is enfolded into Nothingness. The Force needs its “Anakins” as much as its “Lukes” and it is no surprise that the same principle should give rise to both. What I have argued in my previous two blogs, as with the Kyoto School, Martin Heidegger, and the head of Shambhala International, is that this form of enlightenment may “positively” impact the brain (as determined in the valuation system of neurotheology) while actively promoting evil. The Gnostic, in reply, would point to the relativity of terms such as “good” and “evil” and valorize the role of the serpent and Judas. What is a bit of groping, fascism, National Socialism, murder, betrayal, in light of the cosmic balance, the Empire, or the kingdom of God? (Perhaps Anakin should be made to realize the Emperor only appears evil through the limited perspective of the archaic league, the Jedi, and he is the true master.) Both the Gnostics and orthodox Christians would accuse the other of being deluded. (As I have argued, neurotheology does not have the tools to look at the brain and make a determination one way or another.) The precise nature of reality is under contention.

The Bible and Christianity (in its pre-Gnostic form) accounts for the drive to detachment and non-duality, not as acceding to the primal ground, but as a delusion arising from rejection of the divine perspective. The Fall consists, as Bonhoeffer describes it, of humans displacing the divine role and becoming the arbiters of their own ethic. Paul describes the cathecting of the law into the self so that both law and the subject are transformed in the process. The law, taken up into the subject, divides the “I” against itself so that the individual is simultaneously constituted and consumed in the ensuing struggle.

The law is not something distinct from the self but is that part of identity – that punishing voice within which would obliterate the ego. The key point is that the agonistic struggle is not something which happens to the “I” or ego; rather the ego is constituted in the struggle with the law. To succumb to the law (or to what Paul describes as a deceived orientation to law definitive of sin) is to give death full sway. Thus, Freud dubs it the Nirvana principle, as in a masochistic self-relation ultimate pleasure is to be had in a death dealing dissolution.  Obi-Wan’s succumbing to death, or the enlightenment goal of dissolution of the ego, succumbs to the deluding power of the super-ego or the law (which in the revised Star Wars would be the Evil Emperor).

Paul’s resolution (unavailable in psychoanalysis) is a deconstruction of the entire dynamic. The ego is identified as a spectral unreality, the law (superego) is one’s own voice given final authority, and the positing of these two realms denies the reality of the mortal body and death. The serpent, Obi-Wan, but every form of paganism, whispers, “You won’t die, you will be gods knowing good and evil.” Paul’s cry in regard to the real of the death drive, “who will rescue me from this body of death,” is to be found in the specific work of Christ in exposing the death dealing orientation of sin (the death drive). Death and desire, the controlling forces of sin, are displaced by life and hope. The “I” can be said to have been crucified with Christ, but it is not that the placeholder of the “I” remains empty. It is now, Paul says, Christ that lives within me. What this means in experience is detailed in his depiction in Ro. 8 of taking on the perspective of Christ in relation to “Abba Father” through the Spirit. Paul fills in each part of the tri-partite identity with a depiction of the work of the Trinity.

In place of the law (the punishing superego) is a first order relation with “Abba – Father,” and in place of the ego is the perspective and relational identity of Christ (“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives within me”), and in place of the orientation to death (id, death drive) is the life-giving work of the Spirit.  The fear and slavery under the law of sin and death, with its work through deceptive desire aroused by the law, became “another law” (ἕτερον νόμον), but this law is now voided along with all of its various machinations.  The key difference between the living death of 7.7ff and life in the Spirit of ch. 8, or another way of describing the difference between life and death, is that the death of the “I” divides and alienates (giving rise to the three parts of a lie – what is denied (death), what is posited (the ego), and the controlling medium (the law), while life in the Spirit is a communion founded by the Father who has sent his Son (8.3) who leads by his Spirit (8.14).  The Trinity is a communion in which and through which the new humanity walks (8.4), has their mindset (8.5-8), sonship (8.15), endurance of suffering (8.17), and saving hope (8.20, 24).

The pertinent question/objection, in conjunction with Star Wars, is not simply why one individual became evil but why the Republic became the Empire and how Paul’s prescription amounts to a political intervention? In the end Lucas’ (or what has become the Star Wars franchise) portrayal of the fall of Anakin is not consistent. If Anakin had been portrayed as one who pursued the good or peace, such that like Judas he was willing to do evil to bring on the final confrontation which would bring about peace, this would have followed the trajectory from Republic to Empire. (As it is Anakin proves simply to be weak willed and drawn to power for its own sake.) Hardt and Negri sum up the problem of Empire: “the practice of Empire is continually bathed in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace—a perpetual and universal peace outside of history.” This fits Lucas’ explanation that the Empire did not conquer the Republic, but the Republic became the Empire. “One day, Princess Leia and her friends woke up and said, ‘This isn’t the Republic anymore, it’s the Empire. We are the bad guys.’” The pursuit of peace through evil, at the individual and corporate level, produces Empire on the macro and micro scale. Anakin becomes Vader (and this would have been the more authentic portrayal) in the same way that the Republic becomes the Empire; not through attachment to the good but a determination to achieve peace by any means. Anakin should have become a monster through his commitment to fight evil by any means. A democracy becomes a dictatorship in its commitment, as Žižek puts it, “through the very way we, the ‘good guys,’ fight the enemy out there.” The war on terror endlessly reduplicates terror as it functions according to the presumption generating evil.

The enemy which Christ exposes, as Paul explains, is precisely this principle of doing evil that good may abound. The political alternative is the enactment of the good, in every circumstance and at any personal cost (laying one’s life down for the brethren), without falling back on evil. Though “necessity” may demand an immediate violence, a slight moral modification, a temporary suspension of peace, the Kingdom founded on the Cross refuses to succumb to the principle of Empire. The Peaceable Kingdom declares the struggle and its principle, “shall we sin that grace may abound,” as the delusion undone in an original peace devoid of the necessity of conflict.

[1] This was from a 2002 Time Magazine interview. I am employing Slavoj Žižek’s account from his article “Revenge of Global Finance” In These Times at http://inthesetimes.com/article/2122/revenge_of_global_finance.

Why Does Anakin Really Become Darth Vader: The Logic of Empire Versus the Peaceable Kingdom

In an interview with Time George Lucas explains the fall of Anakin Skywalker as a failure to live up to the way of the Jedi (“pop-Buddhism” or, as Lucas describes himself, “Methodist-Buddhist”) teaching: “He turns into Darth Vader because he gets attached to things. He can’t let go of his mother; he can’t let go of his girlfriend. He can’t let go of things. It makes you greedy. And when you’re greedy, you are on the path to the dark side, because you fear you’re going to lose things.”[1]  If Anakin could have remained detached from his passions, Lucas indicates, he would not have become the evil minion of the Dark Side. Think here of the fully enlightened Obi-Wan Kenobi floating in the ether urging Luke to “Let go.” He has already been struck down, willingly, by Darth Vader but having passed through the veil of death he has come out on the other side, devoid of the hindrance of a physical body and fully in possession of his true essence. Continue reading “Why Does Anakin Really Become Darth Vader: The Logic of Empire Versus the Peaceable Kingdom”