Archives For Political Theology

IMG_20130627_191543I have long been a subscriber to the idea that hate is not a sin. However, I need to qualify this statement by firstly saying that: a) my alignment with this theory is a work in progress and b) my current theological understanding is that unless hatred is answered through confession with reconciliation as its goal, it will lead to sin.

For example: 1 Jn.3:15 in context would read ‘wherever hatred is, there is an inclination to do mischief’ (John Calvin, Institutes VIII:347).

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the primary spheres in which transformation is achieved, and it begins with the process of confession.

Ambrose of Milan stated that: ‘if you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed’ (Ambrose of Milan).

In a similar theological vein Karl Barth viewed confession as a referral and submission ‘to a higher tribunal confronting both partners with concrete authority’ (‘Church Dogmatics a selection’, Helmut Gollwitzer); to ‘lay our weapons down’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak warfare’, 2009 )

Unconfessed hatred is counter-productive. It leaves us like a ship lost at sea, left with only the stars to navigate by. Only then to find frustration with clouds that are constantly obscuring our efforts.

The outcomes of unresolved and concealed hate are inevitably confusion, anxiety, fear and rage – dysfunctional relationships – as such ‘no one really ever wins’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, 2009)

Consequently we become desperate for direction as our judgement increasingly becomes shrouded in fog.

We then abdicate our responsibility to speak the truth. We compromise on our Christian commitment to hope because our moral compass is exchanged for self-preservation, and we abandon the north star finding ourselves drifting deeper into a sea of brokenness and despair.

The counter to this is entering into a confession-that-seeks-truth. This is like choosing to drop the eggs instead of walking over them gently. Working on ways to help those around us ‘understand our pain’ (John Mayer, 2009).

If I say or act in love towards you, yet harbor hatred in my heart I conceal the truth. I am forced to lie in order to keep-the-peace. The problem with this approach is that appeasement tends to only ever benefit those who are appeased [1].

The strength in confession is when we confess our hatred, we can immediately be released from the burden the precarious nature of hatred brings, one which hangs around our neck like a rotting albatross. Confessing hate allows us to process and communicate reasons for such a response.

Only then can the movement towards resolution be enacted. Of course any confession requires being wise in how and who we express that confession to. Confrontation, context, tone and timing are also important considerations.

Sadly, Western society is increasingly being pressured from within to tolerate everything in order to appease post-modern politically correct sensitivities. How can falsehoods be confronted if it is not permissible to do so?

It is true that hate is a strong word that is loaded with emotion. Hate is defined by thesage as being an ’emotion of intense dislike so strong that it demands action’. Goodrick & Kohlenberger write that the Hebrew word for hate is:  שׂנא ‘sane’ which means to be unloved, shunned, disliked, an adversary.

That is why it has become a whip statement, a term utilised to shame and ridicule dissenters into silence with overly generalised terms such as Christians are ‘ignorant, anti-science, haters and bigots’. Such emerging social conventions should not be allowed to bind us into maintaining false appearances via restrictions on the freedom to confront falsehoods, be it society, science, left, right, church or state.

For the biblical authors the existence of falsehoods demand action.

Ps.119: 104 ‘Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Pr. 26:24-26 ‘People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public’ (NLT)
Pr.8:13 ‘The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate’.
Pr.13:5 ‘The righteous hates falsehood’
Eccl.3:8 ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’
Eph.4:26-27 ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’.

A few years back an estranged relative asked me the question ‘how can you be a minister with so much hate?’ Since then my response has been: “please don’t confuse telling-the-truth with hatred, tolerance with silence and silence with love.”

The act of confession is a compassionate and humble act towards others in grateful response to Father, Son and Spirit. Through ‘open confession’ (Ambrose) and humility, truth speaks through the community. For example Barth writes that `theology is impossible without humility because the truth at issue is a person who says : ”I am the truth” (Jn. 14); (Church Dogmatics, a selection).

Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it this way:

‘Our ideas have to meet the test of being engaged by others, far better than having people retreat into themselves and nurture a sense of grievance, rage and helplessness…thoughts must be tested in the public square where you have to meet certain standards…we must be careful not to confuse tolerance with complete and total embrace…total acceptance does not mean universal love’ (Maxwell School Lecture, State of Democracy 2013).

Therefore confess hate, speak truth and drop the eggs, watch the lies disintegrate. It may hurt, you may lose, but lose boldly with the hope that those who reject truth return to truth refined, renewed and rescued. Refuse to walk on egg shells, and instead clean up the pieces left behind, lovingly inviting others to do the same.

The truth is much more precious and valuable than any sugar-coated version of it we can create. There are never two sides to a story. There is only ever one story which evidently has multiple perspectives.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘there is but one reality and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world’ (Ethics, 195)

To love is not only to understand that Christians are called to speak truth-in-love but to also understand that love-speaks-truthfully. As the words attributed to Solomon so wisely put it:

 ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

Loving ourselves is hard, loving our enemies? Even harder. (Lk.6:20-45)


Sources:

Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance Kindle Edition.

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Kindle Locations 1050-1051). Kindle Edition.

Bonhoeffer, D. Ethics Kindle edition.

Calvin, J Institutes of the Christian Religion Eerdmans

Goodrick, E.W & Kohlenberger, J.R 1991 NIVAC: Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan

Meier, P. & Wise R. 2003 Crazy Makers: getting along with the difficult people in your life (particularly chapter twelve) Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

[1] Historically speaking, nowhere is this more evident than in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘’gift’’ of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement.

(RL2013)

.

Hear the seldom gong and its solemn tone
.       a high pitched, heart wrenching groan.

Unheard human tears, receive an audience before Divine ears.
Unhinged society’s switched off its intelligence;
Blank talking into the eyes of its own darkness.

The abussos,

.      its emptiness,

.      its quiet violent chasm.

The depth of which only God knows.

.       “Bring forth the railings, planks and rope,
.        sure up a bridge, empowered by grace.
.        and may from it spring, all manner of hope.”

Bind and pull back those who’ve just climbed down the walls in order to ascend
Warn the others and waste no time on those who still refuse to comprehend.

For once safely over this monstrous abyss,
.     only hope will carry those who did not cease to exist.

Huddle together,

.           walk quickly,

.                   pray ferociously.

For war is coming.

Those content with slavery find no excuse to resist,
.          intolerance is not tolerated by virtue of tolerance.
All hail the veiling master, the academic oppressor, and their slave traders;
Who’ve categorized the masses, tagged and sold them into subservience.

Ushered into these new wastelands,
.            convenient science feeds industrialized collectives
.            and is protected by martial law.

The only two options given,
are total submission or total war.


(©RL2017)

 

The contents of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War and The Bible are unrelated. They are, by any quick comparison, worlds apart. The Art of War is a masterpiece in military organisation and strategy. It’s a sage, giving the wealth of a sage’s advice to all who would follow his counsel closely.

The Bible is a collection of books, filled with multiple genres, following centuries of the same consistent theme: God’s faithfulness. Testified to from multiple authors, God’s faithfulness often jars in contrast to human unfaithfulness, both towards each other and towards God Himself.

These include eyewitness accounts, poetry, proverbial wisdom, historiography; prophecy, a litany of apocalyptic predictions, historical letters and genealogies.

The Art of War is a manual. In it the wisdom and experience of Chinese Army veteran, Sun-Tzu is encapsulated in a list of haiku like principles. Whereas The Bible, from start to finish moves from point to point testifying to the revelation of God; as He slowly raised and continues to raise humanity, through Covenant, promise and fulfilment, up out of humanities trajectory towards inhumanity and self-annihilation.

What The Art of War and parts of The Bible share in common is the way in which truth and experience is communicated through metaphor, simile and poetic syntax.

For example:

‘A rushing torrent/carries boulders/on its flood; such is the energy/of its momentum’ [i] (Sun-Tzu, The Art of War)
‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 19:24, ESV)

There are truths expressed within both examples and experience is expressed.

The relationship between The Art of War and The Bible is established in its use of poetic language to recall history and communicate truths, through narrative and poetic prose.

Any question over commonality is therefore answered. The next question is, can there be any relevance between the two? Can The Art of War help us better understand The Bible?

My answer to this question is yes.

Though, it’s cultural setting, context, authorship, and in most areas its contents are worlds apart, sections of The Art of War can enlighten our perspective of ancient society, politics and warfare.

Much like Machiavelli’s, The Prince, The Art of War gives in insight into areas of human behaviour, organisation, rule and movement. These include leadership, social organisation, paradox (dialectic)[ii], relationships, management, hierarchy, strategy and, in a few specific places, the value of human life.

‘[Force] March ten miles for some gain/and two in three men will arrive’[iii] (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Relevance between the Bible and The Art of War can be found. Much of the first five books of the Bible, (the Pentateuch; Torah) discuss the state of the human race, God’s creation, liberation, government and ordering of humanity, centred within and viewed through the lens of His people.

God’s ordering, His governing where His leadership through a close friendship with Moses, is exemplified in the post Exodus, wilderness dwelling, Book of Numbers.

Here, Yahweh’s request under the Covenant with Israel is His way of bringing the Hebrews FULLY out of Egypt [psychologically & culturally, this was as much reformation as it was revolution]. As evidenced by the Golden Calf, one coup attempt, a number of formal protests and general disgruntlement about how much better things were under Egyptian rule. In other words, how much better things were under the rule of Egypt’s hybrid animal-human gods.

Yahweh is brought to trial. The just God is thrown unjust criticism and all manifestations of his grace through the miraculous provision and care given towards His people are forgotten.

The confrontation causes conflict, as Yahweh seeks to take their focus off the creature and put it onto the Creator; seeks to bring His people out of Egypt. To teach them that they are no longer under Egyptian rule, but are under His guidance, blessing, leadership; fatherhood – are united and reborn as the nation of Israel. The gods humans made are directly challenged by the God who made humans.

The victory is won, yet, Yahweh is still fighting against the influence of Egypt and the way of the Egyptian gods.

Throughout this contest, Yahweh is the model of a perfect General (Exodus 15). He avoids the pitfalls described by Sun-Tzu, even though, His people (and even Moses from time to time) fall right into them:

‘Recklessness – leading to destruction
Cowardice – leading to capture
Hot temper (manipulated or triggered into reacting poorly) – prone to provocation
Delicacy to honour (concern for reputation; perfectionism) – tending to shame
Concern for his men (easily swayed/influenced, people pleasing; concerned about offending them) – leading to trouble.’
(Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Numbers teaches us that God perfectly hears us, has perfect self-control, can be provoked to anger, but is patient, quick to restraint and shows mercy, by way of warnings and provision.

   ‘These five perils to leadership demand the most careful attention’ – Sun-Tzu, The Art of War.

God is tolerant up to a point. At which time He makes that point known. Just as He did with those who opposed Israel, there is a point at which He chooses not to allow His people to advance, or they advance into the jaws of their enemies, both without and within.

 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? – Jesus Christ, Luke 6:39

What Numbers alongside The Art of War teaches us is this: the pitfalls of a General are human pitfalls. That God is the perfect General, and that we fail, when we fail to follow Him into battle, in life and in death. Humanity fails when it fails to recognize or it chooses to reject, His grace. The grace that firmly holds us, even though we walk on the precipice of, and sometimes are forced to hang over, the abyss.

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
(Paul, Galatians 2:20, ESV)

References:

[i] Sun-Tzu, circa 500 BC. The Art of War: Potential Energy Penguin Ed. 2008 (p.26)

[ii] For example: ‘Orderly disorder is based on careful division; courageous fear on potential energy; strong weakness on troop dispositions’.

[iii] Ibid, pp.40-41

Image credit: Rembrandt, 1659 Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

With the start of the new school year we’ve been engineering the tone of homeschool for the rest of the year. So, my focus has been elsewhere. Which means, as far as blog content goes, posts are short and sweet.

Recently, I came across Franklin Roosevelt’s address to the nation on D-Day. One of THE defining military campaigns of the Second World War. (link to full text)

D-Day did more than symbolise a united stand against totalitarianism, it was a just act against blatant evil.

Hence the value of this document: it is both a humble prayer and political speech. Speculation is a cardinal sin for theologians, (or so I was taught), therefore I find myself holding back (with some difficulty) from thinking about how things would have gone if this act of contrition by the then American President had not happened. Looking at the paradigm of today’s political world, it is hard to imagine a prayer like this being deemed permissible.

For this reason: here is one the most powerful leaders in the free world submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There is no sentimentalism in it that I can see.This is not cultural Christianity parading the veneer of vaguely remembered Sunday School lessons in order to appeal to popular applause.

Underpinning this prayer is the understanding that the human judgement which rightly involved taking action against Nazi aggression and ideology, is itself under divine judgement.

Excluding the word ‘crusade’, Roosevelt is inadvertently preempting the same considerations made by American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, in 1945:

‘Out of the humility of prayer grows the charity for comrade and foe. The recognition that we all stand under a more ultimate bar of judgement mitigates the fury of our self-righteousness and partly dissolves the wickedness of our dishonest pretensions…
We will therefore not be swollen by pride because others think well of us. We will remember that they do not know the secret of our hearts. Neither will we take their disapproval too seriously. The sense of a more ultimate judgement arms us with the courage to defy the false judgements of the community’ [i]

Both are impressive. Each make a unique contribution to how Jesus Christ, just judgement, Christian love and responsibility are valuable to an evangelical ethic that supports life and reaches out in truth. With the understanding that sometimes “no” is given in order to say “yes”; an ethical framework that every responsible parent knows well and practices daily.

Official & original:

With music and a video montage:

Repost: Originally posted 5th Feb, 2015


Updated 24th May 2017:
.
I’m seeing quite a bit of condemnation being thrown about regarding people offering their prayers for those lost and caught up in the tragedy in Manchester.

I’m in agreement with putting an end to sentimentalism and empty gestures like lightshows and hashtags. Prayer, however, shouldn’t be linked in with this.

There’s nothing wrong with prayer. At the end of the day, it all depends on who they’re directed towards and the motivation behind it. True prayer is preparation for action, not a substitute for it. Prayer is an act of true freedom.

When genuine, it rallies people in shared solidarity against arrogance, towards humility. It is a revolt against complacency, appeasement, disorder and gestures filled only with empty sentiment.

Underpinning F.D.R’s D-Day prayer is the understanding that the human judgement which rightly involved taking action against Nazi aggression and ideology, is itself under divine judgement.

Ditch the sentimentalism and empty gestures, such as hashtags and lightshows. Don’t ditch prayer. For, ‘out of the humility of prayer..we will not be swollen by pride’ [ii] in right response to aggression.

‘Even the ”devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)

References:

[i] Niebuhr, R. 1945 Discerning The Signs of The Times, Niebuhr Press Kindle. Ed.

[ii] ibid, 1945

Image: Mine. I cropped it using the first and last page of the transcript in order to draw attention to it.

Elshtain on ideology, human frailty and fairness…

Elshtain on the necessity of maintaining distinctions…

Elshtain on the importance of the ‘transcendent other’ in creating heaven on earth…

Having been buried in the topics of theology, specifically Christian history and political theology. I haven’t yet had the chance to fully engage with a lot of conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton’s work.

I’m indebted to an internet friend for posting this video on his blog otherwise I’d have completely missed it. Scruton is interviewed for an hour and half by Dutch journalist, Wim Kayzer as part of a series called ‘Of Beauty and Consolation‘.

The whole interview is worth watching. Since it is quite lengthy, my purpose here will be to share some of the more stand out points.

What this interview serves to show, among other things, is that, unlike modern liberalism and its cult-like followers, conservatives (and they’re allies) cannot be truly pinned down. Sure, extremes exist and there is [slash] are basic, tried and true, propositions by which conservatives work.

Conservatives,however, and in a lot of ways, those aligned with them, cannot be placed into a neat little box, then pushed aside under a plethora of reckless labeling that often comes their way. The freedom of religion, speech and conscience allows for the freedom of thought and the challenge of ideas.

Of everything discussed, the content between 53:00-58:00 is, to me, among the most significant.

Here Scruton states:

“Hysteria dominates modern politics … I think it’s no accident that the loss of faith in our century [20th Cent.] immediately was accompanied by the rise of totalitarian government. Communism; Nazism; Fascism. All of which are atheistic creeds growing out of superstitions [& hysteria]; growing out of a loss of the God-head”

This is the high point from which the documentary takes flight. The interview, from this point, spreads out in a range of answers to questions about society, theology, politics, philosophy and marriage.

Overall the interview follows its own organic course. The only thing planned were the questions. Outside those, Scruton leads the conversation the entire time.

Other points worth mentioning include: His response in 1:03/49 is very Barthian, and second, Scruton’s statement that marriage was a “creative endeavor”:

“Marriage is a creative endeavor that lifts us out of the animal realm and inscribes us into the eternal”

Scruton is candid, having no issue with opening up about his battle with social anxiety and how learning to overcome it has informed his philosophy; his search for truth. This is also evidenced by his thoughts on where modern (post-Christian) society is at.

“The problem with the modern world, in my view, is that people no longer dwell on the earth. They move as nomads around it. In search of something they know not what, and never finding it. Moving from person to person, place to place.”

The pandemics of “panic”, meaninglessness and emptiness which now plague the world are largely driven by anxiety avoidance and a “lack of awareness about its own state of unhappiness – it is the panic of the isolated individual“.

“People are totally [lost] at sea without the religious sense/awareness of that which exists beyond ourselves;that God feeling. With the loss of moral equilibrium that is provided by the Divine, and their detachment from where this is made real, people become prey to superstition of the most appalling kind.”

The interview is centered on the human concepts of experience, beauty and consolation. The conversation which follows is casually worked out from there. Ending with a return to Scruton’s comments about meeting his wife during a hunting trip.

The topic of consolation is the centerpiece of most responses. One stand out part is the distinction he makes between fake consolation and authentic consolation.

“False consolation, like finding refuge in wine or alcohol, does not involve over-coming. Consolation comes from having confronted trouble and elicited  from the heart of trouble the resolution of it.”

This lengthy interview caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to hear anything about Scruton’s battle with anxiety, his troubled home life as a child or his views on modern politics. Another surprise was learning that Scruton was a musician.

As was pointed out to me, Scruton’s theology is ‘not as refined’ as some might like. His theology does slide away at some points. Scruton struggles to find the right words. To his credit, when this happens he moves to assert that he is not a theologian, and even though he is discussing theology, “he [therefore] can’t answer those questions with the same acuity”.

I wasn’t a fan of the tone given out by the interviewer, but given the differences between Europe and Australia. Perhaps this can be graciously put down to being a kind of cultural tone I’m not used to hearing. Nevertheless, I sat through the entire interview and devoured it.


(RL2017)

H/T: Kevin Davis, Of Beauty and Consolation  sourced 12th May 2017 from After Existentialism, Light.

Il faut en finir.jpg2Karl Barth never ceases to confound his students or humble our feeble attempts to steer him in a particular political direction. One key example of this is a letter written in December 1939, to ‘The French Protestants’ at the outbreak of World War Two.

His words here are straight from the front, back towards the left and then on towards the right.

Barth is not advocating that the Church take up a “‘crusade’ against Hitler“. Rather that the Church repent and pray for a ‘just peace’. Choosing the better side of responsible action over against irresponsible action or worse, total inaction. Barth is calling for the Church to awaken; to turn from a politics of appeasement and blind compassion, in order to avoid the problems created when both are infused with good, but naïve intentions.

‘It would be regrettable if the Christian Churches, which in previous wars have so often and so thoughtlessly spoken the language of nationalism and militarism, should just in this war equally thoughtlessly decide to adopt the silence of neutrality and pacifism. The Churches  to-day should pray in all penitence and sobriety for a just peace…to bear witness to all the world that it is necessary and worth while to fight and suffer for this just peace’
(Barth in Loconte, J (Ed.) The End Of Illusions, 2004:157)

According to Joseph Loconte, Barth lamented the ‘Munich Agreement’ writing in his diary: ‘catastrophe of European liberty in Munich’ ibid:153). Adding in a letter to Czech soldiers that ‘resistance to Hitler, was service to Christ’ (ibid).

Also noting that the partial injustice of 1919, The Treaty of Versailles, made England and France ‘chiefly responsible for the  state of affairs which arose in Europe after 1919 – which in turn, as far as Barth sees it, makes them responsible, too, for making Hitler possible’ (ibid:156).

Although Barth prefers the term ‘just peace’, steering away from applying the phrase ‘just war’, he is advocating the latter. For instance: ‘Our generation would be answerable before God and before humanity if the attempt were not made to put an end to the menace of Hitler’. (ibid:156)

Other than reinforcing the important relevance of Barth to contemporary discussions. This letter shows that placing him into an ideological box, in order to serve an understanding of his theology, or using any conclusions drawn from that to advance the defence of utopian illusions or a benevolent ideological master, are deeply flawed. Such as being quick to claim that Barth was a sold-out pacifist.

Since there are parallels between his time and ours.Today’s Church needs to “get this”. It ought not fail to stand against sloppy sentimentalism, popular activism nor fail to act on the warnings which were so powerfully relevant for then, and are just as relevant to us today.

Barth asks:

‘Why have we heard and why do we continue to hear, and that not infrequently, voices of eschatological defeatism, a defeatism which appealing to the truth that “the whole world lies in the evil one,” busies itself almost cynically with asserting that Hitler’s present adversaries for their part are no saints either? The apprehension of the truth that God alone is holy will not excuse us from the duty of putting up resistance to-day.’ (ibid:157)
‘We must be prepared for God, just when we are acting in obedience to His command, to confront us with His own “Il faut en finir,” and again by His command to lead us to something wholly other… Done in this spirit of preparedness, our work of resistance will then be a good work…We are both allowed and obliged to know that God will reign in any case and the He makes no mistakes’ (ibid:161)

Loconte is right: ‘Any serious student of the 1930’s is struck by the familiarity of the debate’. (ibid:3)


Source:

Barth, K. 1939 First Letter to the French Protestants in Loconte, J. (Ed.) 2004 The End of Illusions  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Image: French roughly translated in English as ‘We must/will end it’ or ‘We shall go on to the end.’

(Originally posted Jan. 2015)