Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Recently, a flurry of viagra spam has been filling up behind the scenes on my blog here. Consider this post a kind of viagra spam. You might not want to hear about it, but, as in my experience, it’s no longer something you can easily avoid.

* * *

When I first became a Christian, one of the heaviest reservations I held was the denunciation of homosexuality. In school, you could say I was ‘indoctrinated’ to believe that everything gay was a good thing, that same-sex attraction was just as normal as liking girls, so much so that after five years of high school I had no objections, other than my still dismissive attitude towards homosexuality. All that I had a problem with was overtly homophobic attitudes, expressed predominantly by Christians, and old people here and there, and people that lived on farms.

After a becoming a Christian late into my seventeenth year, my views on the homosexual question gradually began to change. My dismissive attitude passed (mostly), as I was more aware of how offensive it could be to refer to something I didn’t like as ‘gay’, yet the underpinning stance, that which I used to understand as homophobic, now became more acceptable to me: It was alright to oppose homosexual marriage and support ideas such as gays being ‘healed’, that is, becoming straight (and later on down the track I accepted the idea of homosexual celibacy), but it was not alright to direct any hate or bad jokes towards homosexuals — only this was homophobic.

My unashamed homophonic enthusiasm for puns, however, never changed.

Five and a bit years later I’m ready to come out of the closet¹: This post will examine two aspects of my Christian worldview, these two which I think many Christian friends will share in common with me, and demonstrate some of the intellectual hypocrisy in my thinking these last years.

* * *

As I began reading the New Testament, some deep internal changes were going on. I was totally taken aback by Jesus’ words on loving your enemies, and Paul’s similar exhortations to overcome evil with good. The centrality of love in these writings presented me with no difficulty in affirming their divine origin. On this basis did I read the passages concerning the subjugation of women in the church: The only thing subjugatory about them for me was under circumstances where people would desire otherwise, but if God had desired that men should lead the flock and head the family while women accepted their natural roles as child-bearers and nurturers then why not be obedient? For those unfamiliar with the passages, I’ll cite a few:

“I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ” (1Corinthians 11:3 NRSV).

“Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, in modesty” (1Timothy 2:13-15 NRSV).

“Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honour to the women as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life–so that nothing may hinder your prayers” (1Peter 3:7 NRSV).

With these and other passages in mind, I began to notice discrepancies between biblical teaching and church practice. What gave Christians the right to pick and choose which passages they would abide by? Some Wikipedia funded research here and there, some searching online, and good conversations with good friends began to provide me with another perspective:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV — I especially like how the NRSV repeats the ‘there is no longer’). Probably the most popularly cited verse for the egalitarian view, Paul powerfully presents the Gospel as a way of life that transcends socio-cultural qualifiers.

The weaker sex, Ms Truchbull

Because of space, I’ll only summarise the other points. Adam and Eve were created equally (Genesis 1:7) but after sin, gender roles/distinctions came about as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Women in Jesus’ ministry held a privileged place, one of the most commonly cited examples being that a few women Jesus knew were the first to find out he had risen from the dead and then go and tell the disciples the good news (Luke 23:55-24:10) (other examples can be found here). Lydia is the first recorded convert in Europe, who boldly offered the apostles a place to stay, against social norms of the time (Acts 16:14-15). Paul refers to ladies in leadership in a few of his letters, including Junia, whom he refers to as an apostle (Romans 16:7).

Any attempt to harmonise these two very different strands of New Testament stances on women leads necessarily to complementarianism: That is that men and women were created with the intention of playing different roles in society. If we don’t acknowledge that then the first lot of cited verses hold no sway. It must be acknowledged by those who support women in church leadership, as do I, that we give priority to some verses over others. To hold a properly egalitarian view, neither can the words “the husband is the head of his wife” be explained away by appealing to their First Century context: They always meant what they meant and therefore must instead be passed over.

Earlier this year there was some controversy considering Margaret Court, ex-professional-tennis-player turned Australian pastor. Her opposition to gay marriage was in every sense ironic. She clearly ignored Paul’s advice for sound ecclesiology, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says” (1Corinthians 14:34 NRSV). Her pastorship was based on the denial of passages such as these. If we allow a Christianity that does not discriminate according to birth, that women who desire to be leaders and have equal standing with their husbands in family matters should be allowed to, then why not allow a Christianity that does not discriminate against homosexuals for desires they did not choose themselves?

Yet, there are many complementarians out there. This argument holds no sway. Let’s move on.

* * *

Catholic theology will always hold a much more justifiable stance against homosexuality, in relation to other Christian worldviews. This is because Catholic theology has a much better understanding of what is natural. It is natural that men lead and women nurture. It is natural that people of the opposite sex are attracted to each other. It is natural that sex leads to babies.

Consider Paul’s words on what is natural, probably the most cited passage supporting Christian rejection of homosexuality:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

(Romans 1:26-27 NRSV).

Yet, the well-read interlocutor raises this point: Paul’s reasoning may easily be disregarded by an appeal to modern day science: All sorts of animals enjoy all sorts of sexual practices, including homosexuality. How then can it be unnatural? I’m sure there is something we can say to this. Homosexuality in animals is as unnatural as it is in humans, in the same way, as Christians taking note of the Fall would mention, that it’s unnatural for animals to kill each other. Just because something happens in nature, this does not provide evidence for its being natural. But we need to take Paul more seriously. Homosexuality in the bedroom is unnatural precisely because it does not fulfill the foundational natural aim of sex: reproduction. Two horny male rabbits in isolation will always find it difficult to ‘bear fruit’, even if they are rabbits.

The unquestioned sexual practices of many Christians the world over need first be examined before any decisive opposition to homosexuality. Contraception is by this criteria unnatural. It is only possible in various Christian worldviews by a redefinition of the meaning of sex: God’s gift to husband and wife to express their love for each other. Sex as purely reproduction is too old-school. Orthodox Catholic theology is one example of a worldview which still upholds the sanctity of sex and family purely for its reproductive value, for natural sex, and therefore one of the only solid worldviews for opposing homosexuality. If you would like to oppose homosexuality yet are currently using or intending to use contraception then you must consider: Giraffes don’t use condoms².

* * *

The discussion is in no sense yet over. I welcome all comments and will do my best to reply to them, as I neglected to do so last time. One word before continuing though. Just because something has always been accepted, it doesn’t mean it’s rational. When ideas change in society, people have the tendency of looking for ways in which the older ideas were rational. The reasoning seems to be that if people believed something for so long then there must’ve been some rationality behind it, just as there was rationality behind slave trading, racism, sexism, persecution of religious minorities — the list goes on. Issues continually need to be re-examined in a new light.

* * *

¹I recommend that every Christian heterosexual male (you don’t need to be white or middle-class) entertain some mystery concerning their sexual orientation, as a kind of living sacrifice. If every ready, willing and able, Spirit-filled female thinks you’re gay then every effort you have hitherto made to secure the ideal marriage is now effectively in God’s hands.

²Admittedly, my assertion lacks the academic research to support it. I acknowledge that their could be contraceptive practices out there in the wild, but these must be subjected to same criteria as homosexuality in the wild, that is it has no natural reproductive value.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Before/while reading, you may elect to enjoy this piece of New Zealand music from the nineties.

* * *

One argument that I’ve experienced against Christianity has never really sunk in for me. Even in my pre-Christian years I think I would have contented myself with other issues such as whether or not God really exists, the scientific folly of miracles, why there is suffering and why this suffering needs to be extended into eternity with the likes of hell. The last one still holds true for me today. But what really never stuck was the critique of Christianity, the Church, Christians, etc, which focussed on the evils of individuals and groups within Christianity. If God is so good, then why are his followers not so? If McDonalds is so tasty (…), why did this fool undersalt my freakin’ chips? If Inception is such a well-worth-your-while movie, why can I buy it in Indonesia for 20c?

Such inconsistencies indicate a disconnect between the source and its dependent. The later two examples illustrate that the source is in part not responsible for the mistakes (even evils) of its representatives: How can McDonalds take responsibility for every action performed by the mass of individuals it hires? It may take some precautions in the hiring process but what help is that going to do for human caprice?

To say then that God is responsible for the Crusades and witch burnings, etc¹, misses this administrational aspect: People chose to do evil and endorse it with whatever was in vogue at the time.

* * *

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Marcus Aurelius, the favourable Roman emperor often to which this quote is attributed nonetheless engaged in war and territorial expansion throughout his lifetime. Nietzshe was wildly sexist. Darwin’s theory of evolution had a powerful influence on Social Darwinism, the practical approach to evolution that helped justify events such as the Holocaust.

Marcus was loved by the people but in a large way failed to see those beyond his lands as people. In the case of Nietzshe, his sexism² can be separated from the positive legacy of his ideas, or even, quite willingly, from the person himself, as his sexism was a result of the intellectual climate he existed in. And Darwin was a good dude but something went horribly wrong in translation. Surely we can blame him for not preventing the evil-minded from reading his writings and using it to justify their eugenics (Note the etymology of this word, ‘eu’, good + ‘genics’, genes).

Darwin shoos off some investors

In the same way is there not a reasonable 21st Century approach to Christianity apart from its historical evils, or is not God distinguishable from the many evils of his followers? If you as an atheist are not responsible for the persecution of Christians under atheistic soviet communism, because that’s not the type of atheism you adhere to, then why is this Christian responsible for the subjugation of women in the history of Christianity, if that is not a Christianity they adhere to?

* * *

When I was in India late last year I managed to watch a documentary on National Geographic about how a woman and her husband had been kidnapped in the Philippines and taken into the jungle for a year as hostages under violently harsh conditions. The most revelatory and humbling part of the documentary was when she identified a part of herself in the actions of her persecutors. She admitted that she could not feel true disgust for what they were doing as she herself contained the same propensity to do such evil. Their evil was to her, a captive deprived of food, water, sleep, outside contact, etc,  a mirror for her own selfishness. John Bunyan, the writer of the landmark novel The Pilgrim’s Progress, three hundred years ago denounced the persecutions by and the hypocrisy of the Church of his time, which had executed or locked away many dissident voices, also wrote Grace abounding to the chief of sinners in which, as the title suggests, he saw himself as most sinful person alive and undeserving of the grace shown to him.

Did anyone else ever watch Sabrina the teenage witch and realise the sinister pun in the name of her cat?

Evil is not so much something that is found in differing doses among certain individuals and the dark nooks and crannies of our Neanderthal history, but something that we all have capacity for. If I know that so many people in the world are starving then why am I not living on bread and butter, two or three t-shirts max, fasting twice a week, and giving the rest of my time and money to the alleviation of poverty?  If I was a villager at Salem when they had the witch trials, who says I would have spoken against the killings and not condoned them? Or, even if I did speak against them, who says I would have actually done something about them, rather than acknowledging how unfortunate it was for them to actually happen, especially considering I didn’t agree with them? Not I. I am a good person by virtue of my birth. The same argument can be seen in the fact that those who are physically or sexually abused in their youth are more likely to recreate these offences in their adulthood. The evil of individuals has a lot to do with where and when they grow up and who they do that with.

* * *

Far from allowing us to separate ourselves from historical evils of the Church and other Christians, this view of evil actually compels us to take them on as our own. Darcy Clay’s Jesus I was evil gives us the chance to see ourselves in Church history and say, “Jesus, that was me; Jesus, I was evil”³. The break from evil does not consist in distancing yourself from fundamentalists and a naive past Christianity, but from embracing them as your own so that you can see them more clearly in your present life and speak and act more clearly against them in the life of the Church and society. The evil person is a product of their environment; the enemy of evil overcomes their environment.

* * *

¹Clearly, the longest etc you’ve seen in some time

²For example, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a little old woman jokes with Zarathustra, “Are you visiting women? Do not forget your whip?” It’s possible I need a ‘wilder’ example. Also here it is important to note Nietzshe’s misinterpretation by Nazis and consequential use as justification for their crimes.

³Of course, we need to allow for the poetic flexibility of Darcy’s lyrics and the expression thereof here. It’s more likely that instead of addressing Jesus he is using his name as an intensifier to indicate the extent of his evil. What is more, Darcy justifies his current self in contrast to his earlier, evil self, “Now I help old ladies cross the street…”, etc. This, coupled with the mocking, almost boastful, tone of the outro, means a lot of imagination is required in applying Darcy’s song to my point. On the other hand, these lyrical and musical features may also indicate the true extent of the ignorance of our own evil.

Read Full Post »

“You think that I’m strong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong” — Robbie Williams in Strong.

* * *

Before I left my hometown of Christchurch I experienced something of a Robbie Williams renaissance in my own life. As I worked the checkouts at Fresh Choice, my ears always pricked up when one of Robbie’s classics was cycled through the delightfully plain playlist. After a little reflection I realised how much of an effect his music had had on me when I was younger. I was familiar with his song Back for Good from his earlier days in the boy band Take That. And his combined effort with Nicole Kidman on the older song Somethin’ Stupid was very cherishable. Perhaps most important was the Rock DJ, one of the highlights of my primary school music-listening days. I never stayed up late enough or always forgot — something like that — to see the video, allegedly, according to the accounts of schoolmates at the time, showing Robbie strip, taking off all his clothes, skin, muscles, etc, eventually becoming a skeleton. The primetime version always ended in his undies. I could never understand the transfixed facial expressions of the rollerblading ladies circling around Robbie… But perhaps the most important aspect of the song was the line, “If you can’t get a girl but your  best friend can it’s time to move your body”. I remember hearing the line, somehow thinking that if my nine year-old-or-so best friend at the time got a girlfriend then, according to Robbie’s rule, it would be time to move my body. Out of my three best friends at the moment, one has managed to “get a girl” so according to Robbie’s rule I’m yet under no obligation to move my body, or only under obligation to move a third of it. The careful reader will note that if two mutual best friends followed Robbie’s rule then they would remain perpetually girl-less.

* * *

Being exposed once again to Robbie’s words as an adult, I noticed some thematic overarchings across his singles¹. The search for love, his self-confessed failings and cosmic bewilderment, among others, can be summarised in what I’d like to term ‘the weak man’, the self not as something central, boastworthy and knowledgeable, but admittedly dependent, confused and unreliable.

Millenium

At the same time as Robbie embraces the carpe diem, “We all enjoy the madness ’cause we know we’re gonna fade away”, there is an underlying sadness for the current humanity: “We’re praying it’s not too late  /’Cause we know we’re falling from grace”. Of course there is not a huge hurry to attend the first-world issues of the current humanity, but rather an acknowledgement that the issues are there and the ideal of sorting them out in the future. The value of Millenium is in its cynicism and self-deprecation: “Live for liposuction /And detox for your rent; /Overdose at Christmas /And give it up for lent”. The words are indicative of a generation searching for meaning and cataclysmically failing, periodically hopping from one extreme to the other.

Angels

I was surprised to learn that Robbie himself didn’t write this. The words are however in keeping with the purpose of this post. Although this song lends itself to the possibility of depicting an imbalanced relationship with a weak and a strong partner, it is also possible to read it as one side of a weak:weak relationship, where the Angel in the song is only an angel through her lover’s eyes; she equally depends on him for his love. In saying that, the Angel may very well have angelic qualities, therefore attracting the dependent speaker, who relies on her, looking for affirmation: “And as the feeling grows /She breathes flesh to my bones² /And when love is dead /I’m loving angels instead”.

The lyrics also allow for interpretation in a cosmic sense, where the non-physical angel is either a past/passed lover, representing the ideal, no longer attainable relationship, or an imagined/spiritually experienced angel whom the speaker looks to for hope when feeling downtrodden: “When I’m feeling weak /And my pain walks down a one way street /I look above /And I know I’ll always be blessed with love”.

Better Man

Perhaps signifying Robbie’s love for New Zealand, this song was only released in Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. The speaker tenderly acknowledges not only a need for love, shelter, security, etc, but also resolves to become a better person, possibly in relation to a past fault: “As my soul heals the shame /I will grow through this pain. /Lord I’m doing all I can /To be a better man”. The beauty of this is that speaker has clearly also been hurt by his own fault and is therefore quite defensive: “Go easy on my conscience /’Cause it’s not my fault”, which pairs nicely with his dependence and weakness expressed in the opening verses. Perhaps an appeal to Lord in the chorus represents a break from the accusations of others. The speaker has undoubtedly been hurt by his own actions, but this hurt has been made much worse by the condemnation by others arising from his own actions. Lord is therefore the last refuge, a hopeful desire for grace after being rejected by everyone else.

The speaker also expresses some naivety in resolving to become a better person, which can only be received lovingly by his listener. The bridge represents an alternative way of moving on, “Once you’ve found that lover /You’re homeward bound; /Love is all around” and “I know some have fallen /On stony ground /But love is all around”. The speaker moves away from his confession and appeal to the Cosmos, and instead hopes to find a new love, with the possibility of repeating again his past mistakes.

Feel

This is my favourite on the list. The edgy guitar, the tense video, and a more confidently weak man assaults his weakness head on with strength. The speaker explores existentialist questions in the opening verses: “Not sure I understand /This role I’ve been given” — What is my responsibility in life as a human? “I sit and talk to God /And he just laughs at my plans” — A variation of the adage, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’, represents the speaker’s cosmic bewilderment, earnestly seeking a spiritual connection and yet finding no answers. “My head speaks a language /I don’t understand” — The last straw is the unintelligible self. The speaker cannot find refuge either in the world or out of the world; now he is rejected by his very self.

Surprisingly, the speaker makes the most beautiful conclusion. Instead of doing away with himself, he aggressively confronts his meaninglessness and demands answers. He lives in spite of a world of questions and unfulfilled dreams. And he wrestles with the reality that birthed him, until it will answer him, “‘Cause I got too much life /Running through my veins /Going to waste. /And I need to feel real love /And a life ever after; /I cannot give it up”.

Before I end, I would just like to say that Robbie Williams is the man.

* * *

¹Unfortunately all I have heard of Robbie has been on the radio, having never acquired one of his albums.

²There is a subtle hilarity in reading this as a reference to the skeleton Robbie in Rock DJ.

Read Full Post »

The three greatest controversies the church has to deal with today are probably something like homosexuality, abortion and evolutionary theory. I’d dismiss the third as relatively unimportant because it’s mostly intellectual, whereas the first two have a large bearing on the lives of real people. It’s still important though!

There is a plethora of thinking I need to do on this subject, homosexuality, before getting off the fence and actually making some sense in what I believe about it. But I don’t want to leave you with a head full of questions. Rather, I’d like to explore a metaphor of possible real-life examples of gay people in a way that should challenge the way you live out your faith.

The only gay eskimo

The queer world does present a problem for the Church. After overcoming fundamentalism, or pretending it’s not there like some embarrassing parent that tells inappropriate jokes to your friends, we still haven’t said all there is to be said on homosexuality. Sure it’s narrow-minded to say that being gay is a sin.

This stance leaves no room for people who are born gay. According to these people, whom you attract yourself to is just that, a decision made on your part. But let’s dismiss this for now. If someone tells me that as they grew up they discovered their homosexual identity, or some similar story, what right do I have to discredit them? To support my own theological position I could say that they were lying because God obviously doesn’t create people to be gay. I think a more valid theological position would actually be to love people, meaning that we trust them, and if we trust people then we consider what they say as truth. What is more, to say that people are not born gay is unscientific.

But this is baby-food. Let’s examine two positions that arise from the aftermath of the first. Firstly, a more progressively minded friend may point out that our goal is not to define what sin is and sin isn’t, but to love people despite their sin. How much relevance does this have for Gay-Church relations? Maybe homosexuals are treated better but what they do is still sinful… So the Church may say that if people are born gay then clearly God created them this way. There should be no reservations in the Church. Gay Christians have the right to marry someone of the same sex and enter into a leadership position in the Church. I really haven’t nothing to say on this view but what the view is itself.

Secondly, a more moderate position (that I’d like to optimistically¹ guess a lot of Christians adhere to) is there is a distinction between being homosexual and acting on your homosexuality. We see no problems with gays converting. Hey, perhaps the Lord may work through them and heal them of their attraction to people of the same sex. But if not, they can continue as gays, even serve in the Church, as long as they remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. Let me illustrate the point with a joke I remember being told to me when I was in my early teens:

A bear is chasing a mouse through the woods, when they casually come across a magic toe. When the toe offers them three wishes each, the mouse is thrilled at the chance to possibly take the bear’s mind of him being lunch. The bear, greedy for the possibility of wishes snatches away his first wish. “I wish that every bear in the wood, except for me, were female”. Without hesistation, the toe wriggles, grants the wish and turns to the mouse. “I wish that I had a truckload of cheese”. The bear, exercising a little imagination, extends his last wish. “I wish that every bear in this country, except for me, were female”. Patiently waiting for his turn and slightly inspired by the bear’s imagination, the mouse announces his second wish. “I wish that every mouse in this country had a truckload of cheese”. The bear cannot take it; he is overcome with greed. No other bear but him will ever make love again. “I wish that every bear in the world, except for me, were female”. The mouse smiles from ear to ear. “I wish that this bear was gay”.

Some may find it funny; some may find it offensive. But the gay bear, the only gay eskimo², is a picture of the converted gay. In the same way the bear was punished by the mouse for his greed, the converted gay is punished by his or her church or theology for being gay. The prospect of true love is no longer possible. Sure, the gay bear can be celibate, but can anyone actually prescribe celibacy for another unless they themselves know how much of a sacrifice it is? It is different if God speaks directly to a converted homosexual and asks them to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. But if Christianity truly is universal, as in open to everyone, how can such a stringent requirement be in place for everyone who is part of such a large proportion of the population, the gay community? If there is a lesson here for the straight Christian, who expects the homosexual convert to deny one of the most important parts of human existence, the expression of their sexuality, this straight Christian needs to consider these words, even put them into practice, in relation to their own life: “You can’t always get what you want”.

* * *

¹This is optimistic in light of the view that to be gay is a sin. I realise that many will see it as pessimistic that many Christians see gay actions but not gay feeling as sin, when they should really see gay actions as not sin at all.

²This is a reference to a song that mum used to have on tape when we were kids. I looked it up recently and didn’t realise how rude it was, ha!

Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Eskimo_Family_NGM-v31-p564-2.jpg

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts