Archives For Augustine

In a recent blog post Eitan Chitayat presented some high powered dialogue, choosing as his conversation partners those who (unwittingly?) position themselves as reactionary activists. Most of whom are from social media.

Despite the unfortunate, but forgivable title given to the article, the overall point rightly made by Chitayat is clear.

His words make up a necessary “no” to a protest filled with thoughtlessness and blind rage. (Both characteristics of any chaos fuelled lynch mob.)

He writes that:

‘If anyone doesn’t understand any of the above; if anyone doesn’t get it;
if any of my friends are going to post anti-Israel messages in a time where over 500 Palestinians have tragically died in this current conflict yet you remained silent while almost 200,000 Arabs were murdered by Arabs these past few years;
if you’re not writing about Assad using chemical weapons against his people; if you’re not writing about ISIS who crucified 8 christians the other day and who are telling Iraqi Christians ‘convert, pay tax, or die’;
if you only have criticism for the State of Israel that is doing EVERYTHING in its power to avoid civilian losses to Palestinians during a war;
if you’re going to do nothing but sit wherever you’re sitting and just dish out your anti-Israel dirt while rockets are being aimed at my house, family and friends as our boys are fighting to protect us – and you’re going to dish it out simply because we’re living in this land and you haven’t got a clue as to our connection to it;
if you’re going to join the anti-semitic and anti-Israel demonstrations flaring up in the world like we’re seeing in France, Turkey, Berlin, most Arab states and even in the US that have nothing to do with this conflict but are really just expressions of hatred directed at Jews and Israelis (and these expressions will be directed at the host countries soon);
if you’re going to stay quiet and just accept, then go ahead and unfriend me from Facebook now because you’re probably no friend of mine.’[i]

As I suggested in my own blogpost, written the same day Chitayat posted his article:

‘With small amounts of fact and/or information these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. (We might need to also add ridicule.)
This is an ‘activism’ that measures efficiency by likes, shares and/or followers. Reflecting the fact that ‘thoughtless approval’ can be translated into hard currency by selling the side of story that is the easiest to sell (i.e.: the most believable or assumed to be most likely – potentially anything that continues to feed into the pipeline of hype)’[ii]

With the global community still trying to balance technological freedoms with responsibilities, it might be worth noting the words of Jean Bethke Elstain who, citing Hannah Arendt, highlighted the ‘strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil’.

According to Elshtain, identifying the ‘banality of evil disarms the seductive nature and hype surrounding evil’. What might also be applicable here is the imperative found in the New Testament letter of  1 John 4: ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,…by this we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error’ (ESV –  additionally, we might want to consider how fitting the practice of ‘Due Diligence’ is in this context).

Here we find ourselves reminded to keep a keen eye on context, details, and careful comment. This way we can defuse antagonism and walk through the confusion, towards healthy contributions that not only seek to speak truth but also listen. Resulting in informed conclusions actually worth sharing and/or liking.

If we aim for this, we aim to move responsibly, in a loving way, towards the place where we can play a part in denying ‘evil any form of representation that it might be seeking.’[iii]

The conclusion then is this: the Christian must not fail to hear and act, on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Edith Stein and those like them understood clearly:

(Judeo-) Christian hope does not permit a politically sterile withdrawal.’[iv]

References:

[i] Shalom, motherf****r. | Eitan Chitayat | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shalom-motherfr/#ixzz38RLvkRb8

[ii]Truth & Balance Vs. The Side of The Story That Sells Best

[iii] Bethke, E.B. 1995 Augustine and the limits of Politics University of Notre Dame Press, pp.74, 75, 81

[iv] Markus,R.A. 1981 Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine in Augustine and the limits of Politics, Bethke, E.B. 1995 University of Notre Dame Press

Image:”In Mosul homes are marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land….”(Source: http://www.patheos.com/…/muslims-marking-christian…/)

[Originally published 7th July 2014]

Fankl_KindleEd_Meaning‘Where do we go when we don’t know […..]?’

There is a statement made by Augustine in Confessions that reads: ‘what I mean when I say I love my God, is that I am clinging to an embrace which is not severed by the fulfilment of desire’[i]

Centuries later, Leo Tolstoy made a similar statement, writing that ‘grace supported him over the abyss.’[ii]

On the surface it may seem an odd correlation, but Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ embodies the essential characteristics of these theological positions.

Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, presents a perspective born from extreme adversity.

The connection of his thought and experience with that of Tolstoy’s and Augustine’s, is at first an ‘existential struggle for meaning”[iii]. What follows is break with existentialism with an acknowledgement that such a meaning is found outside ourselves.

For example, Frankl ambiguously states that ‘being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself’[iv]. Augustine and Tolstoy would agree, but go further, by more directly stating that we are not just pointed, but are being pointed towards the God who encounters us in Jesus Christ.

Where Augustine states that clinging to grace is first brought about by God’s embrace, Tolstoy reminds us that ‘faith is the strength of life’. Frankl adds, so is hope.

His prevailing conclusion is that in the midst of difficult circumstances, we are never without the ‘free decision[v]’ to say yes to life.

“…the last of the human freedoms is found in the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.[vi]

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.

On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back.

He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?

For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.’[vii]

God gives us permission to act. In our free decision we are encouraged to let God transform our hearts. (Romans 12:1-21)

We are not bound to the definitions of others, our culture/sub-culture or the opinions of our neighbour. Identity rests in the one who, while we were yet sinners, died for us (Romans 5:8). For God, in Jesus Christ chose to free us, so that we can be truly free to say “yes” to Him, and “yes” to life.

Sources:

[i] St. Augustine, Confessions Penguin Classics p.212
[ii] ‘I am supported above the abyss’ Tolstoy, L. 1869, A Confession
[iii] Frankl, V.E. 2006 Man’s Search for Meaning Beacon Press. Kindle Ed. Loc. 27-29 & 1268-1270
[iv]Ibid Loc.1387-1388
[v] Ibid, Loc. 922-924
[vi] Ibid, Loc. 877-878
[vii] Ibid, Loc. 1514-18-1521

Truth Has Being

June 26, 2014 — 4 Comments

Like a lot of people I haven’t always been a Christian. There certainly was no religious ”silver-spoon” in my upbringing.To my own chagrin, as a teenager I remember (et.al) telling  a teacher that his bible study on James had pushed me further away from God.

I was wrong to say that. It wasn’tRevelation 3_8 his problem, it was mine. Although I would never have admitted it at the time, I was grateful for those lessons.

As a teenager I experienced difficulty reconciling the actions of Christians with the Bible. I was taught but not always shown.  This disconnect left me a wanderer. Never an ardent atheist. I cannot fully explain this, other than to suggest that deep down I  witnessed my sighs being turned into prayers. The presence of grace in ‘revolt against the darkness‘ (Barth paraphrased, CD Fragments IV:4).

Any alignment on my part is and can only be the result of an act of alignment initiated first by God. Who, in my case, stepped in to become a father where the one assigned to me had, from my perspective anyway, walked away.

It’s always a work in progress, but through reflecting on those experiences I can see clearer how, in Jesus Christ, God reaches to grasp us, even when we are struggling to grasp Him.

I believe this is at the heart of what Augustine meant when he wrote:

‘Eternal Truth, true love, beloved Eternity.All this, my God, you are.

It is you that I sigh by night and day. When first I knew you, you raised me up so that I could see that there was something to be seen, but also that I was not yet able to see it.

I gazed on you with eyes to weak to resist the dazzle of your splendour. Your light shone upon me in its brilliance, and I thrilled with love and dread alike.I realized that I was far away from you. It was as though I were in a land where all is different from your own.

And far off I heard your voice saying ‘I am the God who IS.’ I heard your voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt. I might more easily have doubted that I was alive than that Truth had being.’

(Augustine, Confessions, VII:10 Penguin Classics 1961:147)

 

{….}

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The quote below, taken from Tolstoy’s ‘A Confession’, reads like a critique of the leviathan that is social media:

We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote — teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life’s questions:
What is good and what is evil? We did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another — just as in a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us. It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that’[i].

Of course, it is anachronistic to suggest that Tolstoy was talking about social media as we know it. Tolstoy’s words are, however, a critique of 19th Century, Russian media, its medium and the noise therein. Therefore, they are an early critique of the content and form which makes up a large part of social media. As such, they are a relevant criticism for us to take seriously, particularly when applying them to a 21st Century context.

Today, Henry Ergas from ‘The Australian’, made an interesting observation. In writing about sensitive information, how it is monitored, distributed and delivered. He provided an historical insight, which although topically unrelated, helps us to contextually frame the sharp poignancy of Tolstoy’s reflection:

“19th century’s Pax Brittanica, was built on a solid technological foundation: Britain’s control of global telegraphy. As late as 1890, 80 per cent of the world’s submarine cables were British; Britain ruled the wires even more decisively than she ruled the waves… The sophistication of today’s communications networks is obviously many orders of magnitude that of Britain’s global telegraph system. In 2012, daily internet traffic was in the order of 1.1 exabytes, one billion times more every day than the 19th century system could carry in a year. And the growth rates remain breathtaking: wireless traffic alone is now eight times larger than the entire internet in 2000[ii]

If Ergas’ facts are correct, that is a lot of information being exchanged. For better or worse we engage, encode, disengage and decipher information at ‘breathtaking’ speeds. Matthew McKay suggests that ‘55% of all communication is mostly facial expressions’[v]. Thus, my conclusion is that because most of the information exchanged via social media is in written form, it seriously limits our ability to receive a message, in the same way it was intended to be received by the author. (there are many examples of how comments have been wrongly interpreted).

I consider Tolstoy’s reflection a full-stop. An important interruption that encourages us to take a breath and ask ourselves:

  • Is the information we are consuming authentic, well-informed, or is it just propaganda; distortion (noise)?

Further questions might be:

  • Are we consuming information without really processing and retaining what it is being said?
  • Who is saying this, and why are they saying it?
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • Will my time be well spent reading this or not?

There is a further word worthy of consideration here. Augustine, in his day, had this to say about grace and human nature:

…’many sins are committed through pride; but not all happen proudly. They happen so often by ignorance, by human weakness, and many are committed by people, weeping and groaning in their distress[iii]

Perhaps there is a timeless clarity by which these words help us to reflect on the interpersonal conduct, and content of the information exchanged on most prominent social media sites today?

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even with all its pitfalls, the strength of social media is in its ability to connect people and strengthen relationships. I remain a cautious participant of social media, aware of its limited ability to ‘properly allow a healthy and fair exchange of ideas’ (Elshtain, 2007). Therefore, I find here in Augustine and Tolstoy’s words, a reminder about the limits and the responsibility which coincides with the right to use such mediums. Augustine’s insight here could be bridged to Tolstoy’s reflection, and therefore buttress our proposition. Their words present us with a useful framework for a theological critique of social media.

Finally, if we look at Proverbs 4:20-5:6, we can see a parallel logic that could exonerate this train of thought.

Be attentive to God’s word

Keeping them close.

Guard your heart with vigilance,

Avoiding spin and smear.

(“Refusing to be conned by the rhetoric of either the new right or the new left’’)[iv]

Looking forward, ponder the path of our feet.

Be attentive to wisdom.

Use words that guard knowledge,

And ponder the path of life.


Related articles

Tolstoy’s Faith – GVL

The Who, What And When Of Social Media – RVD, The Christian Pundit

Sources:


[i] Tolstoy, L. 1879 A Confession (Kindle for PC ed. Loc. 92-100).
[ii] Ergas, H. 2013 Wrong for Abbott to follow Obama and add lying to spying, The Australian, Sourced 25th November 2013
[iii] Augustine, ON NATURE AND GRACE (With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Ed. Loc. 704-706
[iv] Wright, N.T. 2013 Creation, Power and Truth: The gospel in a world of cultural confusion, SPCK & Proverbs 4:27
[v] McKay, M., Martha, D. & Fanning, P. 2009 Messages: The communications skill book p.59, New Harbinger publications

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