Tag Archives: christianity

Review of “God is Red” by Liao Yiwu

The “mythic past” of China in the 20th century probably looks something like this:

  • Weakness & Chaos (fall of the Qing, Revolution and Civil Wars, Whampoa, Yenan, Song Dynasty, Invasion by Japan)
  • The New China of 1949
  • Peaceful and Orderly mid-1950s
  • Disaster of Great Leap Forward
  • Peaceful and Orderly early and mid 1960s
  • Disaster of Cultural Revolution
  • Economic reform & prosperity

References to foreigners in this mythic past are pretty scarce. Unlike the anti-Western years of the Cultural Revolution, it’s probably fair to say that foreigners play as much a part of the Mythic Past of 20th Century China as they do in the Mythic Past of 20th Century America: Russians are sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, Europe’s weak, troublesome, and far away, sporadoc wars with Pacific neighbors. Foreigners are not an essential part of the mythic story of China, and more than they are an essential part of the mythic story of 20th century America.

Liao Yiwu decided to change that.

God is Red is a history of Christianity in 20th century China, told through interviews. The book proceeds chronologically, so while the first interviews are about old people who are persecuted by the Communists in 1949, the latest are about youngsters in our own day. The book appears to be written with the intended audience of young, literate, middle-class Chinese, and from a Chinese perspective is as much an introduction to the horrors of Communist oppression as to Christianity in China.

Liao is not himself a Christian, though he is clearly sympathetic to Christians and hostile to the Communist Party. The most moving part of the book for me was the interview of a blind musician, who lost his site as a small child, had it recovered through eye-drops given to him by a Missionary doctor, and then lost it again when the Communists expelled the Missionaries. (The man’s parents, poor farmers, never thought to ask what was in the eye-drops until it was too late.) The epilogue of the chapter reveals the sight-giving eye-drops, which the man lost access to because of the Communists, almost certainly contained fish oil. Multiple this loss by expulsion of all foreign charities and western investment in China in the years following 1949, and the backwardness that Communist rule doomed China to is staggering.

Because the book is told in the words of Chinese Christians, young and old, God is Red is an excellent example of martyrology. Indeed, the Chinese Communist Party is one reason why more Christians have been martyred in the last century than in the first three centuries combined. Yet, God is Red also blows up the “mythic” history of China, emphasizing the amazing contact with the west that was rapidly liberalizing and modernizing China, until aborted by Mao Zedong and others. The Mythic Past of China doesn’t have to be just an amalgamation of KMT and Communist party history. The works of Christians, including foreigners, can be a part of it, too.

Liao Yiwu was already a well-known Chinese liberal before writing God is Red. In the book, Liao talks about his friend Nobel-Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo and the banned Charter ’08. This past September, Liao walked out of China, as Liu serves an 11-year prison sentence. An article based on the book appears in the Huffington Post.

I received God is Red as a gift from Catholicgauze. I read it on my Kindle.

Christianity is Older than Judaism

Christianity is Older than Judaism

This meme has been making the rounds again, that Americans are ignorant yokels for thinking that Christianity is older than Judaism. But as is often the case with debunkeres, the debunkers are more arrogant and just as unknowledgable as the debunkee, as a great argument can be made that Christianity is, in fact, older than Judaism.

Both Christianity and Judaism are based largely on religio-legal corpora, which are called “Testaments” in Christianity and “Torahs” in Judaism. In Christnaity these corpora are the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.” Both in their ages of composition and their internal chronology, they are seperated by the Roman occupation of Palestine — the Old takes place beforfe, the New takes place during. In Judaism these corpora are the “Written Torah” and the “Oral Torah.” While both works claim to be the same age (given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai), the Oral Torah clearly contains elements from Semetic pre-history while others date it to between the Destruction of the Temple and the middle-Dark Ages.

In other words, Christianity as a religion based on Two Testaments appears to have coalescened somewhere around AD 100. Judaism as a religion based on Two Torahs appears to have coalescend somewhere around AD 600. Christianity is half a millenium older than Judaism.

Both Christianity and Judaism are descended from an ancient religion, often called “Temple Judaism,” like early Christianity (but not like Judaism) was centered around a priesthood that controlled the teaching authority of the faith.

It is often said that most Jewish communities that existed immediately before the chrnologicla beginning of the New Testament became Christian communities. A very small number converted to Judaism instead, several centuries later.

WALL-E, Christianity, and Kubrick

Lady of tdaxp and I have been watching Stanley Kubrick films recently, adding Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Full Metal Jacket to our joint list of Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange. We also enjoyed WALL-E. So I was delighted by Adam’s excellent analysis of WALL-E, in light of both Kubrick and Christianity:

The Metropolis Times: WALL-E: A Christian Dystopia
“We’re not engaging in relationships, which are the point of living—relationship with God and relationship with other people.”
– WALL-E director Andrew Stanton

WALL-E’s parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey go beyond the blinking red light and ‘Also sprach Zarathustra.’ It shares its visual and geographic structure and its central, somewhat Nietzschian, theme with Kubrick’s masterpiece. However, it goes to a place where Kubrick never could – by featuring the most touching love story captured on film in many, many years.

Read the whole thing.

New Book on Jesus, Diocletian, 4GW, and COIN

D.M. was kind enough to join the hype-cycle for my new book, which will soon be followed on by a published version of the “John Boyd Roundtable,” edited by Mark Safranski of ZenPundit fame.

Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity

I wrote Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity: 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) Against the Roman Empire, and the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Campaign to Save It to help explain the persecution experienced by the early Christians in light of strategic theory. I believe that Romans, who martyred so many Christians, were not foolish or stupid. I think they knew what they were doing: they understood that if the Christianity triumphed, the world they knew and loved would be turned upside down.

The Romans acted according to the same basic rules that guided the Nazi fight against la Résistance in France… and the American fight against al Qaeda in Iraq.

I hope my book will be useful to those who want to begin learning about modern strategy, and for people who wish to know a little more about the rise of Christianity. From Joseph Caiaphas to the Prophet Muhammed, I describe the early enemies of Christianity as wise fighters who used strategies that now have buzzwords for names (COIN, xGW, and so on), but whose use goes back to the dawn of time.

Martyrdom in Colorado

Speaking of hate crimes“…

The man who shot up a training center for missionaries and a church in suburban Denver, killing four people and wounding a number of others, has been identified:

A law enforcement official says the deadly rampages at a megachurch and a missionary training school were believed to have been carried out by the same person—Matthew Murray, a 24-year-old suburban Denver man who “hated Christians.”

It is perhaps worth noting that the toll in Sunday’s shootings exceeded the combined total in all “hate crimes” against Muslims in the six years since September 11.

The heroine who stopped the anti-Christian was from Sioux Falls.

Largest Bible Publisher in the World is in China

Macartney, J. (2007). The book they used to burn now fires new revolution of faith in China. Times Online. December 8, 2007. Available online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3019026.ece.

Amity Printing, which has a monopoly on legal printing of the Bible in China, is expanding its facilities to keep up with increased purchases:

Demand for the Bible is soaring in China, at a time when meteoric economic growth is testing the country’s allegiance to Communist doctrine. Today the 50 millionth Bible will roll off the presses of China’s only authorised publisher, Amity Printing, amid public fanfare and celebration.

In the past, foreign visitors were discouraged from bringing Bibles into the country in case they received some heavy-handed treatment from zealous Customs officials.

Such is the demand in China for Bibles that Amity Printing can scarcely keep pace. Early next year it will move into a new, much larger factory on the edge of the eastern city of Nanjing to become the world’s single-biggest producer of Bibles.

Most Bibles are for the internal domestic marketing, and are printed both in Chinese characters and minority languages. The hottest selling bibles are small-print, and thus target young adults

New Zealander Peter Dean, of the United Bible Societies, bustles between the humming state-of-the-art presses. Mr Dean, who has been in China at Amity since 1991, said: “This platform has been built as a blessing to the nation. It will print Bibles for China for as long as it takes to do it.” Authorities at the officially approved Protestant and Catholic churches put the size of China’s Christian population at about 30 million. But that does not include the tens of millions more who worship in private at underground churches loyal to the Vatican or to various Protestant churches.

Of the 50 million Bibles Amity has printed, 41 million were for the faithful in Chinese and eight minority languages. The rest have been for export to Russia and Africa. Sales surged from 505,000 in 1988 to a high of 6.5 million in 2005. Output last year was 3.5 million and is expected to rise in 2007.

One of Mr Dean’s bestsellers is a pocket Bible, a version not suitable for the older generation to read and which may indicate a rapid expansion in the number of new, younger believers. He cited a surge in demand during the Sars crisis in 2003, but refrained from commenting. The enterprise has clearly flourished through its discretion and careful adherence to China’s laws that prohibit evangelizing.

Religious freedom is still lacking in China, and the rest of the article describes some of the obstacles Christians face in the country. Yet a paragrpah later in the article provides hope for the faith, too:

Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul. In addition, they are seeing a breakdown in the moral order as money takes over. Thus, more and more people are turning to Christianity.”

Christianity is old in China — one of the patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East (Mar Yaballaha III) was even a Beijinger. Yet for the first time, Chinese christians can easily communicate with the rest of the faith, and the Chinese people are no longer forced between emperor worship and local superstitions.

If the 21st century becomes a Christian Century, a big part of the reason why will be because of China.

Review of "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark

I read The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Become the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries based on the recommendations from blog friends. I am not disappointed. Rise is an excellent sociological history of the first Christian centuries, beginning roughly with the martyrdoms of James, Paul, and Peter and ending with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. A must read for those interested in rising religious movements in general, Stark’s brilliant application of “rational choice” economics to the field of religion is a must-read.


The Reform Judaism of the 1st Century

Rodney Stark is a rational-choice sociologist, who views belonging as a good that people attempt to maximize. Belonging-providers can either be public or private. Examples of private providers are magicians, wizards, heelers, and pagan cults, while public providers tend to demand exclusive committment and accept some degree of alienation from society. Most of Rise of Christianity is an extremely readible exploration of this delving into many aspects of city life.

I first heard of The Rise of Christianity after a commentator noted its similarity with my blog series, Jesusism-Paulism. Because this has been mentioned before, I will now address how his 1997 book relates to 2000s series.The similar is clear, and the posts that overlap most with Stark’s book (in particular, “Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You,” “Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better,” and “the Fall of Rome“) clearly share a similar orientation, though Stark’s methods and focus are different. As Rise ends with Constantine, the claims of my last two posts, “The People of the Book” and “Embrace and Extend,” are not addressed at all. Finally, while both Dr. Stark and I view women as vital to the success of Christianity, my focus on harmonious deconfliction contrasts with his more feminist interpretation.

The Rise of Christianity is an excellent book. Strongly recommended.

Christian Intellectual Death Squads

As a Catholic, I view the Protestant churches as essentially loyalty militias, forces that by-and-large assist the Christian correlation-of-forces but nonetheless escape any accountability from the earthly hierarchy. Thus, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) is to the Holy See as the Badr Brigades are to the Republic of Iraq.

However, in this model there should be another category — death squads — of those who might be classified as loyalty militia except that the blowback from them is roughly as bad as the good they do. Death squads differ from other actors in that they are ideologically motivated and focus on the same concepts as the larger insurgency.

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The Seen and the Unseen

The most visible Christian ideological death squad is Islam, for obvious reasons. However, evangelical secularism or Ultracavlisnism, may form a Christian intellectual death-squad as well. Unqualified Reservations has more, courtesy of gnxp:

The “ultracalvinist hypothesis” is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called “progressive,” “multiculturalist,” “universalist,” “liberal,” “politically correct,” etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.

Specifically, ultracalvinism (which I have also described here and here) is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US’s victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.

In fact, they are so unusual that most people don’t see ultracalvinism as Christian at all. For example, on the theological side, ultracalvinism is best known as Unitarian Universalism. (It’s an interesting exercise to try to find any conflicts between UUism and “political correctness.”) Ultracalvinists are perfectly free to be atheists, or believe in any God or gods – as long as they don’t adhere to any revealed tradition, which would make them “fundamentalists.” In general, ultracalvinists oppose revelation and consider their beliefs to be pure products of reason. And perhaps they are right in this – but I feel the claim should at least be investigated.

And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:

First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. (“All men and women are born equal.”) If we wanted to attach an “ism” to this, we could call it fraternalism.

Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. (“Violence only causes more violence.”) This is well-known as pacifism.

Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.

Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. (“Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.”) After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.

In fact, the four points are very common and easily recognizable tenets of Protestant Christianity, specifically in its Calvinist or Puritan strain. You can find them all over the place in the New Testament, and any subject of Oliver Cromwell’s saintly republic would have recognized them instantly. Rawlsianism is definitely the last of the four to develop, but even it is very common in the 17th century, when its adherents were known as Diggers – a name that, not surprisingly, was later reused. Ultracalvinism fits quite neatly in the English Dissenter and low church tradition. (Note the blatant POV of the latter page, with loaded words like “reform,” a good indication that Wikipedians incline to ultracalvinism.)

Ultracalvinism’s camouflage mechanism is easy to understand. If you are an ultracalvinist, you must dispute the claim that the four points are actually Christian, because you believe in them, and you believe they are justified by reason rather than faith. Therefore they are universal and no one can doubt them, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew.

What are the adaptive advantages of crypto-Christianity? Why did those Unitarians, or even “scientific socialists,” who downplayed their Christian roots, outcompete their peers?

Well, I think it’s pretty obvious, really. The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity.

As I’ve said before, separation of church and state is a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. What you really need is separation of information and security. If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer. Game over, you lose, and it serves you right for vaccinating against a nonfunctional surface protein.

Several intellegent and well spoken atheists, including Adam of The Metropolis Times, frequent this blog. I would love to hear their opinion

A Catholic Exchangeon the Death Penalty

I am a big fan of Mark Shea. I read his blog regularly, and yesterday I finished listening to every episode of his podcast, Rock Solid. I’m also proud to say that he reads tdaxp. A bit ago we talked about my analysis of early Christianity as a political movement, and we agreed that because grace perfects nature, the rise of Christianity is an appropriate subject for scientific study.

However, Mark is less enthusiastic about my recent post on Mike Nifong, the disbarred prosecutor who knowingly, falsely accused three youths of rape. He writes:

Blog Entries Like This Are Why I am *So* Glad We Do Not Live in a Pure Democracy

The blogosphere is a daily reminder of the sinister moody mercurial power of the bloodthirsty mob.

Specifically, Mark objects to my contention that, had the laws allowed, Mike Nifong should be executed by the State of North Carolina. Or more generally, what is the appropriate Catholic view of the death penalty?

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The answer: Catholics should support the use of the death penalty to the extent that it reduces crime. Christians not only may, but must, advocate the use of lethal punishment by the State.

Many Christians are bothered by the State’s penal apparatus. We pray to Our Father in Heaven that He “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” And certainly we should forgive: not just those who ask for it, and not just those who deserve it, but especially forgive those who do not seek and do not deserve forgiveness.

This shouldn’t keep the State from killing them.

It is prideful to confuse yourself with the State, but many Christians do just that when they confuse individual forgiveness with State clemency. We cause no harm when we forgive, aside from the odd Jonah perturbed by grace. But the State causes great harm when it releases criminals: it sacrifices the health, safety, and lives of innocents to criminals.

A prideful Christian, who forces the State to release a criminal because he has confused himself and the State, is condemning an innocent and releasing a criminal out of a misplaced feeling of self-righteousness. The prideful Christian who sacrifices the innocent out of concern for the guilty answers Pilate’s question, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” the same way the question was answered two thousand years ago.

This is why the Bible (Romans 13:1-7) supports capital punishment.

Now that capital punishment is supported, the next question is: should Mike Nifong be executed, if the laws would allow such a thing? The answer is yes. Corrupt officials are a particularly odious form of criminal, because they use the machinery and offices of the State to do their evil. Nifong attempted to condemn innocent youths into decades of captivity, rape, and misery, bankrupt their family, and inflame divisions in the community, and while ordering the police to do his bidding.

If the laws would allow Mike Nifong to be executed, Christians must ask themselves: Do we prefer to condemn guilty men or innocent men? Are we as grand as the State?

Sin (Guilty, Yes) and virtue (Innocent, No) give different answers to this question.