Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Books, A New Masculinity, and P.R.

Yesterday I came across a going out of business book sale and grabbed Church Dogmatics III.4 for half price. Totally awesome, I know! For those keeping score at home, that means I now own all the pink ones and the fourth green one. Aren't you psyched for me?

My dissertation is on the pink ones, by the way. Thus far I've read the first one, half the second one, the third one, and have just cracked the fifth one. Plan to be done by March so that I can write my do or die paper by June.

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At the same book sale I also found Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen's 2002 book, which I've been wanting to read for quite some time, called Fathers and Sons: The Search for a New Masculinity. Got it for 2 pounds! Her earlier book, Gender and Grace, was amazing, and highly informative and influential in my "conversion" to egalitarian mutuality.

So, this is the lady who is going to tell me how to be a 21st century man! I like to imagine that bothering John Eldredge just a little bit.

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It was tempting to comment about Pat Robertson last week. If I still lived under the oppressive tedium of 24 hour news-saturated television I might have reacted strongly and quickly. But I'm starting to accept the fact that Jesus doesn't need me to be his public relations manager (although I'm sure He wouldn't mind if church leaders spoke better in His name).

Besides, I think Pat Robertson is a ready tool for anyone needing an easy reason to disregard Christianity, and a convenient catalyst for the self-righteousness of both those who agree with him and those who take great pleasure at pointing out his lunacy. Do I, in condemning him, repeat his offence?

At the end of the day, it would be a lot better if he didn't get so much air time, but since he did, this Haitian response is all any reasonable person needs to see. I find it quite moving actually:

What a wise, passionate, and gracious response. God help this country rebuild.

I really appreciated the varied push-back and feedback on that last post. If anyone still wants to chat about any of that, or any of the above, go ahead and bring it up.


Jon Coutts said...

Now all that is needed is for a Dominican Christian to respond to the implication that having a bunch of resorts in your country means you've been blessed by God. What is that all about?

Stewart said...

Now Pat Robertson is an historian! He didn't sound too sure of himself when he talked about "Napoleon the 3rd or whatever". Actually, Adam and Eve made a pact with the devil and we've all been in the same boat ever since. Why do these guys have to evaluate people, nations, life on the basis of comfort and prosperity? Thanks for stirring me on this Jon.

Tony Tanti said...

Pat Robertson is disgusting. There is an endless list of anecdotal evidence to prove the absolute stupidity of his comment.

Pat Robertson doesn't make me doubt my faith, he's a moron. The fact that he has so many followers is my struggle and the fact that so many Christians still think this way, that prosperity proves God's blessing, if that's true then the porn industry is God's favorite thing on the earth.

I wrote and deleted a few different things on my facebook about Pat Robertson, deciding instead like you Jon to not bring him more attention. But I haven't been that pissed in a long time.

Luckily I believe in a God so forgiving there may even be room for Robertson and Benny Hinn in heaven.

Jon Coutts said...

If you look up the Haitian Revolution on Wikipedia you find that Robertson wasn't that far off, at least regarding some of the basic information. He knew more about Haiti than I did, that's for sure. Its his interpretation of the events of that history that is suspect. (Of course, historians will of course see it as a pretty clear sign of bad historiography whenever a sentence begins with "a bunch of guys got together and..."). Curiously enough, this kind of historical re-interpretation is praised by the media and general public on other occasions, such as with the Jesus Seminar or Dan Brown. But that's another story. People who really want truth will read past the soundbytes and we have to not get so worked up by CNN that we cease trusting them to do so. If they don't want to do so, they've got issues that our loudest denunciations of Robertson likely won't help all that much.

But even Robertson's interpretive grid for history (or worldview) is not that different from a large percentage of the world, Christian or not. In fact it is a hodge podge of many worldviews, under the Christian banner.

Many many people in the world will interpret history spiritually, as effecting or being effected by "principalities or power", gods or forces beyond visible "nature". An easy antidote might be to reject all such readings, and all theism along with them, but that is a bit rash and presumptuous to say the least.

Even within evangelicalism, Robertson would not be a minority in seeing a trajectory for the prophetic discernment of the times according to such categories. This stuff sells like hotcakes. I saw a man interpret the Mid-East crisis from the book of Ezekiel in a huge (and fairly healthy in other ways) Alliance church only a summer ago.

Truth is, the deeper you look into it, the more you realize that Robertson's viewpoint has its roots in a mixture of (to name a few):
- a very common literalist evangelical reading of the Bible (particularly prophetic/apocalyptic literature),
- a thoroughly capitalist-American understanding of "blessedness",
- a highly common "mythological" approach to discerning meaning in historical events,
- a pretty common instinct in the assessment of tragedy (the people must have had some hand in bringing this on themselves, i.e., the common caveat regarding homelessness),
- and a very common gut reaction that uses fearful events as a way of rallying one's troops and bolstering one's own sense of security and rightness.

Each of these can be argued against, but let's face it, I think what repulses people so much about Pat Robertson is that in him we see at least some of our sub-conscious instincts, if not the logical end of some aspect of our very conscious worldview.

What I love about this Haitian response is that the Haitian himself is responding, not some outraged white theological elitist doing his PhD in Scotland. And he is doing so graciously, and even from a place of genuine hurt (rather than self-righteous reaction or aggrandizement of the situation). He is also not taking great pains to rewrite history. He is giving a very simple Christian understanding of the value of his people and the God-blessed nature of their freedom from slavery, whether some voodoo priest had a hand in one of their insurgencies or not.

Certainly, there is other theological work to be done if Christianity is to be held apart from the conclusions drawn from it by this particular segment of evangelicalism. Atheists have more work to do as well than the simple dismissal of theism. Perhaps what repulses us most about Robertson is that he exposes the chinks in our own armour, and makes us reevaluate our own positions or instincts. Or, if we don't want to re-evaluate, we simply react, never exactly sure why.

Jon Coutts said...

Does anyone else find it simultaneously hilarious and disturbing that voodoo dolls of Pat Robertson are being sold to raise money for Haiti?

Stewart said...

Jon you raise excellent points. I'm reading through the Psalms...a lot of good guy/bad guy and consequences of both. Might we say that Christians come by this tendance to evaluate history honestly? But that does not excuse Pat's "i told you so" comment. Regarding the voodoo dolls of Pat...that is mean spirited whereas i didn't sense any meanness in Pat's comments (smugness perhaps but he did say he was concerned for them).

Tony Tanti said...

No meanness in Pat's comments? He told a nation that they are getting what they deserve (massive tragedy) because they made a deal with the devil. He might have said in a soft soothing voice but that's about the most mean spirited thing I've heard in a long time.

Do Christians come by this tendancy honestly? I suppose there is a lot of judgment and reward in the OT, but there is also the book of Job which denounces the idea that there is necessarily a connection between being good and being blessed. And that's not even mentioning how Jesus changed all that.

Sorry, I don't think there's any defending Pat Robertson.

Jon Coutts said...

Are recognizing/admitting common impulses (and thus reevaluating) and defending the same thing?

I don't know much about the voodoo dolls. Just heard about it. But are satirical comedy and mean-spirited vindictiveness the same thing? No one actually is going to use the voodoo dolls as such are they?

Tony Tanti said...

Maybe defending was the wrong word, neither of you are taking Robertson's side here and I'm not trying to say you are.

I'm just so frustrated with the man and the way he takes the Lord's name in vain every day that I just want him to shut up.

Unfortunately for Christianity Pat Robertson speaks for the public perception of the faith due to his public position and his following. I feel like the Christ-like thing to do would be to take part in a group demanding he be fired.

If this was a one time thing that would be one thing, but's he's been prying his foot out his mouth a lot lately.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

"If it is because of that you said we have a curse, we have a contract with the devil, No my friend. We got the freedom from God."


Jon, you wrote,
"there is other theological work to be done if Christianity is to be held apart from the conclusions drawn from it by this particular segment of evangelicalism."

I love it when you hammer away at "this particular segment of evangelicalism."

you wrote,
"Atheists have more work to do as well than the simple dismissal of theism."

What are you saying here?

Jon Coutts said...

Matthew: Just saying that while the gut reaction (and the predeliction of guys like Dawkins, from what I gather) is to say that the problem with guys like Robertson is their theism. More work than that has to be done because one whacked form of it, or even one whacked expression of one form of it, does not necessarily constitute a rejection of the whole. However, I say that while also confessing that the kind of theism he expressed does provide a precedent for a reevaluation of theism in general.

Also, there is work to be done, I think, for an atheist who wants to retain the equality of all human beings while rejecting the notion of a divine Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of the human race. I imagine it is possible, but I'm not sure it stands up all that well. That would be at least some of the work that would have to be done.

I'm not saying you have to do it here, any more than I'm actually venturing to correct Robertson's theology here, I'm just saying that no matter how visceral or even justified our gut reaction to Robertson, we don't really help ourselves much by just categorically distancing ourselves from everything he stands for, or even from him as a fellow human being with, like it or not, some blatant expressions of stuff that lurks somewhere in all of us.

That is not to say I defend his actions and words at all. Certainly not. This is a brutal expression of a sheltered person who has enjoyed way too much privileged acceptance of his worldview within his own self-created niche where he can say what his own itching ears need to hear. Something we should all be wary of letting happen to ourselves.

Tanti: Who would fire him? Is what we need here an evangelical Pope? Then who fires the Pope? Isn't this an argument one has ultimately to take up with God? Why does he put up with this kind of crap? So many more people would believe in Christ if the church could do a better job of presenting Him. So is our view of the Church proper here?

Some open questions and leading ideas, which neither of you has to feel pressured to answer here and now, but my explanations of what I'm thinking about and trying to put some words to.

Stewart said...

Jon..."Why does he (God) put up with this kind of crap?" Indeed. He's been putting up with this kind of crap since the eating of the forbidden fruit (our misuse of freedom). "So many more people would believe in Christ if the church could do a better job of presenting Him." That is a statement loaded with fodder for further discussion but thanks once again for spurring us on to think.

Tony Tanti said...

"This is a brutal expression of a sheltered person who has enjoyed way too much privileged acceptance of his worldview within his own self-created niche where he can say what his own itching ears need to hear."

Best line in a long time.

Maybe we do need a Pope. I'm guessing what we really need is the Holy Spirit. I think I need to take another look at what the HS's role is supposed to be because when large numbers of at least one type of Christian buy into Robertson I wonder where the HS is.

I like the challenge of your comments Jon. Where does Human eqaulity come from if one is an atheist? Ironically I see inequality in almost all theism too.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Jon, you wrote,
"the gut reaction... is to say that the problem with guys like Robertson is their theism."

I've fallen prey to that way of thinking in the past certainly. And probably will again. But yes, obviously, the problem with guys like Robertson is their stupidity, regardless of what belief system it is springing out of.

You wrote
"...there is work to be done, I think, for an atheist who wants to retain the equality of all human beings while rejecting the notion of [God]. I imagine it is possible, but I'm not sure it stands up all that well."

Certainly the humanist argument is a lot messier than the Christian argument which I would (provocatively?) reduce to: 'all men are equal because God says they are.' I'll reduce my reasoning to something along the lines of, 'We should treat everyone equally because we want to be treated equally by everyone.'

Oh no. I opened the worm-can. Will they all escape? I'm just making conversation.

Jon Coutts said...

Yeah, I'm not sure I'm in a place to open the whole worm-can right now, but I guess I'm always ready for it!

Truthfully, I think most people live from the humanist view, basically. Christian or not. It is the Golden Rule, essentially. As a matter of fact, as stated, I'd probably prefer the humanist to the blankly theist view. I think Jesus would too. He affirms the golden rule (and defines it), but does not relent on the "you shall have no other gods before me".

Its the moments of real ethical and relational quandary that press the substance of the views, however.

"All men are equal because [God] says they are."

"We should treat everyone equally because we [want] to be treated equally by everyone."

I've put some words in brackets there because to me those are the hinges on which the whole proposal rises or falls. When push comes to shove, and human wants conflict, what prevails? How is equality (and freedom and dignity) defined. In the latter case one is pushed back on oneself and one's own wants. I'm not sure there is much motivation to prefer the other's wants over one's own. I think the most compassionate and humble humanist will maybe get there, but not because of the Golden Rule itself. It ends up being a battle between one's preferences and anothers. To give to the other at cost to oneself stretches the whole fabric on which that "equality" is built and I'm not sure humanism can, or even cares, to consider it.

Perhaps the humanist just accepts that, but it isn't that satisfactory, in my view.

On the other hand, it is better than the blank theism view. Everything rises and falls on how the bracket is filled in. Who is the God who defines the equality? What is the nature of that God?

It is confusion at precisely this point that led to PR's perspective. It is the way those brackets are filled in that motivates not only PR but the suicide bomber in Israel as well. Twisted.

The scary thing is that this blank theism is really the same as the humanist view. The thing that really fills the bracket is our [wants], or at least the views that we've become attached to, for whatever reason. What makes this potentially worse is that the God-card gets attached to those wants. There is now no trumping them.

In this sense, I think we ought to prefer humanism to blank theism. At the end of the day, however, both suffer at the hands of their own foundations--which are the projections of the human self and its wants, which history (both daily and by aeon) has shown again and again are not good enough to sustain peace and even real compassion in the face of conflict.

To me the only theism worth considering is one that confronts us from without, and yet comes within. I realize that when you put my description of God in brackets, Matthew, that it was likely for space, or whatever, and not an undermining of my point. But I will say that for me, at least, everything rises and falls on what goes in that bracket. A history of God and humanity, which has its whole entire pivot on an incarnation and what happens in it and from it. "A divine Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of the human race."

This too can be turned into a theism of our making. Christianity has been right there in the thick of some of the worst wars and colonialism. But I personally feel that there is more promise in returning again and again to the filling in of those brackets by Jesus (against our own inclinations) than by a turning to humanism.

Yikes, if I was trying not to open the worm-can, that was a poor way to do it. Don't feel like a gauntlet has been thrown or anything. I just could resist explaining my response.

I hope what will come through, though, is a pretty favourable response to your description of humanism's basis for equality. I do think it is a good answer, as much as I want to fill it in further!!

Stewart said...

Dave: "I think i need to take another look at what the HS's role is supposed to be"...THAT'S WHAT ROBERTSON SHOULD DO..."because when large numbers of a least one type of Christian by into Robertson I wonder where the HS is."...I too wonder a similar thing...not where the HS is but why God doesn't expose the emotionalism and phoniness of those who use the HS instead of letting the HS use them. Saying that I fear I may be shifting the blame to God...He's given us Scripture to figure these things out, and again, we have a tendancy to use this communication for our own purposes rather than letting it speak to us...the isogesis (sp)exigesis (sp) thing.
Matthew and Jon: thoroughly enjoy your back and forth.

Jon Coutts said...

Is there ANY exegesis without eisegesis?
Is the Holy Spirit wrong not to override this?
Doesn't PR have the Holy Spirit?
Isn't his, too, a hermeneutic which can claim its own validity?
Does evangelicalism not breed emotionalism?
Who can claim to have the hermeneutic which seals them in safety from PR's errors?

And of course, all this falls into the context of a horrible tragedy, a natural evil compounded by societal evils, and thus under the question of why God allows suffering.

Speaking of worm-cans . . .

Lest I make light of the situation or turn it into a mere illustration for postulation, I call to mind the face of this Haitian man in response to both the suffering on the one hand and the accusation on the other, and am humbled.

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

I thought I'd throw this in the mix...

Pat's statement isn't something he just made up, though the context and timing of his statements always seem to be heartless with an almost "matter of fact" attitude thrown in.

Back in 2002 I had the honor of working with a young Haitian believer overseas. He told us a lot of stories about Haiti's past, and the one that stuck in my memory was the one involving the "curse in exchange for freedom" thing. He said that a witchdoctor made a pact with Something on the authority of the government, or people in charge at the time. He said that the curse would last 200 years, and it turned out that the 200 years would be up in 2004.

My friend was looking forward to the day that the curse would be over.

It's very confusing to think about curses and freedom all at once. People living in the freedom of Christ under a curse that has rules that are stuck in place? Its very confusing to think about.

I that the main thing is that the earthquake happened because of the plates shifting in the ocean. To say that God did it is something a person says out of darkness and not the love of Christ.

Maybe the believers in Haiti are the only ones that believe in the curse. Maybe just my friend, though I doubt that.

In any event, it is a sad story. One's heart can't help but break for these people.