Tag Archives: politics

Stop being influenced by America?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace

Bram

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Capitalism series: intro


‘If we truly learn to love our neighbor as ourselves, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be needed’. – Shane Claiborne

the posts in this series:
Introduction
Part 1: Rule of the market
I’m genercapitalismally known as ‘a person critical to capitalism for religious reasons’, something which, never ceases to surprise certain people for some reason. Sometimes in discussions people really don’t understand why I am so negative about capitalism, or why I assume it to be completely incompatible with my Christian faith. So what is quite evident to me seems to be completely weird and otherworldly for others, and that’s why I decided to write my views down in a series of blog posts and explain the reasoning behind certain conclusions that I’ve reached. This has also helped me to work out what exactly my thoughts are….

So practically I will do a series with one post every week or (more likely in my current scheme) every 2 weeks on Wednesday. But before we start, I want to first explain with this what exactly I’m going to do, and define some terms. Continue reading

Why do we need a State?


There’s a lot of discussion about the role of the state in some circles nowadays, and sometimes when we look at world politics like there are a lot of ‘higher goals’ which are very important, so important that a lot of people can be sacrificed to it.

(In reality most of those goals boil down to money and power of certain people or groups of people though, and most likely this means trouble for other groups of people…)

I’d surely add a responsibility for the rest of creation, for the nature and all of the non-human earthlings to the ordinary human beings, but besides from that, if there is any need for a state, it would be something like what C.S. Lewis describes here:

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.” -C.S. Lewis (mere christianity)

And I’m afraid that they are not just a waste of time, but of energy, money, and sometimes lives of people or whole masses are wasted for our shabby human politics…

If you high and lofty goals do not “promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life” and take care of nature and our non-human fellow earthlings, they’re not even worth considering…

what do you think?

peace

Bram

To hell with the European Union…


This image can be bought on a T-shirt here!

For those wondering; the  triple-dot punctuation mark in the title indicates that I primarily meant to use a second meaning of the expression: The European union is taking people to hell. And I must confess that I fought using a lot of harsher words while writing, but what good would they do?

I’ll just say this plainly: This nonsense that’s happening nowadays should end. I say that as a Christian, I say that as a human about humans beings created in the Imago dei, the image of God! I say that as someone who because of these 2 believes in a form of ‘basic humanism’ that looks at every human being as of infinite worth. Much more worth and value than big ideas, ideologies, and money.

So why am I suddenly taking this role as an indignado, and indignant one here on the blog? I wasn’t even planning on blogging about politics. (Neither did I plan yesterdays post on christianity, economics and neoliberalism btw, it just happened) The last straw for me to openly join the indignant ones, and the only appropriate reaction I see, was this story: According to BBC  news (Trigger Warning, heartbreaking article for anyone who is still remotely human, grotesque inhumanity), “Greece’s financial crisis has made some families so desperate they are giving up the most precious thing of all – their children”.

you read that right:

In the last two months Father Antonios, a young Orthodox priest who runs a youth centre for the city’s poor, has found four children on his doorstep – including a baby just days old.

Another charity was approached by a couple whose twin babies were in hospital being treated for malnutrition, because the mother herself was malnourished and unable to breastfeed.

Cases like this are shocking a country where family ties are strong, and failure to look after children is socially unacceptable – they feel to Greeks like stories from the Third World, rather than their own capital city.

And further in the article:

The Smile of a Child’s Sofia Kouhi says the biggest tragedy, in her eyes, is that those parents who ask for their kids to be taken into care may be the ones who love their children the most.

“It is very sad to see the pain in their heart that they will leave their children, but they know it is for the best, at least for this period,” she says.

If this is the outcome, then I just repeat it, now in the conventional meaning: To hell with bigger ideas like ‘the European Union’, ‘the Euro’ or even ‘the economy’ if this is what they bring us. Or just let them burn up and be annihilated if you prefer, I don’t mind, as long as they’re somewhere they can’t hurt any human being. Those ‘bigger ideas’ should be at the benefit of all of the people and otherwise we should get rid of them.

Whatever big theories are used to justify systems that lead to this, they are God-damned nonsense and poisonous bullshit. If we judge the tree by it’s fruit and not by what some otherworldly so-called ‘expert’ in a lab coat tells us we’ll see that it’s pure poison. Please let us just dump every ideology that is capable of creating this. I don’t even care what the theories behind this are. Just get rid of the junk.

We cannot just walk away from this Omelas. Especially now the child sacrificed to suffer hell for all to prosper is a whole country, and who know how many more will follow to not even give the others anything remotely like an ‘utopia’, but also most probable in the end a worse life for all common Europeans. But even one child would be utterly unacceptable!

Except for maybe some bankers and politicians who are living the dumb illusions that their loads of money could ever bring happiness. Or for those who aren’t in any danger, who live in the abstract world of their ideology and all their theories.  We must feel sorry for them, for they are to pity too… Their souls must be quite damaged too if they don’t even see the problem, and their very humanity as at stake…

Let us pray if we’re able, resist where we’re, and be there for those who need it if we encounter them. Let our lives be filled with grace and generosity.

Kýrie, eléison
Χριστέ, ἐλέησον
Kýrie, eléison

shalom, which means peace with God and people and a life of ‘enough’ to you all, especially those trampled under by the systems of Babylon!

Bram

Christianity, economy and neoliberalism…


This is from a facebook discussion (slightly rewritten for literary aesthetic reasons), where someone asked me what the Christian views on Ron Paul and Austrian economics would be. I am not an economist myself, but I believe that economical theories that are built on the idea of ‘constant growth’ are unrealistic and dangerous for various reasons, and I believe that we should cultivate an economic of enough, not too much, for ourselves, and generosity for all who need it. I know I’m not living up to that the way I should, but there’s not other way to live the way of Christ, the way of love, the life of good news and reconciliation…

I know this is a messy text, but I just wanted to keep it for myself, and maybe one of my readers may be interested…

Me: I would say that the teachings of christ and the NT, and almost all of Christian traditions are completely incompatible with hyperindividualism or any systems where economics are elevated over people, or any jungle law system including economic neodarwinism. Instead taking care of the poor, the downtrodden and those left behind should be prioritised over any system of economics or ideology…
The conservative christian right would say otherwise probably…
Okay, I understand. But Ithink they all want the same outcome for the poor, they just differ in their means. I think liberal see the means mostly in assets as responsability. Socialist thinkers and christians more in charity. I think that last one gives us a good feeling about ourselves, but I just isn’t that effective but more culturalimperialistic and bougeoisstyle.
Me: Whatever you see as superficial outcome for the poor, I don’t think the outcome for the person itself and for the world is even remotely the same. Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus can not live for themselves only, like the idea of the american dream and similar ideas would, nor for the hoarding of stuff and posessions. Btw, Charity originally did not mean the ‘give and stay on a distance’ but it comes from the latin word ‘caritas’ or ‘universal love for fellow humans, like loving and being friend and giving. From the church in the book of acts in the bible to St-Francis to Shane Claiborne in this time, the Christian tradition that cares most for the poor is the one that is content with ‘enough’ and shares the rest -not just stuff, but time and life- with those who need it.
The neoliberal underlying dogma seems to me that everyone is equal in chances of making it, and therefor blames those who didn’t. which is completely unfair and utterly unrealistic, but for those who did make it it’s easy to blame the ones who didn’t… Jesus would care most about them, and we Christians need to relearn this.

Like Paul writes in the bible:

1 Tim 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
so what do you think? (except for that I could’ve used a lot of Jesus’ words instead of this quote from Paul)
shalom
Bram

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shalom

Bram