Tag Archives: christianity

Some interesting links Elsewhere (March 2015)


tussi

March 2015 was a strange month, with time running in weird circles, computer problems and not that much time to read articles, so my list of interesting links elsewhere is quite short, and one day later than planned…
(Picture by myself, ‘kleinhoefblad’ (Tussilago) is a sign of spring here, but yellow is hard to get right on photograph with my small cheap camera;…)

I linked on FB to a article called The Joy of Promiscuity this month., because I liked the pictures even… Yes, my interests are diverse and this one really might not be for everybody…  (It’s about breeding perennial kales… What DID you think?)

What scares the new atheists by John Gray, himself an atheist but not impressed by Dawkins and Co.

The antimodern musings of the Orthodox Father Stephen resume with the provocatively titled post saving a democratic man.

Filmmakers move away from white Jesus. Which is not a bad idea, but moving away from American Jesus might even be more needed (be it Hollywood or the American ‘conservative’ version… There are wrong ways of representing Jesus in a culturally coloured way that go much deeper than just skin colour..

10 bad reasons to become Pagan; This one makes me wonder: what are good and what are bad reasons for being a Christian (or atheist for that matter)

Pope Francis: A Christian who does not protect creation ‘does not care about the work of God’ <– This friend speaks my mind…

Micael from Sweden about an American pastor named Dollar and stuff like that: Why You Shouldn’t be Rich: The Poor and the Climate Can’t Afford it

There are no heroes in the kingdom of God by Paul Munn

Why it is important to recognise there are diverse sources of diversity. by Matt Stone on curious Christian.

What can Christians learn from neo-pagans and ‘magickal’ traditions?


esoMatt Stone at curious Christian recently asked the question “Can Evangelicals Learn from Occult Traditions?” on his blog. It’s a questions that deserves way more comments and discussions than he did get. In it he did refer in his post to a book with a similar title called ‘Can evangelicals learn from world religions’ by Gerald R. McDermott that I haven’t read but that looks very interesting.

McDermott wrote a superb book entitled, “Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?” The text explored the ways theologians of the likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin had historically engaged with Pagan philosophers of the likes of Plato and Aristotle and asked what a similar exercise might look like today. In the process McDermott explored aspects of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Islam that Christians, evangelicals included, could profit from … even if only to rediscover forgotten aspects of their own tradition.

I do believe that every tradition, Christian or otherwise, is most likely to have things we can learn from, and things we should not learn at all. So I would definitely answer the question with ‘yes’, and for my own post (which is also part of the March 2015 Synchroblog – What I Appreciate About [Other Religions] I will broaden it a bit “What can evangelicals learn from neo-Pagans and ‘magickal’ traditions?’.

I’ve been having online conversations with neo-pagans, witches, other ‘occult’ folk and newagy types for a while now. A lot of my prejudices, weird stereotypes and outright lies that some Christians told me about them were shattered there, and I did meet a lot of wise and interesting people (as well as negative creeps and dangerous idiots, but Christians, atheists or Muslims do have those as well…), and I did learn a lot of things from them.

(Yes, I might have entered conversations and places that wouldn’t have been safe without Divine protection and the gift of spiritual discernment, but hanging out with other people, even Christians isn’t without risks either and might require the same amount of discernment and Divine protection actually…)

So what could we learn from Occultists, neo-pagans, wiccans and others who practice magick as a part of their religion?

1. Recover some of what we’ve lost in modernity
Modernity as we know it is a strange place for Christianity to find and contextualise itself, and getting too modernised can be quite dangerous for the Christian faith even. (Which is true both sides of modern Christianity, fundamentalism and liberal Christianity, although often in opposite ways)
A lot of modern Christians for example are quite handicapped when it comes to the ‘invisible world’ after what the enlightenment did to our culture. (See also Thoughts about the spiritual ecological naivete of modern Westerners for a more thorough exploration of that problem)
There is much more than meets the eye and can be dreamt of in our modernist philosophies, but even if we try to go there can can really struggle with finding ways to understand and conceptualise it from our modern paradigm in a way that makes sense…
Yes, we lost a lot in the age of disentchantment that protestantism and the Christian renaissance-humanism of Erasmus started and that has been influencing us for roughly 500 years now, creating a very non-supernatural world for us. (Which might ironically be the biggest magical trick ever , seeOur nonmagical modern world as the biggest magical trick ever…)
But Christianity is deeply connected with the supernatural world, and has a lot of claims that are quite useless in a purely naturalist/materialist paradigm. Which is not so strange; Christianity as we know it has pagan and Jewish roots, not enlightenment ones, and was born inside of a much more enchanted world than ours. And no matter how hard we try, we won’t make much sense of a lot of the gospel writings without an understanding of a world that is more than our modern materialist one.

Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity are probably one of the ways in which the Spirit sent us a correction of this disenchanted false worldview, but sometimes even those religions are through and through modern in a photonegative way. And here it can be interesting to connect with those who have retained their connection with the supernatural. (Yes, I know neo-Paganism and Wicca are mostly modern reconstructions, but we still can learn a lot from how they try to make sense of the Spiritual world in modernity sometimes.) I also think that the thoroughly postmodern chaos magick and its chaosunderstanding of paradigm shifting could have taught the emerging church a lot that it needed to not fall into the rigid and very dogmatic bounded-set neo-left-liberal trap that it ended up in… Which doesn’t make sense for a disappointed postmodern oecemenical evangelical as myself…
(See also: Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…)

2. See who the other really is without prejudices
In some Christian circles there are very scary views of ‘the occult’ that are worse than fiction, and that should be placed in the library net to stuff like the medieval maleus maleficarum. Some people even paint a view of non-Christians being just different groups of demon-influenced groups that all work together to hinder Christianity,  mostly in the form they regard as ‘the one true faith’, liberal Christians or even churches who have a slighly different view on god knows what bible verse might even be on the other side too with all of the other evil infidels… Which does not mean that there’s a lot of dark stuff going on among the magickal folk, but sometimes what Christians think occultism is is complete nonsense. (Take this Carman song as a good example)

We should never forget that as Christians we should care for the truth, and not spread lies about anyone, not even about Satanists. (most of which follow Anton Lavey and don’t believe in the entity Christians call Satan anyway) So it is always etremely inmportant to listen to people and let them self-identify instead of spreading wild stories and conspiracy theory. And even if we completely disagree with what someone believes we should not distort it if we describe it.

A lot of Christian descriptions of ‘occultism’ are not just slander but just outright ridiculous. Frank Peretti in his ‘darkness’ books for example lets new agers, devil-worshipping Satanists and atheists work together to oppose Christians (of a very conservative American variety). I’ve you’ve ever met people of any of those groups, the chance that they will work together and have common goals with the other 2 groups are not bigger than with fundamentalist Christianity. No atheist will like new-age or satanist superstition more than Christian superstition. A Satan-worshipper will not bother with secular atheism andd look down upon fluffy new-age BS. And no Newager in his right mind (hmmm) will get involved with either inverse-Christian Satanism or a worldview that excludes the supernatural…

Most of these people are not concerned with opposing Christianity, except where it hinders them in being who they are and doing what they want to do. If people are opposed they will try to stop that opposition. But non-Christians who agree with the Christian ideas about God and that want to oppose that God are quite rare. Most have totally different ideas about God/gods/the Divine/whatever… and are not interested in fighting with a misconception although they might fight the power of Christianity when in power, or criticise the things they see wrong in it (sometimes rightly). People generally do not want to attack a God they don’t believe in. Opposing God as Christians see Him is meaningless and out of the question for most non-Christians. There is no specific anti-God conspiracy!

So it can be very interesting to just talk with people like neo-Pagans, Wiccans, and others and let them explain what they believe and practice in their own words. FB groups like the Pagan and Christian moot or Watchtower are very interesting here for example.

It’s true there are a lot of people in and far beyond magickal traditions that are not very positive towards Christians. But that’s often because Christians have been very negative towards them. The least we can do as Christians is try to listen, try to understand who they are. They are all humans like us, and a  lot of them want to do a lot of good in their own way. And there’s really a lot of people in those communities who have been hurt and are still regularly hurt by Christians  who spread all kind of weird accusations about them. Nothing Christlike about that, we can do a lot better, guys!

3. Acknowledge the parallels and learn from them
This will probably be my most controversial point here. But yes, studying magick (even if it’s in theory in my own case) as a Christian can open our eyes to certain parallels between certain beliefs and practices within Christianity and paganism or magickal/occult traditions. (Let’s not forget here that most Western Occult traditions are derived from Christianity btw., except for paganism, Wicca,chaos magick and the like… )

Yes there are parallels between ‘energy healing’ and faith healing, and there is a lot more to say about ‘Divine energies’ (an Eastern Orthodox concept). Jesus seems to be doing forms of ‘magick’ in some of his miracles.  We can even see shamanic motifs in the gospels. (this bible study by ‘Captain Longpost’ on Marks gospel on the Pagan and Christian Moot forum is recommended for everyone.)

A lot of magick is done with the invocation/evocation of deities or other entities, and our Christians prayer can be seen as in the same category. We are oathed to Christ, the incarnation of the Creator of the Multiverse, and we do find our spiritual power and authority in Him.
This does not mean that other gods do not exist btw, we only do not regard them as gods to worship as Christians. My view about them is that they are more on angel/archangel level than the same species as the Supreme Being anyway…

But there also is a grey zone with human power that most people don’t believe in… A lot of magick is about projecting strong will (think also about ‘the secret’, ‘the law of attraction’ and even pop-chaos magick sigils) and recognising this can help us discern where Christians move outside of Christianity to revert to human magick. Without being focussed on God miracles are not something to be impressed by, and not something that needs to even be connected with Christianity at all. Just magick… And some ‘name it and claim it’ stuff very easily rolls into these kinds of magick, with a lot of miracles and rock’n roll going on…

…while Elvis has left the building already…

What we should never forget as Christians
We should not forget that as Christians, we are ‘oathed to Christ’. We are to root ourselves in God, the Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being, Creator of the universe through the incarnated and resurrected Christ, God-with-us, and through His Spirit in and around us. It is important to see this as a Reality, not just an article of faith to intellectually accept. Heaven and Earth are full of His Glory, as the ancient Hosannah-hymn says. In Him we live, in Him we move, in Him we have our being…

We live in a Spiritual world that is bigger than we can understand or grasp, and more Real than we can perceive with our senses. The material dimension is only one part of it (although not unimportant to us embodied beings, and apparently to God, who incarnated in one of us!).

One of the most-neglected but most-needed gfts of the Spirit might be the discernment of Spirits. I do think we should all ask the Holy Spirit for a bigger dose of that, and not only when we participate in interfaith dialogue with world religions or magickal folk, but also within Christianity. A lot of stuff, from theology to miracles does have other sources than the Holy Spirit, sometimes human, sometimes darker than that. And we often don’t recognise that at all…

shalom

Bram

This post is part of the the March 2015 Synchroblog – What I Appreciate About [Other Religions].  Be sure to read the other participants too::

10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…


Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ’emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ’emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?


It’s quiet here, so let’s go back to controversy and write about some kind of weird subject like the pornification of images (moving or not) of human beings made in the Divine Image… (generally called ‘porn’ by most people) And let’s give it a long title full of complicated words so I won’t attract too many Beavis and Butthead-type of readers…

Yeah,  it’s been a while since I wrote a post about things related to sex and love and so (the last and only one since July or so being my little effort to raise some awareness of asexuals as the most ignored sexual minority) so why not….

So where to start? A while ago I read this article called 3 lies that kept me trapped by porn from a guest-blogger on Micah Murray’s redemption pictures. To clarify where I stand on these things I must probably start here with saying that, while it’s an understatement to say that I’m not a fan of porn at all, I’m generally not a big fan of most Christian anti-porn propaganda either… so I didn’t expect that much from the article, since most articles with a title like that are just more of the ‘every man’s battle’ stuff, an affirmation that it’s more or less expected for a man to be addicted to porn on one hand and a lot of guilt-creation that partly misses the point on important details on the other hand. I tend to not find that especially healthy. But, to my big surprise, this article turned out to be a completely different cup of tea that needs to be shared more. (if you still get my mixed metaphors here) .

The post was written David E. Martin, who has a Christian website for people who do have problems with porn called ‘My chains are gone’. His website and ministry have an approach to the problem of porn and its solution that is worth looking at, so I recommend you all to not just read his guestpost on redemption pictures but also his site if the subject is of any interest to you.  I might not agree with every line they write, but overall they have a lot of interesting things to say that I hadn’t heard before. It’s quite quite different from the standard stuff most Christian repeat all the time, as the 3 lies in the title already show:

1. The unclothed human body is primarily sexual in nature.
 Therefore, to see another body unclothed is a sexual event.

2. The automatic and natural response to the sight of an unclothed body is sexual arousal. Therefore, the best strategy against lust is to limit the opportunity to view the unclothed body.

3. To be drawn to the sight of nudity (beyond your spouse’s) is a perversion.
Therefore, we must make every effort to eradicate this “perversion” from our hearts.

He exposes these ideas as lies that hinder those trapped in an addiction pornography in breaking with those habits. Maybe a bit counter-intuitive but I do agree with him, and I would say that the de-pornification of the human body might be the most important thing in learning to look at human beings as made in Gods image and loving our fellow human who happens to be of the sex we’re sexually attracted to. His approach is connected to ideas I have been alluding to in some of my blogpostVenus of Willendorfs (See for example posts with titles as On sexy poorn models and human dignity; meditating on sexy models; on nudity in game of thrones and some American bloke again…; Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’; On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and comsumer capitalism) But it’s not at all something I’ve seen discussed that much by most of my co-religionists even though some of them like to talk about porn a lot…

It’s an easy subject to start discussions of sin and holiness and whatever, but I often feel like important things are missed.  Although I naturally completely agree with Jesus who says in the sermon on the mount that looking lustfully at a woman is to commit adultery in your head, there are some points in the standard blablah that I don’t find very helpful.

Some of these things have to do with what David writes about on his site. the standard approach is not helping in what I earlier called the depornification of the human body, and moreover  ‘Looking lustfully’ is not synonymous with looking at a nude. Also we do easily forget that porn as we know it in our current culture is not a universal thing but in the current incarnation something unique in world history and very specific to our culture. The way bodies are depicted in our porn would not be very sexy to a lot of people from other times and cultures….

Well it actually isn’t even to me. And I’m a 21st century Western male…

So let’s get to some more points that are often overlooked:

1.) Assuming porn addiction is just how men are wired: Normalizing problems of a certain part of the Western population in a very peculiar time and culture as ‘this is how men are wired. Get used to it.’ is not the way to go. Men are not wired into being addicted to what is called ‘porn’ in our time and culture and in the very myopic way a certain subculture frames our human sexuality in a very narrow and unhealthy way. Porn addiction means that persons (male or female) are conditioned to like it and neuroplastically deformed into it.

2.) Missing the core of the problem gives us some pretty bad solutions: The problem is not in the first place what we see, but it is what is in our hearts when we see it. Porn is very often in the eye of the beholder. If we really learn to love watching porn is impossible, since seeing someone as a human being is incompatible with pornificating them.  The deepest problem is not what we see, but how we watch it and why we’re watching it.

3.) Furthering dehumanization is part of what we should eliminate: Pornification is always a dehumanization of the depicted humans into mere sex objects. If we want to get beyond it we should not follow that line of thinking but reject it. Accepting that women are nothing but sexy temptation and then avoid them is equally dehumanising. The ‘rape culture victim-blaming’ stuff that when a man has sinful thoughts when he sees a woman it’s her fault is only perpetuating the deeper sin of dehumanization, and actually not solving even a molecule of the problem.

4. We should also never forget the  formative danger in porn: We seem to ignore as a culture how porn shapes and deforms our view of the human body. It creates a new and perverted reality, in which sex is not that healthy at all and in which humans are less human than how God created them to be.  It is a fake ideal world that fills peoples head but that no living person will ever live up to. We might think that porn is just showing us how sex is and how sexy people look, but it’s actually completely fake on one hand, and transforming human sexuality to its own image and likeness on the other hand.

Yes, one of the exact dangers of porn is how it is making up it’s own very depraved standard of sexiness that isn’t real at all and then it tries to conform the real world to it. Which is especially dangerous for young people who don’t have their view of sexuality fully formed, like teenagers in puberty. Peoples brains are actually altered by watch porn by the way.  This brain-altering already happens with adults watching porn, but it’s extremely dangerous with young people whose view of porn isn’t even formed yet like I said.

5. Porn is not just ‘showing sex’ but  lying: The things depicted in our modern porn are not default human sexuality at all, let alone human sexuality as God meant it. It’s a very peculiar way of framing sex, a language that seems universal to many people.It’s actually a very artificial and unnatural mutation of human sex, not just a way of visually describing how humans have sex. The bodies are fake, the angles are very artificial and unrealistic.  Our modern ‘porn’ goes way beyond nudity in what it gives to stimulate our sexuality so a very big and abusive industry can make a lot of money.

Yup, the end goal of most porn is probably money for some shady types somewhere.

6. Watching modern porn is learned behaviour:
Looking at the beauty and sexiness of the sex one is attracted to is very natural, but modern porn goes a lot further than this and is much more niche… Consuming modern porn is learned behavior, like drinking wine or listening jazz.

It’s something I didn’t learn though. Except for simple nude pictures most porn when I accidentally see it doesn’t work for me, probably because it’s too far away from my own sexual experience (and lack thereof in my younger years).  Most times when I do see real ‘porn’ beyond playboy-level I’m actually repulsed, not aroused.

(Clarification: I do like female nude art a lot btw, maybe too much. But one of the things I like most about female nudes is some untouchable sacred innocence which is so real that any ‘wrong’ thought is misplaced.  Which is completely incompatible with porn and probably impossible to describe to people who don’t know what I mean. Think about Ransom and the green woman of Venus… It is because I love female nudity so much that I hate porn.)

I do think not getting it and being repulsed by what goes for porn nowadays is not a very abnormal reaction for a uninitiated person actually. Look at this description from a (female) guest-blogger at irrestistible Fish (and read the post too later after you’ve finished mine and see also her part II) about her surprise when she started to watch porn:

Porn was not exactly what I had expected.
I knew it would be graphic, but this, this was beyond graphic.
This was not like the sex scenes in a movie.
This sex wasn’t just sex.
Porn sex was different.
The bodies were ‘perfect’, the positions, acrobatic.
No one had a single hair follicle visible anywhere on their perfect bodies. And visible their bodies were. Microscopically so.
Everything was up close and zoomed in. Nothing left to the imagination.

There was no kissing, no intimacy, no love, just animalistic, self-gratifying acts of sex.

Only reading this paragraph makes me feel dirty and uninterested… Call me a romantic but I don’t even want to be able to fantasize sex without kissing, let alone intimacy or love.

What would even be the fun of that? Yuck….

This way of picturing the human body and sexuality is blasphemy against the Imago dei itself. Blasphemy against love.

(I’m actually very lucky to have formed my view of how female  bodies are not from porn but from biology books, more regular nude scenes, and more classical nude art or nude photography, and that the default for a female body in my head is mostly just my wife, not a forced ideal that doesn’t exist. )

So what is the most important thing here? I would say that what we should never forget is that porn is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what comes in through our eyes that makes us unclean, but our own heart and how we process those things. Sexually perverted people will look at every woman with lust and predatory thoughts, no matter how they are dressed. Being a woman is enough to be subject to pornification for some.

But one of the most important commandments for Christians is to love our fellow humans as ourselves, which very certainly does not include dehumanising them as sex objects.  Even the label ‘humanist’ to me would imply a higher standard than dehumanising other people in to sex object. And not unimportantly  here is that it doesn’t matter that much if we consume them with our eyes as porn or turn our eyes away… The second one might keep us from certain sins like the ‘looking lustfully’, it still makes us regard the person in question as less than human.

How can we ever learn to love fellow humans that we cannot look at because they are only sex objects for us? This approach will never make us love more even if it can help us by means of mere sin management. But in the end we need to learn to love the other. This is why I do think that for example Dan Brennans work on cross-gender friendship is very important (check out his groundbreaking book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘ on the subject) Pornification of the human body is completely incompatible with love and loving the other as ourselves., and we need to let go of it…

But this might requite a letting go of cultural conditioning and might  need some help from the Holy Spirit…

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

Knowledge about God or knowledge of God? (Sadhu Sundar Singh)


I will post thiSundars quote from the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh without much comment. I speaks for itself.

It surely makes one think about ‘it’s a relationship, not a religion’… (if we have a very narrow modern definition of ‘religion that is) Our goal as Christians is not just to have knowledge about God, or like the apostle says, ’You believe that God is one, and that’s good, but the demons do that too, and they tremble’… Unlike what some fundamentalists (and maybe gnostics if I interpret their name rightly) seem to believe, right head knowledge alone has never saved anyone… Acting upon it might actually be interesting…

(Assuming that the ‘head knowledge’ is always right, which isn’t always the case either, neither among fundies nor among liberal modernists…)

I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.

When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.

I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Isn’t it ironic how easily we look at the finger pointing to the moon and even forget the moon?

Shalom

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

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