thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: June 2012

Who Made God?

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Earlier today my housemate’s youngest son wanted to know who created God (he’s 8). I was quickly drafted in to provide a satisfactory answer as apparently the one given to him by his mother was not to his liking.

I thought about it for a moment and I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t going to be a right answer. We cannot, of course, know the answer to such a question. We may choose to infer from the Bible, but then what if even God is not aware of his maker?We are simply unable to do any more than speculate about such a question.

I love the analogy of Flatland. If you haven’t read Flatland then you should put it at the top of your reading list and mark it ‘essential’. It has a wonderful ability to explain the phenomenon of perspective.

Flatland is 2D. We are used to a 3D world, so we can imagine a 2D one. Just draw it on a piece of paper and hold it (almost) flat to your eye line. It’s easy to grasp. Yet if we were to put a pen through Flatland it would be seen by the residents as a circle, or a rectangle – depending upon the angle it was inserted.

So the point is that if we in a 3D world can imagine the 2D world and also imagine their  confusion towards a 3D object, is it any different to suggest there is a 4D world which we can never fully understand?

I offered this explanation to him as a way of saying “who knows?”. It then got me thinking… in Flatland there is a description of a place called lineland (1 dimension). Such a world is as easy to conceive of as Flatland. What really takes some understanding is Pointland. In pointland there is simply a point. No dimensions, no other beings, simply a point.

In the book, the point is spoken to by a resident of Flatland, who tries to explain to him how narrow minded his view of reality is. The point simply thinks his own mind is incredible – the point cannot conceive of a being other than himself.

This reminded me of God.

At some point, before time, before creation, there was just God.


Nothing else.

Just. God.

No need for dimensions. Just God. Just like the point of Pointland.

Which brings me to the question I currently have in my mind. If God was once everything and then God created everything, does that mean that God is around, in, through, with and a part of all things? Or is there less (or more) to it than that? Because the more I see of the world the more I am convinced that God is present in all things. Right from tree leaves to breeze blocks in tall buildings…

I don’t know… what do you think?

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Subversion: Neither Christian nor non-Christian

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We are all fond of our labels aren’t we. I am very proud of the fact that I am Welsh, I joke about how Middle Class I am. I am a self confessed Geek. I’m a(n Evangelical) Christian. I am a Mac Fan.

You probably have a picture in your mind of who I am. That picture may or may not be accurate. I would consider it likely that you have an accurate picture of the me that is described by those labels, but an inaccurate understanding of who I really am.

Society says that this is not a problem. I can be who I want to be, how I want to be, to whom I wish to be it. However this means that I can never truly relate to anybody because they are not relating to me, they are relating to a false projection of me.

Religion (modern Christianity in particular) says that this is a problem, and that I should make it easier for people to know who I am by conforming better to the positive stereotypes (Christian of course being the only one) and less to the negative ones (Welsh is I am sure the best example to my largely English audience…). Religion, to its credit, also asks of me to be authentic – to genuinely adhere to its particular nuances and guidelines.

I don’t think either is good enough though. Labels are fundamentally damaging at worst and lazy at best. Choosing to label someone else is to attribute to them characteristics, a history, a future, and a whole raft of assumptions that somebody else will then proceed to take for granted.

To choose to take on a label (“I am a Christian”) is to be lazy. To fall back on the label. I don’t have to behave as Jesus says because my statement of identity provides you with an understanding of who I (want you to think I) am. Instead of having to be authentic, real, genuine, living in the way Jesus taught, I can simply say “I am a Christian” and you will make the appropriate cultural assumptions about me.

To abandon the comfort of the label, to choose to be neither Christian nor non-Christian is to subvert the human desire to divide and separate. Instead of being one or the other, “in” or “out” I can simply be. The loss of  comfort of identity is a sacrifice necessary in the process of subversion in order to release the self to have a reputation gained not by association, but on merit of the image of the true self alone.

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Subversion: Breaking the Comfort Barrier

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Following on from my thoughts on why everything you do only makes everything worse, I have been thinking about what it might look like to truly subvert the world around us. It seems to me that this is what Jesus is calling us towards, so I would like to explore it a little.

What then, do we need in order to subvert? to bring about the Kingdom of G-d? We need methods, ideas, people, tools, meetings and so on. But above all else we need ourselves to be fully on board.

The problem is that we are not. We can never be fully on board. What we can do is try and break the barriers that leads to this being the case. The first and less interesting barrier, which I hope to come back to, is the desire for change. We must hunger for subversion.

The second barrier that I can see is the barrier of comfort. Once we have intellectually persuaded ourselves (desiring change) then we must allow ourselves to believe that it is worth the loss of comfort in order to gain something higher.

Have you ever watched a film where a central character sacrifices their life in order to contribute to the central story? I can think of many – including the famous ‘up yours’ of Independence Day (a personal favourite). Paul the Apostle writes that there is no greater thing for a man to do than lay down his life for a friend. If that friend is a whole group of friends, we have no trouble in recognising this as an act of heroism.

Yet how many of us would be heroic in such circumstances? I would vouch that the number would be fewer than we would hope – perhaps too few to achieve a hollywood ending to the story.

So it is with subversion. We are trapped in a world that keeps us by encouraging us to stay, whilst openly acknowledging we can leave (just as I explained the parallel with Zion in the Matrix so too here). This understanding of the ability to leave the system (join a commune, live on no money, avoid all unethical produce etc) leads us to realise just how uncomfortable the lifestyle would be. We are stuck with negative imagery in our mind and it is that imagery that causes us to stay exactly where we are.

We must then, in order to bring about the Kingdom of G-d, choose to let go of this comfort. The only way I can conceive of this being possible is if we focus on the greater desires rather than the short term ones. Paul discusses this dillemma in his letter to the Galatians:

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

Paul refers to our dilemma as being ‘of the flesh’ and ‘of the Spirit’. The flesh is the animal us and the spirit the soul, the part of ourselves we cannot scientifically explain. Our flesh demands short term results. Gratification, comfort, control. Our spirit desires freedom and ideals and wonders and movements. It is our spirit which will lead the way to revolution by subversion.

What then can we do, knowing in our mind that subversion is the key to a better future, to persuade our spirit? I think that this is what Paul is getting at in most of his letters. He guides us through his understanding of faith in such a way that we can learn to leave matters of the flesh behind.

Perhaps in reading his writings in such a light will allow us to finally let go of our need for security – just as the great missionaries of the past and present have done – and unshackle ourselves from the bonds of materialism, greed and anything else that does not constitute the quiet revolution of Heaven.

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Why Everything You Do Only Makes Everything Worse

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I find that increasingly in church sermons, books and blogs (including my own) there is a growing voice compelling us to change more than the attitudes of our hearts. We need, we are told, to change our behaviour too.

There is truth in such statements, of course. If nobody ever changed their behaviour, we would be stuck traveling in the same direction both individually and as a collective society. If we do not try to be better people by doing better things, then nothing will ever get any better.

However, everything we do only makes everything worse. We cannot hope to change the way things are. The whole system is set up against us.

We partake in democratic elections [well, those of us ‘fortunate enough’ to live in democracies do] in which we choose the direction of our country. We feel good because we have had our say, and the party we chose to support goes on to implement broadly what we had hoped.

But that never happens does it? Or at least rarely. When it does not, we become disillusioned, and choose to withhold our vote as a matter of protest. The irony of this is that such an act proves to be cathartic in and of itself and we find ourselves choosing willingly to disengage with the political system. The system can then ignore us and do as it wishes, without our consent.

We buy fair trade products in order to help the poorest in the world. Yet in doing so we endorse the cause of the unfairness itself – capitalism. We have been told by this system that we must endorse capitalism in order to help these people, whether we realise that or not.

It’s there in our faith too (of course I can only speak for Christianity on this one). It seems to me that we endorse systems whereby we can choose to feel guilty, absolve ourselves and then continue to sin – going directly against the words of St Paul (‘shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? by no means!’).

Not only do we allow this system but we actively endorse it and partake in it with our theology. We are bound into this way of thinking by centuries of people wanting it to be that way, and I’m not sure it is. Jesus seems to provide very few concrete answers on anything, preferring to question. When it comes to guilt and sin, Jesus seems to be all over the place, impossible to track down, and yet paradoxically all encompassing.

Jesus wanted an end to the kind of theology that led to ‘in’ and ‘out’. Yet here we are, with a system that keeps us all in line as ‘in’ or ‘out’. We sin, absolve ourselves of our sin via a cathartic experience (mass, charismatic worship, confession…) and then go on to expect and know that the same pattern awaits us. What if we really, truly, honestly, wanted to break out of that pattern? What do we do? How do we do it?

The only truly successful and enduring revolution I can think of is that of capitalism. Capitalism crept in under Feudalism’s nose and stole its thunder, bringing with it a way of doing life that the middle classes could once have only dreamed of. Yet it did not come about because of a revolution, a dramatic change, a system designed to bring it into place. Capitalism crept in.

There’s another revolution creeping in – one we are called to be a part of. Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven, others may call it Nirvana, or something else again. The Kingdom of Heaven spreads quietly, discreetly and organically. Unnoticed, unpublicised, unknown to many around it. And one day it will be the status quo.

So I lied. Not everything you do makes things worse. Some things make things better. But we do need to stop living within the structures we have been given trying to make a difference. We have to break out of them, to subvert them truly instead of choosing cooperation. Cooperation leads to Rome, and Rome leads to Religion, and Religion leads to Law, and the law, well, that brought death. Subversion is difficult to find, hard to master, has a narrow road, is not well travelled. But it will be worth it.

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