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Thursday.

your costco shrimp might be harvested using slave labour, America is fighting a war that just “is,” a RCMP dog breaks the hearts of a nation, calling the West Bank + Gaza “occupied territories” is called a “gaffe,” great comments on free speech in a liberal society feat. Andrew Sullivan + Dan Savage, the Evangelical church still doesn’t know how to talk about sex, Southern Baptists applaud when their leaders don’t “feel like it was [their] place” to comment on the name of the Washington Redskins football team,  and America averages one school shooting per week

Things I’ve retweeted on my Twitter today. 

History

"Sadly, however, it is not serious historians who, for the most part, form the historical consciousness of their times; it is the bad popular historians, generally speaking, and the historical hearsay they repeat or invent and the myths they perpetuate and simplifications they promote, that tend to determine how most of us view the past."
—David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale, 2009), p 35.

compasses.

Quick thoughts on Israel//Palestine + the Hebrew Bible + Jesus

I visited Israel and Palestine four years ago this month, and my tour guide was Palestinian Christian. I met his wife and two young children outside Jericho. I don’t know if he held any radical political views (many Canadians hold radical political views), but I would suspect that even if he did, underneath it all were the desires that lie behind the political views of most everyone—that they truly and honestly believe that their views, values, and ideas are the ones which will be most beneficial for themselves and the future of their children, and will ultimately lead to peace.

I find it remarkable that for evangelicals who hold extreme pro-Israel & anti-Palestinian political views, who support and would defend the actions of the Israeli state in bulldozing Palestinian villages because of the belief that Israel has a divine right to possess Eretz Israel, that in the same scriptures where they find justification for these Zionist beliefs, there are entire books (Ezra + Nehemiah) written about a population which was exiled from their ancestral homeland and prevented from returning. The idolatrous king which awarded the exiles the right to return and rebuild their crushed nation is praised for his actions.

The Jewish population has suffered untold tragedies since 70AD, whether from anti-Jewish pogroms, the Inquisition, general anti-semitism, or the horrors of the nazi holocaust, and, like every people group on the planet, have a right to security, safety, and health which should be protected. But the actions of some Zionist leaders and militants in the land, both before and after 1948, have replicated oppressions the Jewish people have historically faced onto the Arab residents of the region of Palestine. Persons from the conflicts of the 20th century live in crowded refugee camps, if they have not already passed waiting for the chance to return to their homes. Residents of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have had their homes destroyed, their children killed, their farmland stolen, and their autonomy crushed.

It struck me today that the return from exile narratives in the Hebrew Bible, embraced by both Jewish persons and Christians, are about the desires of a people to return home, to live in safety and security, and to have autonomy over their own land and future. They have a power to spark conversations about the challenges facing immigrants all over the globe today, the challenges of indigenous persons who have had their nations systematically destroyed, their culture crushed/appropriated by the conquering nation, and their land stolen.

I am not interested in engaging in black/white debates about who is solely to blame for a terrible situation—suicide bombing, Hezbollah or Hamas attacks on Israelis are just as unjustifiable as aerial bombing raids of Gaza that hit civilian targets (although there is something to be said for the distinction between intended targets v collateral damage, in the end innocents suffer on both sides), I want to highlight and come back to later on this blog the idea of reading Ezra//Nehemiah through post-colonial eyes, and the potential that a reading of the ancient texts might have to say to people currently living in exile all over the world today.

As a Christian, I am committed to the belief that the root of all problems facing humanity today is our exile from God; you might be more comfortable with the idea of us merely being in exile from each other or nature, maybe simply referring to a generic ‘divine presence,’ but as one who has a commitment to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, I contend that we are all in exile from our creator. As the eternal longing of the hearts of a people in exile is to return home, to find rest, Jesus is the way home for everyone. He came to end the exile, to bring us home, to end division + conflict, and to bring us to God.

Boko Haram and Porn

Disclaimer: this comparison between men who dehumanize women “over there” and men who dehumanize women “here” is in no way meant to make light of the tragic situation in Northern Nigeria. I am making comparisons between actions but I am not equating one situation with the other—one situation is vastly more horrific than the other, and deserves more of our efforts to bring to an end.

image

The most hated African in the world right now is no longer Joseph Kony, it is Abubakar Shekau, leader of the jihadist group Boko Haram. For the last five years they have spent their energies attacking churches, police stations, markets, etc, with the goal of establishing an Islamist state in poverty-stricken northern Nigeria, but the group has been relatively unknown in the West until last week when news spread over social media that the group had kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in mid-April, prompting outrage and demands for governments to act.

Shekau says in the video:

Let me tell you: I took the girls. … I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.

We are rightly outraged at both the kidnapping of young girls who were peacefully working on their education and also the audacity of a man who believes he has the right to sell girls, and while we can be proud of the fact that we do not behave as he and his followers do, I want to highlight his language: he will sell the girls because there is a market.

I am not Shekau. I have never done what he and his group have done, I could never fathom behaving in that manner, nor could I ever be capable of such atrocities. But I and other outraged western men are not so drastically different from him, despite what we would like to think.

Shekau sells women, but he is able to sell women because there is a demand for them to be sold. They are being purchased by men. The men who have purchased girls are complicit in the kidnapping for creating the demand.

Boko Haram is the media lightning rod of the moment for the global human trafficking industry (for more information, check out stopthetraffik.org). Those of us who are men and who are outraged and want to work to stop human trafficking might be glad that at least we don’t purchase or sell women, but in our hearts we may have absorbed and bought into a different but similar ideology which still reduces women and girls to objects; objects that can be purchased and consumed.

At the end of the day, just as Boko Haram kidnaps and plans to sell almost 300 girls because there is a demand for it, the casual viewing of pornography by men in the West creates a demand for what is essentially acts of prostitution recorded on video or in photos, where woman are exploited, abused, dehumanized, and made into victims of sexualized violence.

As porn has gone mainstream, … it has devolved into an open fusion of physical abuse and sex, of extreme violence, horrible acts of degradation against women with an increasingly twisted eroticism. Porn has always involved the eroticization of unlimited male power, but today it also involves the expression of male power through the physical abuse, even torture, or women.

Torture and pornography inevitable converge. They each turn human beings into submissive objects. In porn the woman is stripped of her human attributes and made to beg for abuse. She has no identity as a distinct human being. Her only worth is as a toy, a pleasure doll. She exists to gratify any whim that a male decides if pleasurable. She has no other purpose. Her real name vanishes. She adopts a cheap and usually vulgar stage name. She becomes a slave. She is filmed being degraded and physically abused. This film is sold to consumers, who, in turn, are aroused by the illusion that they too can dominate and abuse women. They, too, can be torturers.

From Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion (Knopf, 2009).

Even if you have never paid for pornography online you would have viewed advertisements which pays for the website. You have contributed to the system. I have contributed to the system. 

The same dehumanizing ideology which underlies the mission of Boko Haram to sell girls on the market because there is a demand also underlies the pornography industry which sells videos of women being sexually abused on the internet because there is a demand. A demand that is created by our web browsing habits and our google searches. 

No good father ever wants his daughter to end up in pornography, but when we are completely comfortable consuming recordings of other men’s daughters being abused, dehumanized, and prostituted online, we are in one sense not radically different from the men in Boko Haram, who legitimize the abuse of women. We support their cause by supporting the fruit of their underlying ideology. In our case, the fruit of that ideology is purchasing (either through viewing ads or exchanging money) videos of women being turned into objects and having sexual violence done to them, which sometimes progresses into supporting real human trafficking by purchasing prostitutes or engaging in sex tourism.

Our outrage at their acts must also be turned inward to see if in our hearts or actions we have done things which have contributed to a system that abuses women, that objectifies women, that perpetuates and legitimizes violence against women, and that sees women as objects to be collected, either by notches on a bedpost, girls to be purchased, or photos on your laptop.

Andrew Sullivan and the Kingdom of God

Andrew Sullivan has a post from long ago that I finally got around to reading, and he articulates in a secular manner and for secular issues what I’ve been trying to say in my preaching and in conversations with evangelical-minded christians over the past several years-basically that a society where liberty reigns is a society where the kingdom vision of Jesus can reign most purely.

And my attachment to open debate means constantly allowing even the foulest sentiments to be expressed – the better to confront them, expose them and also truly persuade people of the wrongness of their views – rather than pressuring them into submission or silence. Others have a different vision: that such bigotry needs extra punishment by the state (hence hate-crime laws), that bigots need to be constantly shamed, and that because of the profound evil of such thoughts, social pressure should be brought to bear to silence them. More to the point, past sins have to be recanted and repented before such bigots are allowed back into the conversation.

The instinctual reaction of not only evangelicals but the majority of Christians in the post-Constantinian era has been to embrace the ways of Caesar to usher in the kingdom. Coercion, through legal or military might, is not a value of the Jesus who died forgiving the people who were killing him (and dying for his enemies, no less).

When coercion is used as a means to accomplish the ends of Jesus’ kingdom, we embrace the means of Caesar. When coercion is used by Christians and when Christians are known for silencing debate and shutting down our opponents, we will be known by the broader culture not for our love,

not for our love for our enemies,

not for Jesus,

not for the forgiveness of sins,

not for grace,

but for being in power and using that power to stay there.

We worship a God who, though having the power to create an untold number of universes, humbled himself and died by allowing the wickedness of empire to overcome his flesh. We worship a God who gave up his rights, gave up his power, and served us instead. 

These thoughts of mine are not complete, and there are many more reasons why I think a free society that is characterized by liberty is the best environment for the gospel to flourish beyond what it does to the reputation of Jesus-but it is still a good reason. Paul wrote to those in Rome saying “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.”