Category Archives: theology

on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…


Ishtar‪Like last year, there’s a meme going around about Easter being the feast of Ishtar. Some people seem to like to share it to make fun of Christianity, but it actually makes no historical sense at all (especially if English is not your first name) though it’s going viral. It is (according to wikipedia) thought to originate from the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science. I’m quite disappointed by that actually, I would hope to be able to expect more from a ‘Foundation for Reason and Science’ than  an argument just based bad wordplay that only works in English, combined with an even more sloppy history lesson.
The weird part of all of this is, that if you want you can find enough pagan and other influences in a lot of Christian tradition, including Easter. Why people would make these kind of things up is just beyond me…

See here, here and here for some intelligent reactions to refute the claims of this meme, of which the last one contains some very good advice:

The general rule of infographics and similar fare is that the more deliciously it skewers people you don’t respect very much, the more likely it is to be a fake.  Always good to consider before you click that “share” button.

To be short and repeat some things from those sources (you better read them yourself before your read on here though): There is no known connection between Ishtar and Eostre, which lend her name to Easter. There is only one ancient source about that second goddess anyway:  Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work De temporum ratione, about the calculation of Easter in this quote (All other sources are 18th century -Grimm, the one of the fairy tales indeed- and even more recent, and include academic speculations and  neo-pagan reconstructionism with not much connection to pre-Christian times):

15.  The English Months
In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…
(source)

So what does the only ancient source say? the feast is named after a month, which is named after a goddess which seems to be faraway and whose rites are replaced by ‘the new rite’, which was imported from Rome and Byzantium and does not originate with the Germans at all anyway. No connection to the new rite and the old goddess is made, nor is there any connection anywhere closer to the middle East between Ishtar or other ANE fertility goddesses and Christian easter celebrations.
The Easter bunny (which is a hare in Dutch, ‘de paashaas’, rabbits are not originally native in N-Europe nor Britain btw.) is indeed a fertility symbol which might be from Germanic origin, and seems indeed associated with Eostre, but not with Ishtar at all. There are no ‘bunnies’ in the middle East anyway, just hares and hyraxes. And I don’t think any intelligent Christian has ever considered the Easter bunny to be a biblical Christian symbol anyway. Eggs are another matter, they are certainly a pagan symbol of new life, but also an old Orthodox symbol (the Orthodox tradition has eggs that are painted red…) It’s very logical to use such symbolism of new life in a feast of the resurrection. But the placement of the feast is still from the Jewish passover (Pesach/Pascha), from which it has borrowed the name in all non-English languages except for one…

If it was based on the feast of Ishtar, it would be very unlikely that all Christians (including the middle-East which should still have a connection to those older gods, and the Romans including the Constantine guy named in the meme) except for some Germanic barbarians who were later to the party of Christianisation anyway to use the Jewish name… Those people are not important for the history of Christianity or for defining it anyway in that time. (If English-spraking Christianity has a role in the history of religion, it will only be in the last centuries, before that it’s just a  local business  anyway…)

Now back to the meme and why it irritates me, it’s not just and extremely sloppy argument, that only makes sense for English- (and German-) speaking people anyway. All other people including those using other Germanic languages name the feast after Pascha/Pesach, after it’s Jewish roots. So this very discussion can even only exist in English (and German-)speaking places…

Which brings me to the problem of Anglocentrism. Some people seem to think that the English language is the key to understanding the world, and this meme is a good example for that. This puts the people who share this meme on the same page as for example those weird KJV-only Christians. It’s not because some things do work in the English language, that they are true. Some things do only work because of the English language anyway. I’ve argued before that certain forms of Christian sexism wouldn’t even exist without the peculiarities of the English language and some discussions can’t even exist in other languages (including the ones in which the bible is written..) Pushing those things unto other people is just a weird form of intellectual colonialism.

I know there’s a lot of Anglo-centrism in the world (we have mainly English music on the radio in Flanders) but such an argument from a bad wordplay the English language is just bogus. Sorry, I won’t even consider it…

Another thing: Even more worrying to me is that this kind of stuff is shared mostly not by neo-pagans, but by atheists and self-proclaimed sceptics like Mr. Dawkins, which prove here to be not sceptical after all, but just happily accepting anything that goes against the traditions they don’t like, whether it’s accurate or not. One could not go farther away from the meaning of ‘scepticism’ than that actually.
It’s not because one claims to be a potato knife that one is a potato knife, even if you say it a hundred times, and the same is true for being a ‘sceptic’ of a freethinker, no matter how much people agree with you … You need to be sceptical and think for your own, not accept all the dogmas of a tradition that calls itself ‘sceptical’ and ‘freethinking’… Such a thing will easily slide astray into Orwellian doublespeak…  (see also my post scepticism about the age of scepticism about this)

The world does need a lot of healthy scepticism (a questioning attitude against every status-quo, not a rusty tradition that kicks against other traditions while unquestioningly accepting nonsense like this as a weapon in that fight!) indeed, but this is exactly NOT what’s needed then. If you critique something, please be truthful. If not, you do a disservice not only to the tradition you attack, but you undermine your own credibility too!

So please, can we stop making and sharing sloppy memes in any camp? Can we all please try to stick to as much truth as we can find and not spread lies, sloppy memes and nonsensical slander?

Or do I ask for too much here?

peace

Bram

farewell, online American Christianity…


dear readers,bla

I know, my title sounds dramatic and probably is an overstatement, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to draw the line I’ve been drawing earlier a bit more more clearer, for my own health. I need to get away from certain stuff because it just is an unhealthy distraction, and not relevant even for where I am in my faith journey.
There’s enough stuff enough already to wrestle with in my own life here on the old continent, and moreover I don’t think the things that come through are even representative, but for some reason the loudest voices are the most bitter ones. But those are the things I stumble across, on blogs, FB, twitter, etc…

Okay, let me be frank here what the problem is: I don’t want to read anything about people calling others ‘heretic’ or ‘bigot’ because they are not X or Y enough because of verse Z and Q read in a way that I don’t understand or because of this theology or tradition or scientific theory or academic consensus or political correctness or whatever. And yes, both sides come across as equally toxic to me in calling out and disowning and naming enemies. I don’t care about your dichotomies, it’s just 2 sides of the same coin for me. anyway your liberal and conservative American Christianity…

And actually this is not at all my story. I as a lone European weirdo can’t carry the problems of a defective, divided church and culture in our rogue ex-colonies. Taking in too much of it appears to be toxic to me, and the tragic thing is that they probably are as toxic to the people inside of them too. I completely can understand if people are losing their faith at the moment. I completely would understand an ‘evangelical collapse‘. And I sincerely hope you will be able keep it on your side of the ocean, and don’t infect churches here or in the global South with it. There’s enough problems in Christianity without being infected with those from the US too…

But like I said this is not my story and I want to keep it that way.

I already live in country where Christianity (cultural catholicism) has collapsed. Equating Christian with a narrow version of fundamentalist evangelicalism is not an option for me in a secular country where most people think ‘catholic’ when you use the word ‘Christian’, and then think a bout something of the past (or even worse, child abuse and stuff) although it seems our friends Francis does have a good influence.
Evangelicals are not on the radar, and to be honest, what I see coming from over the ocean (the loudest and most visible stuff) has nothing at all or even less in it that could give people a better image of Christianity, or point to Jesus.

And oh, If you want me to be interested in anything you say about your faith, disconnect it from your weird politics. They make no sense to me. None of our 8 parties of so can be equated with either of yours, so your weird dichotomies are alien to me. I live in a country where ‘republican’ means someone who doesn’t like our king (I don’t care about him to be honest) in favor of a republic, be it an independent republic of Flanders, Belgium as a republic or the united states of the EU under one president. Nothing at all about ‘conservative’ politics, although the capitalist-centered part does exist in our liberal party and some nationalists. (Economic neo-liberalism and similar stuff like a colder and extremer version the oldschool liberalism of the founding fathers, people, has NOTHING to do with Jesus. Real conservative Christianity would more ‘communist’ than ‘capitalist’ although it would transcend both and annul every form of slavery to Mammon, the demon to which our lives and all of Gods creation are sacrificed by our current political systems) A democrat to me is anyone who believes in democracy in one way or another. I don’t even see the difference between the 2 American parties, and I find the whole dichotomy-thinking dangerous and unhealthy. I don’t want to waste any more time or reading about it, our own politics are crazy enough and full of problems already. And no, your ‘left’ isn’t automatically more interesting than the right-wing stuff. The political correctness of a world that I don’t understand only looks like ot leaves no place for anyone to even breathe. And it seems that (like always, the problem is prevalent here too) people on both sides are completely misrepresenting the other side, not listening to the other it at all. We have enough of that here already…

Yes, I AM interested in Christians anywhere, including America, who show the fruit of their walk with Christ, who show love to the least, and to the ones they disagree with, no matter if they are sinners, heretics or bigots. If I don’t see that love, you might have the letter, but I don’t think you have the Spirit. You might have theory, but do you have Love?

Like someone said, without love we are nothing, and a tree will be known by his fruit.

Maybe the world needs more fruit.

Where is the fruit? The fruits of the Spirit? Where is the love? The love among Christians that the world will see so it will see Christ? Where is the good deeds that will make the world say that God is great?

Don’t boast in having the right theory, and especially not in how you exclude whatever group you see as heretics or bigots. Show your love through your life and your writing (which is what I see of your life). If something like heresy or bigotry is damaging people, show me how it is damaging to everyone, both oppressor and oppressed, and how you love all of them and want the evil to disappear so it will not be able to separate people anymore.

I want to see visions of light, and the Light itself. Not more descriptions of darkness. Denouncing darkness alone will never bring any light. Dissecting everything you see to find more darkness in it neither.

So I’m going to cut myself loose from some things even more, for it seems that the distraction of the struggles of a world that isn’t mine will only bring me further away from God. Yes, I might read Rachel or Robs series on the bible or some of my blogging e-friends from time, but I will avoid every blog-storm, every new ‘crisis’ in which people are leaving evangelicalism and in which Christians behave like a bunch of politicians of the type that never became more mature than a spoiled toddler. Even a critical commentary on it can channel something that is detrimental to my faith.

I’m not bound to whatever people on another continent call ‘evangelicalism’. I’m bound to the Way of Christ, the Incarnated and Risen one who conquered death, evil and sin, and to the Spirit who lives in me.

I need to be turning to God Himself, to the bible and the words of Jesus, to books from a lot of angles. To the believers around me, who are part of my journey with me.

And I am probably very privileged in a way not to be an American here if all you can see is America and its problems and me telling that it’s not my problem. But actually there are problems enough already in my own life and in this country, wo don’t have to import any.

But for those alarmed by the title: no, if you’re an American Christian reading this and we know each other from online conversations;I’m not going to cut off people. If you are my friends you stay my friends, but I need to disengage your overall culture, for my own spiritual health.

I will love you but not carry the baggage of your culture as if it’s mine. I will talk with you and pray for you, but I cannot share the axioms and certainties of your culture and act as if they are normative for all earthlings. They are not, and some of them are alien. Just as mine are…

peace

Bram

2014 as a year of demodernisation for me


I know I’m babelnot very active as a blogger right now, and most of my posts at the moment are older writings that I’m finishing now and finally posting after a long time of waiting in the pipeline. There’ some stuff I need to finish (about Christianity and capitalism, and about racism for example) but I don’t have the time and energy at the moment, and I’m focussing on work, children, gardening lately, and most of my writing has been fiction in Dutch, so it doesn’t fit on this blog.

(My fiction can be found at Oranderra, but most of it is Dutch. I do hope to one day continue my series of ‘the paralian priest and the acosmist nun’ though.)

I will still be writing blogposts here about a whole variety of subjects when I have the time and inspiration for it. (And there are some unfinished things that will be finished and posted too…) But in 2014 I will be starting a new project, which I call the ‘demodernisation’ of myself, which will most probably lead to some blogposts too.

So what do I mean with ‘demodernisation’? I feel it is the natural next step after my ‘postmodernisation’, that might have helped me a lot in some areas, but it did not help me much in a lot of other things…
Some years ago I found the ‘emerging church discussion’ through the internet, and learned a lot from it, or learned the right words to describe how I already saw the world, for I am a native postmodern. But I must say that the whole ‘emergent’ stuff has become more and more frustrating to me. A lot of it is just American anti-reaction to a fundamentalism that I don’t know, and acts more like a photo-negative of that fundamentalism. No-one can expect me to be interested in a photo-negative of something I don’t care about. The photo and the negative will generally be equally uninteresting to me.

And the other problem is that the more photo-negative of fundamentalism enters the picture, the more modernist Christian liberalism (the natural negative view of fundamentalism), which has never interested me at all. I think it was Scott McKnight who said that McLaren at the time of ‘A new kind of Christianity’ did not arrive at a new one at all, but an old one (referring to older protestant liberalism) that actually wasn’t old enough. Although I like a lot of McLarens earlier books and have benefited greatly from them, new liberalism just makes me lose interest, and I’ve seen that in most corners of the ‘emergent’ dicussion. (Also, I and just clueless about the American ‘liberal PC’ stuff. It’s just alien for me and feels like a new form of fire and brimstone preaching from a new corner to me.)

So, the project now, with my postmodern identity established, is to go way beyond postmodernism and Western though to reconnect with my Christian (and human) roots outside of modernity. My flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy is already part of that, and I will try to read more about non-modern, non-Western forms of Christianity, and also other religions and philosophies from everywhere. (I want to know more about native American thought systems, taoism and pre-Christian European thought for example.)

I do think that I will also go back more to my Lewisian roots, and explore Chesterton and MacDonald more for example.

(Not that I don’t value some things about modernism, like human rights and gender equality, the realisation of how serious the destruction of ecosystems and extinction are, and general growth in scientific knowledge about the natural world, and modern medics. But apart from those and other advancements, there is so much we have lost, and so much dark side to even a lot of advancements, and so on…)

My ideas on magic and the occult are part of what you can expect, but I will try do ‘deconstruct’ more  things and look from other angles than both Western modernism and post-modern hyper-enlightenment thought.

I hope to I can keep on having very interesting conversations here with all of you…

peace

Bram

 

Short thoughts about magic, the occult and modern science


The a-bomb is more explosao-atomica-nagasakisatanic & dark than most occult things.

Science and technology are not safer because they ‘are inside the laws of nature’. The laws of nature are just a line of what can be measured with instruments and falls in the ‘material’ side of creation. There is nothing about the modern sciences, and them being applied in technology that makes them more ‘biblical’ than alchemy or chakra theory for example… (The word ‘pharmakeia’ used for whitchcraft in the NT, which also is the root of our word ‘pharmaceutical’ would suggest something opposite even!)
Putting the current scientific consensus on the same level as biblical revelation is a form I’d expect from very liberal Christians, but those generally don’t even believe in anything outside of the laws of nature. It’s fundamentalists who do this kind of synchretism, unknowing, because it’s inherent in their definition of ‘the occult’, a modern word that doesn’t come from the bible at all actually…

Some Christian really seem to be afraid of everything that’s outside of the modern laws of nature and put all such things in the weird category of ‘the occult’, but it’s very plain to see that technology is much more dangerous than magic in a world where people don’t believe in magic. And like what some scifi-writer once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. I don’t believe that the line of ‘the laws of nature’ is more than a barrier of what certain tools can measure and what not…

(There are things beyond that line that are also part of ‘nature’, so maybe the word ‘paraphysical’ would be more accurate than ‘supernatural’ in a lot of cases.)

I wrote a post earlier about how I do see science and technology as related to magic, both can be seen as twins even in a way, and the shared goal is what makes them both suspect: to have control over nature, and other humans. It’s not less evil if science and technology is abused for that than if it’s done by magic…

And the snake said ‘you shall be like God himself’…

Bram

 

Atheism, the supernatural, gaslighting and modernity…


Note: Note that I do live in a secular country where materialist naturalism is the norm, and were atheism might not be the absolute majority, but it is a respectable tradition which seems to be the absolute norm in most academic disciplines. Supernaturalism is frowned upon and seen as non-existing by most people, or even worse. (The same tactics can be used by a community with false claims about the supernatural and atheists btw)

I

We have a very peculiar and complicated system for religious education in public schools here in Belgium, where every student in secondary and primary school can choose their own religion out of a list of official religions including catholic, protestant, Islamic and Jewish lessons, which will be given to them for 100 minutes every week. For the non-religious children there’s a seperate subject called ‘niet-confessionele zedenleer’ (which means something like ’non-confessional study of ethics’) which is based on liberal humanism.

The guy I was talking to was a ‘zedenleer’ teacher who taught secondary school pupils, and as more of his colleagues he was also a very convicted atheist. The type of atheist even that has a stereotypical ‘there is no God’ sticker on his bag and was a fan of people like Richard Dawkins.
He was actually talking about another subject, but suddenly he voiced his opinion about prophets and said something like the following:

“In the older days people who heard voices were regarded as prophets were followed as prophets, but now in our modern tie we lock them up in a psychiatric clinic”

Quite a judgemental broad-brush statement, and a bit extreme too if you ask me… Not only rejecting every prophet of every religion, but outright stating that they all should have been locked up because they were just mentally ill.

I’ve heard and read this same sentiment from atheists on more occasions, sometimes stronger, sometimes said in a milder tone. But in the end too often it all boils down more generally to the idea that everyone who claims to have had any experience of the supernatural is seen as either a fraud or a lunatic who should be locked away… (I wish I was caricaturing here, but I really have met people thinking like this!! It seems a very common idea in certain atheist circles.)

Apart from the stigma attached to psychological disorders that seems to underlie the way the original statement was voiced (which is unfair to those suffering with mental illnesses.) there is something very troubling about the way in which the supernatural is waved away as if there could not in a million years be another option… Materialism and naturalism are unquestioned axioms that should not be questioned lest you want your mental sanity questioned…

II

The world I grew up in is almost the opposite of all of this: I grew up in pentecostal and have afterwards always been part of charismatic churches (the vineyard) where hearing from God was seen as something very normal, something that was encouraged for all people. Other supernatural things were also seen as quite natural. Speaking in tongues (sometimes with translation by the Spirit, sometimes with someone recognising the language), healing, prophecies and words of knowledge in which people supernaturally had information via the Holy Spirit that they could not have, and so on…

Now it is true that I’ve seen a lot of questionable prophecies, abuses and stuff that might have been not 100% kosher, and that I do ahev my questions about some things. (I have never met anyone who abused the supernatural or a fake version of it for money though) But that does not take away that I’ve seen an experienced too much of the supernatural to disbelieve in it. It is e that some things are more human in origin or could be explained otherwise.

To complicate the matter more, I have spoken in my life with people from a lot of places with a lot of backgrounds, and the supernatural is presents in other cultures, traditions and religions too. Even if am quite sceptical and think a lot of things I’ve heard might be exaggerated, wrong explanations, etc… There is no way I can ever accept claims that brush it all away and say that none of this does exist. That is simply not an option for me.

III

On to the word gaslighting in my title , a word I’ve seen used first by poost-fundamentalist bloggers to describe a form of abuse in which the experiences of the victim are completely dismissed.

The idea word comes from an old movie I haven’t seen, but there’s a very good example of a very ingenious form of gaslighting in one of my favorite movie ‘Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain’ (I think the title in English is just ‘Amelie’) in which the person the movie is named after gets fed up with the way the grocer in the neigborhood treats his helper, a mentally challenged young man who might be a bit slow in his work, but who is very friendly. Amelie then takes revenge bameliefarmstandy gradually changing small things in the house of Mr. Collignon: lightbulbs with lover light, switching doorknobs, and so on. When she changes his clock and alarm he goes out to work before everyone else and fall asleep, and in the end when it all becomes too much he takes his liquor (replaced by something quite undrinkable) and then as a last straw calls his mother and ends up calling the psychiatrist. Revenge complete, and Mr Collignon is psychologically destroyed..

This is an extreme example of a very complicated and well-prepared prepared case, but the same dynamics can apply to other situations where things happen that do not fit into the worldview of others. Post-fundamentalists who escaped the world they grew up in and have seen their old worldview crumble are told that whatever they’ve experienced is nit true, not valid, that theyre crazy or whatever, because nothing can exist that does not align with the beliefs of the community…

These kind of tactics come up automatically to protect any status-quo worldview from whatever deviation that might disturbs it. “Whatever you may claim, it could not have happened according to our Truth so you must be wrong, or maybe crazy even. Shut up or we’ll silence you! It is a very logical way to protect any orthodoxy from thing that undermine a worldview that should not be questioned…
If we use the word gaslighting here for these kind of worldview-preserving tactics, we do have to note that those doing this are, unlike Amelie Poulain, not always knowingly deceiving, just as fundamentalists that use the technique on those leaving are generally not trying to lure others in deceit, but just are just defending their worldview from data that does not fit and might destroy it. I actually think this is is a very common reaction from the more powerful world when two worldviews collide and the less powerful side has experiences that disprove the accepted ‘orthodoxy’ of those in power…

IV

The same principle is at work in the logic from the teacher I described earlier. It’s a mentality of ‘our truth is that reason says that the supernatural does not exist, so therefore you cannot have experienced the supernatural. So you are or deluded and we must see the light of our truth, or a fraud that should be stopped, or mentally not well and should be helped/locked up. The least you could do is shut up…’. What I feel from some atheists is indeed that if someone would come with a claim of something supernatural, that they indeed would like such a person to shut up, or be locked up. Such a thing cannot exist and must be disposed off. Like the inquisition I Gallileo’s days, the orthodoxy of the status should not be disturbed, the boat should not be rocked, the ‘Magister dixit’ of the enlightenment tradition should not be spoken against…

This can lead to actual discrimination too: There was a case here in Belgium recently when a person, who is a Pentecostal Christian who believes in healing, was fired from a function in an university because he had a website in which he claimed to believe in miracles, even though the work he did had nothing to do at all with this.

There is something very absolutist in certain forms of modern atheism. I would not in a million years trust this kind of modern atheists more in a position of power more than any supposed ‘theocraty’ in which any religion is abused to keep a certain religious group in power. They would indeed rid the world of everything supernatural as much as they could, if needed with violence or by breaking people’s spirits in a psychiatric clinic…

V

All of this ironically does fit in very well with the roots that modern science and technology do share with actual magic: the quest for power over nature. C.S. Lewis even called magic and science twins for this reason, and this has been the major occupation of modern humanism: conquering nature, getting more power. (Which also means that the elite who does this work gets more power over the others.) Modernism has created a very closed worldview, in which the natural sciences have had an enormous development which made a lot of extraordinary things possible through manipulation and mastering of the natural world (from medical science to nuclear weapons).

But the worldview has become absolute, and it has become for some an orthodoxy that should not be spoken against. The inquisition and Galilei have switched sides…

Underlying still there is the fear of the unknown, the fear of thing bigger than us. We tamed the natural as far as we could (and destroyed half of the planets ecosystems and brought on the greatest mass extinction since the end of the Cretaceous time) but we don’t even control ourselves (and sometimes shush ourselves with neurocalvinist nonsense that we don’t have the free wil to this, not realising that this idea completely destroys any notion of ‘conquest of nature’ and just proclaims the absolute victory of nature over man on the end…)

But in the end, unless there will be a very totalitarian atheist dictatorship in which anyone who dares to say anything about the supernatural get ‘cured’, it cannot be stopped or erased from this world. Reality just is regardless of any of our descriptions of it, and it will never fit the mold of our pet theories about how the universe workd. The world is bigger than we want it to be, there are things we cannot investigate with naturalistic science nor control with technology.

We are not in control of everything.

And it’s fine..

Peace

Bram

A rant on Christian modernism and stuff…


uk1999fi

I just posted this on twitter (in 11 parts) as ‘a rant that might cost me followers’:

I think I do know why the America-centric Christian blogosphere seems to irritate me and feels so irrelevant so much of the time. I realised just don’t even care about the fundamentalist/liberal dichotomy as both seem equally irrelevant to me as a Charismatic (as I am probably to them…) and 2 sides of the same old boring utterliky unrealistic ugly modernist coin to me. Even if I’d lose my Christian faith I’d rather follow the closest new-ager or any tribal pagan than fall for naturalist materialism anyway, which is the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners and solipsistic academics. And although I liked the ‘emerging church dialog’, where the ‘emergent’ stuff falls into some kind of liberalism 2.0 it just loses any credibility to me. I can understand liberalism as the godless capitalism it is in Europe, it is honest but evil, and I don’t care for it. Socialism, non-marxist communism, anarchism, even monarchism, whatever… Bring on organic church, neo-anabaptism, Eastern Orthodoxy, indigenous expressions of Christianity, even insights from all kinds of other religions and philosophies where the Creator has sown the seeds of Truth. But please no modern Western liberalism, ‘new atheism’ or modern Christian fundamentalism please, they all seem connected to me and don’t convince me at all. The world is already ugly enough, thank you…

Maybe I worded it too strong, but it’s how I feel…

Any pushback or questions?

peace

Bram

Thoughts about the spiritual ecological naivete of modern Westerners


dodoliedI more or less recently finished rereading a book called ‘the song of the Dodo’ (in Dutch translation though) by David Quammen, a very readable popular-scientific book about island biogeography and extinction among other subjects. It also touches on related topics like evolution on islands, the size a national park needs to have to keep a viable population of an endangered species, and the way Charles Darwin might have been evil towards Alfred Wallace, who was developing the same ideas he became famous for, at the same time as he was writing ‘on the origin of species’… It was probably the first book about evolution I read that did not just sound convincing, but also intrigued me in the subject when I was a lot younger… It is also a very interesting read, well-written, with both a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes and thorough scientific information.

One term that he uses that I find very interesting is ‘ecological naivete’: an animal evolved in a place without natural enemies, like on a remote island, will not have the concept of ‘enemy’ even if one comes along. It will look ‘tame’ to humans, but also will not run away from introduced predators (until it’s too late that is). So a Galapagos iguana or giant tortoise will not even bother if a human being approaches it, and a dodo on Mauritius didn’t run away from a hungry Dutch settler with an axe, but maybe just ran towards it to say ‘hi’… The few specimens of a species that do learn to get away from predators and keep their young away from them might be the only ones that remain to start a new line of the species more adapted to the new situation with predators in it, but such a thing rarely seems to happen, and a lot of ecologically naive species on all kinds of islands have been exterminated when a predator, like the common house cat had been released.

This is because it’s ancestors have never had any form of natural selection on how to react when a predator comes around. Here on the continent there is a heavy selection by predators, and only those animals who can stay out of the mouth of a predator long enough to make and raise babies will be able to reproduce… And the predators are being selected in the same way, if they are not able to catch enough prey they will not stay alive either. It is sort of an arms race… [I don't want to start a discussion here if ecological naivety is cultural (learned from parents and other older animals) or genetically inborn, it's not my field of expertise, and most probably a combination of the 2 anyway, and it would lead us far astray...]

What’s so interesting about this term is that it can be used to describe something that at first sight seems absolutely unrelated: the way some Westerners seem to be attracted to ‘the spiritual’ without hesitation, in any form that will present itself to them, without even being careful about ‘the invisible world’. (I’m not in the first place speaking about God here, more about the invisible part of our world)

We as Western moderns do live in a world with a seemingly complete absence the supernatural, and we do everything to keep up this illusion that it doesn’t exist in no way at all… People are conditioned to see the world this way, have learned to not bother about those superstitions. But is this reductionist naturalist world the real world, or is it just what we want to see? Isn’t a life of materialism and naturalism, like a lot of us have in the ‘civilized’ part of the world (especially academic circles…) the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners, more like a form of wishful thinking than ‘the only rational way to view reality’ as some claim it to be.

From a few things that I’ve experienced, and a lot of things that I’ve heard from different sources around the world, the influence of the supernatural is not always as easy to put away as ‘superstition’ as it is here and as we would conveniently be able to do. People in a lot of countries do even live in fear of it, sometimes out of real superstition probably, but sometimes not without a good reason nonetheless…

I agree that it’s in a way very convenient to have a world that is completely ‘rational’ and that can be described solely through ‘the laws of nature’ as modern science defines them. But do we have such a world? We have at least been living like we have in only a material world, for a few hundredths of years. Since the enlightenment we’ve been denying the supernatural here in the West, telling ourselves it does not exist… Which also means that we generally stopped almost all of our contact with it, and we got completely our of touch with it… We built up a world in which it has no place and is not supposed to exist!

And still it did not go away, and it won’t… No matter how much we cry to the sky that it’s empty, the world is and has always been more than just ‘natural’ in the modern sense. Things I’ve experienced myself, as well as heard from witnesses do convince me that there is something, whatever it is…
Nothing convinces me that all the explanations given about them are true though… Neither the demonologies of certain charismatic Christians that I’ve met nor the weird worldviews of new-agers and neo-pagean hippies seem really satisfying in describing and explaining all of ‘the invisible world’, which is as the words say invisible and not quite as easy to investigate as the natural world.
This is in itself no reason to not believe in it, except if we’re blinded by human chauvinism ‘If I can’t investigate and explain it it isn’t there’ is more like what we call ‘ostrich politics’ over here. Think about the proverbial ostrich hiding his head in the sand when something undesired comes his way. It will not at all stop the lion that wants to attack it Our ideas of what should and can exist and what not based on a particular worldview do not have any effect on the world, but they will have a lot of influence on how we perceive it…

Back to the ecological naivete and how it fits in our story: just as with our dodo saying hi to the Axe-wielding Dutchman, some modern Westerners are completely ecologically naive when they encounter the supernatural.. The supernatural is so unknown, that some just want to have tea with every spirit that shows up. But this can be quite dangerous. Not every Spirit is safe. Not every spiritual experience is positive.

(I do have a dystopian picture in my head now in a world where the same is happening with the natural world, and some people who think ‘animal is good’ that are accidentally where there are still animals, trying to pet a giant crocodile as much as a baby deer…)

I get a creepy feeling when I see what some people write about psychonautical experiences for example. Why would anyone think it’s safe to use drugs to go into other dimensions or the spirit world just without any form of guidance? A shaman in a tribe has to learn a lot of things and be initiated before they can do such things in a supposedly ‘safe’ way, and not without a reason.

The invisible world has the disadvantage that it is invisible, like I already said with a terrible pleonasm, and that we don’t know much about it, and so can easily project our theories onto it… But if there’s something there that’s dangerous, it will not play according to our rules, just as the things in the natural world do follow their own rules…
Hippies, new agers, ‘spiritual types’ and certain Christians all seem to share in this ‘we are safe, we know what we’re doing’ sometimes with the Spiritual world. Thinking that something is harmless just because it’s ‘spiritual’ or ‘supernatural’ is as stupid as thinking that something is harmless because it’s natural (sorry to destroy one of your arguments, you Cannabis-freaks…), or did you not hear of the venom of snakes, the poison of the deathly nightshade, the claws of wolves, etc.???

So that’s what I meant: modern man, coming from a place shielded from everything spiritual, tends to be completely ecologically naive when catapulted into a world that still has that connection with the supernatural… I just give this as a warning, do with it whatever you want…

peace

Bram

 

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

Edit: Here is a catholic explanation. Doesn’t sound universalist at all if you ask me…

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, has already proven to be a controversial person from time to time in his career of only a few months. And luckily it has been in a surprisingly Christlike way, not in the way most modern liberal people expect popes to conservative and oldfashionedly irrelevant: The pope who denied the papal palace, shuns wealth, calls the church to focus on the poor,  washed the foot of women and Muslims instead of Catholic priests and criticised capitalism now stated that atheists are redeemed too and can do good works.

2 articles have been going round on facebook since yesterday, first one from the Vatican Radio and then one from the American Huffington post, which tried to interpret the words of the pope from an American perspective, but to me they seemed to miss the point and tried to make him answer questions he wasn’t addressing…

But let’s have a look at what our papal friend is saying:

“The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

Some people, like Paul from disoriented, reoriented, actually do think Francis’ words point to Christian universalism (the idea that through the saving work of Christ all will be saved in the end), and point to the old tradition of universalism within christianity that goed back to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but I’m not so sure of that actually. I don’t have much problems with hopeful universalism or even praying for the salvation of Satan in the end (as Gregory of Nyssa did), but I believe in free will, and I am afraid that some will never be able to enjoy an eternity with God, it would be hell to them.  But it’s not my task to even speculate about those things, let alone proclaim that I know all the answers here.

It is clear that the pope is an inclusivist here, not in the the sense of salvation (which is not addressed) but when it comes to doing good, which is what is expected from all human beings. (I suppose Rahners idea of anonymous Christians or the older idea of virtuous pagans does fit in here somewhere.)

What we can be sure of though is that the pope here rejects 2 doctrines that are important to certain protestant traditions, especially those based on Calvinism: limited atonement (Jesus did only die for the chosen)  and total depravity (man is fallen in a comprehensive way, and can’t do good himself)

(My problem with total depravity lies in the people whom the NT calls good and just, like Zachary and Elisabeth who were Thora-abiding Jews, and Cornelius who was a God-fearing pagan. Apart from that I do believe very strongly in human depravity, and I see it all the time in the news, around me, and in myself!)

The pope acknowledges here simply that all people can do good, whether they’re atheists or catholics:

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

What’s interesting is that he roots the possibility of doing good works both in Creation (man being the image of God) and in being redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Note also that Pope Francis is speaking about good works and bringing peace here. he isn’t speaking about salvation per se, especially not in ‘going to heaven after you die’ kind.Francis in his view on Christianity seems to be focussed more on the ‘here and now’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, specifically for the ‘least of those’ than about the ‘pie in the sky’ dimension of salvation that some people prefer.

To be sure about how to interpret what the pope said I asked  a catholic, Rob Allaert who writes in Dutch on http://www.thuiskerk.be , and he responded with the next paragraph:

Redemption needs to be uderstood as gift and assignment. Become who you are in Christ. Or as Saint Paul would have it: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So, there is an assignment attached to salvation which has in itself a universal scope.

(He also said my interpretation in this post ‘nailed it’.)

So, redemption is only the beginning point here, not the end point at all as ‘salvation’ is often seen in  evangelicalism. Salvation may be universal, but it gives us ‘an assignment’. I don’t think I can disagree with that actually. I even think we should say the same about predestination: if some are predestined by God, it is not just to be saved themselves, but to bring Christ, and salvation and redemption, to this broken world.

So what can we take from this, except from a strong affirmation of the popes inclusivism and love for all people of all religions, and the call to everyone for peace and doing good? I hope there’s also the last thought included somewhere: Loving God and neighbor as the great commandment says (which will include living out that love, maybe even in radical ways) is not the way to salvation, it is part of salvation itself. The Christian idea of both heaven and the Kingdom of heaven on earth looks forward to a world in which all relationships have been restored, and everyone and everything lives in harmony with God, other humans, and all of Creation.

If that’s what the pope means, I agree with him…

what do you think

Bram

PS: The most creepy thing about a universalist pope, especially if he is the second pope after John Paul II, is that in the dispensationalist end-times plots I encountered as a kid (that the pentecostals for some had borrowed from dispensationalism) the endtimes-pope would be some kind of ‘all-religions-are equal’ universalist who would be very popular but open the door for the worship of the beast 666 by the people of all religions.
(Not that real Christian universalism in which it is Christ and Christ alone who saves all would apply here, let alone a pope who calls the Church back to following the gospel in simplicity as Francis does. But somewhere in me the idea still lingers sometimes, and it feels a bit creepy…)

C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and science and magic as twins


CSLewis_PipeYesterday I came onto this blog post, in which Ayn Rands marginal notes are quoted like  she has scribbled them into C.S. Lewis book ‘the abolition of man’, a book that I’ve read several times in my life. As someone who knows the ideas of this book, I was quite surprised not only by the vitriol of her comments, but also by how irrelevant some of them are to the text they’re criticising. Update: the complete marginal notes from Rand can be found here (thank you Arend Smilde for the link)

For those who don’t know the book (which can be read online here): Lewis is mostly known for his Christian books, but this is a more a philosophical book that’s actually not particularly Christian. The main point of the book is 2-fold: First there is an Orwellian critique to the modernist project of man conquering nature, in which Lewis states that the final step of this conquering will be ultimately self-defeating on the part of man. The second point is that there is a more or less absolute set of values inherent to this world, which he calls the tao,  with a word borrowed from Eastern philosophy, of which all meaningful human values in all cultures are derived. I do not agree with every detail, and I don’t get more than half of his references, but  I’ve always found the basic ideas of the book, and it’s critique to modernism, quite compelling. (But you need to read the whole book to understand his conclusions, including some weird parts that are hard to read.)

(I also have the idea that some of her remarks about middle ages and the renaissance would not have been made if her issue of the book would have included, like the Dutch version does,  De despcriptione temporum, his inaugural lecture from the chair of mediaeval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University (1954).)

One of the things Rand reacts quite strongly to is the idea that magic and modern science are related:

The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

Lewis as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature (see also the ‘de descfriptione  temporum’ text I’ve linked to) knows what he is talking about, and anyone who knows something about the life of Isaac Newton for example, who was both a scientist and an alchemist who did weird studies in the occult (and a Christian who wrote bible commentaries)  should know what he’s talking about. Newton can indeed be considered as one of the last great Western magicians as well as one of the first great scientists…

Very important here is what Lewis means with the words science and magic. Both are not means of mere knowledge for him, but of power, power over reality, including power of the one who has it over other humans. Magic is a way to get power using the supernatural, science (and technology) is a way to get power using the natural world. Note also that ‘magic’ as used here is the opposite of astrology, which has the purpose of conforming to the influences of the stars and the supernatural!

Lewis himself does not deny the existence of science as a search for knowledge, and indeed explicitly notes that there are scientists who are seeking for pure knowledge, but that’s not the goal of most applied science both in the 16th century and the momdern time, which shares indeed the goal of magic: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.

I don’t think Lewis would say that this is always a problem, he’s not a luddite and used technology himself, and never rejects it. But what he wants to show us is a dark side that is inherent to modern (applied) science. A dark side that might remind us to the lie of the snake, that told the first couple that they would be like God.

And indeed, science has been used for ‘playing God, and abused in a lot of abominable ways to get power, not only over nature, but also over other humans. Most science nowadays is subdued not to those who want pure knowledge, but to those who want power and money.  This is how we came to have the atom bomb, genetically engineered crops that are very handy in making multinationals richer, etc, (While some other scientific fields not useful for securing power and money are underfunded!)

So what happened to magic? It lost because it didn’t seem to work the way science worked, and was pushed out of the modern worldview which became more and more hermetically naturalistic. But its goal is still the same goal of a lot of modern science.

The point of self-control to be able to conform ourself to reality is also something we should not forget. We are not the creators of the universe, and there are things higher than us we should conform to, like certain laws of nature. I do not mean this deterministically, we should not let every thing we meet rule over us, man is indeed able to fight back when reality is hostile and evil, but we moderns should not forget that we can never be free without self-control

what do you people think?

peace

Bram

to the guy searching for ‘brambonius cools emerging’


(warning: just a rant full of christian theological  lingo)

Looking at my stats today I saw that my blog has been found 5 times today looking for ‘brambonius cools emerging’. Makes me wonder if anyone still uses the term ‘emerging church’, and why people would bother finding out if I (using my internet nick) have something to do with it.

To be honest, I don’t even know myself :p

I can’t deny that I’ve been following the ‘emerging church dialogue’ (even if I was quite late to the discussion.) and that I have learned a lot from it. I am a postmodern evangelical after all, so I found in it the words to explain how I look at the world; On the other hand, I think I’m too post-modern and too evangelical (once a charismatic, always a supernaturalist…) to ever fall for modernist forms of christianity, be it either fundamentalism or liberalism. Thank you very much, both are completely inconceivable for me… So if you mean some kind of ‘liberalism 2.0′ I’m not your man. I’ve found out that I’m allergic to all forms of liberalism, from liberal theology to liberal humanism and oldschool liberal politics and economics (like the stuff they call ‘conservative’ in America).

So if you mean the ‘tall skinny kiwi‘ type of emerging church, or the Shane Claiborne type of christianity, yes!: I’m in…

If you mean some kind of updated liberalism, as some seem to use the word ‘emergent’ (maybe mainly the critics, see cartoon) count me out. It won’t ever work for me. I’m a supernadoctrinemongersturalist who is quite critical towards the enlightenment.  For me that’s just the negative-picture version of fundamentalism… I will readily affirm the apostles and Nicene creed, but I will also place them alongside the sermon on the mount as foundational to Christianity. And I believe in the gifts of the Spirit for today (and the fruits), Christian non-violence and peacemaking, equality of the sexes [and egalitarianism], the priesthood of all believers, the trusworthiness of scripture (I don’t care about the modern concept of ‘innerancy’ though),  creation care and stewardsghip over nature, and the incompatibility of capitalism and christianity… I believe God works in all of His Church, even though I have no use for a lot of things in various traditions that I believe to be abominable (like double predestination, rich TV-preachers asking money from the poor, relic worship, christian materialism etc…)

To satisfy the heresy-hunters even more some labels I could wear: I’m a Wesleyan anabaptist-inspired postmodern charismatic evangelical with both orthodox and organic church sympathies, inspired by Francis of Assisi, christian mysticism and apophatic theology, who thinks Christianity is a way of life restored in relationship to God than accepting all the right theologies.

Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. In the end after the day of Judgment that’ll be all that’s left, with all evil and everything incompatible with God erased….

And as you might have noticed, I’m as non-reformed as a protestant can be…

May the Spirit lead me and bring me to the right path… May God bring His Kingdom and reveal Christ to me more and more, so that I can follow Him!

peace

Bram