Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zao - Lies of Serpents, A River of Tears

This is one of the best metal songs ever, by Zao or any other band... it's great music for releasing tension (or exercising!) and the lyrics are just amazing. Maybe I'll start posting lyrics to my favorite songs more often... hmmm... next time I think I'll pick a mellow acoustic piece. Stay tuned! :-)

Lies Of Serpents, A River Of Tears

Your eyes
Your eyes
Your eyes search for me
For so long I've wanted to come home
Held back by lies of serpents and tongues of brothers
Turning a child into an enemy
Turning open arms into closed fists
I could see the reflection in the tears
That made their way down Your face
Onto the ground I kneel upon
They form a river that overtakes me
Compassion envelops me
I forgive and release
Forgive, release
Forgiven, released

Friday, May 29, 2009

Zizek on the trauma of globalisation...

And now for a bit of cultural theory from its own 'enfant terrible':

"Those who understand globalisation as an opportunity for the entire earth to be a unified space of communication, one which brings together all of humanity, often fail to notice [the] dark side of their proposition. Since a Neighbour is... primarily a thing, a traumatic intruder, someone whose different way of life disturbs us, throws the balance of our way of life off the rails when it comes too close, this can also give rise to an aggressive reaction aimed at getting rid of this disturbing intruder.

One of the things alienation means is that distance is woven into the very social texture of everyday life. Even if I live side by side with others, in my normal state I ignore them... I move in a social space where I interact with others obeying certain external 'mechanical' rules, without sharing their inner world. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that sometimes a dose of alienation is indispensible for peaceful coexistence. Sometimes alienation is not a problem but a solution."

(from "Violence" by Slavoj Zizek)

If Zizek is right, what theological ramifications and responses might be anticipated? The one that immediately comes to mind for me is that Christ's call to "love our neighbor as ourselves" might, in fact, be synonymous with the acceptance of an aggressive retaliatory response. Perhaps loving my neighbor means exactly the willingness to allow them the freedom to persecute me for my love. Perhaps this is what Jesus' statement, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," really means: to love like Christ will inevitably lead to conflict. And, like Christ, when that conflict arises, it is imperative that we, his followers, do not respond in kind, but continue to show love, even when that love means our own crucifixion.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kierkegaard on the ignorance of despair...

"If one were to imagine a house consisting of a basement, ground floor, and first floor... and if now one were to compare being a human being with such a house, then the sorry and ludicrous fact with most people is, alas, that in their own house they prefer to live in the basement.

Every human being is the psycho-spiritual synthesis planned as spirit; this is the building, but he/she prefers living in the basement, that is, in the categories of sensation. Moreover, they not only prefer living in the basement - no, they love it so much that they are indignant if anyone suggests they occupy the fine suite lying vacant for them; after all, they are living in their own house!"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Christians and Torture, Pt. 3...

Ok, a quick review:

In my initial post, I suggested that the Christian propensity to see torture as necessary stems from a deep-seated assumption about God -- namely, that God tortures (primarily via hell). Therefore, it is reasoned, torture must serve some good purpose.

In my second post, I asserted further (though somewhat clumsily, I think) that this assumption is a terrible misconception, based in the same lie told to Eve by the serpent: "You can be like God." Our primary concern, I suggested, is not to equate our actions with God's actions, but rather to follow Jesus Christ, who is the fullest revelation of God in our reality.

This means that, as Christians, our every action ought to first and foremost be a reflection of Christ's actions, and it is extremely difficult to find any support for torture in the Gospels, unless it is Christ's willingness to accept torture on the behalf of others. With William Cavanaugh, I agree that the proper Christian response to a potentially violent threat is Christ-like sacrificial behavior, not torture.

I also pointed out that only God can determine God's parameters for punishment. This may have sounded like I was saying 'God can torture, but we can't.' If so, that doesn't seem particularly comforting. But what I was actually attempting to point out is that it is quite possible what we interpret as torture by God might not have been torture at all. Our inability -- attested in Scripture -- to grasp God's parameters outside of the context of Jesus Christ means that we should not only be slow to support torture ourselves, but slow to accuse God of torture to begin with.

But, this still leaves us with the troubling question: What about situations where torture might be a way to save many lives? Would it be allowable then? A few thoughts here -- and I'm going to number them, in the hopes of being as clear as possible.

1. First, it seems important to note that this entire question may be rendered moot, if -- as quite a bit of evidence seems to suggest -- torture really doesn't provide much useful intelligence. This debate is ongoing, but it seems quite possible that torture, in fact, does not achieve its goal, at least when it comes to preventing violent terrorist attacks.

2. Even if the torture did provide some valuable intelligence, it would still be wrong for a Christian to support torture, precisely for the reasons stated above. Jesus' example is not based in pragmatic considerations, it is based in self-sacrificial love. So, whether we like it or not, we do not follow Jesus because we think our lives will be safer, we follow because we believe our souls are being saved.

3. "But," someone will probably say, "That is fine for you, but what about the Christian's responsibility to stand up for the oppressed, to fight against the forces of evil, and to prevent innocent suffering?" Here, we finally reach the heart of the matter. Christians shouldn't stand by and allow others to suffer. This is certainly true. So, does Jesus really disapprove of torturing one to save the lives of many? In a word: Yes.

4. Jesus disapproves of sin. Period. Unfortunately, there are times when, no matter what we decide, sin is unavoidable. This requires careful explanation. Torture is, in effect, a symptom of the deeper reach of sin. Human evil is so entrenched that we are all continually reaping the results of previous actions, and sometimes a conflagration of results will lead to an impossible situation. In other words, some situations leave no other option besides sin. (Read Jacques Ellul's "The Presence of the Kingdom" for more on this subject) But -- and this is important! -- this is not a reason to shrug and say "Oh well, there was nothing else I could do." Rather, it is a reason to mourn our complicity in the whole situation, beg for God's mercy, and by God's grace begin to live differently!

5. So, torture is always wrong, but there may be times when, in our sin, we cannot see any other option. I am not comfortable with this conclusion, but I don't expect any resolution of this issue to provide comfort. There is danger either way. The possibility of death looms large. We are dealing with the results of centuries of collective human sin, and our utter inability to break free from the cycle, absent the grace of Jesus Christ. But the wise thing to do, as a Christian, would be to err on the side of grace, which means no torture.

6. Additionally, we must ask ourselves whether what we are gaining by torture is really enough to offset what we are losing. It is easy to think that torturing a few people who are, after all, violent terrorists, is not a terrible crime, even if it is not easily justified. But this reflects, I think, a narrow perspective of the power of sin. As Cavanaugh points out, actions like torture divide the world. Christ calls Christians to be reconcilers. It seems clear that we cannot truly fulfill our call to reconcile the world to Christ while at the same time torturing our enemies.

So, that's my take on it. I'd love to hear more responses... this is an important conversation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Christians and Torture, Pt. 2...

In my previous post, I argued that Christians often tacitly approve of torture because of an underlying belief that God also approves of torture - after all, God clearly appears to torture people in Scripture, and God IS good. Ergo, there must be some sense in which torture is good. I further asserted that such a belief is, in fact, grounded in a lie.

What is the lie? Simply this: We can/should be just like God. It is the same lie the serpent used to tempt Eve in the story of the garden (Gen. 3:1-4); it is a lie that manifests in countless forms, which I don't have time to recount here.

This assessment of the lie, depending on your perspective, may appear to be either utterly banal or foolishly outrageous. Of course we are not God! There are some things we cannot and should not attempt, not being God. But, on the other hand, we are supposed to be like God, aren't we? If God does it, doesn't that make it good?

Short answer: No... and yes. ;-)

I want to suggest that there are two connected, but vitally distinct, themes throughout Scripture that are essential for genuine Christianity. The first is that we are to trust, love, and obey God. The second is that we are to be like Jesus Christ. Scripture's demand upon Christians is NOT that they do what God does per se, but that they follow Christ. [Of course, we could divert here onto a rabbit trail about God and Christ being one because of the Trinity, etc., but I believe that is an exercise in missing the point.]

Notice Jesus' words and actions. He never claims to speak or act on behalf of God; rather, he claims to speak the very words of God. When Jesus speaks, God is speaking. When Jesus acts, God is acting. His words and actions are certainly not the entire summation of God's words/actions, but they ARE the cornerstone of any truly Christian ethic. Without Christ, there is no grace, only law. Without Christ, our image of God is blurred at best. (John 1:18) Without Christ, we cannot really know God, so why would we think we can be like God? And whenever any Christian, consciously or not, acts on behalf of God without centering that action in the person and life of Jesus Christ, they are in grave danger of living a lie.

But how does this all relate to torture? Quite simply: Unless we can see evidence of advocacy for torture in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then Christians have no room for any advocacy of torture.

There is more. In a recent eye-opening and thought-provoking article, William Cavanaugh states: "'Torture' and 'Eucharist' denote two different types of enacted imagination... Torture helps imagine the world as divided between friends and enemies. To live the Eucharist, on the other hand, is to live inside God’s imagination. The Eucharist is the ritual enactment of the redemptive power of God, rooted in the torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ..."

Cavanaugh argues that torture creates the illusion of our own superiority and righteousness: "An important part of producing enemies is the creation of a sharp distinction between our virtue and their depravity. The dehumanization of enemies must be accompanied by a magnification of our own virtue and a forgetting of our own sins. Every nation has a version of this dynamic, whereby the friend/enemy distinction can lead to amnesia about the nation’s past sins and amnesty for its current sins..."
(This, of course, echoes Jesus' words about removing the log in your own eye, among other things.)

So what is the proper Christian response to torture? We ought to turn torture on its head; rather than advocate torture, we ought to advocate sacrifice. As Cavanaugh states: "In the sacrifice of Christ, God overturns our normal expectations of justice, such that, not only does God not destroy us for our sins, but God stands in our place to absorb the violence that we ourselves do... Christ becomes the universal victim."

It is, unfortunately, becoming almost cliche to refer to Jesus' admonition that we "love our enemies." (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27) But when dealing with issues like torture, the words of Christ suddenly becoming dangerously alive. Quoting Cavanaugh again: "...if we become the Body of Christ, then we too are called not just to minister to the victims of this world but to identify with them. The opposition of them and us, friend and enemy, even victim and helper, is overcome. Violence against the enemy is unthinkable, because we are the enemy."

But we still haven't dealt with God's apparent acts of torture. What can we call hell, besides torture? Perhaps one might say that hell is justified torture, since it is the final result of a soul that refuses to surrender to God's will. Such a one condemns him/herself to hell; God, therefore, does not really inflict torture, we inflict the torture ourselves. C.S. Lewis popularized this view with his wonderful book, "The Great Divorce."

But if we accept, or even lean toward this view, then we need to begin re-thinking our position on torture as a whole. Why? Because if hell is self-inflicted, then we must be open to the possibility that other humanly-inflicted forms of torture and punishment are, in fact, not analogous to God's activity. Further, because of Christ, we are not resigned to self-inflicted torture. There is a way out. Christians must always be bearers of grace, even to the ones who deserve torture.

God does, at various points throughout Scripture, appear to inflict intense suffering as punishment, or to cause his people to turn back to him. Yet, we are not God. Again, this may seem trite, but it has an important corollary: only God can determine the parameters in which people should be punished.

In God's parameters, punishment is always and only the result of turning away from God. And God's punishment is not reserved only for the "pagans"; in fact, God's greatest punishment is often reserved precisely for those who claim to be God's followers. So who ought to be tortured first? Again, if not for the grace found in Jesus Christ, there would be no question: torture would be the end result of every one of our lives, since we would never find God.

But, none of this helps us when we are faced with the question of torturing some in order to save others. This question actually leads into the thorny issue of trying to deal with the practical ethical dilemmas involving torture and violence... and that will be the subject of my next post. For now, I'll just say that torture and violence are not necessarily one and the same...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

a few thoughts on Christians and torture...

In a recent blog entry, my pastor pointed to a recent study which found that Evangelical Christians are more likely, than the public at large, to accept torture as valid in certain circumstances. He then makes a couple of suggestions as to why this might be the case (Christians have historically supported justified wars/God sometimes told Israel to wipe out their enemies/Sometimes violence must be allowed to prevent worse violence).

While I agree that these hint at the connection, I want to suggest that the real reason for the polling results goes far deeper, to the very core of the Christian faith - and that the decision of any Christian to advocate any legitimation of torture is actually the symptom of an even greater, devilish, lie that must be rooted out, bit by bit, in order for the Kingdom of God to be made evident.

Why do I make such a bold claim? Consider the definition of torture. I am not going to refer here to the expansive definition given by the UN Convention against Torture, but to the more basic definition found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1(a): anguish of body or mind; agony (b): something that causes agony or pain.
2: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

Now, what image(s) does this definition bring to mind? Torture is anguish, agony, pain, punishment... in a word: Hell.

Yes, that's right. The Old Testament genocides are just the beginning. Christians, particularly today's Evangelicals, are slow to unequivocally condemn torture because we have, as a primary tenet of our faith, an eschatological precedent: Our God tortures. And not only does God torture those who are his enemies eternally, God tortures them beyond any punishment we can muster (see Matt. 25:46, 1 Thess. 1:8, Rev. 20:15).

So, if God will torture those who reject Christ, surely a bit of torture to protect ourselves isn't so wrong? After all, Christians use the threat of hell as a means to save souls all the time.

What does the second part of Merriam-Webster's entry say? It defines torture as the infliction of pain in an effort to coerce. Think about this: Christians torture every time they use the threat of hell to coerce someone into accepting Christ. We, as Evangelicals, have grown up in an environment where torture is not only advocated, it is encouraged! To place the fear of eternal damnation in someone's psyche as a means to encourage their decision... what is that besides torture?

I can hear the responses coming: "But it's for their own good! They need salvation!" Exactly. And so, we are obligated to sometimes torture, as good Christians, to bring about the good. At this point it may sound like I'm actually building a Christian case FOR torture -- what about my claim that all this is a devilish lie?

That will be in the next post. :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kierkegaard on the sickness of despair...

"Is despair a merit or a defect? Purely dialectically it is both. If one were to think of despair only in the abstract, without reference to some particular despairer, one would have to say that it is an enormous merit. The possibility of this sickness is [humanity's] advantage over the beast, and it is an advantage which characterizes him quite otherwise than the upright posture, for it bespeaks the infinite... loftiness of [the] being spirit...

And yet not only is it the greatest misfortune and misery actually to be in despair; no, it is ruin. Generally the relation between possibility and actuality is not like this; if the ability to be 'such and such' is meritorious, then it is an even greater merit actually to be it. That is to say, in relation to being able, being is an ascent. In the case of despair, however, in relation to being able to be, actually being is one of descent... so what amounts to an ascent in the case of despair is not being in it...

Despair is the imbalance in a relation of synthesis, in a relation which relates to itself."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

more from Marion's "God Without Being"...

"... the proposition "God is a being" itself appears as an idol, because it only returns the aim that, in advance, decides that every possible 'God', present or absent, in one way or another, has to be... But is it self-evident that God should have to be, hence to be as a being (supreme, plural - however one wants) in order to give himself as God?

But what indeed can permit and promise the attempt at a thinking of God without and outside of ontological difference? Indeed, to think outside of ontological difference eventually condemns one to be no longer able to think at all. But precisely, to be no longer able to think, when it is a question of God, indicates neither absurdity nor impropriety... By definition and decision, God, if he must be thought, can meet no theoretical space to his measure, because his measure exerts itself in our eyes as an excessiveness. Ontological difference itself, and hence also Being, become too limited..."


Friday, May 8, 2009

Marion on the idolatry of "God"...

It's been a while since I've posted anything that is theologically/philosophically abstract, so here's a bit from Marion's "God Without Being," which I'm currently reading...

"When a philosophical thought expresses a concept of what it then names 'God,' this concept functions exactly as an idol... because it apprehends the divine on the basis of Dasein [Being], it measures the divine as a function of it; the limits of the divine experience of Dasein provoke a reflection that... allows it to freeze the divine in a concept... Notably, the 'death of God' presupposes a determination of God that formulates him in a precise concept; it implies then... a grasp of the divine that is limited and for that reason intelligible." (Jean-Luc Marion)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

For the record...

I'd just like to say that neither Miss California nor "Joe the Plumber" speak for me, as a Christian (or in any other capacity). There are plenty of gifted followers of Christ who might serve as examples of my/our faith, perhaps someday the mainstream media will discover them. Until then, don't believe the hype - or the anti-hype. Oh, and, Christianity Today... what were you thinking?! End transmission.

Monday, May 4, 2009

addendum to previous post...

Another great artist worth checking out, just heard about her: Brooke Waggoner. Wow. Acoustic piano-based indie pop. Beautiful. Really amazing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

cool new music...

So, here are a few of the newest releases that I've been enjoying:

Mastodon - Crack the Skye: If the name and title didn't give it away, this is metal. Probably some of the best metal I've heard in years. Sounds like a cross between Metallica and Pink Floyd. I'm not kidding. Heavy as [insert metaphor here]. Excellent music, no matter how you slice it. I'm sure there are much more 'metal' adjectives to use for this album, but I'll leave that to the fanboys.

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns: I'm a sucker for melancholy modern electronic pop sung by quirky girls. This has it all - great vocals, enigmatic (yet decipherable) lyrics, progressive song structures that still have insanely memorable hooks, and - of course - a girl with a halo holding two shining orbs on the cover. haha. Fans of Bjork, Tori Amos, Delirium, My Brightest Diamond, etc should check it out. Very well executed. (Wait, now that sounds metal...!)

Fever Ray - Fever Ray: I wasn't familiar with The Knife, the Swedish electronic duo who apparently is all the rage with the indie kids, but I listened to this CD and was drawn in. And the good thing is that it actually gets better with repeated listens. Sort of a minimalistic electronic sound with a female singer (she is one-half of The Knife) who at times seems to channel an African-chant vibe. Unique, and great as a soundscape background, but the songs still retain enough of a structure that you can sing along with the words. Not for everyone, I would say, but if you enjoy mellow computerized music that is a bit dark, I'd recommend it.

Coming soon: brand new releases from Mewithoutyou and Isis! 2009 is looking good so far!