Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

The first of the Ten Commandments is often quoted and preached upon, and while it applied to Israel in a time they were tempted to worship other gods or go after them for blessings and assistance in some matters, I have often heard that it should apply to us too, since we may be capable of placing other ‘things’ before our Lord and allowing them to be ‘worshipped’ in some way. One might argue that is a bit of a stretch if you are talking about things which are naturally important to us and prominent in our lives, like family or jobs. However, Jesus did make a stunning declaration about following him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)sermon-mount

Many have tried to downplay the word ‘hate’ here as if it means ‘love less’ or ‘make secondary’ yet it is the word miseo, which means ‘hate’! In the context of ‘everything else Jesus said’ of course, we have to find an explanation of it, since we are commanded by him to love absolutely everyone! Why would we be commanded to love our enemies, yet hate our own family? Best answer I can offer is that the natural ties we have are to be regarded as below ‘loving others’, so our devotion to our families must be no more nor any stronger than our love of anyone else; we should love all people equally. Interesting? Something to ponder?

What is clear, however, is that Jesus demands our devotion to him first, and that he is not to be equated with devotion to anyone or anything else. An alternative translation of the first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other gods beside me’ so that would fit with the idea that God has no equal, no partner, no cohort he will allow to be venerated or worshipped like him.

Fair enough? Let me suggest a common mistake many make regarding this commandment. Some time ago, while I was still a freshman (as they call it in the US) at Bible College, I came across a woman who believed that John 1:1 ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ meant her Bible! I was surprised at myself that I suppressed a laugh, since I had this picture in my mind of a black leather gilt-edged KJV sitting beside God at the beginning of the universe! I quietly explained to her that ‘the Word’ here is the pre-eternal name of Jesus [note: capitalised (in English)]. He is the one who was both with God, and was God, from the beginning and will be forever. By equating her Bible (the word of God) to being the Word, she was actually allowing it to not just be with God as I had pictured, but to be God (that is what John 1:1 states). Does this mean then that when I read my Bible, I hold God in my hand? Or within the app on my phone, in 64 different versions?

While this may be something we can laugh over, I have come to the conclusion that it is more serious a problem than one might first think. I know plenty of believers who adore their Bible, talk about it in ways that you’d think was reserved for lovers or family members… and right away I recall that command Jesus made about family! If nothing is to come between us and God, or to be equated in reverence with God, then this must include our Bible! Please don’t ask for a Venn diagram of that – our Bible sits squarely within the box marked ‘everything’.

The Jews hated idols, just like the Muslims do today. They were commanded not to worship them, and they strove to have no graven images to which they bowed or showed reverence, but human nature being what it is, they had to have some tangible thing to sit in awe of, in their synagogues. So they created special manuscripts from specifically prescribed forms of hide, written in a specific mixture of ink, which were not to be touched by vile human hands or anything else debase, so they made silver psothebystorahointers… were you to drop one of these scrolls on the floor, I am sure you would hear gasps of horror! Some Muslims do exactly the same thing with their Koran, wrapping them in beautiful silk scarves and handling them with such delicate care. Do Christians do the same? I did know of believers who were shocked at the idea of me tossing my old worn-out Bible into a bin once I got a new one! What was I supposed to do? Burn it on a ceremonial barge on the river Jordan with prayers? Revering the paper and ink IS idolatry, sorry!

However, I do love my Bible! I read it constantly, and try to find new things I can learn from it, and strive to live by what I glean from it. Thankfully, the English word ‘love’ can be used for anything from ice cream to God, so when I say I love something I know I don’t love it more than I love Jesus. Or can I be sure? If it is possible for me to fall in love with someone, or some thing that I love doing, which distracts me from following Jesus, then can it also be possible that my Bible could distract me too? There may be many ways, but the question raised surely is this: “if my Bible is simply the words of God in written form, then how could that be possible?” Right away, I arrive at the kernel of the issue as I see it. The ‘standard’ position of the fundamentalist who holds to ‘inerrancy of scripture’ on this is that ‘every word of our scriptures has been written by God’. Known as ‘plenary inspiration’ (a good description here), it ascribes God’s inspiration to the complete Bible as we have it today, and decries any attempt to ‘water that down’. This is perfectly understandable since we do not wish to allow a ‘take what you want and ignore the rest’ faith in Christ (even though many who maintain ‘inerrancy’ do so with some commands they don’t like!), but while I have never held this ‘plenary’ position (which is not the default position within the whole church and never has been), I have never been one to take a pair of scissors to my Bible! I prefer what scripture says about itself, that it is all ‘God-breathed‘ (2 Tim. 3:16). I see the hand of God and his redemption story and plan throughout, from Genesis to Revelation, but many parts are limited in understanding simply due to the human writers, since it was written by people of an ancient time, who had limits on knowledge and a lack of things we now know. Therefore to find an ‘archaic’ view of something in my Bible is not a problem to me; I don’t need to explain it or defend it. However, many believers, fixated on their irrefutable plenary doctrine, tie themselves in knots defending what is text on a page of a book, in the belief that they are defending their faith, or even defending God!

Let’s take a couple of examples for illustration: in the book of Job, we have a record of God speaking to Job where he asks “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail…” (Job 38:22); we now know that God does not have ‘storehouses’ of snow or hail. We know how they form now, through our study of meteorology. Of course, everyone says that this is metaphor/ poetry/ allegory, even though it is a record of God’s actual words to Job. So was God revealing a truth to Job according to his limited understanding? Then we encounter the creation account in Genesis: this is taken as literal by so many who would easily accept the metaphorical aspect of the passage in Job, yet reading Genesis 1 without the blinkers of devotion can see clearly that it is the description of a flat earth at the centre of the universe, with night and day occurring before the creation of the sun and moon. Why is there this ‘blind devotion’? It might be because it belongs to the Pentateuch/ Torah, the first five books of our Bible also known as ‘the Law’. From some Jewish tradition we have inherited, it is part of that ‘given’ to Moses directly by God, yet there is no support for this (and Moses even dies before the end!). So much of this comes from cultural tradition and not a direct reading of scripture. It’s all supposed to be literal historical narrative, yet in my evangelical Bible College, we studied the first 11 chapters of Genesis separately to the rest – chapter 12 is when the famous Abram appears (later called Abraham).

I do ponder how some parts that we can now see with modern knowledge can be accepted as not literal, yet other parts cannot! What is it about the creation account that it just must be adhered to? I’ll not go into any speculation about politico-historico-cultural stuff here, but my point is simply this: in trying to explain our faith to non-believers, do we not realise that an insistence on a literal reading of Genesis 1 is perceived as one of the most idiotic stances in the 21st century? If we try our hardest to state that every word is literal, and that it is not describing a flat centric earth, is that not just plain denial? If we apply a rational mind to it, then surely a realisation must occur! To continue in this conformity, then is it not akin to ignoring or covering over the truth? Is that not a description for lying?

flee_idolatryFor me, it truly is a blind devotion, by faith, and that means that your faith in a book is unshakeable (even though you’d be prepared to forego the ‘storehouses’ reference in Job!), and right away, I worry. I worry that such devotion that should only be reserved for God and God alone, is given to what is an object on our shelves or a program in our computers and phones!

I actually don’t want any debate on this – I’ve had enough over my life! I know where I stand on this issue, where I have always stood, and it has never affected my faith in Jesus as my Lord. I simply want fellow believers to consider what they’re doing. If you are not ready to accept it, I’ll leave it there.

Grace be with you.

Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU.

I was undecided. Genuinely. There are pro- and anti-EU pundits on both sides of the right/left divide, so it was not straightforward, I knew. I wished to analyse all the arguments and make a decision based on what would be best for the majority of the British people. I knew this would be especially difficult for me, since the main protagonists are all from the Conservative party; it is an internal spat, after all! (And I had already dealt with Farage and UKIP a couple of years ago, here). While I find it very hard to trust any Tory, I have always had more respect for Boris Johnson than for David Cameron or George Osborne, so at first I thought I might be swayed by the ‘leave’ campaign.

What is obvious to everyone with even a few brain cells is that there has been lies and exaggerations on both sides. This has exasperated all of us who simply seek the truth, of course. When I sat down to read the leaflets, with access to sources that sought to impartially verify or debunk the various claims of both sides, I was stunned as soon as I read the ‘leave’ leaflet; I didn’t even need any help, since from my own knowledge, I could see the glaring lies peddled on those pages! While much of the ‘remain’ campaign’s lies were basically conjecture based on nothing, or sheer exaggerations, the lies of the ‘leave’ campaign were bare-faced deception! However, that was not the reason I decided, even though it was a blatant insult to the intelligence and integrity of its audience! Politicians are a peculiar breed, and they will do almost anything just to get you or me to vote in a particular way, so I had to dismiss these lies as nothing more than overeagerness to persuade us to vote ‘leave’. Though I wondered if there was actually some hidden agenda.

Then Jacob Rees-Mogg (a posh Tory who comes across as a really old school MP but is actually younger than me!) said “We need to leave the protectionist fortress of Europe!”

I am a protectionist! Basically, this is the belief that our own industries and businesses need to be protected from unfair competition. For instance, Chinese steel has been flooding into our market, which has been heavily subsidised by the Chinese government, and our own industry cannot compete with these artificial prices. If action is not taken, China could corner the entire market, and then start charging whatever they like. There’s a bit more information on protectionism here.

The opposite opinion to protectionism is ‘free trade’ or the ‘free market’, and as I was listening to debates on the television, I noticed how often these terms were used by proponents of the ‘leave’ campaign. This is the hidden agenda! They do not like the policies that are prevalent within the EU to protect European industry and support it, but seek a ‘free market’ across the world. Alarm bells rung in my head! I have already exposed how this belief springs from an early Christian church heresy, three years ago, here. The real problem with this belief, even if it is worthy and true, is that all nations need to subscribe to it. The Chinese government, by subsidising their steel, are not competing within a ‘free market’ but are interfering with the prices. Free marketeers would complain that they’re ‘not playing fair’ but the Chinese government are perfectly entitled to behave with regard to their own industries as they see fit! They are protectionists, so we need to be too!

I was watching a documentary on BBC4, by the inimitable Bettany Hughes, on Karl Marx. I was surprised to find that in his Communist Manifesto, he actually praised the bourgeoisie and their capitalism! He saw the value of it for producing profits and gain from industrialisation, but his gripe was that they kept all the profits for themselves when the actual labour that produced the profits was not given its proper value. He developed some philosophy on a phrase ‘surplus profit’ (or surplus value) – more information here. His argument was not against capitalism, but unfettered capitalism, where there is no means for the labourer(s) to bargain for their worth, and receive a fair share of the profits of the industry. His revolution was a ‘bottom-up’ one, where the working class majority fight for their rights to decent wages and working conditions, with little recourse to governments to instigate change, but rather to legislate as the people demand. It was designed for industrialised capitalist economies, but unfortunately the resulting communist revolutions that occurred were in Russia and China, both very undeveloped agrarian societies, and both ended up becoming a ‘top-down’ revolution, with the likes of Stalin and Mao, who imposed an ideology upon the people. What has been achieved over decades, by working people in the UK and across Europe, demanding more rights and higher wages, largely by unionisation, is actually what Marx dreamt of, not Stalinism.

One of the things that Marx pointed out was that capitalists will find themselves slaves to an abstract concept of ‘the market’ with the example of trading hours: with no restriction on the hours businesses can trade, one factory owner will be totally unwilling to reduce his workers’ hours since his competitors will most likely not reduce their hours and so he would end up becoming uncompetitive. Over 150years later, this has been seen recently in the UK with the debate over Sunday trading hours. A concession years ago to allow stores to open from 1pm to 6pm was, in the eyes of the ‘free market’ lobby, simply a stepping stone to allowing full 24/7 trading, with no respect to any day as special, sacred or set aside. The argument against this is that small family-run businesses cannot remain open all these hours, whereas the big companies like Tesco can. I heard one of these MPs state boldly: “If uncompetitive small businesses fall by the wayside, so be it!” They literally do not care for the small guy!

Communism has been described as a ‘religion’ or a ‘cult’ since it demands allegiance to ‘the state’ and will not allow any dissent to that worship. I agree! What we saw in the USSR and China, and other nations, is so akin to religion that it fits the definition. North Korea has a clear cult of worship of the Kims! Likewise, what Marx warned about is true of the worship of ‘the market’. Unfettered capitalism pays homage to the omniscient and omnipotent power of allowing this ‘market’ to decide our lives and our means, and we must devote ourselves to it without question. Any protectionist policies go against the received wisdom of the high priests of the market. We have seen many of our industries and state services sold off to foreign investors, and this has been the result of the pursuit of this religion by our British governments (both Tory and New Labour), not by any policy coming from the EU.

This is why I am deciding to vote ‘remain’! I do not wish to allow this false religion to take any further hold of our nation and our economy, since it has already eroded many rights of the hard-working majority, and it will do more harm, if unchecked. If the Brexit does produce more profit for British industry, it will continue to rise upwards to the rich, since we the people will not have any power to take our fair share of it! All the talk about the ‘ridiculous regulations’ of the EU include such terrible things like how employers have to ensure their workers’ safety and cannot treat them like possessions! So if you wish to allow our own politicians to ‘take back control’ of our economy from the EU (even though most decisions are made locally!), go ahead, but I look at their track record and conclude that they do not speak for the common man. We need something to curb them before they make the ultra-rich the hyper-rich!

And just in case you’re a fellow Christian who still thinks of the EU as ‘Babylon’ or some other terrible apocalyptic demon, see my recent blog on that, here.

Gift or Reward?

ParentingSupport-1600x600So often I see links across things that seem to others to be totally unrelated. Maybe it’s the sort-of-skewed way my (unofficially autistic) brain works, like an internal synesthesia. The main way this occurs is in lessons I find myself applying from theology to politics, (or sometimes vice versa), or in seeing patterns in scientific phenomena that reflect the mind of God; the problems within quantum mechanics portray the paradoxes in scripture. Stuff like that.

What I do not see so easily is how certain politicians try to apply a verse or two of scripture to justify a political position that is at direct odds with biblical teaching. So many of the things that are held up as ‘Christian values’ are at best only selective to the detriment of ignored ones, or just plain false! Knowing full well the difficulty of trying to apply theological concepts into the complex society we occupy, not least being that the majority around us are not followers of Jesus, let me suspend that skepticism for once and offer what surely must be the most basic and fundamental principle of our Christian gospel: grace!

The gift

Pocket_Money1I was sitting watching a daytime phone-in show with my mother, who has to stay with us for a period to recover from her latest stroke. The question being asked was “should your children work for their pocket money?” The usual reasons given were that children must learn not to expect ‘something for nothing’ and be taught that work brings reward. Fine. Fair point. Then I remarked to my mother; “we didn’t have to work for our pocket money, Mum! You and Dad just gave it to us without a condition, but I remember doing a reasonable share of the chores around the house. I recall Dad throwing me a duster and saying that we should tidy the house for you coming home. I was to dust and he hoovered. I didn’t object.”

So in my childhood, I wasn’t made to work for my pocket money, but that never made me lazy or caused me to grumble about chores (well, I was a child, so I’m sure I grumbled a bit, but I never refused to do work around the house). Why was that? Did my parents not spoil me by giving me unconditional pocket money? Some friends thought I was spoilt, since I got gifts from my parents even right between my birthday and Christmas! However, they did not just give me anything I demanded; they had limits and boundaries. They were great parents, very giving and generous, but not spoiling. I learnt the value of money and of my good parents. I strive to reassure Mum now that looking after her in her old age is just repaying all the faithful years she gave me.

Heavenly parenting

That is how it is also with my heavenly Father. Mum and Dad did not raise me ‘in a faith’ in God; I discovered Jesus for myself. I knew very quickly, I recognised this ‘Good Good Father’ since he was my good parents times a million! How generous is he? The gift of eternal life, freely given, with no preconditions, for someone undeserving as me. Those of us who have experienced grace must surely grasp it! Our Father is not a pushover, he does not spoil us, he has his limits (it’s called sin!), so I know I cannot just do as I like and not displease him. Just as I felt shame when I displeased my earthly parents, so I also feel shame at sinning. No shame, no relationship, I say. But on top of that, there is the most incredible, all-encompassing, belief-busting, incredible truth of grace that all sins in my life are forgiven, without condition! My salvation is secure. What is insecure is my closeness to God: that is down to me completely since there is only one flawed member of this relationship. He desires nothing else but my fellowship with him and his presence in my life: obedience to his commands is the best way for me to maintain that.

Not by works

The single most repeated phrase within evangelicalism regarding the preaching of the gospel of Christ is that salvation is not by works:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast….

Ephesians 2:8,9…

I realised that my willingness to help out around the house (not gleefully, I’ll admit, and seldom without direction from Mum or Dad) came from a sense of responsibility, not a desire for reward. It was because I belonged to this family, where I was loved and nurtured, and provided for. It was simply borne from gratitude. My works were not to gain something as low as money, nor even my parents’ approval or love. I already had that in bucketloads! They were a response to the love…

… For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

… Ephesians 2:10

The works I do as a Christian must come from a sincere heart that simply wants to please my Father, and not even to ‘repay’ God for the gift of the Son crucified for me, since we know we can never repay that. Just as my mother does not expect any sort of ‘repayment’ for her parenting, so our Father God knows in his infinite wisdom that we mere mortals can never repay Calvary!  That is the Debtor’s Dilemma i.e. why should I think I must repay it? [which John Piper covers very well in his book Future Grace].

‘Remuneration theology’

As I pondered the debate on the TV, I realised that if I had been taught to earn my pocket money, then when Dad threw that duster my way, I would have replied “what are you paying me?” In other words; “what’s in it for me?”, and right away I saw the flaw in this ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ mentality. A society built on the sole principle of reward is not one of love, giving, volunteering, sacrifice, common cause, or altruism, but a collection of individuals all grasping for their share, asking one another “what’s in it for me?”Milton-Friedman

Seeing an old interview of Milton Friedman, one of the chief architects of the recent outing of the old heresy masquerading as ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘pure’ form of capitalism, I clearly heard this attitude in his words, as he vaunted self-interest and the desire for personal gain as the paragon of human endeavour and mocked ‘virtue’ as never having achieved anything! I truly could not think of anything less Christian than that! Not in the light of the gift of grace!

People often talk of sin being disobedience towards God. That is it in a nutshell, so when I realise that I am not forgiving and loving everyone I meet, even my enemies, I am disobeying Jesus’ direct commands. That is sin! Imperfect me fails this test over and over,… but I’m getting there. In all my dealings with those around me, whom I encounter every day in my life (and on t’internet), I have to be a living example of obedience to those amazing and compelling, yet devastatingly difficult, words Jesus spoke on that mountainside in Judaea almost 2000 years ago. If  we are to apply ‘Christian values’ to our nation, our society, to the world around us, is this not the archetype? We are to love unconditionally, as we have been. We are to forgive any wrong done to us, unlike the unforgiving servant, who was cleared of an almighty debt, yet failed the test. Believe me, I don’t want to write these words! Life would be actually easier were I to just follow the herd and agree that there are people I am perfectly entitled to hate, and join in the chorus of disapproval, and reject and dispossess them of what they have to claim for myself. But that is a false gospel; it is a direct contradiction of those awkward commands in favour of an agreed accommodation with the world that we can behave just like those who have never known the grace of God.

We cannot!

quote-there-s-nothing-in-this-world-so-sweet-as-love-and-next-to-love-the-sweetest-thing-is-henry-wadsworth-longfellow-55-68-87

In accepting that Jesus has my best interests at the forefront of his thoughts and intentions as he gives me these commands, then giving up those ingrained cultural principles, and maybe some cherished feelings of animosity towards others means that I can exchange my tiny box for his huge one, and trust it is worth it when he asks me ‘deal or no deal’!

The Christian message is not one of rewarding good behaviour, it is one of creating right behaviour in response to the gift of love.

Grace be with you.

The Shepherd’s Voice

I-actually-don-t-want-my-national-leaders-to-be-Ch

‘Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.’

– John 10:1-5

The Religious Right have not only falsified the transcript, they’ve altered the recording!

I bang on about the Religious Right a fair bit, I’ll admit. It’s all through my blogs. Chiefly because I feel I’m one of a minority within evangelicalism that recognises just how insidious and malodorous their political doctrine is, and that they are winning the cultural war for the hearts of God’s people. Jesus explained to the Pharisees in the passage above how a sheep knows it’s master’s voice – that of the shepherd, and Jesus goes on to say that he is both the gate and ‘the good shepherd’. His sheep know his voice and must listen for and follow only him; he gave us some warnings about false voices: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (Matt. 7:15).

Why is it, then, that sometimes we get distracted and listen to other voices, mistaking it for his? You think we don’t? It’s very easy, actually, when you think about it. Too often we vaunt someone as a great church pastor or leader and ascribe to them and their voice a divinity that we must follow, since we wish to look up to them and emulate their ‘holiness’ – we do not hear Jesus’ voice audibly (at least only very occasionally – I’ve only heard it once!) but we do hear others clearly. Being able to discern when a preacher is talking with the words of Christ and when not (since they are imperfect and cannot always do so), is vital for us to have a closeness to The Way and a relationship with The Life that equips us to do the discerning. How? fairly easily, actually; by reading the gospels. The words of Jesus are there in black and white (and in some bibles even highlighted in red), and if we read them and heed them, we get to know his voice, and thus we can stop ourselves listening when we hear another voice pretending to be holy. Such an occurrence was the basis for my very first blog!

If you haven’t really read through them, why not try the Sermon on the Mount for starters? From the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel to the end of the 7th, picture yourself sitting or standing on that mountainside listening to the authority that this man spoke with as he laid out his blueprint for his kingdom and how we must live in it. If you really think it through and try to apply it, it will blow your mind with its radically unnatural way of viewing things that is so against our human nature, but so divine!

So it is also with political voices! We have allowed certain pundits to make two issues the only political points that they try to tell us that Christians need to be concerned with; abortion and same-sex marriage, to the detriment of practically every other issue or manifesto pledge or ideology. And so many have arisen who pay lip service to these mantras, whether they truly believe in denouncing them or not, to get the ‘Christian vote’: They start to sound like they hold ‘Christian values’. Before you know it, you’re hanging on every word they are saying, convincing yourself that they must be Christian values too!

A Facebook Friend altered a photo I posted very easily and reposted it for me; you’d think it was an original photo but it was false. Videos can now be doctored to portray something false too; films can be made with actors long dead portrayed by CGI programming. There must be software that can alter voice recordings and make it sound like someone is saying words they never said. When I realise that some politicians are actually not even paying lip service to these great Christian political pillars that they must do to be part of the circle, yet I hear of Christians following them, thinking they are speaking as with the mind of God, that is when I know that they are not just changing the wording on a transcript but are altering Jesus’ voice to make it sound just like them!

Once you know your own bible, and read the words of Jesus over and over to yourself, then you can compare the statements of those you are asked to vote for, and know when you are hearing a reflection of his voice coming from anyone else. It’s really only a matter of ‘What would Jesus say?’Trump-Bible-620x371

Grace be with you.

21st Century Paraphrase: James 1:27 (true religion)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the rich and those who already have all they need and to keep oneself from being put off trying to emulate them by the bleeding hearts. (James 1:27 21CP)

Why I am a socialist.

The label

Right away, there’s something wrong with this blog; it’s in the title: I hate labels! I even considered changing it. A big problem that I face is that when I say “I’m a socialist” some immediately picture me as Che Guevara in camouflage with an automatic rifle (I do have the long hair and beard, but that’s as far as that stereotype goes), or they just decide that I mean that I’m a Leninist, Communist or Marxist. Each of these descriptions could be interchanged in some settings but they are not all the same thing. Just as I have realised that a few billion people use the label ‘Christian’, from gun-toting KKK members to Universalists, and I know what I mean when I use that word (though I prefer ‘Jesus follower’ to distinguish it), so I also know what I mean when I say that I’m a socialist, and no stereotyping or preconceptions anyone else has will affect that. One thing I have learnt is that politics, and economics, like theology, are all very complex. So I’ll try to simplify things and define where I am at.

che-guevara-face-b-w-art-poster-print

Maybe if I coloured the beard blue…?

 

Firstly, I am a democratic socialist. Outside of democracy, any attempt to create a socialist utopia will fail miserably, since the will of the people must be paramount; the very basis of socialist philosophy is that all are born equal, and each human being has a right to life and liberty. Once you step beyond the bounds of democratic control, it is only inevitable that these basic rights will be undermined. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the memorable saying goes.

Stereotypes abound in all perceptions, and for socialists like me, that includes people believing that I just must subscribe to particular things, like atheism and being pro-choice. I get this from both sides, yet when I was younger and attended meetings of the Socialist Workers Party, I met others who were also religious and pro-life; almost all of the party attendees were Roman Catholic, since in Northern Ireland, a protestant is just not allowed to be left-wing (search me where that came from, and I’ll not theorise here), so they had an ingrained belief in the unborn’s right to life. Those within the party who were ‘fully paid-up’ socialists and could not even see the pro-life argument, were almost wanting to expel us from meetings for not being ‘proper’ socialists. Yeah, we’re all equal and all entitled to an opinion, but it must follow ‘the party line’ – the irony!! My political beliefs, like my theology, have many facets, but were I to plot a Venn diagram of them, my circle would lie very much over the ‘socialist’ area.

The problem

Politics is about power, when you break it down, and in whom power is vested. Money equals power, so it is safe to say that a lot of political wrangling is about just where the cash flows to. Those who have plenty of money already have power, and as we know, this can be a corrupting influence. Our modern politics were birthed in events like Magna Carta, where English nobles had suffered enough under King John, who was demanding more tributes and taxes from them to fund his desire for more wars to gain more land and power. They made him sign their bill of demands, God-appointed King or not! The rights enshrined in Magna Carta were originally for the knights and landed gentry, but such rights have filtered down through history to the rest of us commoners. Other similar documents followed, like the British Bill of Rights in 1689, which shifted power more securely into the hands of parliament from royalty, and the US Constitution was a similar attempt to establish rights of those who had subsequently rebelled against the excesses of that British parliament. And so it goes on…

Now, in 2016, practically everyone sees a broken political system in the majority of the Western world. Many commentators try to apportion blame in various sectors, and in the melee, I find myself agreeing with those of very different persuasions, particularly some Libertarians. This is because they hold the same basic belief that we are all born equal and have a right to life and liberty; we agree that there’s a lot wrong in our political system and seek to change it. Where we differ is in the method.

For me, the best way to define right-wing v. left-wing (and which has always been the definition!) is that right-wing philosophers have a belief in the right of ascension i.e. that those who are able to ascend to a higher status have shown their ‘right’ to enjoy that place of privilege, while left-wing philosophers believe in the right of anyone who contributes to society to be given an equal right to share in the rewards and profits within that society. Where there has been an imbalance of wealth, we have often seen revolutions hellbent on redistribution, and this only gives left-wing rhetoric the label of ‘theft’ since it seeks to take wealth from those who already have it. The problem is that when you have individuals who do work hard and are not remunerated properly, it is only human nature to feel aggrieved and to seek ‘justice’ – if wealth was properly distributed in the first place, there would be no need for redistribution! We all know (those of us who have not stuck our heads in the sand) just how much money is going to the tiny 0.0000008% of the world population. This has just become the latest record figure; we are seeing records on the wealth imbalance broken year after year, and it just has to stop; latest figures here.

However, some politicians have a twisted agenda to present a different view of politics; chiefly that either…

a): right-wing thinking is about ‘less government’ and more for the individual’s liberty, while left-wing thinking is about government control and the diminishing of the individual, and the promotion of the importance of ‘the state’ – this does sum up non-democratic Marxism/ Communism since it views democracy as a corruptible thing and that a totalitarian regime is required to ‘protect’ the state from being undermined. or…

b): both left-wing and right-wing thinking are the same thing, and removing government regulations is about getting beyond this to a pure utopia where everyone is free to pursue their own dreams/ ambitions/ aspirations.

This leads to some crazy ideas, like how Fascism is left-wing, since Fascists seek to appropriate government (unelected if possible) to strengthen their control of the cash flow! Who else would propose this but right-wing nationalists who want to distance themselves from what we saw develop in Europe between the wars, but right-wing beliefs, if taken to an extreme, end up in this place of utter belief in the ‘rightness’ of your own national cause and the place of your established elite, against the ‘wrongness’ of anything else that challenges that, from within or without. Let us note that the political prisoners who were in the German concentration camps alongside the Jews were the Communists, not the Capitalists! Socialism is, I will admit, much more international than nationalistic, since we believe in the value of all workers. Hence why I detest the name ‘National Socialism’ (Nazism) – it’s an oxymoron.

These views are gaining ground in the USA, where there is a vast subculture of mistrust of any government; it is a nation borne from revolution against a government, so that’s no surprise, but I wonder how a nation that managed to set up its own government democratically could end up being consistently mistrustful of what is constituted from their own candidates and votes – a huge debate, especially since we are heading that way too in the UK.

I only recently discovered that there’s a saying in France: “only right-wingers believe that right-wing and left-wing are the same!” Such misrepresentations are done by those in power to garner votes and to make you think that they believe in the same values you do, and this is the hub of my argument here…

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Party positions are fairly fluid depending on the membership but this is a basic diagram of where they are ‘meant’ to be! I would place the newer ‘neoconservatives’ (or Thatcherites) about an inch to the right of UKIP.

When we look at the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008, we all come to one conclusion: it was the bankers! This happened before (as I’ve blogged on), in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the first Great Depression in the 30s. Our grandparents mistrusted banks then, so why do we still trust them now? “How was this allowed to happen?” is an oft-heard question. The answer is simple: our governments deregulated the financial market and opened up the possibility for greed to go off the scale for an elite few, who naturally succumbed to the temptation. As a Christian, I do believe in the fallen nature of man, so I am never surprised when such things overtake educated and smart people and cause them to lose all sense of proportion: for them, making another two billion just would not do when there was a possibility to make three!

The credit crunch happened because of greed, and it was allowed to happen. We all know that government regulation was not to blame; it was the lack of regulation, and this is what the ‘free market’ exponents wanted all along – they tell you it’s about ‘individual freedom’ but it actually means that power shifts from government to individuals, and since money is power, it is the wealthy who gain! [If you want to know about where free market ideology came from, I blogged on this three years ago here].

The bottom line

This is what socialist philosophy is about: we recognise that power is vested in too few individuals in ‘natural’ society and believe that to achieve a more egalitarian (equality-based) society, our governments, elected from us, by us, and for us [nod of deference to you, Mr. Lincoln] must enact laws that grant more power to the disempowered, the poorer parts of society, who have little capital but provide their labour i.e. the democratic majority of us, that allow us all to share in the fruits of production. Such regulations redress the imbalance and provide a better, happier and more stable society that is less likely to rise up in revolution and behead the ruling class! Free market proponents can deny the existence of society all they want, until it does come back to bite them at the end of a gun barrel. Since I am a democratic socialist, this is the last thing I want! The ‘natural’ society that the free marketeers wish for is natural, but that means it’s either Darwinian (if that’s your scientific basis) or sinful (if you believe in a religious view of a righteous god). I know that I am a tiny krill in the vast ocean of the world’s finances, so I’d rather not be eaten by the whales, thank you very much! I want my elected government to be there to fight for me and everyone else like me, in the same great tradition of Magna Carta.

Our steel market is facing layoffs and shutting down of production. The excuse is made that “this is the will of the market” as if ‘the market’ was some all-powerful deity who ruled according to their own thinking! Somehow China is able to produce steel at a much lower price and are beating the rest of the market hands down; c’est la vie! However, China does not believe in a free market, and have heavily subsidised their steel production with government funds! Xi Jinping is making an economic attack on our industry, and the free marketeers in charge here are agreeing to what is happening due to their blind devotion to their false god: to protect our industries would be a capitulation to that horrible policy that is derogatorily called ‘protectionism’ – nice to know that should I wish to act in the interests of those close to me I could be labeled a ‘protectionist’! In order for ‘the free market’ to work for everyone (if that was ever possible), it would require, before anything else, every country in the world to subscribe to it! And they say that we are the dreamers!?winston-churchill-democrasy

So often I hear people say “socialism failed! Look at the collapse of the Soviet Union!” Yes, that particular form of socialism (non-democratic Communism!) did fail, and there is no system of government that is perfect; each brings its own problems along with its solutions. Surely the last 30+ years of free-market experimentation has also shown it has failed!

Socialism believes in society, and that the answer to one of the oldest questions is “yes, Cain, you are your brother’s keeper!” Hence why so many neoconservatives wish to make us believe that ‘society’ is only a myth. Sorry, but I have eyes in my head, and behind them a reasonably functioning brain! We have had the pursuit of the freeing of the market from regulation for a few decades now, and it has been so insidious in pervading political thinking that former socialists were caught up in the new religion. It was making the working majority impoverished anyway with the upward flow of money, the stagnation of wages and the ridiculous hikes in property prices, but 2008 just killed off any last vestige of hope that it might ‘turn out better in the end’ – yet what do we have now? George Osborne telling us that we need to undergo a bit more austerity, a bit more hardship and pain, just so we can get through this to the land of milk and honey! I don’t see you suffering that much, George!

This is not homeopathy! We don’t cure the ills with even more ills! We4b00b-da turn around and go back to the crossroads where we took that wrong turn and we choose a different path. If at all possible, we find that path we were already on, which created the greatest rise in living standards ever and fantastic achievements like the NHS! We do not allow them to dismantle the remnants so there will be no going back, for that is their wish and desire, believe me!

Anyone who reads my blogs will know that I believe passionately in separation of church and state, but I do accept that Christian standards have to be applied to my political aspirations and must influence what I seek from my government. [I understand that varying political views can exist within the body of Christ, but each believer must be informed and must be able to square their stance with scripture]. Reading my Bible, I see clearly just how much greed is condemned, and believe that it should be curbed; I hear my Lord give one of his clearest commands ever when he said “pay your taxes!” and I know that:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27

Orphans and widows were the lowest financially in the ancient world, so for me, welfare being provided by the state is a fulfilment of a guiding biblical principle!

I choose to vote for those who champion the lower parts of society, not the higher! I know that now includes practically everybody who might read this, since the current incumbents in Westminster (and Capitol Hill) only serve the top 0.1%!2016-01-12 02.01.07

Too many believe the right-wing media and their attempts to redefine my political beliefs into falsehoods, like the idea that socialism is about rewarding laziness and penalising hard work: nothing could be further from the truth!

Capitalism vests value in capital and property, and thus rewards those who have it. Socialism vests value in labour, and rewards those who produce it!

Grace be with you.

 

Poor Reactions

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“All reactionaries are paper tigers.” – Mao Zedong

Despite my well-known political left-leanings, I am certainly not a fan of Chairman Mao, the founder and despotic leader of Communist China. However, he was capable of some philosophical insights. His ‘Little Red Book’ was a bestseller, but then again, when almost a billion people had it forced into their hands, I have to rethink my efforts to get my own book published!

The quote above was one that intrigued me from an early age; I wondered what he meant by it. What is a reactionary, and what is a paper tiger? As I matured I began to grasp it. A paper tiger is exactly what it says;  a tiger constructed from paper, which may look ferocious but has no substance. The dancing creations we see at Chinese festivals (which are usually lions, but sometimes represent tigers) come from a practical application of the craft of constructing the colourful costumes. When a lion or tiger threatened the people or livestock of a village, they would make one of these large dummies to parade around (with accompanying noise from drums and cymbals) for the creature to see, to fool it into thinking that there was a much bigger and fiercer rival in that area and force it to move elsewhere.

But what exactly is a reactionary? Someone who is only reacting to something they are presented with that they inherently do not wish to agree with nor accede to. I have come to realise that this exists in all of us, and it surfaces especially when one engages in political or theological debate. We always like to decamp to opposing sides of arguments, and generalise everything into liberal v. conservative,Screenshot 2015-11-17 15.33.36
socialist v. capitalist, left v. right, when those of us who try to analyse arguments realise that things are seldom simply two-sided. It would seem to be human nature – it is the foundation of sport, and the most popular forms of spectator sports would appear to be head-to-head battles between two individuals or two teams. This may well be the reason we cannot deal so easily with the crisis in Syria since there are WAY more than two sides involved – here’s a good video that tries to simplify it.

andy-vladimir-gorsky-loganfineartsdotcomReactionaries have become far more common in the modern world with social media! Even Andy Warhol, with his famous quip that “one day everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” could not have envisaged the 21st century where every single one of us with an account on twitter, Facebook, disqus, tumblr, instagram, etc., etc. could claim the stage, grab the mike and express to the world our sudden opinion. Gone are the grand old days of news coverage when the BBC would seek out a university professor who had been given the time to examine an event and offer his expert analysis of what had been going on in some corner of the world. No, now it has to be as instant as the coffee granules in your cup. As soon as the hot water is poured, an aroma of news must reach our nostrils, and so everyone has to weigh in with their own favourite coffee bean blend or brand name.

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This week’s news from Paris has been a prime example of the circus that we all create when tragedy strikes and tempers flare. I myself might see (or perceive) a position someone is taking that I cannot sanction or silently ignore, so I add in a commentary or video that destroys their position, then somebody else offers a good argument that exposes flaws in the arguments or points in my own ‘statement’ – each one can be argued against with a smugness that ‘we’ are being smart about it and ‘they’ are unprincipled imbeciles! This is exactly what Mao meant! Extreme positions can be brought down by simple counter-arguments, when in fact, truth usually lies somewhere in the middle; in the very difficult ground (or the painful fence!) that requires information,  knowledge, thought, reason, consideration, debate, speculation, theory, analysis… conclusion? Why bother with all that when a good ‘up yours’ stance will do? When we simply assent to be reactionaries by continuing such behaviour, we have no substance, except to stand at the side of a pitch and just hope our team wins the match, and of course, argue that the referee was biased if we lose. Reactionaries are just spectators with no real influence on the outcome. Let us be the game players! Be those who are able to make careful analyses of the game we all play on this globe, devise a strategy that will win, and convince others of it’s ‘winning formula’. The rhetoric of the reactionary is just a paper exercise, and anyone with a match can turn it to ashes.

mao_zedong_largeOf course, Chairman Mao missed the irony in his own statement, seeing reactionaries as those who opposed his regime, but failing to recognise how his own politics were just the revolutionary reaction to the evils that went before, and he descended into his own evils, borne from his extreme stance. I always find myself calling for balance in all things. Does that mean I’m arguing for Centrist politics? No, I actually find Centrism just too wishy-washy, but I do believe that the most effective and lasting forms of government are ones where opposing points of view can fight from their own corner while being able to compromise on certain points – that leads to stronger positions for everyone. It does require a belief in something, though! A solid base from which to argue; a soap box on which one can say “this is what I believe”, not “I’m against this…” Our politicians in Northern Ireland are notorious for saying ‘no’ far more often than they say ‘yes’!christ-on-the-cross1

Me? I believe in Jesus!

That should affect everything else I say and do.

Grace be with you.