Category: Christ and Culture (Page 1 of 2)

How Christians Might Oppose Vaccine Mandates

Now that we’ve looked at some things that Christians ought not to do, let’s turn to what we can do to argue against vaccine passports and mandates.

Do

Listen to the Experts 

Generally, don’t use an argument that runs contrary to the general consensus of experts.  We might not like what they are saying, but if 95% of the engineers say a bridge is unsafe to use, it’s probably unsafe to use, no matter how much I want to use it.   You can always find another expert who disagrees with the general consensus.  Where the interpretation of the data is more contentious, you can make one side or the other our own, but don’t declare it to be Truth–admit that there is still disagreement among the experts.  Read articles from more neutral sources that offer both sides of the issue.  If, after time and more data, your position eventually ends up going against the consensus of the experts, let it go.

Don’t get your information about anything from articles in your social media feeds.

Be honest with your use of statistics

In their argument against restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated, a group of Christian students used statistics to argue that the vaccines are more deadly than Covid-19.

This is of course a ridiculous assertion, but they were convinced of the veracity of this claim and offered the following statistics.

  • There have been Canadian 67 deaths from Covid-19 among 20-29 year-olds between March 2020 and August 20, 2021.   
  • There have been 48 deaths among “university-age students” between December 2020-July 16, 2021.  This data came from “Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) from December 2020-July 16, 2021 which [also] records: 620 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (heart inflammation), 88 heart attacks, 263 reports of blood clotting disorders.”

It doesn’t take a degree in statistical analysis to see the problems with these statistics offered by the students.  First, they compare the Covid deaths across 5 months with vaccine deaths is across 8 months. The time frame needs to be the same for a fair comparison.  Second,  the Covid-19 deaths involve victims falling within a ten-year age range, but supposed vaccination deaths involve the ambiguous “university-age students” which, in my mind is only a 4 or 5-year range.   As bad as these errors are, this is just the beginning,  The numbers for Covid-19 deaths come from Canada, the vaccine deaths from the USA.  Given that the USA has a population 10 times the size of Canada, all things being equal, their numbers are probably off by a factor of 10.

But there’s an even bigger problem here.  The VAERS is set up to help the CDC in the US to monitor any possible adverse side effects from all vaccines.  Anyone and everyone is encouraged to report everything to the CDC.  Doctors are required to report.  So, if someone got vaccinated and three days later they drowned in a lake, the family doctor is required to report it to the VAERS.  If someone has a heart attack, the doctor must report it to the VAERS.  This does not mean that the drowning death or heart attack was caused by the vaccination.  The CDC wants this data as a tool to uncover side effects.  Anything that might be statistically significant is tested to see if there is a connection with the vaccine. This is exactly how the blood clotting questions came out. This reporting gave out numbers that prompted the testing of one of the vaccines and discovered that clotting occurs more frequently in those who catch covid than those who are vaccinated. The system worked.

The numbers from the VAERS do not indicate vaccination events.  The numbers in the VAERS data, as used above, suggests drowning deaths as Covid deaths.  They suggest all heart attacks after vaccination was caused by vaccination.  I’m sure the students didn’t intend to claim this, but they inadvertently did.  Use stats.  But remember, like the Bible, they can be made to say anything you want.

Anticipate the Biblical arguments of the Christians you disagree with

Assume that Christians with whom you disagree have come to their position, not because they are suddenly in league with the devil, but because they have considered what scripture says and they believe that their conclusions are faithful to our Lord’s wishes.

On social media we find people using what is called the “strawman argument.”  It’s when one presents the opposing argument in its weakest or most ridiculous form.  This and similar approaches are off-limits for Christians.  We need to contend for the truth with integrity.

To argue with integrity you need to honestly present the position of the opposition in its strongest form and then counter it with your superior argument.  For instance: Christian leaders may be grounding their compliance with government rules on Romans 13:3-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14.  You need to explain the strength of this argument and then argue why these verses do not apply in the current situation.  (I will do just this in the next section.)

It’s a bad idea to ignore this argument and it’s even worse to demean it.

Appeal to God’s Law is a higher law.

Having said all that, this is my main point.  It is the one instance in which we can directly ignore or challenge the riles and restrictions of earthly authorities, the one instance in which we can demand our Christian leaders to take another way.

We are commanded to obey earthly authorities.  That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that there are four exceptions found in the Bible:

You can defy those in authority over us if

  • they instruct you not to pray (Daniel 6).
  • they instruct you to stop sharing the gospel (Acts 4:17-20; 5:27-29; 5:40-42).
  • they instruct you to kill someone (Exodus 1:15-21).
  • they instruct you to engage in the worship of idols (Daniel 3).

If the authorities demand you stop praying, pray anyway.  If they demand you to stop sharing the gospel, keep on sharing.  If the authorities tell you to kill someone, just don’t.   In these three situations, there is no need for public protests, or petitions, or even nasty emails.

However, for the last exception, there might be a possible legitimate reason for a public expression of indignation and disobedience.  As discussed earlier, idol worship is common in our society.  If we can show that government policies and restrictions are grounded in the worship of an idol, we can legitimately resist and disobey.   Idol worship degrades the creatures made in God’s image as a good thing takes a higher position than the human being.  If we are being asked to bow down to an idol, as we see in Daniel 3, we have a justification for our protests and petitions.

So, in the case of vaccine passports, etc., are we being asked to bow down to an idol?

If the answer is yes, we are on the right track.  If the answer is no, we should either get the vaccine or decline the vaccination and accept the consequences.

Is the government saying that Freedom or Rights are more important than human lives in the case of vaccine passports?   Is the government saying that the Economy is more important than human lives when they restrict unvaccinated students’ full participation in campus life?  Is Pleasure more important than people?  If the answer to these, or any question like them, is yes, then we can resist.

A big problem in making a case for this exception is that we are in the middle of a pandemic in which human lives are threatened.  Asking, “Is the health of human beings being placed above human beings?” does not reveal an idol.  The greatest of all dehumanizers is death so the case can be made that loving our neighbour means doing whatever we can to prevent them from catching the virus, even if that means we might have to make sacrifices.  Sacrifices like getting vaccinated, or if not, like giving up our right to live in the dorms, go to a movie, or participate in sports.

Still, there might be something here to justify defiance, but unless there is an idol involved, it’s possible that we are being called to risk our lives (or, temporarily, our access to movies, restaurants, and student housing) out of love for other people.

If the vaccine passports and related restrictions don’t turn out to be unbiblical, don’t fret.  There are plenty of other directions toward which we can direct our passions in fighting against injustices that may actually be idolatrous.   The abortion issue has some possibilities.  Perhaps helping fearful expectant mothers who feel they have no realistic alternatives to abortion.  Racism is idolatrous at its core–we could direct our energy there.  We could help people understand that the system where I get to buy a $10 t-shirt is propped up by a lot of people working for low wages under terrible conditions.  If you are American, you can easily point out the dehumanization that has resulted in such high incarceration rates, or the idols that make it so difficult to put any limits on firearms.

These and causes like them, lack some of the natural appeals of affecting us directly, but channeling our passions and energies toward these has the advantage of not making us look so self-serving.

How Not to Use the Bible to Argue Against Vaccines

It looks like vaccine passports are becoming a reality in many jurisdictions.  The British Columbia government is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access activities like ticketed sporting events, dining in restaurants, fitness centres, and conferences.  On post-secondary campuses,  proof of vaccination will be required to participate in sports and clubs and to live in student housing.

And some people are upset by this. 

Among the upset are Christians.  On the news, I saw protestors carrying signs with Bible verses.  Stories are popping up on my social media feeds of students at Christian colleges and universities who are upset because their plans for the fall have been disrupted by vaccine requirements.  Their frustrations are supported by biblical texts.  One group of Christian students started a petition demanding the school’s leadership reject government rules on biblical grounds. 

Many of these attempts to use biblical texts and principles to challenge vaccine passports are quite weak.  But, under certain circumstances, it is possible to find a biblical justification for disobedience.  Here is my list of do’s and don’ts to help Christians use the Bible to present a strong challenge to government rules and restrictions, not just for vaccine passports, but for a wide variety of situations in which it is appropriate to actively challenge and even disobey earthly authorities.

For Christians, winning the argument and getting what we want isn’t the ultimate prize.  My assumption in compiling this list assumed that integrity in pursuit of the truth is our concern.

Don’ts

Don’t argue using the principle of Unity

Christian unity is very important.  After all, Jesus prayed for one thing and that was for unity amongst his disciples (John 17:11, 21-23).  Some Christians are using the unity argument to justify their position on all sorts of Covid-19 measures from masks to vaccination requirements.   This is ill-advised.  The problem is that both sides can use the unity argument.  And since the significant majority of British Columbians are vaccinated, some may argue that it falls on the minority to submit to the majority in order to preserve unity.  

Don’t argue that their motives are nefarious

This argument is out there, but Christians ought only to use it if there is, in fact, some sort of plot or power grab by the government and, by extension, Christian leaders who are adhering to government requirements.  I read one post that accused Christian leaders of following government guidelines “under the guise of protecting our community.”  Under other circumstances, this might be an effective argument, but in this case, the government’s actions can easily be viewed as motivated solely on protecting the community.   

Here is the line of reasoning that the government and its supporters follow to arrive at vaccine passports and other limitations:

  1. They think we are in the middle of a pandemic–the virus is contagious and it kills people.
  2. They believe that it is the government’s responsibility, among other things, to protect people. 
  3. They trust science and so they believe that there are two main ways to protect people in a pandemic–a lockdown or an effective vaccination. 
  4. They trust the data and believe that the vaccine is effective.
  5. They think that it is important that we respect people’s rights to not receive a vaccination.
  6. They think that another lockdown would be very bad for a lot of people–lots of businesses would fold, education would be compromised, and mental health would suffer, to name a few.
  7. They conclude a hybrid system (whereby the vaccinated can go to a movie, and the unvaccinated can’t) is the best way to both protect people’s rights to refuse the vaccine and protect other people from dying, while, at the same time, avoiding the negative effects of a full lockdown.

Because this line of argument makes sense, these people will not take seriously an accusation that there is an ulterior motive at work.  

If you still want to accuse the powers that be of some sinister motive,  you need to be specific and the sinister motive must be, at least, plausible.  

Don’t be careless with the Bible  

Some people will believe that the very presence of a Bible verse makes our position biblical.   But we need to be careful.  The Bible is the Word of God, so it goes without saying that it needs to be treated accordingly.  We can’t just Google “Bible verses about freedom” and then argue that they all support our freedom to attend a basketball game without two doses.  For instance, John 8:36 (“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”) does not say that no one has a right to limit my freedom in any way.  Used in this way, one can manipulate the Bible to justify anything.  

Scripture is authoritative in the life of a Chrisitan, so we must have Biblical support for our position, but the Bible must be used responsibly.   I’m not saying that you need to be a Bible scholar to quote the Bible, but you can’t just toss verses in here and there.  You have to do a little bit of thinking in order to line up what you want the Bible to say and what it actually says.

Don’t be too quick to cry “Discrimination!”:

Discrimination is a powerful word these days.  I understand the desire to harness such power for our side, but its power should be used simply as a rhetorical tool–this demeans actual discrimination. 

For many people, discrimination is real, not an abstract concept.   When we use the term in this diminished sense, it diminishes the very real experience of others.   You see, unlike discrimination by gender, race, sexual orientation, or even socioeconomic position, the category of unvaccinated is not rigid.   An unvaccinated person can move to the vaccinated category very easily.  And as soon as the pandemic is over, so too will be the vaccine restrictions.  By the strictest definition of the term, there is discrimination (like when I discriminate ripeness of avocados in the grocery store) going on here, but because the categories are not rigid and temporary, applying it to ourselves in this instance, is inappropriate.

One of the most frequently used, or misused, Bible verses that is brought to bear against the “discrimination” in vaccine passports is Galatians 3:28.

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

If we read one verse further we realize that this verse is about unity in Christ transcending ethnic, social, and gender distinctions. It does not mean that no Christians should ever be treated differently than any other Christian.  As a matter of fact, Jesus excludes some from the alter (Matthew 5:23) and Paul excludes some Christians from Communion (1 Corinthians 11: 27-34).

Don’t appeal to Pagan Idols

By pagan, I mean “unlit by the light of the gospel.”  In essence, pagans worship idols.  What is an idol?  I am riffing off Tim Keller here: Christians believe that God created everything and he called it all good.  So we have the ultimate thing, God, and a bunch of good things.   When God made people, he made them “in his image” (Genesis 1:26-27).  We are above the good things.  We are to enjoy the good things, worship God, and love our neighbour.   Idolatry is when we worship a good thing instead of God.  This inversion always results in dehumanization and often in human sacrifice.  This is why idol worship is, in God’s view, a detestable practice.  In the ancient world, when we made fertility the ultimate thing, children end up on the altars of the fertility gods. 

A good thing, fertility, replaced God as the ultimate thing, and people suffered.   Our culture has largely abandoned the worship of the true God and replaced him with many different idols.  Wealth, success, beauty, fame, and pleasure are some of the common ones. The worship of each of these has resulted in a wake of human suffering and misery.  Perhaps the most important deity in our society today is individual autonomy, aka “Freedom” or “Rights.”  These are good things–they can’t be the main thing.  When they are, people are sacrificed.  (Watch my video on this subject here.)

Christians ought not to invoke the names of these pagan gods to challenge the government or its policies.  For one thing, these gods have no authority over Christians.  But more importantly, if we allow these false gods to force the opening up of the dorms, restaurants, and sports teams to both vaccinated and unvaccinated, human lives would necessarily be sacrificed on the alters to these pagan gods.  God will find this detestable. 

So when making your placards, Instagram posts, and petitions, be very careful that you do not invoke the names of these good things as if they were the ultimate things. 

This is my list of “Don’ts.”

In my next post, I offer some things we can do and conclude with the one biblical exemption that permits Christians to resist the authorities God has placed over us.  (Read it here.

Why Are the Best Books the Banned Books?

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

I am doing a “Banned Books” unit in my English 12 class this year.

The idea came to me when I heard that it was Banned Books Week (this year, September 22-28).  This is an annual religious festival in honour of one of our culture’s main deities–Freedom.   More particular, we celebrate the freedom to read.  Because, in some circles, to challenge a book is to challenge a god, the celebration can sometimes take on a “screw you” sort of tone.  But this is a worthy focus week, even for those for those who don’t bend the knee to freedom, for there are worrisome current and dangerous historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.  These are often attempting not just to protect the vulnerable but to limit thought.  Most of the books on the banned books lists were not, in fact, banned but challenged by someone somewhere about the use of these books in a classroom or their presence in a library.  I like to use the word banned because, sure, it’s more sensational, but mostly because it alliterates so nicely.  As in . . .

Banned Books or Bland Books

No, we are not reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, not only because the content is inappropriate for young readers, but because it isn’t very good.

That’s the interesting thing, most of the books on the banned or challenged book list are the same books that have been taught in schools for decades.  In other words, most of the banned books are the best books.

Most of the banned books are the best books.Click To Tweet

 

There’s a reason for this: the best books are often provocative.

Books that aren’t banned ask little of readers.  They affirm our values and fulfill in the end what they promise in the beginning.  Books that aren’t banned, are often bland books.

What should we read in school, bland books or banned books?Click To Tweet

 

Books that make demands of its readers are challenged.  Books that challenge readers to look at the world differently are burned.   Books that startle and shock us out of our comfort zone are banned.  These are the books we should be reading.

The books that do this, are the best books, and they are the banned books.

A List of Banned Books

Here’s a list of some books that have been challenged; it’s also my recommended reading list.  Its a list of books that everyone should read before they die, or better yet, long before they die so that having read them may do some good.

  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Catch 22 Joseph Heller
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

These next three I actually haven’t read, but I’ve read what my students have written about them.  These stories had an impact.  Students understood, in a meaningful way, something more about our indigenous neigbours, systemic racism, and the girl with no hope.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

 

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.

 

[tweetshareinline tweet=”OK, so why might some Christians watch Game of Thrones?” username=”Dryb0nz”]

 

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.

[tweetshare tweet=”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?” username=”Dryb0nz”]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.

[tweetshare tweet=”Sex in television is a problem because it distracts Christians from ideas that are much more dangerous than nudity.  ” username=”Dryb0nz”]

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

 

 

Easter or Zombie Jesus Day

Ahmadreza89 / Pixabay

Some people refer to Easter as “Zombie Jesus Day.”  I’m guessing they are being provocative or trying to 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?

The popularity of zombies is due to the popular belief in our culture that we have outgrown Christianity and that materialism is probably true. By materialism I mean the belief that reality is material, and only material. 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.

Monsters of doubt

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.

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.Click To Tweet

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 respond 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.”

[tweetshare tweet=”Paul argues against zombies in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44. ” username=”Dryb0nz”]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.

The Whole Person Resurrection

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 in 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 changed – 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 comprehensive resurrection we celebrate this Easter.

 

A version of 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).

[tweetshare tweet=”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. ” username=”Dryb0nz”]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.

[tweetshare tweet=”Perhaps people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality. ” username=”dryb0nz”]

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

Understanding Worldview (2)

geralt / Pixabay

What 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 somehow we’ve managed to manage time as if it were something like money.

Time as Commodity

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.”

Linear Time

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.

“Africa Time”

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.”

Here, if I arrange to call a friend at 3:00–I call him at 3:00.  In Africa, my friend says, “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 seeming irresponsibility in 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 no 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.

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.Click To Tweet

Boredom

Interestingly, in our culture, we suffer from boredom if we have too much time.  We suffer stress if we have too little.

I asked my friend if, in the absence of mechanical time, 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.

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?

skeeze / Pixabay

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.

French Food: Celebration of God’s Good Gifts

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 their 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.  If you have a table, you have it for the night.

Rather than serving groceries in the same store that also sells underwear and motor oil, 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.

The French don’t believe in God, hence the appellation “godless,” but they treat many of his gifts with the utmost respect.  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.

I will not choose which approach is better, to love the gift but ignore the giver, or to love the giver, but disparage the gift.  It seems to me that loving both would be the ideal.

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

The Tale of Two Calendars

Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

It’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.

The Church Calendar

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.

The Church Calendar and Faith Formation

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 comes to reside in our bones.  It gets there, in the bones, through our rituals and practices.  Attending to the events of the Church year can be one of these rituals and practices.

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 Consumer Calendar

The commercial calendar does not begin with waiting, but receiving, immediately.

Christmas

Starting on November 26th, 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, but we also 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.

Valentine’s Day

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.

Easter, the 1st and the 4th of july

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 birthday holidays.

Back-To-School

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. To which calendar do you most closely adhere?

Rituals shape who we are. To which calendar do you most closely adhere? The Church calendar? The consumer calendar is adding new rituals all the time--Presidents Day Clearance Sale!?Click To Tweet

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.

Was Jesus a vampire?

Photo by KT on Unsplash

Are there vampires in the Bible?

A few of the characters on HBO’s True Blood suggest there are vampires in the Bible. 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 to this question is far from silly.

Jesus is like Dracula?

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.

Jesus, on the other hand, is not dead; he is 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 Dracula or the book of Revelation.

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.

The Main Difference between Jesus and a Vampire

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.

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. Click To Tweet

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.

How Jesus is like a Vampire

There is a small but signficant way that the way of Jesus is like that of Dracula.

Once bitten, Dracula’s victims become like him.  Once the true believer accepts Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, the true believer becomes more like Christ.

[tweetshare tweet=”Once bitten, Dracula’s victims become like him.  Once the true believer accepts Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, the true believer becomes more like Christ. #vampireJesus #vampire #Dracula #Jesus” username=”Dryb0nz”]

But that’s where the similarity ends.  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, absorbed into and indistinct–a creature that must take to live.

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 the Christian identity and that of the 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 life:

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 Jesus 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.

 

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