Tuesday, 25 October 2016

We Know Dylan Lays Tefillin, but did Jesus?

The short answer is: yes. In case you’re asking “what is laying tefillin?”, I’ll explain super-briefly: Tefillin, or “phylacteries”, are small boxes containing scripture that are worn on the forehead between the eyes and on one arm close to the heart. They are usually worn only during prayer, but some wear them during Torah study. To do so has long been considered a fulfillment of the mitzvah (commandment) in Deuteronomy 11:18, to “bind the commandments on your arm and between your eyes” (though there are now and have always been Jews who interpreted that verse symbolically). 

In Jesus’ time the pharisees wore Tefillin, and other Jewish sects may also have. Jesus criticized them for wearing ostentatious Tefillin (). Did Jesus himself lay tefillin, though? Well, he did wear Tzitzit (ritual fringes with a similar purpose to tefillin but kept on all day), keep kosher, and observe the Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. He encouraged other Jews to follow the laws of Temple sacrifices, revered the Temple, studied Torah, and kept the Sabbath. He also said that he had come to fulfill, not abolish, the Torah and admonished his disciples that those who did not affirm even the minor mitzvot of the Torah would be “least in the Kingdom of God”. So it seems pretty likely he would have laid Tefillin. This is even more likely if one accepts the recent scholarly argument that Jesus was in fact a Pharisee himself, based on the fact that he is identified as a “Judean” in the Gospel of John, and “Judean” does not just refer to those who lived in Judah, but those who held the Judean leaders to be authorities and followed their customs (as the gospels of John, Matthew and Luke clearly depict Jesus doing). Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees is an insider’s rebuke, his frustration that of frustrated love and disappointed hope. 

Gentile Christianity has long depicted Jesus as abolishing or replacing the Torah, relying on a carefully crafted and complex exegesis of the New Testament which, although understandable and not without basis, ignores several clear passages and narrative elements and creates tensions and contradictions in both Christian theology and practice. This rejection stems more from the the alienation and hostility that set in between Judaism and Gentile Christianity in the centuries following the deaths of the apostles (most of whom were observant Jews like Jesus, including Paul) rather than sound readings of the New Testament and Torah.  

To say that Jesus abolished Judaism is like saying that Jimi Hendrix abolished the electric guitar. Jesus showed us what Judaism could do, just as Hendrix, l’havdil,  showed us what the guitar could do. Jesus criticised aspects of the Jewish practice of his time, while affirming or refining others. That makes him a genius of the interpretation and implementation of Judaism in the world, not it’s destroyer. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Some Thoughts on Christianity and Canada

One might be tempted to view Canadian society as a once Christian culture that has ceased to be one. Certainly it’s true that the original Europeans who came to Aboriginal Canada -first as visitors, then as neighbours, and then as conquerors through war, trade, and outright theft- were predominantly British and French Protestants and Catholics. As Canada formed as a country immigration was mostly from Western Europe and Scandinavia. Despite the use of cheap imported Asian labour in British Columbia, Canada’s infamously racist immigration policies generally excluded or limited non-Europeans (and Jews). 

As a result of the origins of Canada and its immigration policies, most immigrants came from countries where Christianity was overwhelmingly the major religious influence, though by the 19th century Europe and Canada had already shifted significantly towards secularism. This was the case until after WW2, when immigration policies began to shift, though they were not thoroughly overhauled until the first Trudeau government attempted to purge Canadian immigration policies of racism in the 1970s. 

Since the 1970s Canada has become much more multi-cultural and secular. Laws which were influenced by Christianity (mostly in its 19th century Anglican and Reformed versions)- like Sunday restrictions on business, the recital of the Lord’s Prayer in schools, restrictive abortion laws, and laws criminalizing homosexuality, have been taken off the books. Other religions- Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and others- have taken a much more public role in Canadian cultural life and have successfully fought for equal religious rights.  

Considering all of this, are we not seeing a decline in Christian influence in Canadian society? I would concede that in some ways this is true. Certainly Church attendance and the profession of Christian belief have steadily fallen in polls of Canadians, and the government no longer legislates certain Christian religious values (like the opposition to euthanasia and abortion) or certain Christian religious practices (like the Sabbath or reciting the Lords Prayer). Yet from another perspective, the reality is more complicated. 

Looking Again At Where We Came From

From the very beginning, I would argue, Canadian culture was not a Christian ethical paradise but was in fact a war between Christian and non-Christian principles. To take one glaring and grievous example, look at the relations between the early settlers and Indigenous peoples. 

On the positive side, Europeans certainly had things to teach and share with Indigenous peoples, something often forgotten when one is mourning the destructive behaviours that came to dominate European relations with Canada’s First Nations. More specifically for our purposes, Europeans had the Gospel to share. There are examples, particularly in the early stages of contact or in the efforts of truly saintly missionaries, of the gospel being effectively shared with First Nations peoples, and of great Indigenous Christians like Kateri Tekakwitha. 

That said, the negative behaviour of European colonialists towards Indigenous peoples, so egregious that it can only be called a kind of anti-missionary activity contrary to the great commission and the sharing of the gospel, can hardly be ignored. These behaviours included denigrating Indigenous culture in ignorant ways; forcing them to entirely give up their own folkways, the good along with the bad; stealing their land through violence or trickery; exploiting them for mercenary or political purposes; relocating them to unfertile backwaters; murdering, assaulting or raping them; and finally the well known horrors of the Residential school system, many of which were shamefully run by the Anglican or Catholic Church. 
In light of these historical facts the majority of European Christian behaviour towards First Nations peoples can hardly be called Christian at all. 

There were, of course, exceptions. Some Christians stood up for the rights of First Nations peoples, publicized their plight, and tried to share the true gospel with them not only in word but in deed. In this first example, then, we see that the early Canadian colonialists can hardly be said to have been embodying Christian ethics in their treatment of the Indigenous peoples. More accurately the majority of their behaviour was non-Christian, with a small minority acting in a truly Christian manner. 

World War 1

World War 1 was a war without purpose aiming to settle relatively petty disputes between the great European powers, at the cost of millions of lives. The aftermath in Europe was cynicism, despair, and the humiliation of Germany which laid the seeds for the madness of WW2. Yet all of the countries fighting each other claimed to be Christian. This was no less true of Canada.  

Canada sent over a million troops to fight in WW1 and lost sixty-one thousand soldiers, with one hundred and seventy-two thousand wounded and uncountable numbers scarred psychically. When one considers Jesus’ strong condemnation of violence, and the great retiscence to go to war expressed by official Catholic teaching and great Protestant theologians like John Calvin, not to mention the historic peace Churches like the Quakers and Anabaptists and their strong pointing to Jesus’ nonviolent teachings, how can the behaviour of Canada’s wartime leaders be considered Christian? Sending young Christian boys to kill other Christian boys in Europe over the Kingdoms of this world? Hardly.

Here as well we see that their were in fact Canadian Christians who opposed the war effort, including of course the Mennonites, Quakers, Doukhabors and Hutterites, and also renegade preachers like the Methodist JS Woodworth, but these were a small minority. 

The Holocaust

Canada’s record in the Holocaust is mixed. On the one hand, if ever a war was righteous, the war to stop the Nazis was surely that. On the other hand, even while Canada joined the Allies to defeat Germany, the Canadian government refused to give any but very small numbers of Jews refuge in Canada, thus aiding and abetting the torture and death of millions in Europe who could have been saved. To betray God’s chosen people, Jesus’ flesh and blood, the “elder brother” of the Christian Church in such a way is a stain upon the history of “Christian” Canada which cannot in any way be justified. Again there is a also a counter story of small numbers of Canadian Christians working to bring in Jews and aid their survival and protection in Europe, but the Canadian majority utterly failed to uphold Christian principles. 

Modern Times 

Considering what we have reviewed above, how can a simplistic narrative of Canada’s past “Christianity” be embraced? It seems a more accurate narrative would either pit Christian virtues against sin fighting it out in Canadian culture at large, or more starkly paint a picture of true Christians fighting against those only Christian in name. Which is correct is for God to judge. 

Coming to the present day, we must concede, as I wrote above that Canadians attend Church less, that less Canadians claim to be Christians, and that the government no longer legislates Christian religious practices and some Christian values (e.g. opposition to abortion). 

On the other hand, one could argue that the numbers of faithful Christians attempting to embody Christian virtues in Canadian society may not have changed much. What may have changed is the numbers claiming to be Christian for reasons other than a true obedient faith, i.e. nominal Christians. Also, while the government has stopped legislating certain Christian values like opposition to abortion, one could argue that the government has in fact made strides in legislating other Christian values of great importance- values like human rights, the reduction of violence, the protection of children, and the distribution of food, medicine, and resources to all. Many Canadians cherish these values while being unaware of their roots in the Christian tradition. On the whole things may not have changed that much- in the past Canadian culture was shaped by a minority of Christians trying to inject Gospel values into the culture and spread true Christianity, while a majority too often supported non-Christian values. In the present that is still the case. Christendom is in fact not a thing of the past- it has never existed, and is still an aspiration.  

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Victor Hugo's Favourite Name For God

‘Oh, you who are! ‘Ecclesiastes names you Almighty, the Maccabees name you Creator, the Epistle to the Ephesians names you Freedom, Baruch names you Immensity, the Psalms name you Wisdom and Truth, John names you Light, the Book of Kings names you Lord, Exodus names you Providence. Leviticus, Sanctity. Esdras, Justice. Creation names you God. Mankind names you Father. But Solomon names you Mercy, and of all your names this is the most beautiful.’

-Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Irony of Assurance

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the doctrine of assurance and it's importance. I understand the brilliance of the psychology of justification and sanctification: that it is when we are assured of God's love for us that we can face our sin and fearlessly pursue our sanctification out of returning love alone. I understand the centrality of this spiritual process in the Protestant understandings of Christianity and indeed wherever Orthodox Christianity is found in any time or denominational place. 

Yet I am reminded of the Jewish Hasidic master the Baal Shem Tov, who said to God "I do not care for your world to come, I only want you!" This would be my advice to those who doubt their own assurance. Follow God anyway! Follow Christ  anyway! If you say to Jesus, "Saved or not, I will exalt you. Justified or not, I will celebrate the Word made flesh!" If you say, "I will follow you, whether you accept me or no", then How could you not be among God's beloved children? 

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Barth on Matthew 25: The Sheep and The Goats

“The issue will be decided by the attitude and conduct of the community to Him while he is still hidden. Then it will be known what the community will be which will stand at his right hand in the future. But where is he hidden now? With God, at the right hand of the Father? In His word and sacraments? In the mystery of His spirit, which bloweth where it listeth? All this is true enough, but it is presupposed by this parable, and the further point is made, on which everything depends, that He is no less present, though hidden, in all who are now hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and in prison. Wherever in this present time between the resurrection and the parousia one of these is waiting for help (for food, drink, lodging, clothes, a visit, assistance), Jesus is Himself waiting. Wherever help is granted or denied, it is granted or denied to Jesus Himself. For these are the least of his brethren. They represent the world for which he died and rose again, with which he has made himself supremely one, and declared Himself in solidarity. It is for them that He sits at the right hand of the Father, so that no one can know Him in His majesty, or honor and love Him as the Son of God, unless he shows concern for these the least of his brethren. No one can call God His father in Christ’s name unless he treats these as the least of his brethren. This is the test which at the last judgement will decide concerning the true community which will inherit the kingdom: whether in this time of God’s mercy and patience, this time of its mission, it has been the community which has succored its Lord by giving unqualified succor to them in this needy world…...It is to be noted, however, that the righteous and therefore the justified at the last judgement do not know with whom they really have to do when they act with simple humanity (v.37 f.): “When saw thee an hungered, and fed thee….?" They had helped the least of His brethren, they had helped the world in its misery for its own sake. They had no ulterior motive.” (Church Dogmatics III.2.47)   

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Five Ways That Atheists Advance The Kingdom of God

Decoupling government and religion

The separation of Church and State is rightly, and even necessarily, a fundamental principle in democratic and pluralistic societies. This is one of the rare things that Christopher Hitchens and, say, Menno Simons would agree on. The anabaptists broke with those of their time by insisting that religion should be totally voluntary and not enforced by the state. Other Christians only joined with them en masse after decades of inter-sectarian violence led Christian refugees who had fled to the American colonies to agree and include religious freedom in the American constitution. Surprisingly philosophes of the Enlightenment like Voltaire and Montesquieu did not call for total freedom of religion (though Diderot did). It was left to Pierre Bayle, a Protestant, and John Locke, a heterodox Christian, to provide philosophical-political justifications for “religious toleration”. In any case, I think it true that in our times the vanguard fighting for thorough separation of church and state, particularly in the United States, have been atheists. For those of us who reject dominionist fantasies of Christendom and recognize the fundamentally non-coercive and countercultural form of cruciform witness, their work can only be seen as a blessing. The fact is that the farther away from each other the “throne and the altar” are (in Diderot’s language), the more clearly visible the “altar” is. I think it axiomatic that the further away from government Christianity moves, the higher its profile among seekers of truth will become. One need look no further than the current Republican presidential campaign.    

Decoupling schools and religion

My argument here is similar to the one above, so I’ll state it briefly. The disappearance of Christianity from public schools may lead to lower numbers of nominal Christians, but I think it’s unlikely to lead to lower membership in the “invisible church”. What it will likely do is remove the sense of compulsion and oppression that many students feel when they do not believe (yet) in Christianity yet are forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer or take part in other Christian “rituals”. Free of compulsion or aversion, and not seeing Christianity as interwoven with “the establishment” they may, as above, be able to see it more easily.

Not letting us forget

Atheists are vociferous critics of Christianity. Granted much of their criticism is based on urban myths, misinformation, or outright slander, the inescapable truth is that the bulk of their criticism remains deserved. Christians going about their month praying, volunteering at the Church, or working with communities of service or justice seeking can forget the past misdeeds of the Church. Yet credible Christian witness in our time demands that the Church remembers, understands, repents of, and makes amends for, the suffering it has caused and the damage it has done to humanity and to God’s kingdom.

Putting up awful statues

Many Christians reacted with fear and anger to the erection of a 9 foot tall, one ton bronze statue statue of Baphomet by the Satanic Temple in Detroit last year. Even James Martin, S.J., the popular Jesuit writer known for his soft spoken, nuanced moderation, expressed consternation and warned of toying with dark forces beyond our understanding. The tall goat-headed statue, which combines a kind of animal sagaciousness with svelte muscularity, is flagged disturbingly by two children looking up to him with earnest receptivity. The addition of the children was meant to show, says the Temple, that “there is nothing to be afraid of”, yet to an unindoctrinated eye the fact of the children’s monotonal open-ness in the presence of a winged, goat-headed giant just comes off as creepy, suggesting brainwashing or sedation.

In any case the folks who put up this statue are not really Satanists. They don’t believe in a personal Satan, but rather see Satan as a literary symbol embodying a mixture of secular humanist ideals and softcore new age spirituality (“the embrace of opposites….as above so below”). I don’t think the statue or it’s followers are likely to unleash a fury reminiscent of the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark on Detroit any time soon. I think in the long run their obsession with such things as moving the statue 900 miles (1,450km) south-west to erect it opposite a Ten Commandments monument outside Oklahoma City's Capitol Building is bound to backfire. As it happens, the skirmish between Satanist, secularist, and atheist groups on one hand and Christians on the other has led to Oklahoma's Supreme Court ruling that the use of state property to benefit a religion is banned under the state constitution, and as a result the fate of both the Satanist statue and the Ten Commandments monument that originally inspired it may be the same: their removal from State property. This development would show the true nature of this type of Satanism: it is primarily a rebellion not against Christianity, but against Christendom. In this sense the Satanists may be doing Christians a favor. Once they have succeeded in using the secularist principles of the US constitution to dethrone Christianity from its union with the State, secularism-mascarading-as-satanism will vanish like a fire set to put out a fire. Even better, the Satanists will have done the Kingdom of God a favour by cutting more of its ties with the Kingdom of the World. Satan is, after all, merely one of God’s employees.

Being decent and sometimes heroic human beings

Only the most insular of Christians would imagine that goodness, decency and heroism are confined to their co-religionists, or, say, to believers in God in some form. To start, Atheist religions like Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism prove this wrong- but even among those with no religion, examples can be found of people living self-sacrificial lives, fighting for the causes of justice and love, or engaging in everyday acts of kindness or bravery.

We should not only be grateful to these people and celebrate their goodness, we should make common cause with them. Whether you view these people as acting on the image of God within, or as recipients of God’s “common grace”, it amounts to the same thing: God has scattered his goodness in the rocky soil of the world. As the great German pastor and theologian Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919), mentor to Karl Barth, put it while talking about God’s movements beyond the Church:”God is weaving his design in the warp and weft of the world…..Where will the kingdom of God come from? Is not the entire history of the world a fulfillment of the promise? Are not bonds loosed, chains broken asunder? Who would have thought, for example, that new paths could open up for women as they have for men? Jesus lives, and he conquers more and more, although too many of us are unaware that he is behind it all (Everyone Belongs to God).”  

Friday, 18 March 2016

"Feuerbach doesn't imagine the possibility of an existence beyond this one, by which I mean a reality embracing this one but exceeding it, the way, for example, this world embraces and exceeds Soapy’s understanding of it. Soapy might be a victim of ideological conflict right along with the rest of us, if things get out of hand. She would no doubt make some feline appraisal of the situation, which would have nothing to do with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, or the Manhattan Project. The inadequacy of her concepts would have nothing to do with the reality of the situation."

"That's a drastic way of putting it, and not a very precise one. I don't wish to suggest a reality that is simply an enlarged or extrapolated version of this reality. If you think how a thing we call a stone differs from a thing we call a dream- the degrees of unlikeness within the reality we know are very extreme, and I what I wish to suggest is a much more absolute unlikeness, with which we exist, though our human circumstances create in us a radically limited and peculiar notion of existence. "

-The Reverend John Ames to his son, Marilynne Robinson, "Gilead" 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Mercy of God: An Excerpt From a Sermon of Karl Barth's Given in a Swiss Prison

For God has made all men prisoners, that he may have mercy upon all. (Romans 11.32)

"Since God's mercy is divine and not human, it is poured out on all people, as emphasized in our text. In his letter to the Romans Paul interprets this mercy by insisting that it is extended to Jews and the gentiles- to those near, or at least nearer, to God and those far away from him- to the so-called pious and the so-called unbelievers- to the so-called good and the so-called evil people- truly to all. God has mercy on all, though each in his own way. God's mercy is such as it described in the parable of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the prodigal son. 

Let us pause here for a moment. As according to God's holy word, spoken in Jesus Christ, he has mercy on all, each one of you may and shall repeat- not after me, but after him- 'I am one of them'. God as mercy on me and will have mercy on me. The one great sin for anyone right now would be to think: This is not meant for me. 'God does not have mercy on me and will not have mercy on me.' Or even worse- 'I do not need mercy. I do not want it!' This would be the one great sin which we had rather not commit this morning. God has mercy on all, including you and me. As a result you and I may and shall live from this 'yes' spoken to all men, spoken to us, and live here and now. 

But wait a minute! Because according to the word that God has spoken in Jesus Christ he has mercy on all, we may and we must repeat in our hearts: 'Among all people on whom God has mercy are this man and this woman, this fellow-creature beside me, in front of me or behind, whom I don't like to remember. Perhaps he did me wrong, or I am not pleased with him for other reasons. Perhaps I must consider him as my enemy, and myself as his enemy.' God has mercy on all- even on this other fellow! His 'yes' is also valid for him. The one great sin from which we shall try to escape this morning is to exclude anyone from the 'yes' of God's mercy. In  our thoughts, words and deeds we may live, and we must live, with each neighbour as with one to whom God is compassionate.We not only pray 'Lord have mercy on me!' We also pray 'Lord have mercy on us, have mercy on us all!' This has been the prayer of the Christian Church from the very beginning, and this is the true prayer for us today."

-Delieverance To The Captives, Sermons in a Prison in Basel.

Friday, 26 February 2016

A Thought From Blumhardt

"As I see it, God's wrath is sweeping over the Christian West precisely because a proud culture and pious Christianity have been pushed into the people, while at the same time they are despised. To forget that all of us belong to God-whether pagan or Christian- is hardhearted and dishonest. The whole of Western civilization is tainted, much as the Romans were with their Caesars, regarding the rest of the world as dirt or as an opportunity for exploitation.

How can this go on? God must intervene and open our eyes; that is the only the only help I know of. The ruling prince of this world should not be allowed any more victories (1 John 3:8). He has trampled emerging humanity into the muck a hundred times already. He must no longer be allowed to do this."

- Christoph Blumhardt, german theologian and Christian socialist, 1842-1919. Everyone Belongs To God, Plough Publishing 2015.   

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Trump: The Leader The Free World Needs (Satire)

It's tempting to think did Bernie Sanders would be the best candidate for the presidency. He seems so caring, so decent. No doubt he has sincere good intentions. But you know what they say about good intentions! Sanders wants to be a father to the nation, caring for all of its citizens like children. Yet children are not what make a strong democracy or a functional society: responsible adults do that. What does America need? A parent? Is the greatest nation on earth a giant nursery? Or does America need a leader?

The hard fact is that in today’s world the US will benefit no one by becoming a giant hospital ward. What the US needs is not to function like a permissive family, but to function like a business. America needs to be strong, efficient, creative, and competitive. America needs a leader who can and will fight to make her great again. America needs Donald Trump. In Trump’s own words, unvarnished sure, but straight from the hip and right to the target: “Look, we will bring the American dream back. That I will tell you. We're bringing it back, Okay? And I understand what you're saying. And I get that from so many people. 'Is the American dream dead?' They are asking me the question. 'Is the American dream dead?' And the American dream is in trouble. But we're going to get it back and do some real jobs.... How about the man with that beautiful red hat? Stand up! Stand up! What a hat!" (Town Hall, Rochester, NY, 9-7-15)

Sanders is an uninspiring mix of petty bureaucrat and ranting socialist, kind of a mix of Adolf Eichmann and Josef Stalin. Would you want a Nazi communist running the U.S of A.? I wouldn’t. Trump, by comparison, is a champion of individual rights and personal freedoms. When he was not fulfilled in his two previous marriages he divorced and moved on. He wasn’t a slave to the legalistic social norms and moral straightjackets which domineering busybodies are so quick to fit on other people. When he realized business ventures were failing- according to to CNN Money, “no major US company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years”- he was not bullheaded or chained to the past. He was humble enough to declare bankruptcy and liquidate shareholdings, yachts and even airlines in order to be true to those who has helped him and pay them back in the American way. Sanders wouldn’t even have the balls to try to start a Casino in the first place.

The Christian Angle

Christendom is under attack. What is left of Judeo-Christian morality in America is disappearing, and the barbarians are at the gate. We need a leader who will defend our country- not with the platitudes about loving strangers and talking to your enemies Sanders is so fond of! No, with force and cunning. What will happen to a country that reaches out it’s hands to the criminals of every nation and meets enemies with “good vibes” and nice words? It will be decimated, that’s what. What good is a Saviour who lets himself be shamed and beaten down by any Tom, Dick or Harry? As Trump said after he was attacked by the Pope (who Luther called the Whore of Babylon with good reason, everyone knows he’s in the pocket of the Mexican government): “if and when ISIS attacks the Vatican the Pope will wish I had been president”.

Some argue that Trump’s political positions don’t echo those of Jesus, and therefore Christians should not vote for him. Jesus, after all, did urge his followers to “love your enemies (Matthew 5:44)” and not to love money (Matthew 6:24, Matthew 6:19), two principles no one could accuse Trump of embodying. Jesus also said that his followers would be judged not by whether they called him Lord but whether they fed and clothed the poor and cared for the sick (Matthew 7:21). Jesus also said that the blessed “thirst for righteousness” “make peace” and inherit the earth through “meekness” (Matthew 5). Everyone knows, however, that Jesus did not say these things because he wanted people to do them but rather to show how impossible it is to do what’s really right! The true Christian does not suicidally try to love enemies, cultivate false humility, and treat the vulnerable like babies in need of coddling, but rather does what they have to do and trusts in Christ’s redeeming righteousness alone to save them.

The fact that even Paul, who explained redemption through faith, advises his followers to be loving, humble, nonviolent, and holy in their personal conduct does not prove anything either. Those verses can be twisted to mean whatever you want! The same Paul says, in words which cannot be misunderstood (Romans 13): the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” True Paul was talking here about the sinful Roman government, and other pagan governments who are tools of God’s wrath in the Bible are then judged and condemned by God’s wrath themselves. Folks, we are not talking here about pagan government, but Christian government! When Christians wield the sword it is to make peace throughout the world, not like Rome. It’s unfortunate that Paul goes on to tell people to submissively pay their taxes (Romans 13:6-7). If only Trump had been an apostle! Then he’d have been in the greatest book of all time, not just the second greatest (The Art of The Deal)! And he’d have set Paul straight on a few things, I mean “done a few real jobs!”

Some have doubted Trump’s Christianity on the basis of his lack of involvement with his own Church, his two divorces, his involvement in the gambling industry, and petty faux-pas like dropping money in a communion plate or saying “two Corinthians”. These people’s legalism and focus on externals just shows them to be the whitewashed tombs they are (Matthew 23:27). Sanders, of course, is not only not a Christian but not even a real Jew! Let’s talk turkey folks: Sanders is a socialist, and socialism doesn’t work. The combination of deregulated Capitalism and militaristic foreign policy has brought peace and freedom to billions. That is what made America great, and will make it great again! We need a dragon from the dragon’s den (Revelations 12) to knock the stars from the sky and put an American flag there where it should be.  

The Final Solution

In the end this is what it comes down to: do we want to look back to the failed values of an earlier America or do we want to look forward to restoring America’s greatness? Sanders has only one constituency: hippies and disenfranchised millennials playing the politics of envy. Trump inspires everyone- heck, even the Klu Klux Klan endorses him! Before politics made her two-faced Clinton even went to his wedding! The man’s charm is unstoppable. It’s time to pull America out of the pit that Obama dug (thank God the Republicans didn’t let him do anything!) and restore the dignity of the presidential office. Vote Trump.

Friday, 19 February 2016

In The Days of Bernie Sanders: Karl Barth on Socialism

Bernie Sanders rise to become the contender for the presidency has been a wonder to behold. In recent days articles exploring his democratic socialism and Jewish ethical core have appeared in various places (see here for the latter). Religion New Service recently argued that Sanders may be the most Christian candidate. I thought I'd post this provocative quote from Karl Barth for those pondering Bernie's socialist politics from a Christian perspective:

"I have become a socialist in a very simple way, and I live socialism in a very simple way. Because I would like to believe in God and God's kingdom, I place myself at the point where I see something of God's kingdom break through...I think I can see the mistakes of socialism and its proponents very clearly. But much more clearly I see the grounding thought, in the essential endeavor of socialism, a revelation of God which I must recognize before all and about which I must be delighted. The new society, which is based on the foundation of community and justice, instead of capriciousness and the law of the jungle, the new order of work in the sense of common activity for all instead of the in the sense of exploitation through egotism of the individual, the new connection of humans as humans over the barrier of class and nations...finally the way to this goal: the simple brotherhood and solidarity [that appear] first among the poor and under-priveleged of all countries-I must recognize all these new features, which socialism brings into political and economic life, as something new from God's side...Socialism-despite its imperfections, which people should discuss calmly and openly-is for me one of the most gratifying signs for the fact that God's kingdom does not stand still, that God is at work, and hence I may not and cannot stand against it indifferently....From the sentiment of duty, that tells me: this is where you belong, if you take God in earnest. Through my membership in the Social Democratic Party I believe to confess a very important point in complete plainness to myself and to my parish that God must come to honor...People may cling to religion and still associate themselves with another party or remain without a party...But I cannot find the kingdom of God there, where people again and again make money more important than the human beings, where possession is again and again the scale of all value, where people set the nation over humanity in anxiety and small mindedness, where people believe more in the present than in the future."
(From a 1915 sermon, in Paul S. Chung, Barth: God's Word in Action)

Thursday, 11 February 2016

What About Hitler? Bonhoeffer and the Bomb

Operation Valkyrie

On July 20, 1944 Claus Von Stauffenberg excused himself to go to the bathroom before going to a meeting with Hitler. He unwrapped and armed a bomb hidden inside his briefcase, putting on the shirt it had been wrapped in. Once inside the meeting Stauffenberg took his place beside Hitler while they and several others listened to a presentation from General Heusinger. He put his now deadly satchel under the table a few feet from Hitler, knowing it would detonate in 5  minutes. Unknown to Stauffenberg the massive oak desk was supported by two “socles”, thick wooden plinths. The socle near Hitler would redirect the force of the blast and save the life of the Dictator. As Eric Metaxas writes, “It is a fact and a mystery that the course of history hinged on a quirk of furniture design” (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p.480-2). Several men in the room were killed by the blast, but not Hitler. As a result of Hitler’s survival, all of the members of the vast conspiracy behind the attack, including in some cases their wives, children and associates, would be hunted down and sent to concentration camps. Among them would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a highly gifted Lutheran pastor who had been working for years against Hitler and was among those plotting his murder.     

Love Your Enemies

Most people, even if they know little about Jesus, grasp his most famous teaching: love your enemies. This love is not just a sentiment but is a program. It is the way the Kingdom he declared advances. We are to love both neighbour and enemy even to the extent of praying for our persecutors and refusing to kill our attackers. As Jesus died with words of forgiveness and prayer for his killers on his lips, so too are his followers to do. Christ-followers become black holes of reconciliation eating up the violence of the world. Hatred and violence are thrown into them and they return love, like trees eat carbon dioxide and give back oxygen. The cycle of violence which started with Cain and Abel thus comes to an end through refusing to participate in it.

Most people have a problem with such an ethics even if they admire it, and truth be told so do most who claim to follow Christ . Although early Christian teachers unanimously preached and lived it, ever since the marriage of Church and State under Constantine this message has been endangered among believers, despite the central place it had in the life and teachings of Jesus himself. Though the application of this teaching in the average person’s life is more along the lines of not becoming angry with those who offend or hurt you, or not seeking revenge upon them in word or gesture, people often leap to the most extreme examples: what about a murderer attacking your family? What about Hitler?

Bonhoeffer and Hitler

Bonhoeffer was reluctant to be involved in the plot to kill Hitler. He agonized over it and was not proud of it. In fact he considered it a sin but felt that in such radically horrific circumstances it was the “right” thing to do. Stauffenberg himself, a Catholic, stopped to pray on the way to the assassination attempt. Earlier he had asked a priest if there was any way to be absolved from the sin of murder.

When I first read of the “salvific socles”  I was amazed. Where was God?! I wondered. How could the bomb not have worked? Did, horror of horrors, God spare Hitler? His survival seemed nothing short of miraculous. In fact this was the way that Hitler himself interpreted the incident: “It was providence that spared me. This proves that I am on the right track. I feel that this is the confirmation of all of my work.” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, p. 481).  

Gradually though I went from seeing God’s absence in this story to seeing his presence. As perilous as it is to speculate about the ways of God, if one has any belief at all in God’s presence in history one has to wonder about this story. Imagine for a moment what success would have meant for God’s kingdom, what signal it would have sent. It would have become known that several Christians, including Bonhoeffer, had assassinated Hitler. They would have become heroes and examples to many others to emulate. A great Christian theologian would have become a hero for defeating evil with the very tool that Jesus refused to use: violence. Maybe God did spare Hitler, for the sake of His Kingdom.

The results of the plot are instructive and point out the problems with even the seemingly most justified of murders. What were the actual results? Hitler was strengthened in his confidence; many good more good people died than might have (including Bonhoeffer). Were the other people in the room who died deserving of it? Maybe (they were Nazis) but maybe not (so was Stauffenberg). Lastly, do we know that Hitler’s death would have stopped the Third Reich? What if other Nazi leaders, no doubt power hungry and vicious immoralists themselves, took over and did a better job of leading the Reich to survival than Hitler did?

I am not, of course, suggesting that nothing should have been done to stop Hitler. I am, however, arguing that the inherent dangers and ambiguities of using violence to further your aims mitigate against the wisdom of doing so when Jesus himself forbade it. Look at the maelstrom of violence and suffering unleashed by America’s destruction of the government of Saddam Hussein. History provides surprisingly few, if any, examples of the long term success of violence, and the greatest and most transformative movement in the history of religion and culture was started by a Rabbi who did not defend himself in the face of Pilate.

Friday, 29 January 2016


"Any alleged humanity that is not, from the beginning, already co-humanity is inhumanity."

Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Reminder from Karl Barth

Nothing has happened to change the fact that Christians- even in the middle of their supposedly and perhaps even very consciously Christian environment- will always be strange and threatened creatures. No matter how much they may know themselves to be in solidarity with the world and behave as such, the way of Christians can never be the way of the world- least of all the way of a presumably Christianized world. From the standpoint of what moves within them, they will have to go their own way in matters both large and small, and therefore in what they think, say, and espouse, they will remain foreigners- who will often give occasion for others to take offence. They will appear to some as all too ascetic and to others as all too unconcerned affirmers of life- here as individualists, there as collectivists; here as believers in authority, there as free spirits; here as bourgeois and there as anarchists. They will seldom be found in the majority prevailing in their surroundings. In any case, they will not be going with the flow.”

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Wow! The Oldest Sermon Outside The New Testament. What does it say?

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us repent immediately.....For when they hear from us that God says, "It is nor credit to you that you love those who love you, but it is a credit to you if you love your enemies, and those who hate you," when they hear such things, they marvel at such extraordinary goodness. But when they see that we not only do not love those who hate us, but do not even love those who love us, they scornfully laugh at us, and the name (ie. God) is blasphemed."

This fragment from Second Clement doesn't need any commentary. Brother and sisters in Christ, let us love one another.