Too brief thoughts on faith and economics

[I’m in the process of expanding each of these bits below into something that will hopefully look less like ranty crumbs of thought, but in the meantime…]

The still prevalent myth is that ‘the economy’ is something neutral, fairly abstract, best left to the experts and best understood in graphs and numbers. This is harmful nonsense.

On experts and ‘the economy’: When trading in complex jargon and shorthand, the experts often obscure,  unwittingly and sometimes deliberately,  important facets and dynamics of what is really at the heart of ‘the economy’: the individual and corporate lives of persons in relations, producing, exchanging, consuming; social practices and forms of interaction with ineradicable moral underpinnings.

On numbers: Numbers are important, graphs are useful, and metrics have an important role to play in making decisions as consumers, professionals, and policymakers, but when numbers [are used to] obscure important human, social and moral issues we must pause, probe, and pull out what is really at stake.

Economics is about belief and behaviour – it cannot be reduced to empirically-observable and predictable systems. Behaviour is observable but will always have an ‘excess’ and ambiguity of meaning that resists reductionist classifications and theories.

On power: Concentration of [cultural, political, economic] power into the hands of a few is bad news for the many. Statism and plutocracy are equally toxic examples of this.

Here’s what Guy Brandon says in Crumbling Foundations: A biblical critique of modern money:

The Bible shows a distinct wariness of centralised authority. Over the course of biblical history, God’s people suffered repeatedly under oppressive and abusive rulers: first the Egyptians, with their extensive state bureaucracy and all-powerful god-king Pharaoh; then under the Assyrians and Babylonians, responsible for exacting heavy tribute and for the exile of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah, respectively; and finally under the Greeks and Romans, in the New Testament, who denied the Jews their autonomy as a people and persecuted both them and the new sect of Christians. The Israelite monarchy itself was a concession to the people (1 Samuel 8) and its consequences for the nation were disastrous. The monarchy was a source of national idolatry, and few kings received God’s unconditional approval. Concentrated power, whether political, financial or technological – the three tend to go together, today and in biblical times – risks being distant and indifferent towards its citizens, at best, and more likely exploitative, oppressive and coercive.” (p. 12)

On alternative economics: We need more democratic / grassroots / ‘consociational’/associational / cooperative economic arrangements and initiatives: town hall economic consultations, credit unions (church-led/hosted credit unions!), community banking, community land trusts, social enterprises, other initiatives springing from community organising. The more power is dispersed and shared, the better: people exercise and express the dignity of (economic) agency, proximity facilitates strong relationships and clear accountability, resources are allocated more fairly, creative ideas can be implemented more easily etc. All this is an outgrowth of core biblical teaching, which is captured well by the principle of and teaching around subsidiarity in Catholic Social Teaching.


Paul the Apostle of Equality

Christian social and economic ethics does not fall neatly either on the left or the right of the political spectrum (obsolete as it arguably is anyway). Here’s Paul the Apostle beating the drum of… equality – but not with the stick(s) of coercition but with the carrot(s) dug up from the soil of the Gospel. The tune being played? A gift economy.


11324943_1882723058619562_1266180824_n“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Cor. 8:9-15) ‪#‎equality‬ ‪#‎fairness‬ ‪#‎politicaltheology‬ ‪#‎gifteconomy‬ #justathought

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A parable. Not a joke

Once upon a time there lived a father like no other. He was super-smart, super-good, and super-strong. In fact, he was so amazing he could fully control everything that happened under the roof of his beautiful home, including all the desires and the doings of his four children.

One day he came into the kids’ playroom and told his children not to play with matches. Then he returned to his study where he ensured that the kids do just that and set the house ablaze. As soon as he smelled the smoke he burst out of his study and into the playroom. The flames was raging. The smoke was thick and all four kids were lying as dead on the floor. He bent over, grabbed one of children and hurried him to safety just outside the house. He never returned for the other three.

The media was outside eager to interview the father: “Why didn’t you save your other three children?” one reporter asked abruptly. “Yes, thank for the question, but before I answer it let me emphasise that this tragic event was determined by myself in all of its details. In fact, it worked out exactly as I had meticulously planned. May I also remind you that I was very clear when I told my children not to play with matches. So, you see, my other three children simply got what they deserved. Sure, I felt compassion towards them, but I chose to carry out my plan so that everyone will appreciate just how clever, merciful, and just a father I am.”

Charles Simeon on the preacher’s task

I do love Charles Simeon (1759-1836). Fearless in rejecting party spirit in theology and pastorally discerning through his existential focus of the preacher’s and theologian’s task – relating truths to life!simeon-1

“In Scripture, there are Calvinistic principles to act on man’s hopes, and Arminian principles to act on his fears; both are needful, and combine to produce the right effect. Man has hopes and man has fears, and God has given us a revelation exactly suited to all the wants of our nature, and exactly adapted to all our capacities. He has mercifully adapted His revelation to our dispositions, nay, even to our vices. For the desponding and broken-hearted sinner, here is a salvation not depending on his own merits, or his own feeble efforts. For the sluggish, or confident, or easily quieted conscience, here is a salvation which we must work out, a danger of becoming a castaway even after preaching the Gospel to others, a danger that one who thinketh he standeth may nevertheless fall. Give an Arminian cup to the former class, and it is poison; give a Calvinist cup to the latter, and it is poison.”

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Book notice. Mark Noll, “In the Beginning was the Word. The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783” (OUP, 2015)

9780190263980Mark Noll’s most recent work promises to be a fascinating – a book of many ironies and complexities about the Bible in American public life. According to a reviewer, Noll shows how Americans have consistently regarded the Bible as being ‘on their side’, always legitimating their policies, their causes and their concerns and/or blessing the status quo. Of course, they’re not alone in this dangerous delusion, but considering the USA’s prominence in modern history, it makes for a darn good case study to bring up the dangers in handling the Bible.

“Though Noll writes as a believing historian who regards the Bible as divine revelation, he resists the urge to write a purely celebratory account of “America’s Book.” Instead, he writes a “cautionary tale” (his words) recognizing both the life-transforming power of Scripture for countless individuals and the “host of destructive or delusionary results manifest among those who believed in that power.” Scripture, in other words, frequently served as an instrument of both personal redemption and imperial ambition.” (Peter J. Thuesen, “America’s Book”, review article in Books & Culture)

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Who am I? Some thoughts on identity


Tom Beardshaw – Identity

This is a mashup from a Facebook thread on the topic of identity:

<<Ultimately, I am not who others say that I am. I am not even who I say that I am. I am fundamentally who God says that I am.

So no to a social constructivist anthropology. No to subjectivism. Yes to theological anthropology.>>

I’m obviously painting with broad strokes, using subjectivism in a slightly idiosyncratic way. I’m thinking of subjectivism as making up one’s own identity – a sort of self-constructivism and self-definition.

The issue can legitimately be problematized in a hermeneutical and epistemological direction. Discovering what God says about me (what I call ‘theological identity’) is no small matter indeed, but it can be done, notwithstanding the difficulties associated with, among other things, cognitive ability, hermeneutical ‘locatedness’, ‘the inclination of one’s heart, interference from others etc.

Invoking the work of the Holy Spirit at this point feels like a fideist copout. It is not a copout. The Spirit of Christ is graciously involved in forming and disclosing our theological identity (‘in Christ’), just as it is involved in forming and disclosing other swaths of meaning in the Scriptures. This is no pedantic ‘element’ that we ‘factor in’ our deliberations. We are, in fact, speaking about the reality of God the Spirit in illuminative action. No small matter indeed! In fact, I would argue, a more significant ‘matter’ than all the problems raised by my contingencies put together!

One of the way in which the Spirit of God will work relative to forming and disclosing my theological identity is through the ecclesial community – the church. I need Spirited others to discover my-self , to communicate and to confirm my theological (objective) identity – who I am sub specie crucis et aeternitatis (what is eternally true in light of the Cross of Christ). Put simply, with Bonhoeffer, I need brothers and sisters in Christ to help me learn and re-learn that I am a creature, and not my Creator; that I am God’s beloved in Christ, not a fraction of a speck of dust in a brutal universe; that I am a servant of God and others, not the captain of my fate and master of my destiny.

(UPDATED: 1 December 2015)

Touching on different but connected issues, Christoffer Skogholt wrote:

It appears to me that there is a tendency in protestant Christianity to think of truth as that which “God says”. In morality, this would be exemplified by voluntarism. My impression is that this perspective can figure in other areas as well. It would be a sort of theological counterpart to what you labeled subjectivism; if we remove God, then it is up “to me” to define what is morally right or what I am. The underlying idea is that reality is determined by a sort of definition, not that a definition is trying to mirror or capture a reality which precedes it. In the theological perspective it would be in virtue of the authority of God that what he says is true; not that there is a correspondence between statement and reality. A theological anthropology obviously needs to be informed by Scripture. But the reason that what God says is true, is not, in the last analysis because God says so, but because it is so. God re-veals a reality that is partly hidden, but still can be re-cognized.

This is complicated by many things, among which I would say that one of the more important is that “human nature” or “my nature” is not a static entity but has a plasticity and is in the process of becoming. When God is naming me, he is also calling me towards a goal, to realize my potential; it is in this sense a sort of legitimate self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides: How I interpret myself does affect my identity, but in a more nuanced way than just merely putting on a label. The process of understanding my self is a part of my becoming, part of achieving an identity. (*my highlight)


To which I replied:

My use of ‘God says’ does not presuppose let alone endorse voluntarism. I reject it and decry the fact that a lot of theology is quite voluntaristic. However, I do believe we must say that some things are indeed what they are because God wills them to be and says that they should so be: think, for example, of the ‘God said… and there was’ pattern in Genesis. God’s word is creative. God creates through the Word the reality to which our beliefs and words may correspond. I wouldn’t name this voluntarism, but there is a priority to his Word in its creative function. Some of the things that God says (no mere utterances!) about me are fixed and unchanging: that I am a creature, for example, that I am loved by him (of course I am working from a particular theology here) etc. Other things he says are in response to my development (which is never unaided by him, of course): from rebellious creature to lover of God etc.



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‘C. S. Lewis. A Life’ by Alister McGrath. A translator’s review (2)

cover1-264x380Now to turn to some comments of a more evaluative nature. The biography is well written. The style is clear and fluid, maybe
dull at times. Nevertheless, when the material is of a poetic nature, McGrath shows his capacity for lyrical description. Particularly poignant is his discussion of Lewis’s A Grief Observed, which contains some of Lewis’ most raw and uncensored reflections on pain and suffering, following Joy’s death.

Towards the end of the volume a sense of wistfulness is introduced when McGrath reveals Lewis’ letter to the Nobel Committee, nominating J. R. R. Tolkien for the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature. The letter was discovered after January 2012, when the archives were finally opened to scholars, after a fifty-year embargo. We may note that the friendship with Tolkien is well documented.
Even if Lewis regarded Tolkien as one of his “second class” friends, McGrath’s decision to insist on this relationship is warranted considering how influential Tolkien was in shaping Lewis’ understanding of the Christian faith at the time of his conversion. But while we are on the relational front, we may note a few puzzling omissions. First, the relationship with Hugo Dyson seems to be under McGrath’s biographical radar. No clear explanations are given as to why Dyson plays such a minor part in the narrative. More significantly, however, is the near absence of George MacDonald. Given the lasting influence he is known to have had on Lewis, the omission is all the more surprising.

On the subject of omissions, Lewis scholar Jerry Root notes McGrath’s “glaring lack of appreciation for how Lewis carefully selected literary genres to suit the material he wished to present”. He is referring particularly to McGrath’s reading of Lewis’ Surprised by Joy.[1] Indeed, McGrath seems to have applied a psychoanalytical hermeneutic, speculating on Lewis’ repressed memories and psychological hang-ups, which arguably makes for a strained reading of Surprised by Joy. At various points, McGrath seems puzzled by what Lewis includes and leaves out of his autobiographical account. But, as Root observes, “his goal was not to give a comprehensive account of his life, but simply to tell the story of his conversion.” If this is true, one may need to look closer at Lewis’s account to discover a much more purposeful selection and literary technique than McGrath imagines.

Lewis_and_DavidmanMcGrath’s treatment of the Joy Davidman episode in Lewis’ life will surprise, if not shock viewers of the admittedly saccharine cinematographic rendition in the Shadowlands. The relationship with Davidman has bewildered and miffed Lewis’ closest friends and, later, his biographers. McGrath makes no exception. Up until the final period of Joy’s life, the relationship is cast almost entirely in a negative light. For a biography that seeks a critical distance from its subject matter, the moral judgments that underlie some of McGrath’s descriptions of Joy and her relationship with Lewis create a strange tension. It is worth giving an example, and a significant one at that. McGrath quotes Davidman’s younger son, Douglas Gresham, to make the point that his mother’s specific intention for going to England was “to seduce C. S. Lewis.” But as Gina Dalfonzo notes, McGrath has missed the tone of Gresham’s remark and is guilty of perpetuating an inaccuracy. The quote from Gresham reads as follows: “She was not above telling nosy friends that she was going to England to seduce C. S. Lewis.” This is quite clearly a jocular remark, not uncharacteristic of Davidman. Sadly, this is but one example that shows McGrath’s particularly negative appraisal of Davidman and her relationship with Lewis.[2]

When McGrath finally mentions the love between the two and Lewis’ searing pain at her loss, the reader cannot help feel slightly detached emotionally. Could this be traced to McGrath’s failure to convey vividly enough Lewis’s psychological and emotional development in relation to Joy Davidman? What is undeniable is that, sadly, the reader struggles to empathize when McGrath offers a description of Joy’s final moments and Lewis’ ensuing pain.

Finally, one cannot shake off the impression that the biography has been shaped to a large extent by marketing concerns arising from the ‘Lewis phenomenon’. In particularly harsh words, Arend Smilde, a Dutch translator and editor of Lewis’ works, goes so far as to say that the book is just “an extended contemporary comment on the Lewis phenomenon disguised as biography”.[3] That is clearly an overstatement, which implicitly raises the question of the nature of a biography. McGrath has clearly delineated his aims and methodology from the very beginning. Lewis is best remembered as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia and as an able Christian apologist. Therefore, the decision to devote ample space to these dimensions of Lewis is understandable. The criteria for selecting what to include, what to leave out, what to focus on, and what to simply mention in passing is legitimate. Nevertheless, one may still wish for an account that touches all the important bases. Fans of the Ransom Trilogy, for example, might be disappointed given the scant treatment it receives in McGrath’s biography. The Narnia books are clearly, and understandably, the stars.

All in all, while C. S. Lewis. A Life is by no means the definitive biography–can there be one?–it is an excellent introduction to the life and thought of C. S. Lewis, a man of penetrative intelligence and boundless imagination.

[1] Root, Jerry. “Does C. S. Lewis Have Something to Hide? Or is Alister McGrath’s biography too preoccupied with what Lewis declines to reveal?” Christianity Today, 22 November 2013. Web. Accessed 28 October 2014.

[2] Dalfonzo, Gina. “C. S. Lewis’s Joy in Marriage. What I think Alister McGrath got wrong about Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman.” Christianity Today, 8 October 2013. Web. Accessed 28 October 2014.

[3] Smilde, Arend. “Critical Notes on McGrath’s Biography of C. S. Lewis.” Lewisiana. Web. Accessed 28 October 2014.

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‘C. S. Lewis. A Life’ by Alister McGrath. A translator’s review (1)


With the launch of my translation of Alister McGrath’s biography of C. S. Lewis fast approaching, I thought this would be a good time to roll out my review article of the book. The article first appeared in Linguaculture, the International Journal of the Iaşi Linguaculture Centre for (Inter)cultural and (Inter)lingual Research, Volume 5/2, in 2014.

Since this is a longer piece, I will publish it in 2 or 3 instalments. You will find the first one below. The more negative stuff is strategically reserved for the other instalments, after the book launch has passed. 🙂 In all seriousness now, despite some of its flaws, Alister McGrath’s biography is an excellent introduction to the life and thought of C. S. Lewis, a man of penetrative intelligence and boundless imagination.


cover1-264x380Let us begin with a confession. The present reviewer has not read the complete works of C. S. Lewis. He has not ploughed through the secondary literature. He has not poured over the thousands of letters annotated and published in the last few years by Walter Hooper–all these being important feats of Alister E. McGrath, the author of the most recent biography of Clive Staples Lewis. Still, the reviewer is called to fair-mindedly appraise the author’s finished work. According to which criteria and based on what standards, we may ask? In virtue of which qualifications or personal merits, we may ponder?

All such questions have, of course, some satisfactory answers that can be given, pertaining either to the reviewer’s credentials or to the nature of the task of reviewing books, but questions remain. If we add to this the burden (and privilege) of being both the book’s translator into Romanian and its reviewer, the task at hand seems onerous indeed. A successful translation may result only if the translator has internalized his text. What he will deliver is at one and the same time his text and the author’s. He is both a servant of someone else’s creation, and a creator in his own right. The absorption of the text and the enfleshing of its ideas in a new idiom make fair-mindedness a quality even more difficult to display. But enough with the patting-oneself-on-the-back-lamentations.

From the outset, McGrath’s declared and daring purpose is to present a coherent narrative that integrates the many dimensions of C. S. Lewis: most famously, as author of the Chronicles of Narnia and other works of fiction (the imaginative dimension), as brother, friend, and spouse (the relational dimension), as accomplished academic (the academic dimension), and as Christian apologist (the apologetic dimension). McGrath prefers narrative coherence to a precise, but dry presentation of biographical facts. His intention is to tell the story of C. S. Lewis, focusing on some of the most important dimensions of his life and work, particularly on the development of his thought, rather than ‘documenting every aspect of Lewis’ life.’

What recommends McGrath as a biographer of the famous author, academic and apologist? McGrath highlights some points of biographical conjunction between himself and Lewis: the Irish roots, the conversion from atheism to Christianity, and the common Oxford education and career. It is not that these, in themselves, can supplant the intellectual skills and virtues necessary for writing a good biography, but they do help the reader warm to the author.

In writing his biography, McGrath has read Lewis’ complete works in chronological order, and the wealth of secondary literature on Lewis and on his intellectual climate and circle of friends. No previous biographer has boasted of what seems like a sensible, if demanding preparatory task. Readers are informed that more academic treatments of major themes in Lewis’ work and discussions of “some of the scholarly questions that emerge” have been left for a “more academic volume.”[1]

McGrath is no encomiast. His confessed admiration for and affinity with Lewis is well tempered. Not afraid to highlight the controversial elements in Lewis’ fascinating life, McGrath presents an honest, critical account. The purpose is clearly not one of offering uncritical praise, but understanding Lewis, particularly his ideas, and identifying the deep themes and structures of his personal and professional life. This is “not a work of synopsis, but of analysis,” “a critical biography,” declares McGrath in the preface of the book.

McGrath dutifully describes the main periods and events of Lewis’ life, probing their significance: the Irish childhood, the uneasy relationship with his father, the traumatic loss of his mother, the English boarding schools experience, the First World War, the enigmatic relationship with Mrs. Moore, the ups and downs in his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien, his conversion from atheism to philosophical theism and then to Christianity, the Inklings, the fame that followed his highly successful radio talks on BBC, the academic failures and accomplishments, the marriage with Joy Davidman, and her untimely death. The focus remains on the formative influence these events have had on Lewis’ thought life.

The principal source for the biography, which gives it one of its unique selling points, is Lewis’s collected letters, over 3500 pages of text annotated and cross-referenced by Walter Hooper between 2000 and 2006. Unavailable to previous biographers, these constitute the backbone of McGrath’s narrative, also enabling this biography’s distinctive contribution: a compelling reconsideration of the date for Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity. A close reading of the letters leads McGrath to conclude that Lewis’s conversion took place not during the Trinity term of 1929, as recorded by Lewis in Surprised by Joy, but roughly a year later. In establishing this conclusion, McGrath presents some excellent detective-style work and displays a commendable sensitivity to the interplay between Lewis’s “inner” and “outer” worlds.

The discussion on Lewis’ discovery of the Christian faith is rich and stimulating. We learn of Lewis’ love of myth and of his discovery of the Christian faith as ‘true myth’ and as an integrated vision of reality. This ‘big picture’ has room both for the longings and yearnings of the human heart (“arrows of Joy”) and for the operations of reason. Christianity is a capacious narrative that “makes sense of things”. McGrath shows Lewis discovering the way in which the Christian vision of reality reconciles reason and imagination. The two are indispensable and intertwined means of connecting with reality. McGrath also clarifies some of Lewis’ important distinctions, between “imaginary” and “imaginative” worlds, between “allegory” and “supposal”.

(to be continued)

[1] McGrath, Alister, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

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Did God ‘permit’ the earthquake in Nepal?

An important part of the doctrine of providence (how God relates to and acts in the world) concerns God’s relation to evil. Assuming ‘divine sovereignty’, the language of permission is often used to guard against the implication that God is the author of evil. The argument is that there are things which God positively decrees, which are inherently good (e.g. the creation of humans), and events which God permits (e.g. the Fall, a rape, the Holocaust or any other type of evil). A proponent of the so-called ‘free-will defence’ will say that God merely permits moral evil as the unintended consequence of endowing humans with freedom, the freedom which is necessary for genuinely personal relationships. Freedom is the explanation given also for so-called ‘natural evil’. Austin Farrer and John Polkighorne, among others, speak of a ‘free-process defence’ of natural evil. In their view, God has chosen to let the world develop itself in a continual interplay of chance and necessity. Built into creation are potentialities the realisation of which will inevitably cause what humans call ‘natural disasters’. Once asked what was God’s will in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed 50,000 in one day, Austin Farrer replied that “the elements of the earth’s crust behave in accordance with their nature… they have their due independence.” The ‘free-process defence’ is an extension of the free will defence. I’ll say something about Calvinist/Reformed uses of the language of permission a bit later. For now let me state my point.

My contention is that the concept of divine permission should only be used as a mere theological ‘shrug of the shoulders’, as a means of saying no more than that we are ignorant of the way a particular event x (usually of horrendous evil) correlates with God’s will and action. The notion of permission should be more a form of theological silence, than a positive statement concerning the exercise of divine will and divine action. Otherwise, as David Fergusson rightly shows, permission collapses into divine positive willing. The picture that people normally associate with the notion of permission is of someone who initially does not want to allow for some action or event x, but then is persuaded to agree to it. But is there really a difference between, for example, a father commanding his son to go outside and play football and a father who, when asked by his son, initially resists but then gives in, saying: “Alright, I allow you to go outside to play football.”? If the mother returns home and discovers that her son is playing football instead of doing his homework, she will hold the father responsible and little will it matter that the father only reluctantly agreed to the son playing football than positively telling the son to go an play. Now you can see how the problem is significant when transposed to the way God relates to evil. The picture we normally have of divine permission is something along the lines of: “Oh, alright, Mr. Rapist, go on, carry out your abominable intention for that innocent girl” or “Alright, fine, Nepalese Earthquake, shake those plates as hard as you can and snuff the lives of thousands of Nepalese”. The distinction between positive command and permission cannot stave off what logically appears to be God’s complicity in evil. The problem arises in both so-called ‘risk’ (free-will defence, middle-knowledge and open theism) and ‘no-risk’ (determinist/Calvinist) (cf. Paul Helm, The Providence of God) accounts of providence. In fact, for the ‘no-risk’ (Reformed/Calvinist) account the distinction between God permitting and God commanding is virtually non-existent. Calvinists speak of ‘efficacious permission’ and describe events which are permitted to occur as being ‘sovereignly ordained’, whose occurrence is necessary. On a strict Reformed account, God did not merely permit the Holocaust, but ensured that it take place for some ‘greater good’. Paul Helm speaks of God infallibly and efficaciously permitting evil for a greater good… “a good that could not have come, or could not have been as great, if there had not been that evil.” (Helm, Providence of God, 197).

Going back to my initial point, I conclude that the concept divine permission, if we must use it, should simply be an alternative way of saying “I have no idea how God’s will and action was involved in event X”. This can be the preface to other remarks about how we can trust God in light of the Cross and carry on with the hope of eschatological healing and restoration. The focus should be existential and pastoral rather than abstract and speculative.

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Losing the battle against ‘gay marriage’?

The problem with the case against ‘gay marriage’ is that the definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman depends on a religious vision of social relations, which if not shared, leaves only the historical (temporal) argument. And the historical argument by itself carries little weight. There are all sorts of toxic institutions and practices which have been in place for a long time, say the proponents of gay marriage. Add to this the supremacy of the ‘rights’ paradigm and the rhetoric of voluntaristic freedom and you can see why this is becoming a lost battle.

However, to clear things up: (1) I am not pro gay-marriage (2) I don’t espouse defeatism or indifference – I think this is a battle worth fighting (3 – the content of my post) the arguments put forward don’t work ergo (4) we have to take a different angle – some strategy to ‘outnarrate’ the metanarrative that evelops the ‘gay marriage’ debate.

But conscious that this alternative strategy requires time, which we simply don’t have in the current context, I still think a political case can be mounted along the lines of Justice Samuel Alito’s argument in the current Obergefell v. Hodges case. (1) The idea is that gay marriage eviscerates the meaning of ‘marriage’ since down the line any adult consensual relationship (e.g. threesome, quadruple, cvintet) can ‘apply’ to be called a marriage and have bestowed upon it the rights attending the institution of marriage. Is this a form of the slippery slope argument? You bet, but in the absence of a principle that would discriminate meaningfully between the consenting relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman (i.e. gay marriage) and various permutations of consensual relationships (threesoms, quadruples, cvintets etc.) the slope is slippery indeed and one shouldnt hurry down.

(2) Secondly and following from my first point, I would argue we are not dealing here with a question of equal rights, ‘marriage equality’. Gays are not asking to be admitted to the institution of marriage, but are seeking its re-definition. Based on my initial point, this re-definition amounts to the effective dissolution of the institution of marriage. Having the right to marry is not the same as having a right to the state’s validation that each and every sexual relationship is marriage. “The pacifist has a right to join the army, but he does not have the right to insist that the army create a non-violent branch of the military for him to join.” (Kevin DeYoung)

(3) The legitimization of same-sex marriage will mean the de-legitimization of those who dare to disagree. By framing the whole discussion in terms of ‘rights’ and ‘equality’, those who disagree will be the ‘bigots’, those who ‘deny rights’, are ‘opposed to freedom’, perpetuate inequality etc. After gay marriage gains cultural ascendancy, as it inevitably will, those who disagree will have a very hard time in the public square. We will then see once more what ‘tolerance’ really means in the current climate: ‘I respect and tolerate you as long as you sign your name under our liberal, progressive agenda’. So my argument is that legalisation of ‘same sex marriage’ will be corrosive for freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. What we will have is a highly illiberal situation in which civil liberties will be trumping fundamental freedoms.

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