Cardi B., Jean-Paul Sartre and “Theologia Diaboli”

by Anthony Costello

Much commentary has been made recently about the ultra-vulgar nature of the song “WAP” by popular rap star, Cardi B., a song whose text I will not reproduce here for the sake of all that is good and holy. For the sake of understanding this essay, however, it may be necessary to click on the above link and examine, albeit briefly, the sheer crudity of the song’s lyrics. In doing so, one hopefully experiences shock at this ode to barbarism. That said, it should not surprise anyone who has immersed themselves in the Bible, or listened carefully to what the Church’s theologians have said about the depravity of man and the corrosive effects of sin on the mind. Fortunately, we live in a culture still imbued with some generic Christian sensibilities, so such depravity still occasions outrage in a few quarters of society. This outrage is good, even if a bit late in coming.

At the same time, it is not just those who hold to Christian sexual ethics that might find this massively popular hymn to sexual exploitation unsurprising. Those who have studied with any seriousness the phenomena that Immanuel Kant described as “das radikale Böse” (radical evil), will see in both the song, and the meteoric rise of its creator, an embrace of what one philosopher called a theologia diaboli,1This is the title of F. H. Heinemann’s essay in the book Existentialism and the Modern Predicament, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1958). or theology of the devil. The fact is, Cardi B. is not without her historic predecessors, both in the realm of pop music,2Predecessors in this genre might include vile groups such as NWA or 2LiveCrew as well as that of existentialist philosophy. Whether known to the rapper or not, she stands in a long line of profound thinkers and creative geniuses who have found comfort in the arms of evil.

The Theoligia Diaboli of Jean Genet and Jean-Paul Sartre

In his survey of 20th century existentialism, philosopher F.H. Heinemann appends a short essay commenting on Jean-Paul Sartre’s book, Saint Genet, Comedien et Martyr, a book that explores, in no uncertain terms, the nature of radical evil. Heinemann, writing in the 1950’s from Oxford, opens his review of Sartre’s tome by considering the current state of Western culture:

Human societies are to-day [sic] secularized to a degree unheard of in former times. Some of them are indifferent and others hostile to religion, some ‘humanistic’, others openly atheistic. There are millions of people to whom nothing is sacred. But why is it that nations soaked in humanism, which have achieved a high standard of material well-being, are nevertheless unhappy? Can a society which has completely lost the sense of the holy reach a state of relative perfection? Further, is it possible to eliminate the sense of the sacred altogether?

Heinemann, Existentialism and the Modern Predicament, 205.

So begins Heinemann’s commentary on Sartre, the avowed atheist materialist, whose existentialism demanded that God not only die but never again be resurrected. Sartre’s book, Saint Genet, is itself an exposé on the thought and moral psychology of the French writer, activist, and thief, Jean Genet.3 Jean Genet started life as a petty thief and vagabond. After his release from prison he visited the US as a guest speaker and supporter of groups like the Black Panthers, and activists like Angela Davis, a pupil of Herbert Marcuse. Genet also protested against police brutality in Algeria with his fellow French novelists, Sartre and Foucault. The main themes of his works were a celebration of homosexual sex, moral iconoclasm, and finding beauty in acts of evil and criminality. Regarding Sartre’s book on the iconoclast Genet, Heinemann says, “Saint Genet pursues this rebellion [of evil-doing] to its extreme possibilities,”4 Heinemann, Existentialism, 206. indicating to the reader, and to Sartre’s discredit, that the book pushes the boundaries of morality to the edges of human sensibility. For Sartre, Genet is a modern saint in his radical overturning of all things that could be construed as Judeo-Christian morality or as “civilized,” and for his overt celebration and embrace of the criminal. Heinemann calls this reveling in pure rebellion a “Justificatio Diaboli,” i.e., “Diabolo-dicy,”5 As opposed to “Theodicy” an intellectual defense of that which has, to paraphrase a real saint, been believed to be wicked “everywhere, always, and by all.”6see Vincent of Lerins, For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, Chapter 2.6

For men like Genet and Sartre, as Heinemann’s opening reflections suggest, there truly is nothing sacred. There are only two realities for such thinkers: material realities and the free will of man. Moreover, anything that has been traditionally viewed as heathen, barbaric, or malevolent, is now not only open to pursuit and practice but even to praise. Thus, Genet and Sartre can applaud everything from coitus per anum7Genet was himself a notorious homosexual, who wrote in detail about the sexual act. to lying to pursuits of personal vengeance as acts of liberation from both traditional religion as well as man’s alienation from his true nature as a pleasure seeking beast. No longer are their pleasures forevermore to be sought at the right hand of the Almighty God,8see Psalm 16:11 rather whatever is at God’s left hand is where the pleasures lie. All the abominations of the Bible are now the objects of desire for these modern existentialists. This pursuit of evil, especially in the realm of sensuality, but certainly not limited to sexuality, takes on concrete form in a kind of theological anti-dogma. Its core principles can be numbered and articulated with relative clarity. Heinemann lays them out in detail, details worth reproducing here in full:

1) Regard every event, even if, and especially when, it is harmful…as if it were the product of your unconditioned will and a gratuitous gift which you have decided to make to yourself.

2) Your principal motive should be the horror that your future action may inspire in others and in yourself.

3) Act in such a manner that society treats you always as an object and as a means, and never as an end in itself or as a person.

4) Act as if the maxim of your action could be regarded as a rule in the thieve’s tavern….9Heinemann, Existentialism, 208.

These formulations of the evil will act as perversions of the Kantian ethic, and they express the following sentiments:10ibid., 208.

1) The megalomania of a man who would like to possess the creative power of a negative God, i.e. of the Devil;

2) the sadistic cruelty of a character anxious to dominate others and to equal the dictators;

3) the masochistic self-abasement of a ‘have-not’ who throws his most valuable possession overboard-his personal integrity-and who allows himself to become a mere object and merely a means to an end; and

4) the cynical contempt of the realm of persons or of the Kantian realm of ends, and the corresponding exaltation of the thieve’s tavern!11ibid., 208.

It is points 3 especially that are relevant to understanding how Cardi B.’s song, and her own attitude toward her song and its critics, follows in the long tradition of atheistic existentialists like Genet and Sartre. Indeed the young rapper’s message is not new, even if finding this anti-dogma being proffered by a woman, and not just wicked men, might be novel.

Cardi B.’s Vision, Instrumentalizing the Human Person, and the Will to Power

Point 3 of the act and sense of this theologia diaboli makes the explicit claim that for any act to be liberating in this upside down ethic, one must intentionally allow oneself to be treated as a mere tool or instrument by society. The notion of a human person being intrinsically valuable, or possessing an ontological worth that cannot be handled instrumentally, is itself repulsive to the dogma of radical evil. The song, WAP, is as clear an expression of this intent as anything could be. The woman, here Cardi. herself as the song is self-referential, is no longer a being of incalculable ontological value, rather she just is a body meant to serve a function; the function of being sexually pleasurable to the dominant male. It is this embrace of “self-abasement” that should be shocking to anyone, or any culture that is morally, spiritually and emotionally healthy. The question that seems to be an open one, is whether or not our culture was indeed shocked at all?

There are a few important implications of this kind of libertinism. Moral dissolution always surfaces the most profound questions of human existence. One implication that has been noted by conservatives for many years, is the apparent inconsistency of women “being empowered” through the marketing of their bodies for the sake of stimulating horny, vile, and, likely, very rich men. This new means to feminist empowerment would apparently undo everything that the original suffragists and even feminists of the 1970’s and 80’s were arguing against and fighting for, both in the court of public opinion and courts of law. In Cardi B’s vision, clearly the road to power is not through competing with men in academic, industrial, economic, legal, military or medical arenas, but rather in the open embrace of old-fashioned temple prostitution. Of course, if avarice also counts as a moral good on the theologia diaboli, then it makes sense that whatever the road to fame or fortune may be, it is one worth traveling.

Secondly, WAP further propagates the mental and spiritual disease of seeing women as reducible to sex objects. Here it becomes difficult to understand what someone like a Harvey Weinstein actually did wrong, since he was psychologically primed and fed by pop culture itself to understand women as mere instruments to sexual pleasure. Cardi’s vision, it could be argued, provides an explicit model for young girls to be understood primarily, if not merely, as sexual slaves in the service of men, and to see that slavery as itself a good thing (again, point 3 on Heinemann’s list). Perhaps to Cardi’s defense, one could say it will only be those men who can afford these young sex slaves that will actually have them, since something like monetary exchange or a “life of ease” seems part of the Cardi telos. This exchange of the human body for wealth, of the human person for luxury, also seems to fulfill point 4 of the theologia diaboli anti-dogma, which makes unholy and unjust commercial exchanges a desirable endeavor.

Third, Cardi’s performance of the song serves to satisfy point 2 on the list, invoking horror in those who still retain some semblance of either a Christian moral ethic or generic moral conscience or who just have young children. In an interview with Stephen Colbert she seemed to indicate that part of her intent was just that, to “piss off a whole bunch of Republicans.” In another interview it is “fake religious people”12see: who have been strangely unsettled. Unfortunately, or fortunately for her, I think there were more than just Republicans or religious people who were horrified at such an abuse of talent.

Finally, when one listens to her testimony about her music and her life, we see the most profound condition of the theologia diaboli fulfilled, namely the self-revelry in the expression of one’s “unconditioned will.” Here, we might say that Cardi is as close to a real life embodiment of Nietzsche’s Übermensch as one could find today. In the unconstrained expression of her will, she not only achieves heroic greatness in record album sales, but achieves life fulfillment:

“Life is about making your dreams come true, but in order to make your dreams come true, don’t think that it’s gonna come and fall from the sky to your lap…You actually gotta put in the work. You gotta be ambitious. You gotta network. You gotta become great at what you do. You gotta be able to take criticism — believe it or not, y’all be saying I don’t take criticism, but yes I do.”

from an interview with “People” magazine,

A creative genius unbound and released from any moral normativity lay at the heart of Nietzsche’s “overman,” one could say that Cardi is the “overwoman.”

The Nature of Sex and The False Liberty of the Existentialist Mind

In his book on classical wisdom and modern psychology, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck describes from the standpoint of psychoanalysis the phenomena of authentic love, defining it as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”13. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 81. This extension of one’s self for the sake of the other’s growth usually requires other virtues, most importantly the virtues of discipline and sacrifice. Love, in this sense, is not a mere feeling or set of temporary sensations, but rather “Love is an act of the will.”14ibid., 83. When the pleasurable nature of sexual intercourse is taken into account, however, it becomes tempting for people to conflate the physical stimulus of coitus with love itself. This is highly problematic to the human person:

It is obvious and generally understood that sexual activity and love, while they may occur simultaneously, often are disassociated, because they are basically separate phenomena. In itself, making love is not an act of love. Nonetheless the experience of sexual intercourse, and particularly of orgasm (even in masturbation), is an experience also associated with a greater or lesser degree of collapse of ego boundaries and attendant ecstasy. It is because of this collapse of ego boundaries that we may shout at the moment of climax “I love you” or “Oh, God” to a prostitute for whom moments later, after the ego boundaries have snapped back into place, we may feel no shred of affection, liking or investment.

Peck, 96.

The goal of this essay is not to ridicule or judge the person known as Cardi B. However, it is to point out that the singer/songwriter has fallen into the ancient trap of looking for authentic love, the dropping of ego boundaries, in the sexual act itself. Clearly this mother of a young daughter should want to feel real love, the kind of love that safeguards the value of the human person, that invests in that person, and that acts on behalf of that person’s spiritual well-being. Unfortunately, in WAP it is profoundly clear that the only experience of “love” being aimed for is that of the physical pleasure that attends the fleeting and uncommitted sexual act. The lack of willingness by both partners to commit to the person inside the sexualized body does not lead to liberation as one might hope, but as soon as ego boundaries “snap back into place” the realization of one’s enslavement and emptiness often follows. This dynamic of oppression and misuse of sex is presented in the earliest chapters of the Bible, where the inspired author knows what sin will do to God’s original design for human companionship,

“To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;  in pain you shall bring forth children,yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Genesis, 3:16

From a biblical standpoint it seems the “Overwoman” is not really empowered over anything, but, in fact, has merely submitted to the rule of sinful man.

Philosophically speaking, Heinemann echoes Peck’s understanding of real love and freedom, when he points out the abject failure of Sartre’s diabolical theology:

In short, Sartre’s freedom is no real liberty, but caprice and licence, and therefore insufficient as a basis for ethics. Real freedom consists in accepting responsibility for one’s own actions in relation to others within a moral order, and equally for this order itself. A choice is not authentic because it is made by the Self and of the Self, but because it is the right choice, i.e., it is the choice of the right moral order and the right action in these particular circumstances, made on the basis of this moral standard.

Heinemann, 212.

Caprice and licence to do whatever one’s inner impulses suggest is not freedom; it is slavery. Authenticity lies not in a choice for “the Self” by “the Self” but in making the right choice, a choice aimed at an objective standard. Augustine saw this most clearly in his formulation of the doctrine of original sin. To entertain without restraint our inner most desires is not to become like God, it is to usher in our own destruction and become as nothing. We have been made to be a certain way by our Creator, and to struggle against the way we were meant to be, while not futile, is nevertheless fatal. It is fatal because in resisting the grace and subsequent redemption it offers, we will never experience authentic Love, the Love that saves, that sustains, and that grows us. We can only pray that Cardi B. will not go down the road of Jean Genet or Jean-Paul Sartre, but instead turn away from the glorification of the Self, which only serves Satan’s plan of total domination of our souls. Once she does, as I suspect she might, then her true glorification in Christ may begin.

Beauty, The Law, and Meaning Without God

“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces!”

Psalm 119

“the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 19

Imagine walking down the street somewhere in America today and hearing the following, “wow, what a beautiful ordinance New York just passed!,” or perhaps “man, California really has the loveliest laws in the nation,” or maybe “boy, these new state guidelines are so delicious, I just can’t stop thinking about them!” Statements like these would sound quite bizarre to modern ears. Laws for modern man are not usually thought of in aesthetic or sensual terms like those found in the Psalms.

For the ancient Israelite, however, the law of God was more than just a series of practical guidelines or arbitrary, apodictic commands. Rather, “Torah” was something to behold, to gaze at, and to ponder. The Psalmist speaks of God’s law and His statues as having a quality about them which required the song writer to speak of them in aesthetic categories. Poetic metaphor was one way to talk of the Law. The Law was not just good, it was beautiful like a melody, tantalizing like honey, precious like the rarest metals. Today, however, while laws may be just or unjust, repressive or affirming, rarely are they likened as gold and silver to our eyes or honey to our lips. Why is this? What, if anything, has been lost to us in how we view law today compared with how the ancient Israelite viewed “Torah?”

Modern Man & The Loss of Aesthetic Ontology

In his magisterial work, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor explains the loss of the “ontic” in Western art, describing how in the modern era a universally accepted ontology, i.e., a shared metaphysical understanding of the cosmos, was no longer available to the contemporary artist. Rather than using common signs and shared imagery to point to the deeper realities of the created order and the “higher times”1 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2007), 54-59. of a divinely superintended history, artistic meaning no longer inhered in the metaphysical reference points these symbols represented. Meaning was instead relegated to the sensibilities of the artist himself:

We could describe the change in this way: where formerly poetic language could rely on certain publicly available orders of meaning, it now has to consist in a language of articulated sensibility….[Alexander] Pope, for instance, in his Windsor Forest, could draw on age-old views of the order of nature as a commonly available source of poetic images. For Shelly [1792-1822] this resource is no longer available; the poet must articulate his own world of references, and make them believable.

Taylor, A Secular Age, 353.

What had changed between Pope’s early 18th century world and Shelly’s early 19th century one to make it so that the artist himself had to not just render the publicly accessible signs, but also provide his own meaning for the signs rendered, is simple to articulate albeit daunting to grasp as a historical reality. The metaphysical view of the cosmos that had been taken for granted for millennia, an understanding of reality grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, classical Greek philosophy, and the biblical narrative, had gradually eroded and been lost. The given assumptions that the objects of artistic representation were real was no longer accepted. Whether those representations were scenes of biblical or classical history, e.g. stories of great heroes or saints, or of more abstract realities, e.g., the order and structure of the angelic realm, the artistic signs were no longer consider to point to actual ontological substances, transcendent realms, or even historical persons and events. From the time of the early enlightenment, therefore, the artist would no longer be able to specialize only in the technique of his artistic medium, the goal being to represent both immanent and transcendent features of cosmic truths, but instead to create his own cosmic truths to represent. This marks a fundamental intellectual shift in art from objective mimesis to subjective articulation—from artistic imitation to generation.

This loss of the ontological referent in artistic representation entailed the conceptual shift from understanding the work of art, e.g. the painting or concerto, as the subject’s expression about an object of affection (or contemplation), to seeing the work of art itself as the thing worthy of affection or contemplation. This process began first with the artist and then migrated into the art community, becoming a new “given” for how the culture understands the art it views. Once this philosophical transition had occurred in the mind of the common man, it was no longer to the deeper mystery of Christ’s atonement that say the Isenheim Altarpiece points its viewer, rather it is the Altarpiece itself which becomes the terminus ad quem. It, the work of art, points to nothing other than what it is. The piece of art is no longer an instrumental good aimed at some final cause, it itself is now seen as its own end.2 The impressionist phrase that captured this new philosophy of aesthetics was “l’art pour l’art.”

This, of course, does not mean that we still do not feel or sense something transcendent when we stand before Grünewald’s masterpiece, or when we hear a powerful rendition of Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major. But, it does mean that we are left grasping for that which would explain why we feel transcended. As Taylor says about this “absolute” art, “it trades on resonances of the cosmic in us” while at the same time “the ontic commitments are very unclear.”3 Taylor, A Secular Age, 356. In other words, we feel something metaphysically real, but we wonder if that reality is external to us, or is it in the power of the artist himself to create such “realities?” Is the artist discerning some greater mystery, or is he just being mysterious?

Taylor goes on:

The idea is: the mystery, the depth, the profoundly moving, can be, for all we know, entirely anthropological. Atheists, humanists cling on to this, as they go to concerts, operas, read great literature. So one can complement an ethic and a scientific anthropology which remain very reductive and flat.

Taylor, A Secular Age, 356.

If it is the case that man is just being mysterious, i.e., acting mysteriously through his art, then a kind of poetic atheism is possible: itself an amazing phenomena should man turn out to be nothing more than the sum of his molecules—raw matter all the way down. Nevertheless, this loss of a metaphysical component or ontological referent to the artistic expressions of modern man goes beyond just leaving us with a sense of confusion as to the source of our wonderment. It touches upon the nature of morality as well.

The Beautiful and The Good

The relation of the aesthetic to the moral has been recognized since ancient times. In On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry highlights how the recognition of that which is beautiful acts as the catalyst for generating that which is good:

“The generation is unceasing. Beauty, as both Plato’s Symposium and everyday life confirm, prompts the begetting of children: when the eye sees someone beautiful, the whole body wants to reproduce the person. But it also—as Diotima tells Socrates—prompts the begetting of poems and laws, the works of Homer, Hesiod, and Lycurgus. The poem and the law may then prompt descriptions of themselves—literary and legal commentaries—that seek to make the beauty of the prior thing more evident, to make, in other words, the poem’s or law’s “clear discernibility” even more “clearly discernible.”

Excerpt From: Elaine Scarry. “On Beauty and Being Just.” Apple Books.

Moral goodness then, in so many ways, is an expression of an aesthetic quality. The beholder of beauty longs to see it regenerated and further propagated in diverse forms. Most biologically, and concretely, in the reproduction of children. More abstractly and conceptually in the creation of just laws. The former act mirrors the divine act of creation itself, while the latter makes clear or discernible to the rational mind the harmony embedded in creation.

It is necessary at this point to note an important distinction, however, between articulations (e.g. laws or statutes) of “the Good” and aesthetic experiences of “the Beautiful.” This distinction lies in their varying modes of existence. Laws and statutes are propositional and must be formed and understood rationally through properly crafted linguistic structures. Aesthetic expressions are primarily non-propositional and usually engage the emotions. Poets try to split the difference between these two modes by using metaphorical and figurative language and concise verbal constructions to evoke emotions through “word pictures;” something that music and painting do through non-verbal means. Nevertheless, it has been shown that knowledge can be acquired both through the propositional and indirect as well as through the non-propositional and direct.4 see, for example, James O. Young, Art and Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2001) for an extended philosophical treatise on how art conveys knowledge.

Further, beyond the aforementioned desire to propagate that which is beautiful through various means, some more concrete, others more abstract, Scarry goes on to say that there is also a posture of reverence one takes when in the presence of beauty,

“The moment of coming upon something or someone beautiful might sound…like this: ‘You are about to be in the presence of something life-giving, lifesaving, something that deserves from you a posture of reverence or petition. It is not clear whether you should throw yourself on your knees before it or keep your distance from it, but you had better figure out the right answer because this is not an occasion for carelessness or for leaving your own postures wholly to chance.”

Elaine Scarry, Part I: On Beauty and Being Just

Encounters with beauty force the subject to acknowledge something beyond themselves that requires some kind of appropriate response, some “right answer.” Real beauty imposes normativity upon us.

We now begin to see what the Psalmist was getting at when he, under divine inspiration, waxed poetically about the Law. In the New Testament, St. Paul commends the church at Philippi to consider that which is beautiful as a way to know what moral excellence is, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.” (Phil 4:8-9) However, for both the Psalmist and the Apostle Paul, unlike for the post-Enlightenment artist, that contemplation of beauty had a clear object of reference, namely the Divine Nature itself, the very Being of God.

Schiller and Nietzsche: Conflicting Visions

For the post-Enlightenment Romantics the question then had to be raised: could the experience of beautiful phenomena, apart from a religiously defined ontological referent of that experience, “save us” from our existential crisis and provide a basis for our ethics? Friedrich Schiller thought that if the biblical view of God was no longer a metaphysical option for filling in the meaning of that which is beautiful, then the encounter with beauty itself must be the thing that could relieve us from our existential condition, as well as provide a moral foundation. For Schiller and other Romantics, morality is a kind of emanation of the beautiful, but where the beautiful is left impersonal and ambiguous. To be good is to create beautiful things or respond properly to those things that are beautiful. Taylor explains:

Schiller thus gave a wonderfully clear, convincing and influential formulation to a central idea of the Romantic period, that the answer to the felt inadequacy of moralism, the important defining goal or fulfillment which it leaves out and represses, was to be found in the aesthetic realm. This went beyond the moral, but in Schiller’s case wasn’t seen in contradicting it. Rather it complements morality in completing human fulfillment.

Taylor, A Secular Age, 358-359.

In other words, the specified moralities found in traditional religions like Judaism and Christianity, which trafficked in divine laws and moral commands handed down from a personal God, were stifling to the human subject; they were moralistic in that they warred against our more natural instincts and sensibilities. Eternal laws that were claimed to coincide with a divine will were too restrictive to the human creature, and, as such, the experience of beauty itself now became the grounds for ethical appeals. Christian and Jewish moral codes were seen as historically contingent, or so it was argued, and there was a higher law that those religions had perverted in their merely human attempts to articulate morality. Man had progressed and so too his moral sensibility.

However, this Romantic view presented a problem, one that lingers until today. For, as pointed out above, the thing that gives meaning to any beautiful phenomena, whether a feature of nature or artifact of man, was no longer to be found in something ontologically distinct from the subject, rather meaning was ascribed by the artist himself. As such, by collapsing moral goodness into aesthetics, Schiller, like his contemporary, Keats,5See “Ode on a Grecian Urn” where Keats famously says “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need know.” can now claim that “Beauty is what will save us, complete us.”6 Taylor, A Secular Age, 359. However, in doing this, he winds up conflating morality with the meaning-making will of the artist himself. Now, it is the artist who gives definition and content to what is moral by articulating the meaning of that which is beautiful, and not by recognizing something metaphysically distinct that gives its own meaning.

The historical consequences of this theory of morality was the aestheticism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which gave rise to an artistic culture independent of any religious system of thought, but instead acted as a replacement for religion, “So created beauty, works of art, are not only important loci of that beauty which can transform us [into moral creatures] they are also essential ways of acceding to the beauty which we don’t create [i.e. Nature]. In the Romantic period, artistic creation comes to be the highest domain of human activity.7 Taylor, 359. Emphasis added. Later aesthetes like G.E. Moore would develop more philosophically rigorous systems to try and ground ethics in aesthetics.

Taylor goes on to say regarding Schiller’s theory, however, that while this conflation of the aesthetic with the moral is a far cry from the ancient and medieval notions of beauty and goodness (e.g. represented most vividly in the cosmological imagery of Dante), it still leaves some room for God as the ultimate author of beauty itself. A divine Creator of the world has not yet been entirely abandoned by the Romantics, even if particular religious dogmas about Him have been. Nevertheless, having arrived at Schiller, where the distinction between nature and nature’s creator has been significantly blurred, it is not long before we come to Nietzsche, whose rejection of the Creator will “set the aesthetic against the moral.”8 Taylor, 359.

For Schiller, the concept of beauty was still imbued with a residue of Christian morality and Christian virtue, in that “the Beautiful” is reflective of, or somehow still connected to, the notion of caritas, or charity. Love, light, harmony, order, and even selflessness are still the primary hallmarks of beauty. These moral and sensible notions are, even if now only vaguely defined by the artist himself, still thought of as the criteria for which something can be rightly called beautiful. Experiences of “play,”9Schiller’s term for the chief end of man on earth. and friendship, and what might be called the fullness of life are the chief ends of man on earth (and possibly the only chief ends, should earthly existence be the only one available to us). For Nietzsche, however, this kind of aesthetic humanism is still far too indebted to a Christian worldview. It neglects an entire range of human sensibilities, longings, desires and dispositions that are normatively no different than charity and altruism. These are the destructive, the chaotic, and otherwise dark powers of man.

Of course, for Nietzsche, these creative powers of man are not “dark,” in the sense of “wrong” or “immoral” or “deviant” from some standard that itself should be labeled “light” or “love.” No, rather these “dark” powers simply are— they are as human and as life-giving as any other impulse, if not more so. But, these creative energies have, through the rise of two particular worldviews: post-Socratic Greek philosophy and Christianity, become viewed as immoral, wrong, and worthy of marginalization and repression. For Nietzsche then, a return to the pre-moral aesthetics of Homeric culture in light of the decline of Christian metaphysics is the answer to what would otherwise be a plunge into nihilism. This longing for a purely aesthetic world, one unconstrained by Christian notions of morality (or enlightenment rationalism for that matter), can be seen in one of first major work, The Birth of Tragedy as well as in one of his last books, Ecce Homo. As Robert Wicks points out, Nietzsche “expresses his hope that Dionysus, the god of life’s exuberance, would replace Jesus, the god of the heavenly otherworld, as the premier cultural standard for future millennia.”10 Robert Wicks, “Friedrich Nietzsche” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2017.

Unlike Schiller and the earlier Romantics who left open the door to a divine referent, albeit an ambiguous one, Nietzsche slams the door shut by making the creative will of man the sole locus of “goodness.” Where Christ subjects himself to the will of the Father, and Paul calls Christians to subject their will to Christ, Dionysus subjects his will to nothing and no one. The idea of divine moral laws, let alone divine moral laws that are experienced as beautiful and to which one should subject himself, is the sheer antithesis of the Dionysian spirit that Nietzsche proposes.

Conclusion: A Culture of Ambiguity in Art and Law

Fortunately, culture in the West has never embraced the fullness of Nietzsche’s vision, although some historians would see Nietzsche’s view of truth and the will to power (hint: they are the same thing) as intellectually funding, at least in part, the rise of National Socialism in Germany11Robert Wicks points out that Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth, who took care of her brother in his invalid years was closely associated with both Hitler and Mussolini in their rise to power in the 1930’s. Herself, an avowed anti-semite, may have thought her brother’s works could intellectually fund the rising nationalism. Some fascists at least were able to interpret Nietzsche in a manner that lent philosophical support to Nazism and the idea of national self-glorification. It is not hard to see how that could be the case. and Fascism in Italy. Also, current trends in American culture do make Nietzsche’s views seem more alive than ever, especially in the realm of art and personal self-expression. Is the creative will of man beyond criticism or reproach? Perhaps recent Super Bowl half-time shows might give us a partial answer to that question.

Still, we are not where Nietzsche would have taken us, at least not yet. We may no longer see the moral law of the biblical God as beautiful to our eyes and sweet to our tongue, but neither do we really feel beyond morality as Nietzsche argued, ready to indulge in every desire and self-creative longing.12However, at this writing, a resolution (HR5) that would allow protections for biological men who simply through the act of self-identifying as women (and vice-versa) are treated legally as women has just passed the House and is waiting for approval in the Senate. In fact, it is hard to even think of what kinds of laws a Dionysian culture would require, if any at all?

It seems, therefore, that we still live, conceptually and existentially, somewhere between a cosmos where the moral law is beautiful because it proceeds from the nature and will of the biblical God, and Schiller’s vision of the moral law being an emanation from a beautiful but metaphysically ambiguous source. This Romantic vision is still a viable option for many, if not the cultural given against which we view morality and the laws we compose to try to articulate it. A vague sense of deity, the “therapeutic, moral and deistic”13The term “Moral, therapeutic deism” was coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. god of America’s youth, seems to be about as metaphysical as our current culture can be. The art it produces is as ambiguous as its ontological commitments. We see this cultural ambiguity on display when we watch a classical depiction of moral beauty in films like Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,”14 We also see in reviews of Malick’s film how both the Nietzschean and the Schillerian mindsets react to its overtly Christian theme: see here for an example of both. on the one hand, followed by a Nietzchean glorification of man’s unconstrained creative will in Danny Boyle’s biopic “Steve Jobs”15The film ends celebrating Jobs not for his moral character, although there is an ambiguous attempt to try to show some kind of moral transformation at the end of the movie, but for his sheer creative genius, a genius that allowed itself the freedom to run rampant over the feelings and lives of many for the sake of “creating.” on the other. Between these two presentations of beauty and morality (or lack thereof) is about every Walt Disney film made since 1990, each of which tries to maintain the Schillerian middle ground. These films, like “Mulan” or “Lion King,” suggest something beautiful and mysterious about life, but in its ambiguity, leave interpretation of the experience open, allowing for the construction of one’s own personalized morality. No public ontological referent is on offer here, just vague mystery and personal decision.

In sum, law in the West seems to mirror the ambiguity of our art. Some particular laws appear outright Nietzschean in their intent and content, e.g. the recent HR5 Equality Act, others exist in a more Schillerian vein, the Dream Act?, while others, albeit increasingly few, may faintly reflect, like in a mirror darkly, our once very real belief in a transcendent God and the Christ who came to set us free from the law. However, like our art, the idea that the law is beautiful is an increasingly rare, if not extinct, notion–the triumph of function over form is nearly complete. Today’s laws exist merely to help us manage our social lives, not to illuminate us to the divine nature from whence they flow and to which we are meant to go.

To Have or Have Not?: The Problem of Possessing vs. The Gift Of Being

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Matthew 6:25

In his commentary on the work of Gabriel Marcel, Oxford philosopher F.H. Heinemann1 Heinemann is a little known figure in philosophy, but seems to have been deeply involved with the existentialist movement on the European continent in its heyday. He also claims to have coined the term “Existenzphilosophie” in German, and knew many of the leading existentialist thinkers like Jaspers, Heidegger and Husserl personally. Thus, he has all the credentials of an expert in this arena of philosophy. suggests that for the French existentialist the source of ‘alienation’2 ‘Alienation’ is a fundamental concept and a technical term in 20th century existential thought. It is best understood as the individual person’s sense of being alone or isolated from God, others, and any telos or purpose in the world. for modern man lies in man’s “having” or “possessing” certain things or capacities or social functions. This inordinate focus on possessing or having alienates man from his authentic being. Unlike other existentialists of his day, like Sartre or Heidegger, the Roman Catholic Marcel saw the problem of possession as the core of our alienation from God and our true selves. Heinemann elucidates Marcel’s thought regarding the dangers of viewing our identity, our essence, in the act of “having”:

Objects which we possess, houses, books, factories, gardens, or ideas and opinions which we regard as our ‘possessions’, in a specific sense ‘have’ us. We are in danger of being imprisoned or devoured by them. People concentrating on having are in danger of becoming captive souls cut off from other persons and not responding to their ‘presence.’

F.H. Heinemann, Existentialism and the Modern Predicament, 143.

For Marcel, per Heinemann, the more one seeks to have or possess things for themselves, the more one does damage to his own being, to his own “ontology.” Man’s identity becomes confused with the concrete things he owns or even the abstract ideas he considers his own. According to Marcel, if we get lost in this project of having we “suffer a loss of being,” we incur an “ontological deficiency.”3 Heinemann, Existentialism and the Modern Predicament, 143. This having and the subsequent ontological damage it causes could manifest itself in very tangible things like the aforementioned “houses” or “factories” or in things like one’s own intellectual property or one’s success.

However, it is not just in a personal desire to have or possess that man begins to lose himself and his connection to God and his fellow man. Modern man, belonging to a world where the individual is increasingly ‘socialized,’ i.e., incorporated into an increasingly large, powerful state structure, has become a mere functionary (fonctionnaires) of that larger superstructure. In becoming more and more embedded in such a structure, genuine privacy, affection and relationship is lost:

An increasing socialization of life and the growing powers of the state are invading the privacy of the person and destroying the brotherhood of men and the fertile soil in which creativeness, imagination and reflection can flourish.

Heinemann, 143.

In addition, as the technology associated with this socializing process advances, the daily phenomena of human existence become mere “problems to be solved by reasoning and calculation.”4 ibid., 143. The vicissitudes of life all become obstacles to overcome rather than mysteries, i.e. “metaphysical problems,”5 Heinemann, 145. to be acknowledged and explored, let alone entered into.

Here, one could ask what happens if we apply Marcel’s concern over seeing things as problems to be fixed through instrumental reasoning, rather than as mysteries to be accepted and pondered, to concrete moral issues? Instead of seeing moral attitudes or actions as either intrinsically right or wrong, good or evil, inherently dignified or mere means to ends, we see moral issues as primarily political ones; as technicalities to be remedied through technological advances and legal revisions. On this view, for example, abortion is not an inherent evil, i.e. the destruction of a mysterious being of incalculable ontological worth, but merely a sociological ill to be overcome through medical technology (e.g. RU-486) and better social policies (e.g. free health insurance).

We see this kind of pragmatic attitude among some Evangelical Christians today, who care less about overturning an intrinsically unjust law in Roe v. Wade, or of pondering the great mystery of life more generally, but care only about finding means to dropping actual abortion rates.6 Which is, of course, one aspect of justice but not the whole story. As if the unjust “right” of abortion itself could stay on the books so long as no one actually exercised it. So long as the problems were not actual, it seems many would be okay with the idea that people could still believe abortion was morally justified. Their position seems to be that if we have through technology and social policy eliminated the need for anyone to have an actual abortion, it wouldn’t matter if they theoretically thought it was still a viable option. Nevertheless, this would be to go on thinking that the great mystery of life is itself subject to our possessing the knowledge and ability to destroy it, should it ever become too bothersome to us. Few today however would apply this kind of thinking to something like the institution of slavery. After all, it is not okay to believe slavery is morally acceptable even if it is no longer economically viable and therefore not needed.

Returning to the more general problem of alienation from God, our true self, and others through the elevating of “having” over “being,” C.S. Lewis echoes Marcel’s thought (independently I believe), in The Screwtape Letters when he writes about the kinds of possessive claims we make on our lives. These include claims about our bodies and even time itself. Regarding time, Lewis has the elder tempter, Screwtape, advise the younger Wormwood:

They [interruptions] anger him [the Christian man] because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties.

In deceiving the individual into believing he or she possesses the very time that passes, any intrusion upon one’s time by one’s neighbor (let alone by God) is seen as an offense, a “tax” upon one’s property. This opens up the door to various kinds of conflict between the individual self and “the other,” as human pride is further fueled by the enemy and every inch of “our” lives becomes a battlefield. After all, the notion that man possesses time itself can only be the height of hubris!

Regarding the body, it is much the same. The sense of “having” or “owning” a body is the source of incredible pride and egocentricism:

Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies—those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counsellors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

It is this “sense of ownership,” this claim to “having rights” over everything from tangibles like houses and motor-cars,7 for Marcel avoir-possession, or “possessing having” to even the physical pains and pleasures of “those vast and perilous estates” that are human bodies8 for Marcel, the avoir-implication, or “implicit having” that enslaves us. Only when we realize that none of these things are appropriately ours, even if we experience them as such, but instead are part of the Divine life, can we begin to relinquish this false self, and in doing so participate in the life of God. In letting go of our ownership, our “having,” we can really start to be, and having found our identity in Christ, we can truly begin to “be in Him.” Rather than being creatures who possess things, we are transformed into creations that participate in the grand drama of Being itself.

Applied concretely, this would also put us as a society on a much better track than we are currently on, for our goals would not be economic, i.e. related to everyone “having” an equal amount of x, y, or z; but rather ontic, i.e. related to everyone being together and being fundamentally equal regardless of what they have. Perhaps then we would better understand Christ when he says “you are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” Why allow a false notion of possession spoil the salt or hide that light?

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”

Ephesians 3:8bff

Becoming Sin: The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Ontology of Evil

One of the most terrifying works of art ever conceived in the mind of a man and executed by the skill of his hand, is the 7-foot tall painting of Dorian Gray by the 20th-century artist Ivan Albright. This monstrosity hangs in the halls of the Chicago Art Institute, and it may be warranted to say that any observer who can withstand looking at it for longer than a few minutes might rightly be suspected of either having some form of mental disorder or some serious moral defect. For to gaze too long upon Albright’s “masterpiece,” is quite literally to gaze at an image of human corruption and decay that, in its extraordinary arrangement of matter and form, embodies what could be best described in theological terms as “sin.”

And it was for this very purpose that the artist, Albright, was commissioned. Albright, who learned his macabre talent for portraying human flesh sketching battle-inflicted wounds in France during World War I, created the portrait for a 1945 film version of Oscar Wilde’s modern novel about the inner corruption of man, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Taken together, what Wilde captured in word and Albright in paint and canvas, makes for a vivid reminder of a very uncomfortable biblical truth, namely, the reality of human depravity and the corrosive effects of sin. Wilde’s story about Dorian Gray— the handsome youth who makes a devil’s pact to pursue without regret his every lustful and wicked desire— as well as Albright’s depiction of the inner man that Dorian becomes, also act as a type of apologetic for the traditional view of Hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment— a doctrine often neglected due to modern sensitivities, but that still maintains dogmatic status in most church traditions. For it makes little sense to hold to such a harsh doctrine of damnation, unless we truly believe that man not only does evil, but can become it.

The Wild Life of Oscar Wilde

The dandyism of the 19th century author and poet Oscar Wilde is renowned in literary history. But it was not just his flamboyant dress and sharp tongue that made him stand out. Wilde’s sexual escapades were as jarring as his external appearance and as unbound as his creativity. But, those escapades were consistent not just with personal taste but with a particular worldview he held. Wilde’s libertine lifestyle was borne out of both his metaphysical and moral perspective of the universe, one not unlike that of his literary successor, Aldous Huxley, who once, with great transparency, explained his own rejection of God’s authority and design saying:

I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.

Huxley, Ends and Means

Like Huxley, Wilde too was both sexually and politically offensive in his day and age. Of course, in 19th century Ireland, the domains of sexual morality and politics were still fused together by laws of conduct, a notion increasingly alien to many westerners today. As such, Wilde was eventually tried and convicted for the sin of sodomy, a sin, moreover that he enjoyed with both under-aged boys and egomaniacal relish. Summing up Wilde’s life, fellow Dubliner, George Bernard Shaw, said this:

Oscar seems to have said: ‘I will love nobody; I will be utterly selfish; and I will be not merely a rascal but a monster; and you shall forgive me everything. In other words, I will reduce your standards to absurdity, not by writing them down, though I could do that as well—in fact, have done it—but by actually living them down and dying them down.

Shaw, “My Memories of Oscar Wilde”

But, aside from some particular lack of moral development, it was again a philosophical view of the world that Wilde held which facilitated and justified this debauchery. Wilde, like many at that time, embraced fully, indeed more fully than others in the same intellectual circles, the practical outworking of the philosophy of aestheticism. Late 19th and early 20th century aestheticism was best articulated by the British philosopher, G.E. Moore, in his book Principia Ethica. Alasdair MacIntyre, commenting on Moore’s aestheticism, sums up its core tenets:

It turns out to be the case, in the sixth and final chapter of [Moore’s] Principia Ethica, that ‘personal affections and aesthetic enjoyments include all the greatest, and by far the greatest goods we can imagine… ’ This is ‘the ultimate and fundamental truth of Moral Philosophy’. The achievement of friendship and the contemplation of what is beautiful in nature or in art become certainly almost the sole and perhaps the sole justifiable ends of all human action.

MacIntyre, After Virtue

For the aesthete of Wilde’s day, there was nothing more than, or beyond, the relishing of friendships and the contemplation of art and nature. These are the “sole justifiable ends of all human action.” While not bad things in themselves, and to some extent worthy of pursuit, nevertheless this pursuit of sensible beauty is teleologically a far cry from that say of the Westminster Confession (or the Roman Catholic Catechism), which state that the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Or, as Christ taught in a very particular order, that the two greatest commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then to love one’s neighbor as oneself. For the aesthete the first part of this command is meaningless, for God is not a reality that can be loved. The second becomes therefore primary, as the creaturely is elevated in value to that of Creator, an exchange the apostle Paul warns about in the opening salvo of his letter to the Romans (see Romans 1:18ff).

In Wilde’s own writing, which is best understood as the literary embodiment of this Anglo-philosophical aestheticism coupled with the moral philosophy of Nietzsche, he describes this stance in the preface of Dorian Gray:

The artist is the creator of beautiful things….Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The last few sentences of this passage evince Wilde’s Nietzschean bent. Here morality no longer means the “slavish” moral values and obligations of the Judeo-Christian revelation, but the aesthetic aspirations of the Homeric mytho-poetic world. Beauty versus ugliness is the “good versus evil” in Nietzsche’s moral universe, and as well as Wilde’s. Wilde’s “wild life” was thus not predicated on the reality of a divine Nature or the essence of a good God who issues divine commands, instead it was predicated on the generative powers of man to create his own heavenly realms, and the hope of becoming his own god (Nietzsche’s Übermensch) over the realms he creates. In attempting to live like his own god, and under his own authority, Wilde produced his most famous work, Dorian, itself as close to an autobiography of the Irish upstart as one can find.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Study in The Ontology Of Sin

In Wilde’s story Dorian’s physical beauty acts as a mirror to his purity of soul and moral innocence. That is, until the antagonist, the arch-hedonist Lord Henry Wotton, friend of the portrait’s artist, Basil Hallward, corrupts the young Dorian by inciting in him the innate, yet latent, narcissism common to man. The scene takes place in Hallward’s studio, itself described with saccharine flourish, where everything sensual is enhanced for maximum effect. Here, the artist’s world of words expresses Wilde’s own inner proclivities and orientation, that of the aesthete who is also the moral nihilist. Wotton’s character speaks for Wilde as the civilized version of an ancient evil. He is the Mephistopheles of the late 19th century—the tempter in the garden of earthly paradise.

Through Wotton’s influence, Dorian makes an impulsive wish—that the portrait of himself, Basil’s finest work, be the thing that ages and corrupts over time, while his real-life material body remains forever young. Wotton has tempted Dorian to unleash an infernal wish, one that will make him the center of his own world, a pure sinner, yet who also bears no consequences or punishments for his sinfulness. The painting will bear all the visible marks of Dorian’s inner corruption, while Dorian’s outward appearance stays uncorrupted, the horror of what he has become ever obscured to the outside world.

This transference of the substance of evil from person to painting, is the central idea that makes Wilde’s book a modern day classic, even if the theme is old. Another great Irish author, C.S. Lewis, reflected on this ontology of sin in his most memorable sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” when he said:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

For Lewis, like Wilde, the outward appearance did not do justice to what might be inside of the person, it did not necessarily reflect the structure or content of one’s soul. As such, what might be revealed at the end of days, may indeed be the most shocking revelation of all, at least after the greater revelation of Christ Himself.

This relation of beauty to goodness is as old as human culture, something Nietzsche rightly recognized, even if he rejected what had become of it through the emergence of Socratic philosophy and ultimately Christianity. The medieval doctrines of the “beatific vision” also attest to this deep understanding of the moral Good and transcendent Beauty being one and the same in God. It is Wilde’s sundering of this relationship that makes Dorian Gray’s story on the one hand so shocking, yet, on the other, so realistic. For how many of us truly know our neighbor just by his looks or outward presentation? In the novel many are fooled by Dorian, just as we are often fooled in the real world. Indeed, some contemporary scandals in the church today1 One cannot help but mention sexual predators like Ravi Zacharias and Jean Vanier, men who used their roles as spiritual authorities and Christian leaders to entrap victims. have revealed to us how the cancer of sin often goes unseen in the outward appearance, or speech, of men. Many apparently solid edifices are only as real as Hollywood stage sets. Only later, sometimes too late, do we recognize sin’s true effects on one’s soul.2 This was definitely the case in both Zacharias’ and Vanier’s stories, as each seems to have died without repentance. An incredible breakdown in moral accountability.

Ultimately, Wilde’s story ends when Dorian, having now descended into every form of narcissistic iniquity, including murder, is confronted with the hideous painting, which, in its grotesqueness, crystalizes each of Dorian’s atrocities. In the last chapter, after a paltry attempt to turn over a new leaf after his life of evil, Dorian rushes to the painting to see if his newfound “desire” for morality has perhaps already altered the painting for the better. But, it has not. For even Dorian’s thought of becoming good was one born out of self-preservation and pride. The desire was not pure, but itself a sin of “cunning hypocrisy.” Now, only because he could no longer endure the endless experiences of pleasure, the Schadenfreude that attended each evil act, he wrongly thinks that trying to be moral will fix his dreadfully boring life. He thinks he can try on virtue, the way a vain teenager tries on a trashy prom dress. Wilde’s Dorian is not Dickens’ Scrooge, who is touched by the divine and transformed. Dorian is a man whose attempt at goodness would be no better than the whitewashed hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. It is a goodness of his own design conceived for his own benefit.

Finally, Dorian succumbs to his hatred for himself and the painting, which provides the only evidence of the true nature of his soul. He tears into the canvas with the same knife that he used to kill its creator, his old “friend” Basil Hallward. Upon slaying the picture, the picture returns to its original state, a portrait of a handsome, young, and innocent man. Found dead on the floor is a withered, and decayed old man, knife in heart.

Albright’s Imagery, Metaphysics, and The Reality of Hell

Albright’s portrait of Dorian Gray appears only a few times in the movie, however, director Albert Lewin filmed the revealing of Albright’s picture, which comes toward the film’s end, in full color. The only color scene in the otherwise black-and-white movie. The reason is obvious, as it is not enough to say that Albright’s use of color is “vivid,” rather, it is “painful” to the eye. For again, this is no Botticelli figure or Poussin landscape meant to enchant us and woo us into wanting to “be in the painting” as opposed to observing it from without. No, Albright succeeds in his intent to present the repulsive in material form. As mentioned above, to not be repulsed at this “after” image of Dorian is to be either insane or immoral. There is no beauty to be found here, only horror. Photos of visitors to the Chicago Art Institute in the early days of the paintings public release demonstrate what can be called the “right” reaction to Albright’s work.

But, what is it about Albright’s work that makes us convulse and turn away? Like one of his own favorite artists, the 16th century German master, Albrecht Dürer, Albright seems to capture in his art something that is, on the one hand, entirely realistic as all of his objects can be found in the same spacetime reality we occupy. But, on the other hand, this realism is imbued with something quite mystical, or better said, something quite metaphysical. One German art critic referred to Albright’s style as “Magic Realism,” but it might be the philosopher or theologian who can better articulate the “quiddity” that Albright has rendered through his composition, i.e., its Metaphysical Realism.

Although Metaphysical Realism has been the underdog in philosophy departments since Hume’s skepticism and Kant’s critique of metaphysical knowledge, there has nevertheless always been a vibrant strain of Metaphysical Realism in Christian philosophy, especially in the neo-Thomism of 20th-century Roman Catholic and Evangelical theology. In more technical areas, Metaphysical Realism deals with intricate notions about the existence of things like universals and properties, but in a more basic sense it affirms the reality of substances, to include immaterial substances like angels and demons, minds or souls. In philosophy these are considered concrete objects, not abstract ones, since they possess not only existence but also have causal powers and even moral natures.

The genius of both Wilde’s novel and Albright’s portrait inheres in the demonstration of this dynamic between material body and immaterial, yet substantive, soul. The nature of the soul, its moral structure and causal powers, is affected by the conscious choices it makes—choices that are instantiated in the physical world through the body. Dorian’s sordid intentions, his lurid thoughts, and most depraved fantasies, all of which are immaterial, are actualized in the physical world through his embodied acts. For Wilde, these immaterial desires are transmitted to his physical form. He does not just commit sins, he literally becomes sin.

In his own modern classic, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis presents us with a similar take on the ontology of sin. In that book, ghostly figures who linger in the “Gray Town” are transported in an angelic bus up to heaven to see, if given one more chance at redemption, whether they might choose God’s grace over their sins. In the end, none but one does. In several places Lewis displays this understanding of sin as an ontological substance, as something we are, or become, not just as something we do. In one scene, he portrays a woman who has through her sin of protesting, in the book “grumbling,” become not just one who protests, but one who is a protest! An image perhaps quite relevant in lieu of our current political culture. The grumbling woman has, or, as the plot goes, is on the brink of becoming a grumble. Alternatively, the lustful man of chapter eleven, the only one who receives salvation, is shown being united to that which was once his sin, but now, being redeemed, both are transmogrified into rider and stallion; united in their redemption in Christ. The new man is now one with his virtue as ungodly lust becomes glorious power.

Still, does this idea of sin as an ontological substance make the doctrine of Hell more palatable? After all, are not Wilde’s and Lewis’ novels and Albright’s art mere imaginations from the minds of men? Perhaps.

However, if the metaphysical realist is correct, and if we take the biblical texts seriously, let alone the atrocities of our own times, then the reality of sin and its effects on the very substance of our souls should also be taken most seriously. The doctrine of eternal, conscious torment may indeed be a hard doctrine to deliver to contemporary culture, but, just because it is difficult to convey, does not mean it is invalid or untrue. In fact, as Lewis also points out in “The Weight of Glory,” it is the abrasive and bizarre doctrines we find in Scripture that further evidence its divine origins, “If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.”

That Hell is both a puzzling and repellent doctrine is certainly the case. However, what would the just person say if one day, standing in Gallery 262 in the Chicago Art Institute, she saw Albright’s Dorian slowly emerge from its canvas and move toward her, and perhaps her toddler standing at her side? Is it so hard to imagine she might scream out “Oh God, please damn that thing!”?

Would she be wrong to do so?

History testifies that Oscar Wilde was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church through a valid baptism just days before his death. Only God knows the status of Wilde’s soul now, but at the end of his physical life he seemed to die within the safe havens of the church. But, if that is not always the case, what else might we conclude about the final destination of the “dead?”

Coda: A Personal Story of Encountering Evil

It could be argued by someone reading the above article that this is all fine and good, but it is abstract and unscientific. After all, we are talking in non-empirical terms about images from literature and art or theorizing in philosophy and theology. The question is begged: How do we know that these “realities” are real? While epistemic certainty is rarely attainable in this life, allow me one personal story that might help make more concrete this theory about sin and hell.

An Encounter in Munich

Of course, no one looks like [Albright’s painting of] Dorian Gray. The evil that resides in human beings usually doesn’t show its full face to us.

Years ago as a much younger, and more wicked man, I lived in Munich, Germany. My roommate at that time was a journalist working in television for one of the major news networks in the country, RTL. My friend was approached one day by a male prostitute who worked the Munich Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) underground. Anyone who knows Europe, knows that some of the most vile acts of humanity, and, if this essay is correct, demonic ones as well, are centered in the major train stations of Europe’s most illustrious cities. Certainly some are better than others, but when I lived in Germany, many of the Hauptbahnhöfe were absolute cesspools.

This male prostitute, call him Carlos, had had enough of seeing minors trafficked in his area of work. His conscience stung him: too many children being raped. He wanted to help. His solution was to start a non-profit and then seek out journalists who would expose this horrid underworld of the otherwise quaint and idyllic Bavarian capital. What lie underneath the famed Marienplatz with its Glockenspiel was foul, and few knew of it, American tourist and Münchener alike. Like in Wilde’s novel, the outward presentation of the famed city covered up the corruption that permeated its soul.

Eventually Carlos found my friend, call him Thomas. They got together and set up a sting operation in Carlos’ apartment, just a few minutes walk from our own. They outfitted the place with secret microphones and hidden cameras. They were going to entrap predators (they were not law enforcement, however, so the only goal was to expose the truth, not convict anyone of crime; that would hopefully follow).

After two weeks of putting ads into an underground newspaper, in which Carlos pretended he was holding captive a 14-year old boy named Stephan, with whom anyone with the right amount of money (old German Marks, or the newly installed Euro, it didn’t matter) could do whatever he wanted, my friend came home one afternoon. I myself was still enrolled at university at that time, and my dissertation topic, which I never finished, was on the concept of evil in post-WWII German literature—not a pleasant or uplifting topic, to be sure. My friend challenged me: “why don’t you come and see what we are doing? We are catching so many people, several every day. It is incredible. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of people who are coming: young, old, couples, men and women.”

I hesitated. Did I really want to see this? After some inner wrestling, I decided that I had to see if my theorizing about evil was actual. I told my friend I would go the next day. The next day came, and I went.

For several hours we sat in the back room, where the mythical “Stephan” was supposed to be chained to the bed rails, ready to be tortured for someone’s pleasure. In reality it was my friend, his cameraman, and sound man who were set up in the bedroom. Carlos waited in the living room receiving calls from potential customers who had seen the fake ad. Carlos also had a dozen or so video cassettes, all of which were blank, but that had provocative titles labeled across the sides. The idea was to offer the tapes first, make a monetary exchange, then ask the customer if they wanted to proceed into the back room to be with the fake “Stephan.” If the customer bought the tapes and agreed to go back to the bedroom to fulfill his carnal desires, Carlos would say a code word, letting us know to come in and spring the trap (the team could not see the video of the camera. Live stream technology was not available to them at that time).

Thomas gave me an extra headset as we heard the doorbell ring. The first, and for that day, only customer had arrived. I could listen in to the conversation (this, of course, was all in German, but my German at that time was near perfect). As the conservation unfolded, my heartbeat quickened. I began to sweat. Carlos managed to get the customer to accept the videos, 500 German Marks, a pretty penny for evil. The next step would be to see if the man (from the audio it was clearly a male voice) wanted to go in and be with Stephan. But first Carlos had to lure out from the customer what kinds of things the man wanted to do with (to!) the boy. We needed to hear his inner most fantasies on tape.

How I wish I had not.

My muscles tensed as I heard this voice in the other room agree to all kinds of lurid tortures. Objects were involved. Beyond this I will say no more. My mind raced and my moral compass split into two distinct directions: fury, and fear. One part of me felt more than justified rushing into the room, and pounding that evil thing, for in my mind it could not have been a mind, into submission with brute force. The other just wanted to run away, and not be near such monsters. Like a child, I did not want to see what was in the closet. Before I could know which impulse was right, as if I have figured it out today, the code word was given. My friend, Thomas, and his team gave a quick “auf geht’s” as they rapidly deployed into the next room, camera light glaring and microphone at the ready. I followed in tow.

Before entering the room that day I had never felt evil before, at least not demonic evil. Of such things I had only read in books. Everything changed that dismal afternoon in Munich. Still, if I thought I would burst into that room and see Beelzebub himself, red horns, hoofs and fangs, I was wrong. What sat before me was nothing of the sort, at least, not externally. There before us sat a pitiful old man, probably in his mid to late 60’s. Someone’s grandfather perhaps. At least, he looked innocent enough to be one. He nervously smoked a cigarette and looked up at the camera now like a deer in the headlights. What an unassuming and non-threatening little thing he was. Had my ears deceived me? Could such a simple looking creature really be a mutilator of children?

No, my ears were not deceived. This was a vile thing before me. A man desirous, intent, on torturing a child today. After a long awkward series of questions, lasting a few minutes but feeling like an hour, the man finally caught on to what was happening. He stated he now felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. Again, being only journalists, my friend and his team made the way clear for him to go. Carlos returned the money for the tapes, and as he absconded from the scene I was the last one he passed on the way out the door. The scene seemed to be over. Was it real? Had I really just seen evil in the flesh?

But, it was not even over yet. Who knows how much time passed, several minutes at least. Thomas and Carlos and the team were already reviewing the video footage and the audio. They seemed so professional about it. How could one talk about video quality and sound fidelity after something like that? But, then again, they had been doing this for weeks now. Perhaps they were already inured. Of course, Carlos must have been to some degree inoculated, having seen so much in his own life. Even if now there was an awakening in his own soul.

But, in the middle of this “tidying up” and evaluating, it came. A knock at the door. Everyone looked at each other, bewildered. No one else was expected today, who could it be? Perhaps it was the police? Perhaps they heard about the exposé, and wanted to shut it down. Perhaps one of the past “victims” had claimed that there were some journalists conducting an illegal entrapment operation? But, it wasn’t the authorities. It was the same man. The same, rotten, vile, pitiful old man.

“Can I still buy the videos?”

We all stood shocked.

What Kind of Creatures?

I did not convert to Christ that day, although I should have. But, the reality of evil was shown to me, in the mundane, that day. Nothing, not prison, not public exposure, nor any worldly loss was going to stop that horror from getting what it wanted. He did not care about those things, he wanted what he wanted. The lust of the flesh was insatiable.

The exposé eventually aired on RTL, a few weeks later. I didn’t go back to the apartment with Thomas or his team and was satisfied to watch their finish product on TV. How much effect it had on sex trafficking operations in Munich I never really found out. Around the same time as the report aired, however, Carlos called me (he had gotten my number from Thomas), asking if I could help him translate some documents. I was working part-time as a business translator at a local Siemens office in those days. I agreed.

Carlos came to my apartment and told me more about his plan to create a Verien (in German, an “association” or “legal entity”) aimed at increasing awareness of child trafficking. I did what I could to help him and translated some of his work. I think we met once or twice, and then I never saw him again. I sometimes wish I had found out more about him, someone who was selling his body for sex yet whose conscience had been awakened to an evil within an evil. Was this a new beginning for him: a journey out of the dark of the train stations and undergrounds and into the light?

God only knows.

My own conversion would come years later while in the Army. My encounter that day led me only so far as to know that everything is not as it seems, and that the reality of good and evil was substantial. It also raised in me the question “What kind of creatures are we?” My answer now would echo Lewis’ then: truly there are gods and goddesses among us, some light as angels, others dark like nightmares.

As The Family Goes, So Goes God

The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator.

John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (1981)

We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

Black Lives Matter Mission Statement (formerly)1 After many complaints and a drop in approval rating, this portion of the BLM Website has since been removed.

“The nuclear family,” the term itself is nuclear in our culture today. Nevertheless, the connection between the family and the vitality of a culture has been noted since antiquity. For example, in her book on Seneca’s understanding of the family, classicist Elizabeth Gloyn highlights the ancient stoic view of familial integrity and societal welfare:

For now it is enough to say that oikeiosis [affiliation, affinity] is arguably the primary building block of human relations. The first stage, which [Seneca’s] Letter 121 describes, is the process by which babies begin to realise that their bodies belong to them, and thus that looking after their arms and legs is in their own best interest. More advanced stages involve the realisation that the interests of other humans are also our interests; a parent’s relationship to a child is often used as the classical example of assimilating someone else’s interest into our own. So oikeiosis begins in the basic bond between parent and child, and is a key stage in the moral development that ultimately lets humans achieve virtue.2 Elizabeth Gloyn, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6.

Elizabeth Gloyn, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, 6.

It is worth noting the definite article “the” in Gloyn’s statement about what “the classical example” of “assimilating someone else’s interest into our own” is. For the ancients, the beginning of social morality and public virtue was the parent-child relationship. It was not just one option toward moral development, it was the paradigm example for it. Without this “basic bond” there would inevitably be a deficiency in moral development and a breakdown in virtue; or, more accurately, moral development would be nipped in the bud. This failure to launch would likely demand tremendous expenditures in other areas, and from other domains, to bring virtue to fruition. However, one could probably assert with confidence that in most ancient cultures moral deficiency did not end in long, state-sponsored and tax-payer funded rehabilitation programs for the unvirtuous. Rather, it usually (almost always) ended in incarceration or execution.

By extension, an entire culture comprised of multiple families living and working within in a common geographical and linguistic space will, to a large degree, rely on the ingrained virtue of its individual members for its own continuity and prosperity. This is a truth as old as the Greek polis itself, but one revealed even earlier on the very first page of the Hebrew Bible.

In modern times, Pope John Paul II echoed Seneca on the crucial relationship between the welfare of the organic family unit and the commonwealth of the nation, saying:

Yet it still seems that nation and native land, like the family, are permanent realities.  In this regard, Catholic social doctrine speaks of “natural” societies, indicating that both the family and the nation have a particular bond with human nature, which has a social dimension.  Every society’s formation takes place in and through the family: of this there can be no doubt.  Yet something similar could also be said about the nation.

John Paul II, Memory and Identity, 67.

The formation of society takes place “in and through the family,” and of this there “can be no doubt.” The relationship between family and nation has been attested to throughout history, both in philosophical and political theory, as well as in concrete social and legal action. As John Paul II went on to say in more succinct fashion, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”3 The full quote, from a 1986 sermon given in Perth, reads “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

However, the relationship between the health of the individual family and the health of a nation is not the only deep correlation that has been recognized by great thinkers. The relationship between the make-up of the family and the very belief in God has also come under scrutiny, at least since the Enlightenment, but especially since Freud’s psychoanalytic theories of man and civilization. The formation of familial structures and inter-familial needs relative to religious beliefs have been seen as intimately connected, if not altogether the same thing. The father of social psychology, Erich Fromm, argued it this way:

As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection–protection through love–which was provided by the father, and the recognition that this helplessness would last throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which have often so remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfillments shall take place.

Erich Fromm, The Dogma of Christ, 28-29.

For Fromm, and other Marxist Freudians like him, the need for a divine “Father figure” starts with the fundamental social relationship of parent and child. Religion is the imaginative projection that provides a parallel solution to the basic familial need of protection, guidance, and security in an uncertain world of natural forces. However, because these needs are abstract, like justice and love (not like food or water), they are libidinal in nature. They exist in the category of non-physical needs and can therefore be met by religious institutions and their practices:

Religion serves to make it easier for the masses to resign themselves to the many frustrations that reality presents. The satisfactions religion offers are of a libidinous nature; they are satisfactions that occur essentially in fantasy because…libidinous impulses…permit satisfaction in fantasy.

Fromm, The Dogma of Christ, 26-27.

If these reflections by men like Seneca, Wojtyla4 John Paul II’s family name, and Fromm are accurate, then it makes sense that the nature and well-being of the “family” is something that is not only controversial in our culture today, but that should find itself at the center of political and social movements like that of Black Lives Matter. It would make sense for a group like BLM to address the family, if the family is really as important as these thinkers of the past have suggested. After all, if it is the case that “as the family goes, so goes the nation” or even “as the family goes, so goes religious belief in God,” then to control the definition and language of “family” becomes a very desirable goal indeed.

Deconstructing the Family, Reconstructing God

As alluded to above, Freud believed that it was in primitive man’s confrontation with untamed nature that God was invented in the mind of man. Feeling helpless before the power of nature, as in his infantile state, early man fantasized an all-powerful father figure who could protect him from the harshness of reality (the reality principle). Further, as moral intuition and reasoning developed in early society, the need for ultimate justice at the sight of apparent wrongdoing and incomprehensible suffering, as well as the desire for prolonged satisfaction (the pleasure principle), led to the further imagination of an extended realm of conscious existence where punishment and reward would be meted out in full. Nevertheless, much of this imaginative work was generated on account of man’s harrowing battle with “nature red in tooth and claw.”

However, with the rise of modern society, the advance of technology, medicine and industry, the increasing explanatory power of the natural sciences, and man’s increasing mastery over nature, it was thought that the religious illusions devised by earlier civilizations would ultimate fade away. And, to some degree, one could argue they have, since in the most technologically advanced cultures, one sees an empirical increase in what Charles Taylor might call “exclusive humanists,”5 I am adapting Taylor’s notion of “exclusive humanism” which entails people who never come to actually hold to any religious doctrine or faith for the entirety of their earthly existence. i.e., a greater number of people who live the entirety of their lives without regard for the transcendent or any serious religious commitment. The so-called “rise of the nones.”

Nevertheless, even if we assume a posture of victory over nature (albeit COVID-19 has in some ways exposed this presumptive claim), and even if the natural sciences have undermined some religiosity, there is the other fundamental human relation over which man has not yet gained full supremacy,6If one can truly say that man has gained supremacy over nature, which may not actually be the case, even if we have a sense of it. and that is the relationship between the natural family and culture.

While the natural sciences may have given us a way to understand nature without appealing to divine agency, as Laplace suggested in rejecting the “God hypothesis,”7 I do not actually believe this to be the case, but it is not my point in this article to raise the serious challenges to scientism of this sort. it is questionable as to whether the social sciences have been able to give us a way to understand society without making the same appeal. For some reason we can now look at the Grand Canyon and see only natural elements and millions of years, but we cannot look at our neighbor and see only molecules in motion and bio-chemical exchanges. It was argued by some critical theorists in the mid 20th-century8 I am thinking in particular of Herbert Marcuse’s argument in his magnum opus Eros and Civilization, where he sees the locus of societal transformation in the redefinition of both structures of labor (the Marxist feature) and in the redefinition of human sexual identity and marital structures (the Freudian feature). that there remains a vestige of traditional religious belief that lingers in spite of our otherwise progressive, Western culture. That vestige is the nuclear family. We may have successfully suspended belief in providential design in the natural world, but when it comes to social relations the divine still haunts us.

Therefore, if social theorists like Fromm and his manifold disciples are right, then to gain control over the family structure itself would be the primary means to altering religious belief or even belief in God more generally. It is, therefore, significant that Black Lives Matter, a group whose founders openly declare their Marxian heritage, may have a vision of the family that is different than the one presented to us in Genesis 1:27 and 2:18-25. After all, for the true Marxist (and Freudian), those passages themselves are nothing more than the product of culturally situated people. The culture, and its people, are not the product of the passages.9 This, of course, would be the orthodox Christian view, for the passages would be revelatory communications to us, not mere projections by human minds. It is therefore very likely that the far more central issue for groups like Black Lives Matter is not really race, but actually the family structure, regardless of race. We have drifted far afield from MLK’s vision for racial equality with Garza, Cullors and Ometi‘s vision of social justice.

Conclusion: The Real Trojan Horse is Not Race, It’s Sex

If race10 Of course race for most Critical Race Theorists is not a biological category, but a social construct. really is the central focus of movements spawned by theories like Critical Race Theory, then why is it the case that almost every concrete manifestation of that theory is accompanied by an alternative vision of the human family structure and of human sexual nature? Where is the logical connection there? Of course, it does seem to be a logical entailment that if one messes with traditional understandings of gender and sexuality, one will also be messing with traditional understandings of the nature and design of the family. But groups like BLM for some reason need both race and sexuality involved in their program. It is never just about race.

The truth is that far more fundamental to us as persons than our racial identity is our sexual identity. And, far more fundamental to us as persons than our racial community is our biological family. If the Marxist-Freudian approach to the human person is correct (which it is not), then it is more important to change these structures in order to change society than to change anything about race or racial structures. Race is not the real Trojan horse standing outside the walls of American culture or the Church today. The real Trojan horse is, and always has been, a false view of human sexuality and the God-ordained nature of the family. If these change then, at least according to the Marxist-Freudian, so will our belief in God.

But, Marxism and Freudianism are not true.11 I am making a broad statement about the overall views. Obviously there can be truths found in almost any system of thought, especially ones that have been as impactful as these.Thus, they are not the real culprit behind the construction of this Trojan horse. The real culprit is the age-old enemy of Christ, the enemy that Christ saw fall from heaven like a blitz of lightning. The “isms” of history are merely his means to attack what has been given to man by God, and to twist and turn God’s designs for his purposes and our destruction. In the beginning God did not bother to tell us that He made us “black and white.” But, He did say He made us “male and female.” To deconstruct the family then, as John Paul II pointed out, is to go against the plan of God. It is to be unfaithful to His will. It is to reject His gift to us. As such, we should be careful about embracing any theory or its accompanying social movement that would inculcate in us the notion that it might be okay to mess with the God-given structure of family. Even a charitable reading of the BLM statement (again, now suspiciously removed from the site), cannot help but notice the glaring absence of any mention of a father as the head of the family or even as a necessary component of it.

Finally, I would suggest, that this just is a way, perhaps the paradigm way, for Satan to introduce new gods into a culture. For it is not the case that groups like BLM are doing away with the idea of family completely, or the idea of god completely. They are just seeking to alter the definition and the constitution of family. Of course, the Devil can never destroy anything completely. Only God has the power over existence and non-existence. But, the Devil can counterfeit, and counterfeit family structures may very well produce counterfeit gods for us to worship.

As the family goes, so goes the nation indeed, and possibly even the Church.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…And his wives turned away his heart. For When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God…

1 Kings 11:1-5

Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce, but it was not so from the beginning.

Matthew 19:8