Tuesday, 28 May 2013

So Much Kierkegaard in Copenhagen

I'm both delighted and envious to see that Copenhagen has a lot of activities this year to mark the 200th birthday of Kierkegaard. I wish that the one time I was in Copenhagen I knew more about the man and his work, or at least as much as I know now. 

2013 would be a great year to go back. Any other year and I'd just have to settle on the ice cream and chocolate, without quite so many theological dalliances.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Soundbite Politics

I like a good election. There are plenty of things to despise about them (soundbite politics is the worst) but I still enjoy the process. The only thing missing from this year's election is my favourite part: actual policy.

So far all I've seen is labor telling me how bad Tony Abbott is, and the liberals telling me how bad Julia Gillard is. Oh, and one Clive Palmer telling me how bad Abbott and Gillard are. Of course, they don't do it with actual policy, just ad hominem attacks.

What do they stand for? A fair go for working Australian battling families? Education reform? Jobs? This country's future? Apparently they all stand for that. Well duh. That's the goal but we have no idea about their methods.

I don't expect to actually see any policies because nothing makes the electorate comatose faster than a policy launch. But that's what I want to see. I can only hope the party websites are just as informative as in previous years.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Media Consumption and Piety

Last month I blogged about a panel that I was part of. As it happens there were a few questions in the queue that were never asked on the night. So here's the (paraphrased) question, and what I probably would have said in response.

Q: What media is it appropriate for Christians to watch, read, or listen to?

I guess the spirit of the question is mostly about how media imagery affects the personal piety of the believer. Does watching lots of music videos featuring scantily clad girls count as lusting in one's heart, contra to Matthew 5? Will watching violent slasher flicks make the viewer more inclined to anger? In short: will exposure to morally questionable (whatever that means) media have a negative influence on its audience?

First of all, if we're worried that sexual or violent imagery will corrupt us, then we'd best remove several passages in the bible itself (Psalm 137, Ezekiel 16 and 23, just to name a couple). Or perhaps just not read them, leave them under the carpet where no one has to know about them. Like them or not, they're in the bible. Ban violent media and you have to ban the bible along with it.

And second, what is probably more important is the choice of which media content we endorse by its consumption. Supposing we spend money on a magazine that promotes false expectations about body image, we endorse that view. The publishers will get our money and point to yet another sale indicating the popularity of their content, and the magazine will continue to operate and propagate its distorted message.

While there is a connection between what we consume and how we think, the more significant message is that there is an economic and social connection between what we spend our money on and how the world is shaped into the future.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Forgetful Reading

One problem with a static canon1 is the risk that reading it becomes stale. With only 66 books in the (protestant) Bible, and only 27 of those in the New Testament, it's not long before they've all been read. And read again. And again.

And for those raised within the tradition, it's even easier to read them as though they've been read more often than they actually have. The very familiarity of the names, the concepts, the phrases, the words; they all cloud the reader's mind and increase the chance of reading things into the text which simply aren't there.

To learn anything new from the texts, it requires something to shift. Maybe a perspective shift or a shift in time or a shift in background knowledge is all it takes. Reading a Psalm the day before and the day after tragedy strikes will give a different perspective. Reading a gospel before and after learning about the social structures of the time will give a different perspective.

My particular favourite at the moment is wilfully forgetting ever having read the text before. Read slowly and absorb every word. Treat every piece of jargon as unfamiliar. Forget what you've been told by your Sunday school teacher, your parents, your pastor, and your friends. Really read it for the first time as something strange and new, as a puzzle to be solved. Sometimes all we need to do is forget what we think we know, and remember that we don't really know it at all.

1. Regrettably not the same as a static cannon, which would be a lot of fun to play with.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Why People Attend Pentecostal Churches

In the middle of a great piece about declining attendance at both conservative and liberal churches is this summary of research into the reasons people attend a pentecostal church.
Sociologists studying the movement - preeminently David Martin - suggest that the popularity of these churches is related to the way in which Christianity is linked to access to power. People are drawn to the neo-Pentecostal movement because they believe that their participation will result in some tangible results: financial success, health, successful marriage and so on. It is perhaps thus unsurprising that, generally speaking, individuals in less developed countries, particularly those making the transition from rural areas to large urban centers, are most likely to attend neo-Pentecostal churches.
It's a telling analysis. People who feel powerless are drawn to power, especially egalitarian power. The pentecostal message of universal access to divine power is understandably attractive.

I'm ambivalent about the implications. On the one hand it seems like a terribly shallow motive. Going to church just for what it does for the self does little to reflect the sacrifice required of the believer. I'm often reminded of Acts 9:15-16, "But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’"

On the other hand, Jesus' message was good news to the marginalised and the powerless. He preached to them, he showed kindness to them, and in the months immediately after his death his followers shared their possessions with each other. There is power in the gospel and it's hope for the powerless.

It's easy to see how it can become twisted, without violating the logic. The preaching of power to the powerless is one thing, but preaching it to the powerful is trouble waiting to happen. The hope for Pentecostalism is humility, the recognition of what they have and the responsibility to use that in the service of others. Without humility the movement will be utterly lost.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Happy 200, Pastor Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard turns 200 today. As one might expect, I think this is a birthday worth celebrating. Personally I hope to settle in with The Point Of View for an hour or so.

I'm not alone in the commemoration. Radio National has at least two programs to mark the occasion; one from Encounter and one from The Spirit of Things. I'm keen to see what else they publish, especially from the Religion and Ethics portal.

What are you doing to remember the gadfly of Copenhagen, the Socratic Lutheran, the father of existentialism, and the 19th century's greatest challenge to Christianity from within itself*?

* Hat tip to Nietzsche as the greatest challenge from outside of Christianity. Well worth reading his stuff, especially for Christians.