Category Archives: art

On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…


Yes, I know I had planned to not interact that much any more to whatever the American Christian blogosphere gets riled up about, but I’m going to break that rule for one time now, even though this post is probably a bad idea.  I do know the John Piper bloke is big in certain circles, but he does not concern me much personally. I have written about him in the context of sexism in North American evangelicalism earlier, but overall he’s not someone that has much impact on me nor does interest me that much generally, but I want to react to one of his recent writings.

(To not have too much controversy I will probably add one post with pictures of Antwerp before I go back to the occult. Oh and I did recieve a book called ‘a farewell to Mars’ that looks interesting even without featuring any Martians… Why can’t I just blog about more regular things?)

Some people in some facebook groups were reacting against one of his recent writings (a transcript of some king of talk more specifically) about nudity and the popular series ‘Game of thrones’.  Now I neither read the GoT books nor watched the series, and I don’t really intend to. This has several reasons, the first of which being that I have a reading and watching list that’s full enough already with much more interesting stuff. The second reason seems to be (if I understand people who like it well) that the background philosophy seems to be something like ‘there is no good and evil, only power, and those who are too weak to get it’. Yes, I actually I do quote professor Quirrel here from the first Harry Potter book. And I do note that Harry Potter rejects that way of thinking without even considering it. There’s enough of that stuff in world politics, and it’s not what I turn to fantasy for. The third reason why I’m not really interested would be that I hear that there’s a lot of sexual violence in it. I don’t enjoy stories with too much sexual violence AT ALL.

Since Piper most probably hasn’t seen any GoT himself, and I did read his article 12 questions to ask before you watch game of thrones, I do feel sort of qualified to comment on some things in the article (though not on GoT).

I must tolkienpipesay that he makes some interesting points here and there, and actually goes back and forth from saying stuff I agree with to things that make me think ‘Dude, what did you put in your pipe, is it an old Toby from the Shire or rather a fine Moroccan hashish? Some of his questions are interesting, some seem a bit besides the point, and others come with an explanation that I just disagree with or find completely irrelevant:

Am I Recrucifying Christ?
Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?
When Will I Tear Out My Eye, If Not Now?
Is It Not Satisfying to Think on What Is Honorable?
Am I Longing to See God?
Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?
Would I Be Glad If My Daughter Played This Role?
Am I Assuming Nudity Can Be Faked?
Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?
Am I Assuming Nudity Is Necessary for Good Art?
Am I Craving Acceptance?
Am I Free from Doubt?

Actually apart from the article and GoT a lot of these questions are worth meditating on in genera. But what I want to react to is his general reaction to nudity. I do believe as a Christian that pornography is wrong for several reasons. I can argue from the words of Jesus that adultery in your head is sill a sin, and I would add even whether the other person exists or not. (Which is probably quite extreme a teaching for some in this world, but I stand by it. Yes I can be pretty ‘conservative’ indeed…)
Also, the porn industry is quite exploitive towards women and human beings in general. All of which are made in Gods image. Not only is reducing people to sex objects with a camera dehumanising, making people of the other sex watch it and reduce themselves to such things is equally dehumanising.

The thing is that John Piper seems to assume that all nudity automatically works pornographic:

Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:28–29). Seeing naked women — or seeing naked men — causes a man or woman to sin with their minds and their desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent lust, how much more would he say: “Don’t watch it!”

I’ve seen this approach more, both from certain Christians of a more fundamentalist ilk and certain Muslims, but I don’t believe in it. I do not believe at all that men automatically have to sin when they see a naked female body, and can’t do anything about it, although I can’t rule out that some men are probably indeed conditioned that way. (I say conditioned, so I do not at all mean hardwired here, but programmed: In some culture women walk around with naked breasts all the time without anyone seeing it as sexual at all, while in other cultures seeing just the unscarfed loose hair is considered too sexy for a man to handle and keep his self-control…)

I’m sorry, no matter what some mega-selling books claim to be ‘every man’s battle’, I’m not free from flaws and sinful thoughts in the area of sexuality, but no, I do not just automatically want to have sex with a women when I see her without clothes in a movie. I don’t picture me and her having sex just because she’s unclad or scantily clad. Yikes. What an idea… Just as I do not want to have sex with a woman I see in real life just because I notice how attractive she is. (Actually clothes don’t have to make that much of a difference here anyway. The ‘lustful lecher’ type will be doing the same when they see people they find sexy even when fully clothed.)

Yes, sex scenes in movies are arousing and sometimes IT IS better to look away, I won’t argue with that. Completely agree. Watching people having sex or faking to have sex is maybe generally not always the best idea. (Although it is not so far-stretched to just want your OWN partner in such a moment, not the people pictured, I’d say.)
Assuming that people will automatically sin when they see a nude person of the sex they’re attracted to shows probably just too much faith in ‘total depravity’ for me. Moreover, if I were from a tribe that walks around naked with even caring about one breast more or less it would be one more case of telling Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk. Even to me this article already feels a bit like it.

And here we come to the problem that porn often lies in the eyes (and mind, and hormones) of the beholder, so this is a difficult discussion… I can’t argue with other peoples POV, but I would be very glad if they do not project their own experiences on the rest of the world either…

It’s probably true that nudity in GoT is used a lot for sex scenes or otherwise voyeuristic purposes, but apart from this, there is no reason at all to always see nudity as sexual. It’s in fact quite dehumanising (speaking as a heterosexual male here, substitute whatever gender applicable if your situation is different if you find this hard to read otherwise) to directly reduce the nude female body to something solely sexual. Censoring breastfeeding for example has very perverse ideas behind it for me, breasts are meant for breastfeeding and sexualising it is quite sick in my opinion.

100_1594Maybe it’s because I am the grandson of the late semi-famous painter Willie Cools, known for his abstract female nudes (that are not and have never been sexually arousing to me at all, no matter what other thing one could say about them) but I think it’s totally overblown to say ‘nudity = pornography, always’ I have seen a lot of classical paintings and sculptures with female nude in my life, and again, most of them are not that sexually arousing as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe it’s not that weird to not equate all nudity (or all female nudity, our society does seem quite asymmetrical here) with porn. I’d rather just think our culture’s attitude towards nudity is unhealthy. There is a lot of evidence that the first Christians practised nude baptism for all believers without anything like this discussion at all…

I thus assume we better reframe one of Pipers questions here, and not ask “Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?” but whether we are able to see the image of God in every person we might dehumanise. This might be the case with sexy models as I’ve written about earlier, and for said nudes here, but it applies far outside the category of ‘sexually tempting’ to any person we deem less than human, because they are in our eyes, too poor, too ugly, too different, whatever…

We need to have the eyes of Christ, who was a friend of prostitutes without looking down on them nor looking at them for their sexiness. We should indeed not look at people with lust and reduce them to sex objects in our head, but it’s much more healthy to be able to see some nudity every now and then when we stumble upon it without going completely crazy about it than assume that every time we see a female body we need to think about having sex with them and ‘can’t help it because we’re wired that way’. Such an approach will never be helpful at all.

Another thing that does concern me about the article is that the issue of sexual violence is not addressed. I hope it’s because Piper doesn’t know enough about GoT -I can’t imagine him watching/reading it at all-, and not because for some reason nudity seems much more of a problem than sexual violence (in which case the term ‘rape culture’ would be more than appropriate).

Also, one last thing is that I am more than a bit confused by the ‘violence can be faked and nudity not, so watching violence is OK and nudity isn’t’. Come on, what kind of an argument is that? Does that mean that pornographic manga or computer-generated realistic images of nudes are okay then? I disagree on both accounts: nudity isn’t automatically evil, nor is violence ‘not a problem’ when it is faked.

Some people will not be able to see nudity, whether real or not (or in certain cultures bare ankles or loose hair) without falling into ‘lust’. Just a a lot of people get very unhealthy and sinful kicks out of watching violence (even if fake). Killing humans (made in the imago of God, or representing humanity which is made in the image of God) is one of the most severe sins one can do, and portraying it should always done with a lot of consideration, whether it is fake or real isn’t even the issue. Just as with sexy manga the sinful reaction is present will be completely the same…

what do you people think?

Bram

The lost psalters interview (from August ’11, Kortrijk)


Last August the psalters, one of the most remarkable, unique and impressing band of the planet, were in Belgium to play their amazing music, and they did a show in Kortrijk. I was happy to be the opening act, with just a crappy guitar as a substitute backing band, but I actually hardly remember anything of that, since the psalters concert itself that came after my set was much, much more impressing. (one bootlegged song of my own set, called ‘Ellulian glasses’ can be found here)

As was their new CD ‘carry the bones’, which was for me the best CD of 2011! You can mail order it through their site now btw. Do it, you won’t regret it! The real CD has a very cool package and does sound lots and lots better than mp3’s of it at 128 bpm.

I also did a very interesting interview that night for a Flemish website with the mysterious ‘Captain Napkins’, as the CD booklets call him), one of the two leading forces behind the band. Browsing through my old files I found the English version again today, and I found it way too interesting to not share it with the world. Sharing is what makes us humans…

So here it is (drum roll on oil barrel), the psalters interview from Kortrijk, Belgium on 8/23/2011, done by myself (Bram), originally for cultuurshock.net (read the shorter Dutch version here!)

Bram: So this is your second time in Belgium. please tell us about the first time you were here:

Captain Napkins: Well, the fist time here in Belgium we got to play in Antwerp. We were invited by some cool folks to stay in a squat-house, that used to be a customs building on the bay. It was an amazing experience to stay in there, and then on top of that we played a show in a squat bar (the Scheld’apen) The interesting thing was that Antwerp had just kicked a lot of gypsies out of the city and given them some land right next to the bar to camp out, so when we were there was a couple of acres full of gypsies and then there was anarchists, punks and different folks all together. It just made for an amazing night.

There was a big tree-house right behind the bar, a huge tree-house even, like a real house in a tree, And there was lots of good beer. It was one of our favorite shows that we have ever done, very intense, The place was packed. Yes, we loved it! We absolutely loved Belgium!

Bram: What’s the difference between playing your music in Europe and playing it in america?

Captain Napkins: Sometimes it overlaps, you know: There are places in America that we’ve played that remind me a lot of some places that we’ve played in Europe. But I guess as a generalization, I would say more consistently people in Europe take what we’re doing much more seriously, like they think of us more a like we’re trying to be ourselves: as an organization, as a community, as a movement of combining worshop and justice, and ehm, fighting the empires that we humans create. In America, I think a lot of venues and places see all of that as just a gimmick, and at the end of the day we’re just a band…. So I think in Europe people have been taking us more seriously, which has been great. Plus the shows in Europe, it seems like people take music more seriously, not just us, but in general. The venues seem to take sound more seriously, like they’re very apologetic if they don’t have exactly what we need.

Bram: I heard the same from an interview with Dave Edwards (frontman of woven hand and 16 horsepower) once. Who said that Belgium was the most receptive country for just listening to the music, and taking it very seriously, even in the details.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, but I would say lot of the countries we’ve been to in Europe. The venues seem to take the music and the show a little more seriously, you know they put more work in it. but Belgium is one of our favorite places, for sure.

Bram: Okay, let’s switch to another subject: you guys are known to be both Christians and anarchists, how do you combine that?

Captain Napkins: It’s not at all a matter of combining, for me, for us… Well, anarchy… (pauses) We’re Christians, In a way I’m a Christian and I’m just a Christian, but I like to articulate ourselves as anarchists because the concept of anarchy helps people to understand better what we’re talking about: that there’s no system of man that works. All systems of man end up oppressing other people and elevating some people at the expense of others, and for us end up in the way of God, the One who created this world, so, yeah.

Bram: I understand that, but some people might not: I’ve just heard that there is a group of anarchists here in Kortrijk that refused to go come to your show tonight just because you’re Christians. How would you react to that?

Captain Napkins: I understand that. There’s a lot of Christians that have been very judgemental and hurtful to a lot of people. You know been jerks basically, so I totally understand that. There’s also been times for that we’ve been invited to play in a place and we found out that they were Christian and we didn’t want to play, you know.

Bram: Well, I heard that about Christians too, when hearing that you were anarchists, didn’t want to hear your music…

Captain Napkins: yeah, same thing

Bram: I remember when I let someone hear the song ‘come now and join the feast, right here in the belly of the beast’, they thought you were satanists. So how do the common Christians in America react to your music and your message?

Captain Napkins: yeah we’ve been shut down sometimes. We’ve played some shows.We’re very anti, we’re very unpatriotic, you know, like I love, I love the people of my country, I love the l…

Bram: (interrupting quite impulsively) Belgians are the most unpatriotic people of the world.

Captain Napkins: Okay

Bram: We actually just don’t care, we still don’t have a government now for I one year and a half and we don’t even care.

Captain Napkins: That’s maybe similar… that’s how we feel. I’m sure Belgians love each other, and they love the land. That’s how I feel, you know, I love the land from where I come. I love the people, but I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about those people more than other people. so in all those ways I’m not patriotic at all. and that offends of some Christians, and so we’ve kinda shut down

Bram: In America?

Captain Napkins: some of them are very conservative people and we’re not….

Bram: So, conservatives in America are really patriotic?

Captain Napkins: yeah the conservatives in America are patriotic and they tend to be violent.

Bram: recognize this T-shirt? (show T-shirt of the ordinary radicals)

Captain Napkins: yeah

Bram: I guess you know the ‘litany of resistance’, where Shane Claiborne says something like ‘I pledge allegiance to the transnational church that transcends all borders’ or something like that. (losing my words) So, when you’re thinking of Christianity and being part of a country, part of a nation, whatever, Being a Christian and being part of a people, part of a nation, what’s the connection?

Captain Napkins: for me, I don’t consider myself a part of the nation. I just am a part of the

(We arrive at the bar, looking for a good Belgian Beer, and decide to get a Hopus, a rather strong one)

Bram (to bartender): He’s from America, he’ll really appreciate it, he’s the leader of the band who played.

Bartender: yeah, I know man, it was so nice.

Bram: He deserves a hopus, really!

Bartender: yeah man, of course, of course, of course!

Captain Napkins: yeah, we have a lot of Belgian beers in Philly, in Philadelphia, my city where I’m from they love Belgian beers.

Bartender: Belgian beers are the best.

Bram: So, let’s get back to the interview: one of the guy frsom the squat-house where you stayed last time couldn’t be here tonight but he really likes your sound. He said you were the most tight band heever heard. Like one voice playing together, like there’s no ego in the band. How do you do that?

Captain Napkins: Well it’s interesting. I haven’t really, eh

Bram: You’re just tight together without ego’s, like one band with one vision, musically.

Captain Napkins: (thoughtful) Well, if that’s true, well I mean I haven’t head that a lot, it’s a new thing to me actually. But if it’s true, then what makes it happen is that there is a theology to what we’re doing, there is a vision and a mission that.

Bram: A theology?

Captain Napkins: I mean it’s built on a whole thesis, you know.

Bram: I’ve read a short version of it on your website and I’m still waiting for the whole version to be released.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, I need to write it out… that’s what I want to do when I get back from Europe. some more writing. I wrote it long time ago when I was in college. it’s for college, so it’s not, you know, there is a lot that needs to be changed.

Bram: What would you change?

Captain Napkins: Well, not even so much change as I would just add a lot, there is a lot that needs to be added and kinda updated maybe. I still agree with pretty much everything that’s in there, just a lot of things need to be updated…

Bram: Okay, on to something else, and maybe very strange question: what’s the gospel for you as a Christian anarchist? That’s the most important question for a Christian: What exactly is the good news?

Captain Napkins: Well, for me it’s about… (pauses) Eh… This might sound a little bit vague, but it’s important to me. When you ask that question I think of how God is love and loved us all into existence. He loves creation into existence and because of that our faith is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation. And that’s where anarchy comes in, and that’s where radical justice comes in: because the world fights against creation, the world fights against the Creator, the world fights against relationships. But for me it starts with the idea that God is love, God loved us into existence and God wants us to be in a a relationship with Him, with each other, and with his creation.

Bram: Makes a lot of sense to me. When I hear this I’m reminded of the controversy of Rob Bell’s ‘love wins’ book, so maybe let’s just ask one of the hardest questions of our faith: what do you think about hell?

Captain Napkins: (pauses) Wow, about hell? I actually was just talking to somebody last night about that and, eh, I do think that there is a hell. I don’t really know, but Jesus talks about it a lot, and our scriptures talk about it a lot, and eh… I’m uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that, eh, you know, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who goes there, but I think that God is all-powerful (pauses) There is this woman, Julian of Norwich, who’s the first woman ever published in English. She is way back in the 12th century and she wrote something like she had a vision of hell, and she wrote something about like “and all is well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”. And it was just this, like it sounds redundant, but it was just her saying that God is kinda makes it work. And God makes it right, and God bring the healing but it’s tough how, I don’t know man, I mean it’s too tough.

I’m not one of those people that thinks that people who don’t confess Jesus automatically go there and stuff. I mean, I don’t know who goes there. I’m not one to decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t, you know, I do believe. I don’t even want to say that people definitely go to hell for eternity and all I think maybe that’s something that’s out of our understanding I’m also one to not say that hell does not exist, I think that hell does exist. And I think there is this suffering. there’s this horrible mess that’s out there and I think that there is such a thing as justice. I think that when injustice happens there is a need for retribution.

Bram: Would you say that there is retribution in justice, or just only putting things right and cleaning up evil without taking revenge?

Captain Napkins: yeah, I don’t necessarily believe in revenge, but I think when something evil happens I think that something needs to be made right, and it isn’t simply forgiven. It’s not a matter of like this horrible thing happens and well, it’s just okay now. No, I believe that like, when people, when a whole village is slaughtered by another group of people, that evil isn’t simply forgiven by God, there is a payment for it, there is a suffering that makes it right again.

Bram: And Jesus took that on him to give us forgiveness. (looks at watch) Looks like it’s getting late, so it’s time to end the interview. So I’ll have one last question: If I’d ask what you’d say to Christian people in Belgium, just regular Christian people, what would you say? What would you challenge them to?

Captain Napkins: Well, eh… People respect authority too much. People respect the Powers that Be too much. Because maybe the governments here are better than our government and so it’s easy…

Bram: Well, we kinda do have healthcare…

Captain Napkins: Yeah, yeah so there’s a lot of good things, and, ehm, it’s easy to not respect the American government but maybe it’s harder for Europeans to not respect theirs. But still I think that any government,and any system still falls short to the Kingdom of God. I think we always have to question them, and that we first have to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, and not citizens of a human government or a King. Maybe I’d say something like that…

Bram: Thank you very much! One more beer?

Language is quite fallible (Chesterton)


What I see in a lot of discussions is how people are just not understanding each other because the same words do mean different things for other people.

Losing my faith in language, and realising I could never naively believe in language as a  trustworthy way to describe the world, and communicate my feelings and ideas to others was probably a big day in my postmodern evolution, but the sentiment of language being quite fallible to communicate sometimes even the most basic things, let alone important matters of Faith, Love and Life, is not new. The Orthodox tradition knows that the most important things that can be said about God are what God is not… More eastern traditions like certain streams of Buddhism and probably Taoism could teach us exactly the same, as could the continental postmodernists like Derrida.

But you don’t have to be Derrida to know this; I found this beautiful Chesterton quote that expresses it very well…

Every time one man says to another, “Tell us plainly what you mean?” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that there is a perfect scheme of verbal expression for all the internal moods and meanings of men. Whenever a man says to another, “Prove your case; defend your faith,” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell. He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; he knows that there are abroad in the world and doing strange and terrible service in it crimes that have never been condemned and virtues that have never been christened. Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals.

G. K. Chesterton, Watt’s allegorical paintings

I know, we all need to trust language enough to use it, but it’ll fail us. A lot of discussions between Christians and atheists, or moderns and postmoderns, are bound to fail because of a paradigmatic and semantic disconnect that goes undetected, and even if detected it would take a lot of time to just make clear from which worldview one comes, and what he or she means with the terms used. And most of the time both sides don’t want to listen to that…

  (And I’m not even talking about linguistic relativity here, which words and concepts that exist in a certain language will shape the worldview and thinking patterns of the persons using it. Some things I can explain much simpler in dutch, and I need more words to explain them in English. Or there are misunderstandings that lead to weird doctrines like John Piper who builds a whole doctrine on Adam meaning ‘man‘, that helps maintaining an injust system. )

So, my question is, what do you people feel about the fallibility of language. What are the implications? Is there any way we can communicate that is misunderstandings-free and if not (which is very likely) what does that mean? And isn’t it true that most things that are Real and True can be described more in poetry, story, pictures and art than in technical and systematic lingo?

Or even be shown in deeds instead of spoken in words?

Shalom

Bram

RIP Willie Cools juli 4th 2011


to desire hapiness, the most neglected duty

Willie Cools

Willie Cools, my grandfather and painter

Willie Cools, painter, known person from Duffel (the little town in Belgium which gave it’s name to the Dufflecoat) but above all grandfather and human passed away very suddenly and totally unexpectedly.

It’s still uncomprehensible and very strange to me and I suppose everyone else of his friends and family. We will surely miss him. He was a man who tried to really live, a freethinker of a type that’s becoming very rare, living on feelings and emotions, somsthing which is very clear for those who know his art.

one of his paintings, in the livingroom of our former appartment

For those who know him mainly as an artist. A always found that a lot of nonsense is written about his work. If the things he had to express would have been able to be expressed in that kind of expensive words, he probably would’ve done that. But they’re not and he didn’t. He only could fixate the feeling in colors and shapes, with the female bodies as a motif that’s mainly used as an exuse to express himself in those expressionist painting.

Rest in peace, we will all miss you

Bram