Stranger Things and the Spiritual Warfare of Capitalism

#horror #filmanalysis #capitalism #theology #Moltmann #NickLand #Deleuze #JasonHickel #JacquesEllul #SpiritualWarfare

In this article, I'm going to create a rough sketch for a modern notion of spiritual warfare by providing a narrative of the networks and systems in our world that auto-create themselves through a traumatic parody of divine providence. For lack of a better term, I will refer to this auto-organizing system as “Capitalism,” while also acknowledging the limitations of that term, given that what I will say applies also to Sovietism and Maoism. Again, this is a blog where I experiment because I find that often it's only through writing that I'm able to make connections and study new ideas.

What is Spiritual Warfare?

The Christian concept of spiritual warfare generally refers to the belief that there is a realm phenomenologically experienced but outside of our direct perception in which believers are engaged in a constant battle against evil forces, who are trying to oppose the will of God both through systemic superstructures of oppression and violence as well as through more individuated “temptations,” such as corruption, vice, greed, and not loving others the way one ought to. This concept is based on various passages in the Bible, such as Ephesians 6:12, which states “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Christians have interpreted this in a variety of ways. Some think Satan and demons are, in some sense, real. Others take this language to be more metaphorical about how corruption, oppression, and violence can be destructive forces in the world, moving us toward a different end than the Kingdom of God.

Why am I Talking About This?

Reinvoking the language of spiritual warfare might seem like an odd and slightly crazy decision. After all, it’s an old Christian concept that, unless you are in certain Christian circles, is not talked about very much. But I have a hunch that the language of spiritual warfare might be fruitful for a narrative of Capitalism as opposed to the Kingdom of God.

I think we need a deeper sense of myth and narrative in our world today. However, by using the language of spiritual warfare, we might be able to build a bridge for conversation with more evangelical or even fundamentalist Christians, for whom critiques of Capitalism sound like Marxism, which immediately turns them off and prevents dialogue. Furthermore, the language of spiritual warfare allows us to bring in more scriptural resources to talk about the state of the world today, which could help preachers more easily address issues like climate change from the pulpit. Finally, I think our cultural analysis and critique could potentially be bolstered by spiritual warfare theory.

Opening Illustration: Stranger Things and the Upside Down

In the TV show, Stranger Things, there is a parallel dimension called the Upside Down harboring evil creatures against which the main characters must fight, which occasionally requires the characters to traverse inside the strange new dimension. The Upside Down is a decrepit parody of the real world, where, instead of humans, the town of Hawkins is filled with monsters, toxic air, and rhizomatic vines. This dark, parallel dimension is tethered to the real world but is also distinct from it. It is a conditioning force in the real world, but most people don’t have direct experience with it except for rare occasions. But even when people don't experience it directly, the Upside Down still lingers as an outside force breaking into the real world, creating violence and trauma. Several monsters within the dimension, such as Vecna and the Mind Flayer, want to break into our realm and corrupt or 'de-create' all of reality to be under their control — kind of like Lord Sauron with the One Ring of power in Lord of the Rings.

The Upside Down itself is somewhat confusing and the rules of how it works are not fully parsed out. Visually, it’s full of rhizomes, vines, and creatures that humans don’t fully understand, who exhibit strange powers not accessible to (most) humans.

While watching the show, part of me couldn't help but think of Gilles Deleuze's and Nick Land's transcendental materialism. Deleuze was a French philosopher who developed the concept of “transcendental materialism” as an alternative to traditional forms of materialism and idealism. Deleuze's theory is a form of ontology that asserts that reality is composed of an interrelated and constantly flowing multiplicity of immanent, dynamic processes or “flows” rather than fixed, substantial entities. Deleuze argues that traditional materialism, which posits that there is a single, underlying physical reality that can be objectively known, is limited in that it does not account for the ways in which reality is constantly in flux and shaped by human perception and thought. Similarly, he argues that traditional idealism, which posits that reality is a product of mind or consciousness, is limited in that it does not account for the ways in which the material world shapes and constrains human perception and thought. Instead, Deleuze's transcendental materialism posits that reality is a constantly flowing multiplicity of immanent processes that are both shaped by and shape human perception and thought. He emphasizes that reality is not a fixed, objective thing, but rather a constantly changing process that is both shaped by and shapes human subjectivity. He also emphasizes the importance of understanding how these flows or multiplicities are connected, relational, and mutually affecting each other, which he calls a “rhizomatic” structure.

The idea that reality is a constantly flowing multiplicity of immanent processes that are both shaped by and shape human perception and thought is (with some exception) a decent metaphor for the Upside Down. The rhizomatic vines, storms, and sludge of the Upside Down are constantly flowing, fluxing, and transforming; however, the work of humans also impacts what goes on in the Upside Down. I'm sure Deleuze would object to how easily distinguished the two realms are from one another, but the inter-penetrating and mutually corrupting nature of the realms might be satisfactory enough. The Upside Down is thus, in a sense, a sinister aesthetic depiction of a transcendental materialism that has gone into darker territory, especially when we consider how Nick Land (and the CCRU) developed Deleuze's theory.

Nick Land is highly influenced by Deleuze’s transcendental materialism and coined the term “fanged noumena” to describe the monstrous, destructive, and uncontrollable forces that he believes are unleashed by the acceleration of technological progress and the intensification of global capitalism. Fanged Noumena is a combination of Marx, Kantian transcendental philosophy, and H.P. Lovecraft. For Marx, capitalism is vampiric: “Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” In the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, cosmic, extra-dimensional monsters exist in a manner that is beyond the comprehension of humans, which is like the Kantian concept of “noumenous,” the reality that exists independently of our phenomenological experience and thus cannot be “known” directly but only inferred (according to Kant). In Lovecraft, this outsideness and beyondness leads to madness, destruction, or both. Land combines these notions and thus theorizes capitalism as a type of Lovecraftian monster rearranging our world in order to be devoured; it is fanged noumena.

Even more broadly, fanged noumena refers to the idea that the world contains monstrous entities that exist beyond human comprehension and control. These forces are not only beyond human understanding, but they are also hostile to human life and well-being. Land sees these forces as emerging from the acceleration of technology, capitalism, and the intensification of global processes, representing a growing threat to human civilization. Fanged noumena are a product of the intensification of global capitalism, which creates a situation in which the economy, technology, and culture are all in a state of constant and rapid acceleration. Land believes that these forces are breaking down traditional forms of social organization and creating a new reality that is fundamentally different from anything that has come before. These forces are pushing humanity towards a state of hyper-modernity and a new form of barbarism — a situation in which traditional forms of morality, ethics, and humanism will be no longer applicable.

As he said in his famous essay “Meltdown,” “The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.” For Land, capitalism is a cybernetic, self-organizing system created by a Lovecraftian Artificial Intelligence from the future.

Wow. Yeah, I know, but stay with me. Again, this is narrative-building, and whether or not Land truly believes this as a literal picture is beside the point.

What’s interesting to me about Land’s theory-fiction is that it is a type of parody or “shadow” of eschatological ontology. In the eschatological ontologies of theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, God’s transcendence is not primarily one of space, but of time. The total and complete redemption of all things being reconciled to God in Christ (Colossians 1) is a future reality that is breaking into the present, shaping our world to bring about the Kingdom of God. It’s like the common saying in theology: The Kingdom of God is both here and not yet. God’s Being — the highest form of reality, reality itself — is both immanent and transcendent to Creation, and is the ground of our being providing the ultimate conditioning factors upon our existence.

Now, compare Moltmann to Land.

God’s Kingdom is manifest through peace, justice, reconciliation, and, above all, the work of the Holy Spirit. Contrarily, Land’s Lovecraftian AI kingdom is manifest through destruction, death, acceleration of autonomous technique and technology, as well as the meltdown of reality into the control of the transcendental monster of techno-capitalist singularity. To quote Land's Meltdown essay again:

“The body count climbs through a series of globewars. Emergent Planetary Commercium trashes the Holy Roman Empire, the Napoleonic Continental System, the Second and Third Reich, and the Soviet International, cranking-up world disorder through compressing phases. Deregulation and the state arms-race each other into cyberspace. By the time soft-engineering slithers out of its box into yours, human security is lurching into crisis. … Converging upon terrestrial meltdown singularity, phase-out culture accelerates through its digitech-heated adaptive landscape, passing through compression thresholds normed to an intensive logistic curve: 1500, 1756, 1884, 1948, 1980, 1996, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2011 ... Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.”

To bring us back to Stranger Things, there's a sense in which, Capitalism, from a Landian narrative, is like the Mind Flayer — a monster from another realm breaking into our world to re-create the Earth according to its own vision. It is a type of fanged noumena conditioning our world through violence, destruction, and trauma. Just like how creatures from the Upside Down want to break into the world and transform it according to their own purposes, capitalism wants to manifest itself through the acceleration of horror. In the virtual sphere, television displays more horrendous material than we could imagine through cable news coverage and some forms of popular entertainment. When this wasn’t enough, the internet pushed the pedal to the floor, showing us every form of depravity and violence known to humanity. Imagine what could be next.

In the non-virtual spaces, the fanged noumena system exerts its manifest destiny through trauma and violence in even more hideous forms. It is not just the traumatization of humans via colonialism, slave labor, alienation, etc., but also the traumatization of the non-human facets of Creation via slaughterhouses, factory farms, deforestation, and climate change. All of Creation gets reterritorialized into these new traumatizing and brutalizing systems. This is also why Soviet and Chinese communism ultimately fell into similar plights: they exerted a manifest destiny of trauma via mass executions and brutal, merciless rule. The communist goal for the end of Capitalism ( a type of immanent and materialist Kingdom of God or heaven on earth) was sought after through means and techniques similar to the techno-capitalist system itself, such as mass violence and brutality. Thus, it’s no wonder that “brutalist” architecture was one of the core icons of Soviet communism. In this sense, we can see that “capitalism” isn’t a broad enough term because both Stalinism and Capitalism operated under this “traumatic providence.” Both are instances of spiritual warfare.


I’m sure many are rolling their eyes right now, which is fine. Again, I’m writing this more experimentally than dogmatically to see if this line of thought is fruitful or not. There are, of course, the obligatory notes about Land not being a good person and who should not be idolized, and I should note that I denounce his racism, political views, and his gun-ho endorsement of these traumatizing forces. It’s as if he sees the horror of techno-capitalism, but then endorses it, which is crazy to me. He's like someone who learns about Cthulhu and then joins the cult to worship him. Likewise, I’m skeptical about whether one should introduce Landian theory to American White Evangelicals, who, at least at this time, are quite prone to losing themselves in conspiracy theories.

Putting Land’s misanthropic character aside, the first object to all of this techno-capitalist fanged noumena mythos is simply that it is more like science fiction than actual analysis. One can get so caught up in a mythology of capitalism as a monster from Lovecraftian fiction that one ends up ignoring the real world around us.

I’m sympathetic to this objection. After all, Nick Land lost his mind worshiping what he thought was the coming techno-capitalist singularity as if he was in the cult of Cthulhu. Plenty of impressionable people on the internet follow in Land’s footsteps, and it seems that many of them are losing grip on reality, which can be seen in how they so willingly give themselves into every kind of conspiracy theory. It’s a type of self-induced schizophrenia (which, in a way, almost proves their theory).

Nonetheless, I don’t want to entirely dismiss this line of thinking only on the grounds that it is mythological and narrative-driven. I think humans need more myths, if by “myth” we mean something like our deepest meanings and understandings of the world set in narrative form. Developing a myth allows one to relate to complex phenomena, and myth is especially important when trauma is involved because trauma is, by its nature, difficult to talk about. (Neurologically speaking, trauma shuts off or slows down many of the language-making parts of our brain, which then makes the traumatic event difficult to verbalize).

However, even if we insist on more empirical analysis, it seems to me that the fanged noumena myth of techno-capitalism isn’t too far off from the truth. If we look back on the history of capitalism, from the death of feudalism, through colonialism, slave labor, industrialization, and to the present day, we see enormous amounts of death and destruction. Of course, death and destruction existed before Capitalism, and many important and life-saving innovations have come about through Capitalism, but it certainly has not been a peaceful walk into utopia.

Jason Hickel in his book “Less is Moore: How Degrowth will Save the World” provides a fantastic analysis of capitalism and its history of violence. Hickel’s work is quite empirical and I recommend it as a companion piece to this writing. As a general summary, Jason Hickel wrote that the origins of Capitalism can be traced back to the 16th century, after the violent suppression of peasant revolts during the death of feudalism and when European colonizers began to extract resources and labor from colonized territories. He argues that the accumulation of wealth and resources through colonialism and imperialism created the conditions for the rise of capitalism as we know it today. According to Hickel, the wealth generated through colonialism and imperialism allowed capitalist economies to grow, and this in turn led to the development of new technologies and the expansion of markets. To feed these expanded systems, Capitalism utilized a foundation of systemic racism and exploitation, particularly through the enslavement of millions of people of African descent, and the genocide of indigenous people in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Furthermore, as an example, the colonization of British imperial capitalism led to the death of around 100 million in the years 1880 to 1920, which is greater than all the famines that occurred under communist governments combined ( The legacy of imperialism and exploitation continues to shape the global economy today, and it is a major factor behind the persistent inequality, poverty, and devastating environmental conditions that exist in the world today.

What I like about Hickel’s work, in contrast to Land, is that Hickel sees Capitalism as related to systems of production and the manner in which resources are extracted and then commodified within an economic system that demands constant growth. A system that requires infinite growth using finite, fragile resources — including transforming colonized humans into resources — is bound to generate major problems, such as the current climate crisis. Hickel notes that phenomena such as markets and trades existed well before Capitalism and are not necessarily the problem. So the whole objection of “You don't like Capitalism and yet you bought something from a store” is beside the point. The point is not engaging in trade or purchasing items, but the systems and supply chains behind the construction of those items. Land, however, seems to ascribe the label of Capitalism to anything that is rationally organized and generates a surplus, which I think is too broad a definition.

Nonetheless, the narrative of Capitalism as spiritual warfare is useful because it can transform the empirical facts of the devastation wrought by techno-capitalist systems into a narrative, grounded in familiar scriptural motifs, which is easier for us average folks to relate to. As the scholar Rune Rasmussen often argues on his “Nordic Animism” channels and writing, the mass public desperately needs such meaning-making myths in order to properly orient themselves to these problems. When scientists, for instance, talk about the science behind climate change, they are doing great work and producing great science. However, the language of scientific studies is often quite technical and difficult to understand. One struggles to build a relationship with it. What is needed, Rasmussen argues, is the transformation of such technical material into a broader story — a myth if you'd like — to which average people can relate.

A Literal Myth?

One probably wonders: Is the spiritual warfare language literally true, or is it a type of fiction that is merely good at expressing other factual statements? I think either option is reasonable, and I’m sure some people, who don’t believe in something like actual demonic entities, would want to follow the latter position. Admittedly, I bounce back and forth between the two. Nonetheless, as I’m writing this article, I’m increasingly intrigued by the picture of demonic, satanic forces as a dark, shadowy, “upside down” transcendental that is wreaking havoc in our world through traumatizing systems of destruction (deforestation, climate change, slavery, colonialism, factory farms), which is like a privation of divine providence. If Satan exists, I think that’s a more compelling picture than what one hears of in conspiracy theories like QAnon or the motifs often depicted in Christian movies.

Finally, I think such a narrative of Capitalism as spiritual warfare presents interesting implementations for our spiritual lives. When evaluating different religious practices, we can now ask: Which kingdom does this practice benefit? Additionally, I think it holds insight for our religious services. By participating in liturgy, we are taught to live into a different narrative — i.e., the “true myth” of God’s future redemption which is breaking into our present.

Furthermore, the spiritual warfare of Capitalism mythos provides intriguing insights for the spiritual practice of prayer. One such example is the book “Prayer and the Modern Man” by Jacques Ellul.

Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher and sociologist who wrote extensively about the role of technology in society and the impact it has on individuals and communities. Ellul argued that modern society was characterized by the proliferation of technology and the growth of bureaucratic structures, which reduced individuals to mere cogs in a larger machine. He claimed this threatened to rob people of their ability to think for themselves and act freely, leaving them feeling disconnected from each other and God.

Ellul saw prayer as a form of resistance against the technological and bureaucratic structures that dominate modern society. Prayer is a way to connect with the divine, reclaim one's humanity, and resist the often dehumanizing forces of technology and bureaucracy. He saw it as a form of meditation that allows individuals to disconnect from the distractions of the world and focus on their relationship with God. Through prayer, individuals can find peace and solace, and they can gain a deeper understanding of their place in the world and their role in society.

In his view, prayer is also a form of social resistance because it allows individuals to challenge the dominant ideologies and values of society and reject the status quo. He believed that by praying, people can reclaim their autonomy and challenge the structures of power that threatened their freedom and dignity.

Now, I'm not saying we can just pray away Capitalism. We do need broader systemic change, and here, I'll point back to Hickel who offers many concrete suggestions for change. Nonetheless, if Capitalism is, in some sense, partially a spiritual battle, we will need to invoke spiritual weapons like prayer and worship in order to combat it.


In conclusion, the spiritual warfare of Capitalism refers to a mythos of Capitalism as the fanged noumena of a dark transcendence that is breaking into our world and wanting to corrupt Creation through a traumatic anti-providence, which is a parody of God's eschatological providence of love and redemption that is breaking into our present from the future. By conceiving of Capitalism as spiritual warfare, we gain insight into how these techno-economic systems grow themselves through exploitation, brutality, and trauma, and we also see different insights for how spiritual practices can help play a role in resisting them.