Yes, I intend to revamp this blog. It’s been over two years since my last post, and I’ve gone through many changes in that time. I’ve graduated from art school, I’m married and have a young son (I hope to go into more detail here later) and I’ve embraced a Reformed understanding of Christianity. In the past I’ve written on topics such as veganism, pacifism, anarchism, and environmentalism. Remaining in the situation from which I’ve been called, I intend to continue writing about such topics, but in the light of Scripture through which I’ve been reformed and in the grace of the Spirit through whom I am being sanctified.
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Contemporary philosophy (& some theology as well) tend to emphasize the primacy of language, that various social constructions are linguistic systems made of the interplay of signs. All knowledge is interpretive, relational, and constructed, and not, as was once commonly believed, objective. Words do not have fixed meanings, but rather gain their meaning contextually, through their use in communal settings. This last thought might not be hard for many Christians to accept, but the greater implication is that all social systems, whether they be ethical, legal, religious, etc., are not based on any fixed foundation, but also gain meaning according to their context and communal interpretations. Contemporary Christianity, which is mostly rooted in an objectivist understanding of knowledge, ethics, and religion might find this hard to swallow, but I am of the opinion that we should embrace such perspectives of postmodern philosophy.
This readiness to jettison belief in an objective foundation may alarm some readers. They may even think, “Didn’t Christ say that we should build our house on the rock, a firm foundation?” The answer is that, yes, he did indeed say that. However, the rock he was referring to was not Descartes’ model of the autonomous subject, or Kant’s model of the subject that gains objective knowledge through reason and the senses, but rather, himself. Thus we Christians should build the Church on Christ, who is not a fixed object, but a relational Being.
We can think of the Church as a linguistic system, a body that shares a common language and set of symbols, all of which gain meaning and significance through context and the interpretation of the Church. When we say, “Christians are called to be loving and peaceful,” we must understand that the meaning of words like “love” and “peace” are not fixed, but change over time and in different situations. I have heard several sermons throughout my life contrasting the English word “love” with the Greek “agape”, about how our English concept of love does not compare to this Greek concept. But truly, this concept of God’s love, the love that is God (1 John 4:8), is not a Greek or an English or French or Chinese concept, it is a Christian concept. This kind of love is defined only through the narrative of the Bible, through Christ. The biblical narrative informs the Christian worldview, it defines the vocabulary of the Church. The laws, and rituals, and language, and understanding of the Church are not fixed traditions that must be preserved, but things that the Church should continually reconstruct so that they continue to embody Christ.
The idea of Sola Scriptura has not been the most popular in recent times, especially among the more liberal set of Christians who favor personal experience in deciding how the Church should act. But the Bible is integral to maintaining the particularity of the Christian faith through the communal interpretation of the Church, and dialogue between the text and ourselves.
Martin Heidegger stressed the idea that language precedes us, we are thrown into it, and that it forms us as much as we (communally) form it. The same understanding should be applied to the Church. It precedes us. We are embedded in it. We must allow its past to form us as we continue to form it in its current form. This is the Life of the Church.
I should begin by saying that I am both a vegan and a Christian. There are compelling reasons to be both. Several Christian publications offer valid reasons for the Christian to consider the vegetarian lifestyle. These include the fact that God’s original intent was for human beings to be vegetarians (Gen 1:29) and Isaiah’s inspiring prophecy in which the lion will someday eat straw like the ox (Is 65:25). So it seems that, according to the Christian worldview, the order that has proceeded, and that which will proceed, this current state, will be peaceful and bloodless. Not much to argue with so far. But many Christian vegetarians are appalled by Luke 24: 42 & 43, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
What can this mean? Some insist that this passage is a forgery, it can not be authentic. Others claim that this single verse makes vegetarianism completely incompatible with Christianity. But lets take a closer look.
If we take this verse to be an authentic account of Jesus Christ after the resurrection, and we uphold the belief that he was without sin, then we must deduct that eating meat is not inherently sinful. This point may seem like anathema to any vegan, Christian or otherwise. But once we analyze the politics of food, it becomes clear that the option to avoid meat is sometimes available only to a privileged few. For example, the impoverished and starving child hardly has the option to refuse any meal that is provided. The natives of extreme elevations or frozen tundras haven’t had the luxury of choosing a vegetarian diet (until recently, but which still remains highly unsustainable). And as any honest vegan will tell you, even we are not without blood on our hands. The vegan philosophy is not about the impossible task of eliminating any and all animal suffering in our lives, it is about minimizing it. Animals suffer and die in the process of farming and shipping vegetables. Animals suffer and die in the process of mining the metals, and harvesting the lumber, that is used to make the household objects that people use everyday. Hell, even people suffer and die in the process of securing the petroleum that is used to make the plastic used to build the computer you are looking at right now. There is no one who has lived without causing harm to another living creature, whether directly or indirectly. No one. Not even Christ.
So, in that simple act of eating a piece of broiled fish, Christ has placed himself in solidarity with the poor of world. He has removed the guilt from those who are without the luxury of being vegetarians. But my argument here is not that people should choose to eat meat. It is precisely the opposite. If offered the choice, people should choose to minimize animal death and suffering to the best of their ability. That choice, however, should not make them feel superior to any other human being. As in the words of the Apostle Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
“Consider the crows. They don’t plant or harvest, they don’t even have a storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!” Luke 12:24
I made a zine a while back when I was more involved in my local Occupy group. I just looked back through it yesterday and decided to print some more off. And I just wanted to invite all of you out there in internet land to print some off too.
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The domestication of certain types of plants and animals has often been associated with the rise of human civilization. It can also be seen as evidence of our constant attempt to dominate and control the environment in which we live. This abused sense of dominion can even be seen to extend upwards into the heavenly realms.
The entirety of human civilization can be seen as having been established on the domestication of the concept of God. In this design, God is brought down, in chains, to serve, and the State, in the form of a god-king or divine emperor, is elevated to the high heavens. In a sense, this reversal is a perversion of the concept of Imitatio Dei. Whereas God calls us to “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2), the State seeks imitation to the point of replacement. All the while the concept of God is manipulated to serve the ends of the State through an imposed state religion.
We encounter similar problems when we examine the notion of sainthood, whether it be religious or political. The distinction arises of whether we are to imitate or admire the saint in question. If we assume that the saint is an ordinary human being like us, then we might be more inclined to follow in their footsteps. However, most people place them on a pedestal above the rest of humanity, and attribute to them some semi-divine status. In that case, it seems more natural for us simply to adore them. In the same way the State can co-opt the agenda of a revolutionary through aiding in their assassination and then declaring them a saint posthumously. Whether or not you believe that the American government had anything to do with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it can’t be denied that the FBI and CIA viewed him as a major threat. He has since assumed the status of sainthood in American politics. To me, this seems like a form of co-option, discouraging us from following King’s path of civil disobedience and pacifism, because the State now claims to have absorbed his agenda. I think this is why Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead.” This is a common criticism of Christianity. Although I do agree with the distinction, I think it sometimes assumes a false dichotomy in which we must choose between imitating or worshipping Christ. I do believe, however, that either of these is deficient without the other. This is an extension of the doctrine of hypostatic union, the belief that Christ is both fully human and fully God. We are simultaneously called to imitate him in his humanity and worship him in his divinity. And in our imitation of him, we are allowed to participate in the divinity of God, as we are pulled deeper and deeper into the divine embrace.
This dual invitation to both follow and worship is not mirrored by the idolatrous religion of the State. No, the State demands that we worship, serve, and obey. If we were to imitate the imperial god of the State, we would be acting as a threat to the State. If we followed in its’ path of coercive violence and domination, we would become its rival. No, as far as the State is concerned, it is better for us to stay within its’ ideological cage of a state religion, under its domesticated God.
This attempt at usurpation of divine authority can be traced throughout biblical history. It is a continuation of humanity’s initial impulse to “be like God” in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:5). Later, humans tried to rival the majesty of mountains, and even God, by building a tower so high they could conquer the heavens (Gen 11:4). This great sin reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion, when God was tortured and executed at the hands of human beings. The good creation, that was created to love God, was so selfish and godless that it murdered him, seeking to take his place. Humanity cried out at last, as in the words of Friedrich Neitzsche, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
But it could not last. For the promise of God is that love will ultimately triumph over sin and death. In the resurrection, Christ broke free of the chains of death that we had imposed on him and ascended to his rightful place of authority.
God is wild, indeed.
I’m a vegan. An animal rights vegan. I have been for over three years. Before that I was a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Anyway, recently I’ve become more aware of some hostility toward my chosen lifestyle, particularly from a group called the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), and associated literature The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith, and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig.
My first experience with this line of thought came a few years ago from a vegan friend who had just encountered the book Nourishing Traditions. She was ecstatic to share the “good news” with me, that meat is not unhealthy and that most of the health problems associated with the Standard American Diet come from processed fats and sugars. I think she was surprised when I whole-heartedly agreed with her, but my commitment to veganism wasn’t shaken in the least. I explained to her that I was not, nor had I ever been, vegan for health reasons.
Let me explain. I don’t necessarily think that eating meat and dairy is unhealthy, or that eating a vegan diet is necessarily healthy. I think that a person can be healthy or unhealthy either way, provided that they are getting a good balance of different nutrients.
The reason I became vegan was that I felt uneasy about the idea of animals being thought of as commodities, in the Marxist sense, or as objects that can be owned and sold, and function primarily to fulfill the needs and desires of human beings. I strongly disagree with this view, and think that animals have rights in and of themselves, just as people do. Now, here I suppose I should give the WAPF, and those with similar ideologies, some credit. They do afford some rights to animals, just less than the traditional vegan position does. They do advocate raising farm animals “humanely”, which means allowing them to be free-range. But that doesn’t stop these animals from being slaughtered whenever their “owner” decides it is time to do so. Nor does it stop dairy cows and goats from being impregnated once a year so that they can produce milk for human consumption at the expense of their young.
My real problem with this ideological attack on veganism is that it assumes a lot of things that are not necessarily true. It assumes that the vegan diet is largely based on processed corn and soy, which I know from my own experience is simply not true. The Price Foundation is critical of the overconsumption of soy. Contrary to the popular stereotype, so are a lot of the vegans I know, and many avoid it altogether. Honestly, I think that most committed vegans consume far less soy than people who eat the Standard American Diet. Many vegans are just as critical of processed and genetically-modified foods, monocropping and unsustainable farming systems as is the WAPF. An attack on the current food system is not an attack on veganism. Vegan thought, mostly, is also a critique of the current food system, which is more focused (I think too much) on the issue of factory farming. So why the conflict? Shouldn’t these distinct movements be working together to end factory farming and change the current food system? Personally, I would love to see Weston A. Price advocates win out over today’s multinational agribusiness corporations.