Review: David Bowie – Blackstar

blackstarcoverThe untimely death of David Bowie has made reviewing this album a tough task.  It’s hard to stay objective about it, or not see it through the lens of his demise.  I’m sort of forced to think back to how I felt about it listening on the weekend before.  So what follows is as best an assessment as I can make:

Like The Next Day before it, Bowie is in top form on this one.  It’s a four star album.  But Blackstar holds almost no musical similarity to its predecessor.  While TND definitely had one foot in the nostalgia camp, and plenty of songs that musically wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Ziggy Stardust era, Blackstar tends to reference very little in Bowie’s past; at a pinch perhaps drawing on some of his nineties work, but only tangentially.  Sonically, this is where a new Bowie album should be going – new territory – though in many ways, several of the songs sound much better in the context of the album than they do standing alone.

The two singles – the title track and Lazarus, are the outstanding anchors of the album, and if Bowie had recorded five other tracks of himself farting to pad it out, we’d still be calling this one of his greats.  Blackstar – all ten glorious minutes of it – is a creepy, occultic, Byzantine catacomb of a song that showcases all that was loved about him.  What dark and uncertain place is Bowie’s soul being dragged off to with his “passport and shoes”?  We are forced to ponder a slightly tongue-in-cheek assessment of his career as “a flash in the pan”, finally facing up to “the great I AM”.  And Lazarus – could there be a more fitting final single? – a slight and ordinary song when looked at as notes on a page is transformed in the hands of Bowie and Visconti into something truly transcendent.  That lonely guitar figure at the start, the mournful saxaphone, the garage band axe-thrash, the heartbreaking lyrics – Lazarus is truly the “Antiheroes”.  Instead of telling us that mere mortals can reach immortality “just for one day”, Bowie the immortal now reveals he is all too human, grasping at the last gasp of his fading life.

Quite naturally, the rest of the music struggles to compare to these two giants, and if you had to compare the album with The Next Day song for song, TND probably wins on consistency at least.  But there are certainly no bad songs here.  Tis a Pity She Was a Whore provides some heft that recalls the music of Black Tie White Noise, though it sounds like the B side it actually is.  Its best feature is the simply magical lyric “Man, she punched me like a dude!”  Sue, a single Bowie released last year that was probably his finest song in almost twenty years, is here shorn of its big band jazz arrangement in favour of rock guitar riffs that turns it into a drum and bass song, all but destroying everything that made it so engaging and special in the first place.  Girl Loves Me, sung in the Polari dialect and musically recalling, of all things, 1994’s Buddha of Suburbia, is proof that Bowie’s more interesting moments are not always necessarily his most magic ones.  And the album closes with the two most conventional songs on the album – pleasant enough ballads Dollar Days and I Can’t Give Everything Away, the latter of which is all but a rewrite of the title track to 1987’s stinker album Never Let Me Down!  Proof perhaps of Bowie’s enduring sense of humour?   Undoubtedly!  But there’s nothing boring or skippable here – there’s a real cohesiveness and completeness to this album that makes it worthy of repeated listening.

Blackstar is undoubtedly Bowie’s most adventurous album since 1997’s Earthling, and with its two (for want of a better word) stellar singles, definitely his most rewarding listening experience since that time.  It’s a fitting epitaph to the career of one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical artists.

David Bowie

After downloading and listening to Blackstar last week, I remember thinking how marvelous it was that David Bowie was still alive and releasing music.  I fantasized about the next ten years, and the sort of new stuff he would put out and give us.  I’d planned to write a review of the album for this blog.  I was going to do it on Monday.

“Where the f*ck did Monday go?”

These best-laid plans all got shattered when my wife came into the bedroom after I had just woken up on that day and told me the terrible news.  This amazing entertainer was no longer with us.

Outside of my faith and my family, I can’t think of a more important presence in my life than the music of David Bowie.  And yet, I’m not even 100% sure why.  What it might come down to is that he was so utterly subversive.  He took songs and genres, and then put little twists on them.  He delighted in undermining straight narratives.  He took shallow things, and made them deep, or even revealed their depth.  Conversely, sometimes he took very serious things and ripped them to shreds.

You can see this in glam rock.  Compare a song like T-Rex’s Planet Queen with Bowie’s own Starman.  They’re both great songs about aliens coming to earth, but Marc Bolan’s is essentially just a silly story.  Not Bowie’s.  There’s something darker and more sinister going on, with an alien who’s afraid to “blow our minds” that only “the children” will understand.  He would also do the same thing with the music itself, melding different styles and genres.  On practically every Bowie album there’s always something musically unexpected – that you wouldn’t normally hear with someone playing a straight bat – from Mike Garson’s bonkers jazz-piano, to Brian Eno’s weird production, right through even to the big band jazz of last year’s single Sue (In a Season of Crime).  More than anyone else, he would give you the thrill of the new, tingling in your spine as you heard something unexpected.

In short, Bowie took Lou Reed’s original idea of turning a pop song into art, and took it through the stratosphere into pop megastardom.  Pop music isn’t supposed to be like that.  It’s supposed to be dumb and shallow so people can dance to it and get laid.  Well, people still danced to Bowie and got laid, but even on Let’s Dance, he’s still singing about the apocalypse, and his heart breaking in two as you tremble like a flower in his arms.  Bowie was clever and subversive.  He invited us all to stop looking at the superficial and dig deeper.  Or even, as on Lucy Can’t Dance (a single written to diss Madonna that he chickened out of releasing at the last minute), to look at something “profound” and realise there’s nothing of substance there.

I think this is why I identify with Bowie so much.  I’ve never liked the superficial, consumerist, simplistic approach.  I want to think, and delve, and dig deeper, and that’s where Bowie and I connected.  Because that’s where the real emotions are – not on the surface, but in the depths.  More than anyone else, Bowie somehow got to those.  And people have written about Bowie’s appeal to the outsider, and yes, that is a big part of it too.  Turns out there are a lot of us outsiders.  “The music is outside”.

It’s so hard to name favourite bits of work, but I will mention a few.  I still think Rebel Rebel is the greatest pop single ever released.  The Top of the Pops Starman appearance that made him a star is without peer.  Sweet Thing/Candidate from Diamond Dogs has so much drama and pathos you want to cry.  StationToStation in its entirety – my favourite album.  Low, his most innovative work, and one of the most innovative albums of all time.  The video to Boys Keep Swinging.  Let’s Dance.  Absolute Beginners.  The bit in the Tin Machine song I Can’t Read where he rages “Andy, where’s my fifteen minutes?!”  Outside, the first Bowie album I ever bought.  Dead Man Walking.  I’m Afraid of Americans.  Strangers When We Meet.  Sue.  Dang it, there’s too much stuff – so much wonderful stuff!  I’ve read a few comments complaining that Bowie lacks real emotion in his work and it was all an act, he was just playing a character.  They must have cloth ears – Bowie played those characters to get to the real man (or woman) in all of us.  His songs are an excavation of our hearts to find the feels.

So long, David Robert Jones, aka David Bowie.  I will be praying for you.  Thank you for all that you gave me, and everyone who loves your music.  You are truly one of the greatest artists of all time.  May your memory be eternal!

…At Least, That’s What I Believe In…

These are dark times in the world.  Evil and hate and corruption are everywhere.  Terrorists shoot up concert halls, blow up aeroplanes and destroy lives.  Politicians spew hate and bile, and the internet is a cesspit of anger and destructive language.  Meanwhile, even love itself is debased through confusion with sexual gratification.  Things that God created as good are corrupted and debased and confused.  God, or even goodness, seems far away.

Whatever one believes about God, or theology, or metaphysics, we know that the world is in bad shape.  It needs salvation of some sort.  There needs to be hope somehow and somewhere.  And we know that this hope cannot come from mere humanity – our humanity is what got us into this mess.  What we need is divinity, one way or another.  We need to reconnect with that part of ourselves that is pure and good and superhuman.  We see this idea even in atheist philosophers like Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Rand.  But in all these cases of seeking to make gods out mortals, humanity has ended up even less divine and even less human.  We are helpless to solve the corruption of the world by ourselves.

nativity-iconIt is into this darkness, the Winter Solstice of the world, right when we cannot see or find Him, that God comes.  And not just invisibly, or metaphorically, or intellectually, or even merely spiritually, but He takes on human flesh from a human woman, a lowly temple acolyte, and becomes one of us.  We cannot be divine, so God becomes human.  He becomes a little baby, real, tangible and present in the world as the God-Man.  And in doing so, He begins His work to restore the world.  Christ is born!  He is here!  He has arrived!  Our saviour has arrived!  There is Hope in all the hopelessness of the world!

I believe that this is why Christmas is so universal and so appealing to the world.  Of course Easter/Pascha is more important – what could be more important than Christ rising from the dead and defeating death?  But there is sorrow there too – Christ must first die.  Christmas, however, has no downside – a baby is born, there is peace on earth and goodwill to all men!  Anyone can get behind that – Christians, atheists, and anyone else in between.

As Stephen Colbert, for all his faults, once sang, “There are much worse things to believe in.”  Christmas is something that can be true for everyone, even if not everyone thinks it’s true.


I’ve seen a lot of crap online lately, from people saying Christmas is just a crude copy of pagan myths (why isn’t it the fulfilment of them?), that it’s just an appropriation of pagan festivals (it isn’t, or the Church would have a Summer Solstice substitute as well – it doesn’t), that it was “invented” by the Roman Catholics (it was always celebrated one way or another), and that the date of December 25th is arbitrary (it isn’t, it’s calculated from the Bible at fifteen months from Zachariah’s vision at Yom Kippur, and was finally universally adopted by the Church in the late 4th Century).  Christmas is real.  God walks with men again.  Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!  And even if you don’t believe that, you can believe in the Hope that Christmas brings.  It’s a Hope that surely has a better chance of saving this sad corrupt world than anything else.

May everyone be blessed this Holy Nativity!

Christ Can Forgive Your Abortion Right Now!

popethumbsupIt’s come to my attention that a certain heretical church leader has been blaspheming God by saying his church can forgive your abortion “next year”.

If you found yourself underwhelmed by that “generous offer”, I have great news!  God through His Son Jesus Christ can actually forgive your abortion, AND other sins, ALL THE TIME!

confession_1All you have to do is pop along to your local Orthodox Church parish and confess your abortion (and anything else) to the Priest, and not only will Christ forgive your sins, but the Priest will bear witness to His forgiveness by offering you the Holy Mysteries according to your relationship with the Church!

And you don’t have to wait until December for it to happen.

Christ forgives sins by our confession, not by clerical declaration at specific points on a calendar.  And thank God for that!

Jeremy Corbyn Now Leads UK Labour

hestonliberty
“You did it… you really did it… You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

😀

Why I Support Kim Davis (And the Rule of Law at the Same Time)

In a nutshell, if the State asks you to lie, the State is in the wrong.

kimdavisThis is not about bigotry, or denying anyone’s rights.  This is about telling the truth about reality, when the State legislates a lie.

Unfortunately, that makes Kim Davis a criminal, and she is subject to censure by the State.  And I’d never suggest that the State not do its job in that regard.  But nor can I see how Kim Davis could do anything other than what she has done.  I would do exactly the same thing.

Sadly, I’ve seen many good Christians say things like “why doesn’t she just resign?”  I’m afraid I vehemently disagree with that option.  You might have some case to say that had Davis been elected after Obergefell, and not been honest about her stance, that holding her position is untenable.  And certainly in the private sector, I’d argue that if you are someone who doesn’t want, say, gay sex occurring on your property, then maybe you shouldn’t be running a bed and breakfast!  But that argument doesn’t hold when it comes to the government.  I’ve always said that gay “marriage” in itself is something that is none of our business.  There’s no question that a gay couple should have the right to find a church willing to perform a ceremony for them, invite a hundred of their closest friends and make some vows to each other.  But when you start asking the government, an institution that I participate in as part of a democratic society, to positively sanction something and certify it, and furthermore, to misrepresent the truth about it against the beliefs of a significant part of the population;  that discriminates against the truth, and against me personally, as someone who holds to that truth.  You exclude me, and others like me, from even participating.  That violates our rights. Why should anyone have to resign over that?

Of course, as a Christian, I don’t have rights.  I don’t say that ironically or sarcastically, I really mean it.  I should have no expectation of fair treatment from the world at all.  Christ certainly never got it.  But when you are elected to do a job, and the State quite literally makes the honest and faithful exercise of that job illegal, the correct response is not to let the State get away with it, but stand your ground.  In the Book of Acts, the Sanhedrin told the Apostles not to speak about Christ, but none of them resigned.  Instead, they said “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  Kim Davis, faced with being told not to speak the truth, can do no less.

I’m sure many will take issue with my view of “the truth” and see it as subjective.  I’m afraid I do indeed believe in such a thing as objective truth, and moreover, that there are few things in life more basic than the truth of what marriage is.  It’s a union between a man and a woman, sure as penises and vaginas fit each other like a jigsaw puzzle.  To quote an obscure first century philosopher…


…from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.


Marriage only exists because we have two different sexes.  The State wants us to believe and act otherwise.  The State is wrong.  We cannot say otherwise, because that way lies madness. 
And we will take whatever punishment the State deems appropriate for this infraction with gladness.

Long May She Reign!

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, Queen of New Zealand is now the longest reigning British monarch of all time!

queenelizabethGod save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all

Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour
Long may she reign
May she defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Epic Takedown of Hillary Clinton

hillary-clinton-wealth-cartoon-allie-495x342In a world where Jon Stewart supposedly DESTROYS right wing politicians on a weekly basis, it may seem like hyperbole to say so, but this may be the most eviscerating paragraph I have ever read about a politician:

If I were to approach a person on the street and list off traits like “doesn’t drive,” “needs food prepared,” “needs help with the remote control,” “needs people to bring her beverages,” “has trouble remembering things,” and “doesn’t pay her own bills” about someone anonymously, he wouldn’t think I was referring to a current presidential front-runner in the year 2015. He would think I was referring to his poor nana, whom he had to place in a home because she wouldn’t stop yelling at the lamp and was at risk of accidentally microwaving her dentures.

Hillary Clinton is a very strange woman who has accomplished very little in her life.  I’d be gravely concerned if her, or Trump, or Bernie Sanders got elected.  Any of those people would be the death of America.

Libertarian Jesus

I keep coming across Christians who think governments should do more to help poor people, and frankly…

libertarian-jesus

Cameron Slater Blasphemes

Cameron Slater claims to be a Christian (albeit a Seventh Day Adventist, which barely counts, since they deny the divinity of Christ).  If that is so, why does he publish graphics like this on his blog?

godscareer

David Farrar is an Atheist.  I’d far rather read about Farrar’s Atheism than Slater’s Christianity!

Memory Eternal George Gair

georgegairVery sad to hear of the passing of one of the old school of National MPs, the North Shore’s George Gair.  He was one of the last of the gentlemen politicians, and one of the classical liberals that used to be a strong feature of National’s caucus but these days is in shorter supply.  One almost feels as if, with the death of the man, that way of life and way of public discourse is also itself dying.  Both shall be greatly missed!

Democrat Donald Must Be Stomped On

George Will sums up Donald Trump (D-Manchuria) perfectly:

In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions. Because the actual Donald Trump is wealthy, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly vulgar presidential candidate… When, however, Trump decided that his next acquisition would be not another casino but the Republican presidential nomination, he tactically and quickly underwent many conversions of convenience (concerning abortion, health care, funding Democrats, etc.). His makeover demonstrates that he is a counterfeit Republican and no conservative.

Trump-2004I’ve been appalled at the lack of willingness from anyone other than Rand Paul to kick the crap out of Donald Trump. So many blogs, writers and columnist who ought normally to know better have written prevaricatingly about him, as if his nonsense is a genuine Republican voice that should be listened to.  I am especially saddened at the silence of Ted Cruz, although I understand why Cruz has been reluctant to criticize him – his brand is entirely anti-establishment, and to go after Trump risks diluting the brand.  But even so, if you can’t make a meal out of Trump, how can you possibly beat Clinton or Sanders in the General?!  What happened to the days of politicians making the argument?!

In many ways, Trump is the bitter fruit of the dumbing down of the Republican Party, and their inability to make the argument.  GOP support now comes from misinformed bar-room rednecks whose political thought consists of occasionally inconsistent slogans crafted on identity politics without any thought given to practicality or policy detail.  In that sense, despite actually being an ideological Democrat, Trump is the perfect candidate for the modern GOP.  He doesn’t need to be consistent, or actually make sense.  He just needs to repeat back the same neanderthal rhetoric that other Republicans have been using, but better.

Someone like Ted Cruz especially should know better.  Cruz is a Harvard Law graduate who has argued cases in front of the Supreme Court.  Why is it so hard for him to make the argument now?  If he really wants to be President, he is going to have to deal with much worse than one eccentric property magnate.  Trump is a Democrat pretending to be a Republican, and any politician with rudimentary skills in the art should be able to make mincemeat of such a scenario.  Come on Ted!  Stomp the crap out of this man and throw his body out the back door!

Death of a Party: Tony Blair Now Literally Begging People Not to Vote for Jeremy Corbyn as UK Labour Leader

corbynI’ve been absolutely delighted to see the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, one that parallels that of Bernie Sanders in the US.  Both politicians are comically unelectable, and will ensure the Left are out of power in their respective countries for many years.

To see Tony Blair, begging, pleading, offering his firstborn child to party members to stop them voting for Corbyn, is a wonder to behold, and makes me chortle with joy.  Whatever you think about Tony Blair, he is a very smart politician who knows how to win elections, and his Guardian article is dead right:

The Labour party is in danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence. I say this as someone who led the party for 13 years and has been a member for more than 40. The leadership election has turned into something far more significant than who is the next leader. It is now about whether Labour remains a party of government.

…So this is directed to longstanding members and those who have joined but without an agenda. They’re still a majority and they have to exercise leadership now to save the party. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left, right or centre of the party, whether you used to support me or hate me. But please understand the danger we are in.

The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes “disunity”. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.

This is not the 1980s. This is by many dimensions worse and more life threatening…. What we’re witnessing now is a throwback to that time, but without the stabilisers in place. The big unions, with the exception of the most successful in recent times, USDAW, are in the grip of the hard left. And the people do not have that same old-time loyalty.

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t offer anything new. This is literally the most laughable of all the propositions advanced by his camp. Those of us who lived through the turmoil of the 80s know every line of this script. These are policies from the past that were rejected not because they were too principled, but because a majority of the British people thought they didn’t work. And by the way, they were rejected by electorates round the world for the same reasons.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of Labour MPs defaulted and formed their own party.  I suspect it will be a much larger number than those who defected to form the SDP in the early ’80s.

Thoughts on the US Supreme Court Decision Redefining Marriage

married1. Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. Given today’s Supreme Court decision, how much longer are we going to even have that freedom? The US government now officially tells us that marriage is something that it is in reality not, and furthermore gives this constitutional weight, despite no such right existing in the US Constitution. There is now no right to define marriage in the traditional manner, and religious leaders will be vulnerable to lawsuits and contempt charges. All because we believe that two plus two equals four, and that marriage is a Holy Mystery of God between one man and one woman;

2. Even conceding marriage is something that it is not, forcing the State to sanction that differing definition is ridiculous. Christmas is a federal holiday, but Channukah is not. Memorial Day is a holiday, but Hitler’s Birthday is not. Do American Neo-Nazis have a constitutional right to have Hitler’s Birthday made a Federal holiday because of “equality”? Of course not;

3. The “right” to “gay marriage” already existed. The desire to have it certified by the State is therefore not a battle for legal freedoms, but an effort to add moral weight to those freedoms. This however creates an inherent contradiction. You can’t simultaneously claim marriage to be a moral institution while also claiming that marriage “doesn’t discriminate”. Morality implies discrimination and the fitting of certain discriminatory criteria. You can’t, on one hand, want a word to apply to you (thus holding it up as having spiritual weight), and at the same time degrade the criteria for it to give it less meaning;

libertydies4. The claim that “gay marriage” doesn’t degrade “heterosexual marriage” is false. If marriage is a moral institution that has spiritual value (which is why many gay couples want to be “married”), you reduce its currency by opening it up to mean something it doesn’t really mean. A gold star given to a child in a classroom has value if it is given to only one child. It has no value if it is given to every child. If everyone is special, then nobody is special. If “everyone” can get married, then what does marriage even mean any more?

5. Further to that point, I would put it to anyone that the real goal here is not to give homosexual couples any “rights”, but the goal in itself is a Gramscian degradation of marriage. Practical experience shows that uptake of marriage among homosexual couples is actually very low. In fact, despite the fact that there are roughly twice as many gay men as lesbians, lesbians get “married” at twice the rate of gay men. The real demand to make use of this institution is simply not there. The goal is therefore not really to add something to marriage, but to take away the value of marriage from couples who are not gay.

May God have mercy on us all.

Why God Sometimes Commands Genocide

Pop theology often likes to confront Christianity with what it sees as inherent contradictions in its viewpoint.  You have, they say, a Messiah purported to be God, in the New Testament, advocating peace and love and turning the other cheek.  How do you square this with the YHWH of the Old Testament, a God who kills people with floods and plagues and encourages genocide of whole subgroups and tribes of people?

The response of modern Christians to this problem, it has to be said, has been horrible.  Responses range from attempts to minimize or play down the malevolence of YHWH, to blunt juridical defenses of the “justice” of God, to bizarre attempts to claim that the Biblical narratives are not literal or historical.  None of these are satisfactory – God really did do this stuff! – and it seems that even in the Orthodox tradition nobody can offer a robust apologia.  Which is silly, because frankly, if one is Orthodox and approaches this problem with an Orthodox world view, it’s not that hard.

stjohntheologianTo start to answer the question, we have to first get rid of misconceptions.  We have to say that God is not a God of whim.  He is not like the Islamic god, who is a god of will and passion that initiates every material interaction from the atomic level on up.  In that sense, the touted “Divine Command Theory” of morality is nonsense.  Morality is not a creation of God.  Morality (or moral values) IS God IS morality.  Good is not good because God said so.  Good is what tells us there is a God in the first place.  Goodness reveals God.  God is Good is God.

This leads us to the Apostle John, the man who knew Christ, the incarnation of God, most intimately.  Expanding on the Apostle Paul, who discoursed on the greatness of love in his first letter to the Corinthians, John tells us that GOD IS LOVE.  Not that God created love, or God supports love, but God IS love.

What does this mean?  To paraphrase John himself, the world could not contain the books.  But in terms of the nature of God, it limits His actions substantially.  To quote Blessed Augustine in his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed:

“God is Almighty, and yet, though Almighty, He cannot die, cannot be deceived, cannot lie; and, as the Apostle says, cannot deny Himself. How many things that He cannot do, and yet is Almighty! Yea therefore is Almighty, because He cannot do these things. For if He could die, He were not Almighty; if to lie, if to be deceived, if to do unjustly, were possible for Him, He were not Almighty: because if this were in Him, He should not be worthy to be Almighty. To our Almighty Father, it is quite impossible to sin. He does whatsoever He will: that is Omnipotence. He does whatsoever He rightly will, whatsoever He justly will: but whatsoever is evil to do, He wills not.”

To be Love is to forswear forceful power over creation.  A deity cannot force compliance from His creation and remain Love at the same time – love necessitates free beings with free will.  So when we define God as a set of “Omnis” (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc.), this is not without boundary.  There are just some things that God cannot/will not do and remain Love.  Death and sin and evil are not creations of God, but the absence of God, just as darkness is not a “thing”, but the absence of light.

Creation-of-AdamSo, from seeing God as Love, we conclude that this necessitates the possibility of evil.  A created being that is not capable of choosing evil is coerced – it cannot love and therefore cannot be created by Love and with love.  So evil may result.  Is God responsible for this evil?  Only in the sense that He created creation, and knew what was going to happen.  But if God is Love, there is no alternative – evil had to be possible.  Either He created beings, in love, with separate essences that were capable of not returning His love, or He did not create at all, or He created robots for His amusement.  The latter two options are an impossibility for such a God, who exudes Total Love.

Having created mankind, in love, the possibility to simply “magic away” the results and consequences of the Fall and the bringing of death to the cosmos is no longer there.  Creating the world, declaring it good, then making man in His own image to declare him “very good”, only to have this goodness corrupted and degraded by His creations, there are no good options.  God cannot be selective about evil – if He is going to get rid of any of it, He must destroy all of it.  This is why Stephen Fry’s recent outburst was so pathetic – God can’t just choose to destroy the eyeball-burrowing insects, yet leave a sodomite like Fry alone.  That would make Him morally inconsistent, which is the very thing that Fry accuses Him of in the first place!  No, God is Love, He has mercy on all His creation, and if He is going to redeem it, that redemption must be consistent with love – that is to say, voluntary on our part.

hiroshimaSo God has no circuit-breaker in terms of eliminating evil.  There is also no divine way of circumventing basic moral/ethical dilemmas that even we humans face in things such as war or criminal justice.  Just as President Truman in World War Two faced a choice between a bad option (killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians with an atomic bomb) and a worse one (an invasion that would take years and cost millions of lives on both sides), so the evil of the entire world only left God with either bad options or worse ones.

God needs to save the world from the bad choices that love enables.  How does He do that?  To tell the end of the tale, He incarnates, shows the Way of righteousness, suffers, is crucified, and rises again, trampling death by death and destroying the power of death and Hades.  He sends His Son.  And so we are now living in an age whereby His salvation can be received.  But it remains to ask why He didn’t just do this straight away?  Okay, so Adam and Eve have fallen, and now they will surely die.  Why not just send JC down to fix everything up like nothing ever happened?

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200Well… it wouldn’t work is probably the best answer.  Adam and Eve would not have truly repented.  They needed to work through the consequences of their actions for that.  Death and judgment and separation needed to be a reality for the human race so that it could, to use AA terminology, reach “rock bottom”.  God needed to be sure, in sending His Son to redeem humanity, that it would take.  The redemption had to occur in baby steps.  And so that’s what the Old Testament is really about – a lovesick God who has lost His creation desperately doing all He can to bring it back to Him.

We see the beginning of the redemption in the Flood, where Noah and his family were saved through “baptism”, so that a remnant of some God-consciousness could survive and grow on the earth.  Then there is the calling and covenant with Abraham, who is served the Eucharist by Melchizidek, and the growth of a covenanted “people of God”.  From this follows Moses, another salvation by passing through the waters of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law, which is the Logos of God, and will indicate the One to come who fulfills it.

napalmgirlTo establish His Son as a Priest for His people, it was first necessary to establish His people, and establish His nation.  This was an omelet which required the breaking of a few eggs.  There were no good options for confronting the evil of the world in establishing a Holy people.  Either this was going to be done by force, or nobody would be saved.  The Antediluvians of Noah’s day, the Canaanites that Joshua fought against, the Amalekites of Saul’s day whom God commanded to wipe out, all of them were a danger to the fragile plan that was the Holy nation of Israel and the salvation of the world.  Even the children?  Sure!  The corruption of the world was and is a reality.  To paraphrase that oft-quoted phrase from the Vietnam War, “we had to kill the children in order to save them”.  It’s either kill these children, leaving them in the hands of Christ the Redeemer who is all Love and merciful to all, or let them grow up and corrupt even the remnant that God has reserved – the remnant that makes Christ’s incarnation and salvation even possible.

This may sound like callous utilitarianism on God’s part.  It is not.  It’s not God making arbitrary decisions so He can save the many at the expense of the few.  It’s more that some people, because of their evil will and choices, simply cannot be saved in the end, or at least not without the loss of too many others.  Someone could object – what about Matthew 11:23?  If Christ could have saved Sodom with a few miracles, why didn’t He?  To my mind, the answer is that God’s salvation is a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s tantra, not a quickie.  He is not hung up on individual battles, but the whole war.  Sometimes to have your D-Day, you need to organise a Dunkirk.

sayanythingcusackboomboxSo did God command genocide in specific circumstances for specific times? Yes He did.  There was no other way to save us.  There was no other way to win the war, to attain the Nika, the Gospel, the victory that Christ has achieved.  God is desperate for us.  He is John Cusack, standing on our street, with a boombox, playing Peter Gabriel, hoping we will requite His pure and Holy Love.  He is always working for us and for our salvation.  He has saved us, He is saving us, and by His grace He will yet save us at the last.  But for now we live in the age described in Psalm 109 (LXX), the most quoted Old Testament verse contained in the New:

“The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies the footstool of your feet.”

The struggle, and the battle, are real.  To criticize God for His righteous acts in saving US is to apply naivety to the reality of evil in the world, and the necessary actions required to be rid of it after all other options have failed.

The Whale Oil Blog: How Far Up the Colon Are They? And Have They Found the Gerbil?

I’m sorry, I’m only human.  I’ve tried to pretend I don’t want to comment on the bizarre developments at NZ’s most well-read blog.  But tonight I gave in.  That itch got too irritating not to scratch.

Anyone who has ever read Whale Oil over the years knows that Cameron Slater -the editor and primary author of the blog – has “issues”.  Fine and dandy.  If he was sane and stable, nobody would read him, and that’s a fact.   However, his increased notoriety seems to have led him to some rather strange modifications, and he now bans anyone who even remotely disagrees with him in comments.

There are signs that the wheels are falling off the bus.  For starters there is his strange attacks on John Key now that the election is over.  His acolyte, the mysterious “Pete”, has been posting rather extreme fanboi defenses of Slater, attributing godlike powers of foresight to him.  WhaleOil is increasingly looking like a cargo cult of some sort.  Will John Frum ever arrive?

After having the ego to ask “do women prefer sex or WhaleOil?” (it’s not even a question, buddy), we now see in the comments that there is dissent in the ranks!
TravisandPete
So now the blog is threatening to ban their own moderators!  Talk about dysfunctional!

I’ve never had a particularly high personal opinion of Slater, but at least once upon a time you could go over there and speak your mind without being banished, and call him out on his bull.  And it would keep him honest to some degree.  Not any more.  Which is why I say that, while he may have high readership now, it’s not going to last if you become an echo chamber of ditto heads.  I’ll leave it to ol’ Francis to say what needs to be said:

Why No Christian Should Support Euthanasia

The news recently of a 29yo woman seeking the right to have her suicide assisted by others has brought out a few odd opinions, to say the least, especially from those who purport to be Christians.

The simplistic argument (and it is simplistic), is that it is compassionate to allow the voluntary death of someone if there is no longer pleasure in their life, but only pain and suffering.  Is it not our purpose as Christians to alleviate suffering?

Well… sort of.  Christianity is about life.  We, as ministers of Christ, are here to offer life, and life in abundance.  If it is a battle between suffering and life, then we are on the side of life.  However, this is not what Brittany Maynard, and others like her, face.  The battle is between suffering and death.  The argument is being made that death is better than suffering.  But Christians who advocate this betray a deeply flawed theological view of their faith.

bodysoulAt the very least, the Christian must reject gnosticism – that ancient heresy that despises the body and sees the body as a prison of the soul.  Unfortunately, this is a prominent view among Protestants and Evangelicals.  They see the body as responsible for sin and pain and death, and to die is to finally escape the body and be a “free spirit”, so to speak.  To escape is to be be at peace.  But this is not Christianity.  It is a damnable lie.  Souls and bodies are supposed to be together – that is how God created us.  To separate them, through death, is not God’s will, and a soul separated from the body that does not commune with Christ is by definition unfulfilled and in torment, a captive to its own passions, pride and selfishness, all of which can only be satiated by the body.  So on this basis alone, to take one’s own life and destroy the image of God in oneself is, without the intercession of the Church, an act that eternally condemns the soul to despair.  It’s better to stay alive and suffer in the body than go through that!

dormition_detailBut this is not just about fear of what lies beyond.  Nor is it even about the “redemptive power of suffering”, an offensive concept to many people, although I believe it to be true.  (If you want to read a very good explanation of redemptive suffering, Andrew Damick does it very well here).  It is about life and hope and faith and the conquest of death and Hades that God achieved in Christ through His own suffering.  It is about the image of God in us that He created in us.  It is because we have this hope that we seek to persevere, as so many people in the Bible persevered through trials and suffering, and we seek to affirm and cultivate that image of the loving, suffering God in us, instead of destroying it to remove some temporal physical pain we experience.

This hope is not some scholastic, intellectual, theoretical hope.  It is an ontological hope that naturally exists within us, that struggles for life even as we seek to suppress and destroy that hope.  In suffering, rather than giving in, we affirm that our life has meaning, that it has purpose, that it is valuable.  We struggle for it because it is worth something.  And that is where the contradiction in euthanasia lies.  Suicide is the obliteration of the meaning of one’s life – the floccinaucinihilipilification of it.  And yet euthanasia is sold as “death with dignity”!  Well what a nonsense.  Dignity implies some meaning to one’s life and death.  Either your life has meaning, and you seek life, through whatever miserable crawling struggle that entails, or it has none, and you kill yourself.  There is no Mr Inbetween.  To seek dignity of any sort is to be on the side of life, not death.  It implicitly recognises the Source of dignity – God’s image in us.

bridegroomchristTo struggle for no end is truly pitiable.  But we do have an end – a great hope! our union with Christ, which we strive towards when we undergo suffering, and we run from when we subject ourselves to indignities of any kind, whether licentiousness in food, drugs, sex, money, power, or in its purest form, actively killing ourselves.  This is Christianity:  To struggle with Christ, to suffer with Him, to restore His image in us, to seek His dignity, and to die with dignity, despite the indignities forced on us, and especially the indignities forced on Christ.  That’s where we find meaning and dignity in life.  Not in destroying our body to eliminate physical pain.

I hope and pray that Ms Maynard, and all like her who suffer in pain, find their value and dignity not in death but in life, and in the Giver of Life.

Vote ACT on Saturday

This election really is a no-brainer.  Seymour is going to win Epsom, so a vote for ACT will always count.  It will support a National Party led government against the coalition of nutcases that make up every other political party.

ballotpaperinmouthI won’t do a long list of endorsements, but here’s what it looks like:  Vote for Labour’s Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau to eradicate Internet Mana once and for all.  Vote for David Seymour in Epsom.  Vote for Stuart Nash in Napier, because God knows the Labour Party will one day be in power again and it will need some sane people in it.  Otherwise, vote for your local National Party stooge.  But pretty please, Party Vote ACT.

Why not just vote National?  Well, because they will end up doing some grubby deal with the CCCP or NZ First.  ACT will not be part of such a thing with Winston, so you know your vote for them will support Centre-Right government and will not end up supporting a disaster like the one we had between 1996 and 1999.  To just two tick National would give them carte blanche to join up with these frauds.  Vote ACT, a vote that will always count, and always get a better quality of MP than whoever is #55 on National’s list, and you will avoid sanctioning anything stupid.

This is my ballot paper.  Make yours look similar:
VotingPaper

ACT is the only game in town where they are not trying to bribe you with your own money.  If you want good government that does not spend more than it earns, that eliminates waste and pointless programmes, and gives people greater freedom and more individual responsibility, then ACT is your only option.  Like all politicians, they are going to suck and disappoint you, but probably a lot less than just voting National.  Let’s get as many ACT people in as we can.  Vote ACT!

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