N.T.WRONG

Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

Economic Crisis and The Coming Insurrection

Posted by NT Wrong on January 5, 2009

“it isn’t the economy that’s in crisis; the economy is the crisis; it’s not that we can’t get any work, it’s that there’s too much of it; all weighed in, it’s not crisis but growth that’s depressing us. We must admit that for us the litany of the stock market rates has just about as much meaning as a Latin mass.”
The Coming Insurrection, by the “Invisible Committee” (2007): 23 (L’insurrection qui vient, Comité invisible).

Advertisements

Posted in Capitalism | 5 Comments »

Use A.D. and B.C.! (Out with C.E. and B.C.E.!!)

Posted by NT Wrong on January 4, 2009

multifaith_calendar_2009The abbreviations C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E. (Before Common Era) are commonly used in modern biblical scholarship to refer to the eras which were formerly known as A.D. (Anno Domini – The Year of The Lord) and B.C. (Before Christ). The usual rationale for the change is sensitivity to other religious and non-religious users of the Gregorian calendar. That is, given the number of worldwide users of the Gregorian calendar who don’t believe Jesus of Galilee is ‘The Lord’, a more neutral term is thought to be provided by ‘Common Era’.

However, what is ‘common’ about the Gregorian calendar? To the contrary, however the dating system is named, it refers to a specific tradition of the Christian West. The calendar has a very specific origin in the Christian tradition, and is calculated with respect to the estimated year of birth of the person central to the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ. (In actual fact, Dionysius Exiguus miscalculated the year of Jesus’ birth when he developed the calendar’s antecedent in AD 525, but that’s another story…)

By using ‘C.E.’ and B.C.E.’, we universalize a peculiar tradition. We make it out to be ‘common’ or ‘natural’, not requiring any special marking or qualification. As a consequence of the fact of Western power, the Gregorian calendar has been adopted as the most-used calendar in the world, and so does have some degree of ‘commonality’ in day-to-day use. But the change from A.D. to C.E. (and from B.C. to B.C.E.) obscures the particular Christian basis of this ‘common’ calendar, misrepresenting it as ‘normal’ – as somehow transcending historical particularities. By contrast, the other calendars are made out to be the only ‘localized’ and ‘particular’ calendars. While the Christian calendar is ‘naturalized’ by its designation as ‘common’, other calendars (Jewish, Persian, Islamic, Chinese, Hindu, Ethiopian, Thai, etc) are ‘artificial’ and ‘contingent’.

Stop this neo-colonialism! Use A.D. and B.C. again!! The specific marking of these older terms, which refers to the Christian concept of ‘Christ’, may well be offensive to some people. But this offence is substantial and systemic, not removeable by changing the name of the year which is dated from the birth of Christ. The hegemony of the Western calendar is a fact, and just one of the many effects of Western power in the world today — a minor but not insignificant fact, given the universal importance of local calendars in shaping culture. To obscure the Western calendar’s particularity by making it into a false universal is a double injustice — both the initial violence of changing local calendars, and then its covering up with the misleading term “common”. This is ideology at work.

Scholarship should be on the side of pointing out where injustices arise, not in covering them up.

Posted in Colonialism, Judeo-Christian Practices, Justice | 33 Comments »

Virgin Mary on Christmas Playboy Cover – The Borrowed Kettle – Too Many Excuses

Posted by NT Wrong on December 18, 2008

playboymexicomary
The December 2008 Mexican edition of Playboy features a woman draped in a religious looking veil, standing in front of a stained glass window, with the words ‘We adore you, Mary’ across the cover. The model’s name is Maria Florencia Onori. She appears completely nude within the publication, in various religiously themed poses. The magazine was released immediately before Mexico celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe, and in the month of Christmas.

Playboy has made a number of responses: a denial, a shifting of the blame, and a ‘sincere apology’ for any offense caused.

A denial:

The image “is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure… The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover.”
– Raul Sayrols, publisher of Playboy Mexico

A blame-shift:

“the Mexican edition of the magazine is published by a licensee, and the company did not approve or endorse the cover.”
– Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc

An apology:

“While Playboy Mexico never meant for the cover or images to offend anyone, we recognize that it has created offense, and we as well as Playboy Mexico offer our sincerest apologies.”- – Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc

The problem is the magazine has too many reasons.

Freud tells a story about a borrowed kettle:

“A. borrowed a copper kettle from B. and after he had returned it was sued by B. because the kettle now had a big hole in it which made it unusable. His defence was: ‘First, I never borrowed the kettle from B. at all; secondly, the kettle had a hole in it already when I got it from him; and thirdly, I gave him back the kettle undamaged.'”

This story is a favourite of Zizek’s. He has another good example:

“Do we not encounter the same inconsistency when high United States officials try to justify the attack on Iraq? (1) There is a link between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaeda, so Saddam should be punished as part of the retaliation for 11 September; (2) Even if there is no link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, they are united in their hatred of the United States–Saddam’s regime is thus very dangerous, a threat not only to the United States, but also to its neighbours and the Iraqi people; (3) The change of regime in Iraq will create the conditions for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
– The Universal Exception, 289

Of couse, there have been a number of other, also contradictory excuses offered by United States officials for the Iraq war. But there is no mention that war and securing oil are good business and smart political muscle-flexing. There was no mention from Playboy Enterprises Inc that controversy and sex sells porno magazines, either.

Posted in Capitalism, Religion & Society, War | 13 Comments »

Anti-Israel Christmas Carols prove effective in Provoking Israeli Arseholes

Posted by NT Wrong on December 11, 2008

The Christmas Carols have been updated to reflect the current political situation in ‘the Holy Land’.

dreidelOnce in Royal David’s City

Once in Royal David’s City,
Stood a big apartheid wall,
People entering and leaving,
Had to pass a checkpoint hall,
Bethlehem was strangulated,
And her children segregated.

Though this city is a symbol
To the world of peace and love,
Concrete walls have closed around her,
Settlements expand above.
And apartheid Israel stands
All around on stolen lands.

David’s people once instructed
All the world in righteousness;
Prophets spoke of truth and justice;
Israel’s leaders now oppress.
All who look at Bethlehem
Must speak out the truth to them.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Twelve assassinations,
Eleven homes demolished,
Ten wells obstructed,
Nine sniper towers,
Eight gunships firing,
Seven checkpoints blocking,
Six tanks a-rolling,
Five settlement rings,
Four falling bombs,
Three trench guns,
Two trampled doves,
And an uprooted olive tree.

The carols were performed at the Wren church of St. James in Central London, at an event called Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons And Carols For Palestine. The event was organised by Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods, a group of secular British Jews opposed to Israeli policies, and the Palestinian group Open Bethlehem.

Without a trace of self-conscious irony, Israeli ambassador Ron Proser blamed the Church of England for allowing its nice and lovely Christmas traditions to be “hijacked by hatred”. Then, losing all sense of the very meaning of ‘irony’, Proser claimed that the pro-peace activists “gave the stage to incitement of the kind of hatred we hoped had passed from this world, instead of encouraging understanding and interfaith tolerance.”

Although none of the News sources recorded it, the Israeli ambassador is understood to have later condemned the Wise Men as “insurgents” for declaring Jesus to be the anointed King — praising King Herod for taking measures to maintain the Rule of Law, after Herod contained a potential terrorist uprising by an organization of under-three-year-olds calling themselves “The Innocents”. Proser later pointed out that the Wise Men were from “The East”, an area renowned for its links with Al Qaeda.

Naturally, the Church of England’s openness to the Jewish group has been condemned as supporting “anti-Semitism” by any number of bandwagon-riding half-arses: Lord Carey of Clifton, the former archtwatbishop of Canterbury, and Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. And David Gifford of the Council of Christians and Jews complained that Christmas had suddenly been ‘politicized’, from what he must have understood to be a politically neutral celebration of Western commercialism.

But hooray for Bruce Kent, a former Roman Catholic priest and prominent peace campaigner, who cut through the Zionist bullshit by replying in this manner to the ‘tolerant’, ‘we mustn’t offend anybody, especially military governments’ crowd of insipid Anglican half-arses:

‘I think it is perfectly reasonable for carols to be rewritten in this way. I am fed up with sugary religion – the baby Jesus sitting in his stable and all that stuff… The carols pointed out exactly what is going on in occupied Palestine today. I am delighted they have had the publicity that this has generated. Anyone who speaks against Zionist policies is labelled anti-Semitic.’

Posted in Justice, Modern Israel, Violence, War | 2 Comments »

The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage – Newsweek

Posted by NT Wrong on December 8, 2008

newsweekOpponents of gay marriage often make appeals to the Bible. The Dec 6, 2008 edition of Newsweek has a look at what the Bible really says about marriage, and finds that — funnily enough — there isn’t much in the Bible which supports your average American nuclear family…

“Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

As Walter Wink nicely showed a while back, the sexual mores of the Bible are a whole world apart from our own — and that’s the case, whether we’re politically conservative or liberal. Newsweek summarises: “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

“In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call “the traditional family” are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between “one man and as many women as he could pay for.” Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world.”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

The article agrees that Leviticus proscribes sex between men. (It also explains the absence of proscriptions against lesbian sex as a result of the lack of “entry”, relying on what it calls an “entry” from the Anchor Bible Dictionary — a Freudian slip?) But the article also points out that even the fundies ignore most of Leviticus while they fixate unhealthily on what men are doing with each others’ nakednesses:

“Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

And when it comes to Paul’s views on homosexuality, Newsweek quotes Neil Elliott (author of The Arrogance of Nations): “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all.” Given that the modern idea of ‘homosexuality’ — linked as it is to ideas about personal identity within an imposed binary framework of ‘sexuality’ — is barely one hundred years old, it’s not surprising that Paul had a quite different conception from ours.

The article later gets a bit sappy, talking about the Bible’s “universal truths” and message of “love”, glossing over its vile central message of the punishment of the vast majority of people in favour of a minority “chosen people”, and ignoring Jesus’ own short-sighted prejudice against non-Jewish people. The abstract universalized message of the Bible is just as unjust as its particular instantiations. But all in all the Newsweek article makes some solid points about gay marriage and the Bible.

    “The mama looked down and spit on the ground
    Everytime my name gets mentioned
    The papa said oy if I get that boy
    Im gonna stick him in the house of detention
    …And when the radical priest
    Come to get me released
    We was all on the cover of Newsweek
    – Paul Simon, ‘Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard’

Posted in Justice, Religion & Society, The Bible | 15 Comments »

When Bible Scholars Dream of Utopia

Posted by NT Wrong on December 2, 2008

“According to Deuteronomy the Israelites are commanded to exterminate all of the Canaanites and not to leave a soul of them living (Deut 7:1-2; 20:16-17). Such a policy, obliging the extermination of the whole population of the land whether fighting or passive, is utopian and is indeed unheard of in the historical accounts of Israel… the command of Herem of all the Canaanites in Deuteronomy is a utopian program that reflects the ongoing bitter struggle with the Canaanite religion and culture from the time of Elijah until the time of Josiah.”
– Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11: 52-53

Hmmmmm… surely Moshe Weinfeld must have meant that the idea of killing entire populations in Palestine was utopian to the authors of Deuteronomy. Or could that be his idea of utopia, too? It’s a little bit unclear to me.

But this isn’t just a matter of the absence of qualification (‘to the authors of Deuteronomy this idea of pregnant-mother-slashing, baby-head-smashing, mass carnage must have been a dream come true!’). When Weinfeld does comment on the ‘utopian’ genocide, he seems instead to justify it. This ‘utopian’ genocide is justifiable as some real-life (for Weinfeld) “ongoing bitter struggle” with abominable, non-Yahweh-worshipping Canaanites (53). It’s a good thing, just as the Bible tells me so. Nay, not just ‘good’ — it’s a wet-dream!!

I know there’s a complex interrelationship between utopia and dystopia, and they’re hard to distinguish at the best of times. But I might have thought that a description of the genocide of Palestinian peoples, made in the late twentieth century, might have deserved some further comment in addition to the unqualified “that’s utopia!” Bloody genocide is certainly not what I think of when I get all dreamy and romantic.

But my dreams might be different from most biblical scholars.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Justice, Pentateuch, Violence, War | 5 Comments »

Israel: ‘Profundity’ of Ideas as Justification for Colonialism; Bodily Desire as Justification for Dispossession

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

“For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… the four great powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism… is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import tha[n] the desires and prejudices of 700 000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.”
– Arthur James Balfour, memorandum sent to Lord Curzon in 1919

Posted in Colonialism, Modern Israel, Racism, Violence | 2 Comments »

Jesus’ Anus Is Key(-Hole) to the Incarnation

Posted by NT Wrong on November 18, 2008

zizek-and-badiouRoland Boer has denied that Jesus and I have even one anus between us. This is blasphemous heresy. Jesus is wholly man; wholly arse. Not only does Jesus have an anus, but the divine anus is the key to the meaning of the Incarnation, in which God becomes his own shit.

The theology of Jesus’ excremental identity is discussed by world-leading theologian Slavoj Žižek, who addresses the divine anus immediately after his discussion of the Johnny Cash song, ‘The Man Comes Around’ (which he describes as “an exemplary articulation of the anxieties contained in Southern Baptist Christianity;” The Parallax View, 186).

According to Žižek, the message of Christian love has its dark underside in the message that “the just remain just and the filthy remain filthy.” It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or who you are, God will fuck you up the arse if he whimsically decides to do so. The “love which suspends the law is necessarily accompanied by the arbitrary cruelty which also suspends the law.” The Christian conception of grace can be less nicely — and much more truthfully — expressed: as arbitrariness, as the law-ignoring, bastard behaviour of divine wankery. And Mankind (to use the theological term) is thus most accurately defined, in light of the Incarnation, as a bunch of little shits:

“Martin Luther directly proposed an excremental identity of man: man is like divine shit, he fell out of God’s anus. We can, of course, pursue the question of the deep crises that pushed Luther toward his new theology; he was caught in a violent debilitating superego cycle: the more he acted, repented, punished, and tortured himself, did good deeds, and so on, the more he felt guilty. This convinced him that good deeds are calculated, dirty, selfish: far from pleasing God, they provoke God’s wrath and lead to damnation. Salvation comes from faith: it is our faith alone, faith in Jesus as savior, which allows us to break out of the superego impasse. This “anal” definition of man, however, cannot be reduced to a result of this superego pressure which pushed Luther toward self-abasement — there is more to it: only within this Protestant logic of man’s excremental identity can the true meaning of the Incarnation be formulated. In Orthodoxy, Christ ultimately loses his exceptional status: his very idealization, elevation to a noble model, reduces him to an ideal image, a figure to be imitated (all men should strive to become God) — imitatio Christi is more an Orthodox than a Catholic formula. In Catholicism, the predominant logic is that of a symbolic exchange: Catholic theologists enjoy long scholastic juridical arguments about how Christ paid the price for our sins, and so on — no wonder Luther reacted to the most contemptible outcome of this logic, the reduction of redemption to something that can be bought from the Church. Protestantism, finally, posits the relationship as real, conceiving Christ as a God who, in his act of Incarnation, freely identified himself with his own shit, with the excremental Real that is man — and it is only at this level that the properly Christian notion of divine love can be apprehended, as love for the miserable excremental entity called “man.” ”
– Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, 187

Ah! Don’t those canny continental theologians (such as Žižek, Badiou, Agamben) make that other bunch — those puritanical guardians of dogma — appear just as unpalatable as shit on a plate?

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Evil, God, Jesus & Christ, Music, Paul, Soteriology, Violence | 2 Comments »

Ehrman: How the Bible Explains Suffering

Posted by NT Wrong on November 11, 2008

In September 2008, Bart Ehrman delivered one of the 2008 Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul at the University of California Berkeley. The lecture series commenced in 1928, and has included lectures by Oliver Sacks, Thomas S. Kuhn, Aldous Huxley, and Paul Tillich.

“God’s Problem and Human Solutions: How the Bible Explains Suffering”

Posted in Justice, Video | Comments Off on Ehrman: How the Bible Explains Suffering

Yigael Yadin, the Bible, Archaeology, and Orientalism – When Captions Precede their Photos

Posted by NT Wrong on November 10, 2008

yadin

This picture is from Yigael Yadin’s Hazor (1975: 34), a populist book describing the archaeological finds at Hazor in Galilee. I hope somebody finds it as amusing as I did. The caption reads:

“A girl from North Africa felt ‘at home’ operating the two grinding stones, which are over 3,000 years old.”

What’s the scene here? Can you picture it? As soon as the 3,000-year-old relics are dug up, there’s a sudden rush, and a ‘North African’ woman (‘girl’) leaps up towards them, and starts to use them as though she were in her kitchen at home — because nothing in her world has changed in 3,000 years, and she couldn’t really tell the difference between archaeological ruins and her contemporary ‘North African’ (which bit exactly?) world.

What is encoded here is a commonplace of archaeology, in particular ‘biblical archaeology’. The Arab world is unchanging, permanent, in contrast to Western progress and change. So your average Arab can properly serve as a proxy for ‘the primitive ancient’ of 3000 years ago. But what is absent in this photo, although necessarily present? Look carefully. What’s not there? … the fact that the photo is being taken by a Western photographer who has asked the North African woman to pose in exactly this manner. The photo stages an idea in the Western photographer’s head. The caption wasn’t added to this photo — it preceded it.

“Orientalism is staked upon the permanence of the whole Orient, for without ‘the Orient’ there can be no consistent, intelligible, and articulated knowledge called ‘Orientalism’… the Orient is synonymous with stability and unchanging eternality… ‘the Orient’ as an unconditional ontological category does an injustice to the potential of reality for change.”
– Edward Said, Orientalism, 1979: 239-240

Posted in Colonialism, Racism | 23 Comments »