Archives For Jean Bethke Elshtain

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)

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…

Aussie flag at half mast Getty ImagesToday, two innocent civilians lost their lives because of the actions of an Islamic terrorist on Australian soil. Others were wounded.

It begs belief then that a good portion of the focus in the past 48hrs has been on the social media hashtag “movement” #illridewithyou.

What should we expect though?

Seeming to be doing and doing what feels-good has become the measure of right response today.

Such armchair activism is a gloomy sign of the flimsy ethics and shallow sentiment that afflicts our post-Christian society.

“illridewithyou” is a nice gesture. But. Outside raising an often short lived awareness of issues, sentimental hashtag movements are historically noted for achieving very little.

Who remembers the ‘hashtag diplomacy’[i] of #bringbackourgirls, #kony2012 or has heard of any genuine change brought about by it?

Call me callous. Throw all the passive aggressive rants on Facebook and 140 bit tantrums on twitter that you like.

It doesn’t change the facts.

In this case it’s tantamount to having a few drunken mates tell you, over and over again, in words devoid of any real meaning how much you mean to them.

Do our Muslim neighbours (moderate or radical) want such attention or even need such protection?

Would, for example, a Muslim man consider it appropriate if his wife did actually end up riding with a non-Muslim for the sake of that non-Muslim proving that they are not anti-Muslim? … {insert a ton of other practical reasons}

One could draw on the argument that often comes from our well-meaning-left-leaning brothers and sisters, who sometimes point out, rather loudly, that it is racist and intolerant to impose anything on anyone.

Ergo, employing this logic #illridewithyou becomes yet another example of “Western (white) moralist superiority and imperialism”.(Granted this is overly simplified. It is so, for the sake of brevity)

The danger of hashtag movements should be clear to all of us.

It is the one that “illridewithyou” highlights well, evidenced by the overbearing suspicion that somehow you’re racist if you don’t agree or publically brandish such a hashtag via retweet, share, comment or post.

You would be right to wonder if any ‘chasm existed between perception, reality, right interpretation, intention and action.[ii]’ Here appearances override substance and perception distracts us from reality.

Engage, by all means! But we need to acknowledge that wisdom and sensitivity must dictate our approach. Acting on rash sentiment tends to only cause division and resentment, rather than create unity.

Critiquing the #illridewithyou hashtag raises questions about fear, ignorance and a lack of respect for Islamic history and culture that might actually lie hidden behind such sentimentalism. Even if the intentions are innocent enough. Ironically, #illridewithyou might actually be Islamophobic in and of itself.

Today, as in all terrorist attacks on civilian targets the innocent suffer.

We should mourn their loss deeply and then ask ourselves seriously, why was it that our first point of solidarity was with our Muslim neighbours and their perceived trauma, and not with the twelve victims, their families and the actual trauma?

Folks, we cannot make peace, or reach heaven through a hashtag. We cannot convince those ‘committed to violence without limits’[iii] to change.

As Jean Bethke Elshtain observed:

‘Whatever sins and shortcomings that exist in the West, Islamist fundamentalism requires none of these to turn people into ideological fundamentalists with whom dialogue is impossible—as a matter of principle, not merely prudence—and who are not content to “live and let live.[iv]

Certainly, a just war against terror isn’t simple, but it is real.

It is one we share with our moderate Muslim and Jewish neighbours who cherish the same rights as Christians and atheists do; friends who deserve our careful thought and responsible action, not just potentially empty sentiments; the bane of all mutually beneficial relationships and effective diplomacy.

 


Sources:

[i] Bauer, G. Hashtag diplomacy won’t save lives, 7th August 2014 sourced: 16th December 2014

[ii] Jennings, W.J. 2010 The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Loc. 426). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Ibid, p. 23.

[iv] Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books. Kindle Ed. (p. 45).

IMG_20131015_091324

I read Janice Rees’ interesting, September 1st blog post @ WIT (WomeninTheology.org):

 ‘On Not Reading Barth: my measly resistance’

Janice raised some good points, for example: Barthian scholarship does tend to attract elitists. Coming from a white underprivileged background, where I was pushed to the margins of the church, I empathize to some degree with some of Janice’s concerns. This is something that predisposes my own theology more towards liberation theology than it does Karl Barth’s.

However, I see Barth’s theology, and those who choose to become dialogue partners in the field, as a counter weight. This ironically helps to liberate me from the self-imposed limitations that can feed dysfunctional paradigms [1]. This can tend to keep people, such as liberation theologians, in a constant circular movement motivated more by emotion than reason (i.e.: chasing ones tail to the point where they compromise the purpose and intent of their manifesto, creed and ergo their entire existence) [2].

Kait Dugan (theologian and feminist) recently responded to Janice here.

Worth noting is Kait’s lament:

…”Now I don’t measure up to what it takes to be in the girls club. And you can’t even begin to imagine the insecurity and isolation that occurs when you feel excluded from the “new feminist orthodoxy” as a woman and Barthian theologian”…(Dugan, 2013)

In some respects I have witnessed the reverse to Rees’ ‘mens club’. In Australian theological academia, at least, there seems to be a  lot of ”tip toeing” and ”egg shell walking” when it comes to women in theology. I think this approach shows as much contempt for feminism as misogyny does. I agree with Jean Bethke Elshtain who suggests in ‘Public man, Private Woman, 1981 (post scripted 1991)’ – that this special treatment towards feminism in some ways negates the ideas within feminist liberation theory of gender equality. This is something Kait Dugan also points too albeit from a different context.

…’Women should be encouraged and free to engage anyone they want within theology and other academic disciplines including the male-dominated field of Barth studies. And women should feel free to follow Janice in not reading Barth if they don’t want to as one form of powerful resistance. After all, isn’t that freedom for women to be exactly who they are and study whatever they want the true ethos of feminism?‘.. (Dugan, 2013)

My concern rests in the overly sensitive treatment from men towards women in this area. It has negative implications for free speech and other key areas which should encourage, rather than supress respectful dialogue. Having said this I understand those sensitivities. I simply question whether such actions are theological responses informed by feminist context, or whether such actions are drawn from a sycophantic – people pleasing – agenda. In this sense such a response could be regarded as a self-imposed limitation feeding a dysfunctional paradigm. This is because it comes from a broken context and in turn becomes hostile to the very thing it appears so innocently to promote (self-defeating is a word that might more appropriately fit here, if I had the time to unpack this further).

Let me just highlight a parting word from Elshtain in her book ‘Public Man, Private Woman’:

…’movements and theories which insist on the centrality of a style of action, a refusal to question ourselves (or others) in order to complete one’s agenda, leads to the repudiation of the very existence of those with whom one disagrees’

(J. B. Elshtain PMPW, 1981:365, emphasis paraphrased)

Axe meet the proverbial grind!

A self-limitation might well be the refusal to question our own predispositions because of a fear that doing so might offend ivory tower sensibilities.

That is why I believe free speech is important. The ability to have a variety of creative discussion and reverent expression (like I hope this blog you are now reading is developing into). One which allows for the tension between embedded and deliberative theological reflection to move forward, correcting our alignment and further pointing us towards the proclamation of the Gospel.

Source:

Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public Man, Private Woman: Women in social and political thought, Princeton University Press

[1] I am presupposing a distinction between the terms limitation and limits. I use the word limitation here to indicate negative outcomes to a decision. Limits such as those encouraged by English common law for example, have proven to be beneficial. So depending on the context self-imposed limitations like personal boundaries can be a good or a bad thing. I think what this may really suggest is the fear associated with questioning ourselves, testing our positions whether they be political, theological or otherwise.
[2] I am not intending to imply that Janice or Kait are doing this or allowing it. Here I am reflecting on my own personal/academic journey thus far in conversation with both Janice and Kait’s articles.

Once again

August 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Theological thoughts and some exegetical notes from this morning’s timeout.

Psalm 103:1-6

Bless my soul

1. Forget not all
2. His benefits

B1: forgives all iniquity
B2: Redeems life
B3: Heals all
B4: redeems life – from the pit (of despair?, hades?, overt uneasiness?, uncertainty?, hopelessness?, the seduction of cynicism?)
B5:  heals all
B6: satisfies (purpose) with good (instrument of possibility)
B7: youth renewed (cause & effect)
B8: Lord works

3. righteousness and justice
4. for all who are oppressed.

Conclusion:

We have His permission to fly like an eagle, what may be pinning us to the ground is our resistance, our cynicism and our despair.

What might be helpful is if we allowed God His freedom. If we could only just sit in that moment of time where we allow God to realize in us our true freedom. A freedom that exists in limitation (Karl Barth) but rests on the tension between His words ”yes you can and no you must not”.

It is here that humanity may finally be able to see that a life rested in Father, Son and Spirit proves to be one that has so much more to it than could ever have imagined.

The quest for absolute certainty, as Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it (1981, Public man Private woman), is only a quest to satisfy our ego. This is a journey towards absolute arrogance, one absent of faith and gratitude. A pathway that is inevitability self-defeating because it is drains us of that hoped for encounter with truth and light.

As it turns out this road, in truth, is paved with oppression as our own pride brings us to a counter-to-Christ point of impact, where the seduction of ignorance, spite, resentment and hate are all too easily consumed and reproduced. Consequently our wings are clipped – our creativity stifled – our energy, and passion for others, for life – becomes almost non-existent.

Father, may we fly as you have decreed it. May we see what you see, as you see fit to show us. May we rest in the knowledge that hope is within our grasp because by your Spirit and through your son, you are its anchor, its author and once again, we, I,  acknowledge your gift of life. 

May it be so.

Remnants of Jericho

August 17, 2013 — 12 Comments

How’s this for a quote from a very cool-headed feminist theologian and political theorist?: …

‘the 20th century is piled high with bodies: victims of the deadly politics of fascism (extreme) right, the (extreme) left (Stalinism and other so-called Marxist regimes that create burying grounds and call them people’s republics), and the less immediately fatal but ultimately coarsening and life-denying politics of (amoralist) liberal complacency and benign neglect’ (Jean Bethke Elshtain, 1981:299 emphasis mine)

The song below made part of the contemporary music compilation for the Jericho TV series. The series aired from 2006 to 2008, and addresses what could happen in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on certain cities in the United States. This ties in with Elshtain’s observations in four ways.

1. The 20th Century showed the world that we in the West (at least) take too much of our rich, mostly Christian heritage for granted. This occurs up to the point of, but not exclusively in, the showing of irrational contempt for such a community and its heritage.

2. Theology can be manipulated and made to subject itself to ideology. When this happens theology as an independent science is compromised and disempowered, no longer resembling theology. Theology in its truest form is and can only ever be a true and deliberate critique of ideological power. This manifests itself not  in acting as an opposite-absolute power, but rather a hope filled, Christocentric alternative, grounded in the faith response of gratitude and prayer (Karl Barth).

3. Complacency, selfish ambition and appeasement lead to neglect. The consequences of this are political ignorance, slaughter, practical atheism, nominalism and totalitarianism. All of which are elements of injustice and abuse.

4. Any deep sigh or heart-broken utterance pointed towards the Father is an act of faith.

…The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God…Rm.8:26-27, ESV

‘And you asked me what I want this year.
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.
‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things.
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.
So take these words and sing out loud,
’cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again’
                         – Goo Goo Dolls (‘Better Days’, 2005)