Monthly Archives: September 2013

Short thoughts on the futility of language


Rosetta_Stone

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

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

The question is how to find this balance… Continue reading

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


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

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

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

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

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

I just wouldn’t!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace

Bram

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

Another side of the situation for Christians in Egypt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bram

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace

Bram

So what exactly are ‘whites’ supposed to be?


I see that my post about racism against white people is still read regularly, one of my most-read posts even, and I want to explore the issue of racism more in some future posts.

I’ve been thinking and discussing this subject since writing this and come to the conclusion that the use of the word ‘white’ by Americans is still a complete  mystery to me. So I want to make clear before you read this that I use the expression ‘white people’ just for the plain meaning of “light-skinned specimens of Homo sapiens” (as we native Europeans are), and the word ‘race’ for a group of humans with the same biological characteristics  like skin color, eye form, etc…’ I actually have no concept for the ‘race as a social construct’ idea the way some Americans use it, coming from a continent of native white people myself, where white people have been killing, hating, oppressing, enslaving, and so on for the last thousand years for differences like culture, language, tradition, religion, place of birth or clan-ancestry, and where ‘whiteness’ is not the defining and most relevant issue unlike in our former colonies where it is very important.

North-America has (very simplified) the situation in which 3 groups of white colonists/former slave masters, conquered natives and former slaves are each ‘racially’ very distinct from each other, just as the Mexican immigrants, so the connection of those groups with ‘race’ and using the color as name of the group is relevant over there, but not always in other contexts, like on the native continent of white people where a lot of groups exist that are racially the same and have a lot of other differences that matter much more.

Also, I do not believe (from all the racists and racism I’ve seen here in Belgium) in the relevance any meaningful concept of specifically ‘white privilege’ over here, as Americans use the term. There is no real ‘we-group’ of ‘white people’ against the rest here for most people, the ‘we’-group is much smaller and more specific, and ‘race’ in itself (in any meaningful definition of that word) is not the defining factor. People of other colors can be much more ‘in’ the we-group (example: an adopted black person with Flemish name) than white people that are very unlike us(example: East-European poor immigrant not knowing the language and cultural customs)
We just sometimes have a dicriminating system based ‘native privilege’: This is our country, our language, our culture: the more ‘like us’ you are, the more privilege you get, the more you are different and behave different, the more you will be ‘out’. (In a way, many things called racism over here are more some sort of pseudo-racism which is equally bad: discrimination on being culturally different. I would like to reserve the word ‘racism’ itself for discriminating people because of racial (biologically) difference, discrimination of muslims (who can be of all races) for example is a big problem and injustuce, but not real racism. Using the term too sloppily might make it problematic to confront real racism where it exists and still is a life-destroying problem!)

I’ll blog more about this later. The first post will be about my own story of how I became aware of the problem of racism and discrimination as a kid.

peace

Bram