Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Natural Selection

Some memes survive long enough to reach you.

1. Interpassivity and the
outrage of the American public.
2. A
challenging reading of 1 Corinthians 13.
3. Have you had enough of sermons?
You're not alone.
4. Free audio and video from Westminster Seminary Archives. You'll need to
register first, though.
5. Not quite the neuronal correlate of consciousness, but it's a step in that direction.  Free will firing in the brain.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Natural Selection

Some memes survive long enough to be passed on.

1. Hell and Hope.
2. The alien-ness kingdom of God. It is certainly not natural.
3. Quotes about the Holocaust. I especially like this one.
No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children. - Rabbi Irving Greenberg

The Holocaust is still in living memory. I think that Greenberg is right to insist that we remember the genuine needs of our world, and to refrain from superlatives and hyperbole. In the past fortnight I've heard people say, "This time, you're dancing for your life." or "You're cooking for your life." It's humbling and embarrassing to imagine even thinking those ideas in the context of Greenberg's statement.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Ben Myers is a Comedy Genius

This is a great review of The Green Bible - a translation with all the enviro texts in green lettering.
Perhaps (for a different niche market) we should also produce The Arsonist’s Bible, with verses highlighted orange wherever God burns, scorches, or blows shit up. “Because with 1134 references to fire and burning, and only 158 references to salvation, the Bible carries a powerful message for those who enjoy destroying things.”

Nice one, Ben.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Jesus' Death as the Death of Everything You Know

The death of Jesus is the second most important event in Christian history, and the meaning of that death is debated long and hard throughout the ages. The conventional meaning ascribed by Western Christianity is as substitutionary punishment on behalf of humanity, that Jesus was punished for what the rest of us have done and will do. This understanding is based on a particular eschatology, that God will preside over a Final Judgement in which the divine status of all humans will be assessed, and those who have the heavenly accounts balanced will go to an everlasting conscious existence of close contact with the divine, and those who don't will go to an everlasting conscious existence of torture (lakes of fire and such things). It's a real "Get out of jail free" card.

That particular eschatology has some stringent criticism levelled against it from lots of directions. My favourite is a hermeneutical argument about reading the Revelation to John as spatial apocalypse rather than temporal. In other words, the symbols of the Revelation applied to the people, place and time of the document's production, rather than it being a prognostication. With that basic shift in reading the book, a Final Judgement eschatology is on uncertain ground.

We are left, then, to look for another meaning behind the death of Jesus. From memory, here are some of the colourful options I've encountered over the years.
  • Crucifixion was the standard Roman execution for (Jewish) political insurrectionist, therefore Jesus' death was the death of divinely-appointed nationhood
  • Being hung on a tree was the judgement of the Torah against Jesus, therefore Jesus' death is the rejection of God by Torah.
  • In the trinitarian construct Jesus is God, and prior to Jesus, God was only known to be transcendent, therefore Jesus' death is the death of God-as-transcendent-God.
  • Jesus' death is the "better" sacrifice than those prescribed under Torah, therefore Jesus' death is the sacrifice of sacrifice.
  • Jesus died to defeat death, therefore it is the death of Death.

It soon becomes clear that either theologians are in the business of making a name through deducing the meaning of Jesus' death, or that Jesus' death may as well be the death of everything you ever knew. And if we are to give theologians some credit (rather than tar and feather them with the reputation of egomania) then we can probably say that Jesus' death is actually the death of everything you ever knew. From here it is fair to say that Jesus' resurrection (the most important event in Christian history, in case you were wondering what #1 was) is therefore the creation of every thing, and the meaning of those things.

Now I recognise that all I've done here is extrapolate on a debate that has raged ever since the tomb was found to be empty. What did the death mean? Of all the things that have been proposed, I can say for certain that the meaning of Jesus death is hollow if it only applies after my neurons stop firing. Jesus preached the kingdom for now. Paul laboured to build the church for now. Jesus' death and resurrection must have meaning for now if it is to have any meaning at all.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Natural Selection

Some memes survive long enough to be passed on.

1. Watch as science argues against agnosticism.
2. Apparently, CEOs don't get paid enough. Pay them more to work harder. That way they can get a new high score when they die.
3. Another piece of brilliance by Scott Stephens. If you only read one of these links, read this one. The quote from Rowan Williams should be the subject of meditation by my Christian readers.
4. Chimpanzee prostitution, or an example from the animal world that the rich guys get the girls? Are we humans, in our ant-hill cities, any better than this?
5. The Easter trial, judged by the Real.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Natural Selection

Some memes strong enough to be passed on to you.

1. Would David Chalmers deem this to have consciousness?
2. The electric car hits the burbs as a sedan.
3. A simple solution to inefficient wood stoves - or just another way to burn wood?
4. Like Morpheus says, "What is real?"
5. Our house is in ruins.
6. What can be said is said through Christian practice, that God is defined by Jesus rather than the other way around.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Holiness Redefined

I read this little article about someone trying to be more holy. OK, so kudos to them for wanting to be a better person, but I think there is a better way to look at the command to be holy (or as the blogger writes... BE HOLY).

I was reminded of a key aspect of the gospel stories; the redefinition of what holiness is. It's clear that the version of holiness in 2nd temple Judaism was one that encouraged people to avoid sin and uncleanness. Look through Leviticus for plenty of examples of "if you touch this unclean thing you shall become unclean." As a consequence, Jews wouldn't eat with Gentiles, for fear that the crockery wasn't clean according to Levitical standards. A husband couldn't touch his wife during her period for the same reason, nor could he touch the bed linen.

So the idea of holiness and uncleanness is one of contamination; that the holy can be contaminated by uncleanness.

Jesus makes the clear point that this is a false version of holiness. The holiness of God cannot be contaminated, it does the contaminating. The contact between the holy and the unclean does not make the holy unclean, it makes the unclean holy. In the gospels, when the sinner comes into contact with Jesus, they go away holy; when the diseased touch Jesus, they go away clean, etc.

Our contemporary concepts of holiness are caught up in the Levitical codes, making too many people think that to be holy (sorry... to BE HOLY) is to avoid doing sinful things and avoid sinful people. The appropriate Christian interpretation of the call to be holy is to redeem, rescue and forgive. Worrying about becoming unclean doesn't even enter into it. The concern is not about what to avoid, but about what to engage.

Christians Persecuted for Exclusivity

This is an interesting article about the reasons that Christians, rather than other religions, were the key persecuted group in ancient Rome. In brief, it argues that Christians were the target because they adopted a new faith at the expense of the old, ancestral gods; whereas in a polytheistic culture, accepting new gods was approved if and only if homage continued to be given to the ancestral gods. Persecution of Christians took place because of exclusivity by the believers.

Perhaps one reason that the Church is not persecuted very much in the West is that we haven't walked away from our ancestral gods. Our ancestral gods connect us to others in wider society, establishing a common point around which to relate. Abandoning them means jeopardising that connection point in favour of something new, the Church.

The Church is the place in which this connection is established through the community of the Spirit. It's the place in which there is no social division (no Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female). It's the place in which the power of God is exercised to level the constructs of human society. It also can't be entered by birth, so it doesn't fit the category of an ancestral god.

Our ancestral gods are those things that we've inherited without realising it. Pierre Bourdieu would call it doxa; the thing that goes without saying, because it comes without saying. Others would suggest that it's the inculturation of Christianity by the prevailing social order. To abandon the ancestral gods means to identify what really is Christian and what really isn't, and to pursue the Christian without paying attention to the ancestral.

But to do this means moving in a positive direction, moving towards something. We can't use prohibitions to define Christianity because that's a negative movement, a movement away from something. Rather, we must define Christianity positively, as a command to do something, not a command to NOT do something. Herein lies the brilliance of Jesus' command, "You shall love."

"You shall love." In this limited space, I won't be able to do the command any justice - certainly not to the extent of Kierkegaard's Works of Love. However, it's enough to say here that this command requires us to be active, not passive. And in the activity of love, we will move away from the ancestral gods, from the doxa that we've inherited, and only then could we be Christian.