The Gay Marriage Debate: Leave your belief at the door


1It is often said that Christians should not push/impose/force their beliefs on the rest of society.

I find this not a little bit interesting.

What is meant by such a statement?  It is quite simple: You have beliefs that impact your life, which I don’t care for.  So please refrain from doing whatever you’re doing in the event that your beliefs end up impacting my life in a way that I don’t care for.

The premise is simple – this is my life not yours.

An issue has again raised its very ugly head due to events that are taking place over in the US.  For more on this check out the front page of the NY Times here.

I’ve been reading blogs, Fb posts, and articles around the traps that are hellbent on wiping the other side out.  These kinds of ethical issues draw out the worst of both sides, which is a real shame.

It is immature.

Whether it is the legalisation of prostitution, the privatisation of the state-owned railway or the implementation of industrial reform there is a political process that is to be followed in order to create legal norms in our societies.  One aspect of this is public debate in which exists numerous parties (not two!) that fight it out for their own piece of the ideological pie.

Shhhhh!But no matter how many parties are fighting for the pie, how dare anyone or any party try to remove opposing voices from the debate.

The call for Christians to leave their beliefs at the door is not only naive (how can they?), but also contrary to the very pillars that our modern societies are based on.

Furthermore it is simplistic.  There are many people who are not religious that hold ‘traditional’ views on this matter.  So what request is to be made of them so that their view/s might not impact in a similar way to the christians’?

What we see in these debates (on both sides) is a kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that one can see in autocratic states where any given ideology cannot fly by political persuasion alone.

Voices are silenced.

Perspectives are outlawed.

Make no mistake, debate is to be had, due process is to be followed, and outcomes are to be respected, but on no terms are Christians (or any other party) to be quiet because their beliefs impact their voice, whether we agree with them or not.

Advertisements

Racism: The Christian Way


Racism, in my mind, is one of the most grotesque distortions of the Gospel that we can find in the modern church.

Ok, so that was a pretty strong statement to start a post for a Saturday afternoon, but this one’s been brewing for some time.  Racism in the church is something that must be denounced in the strongest terms because it not only contradicts the content of the Gospel, but also undermines the impact of the gospel in the areas where racism and the Gospel coexist.

Firstly, racism is a form of self-centredness.  

Racism speaks more about the racist person and their needs and desires rather than about the person or group being marginalised by the racist.  The concept of racism relies upon a basic principle that can be observed everyday in a school playground, which for our purposes we will call the I’m Normal Your Not principle

It goes like this: Johnny calls Timmy fat and Timmy cries.  The issue here is that Johnny has constructed a norm that of course he himself fits into and which Timmy does not (no pun intended).

Normality is the issue.  What is normal and who fits that definition?  And who decides what is normal and who fits into it?

The problem lies within the view that to be normal is to be normal, which is just not the case.  In other words, as soon as any given individual slips from the realm of normal-ness they become not normal, which is code for being deficient or sub-human in some measure.  The dynamic between Johnny and Timmy is clear.  Once Timmy slips from the realm of normal because of his weight problem Johnny continues to exist in his normal state.  Due to Timmy’s slip, Johnny by default becomes superior.

Johnny is normal and therefore superior.

The point however is not the normal vs not normal dynamic per se, but the deliberate orchestration of this dynamic in order to gain the superior (normal) status.  How can this be orchestrated?  Easy.  Observe those characteristics in another person that are different from you due to their race (or whatever!) and then isolate and articulate these as not normal.  The result is that you will be normal and superior to the person that is different to you.

Well, that’s how they think anyway.

We can stoop lower still.  It is not uncommon to hear professing Christians isolate a particular race with the social circumstances that the marginalised often find themselves in.  So, smelling badly, not being able to think as one educated (whatever that means) and dressing poorly is synonymous with – those that are not normal.  Not only are they a lower class of being because of their racial identity, but they feel the brunt of some Christians’ ire because they smell, speak poorly and/or dress shabbily.

This deliberate use of race and associated social characteristics are highlighted by racists out of self-interest, which flies in the face of the most basic Christian teaching.

I was told the other day by a fellow Christian friend that he was not obligated to love gypsies.  Hmmm… well, that news to me!  Was Jesus just joking around when he said, ‘Love you neighbour as yourself’?  Was Jesus just engaging in the optional extra duties when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well?  And what do we make of his eating with the tax collectors and other rabble?  What?  That was Jesus, but that is not our responsibility?

Of course not!

That Christians would treat other Christians of a different race in such a belittling manner because they look, smell, sound different is disgusting.  Such egoism and self-centredness is far removed from the kind of interaction that Jesus teaches his followers to engage in.

Secondly, racism demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Gospel.

Of late, me and my friend Vlado have been working our way through Ephesians 2 and 3.  One of the  distinct themes that you cannot miss (well, clearly you can!) is that Jesus has broken down the race barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles.   Reconciliation (among other things) with God is made available to all through Jesus Christ.  It’s pretty clear when we read this snazzy passage:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  I (Paul) became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things (Ephesians 3:6-9).

Racism is the turning back of the clock.  Racism strips the Gospel of its sheer beauty.  Racism grabs what Jesus has done away with and shoves it back into the spotlight and proclaims, ‘This is important!’  Racism builds a dividing wall of hostility (see 2:14), and implements the law with its commands and regulations (see 2:15).  There is not one in Christ but many: me, the racially superior creation, and you, the sub-par version.

The spiritual poverty of this view of the Gospel is far worse than any material poverty that some Gypsy will ever live through!

Thirdly, racism misunderstands church and eschatology.

The final eschatological (end times) scene is one of corporate worship.  Have a look at Revelations 7:9-10 at the picture that the writer creates for us.  He makes specific reference to those praising the Lamb as consisting of all sorts.  And they are together:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice...

The picture is one of corporate worship of God; a gathering of many for one purpose, which is not a phenomenon that we see only in the eschaton.  The church partially realises this future reality in the present, which the New Testament is constantly talking about.  The variables that we read about are predictable: young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentiles.  This is the composition of the church in the eschaton and in the present.

For goodness sake, the heart of Paul’s letters were often addressing the discontent and doctrinal error that was found between the Jews and Gentiles.  And how quickly do we forget Paul’s courageous rebuke of Peter for separating himself from Gentiles when eating.  Multiculturalism is not a social engineering fad of the 90’s, but a Gospel reality in the future and present!

It is not enough to merely placate this idea, to agree, to nod.  After Paul’s rebuke, Peter needed to rearrange his theology, his life, and his actions.  He needed a new understanding of race in light of the Gospel.  In our churches today many pastors agree that racism is bad, yet their churches do not reflect this commitment.  I’ve been told that some pastors chase away those of different races because the other church members feel uncomfortable and have threatened to leave.

My response to these pastors is simple: let them leave!

Please God spare us the day that our pastors (myself included) care more about keeping people in pews rather than being faithful to the Gospel and the implications of it.  The church is not a place that should engage with or perpetuate racism in any shape or form because it undermines the very foundation of the church – the Gospel.

Racism is a blight on God’s church because, if understood rightly as self-centred elitism, it is the antithesis of Jesus’ message and cross-work.  We would do well to remember Paul’s proclamation of Jesus’ humility before God his father in Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mindDo nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselvesnot looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Robin Hood’s Maillot Jaune: An Ethical Consideration


He robbed the rich to give to the poor.

Robin Hood was the great mediaeval philanthropist.  He had such a keen sense of duty.  A fine sense of justice.  A big heart!  It doesn’t matter that he killed the poor ol’ henchmen protecting the chests of gold, and as for the drivers of those wagon, well, they were after all just extras getting paid minimum salary.  It’s no biggie that they get knocked off dime-a-dozen with an arrow in the heart.

Robin risked his own life daily to rob the Sheriff of Nottingham and other fat pompous aristocrats.  As we read or watch the tale we join in.  We live that sense of duty.  We embrace that kind of justice.  We ride with Robin as one of his merry men helping the needy as we go (and kicking the rich were it hurts!).

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but in recent days a Robin Hood has emerged, but this one did not come out of the thicket wearing tights and a funny hat with a feather in it.  This Robin wears yellow, nothing but yellow.

In French the word for yellow is jaune, and if you were to wear a jersey that was yellow we would call it a maillot jaune.

The maillot jaune is famous in the sporting world.  It represents the pinnacle of effort, dedication, trial, perseverance, and perhaps even luck.  Each year when the Tour de France is on the leader of the race at the end of each day wears the maillot jaune.  Each day battles are fought, but on the final day the war is won – by someone.  The best day to wear the maillot jaune is on the last day when the peloton rides up the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  It’s a fitting end to the most grueling competition in the world.  The winner stands under the Arc de Triomphe on the podium and is crowed the king.

Our Robin wears this maillot jaune – his name is Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong is the seven times winner of the Tour de France – a staggering accomplishment!  What is just as amazing is that he overcame testicular cancer in 1996 to go on and win the tour 7 consecutive times from 1999-2005 before retiring.  Furthermore, in 1997 Armstrong launched the Livestrong Foundation.  It works to, ‘identify the issues faced by cancer survivors in order to comprehensively improve quality of life for members of the global cancer community.’  Since its inception the Livestrong Foundation has raised over 470 million dollars for the cause.  WOW!

But here comes the pointy bit of the post…

It was a lie.

USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) has recently come out with their findings that Lance Armstrong was intricately involved in a doping syndicate throughout his winning period.  He has been banned from cycling for life and according to all reports will be stripped of his seven Tour de France victories.

The fascinating thing about this bombshell is that it hasn’t had the effect of a bomb.

Here is a snapshot from the NY times:

But his loyal sponsors are not stripping him of their support.  Nike stood by Armstrong, much as it stood by Tiger Woods after revelations about his extramarital affairs in late 2009.  “Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” said Mary Remuzzi, a Nike spokeswoman.  Anheuser-Busch InBev, for whom Armstrong has starred in Michelob Ultra commercials, said nothing would change in its relationship with him, which began in 2009 with a three-year contract. “He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to helping cancer survivors and their families.”

Firstly, I’m not sure how we can compare Tiger Woods’ personal misdemeanors with Armstrong’s professional cheating.  Surely, we are comparing apples and oranges here.  Secondly, the second statement is telling.  He said he’s innocent so I believe him – that’s the gist of it.  Since when was that the measure of someone’s innocence?  Gosh!

Thirdly, we finally arrive at the ‘uh-ha’ moment in the last line: ‘He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to helping cancer survivors and their families.’  The good outweighs the evil.  The positive counterbalances the negative.  The wrong was for the right.  Bad was employed so that good could be done.  Just like with Robin the method of gaining resources is of no importance at all.  If the result is good then the method is a moot point.

Conclusion: Armstrong used his cheating to raise 470 million dollars to help those with cancer.

However, what Armstrong clearly convinced himself of was wrong.  The lame response to Armstrong’s cheating is a pathetic attempt to sanitize gross misconduct.  You see, method counts.  How we do things matters.  The way that we go about achieving results is important.  The process that we employ to obtain objectives is relevant.  And what we tell the world in times like this is that Robin was justified in doing what he did.

What we fail to realise is that the story of Robin Hood as we know it is a fairytale.

In the real world, I can’t rob banks to give money to the poor.  I can’t steal food from the local shopping centre for the needy family down the road.  I can’t hold up a chemist (drug store) so that I can find the medication that the old pensioner needs.

The principle is flawed.

I never thought I’d see Robin in yellow.

I didn’t kill you it was the gun…


Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Don’t be fooled.  It sounds clever and witty and even smart, but find a moment and think about it.  For those who use this line as a knock-down argument for opposing stricter gun control please humour me and read on.

Cigarettes kill.  Bombs kill.  Drugs kill.  Speeding kills.

No, cigarettes don’t kill, people kill themselves.  No, bombs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Drugs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Speeding doesn’t kill people, people kill people.  Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

You see, the not so witty play on words might fool some people into thinking that guns are not the issue here, only bad people, but for the rest of us we see past the pithy line. It’s a patronising catch cry, which is at best naive and at worst, well, look around.

Clever word plays aside we all know that cigarettes kill, and not only the one smoking the Winnie Blue but those who also inhale the toxic fumes that the smoker exhales.  Cigarettes kill the smoker (a person) and also the passive smoker (a person).  So we could say that cigarettes kill people (plural).

Now, even though the cigarette is not a sentient being that wills the death of the would be inhaler one is linguistically within their right to say that cigarettes killed the man.  He died from lung cancer aged 63.  Yes, it was the lung cancer that actually killed him, but we understand that the cigarettes that he smoked for 34 years are what caused the death.

[I can’t believe I am explaining this]

Similarly, even though the gun has not morphed into a sentient being that wilfully engages in the destruction of, say, 12 lives, on the semantic grounds given above, when someone uses a gun to kill a person or people, one is fair to say that guns kill people.  If you are struggling with this then a question might help: how did they die?  Answer: People.  Wrong!  A fatal gunshot wound.

Cigarettes kill, bombs kill, drugs kill, and guns kill.  So what do we do?

Well, one very basic thing to do is to look at the thing that is causing the deaths and weigh up whether the deaths are worth the value that the thing adds.  Generally, in the developed world we reject things that have the dubious distinction of bringing good and death simultaneously.  For example, when it comes to new drugs that come on the market, just because it might relieve some kind of ailment, if it has adverse affects, I don’t know, say it kills you, then the drug will no doubt be shelved.   It will be shelved for much less than killing someone too.

Let’s be less dramatic and look at cars.  Car deaths attributed to speed or whatever are a horrible thing.  But we don’t just say, ‘Carry on,’  we put measures after measures in place in an effort to stop silly people doing stupid things with their cars because speeding kills.  Do we care more for speed thrills and getting to a place fast or people living?  We choose lives!

The gun control issue is not about (not so) witty word games, but about three things, at least: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation, and rights.  Guns kill people.  Guns are valued and are a treasured part of a given countries recreation culture.  Guns are an indelibly inked right.  These three things are fact.

One of the mistakes of this discussion is the blinkered attitude that many enter the discussion with, that is, that gun control is just about recreation and rights.  No, the recent and not so recent events are showing us that guns are affecting more than just a Saturday morning’s shooting trip – they are ruining families, futures and lives.

Is the right question then to ask what do we value the most: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation or my rights?  Well, as a question it must be getting close.  If it doesn’t give the answer it surely exposes one’s real attitude towards the debate, like what I found on Twitter today.  It’s a doozy:

Original post: Of what use to private citizens are automatic/semi-automatic rifles? Hunting? Self-defense? Alpha male posturing? Mass murder? NRA says what?

  • Comment 1:  The Second Amendment. I don’t need a reason but what if I said I like them? I don’t need a reason.
  • Comment 2: for fun and sport u idiot (sic)

There you have it, all three in a nutshell.  The person railing against the high profile lobby group in favour (I imagine) of tighter guns laws; the person reverting to their inalienable rights; and the third person loving the lifestyle.  Each person shows their priorities in these statements.

So what gives?  Well, clearly nothing!  This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if the state of play is ideal, however, I humbly put forward that two killing rampages in the last two weeks, and a track record to boot of such shootings is not ideal.

Where to start?  Thinking and talking about how evil people are and how much they need Jesus won’t help.  Further, the idea that (some?) people are evil should sound the alarm bells that action is desperately needed.  I agree the people are evil and need Jesus, but this view does not stop someone from finding what they need to kill the next 12 people.

I don’t know the answer, but a good place to start would be to value life (as in whether people live or die) over recreation activities, and one’s own individual rights.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but clearly there is a vast percentage of the population that don’t value life (as in whether people live or die) over their recreation and/or individual rights.

In the meantime, we weep and mourn and pray for the families that have lost loved ones, while clinging to our hunting trips and our God given right to bear arms.

The dangers of putting one’s foot in one’s own mouth


Each day I ride my stationary bike for about half an hour.

Throughout the week on my daily rides I listen to a number of podcasts to which I subscribe.   This morning I listened to a debate from Unbelievable (A show that gets Christians and non-Christian talking – is their catch cry) between a Christian apologist David Robinson and the Youtube-ist Mike Lee who has a popular Youtube channel called the Religious Antagonist.

The title of the debate was, Where can antagonistic atheism get us? 

This one was a bit of fizzer, actually.  The Religious Antagonist was claiming that he was a proponent for those that didn’t have biology and philosophy degrees and the like.  He was making atheism accessible to the average Joe.  But to be frank, I’m sure that even the average Joe could have seen though his thin veneer of touted logic, rationality and common sense.  He often spoke illogically, irrationally and with little common sense.  His not so clever pranks and his far less clever defence of them are telling of how poorly thought through this guy really is.

Two things.

Firstly, his attempt to get a homeless family to cross out ‘God’ from the sign that they were holding to beg for money fell very flat.  The last line on the sign read ‘God bless you.’  He gave a pitch that if they would cross out the word God with a marker he would give them $20.  They said that they would not.

He was beside himself at how irrational, ridiculous, and childish they were being.  After all it was a ‘stupid sign worth 50c.’   He even offered a million dollars and they still would not cross off God.

In the podcast debate, when discussing this video, the Religious Antagonist said he would do anything that was not illegal for $20 – fascinating!  You tell me who is irrational, ridiculous, and childish.  One party could be bought for $20, while the other party, was able to hold fast to their convictions.  Principled living – novel, I know – is nothing to be mocked in this day and age.

Secondly, the Religious Antagonist’s clueless use of the term intolerance for David Robinson’s view of eternal hell was humorous, in a not ha ha funny way.  When David Robinson (in the most appropriate way that one can) confirmed that the Religious Antagonist would go to hell if he didn’t believe in Jesus, etc, the Religious Antagonist jumped at the chance to label Robinson as judgemental and intolerant.

Wow!

Once the english lesson had been given there was an uneasy chuckle from the debate host, and an awkward silence in the London studio, the American home where the Religious Antagonist was speaking from, and in every place around the world where people were tuning in.

What was the Religious Antagonist’s definition of tolerance that provoked an english lesson?  Simply not allowing anyone else to have a view that did not line up with his own.  He realised the error, that it was he that was being intolerant.

These two little snippets were just a taste of the cringe-worthy performance by the Religious Antagonist.

I learnt a very valuable lesson from this debate:  Having your own foot firmly in your mouth might do the cause that you are fighting for more harm than good.