johandp

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Don’t t̶a̶l̶k̶ ̶t̶o̶ kiss strangers

This video of strangers being asked to kiss each other for the first time went viral this week. It’s being hailed as “something kind of incredible”. I find it to be something kind of disgusting. My theory of kissing is this:  Read the rest of this entry »

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The Complementarianism is a Lie

I discovered recently that there are still rather powerful churches that believe women should not be pastors or leaders of churches. I was unknowingly attending one such church until recently and was quite shocked to find that even Tim Keller, a man whose writing on Christianity I have admired, takes this view. These churches call their position “complementarianism” and it is an insidious lie.

The idea is supposed to oppose the concept of “egalitarianism”, which would mean that men and women are equal and alike, able to take on any role in the church. Instead, complementarianism is supposed to convey that men and women are equal, but have different roles. This seems benign.  But this is not really what is implemented.

The situation is not : women can do this, and men can do that. It is women can’t do this and men can do, well, everything. The system imposes neither equal (but different) restrictions nor provides equal (but different) freedoms for men and women. It merely restricts women.  There is no equivalently important or powerful role reserved for women and women only.

Let us thus not fool ourselves. This system should not be called complementarianism. At best it is rebranded patriarchy or chauvinism, made to look benign, but with all the poison of male domination (i.e. sexism) lurking underneath. Men and women may be equal under God, but they certainly are not in these churches.

(Disclaimer: I certainly do not believe that (most of) these churches set out to dominate women or harm them. They are trying to interpret the scriptures in a meaningful way. As do all churches. I have respect for this and they certainly have the right to their interpretations. But as well-meaning as they may be, as much as they try to include the voices of their women in their church, the system itself will hamstring them, robbing women of representation and leadership opportunities.)

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Uncertain faith, a comment on “Love Wins”

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I recently read “Love Wins”, the hugely controversial book, which seems to claim that everybody goes to heaven. But it doesn’t, not really. The book is really just a huge maybe. And this is actually awesome. Allow me to explain.

Bell states quite clearly that he is not certain whether people go to heaven or hell or how this happens. But he states several views, and gives some compelling arguments why the traditional position could be challenged. The important point: Bell is uncertain. A pastor, a leader of thousands, a person influencing millions, is admitting that he does not know.

This almost never happens. Just as politicians must always know exactly what the right policy is, so pastors must know exactly the right answer to every theological question. And so they spend thousands of pages on theses and books and sermons convincing themselves there is only one inevitable conclusion. Because to do otherwise, would mean that you are unsure, that you are doubting, and is that not the opposite of faith? Doesn’t faith demand certainty?

The Bible is a pretty big book and it certainly contains a lot of answers – it makes some things very clear: there is one God who created heaven and earth. But the Bible also contains a lot of ambiguities. Resolving these ambiguities has been the task of theologians for two millennia. When two groups decide an ambiguity should be resolved one way and not the other (for instance the very silly issue of whether young children can be baptised), then churches split. Furthermore, the Bible is finite. By definition there must be questions for which it cannot give clear answers.

Not all ambiguities have to be resolved. Not all questions have to be answered. It is hard. It means you have to live with some uncertainty, which is uncomfortable, but to try to create certainty where there is none, is (borrowing from Voltaire), simply absurd. When you recognise the uncertainty, even if you have a preferred interpretation, you have little choice but to defer judgement. You cannot bash others with your particular version of the Bible and your dogmatic beliefs. It means you actually have to listen to other viewpoints.

Wouldn’t that make us better Christians?

As a general principle, even about things you are certain about (such as whether God exists), try putting yourself in the mental position of someone who has not reached your conclusion. Seriously consider the questions they ask, and how hard it is to answer them. Consider the experiences they may have had that led them to that conclusion. Here is a particular one: consider how an atheist may have come to reject God because of a horrible experience at Church? Now, how sure are you yours is not such a Church?

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Subtle murder

A little thought experiment

Imagine that you could buy suicide bags  (as the name implies these are bags used to commit suicide) at your local supermarket and that in fact you are the owner of one such supermarket. You see that a lot of kids from the neighbourhood are buying these bags. As a good citizen you are naturally concerned, and so you ask one of the kids, one who had bought a bag just the previous day, “are you trying to kill yourself?” “No,” he replies, “we just like the feeling.” He also informs you that, actually, the bags are not that effective – they only kill some of the time, and sometimes you have to use more than one. You continue enquiring and find that, in fact, some kids have died, mostly ones who kept using the bags over and over. “Did they want to die?” you ask. “No, no, of course not. They just couldn’t stop, the kid answers nonchalantly.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Love in terms of music, actuarial science, finance and programming

Friends of mine recently got married. One of them has a background in actuarial science and computer science and the other has a masters degree in music. I thought it would be fun to write them a poem that needed both these backgrounds to appreciate fully, and thus I came up with the following:

Love is like a symphony, a Beethoven symphony
(no 7 of course)
its present value cannot be determined
(no hypothecation allowed )
it has more power than compound interest
able to decipher even the most inscrutable VB code
love can make life feel like a stroll 
through country gardens
but sometimes, one must face 
nights on a bare mountain or even
the isle of the dead
but love is a commitment
a contract writ before God
it is a long-term investment, that
rides out short-term fluctuations
(it beats any human benchmark)
with not even death as a decrement

Here are the specific references if you want to look them up. Actuarial science: hypothecation, decrement, contract.  Finance: compound interest, present value, long-term investment, short-term fluctuations. Programming: VB. Music: Beethoven symphony, country gardens, isle of the dead, night on the bare the mountain.

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False advertising

What do you do if a company makes some puzzling claims on their website? Well, you ask them about it. I recently did this for a well-known investment house in South Africa. You can read about it in this blog post from my other blog J delta rho. Here is an extract:

I recently ventured into a bit of consumer activism and want to relate the experience – not to blow my own trumpet, but to encourage others to be more vigilant. I was looking at the webpage of a well-respected investment house in South Africa last year and read about their investment approach. Buried in this “investment philosophy” was the following sentence:

The word “pragmatic” refers to the Charles Peirce School of investment philosophy, which advocates taking a practical approach to matters with reference to historical events.

I found this rather interesting – I had never heard of the “Charles Peirce School” and I immediately googled it… read more here

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Why don’t I wear heels?

Because I am a man is the wrong answer. I don’t wear heels because

  1. They are painful and lead long-term damage of my feet
  2. They are uncomfortable, hard to walk in, clumsy, and slow
  3. Society does not think men look better in heels
  4. Society does not think men should subject themselves to a mild form of torture in order to please the opposite sex

Apparently heels make women look prettier. I never really get past “my goodness, isn’t that painful? Why on Earth are you wearing those?” Some women, when I tell them this, say they’ve been wearing heels so long that it’s as easy for them as wearing sandals. I suspect they’re lying. If they’re not, then I wonder at the damage that must have been done to reach that point.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Speeding woes

More than a thousand people have died on South African roads since December. The state of road safety in this country is horrendous (SA was recently ranked as the worst of 36 countries in a road safety report).  There are many reasons for this, including drinking, corruption, speeding, a general culture that thinks breaking traffic laws is acceptable, and the fact that the country does not even have a road safety plan. I don’t think anyone is free from guilt in this. Let’s consider speeding for a start. Read the rest of this entry »

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A story for those away from home this Christmas

I have spent two Christmases far away from home and I have to confess these were not the best Christmases I ever had. The topsy-turvy weather (I come from a country with a warm Christmas), not having my parents’ food, not having my parents, all contributed to this. This year I am once again at home and I will be celebrating Christmas with my family. I am content. But having spent time in the Netherlands, and having appreciated their strange Christmas traditions, I wondered what the reverse might feel like. That is how my latest story, Not an Afrikaner, was born.

Not an Afrikaner is the story of a Dutch man married to a South African woman and living in South Africa. He has to try to explain the strange custom of Zwarte Piet (I wrote about the controversy of this tradition here), face his unaccommodating and racist mother-in-law, and the unseasonably warm weather. This is a story for anyone who has to spend Christmas away from the country of his birth, but who can nevertheless learn to appreciate the otherness of his new home.

This is going to be in many ways a sad Christmas for South Africa with our great leader, Madiba, having just passed away. However, in the wake of his passing, I believe we will come to a greater understanding the of the extraordinary qualities of South Africa. This is something to celebrate.

 

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Racists are killing Zwarte Piet

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A not-so-skillful picture I took of a Zwarte Piet in November 2012

The Dutch have many strange traditions. Perhaps one of the strangest is that of Zwarte Piet. Where Santa Claus in many countries has elves, in the Netherlands Sinterklaas[1] has Zwarte Pieten, which is to say Black Peters. Men(and women) put on black face, paint their lips red and thick, and put on garish costumes reminiscent of those black slaves used to wear. The Black Peters are Santa’s helpers. They hand out “pepernoten”, ginger biscuits that the Dutch love, and they perform comedy and acrobatic acts. The Zwarte Piet tradition is one that would have you denounced as racist in South Africa (you may well end up in trouble with the law), but in the Netherlands Zwarte Piet is entrenched and accusations of racism have not (yet) killed this tradition.

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