The Anthropology of Antichristianity (Part 1)
Prophets, Priests, and Kings
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) has — quite correctly — stated that “the most important theological issue today is ‘what is man,’ how do we understand the human person. That is particularly important both in our own Orthodox theology and in our discussions with other Christians.” I would add that the question of anthropology is also the fundamental lens through which modernity as a whole must be viewed and understood. Indeed, this question is at the very heart of many of various challenges and difficulties faced by a Christian living in the present age.
I have written repeatedly that the modernity must be understood as a fundamentally religious phenomenon, and that secular humanism is in fact but a forerunner of the religion of the Antichrist. This new religion is disguised from appearing as such, mainly because it professes not to worship any gods. But in reality it is the worship of man. Its chief dogma was laid down by the Devil at the dawn of history: “ye shall be as gods.” And if modernity is the Religion of Man, then it is evident that its theology consists in nothing other than a new anthropology.
And although this new anthropology is profoundly hostile towards Christianity, it is nevertheless unavoidably derived from it as well. This is because, as Richard Pevear once wrote, “Demons are unoriginal. They cannot come up with anything new or real. Their lies are copied from sacred truths.” Indeed, it is precisely this core of sacred truth that gives Antichristianity all of its seductive power and beauty. Antichristianity is not a lie, but a half-truth. Once again we see that Antichristianity means not only “against Christianity,” but also “in place of Christianity.”
In order to understand this new anthropology being offered to the world by Antichristianity, it is first necessary to have at least a basic understanding of the Orthodox anthropology from which it derives and which it distorts. Although this is without doubt a subject of great and profound depth, we can nevertheless begin an understanding of it with the help of St. John of Damascus’ classic treatise An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith:
God then made man… like a sort of second microcosm within the great world, another angel capable of worship, compound, surveying the visible creation and initiated into the mysteries of the realm of thought, king over the things of earth, but subject to a higher king, of the earth and of the heaven, temporal and eternal, belonging to the realm of sight and to the realm of thought, midway between greatness and lowliness, spirit and flesh.
In other words, the fundamental purpose of man is to function as a mediator between heaven and earth. This doctrine of man as a “microcosm” is expounded in great detail in the anthropological writings of St. Maximos the Confessor, which he himself summarizes as follows:
The major characteristic of the human person is that he
or she is given, from the moment of creation, the task of uniting in oneself as in a ‘microcosm’ the entire cosmos, and through the attainment of one’s own union with God thereby to unite this cosmos with God.
This task is further illuminated by the classical formulation of the “Threefold Office” (munus triplex) found in the writings of Eusebius, who taught that Jesus as the Christ (literally “the Anointed One”) fulfills in Himself the Old Testament roles of Prophet, Priest, and King (each of which in the Old Testament had likewise been sealed by an anointing). In this fulfillment Christ acts as the New Adam, renewing in Himself the divine image which had been marred (but not destroyed) by the Fall. This means that not only Christ Himself, but also each and every human being is called to fulfill the Threefold Office. This is the purpose of our life, the meaning of our existence: to wholly unite God with His creation in the depths of our own being. In terms of the Threefold Office, man’s vocation is to become a cosmic mediator of divine truth (as prophet), divine life (as priest), and divine power (as king).
Any vision of life which fails to encompass the greatness of this calling cannot ultimately satisfy the human heart, as it is written in the Scriptures: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Man hungers for many things, but unavoidably and above all else for divinity. He can and will be satisfied with nothing less.
What does this mean for those who have rejected God? How can they possibly fill the void they have created in their own hearts? Contrary to appearances, it is by no means a simple and easy thing to declare oneself an atheist. Even that great adversary of Christianity, Nietzsche, warned us of this when he wrote “The Parable of the Madman” in 1882:
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It is easy to jeer at the idea of God, but to go about rebuilding the world which was once built in Him and by Him is no light and inconsequential task. And indeed, such a monumental problem admits of only one possible solution. It was once offered to Eve by the Devil in the Garden, and it is offered once again to modern man by the demonic prophet Nietzsche: “Must we ourselves not become gods?”
This is the anthropology of Antichristianity: we are gods. We are prophets of our own truth. We are priests of our own religion. We are kings with our own power and authority.
Political philosophy has long been dominated by the democratic principle: the idea that the individual human being is sovereign. Science has long been dominated by the rational principle: the idea that human reason is the supreme arbiter of truth. We can quite easily and conveniently regard ourselves as prophets and kings, without any need for a God to tell us the truth or to grant us our authority. We have amassed a truly dizzying array of facts, and we have no trouble at all trusting in our own power.
But we are finding that it is a harder thing to create our own religion. It is a much more difficult task to become priests without serving any gods. Everything somehow ends up sounding just a little too hollow, and feeling just a bit too contrived. Divine truth can be counterfeited, and divine authority can be usurped. But how to go about finding a substitute for divine life?
We have slowly and gradually been discovering the truth realized by David Foster Wallace, a brilliant contemporary writer who, not too long ago, tragically ended his own life in suicide:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on….
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is… that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.
And that is precisely what we have become: lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. We have eaten ourselves alive.
But there is one alternative which yet remains for the modern world, once possible road of escape from this hell of our own making: love. Not true Christian love, of course, because that road leads us directly and unavoidably back to God. Rather, we are now seeking to build a new universal religion of worldly love, which generally comes in one of two forms: either sexual or philanthropic.
This is the new religion, the beginnings of the new Antichristianity. Christianity is the religion of divine love, and Antichristianity is the religion of worldly love. And woe to those who cannot discern the difference.