Friday, September 17, 2010

facebook, privacy, and social exchange

The more I live in my personal post-FB world, the more phenomenal the phenomenon
becomes. And the more reflections I have.

Facebook's fundamental premise is not, "If you didn't want people to know, you
shouldn't have shared it," but, "if you didn't want people to know, you
shouldn't have done it." That is, for FB, privacy is not really an option that
it believes you want, even if you say you do want privacy. In this world, FB is
a silent eavesdropper to all your relationships, ever present, and assuming that
even if you don't want other people to know, you want FB to know. FB's mantra is
eerily like the moral agenda of More's Utopia, "If you've got nothing to hide,
why do you need privacy?" But privacy is not about hiding things, but about
sharing them. There's nothing wrong with a nude body, but privacy is not needing
to share it with everybody! FB is the 5yo child standing at your bedroom door at
inopportune moments, and blurting inopportune comments out at dinner parties
with your to-be-impressed friends. When all of life becomes public performance,
what will we have left to share?

Facebook is also the mediator of our social exchanges. So that in my post-FB
existence, I sometimes experience 'social networking discrimination', the kind
of exclusion that comes from the assumption that 'everybody is on facebook', so
to share with facebook is to have shared with your friends. "Didn't you read it
on facebook? I posted it this morning" is the FB-user's assumption, and so the
need to have unmediated social exchange has been obviated. No need to 'catch-up'
at all. Worse still is the presumption, "If I just put something up on facebook,
everybody will read it." We have outsourced our communication.

None of which is meant to be an ideological critique of what facebook is.
Facebook's success is in doing social networking with a high degree of
functionality. But in the age of online social networking, we more than ever
need reflection on what it is doing to our society.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thesis: approaching completion

You'll be pleased to hear (I hope!) that my MTh thesis is nearing completion. I am a few thousand words shy of the target, and have a conclusion to write, but it's mostly done. A few other things need tidying up - incorporating a little more secondary literature, refining and nuancing the premises of my argument, the strength of evidence, and the weight of conclusions.

I'll present a paper on Partitive Exegesis in Chrysostom at a student seminar in a few weeks, and probably post that online shortly after. As for the whole thesis, I expect I'll make it freely available once it's been marked, so sometime in the new year.

Will shortly be looking in more earnest for a job for next year; will also spend Nov-Dec trying to finish the Gregory Nazianzus reader/commentary.

Towards a theology of violence, V (Exodus)

Exodus is, on my understanding and reading of the Canon, the central OT book. Its dual focus is the Exodus event, which is the great deliverance of a people unto God, through the atoning sacrifice of the Passover, and the Covenant-giving, which constitutes that saved people into a holy assembly unto the nations.

The opening of the book reconfigures the historical scene – the passing of time, the new generation, and the forgetfulness of Pharaoh, who now proceeds upon a campaign of oppression that culminates in Ex 1:22, a persistent genocidal attempt to exterminate the Hebrew people.

The first incident of depicted violence comes in Ex 2:11-15, with Moses slaying of an Egyptian for oppressing a Hebrew. The incident doesn’t receive a great deal of commentary, but it’s by no means favourable to Moses, who does not emerge as a triumphant saviour, but a cowardly murderer who flees into exile.

The incident of the Burning Bush and God’s speech in Ex 3:7-10 reveals God as the one who hears the cries of his afflicted and oppressed people, and will intervene to deliver them.

The interplay between Pharaoh, Moses, and God in the next few chapters involves two major factors. Firstly, there is the back-and-forth over the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. At times, he hardens his own heart, at others, God does it. I read here a doctrine of dual agency: both God and Pharaoh are responsible for the hardening of his heart, God in his sovereign electing and providential purposes, Pharaoh in his human sinful responsibility and rebellion. Secondly, the plagues represent both battle and judgment. They are judgments upon Egypt for their sin, rebellion, and part of their curse for cursing God’s people (cf. Gen 12:1-3). They are also defeats of Egypt’s ‘gods’, whose individual realms of jurisdiction are shown to be in the hand of the Almighty. They are the sallies of the Lord as he wages a kind of war against Pharaoh.

All this culminates in the Passover and 10th plague. For in the 10th plague, no distinction is made as regards to guilt and judgment between Egypt and Israel, for both are guilty before the Lord. Rather, God in his grace gives to Israel the means of atonement, the sacrifice of a substitute by whose blood they will be passed over in judgment. This is, in fact, the basis not only for the gospel, but for any Christian ethical approach to violence and judgment. We too are under judgment, and only by grace, the grace of atonement, do we escape it. The death of the firstborn is the crippling blow to Egypt and its ‘gods’. Moreover, it plays of the themes of Israel, the ‘Son of God’, and Pharaoh, the son of a god. YHWH redeems his firstborn son, the sons of Israel, the descendants of Isaac according to promise, while judging and destroying Egypt’s firstborn(s).

That a war motif runs through these chapters is also evident by the repeated instructions to ask the Egyptians for their wealth, and Israel’s carrying this off as plunder. These are spoils of war, which Israel possesses, even though they do none of the fighting throughout the Exodus event. God is the mighty warrior, Israel the passive bystander. Ex 15:3 poetically displays that truth. Not the might of Israel, but the arm of the Lord brings them salvation.

The battle at Rephidim (Ex 17:8-16) is an odd occurrence. Israel’s first physical battle is ultimately carried by the visible sign of Moses’ raised hands. Though I accept it’s a long shot, I see here a faint typology of the Cross, as the victory is accomplished more by the outstretched arms of God’s Servant, than the actual fighting on the ground.

The second major theme of Exodus is built around the Covenant formed at Sinai. Its initiation in chapter 19 sets up Israel as ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex 19:6). This dual identity as priests (mediators of God’s presence) and kings (rulers of God’s land), reflects the creation reality of Genesis 1-2, the interior relation of Israel’s kings and priests to Israel’s exterior relation to the nations, points forward to Jesus our High Priest and King of Kings, and by extension to the church’s role in the world in 1 Peter 2:5, Revelation 1:6. This theme I have explored and preached on elsewhere.

This background helps us see the Covenant in a slightly broader salvation-historical context. The details of Chapter 20 should not escape us either, that the giving of the Decalogue is predicated on the prior deliverance wrought by God alone, Ex 20:1-2.
Some will ask no doubt whether Ex 20:13 is a basis for a pacifist ethic, I find it is not. The word choice refers to illegitimate killing, and there is plenty of legitimised killing in the Covenant and OT. However, as you read on through the Torah, the killing is, arguably, judicial. This reflects the overlay of religious and political realities in the nation/ekklesia of Israel.

The conquest of Canaan is spoken of in Ex 23:20-33, and we will speak more of the conquest under Joshua. Note here the emphasis on refraining from Idolatry, and instead on the peace that Israel and the land will experience together.

Most of the later chapters are taken up with Ark building instructions and activities, which I will leave aside. Instead, let’s focus on the incident of the golden calf, which calls forth both a violent purging in Ex 32:25-29, and a plague from God in 32:35. The violence of the purging is shocking to us, but sensical in the ANE context, and reflective of the utter detestation of sin and idolatry that is becoming characteristic of Israel’s life with God. Again, despite its ad hoc nature, it is typically judicial in character, if not formal in conduct.

I suggest then, that the book of Exodus reveals God as the mighty Judge and Warrior. As judge, he visits people to bring punishment for sins, whether within or without God’s people. As Warrior, he is the one who fights for his people, and the strength of his might is such to render them bystanders to his mighty saving deeds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

False equations: masculinity and violence

Can we move past them?

I'm sick of hearing people say, "I can't imagine Jesus as a wimpy guy. He must have been a tough dude. Therefore pacifism is wrong, and you're not manly enough." [slight caricature, but only slight]

If you equate being masculine with being tough, and physically capable of beating up other men, then your doctrine of humanity is deeply flawed. Most men will never live up to your physical idealisation of masculinity. Some will never be capable of even attempting to do so.

More drastically though, if you build in to your idea of masculinity the idea of violence, then you're tacitly building violence into your idea of the New Creation. The Scriptures image to us that the New Creation will be the restoration, redemption, and perfection of this current one, and so it's theologically naive to suppose that masculine identity innately involves violence, and your heaven is beginning to look more like Valhalla.

So cut that cheap rhetorical trick out of your repertoire. Were Jesus and the apostles physically fit and tough? Probably. Did Jesus or the apostles ever practise or teach self-defence or violence? No. Did Jesus or the apostles at any time teach restraint from violence? Yes. Why then would you keep arguing that violence is somehow integral to being a man?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Introversion and church as community

I’ve been reading McHugh’s very helpful book, Introverts in the Church, and one of his several helpful insights is the way in which evangelical values on relationship and community are expressed in a extraverted way that is problematic for introverts. I could well resonate with him as he spoke about how we often measure people’s spiritual health or commitment to church by assessing what they’re involved in: groups, committees, meetings, etc.. That’s a mistake when it comes to introverts.

It caused me to think a bit more about the ‘Total Church’ “model”, and a question I should have asked Timmis or Chester when I had the chance. Their vision of gospel community sounds incredibly relationally-intense. When Timmis talks about spending most of his day with others, and jokes that often the only time he is alone is when he goes to sleep, sharing a bed only with his wife, his vision of gospel community begins to sound like an introvert’s nightmare.

How do we build a real and close-knit community, while respecting that introverts really do need time alone to recharge? On the one hand, we don’t want to just give introverts a pass-out card, as if their personality gives them the option to opt-out. At the same time, it would be a mistake, and a sinful one, simply to tell introverts to ‘toughen up’ and get on with sharing 17/7. Especially for introverts whose work-life is already people-centred. For those introverts, much of their relational energy will be drained by work itself, which means the rest of their time they’re probably looking to recharge. I imagine there would be nothing worse for an introvert than to spend 8 hours being emotionally drained working with people, and then come home to a house full of exuberant Christians who dropped by for a meal and prayer!

We need to do better on this.

The way we play is a mirror of our values

I don’t think Christians have done very well in the realm of ‘play’. We have very poor theologies of art, entertainment, leisure, and representation. A reformation inheritance has tended to downplay the importance of ‘play’ in life, and so relegated it entirely to the realm of childhood, which has meant it’s not a topic for serious discourse, and it’s something we want children to give up and grow out of.

However play is very important. Ask some developmentalist-types and they’ll tell you that. But what I want to ponder today is how play is important to social development and social normalisation. My hunch is this: the way we play, or what we play, is often an idealisation of cultural values. Now, I’m not trying to draw a very straight line, as if every act of play is of deep significance, that cruelty to animals or violent video games are automatic producers of serial killers. Read a few research papers and those links are tenuous at best. No, rather the imaginative worlds people regularly inhabit, have a formative effect on their values.

This is why I’m opposed as a Christian to violent games on the whole. Actually, I think a distinction needs to be made between representations of violence and simulations of violence. It is simulations of violence that I’m opposed to. Not because I think simulating violence produces violent people, but because simulating violence helps build up a mindset in which violence is normalised and legitimised.

If the Christian vision of the world is one of the ingathering of the nations into the church, the body of Christ which consists of a new humanity not riven by ethnic and national divisions, why would I want to uphold and honour the professional soldiery of nation-states, whose basic allegiance is to defend the sovereignty of nations by means of killing others, when the whole gospel is subversive of nations by declaring them and us both equal and in solidarity in Christ? If the pattern of Christ is submission even unto death, why would we model our play on self-assertion to the point of death?

The core of the Christian gospel is that Christ came to die to accomplish our redemption and reconciliation, so that the pattern of his life has become the pattern of Christian life. Conflict, within the NT, such as it is, is never about force of arms. Not from Christians. So why would we inculcate the values of a foreign belief system about violence, in our leisure and play, especially for our children?