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!

Why the Filioque is Important

To many modern Western Christians, the Great Schism of 1054 seems incomprehensible.  Not only are definitions of the Holy Trinity seemingly so irrelevant to modern Evangelical practice, but the heated distinction between the two views almost seems like a sinful dispute over something that shouldn’t really matter.  I mean, who cares who proceeds from what, right?  It’s all God, right?  We love Jesus, don’t we?

trinityAnd yet, that is the problem.  The reason for the Filioque comes about precisely from the attitude that “it’s all God”.  Because while it is “all God”, it’s not all the same.  And to pretend that it is so goes beyond the bounds of theoretical intellectual musings, and into how one directly experiences the Holy Trinity of the great I AM.

Who is God?  What is God?  What is the nature of God?  If we are to truly know God, which is necessary for salvation, then these questions are actually important.  Because if you believe something else about God, you are not worshiping God, but something else.

The Filioque – the proposal that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also God the Son, stinks of the driest of dry theology.  But what is it really saying?  What is the real implication?

Here is what it is necessary to know:  Originally the Church agreed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father.  This is not in dispute.  God the Son also proceeds from (or more correctly, is begotten by) God the Father.  This was the original belief held by the Church.  Not even Latins disagree with this.  This is the formula.

Nichols-Punch-MemeHowever, in the 6th Century, some Christians, spurred on by former Arians who had been chrismated into Orthodoxy, wanted to emphasize a particular view of God that the 4th Century Bishop Augustine of Hippo had put forward – that of Divine Simplicity.  In other words, God has a unity to Himself that comes down to His Essence.  He is Holy, and He stands alone and apart from His creation.  Therefore, the Spirit also proceeds from the Son.  Because it is All God, and the Incarnate God should breathe life into the Works of God.  And as the Franks replaced the Byzantine Roman influence in Western Europe in the 8th and 9th Centuries, this view of God as Divinely Simple and set apart became the predominant view of God.

It’s a view that makes logical sense to a point, but is not part of the teaching of the Church and its Fathers.  God is not separate from His creation in the sense that he is “somewhere else”.  He is everywhere!  Furthermore, He is Relationship, He has Three Persons, and He seeks to relate to us.  To say that the Incarnate God initiates the Spirit God subordinates the Spirit to the Incarnate, and reduces God to His Essence, One that is set apart from the material world, and from us.  It causes an imbalance in the Trinity.  It is the Spirit that gives Life and that fills the material world, so if we reverse the order to say the Spirit proceeds from the Incarnate, then we are saying that the Spirit is not someone that already fills all things – He is merely a Gift deigned to be given by Christ to the worthy, and the implication is that this Gift is created, not pre-existent.  The Spirit reduces in importance.

Icon of the ParacleteThe Orthodox teach that God is not only Essence, but Energy, and that furthermore, we can partake of this Energy and become One with it.  This is, in fact, the very purpose of our Christian life.  The first thing that most Orthodox pray during their prayer time is a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

“O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of Life – come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord!”

It is this process of theosis which distinguishes Orthodoxy from the West, and the distinction that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and not the Son is both a symptom and a cause of this view.  Rather than being a minor theological hangup, it determines in a very basic and fundamental way how an Eastern Christian approaches their faith as distinct from a Western one (ie. Roman Catholics, or most Protestants).  Orthodoxy sees salvation as a journey of theosis through continually seeking the Spirit of God.  The West, on the other hand, believes Divine Grace to be created, and seeks mostly justification, with the gifts of the Spirit philosophically limited to evinced proof of that justification.

It remains to ask what is the truth of the matter.  Obviously I support the Orthodox view, but I won’t make a defense of it here, since there are numerous Internet articles doing so.  What those articles don’t do is tell you what the big deal is, and I hope I’ve given readers a partial understanding here.  All theology ultimately informs practices, and to be pietist and say that the theology does not matter as long as one lives to follow the moral practices of Christianity begs the question:  What sort of Christianity?  Defining the Trinity properly is therefore crucial.

Politics Shmolitics

david2I’ve been fascinated with politics most of my life.  When I was eleven, I remember following the 1987 New Zealand parliamentary election very closely, and cheering National Leader Mr Bolger on as he took on the charismatic, but almost asbergically awkward Labour Prime Minister Lange.  At the time my knowledge of policy was limited to the fact that Labour were driving farmers off their land, and ignoring massive petitions to stop dudes from legally being able to hook up with dudes.  I barely knew what that entailed, but I knew I didn’t like it.  Lange had to go!

Most people never quite move beyond this juvenile sort of analysis.  In the United States it is practically a point of pride to indulge in this shallow sort of discourse.  I am fortunate to be one of the few who has realised life is a little more complicated than that.  And there’s the rub:  People like me will always be in a minority.  And guess what?  The minority in a democracy always loses.  To get anywhere in a democracy, one basically has to lie and pretend one is as stupid as one’s potential voters.

Sarah Palin and Senator Ted CruzThis very fact is what has completed my disillusion.  If you were to examine my political views alongside people like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, there would be very little daylight.  But I cringe whenever I hear them talk, because they are dumbing themselves down all the time.  Calling Barack Obama a socialist and saying he violates the US Constitution may play well with the bulk of ig’nant voters, but I know both those statements are not true.  Don’t get me wrong, I loathe Obama’s politics, and I dearly wish this great nation had not been cursed with his Presidency.  He is vain, he prevaricates, he is himself shallow, he is a poor leader… but a socialist and a violator of the constitution he is not.  And I feel awkward when the people who are supposedly “on my side” are essentially making hyperbolic or false statements about him.  I can’t participate in that.  And look, I’d love to see President Ted Cruz, or President Rand Paul, but I can’t condone saying that stuff, because if I said it, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror.  That’s why I’ve never seriously tried to be a political activist in my time in the United States.  Too many rats to swallow.

On top of it all, my political philosophy is starting to change.  I’m not really sure if I’m a libertarian any more.  I struggle with the valuelessness of a libertarian viewpoint.  To me it encourages a vacuum in values, which those with bad values (ie. Muslims) are all too eager to fill.  And frankly, while I agree that people should be able to do whatever they want if they are also prepared to take responsibility for it, a large part of me also asks the question “If an action is universally bad, and has universally bad consequences, even if it doesn’t cause direct harm to others, why shouldn’t it be illegal?  What good purpose does it serve to be legal?

Justinian-EmporerAll this led me to unsubscribe from all my political Facebook feeds a couple of days ago.  I don’t want to read that crap any more.  I feel that world is not going to change with my participation any time soon.  I prefer to leave it in the hands of God.  And I don’t want to be angry any more.  Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.  It doesn’t seem very compatible with my spiritual journey, and with the Orthodox faith, where I am called to love.

Does this mean I will never furthermore engage with the political world?  Not necessarily.  If called, I will serve.  But if I have anything to do with it, I couldn’t care less.  Politics is of the World, and if I am going to engage with the World, it had better be for a bloody good reason.  I’d rather focus on the spiritual life, and if the spiritual life leads me back there, then well and good.  If it doesn’t, so much the better.

 

I am an Orthodox Christian!

After nearly a year and a half of attending Orthodox churches, I have now been admitted into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by Chrismation as of last Sunday.  It was also a delight to have my fiancee and my twin daughters, who turned five on Sunday, baptized straight after my chrismation.  You can watch my chrismation service below:

Some of it may be hard to hear, so here is the text of the service.

Filipp,_mitropolitt_of_MoscowAs you will hear on the video, my Church Name is Philip.  Philip was the name on my original birth certificate, before I was adopted by my parents, so in my adoption by the Church I thought it appropriate to take the name back.  My Name Saint is Saint Philip of Moscow, a brave Metropolitan of the Church who stood up to Ivan the Terrible by denying him communion, and paid for it with his life.  I liked the idea of a Saint who stood up to politicians!

It is an indescribable joy to finally be united with Christ’s Church.  In the words of the Divine Liturgy:

We have seen the true light,

We have received the heavenly Spirit;

We have found the true faith,

Worshipping the undivided Trinity:

For He has saved us!

Roman Catholic Critiques of Orthodoxy

Since my post Orthodoxy Versus Protestantism has finally replaced Fox News Foxes as my most popular post, I thought I’d address one of the comments on that post, which links to a Roman Catholic (or Latin church) critique of Orthodoxy.

I understand that the critique is not an exhaustive or complete set of arguments from that perspective, but nonetheless it is worthwhile examining.  So let’s look at what Mr Armstrong had to say:

The Nicene Creed, adhered to by most Christians, contains the phrase, “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” From a Catholic ecclesiological perspective, Orthodoxy — strictly speaking – is not “one” Church, but a conglomerate of at least seventeen, each with separate governance. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1985 edition, vol. 17, 867) states that, “Since the Russian Revolution there has been much turmoil and administrative conflict within the Orthodox Church.” Although Orthodox theology is fairly homogeneous, nevertheless, a Catholic would respectfully reply that none of these “autocephalous” churches can speak with the doctrinal definitiveness which existed in the Church before 1054, and which indeed still resides in the papacy and magisterium of the Catholic Church.

This is basically a difference in definition of what “one” Church looks like.  Ultimately, for the Latin church, they can’t envisage the Church being One unless it has a Pope/single leader with ultimate authority.  Armstrong says there are “at least seventeen” churches, but this misunderstands how Orthodoxy works.  In Orthodoxy, Christ is the Head of the Church, and all His Bishops are equal in authority.  By extension of Armstrong’s logic, every diocesan Bishop in Orthodoxy heads a “separate” church.  No, the Oneness in Orthodoxy comes from the communion of the Bishops – that is, they are all agreed on dogma and the original faith of the Apostles.  They can run their diocese in different ways, but this does not separate them from the One Church.  It is only if they teach a different dogma.  And if one Bishop deviates from this dogma, it does not mean the Church is divided, but that that the Bishop has simply removed himself from the One Church.  This is actually the Bishop of Rome’s problem – since the 11th Century he has without exception been out of communion, not by his own decree or even Orthodox decree, but by teaching dogma that is at variance with the Church.  Initially, this was merely the filloque, but the list of false dogma has grown since.

There is no issue of “doctrinal definitiveness” in Orthodoxy.  All the Orthodox Bishops are of one mind and One Church, and they say the same thing.

Catholics assert that Orthodoxy’s rejection of the papacy is inconsistent with the nature of the Church through the centuries. No one denies the existence of the papacy in some form in the early period. Orthodoxy, however, regards the authority exercised by popes historically (or which should have been exercised) as simply that of a primacy of honor, rather than a supremacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops and regional churches. To counter that claim, Catholics point to biblical Petrine evidences and the actual wielding of authority by renowned popes such as St. Leo the Great (440-61) and St. Gregory the Great (590-604), honored as saints even by the Orthodox.

The papacy, according to Catholic Tradition, is a divinely-instituted office, not merely (as Orthodoxy considers the papacy and Roman supremacy) a political and historical happenstance. Rome was apostolic, and preeminent from the beginning of Christianity, whereas Constantinople (the seat of the Byzantine Empire) was not.

benedict-xvi-and-bartholomew-iiWhole books have been written on this topic, so I will try to be brief, but the Latin view of history is inconsistent with what actually happened.  No Ecumenical Council affirmed the modern Latin view of the Papacy.  Instead, the Orthodox view of the Bishop of Rome as “first among equals”, the “Chairman of the Board” as it were, is explicitly stated.  Without going into detail, the Bible verses the Latins cite “do not mean what they say they mean”, and if they did, then their Pope would be the current Bishop of Antioch (where we know Peter had diocesan authority), not the Bishop of Rome (where nothing other than tradition indicates he was the presiding Bishop there).

The role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium was indeed one of leadership of the worldwide faith, and it would return to that status should future Bishops of Rome return to Orthodoxy.  But there was no evidence of the Bishop of Rome possessing the authority of a modern Pope within the Latin church.

Orthodoxy (and Eastern Catholic Christianity, from roughly the second half of the first millennium) has been plagued with caesaropapism, which, in effect (in terms of exercised power and de facto jurisdiction, if not actual Orthodox doctrinal teaching), places the state above the church -– somewhat similar to early Lutheranism and Anglicanism.

In Catholicism, on the other hand, it is significantly easier to maintain the notion that the Church is regarded as above all states (which Orthodoxy also formally believes), and is their judge, as the carrier of God’s Law, which transcends and forms the basis of man’s law. The papacy is the bulwark and standard and symbol whereby this dichotomy is supported. Patriarchs — oftentimes — were put into power by the Emperors in the East according to their whim and fancy and were all too frequently little more than puppets or yes-men. Noble exceptions, such as a St. John Chrysostom or a St. Flavian, more often than not had to appeal to Rome in order to save their patriarchates or necks or both.

This argument is a joke and a slur – there’s no other way of putting it.  There was no Patriarch more beholden to temporal kings and rulers than the Papacy under the Franks, from Charlemagne onwards.  Inasmuch as it is possibly true of Orthodoxy (and it is not), the Latin Pope has even less claim in this regard.  Between the Harlotocracy of the 10th Century, the Borgias and the Medicis, there is nothing for Latins to brag about here.  They also forget that the Popes themselves were invariably appointed by the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor for several hundred years.  The truth is that the Church remains the Church regardless of the unworthiness/sinfulness or otherwise of a Bishop, or of their collaboration with temporal rulers.

Orthodoxy accepts the first seven ecumenical councils (up to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787), but no more. From a Catholic perspective, this appears incoherent and implausible. Why have an agreed-upon system in which Councils are central to the governance of the Church universal, and then all of a sudden they cease, and Orthodox Christians must do without them for 1200 years?

Either ignorance or dishonesty is in evidence here. Just because an Ecumenical Council has not been held, doesn’t mean one couldn’t be held in future.  The Great Schism in itself has not helped matters in this regard.  But it is not clear why this “appears incoherent and implausible”.  It would be stupid to think that the Church cannot govern itself without regular Ecumenical Councils, which were called mainly in response to significantly threatening heresies.  It comes back to whether one thinks a Pope can override councils of the Whole Church.  The Latin church believes he can – Orthodox do not.

Likewise, Orthodoxy accepts the doctrinal development which occurred in the first eight centuries of the Church, but then allows little of any noteworthiness to take place thereafter. For instance, the filioque, i.e., the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone (which the West added to the Nicene Creed), was rejected by the East, and has been considered by the Orthodox a major reason for the enduring schism, yet Catholics would reply that it was a straightforward development of trinitarian theology (one of many accepted by both East and West).

Aspects of doctrines such as the Blessed Virgin Mary and purgatory (not defined doctrine, although the Orthodox pray for the dead), which experienced a measure of development in the Middle Ages and after, are not recognized in Orthodoxy. For example, Orthodoxy doesn’t define the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, but it should be noted that Orthodox individuals are free to believe these without being deemed “heretical.” Catholics feel that Orthodoxy is implicitly denying the notion of the Church (past the eighth century) as the living, developing Body of Christ, continuously led into deeper truth by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-15).

This argument is simply wrong.  Firstly, there is no such thing as doctrinal “development” in the Church, only doctrinal clarification.  This is motivated solely by responding to innovative heresies.  This has continued ever since the Ecumenical Councils – the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas (13th Century) are a prominent example.  Right up until the modern day Orthodoxy continues to develop and deepen their understanding of the faith.  What the writer is really saying is that Orthodoxy does not innovate, and that is the point of Orthodoxy!

Catholics would argue that Orthodoxy has not come to grips with modernity and the new challenges to Christianity that it brings, in terms of how to effectively communicate the gospel to modern man. The Catholic Church renewed itself along these lines in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). One need not compromise doctrine in order to deal with the modern situation. Pope John Paul II does not do so in his stream of extremely relevant and cogent encyclicals on present-day issues such as moral theology, labor, the family, the role of women, the place of laypeople, etc.

Although, as a result of this undertaking (i.e., due to a corruption of the nature of the Council by ambitious heterodox Catholics), the Catholic Church suffers from a modernist crisis within its own ranks, this too will pass, and Orthodoxy is not altogether immune from such things. Signs of a revival of orthodoxy in the Catholic ranks are increasing, and the nonsense will fade away like all the other crises and heretical movements in the past. The long-term benefits of the strategy to confront the culture boldly and with fresh insight and innovation (within the bounds of traditional Catholic orthodoxy) will be evident in the years to come.

I’m not even sure I understand what Armstrong is trying to say here.  Until 1970, Roman Catholics worshiped in Latin, whereas Orthodoxy has always sought to translate its liturgies into the local vernacular.  As for relevance, Orthodoxy is currently the fastest-growing tradition of Christianity, well ahead of Catholicism and Protestantism, both of which are receding in places.  “Modernity” is a failing strategy for both Protestant churches and Roman Catholic ones.

Orthodoxy, although praiseworthy in its generally traditional stand for Christian morality, differs from Catholicism over the question of the propriety and morality of contraception, which was universally condemned by all branches of Christianity until 1930. Thus, Catholics feel that they (almost alone today) are more in accord with apostolic Christian Tradition on this point, and that an acceptance of contraception is a giving in to humanistic sexual ethics. Catholics regard it as a mortal sin, whereas much of Orthodoxy does not even forbid it. To be fair, it is true that some of the more “conservative” or “traditional” branches of Orthodoxy have retained the traditional view, but the very fact of plurality in such a grave moral issue is highly troubling.

Given the argument that Orthodoxy has supposedly not adapted to the modern world, to follow it up with this is amusing!  I’m not qualified to say what is right or wrong on this issue, but only that it is the discretion of the Bishop – it is not a question of dogma.  So your Bishop (of Rome) is tougher than mine?  Whoopdeshit…

Catholics also believe that Jesus and the apostles, and ancient Christian Tradition, considered a valid sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians as absolutely indissoluble. An annulment is essentially different from a divorce in that it is the determination (based on a variety of possible reasons) that a valid sacramental marriage never existed. Orthodoxy accepts second and third marriages, with, however, a measure of penitential sadness commensurate with a falling short of the Christian ideal, and feels that this is a tragic pastoral necessity, in light of the fallen human condition.

Again with the “my Bishop is more badass than yours” schtick.  There doesn’t seem to be any real argument being made here.  But I will say that refusing communion to divorced people forever is pretty stupid.  Divorce is a sin, but sometimes it is not your sin, and sometimes it is improper, or even impossible despite all human effort, to reconcile.  Orthodox Bishops rightly consider that in such situations, the divorcee has discharged his or her moral responsibilities, and should be allowed to receive the healing medicine of the Eucharist.

A lot of this stuff seems to deliberately distort history.  But ultimately it is not a matter of accepting the Pope or not.  Orthodoxy accepts that the Bishop of Rome is the greatest of the Bishops.  But only if he is Orthodox, and right now the Bishop of Rome is not Orthodox, and therefore not actually a Bishop of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

No More Rock Action

stooges_1stMy Facebook feed has just informed me that Stooges drummer Scott Asheton has passed away, following his brother Ron, the guitarist (and erstwhile bassist) in the band, who left us five years ago.  A sad thing, since in the history of rock and roll, there is no band that has ever rocked harder, or made such beautiful noise together.

The Stooges were never appreciated in the time they were originally together, but there was no band wilder.  Their debut, and their sophomore effort Funhouse, are pioneering works.  And while I’m a fan of both albums, the real genius of Scott Asheton and his pile-driving drumming style is most readily apparent on the second incarnation of the band, when James Williamson took over the guitar and Ron moved on to bass.  The drum attack on the Raw Power album is utterly relentless.  He makes opener Search and Destroy sound like the napalm attack hinted at by singer Iggy Pop’s lyrics.

stoogesoldFormed in the late ’60s, the Stooges crashed and burned violently in 1974, but in the meantime, Scott, with his brother Ron, Williamson and the irrepressible Iggy Pop had created punk music.  It was a privilege to see “Rock Action” as he was known, back in action in the last decade as the Stooges reformed and, on one famous occasion, played the Big Day Out festival in Auckland.  And now so sad to hear he is no longer with us.

Memory eternal, Scott Asheton.  May God grant you repose on your Death Trip!

Orthodoxy Sunday

In the Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Lent is celebrated as Orthodoxy Sunday.  That was yesterday.

Triumph of Orthodoxy 007Orthodoxy Sunday celebrates the day in 843AD when the Roman Empress Theodora ordered the restoration of all the icons to their proper place in the churches, after a century of controversy and iconoclasm.  As a former Protestant, I was fairly ignorant of the high-level debate around icons in this period of history.  I thought praying to icons was just some pointless, superstitious religious exercise that old Russian babushkas did.

But icons are a big deal, and iconoclasm a real threat to sound doctrine.  So much so that at the second Nicean Council of 787AD a Bishop declared:

“This heresy is the worst of all heresies. Woe to the iconoclasts! It is the worst of heresies, as it subverts the incarnation of our Savior!”

Really, what icons say is that people can be Holy, and objects can be Holy, and furthermore, they depict real, material people who were filled with the Spirit of God.  In the case of Christ, they testify that He came in the flesh, that He purified bodies, that He resurrected bodies (especially His own) and made them Holy.  They testify to what we see in Acts 19:11-12 – that if even the Apostle Paul’s discarded snot-rags can work miracles, how much more can the Holy images of Christ and the Saints?

Icons are your friends.  Honestly, I don’t know how I used to pray without them.  They’re not idols, but Holy windows to Heaven by which we can glorify Christ and Christ can bless us. They transform Christianity from an intellectual (gnostic) faith that seeks escape from the material world and its trappings, to a faith of both soul and body, that saves and restores both.

These are the ones I have at home:

100_2628

In the words of Nicea II:

“The Holy Synod cried out: So we all believe, we all are so minded, we all give our consent and have signed. This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the orthodox, this is the faith that has made firm the whole world. Believing in one God, to be celebrated in Trinity, we salute the honorable images! Those who do not so hold, let them be anathema. Those who do not thus think, let them be driven far away from the Church. For we follow the most ancient legislation of the Catholic Church. We keep the laws of the Fathers. We anathematize those who add anything to or take anything away from the Catholic Church. We anathematize the introduced novelty of the revilers of Christians. We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols. Many years to the Emperor!”

Hell Continued… Forever…

In my last post I backgrounded the arguments around the eternality of the punishment of hell, and explained the Orthodox view of it.  Let me now explain why I, while not *absolutely* certain of the truth of the matter, favour the idea that hell torments the damned eternally.

Let me first state that the view that hell ends in annihilation is not necessarily unorthodox (or even unOrthodox).  It’s entirely possible and plausible.  An argument can be made that this is the case.  But in my view, the odds favour the opposite theology – that the damned suffer eternally.

Three-Holy-HierarchsI must at this point admit that I was prepared to be convinced of the Rethinking Hell arguments.  I attend an Orthodox church, so my approach is different to theirs, but I could see the logic there.  However, being Orthodox, one hits a major snag, and that is the Three Holy Hierarchs of the 4th Century, who wrote in support of ECT.  Now, just because a Saint has postulated a certain view does not mean that this view is infallible, or the view of the Church, or that the view is absolutely true simply by the testimony of those who put it forward.  But it does carry weight.  And there are few weightier Saints than John Chrysostom, who was adamant that the punishment of the damned was eternal.  See his sermons here and here.  Since there are fewer Christians in history more authoritative, his support for ECT institutes a high threshold by which the idea should be debunked.

What is this based on?  The Rethinking Hell folk would have you believe that the rhetoric of Holy Scripture is purely existential – that the Bible, in speaking of the “destruction” of the wicked, guarantees their non-existence.  In reality, this involves taking a bunch of Biblical passages and saying that they are completely literal – that when the Bible says “destroyed”, it means these people literally cease to exist.  Again, I could never discount this possibility.  But the reality is that there is too much Scripture that says the opposite.  There are several passages, and I am not going to waste time quoting all of them, because frankly, the RH people should know the Bible well enough to know where they are, even though they have compelling excuses for all of them.  But I will look at 1 Corinthians 15, because basically it makes the RH people look very foolish:

SignorelliOrvietoSBrizioResurrection1502Firstly, we examine 15:22.  Adam’s sin caused death in everyone, good and wicked.  But this verse tells us this situation will be reversed.  So if Christ resurrects the good, he must also resurrect the wicked.  This is expanded upon in 15: 35-44.  The passage explains that our physical bodies will be resurrected, not just our soul or our “essence”.  But more than that, it tells us that our perishable bodies shall be made imperishable.  No distinction is made between the saved and the damned, the good and the wicked, in this passage.  It is clear that all have the same eternal fate in this instance.  The clincher is 15:52:  “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  It is clear that this passage does not just apply to the “righteous” but to everyone.  Everyone is going to be made incorruptible and immortal.

Basically, this passage puts the RH people in a tight spot.  Their only recourse is to say that the physical resurrected bodies of the damned are materially different, when resurrected, from the righteous, and therefore, their bodies are perishable, this being their judgment.  But nothing in 1 Cor 15 suggests anything other than a resurrection of both righteous and wicked with the same types of bodies:  The incorruptible kind.  Uh oh!

the_transfiguration_of_our_lord_by_starcross-d5e8lcqThe only conclusion that can be reached is that the damned get incorruptible bodies like the rest of us, then they experience the full force of the Divine Energies of God, and then, being incorruptible, they suffer eternally under the strain of God’s presence.

It’s not a nice position to be in.  And as I have said, there’s no real philosophical issue of God’s justice in this, since Hell is self-inflicted in this scenario.  But more than this, it says that human life is valuable.  To believe in annihilation is to believe that God does not value life, and that He does not want to restore humanity to its place of communion with God.  Ultimately if there is no real punishment, then there is no real restoration of communion.  A soul that can disappear is also one that can never truly be saved.

UPDATE:  Many of the Rethinking Hell people like to claim that, because of the words used in the Bible for hell, the way we think of hell as eternal torment is an innovation unknown to the Apostles and the early Church.  It is true that the Greek and Hebrew words used (“Sheol”, for example) could simply mean “the grave” or “the pit”.  It is further true that Hades – the place/situation in which disembodied souls find themselves – is not the same as hell, and is sometimes erroneously translated that way.  But that does not necessarily mean that the early Christians believed in annihilation (although the Rethinking Hell folk love to quote the Early Church Fathers out of context to back up this claim).  To the contrary, the book of Judith in the Deuterocanon, states:

“Woe to the nations that rise up against my kindred! the Lord Almighty will take vengeance of them in the day of judgment, in putting fire and worms in their flesh; and they shall feel them, and weep for ever.”(Judith 16:17)

It’s clear from this that the Jewish understanding at the time was one of eternal conscious torment.  And as for the early Church, we see in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, the following quip to his persecutors:

But again the proconsul said to him, I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.

But Polycarp said, You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 11:2)

This retort shows that Polycarp fears the eternal fire, rather than a temporal one.  He knows the fire of this world will not hurt him for long, but that the Fire of God will eternally consume and punish those who choose to separate themselves from Him.  It shows that the doctrine of ECT was in no way innovative, but was there from the beginning of the faith.

Hell

rethinking-hellYour intrepid blogger recently had the displeasure of engaging, online of course, with a group of armchair theologians dedicated to “Rethinking Hell”.  These folk have their own Facebook and web pages dedicated to the idea of “Evangelical Conditionalism” – the practical consequence of which is that they believe damned souls do not suffer eternal conscious torment (or “ECT”, as they put it), but are punished, ultimately, unto non-existence.  It’s an intriguing idea, and they believe vehemently that not only is it true, but it is vital to Christianity that hell is understood as an annihilating, rather than a perpetuating, torture.

These folk are, of course, all Protestants and “Bible-believers”, with all the accompanying approaches to faith.  For them, hell is a matter of God’s justice – it’s a place you get sent against your will by someone else, and if you are sent there by someone else, it becomes a very serious matter to ask who, why and for how long?   It’s an approach to hell that refuses to inquire too deeply into the human condition – “What in humanity is so flawed that its existence ultimately ends up in hell?” – and instead inquires of God’s condition – “What in Him requires this terrible place?”

Thermal-InfraredIt’s been a wonderful thing to discover that the Orthodox view of hell is so vastly different, and renders the sting of these questions largely redundant, because Orthodoxy is not concerned with a supposed legal status that a soul may hold, or a change in how God “feels” about us, but with the actual condition of a soul as it journeys towards death and the life to come.  What saves us is faith that transforms us through our lives through theosis – the process of the soul becoming one with the energies of God.  And either the soul humbles itself and seeks God, allowing God to heal the soul, or it seeks the World and moves away.  So where our soul “ends up” is based on its actual condition when the final judgment occurs.  And what is the judgment?  Not a legal status, but nothing less than final, ultimate exposure to the Divine and Uncreated Energies of God.  If we have lived in faith, this Divine Fire will illuminate and transfigure us, as Christ was transfigured!  But if we do not know God, then final exposure to His Holy Energies will truly be the most dreadful experience imaginable!

Some familiar with the Western tradition of hell might complain that hell is unjust because God has not revealed Himself fully to us.  But in Orthodoxy, hell IS God finally revealing himself to the damned.  And since God is love and all-merciful, it is His mercy that He does not at this time, for no soul could otherwise suffer it.  We see this in Genesis where Adam and Eve hid from God after their sin, and again when Moses cannot see God’s Glory and live.  So since God could not reveal Himself to us without tormenting us through our own choice to separate, we see the necessity of the Incarnation of God in the form of Jesus Christ – the Way that God reveals and redeems.  Not only that, but we see that this is the perfect expression of God’s love, a God-Man who suffers for us and with us, then destroys death by death, bestowing life and purifying us to receive His Light, so that it glorifies us and illumines us.

dantehellSo hell is not God’s choice (God’s choice is to seek to save us through Christ!), but ours.  It’s not something God “decides” for us, based on whether we jump through the right hoops to His satisfaction.  It’s not contract law.  Hell is the reality of discovering God exists and is Holy, after your soul chose to have nothing to do with Him and be unholy.  There is no need to “justify” hell as if it was something separate that God creates.  God is holy, and we create hell for ourselves by not being holy.

So you can see there is no real issue of God’s justice at stake in this view.  It justifies God and avoids those pesky “How can a loving God…?” questions.  This is also what the Conditionalists hope to do by saying that the torment has an end and that the end is annihilation/non-existence.  But as you can see, to my mind it “solves” a problem that was never there in the first place.

It remains to ask, however:  Is annihilation the true end of damned souls, or are they eternally tormented?  It’s still an interesting question, not because of God’s justice, but because it would help explain the nature of our souls and bodies after our earthly death.  It has no immediate impact on the major doctrines of Christianity or of the Gospel message, but it’s helpful for our understanding of what exactly it is that we seek when we seek to draw near to God.  It gets into the specifics.  And that is why I wanted to engage with Rethinking Hell and explore their arguments.

DontBotherMeUnfortunately, their arguments are pretty awful.  It all comes down to semantics, and what you think words mean.  For example, when the Bible uses the word “destroy”, does it mean “annihilate unto non-existence”, or does it mean “you die, but your immortal soul is in deep trouble”?  When the Bible says that the fire is “eternal”, does it mean the torment is eternal also, or that you get annihilated “but we thought we would mention the fire is eternal, even though an eternal fire will be unnecessary once you are annihilated”.  I became, very early on, convinced that no good could come of simply examining the scriptures on this basis – the Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean ultimately, and especially when you start applying a “new” predetermined definition of a word, you can literally reverse millenia of established theology.  The reality is that context is everything, and in the case of Christianity, context can only be found by examining the Holy Tradition of the Church.  The solution can only be found by looking both at the Bible AND outside the Bible at Holy Tradition and the history of the Church Fathers’ thoughts on the subject – something hard for these Protestants to swallow when they are convinced… CONVINCED… that the Bible teaches conditionalism/annihilation and not the dreaded ECT.  Sorry, no.  And in fact, there are too many difficult passages of scripture present to seal the case.  You can’t expound on the literalism of certain sets of scripture, yet dismiss others as metaphorical just to fit your preconceived viewpoints!  There must be another standard to hold scripture to.

After quite some time of grappling with these folk, I can’t say that I am 100% certain that “ECT” is true and annihilation is false.  I could still be wrong.  But I think, based on my own reasoning, that it is far more likely that the damned do suffer eternally.  And I shall explain why… in my next post.  Stay tuned!

Lou Reed

loureedDeath is a tragic thing, and doubly so when an artist whose work you admire and love so much dies.  Lou Reed made so much music that meant so much to me, and continues to inspire me.  And you will find few artists who made such a lasting impact on both music and culture.  Possibly only Paul McCartney and Bernard Sumner were comparably innovative in modern popular music.

For me, Reed was one of the Holy Trinity of rock and roll.  He was Rock the Father to Bowie’s Rock the Son, and Iggy’s Rock the Holy Ghost.  As another writer pointed out, he really gave us Bowie, and made Bowie possible.  And even if he had done nothing else, that would have been enough.  But there is such a legacy there in the form of simply great songs, right throughout his whole career.

I saw on one blog someone had tried to make out that with Reed, the Emperor had no clothes, and that his music was pretentious, art student wankery with no real merit.  And sure, at his worst Reed fit this stereotype.  And yes, there are a lot of pretentious, art student wankers out there who like to cite Reed and pretend that some of the stuff he did is more profound than it is, when much of it is him simply barking doggerel over bland, undistinguished MOR.  You can usually tell these people, because they’ll all say how much they like his late 1980s album New York!  Well New York has some great lyrics in it, but to pretend to like it as a set of songs just betrays you as a dick.  Those are not real songs.  No, Reed’s infamy is deserved not because he was cool to namedrop, but because he really did write some amazing music that people like to listen to because it is so damned good.

I don’t have all of Reed’s albums in the same way that I have slavishly collected Bowie’s, and after 1977 he never made an album you’d want to listen to the whole way through anyway.  But so much of his early work is indispensable.  There’s the four Velvet Underground albums (The Velvet Underground and NIco, White Light/White Heat, “The Grey Album”, Loaded), all classics, as well as several songs recorded for an album never released – Ocean, I Can’t Stand It, Lisa Says, Countess from Hong Kong.  Then there is the epic 1973 albums Transformer and Berlin, as well as the live albums Rock and Roll Animal, and Lou Reed Live.  You can’t go wrong with any of those.  Add to that the stellar Coney Island Baby from 1976 and the marvelous Street Hassle of 1977 and you’d be hard-pressed to find a collection of more perfectly-formed works.  I can count the duff songs on all those with one hand.  And even on much of his other work, flawed and/or dull as some of it is, there are still gems.  A song like Baton Rouge, from 2000’s Ecstasy, for example.  Perfect.

Lou Reed was a curmudgeon who lived a fairly dissolute life, but, to paraphrase one  of his own songs, his life was saved by rock and roll.  He was not a nice guy, but that was part of his charm.  His music was where you found his warmth and love, and it was where thousands upon thousands of people, including myself, have found such pleasure and enjoyment from him, and connected with him in a way that one could never do with him as a real life person.  His songs redeemed him, and they will always be with us to treasure.

Memory Eternal, Lewis Allan Reid.

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

ninSurveying the current state of ’90s alternative musicians is somewhat depressing.  Of that original gang of cultural iconoclasts, who is left?  Who is still doing relevant stuff?  Even Beck seems to have disappeared up his own rear end somewhat.

Trent Reznor is increasingly seeming like the last man standing.  His latest album, the first in four years, may prove to be one of his finest.  While Reznor has generally been pretty consistent in producing good quality music, most of it has been after a certain fashion, and very little would not have sat comfortably on his landmark album The Downward Spiral.  However, working on film soundtracks, and collaborating with Atticus Ross has had a profound, and positive, effect on Reznor’s music.  The songs here are more electronic, more danceable, slightly more subtle, and less ragingly distorted than one has normally come to expect from Nine Inch Nails.  Singles Came Back Haunted and Copy of A retain all the trademark menace, but without resorting to the quiet/loud/quiet/loud device that Reznor hitherto liked to employ.  And you can dance to them!

This is a great album, and it has been on high rotate on my stereo recently.  And for what it’s worth, my four year old twin daughters love it too, and like to practice a lot of their ballet moves to it!  Even if you are someone who has traditionally not liked Nine Inch Nails, you may well like this one.

Why Going to Hooters is Legitimate Council Expenditure

This fellow Tony Marryatt sounds like all kinds of dodgy.  So it’s bizarre that the focus of the article is not on the fact he went on so many junkets in the first place, but on the fact he went to Hooters twice, and spent – OMG!!! – $120 there.

Outgoing Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt racked up nearly $9000 on his ratepayer-funded credit card in the last year, including more than $120 on two visits to the bawdy Hooters restaurant in the United States.

Figures released to The Press under the Official Information Act show Marryatt twice visited the restaurant chain in Phoenix, Arizona, famous for its young busty waitresses. He was there on a council managers’ conference a year ago.

Cr Tim Carter, who chairs the council’s audit and risk committee and often signed off credit card reports from senior staff, said he was “struggling to understand how spending money at a Hooters bar was council business”.

hootersBecause it’s not just a bar.  It’s actually a restaurant.  Two visits to a restaurant for two people and spending $120 over those two visits is not unreasonable at all.  It’s a meal and a couple of beers, nothing more.

Now to be sure, Hooters is not an upmarket establishment.  Its target market is married, middle-aged men who want to get a good meal, drink beer, and look at pretty college girls while they are doing it.  But it’s not a strip club.  Nobody takes their clothes off.  As weird as it seems to us New Zealanders, you see families with children eating there.  And the food is, by all accounts, pretty good.

If you were at a conference, and wished to bond with another middle-aged male over a reasonably priced meal and some beers, to discuss matters relating to local government, Hooters is not an unreasonable place to do business at all.  In fact you could do a lot worse.  It’s not my cup of tea personally, but that’s due more to matters of taste than any question of morality.

You would think Cr Carter, and Fairfax reporters, would never so much as let butter melt in their mouths!  They ignore the real issue of the junkets themselves, and focus on what is really a fairly benign aspect of his bill – a restaurant with a cheeky name and pretty girls who wait on your table.  Bugger me, but that describes half the Auckland Viaduct!  It’s not a story.

Review: Rewind the Film – Manic Street Preachers

rewind the filmThe Manics, despite having political views that are the complete opposite of my own, are one of those bands to whom my fandom goes beyond mere carnal delight and extends to something akin to genuine romance.  It’s more than just objectively assessing their work and playing what I like.  It’s more like a sports team that you are cheering on and want desperately to win.

On Rewind the Film, alas, they lose the match.  While single Show Me the Wonder is brilliant, yet another classic Manics anthem, and the title track a melancholy, brooding masterpiece, it would have been lovely had these gems been placed in a collection of songs equally worthy of affection.  Unfortunately the rest of the album is horrible.

Fights between lovers are often the more vitriolic for their passion, and so it is with Rewind the Film.  I hate this album.  I hate the production.  I hate that it sounds like they are trying to be Mumford and Sons.  I hate that they think they sound so freaking “Welsh”.  I hate crappy folk music, and this is crappy, inauthentic, bad folk music.  Someone should take that trumpet and bash James Dean Bradfield over the head with it until he can rediscover where he misplaced his electric guitar.  This thing is a stinker.

Singles aside, it’s only saving grace is in the lyric of Thirty Year War, where Nicky Wire bemoans three glorious decades of Thatcherism.  It’s such a sad, self-pitying song, wailing about how “the old boy network won”, that, were it not so turgid and boring, you’d want to play it over and over again just to gloat and taste the sweetness of his tears.  Maybe it’s recorded badly deliberately just so as to avoid such a fate.

They get points for trying, and not producing yet another album of populist guitar anthems, even though that is what they are good at.  The great thing about the Manics is that they often take risks, and those risks often pay off.  But, like Lifeblood before it, this album is a failure.  It’s not completely impossible that it could grow on me.  I may give it a couple more spins.  I recall feeling the same about This Is My Truth, which I now regard as one of their best works.  But somehow, this time, I doubt it is going to bear up.

Here’s what can be salvaged:   This is a great song!

Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

This post is sort of an addendum to my previous posts on the differences between Orthodox and Protestant (or “bible-believing”) Christianity.   You can read my previous posts as follows:

Since many of the arguments I used to explain the Orthodox viewpoint also apply to Roman Catholicism, it could be easy for Protestants to assume that Orthodoxy is simply a more antiquated version of Roman Catholicism without the Pope.  Indeed, this seems to be how many Catholics themselves view things.  But there are serious differences both in doctrine and in the entire approach to faith.  Orthodoxy is no less than a different mindset from both Catholicism and Protestantism.

Some of the more theoretical theology (such as the filloque dispute) may not seem like a big deal, but these “minor” deviations have cancerous practical consequences.  The fundamental differences are:

original-sin-garden-of-eden1.  Original Sin.  Originally both the Eastern and Western Church were in communion, a situation which lasted for the first thousand years of Christianity.  But separation began as early as the turn of the 4th Century, when Augustine first postulated the idea of “original sin”.  While Augustine made invaluable contributions to Christian theology, his Greek was poor, and this doctrine in particular sprung from a mistranslation of Romans 5:12 in the Vulgate.  It soon gained widespread popularity in the West, where Latin was spoken, but was never adopted by the East, where the original Greek was understood.  Tied in with this is the idea of Complete Corruption – that to be human is inherently to be sinful regardless of our actions.  This later became popular among Protestants during the Reformation.

Orthodoxy has instead held that sin is not a pre-existing condition of being human, only that the consequences of Adam’s sin were death and decay, and God’s curse (Genesis 3:15-25 – LXX), from which we must still be saved.  In Orthodoxy, our sin is a result of our free will and choice only, and therefore our own responsibility.

filioque2.  The Filloque.  At the Council of Toledo in 589AD, the local Bishops proposed an addition to the Creed stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father.  Since the purpose of the Council was to reconcile Arians back into the Church, the error of what became known as the filloque came about from the influence of the Gothic King Reccard and other new converts, who could still not quite bring themselves to view the Trinity as a co-equal entity.  The Bishops, eager to reconcile the Arian Goths to the Church, acquiesced.  While not formally agreed to by the Pope at the time, reciting the filloque as part of the Creed also became popular Western practice, and at the turn of the 9th Century was adopted throughout the Frankish Holy Roman Empire, which covered the bulk of Western Christendom.  Eventually, the Papacy itself acquiesced to adopt it in 1014AD, despite the Third Ecumenical Council of 431AD specifically forbidding further additions to the Creed.  This in time triggered a break in communion with the rest of the Church in 1054AD, also known as the Great Schism, whereupon the Pope officially tried to excommunicate the Ecumenical Patriarch.

To this day, Orthodoxy holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father as an equal Person fulfilling His saving acts, and not from both the Father and the Son.

popepatriarch3.  Papal Primacy.  The filloque controversy was, in many ways, simply an excuse for the Papacy to wield what it saw as its rightful powers as “the Holy See of Peter”.  While the Church always regarded the Bishop of Rome as the “first among equals” in honour, and made use of him to settle disputes, the Papacy gradually began to interfere proactively in other jurisdictions, especially during the 9th Century, when Pope Nicholas tried to interfere in the election of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and claim that the Pope had primacy over the whole Church, not just his diocese or his Patriarchate.  Ever since, Popes have made this jurisdictional claim, which Orthodoxy completely rejects.  Orthodoxy sees all Bishops as equals, and that only the Whole Church can discern doctrine.  While the Bishop of Rome is the most important Bishop, he is not regarded as the “Vicar of Christ”, or a “Bishop of the Bishops”.

thuggee-from-indiana-jones4.  Satisfaction.  Traditionally Orthodoxy has described salvation in a variety of ways – Christ saves by conquering sin and death, by an exchange of love between God and man, by atoning for sin Himself where man could not, by an exemplary life, by incarnation as both God and man, and so on.  None of these descriptions are complete in and of themselves, or stand alone separate from each other as a discrete explanation of salvation.  However, in the late 11th Century, Anselm of Canterbury propagated the idea that sin was a crime against God that offended God’s honour (similar to the way crime offended the honour of Western medieval Kings), and therefore implied salvation involved not personal transformation, but satisfying this honour – the crime must be paid for one way or another.  This soon became the standard primary explanation of Christ’s saving acts in Western Christianity.  But while Christ’s suffering is regarded as an atonement by the Orthodox Church, this does not imply that God separates from Himself by sacrificing Himself to appease Himself – a veritable “god of the volcano” into which things must be hurled to prevent eruption.  Anselm, while well-meaning, turned salvation into a legal transaction or contract rather than a process of rehabilitation.

These four innovations to the faith, sometimes in concert with one another, had massive implications for what followed.  Just for starters:

  • The Roman doctrines of purgatory and indulgences – unknown in Orthodoxy –  came directly from the ideas of Satisfaction and Original Sin, and triggered the Reformation in the West.  But instead of repudiating the underlying doctrines, the main point of contention between Roman Catholics and Protestants became not over whether or not God’s justice, honor, or wrath needed to be satisfied, but whether man could add anything to that satisfaction in penance;
  • Original sin also led to an unnecessary need for Mary’s conception to be “immaculate”.  As Orthodox see it, this has in turn caused an undue focus on the uniqueness of Mary as a separate heavenly entity in Roman Catholicism, instead of stressing her humanity and her relationship to her Son.  Meanwhile, Protestants took it in the opposite direction – if humanity is Corrupt through original sin, it is impossible for Mary to be anything special, or to be “More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”;
  • There was a degrading of the sacredness of sexuality in the West into something inherently sinful in itself (since original sin is sexually transmitted).  Sex ceased to be a sacrament, and more of an activity allowed only because it was the only way humans could reproduce.  This in turn solidified the practice of Priestly celibacy in the West;
  • Papal Primacy led to Papal infallibility, and, combined with the Filloque, into a weakening of the Holy Tradition and a strengthening of the role of the ecclesiastical office-holders at its expense.  The Roman Catholic Magisterium became the determinant of Truth, not the Orthodox councillar approach of what has been believed “always, and everywhere, by all”.

healing_sm…and there are numerous other ways in which these innovations have created theological differences.  While a lot of the externals remain similar to this day, Roman Catholicism became a very different beast from the Orthodox faith which spawned it.  The same rituals and trappings soon took on quite different meanings.  And while the Protestants of the Reformation repudiated the Roman church’s innovations, they did not break from the underlying theology behind them, which is what really separates the West from the East.  Nowhere is this difference better articulated than by Alexandre Kalomiros in his famous 1980 presentation The River of Fire.  While this sermon is unfortunately shrill, and lacking in charity towards Western Christianity in its accusations, it lays things out very well.  On one hand, we see a judicial and rationalizing faith on the part of Protestants and Catholics, and on the other, a rehabilitative, experiential and mysterious one on the part of Orthodox.  In a nutshell:  Is Christianity merely a restoration of our relationship with God, through Jesus, or us, or both of us, being justly punished?  Or does Christianity restore our relationship with God by using all of His saving acts to heal us of our sinful passions so we are ultimately holy and at one with God’s Energies?

Moa Beer is a Con

moabeerI see that the bubbles have recently burst on the con job that is Moa beer.

Having last October described its New Zealand distribution deal with Treasury Wine Estates as “the perfect partner to super-charge growth”, the company came out last week and blamed TWE for its failure to hit the prospectus sales volume target of 195,100 cases this year.

The shortfall would be big, 30 per cent, implying sales of about 136,000 cases in the 12 months to March 2014. Investors were naturally spooked and the shares were gutted by more than a quarter.

I can’t believe that there were seriously suckers out there that would invest in this dog of a company.  Moa is the Enron of beer.  While it has a good distribution network (I’ve seen it on sale in my local supermarket here in San Antonio), it’s completely priced out of the market.  Nobody is going to pay eleven bucks for that crap.

For eleven bucks, my beer had better actually come from a Trappist monastery in Belgium, be bottle fermented, and taste like God’s nectar.  Moa beer does not meet these requirements.  It is a bog standard craft brew which tastes nice enough, but nothing special that can’t already be gotten for half the price.

There seems to be no effort on Moa’s part to either make beer, or brand their beer, so that it is actually competitive in the marketplace.  The whole point of Moa, in fact, seems to be to have a product that looks flashy so that investors will part with their cash.  It seems to me to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.  The goal is not to make beer and sell it at a profit.  The goal is to run a company, get investment, and look like you are doing something to justify that investment by putting overpriced bottles on as many shelves as you can.

Eventually Enron Beer is going to run out of money, and some people are going to lose their shirt.  But nobody should pretend that anything about this is actually about selling beer.

Zoo Substitutes Dog for Lion

Easily confused species of animals…doglion

A Chinese zoo’s supposed “African lion” was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute started barking.

The zoo in the People’s Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made — but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled “African lion” was barking.

It’s like some sort of real life Monty Python sketch!  In fact, it’s sort of like this one:

Engaged

In latter years, I have tried to be more modest about putting my personal life online, but I would be remiss not to share the happiness of myself and my fiancee at our recent engagement.  I am very proud to have this beautiful, intelligent and wonderful woman at my side!  The photo below was taken at Enchanted Rock, Texas, a few minutes after I proposed:

fiancee

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