Category Archives: christlike love

Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…


This is the third part in my ‘Women need respect, men need love’ series (part 2 here), where I try to look at the male side of the whole ‘women need love, men need respect’ mess, which will alo be the longest of the three. (After all, the only perspective I can write from is from that of a straight married man.) And I must say that I’m appalled by how men are described in this kind of discourse, as if we are oversexed animals driven only by a few primitive needs, with no selfcontrol and not really a need for love even.See also for example my post On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism? from 5 years ago already. Porn and a certain kind of sexist fundamentalism are creepily close actually, and the same dehumanising ideology under porn and hook-up ideology is also present in this kind of funamentalism. The only main difference I can make out is that one side gives in to the animalistic sexuality they see as default, while the other more or less tries to tame it in marriages. But apart from that they’re rather the same, n

From the first paragraph of the ‘love and respect’ book, underlining done by sheila Gregoire

matter how much pretence of being ‘biblical’.

It would be an understatement I felt quite insulted as a man and as a Christian when I read Sheila Gregoires overview of the ‘love and respect’ view of what men want sexually and how they should be ‘respected’  I still feel the same way every time I reread it. Let’s add a shortened version here to refresh:

She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her.(…)This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. (…) No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it. (source)

There’s a lot of toxic things in here, but at this moment there ‘s 3 very dangerous things jumping out for me:(1) erasing communication in a relationship will never do any good, and can only make it worse for both partners (2) the idea that a man feels respected when he’s tread as a despotic narcissist is just beyond alien to me. How you can have an intimate relationship without communication?
But the ultimate creepiness, and the ultimate degradation of the male side in the equation is like I already said (3); the idea that mere ‘sex as release’ is the driving need for men.

And then to say that those views are based on a verse from Paul that says that men need to love their wives as themselves is too much cognitive dissonance for me to handle. Note that Paul uses the verse to correct an asymmetry in gender patterns in his world, not at all to express pop-psychological needs, let alone express an absolute need for men and a desire for women that’s less important as the ‘love and respect’ doctrine seems to teach. I would assume it would be the other way around anyway: Love your wife as yourself is the most important command here, and there’s no way explaining it away if you really strive to be ‘biblical’. But alas; I have given up believing that US fundamentalists care one inch about being biblical though, so I’m not surprised anymore by this butchering of scripture, although it saddens me a lot to see how this kind of thinking can vaccinate couples against deep intimacy. Which is a very hideous thing!

Yes, no one can deny that in a way men need respect (as all people do), but I’ve already there is no actual respect in being treated as an entitled narcissist. Gender is irrelevant even, all people need basic respect, and all relationships need mutuality in that, especially if we’re speaking about an intimate relationship. Let’s also remark again that there is absolutely no respect in  not being communicated to.

Now let’s take this overview of what the ‘love and respect’ doctrine teaches about men and their ‘need for sex’:

Men need physical release. They experience this as respect. If you don’t give it to them, they will be tempted to have affairs or to ogle other women.
Sheila Gregoire summarising ‘love and respect’

This kind of thinking might come from a man who wants to excuse his own weaknesses, but still is extremely denigrating and dehumanising to men. Why does the worst misandry always come from men who claim to defend their own gender? Yes, men desire sexual release among other things, but we are humans, not animal slaves to our bodies, and we certainly will survive without ‘getting release’. Men can and should have selfcontrol. That’s what the bible tells us too. That’s what I was told as a teenager as one of the reasons why having no premarital sex is a good idea: it’s a training in selfcontrol, and even within marriage there will be times that there is no sex. And a man is able to survive that, and love his wife. And still have other forms of intimacy with her.

It’s also nonsense to say that mere ‘physical release’ is the reason of most affairs. Most men are looking for something that’s missing in their relationship. Often even love and being understood and stuff like that.

The ‘men just need sex’ trope, combined with the myth of the absence of male selfcontrol is not just insulting, but it’s also very destructive for men as well as for their relationships when they start to believe that crap, making them aim for much less than they could and should be. Which isn’t only bad for them, but also for their lovers to, who deserve much better.

But we probably shouldn’t be surprised that some people think this way: it’s the underpinnings of the modern Western porn industry, basic individualistic consumerism, and our human psychology often works with self-fulfilling prophecies: strong beliefs of not being able to do something will very often manifest themselves and be affirmed. It’s bad enough that certain corners of the non-Christian world sell us this nonsense to get people hooked in their web of consumerist screwed-upness, but I expect more from Christians than a complete disbelief in male selfcontrol, and a higher view of what men expect from sex and relationships too.

Both men and women deserve better.

But yes, the male body desires sexual release. (Just as women have a sex drive too by the way) And yet that doesn’t mean that every sexual release as such will actually satisfy or fulfil us in any way. Or that a man always needs to get everything a body asks for. We’re not simple bodily animals. My body also wants sleep at moments that I can’t get it, and more food than is good for me. Not listening to your bodies needs is what makes us human. And just treating sex as mere release is just masturbation, and adding a human partner will not make much difference for that in a way. Except that we use another human being, that we are commanded to love as ourselves according to the bible verse behind the ‘love and respect’ logic to get that physical release.

It makes me feel sad and lonely that this is what people think of sex, even within marriage.  Or of sex at all. If that would be all there was to it I would choose a life of celibacy, and pray to God to make me asexual. Or become one of those people who think sex is indeed by definition dirty, and always a sin and a weakness.

I’d even say that the mere idea that anyone would feel respected by getting sex-as-mere-release from a partner that doesn’t even want it without any actual emotional connection is beyond creepy. It’s a recipe for marital rape even, which I suppose to be punishable by law in any civilised modern country. Any man who’s content with that has no clue what intimacy is.

If that is really what a Christian book about marriage teaches, something is beyond wrong, antichrist even.

But it’s also no wonder that a man who has such a low view of sex, which is affirmed by his experience, might have no qualms with exchanging the source of the ‘relief’ with another one, be it porn, or maybe an affair in which more than this approach to sex is explored or the humanity that the marriage is vaccinated to by this destructive doctrine is sought back.

Because yes, as is very evident, men still need love. We’re as human as women and children are, and don’t differ much from them. Only the worst psychopath who tragically doesn’t have all of his humanity together might not. And while our body might desire sexual release, that is only a small part of the story, and probably one of our desires that is easiest put aside, or transformed into something else.

As Shane Claiborne says:

If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of sex and never experience love, and people who never have sex [but] have deep experiences of intimacy and love. (the irresistible revolution)

Everybody needs love.
It’s much more basic than needing sex. And more destructive if we don’t get it.

The big problem is this whole ‘all we need is sex’ stuff. It can never satisfy. It empties sex of meaning and make sex itself more unsatisfying, which is quite ironic when you have put all your hope for fulfilment in sex.

You won’t get any fulfilment, but you will be told that’s all there is.

And this mess is supposed to be male chauvinism… It’s a good recipe for men making themselves worse than they could be, more sinful, and having terrible loveless sex-lives.

If that isn’t beyond sad?

what do you think?

peace

Bram

Women need respect, men need love (2): Women need respect!


From the first paragraph of the ‘love and respect’ book, underlining done by sheila Gregoire

In part 1 of this series I reacted against the slogan ‘women need love, men need respect’ that seems a US import slogan linked to bad marriage advice that is rather pervasive in certain evangelical circles, with some pop-psychological weirdness attached to it.

I am well aware that it should be more than obvious that all people, of all genders need both love and respect, in and out of marriage relationships. There should be no question about that. And actually, all that I’m saying here should just be common sense. I’m rather shocked that it isn’t for some people. But as my title indicates,  I strongly feel that it might good to emphasise, in our time and culture, that women really need respect and men really need love too.

I’ve already touched upon in my last post that the original version of the saying has been abused and made into an ideology that has been destructive for vulnerable marriages. The series on Sheila Gregoires blog from last week had some very extreme examples of that. (Watch out, disturbing stories there)
Yes, it’s true that normal people with healthy relationship skills and enough love and respect probably would just take a message of ‘don’t be selfish’ from the book, as Sheila already said in her post, but there’s still a poison in the book, and it seems also in similar ‘Christian marriage books’ that focus on the supposed needs of the man which are much more important that those of the wife. Not everybody gets bitten when they meet an European adder, and because a healthy person usually won’t die when bitten, that we need to encourage all people to go play with adders, is it?

I50861956_342361363022927_3993856368762159104_nt’s quite clear if you actually read the verse that the whole theory is built on that ‘psychological needs’ are not what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:33, and none of the abuse that the book brought haver happened if men would actually love their wife as they love themselves, as that verse also very clearly says. Which is a clear command, and not a hint about pop-psychological needs.

The poison is very clear if we follow Sheilas series (1 2 3 4), and damaging for both sexes: the advice of unconditional respect for the man can lead to bad relationships and ruined marriages.
Which by the way means that on the other side of each of these stories the teaching has turned a man into someone who isn’t even able to be in a healthy relationship, and -very ironically since we’re speaking about supposedly Christian teaching here-, a bigger sinner than he should and could have been, led astray from Christlikeness and turned into the likeness and image of a toxic ‘manliness’ that is in certain aspects the opposite of how Christ wants us to grow. Entitled narcissism is a good way to create hell here on Earth, both for yourself and the people closest to you. But we will not focus on the the male side here, which will be for a next post.

So let’s go back to the title: Women need respect!

Yes, I know: It’s very weird and discouraging that such a thing even needs to be said. Someone once said that feminism is the radical idea that women are human, and the sad thing is that we still need to hear that in Western society of the 21st century sometimes. Porn culture and male-dominated sexism are still pervasive in our world, turning the sexes against each other. And this often means that even the basic respect of treating the other like a person is lacking.
As a Christian we should never join this toxic tendency, for it is pure antichrist toxicity. Jesus Himself treated everyone as a person, and showed a lot of respect for all kinds of people who were often not treated as a full person in his own culture and society. Sadly this indeed included women too in his world, as it sometimes does today. But he didn’t bother with those societal patterns at all and broke all of the rules whenever they were in conflict with ‘love your neighbour’.

Think for example of the Samaritan woman in John 4, with whom a lot of barriers existed: Men didn’t talk to women, Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans, and so on. Jesus doesn’t bother at all with these things. Neither did he bother with those petty restrictions he when Mary of Bethany breaks all societal patterns  in which only men could listen to a rabbi. Or when they bring the woman caught in adultery before him.
Jesus certainly didn’t find the idea that ‘women are human’ a radical idea, even though some of the people around him might have been shocked by his inclusion of women as much as with his inclusion of both the oppressed and outcasts like the Samaritans and chronically ill, as well as the oppressors -who also were outcasts- in the form of the Roman soldiers. But his friendships with women were very remarkable for his time and culture, especially the gospel of Luke was quite scandalous in that regard!

All of this is basic biblical knowledge. If we are to call ourselves Christians this means that any societal rule that prevents us from respecting others made in the Divine Image should be dismissed. I don’t even need to refer to my own adherence to Christianity though, since this is a very basic form of humanism that should be common sense to all of us moderns, even though it still might be revolutionary for some if I look around. The sad truth is still  that in a lot of circumstances a lot of women (among other humans) do not get the basic respect they deserve as human beings even. This always is an injustice that should be countered!

Every human being, including every woman, needs to be seen as a fellow Image of God. None of them (regardless even of how they present themselves to us, not even a sexy model in an ad) should ever be treated as a mere sex object that is enjoyed and preyed on as such in porn culture, and seen as an evil temptation to be avoided in certain religious circles. Certainly both are two versions of the same evil, and and as I said before in other posts: one of the best remedies is simply friendship. Personally I have no idea how a marriage or sexual relationship in general would even be possible without friendship at all. But friendship should be our basic impulse towards every person of the other sex that we meet. If we would do that the respect I’m speaking of here would always be present!

And so it still needs to be said: Women need respect!

So how much more important is this in a monogamous partnership that is supposed to be based on love as our Western marriages are? It’s rather obvious that i f we don’t give someone the basic respect as a person that ‘love’ won’t even be an option, let alone loving someone as yourself as Paul says in the verse that the ‘love and respect’ stuff is based on.

If you can’t treat someone as a person you have no business being with them. You will only hurt them, and  respect is something that is very easily naturally reciprocated in a healthy relationship but also often dies when it isn’t… I keep on saying things that should be entirely obvious,  but any relationship needs respect from two sides, otherwise it can and should not go very deep. And a relationship that goes so deep as a marriage does cannot survive in a meaningful without mutual respect, and love is impossible without it.

It doesn’t matter what the gender of a person is, we all need to be treated as a person especially by our life partner.  And the opposite of respect is one of the most destructive things in a relationship. Contempt is one of the most dangerous things that can be added to a relationship, and one of the most sure ways to kill either the love or the whole marriage.

And while I’m writing all of this I still have a nagging voice that says. ‘this is just too obvious to write down’. But when I read stuff like what I’ve read last week on Shelia Gregoire’s blog, or discussions in certain Facebook groups, or thinkabout certain relationships I’ve seen go to ruin in my live I fear that I’m naive.

It needs to be said again and again.
It needs to be shown to the world.
It needs to be shown to the church too I’m afraid!
It needs to be live out and be a light.
We need to be a friend who shows respect!
We need to crush all forms of dehumanisation!
Women need respect!
All people do!

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

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On the Problem of Orcs


Orcs are popular characters in a certain kind of fantasy story, and more recently also in the kind of games based on it. While I certainly love the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy and the guy who coined the term ‘orc’, there is something dark to the idea too with a lot of potential for evil abuse,which is the ‘problem of the orcs’ that I will try to explore in this essay.

Let’s start first with the beginning, and with the definition of our main term. Tolkiens orcs are humanoids, a kind of goblin. Most notably orcs are dangerous and ugly and live underground, use violence freely, usually don’t like sunlight, and even eat the meat of humans when they can. But the most characteristic thing about orcs in the middle-Earth universe is that they are pure evil. Not just a bit, but completely. Orcs are pure monsters that are thoroughly bad, so much that there is no chance at all of one of them ever being good.

Their evilness has something to do with their role and origin. They are used by the dark lord Sauron, created by the powers of evil, and might even be dependent upon him. So them being instruments of evil, the only thing anyone on the good side can do with them is destroy them. Unlike humans and most fantasy humanoids no matter how evil in Tolkiens books, there is no chance for redemption or reform for the orc. We can see the difference very clearly in the LOTR books. When the battle of helms deep is over, the surviving humans from the enemy, originally recruited by the fallen wizard Saruman get mercy. They are humans. Same with other beings including the repulsive and quite evil creature Gollum -technically more or less a mutated hobbit deformed by evil-, who does get the benefit of the doubt from Gandalf.

But no such thing ever happens for orcs.

Orcs are in a way flat characters. They are an archetype for something like the executive forces of evil. A personification of the forces of destruction, hate and decay in the form of a more or less humanoid sentient being which is a slave of the dark lord. And in a story of fight between good and evil there is only one thing that can be done with them: they need to be destroyed! All of them! Without mercy!

A good orc is a dead orc!

Now I do like Tolkien and his books. And I understand his use of beings that are pure evil as instruments of the evil dark lord. Such things might indeed exist in fictional worlds (or even our world!) They can also have a lot of symbolical meanings: the evils we have to fight in either our society or our own lives (what some Muslims call the greater Jihad) or even literal demons if you believe in those.

But still there is a big problem with the idea of the orc, although not in the idea itself but more in the possible abuse of the idea. The orc trope of a humanoid being that is purely evil and utterly beyond redemption, and ultimately just destined for destruction when good conquers evil is can easily go wrong.

This is probably one of the reasons Tolkien didn’t like his LOTR trilogy to be seen as allegorical and a symbolic retelling of WWI by the way. Even with all the forces of evil in the background all Germans are still humans, and not orcs and I am quite sure that Tolkien as a Catholic would never equate humans with orcs, even though they’re on the other side of a war.

The picture of an orc is powerful in propaganda techniques, and very dangerous. From the moment we turn any human being into an orc, we cross the line of dehumanisation. It’s a technique that is as old as human wars probably. And it’s wrong and evil, at least as dark as the heart of the worst orc of Mordor! But it often works. Humans like to think in ‘us and them’ dichotomies, and sometimes the ‘them’ side is seen as so ‘other’ and so dangerous that they evil and beyond redemption, and killing them is the only option. The enemy gets reduced to a kind of orcs.

Certainly this is an irrational impulse, and from any rational Christian or humanist POV this purely is an abomination. Every human being is made in Gods image, and no human is beyond redemption. But strangely enough Christians sometimes use similar techniques, especially when influenced by certain endtimes-stories. Johan Klein Haneveld in a recent essay about Christian fantasy and endtimes-stories (in Dutch, sorry) notes how in the ‘Left behind’ series the non-believers are reduced to something that in the terminology of this post can be seen as an equivalent as an orc. In fact the whole dispensationalist endtimes scenario in which the unbelievers are part of the ‘forces of evil’ makes it hard for certain Christians to see the other as human.

Talking about a friend who believed in an update of the dispensational endtimes story which saw a union of Muslim countries as the final oppressors (instead of the EU or UN in earlier versions) of the endtimes, Johan remarks:

If you portray people as an enemy, you’ll treat them likewise. My friend admitted that it was hard for him to love Muslims, since he believed in this view of the future. He needed to do his best to see them as individuals, and not take them responsible for the tribulation that would follow in the endtimes.
Likewise the ‘Left Behind’  series didn’t help Christians to love their enemies. (…) No, instead they stimulated ‘us-them’ thinking and aroused a fear for the evil outer world, in which everyone could turn out to be an evil oppressor of Christians. (…)
And the reader of the books was taught to see democrats, liberals and dissenters as one-dimensional characters that deserved to go to hell.

These “one-dimensional characters that deserve to go to hell” are certainly very close to orcs I would say. They are not loved, they are not mourned, and God will destroy them anyway so who bothers, good riddance! (And in this most of the words of Christ are swept under the mat, along with the most radical parts of the bible) And the potential for abuse of this discourse goes far beyond this kind of ‘Christianity’.  Later in the essay Johan quotes from a New York Times article about Racist Science Fiction in the US.

‘Ward Kendall’s 2001 “Hold Back This Day,” imagines a future in which the evil all-powerful “World Gov” has forcibly united the population of Earth under one religion and, by way of enforced race-mixing, one uniformly brown-skinned population. Jeff Huxton … slowly learns to cherish his white skin and joins a terrorist group called “Nayra” (“Aryan” spelled backwards!). They hijack a spaceship and travel to Avalon, a secret all-white colony on Mars, which has been transformed into a paradisiacal homeland.’

Johan then adds that “he has seen that plot before, and well in ‘Left behind'”. Here we see all ‘non-white’ people reduced to some kind of orcs. Something that has happened before in real life by the way, and is certainly quite evil. How those people can claim a ‘Christian’ identity is beyond me. (Jesus wasn’t even ‘white’, whatever that word even means, and he came for people of all kinds.)

Let’s not forget that all humans are of our species, and made in Gods image.

Seeing the other as an orc of any is always a dangerous lie. All lives matter! (Even non-human lives do have their importance too evidently. But that would be another post.) This is also true even if they’re on the other side of a war or conflict. Even if they’re very different. Human lives are important!

In the end the actual enemy is not the human being on the other side in the other trench who is feeling the same fear as us and wants to stay alive like us, but the forces that make us enemies. Lies, systems, powers, whatever…
No human is ever beyond a chance of redemption (even though the evil they commit remains very real) I believe that as a Christian. Even the most evil person has a capacity of repentance! The question of evil humans is an interesting one though. Maybe there indeed is a point of no return after which a certain human being is completely evil. But who are we to judge that even with the worst criminal? Half of the new testament was written by a man who tried to erase Christianity with violence before his conversion, and approved of killing Christians! Maybe there are points that for the protection of the innocent a human has to be killed in defence. That’s all possible.

But no human is an orc.

Even worse is using a form of ‘identity politics’ in which certain groups of people (the enemy, other races, one of the sexes, people of a certain persuasion or religion, the oppressed or the oppressors, fans of nickleback, whatever…) are orcs beyond redemption. This is a very grave form of dehumanisation that will make us less human, and closer to being an orc ourselves… A human is always more than a member of a certain identity group.

And so for a Christian there is no fellow human that we should see as beyond redemption. No enemy that can be turned into an orc that should be slain without mercy.

We’re all human!

what do you think?

peace

Bram

The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

The American situation as a crisis for my faith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

Bewaren

Bewaren

the danger of anger and the law of love (Agnes Sanford)


The next text is taken from DSCF0083Agnes Sanfords ‘the healing light’ (1947), a book that I am wresting with and that I might blog about later. I’m not sure I agree with the way she frames some things and some of her conclusions at all, but from everything I know she is a woman of God with spiritual insight who lived what she taught.

Danger lurks in every form of energy. The flow of energy that we call the law of love is the rhythm for which our beings were created, the thought-vibration in which we live and move and have our being. Every thought of anger, therefore, throws a contrary and destructive counter-vibration into the body, and places us in danger. “Whosoever is angry with his brother—shall be in danger of the judgment.”

This judgment begins immediately. One of its first evidences is the failure of the prayer-power of the angry one. He will find that he cannot pray, no matter how hard he tries. He will also notice in his body the immediate results of anger. A fit of wrath destroys the appetite, upsets the digestion, weakens the muscles and confuses the mind. And the anger that solidifies into hate, resentment or hurt feelings deposits a continual sediment or poison in nerves, arteries, bones and mind, and prepares the body for death. Doctors tell us that anger tends to destroy the body. Jesus said that it also tends to destroy the soul. “But whosoever shall say ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

The words sound harsh, but they are true. For the forces of spirit, mind and body are synchronized and ordered by the same inner control center, and that which affects one affects the others. As long as the thinking of the conscious mind is in harmony with God the sub-conscious mind directs the functioning of the body in a marvelous way. But as soon as we turn the dial of our thoughts to hate, bitterness, hurt feelings, resentment and irritations we send a contrary order down to the engine room of the subconscious which responds with the general order, “Hurt! Destroy!” The protective and life-giving forces of the body are weakened so that one falls prey to germs and infections, to pain and weakness, to nervousness and ill temper, and to the spiritual dullness that results from the dimming of the life force. If one looks with an open mind upon the history of war and epidemics he will perceive this fact.

The One Who Knew, therefore, was neither harsh nor fantastic. He was only realistic as He stated, in His own blunt, straight-from-the-shoulder way, a fact that cannot e evaded; the one who is angry with his brother is in danger. Christians have tried so hard to avoid this unavoidable law! Their excuses for anger range from the “righteous indignation” that slew the unbeliever to the “righteous indignation” that thunders against modernist or fundamentalist or Catholic or Jew. But there is no way of side-stepping the law of God, because it is written in our own subconscious minds. And the subconscious mind cannot figure out the difference between “righteous” and “unrighteous” indignation. Its working is inexorable and absolute, founded on laws set in motion before the foundation of the world, and no puny excuse of man-made mind can change it from its course. A man might drink poison in ignorance, mistaking it for water. In so doing, he would be acting righteously. No blame could possibly be attached to him. But that would not prevent the poison from destroying him. Therefore the Teacher, who was a most profound psychologist, told us that the poison of hate is dangerous, no matter what the cause of the hate may be.

(…)

We would be wise to direct our lives as much as possible toward paths of peace. We would be wise to plan our food, rest, work and recreation in as healthful a way as possible in order to soothe and harmonize our beings. For much of our bad temper springs from no other cause than weariness and over-strain.
We would also be wise to take the wrath-provoking words and acts of other people as assignments from God, as spiritual exercises, or as helpful hint along the way of life rather than as excuses for anger.

(…)

Not all spiritual adventures, however, are without pain. There are those who would strike one upon the cheek or steal his coat or compel him to go a mile with him as a burden-bearer, as the Romans did to the Jews. There are those, in other words, who would insult, defraud or bully one. The human answer to this problem is self-defense. What did the Way-Shower have to say of that?

Alas! He showed a way that very few have learned. He instructed those who would follow him into that happy and powerful life, the Kingdom of Heaven, to practice forgiveness rather than revenge. They were not only to love those who deserved to be loved—their friends. That was easy. Even the heathen did that. They were also to practice love toward their enemies. He suggested that when struck upon one cheek, they turn the other cheek toward the angry one; that when defrauded, they give to the defrauder; that when bullied, they perform an extra service for the bully. Those who have taken these suggestions literally and tried them out have found them to be the most perfect methods of self-defense.
And we become perfected in love by trying to do it. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person, and see him re-created in goodness and joy and peace.

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