Monthly Archives: August 2014

We’re one, but we’re not the same… (or how different identity doesn’t have to mean violence!)


krishnamurti
I regularly see this quote together with this picture on facebook, sometimes in certain groups, sometimes posted by people on their wall. It’s from the Indian Spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), the guy on the picture, and it interesting to ponder about for a moment, so I’ll give it here:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

Did you read it and take your time to think about it?

Interesting quote, and good one to investigate the complications of this line of thinking. I can already say that completely disagree with it, and I do think there is something very dangerous in this line of thought.

It is true that people regularly do use their identity to separate themselves from the rest of mankind, and that can easily lead to violence. I completely agree that this is a problem.

Where I completely disagree is with his solution and conclusions. Krishamurti seemingly wants to erase all identity because the violence lies in accepting that we are different. This will never work, since we ARE different already, and we can never be the same. That would need denial of both our indentity and that of the other, and does only erase ourselves.

People in Belgium have a different culture from people in India. We don’t have to hide that. Christians and muslims and hindus believe different things about God. We should not ignore that. We all look different, have different styles of clothes and hair and music and so on.

We should not ignore our differences. I’m not even sure it would lead to less violence. And besides, we do not have to be all the same. We have to understand and celebrate our differences. The problem is not that we are different, the problem is that we are stupid enough to think that differences have to lead to violence. Difference is actually not something that we need to overcome to find harmony, but it is essential. To quote Dolores Nurss one of my facebook-friends who is a lot wiser than me:

“The problem does not lie in there being Self and Other. The problem lies in assuming that Self and Other must conflict. Separation is indeed an illusion, but another name for Illusion is Art. The story of separation opens up a space for love.”

Surely we should be ‘concerned with the total understanding of mankind’, but we do have an identity, and everybody is different. There is no neutral, and every view is from a certain point of view. We cannot have a total view, and will never be unbiased. (No matter how much we tell ourselves and other that we are!) Our identity will always influence our way of interpreting the world and react towards it.

The total understanding of mankind will be an understanding of all men together or it will just understand nothing and project some pseudoplatonic ideal unto ‘man’ that is just made in the image and liking of whoever came up with it. We cannot understand mankind apart from all our differences…

Erasing differences, especially if we want to replace them all by some superior neutral position we think we have becomes only one more exercise in violently trying to take away the identity of the other and put our own in its place. But if you’re convinced of your own ‘neutrality’ as most moderns are you aren’t even able to see that.

Take for example the modern approach to religion that way too often just ends u up in saying ‘all religions are essentially the same, and they ultimately have the purpose to teach this one thing, which almost always is the thing the speaker himself does believe… How can this not be self-deceit. The religions are not the same, cannot be the same, and just saying they are all the same does not take them serious at all.

Differences do not have to lead to separation, they are just needed to be able to be together as a whole.

Every ecosystem on earth consists of a lot of very different species. All of them are different, all of them are needed. And then there are different ecosystems too. All kinds of differences. And yes, nature is more violent than rational beings created in the Imago Dei are supposed to be, but even in the violence of nature there is harmony, and the differences are needed. (Think also about what Paul of Tarsus says in the Christian scriptures about the church being a body, and every bodypart being needed. A body cannot be only eye or only nosehair…)

The story of separation opens up a space for love.”

That’s also why the trinity is such an interesting Christian doctrine: 3 persons in one Supreme being, being one and three at the same time, completely relational and loving towards each other in perichoresis.

And this caleidoscope of diversity is part of the Christian vision. All of it is to become part of the Divine Vision. In the last book of the New Testament, John the revelator describes a very diverse crowd:

9 After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands, 10 as they shouted,

“Our God, who sits
upon the throne,
has the power
to save his people,
and so does the Lamb.”
 
So all races, tribes, nations and languages are welcome, as they are before Gods throne. They don’t have to become something they are not. God does not want everyone to become like Westerners or American or moderns or medievals… God loves the diversity.
 
God loves the unfolding diversity of creation, and of humanity. We don’t have to be the same, don’t have to become the same. We don’t have to be molded to some ‘neutral’ standard that is illusory anyway.And we definitely do not need to let our differences lead to violence and separation.
 
That is an insult to creation…
 
What do you people think?

10 books that stayed with me throughout the years…


This was a Facebook meme, but since things disappear faster into nothingness on Facebook than on this humble blog I will post it here too in an ‘extended remix’ with some description for each book in the top-ten.

This was the original FB meme, stolen from a FB friend -I wasn’t tagged myself-:

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. These are in no particular order. Tag 10 friends, including me so I can see your list.

So I made a list of 10 books that stayed with me. A very diverse list:

Astrid Lindgren – Ronja Rôvardotter
RonjaOne of the books I remember from when I was a child, and one that I’ve reread several as an adult. I also own the Swedish series on DVD.  A story about a young girl living in a magical forests, 2 competing clans of robbers, and love and friendship. You should just read it.

Franquin – Guust Flater (Gaston Lagaffe) series 
Comic series about the completely un-heroic office helper Guust, who is also a crazy inventor.  Maybe I’m too much like him sometimes.

David Wilkerson – the cross and the switch-blade
As a pentecostal kid I read a lot of Christian books, a lot of which I’ve completely forgotten by now and which would not interest me at all anymore. But this story about an American rural preacher who goes to the gangs of New York to preach about the love of Jesus to the unlovable whom no-one wants will always stay with me. It showed me something bigger than this world, and bigger than the meaningless priorities of humans. It made me go on a search for what it means to love God above all and love my neigbor as myself, a search that isn’t finished yet…

Antoine de St-Exupéry – Le petit prince
Not much comment, just read it, if you can in French. If you don’t understand why I like it there’s no way I can ever explain it..

J.R.R. Tolkien – the hobbit
Yes, I like fairytales, and I like ‘the hobbit’ a bit more than LOTR, although that’s very brilliant too. Not much explanation needed I think.

David Quammen – the song of the dodo
This is also a book that everybody should read. About the scientific field of island biogeography, evolution and extinction. But also filled with very interesting anecdotes about weird species, strange scientists and the life story of Wallace, who was working on the same theory of evolution as Darwin and possibly was kind of ripped off by him.
One of the few books I read about evolution in my teenage years that were fascinating (The other one would be Stephen Jay Goulds ‘Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History “, both are much more convincing that any 6-day-creationist I’ve ever read.)

Bill Watterson – Calvin & Hobbes series
Another comic, and one of the most brilliant ones ever made.

C.S. Lewis – the abolition of man
A lot of Lewis’ books stayed with me, but this weird, sometimes almost unreadable philosophical tract might have had even more influence on me in the end than the others. It put things into words that I felt but could not name. But the guy has written a lot of stuff that has influenced me a lot. (The thing I disagree most about with him is gender roles though). It’s probably Lewis who has helped me to not get too modernised..

Shane Claiborne – the irresistible revolution
And here we enter the new millennium, and my clumsy search for love that is more real than anything we can make up as humans.  I was deep into investigating Christian anarchism for a while (Ellul didn’t make this list, but het would be in a top-50).  Shane Claiborne, a dreadlocked new monastic was a bit more practical and down-to-Earth. He also is an amazing storyteller and one of the other examples of people who have sparks of the ‘love that is bigger than anyone we know’ in their life.

Terry Prachett – small gods
Terry Prachett is unique as a fantasy-writer. His books are completely weird sometimes and you shouldn’t take anything serious, way too funny and very intelligent. A lot of stuff to think about though in this one that really expanded my way of thinking about the spiritual world. (And the concept of slavery). Not for anyone with no sense or humour or for anyone who’s easily offended.

Strange and slightly inconsistent list  now I come to think about it…

Note that I wrote the title in the original language, no matter in which language I read the book. Several of them I have read in 2 languages anyway.

Note also that they are more or less in the order that I read them in my life, and that  I’ve read all of them  except for 2 in for the first time the last millennium. The exceptions are “the irresistible revolution’ in the ’00’s and ‘small gods’ in the ’10’s.

And lastly note that I did include comics but not the bible -don’t ask why-, and only added one book/series per author, otherwise it would have been mostly Tolkien ans Lewis. Runner-ups would be more C.S. Lewis books, The Lord of the rings, the Harry Potter series, the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the Edda, the Flora of the Netherlands and Belgium, Karl May’s Winnetou I, some Brian McLaren and Neil Postman’s ‘amusing ourselves to death’.

And oh, the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy.

Strange how no book originally written in my own language ended up in the list.  English, French, German and Swedish but no Dutch. I have to think about what exactly that means. I’ve read a lot of interesting Flemish books as a kid (René Swartenbroekx, Jan Terlouw, Thea Beckman, …) that I might need to reread; But they didn’t stay with me.

Also, 9 women and one man. None of my big Ursula Le Guin books made the list for some reason .

so do you have an interesting list?

peace

Bram

Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…


Today I’m going back to the subject of capitalism being the antithesis of Christianity… I read a blog comment that made me understand something that I’ve been trying to get into words for a while now. It is probably related to my never-finished series about Christianity and capitalism, although I wasn’t planning to write on that topic right now. The blog post was called ‘Is Capitalism Un-Biblical’ by Christian Piatt. I do believe it is, but there wasn’t that much in the post that was very new to me although it was not a bad read at all. The question itself is very ‘duh’ to me, I’ve never believed that capitalism was compatible with Christianity in the first place, and I’ve never trusted it more than the atrocity that communism became in the 20th century either. But there was a comment by someone called ‘belovedspear’ that made me connect some dots:

A peculiarity of capitalism is that abundance–those times when creation pours out God’s bounty–is a disaster. Take this year’s corn harvest, for example. It’s been a bumper year, with tremendous yields. That means wreck and ruin for farmers, whose crops won’t sell for enough to pay off the debt-loads on their half-million dollar harvesters. We human beings are such strange, strange creatures.

Christianity sees abundance as a part of shalom, or a very holistic state of peace with God, and everyone and everything else. Part of that shalom is an economy of abundance, in which everyone has enough.

Our current system (that I call ‘capitalism’ here by lack of a better name) built on ‘the logic of the market’ does the opposite. not only is ‘scarcity’ the basic idea behind it, but it also has the worst way imaginable to handle abundance. The idea that everyone has enough is actually destructive to the capitalism that we have today.

A very big evil is that if we do have abundance, the market goes bad, like the commenter describes. If farmers produce too much of something, what one would expect is that either it would be stored in some way for years of less produce (think about the biblical story of Joseph) or distributed to those who need it, or used for something else or… So that that abundance can be shared as a blessing.

Nope, abundance is a curse for the market and sharing would be a sin…

So what we actually do is to destroy it because the market demands so.

Perfectly good fruit, milk, crops, whatever, is destroyed every year here in the EU because of technicalities about price and markets. And all the while other people are dying of hunger on the same planet.

And we call ourselves civilised people and think that we’re so much smarter and better than the people before us…

I’ve always seen this as evil. I’ve only never before today made the connection with exactly how antithetical all of this is to the biblical idea of abundance.

Anyway, destroying anything that is good because of market technicalities is ridiculous, anti-christ (and anti-humanist) and more than very bad logic. It’s idolatry. The value of the goods is less important than the ideological idols of ‘the market’;  and its supposed rules which become more important than anything. And so everything else needs to be sacrificed because of these abstract rules that only exist in the realm of the abstract and the ideological, and will only manifest themselves in the real world if we believe in them and want them to be true…

The idea that anything should be destroyed because the market ‘demands it’ is an abomination, and a sign that all this worship of this all-important market entity is not compatible with commons sense or Christianity. It is idolatry of the worst sort!

No matter how much people you quote and how much theories you make to defend this weird evil, it won’t fly. It’s dangerous nonsense, as dangerous, destructive and irrational as the idea that whatever god wants to have human sacrificed. Destroying good things because ‘the market needs it’ is a a sacrifice, and an insult to creation and humanity. And one of the signs that we are not smarter than people in any other time who had lots of other dumb ideas…

But on the other hand, the geocentric Ptolemaic cosmology has never hurt or starved anyone… A lot of the ‘unscientific’ ‘superstitions’ are completely harmless, while this kind of nonsense destroys good things, and human lives.

What do you people think?

shalom

Bram

 

On my problematic relationship with American post-fundamentalism…


There was a small blog silence here lately because I did move with my family from the city of Antwerp to the much smaller city of Lier, about which I might write more later, living in a pile of boxes waithing for the internet to be connected for a while. Now that things are becoming a tiny bit more stabilised I feel like writing again. And I thought I might  start with a short standalone post that I’ve been thinking of writing for a while now, about my weird online relationships with American ex- and postfundamentalist Christians. If I’d only be able to write short posts…

As a blogger who likes to write about religion (among other things) as a ‘post-evangelicalish evangelical’ I’ve been reading a lot of Christian blogs and articles, and a lot of them (in the English language) seem to come from the US. Which is sometimes problematic… (see also this post)

The US has a very different culture from Belgium, and sometimes it is hard to even understand certain views and reactions from either the ‘conservative’ or the ‘liberal’ side. Both don’t make sense to me sometimes, especially as a dichotomy. (Living in a land where ‘liberals’ and ‘socialists’ are the opposite of each other alone might make it hard to take American dichotomies very serious anyway…)

I might be an evangelical, but I don’t really have a fundamentalist background not do I always understand American culture. I did grow up in secular Flanders, in a post-catholic world in the last stages of the great American 20th century dechristianisation. (watch out America, you will have yours very soon!) My pentecostal background might have had some fundamentalist influences sometimes here and there that I lost along the way long ago myself, but still I find it hard and sometimes impossibfundamentalsle to understand American fundamentalism, or the ‘photo-negative’ version a lot of ex-fundamentalist bloggers seem to have (I’m not thinking of you here) that is as difficult to understand from a  non-fundamentalist POV as fundamentalism itself and completely tied to it, no matter how ‘liberal’.

(As I grew up in a secular country there is nothing new or exiting about atheism and stuff like that. Seen a lot of it and it never could interest me. It’s just another rusty tradition to me, with boring old farts in it -I think of our Belgian Etienne Vermeersch now for example-, but I’m sure it’s very new and exiting if you just escaped from a secluded world of fundamentalism… Grass-is-greener effects always work!)

What I find the most difficult to understand are people who find identity in what they are reacting against. If I feel no connection with fundamentalism, I won’t feel more connection to the opposite version of it. Invert black and white in a picture and you don’t get another picture, but the same version only in negative version. You can have adaptations of you picture all you want, but it will never be a new picture. And if there is one thing that moving beyond fundamentalism requires it’s finding a new picture, and a better story.

If all you have to say is just an anti-these to what you grew up with, you will just end up with a worldview parasitic to what you’re trying to get away from, and a parasite can never survive without its host…

The worst here is the ‘guilt by association’ tactics.  Some people seem to use those with anything that could also be said by fundamentalists. Yes, fundamentalists have a lot of things wrong, but they also will have a lot of things right like all humans. Saying ‘fundamentalists say this too’ to discredit something is pure nonsense, just as using that same logical fallacy with atheists or anyone else. It’s not because Hitler loved his dogs that dogs are of the devil. Guilt-by-association and ‘saying this could be linked to Y’ are always very nasty logical fallacies! No matter if Y are liberals, the papists of the Spanish inquisition, Lacanists, muslims or liberal/fundamentalist Americans.

This does not mean that I do not enjoy reading the writings of some very interesting ex/post-fundamentalist American Christians. (Like Lana Hope and Elizabeth Esther for example). If people go beyond the problems of the fundamentalist worldview and find a bigger picture, I can get into their thoughts and learn a lot from them.

I do recognise that everyone has a context and that no-one writes in a vacuum,  and I am willing to learn about every culture, be it American fundies or lost jungle tribes, but if people just invert their fundamentalism (or construct an inverted fundamentalism as some new atheists do) and promote that as universal they can only lose me. It’s not a break with fundamentalism at all for me either…  And completely irrelevant if you’re not from a fundamentalist background…

what do you people think?

peace

Bram