Monthly Archives: June 2014

Some random pictures from Antwerp, june ’14


We are planning to move outside of the big city with our little family, and those plans are getting more and more concrete now. It will not be very far from Antwerp, just to Lier, a smaller city just 25 km away from Antwerp and the place where I lived until I was 12. But it will be a big change still since I’ve lived in Antwerp from the moment that I moved out of my parents’ house…

With those things in mind I do look at this city quite differently, more with the eyes of a tourist, noticing things that I never noticed before. I know most of my readers are from all over the world, so I thought they might enjoy some ‘local flavor’ from Antwerp for a change.

Let’s start with Mother Mary. Belgium is historically a very Catholic country, with a lot of catholic churches and building, and also small Mary-statues everywhere in older places. I had never noticed this one before, on a corner of the eiermarkt on a house that is recently restored and turned into a shop for cameras and photograpic equipment and so. It actually does look quite good now they’ve got it cleaned up, not?

DSCF0075
The picture was taken from a place with also a good view on the tower of the cathedral of our lady. (Yes, Belgian Catholics like Mary a lot) which is more than 100 m high:DSCF0073
There are more interesting churches in the old center, like this one called ‘Carolus Boromeus’ a few streets further on the Conscienceplein:
DSCF0081But Antwerp is not just a city of old churches. This here is the famous café ‘de muze’ (the muse) where good live-jazz can be heard if you go there on the right time. It also has some fine Belgian beers. In the sixties it used to be quite an infamous a rough place where the weirdest of hippies came together to do their weird and possibly illegal hippie things, but nowadays it’s completely harmless and family-friendly. May ’68 is a long time ago…
DSCF0080We do have other gods too here on the old continent. Somewhere in this ‘skyline under construction’ you will find a statue of Neptunus, the god of the sea, for example:

DSCF0098And what would a city be without shopping streets. This is the beginning of the famous ‘Meir’, where cars are not allowed during the day, but bicycles are, and they seem to be present in large quantities today:
DSCF0088‘And this here is the ‘police tower’, which looks a bit like the upper parts of some subterranean alien spaceship to me:
DSCF0091Speaking of crime and aliens, this thing seems to say that the backstreet boys are touring an will be in the Benelux… The rest is for the graffitiologists among my readers…
DSCF0093 And this is also for the grafittiologist, from the prison walls, in French:DSCF0094And then an impression from the pre-metro (underground tramline) station Groenplaats close to the cathedral. Gives you the safe big city feel, not?
DSCF0040Back to more interesting stuff for tourist: In this place in the middle you find something Belgium seems to be famous for among Americans and other tourists from faraway. I let you guess yourself what I’m talking about…
DSCF0087I wouldn’t go there for the coffee though, but get it directly from a good barrista (my friend Mangoo from Cuperus coffee made this one. I can recommend to drink your coffee there if you ever are in Antwerp! It’s in a street called Katelijnevest.)
DSCF0083And to finish a picture of how it looks from out of our window:
DSCF0003I will miss our apartment and the city in general when we finally move out later this summer, but it’s really time to move on

peace

Bram

(We’ll continue next week with my explorations of the occult world, unless I get back at sexism or another topic hits me in the face. <— Man, that sentence is kinda creepy…)

 

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On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…


Yes, I know I had planned to not interact that much any more to whatever the American Christian blogosphere gets riled up about, but I’m going to break that rule for one time now, even though this post is probably a bad idea.  I do know the John Piper bloke is big in certain circles, but he does not concern me much personally. I have written about him in the context of sexism in North American evangelicalism earlier, but overall he’s not someone that has much impact on me nor does interest me that much generally, but I want to react to one of his recent writings.

(To not have too much controversy I will probably add one post with pictures of Antwerp before I go back to the occult. Oh and I did recieve a book called ‘a farewell to Mars’ that looks interesting even without featuring any Martians… Why can’t I just blog about more regular things?)

Some people in some facebook groups were reacting against one of his recent writings (a transcript of some king of talk more specifically) about nudity and the popular series ‘Game of thrones’.  Now I neither read the GoT books nor watched the series, and I don’t really intend to. This has several reasons, the first of which being that I have a reading and watching list that’s full enough already with much more interesting stuff. The second reason seems to be (if I understand people who like it well) that the background philosophy seems to be something like ‘there is no good and evil, only power, and those who are too weak to get it’. Yes, I actually I do quote professor Quirrel here from the first Harry Potter book. And I do note that Harry Potter rejects that way of thinking without even considering it. There’s enough of that stuff in world politics, and it’s not what I turn to fantasy for. The third reason why I’m not really interested would be that I hear that there’s a lot of sexual violence in it. I don’t enjoy stories with too much sexual violence AT ALL.

Since Piper most probably hasn’t seen any GoT himself, and I did read his article 12 questions to ask before you watch game of thrones, I do feel sort of qualified to comment on some things in the article (though not on GoT).

I must tolkienpipesay that he makes some interesting points here and there, and actually goes back and forth from saying stuff I agree with to things that make me think ‘Dude, what did you put in your pipe, is it an old Toby from the Shire or rather a fine Moroccan hashish? Some of his questions are interesting, some seem a bit besides the point, and others come with an explanation that I just disagree with or find completely irrelevant:

Am I Recrucifying Christ?
Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?
When Will I Tear Out My Eye, If Not Now?
Is It Not Satisfying to Think on What Is Honorable?
Am I Longing to See God?
Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?
Would I Be Glad If My Daughter Played This Role?
Am I Assuming Nudity Can Be Faked?
Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?
Am I Assuming Nudity Is Necessary for Good Art?
Am I Craving Acceptance?
Am I Free from Doubt?

Actually apart from the article and GoT a lot of these questions are worth meditating on in genera. But what I want to react to is his general reaction to nudity. I do believe as a Christian that pornography is wrong for several reasons. I can argue from the words of Jesus that adultery in your head is sill a sin, and I would add even whether the other person exists or not. (Which is probably quite extreme a teaching for some in this world, but I stand by it. Yes I can be pretty ‘conservative’ indeed…)
Also, the porn industry is quite exploitive towards women and human beings in general. All of which are made in Gods image. Not only is reducing people to sex objects with a camera dehumanising, making people of the other sex watch it and reduce themselves to such things is equally dehumanising.

The thing is that John Piper seems to assume that all nudity automatically works pornographic:

Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:28–29). Seeing naked women — or seeing naked men — causes a man or woman to sin with their minds and their desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent lust, how much more would he say: “Don’t watch it!”

I’ve seen this approach more, both from certain Christians of a more fundamentalist ilk and certain Muslims, but I don’t believe in it. I do not believe at all that men automatically have to sin when they see a naked female body, and can’t do anything about it, although I can’t rule out that some men are probably indeed conditioned that way. (I say conditioned, so I do not at all mean hardwired here, but programmed: In some culture women walk around with naked breasts all the time without anyone seeing it as sexual at all, while in other cultures seeing just the unscarfed loose hair is considered too sexy for a man to handle and keep his self-control…)

I’m sorry, no matter what some mega-selling books claim to be ‘every man’s battle’, I’m not free from flaws and sinful thoughts in the area of sexuality, but no, I do not just automatically want to have sex with a women when I see her without clothes in a movie. I don’t picture me and her having sex just because she’s unclad or scantily clad. Yikes. What an idea… Just as I do not want to have sex with a woman I see in real life just because I notice how attractive she is. (Actually clothes don’t have to make that much of a difference here anyway. The ‘lustful lecher’ type will be doing the same when they see people they find sexy even when fully clothed.)

Yes, sex scenes in movies are arousing and sometimes IT IS better to look away, I won’t argue with that. Completely agree. Watching people having sex or faking to have sex is maybe generally not always the best idea. (Although it is not so far-stretched to just want your OWN partner in such a moment, not the people pictured, I’d say.)
Assuming that people will automatically sin when they see a nude person of the sex they’re attracted to shows probably just too much faith in ‘total depravity’ for me. Moreover, if I were from a tribe that walks around naked with even caring about one breast more or less it would be one more case of telling Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk. Even to me this article already feels a bit like it.

And here we come to the problem that porn often lies in the eyes (and mind, and hormones) of the beholder, so this is a difficult discussion… I can’t argue with other peoples POV, but I would be very glad if they do not project their own experiences on the rest of the world either…

It’s probably true that nudity in GoT is used a lot for sex scenes or otherwise voyeuristic purposes, but apart from this, there is no reason at all to always see nudity as sexual. It’s in fact quite dehumanising (speaking as a heterosexual male here, substitute whatever gender applicable if your situation is different if you find this hard to read otherwise) to directly reduce the nude female body to something solely sexual. Censoring breastfeeding for example has very perverse ideas behind it for me, breasts are meant for breastfeeding and sexualising it is quite sick in my opinion.

100_1594Maybe it’s because I am the grandson of the late semi-famous painter Willie Cools, known for his abstract female nudes (that are not and have never been sexually arousing to me at all, no matter what other thing one could say about them) but I think it’s totally overblown to say ‘nudity = pornography, always’ I have seen a lot of classical paintings and sculptures with female nude in my life, and again, most of them are not that sexually arousing as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe it’s not that weird to not equate all nudity (or all female nudity, our society does seem quite asymmetrical here) with porn. I’d rather just think our culture’s attitude towards nudity is unhealthy. There is a lot of evidence that the first Christians practised nude baptism for all believers without anything like this discussion at all…

I thus assume we better reframe one of Pipers questions here, and not ask “Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?” but whether we are able to see the image of God in every person we might dehumanise. This might be the case with sexy models as I’ve written about earlier, and for said nudes here, but it applies far outside the category of ‘sexually tempting’ to any person we deem less than human, because they are in our eyes, too poor, too ugly, too different, whatever…

We need to have the eyes of Christ, who was a friend of prostitutes without looking down on them nor looking at them for their sexiness. We should indeed not look at people with lust and reduce them to sex objects in our head, but it’s much more healthy to be able to see some nudity every now and then when we stumble upon it without going completely crazy about it than assume that every time we see a female body we need to think about having sex with them and ‘can’t help it because we’re wired that way’. Such an approach will never be helpful at all.

Another thing that does concern me about the article is that the issue of sexual violence is not addressed. I hope it’s because Piper doesn’t know enough about GoT -I can’t imagine him watching/reading it at all-, and not because for some reason nudity seems much more of a problem than sexual violence (in which case the term ‘rape culture’ would be more than appropriate).

Also, one last thing is that I am more than a bit confused by the ‘violence can be faked and nudity not, so watching violence is OK and nudity isn’t’. Come on, what kind of an argument is that? Does that mean that pornographic manga or computer-generated realistic images of nudes are okay then? I disagree on both accounts: nudity isn’t automatically evil, nor is violence ‘not a problem’ when it is faked.

Some people will not be able to see nudity, whether real or not (or in certain cultures bare ankles or loose hair) without falling into ‘lust’. Just a a lot of people get very unhealthy and sinful kicks out of watching violence (even if fake). Killing humans (made in the imago of God, or representing humanity which is made in the image of God) is one of the most severe sins one can do, and portraying it should always done with a lot of consideration, whether it is fake or real isn’t even the issue. Just as with sexy manga the sinful reaction is present will be completely the same…

what do you people think?

Bram

So why is there no ‘occult-mergent’?


A fea new kindw years ago I was interested in something I found on the internet that was called the ’emerging church conversation’, also sometimes dubbed the ’emergent’ movement. Being quite postmodern myself and an evangelical Christian of sorts (I still am both btw!), I learned a lot from it, and I can’t deny that some books and blogs I’ve read in that time were very important for me to become the Christian I am now. I think for example of Brian McLaren’s ‘new kind of Christian’ trilogy, and blogs that seem non-active now like Kingdom Grace, subversive influence, and the indestructible Tall Skinny Kiwi, and so on… It seemed to me that there was an interesting movement of more postmodern Christianity coming that went back to the core of what it is to follow Jesus.

But that was some years ago. And time is a train that makes the future the past, as a guy with weird sunglasses once sung… At the moment to me it seems like there’s not much left of what used to be called ‘the emerging church’, and the thing that goes on under the second name ’emergent’ doesn’t feel the same to me. It seems like the whole emergent scene (and sometimes whatever ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be too) has just become some very American kind of theological liberalism 2.0. And to be honest, it’s overall just too modern and myopically academically Western to me, and I find American ‘liberal PC’ generally just annoying. I’ve lost interest in most things under that label a while ago, approximately since the Tall Skinny Kiwi more or less said goodbye to emergent himself.  (He is back to blogging btw after a break of a year, and just wrote a piece about him killing the emergent church that’s very interesting if you get all the insider stuff…)

To me as an outsider it seems like the scene has both died out slowly and moved further from both Christianity and even postmodernism as I am able recognise them as a lost postmodern Christian myself. There’s a lot of ‘hyphenated’ – mergent groups left though, label, from anglimergent, baptimergent and the more recent charismegent group on FB, as well as queermergent and sceptimergent. The latter one (if I understand it well) being a group for people transitioning from Christianity to what’s called ‘scepticism’ in modern newspeak. (see also this for my thoughts on the state of contemporary ‘scepticism’) This is not that exceptional, it seems that for a lot of people the ’emergence’ has not just been into ‘a new kind of Christianity’ (which is not that new after all sometimes) but also outside of Christianity into things that mostly seem to fall into new incarnations of the same old enlightenment tradition, that’s actually not new at all in any way either… Darling you’re so unoriginal… Which is not at all what I was looking for, as a postmodern Christian who is trying to broaden his scope outside of our myopic Western modernist views and who was hoping for something beyond the modern liberal/conservative dichotomies… It’s more like the opposite of what I was looking for actually… Liberal humanism isn’t very new nor exiting to me as a European either…

Anyway, there is a question that has been bothering me, and that is probably closely related to the way the whole emergent stuff ended up completely enlightenmentified. Why is there after the demise of the original ’emerging church’ a lot of ‘neo-enlightenment-mergent’ stuff left under different names, but not for example an occult-mergent? Why if we are so progressive and open no intersections with for example neo-pagans or even buddhists? Why with a culture that goes in the direction of ‘spiritual, not religious’ no newage-mergent? Why is there talk about inclusion of muslims, but rejection of all forms of Christianity that are much less ‘conservative’ than most muslims I’ve met? Why does it all have to come down to ‘neo-enlightenmentism’ that is academically acceptable and so very purely Western (even with all the ‘white people bashing’ in certain corners)? Where is the dialogue with less Western worldviews, less materialist/naturalist ideas about the nature of, eh, nature, and people who don’t fit the zeitgeist in that way? Why does it seem like everything in the new emergent is emerging into less spiritual and more antisupernatural domains while even a lot of non-Christians aren’t going there?

Yes, my more neutral use of the word ‘occult’ in the original sense of ‘the hidden/invisible part of creation is not common and the word does have a lot of bad connotations, not without reasons even. One could think that no-one before me did ever come up with a world like ‘occultmergent’ (according to google I’m the only one to use it, as an unofficial title for a series of posts in my year of demodernisation. I wouldn’t be so stupid to use it as a nmae for a website or organisation…) because it is just the perfect bait for heresy-hunters, and that my quest for a more balanced view of the ‘invisible world’ is completely misguided and potentially dangerous, but I refuse to believe it’s more misguided than marrying Christianity to too much academically approved zeitgeist-cuddling enlightenment-thought, 21th  century edition. A lot of ‘occult’ and esotheric traditions do have more faith in God than modernist scepticism will ever have, and much more Christian influence than we’d like to see anyway. Most classical occultists and stuff like the golden dawn and a lot of other esotheric orders (and Islam) are still a lot closer to Christianity in worldview than Richard Dawkins will ever be…

The thing about a more open ‘occultmergent’ approach would be that it would be much more relevant to a lot of people I know. I know that a lot of Western people live in a completely non-magical world (I will write more about that idea later if I find the time) but the invisible world is very much a reality for a lot of people outside the Western world, and in the Western world outside of academia too. I have met and know a lot of people outside of Christianity who are interested in the invisible world and actively engaging with it, and not always in healthy ways. (same for some Christians actually) People experimenting with a lot of stuff that the ‘sceptics’ would never believe in but are still real (even if all of our human explanations and systems of thought about it are completely wrong) There is a lot of interest in the ‘occult’, and the ‘spiritual’, and there’s a lot of people into this kind of stuff.

A lot of them are not that disinterested in talking with me about it, although the black and white pentecostal demonology that I’ve inherited would completely put them off (and isn’t at all that relevant sometimes), but naturalistic enlightenmentism is also completely out of the question for anyone who has active experience with the invisible world. It’s like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals can’t talk, and will never be able to talk. You will not convince them without destroying their existence…

And yes, even though I would like to see a more nuanced view than ‘everything outside the laws of nature is demonic’, I do know that the realm of ‘the occult’ is dangerous, especially for those who have no experience with it all. I also know that although it’s not all superstition as we moderns tell ourselves before we enter the heart of darkness and can’t deny it any longer, but there’s a lot of nonsense, exaggerations and very weird explanations of the invisible too. But in the end it’s much closer to any ‘biblical worldview’ (if such a thing exists) to accept the reality of the invisible world than to parrot our current Western ignorance on these things.

So what do you people think? What am I missing? Where am I wrong?

Bram

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