Archive for August, 2011
30 Aug 2011
In 2010, the UK sold tear gas, crowd control armament and sniper rifles to Libya and Bahrain.
If you're not too happy with your taxes being used for this kind of thing, then...
30 Aug 2011
I have an apology to make.
I have been living as a Christian in a world dominated by greed.
And yet this hasn't bothered me at all.
I have thought it is perfectly possible to serve both God and money.
I have thought it is possible to preach the gospel faithfully without demonstrating either by what I say or by the way I live that I reject the idols of our age.
In fact, I have thought that challenging or rejecting the idols of our age would be a distraction from preaching the gospel.
I have made myself a worshipper of those idols by seeing my identity as a consumer and my worth in terms of what I consume.
And I have thought that worshipping those idols is okay, so long as I go to church, read the Bible, pray, don't swear very much, and try to be nice to people.
I have thought that God's purposes for the world would be fulfilled by everyone acting according to their own narrow economic self-interest, and I have behaved accordingly.
I have consistently acted with no concern for the poor: today's poor, or tomorrow's poor.
I have used the self-righteousness of some who boast about how "ethical" they are as an excuse for my own indifference as to whether my actions are "ethical" or not.
I have said I believe that the world was created good, and that people were created to steward its limited and precious resources well, and yet lived as though I didn't care at all how quickly or irreversibly those precious resources are used or destroyed.
In fact, I have thought that a society should be measured in terms of how quickly it uses the earth's resources.
I have said I believe that this creation will be restored and transformed when Jesus returns, and yet lived as though the only purpose of this creation was to satisfy my greedy desires.
I have acted in ways that the Bible describes in terms of adultery, thinking I could serve the God of the Bible and simultaneously prostitute myself to gods of money, greed and covetousness.
I'm sorry, Lord.
Please help me to repent.
Please help me to follow you.
26 Aug 2011
So began a bizarre and anonymous sheet of paper that came through the door yesterday.
Bizarre, because no one is asking that question. (And a building for 300-400 people is no more a "mega mosque" than are many of York's churches "mega churches".)
Anonymous, well, perhaps for obvious reasons.
A more accurate translation of the question would be: "Should the City of York Council actively discriminate against Muslims?"
To which I answer (as a Christian who thinks Islam is very wrong): "No!" Council planning departments exist to ensure that private developments do not have too detrimental an effect on the rest of us. They do not exist to adjudicate on matters of religion.
Of course, the author(s) of the sheet of paper know this, so they muster a whole host of vacuous arguments against the development of the mosque, encouraging me to regurgitate them in a letter to a Council planning officer. For example:
- "We [who?] feel that the existing mosques adequately cater for York's Muslim community." Well, evidently some people "feel" they don't. Perhaps "we" also feel that you don't need a loft conversion? Or "we feel that you don't need a new car"?
- "If these plans are given the green light, the historical, picturesque city of York would be scarred with this eyesore." Hmm, let's look at the part of York they are talking about. Ah, those beautiful picturesque warehouses! In fact, the sheet of paper goes on to suggest that the current building could be redeveloped "to fit in with the architecture of the surrounding buildings"!
- "The area would not cope with an influx of worshippers", which is strange given the first point.
Of course there are valid considerations that must be taken into account, but one can't help but see this sheet of paper as an attempt to use the force of the City Council to oppose the freedom of Muslims to express their faith. Which is something I find deeply worrying.
17 Aug 2011
Thinking aloud, I wonder if we could characterise consumerism as being a view of the world in which the sensory aspect is the only aspect that matters. (In that sense consumerism would be reductionist, not in denying that the other aspects are real, but in denying that they are ultimately significant.)
So we could ask a consumerist some questions:
- How are you, Mr Consumerist? I'm feeling great/dreadful.
- Why do you want a new iPhone? My current phone makes me feel boring, and a new iPhone will make me feel good about life.
- That's not very rational, is it? So what?
- Why did you buy those expensive trainers? It makes me feel good to be seen in them.
- Why are you going somewhere exotic on holiday? I want the experience of something new.
- Why did you give money for the famine in Africa? It makes me feel bad seeing that on the TV.
- Why is it important to have law and order? It makes me feel safe.
- What exists in the cosmos, apart from yourself? Lots of things that have the potential to make me feel amazed, fascinated, satisfied, happy, amused, exuberant, loved and significant — and, sadly, lots of negative sensations too.
- Look, a tree! Yes, something that gives me the feeling of wonder, the sensation of seeing something I consider to be beautiful, the fascination of studying it, the thrill of climbing it, the satisfaction of reaching the top, the taste of its fruit, and the warmth of it burning in the fireplace.
- Tell me about God, if you believe in him? I believe in him, and he makes me feel loved, forgiven and good about myself.
- The Sun is one of around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is itself one of around 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. Let me tell you how that makes me feel.
- What is important to you in life? I want to experience life: the feelings of affection and significance that come through family and friends, the feeling of satisfaction at doing an interesting job where I can make a real difference, the feeling of having a moral code and sticking to it, and the endless experiences that are available to me through technology, communications and travel.
A quick search online suggests that I'm perhaps not alone in this line of thinking. For example, Andrew Basden writes in A Presentation of Herman Dooyeweerd's Aspects of Temporal Reality:
Absolutization (undue elevation) of any aspect brings harm because it breaks inter-aspect coherence. Absolutization of aspects in theoretical thought leads to other aspects being either ignored (example: positivism) or explained away in terms of the favoured one (example: evolutionism). Absolutization of aspects in society’s mindset (example: consumerism) destroys other aspects of society, such as justice or generosity (p.24, my emphasis).
10 Aug 2011
At times like this it is difficult to resist the temptation to make unsubstantiated generalisations and rant uncontrollably about what you think is wrong with our society.
So I won't.
Lots of people have done lots of very bad things. It's their own fault and they are responsible for their actions.
But they didn't commit these crimes in a vacuum. Our society is screwed up, and that's something all of us are responsible for.
In the audio clip below, "Camila Batmanghelidjh, who founded the charity Kids Company, calls on society to understand why inner-city teenagers riot."
Two questions. Leave your answers below. (1) What is the problem? (2) What do we do about it?
Here's my first guess.
(1) The main problem is the disconnectedness of our society, with consumerism and individualism valued much more highly than meaningful relationships within local communities. This runs through all levels of society. There is no real connection between me, the place I live in, the people I buy things from or the people who employ me. All that matters is whether I'm a "have" or "have not". Can I as an individual live out my consumerist lifestyle? If I'm a "have" (job, money, possessions, opportunities), then that's fine. But if not, and if there's an opportunity to take from "them" and change from being a "have not" to being a "have", then why not take that opportunity? In other words, there are communities of "have nots" who feel no connection with the "haves" (such as owners of retail businesses), and that is one of the factors contributing to the recent rioting and looting.
(2) A big part of the solution is for each of us to let go of consumerism and individualism, and to think about what all of our actions do to strengthen the relational connectedness of our society. This includes what we do with our money. How does the way I use my money strengthen my local community? Are the banks and shops I use helping to create jobs for those who live in the deprived areas of our cities? Or are they bothered only about getting a low price and a good return on their investments, with no regard for the effect on fragile local communities, which amounts to keeping the poor as poor as possible and making the very rich even richer in the process? (Actually, am I bothered only about getting as much as I can for as little money as I can get away with too?) It's just one part of the solution, but I'm convinced that what we (relatively ordinary people) do with our money can make a real difference to whether our society is characterised by unfettered greed and consumerism (from the greedy bankers down to the opportunistic looters, with most of us somewhere in between) or by something better. For example, if most of the businesses we dealt with had social and ethical principles like those of the Co-operative Group, then wouldn't that make a difference?
Sure, there are other things to be done to deal with the symptoms — state investment in deprived areas, better policing, giving to charity, etc. — but I don't think these go deep enough to challenge the attitudes that permeate our society.
What do you think?
3 Aug 2011
I've now reached the end of Roy Clouser's book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality. Normal service will now resume, with long periods of silence punctuated by assorted trivia, pictures, videos, and other musings.
But just in case you want to read it all over again, here's an index to my posts on the respective chapters, written as one very long sentence:
- All of life is religious, because
- religious belief is belief about what is unconditionally and non-dependently real
- (and there are different types of religious belief),
- and these religious beliefs affect all of our beliefs about all of life
- (and, by the way, there are other ways of understanding how religious beliefs relate to other beliefs)
- (including the fundamentalistic approach),
- for example, our religious beliefs affect our beliefs about mathematics
- and about physics
- and about psychology
- and this whole view of reality is closely linked in with our understanding of the nature of God,
- [11-13] so we should try to build a view of reality based on a Christian view of God.
3 Aug 2011
The final chapters (11-13) of Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) present a brief overview of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, applying it in particular to society and the state. I'll try to give the gist of it here.
This "law framework theory" starts off by recognizing that reality as we experience it has many different aspects, each with its own properties and laws. Then the theory asserts that these aspects cannot be reduced to each other (so psychology is not "nothing but" physics and biology, for example). Instead, each aspect of reality is directly created by God, and depends directly on him for its existence. Here's a provisional list, which is probably best read from bottom to top:
historical [or cultural or technological]
Next the theory talks about "the natures of things" (p.260). Every thing or entity that exists functions in all of the aspects, whether actively or passively, and is subject to the laws of each aspect. So a rock functions actively in the quantitative, spatial, kinetic and physical aspects, but also functions passively in the other aspects. For example, it might be a stone in an animal's den (biotic), or used in a religious ritual (fiduciary). As such, all entities are described by type laws, defined as "laws which range across aspects determining which properties of different aspects can combine in individuals, and thus determine the types of individuals that are possible" (p.268).
In particular, each type of thing is characterised by one of the aspects (its leading aspect or qualifying aspect), which governs the properties of the thing as a whole.
This is getting a bit abstract, so let's apply it to society.
There are many different communities in society, such as businesses (characterised by the economic aspect), families (characterised by the ethical aspect), religious communities (fiducial), orchestras (aesthetic) and the state (justitial). These communities cannot be reduced to each other, because they have fundamentally different purposes, as described by their leading aspect. Each community has authority to act within that aspect (as in Abraham Kuyper's principle of "sphere sovereignty"), and this authority is derived from God and is subject to the laws God has created for that aspect. So "on this view there is no institution which can rightfully claim to have supreme authority for the whole of human life" (p.291).
So what is the state? It is not the ultimate authority, not even when that authority is given by the majority vote or is restricted by some set of individual rights that the state cannot violate.
By contrast, the law framework theory sees the state as the bearer, not the creator, of the authority it wields in enforcing justice. The will of the majority decides who shall be the bearers of that authority, but the authority itself derives from the law framework of creation and thus, ultimately, from God (p.311).
And what is the state for? It is not for regulating every detail of our lives. Instead,
The state ... has its own distinct kind of authority, an authority qualified by justice — more specifically, public justice. Its ability to carry out justice must extend to the whole of the public within its territory, of course. Nevertheless, its authority is limited to but one aspect of that public. And let me emphasize that it is precisely because justice is an aspect of all individuals and communities, that the state need not subsume them all as its parts in order to exercise its proper authority with respect to them. In other words, state authority need not be elevated above all others on the excuse that it needs totalitarian authority to ensure justice to all individuals and communities (p.296).
It is this kind of approach to reality, based on belief in a God who created the many different aspects of reality that we experience, that can give the state a clear role in wider society, without dominating society, and without being weak and ineffective in operating within its sphere of influence.