Tag Archives: america

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

Stop being influenced by America?


World-Map-1Like you all know and can see, I blog in English here, for different reasons. My mother tongue (Dutch) is only spoken in a small part of the Terran planet, and I do like to read a lot of things about the rest of the world too -which is miraculously technically possible now in this weird new era thanks to the internet-, so an international ‘lingua franca’ is very handy for both reading and writing when it comes about broadening the world. So that’s why I employ English here. (Because I don’t read nor write Russian, Japanese, Cantonese, or Arabic. Being able to do that would enable me to find even more viewpoints , but alas…)

Belgians can like all people (from tribal people to modern Westerners) be quite myopic sometimes, as any population, so I like to have a lot of perspectives from different places and different ages, which is the best way to be aware of the blind spots of my own individual and cultural perspective. Being able to read what happens not only here in Belgium but in exotic places as Asia or America can sometimes challenge a lot of ‘self-evident’ assumptions that I might have accumulated by participating in my culture.

But I should watch out with the internet if that is my goal. Sometimes it’s not true that I have many perspectives. There still is a danger though that I fall

into the trap of taking in too much of the presupposition of the most dominant empire within the English-speaking world. I don’t know why, but I keep on stumbling onto a majority of US content on the internet. Maybe I have too much US contacts and interests, or maybe they are omnipresent, I don’t know… And the problem here is that the US is not my country, and has a lot of things that are alien to me, that don’t even make sense to me (or sometimes even for any other outsider) but for Americans due to historical reasons they are completely normal and logical. This is true in politics and religion for example.

The 2-part-system makes no sense at all, for a non A-merican Obama is not ‘left’, let alone ‘socialist’ and actually not that different from GWB after all…

Same with religion, as an Evangelical Christian I am amazed at how strange the American version of my faith (which appears to be influencing a lot of evangelicalism around the world btw.,which might actually not be that healthy at all, since the US is in a process of dechristianisation) can be, and about some things they take fro granted as self-evident. Especially when those things make no sense and hurt people as some beliefs and practices in the -anthropologically very interesting- fundamentalist corner of American Christianity. Same for the liberal side, which is as weird as our ‘humanist’ anti-religious liberals here in Europe sometimes, and sometimes just built on a frustrated reaction of the other side without having much to say about things that are not covered by the other side.

So I think I need to actively search more perspectives of Christians (and other interesting thinking people) from all around the world of all colors cultures and sexes or whatever. I don’t see why American perspectives should dominate what I take in, I just began writing and reading in English to get away from my own myopic perspective and now another one wants to hypnotise me.. I need to see a kaleidoscope of perspectives where certain problems and polarising questions are not dominating and tainting everything. Like reading old church fathers from before Augustine and Eastern Orthodox writers can be very refreshing after countless unnecessary calvinism-‘arminianism’ debates I need to get away from the idiocy of both fundamentalism and the more extreme opposite on the liberal side… Both are distracting, adventures in missing the point, and if I take these kind of polarisations as normative it’s constantly taking too much energy to battle both sides.

The weird polarisations taken for granted in my own country (which are sometimes completely different from those in the US) are enough to lose a lot of energy which I could use to get to the point instead of having to defend myself. In the end there is no reason why the dominatnt culture US should influence me more than the fascinating culture of Tuva, or the old Sumerians or the Piraha… It’s good to know the thought of a dominant empire for a lot of reasons, but still I should not be brainwashed by the complications of another culture with as much problems as my own, and fight a lot of weird ideas that are not part of my story. I need to focus on my own battles. There are a lot of things in American fundamentalism (and liberalism), but they are not closer to my bed than the problems of the copts in Egypt or the Tibethan buddists…

So I need to refocus my scope and get more globally again, recognise what’s my area and what not and what is helpful to me and what not, and let others battle their own problems, for one man can not supervise the whole planet. And this means filtering and being conscious about what news is priority.

God is everywhere doing different things with different people and I’m not God, I’m not called to be omnipresent nor am I to be a part of the empire of the US…

May God bless and keep the US as much as the rest of Terra, but sometimes save the rest of the world from their influence… (and from ours, and other aggressive worldviews…)

peace

Bram

on the difference between Belgian and American politics, by James Coder.


This is an excerpt from a Facebook discussion That I found worth sharing. James Coder is an American living in Belgium, and he is better positioned than me to see the differences between my country and the old US of A, who can seem pretty alien to me from time to time.

I’m sort of “in both camps” being an American who has lived in Belgium for 20 years.

Mr. Brambonius points out something very interesting: in politics, here the word “liberals” means something more akin to the “libertarians” in the… U.S. – and then, the agnostic/atheist variety. They believe that just about everything should be controlled by the market, with very little that’s set aside as “not for sale” – including some things which conservatives tend to think shouldn’t be for sale – like sexual intercourse and “recreational” drugs. Yes, socialism is much more significant here than in the U.S., but many Americans don’t understand how it works. Unfortunately, Americans tend to be so centered on “civil rights” and their own rights that they lose sight of the notion of obligations. One of the main reasons that health care in the United States is so expensive is because of our focus on civil rights, and that any citizen should be allowed to easily bring his doctor to court for malpractice. The problem is that it’s always possible to suggest that, in tragic cases where someone dies or is paralyzed, that the doctor could have done something differently which may have averted the tragedy, and millions of dollars are sometimes awarded in such cases, even when doctors do their best – it’s that “alternative” out there that sometimes swings juries to award people who are crippled, or grieving relatives, millions of dollars, assuming that the doctor or insurance company can afford it. In reality, medical insurance is thus being used to cover the expenses of human tragedy. This is something which can’t be measured economically, so the “system” will always be economically paralyzed and unaffordable to many Americans. In Europe, there is not so much incentive to sue doctors, and not so much of a feeling in cases of tragedy that one has “the right” to sue one’s doctor (unless there is real clear evidence of actual malpractice). Nor is it usually a trial by jury, which means that the European medical system isn’t paying so much to people who have tragic results even though they have had medical attention. It’s the social welfare system which is meant for these cases, and not the “lottery” system of the American medical malpractice courts.

Americans tend to think of almost all ethical issues in terms of “civil rights,” partly because of our history. Europeans think of civil rights more as limit cases, but apply other values when thinking about ethics (which I think is much healthier).

The European social systems simply wouldn’t work for the United States because of Americans’ focus on civil rights – i.e., if one person has something, then everyone needs to have it. Europeans are better, in my opinion, of asking the question: “do we really need this, will this actually help the group we intend to help?” Americans will say: “even if we don’t need it, we SHOULD have it because it’s our RIGHT, and if we don’t get it, then it means that we are second-class citizens and discriminated against and our human dignity violated and likely to commit suicide etc. etc..” We tend to make more of a “drama” out of such things. If we tempered our thoughts on civil rights with thoughts of obligation and sacrifice for the greater good, it would be more likely that European-type social programs would work for us. As it stands, though, imitating the European medical system will just make healthcare much more expensive for most citizens, and decent healthcare will be unavailable to an even larger group of Americans than is the case now; and imitating other European social programs is likely to have a similar effect in the U.S..

A nice example here is abortion. In the U.S., partial-birth abortion – abortion at the very last moment of pregnancy, when labor is artificially induced resulting in part of the fetus leaving the mother’s body, to facilitate the termination of the pregnancy, is legal (though curtailed in some areas), and is regarded by most Belgians as barbarous and hideous. And Belgium women in general don’t feel that they are second-class citizens, or are being withheld the rights over their own bodies by men, simply because they aren’t allowed to have partial-birth abortions. This kind of thinking is particularly “American.” Belgians also have other things on their ethical radars than the simple question of rights: i.e., obligation, and some notion of coherence with the greater good.

Another example is pornography. There is less of a feeling here, “it’s my right, so I can do it, and anyone who expresses disfavour at what I am doing is violating my civil rights.” So there isn’t much porn made here (compared to the U.S.). Prostitution is legal here, but it’s not “mediatized” the way sex things are in the States – and we don’t have the same weird mediatization of prostitutes here, the way porn stars in the U.S. are being mediatized. There’s more of an attitude here: “If I’m doing this, I don’t have to be way out-and-proud about it;” and amongst the public: “this may be a social problem; but we still need to care for the people involved, and if we object, we needn’t yell about it.” So in general, there’s just a lot less polarity, less yelling. I think it comes from an attitude toward ethics which is not based almost exclusively on the notion of “civil rights” and “offense,” but pays more attention to obligations and other values.

I never thought of it this way. I never have been in the US, so I am not able to compare… And James had one more addition about the ‘civil rights’ idea, that’s experienced very differently here than in the USA…

I should add – we have good reason for being obsessed with civil rights.

A profound emphasis on civil rights helped “save” us from some of the effects of one of the worst types of slavery history has seen. We needed to dwell on these civil …rights issues for a few generations, in order to free ourselves of attitudes and systematic forces present which were profoundly unjust toward African American people, and blighted our whole society.

However, since this focus on civil rights was so important in helping us recover from the awful legacy of slavery, we tend to have a rather “knee-jerk” type reaction with regards to ethical problems in general, with the question “how does this relate to civil rights? Is someone’s rights being violated here?” being one of the first things which comes to mind – rather than, e.g., “is there anyone here we can help? Are there any societal bridges which we can build? Are there important values here that we should be considering?”

As a result, it ends up too often being a debate about the “rights” of one group compared to another group. In actuality, in my opinion, civil rights should be more like a last-point defense – it’s more like the “heavy artillery” in an ethics debate. A society should first ask about obligations and the general good. Only when a group feels that its interests are being threatened in an essential manner, should it take recourse in the language of civil rights. E.g., women, by focusing on a “right over my own body,” end up losing sight of the value of mutual respect, and respect for the place of sexuality within society.

The rights of African Americans were seriously in jeopardy for many decades after the abolition of slavery. But in my opinion, many interest groups invoke rights (a kind of ethical “trump card”) when they would do better to recognize conflicting values, and instead search to find resolutions which seek to honor the values present, instead of focusing on a single “right” which theoretically “trumps” the other values in question. This is, after all, the whole point of civil rights which are “inalienable.” It is a line which the state, and individuals, must never cross – that line where civil rights are violated. But when we are always referring to our civil rights – we become a society of individuals who continually insist: “that’s my space, you can’t touch that!” And persons who are too insistent in such a manner – never learn to cooperate. Europeans didn’t have to wrestle with the evil of slavery as Americans did, they did not have this “trauma” – as a result, their ethical discourse itself is less traumatized – and is not so entrenched in the language of the victim whose rights have been violated. Europeans do well to realize that Americans are still somewhat traumatized by slavery – and that we see the effects of this in the way that we talk about ethics (which, like effects of trauma in general, should not be emulated, but rather avoided).

[From this facebook discussion, but I’m affraid you have to be a friend of a friend there to read it through…]

I’ve never realised the depth of these differences. I’ve always kinda noticed that Americans are affraid of something called ‘socialism’ that has nothing to do with our socialist party, and that they project weird fears of their president or on the healthcare isuue… Maybe one day I’ll be able to understand them more… Much thanks to James for this explanation!!

shalom

Bram

a tip for heresy hunters: The american conservative religion


Wow

The world is scary these days. For some reason we are bombing the moon (they call it science) and on the same day unexpectedly Obama get the nobel peace price. But that’s not what I mean

Some really freaky things are happening in American ‘christian’ circles. So while all heresy-hunters are for some reason busy looking at the emerging church (because they are so immersed in modernist worldviews that they cannot understand postmodernism) , something realy weird is emerging calling itself conservative christianity. Something that’s weird synchretism at best and pure heretic idolatry at worst.

Take for example this picture, which just scares the hell out of me. But Greg Boyd can explain better than me what is wrong with it. I just wonder where the native americans are, and why everybody is white (including Jesus, whose skin as a middle-eastern guy should have been a lot darker than this all-american pretty guy…) And why claim founding fathers who were all for the separation of state and church, who were deists or non-believers?

And oh, get over your stupid constitution. it’s NOT  inerrant word of God. And America isn’t the center of the world.  The world isn’t even flat, it is round you know…And the US of A isn’t  the most important culmination point in the history of mankind either.

And who can explain me why Obama shouldn’t be taken serious as a president, but when anyone opposed Bush every shouted Romans 13? Can you be consistent please? If Bush was appointed by God and no-one should have criticised him, then please honor Obama all the same.

Oh, and speaking of not just intellectual honesty and dumb amerericacentrism, but even of plain rewriting of the bible: the conservapedia conservative bible project wants to rewrite the bible and rid it of ‘liberal bias’. Liberal being everything they don’t like, including the story of Jesus and the adulteress, and Jesus’ prayer on the cross ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

My advice to all heresy hunters: broaden your scope. In the conservative corner some weird idolatry is emerging that is really worth examiining. They re-write the bible, they ignore history and claim historic figures who would be totally opposed to them, and they make Jesus into a tribal idol of some American godly super-empire.  They ignore the words of Jesus and worship America and capitalism… And it’s an insult to all genuine conservative believers. God have mercy!

Isn’t this troubling?
Isn’t this scary?
Or am I a weird european that is excluded of having common sense since I’m not American and part of your blessed evil empire???

Father forgive them,
for they know not what they do

shalom

Bram

american synchretism


hi readers all over the world (if you exist at all…) this is another rant from me…
Like I said, sometimes I feel like an alien. That applies to my own secular belgian culture and the evangelical and pentacostel churches I know alike, but it applies even more to some ‘christian subculture’ from other places that I sometimes encounter, which may be promoted as the one and only real christianity in its purest form, or something like that…

Take for example the american evangelicalism. Some of its culture and tradition is very weird to me, and focussing on very irrelevant details which mostly distract from the gospel instead of bringing people closer to Jesus’ eternal Kingdom… Like Marc Driscolls macho-sexism, or the patriotism interwoven in some forms of american christianity, or the whole pragmatic approach to evangelism which seems more like world conformity than anything else. I don’t buy any of it, and though some of it may be cute and harmless, I am affraid that lots of this kind of synchretism are very harmful to the gospel.

And if the church culture you are in in a middle european country is a bad imitation of some american church culture that wouldn’t even be relevant in its own surrounding would, then something is wrong.

We have to contextualise the gospel our way. We don’t have to repeat the irrelevant mistakes of another culture in ours because lots of evangelical and pentacostel churches have american roots. That’b be a very bad idea. We have to get to learn Jesus Christ as the way, the Truth and the Light, and make that true in our own life. And we have to find a way to contextualise that in our own world. We don’t have to use language and structures from another time (when they did still work) or another continent (where I hope they work) to our own culture to bring the gospel.

We have to live the gospel, bring the gospel, and let christ transform our (sub)culture and change our life… And it is unavoidable to have a certain degree of ‘synchretism’ when we are ‘everything to everyone’, or american to the americans, goth to the goths, african to the africans, flemish to the flemish people, to paraphrase Paul. But we as europeans do not need the enlightened american culture to understand the gospel… We need more Jesus, and less hypes, less consumer-capitalistic synchretism, less weird fundamentalism,…

More Jesus, more Father, more Spirit in our lives!!!

shalom

Bram