We call it a zombie. But it’s a little unfortunate that the word is West African in origin, and so its etymology isn’t going to clarify anything for us. In a sense, that’s fitting: it is a word cut off from its proper history — it continues to function, but, as a kind of linguistic fragment, always out of its proper context.
On my podcast, I have gone to great lengths, and frankly invested a lot of energy, in trying to explain a very particular interpretation of what was happening (politically, culturally, materially) as early Christianity got itself up and running. The short version of my thesis can best be explained by my explication of Ephesians 2:11-16. Come on, do a little leg-work here and get into it with me:
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
That’s the passage. And my explication of it involves understanding the dynamics of what Paul calls “the wall of hostility” that had been dividing the circumcision (the Jews) and the uncircumcision (the gentiles) on the eve of Jesus Christ’s life & teaching. To go just one layer deeper here, I will link you to my episode on Thucydides, where I try to show that the entire Mediterranean world was absolutely riven by wars that endured for generations. Division and hostility were the norm until the Logos made cooperation and coexist seem like a possibility.
Heraclitus had caught a glimpse of this new idea. If you have eyes to see — if you have begun to crack the esoteric meaning of his often very cryptic and msyterious sayings, which are preserved only as fragments — you will recognize that his life (which was interrupted by the Persian Wars, which decimated his home-town) and his thinking were a sustained effort to introduce this idea of Logos to the intellectuals of the Greek world. Arguably, we begin to see harbingers of Logos in forms like the Delian League and the Achaean League. There is a sense that the age of strife is drawing to a close and the age of love (these are Empedocles’ terms) is dawning. The possibility of unity arises, but it remains, for the time, a unity without a transcendent purpose: the Delian League made sense because of war-time threats, but it was a kind of martial-law situation; it wouldn’t have occurred to the participants to build a permanent civilization around what was a war-time expediency.
Christ came, the messiah promised to Israel, and made possible the cooperation and coexistence of Jew and Gentile where no such possibility had existed before his coming — this according to Paul, not just in Ephesians, but in Romans, in Galatians, everywhere. The crucial fulcrum for everything that follows in Paul’s vision is that unity is possible because of Christ. Unity is possible in Christ. We can “come together as one,” as a new body, with a new soul — in Christ. Thus, Galatians 3:28 reads,
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Emphasis added. Everyone was invited to the party — indeed, Jews were invited first and foremost (Romans 1:16). No one was to be excluded unless they chose to exclude themselves by rejecting the offer. And get this: the idea worked. Cooperation became the norm. By the time of Constantine, many formerly-different peoples who had existed uncomfortably alongside each other for centuries were now living in peace — the age of war had come to an end. For the holdouts — for any who refused the offer, it was “outer darkness,” as Jesus had predicted. The Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and Hadrian banned Jews from entering Jerusalem, banned circumcision, and renamed the city in 134 A.D.
But here’s the point of all this — Christianity made possible the cooperation of groups of people that had formerly been at each others’ throats — these formerly warring peoples literally gave up their old identities and put on the armor of Christ. They were born again. They began to share values. They put away idols. They became a new people. They thought of themselves as God’s children. The old animosities were gone. No Jew, no gentile, no man, no woman, no slave, no master — but all was Christ. The body with a soul.
What I want you to understand is that the soul — Christ — is what made the unification of the body possible and logical. It was his example that made it possible for people to imagine giving up their old identities and being born again in a new identity. Resurrected, with a new body. Try to understand.
Anacharsis Cloots was born in 1755. He was Prussian by birth, but he became a provocative theorist of politics during the period of the French Revolution. The embodiment of the Enlightenment, Cloots called himself “the orator of mankind,” and chose his name (after an early Scythian philosopher) as a signal of his rejection of Christianity. His big idea was even more ambitious than anything dreamed up by Robspierre (who, by the way, argued that Cloots was actually conspiring to subvert the Jacobin movement with his overly ambitious project) — it was nothing short the Universal Republic of Mankind. All division, up to and including the use of states and borders, was to be abolished according to Cloots’ thinking. Here’s a helpful excerpt from an article on Cloots published by a Princeton professor in 2012 in the History of European Ideas:
Sovereignty was necessarily despotic, he wrote, but since mankind’s sovereignty would unite interests and create no artificial oppositions, it would not have the same deleterious effects as a clash of multiple national sovereignties. He theorised the sovereign unity of mankind on logical grounds by arguing that sovereignty, a property inherent in people rather than institutions, was by its nature indivisible, and therefore could not be plural. All divisions and distinctions bet- ween individuals were arbitrary and irrelevant to the purposes of sovereignty, which inhered in mankind collectively as the only indivisible and therefore relevant category. In other words, Cloots derived human unity from the concept of sovereignty. The only true natural barrier was the one ‘between the Earth and the firmament’. As long as there was no bridge to other planets and, presumably, intelligent life there sovereignty resided in the entirety of mankind.
And here we have it: a body without a soul. Or at least — a very different soul than the one that had made possible the cooperation of various peoples who came together under Christ.
Since the Enlightenment, post-Christian thinkers have been gradually approaching the “Clootsian” eschatology by retaining “the unity of the body” as an aim even as they discard Christ as the soul of the body. I suspect that they retain unity as the goal because they dimly understand — even if they haven’t read Thucydides much lately — that an age of Strife can always return. But every body is unified around a principle. In the modern age, we will be unified under the principle of Unity itself. We are become Frankenstein’s monsters. Witness the many peoples of the world, forced to retain the form of a body — but not unified under any principle, having no soul. Parts sewn together by force to form a body. Ghastly because it has no soul.
Parts sewn together by force to form a body. Ghastly because it has no soul.
We are caught in a circular trap — retaining unity as a telos because we fear disunity. But whereas the unity-under-Christ implied a moral content, and the standardization of traditional forms of social dynamics, the new unity-for-the-sake-of-unity is not beholden to any moral content at all.
I propose that all of this gives us a way of understanding the intensification of hyper-pro-social behaviors, virtue signaling, and the hysteria that seems to follow whenever anyone dares to set themselves apart from, or refuse to go along with, the group. If the chief principle (the deity itself, the pseudo-soul) of the body is unity, then all deviation from unity-in-unity is correctly perceived as the potential source of the reintroduction of an age of Strife. It no longer matters what we are unified under, or for — whether it is for the rainbow flag, or for shopping, or for an abstract principle like equality. The important point is that unity has become an end in itself. And the devotees of this zombie-body go into a panic when they feel any significant effort from any of the part of the would-be, must-be, body to resist being stitched in.
I feel like I could go on and on with this idea. The short of it is: unity in Christ is possible because Christ intended it to be so, because it makes sense, because it is true. Unity for unity’s sake is unjustifiable, unnatural, and it becomes perverse when, and because, it is forced. The Universal Republic of Man dreamed up by Cloots was unimaginable before the 18th century — but we are all living in it now. Or rather, we are all stitched into it now, not exactly living, a body without a soul. Ghastly.