Thursday, November 16, 2017

Confirmation bias and Terry Virgo's bad memory

Terry Virgo: "God's new thing is going to be this big!"

Premier Christianity Magazine is a fairly broad church publication; it's articles, both in authorship and subject matter, span the spectrum from liberals and liberal evangelicals (if that isn't an oxymoron!) such as Robert Beckford, Steve Chalk and Rob Bell through Rick Warren to fundamentalist evangelicals like R T Kendall. I'm in favour of this editorial policy because it acknowledges the realities of Christian culture; to recycle a phrase I actually found in one of Christianity's reviews this month: "This isn't safe Christian publishing because we don't live in a safe Christian world". You can say that again! ...the Christian world certainly isn't safe for one's faith! For if one gets too sectarian, too partisan, too fundamentalist and too choosy with one's Christianity one ends up being obliged to label just about everyone else's version of Christianity (except one's own, of course) as heretical! Since there are any number of fundamentalist puritan sects out there declaring themselves to be the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth so God help all those others in error,  a very natural conclusion in the face of this endless sectarian farce is that Christianity is simply bogus. So, either one rejects Christianity outright as the resort of the spiritually conceited or one goes down Premier Christianity's broad church road.


So, given Premier Christianity's editorial policy I was comfortable with the fact that the November edition carried an article by Charismatic "restorationist" and fundamentalist leaning Terry Virgo. His name has come up on this blog before - see here and here. The article was titled: "Whatever happened to the promised revival" and concerned Virgo's belief that the time is right for revival (or at least another promise of revival!). In my experience pronouncements of coming revival by some Christian pundit or other have been so frequent and to date have, of course, proved so false that its very easy to automatically dismiss such claims. In fact to be frank that was exactly my response to Virgo. However, given the culturally run down circumstances in which Western Christianity finds itself I can understand a little wishful thinking on Virgo's part and I wouldn't want to be too hard on him. What I would query, however,  are some of the more specific features of his piece. I itemize these below:


Item 1: Virgo says that true revival starts with repentance in the church and fresh encounters with God. He might be right, but what completely obscures this hypothesized pattern is that in my experience repentant revivalist meetings, some of them involving claimed epiphanies, ecstasies, inner light experiences,  trance-like behaviors and altered states of consciousness (Often labelled nowadays as "encounters"), are so frequent that if revival does break out there will inevitably be some revivalist group or other who are well placed to claim "It happened here first!". For example, Virgo tells us the story of the stern Welsh fundamentalist Martin Lloyd-Jones who interrupted his planned preaching program in 1959 to preach for a whole year on revival hoping that revival would break out soon. (At that time Jones did not indulge in what today we would call "encounter" behaviours). There was no revival, but if there had been it is quite possible that Jones' name would have been easily associated with it. As it happened the 1960s was accompanied by cultural shifts both inside and outside the church. The church of the 60s experienced the "encounter" Christianity of the charismatic movement and a resurgence of fundamentalist Christian literalism manifested in anti-science young earthist trends. But as Virgo rightly points out the charismatic renewal of the 1960s cannot classify as a classic revival. 


Item 2: Regarding the charismatic renewal and fundamentalist shifts  of the 60s Virgo says "For me the word 'revival' was replaced by the word 'restoration'". Of course it's futile contradicting Virgo in his use of labels - he can call it what he wants. I personally would have referred to the 1960s cultural shifts in the church as a "change of garb" or  a "change of style". Yes, often those changes were needed to meet the day but sometimes the new dress was tasteless, garish, affected, and inauthentic. Moreover, the "encounters" (referred too as "Baptisms in the Spirit" in those days, and later "the touch of God"**) often failed to live up to their promise of "Holy Power".

However, I'm intrigued by Virgo's use of the world "restoration" because when I first came across Virgo's name at the beginning of the 1980s he was part of a movement who used the word  "restoration" to describe a "recovery" of the ministries of apostles, prophets and authoritative (sometimes also authoritarian) church leadership. By the end of the 1970s the charismatic movement of the 60s had started to get stale and passe and a "where to next?" feeling set in. The new restorationist leadership was claiming that these rediscovered ministries were evidence of God's next big thing. The slogan that did the rounds was that "God was doing a new thing". By the beginning of the 1980s this "new thing" itself was starting to fade and it wasn't until the mid 1990s that yet another "new thing", in the form of the trance-like "Toronto Blessing", started to emerge.

One of the leaders of the restorationist movement, Arthur Wallace, wrote a short "prophetic" piece to the effect that this new awakening, under the restored patriarchal leaders, would result in a flowing together of the different streams of Protestantism. This kind of unifying restoration, needless to say, never took place; it petered out into yet another splinter of Protestantism as its "big preach" leaders got down to the routine day to day business of running their churches. Some of those leaders were authoritarian in outlook, such as Bryn Jones. As one of the big name leaders Virgo was considered by his flock to be an apostle, but Virgo was a less authoritarian and wiser leader than many; this may be why he has lasted and has gained some respect. But even so he was still too authoritarian in doctrinal paradigm to be of much help in the Mark  Driscoll affair.  (See here and here

Item 3: There have been a number of failed prophecies about revival in the UK and Virgo, unwittingly, probably alludes to one such failed prophecy. He talks of a lady friend who had a vision just weeks before Princess Diana's death of the streets of the UK being filled with flowers. I wonder if this is the same "prophecy" that arrived at my church just after Diana had died. We were told that the source of the prophecy came with good backing (Perhaps with Virgo's backing?) and that clearly the prophecy about the streets being filled with flowers had been fulfilled. However, Virgo doesn't tell us that the prophecy did the rounds in two parts and the second part, presumably from the same source, claimed that as quickly as the flowers would be removed from the streets revival would come to the UK. Of course, that second prophecy wasn't fulfilled! If I'm right then it looks as though Virgo has forgotten about this or has suppressed it. My guess is that the lady concerned had what she perceived as precognitive visions and/or dreams - a phenomenon that is not uncommon in the population as a whole. But if an attempt is made to use these precognitive visions predictively let me warn people that they are unreliable and can betray the prognosticator just as they did Virgo's lady friend.

***

In my experience prophecies of revival are two-a-penny out there. Without digging into the archives I can think of several in my time alone. Like revivalist meetings, prophecies of revival are probably happening all the time and if and when revival breaks out someone somewhere will feel they are able to claim that they correctly prophesied it!

Confirmation bias is rampant in some Christian subcultures and the welter of attempted prognostications makes it very likely that someone somewhere will eventually come up trumps - or at least think they've come up trumps!* In this post I published some false prophecies taken from my own memories. Viz:

1. The Mt Carmel prophecies affirming 1975 as a “significant” year. (From the Christian "Buzz" magazine)
2. That revival would sweep the southern part of England, as did the hurricane of 1987. (Grantly Watkins at a Norwich "May Day" event)
3. That this or that person would be healed from terminal cancer and never did (Too numerous to mention specifically!)
4. That there would be Christian revival shortly after Princess Di’s death. (Terry Virgo's friend)
5. The Spring Harvest prophecy that Westminster Chapel would be the center of a great revival in 1996. (Gerald Coates)
6. That the millennium bug would be the precursor of Global collapse in the year 2000. (Barry Smith)
7. That Southern England would experience a devastating Earthquake. (A Dereham Road Baptist Church member quoting information she received from a "prophetic ministry". She quoted this during a meeting where I was in attendance)
8. That “big things” would be happening in the UK shortly after the July 2005 BennyHinn rally in Norwich.

Since I published the list above there has been a prophecy at the "Bay of Holy Spirit Revival"  which claimed that my home city of Norwich would experience a revival. We've also fairly recently (2014/15) had the "Blood Moon" prophecies which, on the basis of a relatively rare series lunar eclipses, made predictions of eschatological interest. The sell-by-date of these prophecies, however, is rapidly running out. It's also worth comparing all this with the  prognisticating activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower organisation. 

The above are anecdotal in that they just come from my memory. If I did a little digging and research I might be able to unearth some documentation to support these anecdotes. However, I must  say that I've got better things to do with my life than run down cheap plastic Woolsworth's quality prophecies, "prophecies" here today and forgotten tomorrow.

Footnotes:
* You can do this experiment safely at home. Take two dice and throw them both one after the other. Use the first die thrown as a "prognosticator" of the second die thrown. If the first die comes up with a "6" then regard this a prediction that the second die will land a "6". Marvel when the predicting die actually, and eventually, get's it right!

Wow! One of those die has just predicted the other!


**  As the Toronto blessing got underway in the mid 1990s it became apparent that even those who claimed they had been "Baptised in the Spirit" could come back for more and experience a "new touch of God" in the form of the ecstatic mental states of the new blessing. Thus, the emphasis shifted from an elite class of Christians initiated once for all into the things of the Spirit to ongoing "touches of God" and encounters. The promise of these trance-like experiences drew seekers and filled the chairs (and often the carpets!) of those revivalist rallies.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Fundamentalist celebrity death match.

Christian conspiracy theorist Brannon Howse
verses
The ex-Pensacola patriarch, Micheal L Brown


I have often remarked on the viciousness of fundamentalist infighting (See here for example). This is really no surprise given that fundamentalists on both sides of a fault line will likely believe that their opinions come with the authority of God behind them. They will see one another as an affront to the Almighty Himself and therefore deserving of the strongest possible censure. I recently came across one of these arguments.which I relate here. 

It's a long story of how it came about, but I receive the newsletter of a certain Dr Michael  L Brown who I have mentioned in a blog post here. Brown is a fundamentalist although not as extreme as some: If, as I usually say, fundamentalism is 1 part doctrine to 2 parts bad attitude then roughly speaking Brown has only got 1 part of that bad attitude. This may have something to do with him being a charismatic fundamentalist who was a leader in the "Pensacola Outpouring". The "Pensacola Outpouring", like the "Toronto Blessing", involved bizarre trance and hypnotic like behaviors manifested during large meetings. These public displays of what may be altered states of consciousness were not unlike the dancing mania outbreaks of the middle ages. According to Wiki the Pensacola revival:


... was precedented [with] a prophecy by Dr. David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church. God told Dr. Cho that He was "going to send revival to the seaside city of Pensacola, and it will spread like a fire until all of America has been consumed by it."

Obviously we have here yet another false prophecy! The doubts arising from being associated with such curious behavior and abortive prophecies may have had a humbling effect on people like Brown thus taking the edge of their epistemic arrogance. In passing let me note that the traditional reformation identifying fundamentalists take an uncompromising stand against the likes of David Yonggi Cho. This is clear from the 2013 issue (No 1) of Sword and Trowel, a magazine produced by the "Metropolitan Tabernacle", a highly sectarian fundamentalist church in London who favour "Biblical separation from error" (And we know what that means: "Truth & error" as defined by themselves!) In an article entitled "Abandoning separation from Biblical error" the magazine urged evangelicals to separate themselves from heretics of whom David Yonggi Cho was clearly one! These same reformation identifying Christians also take strong exception to the charismatic antics of R T Kendall who like Brown has also been very much involved with trance-like behaviors among Christians -  see here. However, I'm digressing into other fundamentalist infighting. I really need to get back to the subject in hand: Brannon vs Brown.

Brown's news letter links to an article of his (I have copied and stored this article here) where he complains about the attack on his friend James White who chose to publicly dialogue with the conservative (fundamentalist?) Muslim, Dr. Yasir Qadhi.  I think we can take Brown's word for it that any Christian friend of his is very unlikely to compromise in a dialogue with a Muslim. Moreover,  it seems that James White is an authority on Islam and has no illusions about Islam's history of coercion and violence. The attack on White was carried out by the Christian conspiracy theorist Brannon Howse who condemned the meeting in the strongest possible terms.  Picking up the story as told by Brown:

Ironically, the man who launched the ugliest of these attacks against White, Brannon Howse, is a self-professed non-expert of Islam. Yet he claims that White “has proven he is not only not an expert on Islam but has a very hard time teaching the Bible in context.” He further alleges that the dialogue was a “travesty that was permeated with the spirit of antichrist,” and even writes, “The time has come to identify the men, churches, and organizations who defend James White in what 2 John 7-11 describes as an evil deed manifesting the antichrist spirit.” Indeed, those who stand with White are nothing more than the “Christian mafia.”
Why such hysterical rhetoric? Why such over-the-top attacks on a brother in the Lord? Why the histrionics?
Unfortunately, the “useful idiot” smear is repeated in the title of a far less hysterical article by James Simpson on the American Thinker: “When Evangelicals Become Useful Idiots for Islamism.” And Simpson defends this kind of rhetoric, writing, “Howse believes that White is simply playing into the Islamist's hands, and calls him a ‘dupe’ and ‘useful idiot.’
“These terms may sound harsh, but are very apropos in this circumstance. ‘Useful idiot’ is a term coined by Soviet leaders to describe Western liberals who enthusiastically promoted the communist line without knowing it. Today the ‘Interfaith Dialog’ seeks to do the same for Islam.”
Simpson and Howse could hardly have been more uninformed, thereby misinforming their readers.

Simpson, another fundamentalist, looks as if he has the usual fundamentalist collective paranoia. In fact Brown quotes him as follows:

The Left, in concert with its allies among atheists, Islamists, and the homosexual lobby, is engaged in a multi-front war to destroy what remains of our nation's Christian bedrock

Islam is hardly allied with the homosexual lobby or atheists; they are all players in a multi-cornered row which includes numerous Christian fundamentalist splinter groups each of whom, as is their wont, believe everyone has especially got it in for them and them alone. Brown, however, shows less intense symptoms of paranoia. He says of Yasir Qadhi: 

Is Qadhi involved in a stealth plot to overthrow America? Not to my knowledge. Is he connected to Muslim organizations in America that I do not trust? Absolutely. But do I take him at his word that he now opposes violent jihad, to the point that ISIS, whom he calls “crazy,” is trying to kill him? Yes I do.

But in spite of that we can take it that Brown, as do White, Simpson, Howes and Qadhi, has the fundamentalist mindset which means that all who radically disagree with him have at best an inferior faith and at worst will be thrown into hell. As White is quoted as saying to Qadhi 

White basically said to the imam, “We both believe the other is going to hell. Now what?”

Fundamentalists do not accept that epistemic issues allow interlocutors who disagree with them to do so with a clear conscience and that this disagreement does not warrant them being thrown into an eternal hell. So, why would I want to side even with a more moderate fundamentalist like Brown when it is likely he, along with his fellow fundamentalists, would believe that my expression of faith is at best inferior and at worst deserving of an eternity in hell?

In this context of no-holds barred contention it is no surprise that Howes would not dialogue with the antichrist conniving Brown:

For the record, I invited Brannon Howse to join me on the air opposite Dr. White to share his concerns but he declined. I also offered this article first to American Thinker, giving them the opportunity to present a different perspective, but they declined to post it, saying it was too long  -- although it was shorter than the Simpson article I critiqued here – and that it was too theological. When I offered to shorten it and make it more political and less theological if they were likely to post it, they did not reply

Why such over the top attacks on a brother in the lord? asks Brown. That's because the logic of fundamentalism favours an epistemic arrogance (and conspiracy theorism) which leads them to believe they are the very mouth piece of the Almighty. Fundamentalists are so unself-aware that they fail to see themselves reflected in other (opposing) fundamentalists. We've seen plenty of this kind of behaviour from Ken Ham as he's attacked in quite extreme terms Christians who disagree with him Moreover, he presides over an organisation that even attacks Christians who believe the Earth to be 10,000 years old rather than his shorter 6000 year figure.  Interestingly, like Howes Ham has also snubbed friendly overtures from other Christians. 

 I think Brown is on a hiding to nowhere when he asks:

It’s time, then, for the hysterical rhetoric to stop and for us to work together in sounding the alarm against radical Islam while reaching out with love and truth to the Muslim community. Shall we bury the hatchet here and move forward?

How can they bury the hatchet when they believe without a shadow of doubt that their hatchet is God's very word and will?  Brown himself is certainly not going to bury the hatchet with those Christians he disagrees with over his fundamentalism; in fact he may even be unwilling to concede that they are brothers in Christ.
 

We see above the usual inchoate squabbling bunch of Christian partisans, all of whom will claim the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit when in fact their discordant racket means they have failed to earn their right to be listened to. When one surveys this sort of wide spread behavior among fundamentalists one can understand any one thinking "Who needs Christianity and the Christian God?"

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Holy-bad-mouther-in-chief, Ken Ham,  betrayed no sense of irony when he wrote the following in a blog post dated 21st June.

This newest issue of Answers Magazine also features an article that comes right from my heart, “Coping with Criticism,” which helps Christians know how to respond to criticism from non-Christians and Christians alike. I think this article is very timely in a day when Christianity is increasingly under attack and when those who uphold the authority of God’s Word are maligned and assailed, even by those within the church.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Raging Christian Right

British Muslims





British Muslims (?)

Islam can be two faced: But then so can Christianity: See below

I'm a Facebook user, but being of a rather reclusive nature I try to keep my friendship links at a minimum. I use Facebook as a window on subjects that interest me: Family, Old Norwich, military matters, science, animals and church etc. What surprises me, however, is that even given my rather limited friendship network, Facebook has proved to be a window on a wide political spectrum: I have friends and friends of friends that politically range from Corbynite left-wingers, through libertarians and new-age flat earthers, to the raging fundamentalist Christian right-wingers. And this, it seems, is largely a result of me being connected to a broad evangelical church with its diversity of opinion and its the tendency to act as a crossroads for the kind of hustle and bustle one finds in a busy street corner pub. I've always been inclined to wait for data to come my way rather than proactively seeking it: So, taken together Facebook and the church present such a wide window on the world that I can do just that: Sit back and watch!

In my science blog I've already showcased some new age conspiracy theorists and flat earthers which connected to my Facebook account, but in this post I want to showcase some Christian right-wingers which have flitted across my line of sight.

It all started with one of my Facebook friends, whom I shall call Tina Breadcrust. She is a right-wing UK Christian, ardent Brexitor, Nigel Farage fan and thinks of the EU as a Babylonish empire. That sounds worse than it actually is: She means well, is very devout and is a nice person. But to my mind she's taken the usual fundamentalist escape route from humanity's natural state of epistemic insecurity and found security in the contrived certainty of self-proclaimed prophets and authoritarian Christian ministries. But the disparate nature of Christian culture has ensured that there is no such thing as the definitive Christian ministry, much to the dismay of the insecure who want certainty on a plate: In actual fact, as I think I've said before, this hankering after certainty means that when we find epistemic arrogance on both sides of an inter-fundamentalist fault-line the consequent arguments are some of the most bitter of contentions as fundamentalists engage in no-holds barred character assassinations and accuse one another of heinous sin  (See also here).

But the good natured Tina Breadcrust is not in it for the fights - she's in it because she thinks she's found definitive truth in the Christian culture she has identified with. But recently someone picked a fight with Tina and there was little I could do to help her; I don't get involved in fundamentalist infighting. As a Nigel Farage supporter and fundamentalist, Tina is probably also a Trump supporter. As a consequence of this, I guess, Tina has gained a network of right-wing US Christian Facebook friends. But recently Tina got more than she bargained for. It all started when naturally enough Tina posted a picture of London's Tower Bridge asking for prayers in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack on London Bridge. One of her right wing "Friends" whom I shall refer to as "Patsie Slapmangle" responded with this:

Patsie Slapmangle: Nope. Deal with the bad choices you've made and your cowardice and spinelessness. Face the reality of what you have done. Stupid "polite" cowards. 

Tina Breadcrust: Patsie Slapmangle, if you can't respond appropriately then I'd rather you didn't make any comment.

My Comment: How ever did Tina manage to pick up this client I wonder? The irony is that Tina would likely be at one with Slapmangle politically and religiously and moreover may well vote Trump if she were an American. But to Slapmamgle Tina is almost to be thought of as an enemy and to have a part in the collective responsibility for the UK's woes. Tina went on to post a couple of other news reports on the terrible events in London and this is how Slapmangle responded:

Patsie Slapmangle:zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Patsie Slapmangle:zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

My comment: Lovely person! Slapmangle is the sort of person who, if you were seriously injured in a car accident that was your fault, would pass you by shouting "It's your own fault! Serves you right!". And if the accident wasn't your fault she'd do the same thing!


Tina supports a one-state solution for the Israel/Palestinian question and probably thinks anything less than an Israel dominated by one state is anti-God. It is likely that Slapmangle has a similar opinion. But on Tina posting an article in favour of Zionism Slapmangle responded with this:



Patsie Slapmangle: Do you honestly think your liberal government cares about Israel given the fact that they don't even care about the U.K.????? 

My Comment: We've had a right-wing conservative Government in the UK since 2010, but its seems that anything left of Adolf Hitler looks to be "liberal" to Slapmangle! Notice the default in Slapmangle's thinking: Anyone who thinks differently to her must, in her opinion, have major character defects: In this instance she is accusing the British government of not even caring about its own people! This is very reminiscent of fundamentalists like Ken Ham,, Jason Lisle and a conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones whose conspiracy paranoia ensures that he indulges in the most fanciful of accusations. In their drive toward certainty Fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists will not accept that human beings differ in their opinions in part as a result of a flaky epistemology. Therefore they can't agree to differ. Consequently in their books to disagree with them is to be willful and Machiavellian and deserving of the utmost opprobrium and punishment. Recall Ken Ham's flood video!

To a further news report posting by Tina on the London attack Slapmangle continues with her vindictive nastiness:


Patsie Slapmangle: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


Tina then posted a request from American Christian right-winger Franklin Graham for prayer for London. The result was this short comment Thread:




Patsie Slapmangle Franklin Graham, save it for those who deserve your prayers and concern.


Tina Breadcrust: This is very unChristian of you Patsie Slapmangle. 

Patsie Slapmangle UnChristian? No. Rational! You of the U.K. have done NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING to demand that your leaders make massive changes there. All you all do is purchase flowers and place them on the sites of the attacks. Wow, that's really helpful!!!! So impressive. You all are hopeless. So polite, so spineless, so lacking in normal outrage at what is facing you all.

Ronetta Olga-Morris: I agree, Tina Breadcrust. A pretty sad attitude to have towards family and friends that have lost loved ones. But as we can tell, some don't care about what pain they cause others, either by deed or WORD!!! Glad she's not on my friends list! I don't need people with that sort of hateful attitude.

Patsie Slapmangle: I could care less what you think about what I've said Ronetta. I am one of the most loving, caring people you could meet. BUT when there is a country which doesn't react with total OUTRAGE and refuse to do things like DEMAND that their leaders either be ousted, or do every single thing possible to safeguard against future terrorist attacks, I simply give up!!!!! Manchester was horrid!!!! HORRID. But even THAT hardly raised the pulse of the people of the U.K. They are simply hopeless.



My Comment. Ronetta is a Ted Cruz supporter. This raises the question of just how representative of the American right Slapmangle is. I guess that the only thing which would satisfy Slapmangle is if the UK voted in a British Trump figure, a figure who has the character profile of a dictator. Slapmangle is showing signs that she doesn't understand democracy. She talks of doing every thing possible against terrorist attacks; I suppose that means somehow screwing down on the Muslim population. I wonder if she has in mind a full scale expulsion of Muslims? England did that to the Jews right back in 1290. 


Tina posted on the police response to the London attack and Slapmangle responded:


Patsie Slapmangle: Gosh, how many armed police do you have there? Three? Four???

My Comment: The police dispatched the terrorists within 8 minutes of the 999 call. I think that speaks for itself (That's not to say further response enhancements can't be made). In the thread of comments following Slapmangle's comment above Tina conferred with another FB friend about blocking Slapmangle who is "a very nasty person and there is no reasoning with her" (On the advice of her FB friend Tina eventually succeeded in blocking Slapmangle). 



***


Now for the bad news. It is possible that Slapmangle is a rare right-wing extremist, but I am afraid it doesn't look that way. Slapmangle is just voicing, if in a rather nasty abrasive way, a view that is current among the Trump supporting Christian right-wing. In further posts from Tina Breadcrust we find the following comments:



Patsie Slapmangle: What did you all THINK was going to happen when you allowed liberals to rule your country? Did you think that the droves of muslims were coming in to ask you over for picnics????

Suzie Socket Patsie, I think most citizens there were feeling like some of us in America as to what was happening for the past 8 years before Trump became president, so Christians started to pray. PRAYER is the answer. Their leadership allowed such not the citizens.

Tina Breadcrust Thank you Suzie Socket. As you quite rightly say, prayer is key. Not just for the UK but for the global terrorist threat. Have just been listening to the world's leaders standing with us, united in their message that we in the West need to come together to tackle this threat. Prayers are being answered in this regard. Amen!

Carrie Rong UK has elected 7-8 muslim mayors, the police are not armed, why do the good UK ppl let this happen? I pray for all to fight this evil any way possible. We have to do the same here never give muslims a inch.. Never elect them into any position of authority.


Gloria Melbracket It's UK's fault & now they have 23,000 Muslims in their mist & many are members of ISIS...


My comment: Poor old Tina! She might be part of the Christian fundamentalist right-wing, but she is still a target for people like Slapmangle, a person who clearly has the sympathy of other American Christian right-wingers if the above is anything to go by! I have found that with fundamentalists in general they give you only two options: Either you concede in entirety to their views or you're forced to be in a state of war with them. Well, I know what option I'll chose!


So we have above three other American FB friends of Tina who are likely to be undiscriminating in their estimate of Muslims, lumping them altogether as undesirables and therefore target them
 en bloc with discriminating policies against them. This approach, needless to say, will fuel the fires of alienation, passion and polarisation and very probably terrorism as well. Their solution is that Tina should "pray in a president Trump". Trump is a man who looks as though he is unwilling to accept the fact that democracy is a controlled row with a free press, a press that just can't be dismissed as "Fake News" when it doesn't suit him. In any case it is likely that Tina did pray for a Trump figure i.e. Nigel Farage. (But I'll hand it to Farage - he's got a much better political head on him than Trump!) Potential dictators are unwilling to accept the messy logic of democracy and its incessant seething parliament of argument. Oliver Cromwell had the idea of democracy in his head, but his cloud-cuckoo-land religious idealism wouldn't allow him to accept the untidy compromised reality of democracy and so he defaulted to dictatorship and called himself "Lord protector"; that, I submit, is the likely outcome of the political logic of Slapmangle and her friends.  




***


One of the fundamentalists above completely underestimates the UK Muslim population: See Wiki - it's more like 2.8 million! Secondly, I suspect they have no idea as to the origins of this huge number; that origin is not due to a liberal conspiracy to allow into the UK as many Muslims as possible! British Islam has its origins in the immigration from the British empire, particularly in its latter days in the 1950s and early 1960s. The British government saw the advantages of allowing empire immigrants to fill in the gaps in the employment market, particularly the lower paid jobs. But they also saw a big problem looming:



The justification for the control which is included in this Bill, which I shall describe in more detail in a few moments, is that a sizeable part of the entire population of the earth is at present legally entitled to come and stay in this already densely populated country. It amounts altogether to one-quarter of the population of the globe and at present there are no factors visible which might lead us to expect a reversal or even a modification of the immigration trend.

— Rab Butler MP (Conservative), 16 November 1961

Given that the UK has a very large Muslim population, a legacy of empire, then to declare Muslims en bloc as persona-non-grata as do the Christian right-wingers is exactly the way to encourage alienation and terrorism. Another tendency I've seen from the intolerant Christian right is that they are determined to force Muslims
into a terrorist mold by telling them that's what the Koran expects them to be! Now, it's true there are injunctions in the Koran suggesting that Muslims take up arms against the infidel, but why oh why tell the average peaceable and good natured Muslim that this is how a true Koran obeying Muslim should be behaving? I once caught a UK Christian idiot - and "idiot" is the only name he deserves - making precisely this kind of provocative argument. I referenced this idiocy in this blog here. Let me quote from the linked to post:



Finally Premier Christianity's  news items makes what I consider to be a really serious sociological faux pas.  They give space to Jeremiah J Johnston author of Jesus and the JihadisConfronting the Rage of ISIS:

Speaking on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? programme Mr. Johnson said Westerners don't realise how theologically driven Islamic State is. The Church has been quiet for years, not wanting to offend Muslims in general,

Anyone who has observed Christian fundamentalism ought to be quite capable of spotting the patterns and putting 2 and 2 together and realising just how theologically driven Islamic State is! But the following statement from Johnson which is bound to offend (moderate) Muslims (which it seems he is prepared to do) is as bad as it gets:

If you want to see a case study of exactly how Mohammed desired Islam to be implemented, look at the Islamic state...Mohammed would not only join the Islamic state, he would lead it.

Nice one! What's this guy want us to do? Enrage and alienate otherwise moderate Muslims? We need to bring Muslim moderates on board, not tell them that their exemplar wants them behave like Daesh! In fact According to the Christianity article:

Inayat Bunglawala, founder and chair of Muslims4UK such statements sound 'utterly outrageous' for 'normal sane Muslims'

Too right! Johnson's statement is a bit like someone saying that Jesus would join the Christian Young Earthers, geocentrists, flat earthers or the Westboro baptist church! I suspect that Johnson has at least subliminal fundamentalist tendencies himself and so he just can't abide with the fuzzy world of interpretative ambiguity which provides space for review and reinterpretation - for fundies the latter always smacks of at best relativistic compromise and at worse blaspheming heresy. Johnson, like Daesh, is very comfortable with clear cut fault lines of division and difference, thus helping to reinforce and stoke up tensions between Muslims and Christians. Idiot!

***


The core Christian message is not about your "ism" - its about YOU and YOUR human nature; it's YOU with all your failings and sins that's under the spot-light and not your "ism", although undoubtedly aspects of your "ism" will be coupled to your failings. There are nice Muslims and nasty Muslims (and all the states in between). There are nice atheists and nasty atheists (and all the states in between). There are nice Jews and nasty Jews (and all the states in between). And as we've seen above there are nice Christians and nasty Christians (and all the states in between). Patsie Slapmangle looks to be one of the latter. Poor old Tina; she's got a real Facebook immigration problem of her own; in her linking to the class of Christian right-wingers and fundies she's let them in and discovered that simply because she shares the same "ism" by no means guarantees that she is linked to a set of nice people! 



Peace isn't going to come by rattling a whole sub-culture with threatening talk of taking draconian measures against them en bloc. Rather we should make cordial and constructive connections with all people of good will, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good
 And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy
 and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)



The good news of reconciliation & salvation via humility, repentance, forgiveness and atonement is available to all. But to fundamentalists a confession of Christian salvation is at best regarded as inferior and at worst worthless unless you strain out the gnats insisted upon by fundamentalist epistemic arrogance. Ken Ham, for example, makes it clear that even the gospel Christian is in a precarious spiritual position unless he acknowledges the divine authority of Ham's opinions. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Emperor's New Faith

Self deception
Premier Christianity is a broad church magazine; although it keeps within the moderate evangelical tradition it will, nevertheless, publish articles from gay-marriage endorsing Steve Chalk right through to the censorious charismatic fundamentalist R T Kendall. The May issue held a sympathetic interview with the non-evangelical Christian theologian Robert Beckford and the April edition held an interview with radical rebel Christian "Moby" (Richard Melville Hall). The magazine seldom carries the kind of spiritually superior editorial diatribes against "heretical" Christians or atheists that one sometimes sees in strictly orthodox evangelical publications; if anything Christianity's editorial staff endeavor to adopt an empathetic understanding of those who do not hold their views. And yet Christianity will also include guest articles by RT Kendall in its mix. There have been two recent articles by Kendall, one in August and another in April. As you would expect given Kendall's background, in both articles he severely censors the UK church. He would very likely condemn Steve Chalk and Moby as typifying the spiritually "dead" Christians who are the cause of Christianity's demise in the UK!* Such, then, is the diversity of opinion that Christianity magazine is prepared to showcase. For that I would give it full marks! .....show things as they really are not what you think they are or would like them to be. 

But there's more. Every so often one of the contributors to Christianity magazine writes an article that is close to my own interests; in particular the mythos vs logos dichotomy which is superimposed on modern Western Christianity. One of those articles appeared several years ago, But the latest article which piqued my interest can be found in the April edition of Premier Christianity; the self same edition in which the gnostic Kendall lets rip. The article has been written by evangelical leader Krish Kandiah. Given the modern ethos among many Charismatically oriented Christians which expects (moreover demands) that a state-of-the-art spirituality should be a very existential affair of the heart involving deeply felt mystical epiphanies (or "encounters" or "touches of God") I was absolutely fascinated to read the following candid admissions from Kandiah:

I'm in the middle of a worship service. The band is in the zone, the song choice is perfect, the congregation are absorbed in worship. And yet I am surprisingly unmoved and underwhelmed. Sometimes I go to prayer meetings and while everyone else seems to be enjoying God's undivided attention I feel disconnected. 

Apparently this isn't just Kandiah's "problem" because (My emphases):

It turns out I'm not alone...others talk of an emotional distance from God, while others bemoan a practical  isolation from God.  We're embarrassed to admit it. but it is often as though there is a huge obstacle between us a God. and we don't know what to do about it [The big difference is that the true Gnostics, of course, know what to do - get an inner light initiation!- TVR]. We the estranged, struggle to admit it at church, because week in week out we are taught that God wants to be our friend, our confidante, our rock, our aide and has died to make that possible. But what if he is not that to us?

Frank admissions indeed! Well done Kandiah! I'm glad to hear that his next job is principle of London School of Theology (Although unfortunately Christian academics have a way of being ignored in favour of spiritual rabble rousers). Some parts of evangelicalism really need a dose of this kind of authenticity and realism. But unlike the popular old fable revelations like this are not echoed generally and no one else remarks that yes, the emperor is actually naked!

Kandiah goes on to say that the epistemic distance of God is a Biblical theme. None of this is to say that people don't have intimate encounters; of course they do. But his complaint, if I'm reading Kandiah right, is that these encounters have too often become the gold standard of Christianity, particularly Charismatic Christianity with its quasi-gnostic tendencies leading it to focus on inner-light experiences as a required initiation into the true fellowship. In today's gnostically influenced church music errs toward  a one-size-fits-all walk with God (my emphasis):

It can be disconcerting when our worship songs speak to eloquently about experiencing the presence of God. We sing of how we feel God near us, his comforting presence enfolding us. This language is there in the Bible but alongside that  there is also a lot about God's absence and distance

Kandiah then goes on to justify that statement. But he seems to be aware of the difficulty that this "emperor's new clothes" lesson will have in getting a purchase:

The problem is doubly compounded when everyone else gives the impression that they are permanently in touch with God. But the Bible does not promise us an uninterrupted experience of the glory and presence of God....

What if we're made to wrestle with God, rather than blindly accept what we've received?

Wrestling with God is certainly more in line with my own personal experience of Christianity!

***

I don't know whether an article in the May Premier Christianity magazine was intended as a follow up to Kandiah's article but in this latest issue we can read an article entitled "Mid-faith Crisis" by Nick Page. Here's how the article starts:

You're standing in church, singing a worship song and suddenly nothing makes sense. Admittedly that's often the case with worship songs, but this is a more powerful, more overwhelming avalanche of nothing makes senseness. 

Deep breaths, It's Ok. Don't panic. You're just having a mid-faith crisis. 

Page goes on to develop the thesis that this apparent faith crisis is more a metamorphosis toward higher things than a death of faith

***

Both articles are worth reading. They are candid admissions that being an "in-the-spirit-Christian" isn't quite such a spiritual quick-fix  that some make out. As Nick Page says:

The thing is that church is really built for the early stages [of faith]. It's good at delivering certainty and security in the early years of your faith but for this bit [i.e. the mid-faith crises] you are on your own.

...and whilst swathes of the charismatically oriented church err toward a gnostic existential fix paradigm of faith, mid-faith Christians with a mid-faith crises will remain on their own.  Trouble is, if other articles I've seen like this are anything to go by their lessons will be ignored because they simply don't mesh with the ingrained false dichotomies of contemporary Western Christian gnosticism; Viz: Spirit vs Word, head vs heart, mythos vs logos, supernaturalism vs. naturalism, fideism vs reason. 

In my experience gnostic Christianity has an inner logic which brings about an all but inevitable sequence of events: When Christian gnostics see a church where intimate encounters with the divine are not formally promoted as an initiation rite into gnosis, gnostics  will  sometimes wheel in a "high-priest" from a Gnostic church in the hope of trying to force the pace of spiritual change. In the process valuable spiritual work is ignored and marginalized, perhaps even looked down on as "not-in-the-spirit". Because Christian gnosticism's one-size-fits-all paradigm is actually false church's will often fail to graft the new initiation into inner-light. If the church doesn't respond to the opportunity for initiation gnostics will find themselves deeply frustrated by an apparent lack of progress toward their spiritual aspirations and may then loudly blame the church for resisting the Spirit. I have seen this scenario played out more than once. If only these gnostics would take a more complementarian view that different Christians have very different pilgrimages, then we might have a church that is comfortable with both "encounters" and "mid-faith" crises and knows how to cope with both.



Footnote:
* For Kendall the solution is a new Pentecost. Viz, in his April article he writes: "It is when the word and spirit ultimately come together as on the day of Pentecost. This simultaneous combination of the Word and the Spirit resulted in spontaneous combustion" (In this article Kendall then goes on to prophesy a huge world wide revival involving millions of conversions, a revival which he says is "coming soon") That Kendall, from the outset, conceives a "Word" vs. "Spirit" dichotomy is symptomatic of Western dualism. Go to a black church and they simply won't make sense of this dichotomy. For them there is no such thing as a difference between a Christian of the Word and the superior gnostic Christian who is "moving in the Spirit". For them there is only a spectrum of power and not a fundamental distinction.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mythos versus Logos


 Exactly 20 years ago to the month I wrote the essay included in this document. It was a response to my reading of the book Surprised By the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. Deere started out as a reformed evangelical but as a result of contact with John Wimber (and also I think the notorious Paul Cain) he converted to charismatic evangelicalism; so, in some ways he is representative of both sides of the  logos vs mythos dichotomy, a dichotomy I explore further in the essay referenced here.

This essay really focuses on the contemporary vulnerability for what in the jargon of today is an “encounter” expression of Christianity. Here’s a recent and very typical example I came across:

“Pray for the Encountering God for all of us. How we need so much more of the Holy Spirit and to truly encounter God to be totally transformed”

Notice the implicit valued judgement here; Viz that without these mystical encounters  Christians are unlikely to be transformed. This version of Christianity places a premium on deep intuitive and indescribable experiences of the divine. Sometimes this includes what appear to be altered states of consciousness: Viz Swoonings, trances and ecstasies. When these experiences are formalized and articulated using doctrinal formulae such as “Baptism of the Spirit” or “in the Spirit” and then used as identifying markers for a kind of elite spirituality the whole thing starts to look very like Gnosticism.

By 1997 evangelicalism, especially in its fundamentalist Reformed and Charismatic manifestations, had lost a lot of my goodwill; as various evangelical sects engaged in very human looking mutual slagging-off matches I was left wondering what really identified Christianity as authentic. Adding fuel to my fire was the rampant anti-science doctrines found amongst Christian fundamentalists in both the reformed and charismatic traditions. If these Christian fundamentalists could be so wrong about science what credit could be given to their highly affected devotional language and their loud claims to be anointed into the Truth? Such claims had become dubious. And it remains so today. As far as I’m concerned these Christian subcultures have lost the right to be taken seriously and must re-earn that right, although I don’t hold out much hope of that. In the final analysis I will probably just have to accept that beyond the Open Gospel partisan and naive expressions of Christianity are very much the natural state of human affairs.  

Reading through my essay of 20 years ago I feel that I’d be much more hard-cop if I wrote it today: The Christian community Deere represents have learnt very little about reciprocity; but then neither have the reformists.


T. V. Reeves April 2017