Archive for category thoughts
I was recently at a party where some students were smoking. I’ve become quite a believer in the futility of telling people why they should not smoke. Sometimes, as I see people smoking, some of these arguments come unbidden, and I can’t help but indulge in the futile practice.
On this night, however, I was sorely tempted to say, “Don’t you know that if you take out life insurance, you will be paying smoking rates, even if you’re only a casual smoker.” But of course, these people were years away from caring about life insurance premiums.
I kept quiet. Clearly too much actuarial science has an adverse effect on the brain. Perhaps I should consider quitting actuarial science, maybe become a beekeeper, and try not to think about whether beekeepers have higher disability insurance premiums.
As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, the pressure to make it theologically acceptable will increase. Indeed, Christians have been at the forefront of the marriage inequality movement for a long time (see my post on the MCC) and a “Queer theology” has emerged which seeks to justify same-sex relations Biblically.
The campaign for marriage equality (against marriage inequality) has been likened to the movement against slavery. I think this a good analogy. Christians were at the forefront of this movement too and an important part, no doubt, of the success of the campaign was the denunciation of Biblical interpretations of the Bible that allowed the system of slavery to continue. The Bible didn’t change – it still contains references to slavery with no obvious disapproval (even some instances of approval). But we chose to see those passages differently.
It is a sad fact that homosexuals do not feel welcome in most churches. But it is encouraging to know that Christians have been at the forefront of the marriage inequality movement for a long time. The Metropolitan Community Church, for instance, was founded as early as 1968 and has been campaigning for marriage equality ever since. It has also no doubt contributed to the emerging “queer theology” that seeks to legitimise their stance. I attended a service of the Good Hope MCC in Cape Town last Sunday. It was Freedom Day, the birthday of SA’s democracy.
The Good Hope MCC meets in a historical Church building on Green Market Square in Cape Town and they hung a huge yellow banner declaring that all “queers” are welcome. The pastor was a slight woman who not only preached, but also sang while playing the guitar, straight from the pulpit. The toilets were designated unisex. I have the memory of there being rainbow decorations everywhere, but this may be more of an impression than actual fact. The message, in any case, was very clear: you are welcome.
But it was also very clear that this message was not directed toward me. I’m a heterosexual male, perfectly welcome in a traditional church. No, this message was directed to the LGBT community. Indeed, I felt like possibly only one of two heterosexuals there (the other being a friend I had brought along). This was also an impression, not an established fact. The MCC church is there for LGBT people. Every announcement and virtually every statement made was geared toward them.
And why should the MCC not focus on LGBT? In virtually every other church they are either not mentioned at all, or they are informed that they are living in sin. The plight of LGBT people in the new South Africa is still acute. There are, for instance, Lesbians being murdered or correctively raped in some communities. Would other churches take as active a stance to stop this?
The Good Hope MCC church is perhaps the only place that LGBT people in Cape Town can connect with a community of believers without judgement. And they do so alone. Shouldn’t heterosexuals and LGBT people be able to worship together? Is it not deplorable that in 20 years into South Africa’s democracy, the church is in a kind of apartheid, heterosexuals here, LGBT people there? Perhaps, in another twenty years, it will seem simply absurd.
After my previous post, in which I described my process of looking for a romantic partner, one of my friends asked me why I used the word “girls” instead of “women.” I am a self-avowed feminist and my friend, I think, could not understand why I would use such sexist language. In the feminist community it has been taken for granted, indeed it is a kind of commandment, that one should not refer to a grown woman as a girl.
As someone looking for a virtuous girl, I have been working under the assumption that Church is a relatively good place to meet girls. After all, girls that go to church are likely to be (or want to be) of a virtuous nature. But I must admit to at least one flaw with this strategy, which was brought to my attention by Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book “Thinking, fast and slow.” First impressions last.
I want to ignore those (often unintentionally) hateful Christians who cannot accept homosexuals for a little while. Let us talk about those Christians who
- Truly believe homosexuality is a sin, but
- Do everything in their power to love their homosexual neighbours.
There are not many such Christians, but they should not be judged along with the rest. They are sincere and honourable. But I am not convinced that their stance is not ultimately harmful.
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 »
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.)
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?
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 »