The following text is a theological meditation on Paul Kingsnorth’s essays on how the story of the Covid-19 pandemic is created and used (see In the last address in this series, Kingsnorth expresses his hope that, in the end, the Machine as a symbolic expression of the order of biotechnology will fail for the simple reason that the world is a mystery ). (https://paulkingsnorth.substack.com/p/the-vaccine-moment-part-three).
My impression is that Kingsnorth’s hope is based more on a faith in the world’s natural ability to resist evil, a belief that is essentially pagan. This is probably why Kingsnorth converted to Orthodoxy (): because he thought to have found here an answer and a traditional, anti-modern possibility to resist the current biopolitical totalitarianism. The traditional aspect of Romanian Orthodoxy and a certain blend of neognosticism and Orthodox spirituality did not allow those attracted by the touch of Orthodox mystery to see that despite its conservative appearance Romanian Orthodoxy remains particularly receptive regarding the future of a divine reason reduced to the status of information accessible through a cloud server. Numerous religious or secular schemes disguised in Orthodox Christianity can be found in Romanian Orthodoxy today, so that the fact that people formed in a pagan spiritual paradigm find in Romanian Orthodoxy exactly what they were looking for, is absolutely normal. Let us hope, however, that in spite of the efforts of their false guides, they will eventually discover the truth in the writings of genuine Orthodox theologians.
Since I believe that the problem of man can be properly understood only from a theological perspective, I try to further show how the problem of the domination of the Machine in our days can be understood from the perspective of the Orthodox teaching about evil and the person.
First of all, I want to say that the mystery of the world cannot provide the world with any resistance to evil. If that were the case, God would no longer have to become man. Evil itself is a mystery in its own, and the current technological predicament does not properly reveal its nature. What reveals the mystery of evil is rather the mystery of the Person (the distinction between mystery and mystery is a theological one and can only be made, as I have shown for almost fifteen years now, from the theological understanding of the person).
As Father Schmemann pointed out, evil has a personal nature; not only evil is anything but a mere absence of good, as in the Enlightenment view shared by some Christian theologians, but it is a personal reality, endowed with intelligence and will. In the experience of the Church, Father Schmemann insists,
“evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely a presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all those who try, be it only a little, to “better” themselves, to oppose “nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life.
Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the “lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the “hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of “goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible.
Whoever he is, the “Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to' speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him – to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.
These are, of course, poor words, almost totally inadequate to the horrifying mystery they are trying to express. For we know nothing about that initial catastrophe in the spiritual world – about that hatred against God ignited by pride and that bringing into existence of a strange and evil reality not willed, not created by God. Or rather, we know about it only through our own experience of that reality, through our own experience of evil.” (Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and Spirit. A Liturgical Study of Baptism, SPCK, 1976, p. 22-23)
The Machine (in the sense assigned by Kingsnorth) is not the evil itself, but only one of the tools used by evil to blur the vocation of the human person. The order of evil is too comprehensive and too perverse to be reduced to the mechanical organization of life. To an even greater extent than the order of the Machine, religion and especially false spirituality are much more subtle instruments of evil and, therefore, more effective tools for achieving a godless heaven.
The purpose of evil is to pervert the image of God in man by diverting it from man’s likeness to God and reorienting it towards the likeness of a new self, falsely perceived as divine. Evil uses the image of God in man in order to justify a natural divinity of man. For this purpose, the person must be brought into the situation of no longer recognizing the person, of losing the consciousness of the person. This is exactly what happens in the world on the occasion of the great Christian holidays, when even Christians are no longer able to recognize the coming God, seeing in the Nativity, for example, only a family holiday and the opportunity to spend “quality time”. For most of these Christians, it is by no means a celebration of the Holy Family, nor is it the experience of a holy time, which is none other than the actual time of the person (https://cumpana-o-viziune-ortodoxa.blogspot.com/2021/05/persoana-si-timp.html).
Kingsnorth recalls an observation attributed to Tolstoy (incorrectly, it seems https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/05/06/two-plots/), for whom all the stories are reduced to two fundamental models: a stranger arrives in the city and someone go on a journey (https://paulkingsnorth.substack.com/p/the-vaccine-moment-part-two). But only Christianity shows us that the two stories represent the episodes of a single story: The Fall marks the departure of man into exile, while the Incarnation marks the arrival of the stranger in the world of those alienated from themselves, alienated from the person to whom they were called to become.
The stranger is coming to bring us home, not to free us from the Machine. The stranger comes as our brother so that our brother will no longer be a stranger to us. God is coming to restore our likeness to Him, to restore our resemblance to Him within us. This is exactly what evil is trying to impede. As I said recently, transhumanism is just such an attempt to disrupt the consciousness of sin and man's need for God, undoing the necessity and effectiveness of the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Christ (https://cumpana-o-viziune-ortodoxa.blogspot.com/2021/12/a-pune-inceput.html).
Evil invents various means to weaken and degrade the realization of the person. He uses both secularism and religion, both unethical science and bioethics or spirituality in order to extinguish man’s personal vocation and, at the same time, to prevent man from recognizing the false person, the imposture of the false person, namely, the one who irrationally assumes the right and the power to offer himself the beginning that he considers worthy (https://cumpana-o-viziune-ortodoxa.blogspot.com/2021/12/a-pune-inceput.html). Evil is using the Machine not in order that we succumb to the Machine, but to the end that, weakened in our personal powers, we may recognize ourselves in the anti-person, so as we no longer wait and desire the Person, but wait and desire the anti-Machine.
The current bio-technological totalitarianism can effectively pursue our transformation into human-machine chimeras, and it is very likely that especially the younger generations will see this as a positive thing; but at the same time, the provocation of a large-scale technopanic can better serve the purpose of evil to make man recognize himself in a presence at once opposite to the machine and superior to man, in a Super-Person. The Machine thus appears as a partner of the false person, whose purpose is not necessarily man’s destruction, but his orientation towards the “liberating” pseudo-person. It is one of the usual situations of demonic strategy: “Even if one demon seems to contradict another, in effect they are paving the way for each other and working mutually for the same destructive purpose.” (John Chryssavgis, John Climacus: from the Egyptian desert to the Sinaite mountain, New York, Routledge, 2016, p. 177)
This living off of the natural divinity of man, as well as the possibility that evil can use the Machine not so much for the apparent subordination of man to the Machine, but rather in order to “free” him by orienting him towards anti-Machine, require a theological clarification of the Person, anti-Person and Machine.
Contrary to the common assumptions of anti-modern and anti-technological thinking, even if the Machine opposes the person, threatening to turn him into an element of the Machine, the person is not the opposite of the Machine. The machine is just a tool, a means of indirectly transforming the person into an anti-person by producing, spreading and maintaining fear. The Machine means not only mechanical organization, different from the order of life; the Machine means not only the absence of freedom, although it is obvious that genetic engineering is used today to control life in a mechanical way, strictly rational, without respecting the condition of freedom. From this point of view, the opposite of the Machine is any natural form of life whose biological program has not yet been genetically modified artificially through the Machine. For example, a snail.
The Machine means these things, and if there were no difference between a snail and the human person, the Machine would have canceled the person so far. But, as we will see below, the person means more than a living, rational and free organism. Precisely because the person means infinitely more, precisely because in him there is something of God in a unique way not only in relation to the rest of the created world, but unique also from one human person to another, evil seeks not so much the destruction of the person, but the realization of an anti-person – an anti-god, an antichrist – and for this evil needs the person to freely choose an image alien to the person, an anti-image. Evil proposes the same old project of fulfillment without God, by which the person realizes an image that is not constitutive to him (but even contrary), as if it were his own very image. The person must be made to feel fulfilled by choosing an idol instead of the personal image after which he was made.
Since the realization of the likeness of the image by which we were made cannot be achieved outside communion with the One who is our Image and, at the same time, with those who participate by Christification in the absolute Image of the Father, it means that what opposes the person cannot be the Machine, but the anti-person, the being whose essence became both the denying of the participation in the created order and the disobedience to the absolute Person.
The Machine can mechanize life. But it can’t mechanize the person. Just as only the person can personalize, just as only in the divine Person of the Son made man can people become persons, so man can become anti-person only through an anti-person, not through a machine.
The person is theonomous, but this specific feature does not exclude the person’s freedom. The autonomy of the person is all the more unlimited the more the person is devoted to a theological order, and it is all the more limited the more the person evades this order, to the point where he loses his property as a person with the rejection of the theonomic order. The personal being who decides to determine his beginning, name, definition, which redefines himself by ignoring the theonomic order and, moreover, voluntarily placing itself outside this order, loses his attribute of person with the manifestation of an unnatural desire to acquire the likeness to an image which he attributes to himself and which he superimposes on the original image after which he was made. As a result of this overlap, the created being recreates himself and is animated by the desire to acquire the likeness to an alien image, superimposed on its own original image which ensures his identity as a person.
When the Christian understanding of the person is lacking, it is impossible to see that the anti-person is different from the Machine and that it is not the Machine but the anti-person the one who opposes the person.
The “natural” divinity of man, inscribed in his constitution by his being made in the image and likeness of God, is realized by the participation of man in the image in which he was made. Man is not the image of God, but according to the image of God.
Man’s characteristic of being created “in the image and likeness of God” is fundamental to all patristic theology, as Father Andrew Louth points out in an extensive commentary on how Orthodox theology understood and developed this property reserved only for man in all creation. (Fr. Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, IVP, 2013, p. 82). Thus, according to Father Louth,
“limiting being in the image of God to being rational and possessing free will falls short in two respects of what the Greek Fathers generally mean by being according to God’s image. First, being logikos means more than simply being rational; it means participating in the Logos, the Word, of God, including rationality, certainly, but also a capacity for recognizing and conveying meaning, for communicating, with one another and with God, and ultimately an affinity with God, that enables us to know him. Second, possessing to kat’ eikona means having a relationship to God through his image, that is, the Word; it is not just a property or a quality, but a capacity for a relationship, a relationship that is fulfilled in attainment of to kath’omoiosin, being according to the likeness, assimilation with God.
To think of the human as ‘according to the image’ in this sense sets up a pattern: we have been created by God the Father in the image of the Word through the Word, so that, through the Word who created us we might come to the knowledge of God the Father – this whole process takes place by grace, that is, through the Spirit. (p. 86-87)
[…] To be human is to be in the image, and being in the image, according to the image, entails a relationship to Christ, who is the image. Certainly he is an image in virtue of being the Word of God, the Logos, God’s self-manifestation; but this is something we only fully understand through the Incarnation. Human kind is created according to an image – the Word of God – that we only truly know through the Incarnation. It is only through the Incarnation that we can truly understand what it is to be human.” (p. 87)
Therefore, by ceasing to partake of the divine image after which it was made, while rejecting at once the likeness of God and of himself, man becomes alienated at the same time from God, the prototype image, and from his own human image made in or according to the image of God. This alienation from the constitutive model produces a distortion of the person’s powers, free will, reason, and discernment (the image), and a severe weakening of his receptivity to God’s call (the likeness). Through this distortion, man misses his personal vocation, and his image (which should be and remain in the image of God with which he was to resemble more and more), becomes covered by a satanic image, appeared through the likeness of man with an image that he superimposes himself (I think of this satanic image as that of the Beast in the Book of Revelation, chapters 13-16 and 19-20). This satanic likeness coincides with the realization of the anti-person. It is the realization of a resemblance to what comes from outside of man and outside the rationality of creation, but always with the consent of man and which is interposed between man and the constitutive divine image after which man was made.
Evil does not just want us to perceive Christ as a stranger. He does not want us to be indifferent to Christ just because he hates Christ and fears Him. Evil wants Christ to remain for us only a stranger passing through the city because evil wants us to receive him instead of Christ, to receive the one alienated by nature and from nature as a brother, to welcome as our true likeness the one who claims by his own decision the place of the Creator so that our exile may become a fulfillment. In short, evil wants us to refuse to house Christ so that we can feel at home in hell.
But Christ is born, and until the end of the ages, He will not cease to be born with every man who desires to return home. This is the only justification for hope and joy. His birth is mysteriously proclaimed and celebrated by the whole creation every morning and every spring, with every flower and every new apparition of life. Nevertheless, without the clear recognition of the Birth of Christ, the meaning of this proclamation and celebration remains incomprehensible.