Atonement in Scripture: Why Trump and Cruz Are the Direct, Logical Result of American Evangelical Theology

Some people might say oh this is American, however American Christianity is hugely influential around the world, so this must be looked at and engaged with. This is a reblogged post from elsewhere. Not mine.

The Anástasis Center for Christian Education & Ministry

Donald Trump Delivers Convocation At Liberty University LYNCHBURG, VA – JANUARY 18: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University January 18, 2016 in Lynchburg, Virginia. A billionaire real estate mogul and reality television personality, Trump addressed students and guests at the non-profit, private Christian university that was founded in 1971 by evangelical Southern Baptist televangelist Jerry Falwell. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Thirst for Retribution

‘How could this happen?’ bemoan some conservative evangelicals.  Titles abound, such as:  The Inexplicable Evangelical Support for Donald Trump.[1]  But the reality is far from inexplicable.  Noam Chomsky weighed in with an argument about economic inequality and working class whites, which I think has lots of validity.[2]  But the argument from economic inequality doesn’t explain everything – after all, why did Southern states refuse Obamacare?  Why don’t more Southerners vote for Bernie Sanders?  We are becoming…

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Leave… probably

Despite my best instincts I’m thinking of voting leave for the upcoming EU referendum. Those who know me might be a bit surprised. After all I’m a left leaning British Indian and aligning myself with Farage and Gove seems a bit odious.

It is. I intensely dislike the ideas the Farage and Gove put about and instinctively I should be dead against immigrant bashing, little Englander toting, Hitler invoking politicians who have ruined our debate, our school education and our housing system.

However leaving the EU is not just about immigrants or a false sovereignity. There are a few left wingers who like the idea of leaving but again Farage and Gove and their screeching campaign make it difficult for any sense to be heard.

Jenny Jones is probably one of the more prominent ‘Lefties’ who are going for an out vote. Paul Mason and Larry Elliott give good reasons as to why we should leave.

I think the main public arguments are fairly disheartening. Leave speaks almost exclusively in terms of immigration. Remain talks exclusively in terms of economics. So that’s it? It’s just about foreigners and money?

Behind these public facades there are deeper issues at stake. First, at the heart of all the passion is a search for identity in a globalised monochrome world. Second, there is also the mad all encompassing religion of neo-liberal capitalism which has swept across the earth devouring everything in its way. Both are interconnected and actually the good arguments for Leave and Remain are interwined with each other in combatting these twin problems.

Remain’s good argument should be that we should stay together in order to cooperate in multiple ways and protect our values. Leave’s good argument should be that we need a sense of freedom over our destiny in order fulfil our potential.

I think in that sense I’m slowly heading into my faith values here. As Christians I think we should stand against the powers and dominions of this world. Right now for the Western church the hidden and real danger is neo-liberalism. This is the beast of our time. And the truth is that the EU doesn’t really stand up to this mad form of capitalism. It only reinforces it. Remain’s constant harping on about the economic argument only shows how enthralled we are by this god.

We are told that the EU is a good way of protecting our values but increasing evidence shows members shunning liberal values by stifling human rights and a free press. Hungary and Poland are the prime examples here. So by staying who are we staying with and who are we staying for?

Leaving the EU I think will be at the very least will be or should be a call to a sense of purpose as a people which flows against the neo liberal capitalist tide which only wants one large common market to sell each other to each other.

I think a Remain vote will infinitely strengthen UKIP. A Leave vote might completely rob UKIP for a reason to exist. The Scottish referendum’s remain result really strengthened the SNP and wiped out Labour. I think if we remain Labour will lose out the most. The Conservatives will only be seen as honest folk who stood for what each believed in while the Labour will look like an ideological dinosaur.

A Remain vote will increase the animosity towards migrants. It’s easier to hate people coming when in when you feel you have no control over who comes in. Leaving might (and I say might because deep prejudice takes generations to get rid off) allow a softening towards migrants as there is at least a feeling that the borders aren’t wide open.

Leaving is a stand against a false god. But for the current campaign they’re just resurrecting the old gods of nationhood and fascism. I think at the core maybe the question is whether being part of the EU is any good for our humanity or are we just pacifying the gods of money and unaccountable power?

Honestly I don’t know and I’m probably far too idealistic and I might even change my mind. But in the likelihood of a Remain vote I’ll probably go with Leave.

Brown man

Brown man
Must be Muslim
Gets on train
Is this a target?

Brown man
A terrorist.
Blue bag
A bomb.

His hand goes in
It’s going to go off
He looks in
Finding the fuse

Out comes a packet of crisps
It’s just a ruse
He’s chomping on them
He’s playing with us

He’s closed his eyes
Must be praying before the deed
He breathes
Oh God

Station arrives, he gets off
We’re all relieved
He disappears
And our fears remain


I’m not that surprised that David Cameron is still Prime Minister. Most of the media empires were openly and sometimes hysterically supporting him. The wealthy supporters of the Conservative party raised more money which as we can see was spent well. Labour got out of the starting blocks too late. And Scotland played a pivotal role in this election.

I was however surprised (as most) at the scale of the victory. It made me feel quite insecure. I suppose I see myself as someone who is fairly liberal and progressive. And for the first time in a few decades a prime minister had with a message of Cutts the Butcher actually increased his support. Am I in a country that is looking backward? Are liberals dying out?

Looking at vote share gives us some insight. UKIP and Conservatives together got 49.5% of the vote. So it can be fair to say the country is evenly split between conservative and progressive parties. So that’s reassuring. I’m not some small minority in being not very conservative.

But as an artist and theologian it has made me reflect. Reading Ben Quash’s ‘Abiding’, he says that we are all essentially conservative. Now this is not just a political term. We like keeping our rhythms, our traditions and values that are important to us. This is what a conservative essentially means. Someone who wants to conserve what’s important to her. Obviously exactly what is conserved is where the whole argument lies but I think this is true.

Personally for me I’ve always wanted to move on to the next thing and in that sense I’m not conservative. However this has led to problems for me. I’ve never really stuck to anything and held on to anything and I’m realising late that I really need to. So I fully accept the importance of conservatism in a broad way and also politically.

As an artist and theologian this has implications. I love IMAGINING that I’m somehow aware of the cutting edge of both these disciplines. (I’m probably middle of the road). I know for sure what I know and have experienced isn’t what a majority of the population has experienced. This explains the disconnect I feel in church since most people are naturally conservative and a church is especially dedicated to conserving a particular tradition, a particular way of being.

So what I feel are especially resonant practices in art and theology have no meaning whatsoever to the people I’m with. So I have to pedal back to a practice which I feel is old, tired and wheezy. This is what happens to so many theological students and art students. The best and most radical work we feel we do is during our studies UNLESS we are in someway lucky to be part of the researching community of these disciplines and make a career out of it.

On one level I can say, ‘they don’t know what’s good for them,’ but I feel people could REALLY DO with experiencing art and theology more deeply. The only way I can do this is to love people. Otherwise I won’t have the energy or patience to go back to ‘basics’ – (‘Yes, I do think God exists’, ‘No I don’t think a painting that looks like a photograph is good art’) – and allow myself to guide and be guided in that convoluted journey of growth into becoming more human.

After all Jesus met people where they were at. But he didn’t leave it there. He made the call to follow him. And some did. They were conservative, uninformed folk. And the world changed because that happened.

Prochoice vs Prolife? I think I’m both

‘Dad, I’m pregnant,’ is one statement, that whatever the context, I’ll be very mixed about. If she’s in a loving mutual relationship, I’ll be elated, at the same realising that my daughter is going to be yet another step away as her family becomes a more self-contained unit.

The other extreme would be a violent rape. Where I’d be desperately trying to hold my broken child, angry and filled with self-loathing for not protecting my own.

But what if she says, ‘I don’t know whether to keep it.’ ?

This hypothetical situation is important. Because it is a possibility. Hopefully beyond remote yet a possibility. The recent death of a woman in Ireland and Mehdi Hasan’s article brought to the fore my need to possibly try and get to the bottom of where my beliefs are considering the rather complex question of abortion.

There are two camps here on the issue known by very loaded terms. Pro-life often associated with right-wingers who believe that the foetus must be protected at all costs and Pro-life often associated with left-wingers who believe it is the mother’s right to decide at all costs. Of course there are large cross overs and gradations for this. Any blog post on such a topic will be simplistic!

Both the names of the camps are misnomers. I think at the centre quite literally the question is : what is the nature and being of this biological event that’s happening within a woman? Some pro-lifers say that from the instance of conception that this is human life and therefore sacred. Some pro-choicers say that until this biological entity can survive on its own it is not a person of its own but part of the woman’s body and therefore under the full sway of the woman’s decisions.

Guess what? I have sympathy for both sides. I don’t think that just because an entity can’t survive or speak for itself means that it can be dealt with any way. At same time women so often have pregnancy forced on them through rape and coercion. Then in some cases a lifetime of resentment against what becomes a human being.

The question that I’d like to look at is what a person is. The thoughts of Zizioulas have been quite influential in how I at least think about what persons are. The essential rational I reckon for what a person is, is defined by her network of relationships that she has. Zizioulas defines these relationships primarily with the Trinitarian God to which I agree but I think it’s more than that. I think the network of human relationships is also key to what makes a person.

So my relationships with my family, friends, work colleagues all make me who I am. I don’t think there is any ‘real me’ or ‘real you’ stored in some metaphysical hard disk out there. As a Christian I believe that the relationship with God is a key part of realising my personhood.

So what of this biological thing in the womb? I remember my lecturer Max Turner saying that Jesus at his point of conception was loved by the Father and the Spirit and so it opens up a set questions around the issue of abortion. This is quite interesting. If at the point of conception this biological thing is loved does it become a person and therefore wrong to curtail its existence? Reflecting further upon this, the one thing that we didn’t discuss is Mary’s part in the conception of Jesus

It’s interesting that Mary doesn’t just find herself pregnant one day. An angel comes and gives her a long spiel. (Sorry Gabriel). But she’s sensible. She wants to know how, since she’s a virgin. She’s practical. The angel then explains. Mary then says let it be as God says. There is a strong sense that Mary needs to agree. Joseph isn’t told of this plan. He only hears of it afterwards. So I think in some sense Mary chooses to have Jesus. She knows it’s going to be hard. Yet she chooses it.

Then she concieves. I believe that it’s Mary’s choice that allows Jesus to be an incarnated person. The cell that is Christ is fully dependant upon Mary’s body, and fully loved by the Father and Spirit, but Mary too loves him. And I think it’s the mother’s choice that makes Christ a person in the incarnated sense.

So the question comes up if Jesus wasn’t loved by Mary does that make him a non person. I think it’s a bit nuanced. The initial cell which is the basis of the human is responding purely biological initially. But as it grows it starts realising that there is an environment out there. I think all this constitutes a person. So obviously when a foetus is older it’s no longer an unthinking, unfeeling bit of biology but on the path to becoming an individual.

So from this rather simplistic and shortened view I regard myself to have some pro-choice leanings. I’m definitely pro-life too. I believe that the biological thing has the potential to be a full person but I think in the very initial stages of conception there is an ambiguity as to when personhood begins. From Mary’s story I believe it is the mother who initially confers personhood on this bunch of cells and later as the cells grow other factors outside the mother contribute in the conferring of personhood.

So when the mother has been forced to concieve through rape, I think that this hateful encounter does allow her not to love this biological thing in her. And therefore for the initial ambiguous time that is not a person. Now defining this ambiguous time does bring us back to these arguments about 24 weeks and 20 weeks and so on.

There’s another story in the bible that informs me about what I think of abortion. Jesus’ ancestor David went through his most disgusting phase when he had sex with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam 11,12). I think it is fair to classify this as coerced sex. A child was born from this but then died. The circumstance of conception meant that this child died. Yes I know it’s after the child is born and from my viewpoint already had some sort of personhood however, the circumstance in which the child started it’s biology was the reason why it couldn’t survive. So I think definitely in the case of rape I think that the hateful nature of the conception allows the mother to not confer personhood.

Later in 2 Sam 12:24 it says that David comforted Bathsheba and made love to her. (NIV) Now the circumstances have changed. From this event Solomon is born who becomes an iconic king.

So to sum up I think that I’m both prochoice and prolife. I believe that from the point of conception that that cell is a person if the mother has been a willing participant in the consumation. Of course there are lots of other issues around this which I haven’t touched but this is the simplistic version anyway.

So what if my daughter comes to me with that question? Well first I would like to hope that I could do everything for that question not to come up. That she could live safely and would have a sex life that’s responsible and mutual and faithful. This requires education, open conversations and of course more maturity for both boys and girls. But accidents do happen and if I still have to deal with this question then I would hope that there is a safe way and supportive way to manage my daughter’s choice. I will offer all my love and support whatever her decision. I would have hopefully spoken to her about it much earlier and she’ll know where I stand. I would hope that there would be good support from hospitals and doctors. I would also hope that there is much more open research into understanding what life means at this pre-natal level so that in the event of a horrible event or a mindless accident we can be supported and helped through a difficult decision.

Community is not the answer to everything

Recently on facebook an article was posted on leadership. I liked the article but a line at the top of the page made me a bit uneasy. It said ‘Whatever the problem, community is the answer.’ Really?

I wonder if ‘community’ has become a buzz word whose implications we don’t fully get. Community can be beautiful. Community can be dangerous. Community can be empowering. Community can be oppressive.

Maybe it’s the reaction to consumerist individualism and uncaring faith that makes community such an attractive Utopia. Many have tried to create this community, sometimes by force, sometimes by rules or sometimes by coercion. When something goes wrong we immediately look for a scapegoat. Rene Girard speaks of this powerfully in his writings and I am yet to read him properly. Yet it is interesting that blame seems to be such an individual category. But I think communities must be willing to take blame. For they have power and communities engage in good and bad acts. Who is to take responsibility for these actions whether good or bad?

Which is why the research of my friend Drew into the apology of the church of England for the slave trade is fascinating. After all the slave trade had such a wide participation of certain societies that even today the prejudices of that age are still echoing and resonating around the world.

The bible is quite ambiguous whether communities are good or bad. Many times it’s the single individual who is called to stand against the community. Yet the times of unified celebration and joy is definitely portrayed as good.

I think the word ‘community’ needs to be always qualified. We need to always refresh its meaning so that it protects and empowers the individuals in it. Otherwise we’ll be consigned to codes of silence, of abuses of authority and of excluding the slightly different.

The recurrence of whitewash

An American football coach, a deceased British DJ and an American cyclist. What do they have in common? Well for one they are in the news. The stuff they have done pretty horrific.

Jerry Sandusky was recently sentenced for abusing countless numbers of boys. Jimmy Savile, a veritable British institution turns out to be the ultimate nightmare by abusing countless numbers young people. Finally, Lance Armstrong seems to have won all his titles and fame by cheating.

Now, what’s been done is terrible enough but something that binds these three people is the culture of cover up that protected them for so long. All of their acts were known in their circles for years. Yet a culture of silence followed it. The same with the abuse of children in the church. It doesn’t matter what institution or grouping of people it is, those who wield power are able to bend justice into injustice and drag those close to them into that injustice. So Sandusky’s employers knew but didn’t report anything. Savile’s associates and employers knew but didn’t do anything. Armstrong’s teammates definitely knew but didn’t do anything. No they actually did something. They colluded and reinforced the injustice that was occuring.

This is scary. Because it could happen to anybody. Have we ever been part of a group that suddenly turned on an individual an bullied them? I have. I’m ashamed of that. This is the spirit of people coming together that I want to avoid. How we see an injustice and yet can’t see it.

I follow formula 1 a lot and here’s what two of the better drivers in terms of personality and driving have to say.

For Alonso, Lance Armstrong is always a legend even if he cheated. This is something that a lot of Armstrong’s fans are saying. ‘He cheated. So did everyone else. He was the best of the cheats.’ Why do we choose to be blind?

When Roman Polanski was under threat of being extradited Whoopi Goldberg along with other hollywood personalities leapt to Roman’s defence.

Why do we do this? Why do we defend the indefensible? Why do we cover up uncomfortable and unjust happenings within the groups we are in? Is it because the image of what we believe, is more important than the reality that presents itself later? Questions, questions. I just hope that I’m brave enough not to be part of whitewashes though I fear I’m already part of some. Lord have mercy.

Lent 38 : Conspiracy

A conspiracy  is a noble intent which needs to take ugly but necessary steps out of the public eye. Most people don’t act with pure malice. Most people shield themselves from truth and act true to themselves. So bankers can justify their huge bonuses and their immoral actions against humanity. Politicians can justify their corruption and society as a whole can give an almighty shrug.

When our authorities decide to arrest a trouble maker we don’t think of it as a conspiracy unless we are in some way with the trouble maker. We think the authorities are doing what they are supposed to. So when the priests and scribes plot Jesus downfall they’re merely trying to neutralise a possible terrorist. Unless of course you’re on the other side and see it as an extreme injustice.

Jesus on the other hand seems to lead a counter conspiracy. One that would reveal human conspiracy as pitiful attempts to hold on to power and reveal the naked broken God who takes on the fury of conspiracy and suffers with its victims.

Lent 37 : Quick Breaths

Everyone’s excited. The corrupt government will be overthrown. There’s a new leader in town. Yet everyone’s uneasy. Even this great leader shows unease. How will all this end? There’s a strange feeling that this Jesus is going to do something none of us want. A deep breath could help. But God’s breath seems to be present only in snatches. We’ll take what we can.

Lent 26 : Status down

This piece tries to picture a consistent downward movement. The great hymn of Phillippians 2 sings of the great downward movement of Christ, a downwardness that Paul encourages us to join in with.

The whole of scripture seems to be a downward movement.  In Genesis, God moves from himself to the heavens finally down to the dust to create humankind. In Revelation the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and God comes down to be with his people.

Losing one’s status is very hard. All cultures take fairly drastic steps not to lose status. Fathers kill their daughters for causing dishonour. Parents work themselves to death for the sake of keeping up with the peers of their children. Bankers embrace evil lies. Rulers massacre their own people.

Over the years I’ve felt a real loss of status. I haven’t kept up with my peers. My employment is dicey and I have none of the status possessions like a house or a car. This grates on me especially since I want my own daughters to keep up and have the full possible access to the life this world can offer. Obviously I have lot to be thankful for. But not keeping with those I grew up with, does grate.

Yet as scripture shows and the piece illustrates, God embraces the downward, status down.