Nihilism…

community 1

Readers of this blog will know that I am not one of those people who bemoan the passing of some kind of golden moral Christian age, when all was in its godly place.

Neither do I believe that our churches are the last repository of goodness within our sinful planet- the last means of the planets salvation.

But just sometimes, the zeitgeist gets me down;

The feeling that the beautiful creature, made a little lower than the angels, is busy shopping.

Is busy watching TV, obsessing about royal babies, caught up in rolling news bulletins showing the same clips of disasters in photogenic parts of the world.

Is concerned only with the next car, the next orgasm, the next holiday.

And I start to wonder again about the old Evangelical cliche about a God-shaped hole in the middle of us all.

I was thinking about this word recently;

ni·hil·ism  (n-lzm, n-)

n.

1. Philosophy

a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.
And it took me back the Matthew chapter 5- The words of Jesus that have been known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. All those words about finding a better way of living, characterised by love, service, justice, peacemaking.
And in a moment of bleakness (you have been warned) I wrote this;

Nihilist creed

 

Blessed are the neurotic

But skin them under a cold cloak of positivity

For who wants to see their damaged flesh?

 

Blessed are those who have loved and lost

For this life has few survivors

We will all too soon be dust

 

Blessed are the kind, the shy, the meek

Though their fortune fails and their labours are ignored

While the go-getters steal away the earth

 

Blessed are the God-botherers, the long-skirt-wearers, those frozen-chosen

Let them gather in their holy huddles, to ward off

The must and draft of their empty buildings

 

Blessed may be the charitable, but beware

For friends offering favours will always want something in return

And their helping hands only serve to show the weakness of your own

 

Blessed are those with no dirty secrets, with nothing to keep out the light

Let them shine for a while because we are watching and waiting

Nothing falls further than a second rate saint

 

Blessed are the community-makers, village hall re-painters, singers of the songs of peace

But Rome did not rise without war

So let them march and wave their banners while we sharpen our steel

 

Blessed are those who still have something to believe in

Fools that they are

For we will construct meaning only from what we can buy and sell

 

There is nothing more

Interviews with Jesus…

I liked this series of ‘interviews’ with Jesus- a simple and rather old fashioned didactic vehicle, but very well written- direct and controversial whilst full of love and fun- rather like the man himself. Thanks to Chris Howson for pointing them out.

They are recorded in Spanish, but the English transcripts are available.

The producers of these narratives are a brother and sister- María and José Ignacio López Vigil, based in Ecuador and Nicaragua, and clearly come from a perspective influenced strongly by Liberation Theology, and engagement with justice issues in South America.

I am thinking of trying to use some of them here…

Here is one typically challenging example.

RACHEL The microphones of Emisoras Latinas are still here on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Before us we have a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee, and with us again, in an exclusive interview, is Jesus Christ. In an earlier segment, Jesus, you referred to the second part of the historic discourse you gave on this mountain. What did you speak of in that second part?

JESUS Well, first of all I blessed the poor people and congratulated them.

RACHEL And after that?

JESUS After that I cursed the rich people.

RACHEL You… cursed?

JESUS Yes, I cursed the rich people.

RACHEL Can you repeat your words for us?

JESUS I said it then, and I say it now Woe to you who are rich, who are well-fed, because you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh and make fun of the poor, because very soon you will weep and cry out when God empties your coffers, when God rips off your clothes and your jewelry and leaves you without bread and without money to buy anything, just as you did with your workers!

RACHEL Those are very hard words.

JESUS Much harder is the heart of stone of people who don’t want to share.

RACHEL Perhaps there are people listening to us now who are wealthy but also generous – people of humble spirit. Would you curse them also?

JESUS Once a rich young man with a good heart wanted to join our band. He wanted to put his hand on the plow of God’s Kingdom.

RACHEL And what did you tell him?

JESUS You have to choose either God or money. If you want to join us, first share out your wealth among the poor.

RACHEL If those were the conditions… I don’t think many rich people would have taken part in your movement.

JESUS A few understood, but the truth is that in those days, as in these, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

RACHEL Your message doesn’t sound politically correct. Don’t you feel it’s too radical?

JESUS Radical, yes. We took the axe to the root, because the root was rotten.

RACHEL They have always taught me that you were meek and humble of heart, but now I find you a little … how to say it? … a little intolerant.

JESUS God does not tolerate injustice, Rachel. In the end God will not ask us about rites or prayers, God won’t ask us about fasting and temples. We will be examined only regarding our justice, and God will be relentless with those who are unjust.

RACHEL You’re quite stirred up …

JESUS Didn’t you ask me to recall what I said on this mountain?

RACHEL Even so, could we close off our program by restating that your message is really a message of peace?

JESUS God’s message is fire upon the earth, and I can’t wait till it’s blazing! Listen, Rachel, if every morning of your life you don’t earnestly desire for there to be an end to wars, violence, lies, envy, power-mongering, then you’ll never understand my message.

RACHEL Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JESUS Look toward the horizon, Rachel. In these very days in which you’re living, I see signs in the heaven that announce a storm coming. Let those who have eyes to see observe the signs, and let those who have ears to hear listen to what’s going on.

RACHEL We are talking with Jesus Christ in his second coming to our modern world, which is ever more unequal – and therefore ever more violent. The Mount of the Beatitudes, Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas.

MUSIC

ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.

The universal declaration of human rights, and Jesus…

udhr_colour

On December 10, 1948 (60 years ago today) the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This incredible document was written as a response to the horrors of the second world war, and brought the hope of a

Eleanor Roosevelt with a Spanish Language version of the UNDHR, 1949

Eleanor Roosevelt with a Spanish Language version of the UNDHR, 1949

council of nations who would regulate the governance of the people of the world by a new, commonly agreed yardstick.

I have heard and read several discussions about whether this document has really made any difference to the people of the world. After all, the imperative to support and to enforce it remains the prerogative of the superpower of the age- and at present, we have only one- the United States of America.

For the past 60 years, the tradition of convenient alliances and an acceptance of all sorts of injustices for the sake of political expediency has continued in a way that seems indistinguishable from the preceding 60 years.

And even if the world was willing to unite behind a military solution to uprooting a despotic regime- and after all there are still plenty of these around, even if only a few ever make the media front pages- do we think that violence is the answer?

Does violence not only ever bring legitimacy to more violence?

And then, of course, the lawyers get involved. The UN declaration found it’s place alongside other other national and federated law- the European Convention on Human Rights for example. A huge machinery of sophistry was the inevitable, if necessary, outcome.

So, is this anniversary to be celebrated?

outlawed_guantanamo

One discussion I listened to brought me up sharp. A commentator said something like this;sermon-on-the-mount

…of course, the declaration is a bit like the sermon on the mount- it is aspirational. No-one ever expects that it will work in the real world.

Of course, I beg to differ on the sermon on the mount.

I think the words that Jesus left us with from Matthew 5 are far more than aspirational, they define for humanity the very best of what we are, and could ever be. They set a direction of travel and a yearning for better things. And they start from a heart to heart connection with something blessed and eternal. Something undefinably GOOD.

And in that moment a Kingdom like no other finds it’s foundations.

Of course, we fail. And the systems that try to organise a response to these words in the form of church and state- well they fail too.

They fail because of legalism, and because of indifference. They fail because of the idolatry of accommodation and compromise.

They are very different documents- the words of Jesus as quoted by Matthew, and the great humanistic declaration drafted by Canadian Lawyer John Peters Humphrey .

But perhaps their application might find some commonality.

Here are the words in full- you decide!

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.