Principalities and Powers: The Dragon’s Game (2/4)

Notes from Walter Wink’s award winning 1993 book ‘Engaging the Powers – Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination‘.

(P.95-96) “Propaganda (“is not merely deception . . . it is the manufacture of idolatry” see pg. 94) is only the tip of the delusional iceberg, however. Other nations or disaffected internal critics can easily spot and expose it. Propaganda is ad hoc; it responds to short-term needs; it changes to fit every situation. But the basic delusional system has altered little since the ascendancy of the Domination System some five thousand years ago. It has successfully held the vast majority of humanity in thrall by means of a series of largely unexamined assumptions that go far deeper than propaganda.

These delusional assumptions are what Colossians 2:8, 20 call the stoicheia tou kosmou: the fundamental assumptions of the Domination System. Not all of these hold true for all countries in all times, and some would be held by only a minority of people in a given country. But over the five millenia that the delusional game has been playing, these assumptions have continually reasserted themselves. Here are some of them:

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Principalities & Powers: The Dragon in Sheep’s Clothing (1/4)

Notes from Walter Wink’s award winning 1993 book ‘Engaging the Powers – Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination‘.

The Dragon in Sheep’s Clothing

“People would not be so acquiescent to their own oppression unless they were caught in a powerful delusion. “Delude” is from the Latin deludre, “to play,” specifically, “to play with anyone to his injury or frustration, to mock, to defraud; to befool the mind or judgment so as to cause what is false to be accepted as true” (pg. 88).

Thus….

(Pg. 93-95), “In order to delude humanity, to achieve a maximum level of stupefaction, the Dragon creates “another Beast that arose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like the Dragon (Revelation 13:11). This is not a natural, earthly, chthonic creature. It is not a deep archetype bursting from the unconscious. It is a wholly artificial creation. It will later be identified as the “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), whose task is to persuade people that their salvation lies in the political order. It works great miracles . . . and by these miracles . . . it deceives the inhabitants of the earth (13:13-14).

In appearance this Second Beast is as meek as a lamb – imitating the Lamb who is to rule the nations – but it speaks with the Dragon’s voice. It is a Dragon in sheep’s clothing. The Second Beast is the priestly propaganda machine of the empire. It exercises all the authority of the First Beast on its behalf, and compels the earth and its inhabitants to worship the First Beast (13:12). This goes beyond the realm of religious preference and into the domain of religio-political terrorism.

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The Dragon

My daughter has a story book about a boy who wakes up one day and sees a little baby dragon in his room. It’s all rather harmless and when he tells his mother about it, she tells him to stop making stuff up and get dressed and come down for breakfast, using her repeated phrase, and the title of the book, “There’s no such thing as a dragon!”

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Unmasking our own self-deceptions

3. Subtle Exclusion Disguised by Self-Deceptive Rhetoric: ‘Climbers’

Third, worse than stigmatising by naming would be discriminating structures of judgement and exclusion cloaked or disguised by a politically correct rhetoric about inclusion or about ‘attempts’ to be inclusive.

This is where somebody is sinned against, but the rhetoric denies it. In other words, ‘politeness’ replaces relationship and love. The ugly thing about this is that, even though no sinful language is used, there is still favouritism, rejection, structures of exclusion, and hence implicit stigmatisation by naming going on at the level of practice. Thus, potentially, a leader could say to himself, ‘I have not actually said to so and so that they are such and such – I have been very careful in my speech’. But both John and James point out the hypocrisy of being polite in our speech but failing to love with our actions.

What is happening here is that the leader’s ‘politeness’ is functioning as a self-deceptive device that hides from himself his lack of love for, or stigmatisation of, somebody. The leader is effectively ‘climbing into’ his own rhetorical world of self-affirmation and believing the rhetoric to be true of himself in place of confessional honesty. But, as Gerhard Ebeling writes,

“According to Luther, the Word of God always comes as adversarius noster, our adversary. It does not simply confirm and strengthen us in what we think we are, and in what we wish to be taken for… This is the way, the only way, in which the Word draws us into concord and peace with God”.

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Terror Darkness Waste Murder

“Like a tragedy, [the life and crucifixion of Jesus] stirs up pity and terror in us. 

Like a tragedy it requires us to contemplate the world’s darkness. 

Like a tragedy, it draws attention to waste. 

It shows us a life that need not have been extinguished being extinguished, without particular malice, by the normal processes of the world. 

It shows us that accident, injustice, spoilage, are all standard, all in the pitiably usual course of things. Here it’s important that Jesus’s death was an obscure one, when it happened. He’s not an Oedipus or a Prince Hamlet, someone falling from greatness. 

His death belongs beside the early cutting-short of the millions of lives of people too poor or too unimportant ever to have been recorded in the misleading story we call history; people only mourned by others as brief as themselves, and therefore gone from human memory as if they had never been.

Jesus dies like a migrant worker who suffocates in a freight container, like a garbage-picker caught in a slide, like a child with an infected finger, like a beggar the bus reverses over, or a father, husband, friend, murdered, shot dead with his baby girl on the streets of Plymouth.

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Labels as manipulation

  1. Labelling as the Very Definition of Manipulation

First, there is the clue of self-deceptive and manipulative ‘labelling’ of others. For example, if a congregation member writes a letter about an issue to the church leadership, and they are either ignored or labelled as ‘God’s awkward squad’, then an attitude of superiority has been assumed.

If the reply is given, ‘but they really are from God’s awkward squad’, then the chances are that the self-deception on the part of leaders concerning their own ‘more mature’ status is even more deeply ingrained and subconscious. Thiselton reminds us that Gadamer, a very important philosopher, defined ‘manipulation’ in terms of

the reduction of people to passive objects, subsuming them beneath a ‘prior netting’ of imposed categories, assumptions, stereotypifications, artificial constructs, closed statements, superficial generalising explanations, or pigeon-holes.

This is a way of ‘apprehending’ somebody without listening to them. In short, we cannot tell what or who a person is until we know them very well. Whenever we ‘label’ somebody before we know them very well, then we are committing the sin of false testimony. This is not ‘a’ way of manipulation, but the very definition of manipulation, according to Gadamer.

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Propaganda

Two farmers were leaning against a fence staring intensely at the horizon of a field where you could just make out the sheep, and there seemed to be a problem, but they couldn’t quite see it, so one famer said to the other, “I’m going to go over there and ‘ave a proper ganda!”

A “proper ganda” in this South West England meaning is to have a closer look, to begin to see what is really going on. Propaganda, on the other hand, is precisely the opposite. It is designed to obscure, to blur and hide. And we humans are surrounded by propaganda all the time, not least in the heated culture wars of the West where Critical Theories have played their hand for decades and are now calling in the chips of chaos and disorder.

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