Category Archives: fundamentalism

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


The subtitle of this blog is ‘My book of the damned’, because I sometimes touch on subjects that are completely off the radar for most people, even though they might be rather interesting or important.

Today we have the opposite, instead of saving something from the realm of damned and shining light on something interesting that is ignored by the mainstream I’ll shine some light on something that should be banished to far beyond the realm of the damned because it’s both harmful and stupid.

I’m speaking of the so-called ‘umbrella of protection’ diagram here, which seems to be used in certain ‘Christian” environments to explain how the order of the family is supposed to be. According to someone in my facebook list it’s even used in Flemish churches, although I’ve never encountered it myself luckily.

Just look at it for some seconds. Think about how umbrellas work. This is not how umbrellas work. Not even my little ponyland or Utopia are there laws of physics and logic that could be bended to make an umbrella work like this. No matter how you twist the whole thing, all umbrellas except the biggest one will always be redundant.

Now I know that a bad metaphor does not necessarily make an idea invalid,  and neither does a bad explanation of it.  So I know that I have to say something about the ideas behind the whole thing. But I can be rather short.

If the idea that the man is the mediator of God for the wife, and the wife is the mediator of God (through the man?) for the children, then the basics of Christianity are denied here. And the basics of protestantism too (the priesthood of all believers. Making the man a priest for all of his household members has some very weird theological implications outside of Christianity (like nullifying the idea that Christ brings is the one who connects us to God for women and children). And it’s as nonsensical as the ‘all men are leaders, all women are followers’ trope. No, most men are not leaders (and some women are). If everyone is a leader the word doesn’t even have any meaning anymore. And even though they are a minority, the bible certainly has a lot of women leaders and a lot of men who are not leaders.

If this is solely about protection then even psalm 23 doesn’t make sense in this worldview, and is only for me. Women should pray ‘my man is my shepherd, mediating the Lord for me’, while children should say ‘my mother is my shepherd, mediating my father who is mediating the Lord for me’. This is pure nonsense. God will protect anyone, and needs no authority over us to do so.

Hagar in the Desert

Think for example of Abraham, one of the most notorious figures in the history of religion, and certainly a man of God even though not always the best example in family relationships. When his wife Sarah kicks out his pregnant second wife Hagar the angels protect her, even though she just lost her ‘male umbrella’ according to this umbrella paradigm. Later the same thing happens with her son Ishmael when he’s 13. (Picture Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870, Romania, I doubt angels actually look like that though)  God can protect any of us well enough without having any ‘umbrella’ of any authority over us. And for sure, we should protect the ones we love, but the whole hierarchy chain of the umbrella theory is very cramped and weird.

Where does it come from? It appears that this scheme comes from some bloke called Bill Gothard, who’s also leader of a homeschool movement and seems to be a rather weird cult leader (A FB-friend of me has been hurt and traumatised severely by his influence when growing up). His institute has even turned the theory and other rather weird authoritarian things in very cute but rather brainwashing songs for children and as you see from that link and the comments, more people have been very much hurt, damaged and traumatised by his approach.That alone should be enough to just discard the whole thing, and watch out for his influence in Evangelicalism. Here’s a good introduction to the story of Gothard (although not a super readable website) for those who want to dig deeper, and the afore-linked homeschool anonymous site has interesting stuff too.

To add a layer of irony, this whole Authoritarianism-gone-wrong stuff thwatchmanat is so pervasive in American Christianity is partly a Chinese import. Like the creepy extreme shepherding movement, Gothard is influenced by Watchman Nees ‘Authority and submission’ paradigm, which puts extreme emphasis on absolute submission.  (sample chapter from Nee here) Watchman Nee as a Chinese Christian was influenced by his culture -as anyone is- and imported a bit of Confucius here when it comes to the role of authority and hierarchy, which was taken to an unbalanced extreme.  For those who like to check for themselves: Here’s the whole reasoning behind the theory of ‘umbrella protection’ which is very clearly influenced by Nee if you’re familiar with his way of thinking.

But let’s go back to the diagram and look at it as it is drawn.  if we just open our eyes, the diagram itself cannot hide the truth that all of this is plain nonsense and the truth is still plain and open for anyone with eyes to see. The only ‘umbrella’ we need is the protection of God Himself. No other umbrella under it would ever do anything at all and they are all useless and unneeded…

Yes, we all are a blessing to each other, and we all help each other, but we’re all under the same umbrella together. It’s a basic Christian truth God is available to all of us through Christ.

peace

Bram

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On my problematic relationship with American post-fundamentalism…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what do you people think?

peace

Bram

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

A rant on Christian modernism and stuff…


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I just posted this on twitter (in 11 parts) as ‘a rant that might cost me followers’:

I think I do know why the America-centric Christian blogosphere seems to irritate me and feels so irrelevant so much of the time. I realised just don’t even care about the fundamentalist/liberal dichotomy as both seem equally irrelevant to me as a Charismatic (as I am probably to them…) and 2 sides of the same old boring utterliky unrealistic ugly modernist coin to me. Even if I’d lose my Christian faith I’d rather follow the closest new-ager or any tribal pagan than fall for naturalist materialism anyway, which is the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners and solipsistic academics. And although I liked the ’emerging church dialog’, where the ’emergent’ stuff falls into some kind of liberalism 2.0 it just loses any credibility to me. I can understand liberalism as the godless capitalism it is in Europe, it is honest but evil, and I don’t care for it. Socialism, non-marxist communism, anarchism, even monarchism, whatever… Bring on organic church, neo-anabaptism, Eastern Orthodoxy, indigenous expressions of Christianity, even insights from all kinds of other religions and philosophies where the Creator has sown the seeds of Truth. But please no modern Western liberalism, ‘new atheism’ or modern Christian fundamentalism please, they all seem connected to me and don’t convince me at all. The world is already ugly enough, thank you…

Maybe I worded it too strong, but it’s how I feel…

Any pushback or questions?

peace

Bram

fallible language V: speaking about creation


We’re still in a series that I’ve begun last winter, about fallibility of language (find part I, part II, part III and part IV here) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes.

We’ve been talking about God and theology, but today we’re going to go to a more specific discussion, that is very important for certain people in my own broad tribe of evangelicalism: speaking about Creation.

I’ve always found the 2 most vocal major streams of thought within contemporary Christianity equally irritating; at one hand you have the very militant creationists, who claim to know scientifically exactly how God has made the world in a lot more details than the bible can provide. And if you don’t follow them you don’t believe in the bible and you’ll lose your faith. On the other side you have those who have an equally big faith in science and who know that science has the last word in everything, and if there’s anything in Christianity or the bible that goes against the findings of modern science we should get rid of it…

To be honest, I find both positions to be equally impotent and signs of a quite uncritical synchretism with the arrogant optimism of the enlightenment that we human beings can and will know everything. My thoughts on how Creation has happened may have shifted over the years, but one of the things I’ve always known is that the circumstances of how God made the world are not likely to be found out completely by our science, the visible does not stem from what we can see, and neither that any description of it will ever be complete and able to scientifically nail down what happened.

Vinoth Ramachandra, writing from an Evangelical but non-Western Point of View, puts it this way in his excellent but quite heavy book ‘subverting global myths’:

Creationism and evolutions are simply mirror images of each other. The former reduces the Christian doctrine of creation to the level of a scientific account of chronological origins, and the latter elevated the biological theory of revolution into a total worldview. Paradoxically,creationist and evolutionists have more in common than they each realize: Both work within a “universe-as-machine” picture of the world, so that Gods relationship with the world can only be conceived in the form of ingeneer-type interventions which have to be scientifically inexplicable.

But the whole “universe as a machine” framework is just a modern way we think we make sense of the world… And Creation is something that happened outside of the things that we know and have words for, and something that was not witnessed by us. So I’d expect science to be able to find out something, but not at all even the main thing. Only of you’re a purely materialist Christian you could believe such a thing… (We’ve actually had discussions about evolution and spiritual beings here on this blog a while ago) But neither would I believe that an God-inspired description would be ever complete, it would just be an assurance that indeed God is the Creator. (the question about the origin of angels and demons is still there btw, genesis doesn’t say a word about this!)

With all of this in mind, I found the Orthodox way of looking at the subject of Creation much more interesting. Let’s go back to ‘light from the Christian East’:

For one thing, the Orthodox emphasis on our human inability to conceive of and speak about God and creation together could help us escape the sometimes acrimonious “creation versus evolution” arguments that so often have bedeviled reflection on the creation among Western Christians over the last century or so. From the perspectives of Orthodoxy, the first chapters of Genesis do not explain creation. Creation was God’s act, and no amount of human intellectual ingenuity could ever account for it, nor any human words capture it. The terse affirmations made in Genesis 1-2 do not amount to explanations or even descriptions, from an Orthodox perspective; they confront us with the declaration that all that is came from God. In presenting the entire universe as God’s creative handiwork, Orthodoxy excludes all thought of an evolutionary process operating outside of God, to be sure. Equally, it precludes any arrogant claim to comprehend from the first chapters of Genesis how God brought everything into existence. What Scripture presents is the declaration that God made all that is, without any attempt to clarify how all came into being. The opening chapters of Genesis present what must be wondered at, not what can be fathomed. They offer stimulation for common praise by all those who believe in him, not material with which we should brow-beat fellow believers whose ideas about the way in which God may have accomplished that work differ from ours.
Further, even if God had explained it to us, could we have understood it? What language could God borrow to explain to mere creatures the act of creation so that we could comprehend it? If his ways and thoughts are beyond ours (Is 55:8-9), should we not offer humble praise for his creation and what hè has told us about it, rather than fighting among ourselves as to who best comprehends how God brought all things into existence? Is the beginning of Scripture intended to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about “how,” or is it to invite us to celebrate “what” and “who”? Western Christians could learn a bit more humility in speaking about creation and God from their brothers and sisters in Eastern Orthodoxy. (Payton)

Now that’s a bit like what I think about the subject, but much more eloquently worded…

what do you think?

Shalom

Bram

see also this post and the discussion under it, on evolutionary creationism and angels…

C.S. Lewis: I’m not a fundamentalist


This is a C.S. Lewis quote about how to read the bible that is probably equally irritating to fundamentalists and modernist/liberal christians, but it makes a lot of sense to me:

“I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation “after the manner of a popular poet” (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction. The real reason why I can accept as historical a story in which a miracle occurs is that I have never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen.”

C.S. Lewis, reflections on the psalms

I have no problem with accepting insights from bible criticism and modern theology (although there’s a lot of reductionistic rubbish too, that seems to be written from the point of wanting to believe everything but a ‘traditional’ reading), but I’ve never had any interest in the idea that miracles are a mark that a story is myth, and cannot have happened. I do have not only philosophical but even experiential reasons to believe in the possibility of miracles even…

There might be othere reasons to doubt that certain (OT) stories are more likely more or less mythical and not completely historical (or completely not, I wouldn’t care if Job was just a literary story to convey its philosophical message…) Not believing in the supernatural is one modern error, but thinking that a bible verse can only be inspired and to our benefit if it’s completely historical is another one from the opposite side….

What do you people think?

shalom

Bram

you and your tradition cannot choose what words mean for others…


[trigger warning: quotes that could be percieved as more than  rather misogynistic]

Yes, I’m still alive. I’ve been in a quasi-internetless place with a lot of trees, bungalows, and a subtropical swimming paradise, in a French-speaking part of this little kingdom by the sea. (Well, internetless is exagerrated I can always go to the bar where they have free wifi, but I choose to be almost disconnected this week.) I will be back this weekend and there will be some blogposts lined up for the following week.

And now I’m here in the bar reading up some blogs that I’ve missed (backsliding into my regular addictions…) And I’m back in the fireline of a very frustrating discussion again again when I’m reading a Rachel Held Evans post reacting to the Gospel coalition, and a reaction from TGC that I find quite weird. The issue is (again) patriarchy and complementarianism perceived as pure misogyny.Still Wilson says:

Here’s a question for critics of the piece: You want these words not to mean a forceful, degrading domination of women, yes? And here is Wilson saying he does not mean them in that way. So why not accept that? Or, instead of insisting they mean the opposite of what he says he meant by them, why not just call him a liar? That’s a quicker line to draw.

And when I try to understand both sides, I’m afraid that no matter how your defending exegesis is, a sentence like this will be sexist, misogynist and quite problematic to most people I know:

however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

I does not in any way describe my views or experience with marriage nor sex, and it sounds not like anything biblical to me either. Maybe in certain neo-reformed or fundamentalist worldviews these words can be taken as non-sexist, as Wilson thinks he does. And I do know there are complementarians with good marriages…

But honestly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot read this kind of statements otherwise as sexism towards both sexes (yes, as a man I find this way of thinking degrading towards myself as much as to my wife!), and as the description of a mentality that would describe everything I know about loving male-female relationships. The only way I can interpret this is as pure one-sided dominion from the male side.

But I really try to understand how people could think otherwise, and I can’t. In the end we come to the same problem with words as with stories, like I noted in an earlier post. Whoever you are, you and your tradition cannot control how words will be perceived by others. You and your tradition cannot decide on what a word means, and what connotations it bears to others...

Which reminds me of a discussion about the world ‘tolerance’. Some see it as the most desired goal in society, and as a very positive mentality everyone should have, while others see it as unloving, merely tolerating everything because we have to. So, define your terms if you speak to someone with another worldview, but don’t expect that they read or hear something the way you do. And yet, no matter how you try, there’s a limit to understanding someone else worldview when views are opposing. And I’m in no way able to read that quote otherwise than sexist rapist-mentality. And I did try… It just conflicts with everything I know about love…

(And I’m not speaking as a feminist here, but merely as the lover and friend I am in my marriage, and as someone who tries to find a way to live out Christian self-giving love in every relationship… I just am not able to see how it would go together with what those complementarians describe…  )

what do you think

shalom

Bram