maandag 29 februari 2016

How counter-intuitive can you be?

It’s good for me – as someone who has broken with Christianity – to get the Christian faith explained by people I find congenial. Because then, if I feel objections arise, I’m sure they are not motivated by an opinion about the person that I listen to at that time.

One of those sympathetic interpreters is Marilynne Robinson, whom I saw recently on television. What I understood to be her main message is that Christians are called to become what they by nature are not. People are selfish, and they should be altruistic; they are not naturally compassionate, but they should be so; they are easily scared, but fear is wrong. In short, Christianity according to Robinson is one big change program, away from our natural state, leading to a victory over our nature.

So much counter-naturalness cannot convince me, however sympathetic the messenger may be. Indeed, from a pedagogical or andragogical point of view such a program seems to me to be doomed to failure, because how counter-intuitive can we be? It could even be that the frustration built into this program accounts for the phenomena in church and Christianity which Robinson precisely dislikes: the focus on power and on winning souls. The latter might very well be the ‘natural’ and inevitable compensation for too ambitious aspirations which run off the rails.

Besides, I am not so afraid of human selfishness, lack of empathy and fear. Selfishness can give us firm starting positions, from which we on our turn have something to offer to others. The duty of empathy and compassion can easily lead to the overstrained situation in which empathy becomes an achievement of the autonomous self, and in which the other is no more than an object for compassion. Fear finally can be a very good counselor, as evidenced indeed by the images of the Bataclan which were shown during the interview with Robinson: visitors ran away as fast as possible from the Kalashnikovs, and that was a good thing. The fact that there also may be fearful situations in which you need to think well, as Robinson propagated, does not diminish the importance of vigilance that is generates by fear.

The recommendation by Robinson that I can fully accept is that it comes to live deliberately, even with regard to experiences that transcend us. That may be unnatural enough already, and I don’t want to burden that endeavor with additional unnatural commands.

Also see Holy fire

donderdag 11 februari 2016

Countries without borders

“For an Israel without borders”,  such was the chotspeous title of a book by the Dominican Lucas Grollenberg in 1970. In it he laments the fate undergone by the Palestinians by the creation of the state of Israel, and that’s legitimate of course. The chotspe lies in the fact that, barely twenty-five years after the bloodiest attack ever on the Jewish people, the author calls for conceiving of Judaism as a purely spiritual content that does not need a physical component, let alone borders. That’s quite impertinent if you know how Jews were threatened in their purely physical existence. And that precisely the lack of border security has become fatal to many of them at that time.

The utopia of borderlessness as an ideal is nevertheless very popular. The historian Henri Beunders calls it an important part of the current zeitgeist which cherishes the idea that all people can freely travel around the earth. That’s good for the economy, for communication between people and for the exchange between cultures.

Beunders views the emergence of the open borders movement as a relatively modern phenomenon, based on the idea that boundaries are unfair to the poor and that they are economically inefficient and counterproductive. In this modern dream of ‘the sky is the limit’, according to Beunders, we lost the sense of equivocalness of boundaries and started thinking in terms of borderlessness.

We pay for it now, Beunders says, and therefore we frantically start to reestablish boundaries and fences. That change can go fast, just look at our politicians who, still in October, explained passionately that you cannot stop asylum seekers, but now present a plan for strong border control.

I do agree with Beunders that Europe is chained to an ideology of boundlessness of which now it discovers the utopian side. But I do not share his analysis that this is a zeitgeist phenomenon – so something relatively modern. The roots of this absolute universal orientation go back much further, namely to a deep-rooted universalist orientation of Christianity. Already for the Apostle Paul the sky was the limit, and eliminating all differences between Jew and Greek, and other nations, his stated goal. In that respect Grollenberg stands in a tradition.

No wonder Christianity brought, along with civilization, also a lot of violence. Because generally people are rather attached to their own identity and its connected borders, and they don’t give up that without a fight in exchange for a universalist ideal.

Apart from violent, the ideal now appears also to be a bit too utopian. The open borders ideal encounters poverty, wars and refugees in the rest of the world, and in its propagated shape appears to be unsustainable. The question at this time, given our cultural heritage, is how fast we will be able to switch.

dinsdag 2 februari 2016

‘Intrinsically disordered’

The Ministry of Education is going to start information sessions in asylum centers about gay rights. It are especially asylum-seekers from the Middle East who will be informed that homosexuality is not wrong.

Is that going to work? In the rejection of homosexuality, by both immigrants and natives, often several elements play a role. For example, the security of a world in which there is a natural order, which at the same time is divine because nature is considered to be designed by God. And if nature is designed primarily for procreation, God has willed heterosexuality, not homosexuality.

For me it is a serious question whether you can ‘out-educate’ such a view. The Roman Catholic church, however Western it is, has not yet succeeded in that, anyway. During last year’s extraordinary synod on the family there was officially no change in the view of homosexuality as ‘intrinsically disordered’. It is thought that homosexual relationships “are contrary to divine and natural law”.

In the Anglican church a form of education has indeed been on the agenda, mainly from the white part to the colored and black part. During the last decades gay priests have been ordinated Anglican bishop. But in some parts of the church this caused so much resistance that now one must say such education would appear to have failed. Especially on the African continent and with conservative Americans feelings on the subject ran high, and a church schism was feared. Thanks to a gay-unfriendly compromise that danger could recently (temporarily?) be averted.

If acceptance of homosexuality can be so problematic, even in a church community with common traditions and customs, how difficult it must be for people from the Middle East who share a lot less in terms of ideas and traditions with us?

Also see (Un)purity