december 2007

coffee
Wednesday, December 26th, 2007
I have come, belatedly, to the realisation that I am not fit for a caffeinated culture. Oh boy, I do really run hard for a while in it, but find myself prone to depression as I continue to plod on. I realised last week that I had to stop coffee intake for a while. I began to feel more settled and content. I was recovering. Then yesterday, Christmas, I had a cup of java from a bag of coffee Lois gave me as a gift. I was fine for a while, but then, early in the afternoon, I found myself depressed and worried about my failure to accomplish anything that day. “I had better go back to work.” I said to myself, all the while, feeling crushed by the expectation of accomplishment. I said to myself, “Oh God, I feel like I’m a kid again cursed by my own great potential.” I got over the coffee depression and I swear, on nothing by the way, that I will do what I can to avoid that drug. I had some tea later, green with ginger. Oh how sweet and delicious. I don’t seem to suffer the same coffee depression, nor have I in the past with tea. I feel like another privilege has been revoked, but if I’m wise, I will take this hint.

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lucretius
Friday, December 14th, 2007
Today I spent time with my friends at the National and Elm branch of Panera coffee/bread shop. I had my usual coffee and “black” cookie. We started out on a conversation on Philip Pullman’s series His Dark Materials which has caused some ruffling of evangelical Christian feathers. The contention is that in the three part book, Pullman “kills” God. Not to belabour the point, but the evangelical rumourmongers have it all wrong. At most Pullman has elevated a straw man Angel to be his God that will be killed in the third book. If we were interested in the demise of the Jehovah’s witnesses version of God then this series would pose a threat.

What the evangelical rumourmongers have failed to do is read the books critically, I don’t mean by that a reading criticising the book, but a reading that analyses the book by what it really says in light of some fairly basic rules of theology and sound reasoning. It is a children’s book after all and no philosophical reasoning should be deeply hidden in double-talk and as it turns out it isn’t.

What this betrays is an evangelical penchant for misusing its authority. It doesn’t matter who started the rumours, what matters is that the evangelical world has uncritically passed them on. As I have said before on Facebook, even if his intent is to tweak the evangelical nose with his writings, their reaction to those same writings proves the foolishness of their stance.

Now to Lucretius. Why do I find that he is better than Creation Science? Simply, he took the best research of his day, Democritus’s atomism and Epicurus’s materialism and formed a world view that without respect to the limitations of his cosmology, had some traction in modern science. At the same time atomism was being discovered by the material science of the modern age, the discovery that the earth is extremely old, much older than the six or seven thousand years proposed by the biblical proponents and others, was gaining solid empirical footing. What the Young Earth Creationists have done is avoided the obvious research, unlike Lucretius.

Nobody recently had taken Lucretius’s whole cosmology seriously, but what he hinted at, an atomistic material world, is perfectly coherent with nineteenth and early twentieth century material science. What the Creation Scientists and for that matter the Intelligent Design proponents (who have degrees in science but are not doing science at all) are doing is politics, since their research makes little sense to the practising scientist. Let’s not worry about debunking CS and ID, that has been done effectively by many scientists already. Let’s go about the business of trying to find out what the world really consists of without resorting to politics to make our voice heard. But before I go on, I want to suggest that the machinery around evangelical rumourmongering is the same for the most recent Philip Pullman scare as it is for CS and ID.

What I want to suggest is that the culture of evangelicalism has become an efficient machine for bypassing our critical faculties. I began reading Devices of the Soul today, a book by Steve Talbott. In it he outlines the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel of our technological society. Why are we falling asleep? Well, the easy answer is that it is easy to trade the sublime simplicity of ever more efficient ways of data collection, distribution, and rearrangement for our conscious, deliberate innovation, the balance between knowing our world and taking care of ourselves. He outlines a necessary resistance to the tendency to sleep in our technological paradise. The self is what counts and if we do not discipline it we will lose it. ‘The only way we can become entire, whole, and healthy is to struggle against whatever reinforces our existing imbalance.’ (p. 14) For the evangelical, this requires that we no longer sleep at the wheel of our Christianity. We must rise and struggle against the superstition that blocks our vision of reality, our awareness of the world around us. Living in the world requires more than a quantitative analysis. We need to be able to intuit the qualitative reality around us. This takes more than mere adherence to the mores of our simple community.

Our simple community provides a formula for living centred around prayer, bible reading, witnessing, and church going. But this closed circuit, though good in itself, has provided very little in the way of feedback about our world that Jesus was not interested in taking us out of. So the feedback we get to increase our comprehension of the Christian world just provides an internal efficiency for navigating that world. The world outside the doors of the Church is full of dragons, monsters, and beasties and we must not step out of our safe haven lest we be slaughtered like lambs among wolves. It may be true for a few fragile minds that we should not step into danger, but for most of us, that is irresponsible, self-centred napping. The stuff of evangelical rumours is the stuff of dreams and unless we rouse ourselves from sleep, we will begin to think the dreams are reality. The formula of evangelicalism fails to recognise that the stuff of life is, in J. Storrs Hall’s words, “like the grammatical rules of language?subtle, distributed, dynamic?and impossible to write down formally.” (Beyond AI, p. 98)

Why is this important today? Well, as uncomfortable as it might be the evangelical should abandon formalism, reductionism and simplifications for a vastly richer reality. Why is it that we go along in our life thinking we have it all sewed up when something interrupts our life. The interruption is part of the real world, that because we had simplified and systematised, structured and reduced our lives to certain elements, the uncertain, unruly waves of the sea of life came as a big surprise. Some, like N. T. Wright in Evil and the Justice of God try to write the sea as a symbol of evil using biblical illustrations. But I think that is too simple. Life is like the sea, and God created the sea and the sea provides sustenance. It is not a picture of evil as Wright implies. And it is a fairly good picture of the ordinary uncertain, unfinished quality of real living.

Why is this clearly postmodern view helpful? It forces an abandonment of simple certainty and an awareness of the complexities that underlie our ordinary habitus. We cease acting like machines and revive the disciplines of caring for our self that assures the creative wit and wisdom to not only continue but thrive as persons in this world.

What does resisting look like? Well, instead of taking people’s opinion about something, find out for yourself. Instead of always reading the “Christian” interpretation of so and so, try reading so and so directly. Instead of closing your mind to what repulses you (youth culture or something like it), find out about it. Ask questions.

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lifestyle and homosexuality
Saturday, December 1st, 2007
I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind about homosexuality. As a Christian person, and I don’t think homosexuality was even on my radar before I slammed into Christ, I have always thought of the church’s dogma, that it is wrong, and so overly simplistic and mean spirited, leaving no room for discussion, that the people who were homosexual were left out of the discussion. In this case the religious polemic left me breathless and wondering where Christ went.

Michel Foucault in an interview with James O’Higgins in 1982-83, when asked about the origins of homosexuality in our culture refused adamantly to give an opinion. The choice as presented to him was the standard one, nature or nurture. I don’t think much had been done in the way of science at that point and his refusal had to have been fuelled by two things, lack of acquaintance with the problem and lack of real science. But take Foucault’s point, when we don’t know something we should not be spouting our opinions about it. We know more today about the origins of homosexuality, but the question he refused to answer still has no definitive scientific or cultural answer that could satisfy any strict analysis. We must, just acknowledge that some of us, by choice or not are or have become homosexual. These are our friends, neighbours, and family members.

It was in the early seventies that I was first introduced to the issue meaningfully and I adopted a simplistic position that the church held at the time. That it was wrong, that it was a sin, but that it was just one type of wrong behaviour among many. Drug and/or alcohol abuse, fornication without relation, idolatry, envy, lying, etc. were all in the same category. These behaviours though not always engaged in happily could complicate life terribly by forcing depersonalisation, rejection, alienation, and emptiness of person. These behaviours and attitudes, as far as I could tell, were the causes of a great deal of damage to human persons and human relations.

From tolerance, to affection, to love. The ethical landscape of tolerance I grew up in was not adequate to address the questions posed here. What it didn’t do was provide a way of relating to the people who were homosexual. So going it alone, basically I just decided to treat them like the people they were. Using the golden rule, I didn’t disassociate myself from homosexual people just because they were homosexual, even as I didn’t wish to be left out because I was a Christian. I wasn’t na?ve but I wasn’t interested in participating in homosexual behaviour. There was never any tension between not shutting them out and not participating. I never felt driven to participate, though I was propositioned a few times, sometimes with physical force. I got the idea quickly and politely refused. I realised this subterranean world of signals, signs and looks could get me into trouble and stepped back a bit mentally to look over the situation more seriously. I never withdrew from the friendships I made, and never committed the sin of ignoring or discounting my gay acquaintances. Some of them were, however, far more conflicted and troubled by their relations to each other and the culture in general.

I am now an empathetic person, just ask my family who watches me cry at the movies, and I am affectionately attached to my friends and family. That has been a choice though. My natural inclination has been to alienate myself to prevent hurt. Lack of direction as a child, the assumption that I would pick up correct deportment as I went along, left me to become violent and capricious, careless of my effect on people. I was the typical alienated teen in the sixties, building and destroying relations as it suited my chaotic fancy; lying cheating, and stealing to suit my own purposes, clearly a delinquent, suitable only for forced labour in the surveillance society. Becoming a Christian saved both me and society the trouble of putting me out of my misery. That doesn’t mean I was repaired, or that I am fully a person yet. I am a work in progress. However, I am regaining, against the flow of my culture, the voice I had in my innocence. My mother said I was compassionate as a child. I am moving toward that as an adult.

I am moving toward love. That includes my homosexual friends. Our culture militates against close relationships, tolerating marriage only because it cannot live without the family. I gravitate now, after decisively rejecting alienation, toward people, people of all kinds. I have found the mental gravity holding me to the belief that all people are God’s children and that love in all its forms is better than separation, that kindness and fairness are attainable, that we don’t have to live without each other, we don’t have to judge each other, that we can love people. We can bumble through decisions, negotiate settlements, reject the attachments that favour our demise. We can find fair pleasure without threat of retribution or God’s hammer. We can work toward peace without engaging in war to obtain it, though we don’t have to allow oppression to have its way with us, resistance is not futile, it is even necessary, even essential to being persons.

Now, as far as Gay sex, which the whole controversy is all about, I think the Bible and the Greco/Roman thinking is this, (I’m not saying Christian thinking) there is not even a category called homosexuality in any of these records. Foucault suggests that the category is invented in the eighteenth to nineteenth century with the end of the classical age and the rise of the surveillance society, friendship is deprecated stripping male relationships of all its socially healthy parts revealing a residue of male sexual relations. It is then that homosexuality emerges as an abnormal constituent of social relations, which are in general confined to the nuclear family, and the heterosexual relations within it. For Paul, in Romans 1, male coupling is not the apostasy but the result of apostasy. It is not the only result though. Yet, to take Paul’s remarks as a universal prohibition against same sex relations is premature at best. Human relations are more complicated than the seemingly black and white characterisation given there or elsewhere. I suggest that with the Greco/Roman thinking on the subject as Foucault sees it, an excess, say the excess of the bathhouses in the nineteen-eighties in the U.S.A. is reason for censure, but convivial relations between consenting adults, and marital relations between consenting adults remains aloof of the accusations of our culture normally pressed.

Here’s the punch line, and it has to be stated conditionally because of our lack of knowledge about the future. If there is a God, and if there is a final judgement, and if I am to come out of that judgement essentially whole, (worrying about reward is enough to upset any possible equilibrium) then I should love others as I love myself, and love God with all my heart soul mind and strength, do unto others as I would have them do to me, take the risk and love people and let people love each other, judge not lest I be judged, the merciful obtain mercy, and the entire list of morally enlightening and socially appropriate aphorisms which direct me to love people.

This has nothing to do with what I think the political situation in the U.S. would require.

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