Between The Right To Vote and Pray, A Short Note

November 10th, 2007

Jaybercrow wrote his best ever entry last night, (IMO LOL!) about the Pauline perspective on women in the Bible. I am planning to unleash a fucking monster of a Zoomtard on Monday about how to fit the pieces together but the heart of Jayber’s argument, (presuming I am reading him right, which is a safe presumption since authorial intent can actually be read), is the claim that the body of writing passed down to us through the Canon and attributed to Paul is radically egalitarian. Men and women are equally gifted by God. Galatians 3:28 as a kind of cornerstone of Pauline theology.

If Paul had written and preached openly that slaves should be set free and that women are as apt as men to achieve anything, then the Roman Empire built on the labour of slaves and sustained on the toil of women would have declared war on the very communities (in Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth and elsewhere) that he was writing pastoral letters to. Much better to have women treated as equals in their communities and slaves treated with dignity than there to be no slaves, women or Christians of any kind left at all. This is not the idle conjecture of theology undergrads. This is well accounted for sociological and historical fact.

In time, Paul won and Caesar lost. Slaves were set free. Women were liberated. The challenge today facing us is to be Christians as wise and cunning and reckless and radical as Paul was in his efforts to emulate our master.

Your Correspondent, Judging from picture books, heaven is a partly cloudy place

Girls Should Have The Right To Vote

November 9th, 2007

I am a feminist. I believe that men and women are created equally. I resent that I have to follow that up with “equal but different” since clear and careful thought would lead everyone to realise that “equal” doesn’t need to equate with “same” in that sentence. Failing that, they could look at some pictures of a man followed by a woman (I hear there are some of those on the internet somewhere) and see that I couldn’t possibly mean “same”.

Some people might say I can’t be a feminist since I am a man. Those people would have told Wilberforce he couldn’t be an abolitionist since he wasn’t a slave, told Bonhoeffer he couldn’t fight in the resistance since he wasn’t a Jew or a Pole and Martin Luther King couldn’t fight for civil rights because he wasn’t black (little known fact, MLK was a white man with a very very good make-up artist).

I am a better feminist than most, because I am a feminist because I am a Christian. That’s a bold statement, isn’t it? Calm down. Calm down. I’m about to back it up. Women are categorically not equal to men. Around the world, women do about 80% of the work and own about 20% of the wealth. Women typically lack the same rights as men. Where they have equal rights, societal values hold them down, so in places like Ireland they still hit a glass ceiling. For secular feminists, they can argue that the hard economic reality supports the equality of women- if you let women into your workplaces that has historically always meant economic growth. Or they might argue some soft values like the “betterment of society”. I’m a feminist because women have the same value and potential as men because women and men are both made equally in the image of God. If it cost a fortune and if it caused huge ruptures in society, I would still lobby as a feminist because it is right. It is true. It is not merely convenient or hip.

Feminism is out of fashion. In the average mind it seems to have transformed into meaning feminazi. Privately, I suspect the hijacking of the movement by abortion-rights advocates has seriously contributed to this development. Maturing girls seem as willing to embrace pre-feminist ideas of what being a woman is as they are to actually realise and stand up for their equality. The sexualisation trend best captured by the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon is just the extreme of a general apathy towards the cause.

Every woman should be a feminist.

Every man should be a feminist.

Every Christian is called to be a feminist.

Gender equality is a victory far from being won. I sometimes feel like so many issues of justice, Christians aren’t really passionate about it. Especially Christian women, who are more eager to buy the latest well packaged heresy from the presses of American printing houses than actually exerting themselves, informing themselves and standing up for themselves. My friends and I toyed with the idea of a blog once called Babes Rule, jokingly taking a verse from the King James translation of Isaiah out of context. We never got around to it, distracted by final year theses and marriage and PhDs and other junk.

But over the last week, some Norn Irish Christian women have been blogging about it, and I have had some more depressing conversations about gender roles and I think maybe this is more of a big deal than I’ve realised. I used to work with Meinmysmallcorner and her post made me very sad. Then LilyTodd threw her articulate lot in the ring and her post made me feel very crinkled in the forehead department. Then esnor introduced herself into the discussion with her very pretty site (would expect as much from a girl!). She put it best:

… Ironically, our hope of salvation lies with the men. Come on, you know who you are. In the privacy of your own home you may expound on equality. But get your ass off the sofa and into the pulpit and start acting a bit more like Jesus. Quit tolerating that which enslaves and wounds. Start protecting and empowering your sisters so we are free to live freely.

I’m taking those words to heart.

Your Correspondent, Feminists have a tumor on their funny bone

Money, Sex And New Technology I

November 8th, 2007

The former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev. Dr. Trevor Morrow, delivered the second annual CS Lewis Lecture on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland last month. These annual lectures are organised by the umbrella movement of the Evangelical churches in Ireland (ranging from mainstream Protestant and Dissenter churches right across the spectrum to independent African Pentecostalism) to give an opportunity for some serious theological reflection on where Irish society is going in the spirit of CS Lewis- open, relevant and accessible to the average Joe on the street. The mp3 of the talk can be accessed via the EAI site here. The paper can be downloaded here. In three parts I wanted to Zoomtard the paper and the many important things that Dr. Morrow raised.

After the paper was delivered, national newspapers reported it widely and talked about Morrow as one of “Ireland’s leading social commentators” and in the wonderfully meaningless words of one tabloid, a “top cleric”. I can’t really speak to any of that but as Dublin’s 14th most popular Christian blogger I can say that few people have had as formative an influence on my thinking and my faith as Trevor Morrow. It seems natural that I vomit out my thoughts on this lecture for all seven of you to relish and comment on and dissect. Money was the first thing he addressed, so that is the first thing I’ll address. Then next week I’ll get around to sex, which you’ll all love and then the week after I’ll fiddle with new technology, which I will love.

There are three approaches to money in the Christian churches. The Pentecostals have often viewed money positively, as a unilateral blessing from God. The Roman Catholics have often viewed money negatively, as a temptation to investment in the world and a distraction that in the grand scheme of things is pretty second rate to the business we are put on Earth for: relationships with each other and God. Protestants, including us dissenting Presbyterians have often viewed money as a neutral thing without moral value. Like a mathematical formula on a piece of paper it can be used for good (say, to produce a drug that cures illness) or bad (say, to make a French atomic weapon to explode needlessly in an atoll somewhere). The Protestants have come out on top of this discussion and around the Western world you’ll find Christians discussing money primarily in neutral terms- it is neither good nor bad until it it used for good or bad.

Addressing the end of the Tiger era, Morrow thinks we may need to revisit this. Evangelicals are defined first and foremost by the way they hold themselves under the authority of the Biblical texts and there we find the bluntness in the words of Jesus “when it comes to matters financial is not a little unsettling”. He blesses the poor but curses the rich saying that it is exceedingly difficult for them to enter his Kingdom, half of his parables deal with wealth and the dangers of it, and he refers to it as a power, which weaves it into a theological pattern throughout the New Testament talking about the role of systemic evil in our world. Morrow reminds us that Jesus was not positive towards wealth.

In Ireland, we have seen explosive economic growth for well over a decade and yet the Royal College of Surgeons report that “a terminally ill patient has a better quality of life then many in managerial positions”. We regularly commute three and more hours a day to work, we work more than any nation in Europe and we see rapidly increasing break ups of families, addictions, suicides and other key indicators that we are living in a society under stress. Without slipping into De Valera talk of “frugal comfort”, Morrow argues that we are a society living a communal life that is badly out of balance.

I am going way beyond what Dr. Morrow said, but the hectic, unsustainable pace of the average family living in suburban Dublin is motivated not by dire need, but by dire greed- we have enough and we want more. He writes, “If happiness is found through giving, peace through relationships and contentment in wonder, then the deceptive power of money and its potential sacred status need to be addressed both individually and corporately.” If Jesus is right in his assessment of wealth as a “power”, then that means we can use it to build a foundation for our identity. We can put money to the task of being the ground upon which we build self. Money can become an idol, the sacred stone upon which we rest all our hope. But money is a finite thing. I know this for sure towards the end of every month. It runs out. Humans are eternal beings and money can never meet the needs we put to it if we trust in it.

Against the accumulation of luxury goods, exotic experiences and nest egg investments that make up our theology of money in contemporary Ireland, Morrow actually sets out markers to a new approach to wealth. This new mindset might be called a theology of enough. We need a healthy and strong economy to provide for the personal and social needs of our society. But instead of spending the excess on “accumulation of more wealth or to be used in the endless pursuit of happiness through the purchase of commodities” we should craft a society “which honours its citizens and celebrates their humanity”. The way to achieve this is to encourage giving.

Quoting Ellul, “There is one act par excellence which profanes money by going directly against the law of money, an act for which money is not made. The act is giving”. Morrow reminds us of the euphoria that spread across the nation during the Special Olympics, when on a communal level we committed vast financial and time resources on the lavishing of strangers- of the Olympiads who came from every continent to compete and achieve and be honoured. We are not happiest when we spend ourselves on our selves. We were made to spend ourselves on others. This point that Morrow makes seems to be a foundational insight for economists- and I’d love to hear what the economists have to say about it.

Morrow offers three areas of particular focus for weaning a society off greed and into giving. Firstly, the creation of beauty must be a value we cherish. The artists in our midst are not (should not be) producers of commodities that we consume depending on their market value. Space for them should be crafted not because they bring royalty dividends to the exchequer but because of the art itself- its ability to “enable us to experience mystery and cause us to hear ‘the rumours of angels'”. Secondly, we must be a society who exerts the influence of our cashflow to the pursuit of justice. This goes far beyond having an independent judiciary. We must embrace the “moral imperative to seek the right for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society”. Concrete steps to this include meeting our commitment to 0.7%GDP spent on global aid alongside a tax environment that favours giving. The third step to achieving a realigned view of money is the “encouragement of relationships through which our citizens learns to give and to receive”. So much of our society is geared around and towards the individual, most obviously in our work practices that frown on a holistic approach to life and in many professions scorn anyone that doesn’t commit fully to career success. In the past, it was Christians who fought and won workers rights, regular days off and holidays and better working conditions. Today we need to lobby for “structures in which our citizens will have time to give of themselves, to enjoy the craic and to support the community”.

Morrow was lecturing and not preaching. He didn’t apply his insight on the dangers of idolizing money to the individual. Instead he tries to sketch out what might be the beginning of an economy that more accurately reflect Grace and the values of the Kingdom of God. Government legislation can’t bring about the Kingdom. But the Kingdom’s values are universal, they are liberating and beneficial to all of us so why shouldn’t we engage all the world with them, sharing the generosity?

Your Correspondent, Letting the days go by and the water hold him down

One Line Review 10: 30 Days Of Night

November 7th, 2007

It’s truly fitting that the head vampire in this movie is played by the weirdest typecast actor in history, Danny Huston, who played a vampiric politician in The Kingdom, The Constant Gardner and Children of Men.

Your Correspondent, Fears zombie vampires less than the IMF

One Line Review 9: Elizabeth, The Golden Age

November 6th, 2007

It says something profound about society’s view of women when a historical epic about an all-powerful monarch who beat back a huge invasion and set their small nation on the road to becoming the grandest Empire in history turns into nothing more than a romance with a battle as a backdrop.

Your Correspondent, His fallopian tubes soared like eagles.

On Barth

November 5th, 2007

Relevant to comments in my second-to-last blog post, (and via the excellent Dave Bish), there is a new website called Engaging with Barth to go alongside a new book on him with contributions from some total legends, including the best Frenchman in the world after Jean Pierre Papin, Monsieur Henri Blocher.

Your Correspondent, he has never been good, he is not good and he never will be good

Dripping With Cool

November 5th, 2007

We’ve talked alot of science recently at Zoomtard. One of the things I learned from glorious mathematicians who have graced my life is that maths > science. Fact.

Here is a mathematical formula that is not up for contention, unlike the question of whether or not that last sentence actually was a joke.

(Michael Stipe + Bruce Springsteen)* A Patti Smith song == Coolest thing that has happened on the interweb since Al Gore killed that polar bear with a petrol can.

Your Correspondent, Desire is hunger is the fire he breathes, when there isn’t any air like.

Whiling Away Afternoons Thinking About Big Things

November 2nd, 2007

In the comments, Peebles offered a brilliant quote about the follishness of debating a purely cereberal path to God. He said Barth wrote once, “God has not the slightest need for our proofs”.

I am reminded of another Barthian tale, this time from the brilliant blog, Faith and Theology.

“Oral tradition, which I have not been able to find in print, tells of a priest who made an appointment with K. Barth on a personal matter. Coming after a while to the point, he said, ‘The problem, Dr Barth, is that I have lost my faith.’ The response: ‘But what on earth gave you the impression that it was yours to lose?'”

I think it’s a great anecdote to keep in mind when we are trying to work out God as if he is a puzzle to be resolved.

Your Correspondent, Without meat, he just eats lightbulbs

The Stars Are More Than Dead Light

November 1st, 2007

One of the things that I am reminded of in the whole debating and commenting prompted by QMonkey’s insatiable appetite for wordy Zoomy sentences is how commonly misunderstood even the term faith is. When speaking, I always over-pronounce the “dumb” of Christendom. Not because of my speech impediment but as a kind of psychic reminder of just how strangely toxic an environment filled with respectable neutered churches is to real and authentic faith.

We are moving but not quite in post-Christendom in Ireland and this is an era I greet with open arms. Zoomtard Junior will not have to deal with people filled with silly ideas about a god up there far away and his little people down here vainly scouring ancient texts to find evidence of his existence. She’ll have the relatively unique joy of starting the story on a clean page.

In the contemporary mind, faith is understood to be a kind of thinking. It’s a kind of ungrounded belief. Dawkin’s definition of it as believing in the teeth of contrary evidence is a common one. This is not an understanding of faith that sits well with Biblical Christianity. QMonkey laments that God didn’t do some sort of Bible Code on the text to give us a clue to His identity. Encode DNA with an acrostic or something of that sort would be a useful hint. Such a position is like Bertrand Russell who when asked what he would say if upon death he discovered he was wrong and there was a God who was holding him to account; “Not enough evidence God. Not enough evidence!” I think I have a good idea of what God said back. “Looking in a stupid way Bertrand?”

The Bible doesn’t have any proof’s of God’s existence because that isn’t what the Bible is for. Taken seriously, the sheer fact of existence alone really is sufficient to get us thinking God-ward thoughts. The Bible is concerned not with whether God is, but with who God is. This only looks like a cop-out if you use the contemporary and yet incomplete definition of faith as an intellectual conviction. The faith that God is looking for is not that He exists. As the New Testament sweetly puts it, even the demons know that.

A Biblical definition of faith would be a lot closer to trust than belief. What do we rely on? Those who call themselves Christians seek to rely on the God who is Trinity. The earliest Christians, alien to contemporary categories of thought and shaped by a totally different society did not mount arguments in defence of faith the way that we do. Paul certainly argued for the logical coherence of the faith and we can imagine Peter in dialogue in the synagogues about how to read the Hebrew scriptures. But primarily what they did was point to the transformed lives of individuals expressed in new ways of doing community. All this debating with QMonkey and who ever else wants to join in is great fun. But arguing and convincing and reasoning and persuading is not the way into faith (although it can be the way out). Biblical faith doesn’t get lived in the mind, it gets lived in the community of Christians that we call church.

Christianity is not simply another way of looking at the world like Marxism or Humanism. It is not primarily a lens to view the world through and a hearth to heat our opinions in. It is a movement that must be acted out. Faith is the action verb of this movement. It is the living out of the Kingdom initiative that Jesus has begun. My sadness about debates online where we don’t get to laugh and drink and do normal things together is that it stays abstract and philosophical and we miss out the Christ-point of it all- Jesus of Nazareth.

Your Correspondent, He got joo-joo eyeball he one holy roller

Where Greymalkin Gets To Post

October 31st, 2007

Before the development of science, people didn’t think scientifically. Pre-Newton, most common people still held to some folk ideas intellectualised by Aristotle when they asked about why things fell to the ground when you let them go. Yet on most of the ideas that we now take for granted, the average Jean in the fields just chalked up “scientific phenomena” under the “things we don’t know about” column. For all our advancement by the way, that column is relatively un-touched. It is still as awe-inspiringly long as it was in the 1500s. The rise of geology and the sense that the world was older than we were didn’t really give us new information (most of the early stuff was wrong), it gave us a new way to question. Reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species today you are struck by how he was a fine, creative mind but the theory was patently incomplete. He didn’t give us new answers so much as offer us new questions. This new line of questioning, asking things we had never thought to ask, has lead to some fine advancements in our yet very incomplete understanding of how biological entities change over vast spans of time through mutation.

All this preamble is to say: claiming that before Darwinism, the vast majority of Christians believed Genesis 1 and 2 to be literal (where literal is used to mean scientific) is anachronistic.

My humble and brilliant friend who comments here under the unforgiveably nerdy handle “Greymalkin” offered me this quote from the Irish Augustine in the 6th Century.

‘Although it is said that the whole creation was arranged in the course of six days, this does not refer to the succession of days in an interval of time, but to the sequence of [God’s] acts. For he who subsequently told the story divided in speech what God did not divide in the perfection of his works. For God created at once all of the things which he made, when by a single act of will he arranged the manifold diversity of all the species. In that single act of will he caused all things to come into existence at once, outside time; and since their creation he does not cease to rule over them throughout time’.

Within this paragraph is a stunningly complete theology of revelation and the action of God in time. It is also totally above any questions of “how”. Augustinus Hibernicus gets added to the big Valhalla style warehouse in the sky for legends of the church that defy the contemporary expectations of them.

Your Correspondent, Met a Corkonian once who didn’t ride a unicycle to work