Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Christianity

Those elusive Christian values

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A while back I wrote a footnote on Christian values:

Exactly what is meant with this expression is another thing that can vary considerably, but by-and-large few see them as negative, and what forms the “common core” is almost invariably (including by me) seen as something positive, notably the “Golden Rule” and related values.

This has left me a bit dissatisfied, especially with the problem of widely varying interpretations of the phrase and the knowledge that quite a bit of what Jesus taught is not followed by modern Christian and/or does not meet my own approval*—not to mention the differences between the Old and the New Testament**.

*For instance the idea of “turning the other cheek”, which could result in disaster (but the related idea of forgiveness is potentially a different issue). Charitable acts without strings attached is another thing I find problematic, because the consequences can be negative. Other points, e.g. a negative take on material values, leave me torn: Seeing material things as less important and living in modesty are good things (if not necessarily easy), but extremes like giving everything to charity and living as a monk are a different matter. I see nothing wrong with a degree of comfort; extremes of all types, even apparently virtuous, tend to do more harm than good; and a society without at least some people striving for wealth (and having other ambitions) would be doomed to poverty and stagnation—to the point that we would likely still be living in the stone age and would be unaware of Jesus and his now pre-alphabet teachings… Other yet are things where I could see a benefit in principle, but would be unable to comply. Notably, “love thy neighbor” is a tricky one for a misanthrope…

**Including the sometimes preference of the Old over the New by Bible proponents when it happens to match their ideas or agenda, even though the New Testament should take precedence when it comes to things Christian.

To remedy this dissatisfaction, I today visited a few Wikipedia links and did a few searches—and feel that I got nothing for the trouble.

For instance, the English Wikipedia article appears to be written by someone who has capitulated in face of the problems, spending half the (short) article on listing alleged world-wide “conservative” and “liberal” takes. A part from these being more U.S. centric than world wide, they contain a number of too specific items: How, e.g., is teaching “intelligent design” a (conservative) Christian value? (Even disregarding that many or most Christians, including almost all Swedish, do not believe in it…) How, e.g., is “high, progressive income tax” a (liberal) Christian value? For that matter, this is not necessarily something that even a U.S. liberal Christian would necessarily agree with, let alone see as Christian. The part of the article dealing with the New Testament is truly lazy; the Old is left out..

The German article does a better job , but also notes that “Ein allgemein akzeptiertes, in heutiger Terminologie genau konkretisiertes Verzeichnis christlicher Werte ist daher kaum realisierbar.”*

*The gist being that it is not possible to find a list of Christian values that would be accepted by everyone. I refrain from a direct translation, largely because “in heutiger Terminologie genau konkretisiertes Verzeichnis” is the type of sentence fragment that should be taken out and shot.

Other sources found are mostly similar, contentless, or depict a too personal view to be interesting.

It seems clear, however, that the Ten Commandments and the “Sermon on the Mount” (which includes the “Golden Rule”) are of great importance to any discussion. I will refrain from a more detailed analysis (lacking the time to do the necessary leg work; but also see the first footnote); however, I note that the latter is more likely to contain controversies and differences between supposed and actual behaviors, and that the former is mostly free from controversy once the religious parts are left out and noting that there are allowances for circumstance* in typical interpretations.**

*E.g. in that killing is allowed in self-defense situations.

**A remaining complication is whether a violation occurs already with the thought or only with the action. That we should not sleep with the neighbor’s wife is uncontroversial; if we must keep “naughty thoughts” about her out of our heads, then controversy is hard to avoid. (As the recurring reader knows, I am a strong believer in thoughts not being punishable—only actions.)

Surprisingly little time appears to be spent on “the seven deadly sins” and the opposing virtues, whereas I would have thought them central. While these are quite open to interpretation, many or all could be seen as beneficial for both the individual and society in at least some interpretations. Avoiding sloth, gluttony, and wrath might be beneficial in all reasonable interpretations. As an aside, I have long found these to be more a matter of instructions on how to lead a happy life than e.g. on how to please God or how to fit within society.

A very different source gives me an equally different angle, especially with the common U.S. intermingling of Christian and family values. I have been revisiting “Family Guy” lately, which has a (highly ironic!) theme song of:

It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV

But where are those good old fashioned values on which we used to rely?


(Quoted, with some editing, from http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/f/family_guy/family_guy_theme_song_lyrics.html.)

These two sentences* catch much of the Conservative view on the issues, while also explaining much of the attraction of Conservatism. Honestly: Where are those good old fashioned values?

*The first obviously giving only a special case to be taken as representative.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

The 500th anniversary of Luther’s protests

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Today is a day of considerable importance in Germany—and, no, I am still not talking about Halloween…

It is the 500th anniversary* of the beginnings of Martin Luther’s official protests, and while October 31st is normally only a public holiday in parts of Germany (“Reformationstag”), on this occasion a one-time country-wide holiday has been called.

*At least officially: I very strongly suspect that intervening calendar changes makes the claim somewhat approximate, but have not actually investigated the issue.

Having already written a lengthy piece (on another topic) today, I will not go into details, but I will note that this was the beginning of a very long period* of upheaval, wars, and conflicts, in Europe arguably worse than in the 20th century, which resulted in a permanent split of the then Catholic Church (the Christian German population is still roughly 50% Catholic, 50% Lutheran), and (if largely for non-religious reasons) the creation of e.g. the Swedish and English (i.e. Anglican Church) State Churches. While it would be wrong to attribute this day too much of a cause-and-effect value**, its symbolic value as the delimiter between the pre-Reformation and Reformation eras is immense.

*Incidentally, a good example that it does not always pay to suppress dissenters with violence: All that suffering on both sides and the “heretics” still got a draw…

**Something very similar would very likely have happened anyway, be it without Luther’s action on this day or Luther himself (entirely), albeit possibly with some delay. In situations like these, the one man or the one event is typically just the trigger of the avalanche—not the avalanche it self.

As for the underlying religious issues, the question of who has the greater right to claim “true” Christianity (then or now), who is closer to the original teachings of Jesus, etc. that is still a matter of debate. (On which I have no strong feelings, but where I suspect that they are all off the mark to a considerable degree.) It seems quite clear, however, that the doings of the Catholic Church were often severely at odds with what they should have been, and that reforms of behavior (not necessarily religion) were direly needed.

In a bigger picture, it is quite possible that the departure from the Catholic Church had positive societal effects (post-conflict), e.g. in that non-conformant thinking was seen in a less negative light, that native-language Bibles help with increasing the proportions of the populace who could read, that secular government needed to pay less attention to religious matters, …

Written by michaeleriksson

October 31, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Blogroll update

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A few months ago, I encountered a twelve-part article series on the medieval witch hunts.e Being swamped with other things, I only read the first few parts at the time. Having now completed the reading, I would like to belatedly recommend it to others. Particular value is found in giving detailed information on the Catholic Church’s actual position on witches, who the typical perpetrators where, etc. Most of us have probably already learned in history class that the stereotypical image of a persecuting church is exaggerated and outdated (numbers of victims rivaling the Holocaust is certainly a fringe view), but the detailed treatment gives a noticeably deeper understanding. In other areas some more surprising pieces of information is found.

Obviously, reading about the witch hunts is also valuable with an eye on somewhat similar modern phenomena concerning e.g. child-porn or satanistic child abuse.

While recommending the series, I also raise a warning that the site (bibleapologetics.wordpress.come) is likely to be partial, which may or may not be reflected in some of the articles (e.g. when comparing Church and Science).

By the FIFO principle, Mansförtryck och kvinnovälde [pdf]e is removed. That entry was first discussed here.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 8, 2011 at 4:56 am