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Spiritual Warfare Attracts Strange Bedfellows
Unlikely allies in the metaphysical battle between good and evil
Spiritual warfare is upon us.
So we have heard from Tucker Carlson and various other characters from the Christian Right.
And even if you don’t share their religious views, it’s hard not to feel that something evil has taken root in the sick soil of society, has sprouted, and is now attempting to strangle the globe with its parasitic rhizomes.
The concept of spiritual warfare in Christianity is not new. In historical eras the battlefield often took the form of physical conflict to defeat God’s perceived enemies (such as in the Crusades) or mass movements of prayer and bodily castigation in order to atone for humanity’s sin and lessen the earthly punishment for it (such as during the Black Death.) But even during times of relative peace and stability, the concept has never truly slumbered.
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In the latter part of the modern age, “spiritual warfare” most often referred to a war waged on the most intimate of battlefields: one man or woman, duking it out with the devil through all manner of trials that one must submit to in order to prove oneself worthy of God’s grace and earn one’s keep in the hereafter. The devil might try to end your marriage by whispering temptations in your spouse’s ear, for instance, or send his emissaries in the form of old bar buddies to thwart your three years of sobriety. As a warrior in the spiritual battle, you would have to remain vigilant of these constant spiritual threats from outside, arm yourself with prayer and the appropriate Bible verses, perhaps enlist assistance from your fellow men-at-arms-in-Christ. Eventually, if you dedicated yourself well to your soldierly duties, the devil would give up and stop harassing you.
But that was before the whole world went bonkers. That was before the pandemic. And particularly, it was before Wokism replaced Enlightenment principles as the new popular morality. Now “spiritual warfare” has taken on new dimensions in the Christian imagination, much more akin to the Medieval conception of it. It is no longer one man versus the devil, mano-a-mano. It is now universal war. All creatures are involved in it, no matter if they exist in the physical or metaphysical realms, whether we make our home on Earth or in Heaven or Hell. We might call it Creation War II (Creation War I having been fought at or near the Beginning, with the Fall of the Rebel Angels.) Or it could be Creation War III, depending on if you acknowledge the historicity of the legendary war fought in hell in the three days after the crucifixion but before the resurrection, in which Jesus Christ and the good angels battled Satan and his minions for the souls trapped there, and emerged victorious.
In any case, this war is all-encompassing, and may portend the beginning of the End Times, according to some accounts. I have heard a few different versions of the problem—some more and some less fantastical—but I think we can use Tucker Carlson’s description in his recent incendiary speech at the Heritage Foundation as representative of the mean Christian view of the problem.
Which, in a nutshell, is this:
But the Christian Right is not the only group warning of an epic war between good and evil forces, breaching the boundaries between metaphysical and material.
Enter the New-Agers.
It’s kind of weird to see crystal-wearing, love-and-light, positive-thinking New Age community take up the spiritual warfare banner, if not hand-in-hand, then certainly adjacent to the Christian warriors. But it is indeed happening. And, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Both groups have their flaws but at the idealistic core, both value freedom, individualism, human flourishing, and spiritual communion, even if they have very different ways of expressing these values. The same dominant cultural-political strain that so frightens Christian conservatives with its moral relativism, brutality, and hubris is also fundamentally opposed to the New Age spiritual sensibility. Whatever destruction befalls Christians if the Wokism/Scientism/Technocratic Feudalism ideology wins out is the same destruction that will befall New Agers. The new popular ideology carries ruinous implications for us all.
So here’s the problem according to the New Age contingent:
Let’s look at the two versions of the spiritual warfare proposition, side by side.
These are two different descriptions of the same problem, through the lenses of two apparently opposed spiritual understandings. But the descriptions are not that different. Certainly not diametrically opposed. Both acknowledge a wave of anti-human sentiment that has engulfed the world, and attribute it to a rise of evil, not only on the physical plane, but also, and perhaps originating from the spirit realm.
What's most interesting to me is that the solutions are basically the same for both groups. How to defeat the demonic forces? Embrace good, reject evil, and commune with God.
Another way to look at it
I hope I’ve made it clear that I sympathize with the view that there is a great crisis emerging worldwide, that has implications for, or perhaps roots in spiritual reality. To me, the Conservative Christians and the New Agers are displaying essentially the same goods with different window dressing, and I find myself mostly in agreement with both viewpoints.
But I’d like to offer an alternate view, perhaps one that can reconcile the differences and propose a way forward.
The way I see it, there are several different facets to the crisis we see unfolding:
Facet 1: Yes, it is spiritual warfare. It is warfare because taut lines of division are being drawn between two apparently opposed worldviews that cannot co-exist, and because blood has already been shed. People are allowing themselves to be conscripted into the ideological armies on either side. It is spiritual because these ideological conflicts strike at the heart of what it means to be human.
Facet 2: It’s the struggle of growth—the caterpillar enmushing itself before emerging from the cocoon an entirely new creature. Not annihilation, but complete disassembly and reconstitution. I believe we are here to mature as souls. Maturity means the development of inner authority: the ability to discern for ourselves between that which is good, or life-affirming, and that which is evil, or life-negating. And the confidence to adhere to the right path in light of our discoveries. This maturation process can not happen in a vacuum, nor can it happen in a conflict-free environment. It is the conflicts themselves that teach us, that guide us to our spiritual maturity. This is humanity’s coming-of-age story.
Facet 3: It’s spiritual peacefare. There are times when righteous anger is appropriate, and there are times when it is right to stand up and fight. But often, there is a moment of potentiality before the fight crystallizes, when it is possible to simply walk away in peace. We may be living, globally, in that moment right now.
The Conservative Christians are correct in their assessment that part of the solution lies in speaking truth, no matter what the popular ideologies say or how boldly they insist upon it.
The New Agers are correct that it’s also important to keep a questioning mind—this, after all, is how we discover what the truth is in the first place.
Both of these approaches to Evil (or what we might also call spiritual distortion) help us to develop our inner authority and our ability to consistently and deliberately choose Good. I included both of them as important aspects of the dystopian protagonist’s “subtle armor” in my book, How to Survive Dystopia (With Your Humanity Intact).
To all of this, I would only add that our inner environment is the battlefield, just as much (if not more) than the outer environment is. After all, the world is not made up of only other people. What exists in each person contributes to the totality of what exists. Whatever you want not to proliferate in the world—division, resentments, tyranny, fear, nihilism, greed, avarice—you must consciously root out of yourself, and replace with what you do want to cultivate. Mutuality. Forgiveness. Responsibility. Hope. Meaning. Charity. Compassion.
Finally, both the Christians and the New Agers are correct, in my view, that our greatest aid in this epic conflict is our inborn ability to connect with source. Whether you do that through prayer, meditation, the contemplation of scripture, gratitude rituals, or gazing out at the cosmos, now is the time to do more of it, and more consciously.
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