Pico Ultraorientalis

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Slouching towards the Post-Legal Society: Pt. 2 The “Antinomian Controversy”

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 22, 2017

Surf’s up!

Yesterday we took a trip to the beach and watched two young men struggle out into the water with their boards, a long-haired and bearded duo whom we instantly dubbed “Jesus” and “Peter.”  Both were tanned and seasoned surfers who understood how to catch a wave at the max and ride it all the way to the shoreline.  What neither of them seemed to catch was the sign on the pier which said “No swimming or surfing within 150 feet.”

And what could be more in accord with the spirit of apostolic Christianity than to ignore the ordinances of mere mortals and ride on to an invulnerable finish at a cis-150 range of the pier? Isn’t that how all right thinking…or rather, right feeling, saints will savor the moment?

And are you that stupid?

I didn’t think so.  On the contrary, perhaps we have caught just the right theological wave, surfing right up to the edges of the crises generated by our increasingly lawless post-modern era.  This theological wave even has a technical name:Antinomianism.  It is the error of Christians who think that the law has been abolished, not fulfilled, by our Messiah.

Actually, law remains, but only in true Christianity, not ersatz-Christianity.  In ersatz-Christianity we are groping (I’m afraid the word is apt!) towards the Democracy of Love, not the Kingdom of God, towards a state in which all moral distinctions are abolished, under the pretext that people don’t need human rights as long as they can get enough human love.  And if there isn’t enough love to go around the state will make up the deficit, in terms of belonging, security, and a can-do mission.  Not the bourgeois law state, but the on-the-march state militarized for either domestic or foreign war.  This means the replacement of law and order with orders…both standing orders and changes in orders.

Following Ovid, the most honest label for this ideology might be The Party of Metamorphosis.  However “change” is a slow seller unless people can be convinced it means “change for the better.”  Hence it calls itself the party of “progress” or even “liberalism”i.e., change in the direction of more freedom.  Thus ersatz-Christianity is pleased to call itself Progressive or Liberal, as the case may be.

Believers of the non-ersatz variety might call out Liberal Christians as “Antinomians”…but this would be a mistake.  More precisely, it would be what philosophers call a category mistake.  It might be the oddest thing, but antinomianism is almost, kinda, the genuine truth as far as Christian theology is concerned.  That is because nobody is saved from their sins by trying to live a moral life.  One is saved from one’s sins by throwing oneself on the mercy of Christ.

Suppose a prisoner, a murderer, is waiting on death row under sentence of execution.  The prisoner appeals to the governor of the state to be spared as an act of mercy.  The governor, receiving a petition from the prisoner, grants the plea and the prisoner avoids execution.  What has happened?  The prisoner is alive due to an act of grace by the governing authorities.  What has not happened?  The laws against murder are still on the books.  They have not been abrogated or even mitigated on the basis of an act of grace.

Thinking that pardoning the prisoner repeals the law, might serve as an illustration of what theologians call “antinomianism”  a word derived from the latin meaning anti-law.  But what, if any, relation is there between theological antinomianism and the increasing lawlessness of postmodern thought and society.

The Secularist distortion of Theological Doctrine

Even sincere believers are prone to stumble when it comes to doctrine.  One the one hand there are those who are inclined to add some sort of discipline or ritual to saving grace.  On the other hand there are those who presume upon grace, inferring that grace has somehow abrogated God’s moral standards.  This is the marrow of theological controversy and pastoral council.  However the Antinomian controversy is at best tangential to the secularist trend in the direction of lawlessness, at worst it is a source of confusion, deliberately sown to confuse the distinction between genuine and ersatz Christianity.

At its root, “Progressive” or “Liberal” Christianity is little more than a front group organized by the forces of Secularism for its own nefarious purposes.  Secularism generates ersatz-Christianity by transposing antithetical theological terms from one set of referents to another.  Thus the law/grace antithesis is transposed into a law/psychology antithesis.  “Law” in the first antithesis refers to fundamental morality, while “law” in the second antithesis refers to the public ordinances of civil society.

The secularist will try to get the Christian to conflate these two similar-sounding antitheses.  If, from the point of view of some “higher life” theology, grace is far superior to law, likewise it is maintained that a world in which people relate to each other through their feelings about one another as individuals is far superior to a society where individuals’ relations to one another is mediated by status, legal personality, and civil institutions.  The catch to this world-view is that one all-powerful institution is necessary to referee the atomized and psychologized world after all other institutions, such as the family, churches, and voluntary associations, have withered away.  Inevitably, this singular institution is the modern managerial state.

Grace, because it fulfills rather than abolishes law, leads to freedom. Grace is based on the trans-individual claims of Christ, and hence builds up a society based on objective law.  The individuals in a grace-based society, as pointed out repeatedly by the apostle Paul, retain their differences of status and function.  Like stones with well defined edges, they are none the less capable of being stacked up into a larger edifice.

However the reduction of society to individual claims based on feelings really does abolish law. Each individual, striving for perfection, is like a smooth sphere centered upon itself.  Like marbles, they cannot be stacked into a larger edifice.  Instead of forming into a structure, the marbles will scatter into random chaos until captured and put into the confinement of a bag.  In our world, this bag is the managerial state.

It is tempting to call the psychological momentum of post-modernist society “antinomian” and hence fall into the trap laid by secularist rhetoric.  Such nomenclature would grant postmodernism a legitimate pedigree in Paul’s theology of grace.  This is a big deal, because it endorses the movement from psychology to statism, from chaos to tyranny.

Theological antinomianism, whatever moral baggage it might be freighted with, should stop short of toxic associations with postmodernity.  It should never get much worse than Jesus surfing too close to the pier.

 

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