After 9/11 we need an angry God

After 9/11 we need an angry God
By Chris Summerfield, 2011

The usual wisdom is that belief in an angry god is what caused a handful of people to get into planes and crash into skyscrapers and then caused a much larger group of people to get into many more planes and drop bombs on to people who lived in countries which were kind of close to the country where most of the first handful of people came from.

Furthermore, an often remarked criticism of the Bible is that the God of the Old Testament is full of anger but the God of the New Testament is full of love. This criticism is supposed to be a debate clinching argument because we, as a society, believe that you can’t be both full of anger and full of love and that anger is an altogether bad emotion. If you were to hear someone say “my child has anger issues” you wouldn‘t reply, “That’s great—you must be so proud”. Instead, there might be some consoling about similar issues in their own children and how that anger might have been subdued through a combination of therapy and medication.

Our ideal citizen does not have “anger issues”, our ideal citizen swims with the tide of the way the world is and learns to accept things as they are. Less than ideal citizens would include Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Jesus. All angry. Angry about the way their people had been treated by the ruling authorities. All full of anger and full of love. Key of course is that that they were angry and non-violent. And it is nonviolence that is key to understanding the gospel.

As I look around at the litany of injustices in the world I am angry and I am sure God must feel the same. I contend that God did not just pour out God‘s anger on Jesus making God satisfied and unmoved by the events of our world. Maybe instead God channelled God’s anger into an act of nonviolence. The act of becoming a human and laying down his life for others in the crucifixion. An act that would be a window into a new paradigm, a paradigm where violence loses and love wins because the grave could not hold Jesus.

God is still angry and God is calling us to follow the Jesus path of nonviolence. Our anger is to fuel loving acts of nonviolent action.

Like the terrorists on 9/11, I sense that something is unfair in the world and I want that to change. We both believe that God is angry about these injustices. The difference between us is that the anger of my God causes God to humble godself to the form of a man who would act out love and not violence even if that meant death on a cross.

Ten years on if you are angry about 9/11 or about the West’s response or that the 9/11 anniversary will receive more attention than starving millions in the horn of Africa, then join God and follow Jesus on the path of nonviolent action in a new paradigm where violence loses and love wins.

Unfit for Office

In his first letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul lamented, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” Paul was referring to a case of incest within the church. His response? He instructed the community and its elders to “hand this man over to Satan”, to “not even eat with such people”, to “expel the wicked person from among you.”

Given that, how do you think Paul would have responded to a bishop who was found guilty of failing to report child abuse? Who actively covered it up, possibly out of a misguided sense of institutional loyalty? Do you think the apostle would have considered it acceptable for the man to retain his title even if he’s no longer allowed to teach? Or do you think he would have considered him no longer fit for office?

How do good people do bad things and still live with themselves?

I am finding Albert Bandura has a very useful model for identifying the mechanisms of moral disengagement. Indeed, when I consider the current crisis of refugee children being removed from their parents, I can say I’ve seen plenty of examples of all four major mechanisms and their subtypes coming into play already. The following examples have come from multiple sources:

  1. Behaviour reframing
    1. Moral, social, and economic justifications. “They’re an existential threat”
    2. Euphemistic re-labelling. “They’re not asylum seekers, they’re illegal immigrants”
    3. Advantageous comparisons. “Lesser of two evils. A strong deterrent saves more people in the long run”
  2. Consequence reframing
    1. Denial of the consequences. “They are being treated well”
    2. Misrepresenting the consequences “It’s actually good for them”
  3. Responsibility reframing
    1. Deflecting the responsibility. “It’s the Democrats law”
    2. Diffusion of responsibility. “It’s not like it’s me who’s mistreating them”
  4. Victim reframing
    1. Dehumanisation. “They’re animals”
    2. Blaming the victim. “Their parents are responsible for bringing them”

Have you seen any of these mechanisms in play?

Playing the Victim Game

A big problem I see with identity politics is that it encourages communities to indulge in rival victim narratives. Everyone wants to present themselves as the victim, as the underdog, irrespective of their comparative experience. Indeed it’s probably true to say everyone has experienced victimisation in some ways, even victimisers, so it’s a tempting game to play. But what if there’s a better way, that acknowledges our common humanity beyond our various tribalism? I think if we’re going to get there we need to focus less on “who” and more on “what”; less on personalities and more on principles. Are there behaviours we can agree on are unacceptable irrespective of the being engaging in them? Behaviours like  slander, dehumanising speech, and incitement to violence? I think the real test is whether we can call it out for what it is when committed by members of our own tribe. If we’re always finding fault in other tribes but never in our own it’s a strong sign you’re captive to identity politics and failing to take a principled stance.

Is injustice without consequence?

Was it unjust of Jesus to warn of coming judgement for Israel and the nations? Personally I see the teaching of judgement as having a lot in common with the teaching of karma. It is the simple observation that actions have consequences, socially as well as personally. Unfortunately I think the teaching has been much abused by Christians over the years, so there’s much we need to unlearn first, before we can understand it as Christ did.

Lowering the bar for our political benefactors

constantineEver since the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity there has been pressure for church leaders to lower the bar of morality for political leaders who support them.

As a consequence, whilst the Christian understanding of salvation has tended to remain anchored in Christ, the Christian understanding of morality has tended to lose its moorings in the life and teaching of Jesus. Sometimes finding anchor in Moses and other Old Testament figures instead, sometimes drifting even further.

On clothing standards and sexual harassment

I am seeing many criticism of women who dress scantily yet complain of sexual harassment.

May I offer a response by way of analogy? One could certainly question the wisdom of fighting theft by putting your jewellery in the front window of your home. But such silliness on the part of owners still doesn’t make theft any less theft.