Tag Archives: christianity

Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises


So, Joshua Harongekust enris, American Christian celebrity and the guy who wrote ‘I kissed dating goodbye’* is separating from his wife. Which would be nobodies business if he hadn’t been the guy who sold countless copies of a book that promised you a good marriage if you followed his rules.
* ”ongekust en toch geen kikker'”, (unkissed but not a frog) in the Dutch edition.

I’m not an anthropologist, but as far as I know the guy who made the ‘first kiss at the altar’ idea popular in (American) evangelicalism and made a lot of promises about how his (for me as non-US person extremely alien) ideas would lead to good marriages if you’d follow his rules. He also advocated a form of ‘courtship that I’m probably not even able to understand if I try as a European, and had a complementarian bent that has hurt a lot of women an relationships if I can believe the blogposts and FB comments I’ve read over the years.
He also wrote this when he was quite young and before he was married, which isn’t the best idea either.

It seems some people find it funny that he is separating now, which it isn’t. It’s tragic,  ironic even in the most dark cynical way possible. But this has a lot of consequences, he had influences a lot of people. Seems that the promises are not to be trusted if his marriage is over now; and that the book is completely worthless.

Well, he kind of recanted a lot of his ideas already in the last few years.  From Christianity today:

“While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner,” he said in a statement.

“There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.

“The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture,” he continued

But he still seems to be so immersed in a very specific interpretation of American Christianity and what the bible says that he can’t see anything in between a very extreme fundamentalism and completely abandoning Christianity.

And I don’t mean to be dismissive, it’s just like from an intellectual standpoint, it actually feels more intellectually honest for me to say I don’t know that I agree with the Bible in general than it is to get it to say these things. And maybe that’s just because I spent so much time in a very conservative environment judging all these more progressive people that I’m now tempted to go past that [and] be like, forget it all.

But it can get to feeling, like, what are you holding onto in Christianity? Why do you need it still? …

Which is a bit concerning but completely unsurprising to me, a lot of the American postfundamentalism I’ve seen is just a negative picture of what it left behind, and has in no way broken free from the toxicity of what it tries to escape. See also On my problematic relationship with American post-fundamentalism…
if you like to see my thought processes about that.

(Yes, there is also a factor that the same ‘Christian’ tradition that gave the extreme purity culture also gave rise to a creepy sex maniac president who is the opposite of everything I can recognise as Christian, let alone the extreme sexual standard of purity culture. That is only crazy cognitive dissonance to me.)

When I wrote a review of ‘ongekust en toch geen kikker’ years ago there were a lot of problematic things, also with his gender role ideas, that I could put aside as ‘American nonsense’, but I doubt people in the US had that luxury. See also my older post Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…)

I never understood what US people meant with ‘courtship’ and I still don’t and I’m not even trying anymore.
Even the whole idea of ‘dating’ itself to descibe a form of relationship as is done in English is still a bit weird to me and, while it’s probably imported from Hollywood now in this part of Europe it’s not the way I would ever have framed a relationship. It is part of a relationship, but to me ‘dating’ says nothing about a relationship. You can have a ‘date’ with anyone for almost any reason. I’ve hung out with female friends one-on-one without it being romantic in any way (I’m an introvert who doesn’t like group settings) and it’s weird to frame a relationship with ‘they are dating’. That can mean almost anything. I’m having a da with my wife sometimes.  I’ve been hanging around and going to the caf or cinema with female friends when I was younger in what some people would interpret as a date but without any romantic element to it, just as friends too.

(What I find extremely creepy is expecting a kiss or even sex on a first date before you even have a steady relationship. Such cultural expectations are just a creepy kind of rape culture, at least I can’t interpret them otherwise. You need more relationship in the most basic sense, friendship, knowing each others mode of communicatio before intimacy can be safe.)

To translate a Flemish expression from my teenage years ‘it’s either on or not on’. (‘aan’ en ‘af’ in Dutch) And when it’s ‘on’ you’re in a relationship, serious or not, the word is even used by children, you can have a date but that’s not what defines a relationship. And if the relationship doesn’t work then you break it off and it’s ‘off’.

I would think that (unless you’re in a literally ‘bandless’ subculture) once you’re having a certain form of intimacy a relationship can be presumed to just be there and needs to be named as such.  And yes, you can date to get to know each other, before and in a relationship, so that’s not a definition of being in a relationship or not. But those last paragraphs were just a linguistic problem I have with the word ‘date’.

(I’m not going in the courtship thing, but the whole ‘ask parents’ thing sounds medieval to me. And it goes against our laws even I think and against the universal human rights declaration to let other people decide with whom you marry.)

To go back to Joshua Harris, I find the whole story very tragic, especially for all the people who trusted his promises and ended up with a broken marriage nonetheless.

So I end with pne more tip: Don’t let young unmarried people whith a lot of theory about relationships but no actual experience lead a whole crowd with their relationship advice that promises a lot and is full of very grave warnings about dangers that might not even be so big. It’s a recipe for disaster.

What do you think?

peace

Bram

See also:
A purity culture I don’t know…

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?

The problem of those unable to Love, or the question of hell as a reality.


Let’s begin with some good news: The synchroblog is on again!

And because life shouldn’t be too simple the first subject is ‘hell’, one of the most difficult subjects I know to write about, and a subject that has traumatized a lot of people and driven them away from religion. And yet it’s an important subject that we cannot escape if we’re thinking about our faith. Since the usual discussions about the subject are generally unproductive and often just degenerate in theoretical tail-chasing and exercises in giving God a very bad name I’m going to approach it from a completely different angle…

And I’ll start with a question:

Are we ready to face God?

Are we ready to face God for all of eternity, with no part of us hidden?

Are we ready to stand in the full light? If ‘heaven’ or ‘the new heaven and Earth’ is a place where the full Divine Presence is everywhere and no-one can escape it even if they try, will we feel at home there? Will we enjoy this?

Are we ready to lose all of our sins, and be transformed to the person we were meant to be in God? The person who can stand in the full Presence of God?

If not, there is a problem. A serious problem even. No shadow can survive the full Light. No junk that burns up can survive the Eternal fire, only precious metals. No person who wants hate and evil can enjoy a place where there’s only Love.

Are we ready to feel at home in a place where all hate and sin and selfishness are not just absent but also impossible? Could we live in such a place? Could we enjoy such a place?

Only Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Only Love, Light and perfect Justice. Are we ready to surrender to God and give up all other things?

Heaven (whatever form it takes) will be no fun if we’re not completely aligned with Love. That’s exactly why Jesus sums up the whole law into the double commandment of loving God with all of our person and loving our fellow human as we love ourselves. That is not just a law to test us if we’re able to follow commandments. It’s a severe training to enable us to live with God in eternity. Our life here is not just a test to see if we can follow certain rules, as a Muslim once told me. We have to become a creature that lives with God in Love for eternity, following Christ and plugging our Lives in into the Divine Presence. Being redeemed and reformed and recreated into the Image of the perfect Lover.

Which is a process as long as we’re here, but an extremely important one. And a very important factor here is our will. We might be failing people who fall into sin again and again, but if we do not at least have the will to Love, and to be able to completely discard all sin, evil, illusions and so on we will have no place in heaven.

Think of the wife of Lot…

It’s even more serious: the full presence of God might just be hell for those who hate God. We don’t just need forgiveness of our sins and removal of the penalty as some Christians seem to teach. That’s only a first step, but such a view is way too soft on sin and not seeing how dangerous sin is as a Reality. We do need the total eradication of all sin out of our lives if we want to be able to live. And here those who think they’re serious about sin often completely miss the mark here. We need transformation. We need to become a new person. Mere forgiveness is only a start. We need to start a new life in Christ. And that is not just a metaphor. It has to be a Reality, or we will be nothing at al. A good Friday only gospel is not enough. Christ reconciled us with God, and brought us on the Way. The first Christians were called followers of the Way. The way of the cross and the resurrection. The way of overcoming death with life, and living in Love in this world of hate, to not give up Love even if it means to have to pray ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’ while you are being executed to death.’

Certainly, whatever hell is, Jesus came to save us from it, to solve that and other problems, and not make it more complicated. And Jesus came to show us how the core of life revolves around Love.

Without love you’re nothing, even if you have the perfect religion, right doctrine, faith that moves mountains, and so on (1 Cor 1: 1-3). Without love we gain nothing, and all is lost.

So what with those who are unable or unwilling to be transformed into a being aligned with Love? There are 2 possibilities, which are both terrifying if you think of the consequences..

First there is C.S. Lewis’ idea of hell as absence of God. Somewhere in his books he says that there are two kinds of people. Some will say ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done’ in the end, even with reluctance, and they will be the ones that will be with God for eternity. But others will refuse God, refuse Love, refuse Truth, and in the end God will say ‘your will be done, your kingdom come’, and leave them to their own will. The dwarves ‘who won’t the taken in’ in the last Narnia book are a good example of that. They create an illusion and shut out the Reality of the Land of Aslan. This is a hell, and one that’s locked from the inside.

There is another related but opposite idea, coming from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, that I’ve already alluded to in this post, the idea of hell as Presence of God for those who hate God. The ‘lake of fire’ in revelation, which is seen as hell by a lot of Christians, is interpreted as Divine Presence. (See Alexandre Kalomiros, the river of fire). Sadhu Sundar Singh has described a very similar thing. Funny enough the picture at the end of C.S. Lewis’ ‘the great divorce’ which provided my metaphor of the shadow in full Light also points at this idea.

So hell as a reality for those who are unable to be reconciled with God could work in both ways of completely being cut off from God who respects our free will, or experiencing the all-pervading Holy Presence .

Both are terrifying. To me they both sound like they could end up in annihilation. IF God is the Creator and Sustainer, getting completely cut off from God will just result in non-existence.

The same is true with the shadow in the full light.

On the other hand, maybe God is able to reach people even in that state. Maybe the fire purifies. Maybe the love of God is able to reach everyone in the end. I pray that this could be possible, but knowing how humans are I fear for it. So I don’t know. But I trust Gods love. I trust that God blesses the good and the bad alike as Christ says in the sermon on the Mount. I trust that if God asks us to love our enemies that God will be able to do much more than that, and will do much more than that, since God is love.

……………..

This post is part of the May Synchroblog, in which numerous bloggers around the world write about the same topic on the same day. Links to the other contributors are below. If you enjoyed my article, you will also enjoy reading what they have to say about the topic of hell.

More posts here on my blog about similar subjects:
Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell
Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?
6 + 2 questions for the hell debate
The worst of all sins, the Jesus creed and an orthodox hell…
do we need a hell in order to forgive our enemies????
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
The scary consequences of baby universalism…
would universal reconciliation make the gospel worthless?

 

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hagar in the Desert

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

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

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

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

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

peace

Bram

The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

Anthropological field notes#256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon


Anthropological field notes on exotic cultures and their religion #256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon

The (at least in some very select cirles) legendary American Christian very oldschool heavy metal band Stryper has announced a new album for later this year named ‘God damn evil’, and revealed the album cover, as well as the song list. Here’s the album cover, which will probably look better in LP format than CD format: (link here)

Notes:
The title and some local taboo words:
Some people in the US seem to be genuinely offended by that title, seemingly because of a local taboo word used in it. For me as a European it’s always a surprise which words are seen as ‘bad’ words by conservative Americans. I would think that God damning evil and evil being damned by God is something a lot of religions agree upon anyway.

The artwork: Babylon and the evil of money
The artwork is very interesting although controversial. One wouldn’t expect otherwise from anything related to the metal scene. And as much metal artwork, once you’re used to the style it’s rather corny.
I don’t really recognise anything resembling God in a Christian sense, but there’s an interesting blue Zeus-like anthropomorphic giant deity destroying a (presumedly) US American city with very prominent banks and money, backed by fireballs and winged angelic figures in the background.

Does that mean that US American cities and banks are evil and damned by God? Interesting thought, and rather refreshing also for a mainstream American band in times of Republicanist Trumpism. US Christianity seems to be rather lacking in recognising how evil money can be at the moment, and it will rather worship the market and the rich than follow Jesus words about the poor. So having American mainstream artists acknowledging this is probably a good thing.

Typological remark: Cities as archetypal motif are common in the bible, with usually the good city ([New] Jerusalem) against the bad city (Babylon). This clearly is Babylon, which is connected to merchants and money in revelation 18.

The artwork: blue grumpy Zeus the destroyer
From a Christian small o orthodox perspective the deity figure shown is more problematic. Whatever that grumpy Blue Zeus thingy is is, it certainly is not God in a Christian or even Abrahamic monotheist sense, and assuming that God (outside of Christ in the resurrection or things like the orthodox trinity icon of Abrahams visitors) can be portrayed in such an anthropomorphic way is completely against the ten commandments and rather bad theology.
Even Michelangelo’s ‘creation of Adam’ is probably more problematic than we think, and it gives us completely wrong ideas if we really believe God looks like that. God is not a man, God doesn’t look like a man. Especially not a bearded European dude. The violent scene itself is also rather problematic.

For the music we’ll have to wait. I don’t expect any Earth-shattering sounds to be honest.

 

The American situation as a crisis for my faith


(warning: long autobiographical essay coming!) I grew up as a Pentecostal kid in a very secular post-catholic West-European country, the kind of place where Christianity and religion as a whole was seen by most people as something of the past, protestantism as a faraway historic religion, and evangelicalism as a weird cult that only exists elsewhere if that world is known already, which probably isn’t the case.  These things have changed a bit now, and I’m afraid not always for the better. The perception of ‘religion’ is even worse in certain milieus, but the attention of the anti-religious mafia has by now switched from old Catholicism to Islam due to sociological switches. And I fear that ‘evangelicalism’ instead of a noble unknown is now known to a lot people now as one of the contributing factors in the rise of the US president Donald Trump, who might be one of the least Christian persons in power I’ve ever seen and regarded by most Europeans as a dangerous madman. Which only increases the impression of certain people that religion is dangerous and makes people dumb and aggressive.

The sad thing is that Mr. Trump is the exact opposite of what one should be able to expect from a Christian, but it seems like not everyone is able to see that. Which is a problem, since I am a Christian, and I do not feel represented by whatever he represents at all. But that is for later, let’s first continue my story.

I must admit that it is not always simple to be a part of a minority faith in a secular world. I’d always be ‘different’ anyway, so it’s rather hard to separate what comes from my faith, and what comes from me just being me, the AD(H)D introverted boy who didn’t care about most things that get the general population excited, boring stuff like football -soccer for the US-ians-, cars, violent movies, oversexed nonsense, etc… but who was more into nature, art, science and philosophy. I always just assumed I’d be different for too much reasons, and assimilating without being seen is something I learned at a much later age. I do remember being kid in primary school in Lier, when everyone who was Flemish was supposed to be ‘catholic’, even though it was mainly cultural and traditional, most kids being completely unreligious but baptised as a baby where I was religious, but unbaptised. The only non-catholics in school apart from me were Turkish immigrants who were Muslims, which was an easy category unlike me. Even with the term ‘protestant’ I was an alien, an outsider, or even ‘neither Flemish nor Turkish’ as someone once described me.
(I know these things have changed by now. Now there will be much more immigrant kids of different religions at that school, and completely non-religious kids as well. The inevitable process of dechristianisation has reached a much further point by now, while more religious immigrants have integrated themselves even in smaller Town, and that includes a lot of different Christians too.)

Church was another world. An enclave from a different world. A tiny one, but it was connected to the wider church worldwide on a lot of continents. Sometimes there were missionaries in church bringing their story. Or bible smugglers, which was a big thing in the eighties when there still were communist regimes where you could be killed for being a Christian. The idea of Christianity as a persecuted minority was a logical one, but there was also a willingness to follow Jesus. The Pentecostals in Flanders did still have a lot of influence from the Jesus People and other Christian hippy movements, who had the crazy idea to take Jesus and the bible serious, even in the radical things. Just letting the bible say what it says was a big thing. And I believed it. And I read the gospels. And I saw something more impressive than what the world around me could give. Something more interesting than drugs and sex, than money and status, than sports and entertainment,…

I found among other things traces of The God I believe in is the Creator of the multiverse upholding it at every second, and the source of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The God who is Love and Justice. As a Christian I believe that the incarnated Christ is the most accurate representation of God. Radical love for all, including oppressed and marginalised, like women, the poor, Samaritans, strangers,… and the oppressors, like the Romans and the mob that lynched him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (although there are rather uncomfortable words about riches)

This is what makes Christianity more Real to me. A love deeper and more radical than our human instincts. As David Wilkerson whom I liked to read as a teen said to gangster Nicky Cruz, ‘you can cut me in a thousand pieces and they will still love me’. As Shane Claiborne whom I loved to read as a twentysometing exemplified by living with the homeless in his city, or with almost being bombarded along with the Iraqi by his own country. Like Corrie Ten Boom who came out of the nazi concentration camps to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what inspired me because I knew it was True, an calling to me.

This is what always kept me a Christian. The sparks of a Greater Reality that shone in this love stronger than hate and division, and also the glimpses of a Reality bigger than our worldviews, which included the supernatural healing presence of God in different dimensions and in different ways.

As a teenager my father started a church plant with Vineyard, which is theologically more evangelical but still charismatic. I still went to the Pentecostal youth camps and events though, and had my friends there, until somewhere in my twenties. I learned a lot about God. I saw answered prayers. I heard impressive stories from everywhere around the world. I saw (among a lot of other things) a religion (on non-religion according to some, but that’s a mere language game). I also learned more about the history of Christianity, and the other Christian traditions and denominations. I already knew Francis of Assisi from catholic school, and I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and various Catholic and Protestant authors. Those who had that love more real than all of our human constructs in it, and glimpses of the Reality beyond all our realities stayed and impacted me. Some didn’t and had just a lot of theories about God and church structures and whole constructions built on bible verses without any trace of God. I did them away quickly and forgot them. In the years I read everything from Jacques Ellul to David Bentley Hart, and found God in very different streams of Christianity (and sometimes glimpses of God in very different places outside of Christianity even).

As a young twentysomething in the 2000ths I discovered the ’emerging church dialogue’ on the internet while it was still healthy. I recognised some things about myself in the mumbo-jumbo about postmodernism, and I saw a lot of stuff that did connect with the Higher love of Christ. The whole supernatural dimension seemed entirely lacking though, and over time the whole thing shrivelled and turned into an US American inhouse thing, that got more influenced by -to me- new and rather narrow ideologies where only the oppressed mattered, and identities were more important than people, and unhealthy American realities were absolutised and pushed upon all of the world while speaking of decolonisation.
And with that I was out. The whole American thing [which sadly influences a lot of people around the world] just seemed too polluted over time. I had seen too much stuff in the ‘conservative’ side already that had pushed me as a Jesus-following evangelical away, but instead of finding a place beyond the modernist division of both halves of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in which both were integrated again most ‘progressive Christianity’ stuff completely alienated me and gave me no traces of the Reality of Christ, only a lot of condemnation of ‘bigots’ and deeper trenches. While the visible part of the ‘conservative’ side in politics has become something that to me seemed opposite to anything Christ would stand for. Mammon, power, own country first, an economic orthodoxy of social Darwinist policies and no care for creation, and so on…
De-Americanising my sources to a certain degree was the only thing I could do to keep my spiritual sanity. But the US at this point did have a big influence on the religion that I’m a part of, and on the view a lot of people worldwide have of Christianity.  American ‘conservatives’ equating Christianity with their weird political system isn’t something that can be completely ignored in a world that is so connected as this one. Or at least I wasn’t able to do so.

Strangely at the same time there was the new Pope, who had taken up the name of Francis, who made more sense as a Christian than both sides of the American divide. Not that I agree with him as a conservative catholic about everything, but he has the love. And he knows that both the left and right (both in American and European sense) are full of nonsense most of the time and that often neither aligns with the gospel. A Christianity that has the love that goes deeper than all of our human stuff, love for the poor and despised without creating trenches against people of certain ‘identities’, and willingness to take the words of Jesus seriously. That’s the least I expect from a Christian. And evidently a search for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, for Love and Justice before other things.

And then the overseas situation gets even worse. Against all odds the US gets a president who is supposedly ‘conservative’ and from the party favoured by a lot of supposed Christians. A man who has no place for truth in a way that goes far beyond anything postmodern. A man who mocks the vulnerable and those who are in misery. A man for whom money, power and his ego seem the only guides. A man whose policies will destroy lives, and ecosystems. And a man who is presented by some Christians as ‘the Christian option’ because he will ‘make American great again’. The antithesis of all things True, Good, and even beautiful, and of Love and Justice has been hailed as a saviour. And I can’t be the only one who sees in the guy echoes of the weird antichrist characters of bad American seventies endtimes movies,  the kind that manages to sway all nominal Christians…

If anyone tries to sell me this mess as representing Christ, something breaks. It’s like accepting that water is dry, black is white, life is death, lies are truth. Or that slavery is freedom. Yes, he might not be the actual antichrist of dispensational pre-trib premillenialism, but the level of dystopia is rather disturbingly high anyway.

(Yes, we must pray for Trump, and bless him. But he is not worth more or more important than any sick refugee child either, and on the other hand him being a fellow human made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we should ignore how dangerous and destructive the bloke is. Loving those who are wrong doesn’t mean accepting their wrongness. Love the sinner hate the sin still applies, even if said sin is destroying the whole planet we should not hate them and yet cannot accept their destructive influence at all!)

So what prompted this post?
Yesterday I saw an older David Sorensen blogpost about Donald Trump being chosen by God, and it made me wonder about all these things. For those who don’t know him, David Sorensen is a part of my charismatic past, part of the Belgian scene, although not at all uncontroversial. I sort of did appreciate his first book when I was a lot younger, but there always were things that I completely disagreed with him too. And I’m not speaking about his style here, which is just a matter of taste. I’m more thinking about his crusade against Narnia movies for example…
I once heard him preach, and I couldn’t deny that he did bring across some Christian truths, in spite of the ‘I haven’t prepared and will let the Spirit guide me now’ approach which made him stretch things that have been said in 15 minutes  into a repetitive unstructured mess of a sermon that lasted about 2 hours. (It did give me more respect for the Spirit though, being able to get through with such a human vessel…)

I can’t deny that, even with all the weirdness I’m used to, and the fact that I know that the local US Christian population has fallen for Trump to I felt betrayed. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. Weed and wheat have been growing together since time began, and it’s always been a mixed well even though it brought me living water of Christ. But to see a tradition that I supposed tried to follow Christ follow a character that is almost the dialectic antithesis of everything Christ stood for without a trace of cognitive dissonance I do kind of despair.

I don’t despair because I lose my faith in Christ. I despair because I see a Christianity that takes people away from Christ. I despair because I feel torn apart.

And I need to remember that I need to ground myself in the Truth of Christ, in Love, and not in the internet which is full of toxic group spirits and dangerous distractions…

And then something whispers. Can we please remember that in times when Christianity is deteriorating and falling apart due to synchretism with antichristian powers it is not those who can reproduce the right theological constructs who are the ‘faithful remnant’, but that all knowledge, and even faith that moves mountains is nothing without Love?

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

Bewaren

Bewaren

Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!


It seems that I’ve -mworldviewore or less by accident- outlined most of my worldview in my recent few posts. I’m a ‘small o orthodox’ Christian’ as I said in my last post. Which means that I’m certainly and strongly a monotheist. And yet I am epistemologically an Animist too, for biblical and traditional reasons, and possibly even a polytheist.  And oh, I’m probably a Christian Neoplatonist and in some details even Aristotelean, anything but a philosophical nominalist… And I’ve noted earlier my postmodernism is probably more in line with theoretical chaos magick when it comes to paradigm shifting than with contemporary academic postmodernism.

But actually any of these doesn’t mean much apart from the theoretical level. Christianity isn’t a worldview but it is in the first place an allegiance. One can be a modernist liberal Christian and have a solid relationship with Christ (as Bonhoeffer did 201401071407-1_opgepast-voor-dinosauriersfor example), or a tribal animist (like some of my African pentecostal brethren are in practice), or a medieval European premodernist (get a book on church history and have your pick), or an existential postmodernist (ah, Kierkegaard anyone?), or even a messianic Jew. Surely, worldview IS important, but it’s nothing without relationship.

What I mean is that what we believe in terms of ‘accepting information’ does not at all equal our actual religion. I tend use the example of the letter of James, who says that the demons believe that ‘God is one’ too, and tremble. Yes they probably have very accurate worldview technically, much more accurate than any Christian worldview that has ever existed (though probably inverted when it comes to certain things like good and evil, in some kind of non-human Luciderian fashion) but this example should make it quite clear that even if ticking all the boxes of orthodoxy makes one technically a ‘believer’ of sorts, it doesn’t make one a follower of Christ.

Believing in spirits without ever engaging with them doesn’t make anyone a Japanese_Black_Pine,_1936-2007convincing spiritist. Saying ‘I believe in the historical Buddha’ or even in the more abstract Amida Buddha and the pure land, or the precepts of Zen philosophy, or even believing in the reality of the dharma itself does not make one a Buddhist unless one commits to following the dharma as a way of life. Or to take an example that’s a bit more extreme and closer to home: believing in the existence of Satan does not make one a Satanist. Well, actually Anton Szandor LaVey -probably because needed to make sure that his occult system got enough attention – naming his cult  ‘Satanism’ without even having Satan and God in the worldview is the reason that most modern ‘Satanists’ don’t even believe in Satan, while a lot of Christians and other Abrahamic monotheists do as they have always done. So here goes the whole ‘X-ism is believing that X exists’ completely out of the windows. It’s useless anyway…

So it’s quite clear that merely believing in an entity or even in the creeds of a religion  doesn’t make one an adherent of said religion. Thaindext is a modernist reduction that is actually quite meaningless. The first Christians were called the followers of the Way (just as a lot of people in other religions and spiritualities speak of their ‘path’. Even the word ‘Tao’ can be translated as such btw.) The ‘Way’ in that expression can be seen as the way of Christ, or as Christ Himself, who is called the Way, the Truth and the light in Johns gospel.

So Christianity is following Christ as the Way to the Father, leading a life that is in accordance with His teachings, and having a faith in God who will save us. Evidently this faith means to trust God, not accept information about God. It’s a life oriented towards God, where we orient ourselves on the Person of Christ and the body of Christian believers. Getting saved by believing in the right information about how we get saved is a weird mistranslation of the protestant idea of ‘sola fide’ and a very strange variety of the old gnostic idea that it is the right knowledge that saves us. It is God that we believe in (relationally and that we trust.

And this actually can happen in a different lot of differing worldviews and paradigms. Modern Christianity, Premodern Christianity, Postmodern Christianity, Jewish Christianity, inculturated tribal Christianity, etc can all be environments in which this Way can be followed… Actually we shouldn’t be naive to think that one of our man-made worldviews could ever be a one to one representation of the world. It’s always coloured by cultural tendencies and the Zeitgeist and what more. There is no pure ‘Christian worldview’, no matter what some people say (and those who claim to have one are often thoroughly modernist in a lot of regards.)

Sure there are problems where your worldview makes it impossible to see certain truths. The number of paradigms in which Christianity can be incarnated is transfinite, and not infine. And there will be a degree of incompatibility in which your Christianity might be hindered in certain aspects that comes with certain worldviews. If you do away with the whole supernatural dimension as a lot of moderns do you’re not likely to experience much to that aspect of the Kingdom of God. If you give it too much place (especially evil spirits controlling everything with no space for natural causality) you’ll fall in opposite traps… And getting to know God through a walk with Christ will expand our worldview. None of our categories is safe if we let Christ be Christ and try to learn from Him, if we let the Spirit be the spirit and learn from it, if we let God be God and learn from Him. Actually, if we get acquainted enough with the natural world we will already see our precious held worldviews splinter in certain areas from time to time…

We should stick to Christ even if our worldview falls apart. And lay our confidence in God and Reality rather than in any paradigm, be it a modern or a postmodern one… Christ should be more real to us than all of our man-made worldviews, which are just on ‘social construct’ layer, an interpretation of reality, but never reality itself.We have to remember that Reality is always more real than our interpretations of it. That Jesus is more than Christians can put into words, and more real than our dogmas and theology…

Even if we’d not only lose our worldview but end up in anokingdom4ther world, Christ will be there. Be it an alien planet or shamanist spirit world, if we’d ever come in such a situation (yeah, I am aware chances are slim for us mere mortals with our boring earthly lives, but still) it can come in handy to realise that Jesus transcends worlds and worldviews… So do Truth and Love by the way.

(But as you can see from the possible Christian neoplatonist undertones in my last paragraph, we should not expect to ever be fully free from our woldview while in this world. Or maybe the old professor was right and it can all be found in Plato (what do they teach kids in school these days…)
One day we’ll see face to Face though…)

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram