Cognitive dissonance: The church of England, Wonga and Chocolate Bars.

As reported in the news this week Justin Welby (the Archbishop of Canterbury) has said that he wants to compete Wonga out of existence through the use of credit unions. This, in itself, is great: the interest rates charged by the likes of Wonga and other “pay day lenders” is extortionate and shouldn’t be allowed. However, it was later revealed that the Church of England had, inadvertently and indirectly, invested in Wonga even though this is against the ethical investment policy of the church. It seems that they used a “pooled investment vehicle” to invest and this had funded Wonga. Of course this is unfortunate and the church would not have deliberately or directly invested in Wonga. However these investment companies allow people not to really know (unless they were to ask) where the money is being invested and, therefore, allows them to claim innocence once it emerges that the money had been used in a way deemed unethical. Of course, though, it is likely that people know that investment companies often don’t stick to ethical codes but pretend no to know this so that they don’t have to deal with their actions in sending the funds that way and this may have been what happened. But this is something that we all do, for instance when we buy a chocolate bar that hasn’t come from an ethical source (most chocolate available on the shelves in the supermarket etc). In order to buy that chocolate bar we pretend that we don’t know of the shit, underpaid conditions that the chocolate has been produced through although we all, of course, do understand that this is what happens thanks to documentaries, news pieces etc. By pretending not to know, what we really know, we can convince ourselves on a superficial level that the chocolate “probably” hasn’t been produced unethically and therefore can cope with the decision that we have made to buy it and still believe ourselves to be moral beings. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance, a difference in what we believe (that people shouldn’t have to work in such crappy conditions to produce our chocolate) and our actions (buying chocolate bars that have been produced in crappy conditions), in some way and the pretence helps us to avoid dealing with this dissonance.

Our cognitive dissonance causes us to seek out the immorality and inconsistency within others. By pointing this out, even if only to ourselves, we are able to distract ourselves from our own dissonance by concentrating on someone else’s. Many people this week were keen to jump on the church’s “inconsistency” for this purpose. It is the perfect institution for this as it holds itself to be concerned with ethical issues and so we are able to point and go “look at what those supposedly ethical people have done, they are really bad”. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t point out where things have been gotten wrong, or gloss over it (and it certainly needs to be sorted out so that it doesn’t happen again) but perhaps we need to start by recognising our own cognitive dissonance before making lots of noise about someone else’s – we may just find it humbling.

Serious doubt is confirmation of faith.

Paul Tillich wrote that “serious doubt is confirmation of faith.” At first, and to many, this would seem a contradictory statement that can’t make sense. Indeed for many Christians certainty is the confirmation of faith.

I very much feel that I identify with the statement from Tillich; to misquote Lewis Carroll it sometimes feels like I’ve had 6 contradictory thoughts about faith before breakfast. My walk of faith is an uncertain one and often my only honest answer is “I don’t know”. I have wondered on several occasions if I was loosing my faith, only to find it restored once again.

Serious doubt is confirmation of faith for me because it means that I care, that wrestling with this often confusing and difficult thing called faith is worth it for me. That I am willing to continue to engage, question, search, and pray through the difficult periods in my faith, the periods where it seems that all is lost and it seems pointless surely indicates that I have faith and that I take it seriously.

I’m not claiming this to be the only confirmation of faith but without doubt it certainly is one if the ways in which faith is confirmed.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill commons debate: The Christians that spoke in favour.

Yesterday the House of Commons had the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill along with a debate. The vote passed with a large majority and it will now go to be ammended by the House of Commons before being passed to the House of Lords and so on before, hopefully, becoming law. Much has been heard of the Christians in parliament who in the weeks leading up to the vote who went on to speak and vote against the bill but watching the debate yesterday there were also those who spoke and voted in favour, but this isn’t covered so readily in the media so I thought I would outline the Christian support for the bill in the House of Commons. All quotes from the debate are taken from the They Work For You transcript available here.

Toby Perkins Labour MP for Chesterfield:

As a Christian, I see Christianity as a tremendously generous religion. As I have said previously, I think that Jesus Christ led the way on promoting equalities. There are any number of stories in the Bible that make it absolutely clear that Jesus stuck up for groups that had been oppressed over the years. As a Christian, I feel entirely comfortable voting in favour of this Bill. As someone who got married at the famous Crooked Spire church in Chesterfield, I do not think that my marriage will be besmirched or undermined in any way by the fact that gay people in the future might also be able to say that they are married.

See the whole of Toby’s speech here.

Stephen Doughty Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth:

Although it is of great personal regret to me that my Church currently does not permit same-sex marriage, what is exemplified in that quote—as, indeed, it is in the rest of the Bill—is that it will not be forced to do so under the proposed legislation. There could not be a more respectful and appropriate compromise. Let me be clear: I will argue and pray for my Church to change its mind from within, but that is fundamentally a theological decision for my Church. The Bill is about not compulsion but permission—permission for the state to offer the legal institution of marriage to all those who request it, and permission for religious organisations to do the same should they so wish.

The whole speech is available here.

Susan Elan Jones Labour MP for Clwyd South:

Let me explain my main reason for wanting to speak in this debate. As a straight woman of the Christian faith, I cannot believe it is right that I could be married in a church—and also that people of no faith whatever could be married in a church—yet believers who are lesbian and gay are shunned by the civil laws of the land on this issue, and even denominations that freely wish to marry them are barred from performing one of the most fundamental sacramental and pastoral duties. Do Members honestly believe that we should say to a Quaker couple whose meeting house wishes to perform a religious ceremony that they should be unable to have that, or that we should say the same to reformed or liberal Jews or to Unitarians? What about the United Reformed Church, which brought in religious ceremonies for civil partnerships last year? That Church was created from non-conformist traditions whose adherents were once barred from standing for office in this place and barred from our universities, and whose burial rites were not permitted in our parish churchyards. Do Members seriously believe that, in the 21st century, we should be denying religious freedom to those faith groups again?

The whole of Susan’s speech is here

Jonathan Reynolds Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde:

Having listened carefully to the representations I have received from constituents on both sides of the debate, I will vote for equal marriage today. I will do so because I am a Christian, not in spite of it.

I have just taken this small part of Jonathan’s speech as I couldn’t just select on part to include here you can read the whole speech that he gave here.

David Lammy Labour MP for Tottenham

 The Jesus I know was born a refugee, illegitimate, with a death warrant on his name, and in a barn among animals. He would stand up for minorities. That is why it is right for those of religious conviction to vote for this Bill.

David Lammy’s speech was very passionate, one of the best speeches in favour during the debate. Again I have only inclded a couple of lines as choosing just one part of his speech isn’t really possible. I suggest watching the whole speech here. However, if you would prefer to read it you can find his speech (split as he gave way to another member here and here.

Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

I equate this debate with what happened to divorce law in the previous century. Interestingly, in all this talk about marriage always being the same and its continued popularity, no one seems to have mentioned the loosening of the divorce laws. As I said, I am a Roman Catholic, and in that faith divorce is treated differently, but nobody, to my knowledge, has ever challenged the right of a Roman Catholic priest or, indeed, an Anglican to refuse to marry a divorced couple. It has never actually happened, and that is how I see this issue. I approach it with principles based on the reciprocity that exists in any democratic society between minorities and our protection of their rights. I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance.

Other Members mentioned civil partnerships. Mr Lammy went slightly over the top and historically I think he was incorrect. It was not Rosa Parks to begin with. The principle of separate but equal was defined as wrong by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Topeka Education Board in 1959—if my history teaching is still there. Nevertheless, he was right about it being different. All we are asking for in the Bill, principally, is civil marriage. The majority of existing civil marriages are between divorcees, so the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise them anyway, and that is fine; it is permitted—and it will be permitted to keep its particular beliefs in this case as well.

Some faiths—this is where the theology gets complicated—and Christian groups actually want to carry out these marriages. I thought that was what I came here to do—to protect those freedoms and retain that balance. As I said, that is the principle I work on: a reciprocity between minorities in respect of their beliefs and right to carry on with their lifestyle as they wish, provided it does not interfere with that of others. I do not see how the Bill creates any problems with that or will prevent me in future from defending the Plymouth Brethrens, the Jewish faith, my own Church’s faith or the Muslim faith.

It’s great to see that a Catholic (who appears to theologically be against same sex marriage) speaking in favour of the bill, happy with the provisions in place to protect those who cannot consciously offer marriage to same sex couples. The full speech is here.

Mark Menzies Conservative MP for Fylde.

I am a Catholic and religious freedoms are very important to me, as is my religion, but so too are equality and tolerance. I think that the Bill protects both those things. I came here to abstain, but I have listened to the debate like I have listened to no other, and it is now my intention not to abstain, but to support the Bill .

This was the whole of Mark’s speech but you can see it here if you wish to.

The only way that I had of identifying Christians who spoke in favour of the bill was to look for those who called themselves a Christian or a Catholic during their speech so there may be others that I have missed. It is great to see the Christian support for this bill in the house and the passionate, well thought speeches that they made. The bill, with it’s protection, increases religious freedom as it allows those of us who would want to to offer religious same sex marriage without forcing anyone who doesn’t want to to do so and I am personally very pleased that the vote passed in favour of the bill last night.

I don’t want to live to be 100

My dissertation looks at the manipulation of identity by the capitalist system, exploiting anxiety to make a profit and the narratives that are used to do this. I explore, in one section, the infantalisation of society – how we act and aim to look younger, buying into the kidult market. The narrative that we are told is that to be young is to have value and mean something. For Paul Tillich we hold the inescapable anxiety of meaninglessness and one result of this is the anxiety of death. Our tastes, therefore, are manipulated into being more infantile, for instance the increasing average age of video games players or the 50% of visitors to Disney Land who are childless adults. We try our best to hold onto our youth and retain our value. Once we are unable to maintain the narrative of still being young purely trough the products that we buy we are then encouraged to buy age defying creams and cosmetic procedures to attempt to hide the outward signs of our ageing. To get old is to approach death, which causes us great anxiety and so we cling on to our youth for as long as possible.

The human race has invested much time and money into lengthening life through science, medicine, and better quality of life. The expected life span increases constantly, therefore each generation can expect to live longer than their parents. Slowly but surely we are learning to defy death for longer and longer periods of time. This morning on Radio 4′s Saturday Live Sian Williams interviewed 100 year old Violet Coleman as it’s now expected that girls born today can be expected to live to 100. Violet was a wonderful woman who still had much life in her. Afterwards they read a text from a viewer saying that he didn’t think that the generation being born would live longer due to the growing levels of obesity and that the trend of increasing life expectancy will be altered. Rev’d Richard Coles referred to these as “life shortening habits” that we seem to have taken on as a society. This got me thinking, through our anxiety of death we have been trying to lengthen our time on earth and delay it as long as possible, however, we are now confronted with the reality of achieving this aim and experiencing lengthened life; perhaps the thought of living to these great ages, now that is has become a reality, causes greater anxiety than the thought of death therefore we are taking on new habits that will shorten our life expectancy. If getting old causes meaningless then why would we want to lengthen the experience? The anxiety of death is wrapped up in the greater anxiety of meaninglessness and so, ironically, by extending our lives we are actually extending our experience of death as we wait longer and longer for it to take us. Eternal life (at least life experienced as eternal before death) is actually a scarier thought than dying itself. As Richard Coles pointed out on the show “death gives life meaning” and by destroying death we risk removing the meaning of life itself.

Genuine Questions about Opposition to Women Bishops

The third of my degree is leaving me without much time to blog however, as 140 characters isn’t really enough I thought I would post some questions here. They are genuine questions so feel free to engage with them.

Firstly, we trust that those who are in ministry are there because they are called to do so. They go through a selection process which aims to help identify and check that calling and help point people in the right direction, including turning down those whom it is felt don’t have the calling to ordained ministry. This extends to women who are in ordained ministry and those who are ordained as bishops; we must, at least, hope that they are in their position due to the calling of God. Those who are opposed to women bishops also tend to be opposed to the ordination of women as priests. This must suggest that women who go for ordination either knowingly do so without a calling to such a ministry or are simply deluded. It must also suggest that those responsible for the selection process are failing in their role of seeking out those with the calling and putting forwards many for ordination who do not have the calling on a grand scale, including many male priests (even those with traditional/conservative leanings). And that leaves the church in an incredibly scary position! More women than men are now being ordained and women priests account for a third of all Church of England priests. That’s an awful lot of people who manage to slip through the net. Either the system is working well and, therefore, women are called by God to be priests in his church or there is a scarily large amount of (female and male) priests in the church who don’t have a calling to the priesthood. If you believe it is the latter then why would you want to remain part of that church? If women do receive the calling to priestly ministry then there is no sense in blocking those (who are called by God to the episcopate) from becoming Bishops. I can’t see that ministry is a job that many would be able to do long term without the calling to such a position.

If you believe that the ordination of women as priests and as bishops is wrong (sinful) why would you want to stay in a church that as large is in favour of acting in such a manner? Even with protection it must raise wider questions about the actions of the church you belong to that they would collectively act sinfully?

I really am struggling to get my head around this at the minute.

Finding God where he shouldn’t be.

unknown god

I’ve come to realise that I really love finding God where (some say) he shouldn’t be. I wonder, sometimes, if he is easier to spot there than where we expect him to be, easier to discern what is God and what is present due to out expectation of finding God in a certain place.

In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. A Jew shouldn’t have been there, mixing with a Samaritan and, especially, not alone with a woman of such disrepute in her own community - having to collect water during the hottest part of the day to avoid meeting other people there. Yet here is God, in flesh, where many would say God shouldn’t be, ministering to a woman the majority of Jews would have rejected.

Mark 2 records “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Again we find God where other’s say God shouldn’t be – questioned by the Pharisees as to why he eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.

At Jesus’ death on the cross the temple veil rips in two – no longer is God constrained to the Sanctum Sanctorum (most holy place of the temple, sectioned off with a veil) but exists among the people, sending the Spirit at pentecost. There is no longer a special sacred space, the spirit is present, spreading through the whole earth bringing the sacred with it – even where some would say it shouldn’t be.

When St Paul travels to Athens in Acts he finds many idols and alters to different gods but one, in particular, takes his interest – the Alter to the Unknown God. Paul speaks to the people and says you may not know whom it is that you worship at this altar but I do and I will tell you about that God. God was already there, where God shouldn’t be, working among the people of Athens, they didn’t know God and yet they built God an alter. Similarly at his meeting with the Samaritan woman Jesus tells her “You Samaritans worship what you do not know;we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Again God was already there, the Samaritans just didn’t know it. This can be called prevenient grace, God at work in places and people who may not even acknowledge the existence of God.

I spent the other weekend at Bloodstock festival, helping to run the welfare tent through The Order of the Black Sheep. A Heavy Metal festival is quite an interesting place for a Christian to be  - surrounded by Christian symbology and ritual, but most of it inverted and used in an attempt to be sacrilegious. There is no pretending that (in general) the Heavy Metal community are pro christian, many outwardly reject it. And yet walking around I found a sense of God being present and even at work through unsuspecting people. For instance, the act I was most looking forward to seeing was Machine Head, a band clearly critical of Christianity and wider belief in God and yet I find their song Darkness Within to be really powerfully spiritual, it has helped me through a more difficult patch in my faith. There is a great honesty to the song. God,  preveniently, working through people. Who knows whether that grace will ever by convened, but God was there at a Heavy Metal festival and I was able to worship, in the middle of a crowd of metal fans, to a song that has helped me spiritually.

Likewise, in working with the LGBT community through “I’m Sorry a Different Kind of Christian Presence“, I have been able to find and see God in places and in people that many may say he shouldn’t be. If the above was one of my more powerful spiritual moments this summer the other was joining Life at the Centre  for a service on site at Nottingham Pride.

In meeting many non Christian LGBT people at Pride events, it is not possible to deny that the image of God is within them. Greg Boyd provided a great response for this on Twitter in July.

If you are unable to find God somewhere, in a place that some, or even you, may say he shouldn’t be – try looking just that little bit harder. Perhaps, sometimes, we are too busy spotting the things that are not of God to notice the things that are. Once we have we are able to join God in what God is already doing.

The first will be last: Narrative, power and the Gospel.

Having done some more reading ready for my dissertation I have some thoughts to build on my post Story Crime from a few weeks ago.

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes “Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to DISCHARGE its strength—life itself is WILL TO POWER; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent RESULTS thereof.” Through this we have a window on why we may tell ourselves these narratives. It is not self preservation in itself that leads us to build our own protective narratives but “the will to power” – our ambition, the want to achieve and reach the highest possible position within life. Our narratives help us to continue to strive for this, convincing ourselves that we are good people, the right person for whatever it is that we are striving for and to smooth over our mistakes – anything that will contradict our will to power. Our hope is that our narratives will be externalised and that others will be on board with our take on what has happened, able to see that we are the right people to succeed in our will to power. So we build our narratives in order to continue to strive for first position.

In Matthew 19 Jesus says “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” And so, perhaps, to be considered great within God’s kingdom we have to lay down our will to power, to transcend our narratives and experience who we really are, as broken people.

In his recent work Peter Rollins asserts that true freedom is not the freedom to the pursuit of happiness but, rather, the freedom from the pursuit of happiness. In Philippians St Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And so once again we come to Jesus’ claim that the truth will set you free.

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