Friday, January 20, 2017

Decline in democratic ideals? My thoughts on the world today

So 2017 has started and I am increasingly concerned about the global milieu in which the world seem less into the fundamental democratic values that I hold dear: which is the freedom of information and expression. It seems to me an era where democracies are selectively adopting from authoritarian regimes and authoritarian regimes are adopting some of the veneers of democracy selectively. In this world, I cannot tell the difference between China and Germany, Russia and the West.

There is in the current climate and atmosphere the expressed view that ideas are not equal and that not all ideas and information should be expressed and disseminated. I am increasingly seeing the frightening notion being expressed that not all views and perspectives must be given a platform for expression.

In the past, in a neo-liberally dominated democracy, the argument was that market mechanisms should guide society in sifting out the best ideas by rewarding them financially and even politically. Today, I am concerned when I see journalistic articles in the democratic and liberal West that argue that we need educated elite gatekeepers and experts to take over from market mechanisms (including Facebook and Google algorithms) in determining access to ideas and information. For me, we need the perspectives of experts and expertise but most importantly, we also need empowered users and consumer of information to do the work of determining their access to information themselves. Educated elites and experts are not always right. And political systems run by the rule of educated elite (the Platonic Republic) has historically led to Soviet Union like Communism with an intelligentsia that repress minorities and others with dissenting or alternative perspectives and viewpoints. Such political systems give power to an educated elite to dictate and determine what people should feel, say or think.

While I personally do not find all perspectives equal and have found some types of ideas too distasteful to read or consume, I value people's freedom to create, disseminate, and access those ideas. God created a world [I know some of us disagree about this] with different types of human beings with different flavours of perspectives and experiences. All such flavours of perspectives are important. No human being should feel that the entire world does not value their uniqueness or their unique perspective, voice or story.

I personally value perspectives from both the left and right wing political spectrum. I also value the need to access both perspectives in order for balanced and good decision decision making for all human beings. Let us hear from all angles and then compromise so that together we can have a just society.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The dark back story of the Christmas nativity scene


The birth of Jesus, often celebrated by many Protestants and Christians in the West and the East, is usually regarding as a festival of joy. However, beyond the joy and fanfare of this event, is a hidden and dark back story, which I will reflect on in this blog post. (And no, this post is not about the pagan origin).

While I was brought up not to celebrate the event, I have decided not to exclude myself from events where Christians reflect on the event or story central to the faith and recorded in the Christian Scriptures. I have indeed gotten weary of the rhetoric of "othering" done by Christians to exclude other Christians, and feel that even Jesus himself would have gone to a Christmas service in his honour, regardless of the time and season, even if it was not his birthday. As Matthew 18:20 suggests, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them" (NIV).

That said, I discovered the dark and hidden story behind the nativity scene when I painted a picture depicting the scene and later told the story to parents and children at church. Then I attended a carol service with my children and further reflected on the story. I discovered, that while we often see the nativity as a scene for celebration, of joy, hope and peace, we ignore the dark back story of exclusion that precipitated it.


For Mary and Joseph to have their baby in stable or barn, they were first denied access to housing. The Bible is silent about the circumstances leading to that unavailability of housing, especially for a pregnant lady due to give birth. It is often portrayed that the city was full and perhaps overcrowded at that time. Yet it seems strange that this would have been Joseph's home city or town and that he would have virtually no friends or family still living there to stay with. That he would have to go to an inn, the equivalent of our modern-day hospital, motel, or hotel, was a sign it itself of something very sad.

There seems to be a darker side under the story where Joseph had to resort to an inn to provide housing and shelter for his wife. It wasn't just that Mary and Joseph could not find a room. It was that friends and relatives of Joseph were not willing to have them stay with them. Maybe they inquired about the marital status. You know the way that your relatives and friends would ask you why they were not invited to the wedding if you showed up at their house with a pregnant lady, especially within a religious and ceremonial society. Further, the inn keepers may also have inquired about marital status and rejected room to them based on the issue on the grounds of "fornication".

This is the dark back story of religious intolerance where those who were religious felt that this couple were "sinners" to be denied access to housing suitable for humans due to the gravity of the perceived sin. Even friends and relatives were ready to dissociate themselves from their own flesh and blood so that he would need to wander the streets to find lodging among strangers. That Joseph would be forced to spend money to secure a room, in an era where home birth by midwives was more normative than it is today, for his fiancée rather than lodge for free with those whom he knew for years and with whom he grew up is indeed sad. No one wanted anything to do with him nor his pregnant fiancée at this point of need. Could it be so bad that the only room they qualified to access was a room stinking of animals and animal manure? A far from hygienic place for bloodletting and delivering a baby?

Far from being a story of joy, I feel the pain and sorrow of Joseph. No wonder God the Father and the angels decided to cheer them up by sending a welcoming party of shepherds. God had to provide some people to welcome the couple as well as to let them know how special they were to God. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

9 things I hate about the 2016 US election

Trust me when I say that I take no pleasure in blogging about this 2016 US election. If there was ever a more depressing state of election and campaign affairs, I can't recall. This fall season's election appears to me to be one in which the top candidates contending for the presidential job are characters from out of soap opera or reality TV shows with magnified character flaws and sins.

Also characteristic of this season is the fact that there is no inspiring messages from the candidates. The focus so far is on unflattering biographies and dirty laundry. There is a marked lack of focus on a positive articulation of vision for the US, making this election one of the dullest election of US history. That said, let me list, in no particular order, the top 9 things that I hate right now about the US elections.


  1. That the US media is neither independent, neutral, nor objective. Instead, the media platforms across the US has presented themselves partial in this election and interested in seeing Hilary being elected and on framing and focusing on portraying Donald as negatively as possible. 
  2. That the US media focuses on Donald's character flaws and prefer to cover his dirty past while overlooking Clinton's most recent flaws and scandals
  3. That while the US media is aiding Hilary, we have to rely on WikiLeaks to report the corruption in Hilary's campaign
  4. That WikiLeaks has posted emails showing that the media is colluding with Hilary. However, instead of denying the truth in the emails, both the media and Hilary's team are blaming Russian interference for the leaks.
  5. That Trump is the Republican nominee!
  6. That Trump dismissed his past comments on video as "locker room talk". Dishonorable old men, out of touch with the zeitgeist, label talk boasting about groping women without their consent as locker talk. 
  7. That this election is more about who is more flawed to be President than it is about a narrative or vision for America
  8. That the media portrays Trump supporters as all stupid or racist. Arrogant people call those who disagree with them stupid.
  9. That WikiLeaks has pointed out that Hilary appears to be a taker of bribes and that the media by not covering this idea also appears to be in on taking bribes.
The American people have a very difficult election season this year, with horrible media coverage and a flawed menu of unsavory leadership characters. That said, I know that the American people have varied individual priorities, whether immigration policy,  religious freedom, concern about the economy, or concern about gender issues, sexism and misogyny. God bless them as they navigate this difficult election year and decide on their top decision criteria for selecting their President.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Does the New Testament do away with distinctions between clean and unclean meat?

If there is one thing that I dislike, it is the dishonest handling of the Scriptures. This is usually done when persons have a belief that they want to justify and employ finding a text in the Scriptures to support or justify their opinion with total disregard for the context surrounding the verse. Sometimes, this dishonesty happens accidentally due to persons not knowing better. But whether an honest error or deliberate intent, this is what happened last week when I attended a sermon about clean and unclean meats last Saturday (September 24, 2016).

While I admit that I am mostly vegan and have been raised to eschew shellfish and pork, I was disturbed when the preacher tried to reinterpret 1st Corinthians 10:27 in a way to support his position that the verse did not justify the position that the New Testament had done away with distinctions between clean and unclean meat. While the general principle is correct, the preacher's interpretation was not.

The verse in question reads thus:
If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. (New International Version [NIV])
The preacher's interpretation was to ignore the word "unbeliever" and explain that if he went to a church brother's house and meat is served, he will eat it and not ask questions because he expects that the church brother would have served clean meat. This drove me bananas, as my mind stated "but the verse just said unbelievers".

To be fair, my preacher guy, who is otherwise a nice gentleman, was not the only one to upset me with the abuse of the Scriptures in relation to clean and unclean meats. Earlier in the month, as I attended my university's mid-week chapel service, another preacher upset my spirit using the Roman 14:3
The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. (NIV)
Likewise, this scripture was applied to present day context with various religions in which different people from different cultures eat different types of meat. Despite the preacher's intentions, I was offended that Scripture was being used to support a position taken without the proper explanation of the context of the verse. As such, both of these experiences motivated me to dig a little, of which I present my findings.

Contextualizing 1st Century Christians and their meat eating dilemma

While we are far removed the context of early Christianity, there is sufficient historical information for us to reconstruct the context surrounding first century Christians and their meat eating dilemma. We know that the early church was conceived in the era of the Roman Empire. As such, we can pretty much determine the dietary customs of the time. Any encyclopedia article on this can give you an idea of what meats were available and the choices that Christians had if they wanted to purchase meat from the butchers.


As Price puts it, while first century Christians living in Palestine would be able to access kosher meats, those outside of predominantly Jewish territory had to face the problem of purchasing meats sacrificed to idols. Pagan worshipers, after offering meat sacrifices, would burn a portion and sell the leftovers or excess meat to local meat shops (Price 270). In Corinth, in particular, Price explains that  sometimes idol temples and meat market shops were sometimes joined together to facilitate this market transfer in a more efficient manner. (Also bear in mind that these were the days without refrigerators, with implications for meat storage and preservation.)

Also bear in mind that in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council had decreed that all Christians, including non-Jewish Christians, were to abstain from eating meat with blood in it, meat sacrificed to idols and meat where the animals were strangled (Acts 15:20). Also bear in mind that Paul reiterated this point:

19Am I suggesting, then, that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God. And I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot partake in the table of the Lord and the table of demons too.…(1 Corinthians 10:19-21).
While Paul did not want his church members to eat meals in honor of pagan deities, he did permit them to eat meat sold in the market place without asking if it came from temple rituals. In 1 Corinthians 10: 25 he encourages them to "eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,"(NIV). It appears that Paul interpreted the Jerusalem Council a bit liberally and encouraged the Corinth believers to obey the decree so as to not offend others.

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. 32Do not become a stumbling block, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, (1 Corinthians 10:31)
As such, from the context and Paul's instructions, it is implicit that the Corinthians would purchase meat that would not offend the Jews. In this regard, I would argue that the believers would know the meat standards of the Jews and as such would not purchase foods that knowingly violate the standards. In addition, Paul wanted the believers to also not offend the Greeks. As such, he wanted them not to ask divisive questions while purchasing their meat at the market. Crocker, in a commentary on this, states that to maintain good relations with non-Christians in the community, some members of the church might attend the banquets to socialize or as part of their work relations (137). Within this context, in a city like Corinth, the meat served at such banquets would likely come from "temple slaughter" since farms and countrysides for raising livestock would not be located within the city (Crocker 137).

Given that context, Paul declares that
If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience (1 Corinthians 10:27)
As such, while Paul suggests that eating in the market place is okay, there is kind of a discouraging tone suggested by a dubious "if" for going to an unbeliever to share a meal, followed by "and you want to go". As Staton describes it, Paul was attempting to help the Corinthians solve the meat sacrificed to idols problem (186). To do so, Paul suggested purchasing meat in the market without asking if it was sacrificed to idols or demons was okay (Staton 186). However, if the believer was not in the market place environment, then the situation called for careful evaluation (Staton 186). Paul explicitly warns the believers not to eat meat at a meal that is part of a pagan worship service, where the consumption of such meat is in recognition of a pagan deity (Staton 186).

Conclusion

As we can see from the evidence presented, there is more to the context than my two preachers acknowledged. In particular, the context of Paul's writings has nothing to do with whether or not Christians are permitted to eat pork or shellfish. As such, these Scriptures do not justify any position on whether or not modern Christians should or should not eat unclean meats. Rather, the discussion is about a particular problem that is unrelated to our present day dilemma about whether or not the New Testament does away with the obligation to distinguish between clean and unclean meats. In my estimation, the New Testament does not abolish this distinction, but deals instead with another problem completely foreign to most Western Christians.


References

Crocker, Cornelia C. Reading 1 Corinthians in the Twenty-First Century. New York: T & T Clark International, 2004. Print.

Price, Brad. First Corinthians Bible Commentary.. United States: Brad Price, 2010. Print.

Staton, Knofel. First Corinthians. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000. Print.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The great commission for education

Sabbath, May 14, 2016 - Andrews Memorial SDA Church - Morning service

I had the blessing of hearing one of my favourite Jamaican pastors, Pastor Lorenzo King, speak in a sermon entitled "Commission to reach: Commission to teach". One of the reasons why I like this pastor is that he comes with new or fresh statements or thoughts on what seems to be material that I have heard for decades. There are very little cliches in his sermons or recycled sayings. He is not just going to preach on what we already know, but he is going to challenge the canon of what we know and bring new revelations, doing something new with the Christian or Adventist Christian material or content. In this post, I wish to share bits from his sermon and the message that resonated well with me on that Sabbath.

King made a series of comments that I wrote down for meditation. Beginning with Matthew's Great Commission (the well known Matthew 28:18-20), King stated that the great gospel commission could be equated as a great commission to educate. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." is as much a commission to education as it is to preaching, King said.

He then went on to state that ignorance and belief in God are incompatible. That Christ in his commission desires us to be educated and to be educators educating others. Part of the commission, King said, is for us as believers to "go" which indicates "movement and departure from our comfort zone, both physically and non-physical".

King mentioned that as part of that movement we are not to stick to only one field of knowledge (or remain stuck in what we already know). Instead, King admonished that we must go to and fro, interacting with different bodies or fields of knowledge. In his example, King stated, "there is as much science as art in the playing of a musical instrument."

King then made the point that Jesus had a particular worldview, or vision of the world, where all the world or nations of the earth would be united around and exposed to the same teachings. "The entire world is to be held together by the same teachings, the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn't it be great if the world was united around the teachings of Jesus? "

King goes on to argue that education should not be elitist. "The knowledge of God is to be universal. The knowledge of God is for everyone (or every creature), no matter how degraded the person." As such, King concluded that education should not just be for those who can afford it, but must necessarily be universal.

"It is Jesus who first had the vision for universal education and espoused the belief that everyone can learn, and as such that everyone can be taught"

The purpose of education, according to King, is to remove the lines of demarcation among human beings, as "we are all (or should be) related to each other on the basis of our need for learning".

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My somewhat Marxist Critique of the Jamaican National Family Planning Board

After going to university in my undergraduate years to find that my political science professors and lecturers were retreating from Marxist political thought, I never imagined that I would be returning to that critical orientation towards the Jamaican neoliberal status quo. But I guess this happened gradually as I studied in Canada and hung out with a faculty that is well known for a Leftist leaning. The interesting thing though, is that my recent foray into challenging the status quo has been made compatible with my spiritual beliefs. In sixth form and even my early university days, I had the challenge of reconciling my respect for Marxism with the fact that Communism stifled religious freedoms and the fact that Marx had little respect for the "opium of the people".

In this post particularly, I feel led to challenge the hegemonic narrative told about "family planning" and the official Jamaican state agency that is powered to tell this narrative and shape the Jamaican population in accepting the narrative of "family planning" or what I would rather name "family control".

As a Judeo-Christian, I respect traditional family institutions deeply. I consider myself a family man and see the family as the basic unit of society and all communities. I also welcome the idea of state institutions to support strong families while recognizing some diversity to the families that exist in contemporary society (some of which are a direct result of economic changes and how society has changed traditional arrangements to accommodate the labour force requirements of the new economy).

Recently, I watched a advertisement from the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) that got me thinking of how the "family control" narrative is serving to support the economic arrangement of neoliberal and capitalist economy. The NFPB in its advertisement, during a Jamaica Information Service broadcast, showed a cartoon of a pregnant lady surrounded by children with an audio clip about eradicating poverty by planning your family. For this, I must indicate that I am not aware of any empirical studies that suggest that the cause of poverty is directly related to the number of members in your family. In fact, a 2014 PoliticoFact check indicated that the claim that having children leads to poverty was false as there are many confounding factors.

That said, while there might be a correlation between the number of children one has and one's wealth (or poverty), there is little empirical evidence of direct causation. In addition, the very idea that one must sacrifice family size in order to acquire wealth is a hegemonic idea that supports the neoliberal economic regime and the values espoused by the capitalist class. To understand this, when we look at traditional and pre-capitalist societies and economies, the number of children one had and the size of the family were of importance to survival. When humans used to live in hunting-gathering societies or agrarian economies, the number of children and the extended family were of importance as a labour force and for community security/policing.

Today, the dominant narrative is that we must focus on individual careers and in getting the "good" life of the ownership of materials goods and the accumulation of wealth. To do this, the emphasis is on regulating the size of your family and controlling the number of offspring, so that you can have enough time to work and contribute to the accumulation of wealth and serve the need of the economic elite and ruling class.

Getting back to the NFPB, I see the institution as problematic because it primarily focuses on reproductive decisions. When I browse the website (http://jnfpb.org/) and even its ads about its services, the institution primarily focuses on the supporting reproductive decisions of Jamaicans (and in particular on contraception services). There is no focus on equipping parents with parenting skills or helping Jamaicans understand the various types of families and how to cope. I see no services that offer support in martial counselling and in making marital commitments. No services on counselling parents with marital problems or divorcees that are adjusting to conjugal dissolution. No services that offer counselling about coping as a single parent, or as a caregiver of aging parents or other problems of transitioning from a single individual into either a nuclear or extended family. The focus is only on reproductive control, despite the rhetoric in the ad about the NFPB being there to support stable Jamaican families.

So, let me now give some recommendations and not just end with critique:

  • Either change the name of NFPB to reflect what it truly is (Jamaican Population Control Board) OR expand its mandate to truly support the viability and stability of the Jamaican family (or various types of families). 
  • Expand the vision from just the focus on sexual reproduction. The current vision reads "All Jamaicans achieving optimal sexual health in an environment where their sexual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled." Is the vision really about stable Jamaican families OR to support Jamaicans and their sexual choices, preferences and appetites? As such, the current vision and the name of the institution are not aligned.
  •  Advocate for policies and legislation that support and value Jamaicans caring for children and aged parents, as well as having healthy sex and controlling the timing of births. 



Reference:

Greenberg, J. (2014, Aug. 12). "Is having a kid a leading trigger for poverty?" PoliticoFact.com
Retrieved from http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/aug/12/moms-rising/having-kid-leading-trigger-poverty/

Jamaica National Family Planning Board (2016). "Vision & Mission" Jamaica National Family Planning Board. Retrieved from
http://jnfpb.org/about-us-2/mission-vission/

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trump 2016

This week, I dreamt that Donald Trump, one of the Republican candidate for the 2016 US elections was assassinated. In the dream, I saw him fall to the ground as bullet pierced his forehead while he was on a platform in a stadium. The scene disturbed me. And my spirit was unsettled. It is this dream and the disquiet in my spirit that motivates me to blog to warn US and the world.

As a former Political Science student of democracy, I am of the view that the entire point of democracy is to settle leadership disputes peacefully and to determine the right to national leadership succession without resorting violence. I do understand that representation of Trump as performed by the mainstream and social media portrays him as a demagogue or as a fellow who blames other groups for America's problems. I am aware that this is a 20th century political rhetorical strategy and tactic that reminds persons of the same strategy as Adolf Hitler in 1930 Germany. This is in contrast to the Obama campaigns that emphasized the rhetoric that "together we can".

Nonetheless, I see that what is at stake is the democratic and due process. US has had several Presidents that were unceremoniously and unduly removed by acts of terrorism and violence (assassination to be exact). Yet, every man has the right to life which is a right that no man can justifiably take.

Another issue that I see is the unfair representation of Trump's rallies as spewing hatred towards protesters. I call it unfair representation because the logic is flawed and reflects a double standard. I recall when Westboro Baptist Church attended events to prevent like veteran funerals, they were portrayed as bigots and the villains spreading hate. Yet, I see so-called social media activists that attend Trump's rallies for the sole purpose of interrupting his speech and disrupting his supporter's right to political assembly, portraying themselves [the activists] as victims of hate and hatred.

While I do not condone any political violence, I stand as a voice of reason in the wilderness to call wrong wrong, no matter who does it and to whom it is done. Sure, Trump could deal with interruptions differently but nevertheless, it is still wrong to interrupt someone when they are speaking.

To illustrate the wrong, I want to raise three hypothetical cases:

Imagine:


  • Scenario 1: A Christian going into a mosque to protest during the middle of prayers?
  • Scenario 2: a Muslim going into a synagogue to protest during the service?
  • Scenario 3: A Christian going to a LGBT Pride parade to protest?


If all these scenarios are wrong, what makes it right for someone who dislikes/disagrees with Trump to go to his rally or events to annoy him and his supporters by interruptions and protests? Then to paint Trump and his supporters as racists and haters for being annoyed at interruptions?

Even God, permitted his Opposition, Satan to meet Eve in the garden of Eden to share his viewpoints on God's policies. [Note, God did not interrupt Satan's conference with Eve]. It is a fundamental right that people have choices and are free to decide who's viewpoint they listen to.

Whether you hate Trump or not, I leave you with the New Testament message of Jesus that we must love our enemies. In order to love our enemies, we must resist the temptation to unfairly demonize those we disagree with or dislike. For we will all fall into the media's representation of Trump if we unfairly demonize or vilify Trump.

Peace be unto you and to the US as they attempt to make wise selections for the next President through due process.