Archives For Politics

Although American Political Scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain didn’t consider herself a theologian, there’s a good chance that anyone willing to exhaust an enquiry into her eligibility for the title, would conclude that she, in fact, was.

Theology forms part of the hidden backbone in the majority of her work.

Elshtain’s broad and consistent conversation partners include St. Augustine, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). This also includes some small contact with theologians Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Elshtain considered herself a layperson when it came to theological matters.  Adding theologian to her list of accomplishments may have handicapped her from being the proverbial, voice-in-the-leftist-academic-wilderness, that she was.

It’s likely that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her being more able to navigate dishonest rhetorical tactics, like reckless labelling, selective outrage, guilt by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. All the things associated with predominantly modern leftist institutions.

Elshtain follows the example of Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Karl Barth, who are credited, among others, as being careful and critical, when it came to allowing themselves to profiled in political terms; and/or  placed into rigid theological, philosophical or sociological categories. They weren’t looking for disciples or to create a school of thought.

It’s long, but here’s an excellent example of some of her work. In a critique of the assumption that Christianity is a universal ethic of niceness, Elshtain argues for a better understanding of Just War theory, post-September 11, 2001. In her sights are some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii]:

Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations.
These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.
This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast. But how do believers translate the message of the Christian Savior into an ethic of worldly engagement if an ethic of universal niceness misses the point? Because Christianity is far and away the dominant faith of Americans, these are exigent matters of concern to all citizens, believer or no[…]
For Christians living in historic time and before the end of time, the pervasiveness of conflict must be faced.
One may aspire to perfection, but living perfectly is not possible. To believe one is without sin is to commit the sin of pride and to become ever more boastful in the conviction that a human being can sustain a perfectionist ethic.
For St. Augustine, for Martin Luther, and for the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the harsh demands of necessity as well as the command of love require that one may have to commit oneself to the use of force under certain limited conditions, and with certain intentions. [iii]
(Elshtain, Just War Against Terror, 2008, p.100-101)

For Christians, just resistance is in the same category as falsehood. To answer the question, when is it just to “lie”? We have to compartmentalise the subject. Martin Luther held the view that there were four types of lies. The humorous, the helpful, the harmful, and the blasphemous. The first two are are ‘praiseworthy, since they do no harm. The last two are intolerable because they offend both man and God’ (Table Talk #33).

For example: Telling a ‘necessary lie‘ (Martin Luther [iv]) would always be grounded in God’s definition of what is good. If there is a greater good at stake, than there might be justification for the use of a helpful falsehood, such as to stop another human being legitimately harmed.

In 1 Samuel 18 & 19, Michal misled her father, who was King Saul. She did this in order to save her husband, David, from her father’s jealousy of David and his God-approved ascendancy to the throne. Corrie Ten Boom did the same in order to protect the Jews from Nazis. Being grounded in God’s definition of what is good means that there are core restraints; or clear rules of engagement. In other words, boundaries. As with falsehood, we don’t make an absolute of war. War is only ever an absolute last resort.

Just war is one specific example of many, which shows that Christianity is not, and can never be reduced to an ethic of universal niceness.  Just War is not the equivalent of Islamic jihad (as understood as war against the infidel). If the West is to respond to its enemies, and follow its Judeo-Christian heritage, the West must respond in love. This doesn’t mean that the West should surrender to its enemies. It means that the West is  free to engage on behalf of the vulnerable, only by way of restrained defence. Not cowering away from having the courage to say a loving “no” to those determined to see the West as an enemy.

Ridiculed, labelled a warmonger, and considered too old to be relevant, Churchill critically questioned the Nazi movement, long before it became a bloody necessity to reject it. Blind acquiescence and what C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence, and indifference of the West throughout the 1930’s.

To do the same is to ignore reality, whitewash conflict and allow tyrants to thrive. This is an unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement.

History has never forgotten British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s well intentioned declaration, “Peace For Our Time”. A declaration that was brutally shattered by the sound of falling shells, broken lives, screeching stukas and Nazi blitzkriegs.

Reagan was right, when in 1964, he said:

‘There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the spectre our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning of peace through strength.”
(A Time For Choosing)

Elshtain is right, viewing Christianity as an ethic of universal niceness and attributing it to Jesus Christis an aberration of Christianity. It misses the point.

To veil Christ and Christian action behind the fabric of an ethic of universal niceness, is to repeat the past. This unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement, leaves the West embracing a false security. One that is further masqueraded by the ignorance of the past, the dangers of positive optimism, and a flawed understanding of Biblical Christian theology.


References:

[i] Mark Taylor, “The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counter-Terror,” paper presented at a conference on justice and mercy, University of Chicago (Spring 2002), cited by Elshtain in Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed (p.82)

[ii] Chomsky, N. 9-11 cited by Elshtain, (JWAT, p. 226)

[iii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).

[iv] Luther, M. Conversations With Luther: Selections From Table Talk, 1915, The Pilgrim Press

(Originally published, 12th January 2015)

©Rod Lampard, 2018

 

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. 

 

 

silence-at-onceHere are some comments that I received in relation to  Why Social Justice Warriors Are The Brethren of Iscariot, Not Christ , posted last week. I’ve also added my responses to them.

The comments come from a few members of the 1,600 strong Karl Barth Discussion Group on Facebook.

First, I’ll state that I don’t intend to make a habit of sharing lots of dialogue like this. My goal here is to share the overall complex reaction to a relatively simple and straight forward post. It gives an a good insight into how online discussions go when you post something people that challenges the gathering storm. Secondly, I took valuable time to respond carefully to each comment and reasonable question, which makes what I had to say in response worth adding onto my original post.

The final exchange went further. The larger part of that can be located here. My interlocutor appeared to want to bog down my argument in semantics and selective argument. Feigning to want to ”understand” and ”hear me clearly”, my comments were isolated and picked apart with question, piled upon question. The general claim being that my point was not clear and that my logic (”non-argument”) was all over the place. Therefore, it left him “confused”. Once the tone of that particular conversation moved towards a cross-examination, I decided to politely disengage.

Facebook is not the greatest place to discuss theology, but we do what we can, and work with what we’ve got. I’m thankful that ‘Christ doesn’t build his church on opinions, but on revelation.’ (Bonhoeffer paraphrased, DBW 12: Sermon, 23rd July 1933).

 

Response-1

response-2

response-3

 

response-4

response-5

response-6

And finally,

question-1

 

response-to-q1


*Surnames and profile pictures have been redacted out of consideration for those who did comment.

On World refugee day, four things stand out. Not one of them is the lack of Western compassion, ”Western racism/intolerance” or supposed problems caused by ”Christianity”:

1. The geographical locations from where refugees are coming
2. The ideological, cultural, social, theological and political reasons of those geographical locations.
3. Where they are seeking to go to for refuge – such as the ”Christian” West.
Number 4 on the list is a lot more complex:

It includes the refusal of Western leaders to acknowledge the real reasons for why refugees are being driven out of their homelands, even when the problems from those geographical locations begin to have a negative impact on the people in their own countries.

Surely that denial is primarily for diplomatic reasons. In other words they are not reasons based solely on the premise of tolerance, but reasons based on fear. For example: are they fears based on the fear of confrontation; the fear of “offending” those from which our oil dependent economies heavily rely upon?

This leads to questions we in the West should be asking ourselves:

Do refugees see something special about the West, that a good portion of those in the West continue to ignore, and some, even reject?
Do refugees see, what those in the West who attack the very foundations of Western society, refuse to see?
How can we best serve refugees if Western leaders refuse to acknowledge the real source of those problems? Are we not just importing the problems; doing nothing to solve the cause of those problems because the best policy is silence?
By not speaking out against the very thing that refugees are fleeing from, such as the loss of freedoms – inability to speak out (among other things) – are are we not doing a great disservice to refugees?

The answer is “yes” on all counts.

Let me be clear: refugees are not the problem, what is driving refugees from their homelands is. The West should have the courage to face this humanitarian disaster, and employ that same courage to honestly face and speak about the causes of it.

Ignoring the problem/s are bound to lead to the West importing the problem/s. All of which enters by way of naive compassion and political point scoring through an appearance of niceness, which disguises the real cause for the sake of an appalling strategy of appeasement.

Think about it. If the West fails to to be an assertive, but gracious, light in the darkness, following a costly discipleship based on the very foundations that has guided and challenged it’s moral compass for centuries, it will surely be consumed by a darkness very similar to the one that 63 million people are seeking to flee from.

Feel good hashtags fail.

Instead of posting a hashtag on social media, (which is only the equivalent of showing off to each other how anti-racist and not-phobic most of us are) on world refugee day, we should sit back, refuse to feed the feel-good hype and genuinely reflect on what’s really going on and why.

 

Refugees


Further reading:

Refugee crisis: Where are all these people coming from and why? 

Image: 2016 figures are suggested to be at 65 million people displaced. The origins haven’t shifted, although the number of refugees has increased.

 

Reagan quote

 

In other words: with the increase of power, so comes a potential decrease in intelligence.

Think of the game total war. With the increase of lands and territory comes the difficulty of being able to govern it all. There’s the inevitable unrest as one area complains about higher taxation than the newly acquired lands. Attempts to balance these out are futile. The end result is that I either send in a highly paid army (that I can barely afford to re-position from the borders of my total war campaign) and implement total control or I side with the rebels. In which case I lose power and choose total, civil war.

To be true, the game mechanic is structured to keep things interesting. It bends against even the most kind among the known world’s rulers. All of my glorious intentions to keep my glorious nation (I mean glorious empire) together fell on the sword of the quest for ever more glorious power.

Still, I can’t escape the implication: with the increase of power, so comes the potential decrease in intelligence. Intelligence does not increase with an increase of power or privilege. In retrospect, my glorious leadership of this burgeoning in-game empire was, as I saw it, benevolent. Why on earth would my subjects want to oust me? I improved their material wealth, even though I may have drained other areas, refused a crusade, jihad or two and squashed a few ”insignificant” uprisings, in order to make more and more glorious my conquests. All done for my glorious peoples.

The point is this: even the most utopian of glorious leaderships will fall. Complex politics reflects humanities complexes. It’s what C.S Lewis outlined when talking about the tyranny of self; something he pinpoints sharply in is, 1948, essay called ‘The Trouble With “X.”

‘I said that when we see how all our plans shipwreck on the characters of the people we have to deal with, we are ‘in one way’ seeing what it must be like for God. But only one way. There are two respects in which God’s view must be very different from ours. God sees how all people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind – the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself.That is the next great step in wisdom – to realise that you also are just that sort of person […] Unfortunately, we enjoy thinking about other people’s faults: and in the proper sense of the word ‘morbid’, that is the most morbid pleasure in the world.’ [i]

Lewis’ advice on how to combat this is,

‘Abstain all thinking about other people’s faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them […] Not even God with all His power (for He made it a rule for Himself not to alter people’s character by force. Although, He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him) can make “X” really happy as long as “X” remains envious, self-centered, and spiteful.'[ii]

Jesus enters this discussion with the words,

‘If anyone would come after me, let him [or her] deny [themselves], take up [their] cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ (Luke 9:23, ESV)

Total War may just be a simulation. Nothing but pixels and a few hours of harmless interaction with history. However, the message of its experience extends out towards knowledge of truths that have been heard and acknowledged here in the comments of Reagan, the admonishing words of Lewis and instruction from God Himself.


Source:

[i] Lewis, C.S 1948 The Trouble With “X”…, 2000, Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church, Harper Collins (pp.357-360)

[ii] ibid.

Trending Exploitations

March 2, 2016 — 2 Comments

20151024_111239 bricks

There’s inelegance to this new ignorance,

                             The pompous promotion

                             of itself as intelligence;

         “Fall into line with self-interest”

                              Pride paraded as humanitarian deliverance.

The ones who dare to disagree,

           speak from worn, but true hearts

The ones that don’t,

            “Sigh”, make noises, raise fists and tweet        d[f]arts.

From pampered platforms these boasters repress.

Roasting their enemies over the dark,

                                     widening pit of “progress

Science manipulated, is fact concocted;

             the false substantiality

                                  of a contortion of reality.

Allegiances, that political commodity,

               is

brought and sold for approval and vain popularity.

Like sex, it sells and makes

                 “all experts [have-to] agree.”

Such is the trending exploitation

                                    of tolerance by a minority,

When finding outrage is all the rage,

                                                   Pride legislated spite

                                                   hijacks true civil rights .

                  Feelings over thought;

                  Appearances vs. deeds

Society remolded by neo-Stalinist greed.

         “Convert, pay lip service or pay the ultimate price.”

These new cultural laws;

                 create justified outlaws.

Responsible freedom and fair speech,

          locked up behind gates,

are sent to camps

                 both labelled bigoted and hate.

Yet, these bold political prisoners of war

continue to solemnly state,

                    nowhere in, tolerate,

                    is there the command, to celebrate.


(RL2016)

Yours Sincerely

February 22, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

 

‘When politics is
            given over to the Devil,
with the diminishing authority
                              of any entity
that can be called “Church”
        in relation to the state,
                one ought not be surprised
that the Devil overtakes politics.’ [i]

 

Dear User 5

 

‘Finally be strong in the Lord
and in the strength of His might.
              Put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
               For we do not wrestle
                                     against flesh and blood,
but
                                     against the rulers,
                                     against the authorities,
                                     against the cosmic powers
                                                     over this present darkness,
                                     against the spiritual forces
of evil in heavenly places.’ [ii]

 


Source:

[i] Elshtain, J.B 2008 Sovereignty: God, State & Self, Basic Books, (p.79)

[ii] Paul, Ephesians 6:10-12

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