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The Church is Losing Its Power to Oppress, But That's Okay

There's an interesting fear in the Evangelical community that they are being oppressed in some way. I have a bunch of Facebook friends in the Evangelical community and they often post about how they are being oppressed for their views on homosexuality, abortion, spanking etc. For a while some of them were championing the cause of 'Religious Freedom', as though they were being stopped from practicing their beliefs. Many of their posts were filled with fear. But where is this fear coming from?

The reality is just that the Church is losing the hegemonic power and control it used to have. It can no longer oppress and suppress alternative viewpoints. In our postmodern world you must now compete with alternative claims of truth, and this can be frightening if you're used to being in the driving seat.

But what's interesting is that the Bible itself doesn't seek to silence alternative viewpoints, but is exactly how the Bible is made up. It's a collection of varying viewpoints and understandings, and the editors of the Bible didn't seek to harmonise the theology or the contradictions that exist. In fact the rough edges and alternative views are what gives the Bible its depth and unique character.

The history of the Church also gives us an insight into why the Church losing its hegemonic status is not a bad thing. The early Christians were not part of the powerful, elite that many Christians are today. They were oppressed outcasts that were welcomed into a new hope where all would be equal. It's only when Christianity becomes the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine that it becomes the religion of the powerful.

So perhaps when Christians feel threatened by alternative viewpoints of 'the other', they could remember that Christianity is a religion for 'the other' who has been oppressed by the powerful.
The desire to silence the 'other' is so prevalent in the Evangelical Church of today, but perhaps Jesus is showing us another way.

The Rhetoric of Power and the 'Language of Love'

“Of course I have nothing against the fact that your boss treats you in a nice way and so on. The problem is if this not only covers up the actual relationship of power, but makes it even more impenetrable. You know, if you have a boss who is up there, the old-fashioned boss shouting at you, exerting full brutal authority. In a way it’s much easier to rebel than to have a friendly boss who embraces you or how was the last night with your girlfriend, blah, blah, all that buddy stuff. Well then it almost appears impolite to protest.
And I think that this is for me almost a paradigm of modern permissive authority. This is why the formula of totalitarianism is not — "I don’t care what you think; just do it." This is traditional authoritarianism. The totalitarian formula is "I know better than you what you really want and I may appear to be forcing you to do it, but I’m really just making you do what without fully knowing what you want" and so on. So in this sense yes, I am horrified by this.” - Slavoj Zizek

The problem that Zizek is pointing out is not that the boss is a nice person, but rather that this niceness covers over the systems of power and hegemony that exist.

I think this can equally be applied to how fundamentalist Christians respond to the LGBT community (and more recently Caitlyn Jenner). The rhetoric is one of love and concern, as though by posting articles saying that gay people are 'deceived' that they are in fact being loving. They call it “tough love”, but what this “tough love” is doing is only re-entrenching the oppression the Church has held over the LGBT community for centuries. The Church is still the one controlling the interaction and telling others how they are to behave. The Church is still the one holding the power.

The rhetoric of love in this context functions as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be love while covering over a destructive bigotry. At least with the previous authoritarianism of the Church, where it violently opposed homosexuality, it was quite clear that what was happening was wrong, and people could rise up against the hegemonic control of Church. Today, the authoritarianism is more subtle and more chummy, but it’s still there.

Can we say we 'own' our pets?

One concept I struggle with is the idea of pet ownership.

That we can own a pet seems at the face of it be normal. There’s pet shops, and perhaps the word ownership could inspire responsibility. You look after your car, so why wouldn’t you look after your pet?

But it is my argument that to talk about pet ownership only ends up commoditising animals, and this is inherently wrong, but equally at odds with a truth that we all know but can fail to notice - that animal life actually matters and is not a commodity.

Please hear that I’m not saying that having pets in your home is wrong, but rather that to see yourself as the owner of another creature is a problem.

The word ‘own’ is imbued with a significant amount of capitalistic entitlement, and it’s only because we bought into a capitalist worldview that we can believe that things can be owned. Many cultures didn’t believe in ownership of land or animals or other people. Perhaps a good reminder of the problems with colonial entitlement comes from Eddie Izzard's ‘do you have a flag?’, except in the case I am putting forward, it’s ‘do you have a lead?’

It is quite clear that our relationships with pets and other animals transcends the relationships we have with commodities. Animals have something that commodities don’t.

Firstly they have the ability to make choices. They can choose to chase a stick or not, they can choose to sit next to you or not, they can choose whether to show love and trust or not. They can’t be controlled like other commodities. For example, my car doesn’t choose whether it trusts me.

Secondly they have unique personalities, which don’t come from our ability to ascribe traits to them. Pets have a personality that is uniquely their own. It grows both as a result of nature and nurture, and it exists independent of the human 'owner'. Whereas commodities clearly don't have personalities (except my phone which *literally* hates me).

Thirdly, and perhaps most telling that the language of ownership is at odds with our hidden beliefs, animals have the ability to make us cry. When a pet dies we show that actually the relationship was not one of a commodity, but one of real love. If animals really are commodities, we wouldn’t be any more concerned with their deaths than we are with burnt toast.
So then, if we can agree that animals are not simply commodities for our enjoyment, but fellow creatures we would be wise to not use language of ownership. To talk about owning a fellow creature, really does remind me of the language used in slavery

Perhaps a more fitting language would be one of relationship and of family. Perhaps we can see ourselves not as owning a pet, but living alongside another creature who enriches our lives but also has its life enriched by us.

How We Value Animals - Bacon, Pets or Fellow Creatures

There's a festival called Bacon Fest coming up in Cape Town where you can have 'all the bacon you can eat'. I can imagine for many people that sounds amazing, but if we look a little deeper it becomes very easy to see the problems with this capitalistic consumerism.

Bacon has become a icon over the past few years. It has gone from a breakfast ingredient to a symbol wrapped in bravado and masculinity. It's not completely clear why or how this meme began, but it's undeniably there. And what is even more weird is that the slaughter of pigs are celebrated as part of this macho-consumerist driven love of pork. And perhaps this celebration is not so much out of callousness, but a way to avoid having to actually deal with the reality of slaughtering animals

One of the most interesting memes is the t-shirts and posters with butcher's diagrams where the pig is carved up into sections of meat. What is interesting is that we move from celebrating the tastiness of bacon, to celebrating the slaughter of pigs. We now don't see the pig as an intelligent, playful animal, but simply as pieces of meat. This becomes easy to accept when the lives of pigs only have value in relation to our desire to eat them. And that's what I really have a problem with, and the question I'd like to ask - do animals only have value in relation to me?

This problem of anthropocentricism becomes even more clear when we look at pets. People are disgusted by the idea of eating pets (and rightly so), but would happily eat another animal. The problem here is that instead of the animal's life having value because I can eat it, the animal's life now has value because I love it/ find it cute. The animal's life doesn't have value simply because it exists as a fellow creature, but because I, as the human, give it that value.

Surely the lives of animals can have value in and of themselves? Surely animals have a right to life and ethical treatment?

There exists a weird prejudice in people because we know that killing and exploitation are wrong, but we are able to suspend this intuitive belief when it comes to our dinner plates. We are able to put on hold one of the things that make us human, our ability to express human loving-kindness, and subject animals to torture and slaughter simply for reasons of taste.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote "Such a situation, is dreadful. Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity - that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures - and by violating his own feelings, becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life. But by the assertion that God ordained the slaughter of animals, and above all as a result of habit, people entirely lose their natural feeling."

Perhaps we need to regain that natural feeling which tells us that killing and exploitation are not things to be celebrated with t-shirts and festivals, but rather we should find love within ourselves to express to fellow creatures.

From my own perspective, the message of Christ is one of love. And if we can't extend that love to fellow creatures then we haven't understood the message of the Gospel - that Christ came to redeem all things, things in heaven and things on earth. The Sermon on the Mount emphasises the fact that Christ is with the down-trodden and oppressed, the marginalised and the exploited. Animals are being exploited and marginalised, and perhaps the Church needs to be more concerned about that.

Andy Hull 'Back of Your Old Church'

Behind the back of your old church
There is a path that no one takes
It's covered up in wooden weeds
It's hidden by a crucifix
It leads to nothing that you want
It leads to everything that's ever let you down
Still repeatedly each week the congregation tries to figure it out

Once you start that riddled path
There's only one chance you get back
You see your faith inside a ditch
You see your family in a trap
When a man appears and ask you if you're sure this is the way you wanna go
You'd be surprise how many folks decide that fuck the path and head back on their own

I heard that at the finish line there is a light that never lights
It was a trick that everyone that took the trip can recognize
It's a way to help the weak amend the past that they could never let go
You figure out the path has led you to a mirror that can not be shown

I still believe there is something up that sleeve
I do conceive there is so much I can't see
I won't believe
There is nothing

Behind the back of your old church
There is a path that no one takes
It's covered up in wooden weeds
It's hidden by a crucifix
It leads to nothing that you want
It leads to everyone that's ever let you down
Still repeatedly each week the congregation tries to figure it out

Sydney Carter 'The Devil'

The Devil wore a Crucifix 
"The Christians they are right" 
The Devil said "so let us burn 
A heretic tonight, 
A heretic tonight". 

The stars and stripes or swastika 
The crescent or a star 
The Devil he will wear them all 
No matter what they are, 
No matter what they are, 

In red or blue or khaki 
In green or black and tan 
The Devil is a patriot 
A proper party man, 
A proper party man.

Whenever there's a lynching 
The Devil will be there
A witch or an apostle, 
The Devil doesn't care, 
The Devil doesn't care. 

He'll beat a drum in China
He'll beat it in the west 
He'll beat a drum for anyone 
"And a Holy war is best, 
A Holy war is best". 

The Devil isn't down in hell 
Or riding in the sky 
The Devil's dead (I've heard it said) 
They're telling you a lie, 
They're telling you a lie!

Sydney Carter 'Creator of the Living'

Creator of the living, 
Creator of the light, 
Keep shining to your children 
That travel through the night. 
In loneliness and terror, 
In madness and despair, 
If Love is what you really are, 
Oh, show them you are there. 

Creator of the living, 
We have no life but you.
Upon the tree of torture 
You hang and suffer too. 
Your life is in your daughter, 
Your life is in your son, 
Created and Creator still 
On every cross are one. 

If Love is what your name is, 
Your angry children cry, 
Is this the love you show us? 
We suffer and we die. 
Through bitterness and blindness 
Keep shining in us too, 
That we may keep and cradle still 
The gentleness of you. 

Keep shining, Love, and travel
Keep shining in us still! 
Like Mary we can mother, 
Like Herod we can kill 
The miracle we carry 
That is our maker too. 
Keep shining, Love, that we may show 
The radiance of you.

Sydney Carter 'Run the Film Backwards'

When I was eighty-seven 
they took me from my coffin
The  found a flannel nightshir  for me 
to travel off in

All innocent and toothless, 
I used to lie in bed
Still trailing clouds of glory 
from the time when I was dead

The cruel age of sixty-five 
put paid to my enjoyment
I had to wear a bowler hat 
and go to my employment

But at the age of sixty 
I found I had a wife
And that explains the children 
(I had wondered all my life)

I kept on growing younger, 
and randier and stronger
Till at the age of twenty-one 
I had a wife no longer

With mini-skirted milkmaids 
I frolicked in the clover
A cuckoo kept on calling me 
until my teens were over

Then algebra and cricket 
and sausages a-cooking
And puffing at a cigarette 
when teacher wasn't looking

The trees are getting taller, 
the streets are getting wider
My mother is the world to me, 
and soon I'll be inside her

And now it is too early,
there's nothing I can see.
Before the world, or after?
Wherever can I be?

Sydney Carter 'Present Tense'

Your holy hearsay is not evidence
Give me the good news in the present tense
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened
How am I to know?

The living truth is what I long to see
I cannot lean upon what used to be
So shut the bible up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now