Sunday, 31 August 2008

New and Improved

I'm struck by the amount of literature available from the Self Help and Actualisation Movement (yes, that's how many folks in and out of the movement refer to it, even though the acronym is SHAM). It's everywhere and covers just about everything. And it constantly spreads the messages that you are valuable just the way you are, and that you can do anything you want to do, and that you can get all this by buying all my publications. It infests corporate life, personal life and religious life and has the ostensible goal to remind you how much you need it and to separate you from your money while you fail to achieve anything else.

However, in the mode of consumption that it endorses, it is actually giving you the structure that requires you only to buy another book and attend another seminar. You need not actually apply anything as long as you feel empowered. In fact, if these kinds of authors were really that good, you wouldn't need to buy more books because the first one or two would be enough to solve most of your problems.

But that is the trivial side of the problem. The real problem is that the product of the SHAM is only a better you, not a reborn you. A better you is the one with the same goals and aspirations, thinking about how to satisfy the basic mammalian desires. A better you is you with straight teeth, perfect hair and a pay raise – but you never transcend that instinctive lifestyle. If you really did transcend it, you would lose the desire to be a better you. Genuine transcendence of the self is the New and not just the Improved.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Style over Substance

I had every intention of leaving the Mike Guglielmucci story alone and then it became apparent to me that the more important story is related to it, but one step removed. You won't have to read through a scathing attack on Mr Guglielmucci. His denomination, on the other hand, might not come away from this so clean and smooth. I'll let you make up your own mind.

As I considered the situation, it became apparent to me that Guglielmucci is not the only party which needs to take responsibility. The ACC (formerly the AOG) itself must take a share of the blame for this. There are theological and institutional problems within the ACC that contributed to the whole mess.

Theologically, they are quite focused on a spirit-led approach, similar to that found in the book of Judges. A person can be a faithful member of the assembly and then the spirit can descend on them (like a dove?) and lead them into some kind of act. The person is anointed, is empowered - and above all else is permitted. They are given license to embark on any action they see fit. Furthermore, the actions are sanctioned because they have the status of anointed. Such a person should not be questioned, because they have a greater measure of the spirit than the rest. The theological problem here is one of status. The primary Pauline literature insists that the way of the spirit is common to all believers, producing a Sameness, therefore status is not an applicable category within the Church. Christians are simply brothers and sisters, or comrades if you prefer. It seems to me that the ACC theology credits anointed pastors with some measure of preferred status, almost infallibility. This is not obvious at first read, but has become an institutionalised reality.

To make it plain, the idea of elevated status has manifested itself in the form that an anointed pastor who has a divine vision is a person who should be obeyed and not questioned. Anyone who bows down before that pastor is endorsed. Anyone who questions or opposes is not welcome. It is clear that the institutionalised culture of the ACC allows style over substance because the substance can hide behind the style. The style (the appearance, the manifestation of anointing) is enough to prevent questions. Any threat to the substance can be defended by style-based arguments such as church attendance, impassioned preaching, album sales, or whatever. The appearance takes the place of the substance itself, meaning that substance is irrelevant as long as the style meets the requirements.

It is a culture of appearance, enforced by an institution that promotes a theology of status. If there is anything that should be learned from this sordid affair it is that the ACC must engage in internal reform and an increased level of transparency.

I don't expect it to happen. Rather, I expect that they will see these criticisms as cynical and as "raising a hand against the Lord's anointed." It is not a institution that will change, but one that will give the appearance of change. I expect that they will remain just as they are.

Prove me wrong.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Listen to your Heart

As a Christian, I am at the tail end of thousands of years of tradition and interpretation. I was raised in one tradition/interpretation which was mostly evangelical and Augustinian. Today I find myself in the midst of another tradition/interpretation which is not too dissimilar. The thing that I find most difficult about this is the invisibility of the penetration of contemporary ideas and thoughts.

Here's an example of what I mean. The Christian world around me is predominantly white, middle-class Euro (American, Australian, British...). That very culture penetrates the Christian message in various ways. The middle-class goals of "you can be anything" has become "you can be anything ...for God." Even without going through the reductio ad absurdum arguments against this, it is apparent that this approach is based on the idea that we can base our Christian expression on what is in the heart. "But God gives us the desires of our heart! Those desires come from God!" Bollocks. Desire comes from mammalian drives, honed over many years to ensure survival of the species. Desire is a thickly veiled (and sometimes thinly veiled) excuse to satisfy the more base instincts.

The problem, as I see it, is that we have allowed these kinds of influences to over-inform our interpretation of scripture, whereas we have allowed more relevant influences to under-inform our interpretation. Do we consider, for example, what the ancient Greco-Roman concept of "lord" meant when we interpret the phrase "Jesus is lord" for today? Do we understand what a 2nd temple Jew interpreted by 'father' when we read passages like John 8? Or do we insert a 21st century, middle-class interpretation of 'father' instead?

Applying Christian thought and praxis today is difficult because we are overwhelmed by other cultural influences. Christian life is not defined by gender, job or race - to the point where it disregards those markers. A Christian is not a Manager-Christian or a Mechanic-Christian. That aspect of a person which is Christian is unadulterated and the Same as the next Christian.

I've asked the question before and found it to be generally unanswered, but I will ask it again. What is it that Christians do only because they are Christians? "Be nice," doesn't count because the kindergarten teacher tells everyone to do that. "Give money," doesn't count either, because lots of non-Christians give money.

We who claim to be Christians need to sort this out and decide to do it. Simply going along with the rest of the world's "goodness" is feeble and indicative that God has not intervened at all. Rather, it is crucial that the Christian Act be clear and uncontaminated by the traditions and interpretations of the world around us.



Post-script
I mentioned above that I was going to avoid the reductio ad absurdum argument but now that I've seen this from Cyanide and Happiness, it simply must be added. Enjoy.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Guglielmucci Miraculously Healed!

I remember first hearing about his cancer and feeling terrible for him. Even though I had other disagreements with the AOG theology and praxis, I still felt that cancer was a horrible outcome for anyone. I hoped and prayed (albeit briefly) that it would go away.

It has. It's a miracle - Guglielmucci is miraculously healed of cancer!

Now, instead of cancer, he's going to be remembered as the guy who lied.

Ahh fuck it. There are worse crimes in the world and they don't generate this much ink. Go and whinge about Robert Mugabe instead, people. Or George Bush. Or the miliary junta of Burma? Remember them and their massacres? Yeah... they disappeared off the news screens behind the veil of Ben Cousins and his drug habits. They're still oppressing dissidents, though, and that's worth more of your efforts than another pentecostal preacher who turned out to be lying for money or the rush of micro-fame (or whatever his particular pathology is).

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The General Equivalent

Money is, without question, the general equivalent. It is, as Uncle Karl indicated, the means by which we store labour. For my work I get money and I can use this money to instantly get the results of someone else's work. This is the genius of the capitalist. By creating money we are able to divide labour amongst ourselves and exchange it one with another.

The dark side of this, however, is that once we have an independent value for labour we find ourselves able to exchange any kind of labour for money. From building houses and sewing clothes through to building bombs and performing sexual acts. All of these things can be bought and sold at rates determined by the market. Each of them is a labour and each can then be given value.

And the means to produce this labour (and the products or services associated with them) can be owned, either by the individual or the collective. A building business owns the tools and buys the labour of the builders. A brothel owns the building and furnishings and buys the labour of the sex workers. The means of production is owned.

Money, as the general equivalent, can be used to regulate the exchange of material things. A number of bolts can be traded for some other number of cabbages through the equivalence of money. Cars can be exchanged for cattle. Cattle can be exchanged for other animals, and so forth. Interestingly, this allows for the exchange of the human animal for money. Slavery is well within the control of money. The physical material of a person can be exchanged for money. Money is not only the genius of the capitalist project, but it is also the exposure of that same project. A general equivalent is necessarily a universal equivalent. Any material, living or dead, can be exchanged for it. And people, being nothing more than living material, are part of that realm of the exchangeable.

Capitalism has brought us all kinds of interesting benefits, but it must be imprisoned and watched so that it doesn't get out of control.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Three Sisters

I watched a performance of Chekhov's Three Sisters on Saturday night. I can't say that it was an uplifting story, but I think it was an uplifting message.

Overall, I felt the theme was one of choice and circumstance. The central protagonists began the play trapped in their situations and spent the rest of the play struggling with it, all the while yearning to leave their rural town and move to Moscow. For them, the Thing that would alleviate their suffering was Moscow, but it was always out of reach because they were confined by the social circumstances in which they found themselves. Ultimately, their final situations were the product of choice, or a lack of choice (or better still, a choice of lack).

The whole play resonated with me because of this theme. Life without a reason is absurd. Absurdity requires nothing of you and gives nothing to you. Any meaning that you find in an absurd universe is probably the result of choice. Any self-realisation or fulfilment is the result of choice. Thumbs up to Chekhov for this one.

Aesthetically, the performance was fascinating. The whole thing was in Russian, with surtitles for those of us without that language. It felt Russian at every level, not just the language. The performances were dynamic and drew me in. The stage was a great stream of contrast between action and stillness. I enjoyed the experience immensely.