Zen dragons and false pictures of reality…


Let’s start with a little Japanese Zen parable that I stumbled upon, and that I like a lot for some reason:

In China there wKunisada_II_The_Dragonas a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room.
“Don’t be like Seiko!” – Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)       (source)

Why do I like this little parable so much?
Because it is a very good description of a human tendency to avoid Reality and run away in our own selfmade pictures, systems of thought and descriptions of reality of it, as if they are the real thing. And then live as if this is the real thing. This applies to all kinds of stuff: God, the natural world, human relationships, and so on…
We make our interpretation the real thing, until it leads its own life, and in the end our own version will be more important than the actual thing, the ‘dragon’ in our parable, and we might get rather disturbed if a real dragon would show up, like our friend Seiko did.

This doesn’t mean that we as humans live without our ‘scrolls of dragons’. We humans interpret and describe the world in language and systems of thought, and without this mediation we cannot see the world. That is a natural and necessary thing, but the danger is always there that our mental interpretations run away from us and from reality, and form a world on their own, unhindered by reality itself.

One version of this is scientism, where our modern scientific observations and interpretations of reality (and the consensus about them that we have at this present moment) become all there is, with nothing else. We squeeze all of reality into one interpretation of what can be observed with our 5 senses and our instruments, and then equate that with Reality. I’ve never understood how people could ever fall for such a thing, but it remains a popular outlook on the world, probably because it makes our world seem more controllable, and the uncontrollable forces like gods and devils are eradicated by just ignoring them…

It can gen more serious than that though: when the ‘dragon’ in question is God, the Creator of Reality and Ground of being ‘him’self, this becomes conceptual idolatry. Instead of believing in God and putting our trust in the Creator, we end up following a construct of our own making. Instead of making connection to the God behind all constructs, we end up worshipping a selfmade deity only existing in our head, since we think we can completely describe God, and that God is nothing but what we describe with our theological language.
None of our descriptions will even describe a natural thing for 100% though, let alone God.

The religious side of making our own dragons can get dark. When I posted this parable on facebook one of my friends noted that this is what Americans do with Christ. And I can see her point in these days of Trump I am afraid, any religion that could go along with Trumpism is opposite to what I read in the gospels and all of the New Testament, about humbleness, enemy-love, rejection of Mammon and power, and so on…

(There also might be the danger that a picture of God living in an enormous thoughtfield becomes a more potent entity and behaves like an egregore or ‘godform’, and this might be the case for Murikan Jeebus, the tribal war god that is completely unlike Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnated Son of God in almost every important detail except some cosmetic ones, but that is another story. It is the same with the supposed Allah of IS who wants most people dead by the way; who is a blasphemy compared to how the Muslim tradition and scriptures envision the God of Abraham and Creator.)

It’s also quite important in more mundane relationships by the way. If instead of letting people be who they are we make our own set of expectations for them, we will only have a friendship or even marriage with an illusion, not with a person. See also my post Do you love your wife or a picture in your head? for more about that idea. The weird thing is that even Christians seem to fall for this habit of making ideals and then trying to conform people to them.

(Which is the opposite of Platonism btw. Platonic ideals are a priori and can only be discovered, while these constructs are a posteriori and completely made up by us humans.)

So what is my point here?

I do think that it’s very important to learn to see what really is there. To not just follow the finger pointing to the moon, but look at the actual moon. And to let it be the moon without expecting it to be cheese or an alien base from the time before time.
It is very important to let reality be, and to interact with what is really there, not with illusions. To cultivate ‘first sight’, as it is called in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the words of the kelda of the Mac Nac feegle clan, who speaks almost normal English here:

‘First sight is when you can see what’s really there, not what you heid tells you ought to be there. […] Second sight is dull sight, it’s seeing only what you expect to see.’
(The Wee Free Men, P. 132)

Think also of the words of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

How we do that depends on the subject or object, but a radical honesty with ourselves is always the beginning, and an openness to being wrong. But I don’t have all the answers here, and am only learning myself while stumbling along the way. I just know that this is extremely important, if we want to get anywhere at all.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

 

 

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Sell everything you have, and give it to the poor!


As most people would have noticed already, recently I’ve been finishing an older collection of songs with titles like ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. (downloadlink to Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass )
People have asked me before why I wrote the song, and what I think about the bible verses that it’s based on, so maybe it’s a good idea to clarify a bit with some bible study about Christ and money, or riches in general.

Let’s start with the song, which can be listened here. Music-wise it’s basically a very simple folk song in an American style, so simple that anyone who has had a few lessons on a guitar can easily play it (please do! It’s only G, C and D). The lyrics are a simple retelling of a story in the gospels that is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ in English, a passage found in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-34):

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said, I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do:

sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
yeah everything you have
get rid of it
sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

easier it is for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything… /easier it is…

Quite catchy, isn’t it?

So, why did I write and still this song if I didn’t exactly do what I sing myself? It’s clear that I didn’t sell all my possessions, nor that I am planning to so… The first explanation is that I sometimes write songs about things that I want to understand myself and try to learn more about, wrestling with the subject. But there’s a lot more that can and should be said.

Some in the first church might disagree here (a lot of people did sell everything, read acts) but I believe that while the command to the rich young ruler was not a general law for everyone, and only a personal advice to that one guy. But still there is a very grave warning about being rich in this story and other places of the New Testament that cannot be ignored if you that the bible seriously.
Or at least that’s what one who takes the bible at face value would think, but it seems one of the most-ignored biblical messages these days, even though there’s a very grave warning attached to it. Whatever the metaphor of the camel an the eye of the needle means (I’m not going into that discussion here, it only would distract) the range of interpretations one could have for “easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” goes from it being very very hard for rich persons to be saved to beyond impossible. It might be softened by ‘what’s impossible for humans is possible for God’, but it still looks like it looks very bleak for rich people when it comes to being saved.

It would be an understatement to say that according to Jesus there is something very dangerous about riches and money. The fact that the only false god Jesus calls by name is Mammon, his own personification of money should say enough here, but there is much more in the New Testament to back this up. Jesus literally says ‘blessed are the poor’ and ‘woe to the rich’ in Luke 6 for example. The apostles also have some interesting things to say. Let’s look at some bible verses, and I suggest that if you want to really think about this issue you read them slowly and prayerfully and let them sink in, and let the text read you.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money/Mammon.

(Note that the NET bible translates ‘Mammon’ into money here)
This is straightforward: Money competes with God, and if we serve money we will not be able to serve God. The danger of being rich here is that the things we think we own end up owning us, and take us away from God, and demand our soul.

1 Tim 6:6-11 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 6:7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul echoes the same idea here, but adds different layers about temptation to it. Note that he is often misquoted here, he does not say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, but that the love of money is. This is an important distinction to contemplate.

There also is the famous warning against the rich from James, where he echoes Jesus from Luke 6 and seems to assume that riches often comes from a sinful life:

James 5:1-6 5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

No, that’s not Marx, that’s the New Testament, and it echoes countless passages from the prophets in the old testament, including the description of the sins of Sodom in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 “‘See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

To complete this bible study, and to bring some balance to those who think that utter poverty is what all these verses point to (they don’t) I also connect this to the wisdom of Agur (no, I have no idea who he is either but he is included in the bible here as a wisdom teacher…) as recorded in proverbs 30:7-9 that I turned into another song on the same album, with less chords and instruments than ‘sell everything’, but a lot more weirdness. The music to ‘poverty nor riches’ might lose itself in pseudo-shamanic atmospheres and noisy freejazz interludes, the lyrics themselves are straight from the bible without much paraphrase:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
to not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me
and give me neither riches nor poverty
only my daily needs
for I may own too much and disown you
and say Who is the Lord
or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour your name O Lord

How do we connect the dots here? It seems that there are great warnings against being wealthy in the bible, which are very often ignored. Which is quite dangerous, because relatively spoken we all are rich as Westerners. Compared to a lot of people in the global South today, and to most of the population in biblical times, we’re all rather wealthy and rich even though we often fail to see it. But the effect on our soul and our faith might still be there if we don’t watch out…

There are 2 very important realities about money.
* Money can very easily become an idol. Jesus doesn’t call it Mammon for nothing. This is not something new, a lot of philosophers and spiritual teachers in all kinds of traditions would agree about this. Money, and possessions in general are a dangerous idol that make it impossible to connect to God.
And some are willing to sacrifice human lives and whole ecosystems for. And that in our modern secular times… And that brings us to our second point:
* A lot of rich people have become rich by being oppressive or dishonest, as Jesus, James and the prophets tell us. This is evidently very bad for the involved oppressed, but it also is a sin that keeps the rich one away from God, makes one arrogant. If you dehumanise your brother to just a pawn in your game of getting richer instead as a person worth as much as you, deserving as much as you, you’re far from God indeed.

In spite all my rage I might still be just a rat in a cage. My album title ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ might be sarcastic but after all I still am Middleclass myself. Some people would look down on me as not earning much to certain contemporary standards, while others would see me as incredibly wealthy. (Including most of my forefathers in earlier eras, people from biblical and historical times, and people in the global South)

I’ve met people who knew what it is to live with nothing and trust God, living from day to day in faith and trust. While this is very basic Christianity, it also is something very few modern Christians need to develop, and something I know is seriously lacking in my faith life. I trust that I will have enough. I am a spoiled Westerner.

(The issue of being wealthy might even be part of why the West is losing its Christianity in this era btw. Faith is trusting in God as a Reality anyway, and we have made it accepting conceptual statements.)

As you see, these are things that I am still am struggling with. I don’t have all the answers, and even if I had them they will not sink in unless you have struggled with them yourselves.

Some will think I’m going way too far here, but I’m not sure of that. If you think I’m too soft on sin here, and want a more resolute input, I refer you to this excellent series by Micael Grenholm on Holy Spirit Activism who does argue it is a sin to be rich as a Christian. And his biblical explanation is quite strong, stronger than a lot of reasoning where super-important issues for some people are defended as ‘biblical’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Poverty & Wealth
the love of money vs. the way of Christ…
Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!

New Bram Cools release: “Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)


Allow me to use my blog once more to do a musical announcement:

Available now Saturday:

“Safe happy Christian music for the conservative middleclass” (the lost album)

safe

Next Saturday, the first day of July, the Bram Cools album ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the conservative middleclass’ will be released through my  bandcamp page. It will a ‘choose your own price’ release, and if enough people ask me for it I might make some kind of physical CD-R release too.

More about the album
Don’t be fooled by the title, ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ is not only a rough collection of weird lo-fi folk songs that often go in unexpected musical directions, it is also a a bit of a spiritual concept album that is designed to make people uncomfortable at times. (It even makes me uncomfortable 7 years later, and that’s not because of the musical errors and out-of-tune moments.)
While the music is inspired by the words of Christ and the New Testament, so you can be certain there’s nothing safe or middleclass about actual Christianity. If you take these things seriously seriously you’ll end up closer to nonviolent anticapitalist green anarchism than to a cage of safety, Mammon and the quiet desperation of adulting under peer pressure of those with shiny toys and life-sucking jobs…

As said before it’s not really a new album, but an older project that only got finished now. ‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor‘ was meant as its first single together with ‘Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death’ 7 years ago, but the album never came… It grew out of a set of songs songs that I started writing at the moment that my band the contemporary Christian Muzak collective (CCMC) was falling apart, almost 10 years ago. Mandolin and melodica are very prominently present on the album, but apart from that I do switch instruments all of the time, and the role of electronica if present is generally rather small.
Most of these songs were almost completely recorded but never finished when life happened and prevented them to be completely finished, and so they took a long sabbatical on my harddisk instead of being released ‘soon’ as I promised 7 years ago. Musically there still is the pre-cyberluddism approach of playing a lot of instruments myself rather than programming them as I did on later albums, which gives a more folk and at moments even rock feeling, and there is a lot of experimentation going on which sometimes gives a noise-feel. While most of these songs have just been hiding on the computer, a few of them have been played live, and the sing-along classic ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’ fastly became a concert favourite.

The playlist will be:

1. Ouverture 02:07
A slightly Sufjanesque semi-instrumental ‘ouverture’ in 5/8 on mandolin and melodica, which sets the atmosphere for the more folky parts of the album. Probably one of the more safe and happy pieces on the album, even though it’s written in an uneven meter and minor key. (Hear an older mix of it on soundcloud)

2. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor 04:4
This undoubtedly is the ‘hit’ of the album. Based on a very minimalist chord scheme derived from traditional American folk music, this proves to be a live hit and sing-along, even though the lyrics are rather controversial, and much more Christian than safe or middleclass. This arrangement is based on mandolin, percussion and sometimes a heavily distorted slide guitar, and it still echoes the CCMC atmosphere.

3. Gentiles 03:28
This is an older song that has been online in different versions for years, probably both weird and unique and yet typical for the older Bram Cools indiefolk style, with the typical melodica, and a heavily distorted small African drum and stuff like that. Also a protest song about how religion often misses the point. (older mix on soundcloud)

4. You were hungry 02:43
Here we depart from the folk for a rather freaky experimental kind of lo-fi noise that was originally just built on endless layers of delay on vocals and some claps. For later version the original has been sampled and re-arranged, and spiced up with some electronics. The music is meant to be uncomfortable as a support of the lyrics, which are taken straight from Jesus’ words about social justice, care for the least and judgment… Very safe and middleclass…
I hope to be able to play this live one day with an actual theremin…  (older mix on spundcloud)

5. No more lilies in the field 04:47
With this song we’re back to folk music of the more psychedelic kind and to the first actual guitar song. Different layers of percussion, folk instruments or reversed sounds come an go in a song structure that doesn’t really follow a verse-chorus-verse pattern. To stay in harmony with the other songs it’s alos a protest song against commercialisation and Americanisation of religion. (lyrics video on youtube)

6. Don’t kiss me 03:27
This was the first song of the album to be ready, and thus it ended up on my compilation album ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ as a very new song 7 years ago. A song about love (or the absense of it), and again an indie-folk song. The mandolin is back, and so is the 5/8 meter. If the album were an actual LP this one would close the A-side. (‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ version on bandcamp)

7. Stephen, they’re gonna stone you to death 03:3
The B-side of the LP (also the B-side of the ‘sell everything’ single) starts with a distorted slide-guitar, and then everything goes weird, but in a very slowed-down and relaxed way. There is a guitar-noise feel, but the mandolin and melodica are back and bring a weird drumcomputer that has been stretched beyond recognition. Just like the ‘ouverture’ this is a semi-instrumental but in a completely different way. This song does have a text somewhere the end if you can understand it through all the distortion, and it’s about getting stoned, and not in the druggy way. (‘sell everything’ single version of bandcamp)

8. Coming soon 04:10
Something of the guitarnoise stays, and in comes a voice in the desert screaming about the end of time. The percussion is back at full force, and something sounds a bit mid-Eastern maybe. The song is about struggling with Christian ideas about the end-times.

9. Swords into plowshares 04:39
The mandolin is back for a more folky song about a world without war or weapons that still is rather experimental.

10.Poverty nor richess 05:12
And with this the weirdness is really back in full force. What could go wrong with only 2 chords and a bible-verse, and an arrangement of acoustic guitar, piano, melodica, percussion and vocals, one could ask. Well, apart from the content of the bible-verse from proverbs that maybe isn’t quite middleclass, the chords are not usually used together and form some kind of C-altered scale together. And then there is that manic shamanic-sounding background-vocal, and those free-jazz chaos parts. Ah and the percussion is an actual shamans frame drum. I don’t think I would dare (or even be able) to even make such a song anymore, but it’s certainly interesting to listen again.

11.Drummers and drumcomputers (psychedelic folk mix) 03:13
This is another live-favourite that has had a lot of different version, and finally we have jumped from heavy theology to a protest song about the downsides of our technological society. This should have become the first recorded version, but it evolved a bit before it was finished and lost the electronic beat that featured the demo-versions and some live-versions. This also has some nice harmonica bits played by Bram Beels that were recorded in Sweden! (very crappy live webcam version with beat and guitar here on youtube)

12.Love and mistakes 03:31
And with this song we close the B-side of the LP, and we finally get rid of sarcasm, the harsh demands of reality and the clash betwee and our world and anything that makes sense, to find rest in Love with this soft song erupting in a quiet post-rock like instrumental part. Surely, it’s still a bit rough, lo-fi and unconventional still, but only those who hate grace and forgiveness will be uncomfortable with this one…

It isn’t the closing song if you download the whole album btw, there are 2 bonus tracks for those who download the whole album. The first one is the poppy fun protest song that should be well-known to older fans, and the second one, called ‘new moon’, is a rather extatic improvisation with the mandolin/melodica/percussion instrumentation.

So check my bandcamp Saturday if you want more!

enjoy

Bram

The American situation as a crisis for my faith


(warning: long autobiographical essay coming!) I grew up as a Pentecostal kid in a very secular post-catholic West-European country, the kind of place where Christianity and religion as a whole was seen by most people as something of the past, protestantism as a faraway historic religion, and evangelicalism as a weird cult that only exists elsewhere if that world is known already, which probably isn’t the case.  These things have changed a bit now, and I’m afraid not always for the better. The perception of ‘religion’ is even worse in certain milieus, but the attention of the anti-religious mafia has by now switched from old Catholicism to Islam due to sociological switches. And I fear that ‘evangelicalism’ instead of a noble unknown is now known to a lot people now as one of the contributing factors in the rise of the US president Donald Trump, who might be one of the least Christian persons in power I’ve ever seen and regarded by most Europeans as a dangerous madman. Which only increases the impression of certain people that religion is dangerous and makes people dumb and aggressive.

The sad thing is that Mr. Trump is the exact opposite of what one should be able to expect from a Christian, but it seems like not everyone is able to see that. Which is a problem, since I am a Christian, and I do not feel represented by whatever he represents at all. But that is for later, let’s first continue my story.

I must admit that it is not always simple to be a part of a minority faith in a secular world. I’d always be ‘different’ anyway, so it’s rather hard to separate what comes from my faith, and what comes from me just being me, the AD(H)D introverted boy who didn’t care about most things that get the general population excited, boring stuff like football -soccer for the US-ians-, cars, violent movies, oversexed nonsense, etc… but who was more into nature, art, science and philosophy. I always just assumed I’d be different for too much reasons, and assimilating without being seen is something I learned at a much later age. I do remember being kid in primary school in Lier, when everyone who was Flemish was supposed to be ‘catholic’, even though it was mainly cultural and traditional, most kids being completely unreligious but baptised as a baby where I was religious, but unbaptised. The only non-catholics in school apart from me were Turkish immigrants who were Muslims, which was an easy category unlike me. Even with the term ‘protestant’ I was an alien, an outsider, or even ‘neither Flemish nor Turkish’ as someone once described me.
(I know these things have changed by now. Now there will be much more immigrant kids of different religions at that school, and completely non-religious kids as well. The inevitable process of dechristianisation has reached a much further point by now, while more religious immigrants have integrated themselves even in smaller Town, and that includes a lot of different Christians too.)

Church was another world. An enclave from a different world. A tiny one, but it was connected to the wider church worldwide on a lot of continents. Sometimes there were missionaries in church bringing their story. Or bible smugglers, which was a big thing in the eighties when there still were communist regimes where you could be killed for being a Christian. The idea of Christianity as a persecuted minority was a logical one, but there was also a willingness to follow Jesus. The Pentecostals in Flanders did still have a lot of influence from the Jesus People and other Christian hippy movements, who had the crazy idea to take Jesus and the bible serious, even in the radical things. Just letting the bible say what it says was a big thing. And I believed it. And I read the gospels. And I saw something more impressive than what the world around me could give. Something more interesting than drugs and sex, than money and status, than sports and entertainment,…

I found among other things traces of The God I believe in is the Creator of the multiverse upholding it at every second, and the source of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The God who is Love and Justice. As a Christian I believe that the incarnated Christ is the most accurate representation of God. Radical love for all, including oppressed and marginalised, like women, the poor, Samaritans, strangers,… and the oppressors, like the Romans and the mob that lynched him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (although there are rather uncomfortable words about riches)

This is what makes Christianity more Real to me. A love deeper and more radical than our human instincts. As David Wilkerson whom I liked to read as a teen said to gangster Nicky Cruz, ‘you can cut me in a thousand pieces and they will still love me’. As Shane Claiborne whom I loved to read as a twentysometing exemplified by living with the homeless in his city, or with almost being bombarded along with the Iraqi by his own country. Like Corrie Ten Boom who came out of the nazi concentration camps to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what inspired me because I knew it was True, an calling to me.

This is what always kept me a Christian. The sparks of a Greater Reality that shone in this love stronger than hate and division, and also the glimpses of a Reality bigger than our worldviews, which included the supernatural healing presence of God in different dimensions and in different ways.

As a teenager my father started a church plant with Vineyard, which is theologically more evangelical but still charismatic. I still went to the Pentecostal youth camps and events though, and had my friends there, until somewhere in my twenties. I learned a lot about God. I saw answered prayers. I heard impressive stories from everywhere around the world. I saw (among a lot of other things) a religion (on non-religion according to some, but that’s a mere language game). I also learned more about the history of Christianity, and the other Christian traditions and denominations. I already knew Francis of Assisi from catholic school, and I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and various Catholic and Protestant authors. Those who had that love more real than all of our human constructs in it, and glimpses of the Reality beyond all our realities stayed and impacted me. Some didn’t and had just a lot of theories about God and church structures and whole constructions built on bible verses without any trace of God. I did them away quickly and forgot them. In the years I read everything from Jacques Ellul to David Bentley Hart, and found God in very different streams of Christianity (and sometimes glimpses of God in very different places outside of Christianity even).

As a young twentysomething in the 2000ths I discovered the ’emerging church dialogue’ on the internet while it was still healthy. I recognised some things about myself in the mumbo-jumbo about postmodernism, and I saw a lot of stuff that did connect with the Higher love of Christ. The whole supernatural dimension seemed entirely lacking though, and over time the whole thing shrivelled and turned into an US American inhouse thing, that got more influenced by -to me- new and rather narrow ideologies where only the oppressed mattered, and identities were more important than people, and unhealthy American realities were absolutised and pushed upon all of the world while speaking of decolonisation.
And with that I was out. The whole American thing [which sadly influences a lot of people around the world] just seemed too polluted over time. I had seen too much stuff in the ‘conservative’ side already that had pushed me as a Jesus-following evangelical away, but instead of finding a place beyond the modernist division of both halves of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in which both were integrated again most ‘progressive Christianity’ stuff completely alienated me and gave me no traces of the Reality of Christ, only a lot of condemnation of ‘bigots’ and deeper trenches. While the visible part of the ‘conservative’ side in politics has become something that to me seemed opposite to anything Christ would stand for. Mammon, power, own country first, an economic orthodoxy of social Darwinist policies and no care for creation, and so on…
De-Americanising my sources to a certain degree was the only thing I could do to keep my spiritual sanity. But the US at this point did have a big influence on the religion that I’m a part of, and on the view a lot of people worldwide have of Christianity.  American ‘conservatives’ equating Christianity with their weird political system isn’t something that can be completely ignored in a world that is so connected as this one. Or at least I wasn’t able to do so.

Strangely at the same time there was the new Pope, who had taken up the name of Francis, who made more sense as a Christian than both sides of the American divide. Not that I agree with him as a conservative catholic about everything, but he has the love. And he knows that both the left and right (both in American and European sense) are full of nonsense most of the time and that often neither aligns with the gospel. A Christianity that has the love that goes deeper than all of our human stuff, love for the poor and despised without creating trenches against people of certain ‘identities’, and willingness to take the words of Jesus seriously. That’s the least I expect from a Christian. And evidently a search for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, for Love and Justice before other things.

And then the overseas situation gets even worse. Against all odds the US gets a president who is supposedly ‘conservative’ and from the party favoured by a lot of supposed Christians. A man who has no place for truth in a way that goes far beyond anything postmodern. A man who mocks the vulnerable and those who are in misery. A man for whom money, power and his ego seem the only guides. A man whose policies will destroy lives, and ecosystems. And a man who is presented by some Christians as ‘the Christian option’ because he will ‘make American great again’. The antithesis of all things True, Good, and even beautiful, and of Love and Justice has been hailed as a saviour. And I can’t be the only one who sees in the guy echoes of the weird antichrist characters of bad American seventies endtimes movies,  the kind that manages to sway all nominal Christians…

If anyone tries to sell me this mess as representing Christ, something breaks. It’s like accepting that water is dry, black is white, life is death, lies are truth. Or that slavery is freedom. Yes, he might not be the actual antichrist of dispensational pre-trib premillenialism, but the level of dystopia is rather disturbingly high anyway.

(Yes, we must pray for Trump, and bless him. But he is not worth more or more important than any sick refugee child either, and on the other hand him being a fellow human made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we should ignore how dangerous and destructive the bloke is. Loving those who are wrong doesn’t mean accepting their wrongness. Love the sinner hate the sin still applies, even if said sin is destroying the whole planet we should not hate them and yet cannot accept their destructive influence at all!)

So what prompted this post?
Yesterday I saw an older David Sorensen blogpost about Donald Trump being chosen by God, and it made me wonder about all these things. For those who don’t know him, David Sorensen is a part of my charismatic past, part of the Belgian scene, although not at all uncontroversial. I sort of did appreciate his first book when I was a lot younger, but there always were things that I completely disagreed with him too. And I’m not speaking about his style here, which is just a matter of taste. I’m more thinking about his crusade against Narnia movies for example…
I once heard him preach, and I couldn’t deny that he did bring across some Christian truths, in spite of the ‘I haven’t prepared and will let the Spirit guide me now’ approach which made him stretch things that have been said in 15 minutes  into a repetitive unstructured mess of a sermon that lasted about 2 hours. (It did give me more respect for the Spirit though, being able to get through with such a human vessel…)

I can’t deny that, even with all the weirdness I’m used to, and the fact that I know that the local US Christian population has fallen for Trump to I felt betrayed. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. Weed and wheat have been growing together since time began, and it’s always been a mixed well even though it brought me living water of Christ. But to see a tradition that I supposed tried to follow Christ follow a character that is almost the dialectic antithesis of everything Christ stood for without a trace of cognitive dissonance I do kind of despair.

I don’t despair because I lose my faith in Christ. I despair because I see a Christianity that takes people away from Christ. I despair because I feel torn apart.

And I need to remember that I need to ground myself in the Truth of Christ, in Love, and not in the internet which is full of toxic group spirits and dangerous distractions…

And then something whispers. Can we please remember that in times when Christianity is deteriorating and falling apart due to synchretism with antichristian powers it is not those who can reproduce the right theological constructs who are the ‘faithful remnant’, but that all knowledge, and even faith that moves mountains is nothing without Love?

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

Bewaren

Bewaren

Don’t say postmodernism to Trumpian post-truth neosophism…


BCprofHi readers,

I haven’t been very active here in 2016, especially not in the second part of the year. (I did publish 10 episodes of the scifi post-dystionian fiction story “Ghostified City’ though this fall on my fiction blog Oranderra). It might be different in 2017 in that I am going to break the hegemony of FB in my own online presence more, and am going to move discussions from FB more to this blog, and probably thus post more shorter posts here to conserve my thoughts outside of the facebook bubble.

Today’s thought from your resident couch philosopher: Trumpian post-truth epistemology in an age of ‘false news’ isn’t just post-modernism or post-postmodernism. It’s more a popularist form of neo-sophism. (original FB-status here)

I’ve seen people regularly use the straw man of ‘postmodernism’ for there being no truth at all, but can we please stop it now? Denying truth and facts is much older than postmodernism, which is much more sophisticated than ‘absolute relativism’ (a self-defeating parody of a philosophy that not much people hold) or post-truth non-epistemologies. To get something more in line with current situation look for example at the ‘pre-socratic’ sophists with whom Socrates clashed because they sold truth on demand for money. Our current post-truth pragmatism about facts is much closer to Protagoras and the likes, than to the actual European postmodernists.

The sophists, at least in the way represented by Socrates through Plato, were ‘teachers of wisdom’ who were able to use rhetorica to defend everything, including the absurd, especially when paid. (They would be great advocates of the devil…) So the straw man some like to fulminate against isn’t really postmodernism nor something new, but more a not so subtle form of neo-sophism.

Which is -just as it happened in the time of the original sophists- a logical step after real scepticism when foundations of truth erode, but not the supposed modern ‘scepticism’ that leads to a very strong enlightenment foundationalism (for example Dawkinsian ‘New atheism’) that’s in the end only fossilising into its own rigid tradition with its own conservative old farts.

I seems like the neo-sophism is only growing stronger in our era of unprecented (unpresidented?) mass media. So while I have seen American conservatives rage against relativism and postmodernism in the past, American conservatism might have become one of its own strongholds in these Trumpian days. See this interesting Morgan Guyton post too, called How did defenders of absolute truth become post-truth ideologues?

I think it’s a question of how we define absolute truth. Being committed to absolute truth can mean two very different things. On the one hand, absolute truth can signify that the universe has a single reality despite the fact that we perceive it from billions of vantage points. In this sense, absolute truth means the universe around me is not a dream that’s all in my head. The objective facts that surround me in the world matter. I don’t get to make up my own facts. There are universal laws and principles that exist independent of my subjective, culturally conditioned position.

When I was indoctrinated with absolute truth as a young evangelical, this first definition was how I was taught to understand the concept. However, I came to learn that, for evangelicals, absolute truth was not as much about the existence of universal truth as it was about obedience to an infallible authority. For conservative evangelicals, the authority to obey is of course the Bible, or more truthfully, their particular doctrinal superstructure within which they encase their interpretation of the biblical text. When you’ve made the decision to define truth as obedience to doctrine, then you’re not actually committed to the notion of a single, universal reality, because reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.

This is the Christian side of the story, which gives me a lot of cognitive dissonance btw. Nothing of the things described has any overlap with Christianity, the bible, Christ or Truth…

Note also that the sophists were strong rhetorics, who made very complicated thought constructions to persuade people of even the absurd when needed. Todays neo-sophists are not that, eh sophisticated at all, but they still sway whole groups of people over to dangerous nonsense. The power of media doesn’t seem to lessen the need for complicated intelectualism, and we might indeed be headed for an idiocracy… So much for the chronological snobbery of those who think we know everything now and who will not even care for the ideas of people from older ages…  Plain BS is already enough to convince people. No need for reason or logic or whatever… (Oh don’t you love this brave new world?)

I’m probably a very sloppy postmodernist after all, but I’m -unlike original American fundies for example- an even  worse modernist and more a Socratic-Platonist-Aritotelean here.
My postmodern side lies more in my humble epistemology, which falls in line with a lot of older and venerable traditions anyway, from Paul’s ‘we know in part’ (1 Cor 13) to Lao-Tzus ‘The Tao/Way that can be walked isn’t the real way, ‘he name that can be named is not the real name’ (Tao The Ching 1).

I think 2017 might be a good year to read some more about the Sophists though (and about any tradition that puts rhetorica before truth) , the few things I’ve read from them seemed very relevant to describe certain streams of though from this age, and yet no-one seems to speak of neo-sophism in our deceited era of being drowned in information but starved for a grain of sense…

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

Bram Cools album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ now available + Literary side project


Hi people,

I’ve delayed writing more posts because I didn’t even know what to say in a confused world like this, because I was busy with work and family and other stuff, and because I’ve been woking on my music and launched another side-project, the scifi/dystopian story ‘Ghostified City’ that will be published in parts on Oranderra, my fiction blog. For those last 2 I will give you some announcements:

‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ available now

Hi friends and listeners,

This is just to notify you all that my new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen‘ is available now at bramcools.bandcamp.com . Musically and lyrically a follow-up to ‘cyberluddism’ and ‘Instant pocket apocalypse’, and a trip though different musical genres and a range of everyday battles and strange subjects in several languages. Apart from English there are 2 songs in Dutch/Flemish, one and a half in the artificial minimal language toki pona, and some key lines of another song in Latin, as well as several wordless pieces of music.

Listen and download ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ here. And please let me know what you think, and if you like it share it with others…

Literary side-project ‘Ghostified city’ now online

For those who like the dystopian themes in my recent music, or those who like scifi and dark dystopian stuff in general there is a second non-musical announcement: I have started publishing the story ‘Ghostified city’ in parts on my fiction blog Oranderra this week. See here for what it’s about and here for the first part. There will be one or two updates to the story each week. Note that the style and some of the contents might not be suited for an audience that’s too young.
Adaman Yimmand would really appreciate if you check it out and like the Oranderra facebook.

peace

Bram

Tracklist:

1. Welcome outside 04:23

2. Selfmade universe 03:29

3. Muggles gonna muggle 04:11

4. Splintering dimensions 03:15

5. mi wile e ni 03:23

6. Cyberluddism VIII 02:13

7. In het niks 03:15

8. Shadows of shadows 04:31

9. Oh God would you? 03:46

10. Hold on 03:54

11. Cyberluddism IX 02:55

12. Enemies 02:53

13. Dark hour of fire 04:35

14. Mixed bags 02:55

15. Hoelang blijven we spelen? 02:23

16. Salva mea 04:12

17. Untitled in C-minor 02:36

18. Unseen disconnect/mi sona ala 03:35

19. Under the radar 03:42

20. Cyberluddism X 01:29

On ‘social constructs’ and other layers of the onion of Reality.


Hi readers,

ajuinYes, a new blogpost that isn’t advertising my super-obscure music but that actually goes back to my counter-cultural philosophising that goes in territory that escapes both the current left and right. (My music might be addressing similar subjects as certain future or recent blogposts -including this one-though, I didn’t call the new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ for no reason…)

So where do I begin? Let’s start with my first experience with the term ‘social construct’. I can more or less remember my surprise the first time when I ran into the term in an internet discussion years ago, I suppose with a young American feminist. When it was asserted by my conversation partner that gender was a social construct, which seemed to mean, nothing but a social construct, I made the mistake of taking that term on face value. My first reaction was that, since I did not at all recognise the definitions of male and female she was pushing unto me, social constructs by definition are contextual and bound to cultures, subcultures or even smaller groups, and thus we had to both give our definitions to proceed the conversation with more understanding. But no, for some reason the contextual specifics of ‘social constructs’ were not to be discussed about, I had to accept her rather scary views of male and female that probably where derived from a certain American conservative milieu, but that were utterly alien to me as normative.

Side note: As a father a 2 little girls, lifelong friend of women and girls, and being married to a woman I know feminism is very important. A lot of sexism exists in this world that should not exist, and it destroys people. And I’m a natural egalitarian too,but even that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything that goes under the label ‘feminism’, and some things under that name make it only worse. Let’s also say here up front that I’m no adherent of ‘critical theory’ and that I consider it an insult to postmodernism (especially when it pushes very contextual US definition of race that even have hardly anything to do with race a univeral, but that’s another story), at least phenomenologically in the versions of it that have trickled down to me through internet discussions. But feminism itself is not my subject here, a philosophical exploration of the nature of Reality is.

So to pick up on my story again, apart from the cross-cultural disconnect there firstly is the observation that I still can’t escape the notion that any social construct will always be contextual, and might thus differ from context to context, and that the internet is full of people from very different context who will have very different versions of certain ‘social constructs’. I will consider that as a given here and won’t even argue for it, because it’s too obvious for me, and I can’t imagine a possible world where this isn’t true. But there’s more…

But to get to the point, there also is the fact that I as an oldfashioned philoophical Realist do not at all agree that there that are many things at all that are purely social constructs. And I’m not even going into the problem that it seems that some ‘social constructs’ become personal constructs in our hyperindividualist postmodernist society, which in the end will make communication completely impossible, which in turn just erodes the purpose of language if driven too far when people refuse to give their own definitions and listen to those of the other side in a discussion. So we will remain on the collective level of constructs today, let’s go just with the idea that the social construct is only the last layer of the onion of the Reality of that certain subject.

What do I mean with that? There are at least 2 other layers that I am able to identify that might play a role. The most important one is the plain material-reality layer, which I will call Aristotelean for now.  And then there’s the even deeper Platonist layer behind it. (see this post for more on these ideas) We’ll stick with the example of gender here to keep it a bit practical, but the principle is more or less applicable to all kinds of realities.

(Yes, this model might be a 3-way dialectic synthesis of 2 ancient and a modern epistemology, but it’s the only way for me to make sense of Reality. I’m not saying it’s the last word on everything, it’s just the basic framework for a view on Reality that still can be refined a lot.)

Note also that we’re firstly talking about descriptions of reality, but that some take it much further, and see their own constructs or translations of deeper layer as not merely descriptive but also prescriptive. This can get very problematic, also because it often is a layer confusion, but more about that later.

So the 3 layers that I will talk about now are:
1.) the Platonist layer, the a priori part, the Deeper Idea behind something, residing somewhere in a Metaphysical dimension or the mind of God or something like that, or the Tao or Buddha nature layer if we speak from other paradigms, the one which includes the teleological dimension too, and is usually completely denied by materialists and physicalists. The God/Goddess archetypes in certain forms of Wicca are also based in this.

The problem with this layer, as with all absolutes, is that we have no direct access to it, and that we only have translations of it in human modes of interpretation. So while I do think that it is important to acknowledge that there is a Deeper Reality behind male and female, I will hesitate to say anything definitive about it. I almost always disagree with people who think they have something to say about it anyway. Which is why I disagree with C.S. Lewis on gender roles for example… His assertions about gender roles are based in his claims about the Platonic layer of the reality of gender, with which I disagree.

It’s not because something exists that we can say definitive things about it, and these layers of Reality are beyond us, even though they are the source of our Reality as much as the observed regularities we do call the ‘laws of nature’.

(Let’ also for completeness notice here that there is a variation of prescriptive notions of reality that is purely based on the Divine Will, which is very important in certain traditions. Which is where philosophical Nominalism becomes dangerous, but that’s yet again another story)

I know some people will dismiss this layer altogether,because it doesn’t fit into their worldview, but even they have to consider that this layer is heavily assumed by a lot of people, and cannot be translated to ‘social constructs’ in their worldview. We can disagree about whether something is just a social construct or not or even how much of it is, but if we don’t realise that for the other things are a much deeper reality than that we will not even be able to communicate. And even dismissing this layer as an illusion doesn’t mean that the 2 other less otherworldly layers that follow are not at least equally important…

2.) The ‘mundane world’ reality, which I’ve called Aristotelean by lack of a better term. The thingness of the thing that is residing in the physical reality of the thing itself, and not in some world of ideas. There is the reality of people being male and female (or non-binary) that is rooted in the material reality of our bodies, in their differences, in hormones, etc… No matter how much we say ‘mind over matter’, in the end this layer is much more accessible and clearer than the a priori first layer, and while partly under influence of the a posteriori third layer it still is the only actual substantial one. An important part of reality resides in our material dimension.

3.) The outer layer of the ‘social constructs’ of a given society or other human context here. These are a posteriori constructions residing in our common thoughtfield. It is a way to make the reality more concrete in societal norms and pictures, sometimes in not so healthy ways if we take our example of gender and the roles associated with it. It is a layer of interpretation and application, and one that can differ very much from context to context. Let’s also note again that the second and third layer are intertwined and do influence each other. This still doesn’t mean that there’s only one layer. It would be very naive to put everything in either the ‘biological reality’ or “social construct’ category while dismissing the validity of the other category altogether, yet it seems very tempting to do so for some people…

If we keep thee different layer in mind we see several problem that can arise.

Like I said the third layer is a translation and application of the second layer into our human cultures. But most translations that we make of the Aristotelean layer (not to mention the Platonic one) into social constructs are incomplete and unbalanced. They might for example stem from a very narrow sample of the described reality that is seen as normative by a chosen group. In certain milieus extraverted men are highly favoured over male introverts for example, even though those personality traits have nothing to do with sex or gender at all. There is nothing unmasculine about an introvert and deep thinking or even deep feeling man at all. There is a variety of personality types among men and a similar spectrum among women. So linking preferred personality types to some kind of gender essentialism is always bad for those who don’t fit in, for reasons that have nothing with non-gender-binary identity at all. This can be hard for people finding their identity when the roles are mere descriptions, and much worse when they are meant to be prescriptive…

Actually whenever we turn from descriptive to prescriptive there always is a danger already… But I suppose that’s too obvious to go deeper into now.

A last big problem that I will address is the confusion of layers, which is a problem especially in combination with being too prescriptive, and it also makes communication impossible when people assume a certain thing to be in a completely different layer. (Which very often happens in discussions about gender between a certain kind of ‘conservatives’ and a certain kind of ‘progressives’ for example)

A lot of people in more ‘conservative’ mindsets have claimed insights into what I called the Platonic layer throughout the ages to justify mere social constructs as absolutes. Some modernist on the other hand have tried to exaggerate dubious cultural differences (also social construct layer) on biological differences (Aritotelean layer) while that was only half of the story. On the other hand, there are certainly actual differences between men and women (and a minority people who fall outside of the duality) that are located in deeper layers of Reality than just social constructs too. And then there’ the whole ‘gender is only a social construct that ha nothing to do with biological sex’, that’s only confusing stuff even more. Especially because there is nothing left at all to turn to if the constructs one grew up with turned out to be more than problematic and have to be discarded because they did both not correspond enough with reality on the one hand while they did  also create a reality that was very destructive on the other hand. If there’s no deeper reality to which interpretations can be adjusted, not much is left than constructing something by oneself.

Another example of this layer confusion within Christianity can be found in how we read the line from Paul in the bible about ‘doesn’t nature tell us it’s a shame for a man to have long hair’. Any post-enlightenment thinker who has read enough blahblah from the people in recent centuries about ‘natural this’ and ‘natural that’ will interpret ‘nature’ as a deeper layer of at least Aristotelean nature, but from the context it’s clear Paul is talking about what we’d call culture rather than nature, and thus just referring to social constructs of his time and culture. As a man with long hair I have met some weird Christians who told me that my long hair was unnatural and against Gods created order though. (Luckily not often)

I think this was enough for a rant about what I think of when I see the word ‘social construct’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram