Adam Kotsko and making the devil sexy

This week an interview with philosopher/theologian Adam Kotsko has been featured on what is possibly my favourite thing ever, Homebrewed Christianity. In it Kotsko is talking about, well a whole bunch of things, including making “the devil theologically sexy.”

Talk of “the devil” and demons etc. is something of a struggle (read: facepalm) for me. I find that much Christian chatter about such things tends to fall into, what I refer to (mostly to myself) as, a needlessly supernatural and speculative “shitty (or weak) dualism.” (I mean, there’s nothing fair and/or actual in or about a devil vs. God duel. The devil functions as a peculiar, arbitrary and more or less redundant aspect of theodicy, having no respectable function. Mainly because there is absolutely no attempt to understand the nature of this character’s role in historical and literary context.) Kotsko, in this light, puts forward some helpful and constructive proposals in regards to a recent book of his called The Politics of Redemption: The Social Logic of Salvation.’

I’ve typed out some of the relevant parts of the interview on this topic. Some parts have been cut and there are several topics spinning around the pertinent topic, including Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity,’ liberal Christian hermeneutical moves in demythologisation, patristic theology, various atonement theories and the need for a social emphasis in them etc.. So following it all might be a little difficult. Which is, perhaps, on purpose so that you go ahead and fire it on your iPod or whatever and listen to it!

What I think is important about the devil is that it serves as a personification of our broken social order and it gives that social order a kind of autonomy from God’s rule. In traditional theology, where the devil has been sidelined, effectively the devil becomes God’s halberd… In Anselm, God directly outsources the torturing of the souls in hell, to the devil, so that God’s own hands will stay clean from that act.

For me, displacing the devil from his de facto, although illegitimate role, gives God ownership over everything and then you wind up having to explain away how actually all these horrible things are God’s will and they are a greater good…

The effect of displacing the devil out of his slot in this drama, for which the early patristic writers provide the archetype, is that God winds up taking over the role of the devil. God effectively becomes the devil. The devil becomes, in effect, God’s servant and ally…

The demythologising view, it’s this typical liberal Christian thing of explaining away things that don’t seem to make sense in terms of modern understandings of how the world works. So the gospel isn’t really presenting miracles, it isn’t really talking about demons, and you strip away that stuff and so you’re left with profound moral teachings or whatever you’re supposed to have…

What I’m proposing… is just leave all of the narrative elements in place, have all of it be available to you for interpretation. Don’t impose our modern view of things, or preemptively retreat from things you think the skeptical modern public won’t like…

There is a sense in which I’m saying the devil is figurative… but you have to take it literally in the initial reading. The devil is portrayed as an agent… and you have to interpret it in those terms first.

Additionally, the proposal Kotsko is making in wider terms regarding the atonement seems extremely interesting and compelling, particularly in its social and political nature. The appropriation the Ransom and Christus Victor atonement theories receive in relation to this ‘social logic’ is of particular note and provides much of the context for (the quote above and) positing a devil, with a particular role and function, in the interpretation of patristic texts, as well as its reimagination for ourselves in regards broken social orders that require theological reflection and response.

Listen to the interview and it’ll all make more sense and seem cool. Enjoy!

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