In the following, what I present is an interpretation from a finite, limited perspective (obviously). Like all of us, I’m presenting a narrative—not a mathematical equation. What any reader wants to make of it is up to them. This post is for people who believe there is more to existence, ontologically speaking, than just the physical/material. If you believe the physical/material is all that exists, great, but look elsewhere to opine or argue. This post is for Christians or those who believe in some sort of transcendence/spirituality. I am speaking from a Christian perspective.
In modern Western culture, we have been discipled and trained to believe we are independent monads, who simply take everything in, observe, consider, and then choose. We each build our own universe in a way. After entering adulthood, we decide on a college—or not. We decide on a mate—or not. We decide on a career. We decide on our circle of friends. We decide where to live. We decide what our philosophy is. We decide what political party to join—or not. We decide what religion (or none) we will follow and believe in.
And this isn’t to say those decisions don’t change or get modified as we grow older. The point is that we do the choosing. We decide. Life is one big buffet where we move our plate along the counter, picking and choosing from the vast assortment of choices and options. Sometimes we go back for seconds and choose other items.
Of course, this is really only the point of view of privilege. Only affluent, mostly white, and educated people actually get to live this sort of life. The vast majority of the people in the world live with many options and choices denied them or made for them, whether by family, religion, culture, or the state.
But even the world that does live like this, lives mostly a myth (although I would certainly prefer the cultural and legal freedoms to make my own choices). An almost infinite number of factors, influences, considerations, and events outside our control have an impact on our supposed purely personal and objective choosing. Putting that aside, let’s consider this state of affairs for a moment, especially when it comes to the area of religion.
Many view the choosing of Christ or the Christian religion as them adding a religious component to their life, a life already filled with other choices in regard to identity. It’s sort of like adding another pair of shoes or outfits to our closets already full of other choices. Thus, we have many identities. For instance, I am a man, American citizen, Californian, married, Christian, Orthodox/Anglican, middle-class, college graduate, etc. Many of these I was simply born into, but the great majority are because of choices I have made (I assume) or the fact I decided not to change much about what I was born into. Either way, we are back to monads choosing, or at least the appearance of such.
What I want us to consider is that this idea of separate, discrete, and personal identities creates a view of the world that is not real or true. In fact, they put distance between us and the Real. This is the paradox of these identities seeming to free us through the notion of infinite choice, when, they more often enslave us through an illusion of freedom. What I mean by the Real, is the way things truly are. I’m speaking of course from a Christian perspective. I mean the Real as ontological, being, or God. As Tillich put it God as: The ground of all being.
Existence is contingent and exists only because of God (Trinity). God (the ground of existence/being) is the Real and true identity exists only in relation to God (this would have to logically follow). What we think is a true identity, is often just a false self. And when I say I’m speaking from a Christian perspective, I may as well say I’m speaking from the Real, or just from what is—the way things truly are—the Real.
Thus, when we realize this, when we come to this stark epiphany, we see that it’s not the choosing of another identity (Christian), which we add to the others, but the peeling off of every identity, including religion and resting in the Real, which just is. In other words, the identity “Christian” is simply the state of being in the Real. It’s no more an identity than existence is, beyond its naming, which we have to do for communication purposes. Thus, we are not putting on a new mask, but taking every mask off and resting with our true face now uncovered. This face reflects the image of God, the ground of all being, that which is present and, “…in all places and fills all things.”
In reality, Christ is the end of religion and all superficial or temporal identities. In Christ, we don’t become “religious,” we become ourselves. We come back to ourselves (the prodigal “came to himself”). We are given back to that which we truly are. This is sabbath rest, this is shalom. We are no long acting or playing a part, depending upon which mask or identity we feel the moment calls for or that we’ve been discipled to inhabit. We are simply us. This is what, I would surmise, it means to feel as Adam and Eve did. They were naked and didn’t know it because they were living in the Real where masks or coverings are not only not necessary, but in fact do not even exist. In that state, all is open, present, seen, good, true, and beautiful.
We don’t need more conversions in our day. We need de-conversions. We don’t need more “religious” people. We need more people stripping off their masks (please note, I am speaking metaphorically—please wear your physical mask in public!) and living in the Real. It has no name or identity other than existence or being. It doesn’t present itself alongside some other slice of existence or counter to- because there is nothing else, there is no other choice. Whether alive or after passing from death to life, this is it, this is the only existence (God) we have. And this means love is the Real, is existence, is the ground of all things, is all there is or ever could be. This is Kingdom come; or, simply, the Kingdom.
We don’t become “Christians.” We become what we always were but was hidden and masked, i.e., children of God. We are children of God because the Real (God) is love and peace, at the core of existence, at the core of being, which is also creative or productive/dynamic.
John Milbank put it this way: “Christianity, however, recognizes no original violence. It construes the infinite not as chaos, but as a harmonic peace which is yet beyond the circumscribing power of any totalizing reason. Peace no longer depends upon the reduction of the self-identical, but is the sociality of harmonious difference.” (Pg. 5)
Modernity was founded, partly, upon a notion of the ontological primacy of chaos and violence (Hobbs) and an independent, “I” (Descartes) that can amass as many identities as it wishes. The two together have been the twin manufactures of the plethora of modern masks, identities, idols, and the need to defensively (and with violence) protect those masks and identities—even to force them on others.
Any identity that isn’t based in the Real (God/love/peace) is a false self, which becomes the architect of idols. We can carry a Bible, hold it up, go to church (or stand in front of one), use religious language, etc., but if it’s based in some political ideology, fear, self-serving, or hate, and not the Real, then it’s an identity/mask for hiding. The mask is so we can hide from what we are doing, which is worshiping an idol. The mask helps us to think we are promoting the good, the righteous, the just, and the true, thus acting as a salve of sorts. Otherwise, we would be faced with the realization we are actually participating in something that is anti-Christ.
The paradox of the mask I’m speaking of is that normally a mask is to hide ourselves from others. This mask does that too, but more significantly, it hides us from ourselves, our spirit, conscience, soul, and divine image; all the while making us feel good about and justifying our false selves, our anger, our hate, our prejudices, violence, selfishness, and soulless imaginations.
In my opinion, what I’ve just described is much of modern religion, especially as to its more Western, white, pious, and fundamentalist/evangelical practitioners. It applies, I believe, even to those who claim no faith or religion. And it pertains to even those outside those parameters, at least to those with the same sensibility, even if a different faith/philosophy. We all wear masks. We just do. It comes from living in a broken world. I include myself in all this.
Like the skins used to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness, all these masks and disparate identities are to hide from the Real, from what is (God/love/peace). And religion is one of those masks. We use these to justify, and paradoxically to keep from ourselves, the fact we actually worship idols. From behind such masks, much violence and harm is baptized and called “good” even, “holy.”
To be in Christ is simply to be. It is the natural state, the only state; it is existence, life, and being. It’s a journey toward a life without masks or idols. Coming to that realization, experientially, is heaven and hell—a journey we start with the apocalyptic, the revelation of which I’m speaking. We might even call it being born again, which is ongoing and, for now, east of Eden.
Welcome. Welcome to existence. Welcome to your (our) life. What are you (we) going to do now?
(Note: This is a revised Patreon post)
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