Tag Archives: christianity

1 Corinthians 13 (I)


I don’t know where my year of demodernisation is going, apart from trying to stay away from too much Dawkinsian naturalist fundamentalism and not ingesting too much American stuff at the same time. At the moment it might seem that I’m mainly exploring the occult, and sometimes going back to discussions about sex(ism) and stuff like that. I will try to go to completely different domains too though.

I thought it might be good, being a Christian blogger of sorts after all, to spend some time on the bible parts (and other texts probably) I’m trying to meditate on, and write rather short posts -or longer ones like this one- about them. So I will start in this post with a series on one of my favorite chapters of the bible, one of the most famous parts of Christian scripture: the famous ‘love chapter’ from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 13;1
1 Corinthians 13 is maybe one of the most romanticised parts of the Christian bible, but it seems to me that both the importance and the depth of what Paul is telling us here are often understated. The consequences of this chapter are beyond what you’d think when you just read it superficially. That’s why I’m going to break this into small parts of one or more verses, to let every detail sink in.

We begin with the beginning:
If I speak in the tongues of men
and of angels,
but I do not have love,
I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.

Rosetta_Stone I do know a few languages. My native language is Dutch, and my second language is English (especially written English even). I do know a bit of French as a Belgian, can understand a little bit of Latin, and if I’d work on it I’d be able to read some old Greek again. And then there are languages in which I know only a few words. (My Japanese is better than my Russian, but still almost non-existing…)

There are a lot of human languages that are spoken today, and even more if we count the extinct ones in which texts still survive. One can spend a lifetime learning to still master only a fraction of them. And then there are the languages of angels, of which we do know nothing, and will never know anything, they use our languages to communicate with us, but I do know some Pentecostals believe some people who speak in tongues might have a ‘prayer language’ that’s not human but angelic.

It actually does not matter. We could know all languages of all language-using beings in the universe, but if we don’t have anything to say, it doesn’t matter.
It will all be worth nothing more than senseless noise. I do feel a bit offended as a drummer here that Paul uses cymbals and gongs here to signify something like ‘useless noise’, but it’s true that banging on a cymbal is always a lot of noise, and unless that noise does fit in some context, like a composition, or a ritual, or a lesson or practice for learning to do these things, we shouldn’t do it.

Someone once said to not break the silence unless you can improve it!

And what is the only way to improve the metaphorical silence? What is the only way to make those languages more than mindless noise?

Love

Yes, let that sink in, Love!

Anyone who knows the NT should not be surprised. Love is what it all is about according to Jesus. To love God with all that we are, and to love our neigbor as ourselves is the whole law. And it is the purpose of the law. It’s the Kingdom of God breaking in into this present age when we live in this love.

And nothing else makes much sense.

This goes deeper than I can realise and I’m only scratching the surface here,  so I think I have to meditate some more on this one verse before I go to sleep

Peace to you all

Bram

On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…


Note: I never completely understood the use of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ in the context of homosexuality, and I am not speaking about that interpretation at all here. I would probably be better if that application and its connotations just didn’t exist, for it does not seem to bring much good. I just use the saying here for the plain meaning, apart from its (ab)use in certain discussions…

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.” -St Augustine in Opera Omnia, Vol II. Col. 962, letter 211

man and woman
Let’s start with the Basic human dignity in the title: as a Christian I do believe that every human has an intrinsic worth, just for being a human being. (Just as everything in Creation has to some degree a worth in just being what it is, that surpasses all our ways of measuring value in monetary units) we are all humans: men, women, children, old people, handicapped people, people we disagree with, people who say and do wrong things, people in countries we don’t like, very rich people and very poor people… And we all have more value than money could ever buy. This is because you and me and every other specimen of Homo sapiens is made in Gods image, the Imago Dei as theologians call it in Latin!

God created humans in his image and said “and God saw that what He had made was very good.” But we all know that this isn’t the state the world is in now, long after the first chapters of genesis (and probably long before the last chapters of revelations) But even if the Imago dei has been damaged, it is not destroyed, and we do all still bear the Image of God in us. Every human being, even the worst ones included, have enormous worth, just because they are human. We do not have conditional humanity, even the worst sinner is still to be respected as a human being, even if all his rights or his life are to be taken away by our worldly juridical system. Like the Orthodox fathers say, sin does never destroy our human nature even as sinful fallen being… It can seriously damage it though… No-one is beyond salvation on this side of eternity, so no Christian should treat any human like that…

Surely we all know the paradise story, and that the icon of God has been damaged… ‘Human depravity’ is a term used (and abused) by theologians to indicate that humans are fallen beings, often inclined to do wrong, which will hurt ourselves, our relationships with others, with the rest of Creation and with God Himself. We miss the mark, we do injustice to others and ourselves. This is so with all of us I am afraid. This is what sin is!

I should remark here that this doesn’t exclude that there’s not as well a basic goodness still left within every human being too, even though it might be damaged. All things created by God possess some goodness, as the creation story teaches us. People who come with extreme versions of ‘total depravity’ and argue that even babies are evil wretched sinners with no good intentions at all are just creepy and should not be put within a 1 km radius of any baby. My experience with my own kids shows that this view on babies is just faeces from a big male bovine mammal as the English-speaking like to say it when their grandmother is not around… But our human goodness can be distorted, along with Gods image in us, sometimes at the brink of total destruction.

So we indeed are all sinners and under the influence of sin as it pervades our world and our human systems, as the Christian faith tells us. But sin is not just some abstract condition we’re in that offends an easily offended Supreme being because of some weird theoretical problems with it. It seems to me that our theories so often make sin too abstract, too big and too otherworldly to do anything against in the real world, only accept the sacrifice of Jesus to erase the punishment. Such an approach actually does not do much justice to sin at all. If we can’t help but sin, and having one wrong thought is as evil as killing a whole continent full of people, cute kittens and endangered pandas, what does it matter anyway? It is so over the top that the word sin loses any actual real-world meaning.
Such views do also seem to forget that Jesus did not just come to destroy our punishment, but to do away with sin itself, and with our slavery to evil and death, and to defeat the devil and stuff like that.

Moreover sin is not just something abstract that is evil because it breaks some rules that were written thousands of years ago… It is very real, tangible, and something that does destroy our life and those of others! Bad habits, things that make it hard to have a life in connection with God and our neighbor, things that make it hard to live with ourselves, things that destroy creation itself, and so on. All of those things are sin. They are bad for very clear reasons. Sin always is destructive in some way…

And yes, we should look at our own sin first, but a lot of sin does not just affect one person. We have systems of systemic sin oppressing the poor, destroying creation, and so on. We have people persisting in habits that do not only destroy their own lives, but those of their family and loved ones too. So if I have a friend who’s an alcoholic, who is destroying himself and his family, and our friendship, and more things with that problem, is it then not just appropriate to just hate that sin? How could I love my friend without hating the thing that destroys him? Some people might say that alcoholism is not a sin but a disease, but there are many more aspects to sin than ‘breaking this or this law’, and a lot of church fathers did describe sin as a disease permeating human lives, and it often works that way!

So we should hate sin whenever we encounter its destructive force at work in human lives. And no, hating sin understood properly is not at all a rejection of the person, it is the opposite. The person should never be rejected even if they are being destroyed by sin. We should always try to love and help the person. To live in a way that brings the Kingdom of God here and now, even in this broken world. We know that destruction still reigns here, and that only in an ‘eschatological horizon’ sin will be completely done away with, but we need to live as ambassadors of a world without sin, without hate, without the destruction of good things. Which means that we’ll hate the forces that do destroy, of which sin is a very important one…

We will encounter sin in both our own lives and the lives of others, and see its destroying qualities at work. If we love the person, and see the sin destroy his life or the lives of others, we cannot do otherwise than hate the sin…

Let me also say here that we do not need to denounce everything we think violates certain rules or whatever. Sin is not about breaking rules in the first place. Rules are there(if they are just) to make sure we don’t sin, because the sin is evil. Law is there to prevent evil and destruction (or social incoherence) and is only secondary here. Law is just an aftermath of sin trying to prevent it from attacking again. I am speaking here of situations in which we see sin that is effectively destroying people, about real sin that is objectively evil because it does harm people. Rules, laws and even bible interpretations are not always the most relevant arbiter here…

Note also that a lot of the more horrible sinners -killers, druglords, rapists, slave traders, women traffickers, dictators,…- are just those who manifestly do NOT believe in this basic human dignity and just act upon it accordingly. If you think that poor people, or people of another skin color, culture, language or religion, or the other sex (or those outside of 2 binary genders) are for some reason less human like you, you will most probably automatically treat them as less than human…

But this does not mean that even those people can change and repent and change their ways, and come to a path that leads to life for themselves and many others. Note that for example the apostle Paul was a recovered Christian-hunter who had approved of the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr according to the book of acts. He did terrible atrocities that should be hated (and yet forgiven) but afterwards he became a Christian like there haven’t been many in the history of Christianity.

And even if they don’t, we have to respect their humanity that’s created in Gods image, but never their sin. No-one is beyond salvation, no matter how big their sin! Every human being has basic human dignity.

There is no option for Christians to put any human being beyond salvation and write them off because they are ‘too sinful’. We are to love everyone created in Gods image. And the sin is never an intrinsic part of what makes us a human being, it is the damage done to it by our fallen world. And we should be willing to pray for even the most evil of our fellow humans to be saved from their sin, because if it destroys the humanity of others, it does destroy their humanity too!(I do not know if there is a ‘point of no return’ where a person is so destroyed by sin that the imago dei is lost beyond recovery, but we do not need to think like that! It’s up to God to judge in the end what can be salvaged and what not, now we should just love… Showing love to sinners might be the thing that brings them back anyway!)

We should love the sinners. They are human beings like us, equivalent to us. It is not right to think they would be under us in any way just as it is wrong to think we’re more than them in any way. And we should hate the sin, we should never affirm it, or bow for it, or think that the sin is the essence of the person.

If we let the sin between us define the other person as ‘less human’ than us and makes us view or treat them accordingly, sin has already won one more round. Just as much as it would have won if we’d have joined the sin itself…

What do you people think?

Peace

On magic, miracles, and the differences between them.


I know I’m not posting here very regularly lately. This new post is part of what could be seen as ‘the occult-mergent series’, in which I will look at the ‘supernatural’ world (even though I disagree with that very word already) as a Christian, also looking at the viewpoints of other traditions too while staying centered on Christ. (Btw: the word ‘occult’ is not in the bible, so there is no commandment ‘against the occult’ as some seem to think. I probably use it in a more or less neutral way here than it is commonly used.)

So, on the the 2 m-words in my title: Magic and Miracles are both not very popular with most moderns, at least outside of the realm fiction. As a believer in both (although I do certainly not at all believe in all things portrayed in fiction, it IS fiction after all…) I also see that there’s a lot of confusion about the two, as there is about all things that are dubbed ‘supernatural’ in a very ‘unsupernatural’ world as ours.

I do think a lot of the confusion comes from the word ‘supernatural’ itself. I do believe that ‘nature’ is a lot broader than the physical ‘laws of nature’ as we know them, and that magic and in many cases miracles too are perfectly part of it, and therefor perfectly natural. They only belong to a certain ‘hidden’ (occultus to use a word in latin) part of nature that is not as easy to understand as the realm of what we call ‘the laws of nature’ and can speak about in scientific terms and manipulate with technique. The line between those 2 parts of nature is nothing but the line between what we can investigate and understand as humans, and is only a limit of our abilities and perception, not a real line at all. The visible and invisible nature are not disconnected nor are they necessarily really different worlds. (There might be different worlds in the realm of the invisible, but that’s another story…)

So what is magic? Igargamel would define it as a manipulation of the invisible part of nature by humans to get a certain outcome. Magic is thus for the invisible world an exact equivalent of what science applied in technique is for the visible world. (I’ve written about that earlier, see also this and this post) The difference between both is that magic is not something most people in societies we know grow up with and thus learn, and that probably only a fraction of the people have a real talent for it.

There are roughly two kinds of magic, which probably do have a blurred area in between. The first kind is where the practicer uses his own power as a human being (which might be quite extraordinary in certain individuals), or channels the powers of nature for his goal. This could be energy healing or reiki for example. Some people have a gift for it, most don’t…

A second form of magic is invocation magic, in which the practicer calls upon other beings in the invisible realm to accomplish his goals. These beings can be very diverse, from natural spirits do djinn or demons, or even servitors that are called into existence by the magician itself.
While I am not sure that all invisible beings fall into the demon/angel dichotomy from my pentecostal demonology, even if there are being that are neither black nor white but ‘in the middle’ that does not mean that they are safe. It’s not because something is spiritual that it is safe, and we moderns have a lot of dangerous spiritual ‘ecological naivete’ that sometimes makes us as vulnerable to the invisible world as a dodo to an axe-wielding Dutch colonist… But that’s another story…

So what is a miracle, and where does it differ from magic? A miracle is something God (or in other religions other deities) does, often through a human vessel. So while it might be done with natural ‘energy’, it does ultimately come from God, and even though the miracle might be wanted by humans too, the idea comes from God, and it is done by God.

I can’t claim to have seen and experienced that much miracles, but I can’t deny that there have been ways in which God acted to interrupt the normal in my life or lives around me. But I do have one thing in mind very recently, where God indeed started healing while I was praying, and while it probably looked a lot like ‘energy healing’, I myself as a not-so-magically-talented guy could in a normal situation not have produced that kind of healing energy at all, and the outcome was more than and different from than I had prayed for (much better). So while this ‘healing energy’ might be in a way a part of nature and work like that in some instances, it came from God this time, it did what God wanted. And I was just a clueless vessel, not knowing what I did (my prayer grew more clumsy when I started noticing that something WAS happening) or that I could have done at all.

(And I have no clue why God chose to act that time, and completely surprisingly answered with healing, while a lot of other prayers have been left unanswered. I have no philosophical or theological answers here, only my very limited experience that seems to ridicule much of our human categories. I do think God does not like to be put in a box anyway…)

So the difference between a miracle and magic is that a miracle is an act of God, leading to the accomplishment of Gods purposes, and that magic is something done by humans, with or without the help of other entities, to accomplish human purposes. This might sound vague, but it is a very important distinction. In we bible we see a guy called Simon the sorcerer who is impressed by the power the apostles have through the Holy Spirit, and who wants to buy that power. Which is impossible, the Holy Spirit is God, and Gods power follows Gods purposes, and will not be enslaved by any sorcerer…

A last note that’s not unimportant here is that, for all the fear of ‘the occult’, some Christians who are well-acquainted with supernatural powers should better watch out more to not cross the line, and go from miracles to just performing magic. Like I said, some people do have more talent for such things (that others would call energy-healing for example) and if those people are Christians they will be attracted to more supernaturally-inclined churches (pentecostal/charismatic for example). Some Christians put so much pressure on ‘there can be miracles if you believe’ and ‘have more faith and you will move mountains’, and ‘name it and claim it’ that God disappears out of the picture. Have enough faith and your goals will be accomplished. And then we land in the terrain of the ‘prosperity gospel’.

But all of this ‘have faith and you will accomplish your wishes’ stuff is very similar to very basis magic outside of Christianity. The projection of ones will as a power to get a certain outcome is very prevalent in a lot of occult systems. Think of the new age ideas of ‘the secret’ for example. Another example would be how the postmodern chaos magick has ‘the power of belief’ as a tool very foundational. Others have seen influences of ‘new thought’ (actually a more old-fashioned occult stream) in the prosperity gospel stuff long ago, so I don’t think I’m telling much new stuff here.

Miracle-workers can slide into magic, especially if people do have certain ‘gifts’(and those people are attracted by this kind of Christianity) and they might at a certain moment lose touch with the Christian God, but keep the miracles going when ‘Elvis has left the building’. This can go on without gods power being replaced by other more dark entities, although that always could be the case too…

It can be less subtle even though. I’ve noted already that cursing someone in the name of the Christian God (even disguised as a bible verse and [ab]using bible verses) is a form of black magic, and is misguided invocation magic which tries to use the Christian God to kill people. (Which God won’t do, luckily…) ‘Conservative’ Americans praying for the death of their president Obama is a weird example of this mix of Christianity and black magic(k)…

Christians should watch out that they always keep centered on Christ. The ‘supernatural’ in itself does not have to be a sign of anything, even though we always find it very impressive here in this very ‘un-supernatural’ world. hristians are by definition pledged to Christ, and what makes them special goes beyond just ‘the supernatural’! It leads to the Creator through the Spirit and the Incarnate Christ.

So what do you people think?

Peace

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

 

Some interesting things elsewhere IX


So here we are back with another edition of ‘Some interesting things elsewhere’, after quite a long absence…

A picture of a Snowy owl, which has been taken just before newyear, here in Belgium close to the Northsea coast. This is an arctic species that very seldom come so far to the South, and scientist do think that this specimen does not come from Northern Scandinavia, but has taken a boar from Northern Canada… No matter where it comes from, it’s a beautiful picture of a beautiful bird. (Picture via natuurpunt on facebook)sneeuwuil

Lana Hope has started an interesting series about what is modernity that looks quite promising. Speaking of modernity and Christianity, Roger Olson had a series too a while ago that is worth reading: Christianity and modernity: oil and water? Part 2 part 3. As someone who does identify as postmodern and who wants to connect more to the non-modern roots of my religion those things are very interesting…

David Russell Mosley from the letters from Elfland has written a very interesting artcile On the economics of Elfland for the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. I recently reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I like a lot) and watched the second hobbit movie (which was quite disappointing, you can’t make a movie of the hobbit without including the gradual arrival at Beorns house, and a love triangle with a female elf captian Kili the dwarf and Legolas who isn’t even in the book is just too much…) so I’m still in a Tolkien mood anyway.

To show how different life and gender issues can be in other places: Indian Eunuchs adopt to fulfill motherhood. The eunuchs in questions are living in special brothels, and the person the article speaks about identifies as ‘she’, and has a heartbreaking story. No matter how different and difficult their lives, they are humans like us!

Did you hear my EP instant pocket apocalypse from last summer, which might have been the least advertised release ever? It switches from abstract electronic instrumentals to weird semi-electronic indierock and other not-so-common stuff. I will never be able to play any of this live though…

Zack Hoag quits the progressive Christian internet for 2014 and I completely understand him. As a non-American I don’t even understand all the calling-out for using the wrong words and all the shibboleths of that strange niche…

On new years eve we had ‘de tijdloze’ in Flanders on the radio station studio Brussel, when the listeners choose the top-100 of classic rock-songs, including some hard ones. For the first time #1 was Led Zeppelin with ‘stairway to heaven’, which kicked ‘smells like teen spirit’ from its first place. (#3 was Pearljams ‘black’, a song I don’t care for much. Also, the weird song Mia (click for my blogpost about that song), a former #1, fell to 22, which means the end of an era… (singing that the middleclass rules the country better than ever before isn’t accurate anymore?)

And which means that there wasn’t any Belgian song in the top-20 left… (Only Americans and Brittish ones even, speak of colonialism? -edit: Wait, isn’t the arcade fire Canadian?-)

This sociological piece about American fundamentalism confirms my suspicion that unlike whatever it might claim it is not at all built around ‘the bible only’ at all, but more like a complex man-made (made up on the way?) tradition.

Speaking about American fundamentalism, this slice of life story at the broken daughters blog (by an American ex-fundamentalist girl currently studying in Germany) is quite funny to me. Don’t ask me why…

And this is just a fraction how we humans are being an abomination against nature and Creation: 10 animals that went extinct in 2013 (or declared extinct)

Another sad statistic from last year: 70.000 Christians killed in 2013

And then there’s this genius piece from the onion about brainwashed idiots feeding the poor (yes that’s satire, but it sounds like some atheists I’ve met)

What did you see that caught your eye?

Peace

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

Capitalism vs. Christianity I: Rule of the Market


Coin of Augustus PAS 200 px sh“Markets, like merchants, are nothing new, but they are central to the capitalist society in quite a new and more abstract way” – James Fulcher

A bit late because of work, illness, bad time management, alien abductions and the birthday of my wife, but here it is: my first post in what will become a series about the incompatibility of Christianity and capitalism. (Click on link for the introductionary post)

Central to capitalism as it is currently defended by a lot of people is not ‘in whose hands the means of production’ are or should be, but the idea of ‘the free market’. And even more: the ‘free market’ itself has to be quite a priority according to those who like to preach capitalism. Not only is it important for ‘the market’ to be ‘free’, it is also important for that ‘free market’ to be really important in all aspects of our lives. And indeed, for some reason unknown to me ‘the market’, together with the whole idea of ‘the economy’ which is centered around it, is seen by some as the center of reality, and even as the only reality that matters.

Not reasonable or logical at all
So what’s my first problem with this ‘marketisation of everything’? ‘My first critique to this is just philosophical: Contrary to what I’ve heard from some people sometimes, there is nothing ‘rational’ or even ‘realistic’ about putting the economy, centered around the so-called free market, as our top priority in life and all human affairs on planet earth, and as a lens through which all of this world has to be interpreted. If you want to look at the world this way, fine, but know very well that it is purely an ideological choice, and if you ask me it’s a very poor hermeneutic which leads to a very bad and unbalanced exegesis of the book of ‘reality’. Continue reading

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what do you think

Bram

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

Capitalism series: intro


‘If we truly learn to love our neighbor as ourselves, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be needed’. – Shane Claiborne

the posts in this series:
Introduction
Part 1: Rule of the market
I’m genercapitalismally known as ‘a person critical to capitalism for religious reasons’, something which, never ceases to surprise certain people for some reason. Sometimes in discussions people really don’t understand why I am so negative about capitalism, or why I assume it to be completely incompatible with my Christian faith. So what is quite evident to me seems to be completely weird and otherworldly for others, and that’s why I decided to write my views down in a series of blog posts and explain the reasoning behind certain conclusions that I’ve reached. This has also helped me to work out what exactly my thoughts are….

So practically I will do a series with one post every week or (more likely in my current scheme) every 2 weeks on Wednesday. But before we start, I want to first explain with this what exactly I’m going to do, and define some terms. Continue reading

scepticism about the age of scepticism


Some people call tthinkerhis ‘the age of scepticism’. Sometimes because as a Christian we feel that there is a lot of scepticism against our tradition, which used to be the main influence in our Western part of the world, but it is also because the humanist tradition in line of the Enlightenment finds itself to be very ‘sceptical’.

I myself am very sceptical here, and sort of have my doubts about this self-proclaimed age of ‘scepticism’ in which we are in tough. Most people I know that use that word to describe themselves are not exceptionally sceptical at all, they just fully subscribe to a tradition that likes to apply that word to itself (it’s even more weird when you have people call themselves ‘freethinker’ and they all parrot the same enlightenment-light clichés) and that is sceptical of other traditions, but they never seem to questions the dogmas that every Westerner seems to breathe in and out like a fish does not notice the water.

I wish there was more scepticism about the foundations of our way of life and our Western ways of thinking, but except in new age circles and among conspiracy theorists I do not find much of that kind of scepticism, and those people in most cases completely unsceptical about whatever kind of alternative truth comes their way…

It’s not really a surprise though. Real scepticism, and the willingness to question everything does in most cases lead one away from the tradition one is in. Most of those people are seen as heretics of some kind, except when they gain enough followers to throw over the old order for a new one, or at least establish a separate tradition… And in both ways the real scepticism will die…

Yes one could establish a tradition of scepticism, but that would kinda be self-defeating. Scepticism and the forming of a tradition are very strange bedfellows. Except for the first generation, you never get real sceptics in an existing movement: every sceptic reconstructs a new system by himself, that might be adopted as the new orthodoxy by their followers, and the it will just  fossilise into a new tradition.

I don’t find those who adhere to the scientist tradition to be sceptics at all, except for that they are (like everyone) sceptics about traditions not theirs. But that’s true for almost everybody…

And I wish we’d have more real sceptics…

peace

Bram