Tag Archives: Christian love

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On the Problem of Orcs


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

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

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

But no such thing ever happens for orcs.

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

A good orc is a dead orc!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But no human is an orc.

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

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

We’re all human!

what do you think?

peace

Bram

I Corinthians 13 (V)


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

Let’s just read the next part slowly:

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

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

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

Read the piece again. Let every detail sink in.

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

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

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

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (IV)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical, isn’t it?

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

1 Corinthians 13 (III)


reLOVEutionWe continue with my meditations on 1 Cor 13, Pauls love chapter. See also part I and II.

The next verse is the last of the first part of this chapter, and goes on in the same way as verse 1 and 2 which we’ve already read:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I give over my body
in order to boast,
but do not have love,
I receive no benefit.

(I recommend you to read this several times and think about it in all its implications and everything else that comes up when you read this. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance before you do this is not a bad idea either.)

Paul still talks about all we can have and do without having love. This time he says we can sacrifice all we have including our own body, but without love we will not benefit from it.

The interesting thing is that when we compare the 3 first verses, the first verse says that without love we will just be meaningless, the second verse says that we are nothing, and the third verse says we won’t get any benefit. We can’t bypass love as a Christian. Not with knowledge, nor with strong faith, nor with any sacrifice we could make.

In medieval times we did have places called ‘godshuizen’ (god-houses) in this part of Europe, in which poor people were given housing and food. Sounds very good, but in fact the whole idea was that the (rich) people who founded such things just did it because they wanted to be sure they would go to heaven after they died. If this was indeed the reason why they built those houses and took care of the poor without really caring for them, we can doubt that it did really work. Paul here seems to assume otherwise…

Without love we are nothing!

There is some ambiguity in the original meaning of the second part, so some translations speak about giving over the body in order to boast, while others speaking in giving over the body to be burned, but the principle stays the same. Modern people don’t bother much with giving up their body anyway, so I don’t know if this particular sentence is that relevant for us. We do seem to revere our body more than that we are willing to sacrifice it.

But what Paul says here is very important. We can give and sacrifice everything we have and more, if it isn’t out of love (or at least creates love in us in the process), it will not do any good to us.

I must think of one more thing here: Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea to the pharisees in saying “Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). Let that sink in, here is the Living bible version:

‘It isn’t your sacrifices and your gifts I want—I want you to be merciful.’

We need to be merciful. We need to be loving. Sacrifices of any kind are meaningless without love…

Without love nothing can ever mean anything at all…

So what is love? What characteristics does it have? That’s something for next time. (you can cheat by opening your bible though…)

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (I)


I don’t know where my year of demodernisation is going, apart from trying to stay away from too much Dawkinsian naturalist fundamentalism and not ingesting too much American stuff at the same time. At the moment it might seem that I’m mainly exploring the occult, and sometimes going back to discussions about sex(ism) and stuff like that. I will try to go to completely different domains too though.

I thought it might be good, being a Christian blogger of sorts after all, to spend some time on the bible parts (and other texts probably) I’m trying to meditate on, and write rather short posts -or longer ones like this one- about them. So I will start in this post with a series on one of my favorite chapters of the bible, one of the most famous parts of Christian scripture: the famous ‘love chapter’ from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 13;1
1 Corinthians 13 is maybe one of the most romanticised parts of the Christian bible, but it seems to me that both the importance and the depth of what Paul is telling us here are often understated. The consequences of this chapter are beyond what you’d think when you just read it superficially. That’s why I’m going to break this into small parts of one or more verses, to let every detail sink in.

We begin with the beginning:
If I speak in the tongues of men
and of angels,
but I do not have love,
I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.

Rosetta_Stone I do know a few languages. My native language is Dutch, and my second language is English (especially written English even). I do know a bit of French as a Belgian, can understand a little bit of Latin, and if I’d work on it I’d be able to read some old Greek again. And then there are languages in which I know only a few words. (My Japanese is better than my Russian, but still almost non-existing…)

There are a lot of human languages that are spoken today, and even more if we count the extinct ones in which texts still survive. One can spend a lifetime learning to still master only a fraction of them. And then there are the languages of angels, of which we do know nothing, and will never know anything, they use our languages to communicate with us, but I do know some Pentecostals believe some people who speak in tongues might have a ‘prayer language’ that’s not human but angelic.

It actually does not matter. We could know all languages of all language-using beings in the universe, but if we don’t have anything to say, it doesn’t matter.
It will all be worth nothing more than senseless noise. I do feel a bit offended as a drummer here that Paul uses cymbals and gongs here to signify something like ‘useless noise’, but it’s true that banging on a cymbal is always a lot of noise, and unless that noise does fit in some context, like a composition, or a ritual, or a lesson or practice for learning to do these things, we shouldn’t do it.

Someone once said to not break the silence unless you can improve it!

And what is the only way to improve the metaphorical silence? What is the only way to make those languages more than mindless noise?

Love

Yes, let that sink in, Love!

Anyone who knows the NT should not be surprised. Love is what it all is about according to Jesus. To love God with all that we are, and to love our neigbor as ourselves is the whole law. And it is the purpose of the law. It’s the Kingdom of God breaking in into this present age when we live in this love.

And nothing else makes much sense.

This goes deeper than I can realise and I’m only scratching the surface here,  so I think I have to meditate some more on this one verse before I go to sleep

Peace to you all

Bram

Meditating on sexy models


Note: I write as a straight white male, and I do write from my own perspective. I do think a lot of what I say could be relevant to other readers that are not straight males, but for readability I don’t make everything gender-inclusive. If you are a person who is visually aroused in a sensual way by male bodies, or by both sexes, just read the sex you’re attracted to instead of female and your own gender instead of male.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some discussions I had on my facebook wall after I posted this next cartoon:

(Probably irrelevant note on this cartoon: I must confess that I do find sunglasses more unattractive than the Niqab the woman is wearing. I also find that sunglasses + bikini make it easier to turn a woman into something abstract than anything that shows the eyes)

I have the creepy idea that both our Western pornification and the Eastern way of hiding women are 2 sides of the same rotten coin, in which women (and more generally humans) get reduced to sexual objects that can be either pursued as such (in our heads or in real life) or should be avoided as a cause of sin, and this covered up and hidden from sight.

I’m not a fan of what I’ve just called the ‘Eastern’ view because I find it completely dehumanizing. I’ve read about ‘bleeding Pharisees’ who were alleged to be so afraid to see a woman that they did look away all the time when walking on the streaky and so bumped into everything that stood in their way in the street. [I hope that this is just a dumb religious urban legend] I also remember a conversation with a Muslim colleague in a former job, who explained to me that women had to be covered up because men just can’t control themselves when seeing one.

All of this is not just sexist towards women, I’m also quite infuriated by the low view of man that is espoused here, and I am afraid that men who are trained to think like this might indeed grow into the type of man that cannot watch a woman without having wrong sexual thoughts about her. As a Christ-follower I do try to take the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount serious:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

Yes, looking lustfully at a woman, using her as a sex-object in your head, is adultery of the heart. Auch; Note also: Jesus clearly speaks to the watching man as the responsible party, not about the woman. Our thoughts, and the way we look at women, are our responsibility. Jesus himself never practised the ‘run-away-from-everything-female-that-might-seduce-you’ tactics at all. He speaks with the woman at the well as an equal for example,  which goes against his culture. Even his followers are surprised by that. And in other places in the gospels we see that Jesus nowhere treats women as sex objects or dangerous sources of sexual sin, but as human beings.

anyway, let’s not blame just the oldschool guys and the Muslims faraway, and their Christian counterparts in certain more fundamentalist corners. We enlightened neoliberal capitalist Westerners are even worse. Billboards everywhere with sexy bodies on it, that are made to make us spend our money on completely unrelated crap. And I’m not even talking about porn here. The line of thought is scarily similar: men will not control their thoughts when seeing a sexy female body. Only we do not at all attempt to control it, we cultivate it, and some industries use it to make a lot of money. And I suppose the porn industry is making even more money than the advertisement industry that I’m criticizing right now.

Let’s go back to the billboards with half-naked women that I talked about. We are not able to avoid advertisements that are put there for everyone to see sometimes, and I do not believe at all that the ‘bleeding pharisees’ are a healthy model to copy at all…;We as Christians should exhibit a scandalous love towards all humans, including those abused sisters on those pictures!

The solution is not to always look away, we don’t do anything about the root problem then: women remain just something that makes us sin, instead of human beings made in the divine image. We have to learn HOW to look if we can’t avoid it.

Just running away solves nothing. Forming character is important. Which means sometimes that you actively have to form your habits, and that’s not always an easy task. But what I’ve been doing lately when I saw such female figures that I couldn’t avoid looking at was a small meditation, which did open my  eyes.

So here it is, as the title promised: a meditation on sexy models, to be performed while looking at a billboard of a sexy body that is used to sell something completely unrelated to the female human. And indeed, maybe it’s not very healthy to go looking for an occasion for such a thing, but when you’re already in the staring situation, this kind of meditation might be a good turnaround:

1.  first ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, for His eyes to look at people… Ask for forgiveness on any wrong dehumanizing thoughts (looking at her as either a sex object or a dirty slut!) if you have had any of those. Thoughts can not always be avoided, but they can be stopped. (The bible even speaks of ‘taking thoughts captive in Christ!)  And if the Spirit would say to look away, ignore this meditation. Your path might not be mine. But even then,

2. Look at her as a whole, as a person. Look for her eyes. Try to find the person behind it. (If possible) Maybe try to think about the photograph, how it was taken. About the fotoshoot, about how she was working and ‘acting’.

3. Think about her as a child, being with her grandparents. Or other very human situations. She is a person just like you, with friends and troubles, with hopes and dreams and little and big frustrations.

4. Remind yourself this: This is a human being, made in the image of God. Try to see it. She might be abused by a capitalist system, she might be abusing her body herself, but nothing of that will take away she still is a human being like you, incredably valuable since SHE IS CREATED IN THE DIVINE IMAGE, just like you are. Let that sink in. She should not be reduced to a sex object, but neither should she looked down upon as a ‘slut’ or whatever categories you have in your head for ‘sinful women’. She is your sister, and should be looked at this way.

5. Pray for her, for her life to be invaded by Gods kingdom.

6. Pray for God to help you look at every woman the way He does.

Remember that rewiring thought patterns is hard. But that does not mean that you cannot change and be modelled more and more to the mind of Christ.

This kind of exercises is also very good with other people that you tend to dehumanize in very different ways, like ‘your enemies’ (only if you love them and pray for them you will be ‘sons of god’ in Matthew 5:45-46)  those with, whom you disagree so much you don’t take them serious as a human being, those far away dying in wars on TV, etc… All of those are Human beings, created in Gods image, of immense worth! Even the worst criminal!

My question now: If those things are so important to Jesus in the gospel (loving our fellow humans, even loving our enemies) why aren’t these the things we train ourselves in as Christians, and train ourselves some more in it, and invite the Spirit to help us grow in it? Why isn’t this one of our top priorities?

so, what do you think? Am I crazy? Unrealistic? any other comments?

shalom

Bram

Some interesting things elsewhere


Travelling missiologist Andrew Jones, the blogger also known as Tallskinnykiwi, wants to write a book (that I want to read!!!) and needs some help with money to be able to do the stuff he’s doing, which is travelling around with his family to meet with all of gods children on planet Terra, and helping all kinds of Christians and Christian communities around the world.  There’s only one Andrew Jones on the whole planet Terra who does what he does, so consider helping him! Or at least read what he’s up to on the blogpost I’ve linked to…

Matt stone on glocal Christianity has started a very interesting series, which starts with six different Christian approaches to war and peace, something we need in times when it seems like a false dichotomy between ‘just war’ and ‘pacifism’ (which sometimes is explained really poorly) is dominating the discussion, while there are much forms of Christian pacifism on one hand, and ‘just war theory’ isn’t really followed by much people on the other hand actually.  His position is ‘apocalyptic pacifism’, and the other posts are OT bible verses that he sees as pacifist prophecies (part 1, part 2, part 3) to back his position up.

Apocalyptic pacifism starts from an ‘already and not yet’ framework, in which the ‘coming age’ (the Kingdom of God)  is breaking in into this age, and in which we as Christians are already living in the reality of that new age. Living as radical peacemakers is one dimension of the Kingdom, but if we read the gospels there is another one that can’t be denied: the supernatural signs of the kingdom are as clear and confronting in the gospels as the radical love for our fellow humans that includes enemy-love… And Ray Hollenbach has a very interesting meditation on this aspect of the Kingdom of God on Students of Jesus. The anabaptist peace tradition and vineyard Kingdom charismatics can learn a  lot from each other and make the Kingdom vision more complete together!

He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9: 1 – 2)

[The perfect soundtrack here would be this gungor song, that we’ve sung last sunday in Vineyard Antwerpen. I love me some bluesfunk from time to time, and Michael is a very good musician!!]

And then for something else: Laura Ziesel has an interesting series on Christianity, intersex people and eunuchs in the bible. Thanks to Sarah Moon for  making me aware of them and posting an orderly list of them! We should stop seeing this kind of things as ‘issues’ and start looking at it as people who are loved by Christ and should be loved by us all the same!

shalom

Bram