Spiritual Warfare


“Michael the Archangel” by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636

Spiritual Warfare

I have been reading a book called The Art of Spiritual Warfare by Grant Schnarr. It’s a pretty good book. For one thing, it tells us that evil has objective reality. Evil is not a social construct. For another, its focus is on the inner resources a person brings to a combat. However real the enemy may be, the one who fights him is liable to project emotional habits (fears and angers) carried over from the fighter’s previous history. In a combat, such projections are weaknesses. They fuel the opposing fighter by playing into his hands.

Let’s play a war game of our own. Suppose an enemy proclaims that we have no right to exist. What does it mean to have “no right to exist”? If you or I have no right to exist, then the one who deprives us of existence deprives us of no right that we previously possessed. We may lose our lives, but we don’t thereby lose any right that we had.

Now suppose, in our war game, we have a spiritual homeland whose “right to exist” is denied by some of our neighbors. That would surely be an unneighborly act — an act of spiritual warfare. But now suppose these neighbors, want to be accepted as good neighbors – all the while not renouncing their war against us. What recourse might they have, given such apparently inconsistent aims?

Why not propose to engage with us, the besieged party, in a form of communication that would be radically incommunicative? What would that look like, supposing it to be possible? It would exclude judgments of fact or value, of reason or right. It would allow only confessions of feeling and other subjective states. It would not touch the point at issue: the legitimacy of our spiritual homeland’s existence.

Now suppose one of the besieged participants already had a public avenue for airing judgments of fact and value – another name for which is reasonable speech. For example, “Dear Abbie” is such a public avenue, where facts and values are aired and shared. People who disagree with anything said here are warmly and sincerely invited to say all that they have to say, in the form of Comments. The more Comments, the better!

Wouldn’t the next, effective move be — for the spiritual war-makers – to silence such an avenue?

Recently, I have been asked not to write again about the sessions where these neighbors are meeting. At least not to write about them till they are over. Taken rather by surprise, I instantly gave the requested promise. But I believe there’s been a misunderstanding here, on my own part as much as anyone else’s.

“There are so many interesting things to write about,” people sometimes say to me. “How do you choose your topic, each week?”

It’s true that there are many things of interest to write about. But I never “choose” my topic. My topic is the sum and substance of what is on my mind centrally at the time of writing. I discover my topic, the way a mariner finds his island. He didn’t invent it. He didn’t choose to find it. Before he found it, it was already there.

So, to be asked not to write about X, if X turns out the topic central to my mind at the time of writing, is the same as to be asked not to write this column!

The columns to which objection has been taken were written in response to a situation that would lie heavy on the mind of any person of conscience. A group has been occupying the central square of the town I live in, carrying placards that single out Israel in a way that would lead people to conclude – were Israel to be destroyed as its enemies threaten to do – that “they got what they deserved.” That’s war propaganda.

*         *         *

I have Christian friends who, at an earlier point in their lives, would have carried anti-Israel signs, sure of their rightness and righteousness. What changed them? An argument might have done it. Some of these friends are educated and smart. But as it happened, no argument did the work.

What did it then? They had, in each such case I know of – and I know of a few – an encounter with God. I mean it. I’m not kidding. Whose God? What kind of God? There are many names for God, many different views about who or what God is – what reality that word names. Some encounters that purport to be meetings with God would not have affected speech or behavior on so concrete a level. What was told me, in the cases I know of, was that the God-encounter carried an assurance of reality, was close-up, highly personal and overwhelming. Yet it did not obliterate personal boundaries or discriminative thinking. The Biblical encounters with God are like that too, but the experiences reported to me were not commentaries on a text: they were vivid and immediate – happening now.

After the encounter, the person emerged from it changed in a very specific way:

he or she loved Israel.

The person saw – immediately and without having to build an elaborately layered argument – that Israel’s actions are normally taken to defend her life. The person also felt clear and unforced

love and gratitude for Jews.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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4 Responses to Spiritual Warfare

  1. Judy says:

    Oh boy.
    The battle indeed is the Lord’s, but both us and our cousins claim that what we want is what the Lord wants, rather than the other way around. So what might the Lord want, regarding the earthly battle in which one side says that God gave the land to us, and the other side says “Hey, that’s in YOUR book, not ours, and we’ve been here for a couple thousand years before you returned, invaded and claimed it back”. And with this long conflict we’ve all got legitimate gripes.
    So could it be possible that what the Lord wants is for our cousins and us to share the land, be equal citizens, and thus be a total model for the rest of the screwed up world that doesn’t begin to know how to reconcile different groups and different claims and age-old resentments, hatred and battles, etc. etc.
    If we could make peace in Jerusalem, with her millennia of conflict, would it not be such a spiritual/earthly glory, the Messiah coming (or returning, depending upon one’s particular religious context) would be a possibility. Or a model for peace on earth, good will to all….all of us cousins, brothers and sisters, “humans” with the potential to become Human.

    • Abigail says:

      Your outcome is what we all hope will happen eventually. The hoped-for thing might be a world in which both Israel and its current adversaries exist in peace. Meanwhile, the challenge is to make sure Israel survives long enough to reach that point.

  2. Brian Hennes says:

    Abbie, as one who considers the New Testament as inspired and as truthful as the Tanach, I read that “that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). So I am in total agreement that we are in a spiritual war whether we like it or not. Or whether we understand it or not – which most don’t.

    And I would say you are definitely are in the middle of a whopper, Abbie.

    Fortunately, no matter where you turn to in the Bible there is ample instruction on how to win this war. It is best articulated, I believe, by David when he said, “the Battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). David had learned he could do nothing in his own strength. But with God’s strength there was no battle he couldn’t win. And the time came when all Israel was paralyzed with fear to confront the boastful words of the Philistine champion, the giant Goliath. Reported to be about nine-foot tall he was a seasoned warrior and carried a spear the size of “a weaver’s beam.” David was just a boy and stood no chance against him in the natural. But he knew that God had linked His name to the nation Israel and this loudmouth was defiling that name. And he wasn’t going to be silent in the face of that threat another minute. So he picked up five little stones and cried out: “You come to me with sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you taunted.”

    Battle over.
    Go get ’em, Abbie!

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