Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tillich and Berkouwer

Charles Cameron has written some critical posts on Tillich, with some comparison with G C Berkouwer. As you may guess, I'm not convinced... ;)

Here are the two first posts (there seems to be more coming):

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Archbishop of Canterbury criticizes British Mideast policy

From the Independent:

The British government yesterday bit back at the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who had warned that "short-sighted" and ignorant " policy in Iraq had endangered Middle East Christians.

The Foreign Office said that extremists rather than British policies were to blame for Christians suffering and that it "disagreed" with Dr Williams' views. The Archbishop spoke at the end of a three-day visit here with three other British church leaders, including the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The two senior churchmen also drew attention to the plight of the Christian and wider Palestinian community in the Holy Land. Both urged greater international efforts to secure a peace process for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before he flew back to London, Dr Williams was asked on Radio 4's Today programme whether he still stood by the joint statement he issued with the Cardinal the month before the 2003 invasion, declaring that "doubts still persist about the moral legitimacy" of the war. He replied: "It's all too easy to use hindsight and say 'I told you so', but I think I can generally say I haven't yet seen cause to revise my views on that point."

What is so ironic with the fate of the Iraqi Christians is that they are back in the same situation as in the time of the Persian empire during the Sassanid era, when the Christians in Persia were considered (and prosecuted) as spies for the Byzantine empire.

The question is only if there will be any Christians left in Iraq to remember the martyrs of our time.

Iraqi blogs.

I have been reading a lot of Iraqi blogs of late. It is not an encouraging experience to read them in any way. There is an aspect of reality shock in it all, but it is amazing to find out that most of them agree on the fundamental questions of how the crisis should be handled. One wonder why those in power cannot decide.

The violence in Iraq is very complex at the moment. Here is an Attempt at Categorization that is very clarifying.

R- External-agenda Forces
This group includes the American administration and the US army, coalition forces, forces with international anti-American agenda (such as Al-Qaeda), countries that wish the US campaign to fail and the US to be bogged in the Iraqi quagmire, Countries of the region serving their own interests
G- Iraqi-agenda Forces
Forces of National Resistance, Baathists, "nationalistic" religious forces and Sectarian forces. This group must also include the two main Kurdish parties and a wide assortment of Iraqi political parties.
B- Criminal gangs
Pure criminal gangs out for money and the power associated with it, taking advantage of the absence of Law and Order to loot, rob banks, kidnap and murder; Criminal gangs in the service of any of the above forces willing to pay for their services to bomb, kidnap, sabotage and create chaos.

This blog out of Baghdad tells of the absence of freedom in media:

Iraq saw demonstrations against and for the verdict. The pro-Saddam
demonstrators were attacked by the Iraqi army. This is how free our
media is today: the channels that were showing the pro-Saddam
demonstrations have been shut down. Iraqi security forces promptly
raided them.Welcome to the new Iraq.

But the most touching are the personal ones. This is the blog of an 18 year old female colleage student. She writes of her daily life, her first day at collage, about playing with her sisters child, and then stuff like this:

I left home late today since the neighborhood was surrounded. We were having breakfast when an explosion happened and broke several windows in the house, including the dining room, but none of us was hurt. A bullet broke one of the windows yesterday too. We'll need new glass for the windows and some new curtains too. You can never anticipate what's going to happen next.

Her sister also has a blog and has pictures of the same event.

You can find a very comprehensive list of blogs in Iraq here.

May God have mercy on us all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Paul Tillich's Theology of Indie Rock II

In the last post in this series, I explained what Tillich means with Gehalt and how he relates it to Form in a piece of Art. Tillich also classifies art on another scale, which is less complicated. He distinguishes between art with a subjective attitude and art with an objective attitude. A subjective artwork is more about the artist that created it and his/her perspective, while in an artwork with an objective attitude the artist is of less importance than the reality the artwork is depicting. What this means will become clearer when I give some examples.

Combining the two scales we thus end up with the following field:

Tillich goes on to classify different style's of art on this chart. In the upper left corner we find Impressionism, which according to Tillich is Form-dominated with Subjective attitude. It is art that is interested in the artists own impression more than the reality it depicts. In the upper right corner we have realism. Here the artist is not in focus but that which is depicted. But it is the form that is important, not a deeper meaning in it. In the left lower corner we find romaticism. Here the artist attempts to go bellow the surface of that which is depicted, but not to find something that everyone is concerned with, but rather the emotion of the artist. Finally, in the lower right corner we have expressionism, the kind of art that Tillich finds to be the most religious, because here the gehalt is the depth dimension of the human situation and it is a depicted in a way so that Gehalt is more important in Form.

Now this classification has been criticized mainly because it is to schematic; the styles involved are not as clearly defined as Tillich believes they are. But I think it is rather clear what he wants to say nonetheless.

Taking this into rock music I can rather easily find examples of bands I like that I would place very differently on this map. For example, a band that I would consider is marked by an subjective attitude that is Gehalt-oriented is the Smiths. There is the striving to reach beyond the surface of things to a more true level of reality, and there is a kind of description of this depth dimension, but it is all very subjective, it is all about the lonely Self encountering a world that does not understand it. You may be moved by the songs emotionally, but that has more to do with a sense of recognition than a spiritual quality. There is nothing religious about a song like "Heaven knows I'm miserable now", even if it has been used to great effect in a religious context. (That clip is from the Manchester Passion, a genious presentation of the last days in the life of Christ using music from Manchester bands like Smiths, James, Oasis and Joy Division. A few minutes into that clip you can hear Judas sing Moz's song of self-pithy.) There is, however, a few Smiths songs that reach over into the objective side, like "There is a light that never goes out", and indeed, these are not without a certain religious quality.

An example of a band that is form oriented with an objective attitude is Muse. Here the focus is not on the artist, but on the world. There are a lot of Muse-songs with apocalyptic language like Apocalypse, please (this live recording isn't the greatest, the poor bass player has some real problems with the harmonies):

declare this an emergency
come on and spread a sense of urgency
and pull us through
and pull us through
and this is the end
this is the end of the world

it's time we saw a miracle
come on it's time for something biblical
to pull us through
and pull us through
and this is the end
this is the end of the world

In spite of the (mildly) religious language, there is nothing religious about the song at all, IMO. It is Form oriented and the contents of the lyrics serve the form. It is still a great tune though, but it does not move you on any deeper level. (Note also that this is a heavy rock tune without guitars...)

In the next part I will give some examples in the remaining categories. I give no points if you guess who I will present as a very good example of a band with a gehalt-orientation and an objective attitude, but you can give it a shot if you like! :)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No Instruction Manual

Well, at least the Bible isn't one, says T.B.Vick.

Nor is it:
- A text book on biology/physics/history/...
- A map determining political borders
- A novel
- An oracle
- A collection of arguments for use in debate
- ...

What other things can you think of that the Bible is not?

Mideast self-deception

Israeli Newspaper Haaretz offers this handy test to see if you are deceiving yourself about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why won't Hamas recognize Israel?

The reason right now that the Palestinians in the Gaza and the West bank are under such pressure is that the West won't recognize the democratically elected Hamas-lead government until Hamas recognizes Israel.

So why is this so impossible for Hamas to do? Usually religion or fanaticism is said to be the reason. According to this article, for Hamas to recognize Israels right to exist would be the end to any possibility for peace in the region. And no mention of religion is made, nor anything about erasing Israel from the Map.

In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel's character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory. The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West.
I'm not completely sure that the writer is right in his conclusion that by recognising Israel Hamas would walk into a trap that is "designed to ensure that any peaceful solution to the conflict is impossible", but the article is important for explaining the rationale behind Hamas actions without referring any other reasons that clearly political ones that would be recognized by any democratic government.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nick Cave Interview and Lecture

Here's a cool interview with Nick Cave (I, II, III, IV). It is an un-edited interview, with lots of bad English with strong Swedish accent from the interviewer. But it makes for more interesting viewing, since there is no editor manipulating you (like there is in all tv...)

Anyway, Cave talks a bit about this lecture he held in 1999 at the University in Vienna about the "Love Song". The lecture is here. In it he talks about how God lives in language and of his love for the Old Testament.

To write allowed me direct access to my imagination, to inspiration and ultimately to God. I found through the use of language, that I wrote god into existence. Language became the blanket that I threw over the invisible man, that gave him shape and form. Actualising of God through the medium of the love song remains my prime motivation as an artist. The love song is perhaps the truest and most distinctive human gift for recognising God and a gift that God himself needs. God gave us this gift in order that we speak and sing Him alive because God lives within communication. If the world was to suddenly fall silent God would deconstruct and die. Jesus Christ himself said, in one of His most beautiful quotes, "Where ever two or more are gathered together, I am in your midst." He said this because where ever two or more are gathered together there is language. I found that language became a poultice to the wounds incurred by the death of my father. Language became a salve to longing.
Do check it out, he has a lot of wise things to say.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Paul Tillich's Theology of Indie Rock I

I think this will have to become a mini-series (not the 36-part kind), because the more I think about it the more interesting it becomes.

As I wrote in this post, Tillich developed quite a Theology of Art, unique in many ways. Now, modern art is not my forte, but while reading about Tillich's theology of art (in Russel Re Manning's study Theology at the End of Culture, Peeters 2005.), I've been constantly relating what I read to some of my favourite bands (You can find the whole list of what I listen to here).

Tillich asked what makes some art religious. No actually, what he was really asking was "Where can we find religion today", but I'll leave that question to the side for the moment. I'm rephrasing this question: "Of the various bands I listen to a lot, why are there some that I would say have a religious quality to them (you might prefer the word spiritual), and others that I would never dream to claim they have that quality?

As I wrote in my post on religious art, Tillich distinguishes between Inhalt and Gehalt. No in rock music, Inhalt would be the actual narrative of the lyrics. Old music reviews often mention this. I remember an early review of "Lucy in the Sky wit Diamonds" that effectively said that "this is a song about a girl named Lucy"! Ok, maybe that example is too extreme... Take this Smiths song.
A dreaded sunny day
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
while Wilde is on mine

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people all those lives
where are they now ?
with loves, and hates
and passions just like mine
they were born
and then they lived and then they died

which seems so unfair
and I want to cry
There is a (rather low-quality) recording of the song here.

Now, the Inhalt of this song is about walking in a graveyard looking at the gravestones (and about plagiarism). The Gehalt, however talks about something much deeper, about alienation, mortality, but also about friendship of those that do not feel accepted by society.

Any work of art has Gehalt to a lesser or higher degree. But what, according to Tillich, sets religious art apart from non-religious art is that in religious art the Gehalt is somehow in focus.

For Tillich the Inhalt is really of little concern, what is important is the relation between the Gehalt and the Form of the piece of art. For a work of art to be considered religious, form and Gehalt must be related and in harmony. If the Form becomes the focus, then the Gehalt is easily destroyed,

It is important to be aware that the religious is not the only quality a piece of art can have. Tillich doesn't say that the religious is a more true criteria for analysing art than for example beauty. It's just one aspect.

Tillich goes on to categorize various styles of art according to this criteria, and this is what I will do in my next post.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The most intoxicated society in the history of the world?

The drug is entertainment, of course. Chris Baker has some very good thoughts on the subject.

That we are asleep become apparent when we try to critically engage our
own behavior. Why do we act the way that we do? Do our actions
demonstrate that we understand our own interests and the behaviors
which are most likely to bring about those interest, or do our actions
serve as reminders of our almost exclusively reflexive rather than
reflective nature? Generally, I suspect, it is the later rather than
the former.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bush bragging about killed Iraqis.

This is from President Bush's statement at the Pentagon earlier this week:
Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.
5,900 enemies, huh? 5,900 killed (or captured) Iraqi's is now a "positive result". But since these dead people were "terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders", there is no need to compare that number with the dead on 9/11. Besides, they were probably mostly Arabs anyway.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ben's Theology for Beginners

Ben Myers has finished his Theology for Beginners series. The whole series is found here and the last post, on Glorification, is here.

We might speak, therefore, of a narrative deification of all created reality. The stories of all creatures are made to participate in God’s story – each particular fragmented and finite narrative is woven into the perfect and infinitely detailed fabric of God’s own identity. All that we are is gathered up into the vibrant and differentiated interplay of the life of God.

Congratulations to Ben on finishing this project!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Religious Art

Which of these two paintings (Komm, Herr Jesus, sei unser Gast by Fritz von Uhde or Still Life with Fruit Basket by Paul Cézanne) is more religious? Well, according to Paul Tillich, who's example this is, it is the Cézanne Still life.

Tillich was not only one of the most creative theologians of the 20th century, he was also one of the very few (von Balthasar is another but very different example) major theologians that have dealt in depth with art.

So what does Tillich have against Uhde's painting of Jesus? Well, he says it lacks a "quality of sacredness". Tillich has this very interesting distinction between the content of a piece of culture (Inhalt) and it's true sense (Gehalt). The Uhde painting has a religious content, but, according to Tillich it is not religious because its form does not correspond with its Gehalt. In other words, it might be a religious image on the surface, but it is not religious in the proper sense because it is not painted in a way that communicates something about the Gound of Being.

The Cézanne painting on the other hand does not have a religious Inhalt, its only fruit, but, Tillich claims, there is something about the way the fruit is painted that opens up something in the observer, and this is a genuinely religious experience.

I know very little about art, but I still find this distinction very helpful, and I will at some point try to apply this and some other of Tillich's ideas about art to an art form more familiar to me: rock music.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

President Carter on Israel and Palestine

Since reading the Fisk book I have spent some time trying to make sense of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, something that is not easily done. One good source for one perspective is the Maan News Agency, which posts news from a balanced Palestinian perspective. They also offer very good commentary a opinion pieces, often republished stuff. Like this one, by former US President Carter.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City, or even Bethlehem, and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Patristics Carnival

The first instalment of the Patristics Carnival is on-line over at uperekperisou. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Robert Fisk lecture


Here is a four-part lecture by Robert Fisk based on his book. It's shorter than the 1300 pages, but still informative.

New Blog of the Month at Theology Blogs

This time, the honour goes to Dan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fisk's World

I recently finished reading Robert Fisk's monumental The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. I cannot recommend it enough. It's 1300 pages of modern history of the most troubled part of our world, written by possibly the only person to have witnessed almost every key moment in the last 30 years in the region first-hand, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the current civil war in Iraq. Fisk shows how all these events are connected and in what ways the western powers are involved. But most importantly, he is always reporting from the viewpoint of the - mostly innocent - victims in all these conflicts.

The feeling one gets from reading this book is one the one hand a great sensation of learning - I can't remember the last time I learned so much new and important things about our world. On the other hand one feels a lot of outrage, not least directed towards the foreign policy of western powers that have done so much to make the situation worse, how much racism, violence, and, well, evil there is to found in the actions of various intelligence and military organisations.

Of course, Fisk does not fall into the trap of claiming that the leaders of the muslim world are innocent victims. Quite to the contrary, every gruesome crime committed by shahs, presidents and kings is treated in detail. But when it comes to the bigger picture - the roots of all the problems, it is hard to avoid the notion that most of the problems in the Middle East originate in the two European "World Wars" and their aftermaths. In a sense, Fisk shows that the WWI never really ended, it just moved to the east, where it is still being fought.

Fisk's job has been to write about war, and this is where his focus is. There is some irony in this. Even if Fisk has a lot to say about the role of bad journalism in these conflicts - in fact he shows that the Western media is a huge part of the problem - he seems to fail to recognize that the kind of journalism he himself represents also is part of the problem. Preferable as it is to have it done well as Fisk does, the kind of journalism that focuses on violent conflict has a huge part in the way we in the west always look at the Middle East.

Of course, one would wish that no one would make to many remarks about the middle east without having read this. But if anyone who reads this knows any major world leader, please, get him or her a copy of it for Christmas.

You can check out some of Fisk's writings at his paper the Independent, this unofficial homepage or at Wikipedia.


Andrew is to blame...

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Wraps them.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White! I'm European!

4. Do you hang mistletoe on house? Nope. See number 3.

5. When do you put your decorations up? Depends... Things with lights in them (tasteful, European), go up in the beginning of December, more stuff comes later.

6. What is your favorite holiday meal (excluding dessert)? Not that big on Christmas food, actually. Mom's meatballs are good.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? When I was a kid, dad used to play this record with this amazing Austrian boy's choir to wake us up on Christmas morning. I think that is the reason that all Christmas music sounds corny in my ears.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I was never lied to.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes, all of them, that's the Finnish tradition. Christmas day you go to Church and visit relatives.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Tastfully. Se number 3.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it in reasonable amounts.

12. Can you ice skate? If someone puts a gun to my head.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Not really.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Since my dad died Chrismas is sort of spoiled for me, but I always look forward to going to Church on Christmas morning to sing the wonderful hymn "Dagen är kommen" Quick translation: "The day has arrived: Love triumphs!" I seldom feel so thoroughly Christian.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Rice a' la Malta

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Church

17. What tops your tree? A star

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? Giving.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? See 14

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or yummy? ????

21. Favorite Christmas Movie? Oh dear... I don't think I have one.

22. What would you most like to find under your tree this year? The ability to speak Arabic.

23. Favorite Holiday memory as an adult? No, apart from the Church bit Christmas is not my favourite time of the year.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Change is Coming

I have decided to cut down on the time spent on this blog substantively. From now on I will only post if I feel I have something that I want to post here, I will not try to come up with a semi-daily post in order to... well, why do we do that?

That's the point, and this is my first reason, I recognized that a big motivation for me to post as much as I have has been to accumulate traffic, maybe in order to compare myself to other theology-bloggers and so on. Since I feel this tendency in our society, to measure and compare - to compete - is a very major part of what is wrong in the world, I feel I need to for myself abstain for activities that feeds this tendency in my life.

A second reason is that I started this blog for the specific purpose of working out what I have called "Ideas for a Theology of Decline". I have finished that and now I don't really have a motivation to keep it up beyond what I mentioned above.

A third reason is that I am thinking about a starting work on a project that I may want to publish at some point, in Swedish, and I want to use the time I have recently used on this blog on that. I might post some translations at some point if I like feedback on something, but the majority of it will take place of the Internet.

I will not completely discontinue God in a Shrinking Universe, though, so don't cancel those bookmarks yet. I have a post on Tillich's theology of art and Rock music brewing, and some (well a lot actually) of thoughts that have been sparked by reading Robert Fisk's majestic book on the Middle-East. And some other stuff. But this will in the future appear like once a week instead of once a day.

So now you know.