God, Death & the Abortion of Time

Some of us are born with morbid imaginations. My mom tells a story about me, at the age of three: I wanted to know where we go when we die. The question consumed me, and she let me wonder. I apparently asked every adult I met and was unsatisfied with all of the answers I heard (heaven, six feet under; the great standards) Then she read me Oscar Wilde’s story “The Selfish Giant” which ends (spoiler alert) when the selfish giant is spirited away [by a christlike child] to the garden of paradise. “That’s it,” I told her. “That’s where we go. Paradise.” Perhaps all I needed was some vegetation: the vision of a garden. Or perhaps all I needed was a poetic term: something that felt like candy, or fresh fruit, on the tongue.

Many years later I was passed through the mills of deconstruction, postmodern thought, continental philosophy, feminist critique. Paradise became – to me – a power play: the gleaming veneer over transcendence, just another evisceration of finitude. Philosophers hate death, Simone de Beauvoir argued, because it carries a kind of placental stench. To think death, to really think death, is to take in the stink, the funk, of mortality. Philosophers prefer the clean purity of the immortal, the infinite. And women, said Beauvoir, are blamed for death because it’s birth that gave us death, in the first place. Beauvoir’s words always felt very true to me, and and there was feminist inspiration in the long sojourn I made into creaturely life. In creatureliness I wanted to embrace a kind of pure mortality; to make peace with the body’s limits, to illuminate its vulnerabilities, to be in its suffering. Contemporary theory is a rich vineyard to pull from, if this is what you thirst for. But, lately, I’ve grown weary of death.

This is the fifth semester in a row that I’ve been teaching a class on death. Right now I call it “Being Mortal.” In five terms, the syllabus has undergone a significant shift. Once it was heavy with texts that encourage a focus on raw mortality, with subtle critiques of immortality (both the biological and the supernatural varieties). But increasingly it becomes riddled with visions of the sweet hereafter, in various flavors. I once believed that the most difficult intellectual task would be to challenge students to question a pious valorization of the afterlife, and to rend a new form of openness to the limits of mortality. But this, I discovered, was actually the easiest thing to do. It was also, quite frankly, the most boring. It slowly began to dawn on me that my students believed, deeply, in mortal decay. But their speculative imaginations were, more often than not, deadened by it. At most, they would weakly (albeit dogmatically) offer the vision of a soul that would somehow outlast this decay. But our conversations about strange places like heaven and hell get their fictive impulses churning. Death can really be a dead end.

Tonstad’s book is not only a book about the trinity but is also, as the title promises, a book about the transformation of finitude. It is a vision that refuses to subordinate us to the reality of death. Unlike the philosophers who (as Beauvoir believed) hate death, Tonstad doesn’t deal with death misogynistically . Instead, death (like other elements of the book) is inspected using the diagnostic tools of queer theory and radical feminism. Read the rest of this entry »

Obamacare Wasn’t Worth It

In 2009, Obama entered office with an unmistakable mandate and control of both houses of Congress — including a rare fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate — and the Democrats wasted it. They pushed through a stimulus package that barely offset the cuts in government spending at the state and municipal level, providing line-item veto power to a small rump of centrist Republican senators in exchange for bipartisan “cover.” And most of the rest of their “political capital” was spent on a Republican health care plan that the Republicans immediately demonized them for. Obama was determined that it be “deficit-neutral” over a ten-year period, and the conditions of its passage (using the reconciliation process, which was only necessary because of the Democratic majority’s foolish refusal to abolish the fillibuster) absolutely necessitated it.

This meant that most of its provisions wouldn’t even go into effect until four years later, so that the Democrats literally could not point to a single concrete benefit to a law that sounded… pretty bad. Yes, the Republicans exaggerated, as is their habit, but this was hyperbole that centered on an unavoidable truth about Obamacare: Americans would be forced by the government to give their money to some of the most hated and distrusted corporations on earth, whose continued profitability is taken as axiomatic under the terms of the health care reform law. Obamacare does a lot of good things other than that, and the insurance mandate has in fact decreased the number of uninsured — but the central premise of the law is one that is deeply offensive.

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Let us assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now.

Apparently, Jack Chick, of Chick Tract infamy, is dead. He passed quietly, it seems. No chariots or such. The internet perked up for a moment, which seems mostly to have passed. Just like Jack Chick.

Jack Chick was neither David Bowie or Prince, it should go without saying.

Mind you, I’m not a fan. I don’t imagine any of you are either. And yet, for we who grew up within the world he informed, if even only its margins, he would menace his way into occasional, odd remembrance.

Even today.

I’m reposting something I wrote quite a while ago now — four or five years ago. It is, I hope it’s clear, neither an ode nor an homage.

But Jack Chick is dead . . . and remembrances keep happening.

This afternoon I read for the first time since high school C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. As it turns out, it is a lot better read when you believe in letters more than you do devils. I somehow had completely forgotten the random bit where Wormwood turns into a caterpillar and requires a secretary to dictate the rest of his letter.

I got it in my head that I wanted to write my own evangelistic tract, but from the perspective of Lucifer. Using Lewis and the weird world of free tracts available online as my guide, I came up with the following.

On the cover is a comic-book style illustration of Satan–Van Dyke as sharp as horns, crimson cloak wrapped inhumanly tight by a black belt, dijon mustard green cape billowing without any apparent wind, pitchfork out of hand but within arm’s reach—hunched at work over a writing desk, pen to paper, semi-circled by an orange and red inferno that had presumably also ignited the contents of the waste basket at his feet and the drawers near his elbows. Below this was written, in a jagged flame-like font:

Lucifer Writes A Letter.

Dear God Damned If You Do,

You may not realize it, but I like watching you. I’m doing so now, actually. I see you stopped reading for a second there—did a little double-take and glance over your shoulder? No, I’m just kidding. I’m not watching you read this letter. Well, I am, but not while I’m writing it. I may not be human, but I’m still pretty much as bound by time as you. I guess you could say I’m a little god damned that way myself. Ha Ha Ha.

No . . . when I say I’m watching you now, as I’m writing, it’s best to not get too pedantic. What with reprints, revisions, and subsequent editions of this letter, who can say when “now” is, right? I mean, let’s face it, I could just as well be referring to any old peeping Tom, Dick or Harry in the past or the future. Let’s just assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now, and take for granted, get our cards all on the table, that I’m always watching. From beginning to end. Period.

I have to say, my friend, I like what I see. You have a lot of damned potential. Ha Ha Ha. I couldn’t resist. But seriously, you have a way about you that makes a fella like me perk up and pay attention. You and I, we like the same movies and jokes. The dirtier the better, am I right? And who can cuss people out better than we? No-fucking-body, I say. Ha Ha Ha. What else? Oh yeah . . . petty theft that stops short of felonious grand larceny. Check! Telling lies so well and often that we eventually believe them ourselves? Check! Guess that makes us hypocrites too, huh! You’re my kind of sinner, my friend. Why, we’ll stab you kin in the back and claim the knife was there for as long as we knew you — don’t blame us for your own lack of attention. Losers.

The only thing that worries me is that I’m hearing word that you’re thinking about giving all this up. Tell me this isn’t so, my friend! I mean, thanks for the memories and all, but there’s so much more we could do. There’s a whole eternity of torment and toil waiting for you with me down here. All you have to do is just keep on doing what you’re doing.

No matter what you do, don’t you dare pray, don’t even think it, stop reading now, ‘Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner, forgive all my sins and set me free from the bondages of sin. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, and I now confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that God raised you from the dead. Forgive me and come into my heart, and fill me with joy everlasting.’ And God help you if you keep praying and you find words of your own to truthfully say, ‘By faith I accept you as my Savior and Lord, and I will serve you forever.

Never forget . . .

Eternally Damned If You Don’t,


What is a Person?

This is a guest post by Ashon Crawley. Ashon is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside. His research and teaching experiences are in the areas of Black Studies, Performance Theory and Sound Studies, Philosophy and Theology, Black Feminist and Queer theories. His book, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (Fordham University Press), is an investigation of aesthetics and performance as modes of collective, social imaginings otherwise. Find him on twitter at @ashoncrawley or at ashoncrawley.com 

Walking through the streets of Philadelphia – or taking a trolley, the El or a cab – was for me always an exercise in intense emotion and feeling. There is so much that happens on the streets: the smells of food or the steam from sewers in the winter, the sounds of music playing in cars, from stores or churches. And it was there on those streets – mostly West Philly, Center City, Southwest and sometimes a bus to North Philly – where I first tried my hand at clandestine dating or at least late night trips to try to figure out my erotic life with young guys who were, like me, likely on their way to church on Sunday morning. I’d call the Party Line and talk until I found someone to take to the streets to my apartment, or me to the streets for theirs. It was all about feeling something deep and intense and varied and warm. I felt a kinda freedom in fugitivity, a freedom in clandestine hookups for kissing and hugging and sex. I wanted to feel something.

And so it was in Philadelphia that I first felt something along the line of the uncertainty that feeling could produce, the unstable ground that feeling could be. Reading Linn Marie Tonstad’s God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude transported me backwards, from 1998 until 2005, my time living in Philadelphia. And this because her scrutinizing attention to debates about the concept of the trinity, my reading of it, has been the first occasion in such a very long time for me to think my own relation to the concept of the character of godhead. In Philadelphia, I was quite acquainted with debates about the concept because it is one that animates lots of Blackpentecostal inquiry and dissent.

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Rebooting the conservative continuity

Many years ago, I argued that one of the biggest problems facing conservatism is how baroque and complicated its “universe” had become. Its fans are expected to have immediate recall of obscure concepts and plot points, while tolerating obvious continuity errors in matters like when personal freedom is good and when it’s bad, when the government should be small and when it should be much more heavy-handed, etc. The result has been a dwindling audience as fewer and fewer people are willing to put in the work of becoming emotionally invested in such a complex fictional universe all for the sake of justifying their support for some pretty mediocre contemporary content.

In that post, I argued that it might be time for a Crisis of Infinite Earths of conservatism, which could wind down the unnecessary complexities while still maintaining some kind of continuity over time. Read the rest of this entry »

The Story of Brexit, in the style of Mideast reporting

Radical Protestant separatists have rocked the European Union, voting to leave the federation that had tenuously unified Christians belonging to opposed sects. Britain, which adheres to its own idiosyncratic version of the Protestant sect, had only recently reached an uneasy truce in a territorial dispute with its Catholic neighbor, Ireland. It is hoping to join a group of other Protestant countries in Northern Europe who have negotiated trading privileges while keeping their distance from the Catholic-dominated group.

It is a major blow for Germany, which has assumed a leadership role in an EU increasingly riven by sectarian strife. Germany’s relative balance between Protestant and Catholic groups positioned it uniquely to mediate disputes between those two sects, yet left it in an awkward position as it led the effort to bring the Orthodox state of Greece into line with the rest of the Union. While other Orthodox nations have been successfully integrated, it remains the case that the EU’s chief geopolotical rival — and most powerful neighbor — is the overwhelmingly Orthodox Russia.

The European Union was originally conceived as a way to bring an end to sectarian violence on the continent. By uniting all Christians in a single political and economic unit, it was believed that long-simmering disputes over indulgences and the filioque clause could be put aside. The Brexit separatists have shaken this project to its core, leaving some observers wondering whether Europe will ever be able to leave behind its religious strife and join the modern world.

Introduction: God and Difference Book Event


Trinitarian theology has lost its way. It has become – as I demonstrate in this book – a way to enjoin practices of sacrifice and submission under the banner of countering the rapaciousness of modern subjectivity.

The problem with Christian theological accounts of the Trinity is not, Tonstad argues, that they have become infected by the fallen or secular logics of gender inequality and hierarchy. The logics of heterosexism and heteronormativity are, in fact, deeply theological, and cannot be unsettled simply by the demand that they be made flexible enough to welcome queer people in. What is necessary instead is a radical remaking of the logic of trinitarian procession, moving away from the heterosexual logic of penetration, according to which relationships move according to the thrusting logics of space-making, activity and receptivity, towards the clitoral logic of surface touch, intensification, and non-sacrificial encounter.

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