Category Archives: christian life

Conversion


Conversion is more than a change in direction, it’s a change in connection. (Frank Viola & Len Sweet’)

I was recently re-reading the introduction to A Jesus Manifesto jesusmanifestby Frank Viola and Len Sweet, a book that urges Christians to put Christ at the centre of their faith in very powerful language, when my eye fell a sentence which seemed to be filing in a gap in my thoughts somewhere, even though I can’t even exactly say why. But it did remind me that there are much more different factors in conversion than most people think of….

Conversion is more than a change in direction, it’s a change in connection.

Conversion, often simply seen as the change of religion, which can be more accurately be described as the turning towards Something Higher that hadn’t an important place in someones life before, deeply impacts a person, and it does not happen overnight. One does not just become a Christian, or Marxist, or modern Pagan, or very convinced atheist without changes on different levels or domains of their lives.

There are at least 4 different levels that I will explore in this post.
Edit: Note that I’m only talking about the individual level here, and thus about conversion of a human being in one lifetime, not of his family or culture over the generations…. Shifting baseline is a very strong factor here, and things like forced conversions will play out very differently over a longer time and beyond individuals… Even the kakure kirishitans are not recognisable as Catholics anymore…

Intellectual acceptance of information
This is the lowest level of what happens during conversion, and if it happens it’s  not actually a conversion at all yet. Just accepting information as true in the abstract can be a step in a conversion, but it’s not at all the most important thing, even though some atheists and Christian apologists use all their energy to work on this domain. At least that that’s what I would conclude from the way they try to convert people by using a lot of reasoning and logic.(I suppose  personality type is very important here too.)

The issue is that belief and faith are not the same thing at all. Belief is accepting information, while faith is trusting Someone/something. Americans who have faith in the constitution don’t believe that the document exists, but that it is important, and that it should be followed because it will bring liberty for all and yadda yadda… Christians should have faith in God, and thus trust God to take care for them in some kind of way. (See psalm 23 for example) Mere belief in something that goes against the naturalist worldview is not ‘religion’ at all. It is often part of religion, but some people can have just a very intuitive connection to God (or another deity) with no concrete beliefs at all, only a deep natural connection. That’s what faith is, not just ticking the box before every line of the creed…

Acceptance of a Reality in a Paradigm shift
This is a step deeper, and goes beyond the rational to the acceptance of a Reality that is percieved in one way of the other, and thus accepted. Often a paradigm shift happens when the data don’t seem to fit with the beliefs held, and the old worldview is rendered obsolete by the actual world as encountered by the person. This is often not a choice, but a realisation that just needs to be surrendered to.

On the other hand, just accepting a reality does not convert anyone either. I can believe_800happily accept the existence of Loki, fairies, or the information in Marx’ das kapital’ without converting to anything at all. A lot of people believe in God, not just as information but a knowledge of a Reality, without doing anything with it.
That’s no conversion at all yet.
Only if I make a connection and change my life towards one of the things I’ve acknowledged as a reality I really convert myself..

Polytheists are very interesting in this regard. They acknowledge the existence all kinds of gods, but that doesn’t mean that their path involves all of them. The polytheist will have connection with certain gods or deities and not with others that are as real to them, just as a human I do have friendship with certain people and not with others, even though I do completely believe in their existence…

So what’s needed for a real conversion is not just accepting how reality is, but aligning ourselves with that Reality.

Change in direction
So a  change in direction is what is often seen as a definition of conversion. You change your ways, and thus convert. ‘Repent and follow me’ is what Jesus said.
But there is a-one problem: this still can be completely outward, or in other words, fake. One can pretend to convert, and change outward ways without having any conversion at all.

Forced conversions for example are often lacking in this area. People are outwardly converting to the new religion, and become nominal Christians, or Marxists, or Muslims, but in their heart and behind closed door they remain connected to their old gods or God. Crypto-paganism probably lived on underground for centuries after the moment when Christians or Muslims made their religion the State religion.

The same has happened with Christians under rule of other religions that 330px-Maria_Kannonexpected them to convert, sometimes under threat of death too. The Japanese kakure kirishitans are a fascination excample of that: the Japanese Catholic Church went undergound during the Edo period after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s when Catholicism became forbidden, and remained hidden until recent times, slowly evolving to something hardly recognisable.

No-one can really be forced to convert. It’s easier to take someones life than to take away the connection they have with their God in some cases. True believers will keep their connection no matter what happens…

Making a New Connection
Real conversion is also making a New Connection, as Frank Viola and Len Sweet said in the original . Not just an outward change in direction, but an inward change in connection.
We turn away from our former values, and gods, and embrace Something New that will guide our life, and connect with it.
When we become Christians we will from now on follow Christ, make Him the center of our life, and build our life around Him.
Others see that the deep Truth in Marx’ writings calls us to change not only our lives but the world for better. Or or give ourself over to the Higher Truth of science and reason because there’s nothing else to demand our obedience as source and truth. And so on… But it is only when we make the connection to whatever Higher thing we have come to believe in as real, that we really convert…

This does have several implications for us as Christians, as well as for others I suppose…

what do you think?

peace

Bram

The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…


Today we will explore the following potentially controversial one-liner:

Hate and violence are an infection that often spreads in new ways through their victims.

So what does that mean? It’s just another way of describing the cycle of violence, that so often works as a vicious circle….

From the beginning of our human history, certain forms of evil have always been furthering themselves in the form a spiral of violence. This spiral of violence works a bit like a zombie apocalypse: if the zombie bites you, you get infected with ‘zombieism’ and thus become one yourself, and you will most probably bite others too.
Surely my comparison isn’t perfect: The big difference here is that zombies generally work together against uninfected humans, while the evil aroused in us by violence and hate done to us is mostly directed to those who infected us with it. But hate and violence do work like an infection passed on to their victims nonetheless.

The principle is very simple: other people filled with hate and violence towards us do evil to us, and that damages us (or even kills us or people around us) and part the reaction to that evil is that it creates similar hate and violence growing inside of us.
It is probably one of the least-recognised effects of evil done to us, although one of the most destructive too. Evil done to us often grows more evil in us and thus generates a  new host from which it can operate. It’s often very simple: the people attacked in a barbaric war will fight back with equal barbarism. The oppressed become the oppressed. The hurt will become the hurting one. Thanimalfarme bullied becomes the bully…
The violated go on violating the violator and those who are in his camp, and so on…  The spiral of violence is sad and often very predictable, and will never bring us forward. The only thing that come from such a reaction is new variations on the well-known ‘animal farm revolution': the animals who have killed the farmer will in the end become worse than the farmer ever was. Like a friend of mine says in one of his songs:

History does not repeat itself, it just escalates

I repeat this: one of the most dangerous effects evil done to us can have is to take us as it’s new host to continue its life cycle like a virus that goes from host to host, mutating freely to adapt and maybe even get more vicious.  And it’s hard to stop this cycle. Our human sense of justice demands that we are righted, and that the evil is repaid.
We often forget here, blinded by the logic of this virus, that revenge does never make anything right or does not bring anything or anyone gone back, it only devours our soul from the inside and dissolves our own humanity!

Real justice is restorative! Evil must be stopped, and its influence limited, not just on us, but also in us!

Now, what I’m telling here is not very new at all. It’s something known to a lot of tradition, from the words of Jesus to some sayings from the Buddha or the Tao Te Ching. Take for example the next saying:

He who holds on to hate is like one who drinks poison and expects the other to die. (ascribed to the Buddha)

Deep down inside we should know this. Hate will only destroy us from the inside, and evil will never work drive out evil, violence is not the best way to stop violence (except in the case that the other side is completely exterminated). It will not make the world better. We need to stop this virus, this endless cycle.

If we want to live, we need to erase the cycle of violence. This means that we need to answer evil with good. Even in our heart. Especially in our heart.

Let’s contemplate the words of Jesus in Luke 6 in this regard:

27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Yes, it’s the radical Christ-stuff of loving enemies and repaying evil with good. It’s also quite important if we indeed believe that loving God and loving our fellow human is what matters most in this life.

If we don’t get a revolution in which everyone gets rid of this evil, including both those who are victims as those who are lead by it; it will be completely ineffective. The only revolution that makes sense in the long run is the revolution that restores the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, and rids both of the evil that keeps them from recognising each others shared humanity!

This does not mean that we should give in to evil, we should confront it everywhere we meet, but we should never give it the chance to make us dehumanise the person on the other side. Even though there are times that for our own safety we can’t be in the same room as someone who has done us evil, we should not hate them. We might need to cut all their influence from our lives, and we need to realise the nature of what has been done to us and not minimise or conceal it.

But we should not allow hate to root in our hearts. We should not allow dehumanisation of our enemy. If the terror has won our hearts and has found a new host, it doesn’t even matter whether we or the terrorists win.

And even in the case that pacifism doesn’t work and violence has used, we should mourn for every fellow human on the other side that dies. Killing a human being made in Gods image is always a terrible thing, no matter how messed up they were. Our real enemies are never flesh and blood, but the systems, lies, etc that make us enemies.

Note also that what I’m saying here is inspired not just by Jesus and the Buddha, but has been lived out by people like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, or for example closer to myself Pat Patfoort whom I once saw in a seminar on nonviolent conflict-solving. She developed her ideas when she was in Africa, and works with very traumatised people in war zones (Rwanda, Chechnya and so) , as well as giving relationship counselling since it works on all scales.
Western pacifists can be a bit naive and otherworldly sometimes, and if they have only been staying in their couch reading blogs instead of going to the country their own government is bombarding at the moment (like Shane Claiborne did) it can  be not very convincing. (That said, we’ve tried to use violence for much longer and it didn’t work either… I mostly only escalates unless one of the sides goes extinct.) But If people can reconcile the traumatised after a genocide like Pat Patfoort does, you do get my attention….

I do think also here of how Corrie Ten Boom as a WWI concentration camp survivor of WWII said after the war that it was the victims of the Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were the ones who were best able to rebuild their lives. Which makes a lot of sense in the light of what we’ve said.

Our soul is way too important to let it be filled with hate, and to let us dehumanise others, no matter what they’ve done.

Love is the only law, and the only thing that will remain

love and peace

Bram

 

10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…


Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ’emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ’emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?


It’s quiet here, so let’s go back to controversy and write about some kind of weird subject like the pornification of images (moving or not) of human beings made in the Divine Image… (generally called ‘porn’ by most people) And let’s give it a long title full of complicated words so I won’t attract too many Beavis and Butthead-type of readers…

Yeah,  it’s been a while since I wrote a post about things related to sex and love and so (the last and only one since July or so being my little effort to raise some awareness of asexuals as the most ignored sexual minority) so why not….

So where to start? A while ago I read this article called 3 lies that kept me trapped by porn from a guest-blogger on Micah Murray’s redemption pictures. To clarify where I stand on these things I must probably start here with saying that, while it’s an understatement to say that I’m not a fan of porn at all, I’m generally not a big fan of most Christian anti-porn propaganda either… so I didn’t expect that much from the article, since most articles with a title like that are just more of the ‘every man’s battle’ stuff, an affirmation that it’s more or less expected for a man to be addicted to porn on one hand and a lot of guilt-creation that partly misses the point on important details on the other hand. I tend to not find that especially healthy. But, to my big surprise, this article turned out to be a completely different cup of tea that needs to be shared more. (if you still get my mixed metaphors here) .

The post was written David E. Martin, who has a Christian website for people who do have problems with porn called ‘My chains are gone’. His website and ministry have an approach to the problem of porn and its solution that is worth looking at, so I recommend you all to not just read his guestpost on redemption pictures but also his site if the subject is of any interest to you.  I might not agree with every line they write, but overall they have a lot of interesting things to say that I hadn’t heard before. It’s quite quite different from the standard stuff most Christian repeat all the time, as the 3 lies in the title already show:

1. The unclothed human body is primarily sexual in nature.
 Therefore, to see another body unclothed is a sexual event.

2. The automatic and natural response to the sight of an unclothed body is sexual arousal. Therefore, the best strategy against lust is to limit the opportunity to view the unclothed body.

3. To be drawn to the sight of nudity (beyond your spouse’s) is a perversion.
Therefore, we must make every effort to eradicate this “perversion” from our hearts.

He exposes these ideas as lies that hinder those trapped in an addiction pornography in breaking with those habits. Maybe a bit counter-intuitive but I do agree with him, and I would say that the de-pornification of the human body might be the most important thing in learning to look at human beings as made in Gods image and loving our fellow human who happens to be of the sex we’re sexually attracted to. His approach is connected to ideas I have been alluding to in some of my blogpostVenus of Willendorfs (See for example posts with titles as On sexy poorn models and human dignity; meditating on sexy models; on nudity in game of thrones and some American bloke again…; Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’; On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and comsumer capitalism) But it’s not at all something I’ve seen discussed that much by most of my co-religionists even though some of them like to talk about porn a lot…

It’s an easy subject to start discussions of sin and holiness and whatever, but I often feel like important things are missed.  Although I naturally completely agree with Jesus who says in the sermon on the mount that looking lustfully at a woman is to commit adultery in your head, there are some points in the standard blablah that I don’t find very helpful.

Some of these things have to do with what David writes about on his site. the standard approach is not helping in what I earlier called the depornification of the human body, and moreover  ‘Looking lustfully’ is not synonymous with looking at a nude. Also we do easily forget that porn as we know it in our current culture is not a universal thing but in the current incarnation something unique in world history and very specific to our culture. The way bodies are depicted in our porn would not be very sexy to a lot of people from other times and cultures….

Well it actually isn’t even to me. And I’m a 21st century Western male…

So let’s get to some more points that are often overlooked:

1.) Assuming porn addiction is just how men are wired: Normalizing problems of a certain part of the Western population in a very peculiar time and culture as ‘this is how men are wired. Get used to it.’ is not the way to go. Men are not wired into being addicted to what is called ‘porn’ in our time and culture and in the very myopic way a certain subculture frames our human sexuality in a very narrow and unhealthy way. Porn addiction means that persons (male or female) are conditioned to like it and neuroplastically deformed into it.

2.) Missing the core of the problem gives us some pretty bad solutions: The problem is not in the first place what we see, but it is what is in our hearts when we see it. Porn is very often in the eye of the beholder. If we really learn to love watching porn is impossible, since seeing someone as a human being is incompatible with pornificating them.  The deepest problem is not what we see, but how we watch it and why we’re watching it.

3.) Furthering dehumanization is part of what we should eliminate: Pornification is always a dehumanization of the depicted humans into mere sex objects. If we want to get beyond it we should not follow that line of thinking but reject it. Accepting that women are nothing but sexy temptation and then avoid them is equally dehumanising. The ‘rape culture victim-blaming’ stuff that when a man has sinful thoughts when he sees a woman it’s her fault is only perpetuating the deeper sin of dehumanization, and actually not solving even a molecule of the problem.

4. We should also never forget the  formative danger in porn: We seem to ignore as a culture how porn shapes and deforms our view of the human body. It creates a new and perverted reality, in which sex is not that healthy at all and in which humans are less human than how God created them to be.  It is a fake ideal world that fills peoples head but that no living person will ever live up to. We might think that porn is just showing us how sex is and how sexy people look, but it’s actually completely fake on one hand, and transforming human sexuality to its own image and likeness on the other hand.

Yes, one of the exact dangers of porn is how it is making up it’s own very depraved standard of sexiness that isn’t real at all and then it tries to conform the real world to it. Which is especially dangerous for young people who don’t have their view of sexuality fully formed, like teenagers in puberty. Peoples brains are actually altered by watch porn by the way.  This brain-altering already happens with adults watching porn, but it’s extremely dangerous with young people whose view of porn isn’t even formed yet like I said.

5. Porn is not just ‘showing sex’ but  lying: The things depicted in our modern porn are not default human sexuality at all, let alone human sexuality as God meant it. It’s a very peculiar way of framing sex, a language that seems universal to many people.It’s actually a very artificial and unnatural mutation of human sex, not just a way of visually describing how humans have sex. The bodies are fake, the angles are very artificial and unrealistic.  Our modern ‘porn’ goes way beyond nudity in what it gives to stimulate our sexuality so a very big and abusive industry can make a lot of money.

Yup, the end goal of most porn is probably money for some shady types somewhere.

6. Watching modern porn is learned behaviour:
Looking at the beauty and sexiness of the sex one is attracted to is very natural, but modern porn goes a lot further than this and is much more niche… Consuming modern porn is learned behavior, like drinking wine or listening jazz.

It’s something I didn’t learn though. Except for simple nude pictures most porn when I accidentally see it doesn’t work for me, probably because it’s too far away from my own sexual experience (and lack thereof in my younger years).  Most times when I do see real ‘porn’ beyond playboy-level I’m actually repulsed, not aroused.

(Clarification: I do like female nude art a lot btw, maybe too much. But one of the things I like most about female nudes is some untouchable sacred innocence which is so real that any ‘wrong’ thought is misplaced.  Which is completely incompatible with porn and probably impossible to describe to people who don’t know what I mean. Think about Ransom and the green woman of Venus… It is because I love female nudity so much that I hate porn.)

I do think not getting it and being repulsed by what goes for porn nowadays is not a very abnormal reaction for a uninitiated person actually. Look at this description from a (female) guest-blogger at irrestistible Fish (and read the post too later after you’ve finished mine and see also her part II) about her surprise when she started to watch porn:

Porn was not exactly what I had expected.
I knew it would be graphic, but this, this was beyond graphic.
This was not like the sex scenes in a movie.
This sex wasn’t just sex.
Porn sex was different.
The bodies were ‘perfect’, the positions, acrobatic.
No one had a single hair follicle visible anywhere on their perfect bodies. And visible their bodies were. Microscopically so.
Everything was up close and zoomed in. Nothing left to the imagination.

There was no kissing, no intimacy, no love, just animalistic, self-gratifying acts of sex.

Only reading this paragraph makes me feel dirty and uninterested… Call me a romantic but I don’t even want to be able to fantasize sex without kissing, let alone intimacy or love.

What would even be the fun of that? Yuck….

This way of picturing the human body and sexuality is blasphemy against the Imago dei itself. Blasphemy against love.

(I’m actually very lucky to have formed my view of how female  bodies are not from porn but from biology books, more regular nude scenes, and more classical nude art or nude photography, and that the default for a female body in my head is mostly just my wife, not a forced ideal that doesn’t exist. )

So what is the most important thing here? I would say that what we should never forget is that porn is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what comes in through our eyes that makes us unclean, but our own heart and how we process those things. Sexually perverted people will look at every woman with lust and predatory thoughts, no matter how they are dressed. Being a woman is enough to be subject to pornification for some.

But one of the most important commandments for Christians is to love our fellow humans as ourselves, which very certainly does not include dehumanising them as sex objects.  Even the label ‘humanist’ to me would imply a higher standard than dehumanising other people in to sex object. And not unimportantly  here is that it doesn’t matter that much if we consume them with our eyes as porn or turn our eyes away… The second one might keep us from certain sins like the ‘looking lustfully’, it still makes us regard the person in question as less than human.

How can we ever learn to love fellow humans that we cannot look at because they are only sex objects for us? This approach will never make us love more even if it can help us by means of mere sin management. But in the end we need to learn to love the other. This is why I do think that for example Dan Brennans work on cross-gender friendship is very important (check out his groundbreaking book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘ on the subject) Pornification of the human body is completely incompatible with love and loving the other as ourselves., and we need to let go of it…

But this might requite a letting go of cultural conditioning and might  need some help from the Holy Spirit…

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

I Corinthians 13 (V)


reLOVEutionIn this post we proceed our meditative explorations on 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s well-known ‘love chapter’.  This is always the first thing I think about when people say ‘Paul isn’t important’ for whatever kind of reason. I can’t believe that anyone would want a bible without 1 Corinthians 13, and Gods message to mankind that was brought by Jesus is not complete without an understanding of what Paul is saying here.

Let’s just read the next part slowly:

Love never ends.
But if there are prophecies,
they will be set aside;
if there are tongues,
they will cease;
if there is knowledge,
it will be set aside.
For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part,
but when what is perfect comes,
the partial will be set aside.

This is a well-known piece of the bible, not only used for meditation but also for fierce theological discussions.
Some have used this piece for the defence of cessationism, which is the idea that the supernatural works of the Spirit have ceased after the time of the apostles. I don’t see how one could make that exegesis without having to conclude that not only speaking in tongues and prophecies, but knowledge itself would have ceased. And knowledge is quite important to most cessationists I’ve met. Also in this interpretation it seems that one has to conclude that the ‘perfect’ that will come is the canon of the bible. I really can’t see that work at all…

No, the piece is just noting the fallibleness of everything in this fallen world, in contrast with the love this chapter is speaking about. You don’t have to be postmodern to have  a very humble epistemology! Just reading 1 Corinthians 1′ may suffice…
Prophecies, tongues and knowledge are incomplete in this age, but they will be perfected in the next age, when the Kingdom of God comes. So the last verse here really is eschatological.

Read the piece again. Let every detail sink in.

Everything is incomplete in this world. Our religious things as well as the non-religious, and we are just fallible humans.

One day there will be a perfection of Creation, but we won’t see it in this lifetime… And then the partial, the incomplete will be set aside.

Love will be completed then… We can not even start to understand what that might mean, but it surely will be good!

Peace

Bram

Knowledge about God or knowledge of God? (Sadhu Sundar Singh)


I will post thiSundars quote from the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh without much comment. I speaks for itself.

It surely makes one think about ‘it’s a relationship, not a religion’… (if we have a very narrow modern definition of ‘religion that is) Our goal as Christians is not just to have knowledge about God, or like the apostle says, ’You believe that God is one, and that’s good, but the demons do that too, and they tremble’… Unlike what some fundamentalists (and maybe gnostics if I interpret their name rightly) seem to believe, right head knowledge alone has never saved anyone… Acting upon it might actually be interesting…

(Assuming that the ‘head knowledge’ is always right, which isn’t always the case either, neither among fundies nor among liberal modernists…)

I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.

When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.

I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Isn’t it ironic how easily we look at the finger pointing to the moon and even forget the moon?

Shalom

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (IV)


reLOVEutionAfter my explorations in the realms of magic, (false) scepticism and the defence of the middle ages it might be time to go back to writing about the Christian faith, and so I continue my meditations on 1 Corinthian 13. In this post I continue with the second part of the chapter, in its entirety. We could pause at every single line too (and you can do that on your own if you want), but I’m just going to let this part speak:

Let’s read this, and try to understand what Paul means here:

Love is patient,
love is kind,
it is not envious.
Love does not brag,
it is not puffed up.
It is not rude,
it is not self-serving,
it is not easily angered
or resentful.
It is not glad about injustice,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Take time to read every line slowly and to let it sink in…

But what does it mean? We don’t see this kind of love in our lives. Sure, it means that we must strive to love this way (helped by the Holy Spirit), even if this kind of love will not be perfect in our lifetime. It is meant to grow into perfection, since the only way to be in ‘heaven’ in eternity is to actually be able to ‘love our neigbor as ourselves and God with all of our mind, soul and strength’.

So there’s more to it than a description of ‘ideal love’ that only exist in some kind of Platonic ‘world of ideas’ of which we only see a dim shadow here and now.  There is also more than our human love in the most ideal circumstance.

Darin Hufford in his book the misunderstood God says that those are the characteristics of God, since 1 John says that God is love. This view might be challenging to some, but it is not too big a stretch to make: Why would the Love of God be less than what the apostle writes here about love? It would be utter nonsense to assume that God, who is said to be Love, would ask us to love more than He does himself.

So the love God has must go beyond the ‘love your enemies, bless those who hate you’ of the sermon on the mount.

So let’s read the verses again, and now focus on these characteristics being the characteristics of Gods love for us. For me, you and everybody… What does this mean? What are the consequences?

Radical, isn’t it?

PS: Please don’t start discussions here about Gods love and Gods judgement as if those were 2 different things. If God loves His Creation and His Children, God will probably need to get very angry when the things He loves get destroyed… And things need to be set right. Sin is a very destructive power that needs to be dealt with… But all judgement is rooted in love. If anyone does harm to your children and creation you would get quite angry too..