Archives For February 2018

The other day I commented on a post put up by a friend, who was applauding the increasing number of people supporting DACA “dreamers”, and gun control in the United States. In the comments section I spoke plainly, saying that abortion has to be part of this debate and that any theologian who  support people screaming, “punch a Nazi”, are hypocrites if they don’t include in their outrage, controls on the systematic slaughter of infants whilst they are still in the womb.

I did this because as has been witnessed in the latter part of this week people have taken to hashtaging their outrage with boycotts, anti-Trump hysteria and clear contempt for any American citizen who wants to keep their constitutional rights sacred. This outrage proves the need to push for a broader dialogue that includes abortion. This is because aspects of the push for gun control begin to look a lot more like one group, using the issue of guns, as a way to dominate and control the other group.

If abortion is left out of this debate, the justifiable outrage at the slaughter of children in a school, becomes a veneer for a far more sinister agenda. The control of one portion of the population by another portion, who, by their well established hostile approach to dialogue and the suppression of it, consider themselves to better than the rest.

The danger of allowing one side to dominate the debate is found in the sinless spheres each side can end up creating for themselves. When society ejects any notion of God, and His claim in Jesus Christ to us, by way of Him saving us from sin, groups within society take it upon themselves to step into the place that God has been ejected from.

Whether acted upon by those on the Right or those on the Left,  what is created is a system whereby the unifying truth in the statement that ‘all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God‘ (Rom. 3:23), becomes, ‘we declare that this group within society has fallen short of what, and who, we now say is God‘.

The sinless sphere is where one group operates as though they had no sin. They operate as though they were God, with the view to operating with the full and unhindered power of God. The reality is, however, that from within this sinless sphere, supposed sinless people encourage each other in their sin. They’re just no longer willing to recognise that sin is unique to all of humanity, including themselves.

It’s too easy then, to operate out of these toxic spheres, cutting down others, in the name of what those subsumed into these sinless spheres, now worship. This self-righteousness turns opponents into enemies of their new religion. This is one reason why I am more and more convinced that Modern Liberalism has become a cult of the Left, and that political correctness is the implementation of a secular shar’ia law. It’s another reason why I agree with the charge of heresy, criticisms of sporadic tyranny and legalism within some conservative strongholds, and its ugly existence within the history of the institutional Church. Such as the German Christian heresy of the 1930’s.

Pride is the enemy of grace. When one group takes action against another group, under the deceptive notion that it is without sin, there tyranny reigns. It is humility that wins, not virtue signalling. It is honesty and responsible vulnerability that reigns, not hiding behind closed doors until its safe to speak out, because it’s in line with the Left, who flood and therefore dominate the public realm, and cast intimidation on all who suggest anything different to their party-line.

On the issues of abortion, responsible gun ownership and responsible border control. All three need to be part of the conversation and concern of those involved in the debate. If not, the conversation becomes dominated by partisan propaganda, only done in order to achieve political advantage.

I raised this in my comment on my friend’s post. That ended, sadly, with this person falsely accusing me of doing my “usual” “grandstanding; posting to seek applause or attention”; of not sticking to the topic; of using abortion as part of a “game“ to dismiss (or distract) from any debate on immigration and gun ownership laws.

The point I was making to them was the need to discuss abortion, responsible gun ownership and responsible border control as a whole, because this draws attention to core issue. That core issue is the value of human life, who gets to determine/control that value, and who gets to determine/control when and where, human life starts and ends. Gun ownership laws are important, as is responsible border control, but abortion is by far the biggest concern among the three. This is because it involves the state sanctioned, celebrity funded, taking of a human life.

Whether society likes it or not, the ideology that underpins current attitudes towards advocacy for abortion, and both the indifferent and fanatical support it has, parallels with the Nazi doctrine of ”life unworthy of life”.

Yet, those who would scream, “punch a Nazi”, and in turn misuse anti-Nazi theologians like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in order to fuel anti-Trump hysteria, fail to see the parallels between the abortion industrial complex’s killing of babies, and the blood soaked ground that it shares with Nazism. The very same people who would be quick, in protest, to label gun owners “baby killers”,  but fail to protest the actual conveyor belt killing of babies.

Responsible border control, gun ownership and abortion are bipartisan issues, and because of the emotional nature of the debate and the tendency for victims to be used as political footballs, all three need to be kept in the sphere of that debate.

These issues cannot be abstracted from the discussion on the value of all human life, who gets to determine/control that value; and who gets to determine/control when and where, human life starts and ends.

They are issues that need to be discussed as a whole, on the unifying basis that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God‘. It is only through the God who in Jesus Christ unifies, reconciles and inspires, that any holistic resolution can be found. The first step towards this begins with humility and the prayer, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). [i]

You’re welcome to tell me how I’m wrong in trying to keep these issues bipartisan, by not letting the usual side of politics control the debate, as they point to the speck of dust in their brother’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own. I welcome disagreement, but I will draw a line when false accusations and personal attacks are thrown my way.


References:

[i] Also known as ‘The Jesus Prayer’.

Memes source, The Radiance Foundation.

The first time I had ever really heard of Billy Graham was in 1997. The first time I heard him preach was on a video around Christmas of that same year. After this peaked my interest, I read his autobiography. In fact, ‘Just As I Am‘ and my bible are the only two books that accompanied my wife and I during our honeymoon, and ‘Just as I Am‘ is the first book with over 300+ pages that I’d ever completed.

He wasn’t a saint, and preached in a unique style. He was close to the fire and brimstone tone of the Southern American Baptists, but always had a way of proclaiming the grace of God through that, which gave Jesus Christ centre stage. In my opinion, Johnny Cash gives one of the best primary examples for how Billy Graham served others, approached ministry and lived out a missionary ethos when it came to evangelism:

‘A man who really helped  me deal with my faith as a public person in the secular world was Billy Graham. He and I spent a lot of time talking the issues over…He advised me to keep singing “Folsom Prison Blues” and “A Boy Named Sue” and all those other outlaw songs if that’s what people wanted to hear and then, when it came time to do a gospel song, give it everything I had. Put my heart and soul into all my music, in fact never compromise…’ (Cash 1997, p.281)

Billy Graham set a standard for many to borrow, as they walk alongside him in the footsteps of Christ.

Rest well, B.G. Jesus Christ earned it for you.

Thanks for reminding us that He did, does and will do the same thing for us.

We’re sad to see you go, but what a terrifying, yet tremendous amount of joy must be radiating around the Bema Seat of Jesus Christ, right now!!

Post script:

Linked below is an interview between William Buckley Jnr and B.G. It was 1969 and the answers given by Graham hold as firm  today as they did then. If you are as keen and meticulous as I am about thinking through, and learning from, these kinds of discussions, here’s the link to the Stanford transcript: The Decline of Christianity

 


References:

Cash, J. & Carr. P. 1997,  Cash: The Autobiography HarperCollins Publishers

Related articles:

The Politics of Realignment A House of Slavery or a House of Freedom

Most of Australian history is a neglected subject. That history didn’t end in Botany Bay, 1788, and it’s high points, although they are among them, isn’t just Gallipoli 1915, or in the numerous corrections to sporadic injustices carried out by a Social Darwinist induced indifference towards Indigenous Australians. The significance of the Bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942, by over 260 Imperial Japanese aircraft is unjustifiably neglected by politics, politicians, political parties, their pawns in the news media, and in their pawns in the Australian academic industrial complex.

The high level of attacks from Imperial Japanese forces on an Australian state capital such as Darwin, with over 60 air raids in the North during W.W.2, shouldn’t be so easily forgotten. If anything even comes close to an “Invasion Day” in Australian history, the Imperial Japanese over Darwin on 19th February 1942, and the subsequent battles that followed this event, is the “Invasion Day” you’re looking for. This is bolstered by the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in May 1942, and the shelling of Newcastle by a Japanese submarine in June the same year.[i]  

The A.W.M:

“The Japanese air raids on Darwin on 19 February involved, collectively, over 260 enemy aircraft. Subsequent raids in April, June, July and November 1942, and March 1943 where carried out with forces of 30 to 40 fighters and bombers. Between the large raids there were smaller operations by groups of under a dozen Japanese aircraft. Most of the raids occurred in daylight but there were some small scale night attacks.
The 64th, and last, air raid on Darwin occurred on 12 November 1943. In total there were 97 air attacks on northern Australia and enemy air reconnaissance over the region continued through much of 1944.” (AWM, source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E59)

The Battle for Australia (which included the territory of New Guinea), New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands began on the 19th February 1942.

“The man who had led the attack on Pearl Harbour, Mitsuo Fuchida, was in command of this first attack on Darwin. It had been launched from four carriers, Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu and Kaga, about 500km to the northwest […]
It is often forgotten that the air-raids of 19 February were only the first of more than 60 raids over the next eighteen months, although none was as severe as those of 19 February. The last raid took place on 12 November 1943. The Japanese also bombed several other northern Australian towns.
On 3 March the undefended Western Australian town of Broome suffered a devastating attack. Flying boats, loaded with refugee women and children from the Dutch East Indies, were destroyed and many lives lost. Later in the month the tiny town of Wyndham was bombed.’ (Source:http://www.battleforaustralia.asn.au/BABombDarwin.php )

If American and Australian, Naval and Air forces, had not been successful in the Battle of the Coral Sea (4th May 1942 – 8th May 1942), Australia would have been left open to the Imperial Japanese blitzkrieg overrunning Asia and the Pacific. The Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, was followed by the Australian and American army pushing back the Imperial Japanese, in the battles at Buna, Milne Bay and in the Kakoda Campaign in New Guinea.

Those who think an Imperial Japanese invasion of Australia was never likely, ignore the significance of Australia. Australia’s strategic importance was, according to Dwight Eisenhower, ‘vital to [the] successful prosecution of the war’.

‘If we were to use Australia as a base it was mandatory that we procure a line of communications leading to it. This meant that we must instantly move to save Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and New Caledonia, and we had to make certain of the safety of Australia itself […]
As a prerequisite to everything else we had to stop the Japanese short of countries that were vital to our successful prosecution of the war— Australia and India […]
Our base must be Australia, and we must start at once to expand it and to secure our communications to it. In this last we dare not fail. We must take great risks and spend any amount of money required.” (Dwight Eisenhower, 1948 Crusade in Europe) [iii]

Those who think Australia was never invaded by Imperial Japan, are ignorant of history.

The real “Invasion Day” in Australian history, began with the Imperial Japanese bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942, against both black and white (Indigenous and European); and is made concrete on 8th March 1942, when the Imperial Japanese army landed on Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea, which was officially an Australian territory. Australia having taken control of the area away from Germany in 1914, maintaining the territory up until 1949.
 .
The real “Invasion Day” in Australian history is cemented in the ground by the sacrifices of Australians (both black and white, Indigenous and European) and Americans, in both the Battle of the Coral sea, from the 4th-8th May 1942 which followed Darwin, Lae and Salamaua; and the sacrifices of Papuans and Australians (both black and white; Indigenous and European) during the Kakoda campaign from July – November, 1942.
700+ Convicts, in chains, arriving in Botany Bay, then moving on to settle in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on the 26th January 1788, isn’t “Invasion Day”. The guns on that day were intended to keep the Convicts in line, not take land and murder people indiscriminately for it.
The real invasion day in Australian history began with the Imperial Japanese bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942. The guns on this day, were used to push back and protect Indigenous and European Australians from being occupied and ruled, by Imperial Japanese totalitarians and their Nazi allies.
.

References:

[i] According to the tour guides who work at Fort Scratchley, the Japanese had inside knowledge of the limitation of the guns on Fort Scratchley, and the Imperial Japanese Navy were aware of what and where to try and hit. 

[ii] Anzac Portal, A Kokoda chronology (Sourced, 19th Feburary 2018)

[iii] Eisenhower, D. 1948 Crusade in Europe: A Personal Account of WW2 (Kindle Ed.)

Image credit: Anzac Portal Battle of Milne Bay; Wikipedia, Damaged Japanese planes near Lae.

Define Your Illusions_RL2015_GVLWe the broken are far too easily ignored. We the abused are far too easily used. We are sold hope and guided by hands quick to speak of solidarity. We fall for blurred distinctions and ignore the price.

We are sold an empty comfort from mouths  that speak words of sympathy, but are absent of any real connectivity. They may promise salvation and deliverance from the deep sadness and pain we want so much to rip or be ripped out of us, but they cannot deliver what they promise. Sadly, some choose to keep us dwelling on that pain and sadness, in order to squeeze a dollar or two out of it.

In a way that pain and sadness become commodities.

In the church and world, if among the broken we are picked out as ‘charismatic, gifted, beautiful or anointed’ we are seized upon and raised up by the collective and individual alike.

Either to promote a cause or financial gain. Paraded on stage, our testimony is “validated”, our pain and healing seemingly put to good use. However, when the doors close and the next ‘big’ thing is promoted we realise that our pain and healing was paraded  in order to hype up the masses or sell politics, an opinion, idea or distorted theology. Here the veil falls and we see that interest in the One who saves, saved and will save was pushed to the background as we were adorned with adoration, idolised and syphoned for hope.

The essence of our contact with world, relationship and institution is easily manipulated. We the broken, guarded and sensitive to those things which have hurt us so successfully, are ironically attracted by those things that will hurt us. Buying into the false promises that control us as they promise remedy.

Sometimes, therefore, the broken become the prey of the fortunate. Then, sometimes the affected are thrown away like chaff by the disaffected.

This could be because the voices of the experienced are disruptive. Disputing certainty, and intellectual anxiety about meaning and purpose. Disrupting those firmly held inside a web of ideological conformity.

Our continuing survival discomforts their faith in empirical impassabilities. It challenges the surety of presuppositions that imprison the impossible to ignorance and the absurd. It challenges their claim to power. Examples here include the historical, Martin Luther and The Reformation, or the fictitious Katniss Everdeen and her role in ‘The Hunger Games.’

Those with higher opinions based solely on higher education or their association with certain institutions may comment, but it is clear that most are selective and set only on pursuing a particular narrative – often the one that will keep them popular.

Faith uninformed by reason ends in delusion; superstition. Worse still is reason detached completely from the necessary dualism of faith and reason – scientism. As proven by the 20th Century, is the grounding of gross inhumanity.

An evolutionary ethic demands the strong must resource their strength from the weak until the weak are no longer useful. The “elite” have no problem assuming, then, that the broken are ruined beyond repair. That we cannot think for ourselves or see through the shattered lens that pales in comparison to their presumed-to-be superior, unscarred monocles.

So, we are sold illusions and sadly, we buy into them. We are even convinced enough to vote for them.

Niceties and platitudes of human tolerance end in hypocrisy. Resulting in acts of kindness being abandoned and the real importance being place solely on the appearance of giving it.

Additionally, the beauty of an orthodox theological understanding of Christian love is deconstructed, then subsumed into an “absolute ethic of niceness.[i]” God’s mercy is, thus, distorted without any acknowledgement let alone recognition of His right and freedom to act in just judgement. [ii]

With all the brokenness and abandonment around me at the time. Growing up as a teen in the 1990’s. I found it easy to fall into the trap of self-medication. Weekends spent young, drunk (and/or stoned); finding my identity in the closest people or things that I thought were identifying with me.

Looking back on that time, it wasn’t  because I was being drawn to those people or things because they identified with me, but because I leaned towards whatever I could identify, understand or nullify my pain with.

We hear packaged in phrases that ‘such and such, really identifies with their audience‘. Terms of endorsement often found in movie and music reviews alike.

The important distinction not to be missed here, though, is that artists don’t generally identify with their audience. Rather their audience (the customer) identifies with them. It’s not reciprocal, even if the understanding is mutual.

The truth is that those people and things only identified with my money and my blind, happy applause.

Case in point is the band Guns n’ Roses.

I remember reaching for everything I could find or learn about them, to be them. Even up to the point of copying almost every riff and niche Marshal Amp sound I could squeeze out of my $150 second-hand electric guitar, which had a cracked head and the embarrassing habit of going out of tune after each strum, pick or bend.

I was more than a fan. I was a disciple flirting with a generalised, but similar inner darkness that they seemed to be wrestling with. Questing for the transcendent; looking to ascend the hole of despair that my existence had boxed me into.

This was poetry with guts.

Emotion and truth screaming through mic, five string, bass and drum. In short: a form of worship. Throwing up; ’emotional vomit’ (as Lacey Sturm from ‘Flyleaf’ brilliantly described it); a numbness screaming out for feeling. This was a reach for rescue-through-revolt. A desire to be heard and acknowledged; a potential revolution powered by real-anger, angst, amp and an “appetite” for definition.

The reality is that the men of Gn’R didn’t identify with me. They couldn’t. They didn’t know me. Yet, there is no blame that I can justly attach to them. What I was being sold hung on a blurred distinction.*

I identified with them, their craft, skills and lyrical aptitude. I related to what people were selling through them and bought-into it every time. It wasn’t and couldn’t ever be reciprocated.

Any healthy personal connection where I felt cared for or understood was an illusion; an estrangement caused by a blurred distinction.

Although tempted, I wouldn’t simply relegate this as ‘idol worship‘ hoping to avoid over-analysing things, but as something more complex propagated by the absence of key relationships in my life.

What I have learnt through all of this is that my identity must rest in and under Jesus Christ, not any man, woman or ideology. He is the one in whom God chooses not only to identify with us, but to free us, in order to be for us and with us. So that we can be free for Him; free from, in order to be for, each other**:

‘…when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]. And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but sons [and daughters], and if so, then an heir through God.’
– (Galatians, 4:3-7; see also Romans 8:15)


References:

[i] Elshtain, J. 1993 Just War Against Terror

[ii] (see Karl Barth C.D II:1 ‘Dues non est in genere’: God is not a species that can be categorised by us, outside that which and who He has chosen to reveal Himself to us).

*So that I am not misinterpreted, “Gunners” as-they-were, still are, in my opinion, musical giants. Lyrically, rhythmically and melodically they hit on truths with criticisms of society that no one else dared to speak in and from that kind of arena.

** Karl Barth, paraphrased. 

 

 

We’re walking through Nathaniel & Hans’ Bluedorn‘s 2009 book, ‘The Fallacy Detective‘ for Homeschool at the moment. The Bluedorns do an excellent job of distinguishing  between the various logical fallacies, discussing how they work on and off the page. I’ve even learnt a few things I didn’t know, and gained clarity on a few of the more nuanced fallacies like ad hominem, straw man and equivocation.

The Bluedorns provide an easy to read text. Placing at the end of each chapter well written quizzes with some humour mixed in, they effectively teach a complex subject to their reader.

‘The Fallacy Detective’ was a recommendation from one of our American homeschooling friends and I can see why they were so excited about using it as a resource for lessons in logic and communication. I haven’t finished using this text, but once I am we will be revisiting it and beginning a walk-through of Nathaniel and Hans’ next book, ‘The Thinking Toolbox‘.

In the final chapter of ‘The Fallacy Detective’ the authors hone in on propaganda. The introduction to this section differentiates between propaganda and manipulative propaganda.

Some key points are made, such as,

‘Propaganda is any strategy for spreading our beliefs or ideas…Propaganda is not always bad. There isn’t anything wrong with spreading our ideas and encouraging people to buy our product – as long as we do it honestly’ (p.188).

The definition given for manipulative propaganda is,

‘when someone plays with our emotions in a way designed to make us agree with them without thinking through the matter carefully’ (p.189)

I had a problem with these definitions because they didn’t go deep enough. For instance, someone could easily use this to (falsely) justify the accusation that preaching is propaganda, or worse manipulative propaganda. So when teaching through this part, I added a qualifier. Throwing in the fact that there is a distinction between propaganda and preaching.  Granted the two are sometimes blurred by questionable sermons, poor theology, and stale dogma.

This is sometimes seen in the Charismatic movement, where the emphasis can be more on transaction and performance. By that I mean “naming and claiming something”, “having the [quote] right anointing [unquote], “feeling God’s presence in the band if it played well, and if it didn’t play to standard? Well, God somehow didn’t show up”.

Thus giving the congregation and spectator the guilty feeling that they somehow failed to impress God and are abandoned for not having done so. Jesus had a stinging rebuke for those in the temple, who confused preaching with manipulating others. Knowing the difference between preaching and propaganda, especially manipulative propaganda falls in line with that rebuke.

‘And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.’ (Matthew 21:1, ESV)

There’s a big difference between preaching and manipulating someone in order to get something. Preaching is about proclamation, invitation, empower faith seeking understanding and learning together in humility.

I take my own understanding of preaching, from Jesus and Paul, who together, teach us that preaching, in sum, is about saying “I give this to you, in order to benefit you” (paraphrased). It’s far removed from the sales room floor of crony capitalism, the soap box of Marxists, the auctioneer’s gavel and the manipulative propagandist who, hiding behind all of these platforms, has his and her ultimate aim as being, “what can I take from you to benefit me”. At the heart of this we hear caveat emptor – let the buyer beware; Jesus and Paul telling us to be careful about what is being sold to us, who is doing the selling, and why they are selling it.

Even without the distinction between preaching and propaganda, the final chapter of ‘The Fallacy Detective’ holds itself together. The differentiation between propaganda and manipulative propaganda is followed by a clear description of, why, how, when and where propaganda is used. This includes, among others, car salesmen, lawyers right up to celebrities, artists and politicians.

Again, not all propaganda is bad, but propaganda shouldn’t be accepted without question; my take on this is that caveat emptor becomes: beware the auctioneers.

This differentiation between propaganda and manipulative propaganda gives the authors the opportunity to prepare the reader for the discussion ahead. Every time they use the word propaganda, they mean manipulative propaganda. By only using the word propaganda, the authors ingeniously force the reader to make their own differentiation between the two.

The information video I’m posting below on Marxist manipulative propaganda, circa 1957 illustrates this differentiation and the definitions presented by Nathaniel & Hans’ Bluedorn. There’s some real insight into manipulative propaganda. For instance the video explains how most Marxists/Communists play the information warfare game. Adding to this, is the small presence of American manipulative propaganda, which pops up from time to time, clearly designed to push the Communists back by using their own strategies against them.

For most hardcore Marxists there is no truth, but that which is filtered through the lens of Karl Marx. As the script writers for the video accurately describe:

“America is the major obstacle that stands between the grave-digger [Communist] and its intended victim. Here is target number one for the Reds and who’s in the bulls-eye. You are being in the bulls-eye. It’s important to know something about the enemy’s weapons and how to spoil their aim. That aim is nothing less than world conquest, and subversion by every possible means, is the cheap method used.The keyword is conflict.
Outside of the red countries themselves conflict must be promoted everywhere. Every dissatisfaction must grow into a resentment. Every resentment must become an argument. Every argument must grow into a fight. Every fight must blossom into a riot. Every riot must expand into a war. Every war must end in devastation.Where, there, in the ruins, communism finds its chance. For the Communists there must never be a compromise. Never a settlement of disputes, only conflict.”

If, as the video concludes, the only ‘effective defence against [manipulative] propaganda is the truth’, then the way forward for the aggressor, in any information war, is to attack the truth. The truth is watered down in order to get people to second guess it; smothering the truth in lies, half-truths, and the displacement of absolute truth. On this level truth means that at any stop light, red can be made to mean “go” by any individual who so desires, and no one is liable for the consequences.

This is why one of Roger Scruton’s more tongue in cheek comments in his 1994 work Modern Philosophy carries so much weight:

‘A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.’  (pp.5-6)

Worth noting is the date this video was made. With the benefit of hindsight, the information presented shows that those who came before us, were not as ignorant as we are about the dangers posed by Communism and all forms of manipulative propaganda.


References:

Bluedorn, N. & H., 2009 The Fallacy Detective Christian Logic

Scruton, R. 1994 Modern Philosophy Bloomsbury Publishing

Image design: Rod Lampard Photo: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

In a recent article titled ‘Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure’ for Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics, Dr. Matthew Tan, a Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College Australia, suggested that the Church needs to assert itself as an ‘alternative public’ in the marketplace.

Matthias Grunewald, ‘The Last Supper’. c.1500 A.D

According to Tan the real battleground where issues like abortion are to be engaged in is the ‘community called “the market”[i],

‘In consumer culture everything is reduced to a commodity and the market is the community’[ii]. He explains that ‘bodies become units of exchange. Greater value is attributed to those with the greater buying power’[iii]

Enter a ‘politics of visibility’ where bodies are:

‘reduced to a blank slate whose sole worth lies in its ability to exalt the logos that hang off it[iv]… Mere existence then becomes ‘dependent on performance and audience. Self itself becomes dependant on visibility’[v]

In response to this the Church needs to engage by seeing through the ‘lens of economic efficiency’. It needs to engage as a ‘public in its own right to challenge to the public circumscribed by state and society’.

This is as opposed to allowing itself to be simply relegated by society and politics to function in a private ancillary role e.g.: ‘chaplaincy’.

How can the Church apply its resources in presenting itself as an alternative?

Tan suggests that the language of the Sacraments meet the language of commerce, ‘in particular the Eucharist’.

Here the Church can assert itself as a direct:

‘counter-structure’ to the consumerist ‘logic of efficiency’ because the Eucharist (communion) ‘undoes the logic of efficiency by challenging the logic of resource scarcity that mandates the need to ensure efficient management. The Eucharist challenges this by positing counter-logic of plenitude where people ‘receive without charge [and] give without charge’
‘The Eucharist can challenge the very foundations on which contemporary socio-political arrangements are grounded. Because of this, the Church’s task of producing its own fields via sacramental practice will ultimately call into question the Church’s own political positioning’
‘This alternative public…contains an alternative structure and is one in which the imperative to consume others is seen as an aberration rather than the norm. If the structure of consumer practice is implicated in the normalisation of abortion, the Church can only comprehensively undercut that normalisation by supplementing its discourse asserting the personhood of the foetus with its own counter-structure.
In so doing the church will need to go beyond making claims that are allegedly recognisable to all endowed with reason. Through its own sacramental economy, it would need to be engaged in the production of practices that declare an allegiance that is contrary to the state/society/market complex’

Even though, they are in fact very political, I am not sure the sacraments (primarily Baptism and Communion – for those us reading Tan who are Protestants) should be employed as a purely political and financial tool. This is because the purposes of the sacraments are firstly about recollection. Secondly, relationship and then, only in a final sense, does it become about transformation.

I wonder though if Tan is in fact talking about marketing the church and its practices better. For example: Does this counter logic advocate that the Church view itself as a corporation and set itself apart from other corporations such as McDonalds, Apple or Microsoft?

If so, are we talking about taking up the very thing only God can do and does? Does this make or lead us to falsely make the sacraments purely transactional, bypassing Jesus Christ, to the point where something akin to the indulgences of the Middle Ages, salvation is taxed by the institution?

For the church the marketing of the message seems to be the evangelical outer workings of the people working with God, whereas the latter marketing of the church appears, at least in an exegetical understanding of scripture, to require and consist of the present participation of the Holy Spirit, in both external and internal evangelical work of God for the children of God.

Would this human effort to commercialise the sacraments then further diminish the transcendent point of reference which appears to be abandoned by modernity’s extreme focus on ‘surface over substance’; i.e.: material gain measuring a persons net worth?

I only ask this because it is my only hesitation in completely agreeing with his point of view. This doesn’t negate the strategic importance of Tan’s thinking here. There is potentially a lot good that can grow from what he is suggesting.

To witness the Church having its task of proclamation really heard and appreciated, on any level in real time, is energising. To engage as a serious alternative to the alternatives, is a privilege of freedom, that none of us in the church ought to remain complacent about or take for granted.


References:

[i] Tan, M. 2014 Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure, Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol 4: Iss.1, Article 7,p.7

[ii] Ibid, p.11

[iii] Ibid, p.8

[iv] Ibid, p.7

[v] Ibid, p.9

Article originally published April 27, 2014