Misc notes on Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch

It’s not often I read a book by someone on the “liberal” side of Christianity, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of Richard Beck’s blog posts in the past and I find the study (or overt ignorance) of the devil perennially fascinating so when I saw his relatively recent book Reviving Old Scratch for sale at Powell’s in Portland, I had to grab it. Here are a few passages I found of interest along with a brief notes.

Critics of spiritual warfare have got it backwards when they say that talking about demons will cause you to demonize other human beings. The truth is that it’s the exact opposite: it’s our REFUSAL to talk about demons that causes us to demonize other human beings.
The reason for this should be pretty obvious. If there isn’t a spiritual dynamic at work in the struggle, if the struggle for social justice is thoroughly disenchanted, then it’s destined to be a battle against other human beings, against Bad People – the Good People trying to wrest power away from the Bad People. When spiritual warfare loses its spiritual component our battle can’t help but become against [only] flesh and blood.

This is an especially helpful word in the era of Facebook and Twitter arguments. The more we fight each other in abstract media spaces, the more likely we are to dehumanize those we (think we) disagree with. Awareness of the devil helps keep this in check. We might also do well to see if he’s stirring up our own unholy desires.

Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egotism are revealed to us. We discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our inability to get on with some people, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective and sexual distrubances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in ourselves we are.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.26, quoted in Richard Beck, Reviving Old Scratch, p.75

This reminds me of Kathleen Norris’s comments in her memoir Dakota about how when you live in a small town you have to learn to get along with all kinds of weirdos. When you live in a big city though (or on the internet), you can hang out with just a tiny subculture and seriously fool yourself into believing that you would be a nice guy around all the other people too, in theory.

The Bible is notoriously uninterested in providing us a theodicy – that is, a theological account of why evil exists. Evil is simply taken as a given – a given to be resisted. [Greg] Boyd calls this a theology of revolt. The biblical response to evil isn’t philosophical but behavioral. We might phrase it this way: The only theodicy we find in the Bible is resistance. A theology of revolt trades in philosophical bafflement for boots on the ground.

That scripture does not give us an obvious theodicy is a bit of honesty I wish more theologians would admit up front.

Who would weep for Babylon? A heck a lot of our heroes.

Regarding Revelation 17:19:
The oppressive and exploitative aspects of Babylon are highlighted by who mourns for Babylon when she falls. Who weeps for Babylon? The kings and the merchants because they “grew rich” form Babylon’s economic and political exploitation of the world (Revelation 18:3, 11-13).

Some healthy push back to contemporary talk of sexual “consent”:

The Bible has always linked sex to covenant rather than consent because the writers of the Bible understood that sex is political, relational, and social. Consent is contractual, two isolated individuals negotiating and then reaching an agreement about a sexual transaction. Consent is the child of capitalism. Covenant, by contrast, is a promise to care for and protect, tonight, and more importantly, tomorrow. The problem with consent is that while we might voluntarily agree to a sexual transaction, and this does protect us from rape and abuse, we might be radically unprepared for how the experience will leave each of us exposed, vulnerable, and needy in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Covenant is the promise to care about these exposures, vulnerabilities, and needs.

Some nice analogies here:

“Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
There is is, the whole vision of spiritual warfare, the apocalyptic and tactical elements of our theology of revolt. In Jesus the kingdom of God has apocalyptically invaded the world, and as this is an invasion of love it’s a tactical engagement. Love is guerilla warfare. A great campaign of sabotage.

Finally here, Beck (quoting Wright) notices the curious modern tendency to speak of impersonal powers even while technically denying their existence.

The modern world divides into those who are obsessed with demonic powers and those who mock them as outdated rubbish. Neither approach… does justice to reality… Despite the caricatures, the obsession, and the sheer muddle that people often get themselves into on this subject, there is such a thing as a dark force that seems to take over people, movements, and sometimes whole countries, a force or (as it sometimes seems) a set of forces that can make people do things they would never normally do.
You might have though the history of the twentieth century would provide plenty of examples of this [i.e., a dark force taking over people, movements, and countries], but many still choose to resist the conclusion – despite the increasing use in public life of the language of “force” (economic “forces,” political “forces”, peer “pressure,” and so on).