Right Theory: Mystical bodies, part 3 — “Every spirit that dissolveth Jesus”: The anti-Christ in electronic media

Photo by Giuseppe Enrie, 1931In my last post I outlined the choice facing us all as we witness the growth of the corporate Global Person: incorporation through electronic media into either the Mystical Body of Christ or the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ. The right path, I hope, is clear. Even so, we must always be on guard to avoid being drawn into the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ, and this can be accomplished by gaining critical perspective on the nature of the media entities that seek to incorporate us.

A first step is to determine the characteristics of the anti-Christ as manifested through electronic media; for this problem, the Sacred Scriptures provide some help. The First Epistle of John explicitly addresses the subject of the anti-Christ, and although it dates from a period in history that seems far removed from our own, his time was like ours in that paganism and heresy flourished and true Christians had to discern carefully the spiritual nature of much of what they saw and heard. In the epistle, St. John advises his fellow Christians:

“Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. By this is the spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3; this and all scriptural quotations that appear in this post are from the Douay Rheims Bible)

As this passage suggests, the anti-Christ is a body made of bodies, and not the individual that many, drawing from the Book of Revelation, assume he will be. Earlier in his letter, St. John points to the corporate nature of the anti-Christ with greater clarity when he warns, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The anti-Christ is not a charismatic figure who will appear on our television and computer screens sometime in the future: he was present, as a corporate entity, at the time of St. John and he is present now, although as Marshall McLuhan suggests in his 1969 letter to Jacques Maritain, electronic media have increased his power, speeding up the construction of what McLuhan refers to as “a reasonable facsimile of the mystical body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ.” The “spirits” that St. John speaks of are the heretical teachers, teachings, and churches of his time, while for us they are McLuhan’s “electronic information environments,” which “being utterly ethereal fosters [sic] the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance.”

St. John advises his audience to “try the spirits if they be of God” by determining if these spirits “confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God,” or if they “dissolveth Jesus.” Broadly speaking, in the context of electronic media, spirits that “dissolveth Jesus” may be thought of as those closed media environments that exclude Jesus as the Word or Logos. These closed environments exclude life, in that they deny that Jesus is the foundation of reality. All of us have experienced the magnetism of electronic media environments and their capacity to block out the world, substitute fantasy for reality, and foster the decomposition of the mind and body. Such environments invite solipsism and “dissolveth Jesus” in the soul.

Jesus is the only medium (and His status as a medium is something I have addressed in an earlier post) through which we can find salvation. As McLuhan says in his 1969 Playboy interview, “Christ . . . is the ultimate extension of man,” or the ultimate medium. All other media, if they do not lead us to Jesus, can only lead us back to ourselves. The closed media-environment that excludes nature, person-to-person contact, and spiritual truth becomes, at its extreme, analogous to the snake swallowing its own tail (or Ouroboros): the Zero. The Mystical Body of anti-Christ, with Satan as its head, seeks to contain all such closed media environments into a single, narcoticizing, suffocating body leading from this world to the closed environment from which there is no escape: Hell.

A defining characteristic of closed media environments is their capacity to simulate reality, and this is the means by which they exclude Christ. In the Mystical Body of Christ, media are used to connect us to other people, to the world in all its complexity, and ultimately to the Church, which in turn connects us to the Church Suffering in Purgatory and the Church Triumphant in Heaven. The closed media environments of the Mystical Body of anti-Christ, on the other hand, simulate the world, replacing the sacred with the simulacral and the incorporeal with the merely virtual. The religion that blossoms in these environments is a sort of digital Gnosticism–an echo of the Docetist heresy fought against by St. John and later St. Augustine and others. The believers of Docetism, who represent one variation of the larger Gnostic heresy, managed to “dissolveth Christ” by claiming that Jesus was an entirely spiritual being, and that His human body was merely a convincing simulation. There is a robust teaching that accompanies this idea in Gnostic thought–a false teaching that usually asserts that the spiritual is good and the material is evil, the material world must be rejected entirely, marriage and procreation should be shunned, and abnormal sexuality should be tolerated (all for reasons I don’t have space to address here). Today’s unwitting cyber-Gnostics don’t entirely shun the material world and the processes of nature (for the gadgets that keep them immersed in their spiritual unreality are certainly material), but they alienate themselves from both by living a narcissistic and masturbatory lifestyle, rapt in a world of simulation, often embracing all those sins that fuel our “Culture of Death.” At its worst, such devotion to the Mystical Body of anti-Christ devolves into an asceticism of gluttony: many of us are familiar with the unfortunate prevalence in our society of the figure of the Internet-addicted bachelor who ruins his body with fast food, avoids the sunlight, bathes rarely, and generally radiates the nauseating stink of the shut-in, all for an all-consuming online life of chatting, tweeting, and gaming. The decrepit, willfully unemployed, socially maladjusted Internet geeks of our time are, as cultural figures, the Satanic inversions of the hermitic Desert Fathers, who in the early days of Christianity left the world behind to pray and advocate on behalf of others to God. The simulations of reality they indulge in may appeal to the senses and create a false sense of excitement or comfort, but whiffs of necrotic flesh drift out from behind the electronic facades.

To avoid the lure of the simulacrum, one must distinguish between those signs, flowing through the media, which point to reality (or Christ) from those that merely simulate reality. Some academic philosophers and media theorists, for the most part coming from the French political left, have investigated the concept of the simulacrum in philosophy and in relation to our “postmodern” culture, and their insights can be helpful, even for those like myself who do not share their philosophical and political orientations. Gilles Deleuze, in his essay, “Plato and the Simulacrum,” examines the concept of the simulacrum in Plato in order to explain how one might engage in the task that Nietzsche set for his new philosophy: the “‘overthrow of Platonism'” (45) (and by this, both Nietzsche and Deleuze do not mean the overthrow of Platonism and Platonism only, but the overthrow or inversion of all or most of Western philosophy). Deleuze’s focus in this particular essay is on aesthetics and representation, but his larger project is to rid philosophy of any lingering concepts of transcendence, at least as traditionally conceived, or else submerge them in a philosophy of total immanence or this-world-ness, along the lines of Spinoza’s philosophical pantheism. Anyone reading Deleuze from an orthodox Catholic perspective will see a Luciferian impulse at work here, and I believe there is a connection between Deleuze’s fusion of spirit and substance and McLuhan’s warning that “Electronic information environments being utterly ethereal fosters [sic] the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance.” In any case, through Deleuze’s work we can gain insight into how, specifically, the simulacrum functions as part of the metastatic DNA of the anti-Christ.

Deleuze positions the simulacrum as an unstable concept within Platonism, and presumably also within those aspects of our culture that maintain some connection to the philosophical tradition deriving from Plato. He examines Plato’s theory of representation as it appears in the Sophist (236b, 264c), and comes to the conclusion that “. . . Plato divides the domain of the image-idols in two: on the one hand the iconic copies (likenesses), on the other the phantasmatic simulacra (semblances)” (47-48). The iconic copies each bear an analogical resemblance to an original Platonic Idea. Phantasmic simulacra are those signs that have, by being crafted to appeal solely to the subjective experience of the observer (or in the modern world, by undergoing processes of mass reproduction and distribution), lost their internal analogical resemblance to Ideas and have become mere simulations or fakes. However, Deleuze does not entirely accept this understanding of the simulacrum as “a copy of a copy, an endlessly degraded icon, an infinitely slackened resemblance” (48), since he stresses that it is also something more. He writes, “The simulacrum is not degraded copy, rather it contains a positive power which negates both original and copy, both model and reproduction” (53). Daniel W. Smith, in an essay on Deleuze, Plato, and the simulacrum, expands on this idea in the context of Christianity, suggesting that “If simulacra later became the object of demonology in Christian thought, it is because the simulacrum is not the ‘opposite’ of the icon, the demonic is not the opposite of the divine, Satan is not the Other, the pole farthest from God, the absolute antithesis, but something much more bewildering and vertiginous: the Same, the perfect double, the exact semblance, the doppelganger, the angel of light whose deception is so complete that it is impossible to tell the imposter (Satan, Lucifer) apart from the ‘reality’ (God, Christ) . . .” (13). When icons become simulacra, the foundations of reality are threatened, and the grounding principle of analogical resemblance or likeness is replaced, in the destructive confusion caused by the impostor or fake, with a new sign-system based upon ungrounded difference–“difference” being a key concept for Deleuze and many post-structuralist thinkers, as it allows them to envision reality as an immanent domain of non-hierarchical, radically pluralistic sign-systems. Icons foster hierarchy (which for Deleuze is bad), and simulacra foster pluralism (which for Deleuze is good). Whether “to raise up simulacra, to assert their rights over icons or copies” (52) in order “to overthrow Platonism,” as Deleuze advocates, would plunge us into total relativism and nihilism, is a complicated question; the very least that can be said is that in the differential world of simulacra there is no room for Christ, the Church, or the Thomist philosophy that we must uphold as the surest guide to truth.

The closed media environment and the simulacrum are but two sources of the demonic energy that powers the Mystical Body of anti-Christ, that all-encompassing simulacrum that offers, at best, a simulation of Heaven that amounts to nothing more than great hall of mirrors in an echo chamber, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) multiplied in reflection for all eternity.

Works Cited:

Deleuze, Gilles. “Plato and the Simulacrum.” Trans. Rosalind Krauss. October 27 (Winter, 1983): 45-56.

McLuhan, Marshall. Letter to Jacques Maritain, 6 May 1969, from Toronto. The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999. 70-73.

McLuhan, Marshall. “Playboy Interview – A candid conversation with the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media.” Rpt. From Playboy (March 1969). Essential McLuhan. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1995. 233-69.

Smith, Daniel W. “The Concept of the Simulacrum: Deleuze and the Overturning of Platonism.” Essays on Deleuze. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. 3-26.

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