Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ariel Pink is a Heretic

As Secretary-treasurer of the International Society for Heresy Studies, I attended the ISHS conference in June. After the conference, we were asked to write a reflection on what we encountered at the conference. My reflection ended up being a profile of Ariel Pink as a heretic. The piece is featured in the ISHS newsletter, but I figured I would post it here. 

At the 2016 Heresy Studies conference I was particularly struck by Jeff Robbins’ discussion of what it might mean to be a heretic today. He first looked at the example of Spinoza, who was condemned as a heretic. What qualities did this event have that can be found today? Robbins emphasized two: loneliness and sacrifice. A heretic is one who espouses something that alienates her and costs her. A heretic is an outcast, one who occupies a negative space, rejected on more than one front. A heretic is also someone who suffers for what she espouses. Robbins offered Pier Paolo Pasolini as a potential heretic today. I suggest Ariel Pink to be another.

Ariel Pink is an experimental pop musician. In addition to being a musical genius, he is known as “the most hated man of indie rock.” This is because of the way he has presented himself to the world. His philosophy is to “get in touch with your weird.” In Ariel Pink’s life, this has often manifested itself in outlandish and offensive statements in interviews, on stage, and on social media. Pink, says a writer for The Guardian, not only deviates from the artist’s script of kneejerk liberalism, but rips it up entirely, which has led him into strange territory. “It’s not illegal to be an asshole,” he says, in response to a question concerning misogynistic comments he made when he recalled being maced by a feminist. He had initially responded to the accusation by tweeting, “What if I committed suicide and tweeted, ‘Thank you, guys. You were right’?” Pink has also playfully criticized homosexuals for wanting to get married, and has flippantly dismissed activist groups.

It is difficult when encountering certain statements from Pink not to think of Donald Trump (a comparison Pink might actually invite!). However, Pink seems less invested in what he’s saying, and he says it with an understanding that he does not have a substantial group of defenders. His fans may like the music, but that does not stop them from despising (or at least objecting to) the person. His purpose (if he can be said to have one) is, for better or for worse, to be subversive to a P.C. culture that claims the moral high ground and polices speech. What I thought about when I was listening to Robbins’ lecture was that the most hated man in the indie rock world—a world characterized by hypersensitive reactionism—takes up a heretical position. It has, as Robbins says of the heretic, cost Pink a lot, taking a toll on his life and career. Pink, like Pasolini, stands alone, and without defense.

That heretics are cool seemed to be a common sentiment at the Heresy Studies conference (and, generally, you wouldn’t look to me to contradict it). Pink, however, gives us an example of a heretic who may actually not be cool. While the subversive role is a much-needed one, heretics give us no guarantee that we’re going to like the way they play it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Abortion and the Supreme Court: Why Christians Shouldn't Vote for Trump Out of Fear

Now that Donald Trump has his Evangelical Advisory Board, he is going to do everything he can to win the Christian vote. The strategy has already been made clear: Trump will vow to put an anti-abortion judge on the Supreme Court.

The message is clear: A vote for Trump is a vote against abortion. Don't vote Trump and you risk voting for abortion.

Of course this logic is going to appeal to Christians. But it shouldn't. A law prohibiting abortion is not going to have the desired effect Christians that want, because the root problem of abortion is not that it is legal.

Let me illustrate my point with an example from the Bible.

In ancient Israel, King Josiah initiated a comprehensive reform of Israelite practices after a long period of idolatry and false worship. Around this time, so the story goes, the temple law book was found. The finding of the law book gave direction to the King's reform. The goal of the reform was a re-orientation of Israelite life to be centered on God.

The prophet Jeremiah began his prophetic career during the same period. Scholars have debated what Jeremiah thought about the reform, because he does not mention it, and rarely mentions Josiah. Whatever he thought of it, it is clear that it was not enough for him.

It was not enough because Jeremiah did not formulate his opinion concerning the spiritual state of Israel merely on whether or not an official reform initiated by the king was taking place. Jeremiah would only be satisfied by a turning of the entire heart toward God, a reformation of the heart of the people of Israel.

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord," he says, "remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem" (4:4).

The people of Israel needed much more than a legislative reform. They had sin written on their hearts (Jer. 17:1). No law could change that. The reform they needed could only be initiated by God. They needed God to create in them new hearts with the law of God written inside (31:33).

Likewise, the people in our nation need a thorough reform of the heart. They need God to change them from the inside out. They need the gospel. They need the love of Christ. This is what we should be seeking. We need to change this nation with the love of God from the inside out, not from the outside in with laws establishing our Christian values.

It is easy to see a problem and think, "We need an immediate, top-down solution to this!" The more difficult work is asking, "What were the conditions which brought us this situation?" What are the conditions that brought about abortion? What are the conditions which brought about the frequency of abortions in the U.S.?

How about poverty? How about lack of access to birth control? How about lack of access to sex education? How about parental neglect? Aren't all of these possible root problems of abortion? Wouldn't we do better to try and address these issues?

So many Christians today want a legislative reform more than the reform of which the prophets spoke.

The root of the abortion problem is not that it is legal. We would do better to address the root issue than support a terrible presidential candidate because we think he will appoint an anti-abortion judge (which isn't even a guarantee, since he has in the past described himself as "very pro-choice").

You do not change the world for the better by voting for a tyrannical, self-interested fraud who is using fear to manipulate you into voting for him. You can only change the world for the better by seeking the will of God, by the law of love (and Trump is certainly not a candidate who seeks to follow the law of love).

The Greek word used for ministry means “waiting a table.” Christ is the bread of life (Jn. 6:35) and the Word of God (1:1). Ministry is the act of serving the Word of God to the world. We are to be waiters and waitresses serving the bread of life to our tables—our communities. The world will been drawn to Christ by our love (Jn. 13:35), not our laws.

Only love can save the lives affected by abortion.

"Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save."
Psalm 146:3

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Took the Night to Believe: Weathering the Storm of Faith & Doubt - AUDIOS

Part I. Encountering the Silence of God
Jack Holloway

Part II. Who's afraid of the Historical Jesus?
Jack Holloway

Part III. Faith & Doubt
Matt Brake

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Summer reading list

Summer has begun! (Not really, but for me it has.) Thus, Summer reading has begun. This is what I will be trying to get through this Summer:
Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, Natural Theology

Katherine Sonderegger, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew: Karl Barth's "Doctrine of Israel"

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Karl Barth, The Word of God & the Word of Man

Roland Boer, Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels, and Theology

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts

Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism

Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth

Isolde Andrews, Deconstructing Barth: A Study of the Complementary Methods in Karl Barth and Jacques Derrida

Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians

John D. Caputo, Against Ethics

George Hunsinger, ed., Karl Barth and Radical Politics

William Stacy Johnson, The Mystery of God: Karl Barth and the Postmodern Foundations of Theology

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. II.1, The Doctrine of God

Timothy Gorringe, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony

Saint Augustine, Confessions

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament

What are you reading this Summer?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

I don't believe in Heaven

Samantha Muljat, Bloodbankdesign
Full disclosure: my last blog, "I don't believe in God," was really just a set-up for this one. I realized that the things I wanted to say here needed to be prefaced by the things I said there.

So, now that you've read the last one (because of course you read every single thing I write--of course!), you can properly understand what I really want to be saying this week.

Like most weeks for me, this one has come with a somber reflection on death. I think about it a lot. Wow, I am actually going to die. What does that mean? Is there something after death? I can't be certain that there is. It could just be nothingness. But, my god, what is nothingness like?! I don't want to cease to exist! I love life! But I could die at any minute. I make plans, but I could die today, or tomorrow. There's no guarantee that I will live a long life. And even then, I'm still eventually going to die.

This is usually the point where I almost start crying and I feel the need to change the subject. That happened this week. But then I thought, No, I need to come up with an answer to this problem. I can't just be ignoring it forever. I need to console myself, to, like David, encourage myself in the Lord (I Sam 30:6).

So here is my modest attempt at a kind of self-consolation.

Starting where I left off in the last blog, I'll reiterate that we as Christians makes ourselves vulnerable and sensitive to the in-breaking of God, to the moment of God's revelation. We anticipate God's revelation, and orient our lives around that anticipation. In this, we don't believe in God, but God happens.

I don't believe in the afterlife the same way that I don't believe in God: I can't.

Just as we tend to think of God as someone finite, we tend to think of the afterlife as something finite. Yes, we understand it as lasting forever and so infinite, but we still conceptualize it as more life, or more temporality. It's that thing we experience now, just longer.

Additionally, in the church's imagination, Heaven is basically just the fulfillment of human desire. Everything will be covered in gold. All our dreams will come true. We will be constantly happy, and whatever. (You can begin to understand why some people think of heaven simply as wish-fulfillment.)

But, unfortunately, as with God, we have no real reference point for Heaven. In order to believe something, we have to know the object of that belief, but we don't for Heaven. We've never experienced anything like eternity. All we can say is that when we die we will experience eternal life, whatever that means.

And so, just as we should live our lives making ourselves vulnerable to the happening of God's revelation, we should orient ourselves around the anticipation of eternal life. Believing in eternal life is really just saying Yes to surrender, to the mystery of death.

Death is ultimate surrender, even if uninvited (and oh, how it is uninvited). It is also ultimate mystery. What happens after death is, for us, an entirely unanswerable question.

The Christian orientation toward death, then, is submission to that surrender. In other words, trust God. "Let God be true and every man a liar" (Rom 3:4).

I don't believe in God; I surrender to God's revelation. Likewise, I don't believe in Heaven; I surrender to death's mystery.

All of this, however, cannot provide any certainty. My thought about Heaven is summarized perfectly by Walter Brueggemann:

“There is no assurance or announcement of hope; there is only yearning that is admittedly hope-filled, but it stops short of knowing too much or claiming too much.”(1)

Am I certain? Absolutely not. I'm not even certain that I have any hope. I can only, like Abraham, hope against hope (Rom 4:18). I have only a glimpse of hope. But, ultimately, hope is better than the despair. At least, that's the dumb thing that I believe.

(1) Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 54.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don't believe in God

Samantha Muljat, Bloodbankdesign
Ok, so you've read the title. And now you've clicked. And now you may be wondering if the title was some kind of misleading click-bait. Well, not exactly. I don't believe in God. Although, I mean this not in the sense you might be thinking. So let's break the statement down, in Seinfeld fashion.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply maybe I have hope that there is God, or I act as if there is a God, but maybe I don't actually believe there is a God.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply a negation of the reality of God, as if to say, There is no God.

I am happy to say that it is neither of these options. No, what I am saying is, I don't believe in God. Now, what do I mean?

I don't believe in God because I can't. I can't believe in God because I have no reference point for God. I, among many ungodly things, am human, am finite. I have no concept of eternity, of true divinity. I only have physicality, temporality, and humanity. I can observe the outside world, but my observation of the outside world is limited, and the outside world is not what constitutes God. Thus, I have no substantial frame of reference for God. Thus, I can't believe in God. Thus, I don't believe in God.

You may be thinking, "Is it that simple?" No, it's not. So let me go on.

I cannot bring about the revelation of God. As Barth says, only God can reveal God's self, and so humans can only believe in what is revealed to them, in what penetrates their world and is put within them and before them.(1) Only by the movement of God are we faced with the revelation of God. As Ephesians says, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (2:8-9).

Even our faith is only possible because of the work of God, because of God's grace. It is only through our obedience to the Word of God that we come to have faith. Barth even goes so far as to say, "Grace is obedience."(2) We do exercise a measure of freedom in surrendering to the grace of God in obedience, but even that freedom is a gift from God, and so we cannot properly find the origin of our belief in ourselves.

Furthermore, even when we have made the leap to faith in obedient surrender to God's grace, we are not met with a crystal clear, unmediated, direct communication from God. We tend to think of God as just another finite being, one who speaks to us directly, one we get to know like we get to know another person, but to suppose so is to commit idolatry. God remains hidden even while revealed. Jesus reveals the God that is hidden. God is forever in a cloud of mystery. We still have no frame of reference for God.

Our belief in God is only our surrender to God's revelation, our submission to God's work in the world, manifested in moments of revelation. Our belief is really only a making ourselves vulnerable to the work of God, opening ourselves up to God's possibility. We let ourselves be happened upon by God, exposing ourselves to the in-breaking of God.

As John Calvin said, "True knowledge of God is born out of obedience."(3)

So, no, I don't believe in God. I succumb to God's revelation.

1) See Karl Barth, "The Word of God and the Task of Ministry," in The Word of God & the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 183-217.
2) Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 229.
3) I cannot find the origin of this quote. I assume it's in the Institutes somewhere, but no one who quotes it cites it, so........