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2014: a new year, a new beginning?


20134A new year is here… Which is not a bad thing…

The year 2013 was maybe the heaviest year of my life yet, starting with the unexpected death of my father in february, which brought me completely out of balance (while things were already quite complicated) Most of both my struggle and my recovery are in real life, so it might not have been that evident om my blog…

So it’s time to recover, to recontstruct some things from the ashes, to find new ways, and to shed some things that take more energy than I have. I will try to do the same with my blog and other writings, and even with my music if the time is ever right. I will also take my gardening more serious, and maybe take up drawing again. (?) And I need to find better ways to structure my life, but that has nothing to do with my blog…

So I will try to do new things in the new year, and leave behind some older things. I might also have to find out my own strenths and weaknesses more, and learn how to live with them…

Faith-wise I will try to get rooted again, and to widen my scope. But above all I will go on to learn what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and my neigbor as myself. I’ve been trying to grow in that for years and I still feel like I’m nowhere. Really…

I also need to learn to pray more, to be with God in silence, to listen to God. And I need to find more rest from the world and from my own train of thought ADD-tendencies. This might mean I will have to find some discipline about what I do give the chance to influence me.

Maybe it sounds a bit racist, but I also feel it’s time to limit my American influence more, especially when it comes to my faith, and broaden my scope… oo. What I will stay away from is things that are too modern, especially if it identifies explicitly as liberal or fundamentalist or progressive in the American sense of those words. I don’t have anything with American fundamentalism, and I have even less with the photonegative version of it, no matter if it’s called ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ christianity, or ‘new atheism’. Those things take away energy and concentration and it’s hardly ever worth it.

Yes, there’s a whole world inside I need to get to know more, and a world outside too… I need to get closer to God to be rooted more in this life, but I also need to learn from the Christian tradition, and maybe learn more about other religions too.

What I want to learn most is to see all humans as made in Gods image, and to learn more to see Gods image in all of them, no matter how different from me or no matter how wrong. I also want to be able to see the real enemies, things that turn us humans into each others enemies and that make us destroy the planet and live far away from the Source of All Life.

What about you people reading this? Any plans for 2014

Peace

Bram

A rant on Christian modernism and stuff…


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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

 

I don’t care how ‘big’ you are…


babelThis world seems to be obsessed with celebrity sometimes. Everybody wants to make a name for themselves, or follow those who have made a name for themselves as if they are very important. Sometimes to the point that I wonder if the cult of celebrity is some replacement of the pagan worship of all kinds of minor deities, or the exaggerated saint worship of our medieval ancestors.
Which is quite weird to me, because the objects of this worship are humans after all. We all are just humans. It’s not because someone is more known that he or she has more to contribute to humanity, or is more interesting. Au contraire, we have a phenomenon in our Western world of people who seem to be known just for being known. Or what would you say is the reason Paris Hilton is famous?

Sure, there are a lot of people who are known for good reasons. There are some good musicians who sell a lot of records, and those are known for good reasons. There are also a lot of people who sell millions of books because they are good at writing or have ideas that should be known to more people. But this should not at all be reversed: there is no guarantee that celebrity means quality… And it is, sadly enough, also not true at all that quality or substance will lead to celebrity or having a platform that can share your message to the world. Some of the greatest artists of all time have only become known after their death anyway, like Vincent Van Gogh, and probably some of the most important thinkers and artists have died unknown.

Being known means nothing except that you’ve made a name. It does not mean that you have quality, nor it does not mean that you don’t have quality either…(Furthermore, celebrity can be detrimental to quality, and those who are too interested in it and obtain it do sometimes even destroy the reason why they might be of any real interest to people, beyond their mere state of celebrity… A lot of people sacrifice quality for celebrity)

A lot of the best things might be unknown. A lot of the best music is never heard on the radio or found in the CD-store. The psalters for example are one of the best bands ever in my opinion, and one of the most impressing examples of religious music; even though unknown by most people. I do have a lot of lesser known artists in my library who have made songs that are better than the songs on the radio, sometimes even better than a lot of songs in our lists of ‘timeless classics’. Yes, I know, all of this is subjective, but exposure to it might increase the chance that people will like something, but it won’t change the quality… The guitar-riff of Soul-junks ‘may my tongue be stuck up on the roof’, for example, a psalm 137 song about the rivers of Babylon has a killer riff like ‘seven nation army’. But it’s completely unknown…

Same with writings things like blogs. (btw, I do generally have more readers as a ‘christian blogger’ than I do have listeners as a musician, although I don’t have a big audience anywhere.- I do have some links in my blogroll here, and those are just chosen because I like what those people are writing. I actually don’t even notice how ‘big’ a blog is when I read it, link to it or recommend it. If someone says things worth reading I will read and quote them, makes no difference be it a completely unknown guy with great ideas or one of the most-known thinkers on the earth.
I’d quote a friend as much as I would quote Plato if his saying is true and says what I wish to communicate. Truth is not linked to celebrity.
Staying in the field of Christian blogs, I don’t have more respect for a blog with 100ths of comments or one with a comment here and there, if they have something to tell that’s worth reading I’ll read it and recommend it. No matter if it’s Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Morgan Guyton, Lana Hope, or Rachel Held Evans, or some enormous star (I do like the new series on the bible by Rob Bell here, who seems to be a Christian celebrity for example) or someone no-one has ever heard of. I frankly don’t even have a clue who the big Christian blogs are, and I probably wouldn’t even interested in those. But I can recommend everyone to read the monthly post of Vinoth Ramachandra, or the weekly post of Eric from the Jawbone of an ass. Those are blogs I learn from! Even though I hardly see anyone quoting them.

C.S. Lewis describes an interesting scene in ‘the great divorce’, a weird book about a guy who visits heaven with a bunch of people from hell, and meets some interesting people there and sees other from a distance without interacting with them. One of them, who seems to be an enormously important saint, happens to have been a simple unknown woman during her life on Earth. She is honored as the greatest saint of all, while big figures here on earth are just shady and deluded ghosts there.
It is this way in the kingdom of God anyway: the least are the most important, and those who think they are big might turn out to be not much…

So it might be true that celebrity gives you a bigger audience, which is good if you indeed bring something that’s good, but which is quite bad if what you bring is bad. And actually, there is no reason at all to think that louder voices are more valuable and more worth hearing. (I even think that there’s good reason to be very careful with them…) Maybe the little kid next door has some wisdom that none of the rockstar preachers, academic masterminds and other mighty idea leaders will ever tell you because they don’t know it themselves.

Stardom is so relative, and it has cost a lot of people their soul…

peace

Bram

The end…


I completely have my doubts that this is a genuine Bill Watterson comic, but it’s the saddest Calvin & Hobbes I’ve ever seen, and it makes me glad that I never took any medication against my ADD tendencies…

(Someone on facebook commented with ‘entmythologisierung’ (demythologising) and that connection makes me dislike Bultmanns thoroughly modern proposals even more actually.
Long live narrative theology…)

peace

Bram

Short thoughts on the futility of language


Rosetta_Stone

*

If 2 or more groups disagree on the meaning of a word, communication is futile. When scientists use the word ‘theory’ they have a certain meaning. When creationists hear the word they attach a completely different meaning to it. And when working class people hear the word they just us it pejoratively, as in ‘its work in theory’, which means it does not work. (Like in a users manual)
what does the word theory mean? I do have my theories about it…

*

Perspectivism is good, but hardline postmodernist relativism in the end dissolves all meaning that could be. Just as with post-structuralism and the futility of the meaning of words we need to find a balance or we have nothing left.
The other option would be completely naive though. To think that my perspective (or that of my tradition, the Western modern enlightenment tradition for example) is completely objective and not just the best but also ‘the right way’ to look at a certain thing. Same with the meaning of words, if we thing words can have a fixed meaning we will only get frustrated and confused in the end by the real world…

The question is how to find this balance… Continue reading

If I wouldn’t be a Christian… (I couldn’t be an ‘atheist’ either…)


(warning: long piece about a very deep and thorough form of existential doubt and extreme skepticism! It might be highly unsettling to some people)

Sometimes in discussions with people who don’t share my Christian faith people seem to assume that without my current faith the most logical thing in the world would be to join their own particular religion or worldview, as if there would be polarized world in which there are 2 equally important opposing things my Christianity, and their scientist atheism, Islam, new age worldview, whatever it is…

This surely is nonsense. Even if someone would be able to prove my faith nonsense, all he would do is undo my faith in certain things. That would not mean at all that it would give me faith in anything else. And whatever their worldview is, there’s nothing ‘default’ about any of the ones I named or any other one.

I even think there’s a lot of chance I would be just losing my faith in believing anything at all, including human reason and logic, things I am quite skeptical about anyway. So the thing is; if the skeptic in me (who’s really compelling sometimes) would somehow take over and destroy my faith in God and Christ, the last thing I could be is an ‘atheist’ as a lot of people use the word.

I just wouldn’t have enough faith left for that.

I just wouldn’t!

And I’m not even speaking here about the old evangelical cliché that it takes as much faith to not believe in God as it takes to believe in God. That might be the case for me as a person who probably has ‘the god gene’ that according to some makes people religious. I do indeed find the existence of ‘God’ as logical as the existence of the world, but

Most people preaching ‘atheism’ might say that atheism is the absence of faith in God/gods, but I’ve never met an atheist who found it enough to just stick to that definition when defending or preaching his atheism. What they are talking about is never just the absence of faith in a supreme being, but about science and logic and humanism and a whole system of thought which does assume a lot of things that are not self-evident for my skeptical side. Disproving the existence of any God would never give me enough faith to believe in scientism or liberal humanism. Nor would I be able to agree with all of the dogma of the tradition of people that arose out the modern enlightenment of people that call themselves ‘freethinkers’ while they actually have a very rigid worldview.

I do actually think that undoing my faith in a Creator God who created man in their image might make it impossible for me to believe in human reason or science. Yes, You read that right:

All humanism and trust in reason I have in flows out of my faith in a Creator God! I doubt it could exist if I wouldn’t be  a Christian!

I see no reason to trust human logic and faith, and any of our belief systems as human beings, or in the goodness or value of man, if we are just accidentally here, evolving from animals on a tiny planet in a universe that by accident came out of whatever catastrophe in another dimension of the multiverse brought on the ‘big bang’.

I don’t have the faith to trust humanity then. I don’t have the faith to trust human reason or human logic then. It’s just speciesist hubris. And most probably it’s wishful thinking that the universe is ‘rational’ in a way we can build our theories about it and then have everything explained. Where do we even get that desilusional idea?

We are nothing but an ‘intelligent’ ‘civilisation-forming’ carbon based life-form that is slowly destructing its own planet and bringing on the biggest mass extinction since we lost the dinosaurs, and the fruit of our ‘progress’ isn’t over yet, it has just begun. Modernity and progress aren’t so great after all, after discovering most of our planet we killed a lot of it’s inhabitants or at least their cultures, and destroyed the ecosystems. Nothing great about ir, and only the kind of progress that one finds in an egg that’s going bad… All of our science does not keep us from being the most efficient factor of destruction after the comet that ended the era of big reptiles, or from letting live a lot of our fellow humans live and die in misery…

So I can’t be a ‘humanist’ that believes in modern progress, or that man is basically ‘good’. Nor could I believe that our current ‘consensus of science’ is as closer to a valid description of the universe (if such a thing is even possible in our language or the abstract sumbolic systems we use as humans) than what they believed in the middle ages.

And probably the closest we’ll even get will be like using 22/7 for pi without even knowing what we’re doing and why.

So, if I’d lose my faith, I’d really lose it. And not just in God or Christianity, but in more structural humanity, reason, and langua. And sometimes I’m close to that. I never had much faith in humanity, I don’t know why I should believe in our ‘cathedrals of certainty’*.

Yes, I do have my reasons to believe that a lot of our science and logic is valid enough to use as a ‘working theory’ in our lives. My theology and fallible thought about God are enough to live as a Christian. Even though a lot of all of this will be wrong. Maybe most of it can not even be expressed in any of our current languages. Nevermind.

What there is is enough to live by…. even if I fail all the time…

I know some things are real, or I choose to believe so. I believe the universe is real, and not Mayah. I believe reason and logic can be trusted enough to believe certain things. I believe that because I believe God (which I know intuitively to exist) has put that rationality in us and in the universe . To a certain degree.

(I also believe in more than what is commonly called the ‘natural’, due to some of my own experiences and things I heard from people I trust. I’m not going to argue it, but naturalism or materialism just seems like a modern wishful thinking to me. Even though it might be completely possible that any theory about the ivisible world makes no sense at all, and is further away from what it tries to describe than use a value of 4 for pi… But not being able to describe something says nothing about that something, only about the fallibleness of our perceptions…)

So take away my faith. What would be left? Some kind of skeptical non-naturalist agnostic mayve, not able to believe in the claims of any religion, ‘science as the source of all Truth’, nor the new-agers or anyone, not even the possibility that our languages can indeed communicate some truth. Forever suspicious about any truth people preach or any of my own thoughts.

I know a human being can’t live like that. And I intuitively know there’s more than that, there is a universe, a God behind it who gave it enough structure and us enough reason to know some things, even if it’s just in part. Even if all of our expressions of it are completely off. So I have to believe, and live according to the Light I have received.

Nothing makes more sense to me than Christ here. I never seen anything that was more ‘real’, even though all I have seems just a ghost of something more substantial than anything we know.  The sermon on the mount, the life or love for others and even sell-sacrifice (which He exampled in his live, death and ressurrection) and the stopping of the endlees cycle of violence do seem to eclipse any human thought system. Even if I suck in living like that, nothing else makes sense… So I cling to Christ in a world where nothing makes sense.

I want to close with the words of Puddleglum of Narnia, the existential marshwiggle, spoken to the witch of the underworld who tried to bewitch him so he would disbelieve everything about the world above where he came from and wanted to return to:

 “ All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to kpuddlenow the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.
That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
[…]
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.”

What do you people think? (I hope I didn’t unsettle any of my readers with this rant…)

peace

Bram

* translation of a term in dutch (kathedralen van zeker weten) coined by Boele Ytsma, a guy who had a prominent role in the Dutch ‘emerging church’ discussions a few years ago, but who since then has moved on from all things religious to preach about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet only…

Another side of the situation for Christians in Egypt


Vinoth Ramachandra shared this text coming from Egypt, which gives another view on the situation in Egypt. The source is the Bible society of Egypt here. Another contact in Egypt (an Anglican priest) commented ‘I agree with the content’.

Egypt has an encouraging story that is not being told in much of Western media!

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of “honour”), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

Pope TawadrousImmediately following these attacks, the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II said that if the destruction of these properties was the price Christians in Egypt have to pay to get a free Egypt, then that sacrifice is worthwhile!  His – and all other Christian leaders’ messages – have helped the Christian spirit of forgiveness to be powerfully demonstrated in Egypt.

This practical application of Christ’s teaching by millions of Egyptian Christians should have made worldwide headline news!

Many Egyptian Christian leaders are reminding their flock that the Church consists of the people of God, Christ’s body, and not the buildings in which we worship. Thus the Church can never be destroyed!

Egypt is not on the verge of civil war! On the contrary, most Egyptian Muslims and Christians are more united than ever in their common vision for the future, as together they have rejected extremist “Political Islam,” and are working towards the noble task of establishing a civil society which recognizes all Egyptians as equal citizens.

Egypt, however, faces incredible social, economic, cultural and political challenges as it tries to rebuild after three years of radical change and confusion. As a result many Egyptians are weary and pessimistic about the present situation in their country.

One of our projects is a special edition of the Sermon on the Mount (in which Jesus presents principles of His Kingdom which reflect the aspirations of many Egyptians at this time), and a variety of tracts taken from it, for wide distribution.

Yes, in the face of war, oppression, destruction of their property and church buildings those people share the sermon on the mount, out of which come the golden rule, the ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and other beatitudes, and the command to love enemies. Seems like those people are really taking Christ seriously…

I am impressed and praying for my brothers and sisters in Egypt!

Bram

On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…


I like to read science-fiction stories sometimes, and I do like different examples of the genre for different reasons. I sometimes just like good stories, and I also like good use of our human fantasy like speculative descriptions of other worlds, complete with completely other plants and animals, or about people or non-human aliens with totally different traditions. And there is something very interesting too about stories about worlds that are very different from our world, where the people take things for granted that are literally totally alien for us. It’s a good way of expanding my world-view and it also helps me to question the world I live in, and the given things we all seem to take for granted sometimes.

We humans are generally nor less cruel, irrational nor less weird than aliens. We might for example think that we’re so great as modern people with our science and technology and human rights and stuff, but all the while human rights are more theory than real life for a lot of people here on Terra, and our science and technology have only helped us to further the destruction of the planet in a way that can in the end only lead to disaster, while we have in our societies a lot of things that are only logical if you’re born into them and have had them imprinted when you grew up.

This summer I’ve been reading read200px-TheBirthdayOfTheWorlding and rereading some works of Ursula Le Guin, including the  ‘the birthday of the world’, a collection of short stories. She’s a writer I do appreciate a lot with her fiction but who also can frustrate me a lot. The stories I’m reading can be classified  as anthropological science fiction, as much of her work. The alien species featured are humanoids quite like us, but still do differ a lot from us humans in the way their societies are ordered, as in their biology sometimes. To make clear what that means I will describe the aliens from the first 2 stories (I leave out the weird 4-person marriage system on O and the even more splintered segregation of all persons on Eleven-Soro in the next one, both societies of humans biologically like us):

The people from Gethen, a planet also featured in her well-known book the left hand of darkness are humans like us in everything, except for the small detail that they are not gendered, except for the few days in the month when they are fertile or ‘in kemmer’, and then they can take either sex, mostly depending on the pheromones of other persons in kemmer that are present. So it’s perfectly possible for the Gethenians to be a mother to one child and a father to another one. They do not have any concept of male/female duality nor do they have marriage like we have. The story of a sexual coming-of-age on Gethen, written in first-person from the POV of a Gethenian, is very weird to read, and not just because the sexually explicit which are a bit awkward to read, parts but just because they are  describing things that are perverse and actually, completely alien to us as if they were the most normal thing on eh, Earth… On Earth the everyone with everyone sex in the kemmerhouse, in which everyone can be of another gender next week just is strange…

The people on Seggri, a planet whose name probably is derived from the English word ‘segregation’ in Ursula’s mind, are on the other extreme: they are humans in a more or less late medieval society, but they have an enormous gender imbalance: only one in sixteen or of of them is male, and both sexes live in very different ways completely segregated from each other, with the males in castles having all the privilege, and the women living in a more normal society. The only encounter between the sexes is to have sex, and the women do pay the males for that, and they pay them even more afterwards if a child is conceived. Marriage does exist between women sometimes, even more than two, but it is not seen as something men are capable of. The story is made up of reports, fragments and short stories that show the evolution of gender relations over a longer time, and also when influence of aliens with less alien gender relations becomes more.

In the last fragment of the Seggri-section we see a young man, a man who has been to college even, like traditionally only a woman did on his world,  after the revolutionary moment when men could go outside of their castles and live in the normal world. He desires a thing unthinkable to anyone who has ever lived on the planet, a thing for which there is no word in his language: a marriage relationship with a woman as equals, or in his own language, t0 be ‘a wife’ and have a family. Something unthinkable for men, who are seen as only good for sex, not for any other kind of meaningful relationships with women. Even a man speaking with a woman is considered not done. (In the end he does break all logic and rules and everything people on Seggri have ever known, and indeed has an equal romantic relationship with a woman, even though it doesn’t last and he does move to the planet Hain afterwards.)

Like you can imagine these kind of stories are not the easiest to read. Trying to follow the thoughts of an alien whose ideas on sex and relationships are so different from our, for whom completely other things would be taboo and perverse as for any human, especially for a Christian who believes in lifelong monogamous marriage relationships. It can be quite a challenge to just take this stuff in…

Another thing, which is also one of my frustrations with Le Guin, is that her stories can be so hard and merciless for the people in certain of her societies. She invents new types of sexism and other forms of injustice and oppression that are really bad for the people living in it. The Gethenians don’t have any chance of sexism (except that they seem a bit discriminating towards the ‘perverts’, those who are always ‘in kemmer’, and thus are constantly male or female. The male alien observer in ‘the left hand of darkness’ does share in those prejudices) but I really wouldn’t want to be a man in Seggri who is only good for competing games and having sex with women, and does not have any chance to partake in ‘normal’ (female) society.

But alas, those aliens are not the only people who have weird forms of sexism that are completely illogical from any outsider… Some forms of patriachy and other gender-imbalanced system do sound as weird and unhealthy as those aliens to me, like this story about patriarchy among an Asian tribe from Lana Hope . The idea of sexual segregation alone in which friendship between men and women are taboo (as exists in some Muslim countries) is quite alien to me, as the bot who always tended to friend girls easier than boys.

I must say, my own society can be quite weird too, and other of our Western countries can be even weirder. The person that I am as a man would not be able to exist in American fundamentalism as described by this guest-poster on the ex-fundamentalist blog  broken daughters for example, just as I couldn’t live on Seggri.

If there’s anything I take away from stories like this is that we as homo sapiens are not better than Le Guins aliens, or that Western people are not better than anyone else. And that the simple idea of love for everyone apart from gender, and the idea of committed loving relationships  (as I know them and live it) which we commonly call marriage it in which a family is formed  can be quite alien, even for people in this world.

Let us be a witness of love and respect, in all aspects including our relationships whether they’re sexual or not,  to all people, even the aliens if they ever visit us…

peace

Bram

Billy Corgan on Christian rock and more…


BCBilly Corgan, (or is is Willie now?), singer of the grunge band the smashing pumpkins, has done a pretty interesting interview with CNN in Hong Kong earlier this month. The whole transcript is here.

One part from it has been going round, and is about God as the future of rock, and his message to Christian rockers:

RAJPAL: So what are you exploring now?
CORGAN: God. I once did – a big American magazine was doing a thing called, “The Future of Rock”.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: And, you know, they asked 50 artists, “What’s the future of rock?” And my answer was, “God”. And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, God’s the third rail of -” What is it? “Social security is the third rail of politics in America”. Well, God is the third rail in rock and roll. You’re not supposed to talk about God. Even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like, “Don’t go there”. I think God’s the great, unexplored territory in rock and roll music. And I actually said that. I thought it was perfectly poised. And, of course, they didn’t put it in the interview.
RAJPAL: What would you say to Christian rockers, then?
CORGAN: Make better music. (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Personally, my opinion – I think Jesus would like better bands, you know? (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Now I’m going to get a bunch of Christian rock hate mail.
RAJPAL: But that’s interesting -
CORGAN: Just wait, here’s a better quote -
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Hey, Christian rock, if you want to be good, stop copying U2. U2 already did it. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of U2-esque Christian rock.
RAJPAL: Sure.
CORGAN: Bono and company created the template for modern Christian rock. And I like to think Jesus would want us all to evolve.

I’m not in touch with the modern commercial Christian rock scene, nor do I live in a country where one can find a Christian rock radio station on a car radio,  but I do think what he’s speaking about, even though I have heard more third-generation Coldplay clones in Christian rock lately than U2-sounds, but whatever.

Maybe that’s indeed the overall idea of Christian rock you get from the radio, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of people, adherents to the Christian religion,, making rock music or something like that which is informed by their faith soemwhere, and who do not sound at all like the mentioned U2 (or coldplay) rip-offs. They might not get as much airplay and sell as much records, but they are musically much more interesting. And Billy Corgan must know that, having Jeff Schroeder in his current band  line-up (who has been part of the Christian indie scene, and played guitars on the violet burning’s selftitled album).

Mr. Corgan himself has been singing about God and other religious themes since the beginning of the Smashing Pumpkins, but does not seem to tie himself down to one religion, even though he appears to be more spiritual than ever.

What also struck me is how he describes his old band, the original line-up of the smashing pumpkins:

we were four strangers who agreed on a musical vision. And we did more harm than good.

And then he identifies one of the problems of that band as ‘false loyalty’:

I would say the key experience for me, from the original version Smashing Pumpkins was, “What is loyalty?” What is loyalty? Because I had a false concept of loyalty and I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. When most people wiser than I, would have jumped off the ship when it was to their benefit.

So people always say, “What’s your greatest career regret?” It’s when the band blew up in ’96, that I didn’t jump off and make a new ship. I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. Like, literally, until it was like the bubbles were coming up and I was sitting there like -

RAJPAL: Is it kind of like, you know, when you’re staying in a bad relationship, that you’re always hoping that something will change. That things will work out in some way, shape, or form.

CORGAN: Yes. I’m sure you’ve only had successful relationships, but I mean, if you’ve ever been there where you’re breaking up with somebody for the ninth time – [..] We did a lot of that. We didn’t really break up so much as we were like, “OK, now it’s going to be like this, or it’s going to be like this”. And then, of course, nothing would change.

Another idea that could be interesting to think about is his rejection of the very well-known dogma that suffering is good for art. I actually have never seen that one questioned before, and it’s even more interesting that he uses an Eastern religion -shintoism- to make that point. I don’t know why he uses shintoism and not Buddhism here, which is based on the elimination of suffering, and does not see a positive role for it.

Makes one wonder if the ‘suffering is good for art’ is born in Christian ideas about suffering. And if it’s indeed as valid as we all suppose…

CORGAN: There’s a long established concept that gets bandied about, which is “Misery makes for great art”. And I actually think this is – if we were asking a Shinto Monk, I think they would laugh at this idea
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Because you’re basically saying, “Suffering’s good for business”. And I don’t think suffering’s good for business. Crazy’s good for business, suffering isn’t. I think suffering or the gestalt of, “Here I am, ripping my heart open” – I think that lasts for about two or three albums.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: At some point, you have to mature into the deeper work. Most people are living lives of sort of survival. And constantly posing an existential crisis, either through fantasy or oblivion, really has been pretty much explored in rock and roll. At least in the western version of rock and roll. Maybe not over here in Asia, but we’ve sort of, kind of, been through all that.

I wonder if his ‘deeper work’ as he sees it himself will ever be able to reach as much people as ‘mellon collie and the infinite sadness’, which was one of my favorite rock-albums in the nineties, but I must say that his last CD ‘oceania’ is not bad at all and better than most things I’ve heard from him from the nineties!
But it seems like he is not concerned with getting that success back.

Well, if you make repressed, middle class, white, suburban, existential crisis music and a bunch of people just like you buy it, is that success? [...]  I mean, yes, it’s success in the form of communication. But is it success in being true? No, it’s not true. It’s true to its corner, but it’s not true.

Maybe it’s just me, but the guy says a lot of things (some of which I’m not even talking about here) that are really worth contemplating.. Rockstars can be interesting sometimes, don’t they?

peace

Bram

(PS: normal blogging schedule might resume somewhere in September)