Category Archives: politics

On ‘social constructs’ and other layers of the onion of Reality.


Hi readers,

ajuinYes, a new blogpost that isn’t advertising my super-obscure music but that actually goes back to my counter-cultural philosophising that goes in territory that escapes both the current left and right. (My music might be addressing similar subjects as certain future or recent blogposts -including this one-though, I didn’t call the new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ for no reason…)

So where do I begin? Let’s start with my first experience with the term ‘social construct’. I can more or less remember my surprise the first time when I ran into the term in an internet discussion years ago, I suppose with a young American feminist. When it was asserted by my conversation partner that gender was a social construct, which seemed to mean, nothing but a social construct, I made the mistake of taking that term on face value. My first reaction was that, since I did not at all recognise the definitions of male and female she was pushing unto me, social constructs by definition are contextual and bound to cultures, subcultures or even smaller groups, and thus we had to both give our definitions to proceed the conversation with more understanding. But no, for some reason the contextual specifics of ‘social constructs’ were not to be discussed about, I had to accept her rather scary views of male and female that probably where derived from a certain American conservative milieu, but that were utterly alien to me as normative.

Side note: As a father a 2 little girls, lifelong friend of women and girls, and being married to a woman I know feminism is very important. A lot of sexism exists in this world that should not exist, and it destroys people. And I’m a natural egalitarian too,but even that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything that goes under the label ‘feminism’, and some things under that name make it only worse. Let’s also say here up front that I’m no adherent of ‘critical theory’ and that I consider it an insult to postmodernism (especially when it pushes very contextual US definition of race that even have hardly anything to do with race a univeral, but that’s another story), at least phenomenologically in the versions of it that have trickled down to me through internet discussions. But feminism itself is not my subject here, a philosophical exploration of the nature of Reality is.

So to pick up on my story again, apart from the cross-cultural disconnect there firstly is the observation that I still can’t escape the notion that any social construct will always be contextual, and might thus differ from context to context, and that the internet is full of people from very different context who will have very different versions of certain ‘social constructs’. I will consider that as a given here and won’t even argue for it, because it’s too obvious for me, and I can’t imagine a possible world where this isn’t true. But there’s more…

But to get to the point, there also is the fact that I as an oldfashioned philoophical Realist do not at all agree that there that are many things at all that are purely social constructs. And I’m not even going into the problem that it seems that some ‘social constructs’ become personal constructs in our hyperindividualist postmodernist society, which in the end will make communication completely impossible, which in turn just erodes the purpose of language if driven too far when people refuse to give their own definitions and listen to those of the other side in a discussion. So we will remain on the collective level of constructs today, let’s go just with the idea that the social construct is only the last layer of the onion of the Reality of that certain subject.

What do I mean with that? There are at least 2 other layers that I am able to identify that might play a role. The most important one is the plain material-reality layer, which I will call Aristotelean for now.  And then there’s the even deeper Platonist layer behind it. (see this post for more on these ideas) We’ll stick with the example of gender here to keep it a bit practical, but the principle is more or less applicable to all kinds of realities.

(Yes, this model might be a 3-way dialectic synthesis of 2 ancient and a modern epistemology, but it’s the only way for me to make sense of Reality. I’m not saying it’s the last word on everything, it’s just the basic framework for a view on Reality that still can be refined a lot.)

Note also that we’re firstly talking about descriptions of reality, but that some take it much further, and see their own constructs or translations of deeper layer as not merely descriptive but also prescriptive. This can get very problematic, also because it often is a layer confusion, but more about that later.

So the 3 layers that I will talk about now are:
1.) the Platonist layer, the a priori part, the Deeper Idea behind something, residing somewhere in a Metaphysical dimension or the mind of God or something like that, or the Tao or Buddha nature layer if we speak from other paradigms, the one which includes the teleological dimension too, and is usually completely denied by materialists and physicalists. The God/Goddess archetypes in certain forms of Wicca are also based in this.

The problem with this layer, as with all absolutes, is that we have no direct access to it, and that we only have translations of it in human modes of interpretation. So while I do think that it is important to acknowledge that there is a Deeper Reality behind male and female, I will hesitate to say anything definitive about it. I almost always disagree with people who think they have something to say about it anyway. Which is why I disagree with C.S. Lewis on gender roles for example… His assertions about gender roles are based in his claims about the Platonic layer of the reality of gender, with which I disagree.

It’s not because something exists that we can say definitive things about it, and these layers of Reality are beyond us, even though they are the source of our Reality as much as the observed regularities we do call the ‘laws of nature’.

(Let’ also for completeness notice here that there is a variation of prescriptive notions of reality that is purely based on the Divine Will, which is very important in certain traditions. Which is where philosophical Nominalism becomes dangerous, but that’s yet again another story)

I know some people will dismiss this layer altogether,because it doesn’t fit into their worldview, but even they have to consider that this layer is heavily assumed by a lot of people, and cannot be translated to ‘social constructs’ in their worldview. We can disagree about whether something is just a social construct or not or even how much of it is, but if we don’t realise that for the other things are a much deeper reality than that we will not even be able to communicate. And even dismissing this layer as an illusion doesn’t mean that the 2 other less otherworldly layers that follow are not at least equally important…

2.) The ‘mundane world’ reality, which I’ve called Aristotelean by lack of a better term. The thingness of the thing that is residing in the physical reality of the thing itself, and not in some world of ideas. There is the reality of people being male and female (or non-binary) that is rooted in the material reality of our bodies, in their differences, in hormones, etc… No matter how much we say ‘mind over matter’, in the end this layer is much more accessible and clearer than the a priori first layer, and while partly under influence of the a posteriori third layer it still is the only actual substantial one. An important part of reality resides in our material dimension.

3.) The outer layer of the ‘social constructs’ of a given society or other human context here. These are a posteriori constructions residing in our common thoughtfield. It is a way to make the reality more concrete in societal norms and pictures, sometimes in not so healthy ways if we take our example of gender and the roles associated with it. It is a layer of interpretation and application, and one that can differ very much from context to context. Let’s also note again that the second and third layer are intertwined and do influence each other. This still doesn’t mean that there’s only one layer. It would be very naive to put everything in either the ‘biological reality’ or “social construct’ category while dismissing the validity of the other category altogether, yet it seems very tempting to do so for some people…

If we keep thee different layer in mind we see several problem that can arise.

Like I said the third layer is a translation and application of the second layer into our human cultures. But most translations that we make of the Aristotelean layer (not to mention the Platonic one) into social constructs are incomplete and unbalanced. They might for example stem from a very narrow sample of the described reality that is seen as normative by a chosen group. In certain milieus extraverted men are highly favoured over male introverts for example, even though those personality traits have nothing to do with sex or gender at all. There is nothing unmasculine about an introvert and deep thinking or even deep feeling man at all. There is a variety of personality types among men and a similar spectrum among women. So linking preferred personality types to some kind of gender essentialism is always bad for those who don’t fit in, for reasons that have nothing with non-gender-binary identity at all. This can be hard for people finding their identity when the roles are mere descriptions, and much worse when they are meant to be prescriptive…

Actually whenever we turn from descriptive to prescriptive there always is a danger already… But I suppose that’s too obvious to go deeper into now.

A last big problem that I will address is the confusion of layers, which is a problem especially in combination with being too prescriptive, and it also makes communication impossible when people assume a certain thing to be in a completely different layer. (Which very often happens in discussions about gender between a certain kind of ‘conservatives’ and a certain kind of ‘progressives’ for example)

A lot of people in more ‘conservative’ mindsets have claimed insights into what I called the Platonic layer throughout the ages to justify mere social constructs as absolutes. Some modernist on the other hand have tried to exaggerate dubious cultural differences (also social construct layer) on biological differences (Aritotelean layer) while that was only half of the story. On the other hand, there are certainly actual differences between men and women (and a minority people who fall outside of the duality) that are located in deeper layers of Reality than just social constructs too. And then there’ the whole ‘gender is only a social construct that ha nothing to do with biological sex’, that’s only confusing stuff even more. Especially because there is nothing left at all to turn to if the constructs one grew up with turned out to be more than problematic and have to be discarded because they did both not correspond enough with reality on the one hand while they did  also create a reality that was very destructive on the other hand. If there’s no deeper reality to which interpretations can be adjusted, not much is left than constructing something by oneself.

Another example of this layer confusion within Christianity can be found in how we read the line from Paul in the bible about ‘doesn’t nature tell us it’s a shame for a man to have long hair’. Any post-enlightenment thinker who has read enough blahblah from the people in recent centuries about ‘natural this’ and ‘natural that’ will interpret ‘nature’ as a deeper layer of at least Aristotelean nature, but from the context it’s clear Paul is talking about what we’d call culture rather than nature, and thus just referring to social constructs of his time and culture. As a man with long hair I have met some weird Christians who told me that my long hair was unnatural and against Gods created order though. (Luckily not often)

I think this was enough for a rant about what I think of when I see the word ‘social construct’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

 

On the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking


Hmm, I’m probably  back, moFoto0067re or less… This is a post that has been waiting to get finished for moths anyway, and it’s one  in which I try to pin down a problem that I see in this world without having a proper term to describe it (as far as I’m aware) so I can use my self-coined term later and link to this post. It’s a thought-error that I will call the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking by lack of a better name.

We like in a world ruled by semantics, and yet sometimes for most people nameless things are more important than the named things that we see with every 3 mouseclicks. So I write this because I have the idea that it’s very important for all of us to be able recognise and be conscious of this thought error which is also a potent tool for manipulation, lest we be lured into potentially dangerous ideologies because they have just one thing in common with us and with Truth or general common sense. The fact that there doesn’t even seem to be a commonly used term to describe what I’m writing about here today is beyond worrying actually. (I do actually hope that someone proves me wrong and gives me a term and tells me it’s a widely recognised problem. Please do!!!)

So what do I mean with the ‘logical fallacy of package-deal thinking’? I would suppose the name is quite clear but I’ll take some examples here to explain it further. Let’s use American culture as a source of examples today because it’s so pervasive in and beyond the English-speaking internet, and because a lot of my readers seem to be Americans for some reason.
So again, correct me if I’m wrong and inaccurately describe American culture, but as I perceive it a lot of people in the US seem to think for example that as a Christian one is ‘republican’, and thus naturally for unrestricted gun ownership, and for whatever goes under the name of capitalism today. The same goes with the idea that ‘pro-life’ (being against abortion) is related to being for the death penalty and pro whatever war America is waging overseas at the moment.

I do hope that I’m just rehashing faulty stereotypes here as an ignorant European who doesn’t understand American culture, because making these bundles of concepts is actually completely nonsense. There actually is a lot more reason to be anti-war and death penalty if one is ‘pro-life’ (especially if one wants that term to have any meaning beyond the Orwellian redefinitions of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ in the US abortion debates) .

The only connection is a historical context.

Or take the idea of ‘republicanism’. In Belgium a republican would be someone who is against the monarchy and in favour of a republic (like someone yelling ‘vive la republique’ at the coronation ceremony of the king  ). This is Jesus_gun-210x210not connected to anything else the ballast that the American Republican party has accumulated in the last decades, which would baffle an oldschool American republican too. So the thought-package connected to ‘republicanism’ (mostly the same things as go together with American ‘conservative’ ideology) is a very arbitrary box of unrelated stuff jumbled together by history and local culture.
In Northern Ireland a republican might be someone who is for the ‘Catholics’ (Irish nationalists) and against the Protestants and England.
So what’s the problem? It’s is very simple: Certain concepts that are actually unrelated are in peoples mind intrinsically tied to each other into packages, often under some umbrella term (which also changes meaning contextually, language isn’t fixed either and can be quiet fluid…) But except for that quite arbitrary thought-package in a certain context, there actually is no connection between the different things tied together at all.

Christianity has nothing to do with favouring ‘republicanism’ over a monarchy or even a direct democracy. Favouring a republic has nothing to do with capitalism or with Christianity at all, etc etc…

Most of these package deals are very contextual and have a very random historical origin of how they got lumped together.

But there’s more…
Most stereotypes are based on the same thing, and in these cases it’s often just generalisations that might be true for a majority of the group described. Assuming that I like cars, watching sports, enjoy violent films and have no respect for women just because I am a man would be a good example. (None of these applies to me btw. Sorry Mark Driscoll…)

To use more hip lingo, these idea-packages are somehow a subspecies of the in certain circles currently very popular ‘social constructs’. In fact they are are accidental (or in some cases manufactured) constructs of our culture, which are, like all constructs  actually very contextually defined, and often rather fluid and in most cases variable over time and space. But still in a given context they seem quite solid and it’s often very hard to go against them.

It also makes intercultural communication problematic. In the US something ‘conservative’ that is supposed to be connected to Christianity is obsessed with free market capitalism. In Belgium it’s the liberal party that has a similar ideology and is quite anti-religious…(well, no surprise, no matter what Americans call it is still neo-liberalism…) So our packages are completely incompatible. It’s liberalism and socialism that are on opposite sides over here…

And still we need the complete deconstruction of those packages if we want to do justice to reality and the people we encounter. Which is not always simple, and it can take a lot of energy to have to go against a certain ingrained package-deal that is taken for granted time after time after time. It can get very tiring, and needs understanding from the other side too (which won’t always come!).

And undeconstructed packages can actually make all meaningful conversation impossible…

It’s very hard to see through those package deals, and to not get tangled up in the guilt-by-association tactics that often flow from it. But it’s on everyones interest that we learn to see and avoid this logical fallacy.

Anyone with me?

peace

Bram

On the dangers of our centrated thinking


One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

AnkocToday’s post is one of those things I need to write down so I can link to it later, instead of having to give this explanation every time… The Brian McLaren quote above doesn’t only describe the problem I’m talking about quite well, but it also might foreshadow some later thoughts on some of the things that ‘the emerging church’ promised to go beyond without any such thng ever happening. (The problem sometimes is even more perfected in American ‘progressive Christianity’ as far as I can see…)

The term ‘centrated thinking’ in the title is borrowed from Piagets theory of psychological development by lack of a better word to describe it elsewhere, but I will use it in a much broader sense. Let’s first start with the wikipedia definition for those who are uninitiated in the theory or have forgotten it bPiagety now:

In psychology, centration is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other, possibly relevant aspects. Introduced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget through his cognitive-developmental stage theory, centration is a behaviour often demonstrated in the preoperational stage.

Yes, I do know that Piaget is speaking about small children in the pre-operational phase here as he calls it, but the same thing he described but manifesting in other forms is also happening all the time in adult human thought. We always look at the world through a certain lens. We are not omni-present to look at a situation from every side, cannot calculate all angles in, and would not have the time and energy to do so even if we could.

So very often people tend to frame their thoughts through a very specific lens, finding only one aspect or dimension of reality important or even real, and ignoring or negating all the rest. Often the idea is that whatever lens they have is the most important thing that explains everything, while all the rest is just irrelevant.
This has something to do with out human hunger for a simple explanation for life, the universe and everything. (Well, duh, 42!)
The ancient Greek philosophers for example were busy looking for the archè or principle on which the whole of existence was based. For Thales of Miletus it was water on which everything was based,his pupil Anaximander thought it was the Anaximandermore vague ‘indefinite’ or apeiron, while Anaximenes would say that it’s air. (Yes, all 4 elements have been seen as archè by one Philosopher or another in those days, and they were first combined by Empedocles as the 4 elements we know now, but that’s another story) Pythagoras on the other hand posited that everything was based on math and numbers.

Not much has changed since the centrated woldviews of those ancient bearded guys on their faraway Turkish or Greek coast… Freud said that everything in human behaviour is based in sex, and both communists and ‘capitalsts’ have fallen for the dangerous idea of Marx that reality should first and foremost be framed in terms of economics. And then there are more postmodern theories that have the archè of our humanity based in language, or power dynamics, etc…

Let me repeat that nothing is wrong with looking at the world through a certain lens and thus ignoring other parameters or whole dimensions. It’s unavoidable even, and we need to do this if we want to be able to understand the world around us at all! The more parameter we leave out, the more we can focus on details and really look at what’s going on.

But we should NEVER forget that it only is a lens. Power games are only one of the many things going on in human relationships and certainly not always our main motivator. Economics are one dimension of our reality, but to say it’s more important than other things is not reality but a choice. A very dangerous one. And so on…

If we forget that any of these centrated ways of explaining reality and our human existence are just possible lenses that focus on only certain dimensions of existence, we get in trouble easily. There are always more factors that can be looked at and probably even more that we aren’t even able to see, and reducing any issue to just one angle is always doing violence to the complicated reality we inhabit!

Nuance, and looking to all viewpoints and stories is always needed. And evidently it is always dehumanising to reduce people to just one aspect of their being and then completely fold their identity into that aspect, no matter if it’s sex/gender, race, culture, status in power/privilege, whatever… People are always more than that, and cannot be reduced to any of those. Relationships and human motives always based on more things than we know.

So I have to end with a warning about a certain line of thought that’s pervasive in certain social justice circles nowadays. No matter on what side of the line they are, dehumanising someone as an ‘oppressor’ (a common way to centrate human animalfarmidentity on in certain contemporary circles) and then dismissing them as a human being that has nothing to contribute is as dehumanising as the things the whole attitude wants to erase. Things that should be erased indeed, if we are to treat others like humans, but animal farm revolutions are NOT the way

Humans are always more complicated. Reality is always more complicated. We need centrated theories because that’s how we operate as humans. But we also need to see them for what they are, and to never take any theory at all as comprehensively describing Reality, humans, or God (yes, the same problem is very present in modernist and other theology too, but I don’t have the time here to go into that). We’ll only do violence to whatever we describe if  we think that our centrated theories describe all there is…

Always stay humble, be open to learn, and be open listen to everyone in a certain issue. Open your eyes for nuance, and don’t forget that the world is often not black’n white, nor grey, but it has many colours, some of which we can’t see. (Which doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Bees can see ultra-violet marks of flowers for example)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also the following posts:

Lust is not about sex but power and control?
The unhelpfulness of words like ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.
The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…

 

 

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

 

On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…


Note: I never completely understood the use of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ in the context of homosexuality, and I am not speaking about that interpretation at all here. I would probably be better if that application and its connotations just didn’t exist, for it does not seem to bring much good. I just use the saying here for the plain meaning, apart from its (ab)use in certain discussions…

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.” -St Augustine in Opera Omnia, Vol II. Col. 962, letter 211

man and woman
Let’s start with the Basic human dignity in the title: as a Christian I do believe that every human has an intrinsic worth, just for being a human being. (Just as everything in Creation has to some degree a worth in just being what it is, that surpasses all our ways of measuring value in monetary units) we are all humans: men, women, children, old people, handicapped people, people we disagree with, people who say and do wrong things, people in countries we don’t like, very rich people and very poor people… And we all have more value than money could ever buy. This is because you and me and every other specimen of Homo sapiens is made in Gods image, the Imago Dei as theologians call it in Latin!

God created humans in his image and said “and God saw that what He had made was very good.” But we all know that this isn’t the state the world is in now, long after the first chapters of genesis (and probably long before the last chapters of revelations) But even if the Imago dei has been damaged, it is not destroyed, and we do all still bear the Image of God in us. Every human being, even the worst ones included, have enormous worth, just because they are human. We do not have conditional humanity, even the worst sinner is still to be respected as a human being, even if all his rights or his life are to be taken away by our worldly juridical system. Like the Orthodox fathers say, sin does never destroy our human nature even as sinful fallen being… It can seriously damage it though… No-one is beyond salvation on this side of eternity, so no Christian should treat any human like that…

Surely we all know the paradise story, and that the icon of God has been damaged… ‘Human depravity’ is a term used (and abused) by theologians to indicate that humans are fallen beings, often inclined to do wrong, which will hurt ourselves, our relationships with others, with the rest of Creation and with God Himself. We miss the mark, we do injustice to others and ourselves. This is so with all of us I am afraid. This is what sin is!

I should remark here that this doesn’t exclude that there’s not as well a basic goodness still left within every human being too, even though it might be damaged. All things created by God possess some goodness, as the creation story teaches us. People who come with extreme versions of ‘total depravity’ and argue that even babies are evil wretched sinners with no good intentions at all are just creepy and should not be put within a 1 km radius of any baby. My experience with my own kids shows that this view on babies is just faeces from a big male bovine mammal as the English-speaking like to say it when their grandmother is not around… But our human goodness can be distorted, along with Gods image in us, sometimes at the brink of total destruction.

So we indeed are all sinners and under the influence of sin as it pervades our world and our human systems, as the Christian faith tells us. But sin is not just some abstract condition we’re in that offends an easily offended Supreme being because of some weird theoretical problems with it. It seems to me that our theories so often make sin too abstract, too big and too otherworldly to do anything against in the real world, only accept the sacrifice of Jesus to erase the punishment. Such an approach actually does not do much justice to sin at all. If we can’t help but sin, and having one wrong thought is as evil as killing a whole continent full of people, cute kittens and endangered pandas, what does it matter anyway? It is so over the top that the word sin loses any actual real-world meaning.
Such views do also seem to forget that Jesus did not just come to destroy our punishment, but to do away with sin itself, and with our slavery to evil and death, and to defeat the devil and stuff like that.

Moreover sin is not just something abstract that is evil because it breaks some rules that were written thousands of years ago… It is very real, tangible, and something that does destroy our life and those of others! Bad habits, things that make it hard to have a life in connection with God and our neighbor, things that make it hard to live with ourselves, things that destroy creation itself, and so on. All of those things are sin. They are bad for very clear reasons. Sin always is destructive in some way…

And yes, we should look at our own sin first, but a lot of sin does not just affect one person. We have systems of systemic sin oppressing the poor, destroying creation, and so on. We have people persisting in habits that do not only destroy their own lives, but those of their family and loved ones too. So if I have a friend who’s an alcoholic, who is destroying himself and his family, and our friendship, and more things with that problem, is it then not just appropriate to just hate that sin? How could I love my friend without hating the thing that destroys him? Some people might say that alcoholism is not a sin but a disease, but there are many more aspects to sin than ‘breaking this or this law’, and a lot of church fathers did describe sin as a disease permeating human lives, and it often works that way!

So we should hate sin whenever we encounter its destructive force at work in human lives. And no, hating sin understood properly is not at all a rejection of the person, it is the opposite. The person should never be rejected even if they are being destroyed by sin. We should always try to love and help the person. To live in a way that brings the Kingdom of God here and now, even in this broken world. We know that destruction still reigns here, and that only in an ‘eschatological horizon’ sin will be completely done away with, but we need to live as ambassadors of a world without sin, without hate, without the destruction of good things. Which means that we’ll hate the forces that do destroy, of which sin is a very important one…

We will encounter sin in both our own lives and the lives of others, and see its destroying qualities at work. If we love the person, and see the sin destroy his life or the lives of others, we cannot do otherwise than hate the sin…

Let me also say here that we do not need to denounce everything we think violates certain rules or whatever. Sin is not about breaking rules in the first place. Rules are there(if they are just) to make sure we don’t sin, because the sin is evil. Law is there to prevent evil and destruction (or social incoherence) and is only secondary here. Law is just an aftermath of sin trying to prevent it from attacking again. I am speaking here of situations in which we see sin that is effectively destroying people, about real sin that is objectively evil because it does harm people. Rules, laws and even bible interpretations are not always the most relevant arbiter here…

Note also that a lot of the more horrible sinners -killers, druglords, rapists, slave traders, women traffickers, dictators,…- are just those who manifestly do NOT believe in this basic human dignity and just act upon it accordingly. If you think that poor people, or people of another skin color, culture, language or religion, or the other sex (or those outside of 2 binary genders) are for some reason less human like you, you will most probably automatically treat them as less than human…

But this does not mean that even those people can change and repent and change their ways, and come to a path that leads to life for themselves and many others. Note that for example the apostle Paul was a recovered Christian-hunter who had approved of the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr according to the book of acts. He did terrible atrocities that should be hated (and yet forgiven) but afterwards he became a Christian like there haven’t been many in the history of Christianity.

And even if they don’t, we have to respect their humanity that’s created in Gods image, but never their sin. No-one is beyond salvation, no matter how big their sin! Every human being has basic human dignity.

There is no option for Christians to put any human being beyond salvation and write them off because they are ‘too sinful’. We are to love everyone created in Gods image. And the sin is never an intrinsic part of what makes us a human being, it is the damage done to it by our fallen world. And we should be willing to pray for even the most evil of our fellow humans to be saved from their sin, because if it destroys the humanity of others, it does destroy their humanity too!(I do not know if there is a ‘point of no return’ where a person is so destroyed by sin that the imago dei is lost beyond recovery, but we do not need to think like that! It’s up to God to judge in the end what can be salvaged and what not, now we should just love… Showing love to sinners might be the thing that brings them back anyway!)

We should love the sinners. They are human beings like us, equivalent to us. It is not right to think they would be under us in any way just as it is wrong to think we’re more than them in any way. And we should hate the sin, we should never affirm it, or bow for it, or think that the sin is the essence of the person.

If we let the sin between us define the other person as ‘less human’ than us and makes us view or treat them accordingly, sin has already won one more round. Just as much as it would have won if we’d have joined the sin itself…

What do you people think?

Peace

farewell, online American Christianity…


dear readers,bla

I know, my title sounds dramatic and probably is an overstatement, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to draw the line I’ve been drawing earlier a bit more more clearer, for my own health. I need to get away from certain stuff because it just is an unhealthy distraction, and not relevant even for where I am in my faith journey.
There’s enough stuff enough already to wrestle with in my own life here on the old continent, and moreover I don’t think the things that come through are even representative, but for some reason the loudest voices are the most bitter ones. But those are the things I stumble across, on blogs, FB, twitter, etc…

Okay, let me be frank here what the problem is: I don’t want to read anything about people calling others ‘heretic’ or ‘bigot’ because they are not X or Y enough because of verse Z and Q read in a way that I don’t understand or because of this theology or tradition or scientific theory or academic consensus or political correctness or whatever. And yes, both sides come across as equally toxic to me in calling out and disowning and naming enemies. I don’t care about your dichotomies, it’s just 2 sides of the same coin for me. anyway your liberal and conservative American Christianity…

And actually this is not at all my story. I as a lone European weirdo can’t carry the problems of a defective, divided church and culture in our rogue ex-colonies. Taking in too much of it appears to be toxic to me, and the tragic thing is that they probably are as toxic to the people inside of them too. I completely can understand if people are losing their faith at the moment. I completely would understand an ‘evangelical collapse‘. And I sincerely hope you will be able keep it on your side of the ocean, and don’t infect churches here or in the global South with it. There’s enough problems in Christianity without being infected with those from the US too…

But like I said this is not my story and I want to keep it that way.

I already live in country where Christianity (cultural catholicism) has collapsed. Equating Christian with a narrow version of fundamentalist evangelicalism is not an option for me in a secular country where most people think ‘catholic’ when you use the word ‘Christian’, and then think a bout something of the past (or even worse, child abuse and stuff) although it seems our friends Francis does have a good influence.
Evangelicals are not on the radar, and to be honest, what I see coming from over the ocean (the loudest and most visible stuff) has nothing at all or even less in it that could give people a better image of Christianity, or point to Jesus.

And oh, If you want me to be interested in anything you say about your faith, disconnect it from your weird politics. They make no sense to me. None of our 8 parties of so can be equated with either of yours, so your weird dichotomies are alien to me. I live in a country where ‘republican’ means someone who doesn’t like our king (I don’t care about him to be honest) in favor of a republic, be it an independent republic of Flanders, Belgium as a republic or the united states of the EU under one president. Nothing at all about ‘conservative’ politics, although the capitalist-centered part does exist in our liberal party and some nationalists. (Economic neo-liberalism and similar stuff like a colder and extremer version the oldschool liberalism of the founding fathers, people, has NOTHING to do with Jesus. Real conservative Christianity would more ‘communist’ than ‘capitalist’ although it would transcend both and annul every form of slavery to Mammon, the demon to which our lives and all of Gods creation are sacrificed by our current political systems) A democrat to me is anyone who believes in democracy in one way or another. I don’t even see the difference between the 2 American parties, and I find the whole dichotomy-thinking dangerous and unhealthy. I don’t want to waste any more time or reading about it, our own politics are crazy enough and full of problems already. And no, your ‘left’ isn’t automatically more interesting than the right-wing stuff. The political correctness of a world that I don’t understand only looks like ot leaves no place for anyone to even breathe. And it seems that (like always, the problem is prevalent here too) people on both sides are completely misrepresenting the other side, not listening to the other it at all. We have enough of that here already…

Yes, I AM interested in Christians anywhere, including America, who show the fruit of their walk with Christ, who show love to the least, and to the ones they disagree with, no matter if they are sinners, heretics or bigots. If I don’t see that love, you might have the letter, but I don’t think you have the Spirit. You might have theory, but do you have Love?

Like someone said, without love we are nothing, and a tree will be known by his fruit.

Maybe the world needs more fruit.

Where is the fruit? The fruits of the Spirit? Where is the love? The love among Christians that the world will see so it will see Christ? Where is the good deeds that will make the world say that God is great?

Don’t boast in having the right theory, and especially not in how you exclude whatever group you see as heretics or bigots. Show your love through your life and your writing (which is what I see of your life). If something like heresy or bigotry is damaging people, show me how it is damaging to everyone, both oppressor and oppressed, and how you love all of them and want the evil to disappear so it will not be able to separate people anymore.

I want to see visions of light, and the Light itself. Not more descriptions of darkness. Denouncing darkness alone will never bring any light. Dissecting everything you see to find more darkness in it neither.

So I’m going to cut myself loose from some things even more, for it seems that the distraction of the struggles of a world that isn’t mine will only bring me further away from God. Yes, I might read Rachel or Robs series on the bible or some of my blogging e-friends from time, but I will avoid every blog-storm, every new ‘crisis’ in which people are leaving evangelicalism and in which Christians behave like a bunch of politicians of the type that never became more mature than a spoiled toddler. Even a critical commentary on it can channel something that is detrimental to my faith.

I’m not bound to whatever people on another continent call ‘evangelicalism’. I’m bound to the Way of Christ, the Incarnated and Risen one who conquered death, evil and sin, and to the Spirit who lives in me.

I need to be turning to God Himself, to the bible and the words of Jesus, to books from a lot of angles. To the believers around me, who are part of my journey with me.

And I am probably very privileged in a way not to be an American here if all you can see is America and its problems and me telling that it’s not my problem. But actually there are problems enough already in my own life and in this country, wo don’t have to import any.

But for those alarmed by the title: no, if you’re an American Christian reading this and we know each other from online conversations;I’m not going to cut off people. If you are my friends you stay my friends, but I need to disengage your overall culture, for my own spiritual health.

I will love you but not carry the baggage of your culture as if it’s mine. I will talk with you and pray for you, but I cannot share the axioms and certainties of your culture and act as if they are normative for all earthlings. They are not, and some of them are alien. Just as mine are…

peace

Bram

Resurrecting the dead on twitter to preach generic Marxism???


I’m not a very good twitterer: I generally win followers when I don’t tweet anything to lose followers when I start tweeting again, but I find twitter interesting still.  Sometimes I follow people on Twitter I do know, sometimes I follow people I know because they are famous, sometimes I do follow people because they have been retweeted by someone and seem interesting, and so on… From time to time I come across a twitter feed from a dead or non-existent person, and mostly that means that they give quotes from that person (like C.S. Lewis), or a parody account (like Lord Voldemort)

I have no problems with that, I like the quotes from older people who didn’t live long enough to be able to start a twitter account, and I even do enjoy good parodies. No problems at all here. But from time to time something else seems to be going on. And I think there might even be a sinister plot at work here that aims to overtake the world, or something like that…

 At a certain moment I followed a ‘John Lennon’ feed, and after a while it became clear that whatever that feed was tweeting, it was NOT from our friend John Lennon. Not that I don’t expect John Lennon to be a bit preachy from time to time, and I do know that he was full of talk about revolution and stuff like that, but all this talk about revolution and workers and capitalism began to sound fishy. And then I realized that a Martin Luther King feed that I recently began following did tweet exactly the same kind of generic vague Marxist babble, as well as the Sigmund Freud feed. And funny enough there seemed to be other feeds, sometimes retweeted by those dead heroes reincarnated as rather boring leftist preachers, that did the same pattern, a lot of them even. I then cleaned up my list and unfollowed most of those weirdos, keeping some so I could have a laugh from time to time…

 Now, it seems John Lennon has gone from Twitter in his fake marxist reincarnation, but the Twitterverse is still full of fake twitter feeds of dead people all spouting the same weird anticapitalist calls for revolution. From Picasso to St. Francis, Luther and even John Paul II, and from Malcolm X to Che Guevara and Nietzsche and Camus. (And even Lenin seems to be hi-jacked and not very authentic…) If you look at the feed of the protest movement, wich seems to be a central retweeting service here, you find lots and lots of them. And if that’s not enough there are a lot of thematic twitter feeds too, from ‘how to get fired‘ to ‘dear porn-addicts‘ and even the sligprotesthtly troubling ‘How to spot traitors‘.

Yes, that last one does exist too… Makes one think the spider behind this web of leftist zombie-tweeps might not be very friendly at all, doesn’t it?Yes, it makes one wonder who or what is behind all of this playing for Dr. Frankenstein in reviving the dead to make preaching e-zombies out of them, and what excatly their motives and goals are, and so on.

 Yes, sometimes they can be funny, and that might be why I sometimes retweet them, but it’s actually quite troubling too, and most of all completely disrespectful of the dead. Let the dead be who they were, and don’t twist their message into your preachy political message. I do want a Sigmund Freud feed on Twitter to quote Freud, not spout generic marxist preaching that gets quite boring after a while. Whether or not I would agree with quotes from Nietzsche or Camus or John Paul II does not matter, one does not abuse dead people to preach a message they did not preach (and most surely did not approve of…)

 (Not to say that if anyone actually would believe any of these feeds to be genuine, he would be gravely deceived!!!!)

 Anyone else who knows more about this phenomenon, please inform me…

Long live the revolution that destroys the systems of evil and restores the humanity of everyone, both oppressed an oppressor!

 peace

Bram

 PS: Yes, as a Christian, I am quite critical of capitalism, and I hope to be able to resume my capitalism series soon. I also am opposed to violence, lies and deception.