Archives For Practical Atheism

One of Australia’s loud minority parties displayed their brilliant political idiocy this December by supporting a campaign called: “No Gender December”.

As a political manoeuvre it’s brilliant.

The ideology behind it, however, overreaches. Intentionally motivated to do so or not, it’s an ontological argument that sabotages the message of Christmas; selling it out to a predatory political agenda by sidelining the pointed Christmas message and exchanging it for easy “cheers” and blurred distinctions.

The issue according to Greens Senator Waters is that:

“We shouldn’t be labelling toys-for-boys and toys-for-girls”[i]
“Starkly separate aisles of pink and blue” might seem harmless, but “setting such strong gender stereotypes at early ages can have long-term impacts, including [on] self-perception and career aspirations.” 
Senator Waters said that “outdated stereotypes” about girls and boys perpetuate gender inequality, “which feeds into very serious problems such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap.”[ii]

Despite claims of misquoting and Murdoch-press propagandizing from Water’s Facebook fans, the message is clear enough: ‘Don’t buy our daughters pretty things, even if they like them, because it reinforces “outdated stereotypes.”

It is an ideological mess that even Waters, when questioned about it, struggles to define.

Having long since abandoned the respect for democracy and exchanged the term political opponents for political enemies, this only serves esoteric elitists who have their egos stroked by promoting anything which may lead to some form of political advantage.

The veil falls ever so quietly.

The fabric of this particular veil is made up of the highest goal of gender neutrality: an androgynous collective resting on the false premise of the divine right of the individual.

This is Hindu spiritualism disguised and repackaged as gender equality. In brief, Hindu belief holds the notion that you can become god once you transcend gender.

As Indian Christian and theologian, Vishal Mangalwadi writes:

”Hindu philosophy (historically) has promoted homosexuality and become foundational to the contemporary interest in ”scared sex” because it teaches that each one of us if god, infinite and complete…Consequently I don’t need a wife because the feminine is already in me (Shakti). It lies dormant, coiled up as a serpent (Kundalini) at the base if the spine in the psychic centre of sex (Muladhara Chakra).
It teaches that I might need sexual help to awaken the feminism within, but that I can transcend finiteness as male (or female) and experience my completeness (divinity) when the feminine within rises, travels up, and merges with the male energy (Shiva) in my crown (chakra)”[iii]

Mangalwadi is not from the West. Therefore his observations are unique.

He sees dangers we do not, or ones some of us do see and yet fail to get an audience for.

The Greens (and I dislike how this environmental term has become so politically charged – as if only an elite few care about the environment) seem to be playing on the issues challenging the major political parties:

Society and politics today is not just about who you know, but who you can impress and satisfy; and for how long.

The world is becoming a machine that communicates through a human face devoid of character, faith and healthy distinctions. An industrial mechanized society empty of any real meaning and purpose.

So why drown out with politics one of the only times that reminds us of our humanity and the beautiful reconciling unity-in-diversity that begins with the Freedom of God’s will to be for us; His gracious decision that works its way out in the lives of men-as-men, women-as-women and man for the woman, woman for the man, both for God.

My boys don’t like pink or things they consider to be ”girly”. {Curiously enough, in her interview, even Waters defaults to the term “girly”  (0:50, source) }

They just don’t like the colour pink. So why should I force them to like it, or force my daughters to settle for gifts that would normally be gifted to their brothers based on their interests at the time?

My young daughter commented once, rather confidently, that she disliked a poster she saw in a store that had happened to catch her eye:

It read: ”It’s a man’s job to manage the remote, a women’s job to clean the house”.

She is not indoctrinated by politics from either side. Yet she was clear on how much she did not like this poster and why.

For me, this is an outworking of her freedom; her life in Christ. Being formed by His Spirit and leading.

We don’t have to be a “progressive” to be for progress.

We don’t need politicians to parent us, run our lives or be our social conscience.

When that happens, my friends, we are no longer free and have signed our vote off to the highest bidder. Choosing something far more sinister than budget cuts, stopping illegal and unsafe migration, or fairly reminding Australians that they have a heritage worth learning, celebrating and lamenting.


 

Source:

[i]  Senator Waters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-JTmKl5GNQ

[ii]  No Gender December: Greens Senator calls for end to gender-based toys ( http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/no-gender-december-greens-senator-calls-for-end-to-genderbased-toys-20141202-11y4ro.html)

[iii] Mangalwadi, V. 2011 ‘The Book that made your world: How the Bible created the soul of Western civilization’ Thomas Nelson Publishers (p.295)

 

This past week I’ve posted two brief reflections on Eberhard Busch’s lectures featured in ‘The Barmen Theses: Then and Now’.  The first reflection discussed Prayer and Christian Ethics. The second, was about the Church, the State and the claim of Jesus Christ as Lord over both.

The subject of Natural Theology will form the third.

In the light of the renowned forcefulness of Barth’s “Nein” to Emil Brunner, there may be some irony in suggesting that any discussion about Natural Theology requires a certain amount of sensitivity and decorum.

This is especially so, given the serious word limitations of a blog post about it.ID-100165049

Developing an understanding here by reading a meme or two point outline could mean missing key contextual information that is essential in arriving at a well-informed theological conviction. Take as an example, the plethora of tangents, verbose material drawn out and drenched in heavy theological jargon about the subject.

In sum, Natural theology ‘acknowledges something other as God.’[i]

This takes belief beyond the author in and of authority – God, and asserts humanity as the ultimate authority, outside Jesus the Christ.

As Busch states:

‘In such a Natural theology humanity has so much divine Spirit within it that it can comprehend God by means of its own capacity to do so. Humanity therefore has no need of God’s coming to meet it. To speak of one Word repudiates precisely the claim that there is a second word of another god that purports to be authoritative for the Christian witness and is thus not subject to the standard of the one Word. The term “Word of God” designates a particular story as it is attested for us in “holy scripture.” In this story God distinguishes himself from all other gods. By electing particular people to be his people, he differentiates himself from the gods that people choose for themselves.’[ii]

Within the pages of  ‘The Barmen Theses: Then and Now’ Busch addresses Barth’s rejection of Natural theology, constantly keeping in mind the all important historical context of the German Churches in the 1930’s.

Article one: (8:12)We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
‘”No” to Natural theology, in this context, is first of all a word of repentance in which the confessors must ‘beat their own breasts.’ There was very real cause for that repentance, for up until then, the confessors had, to be sure they made a distinction between themselves and the German Christians at some points. They were thinking in the same patterns. This pattern made room, on the one hand, for faith-centred preaching for the heart, or within churchly spaces, while on the other hand, it endorsed the church’s “joyful yes’’ to the racial nationalistic ideology. This “yes” was even theologically grounded, but with reference to another god, from the One who is ‘’attested for us in Holy Scripture”.[iii]

Avoiding Barth’s and the ‘Confessors “No” to natural theology, could mean walking away from any reading of this “No” with little other than the rough idea that natural theology = bad theology, because badass Barth thundered it forth as such.

Sadly, in the theological climate of today it is too easy to leave this ”no” to natural theology at that, writing it off as intolerant, anachronistic or bigoted.

It might be sufficient here to say that Natural theology leads humanity into taking its point of reference about who God is from itself rather than The Word of God.

Causing humanity to abandon God as we reach for God outside the Revelation of The Word of God.

When this happens the reconciled relationship enacted by ‘God’s free decision in revelation’ (Karl Barth) is abandoned. Subsequently, the voice of the Church is silenced by its irresponsible acquiescence to ‘something other as God’ (Busch), slowly allowing itself to be concealed behind a veil of what can be posited as either practical atheism or deified existentialism.

In other words, we miss the point of the Gospel that states in Jesus Christ, God comes to us. To be God with us, for us and, ‘not God without us’ (Karl Barth).

I am in agreement with Eberhard Busch as he strongly advocates the necessity of not just visiting this issue on the surface, but sticking with it until one can see clear through it. The imperatives laid out for us in the Barmen Declaration have way too much relevance to us in our contemporary context to ignore.

 “If anyone tries to flag you down, calling out, ‘Here’s the Messiah!’ or points, ‘There he is!’ don’t fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I’ve given you fair warning.”
(Jesus, Mt.24:23-24, The Message)

Sources:
[i] Busch, E. 2010: The Barmen Theses: Then and Now, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, p.28
[ii] Ibid, pp.27-28
[iii] Ibid, p.28-29

The Theological Declaration of Barmen: Sacred-texts.com
Image: courtesy of Sira Anamwong, “Church of The Light” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 ‘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?

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 from which good things could grow out of 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.

Source:

[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

Header blogpost PD James TheChildrenofMen post

A post from last week quietly prepared the way for this review of P.D James’ novel ‘The Children of Men’ [link].

I finished reading it last night and have put pen to paper today in order to piece together some ruminations on the journey.

What I want to suggest is that ‘The Children of Men’ is a pre-emptive strike on the ideas of militant academia and certain elements therein which seek to aggressively engineer out the Judeo-Christian fabric of the civilization it upholds[i]. Unfortunately, to justify such a statement would require a much longer post and more time than I currently have at my disposable.

However, it would not be an overstatement if I asserted that James’ narrative clearly targets a certain trajectory within contemporary politics and society. I do not think it wrong, therefore, to propose that the book contains elements which make it a strong parable, relevant to our current context, that of post-modernity[ii].

A casual stroll back over some of my reading of the late Jean Bethke Elshtain, a feminist and expert in political science highlights both the political and social significance of the P.D James’ narrative.

Elshtain writes:

‘Consider a world in which there are no more births, as does PD James who depicts a forlorn globe. No children have been born since 1995, and now it is 2021. People are despondent, chagrined, and violent. “Western science had been our god,” writes the protagonist (Theo Faron), who “shares the disillusionment” of one whose god has died. Now overtaken by “universal negativism,” the human race lurches toward its certain demise…Children’s playgrounds are dismantled. People disown commitments and responsibilities to, and for, one another except for whatever serves some immediate purpose – what I want – by contrast to anything that is given. People thought that they had eradicated evil, Faron notes, and all churches in the 1990s moved from a “theology of sin and redemption” to a sentimental humanism; special status for the generation last-to-be born, deportation to a penal colony for the criminals and euthanasia for the elderly become the order of the day. He notes, we are diminished, we humans, if we live without knowledge of the past and without hope for the future’[iii]

The narrative of ‘The Children of Men’ discusses the relevance of Christianity and Christians after an apocalyptic event. The theological, political and social importance of the narrative is found in the necessary mire of dialogue, back story, action/inaction, ambition and interconnectedness of her characters.

The Christian theological concepts of hope, repentance, wrongs being righted and of true liberty held in tension with true restraint; the paradox of freedom experience in a life surrendered to God, all reach far beyond the key concerns of a fading species. Humanity has tragically turned to the pursuit of ‘’comfort, security and pleasure’’[iv] over-against human rights, faith and democratic freedom.

This is the journey of neo-Christian martyrdom; pilgrims of the way wrestling with faith, doubt, relevance, opposition and sin. People of the way separated from the superstitious ritual of the institution, long given over to the cult of reason and its popular over-emphasis on comfort, security and pleasure.

Consequently, the polarity between Christian hope in the sovereign God and nihilistic[v] self-sovereignty holds the intensity of this novel together.

Without it there would be little suspense, zero motion and almost no depth to the complexity of connections encountered between the characters.

This novel, in form and content, is largely a story about Western society; in particular it is a deep story about authentic Christianity vs. a docile religion, empty, self-sovereign and heretical. A story of relationships and true ecclesiology seeded outside the church-visible, outside bumper stickers, celebrity preachers and pop evangelism.

Its attraction for me is the articulation of frail human existence, organic Christianity, and the consequences of totalitarianism; of hope, brokenness, redemption and restoration. Even though the meta-scene wasn’t believable, the underlying context is.

I acknowledge that this review is not holistic.

In order to fully engage with the text inside and out would require spoilers. Therefore, I have been deliberately ambiguous in certain ways because I recommend that most Christians aim to read it for themselves.

Though any simple summary is difficult, if I had to summarise ‘The Children of Men’ in a sentence I would write: Like the crowd, and the persistence of the two blind men in Matthew 20:29, the journey from helplessness to hopefulness begins at the feet of Jesus.


[i] (or more properly the Holy Spirit breathing through Judeo-Christianity; see Jer.31:31-32)
[ii] This is confirmed by Jean Bethke Elshtain’s defence of the text as a useful window into what could be, even though “we are not there yet’’.
[iii] Elshtain, J.B 2008 Sovereignty God, State and Self Basic Books p.226 see also  Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are We? Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing pp.122-123
[iv] I think “Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs” played a big part in grounding the reader into the mindset of the characters in the text. These are aspects of society presented appear to be subtly reinforced by P.D James to ensure the readers ability to fully connect with the context, circumstances and psychology of her key characters.
[v] I recommend Elshtain’s discussion in her book Sovereignty, chapter 11

I’ve been reading through P.D James’ 1992 novel ‘The Children of Men’.

I was drawn to the cultural, political, theological and sociological themes it addresses. Not my particular kind of read. Still I’m curious to see how it ends. (Yet to see the movie)Chidlren of Men

Here is an excerpt[i]:

 ‘Theo said: “Obviously there are social evils, but they are nothing to what is happening in other parts of the world. It’s a question of what the country is prepared to tolerate as the price of sound government”
Julian asked: “What do you mean by sound government?”
“Good public order, no corruption in high places, freedom from fear of war and crime, a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth and resources, concern for the individual life.”
Luke said: “then we haven’t got sound government.”
“We may have the best that is possible in the circumstances. There was wide public support for setting up the Man Penal Settlement. No government can act in advance of the moral will of the people.”
Julian said: “Then we have to change the moral will. We have to change people.”
Theo laughed. “Oh, that’s the kind of rebellion you have in mind? Not the system but human hearts and minds. You’re the most dangerous revolutionaries of all, or would be if you had the slightest idea how to begin, the slightest chance of succeeding.”
Julian asked, as if seriously interested in his answer: “How would you begin?”
“I woudn’t. History tells me what happens to people who do. You have one reminder on that chain around your neck.”
She put up her distorted left hand and briefly touched the cross.

The content of this excerpt brings up some interesting issues about good government and democratic values.

The context of the conversation is in a church. A forbidden meeting with a conversation taking place between a small group of disorganised people and the protagonist, Theo Faron, whose cousin is the ‘Warden of England’.

The group is looking for Theo’s help in protesting directly to the ‘Council’ who now runs England. Theo himself is full of contradiction, remorse, insecurity and has fallen out of favour with the Council, particularly his cousin.

Theo has a dark past which is filled in by James as she explains the back story to Theo’s current circumstances.

P.D James has a very smooth writing style, a significant contrast to my sporadic immersion into the fictitious world of maritime archaeology, Dirk Pitt and Clive Cussler.

I am not fully convinced that the novel fits into the category of horror or thriller. There is more of a sense that P.D James is pushing for the science-fiction; apocalyptic genre. T

here are very interesting theological conversations about socio-political movements such as the one in the excerpt.

There is quite a bit that is unsettling.

This is mainly due to my reading of the late Jean Bethke Elshtain’s exposition on extreme feminism in her 1981 book ‘Public Man, Private Woman’. There are parallels to academically accepted social blueprints that Elshtain critiques.

Reading a book like C.O.M certainly makes one wonder. What if the social engineering strategies, discussed by Elshtain and evidently present in the P.D James narrative, were voted in and validated by democratic fiat?

There is a lot to this book that keeps me turning the page.

Whether I would recommend it or not, is still up for grabs.


[i] Excerpt from: James, P.D 1992 The Children of Men, Faber and Faber Ltd.