Category Archives: the supernatural

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

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

 

fallible language III: experience of God?


Let’s go back now to a series that I’ve begun last winter but left unfinished, about fallibility of language (find part I and part II here, as well as the apophatic interlude featuring our Friend Rollins) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes. This was not (as you would expect from a postmodern like me) from a postmodern viewpoint, but I started from the thought of G.K. Chesterton and mostly from the classical Orthodox tradition, on which I was reading a quite good book, and the church fathers.

I have been writing about the fallibility of language, and about how difficult it is to speak about God, as a created being. One of the most important things here is that we as Christians are in the first place not just expected to know about God (which requires human language) but after all and more important, we are to know God Himself. Christianity is not a gnostic sect in which we are saved by mere knowledge, but a restored relationship with the Source of all Creation (‘God’) through Christ… And relationality entails a completely different sort of ‘knowing’ than academic publishing!

I could say a lot about this, but other people have said much more intelligent things about this subject than I’ll ever do. I do know that in certain protestant circles knowledge of God by any form of ‘personal experience’ is frowned upon, while other traditions, from the Charismatics and Quakers to the Eastern Orthodox, see it as normative in very different ways. Surely, not only experience is important,without wisdom and guidance we don’t even know what we’re following, so we need reason, tradition, scripture and experience or are in problems. But experience is in no way unimportant here. Let’s for example go back to the Orthodox tradition, where speaking about God is considered to be utterly impossible by one who has not experienced God:

Personal experience is requisite to any valid talk about God, from an Orthodox perspective. Such mystical experience of God in the divine energies not only draws us to God, it also confirms within us the appropriateness of both positive and negative theology. We must speak about God because we are Christian; but we must also rise above these concepts, because God is transcendent. Personal experience of God draws us into union with him about whom theology speaks. Without that experience, any such talk about God is vacuous and presumptuous, according to Orthodoxy. (Payton, Light from the East, p 84)

We have to notice here that the goal surely is not just to talk of God, or to be able to make money by writing books about God; He is the Ultimate Reality… And the goal of our life is to be united to Him, and outside of Him we or anything else cannot even exist…

I got a gut feeling that the more we experience of God, the less we will be able to talk about it and the less intellectual systems we will be able to proclaim with absolute modern certainty… Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds of the middle ages, wasn’t able to write anymore after a mystical experience with Christ. When they asked him to resume his writing works, he said that he couldn’t because ‘”all that I have written seems like straw to me”

And this leaves us not with less, but with even more problems in speaking about God, and the paradox of Peter Rollins:

“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking”

Which might make it quite complicating, but who did ever say that it was easy??? It isn’t, and I have a long Way to go here, and maybe not much right to say anything about God… Who just IS beyond all we can say or understand…

What’s your experience here?

shalom

Bram

Some interesting things elsewhere


Travelling missiologist Andrew Jones, the blogger also known as Tallskinnykiwi, wants to write a book (that I want to read!!!) and needs some help with money to be able to do the stuff he’s doing, which is travelling around with his family to meet with all of gods children on planet Terra, and helping all kinds of Christians and Christian communities around the world.  There’s only one Andrew Jones on the whole planet Terra who does what he does, so consider helping him! Or at least read what he’s up to on the blogpost I’ve linked to…

Matt stone on glocal Christianity has started a very interesting series, which starts with six different Christian approaches to war and peace, something we need in times when it seems like a false dichotomy between ‘just war’ and ‘pacifism’ (which sometimes is explained really poorly) is dominating the discussion, while there are much forms of Christian pacifism on one hand, and ‘just war theory’ isn’t really followed by much people on the other hand actually.  His position is ‘apocalyptic pacifism’, and the other posts are OT bible verses that he sees as pacifist prophecies (part 1, part 2, part 3) to back his position up.

Apocalyptic pacifism starts from an ‘already and not yet’ framework, in which the ‘coming age’ (the Kingdom of God)  is breaking in into this age, and in which we as Christians are already living in the reality of that new age. Living as radical peacemakers is one dimension of the Kingdom, but if we read the gospels there is another one that can’t be denied: the supernatural signs of the kingdom are as clear and confronting in the gospels as the radical love for our fellow humans that includes enemy-love… And Ray Hollenbach has a very interesting meditation on this aspect of the Kingdom of God on Students of Jesus. The anabaptist peace tradition and vineyard Kingdom charismatics can learn a  lot from each other and make the Kingdom vision more complete together!

He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9: 1 – 2)

[The perfect soundtrack here would be this gungor song, that we've sung last sunday in Vineyard Antwerpen. I love me some bluesfunk from time to time, and Michael is a very good musician!!]

And then for something else: Laura Ziesel has an interesting series on Christianity, intersex people and eunuchs in the bible. Thanks to Sarah Moon for  making me aware of them and posting an orderly list of them! We should stop seeing this kind of things as ‘issues’ and start looking at it as people who are loved by Christ and should be loved by us all the same!

shalom

Bram

atheists of all gods except for one?


Let’s start with a popular Richard Dawkins quote:

“We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins

Now, this sounds plausible at first sight, given the fact that one of the accusations for which Christians were fed to the lions in the Roman empire was the charge of atheism, since they did not believe in the gods of the Roman empire.

But even then we need to bring more nuance, so here’s a second quote:

“If you are a Christian,” Lewis says, “you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” – C.S. Lewis in Mere christianity

I’m with Lewis here. It’s not because I’m an ‘atheist’ to Zeus or Odin, or ‘the God of the violent Jihad’,  in the sense that I don’t believe in them, that I have to reject all of the religion of the people who do believe in them in exactly the way Dawkins reject all religions. I do believe that their view on the spiritual world is wrong, but I will affirm with them that it exists. More like the way a Darwinist rejects Lamarckism than how she rejects Special Creation theory.

(a slightly irrelevant side-note: i do believe that Lamarckism is a valid theory for the evolution of most things without DNA, like cultures, musical genres and languages, mich more than Darwinian evolution…)

So I do disagree with muslims over the character of God (for whom some arabic Christians also use the name allah), but I affirm a lot of things they do believe about the monotheistic God of Abraham, creator of heaven and earth. I do disagree with a lot of the animistic worldview, but I will not say that all of their religion is placebo. I would say that the explanation they offer might be wrong, not that there’s nothing behind their faith… There are traces of the Creator all over creation, and seeds of light are likely to be found in every religion, mixed with human and other influence though… And every truth that can relly considered to be truth has its ultimate source in Him, wherever we find it. And truth is not just found by Christians or enlightened Westerners. We probably can learn from every human being and every culture, and even from most religions… Probably the most uncivilised Indian from the rainforrest can teach us a lot about a lot of subjects… there are seeds of light everywhere, Logos spermatikos as the church fathers called it.

I even do agree with some atheist critique on things done in the name of religion, or even in the name of Christ. Just like a lot of Christians had similar critique, and even Jesus was pretty harsh for the religious elite of his time. But that critique should be used by christians to re-evaluate, not to throw out the baby with the bath-water…

Atheism like the word is used today is not the rejection of a certain religion or God, but the rejection of all of them, even the slightest possibility of any spiritual entity even.  that’s way too drastic: I can say that I don’t believe in the Mokele Mbembe, but that does not mean that I have to reject all reptiles or the existence of living dinosaurs long ago…

shalom

Bram

Moving east to find lost treasures…


In the light of the current Rob Bell controverse (if you don’t know what I mean just google his name and ‘love wins’)  there are some thoughts that are not new, and there’s probably nothing new about them… For example, Kingdom Grace has made similar remarks earlier, but I’ll try to explain how I see it.

While not much seems to be happening here in Flanders in the (very small) evangelical world, it seems like the internet is announcing over and over the end of evangelicalism in the US, or its split. The fights over Rob Bells new book (ironically called ‘Love wins’, how naive of him, you know christians will never exhibit love if they disagree… hmm ) seems to make a division between the hardcore reformed who hold to a theology I find very troubling sometimes (and I’m not the only one) and all the others, who are not considered ‘in’ for some of those… But frankly,  I don’t believe calvinism is the most helpful tradition here.

I don’t think we need to return to seventeenth century ‘orthodoxy’ if we want to find our roots again, and neither do I think we need to read the bible through a few elect pauline verses… Yes we need to go back to our roots, but the problem with sola scriptura is that where we had 4 schisms in the first 1500 years, we have had 30000 church splits since protestantism, so even when teh bible is infallible, everybody seems to have another opinion about what it says… So we don’t just need to go back to the bible, but also look at the others who are going the same way as we do, and/or those who did in the past.

Yes I think that the ‘modern’ protestant church has been navelgazing too long, blinded by our cultural assumptions, and it might need some input from other traditions to refresh its vision (and more open ears to the Holy Spirit!!!). I might be quite unmodern being both pentecostel (which according to some is more pre-modern) and influenced by C.S. Lewis, who called himself the last ancient westerner, but I’m not going to do all the emerging church babble about postmodernism being better than modernism. Still I’m affraid that I’m convinced that modernism and Christianity don’t mix very well. Both fundamentalism and liberalism, the 2 polar opposite adaptions christianity made to late modernism are not the most vital and life-bringing forms of Christianity, and did much harm to the gospel.

So my proposal is to learn from non-modern christian traditions to find back what we’ve lost with the blind spots of our modern eyes. Thats’s in fact one of the things happening in and beyond the ‘emerging church’, and one of the problems for some is that those traditions are far away from standard dispensationalism and calvinism. One of those traditions which we can learn a lot from is the (neo-)anabaptism which probably is the most attractive side of the emerging church to me. A focus on discpleship and following the Jesus of the gospels is something we surely need in our churches! Every church a peace church!!

(another one would be the charismatic tradition, of which I am already part, which is frustratingly ignored in some parts of the emerging church tending too much to naturalism!)

So what’s the ‘new’ one I’m finding more and more interesting? It’s actually a very old one, and unlike anabaptism undeniably totally outside of protestantism, and it was even left out of Brian McLarens ‘generous orthodoxy’, but I don’t think it can really be considered ‘unorthodox’ in any way at all, since I’m talking about the so-called eastern orthodox church here. They own the word!

People who read here regularly know that I recently was very impressed with a video pointing out the differences between the orthodox and protestant view of salvation. I do indeed think that the orthodox have a much more complete, biblical and coherent view on salvation than the good-friday-only penal substitution some of us protestants preach! And we can and should also learn a lot from their non-dualistic view of reality, their insistance of the presence of God, and their embrace of paradox and mystery instead of trying to push all of reality into systematic theology!

And I’m not the only one who has been discovering this, even people in my own denomination (the vineyard) are discovering that the the eastern orthodox are theologically very interesting and very close to the ideas some post-evangelicals are (re)discovering. Yes indeed, the ‘heresy’ of some of Rob Bells or even NT Wrights views is in fact much closer to eastern orthodoxy and the church fathers than to calvinism, which is in return a heresy condemned by both the catholic and orthodox church… The whole idea that Jesus came to save us in the first place from the wrath of God would be totally alien to them. To quote American orthodox priest Father Stephen:

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals – and yet it is necessary – both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me

So, I think we can and should learn a lot from the orthodox (among many other traditions), who have a much more complete view of salvation, and who seem to be able to make a lot more sense of the ressurrection, without which our hope is in vain according to Paul, but which is reduced to just some counterintuitive fact that should be believed in to be saved by some fundamentalists.

but no, I’m never ever going to become eastern orthodox myself. My theology of church would fall somewhere between those of Frank Viola and John Wimber and is quite opposite to the hierarchical liturgical view of an old church with only male priests: I believe in the priesthood of all believers, where ‘everybody gets to play’ and where men and women can excercise the gifts the Spirit has given them. And I don’t buy the stuff about relics and saints (even though their theology of the communion of the saints and the witness cloud sounds interesting to me!)

So if we want to restore a truly ‘evangelical’ faith, we have to recover the good news of God redeeming all of creation and of the hope Jesus brought in the resurrection. The vision of Gods kingdom as layed out in the gospels is incompatible with a gospel that is only concerned with saving individual souls from Gods wrath, it’s about the restauration of all of creation! And here I think can learn a lot from those older brothers in our faith in Jesus Christ.

(Even if we’ll still disagree about a lot of things and not be able to be in communion with them because different views on church, priesthood and eucharist. )

But it’s not about which tradition is best. It’s about understanding God more, and participation in the mission of His kingdom.

shalom

Bram

ps: I am in no way an expert in orthodoxy, so if anyone has helpful links or book titles to enlighten me more, please share them with me and my readers!!!

The emmancipation of myth as a truer form of truth, and Truth beyond theory…


So here we go again with my weird rants, that might irritate some people.

Jason Coker on the pastoralia blog has a very interesting post called ‘the Lords prayer as a political manifesto‘. It’s about a very important subject that I’m struggling with myself at the moment, but I’m not going to repeat his point, you’ll have to read it for yourself (you really should!)

What I want to discuss is (in my opinion) probably one of his most controversial paragraphs up to date, at least from a more or less evangelical point of view.

It’s time to grow up. As long as the religious concept of evil remains limited to the personification of a mythical creature and our ability to imagine better possibilities remains limited to a mythical place, we will be forever relegated to the individualized realm of dualistic pietism.

We must follow Christ and the prophets in moving beyond our childish metaphors and concretely name evil for what it really is – starvation, exploitation, exclusion, vengeance, violence, and the like – so we can name goodness for what it really is: equality, provision, peace, and so forth.

My first reaction is one of protest. Calling satan a mythical creature and heaven a mythical place at first sounds like some kind of liberal theology that tries to do away with all things supernatural. But maybe that’s just how my modern bias tends to read it.

The use of the word ‘mythical’ here is interesting, because in a modern discourse its use would mean something negative. But that’s not the case, as Jason makes clear in the comments in an answer to his use on the ‘m-word’:

Well that’s a big question, but a fair one since I’m the one that dropped the m-word. I have no problem with the idea of realms of existence beyond our field of perception. Such a thing has already been demonstrated in theory by physicists.

However, I think we actually know almost nothing about that sort of reality. Moreover, I think the Bible communicates about those realities along the continuum of myth and folklore – which is not a bad thing, in my opinion, as long as you don’t confuse myth and folklore with objective facts. In other words, I think those stories represent real knowledge…just not the kind of knowledge we wanted it to be in the Modern age.

Especially with the note of Jamie Arpin-Ricci that “mythical” does not equal “fictional” and that Something can be mythical and still be true, I think this is a very important discussion. Tolkien and Lewis already spoke of Jesus as ‘true myth’, but I think it’s time to stop the pejorative use of words like myth, or even fable. (And I’m also talking here to people who use ‘myth’ as a synonym for ‘lie’ as Greg Boyd does in book titles as ‘the myth of a Christian nation’ and ‘the myth of a Christian religion’)

We cannot describe everything in modern categories of scientific knowledge… The fact is, that some of the most important things are far beyond fact and measurement. Creation, atonement, the nature of God, the nature of evil and the powers, the Kingdom in its full realisation/heaven, the final judgement, etc… are all things that are too big too describe with our language and the concepts we know from this world. We need to use methaphor and -yes- myth, because our modern conceptions of absolute truth are inaccurate. This is where Derrida and the medieval mystics meet: language nor science could ever descibe those things. Not because they’re not true, but because they’re more true than our so-called ‘scientific’ knowledge…

So all our methaphors fail. All our ways of decribing and imagining fail too, and indeed, if we think that our litteralised methaphorical stories about satan and heaven are all there is to say, we miss a lot. We cannot speak about these things with more scientifically accurate precision than my pet mice can speak about the openoffice program I’m using.

So what I’m advocating is the opposite of the modern ‘liberal’ idea that discards anything that’s non-scientific. Myth, methaphor and parable are the only ways to speak about the things that are most real! And still it’s not at all about speaking of those things, but about living the Life, and letting Christ transform us. Knowledge, be it scientific or mythologic, is not what saves us, except when we are gnostics maybe, but in reality it can only describe things.

If all we have is a faith in theory, we only have faith in theory, and are left with nothing. I am reminded here of the words of a bend from Antwerp called ‘think of one’ who sing ‘tzen gien fabels ginen thejorie’ (‘it’s no fable, and no theory’) in our beautiful dialect, which in turn reminds me of the working class people I’ve worked with. They used the word theory in a pejorative way, and did not believe that anything mattered that could not be used practically… If we don’t have the life of the resurrection in us, what use is there in all our theology?

So myth can be the only way to communicate something that’s truer than any scientific language can contain, and yet truth that’s not incarnated into our lives is not of worth…

Does any of this make sense?

Shalom

Bram

on Sodomites, (false) prophets, and dying birds…


I was kinda bewildered with a statement that a friend of mine quoted from someone elses facebookstatus, asking for my opinion:

God gives up a man or a state when she makes laws to accommodate sodomites

My first reaction was that I didn’t agree with the use of the word ‘sodomites’. The sin of sodom in genesis is not about what we would call homosexuality, but about a breaking of the guest right with a gang rape. Ezekiel even has something different: This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ez 16:43) So using the word sodomite for homosexual is very unbiblical, even if it might be traditional.

(or should the sodomites in the saying be seen as those who don’t aid the poor and needy? even then I don’t think God gives people up. I hope so, I’m not always too good at it either…)

My second reaction was where this way of thinking comes from. I have no clue why God would be concerned with giving up states for ‘accomodating sodomites’, interpreted as giving rights to homosexuals I guess, when there’s actually not much about this subject in the bible (our way of thinking about sexual orientation is not that old). Should He not then react much harder to the things the bible is clear about? There’s a lot of warning from the prophets about oppressing the poor and other unjust violence, or for the worship of idols.

I also would say that God is more concerned about His Kingdom that comes among His children instead of being pre-occupied with the Kingdoms of this world. God cares about His Children inside an evil empire, be it the Roman or American or European one, more than He expects the empire to be Christian…

The weird thing about this saying is that I had just some minutes before had seen something similar on the dutch satiric Christian site goedgelovig.nl, from the ‘prophet’ Cindy Jacobs. I must confess I was just baffled by this little video.

Maybe I’ve been out of the hypercharismatic stuff for too long. Or maybe I should take some LSD to be able to understand the logic of this weird conspiracy theory stuff about how the repeal of the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy in the American army would lead to birds falling from the sky. But I don’t think that’d be worth the effort.

If God would kill birds for giving gays the right to serve in the army, then what kind of animals does God kill for the crimes against humanity the army commits outside of American soil? Or for the way the army even destroys its own people, when more American soldiers die of suicide than in battle! Would He kill raccoons for the worship of the powers of dollar, capitalism and consumerism? Would He have killed most of the buffalo’s for the way the natives of the continent have been treated? I don’t think so. So what kind of creature is dying for all those poor that are uncared for? What kind of creature is dying for all the lies and propaganda on your TV, the internet and other media ?

Wait, maybe the dying of animals in the gulf of Mexico is the price for the government allowing multinationals to have their evil way not caring for anything but their profit? Okay, maybe nature is telling us something when birds are falling from the sky: maybe some evil circumstances that are unhindered by the government are destroying creation! Or am I getting too logical and outside the realm of homophobic conspiracy theories?

The thing that bothers me most is that she is considered to be a ‘prophet’.  I do consider myself as a charismatic Christian, and I do believe in prophecy, and I do believe God does speak to us today in many way. But we also should test everything… And still there’s a lot of stuff in some ‘prophetic’ circles that in no way seems nor biblical, nor supported by common sense to me. And I’m not just talking about all the times or the coming back of Jesus or some great revival was predicted, sometimes even predicted with a date…

I wonder what would happen if false prophets would get stoned, like in the old days. But they seem too stoned already…

One more question: if this unbiblical unchristlike nonsense is not of God, what are those so-called ‘prophets’ channeling then?

Should I be scared?

Maybe it’s better to stay close to Jesus, and pray:

Oh Spirit of Wisdom
shine Your light
and lead us in the way
of Jesus Christ the Master
who gave His Life
to defeat death
so that we can live
the Life of the resurrection
Father, Let Your Kingdom come
and Your will be done
here on earth as in heaven
let us not be concerned with the kingdoms of the world
but with the transnational church,
that transcends all of our human borders, Your bride
Jesus, transform us
renew our minds
to Your Love
In the name of Father, son and Spirit
Amen

Shalom

Bram