February 16, 2019

Klasie Kraalogies: Purity Culture?

Purity Culture?
by Klasie Kraalogies

In January 2015, the Washington Post announced that the famed Joshua Harris, author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, announced his resignation from his church, and headed off to seminary. Then, by August 2016 we read that he had started grappling with the reality that maybe he wasn’t quite correct. However, from 1997 when the book was published, the no-dating-no-sex-contact-no-nothing model of courtship blossomed in the US. But…. Let me tell you an older story. You see, Joshua Harris was a virtual liberal hippy compared to the teaching on sexuality (and marriage) of some. Joshua-come-lately was way behind the curve.

In the 1960’s there arose a sect in South Africa that decided, beyond all the normal don’ts of fundamentalism – no TV! no Sunday sport! modest dress! (btw, that is generally meant for the female of the species, more than the male) that all forms of dating and courtship are wrong, designed by Satan to trick the faithful, just like old Potiphar’s wife (see painting by Guido Reni). When the time is right, maybe when you are 19, maybe when you are 59, he will show you your wife (it never goes the other way, mind you), and the, once everyone has prayed and feels that it is God’s will, well, presto, there is your life partner! Some version of the Isaac and Rebecca story – minus the servant.

I can see you everyone, or almost everyone reading this roll their eyes. But let me challenge you thus: Where does this come from? Is this not simply a slightly over-the-top result of the teaching, and more important, the culture around sexuality that has been practised in, well, many societies for ever so long? Some, like Rome, made a fetish of perpetual virginity, somehow imparting the idea that true spirituality excludes all thoughts and actions of giving an inch to our reproductive biology. The multitude of scandals out there (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47134033) shows how workable that approach is. And it would be unfair to single out Romish fallibility – Rome is hardly unique.

That is all understood. But let’s travel back to the mid-eighties and examine a particular young fellow.

Once the young man reached the age when the nether stirrings are undeniable (about 12/13 years old?), he was suddenly confronted with the idea that sex is sin. Why? He wasn’t married – and still way too young. He was most emphatically not allowed to notice the swelling breasts, the long legs, etc etc around him. He couldn’t even touch their hands. Even briefly thinking about a girl was a horrible thought crime. And, since the preacherman loved to quote the plucking of eyes and the cutting of tongues, he started avoiding contact with the opposite sex as much as possible. Any or all women could be Potiphar’s wife! If they aren’t married, God might have destined them for someone, so looking at them is the same as adultery with a married woman! He suffered unending mental agony – and it is years before he discovered simple things – that “wet dreams” and even erections are involuntary. He felt driven to confess his dreams.

Everything was sin…

The result is a given. At a far too young age, he becomes convinced that he is being led to marry – but he does not know her of course.

Thus he marries. And suddenly his whole universe must flip -up is now down and down is up and evil nature is now godly nature (sometimes), all by the stroke of a pen on a marriage certificate. How to work out this mess? And while this is going on, he quickly discovers the personality of his now life partner – and to his infinite dismay, he discovers he is wedded, death-do-us-part someone his psychiatrist will inform him 2 decades later is likely suffering from NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). More about that another time.

You, see, he wasn’t allowed to have a friendship even – purity was understood and preached as if one was running a sterile laboratory. Not as respect – the word didn’t come into it. Respect was for parents, government, and especially, preachermen. So he walked headlong into a nightmare, in the agony (as he now understands, with the wisdom of time and suffering) of seeking an outlet to the natural desire for friendship, companionship, and romance, bequeathed to him by one-and-a-quarter billion years of evolution.

And of course, by ecclesiastical and parental decree, that is where he must stay, because anything else is sin. Which of course leads to hellfire.

Yip, as you have probably guessed, this is autobiographical. And much has been left out. But I am by no means unique. If we return to the after affects of Harris’ book, we discover testimonies like this:

 

 

 

Instead of protection, these teachings led to suffering, to dysfunction, and yes, to abuse. And as one discovers the more you dig into this, the damage is much worse for the young women than the young men. For some, normal intercourse remains an impossibility, as years of shaming and teaching have left psychological scars that precludes true intimacy.

I would close with the observation that much of this is cultural – but the church is culture, by and large. I am not a Christian, but it would be a fairly easy task to put together a positive and informative sexual ethic that is not incompatible with the basics of the faith, that does not rely on ancient instincts of power, control and shaming. Other wise the damaged lives will just keep on proliferating. I, for one, have had enough.

Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science- Part 3, The Language of Biology, Chapters 9 Redeemable Ant-Man By Andy Walsh

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science

Part 3, The Language of Biology, Chapter 9 Redeemable Ant-Man

By Andy Walsh

We are blogging through the book, “Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science” by Andy Walsh.  Today is Chapter 9: Redeemable Ant-man and Walsh goes into a detailed regale of ant colony lore.  Which is not uninteresting.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of the results of pouring molten aluminum into an ant hill; you know that it shows the proportionate equivalent to a city with a complex network of interconnected tunnels and chambers.

Molten Aluminum Poured into Ant Hill

Ants are farmers; they cultivate fungus that has actually become domesticated to the ant colony.  Ants keep livestock such as aphids and “milk” them for their secretions.  They even defend the “herd” from other predators like shepherds protecting their sheep.  Some ant species engage in warfare with other ant colonies in territorial disputes.  How are all of these complex tasks organized?  Where are the blueprints for the colony’s nest?  Where is the knowledge of farming techniques maintained?  You could argue it is encoded in their genes, but that can only be true in the most abstract sense.  Does it make sense to perhaps talk about the ant colony as a collective unit having some notion of a will that directs nest building, fungus farming, aphid herding, warfare, and so forth?  Is it plausible that such a will could be constructed from the bottom up, out of the individual contributions of the ants?  And if that’s the case, are the ants free in any sense or do they blindly serve the will of the colony.  Is all this information suggestive of a scenario where an individual can operate individually, and yet also realize some form of collective will?  Walsh says:

Even though we are used to thinking of ourselves as indivisible wholes, we are a confederation of trillions of cells, many, but not all, of whom share a genome, who have gathered together to be “me” for a while…  Some organizing principle I identify as myself persists and holds them all together, yet without an obvious hierarchy.  There is no “me” cell that can claim superiority, or even a first among equal status…  All of the cells are dependent on the others in some way.  All cells send signals, and all cells respond to signals sent by other cells.  Where do “I” live?  We intuit that we reside inside our heads, looking out through our eyes, but something about that picture doesn’t fully resonate with modern biology…

… One can easily tumble down a rabbit hole reflecting on matters of mind.  You start to think about how you think, then you realize you are thinking about thinking, and before long you’ve got yourself tied up in knots wondering who watches the watcher-watching watchers.  Just “who” is doing all this thinking, and is that the same person also thinking about my thinking, and so on and so forth…

And so Walsh takes on the question of consciousness and the nature of the ‘soul”.  Is it just physicality and neurological impulses?  We have no empirical evidence of consciousness without a physical living brain.  The Bible makes many references to one’s soul, and similar ideas can be found in a variety of other cultural and religious contexts.  It is expressly not a scientific concept, since science, by definition, deals exclusively with the physical.

The model of identity that makes the most sense to Walsh is the idea that our mind or consciousness is an emergent level of organization of (at least) our brains.  Or to put it another way, our mind is fully mediated by our brains, but not strictly reducible to the brain.  He brings up the writings of Douglas Hofstadter and his book, I am a Strange Loop.  Walsh says the analogy behind that title is that our mind is a form of strange attractor, like he discussed in Chapter 3.

I’d like to bring up some points we discussed in our review of Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods by Malcom Jeeves.  Malcolm mentions the InterVarsity Press book, “In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem”.  and says this:

Personally, I find the most convincing approach in this volume, in the sense of doing most justice both to the science and to Scripture, to be the one written by Nancey Murphy.  She labels her view “Nonreductive Physicalism”.  If we must have labels put on us, I prefer to call my view dual-aspect monism, as I’ve mentioned before.  By this I mean that there is only one reality to be understood and explained – this is what I would call the “mind-brain unity”, hence the word monism.  By saying “dual-aspect”, I am affirming that in order to do full justice to the nature of this reality we need to give at least two accounts of it an account in terms of its physical makeup and an account in terms of our mental or cognitive abilities.  You cannot reduce the one to the other.  This may seem like a linguistic quibble, but my concern is that the term physicalism as Nancey Murphy uses it, could be taken by some as giving precedence to the physical aspect of our makeup over the mental.  I think that would be to ignore that, as I said earlier, we can only know and talk about the mind-body problem by using language and the mental categories it employs.  So in this sense at least, not selecting out either the mental or the physical would avoid giving precedence to either.  If pressed, I would say that referring only to the physical, as in Nonreductive Physicalism, runs the risk of seeming to endorse a materialistic view which, in turn, implies that the mind is “nothing but” the chattering of the cells of the brain.

I made the following analogy: flowing water, in a river or channel may exhibit subcritical or supercritical flow. Subcritical occurs when the actual water depth is greater than critical depth. Subcritical flow is dominated by gravitational forces and behaves in a slow or stable way. It is defined as having a Froude number less than one (The Froude number is a ratio of inertial and gravitational forces. · Gravity (numerator) – moves water downhill. · Inertia (denominator) – reflects its willingness to do so). Supercritical flow is dominated by inertial forces and behaves as rapid, turbulent, or unstable flow. Subcritical flow is laminar and is defined by relatively simple mathematical formulas. The relation between subcritical and supercritical flow is not a continuum. When the Froude number reaches 1, a nick point occurs where the flow jumps to supercritical. The flow is now chaotic and indeterminate.

My theory is that there is a Brain-Froude number of 1.  Our evolutionary brain development reached a “nick point” with regard to reason, self-awareness, ability to think about the past and the future, conceive of God, and so on. It’s not that our fellow animal kin have no ability to do these things, but that their development is of a rudimentary kind that is below the “Brain-Froude” number of 1 i.e. sub-critical. As commenter Robert F said during that discussion: “…a large enough magnitude of material cause-and-effect cascades into a qualitative change.”  Our mind/brain reached supercritical flow; we are now “in the image of God”.  We can perceive and experience Him and reflect His reality.  We can understand His communication to us and we can respond—in short we can be in a relationship with Him, as He intended.

What is it of us that survives death?  The empiricist would say nothing, and I have no empirical data to dispute that.  All I have is, like Paul, a trust in Christ, that where He is there I will be until the end when I am given the resurrection body.   The classic passage on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:

35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:

37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:

38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

So I agree with Malcolm Jeeves here, a soul is something we are, not an immaterial something we have.  We are embodied beings.  That is why the New Testament emphasis was on resurrection of the body, not dying and going to fluffy white cloud heaven as a disembodied “soul”.  As Chaplain Mike said in a previous post:

We look for the redemption of the body, not release from it. Our hope is not in the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Our hope, our home is not in heaven “up there” or “out there.” We look for all creation to be set free from its bondage so that we may all share together in the freedom of a new heavens and earth.

Sounds like something to hope for.

 

 

Wednesday with Michael Spencer: Confessions of a Poor Player

Wednesday with Michael Spencer
Confessions of a Poor Player (2009)

I love chess. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I’ve kept my first chess sets. I can recall every hand held set I ever took to school when I was told not to. I still stalk ebay looking for a particular plastic set that I wanted when I was a boy, but could never afford.

I coached our school’s chess team for 5 years and loved every minute of it. Those were some of my very best times with students. Every so often, I’ll go on a riff reading chess books, studying games and playing chess computers for weeks at a time.

Of course, I love the gear. I have an Isle of Lewis set that I ordered from the UK at a shipping rate I don’t want to discuss. (Actually, I have two.) I just bought a Chinese style set that I don’t need. I own two tournament sets. I’d be really happy to run the chess room in any pub anywhere. Hire me.

I’m a fair study of the history of chess. I’m average in a few openings. I can teach the game well and do basic analysis for beginning students.

But I’m a bad chess player. Very, very bad.

Chess is a very unforgiving game, especially against any competent player. If you want to know what I mean, set your chess computer to the level of anything above an amateur and see what happens to you if you play anything less than perfection.

Chess isn’t a game for blunderers and people who make serious errors. You can tell a computer to take it all back, but after years of making the same mistakes, that sort of cheap grace doesn’t go very far in making a real player.

I’m not mentally equipped to play the game well. My ability to concentrate is sporadic. My mind works with multiple topics and makes quick judgments. I see my own actions, but rarely calculate consequences with any real accuracy. My move always seems like the best move. I like to believe that my errors will be overlooked, and of course, that’s never the case.

So I have a house full of nice chess sets and books. I can keep a game going while I’m working on other things. (I’m getting cooked right now by Sigma Chess.) I can teach the game, appreciate the game, tell you stories about great chess players. But I’m a very poor player and always will be.

Sound familiar? Anyone?

I know a lot about Jesus. I have a lot of books about him. I know stories about great Christians. I’m a very good teacher of the basics of Christianity. I’m great at explaining how to get started. I have all the standard information memorized.

I study the Bible, and I know it well. I teach it and I can answer most of your questions. I think I’m right most of the time, too. (Surprised?)

I enjoy the music, the worship, the fellowship, the discussion. I can play the songs. I can lead in prayer and preach a good sermon. I like liturgy, church history, reformation theology…even Christian blogs.

I’m an educated minister, a trained amateur theologian and a writer with a decent reputation. I have a lot of mail saying I’ve been helpful to people wanting to live this Christian life. I’ve tried to pass my faith on to my children and to live it out at home.

But, like chess, living out the life of a disciple can a very unforgiving business. I blunder, make wrong moves, throw away opportunities and live by a double standard. God can’t point at me with any pride and say “There’s someone doing it right.”

I’m just not very good at following Jesus. I’m a “poor player.” I collect the stuff, the stories and the information. I hang around and admire, even hope to imitate. But I’m not much of a player at living out this Jesus business.

I’m better than the beginners, but I’m nowhere near the saints. I have a lot of “know” and very little “do” in my Christianity. I’m more of a fan than a follower.

Of course, religion is like chess. The Kingdom of God, thankfully, is not.

The Kingdom of God is a very forgiving place. My blunders and short-sightedness; my poor playing and missed opportunities; my laziness and distraction…..Jesus knows about them all. Jesus seems to enjoy calling people like me- and you- to be disciples, even when he knows what we’ll be like.

In the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples were very poor players, and sometimes Jesus was frustrated with them. But mostly, he kept showing them- over and over- grace, the Kingdom, the cross, the Gospel. Over and over and over.

The Kingdom has the high call and the deeper life, but it also has the grace to catch me and the laughter to let me keep on trying. The Kingdom asks us to live like God’s people, but the Gospel forgives and perseveres with us when we’re utter losers.

It is ridiculous that I’m a Christian. But I am. It’s ridiculous that I, with my record and likely future, call myself a minister. But I am. It’s ridiculous that I can have the Holy Spirit poured out in my heart and I can live with “Abba, Father” as my homing cry. But the Kingdom of God is like that. Ridiculous. Gracious. More than generous.

My “game” isn’t what’s on display here. Oh yes, I’m playing (or running, to quote Hebrews,) but the race is won, the game is over. I’m part of a team where the victory has already been announced, but the games go on, just to make Jesus look good.

My poor Christianity is discouraging and sometimes disgusting. It would make a lot more since if I were cut, told to quit and sent out.

Instead, I’m included. I share the victory. I have a place at the table and in the Father’s house.

Grace changes my perspective on the game. It is what it is, but grace is a greater thing, a deeper, more beautiful thing. I must be careful not to become a fan of the game and forget why I’m here at all. I must remember that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of rules and morals and taking stands in the public square, but of righteousness and joy and the Holy Spirit. I’m not called to be a trophy Christian, but to be a trophy of his grace.

I’m a poor chess player, but I’m trying.

I’m a poor Christian, but I’m trying.

The difference is that all I’ll ever be in chess will be the sum total of my efforts.

But all I am and will ever be as a Christian is because of Jesus and what he has achieved for me in my place. In the Kingdom, my game is secondary. My faith, even as a loser, glorifies the King who saves me. Whatever happens in me- as imperfect and incomplete as it will be- will never be more than the evidence that his grace refuses to quit, give up or send me where I deserve. To the praise of the glory of his grace, I will live, die, live again and reign with him.

In the present, God delights in what his son has done, and that delights spills over even to my poor playing. In this Kingdom, I am free from condemnation. Free to grow, free to fail, free to be myself and free to try again. What I will be is God’s promise. I live my life in his grace and love; out of that good ground, the fruits of his Spirit will grow.

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