Thoughts on Sin by Ted Peters (1994) Introduction 1D

The seven steps to radical evil are described in a sequence of seven chapters that constitute the body of Peters’ book.

I will look at each of these steps in terms of nestedness as well as in terms of ideas in An Archaeology of the Fall.

In order to do this, allow me to briefly describe the concept of nestedness.

Technically, “nestedness” is a loose application of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of “precission”.

Roughly, “nestedness” is a way to discuss a single topic in three realms – or categories – of existence: Normal Context, Actuality and Possibility.

Each of these categories emerges from the next lower level:  Normal Context emerges from Actuality.  Actuality emerges from Possibility.


The Realm of Normal puts the Realm of Actuality into Context.

The Realm of Possibility makes the Realm of Actuality Possible.


This may be written using parentheses:

Realm of Normal Context(Realm of Actuality (Realm of What Makes Actuality Possible))


Thoughts on Sin by Ted Peters (1994) Introduction 1C

How does Peter’s view of “radical evil” match the appearance of the serpent in Chapter 11B of An Archaeology of the Fall?

Eve was curious about that forbidden fruit.  She had covetousness, and maybe gluttony.  She harbored a naïve, perhaps sinful, intentionality – then – as if by magic, there was the serpent, assuring her that everything she imagined was true.  So she ate the fruit and gave it to her husband.  He ate.  Only then did they realize that what they had done was evil.  They had harmed their relation to their Creator.

From the point of view of Eve and Adam, the intentionality of the sin did not align with the objective evil that resulted from the transgression.  They did not recognize their fault until after the deed.  From the point of view of the serpent, the intentionality of the sin aligned with the evil that resulted from the transgression.  The serpent was aware of her fault before the deed.

The serpent was radically evil.  The serpent intended and performed deliberate harm by simply telling the truth to someone who was a little tempted and a little confused.  Eve was not radically evil.  She naively gave the serpent an opportunity to render harm.

Yet, from a psychoanalytic point of view, one could say that the serpent was Eve’s own unconscious projection.

Does that mean, when we innocently and senselessly sin on one level, we habituate “our capacities to sin” on other levels; levels that are less innocent and less senseless?   Also, are these less innocent and less senseless levels simply marked with an increased unconscious awareness of our own sin-filled intentionality?

To me, this sounds totally New Age.  We become “radical” (or “rooted”) when we become consciously aware of our unconscious motivations.

“Radical evil” is the commission of acts with full conscious awareness – of harm and sinful intentionality.

Peters’ definition of “radical evil” fits hand in glove with his previous work on the New Age Movement.

So, it is, perhaps, without irony that his book follows one of the many consciousness-raising New Age formulas: Dr. Peters says that one can get to radical evil in seven steps.


Thoughts on Sin by Ted Peters (1994) Introduction 1B

In his Introduction, Peters goes through classic background theology.  The words translated as “sin” in the New Testament include “to miss the mark” (in analogy to an archer shooting at a target), “to be without law”, and “lawless”.

Medieval clerics listed seven deadly “sins”.  They were not really sins, but “dispositions” or “vices” that violated natural reason and divine law: pride, envy, anger, covetousness, sadness, gluttony, and lust.

“Sin” and “evil” are not the same, even though it often seems that way.  “Sin” has the “feel” of intentionality.  “Evil” has the “feel” of form.

A flood may not be a “sin” but can be “evil”.

A personal act, like eating all the sausages after hearing news of a coming famine, may be both “sin” and “evil”.   Typically, the intentionality of a “sin” is not identical to the form of the related “evil”.  After all, by eating all the sausages, I have done myself some objective good, while doing others in my household objective harm or “evil”.

When the intentionality of sin and the form of evil align, we have “radical evil”.  “Radical evil” is deliberate harm.  “Radical evil” is symbolized by Satan.


Thoughts on Sin by Ted Peters (1994) Introduction 1A

According to the book jacket, at the time of writing, Dr. Ted Peters was a Professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Northern California.  18 years have gone by since publication.

The complete title of his book is Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society.

This book on radical evil started as an afterthought while promoting his earlier book on New Age Movements, entitled The Cosmic Self (1989).

Peters noticed that people kept asking him about Satanism.

New Age Movements became popular from the 1970s on – especially in California – because the charisma of Christianity appeared to be inadequate.  From the point of view of Reason, Jesus and Moses were pure myth.  From the point of view of Resistance, Catholics and Baptists were full of hang-ups.

The experts had appointed themselves to solve all these problems.  And from any point of view from the Inside, no Christian leader wanted to risk addressing the symbolic and conceptual void that seemed to be filling the Churches.  Reason and Resistance were so captivating.

Little did anyone imagine that, by 1994, a new religion – really, a “cryptoreligion” – Progressivism – had already constituted itself by regulatory capture (infiltration and take-over) of all types of secular institutions, especially those of the sovereign (central state), but including the broadcast media and local education.

Both the New Age Movements (clarifying magic) and Satanic cults (occluding magic) shared this in common:  They were intensely personal.  They were cultic.  They were private religions.  They were not “public” religions in the same way that Judaism and the Christianities were.

In short, New Age Movements were the private complement to the Public cryptoReligion of Progressivism.  “Progressivism” denied that it was a religion, even as it re-defined the meanings of “life”, “liberty”, “happiness”, “fairness”, “sacrifice”, “revenues”, “budgets”, “liberal” and “conservative”.  What word has been untouched by the cryptoReligion and its minions?

Peters did not hear the question that people were undoubtedly asking: Was there not a dark, occluding monolithic side to the proliferating private clubs of “clarifying magic” that marked the New Age Movement?  Yes, it was the Leviathan.  But, that answer was ruled out by definition.  The Central State, the new American Sovereign, “Progressivism” was precisely not religious.

Thankfully, this good Lutheran did hear “something”.   He heard that people were concerned about Satan in an age when the word “sin” was no longer spoken in polite – I mean, politic – discourse.

He wrote a grant.  He got a research assistant.  And she wrote this book.  Thank you, Lisa Stenmark.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8N

One can only imagine how absurd the process of social construction was immediately after the transition from hand-speech talk to speech-alone talk in any particular Neolithic or Mesolithic culture.  Symbolic orders spontaneously arose as if by magic.

There was no way to stop them and there was no way to contain them.  The resulting social constructions produced mind-numbing inequity.  At some point, a sovereign arose.  The sovereign was the social construction that claimed to hold a monopoly on violence among symbolic orders.  The State was born.  The State then proved to be one site unparalleled in its production of social surd.

And the tragedies never stopped.

One can only gawk at the irony that the same unknowing exhibition of power over the unsuspecting and unprepared that marked Western colonialism must have characterized the period in southern Mesopotamia that directly followed the emergence of unconstrained complexity.

At the same time, within the social surd, authentic and miraculous events can occur.


First, individuals withdraw and call upon God.  This pattern fits the story of Abraham’s lineage.  Haran may have turned his back on the ancient family tradition of Seth.  And from that stance, Abram called on the very God that inspired Seth.  Abraham was authentic.

Second, even though characters behave unauthentically, the result may be described as authentic.  This pattern fits the story of Joseph.  But even more spectacularly, the pattern may fit the construction of the Bible itself.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8M

Does An Archaeology of the Fall supplement what Tatha Wiley tells of Lonergan’s methodological theology?  Certainly.  Speech-alone talk supports all types of “languages”, defined as symbolic orders.

These orders capture the imagination (religious or experience activity) and inspire individuals to construct icons and indexes (moral or judgment activity).

The semiotics of speech-alone talk complements Lonergan’s methodological theology.

An Archaeology of the Fall also helps to highlight the postmodern possibilities of Longergan’s theology.  Often, the symbolic orders and social constructions make sense.  Often they do not, especially when they are promote unauthenticity (for fail to sustain authenticity).  These contribute to the social surd.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8L

OK, let us get back to unauthenticity and see how Lonergan is subversive.

The “surd” is the consequence of selective thinking.  It draws everything into its maw, except for whatever does not appear within its symbolic order.  When the authentic turn away, they become increasingly invisible, because they operate in a symbolic order that the New World Order has excluded.

I say, “New World Order” as a general term for the phenomena that includes Progressivism.

The remainder, whatever is ignored, unintelligible, intractable to (selective) reason, irresponsible, and unlovable belongs outside the absurd (note the directionality is included).    The remainder is excluded as the New World Order constitutes its absurdities.

The remainder is why, as Wiley put it, the resolution of the problem of development cannot be generated with humans themselves.  The remainder know that the social surd is absurdity incarnate, that rationality cannot be found in the tropes of the absurdists, and that all paths to authenticity demands a re-orientation.  So the resolution is to “let go”, to “withdraw” or to “step back and make re-orientation possible” for many of us.

For others, the resolution is conversion to another unauthenticity.

If “withdrawal” is truly possible, then Original Sin is not a complete degradation of human’s capacity for self-transcendence.  Baptism has relevance (and Lonergan is subversive).

If “withdrawal” is not truly possible, and “withdrawal” consists of conversion to another unauthenticity.  Baptism does not have relevance (and Lonergan is fatalistic).


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8K

Lonergan selected (perhaps, the only) two truly universal features for his existential model.

The first is “self-transcendence”.  Each one of us is a self.  The “self” is a universal.

The second is “be holy, loving and responsible”.  This command attempts to be completely other oriented, towards meaning (holy), persons (loving) and nature (responsible).  Put the word “self” in front of any one of these and you have a perversion of the command.  The “other” is a universal.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8J

As noted in the aside on our current national religion, unauthenticity involves all the characteristics of authenticity, but in a biased selective fashion.

Unauthenticity involves selective attention, selective intelligence, selective rationality, selective responsibility and selective affection.

What is being selected?  The “surd” of “absurdity”.

The surd seems to be going somewhere, but it is only digesting itself.

Authenticity does not give directionality to the surd.  Authenticity simply does not feed it.  It does so by giving directionality to the soul.  One of the meanings of the prefix “ab” is “to”.  Authenticity is the opposite of absurd.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 8I

Now, I will take another step.

According to Lonergan, within the social surd, the human is faced with disorienting biases.

Lonergan’s adoption of the word “surd” is both clever and ironic.  “Surd” is the root of “absurd”.  The prefix “ab” means “toward”.

To me, by leaving out the “ab”, Lonergan contradicts the directionality or “selectivity” that unauthenticity always seems to have.  This makes the surd appear to be like matter – already there – the existential milieu for human development.

Still the surd is alive.  The surd eats, dragging everything into its yawning chasm.