CategoryChrist and Culture

Why Christians Might Watch Game of Thrones

Image: HBO

 

Kevin De Young stated recently that he didn’t understand Christians watching Game of Thrones.  From the comments following his post, it’s obvious that this is a bit of a contentious issue.  I don’t think that Kevin De Young is necessarily wrong, but I do think that there is one reason why some Christians might watch Game of Thrones.

Before I engage his main idea, I have a few preliminary, knee-jerk reactions to his post:

First:  A particular strain of North American Christian is particularly sensitive to sexual content.  DeYoung’s post only questions this. Ten of John Piper’s explanations of the Twelve Questions to ask before You Watch Game of Thrones are centered on sex.  That violence in Game of Thrones doesn’t seem to be a concern suggests an imbalance.

Second:  Because he has not seen Game of Thrones (“Not an episode. Not a scene. I hardly know anything about the show.”) I don’t think De Young is qualified to publically comment on the show.   The question a discerning Christian viewer must ask about questionable content (coarse language, violence, and nudity) is not whether or not it is present, but whether or not is it gratuitous.  I have no problem with anyone choosing to avoid a program because of the content, but this does disqualify them from making a public critique of the show.  I have had many frustrating conversations with people bent on banning books they’ve never read–Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were the subjects of three of these conversations.

Third:  I find his use of the adjective “conservative” to be puzzling.    De Young is baffled that many “conservative Christians” are watching the show.  Why not just “Christians”? With this usage, he seems to be suggesting that there are all sorts of things we might expect from _____________ Christians, but conservative Christians should know better.  There is so much damage done in the church through the deliberate perpetuation of divisions within the body of Christ, and they are often completely imaginary.

Fourth: De Young’s post is short because “the issue doesn’t seem all that complicated.”  Oversimplification is a dangerous thing.  I concede that over-complicating simple issues is also a danger–which is this?  I don’t think too many things are simple.  In this post, De Young is oversimplifying a complex topic: the Christian engagement with culture.

 

OK, so why might some Christians watch Game of Thrones?

 

Game of Thrones is art.  It may be bad art or art to be avoided, but it is art.  It is a product of our culture and it contributes to the discussion about what it means to be human.  Christians have some important things to say on this topic, and should not exclude themselves from the table.  Most Christians should be paying attention to this conversation, and some Christians might need to pay attention to the contribution that Game of Thrones makes to this conversation.  The stakes are high, and, like I said, we have some important things to say on this topic.

Some Christians ought to be paying attention to the contribution that Game of Thrones makes to the conversation: What does it mean to be human?
I’ve recently read a book called, How to Survive the Apocalypse by Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson.  In Chapter 7 — “Winter is Coming: The Slide to Subjectivism,” the authors suggest that Game of Thrones “gives us a picture of the world that could (and can) be but not the world that is.”  Of course, the dragons and whight walkers are fantastic, but Joustra and Wilkinson are talking about one of our cultural pathologies that is on display in Game of Thrones–instrumentalism.  Less and less, in Western culture, do we make decisions based on morals, ideals or principles.  We weigh costs and benefits, and these are measured on a scale of personal fulfillment.  Whatever benefits me is meaningful; I get to decide what benefits me–meaning is subjective.

The problem is that we live in a world that has a bunch of other people living in it too, and these folks present conflicting meanings.  Very quickly we are faced with a problem: How do we decide whose meaning is more meaningful? The answer is simple: whosoever is the stronger.  Consequently, everyone wants power, for only with power can my idea of personal fulfillment be realized for me.  This is, perhaps, the reality to which we are headed.  This is the world of Game of Thrones–“You win, or you die.”  Because Game of Thrones gives us a peek at our possible future, it can be taken as a warning.  We aren’t supposed to find the sex and violence stimulating, we are supposed to find it offensive because they are being used as tools to achieve a particular idea of personal fulfillment–this is something hellish.

If the show uses sex and violence simply to titillate and entertain, it is gratuitous sex and violence, and Christians ought to avoid this show.  If the show condemns the instrumental use of sex and violence, then we are on the same page as the creators and watching the show will enable us to engage in meaningful dialogue with our culture, so that we might yet pull back from the slide to subjectivism.  The problem is, I suspect the show uses the sex and violence both gratuitously and as a signifier of important ideas.  See what I mean?  It’s not simple.

One of the problems with the sex in Game of Thrones is that it distracts Christians from much more important and much more dangerous ideas than the sex and nudity.  It would seem that the artists who create Game of Thrones are concerned about the increased role that power is or might be, playing in our culture.  As Christians, we are concerned about that as well and we might, perhaps, be thankful that they pointed it out in such a way that so many people are paying attention.  Christians have something far more to contribute to the conversations about Game of Thrones that go way past nudity–in the Gospel, we have the resources to challenge subjectivism, instrumentalism, and power before they transform our culture into one that too closely resembles what we see in the television program.  Some Christians will need to be watching the show in order to take part in this important conversation.

Sex in television is a problem because it distracts Christians from ideas that are much more dangerous than nudity.

Am I arguing that all Christians ought to watch Game of Thrones?  Certainly not.  Many should stay far from it because of the sex and the violence–it will cause them to sin, or another to stumble.  Others should stay away from it because no Christian should ever passively consume a show like Game of Thrones, or any show for that matter.  We are not of the world, but we are in it, and if we are going to be in it, some of us will need to understand it–this takes a lot more work than many people want to do, so these, too, should avoid shows like Game of Thrones.

When it comes to our interaction with culture, Christians often find themselves caught between a desire to be innocent as doves and to be as wise as serpents.  It seems that it is Christ’s desire that we be both.  So we, with the power of the Holy Spirit, are left to sort it out.  This conversation has been going on for a long time; DeYoung leaning more toward a Puritan position, and my ideas coming out of a more Kyperean-Calvinist model.

Whatever position we take in this conversation, I believe these things are important:

  1. There is a line.  Game of Thrones may have crossed it and the “cultural engagement,” or “Christian freedom” arguments can’t be used as excuses to do whatever we want.
  2. Our engagement must be inclusive and holistic.  We need to pay attention to more than sexual content.  This would include violence, but I think the far more subtle ideas about human value (or lack thereof) and meaning (or the lack thereof) are far more dangerous, and these are to be found in movies that are rated G.
  3. I think it is important that we do not perpetuate artificial divisions between others in the body of Christ.  Most of our differences have to do with differing emphases.  Too many Christians are getting caught up in the political polarization that dominates our culture–we don’t have to go down that road.  I would suggest that to do so is to defy Christ’s desire that we be unified.
  4. And we must not over-simplify things which are not simple.

What do you think?  Is there a place for some Christians to watch Game of Thrones?

Image: HBO

 

 

Zombies and the Resurrection of the Dead

Some people refer to Easter as “Zombie Jesus Day.”  I’m guessing they are being provocative or trying impress their like-minded friends.  Perhaps it is because of this attitude that Christian writer Eric Metaxas has taken the position that zombies are a parody of the resurrection of the dead.  I think zombies are much more than a parody, and they can be part of a gospel conversation with our children and even with our unchurched neighbours.

Jesus died and, after that, he walked around.  These are two of the main things that zombies do, and it is upon these two qualities that the case for zombie Jesus is based.  Missing, of course, is the third main characteristic of the ambulatory dead: the mindless consumption of living human flesh.

Zombies turned up in popular culture about a century ago, but they really took off with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and they’ve been going strong ever since.  Why this popularity?  The simple answer is that there is something about the zombie horde that resonates with our culture.  Given the popularity of zombie narratives, it must be resonating a lot, and has done so for almost fifty years.  Why?   By materialism I mean the belief that reality is material, and material only.  There’s no room for the spiritual–no such thing as God or the human soul.

More and more we have organized our lives and our society around materialism.  On a popular level, we don’t really dig too deeply into the implications of materialism on human identity and the meaning of life.  In general, we don’t have time to read and think about these heady issues.

But we do have time to go to the movies.  Many movies reinforce a materialist philosophy, but some question it.  Zombie movies are among these.  The zombie is a monster and, like all monsters, it is trying to tell us something about ourselves, something that we are trying to suppress.  Zombies are an embodiment of our fears of a possible future if materialism is true.

Zombies are an embodiment of our fears of a possible future if materialism is true.
“We are human beings, so we have first-hand experience with what one is.  We know how human beings respond to a beautiful waterfall.  We know what it means to fall in love and we know what it means to be very, very sad.  We not only think thoughts, but we can think about our thoughts.  Is any of this possible if materialism is true?  Even in a secular society, there is enough in this question to cause some doubt.  Monsters turn up when we have doubts, and they keep coming back until they are dealt with.  With the popularity of the zombie, we know that there are some doubts about being human in a materialist context.  If there is no spiritual dimension to reality, would we response to beauty as we do?  Have emotions like love? Could consciousness signify that a human is more than matter?  If materialism were true, wouldn’t we be zombies?  Are we zombies?   

The Apostle Paul’s faced some resistance to the resurrection of the dead as he proclaimed it.  The ancient Greek culture, too, had some incorrect ideas of what a human being was.  Gnostics and Platonists taught that the body was evil, or at least inferior to the spirit.  The resurrection of the body didn’t make any sense to them.  Why would we want to resurrect that old thing?  We can see very well what happens to the body after the spirit has left it—it rots and wastes away.  If humanity were to live beyond death, it would be in spirit, the good part, not in the body.  Paul’s response to this incorrect anthropology is found in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44.  Paul writes of a someone who seems to be stating that the resurrection of a corruption like a rotting corpse is impossible.  Perhaps this “someone” imagined a shambling horde of animated, partially decomposed corpses.  Paul declares this talk foolish and explains that as a dead seed goes into the ground and comes out completely new, so too, the “perishable” body goes into the ground and is resurrected “imperishable.”

Paul argues against zombies in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44.
The error of Paul’s audience reduced the essence of humankind to spirit, where modern materialism reduces man to mere body.  Paul says that you will get the resurrection all wrong if you fail to understand that a human being is both body and spirit and that the resurrection will be of the whole person.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he had a new, resurrected body.  This is what Paul’s audience needed to understand about the resurrection.  Paul’s words to the church in Corinth apply to our culture as well.  We need to understand that Jesus wasn’t just reanimated body, but a heart and mind and spirit as well.  Consequently, he was nothing like a zombie.  And rather than eating living human beings, Jesus was satisfied with eating fish with his friends (Luke 24:42-43).  This is very unzombie-like behavior.

It is clear that AMC’s The Walking Dead TV series, one would rather be truly dead than one of the “walkers.”  A materialist resurrection is much worse than the nothingness of a materialist death.  Disrespectful  internet trolls aside, I don’t believe that the zombie apocalypse is a parody of the resurrection of the dead, I believe it is a lament that resurrection isn’t what it used to be before we grew out of our belief.

The Gospel message to the zombie culture is that human beings haven’t changed.  We have always been a lot more than our material bodies and we still are.  Our need for salvation has also not changes—there are no true zombie movies that don’t clearly present the truth of human depravity.   The good news is that the God who made us with, not just a body, but a heart and a soul and a mind as well, loves us so much that he redeems all of me.  Jesus wasn’t a zombie, and neither am I.  This is the resurrection we celebrate at Easter.

#Zombies are much more than a parody, and they can be part of a gospel conversation

This article was first published for The Christian Courier at christiancourier.com.

Why Christians Ought to Be Royalists

Last week my school received a visit from the Honourable Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The lieutenant governor the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in BC.  The visit followed the expected protocols–teachers dressed formally; Her Honour was accompanied by an Aide-de-Camp in full RCMP dress uniform; she entered the assembly in a processional and various other formalities were followed; we sang the national anthem and “God Save the Queen.”

Some Canadians love all things royal. They’ve got a picture book on their coffee table and commemorative plates on their walls. Others like the idea of Canada’s relationship with the English monarchy. It’s part of our history and what makes us unique–it gives us a little class, and how can you not admire the depictions of Elizabeth II on Netflix’s, The Crown. But some people think the whole business is a royal waste.

I have concluded that Christians ought to celebrate the monarchy.
The Royal Family has an important role. Never mind the good that they do through the Royal visits and causes they for which they advocate. Even if you take all these significant contributions off the table, they play a significant role by just being royal.

One of the reasons some might question the value of royalty, indeed the whole English aristocracy, is because we believe in equality. We have come to accept equality as a foundational truth and a desired end. It follows that democracy is the best sort of government, and aristocracy and democracy don’t go together.

But we would do well to remember Winston Churchill’s quip that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Democracy doesn’t work very well because it needs a citizenry that is good and wise, and people are usually neither. The reason democracy is better than all other forms of government is because it takes the fact of human depravity and decentralizes it.

In a 1943 essay titled “Equality,” C. S. Lewis explains how the value of equality and democracy is grounded not in Creation, but in the Fall.

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent.

According to Lewis, equality is a necessity to mitigate the power of evil in a fallen world. Equality came after the Fall to counter the desires of evil men to oppress and exploit each other.

Lewis from “Equality”:

[T]he function of equality is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human persons (in judicious defiance of observed facts) as if they were all the same kind of thing [like widgets], we avoid innumerable evils. But it is not on this we were meant to live. It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would not have been divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved us all to death. . . . If there is equality, it is in His love, not us.

In Western cultures we accept as normative the virtues of equality and of democracy. The “you are no better than I am” sentiment results in a reluctance to submit to legitimate authorities–the boss, the coach, the government, our parents. This sort of thing seeps into the Western Church as well. There is a hesitance to submit to the church leadership. Some denominations are made up of autonomous congregations. Some congregations don’t even have a denominational affiliation. These conditions lean away from God’s creational design.

As Canadians, we have a connection to the Royals that the Americans do not. Americans have their Declaration of Independence which tells them that all men are created equal. It just ain’t so. As Canadians we have an advantage over our American brothers and sisters in that we have in the Monarchy a powerful symbol to remind us who we really are–and I don’t mean, former British subjects.

The benefit of the Royal Family and the aristocratic class is that they ground us in reality. They are not just a symbol of a faded empire, but of a Creational truth that we are not, in fact, created equal. They remind us of the Biblical truth that our value is not is our “equal value as immortal souls,” but in Christ’s love for us. There is some value in our “inequality,” in our uniqueness, as we serve as different (unequal) parts of The Body (Romans 12).

The benefit of the Royal Family is that they ground us in reality. They are not just a symbol of a faded empire, but of a Creational truth that we are not, in fact, created equal.
Perhaps the main reason why people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality. Perhaps not, but as we watch Downton Abbey or The Crown or the various visits, appearances and events featuring the Royals, it might be a beneficial, even spiritual, discipline to reflect on what all the pomp and circumstance might signify, and how it might bring us toward the truth of who we are in the Kingdom.

Perhaps people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality.

Man was not made for Time, but time for man?

Understanding Worldview (2)

Time is moneyWhat can you spend, save and waste?

I asked my students this question and the answer is about 50/50–money and time. You’d expect people to say money, because that’s the right answer.  In what way is time anything like money?   They are not alike at all, but we use exactly the same verbs to describe what we do with them.  You don’t spin a banana, or peal a yarn. You don’t run with petunias and plant scissors.  Yet some how we’ve managed to manage time as if it were something like money.

Richard Lewis explains in “How Different Cultures Understand Time“:

For an American, time is truly money. In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious, even scarce, commodity. It flows fast, like a mountain river in the spring, and if you want to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans are people of action; they cannot bear to be idle.

This view of time is by no means universal.  At a social gathering a few years ago, a Cameroonian man said to my wife , “You people . . . ” (By this he, of course, meant you Americans.) “You people have such a strange way of thinking about time. You think of it as something you can grasp, something you can hold in your hand.”

For North Americans and most northern Europeans, time is linear.  It’s a line, a time line, with evenly spaced hash marks designating the minutes and hours, days and years. This line extends into both the past and the future and in the middle is a point called the present. The line of time continuously slides at a constant speed through the present from right to left. On the future side of the present we affix plans and promises–commitments to others and to ourselves as to what we will do by particular points on the time line.   In our culture, we focus a lot on the future–in both hope and fear.

I can’t pretend to know anything firsthand about what is called “Africa time,” but one of the pastors at my church was born and raised in Kenya.  He tells me that in Africa people aren’t governed by the clock, rather they take the view that “things will happen when they happen.”  I told him via email that I would give him a call at about 3:00–I called him at exactly 3:00.  In Africa, he says, “In Africa, I would be crazy to expect the call at 3:00, because 3:00 really means ‘sometime in the afternoon,'” and it is not a surprise if the call didn’t come in at all.  That’s OK, because “tomorrow is another day.”

Why this seemingly irresponsible for keeping appointments and living up to agreements?

It’s all about relationships.  In African culture almost everything is about relationships.  My pastor explained, “If I were on my way somewhere and I encountered my friend Trent, I would stop and have a conversation.”   A present conversation is too important to cut off before it’s naturally concluded–until then, there is not other place to be.  African time bends and stretches according to the present relational needs. It matters not what a clock might say.  Africa is a big continent and it’s got many different cultural groups, so generalizations are dangerous, but there is apparently some commonality in how time is conceived–and not only in Africa,  but in Latin America as well.

Looking at it another way, in our culture we consider an event to be a component of time whereas other cultures often consider time to be a component of the event.

Interestingly, in our culture we suffer from boredom, if we have too much time, and stress, if we have too little.  I asked my friend if, in the absence of mechanical time, if Africans experience boredom and stress.  He said that an African person will be bored if they are alone, and experience stress when there is a brokenness in their community.  Again, it comes down to the primacy of relationships.

I’m not sure if the African conception of time is morally superior to mechanical time, but I think, with its focus on relationships, that it might be.  But we have to admit that there are also many advantages to our Western notion of time; I love the timeliness by which German trains operate.

My point is that when it comes to conceptions of time, whether Christian or not, residents of Northern Europe and North America have a “secular” view of time. We should, therefore, be hesitant to claim that we have a “Christian” or a “Biblical” worldview–because in our understanding of time, we do not.  We have a pretty “secular” worldview.

The Godless French?

I recently heard a pastor refer to France as a spiritual wasteland, and this wasn’t the first time I had heard this.

Twenty-one of our students went to France this past spring break and I asked them if they found this to be true. They agreed that French culture is very secular. Very few people in France go to church, and they don’t really talk, or even think, about God. They have beautiful churches, but the students observed large gift shops in two of the most beautiful churches they visited, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur.

But, they also saw evidence that perhaps the French aren’t as spiritually dry as we might think, and that they are, in some ways, expressing some aspects of honouring the Creator better than we do.

The most obvious example for the students was the French approach to food. The French value food, so when they eat, they take their time. A meal is not a mere biological necessity between work and an evening Bible study. The meal is one of the most important events of the day. The students said, “Even the fast food is slow.”

And meals aren’t just about the food. They are very much about the conversation that takes place over the meal. The French enjoy nothing more than great food with good friends. Here, restaurants try to maximize the number of seatings in an evening by carefully moving diners from the appetizer to the bill as quickly as possible without them feeling rushed. In France, you and your friends are expected to enjoy each other’s company for hours. If you want a bill, you have to ask for it.

Rather than serving groceries in the same store that also sells underwear and motor oil (Walmart, Target, etc.), the French have rows of small, independently owned specialty stores. Each only sells one thing–cheese, meat, pastry, bread, fish, vegetables. The idea is that if you specialize, you can better ensure the quality of your wares, and the resultant meals will be a lot more enjoyable.

Very early, the Bible establishes humanity’s three key relationships: with God, with others, and with Creation. The French do very little to nurture the first, hence the appellation “godless,” but, at least in their approach to meals, they do really well with the second two. They take the good gifts of God and treat them as the treasures they are.

Our culture conceived of Kraft Dinner which sells for $1.27 a box and takes less than 10 minutes to make and even less to consume even if we include the time it takes to offer a prayer acknowledging God’s gustatory providence.

This post was previously published at http://insideout.abbotsfordchristian.com/

Commercial Calendar is Changing Our Identity

CalendarIt’s the first Sunday of Advent and I hope we are going to light the candles again this year. There is something cool about doing something that has its origins in the Middle Ages. I recently re-read Desiring the Kingdom by Calvin philosophy professor, James K. A. Smith. In it he says that rituals are very important because they shape who we are. For some reason repetition affects us very deeply–on the level of our identity.

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar. It is a time of expectation. It commemorates the hope that God’s people had for the Messiah, but it also reminds us that we, too, are waiting for Jesus. The Advent season reminds us that we are people of expectant waiting–that this world is not all that there is and it’s not as good as it gets. There’s more, much more, in store for us.

Christmas Day, when we celebrate the Incarnation, is our next stop on the church calendar.   It is an incredible thing that the material world was visited by the transcendent God. God has bridged the huge chasm that separates us from himself.

Lent is a time for reflection, repentance, and prayer as a way of preparing our hearts for Easter. This is often accomplished by “giving something up.” The idea here is that some form of deprivation helps us to attend more deeply to the sin in our lives and our need for salvation. A keen awareness of these can make participation in a Good Friday and Easter Sunday services very profound.

These are just the highlights. The traditional church calendar celebrates the Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Assumption, and more. The annual remembrance of these events is a ritual in itself, and these have shaped the people of God for centuries.

How might the rituals surrounding these important events in the church calendar have any formative influence on our identities? According to Smith, rituals aren’t just something we do, they do something to us. When we celebrated these annual events, we understand ourselves as sinners in need of salvation; we know ourselves to wait expectantly for something better, and that this something better is the person of Jesus Christ; and we know that we are beloved. Our “knowledge” of these things is not on a cognitive level, says Smith. It is a knowledge that resides in our bones.

Many Christians don’t really follow the liturgical calendar and are therefore not being shaped by it, but this does not mean they are not being shaped by rituals. There is another calendar that dominates our culture and it, too, is filled with repeated activities–it is the commercial calendar.

The commercial calendar does not begin with waiting, but receiving, immediately. (Well, almost immediately; you usually have to wait till the 25th to get your stuff.) Christmas is the most important shopping season of the commercial calendar. Where the center of the church calendar is God made flesh, the high priest of the commercial Christmas is Santa Claus who models a generosity that, for those of us without a workshop of elves, must be preceded by purchases. Not only do we buy gifts, we buy wrapping paper and bows, ornaments to dress our trees and homes, and enough meat to feed a non-Western family for a year. Out national economy is dependent on these weeks (months) of spending. And the day after we celebrate all our purchases, we go out (in Canada at least) to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales and buy more things.

The next significant event on the commercial calendar is Valentine’s Day. We celebrate romantic love through the purchase of a card, roses, chocolates, and dinner with Champaign.  At Easter, too, we have a list of ritual purchases–if not Easter dresses, then certainly chocolate bunnies and eggs, and, my personal favourites, Peeps. The stores have sales to encourage our consumption on or around each of our national holidays. And in August we engage in the annual ritual of Back-to-School shopping–not just for paper and pencils, but for a new wardrobe as well.  As soon as school starts the Thanksgiving and Halloween related products and sales are advertised, and then we arrive at American Thanksgiving.  This is the holiday where Americans give thanks by fighting over “door crasher” televisions.  This holiday is important to Canadians as well because merchants north of the border must offer Black Thursday Sales to compete with the American rock bottom prices that kick off the commercial Christmas season.

Rituals shape who we are. Which are the more powerful rituals in our culture? The consumer calendar is adding new rituals all the time–Presidents Day Clearance Sale!? The church calendar is down to about two events, and even then most Christians we are engaged in commercial rituals at the same time.

What is a human being? A beloved creature, helpless in sin, but saved by a loving heavenly father? Or a consumer that finds comfort an meaning in consumption? Even if we think (or even believe) it is the former, before long we will know deep in our bones that we are, in fact, the latter. This is the power of ritual.

“Maybe Jesus was a vampire?”

Vampire JesusAre there vampires in the Bible? A few of the characters on HBO’s True Blood suggest there are. Lazarus, Cain and Eve are presented as possibilities, but then the dim-witted Jason Stackhouse hypothesizes, “Maybe Jesus was the first vampire?” Jason’s evidence for this assertion is that Jesus rose from the dead and he told his followers to drink his blood.

This conversation over a cafeteria lunch wasn’t any deeper than this, but it prompted some of the shows fans to ask the question again here and here.

Silly question? Perhaps, but the answer is far from silly.

Jesus is like Dracula because he could not be contained in the grave. Actually, this comparison doesn’t really work. Although Dracula lived for many centuries, by the end of Bram Stoker’s novel the eponymous anti-hero was dead at the hands of the Crew of Light. On the other hand, Jesus, according to the book of Revelation, is shown to be seated at the right hand of God ruling for all eternity. I suppose Jason’s mistake is understandable given that it’s not likely he’s read either of these books.

Another way Dracula is like Jesus is that they were both thought to be human, but really weren’t. Oh, wait; this isn’t true either. Jesus was fully human. Born like a human, ate and drank like a human, died like a human. Dracula, on the other hand, is not very human at all. He could turn himself into various animals and even smoke. He didn’t come to be like a human, he didn’t eat or drink like a human and he didn’t die like a human.

Then there’s the whole blood thing that Jason brought up. Dracula drinks blood; Jesus doesn’t drink blood. I’m not sure how this is a positive comparison.

This is actually the essential difference between the vampire and Jesus. Jesus gives his innocent blood for the sake of the guilty, the vampire is guilty of taking innocent blood for his own sake. Jesus fills the empty with his blood; Dracula drains the full of their blood. Christ’s giving of his blood is symbolically enacted in the Eucharist, where believers symbolically partake of the blood of Christ. Again, what is rehearsed in this ritual is Christ’s giving his blood for the sake of humanity. When Dracula drinks the blood, usually of a young maiden, he is rejuvenated–it is the secret to his immortality.   As Jesus gives up his blood, he dies. This is the secret to our immortality.

This leads us to another superficial similarity: Once bitten, Dracula’s victims become like him. In the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice, the true believer becomes more like Christ. But because the vampire is all about the taking of blood, innocence, life, purity, his victims become the same–they take. Jesus is all about the giving of blood, giving life, so the behaviour of the true disciple will be very different–they give. This is one of the marks of a true follower of Christ–the giving.

Importantly, Dracula absorbs the will of his victims. The vampire has the power to mesmerize his victims as they surrender their will and become passively complicit to its attack. The product of Dracula’s blood taking will be creatures whose lives are qualitatively like his own because he has consumed their selfhood, their freedom, their autonomy. Their identity has become vampire–a creature that must take to live. Absorbed and no longer distinct.

Christ, on the other hand, desires a people whose wills are freely conformed to his–united with him, but still distinct. The essential difference between Jesus and vampire is that behind Jesus’ desire is a perfect love and the result of submission to this love is, paradoxically, perfect freedom.

Although he’s not talking about vampires per se, as Lewis’ Screwtape beautifully articulates the vampiric view of the world:

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specifically, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even and inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition.’ Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis 92)

The vampire is profoundly selfish and exploitative and will refuse to respect the autonomy of others. They use people to satisfy their own needs and desires.   The way of Christ is the exact opposite; in John 15:12-13 he said:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Legalize Hit Men?

hitmenI was observing an English class at my school as they read the recent post by Betsy Childs entitled “Why We Should Legalize Murder for Hire.” 

Some were horrified at first at the suggestion that “hit men [could] provide a valuable service to society” by helping women deal with “unwanted marriages,” but they quickly understood they were dealing with satire.  Their appreciation of the author’s wit was evidenced by the readers’ giggles and parenthetic comments.

We don’t find out that the author is actually building a parallel between killing one’s spouse and killing one’s unborn child.

The students commended the cleverness of Childs’ analogy when she says that “matrimony severely curtails a woman’s freedom” and that “the better course is to avoid unwanted marriage in the first place,” and “it is her marriage; only she can decide when it must end” . . .

One student pointed out that Childs correlates  adoption to divorce when she says the latter “may be an attractive alternative to murder” but “some woman do not have the emotional and financial resources to go through a divorce.”

The students’ initial reaction to this article was positive.  

How would you take this if you were pro-choice?

I’d be mad.

It wasn’t very long and one student used the word “fallacy.” 

The students continued to ask each other questions:

Stacked evidence?

Not quite.

Faulty analogy? 

Yeah, that fits.

(Faulty analogy: an argument is based on misleading, superficial, or implausible comparisons.)

The students suggested that someone who was pro-choice would not accept the premise that the fetus was comparable to a husband, so this argument is only effective if someone accepts that premise.  They concluded that if your audience was pro-life, Childs’ argument was effective, but if it was pro-choice the argument would be ineffective.

Who is the audience?

Since this article was posted on The Gospel Coalition website, one can assume that the audience was conservative to moderate Christians.  The effect of the article was to reinforce the views of the audience.  In other words, it was preaching to the choir.  

What’s the point of writing this if your audience already agrees?

It was observed that the only effect of the article was to reinforce the view of those who agree that our society “celebrates [the murder of] family members”.  Several students pointed out that this, in itself, is not wrong, but because the tone was mocking this article  would simultaneously alienate opponents and enflame the passions of supporters.

Was this the purpose of the article?

If you get the two sides all riled up you can’t get anywhere.

How can Christians write about this issue that promotes dialogue?

Christian Modernism? Modern Christianism?

UntitledWe just can’t escape the modern worldview.  The term “worldview” is itself a product of the modern worldview.

The modern worldview sees the world in terms of clear boundaries between categories.  Well, one of the most cherished categorical distinctions is between subject and object.  Implicit in the term worldview is the division between the object, the world, and the subject, the viewer.

But it all evens out because a person who deliberately rejects the Christian worldview can’t escape it either.

Those who claim they have a secular-modern worldview, don’t really.  Their understanding of the world and themselves is unavoidably infused with the Judeo-Christian worldview out of which it grew.  The concept of “secular” is itself rooted in the Judeo-Christian past.  A linear understanding of history, the importance of human rights and freedoms to name a few more.  Science flourished in the west because the universe was understood to be ordered–“In the beginning was the Logos.  Ordered means predictable and this is the basis of the scientific method.

These are just a few of many examples where the modern “secular” worldview is not truly secular.  If it were it would look far different.

Just as the secular worldview isn’t purely secular, the so called “Christian worldview” of our day has been influence by modern secular ideas.

First, there are many Christians that accept the modern reductionist understanding of “truth.”  They are trapped within this syllogism: Truth is rational and empirical; The Bible is true; therefore, the Bible is rational and empirical.  At a popular level, this idea leads to two common errors: that the Bible is true like an encyclopedia is  true, or that it’s not true at all.  Since this reductionist view of truth is so recent and so limited, it is neither appropriate nor useful to hold the Bible to this narrow understanding of truth.

Another way the modern worldview has infiltrated our churches is the valuing of reason over emotion.  This is the one I need to own up to.  I like the rational bits of the worship service–the sermon–far more than the more emotional components–the singing.  And you notice that even by classifying the elements of the church service as emotional and rational I am being very modern.

Third, we have a tendency to be individualistic and we put more emphasis on the individual autonomy than in preceding centuries.  We speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus” and we sing songs like “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  OK, we don’t sing that song anymore, but we sing a lot of songs that are essentially personal reflections.  There is, obviously, an important personal or individual dimension to Christian faith, but modernism has lead us to put an unbalanced emphasis on the importance of the individual.

Modernism considers faith a private affair that ought to be kept out of the public arena.  Some in the church find it handy to live within this false dichotomy.  In these cases, one’s public life has nothing to do with one’s religious life.  This makes it possible to not claim some income on your tax forms, or to underpay employees, or cheat customers, or pollute the environment, or fail to adequately tip servers in restaurants, etc.  These behaviors do not really touch upon one’s conscience because “business is business.”  In other words, the demands of the Bible are separated from one’s public activity.

A related dichotomy, equally false, divides the world into sacred and secular spheres.  There are many examples of this kind of thinking.   When I was a teenager, there was much debate as to whether or not Christian young people ought to listen to “secular” music.  For many it was clear that Christians ought not do so, and no consideration was given to whether or not the “Christian” music was true, or even good.  Some Christian schools are based on the sacred/secular dichotomy.  The problem with the idea of the secular, as we understand it today, is it suggests there are areas of creation over which Jesus is not Lord.  This idea is completely incompatible with scripture.

 It is no easy thing, purging modernism from our minds and if we could ever completely succeed in doing so, we’d then have to purge our minds of post-modernism.  I really don’t believe we can ever avoid being a product of our times.  But reading the Bible helps a lot.  It also helps a great deal to read history and non-western literature–the Bible nicely fits into these categories as well.  These help us to provide a context for the idolatrous worldviews out of which we live.

 

The Story of Human Rights

Secular freedom storyWhile driving to one lecture, I was listening to another.  The one I was listening to was delivered by A. C. Grayling on CBC’s Ideas. This was the first of eight “Fragile Freedoms” lectures held at the not yet officially opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (listen here).

This is an excellent lecture. It’s clear, unified, thorough and entertaining, but in his historical survey of the development of the idea of rights, Grayling begins in the wrong place.

His story beings in the 16th century. It goes like this: In the Reformation, humanity took its first step toward the freedoms that culminated in the Enlightenment and were embodied in the documents of the French and American Revolutions. Martin Luther and the other reformers freed people from the hegemony of the church by giving them direct and individual access to God without the mediation of the church. This freedom Grayling calls “liberty of conscience” and it began an “inevitable “process leading to “liberty of thought” and then “liberty of action.” These liberties led to the freedom to ask all sort of questions, first, of the natural world, which led to the scientific revolution, and then, of the social and political systems, which resulted in the revolutions in France and America.

Grayling is telling the Modern Story, the dominant story in our culture. It is a story of, among other things, the quest for individual human autonomy. Because Grayling’s story of the idea of human rights is rooted in the story of the human quest for autonomy, he starts at the point where the this quest began, 1517.

It is generally agreed upon that human freedoms and rights are a good thing. And we all like to take credit for good things. The Soviets claimed credit for the invention of the telephone, the Dutch for the sinking of the Spanish Armada and the Americans for the invention of basketball. So too, the Moderns claim credit for human rights and freedoms, and they do this by linking human rights to the modern quest for autonomy.

But the idea of human rights is not, in the first place, rooted in autonomy but rather in the idea of human worth. And this idea has a much more ancient origin.

Why should we respect the rights and freedoms of other people?

 

Because they must be free to be human or BECAUSE they are human they ought to be free?

 

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The Biblical story says that human beings–male and female–were created with inherent value.

It is likely we are not all that impressed at such a declaration. We have heard them, literally for millennia. (And this is sort of my point; we’ve heard them so long, we were bound to listen to them at some point.) But how would they would have sounded like in the ancient world–ridiculous, preposterous?

The cultures that dominated the ancient near east, Early Babylonian and Egyptian, revolved around a priest-king, who represented the gods and as such, needed to be treated like one. This idea was reinforced in the creation myths where humanity was created for the soul purpose of serving the Gods. The myth upheld the socio-political reality of the culture–inferior people are meant to serve the superior representative of the divine.  Imagine the how scandalous the idea that mankind–both male AND FEMALE–itself was the image, read “replacement for the idol.”  This idea was immediately reinforced in the next chapter (2:20) when we see Adam naming things, an activity carried out by the gods in the stories of other cultures.

The idea that human beings were not existential equivalent to the muck on the god’s celestial shoes would have been unthinkable, yet it is this radical idea of human value that undergirds the entire Bible.  Jesus summarizes the law and the prophets, which amounts to pretty much the entire Old Testament, saying love God more than anything and “your neighbour as yourself.” Further, the central event in the Bible, Christians would say in human history, is the son of God giving up his life for the world and its people.  And the reason consistently given for this sacrifice is God’s love for people.

This is a very high view of humanity, indeed.

And it is this understanding of humanity, which comes directly out of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which is the foundation of human rights. The events of the 16th century and following amount to a discovery of what faithful readers of scripture had been saying all along.

A. C. Grayling is telling the Modern Story, a story which is based and draws upon the Judeo-Christian worldview.  I hope that the new Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg will give more credit to the ultimate source of human rights as it strives to fulfill its worthy task “to explore the subject of human rights in order to enhance the publics understanding of human rights, and encourage reflection and dialogue.”

© 2018 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑