Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin


To counter balance my last blog post about RT Kendal here is another Christian blog post:

http://bethwoolsey.com/2013/10/3-reasons-i-quit-loving-the-sinner-and-hating-the-sin/

They are attacking the phrase “love the sinner, hate the Sin”. Now I am all for controversially attacking a phrase that is popular for some kind of effect and then putting forward a view that is basically the same as the phrase but the phrase “done properly”. It’s lovely, its Hegelian and as a result obviously I have to disagree with everything it says and defend the phrase.

See this blog post is trying to show how most people who use that phrase “Love the Sinner, hate the Sin” actually get the second part right but the first part wrong. In fact they usually add some logical argument such as “Sin is bad for people, if I hate the sin then really I’m being truly loving to them. Instead of “Love the Sinner AND hate the Sin” they really believe “Love the Sinner BY hating the Sin”. And so instead they spend all their time hating sin and telling people off for wanting abortions because “It’s for their own good”.

But this phrase isn’t about that, it’s about showing that the dichotomy is possible, it’s possible to both love the individual whilst hating some of what they do. This is an important aspect of what love is. I don’t care if the origins of the phrase were something Augustine said about himself, this thing is just true and its true whether or not you’re a Christian. (Although I think much easier to do if you’re a Christian).

But yeah, you need to do more work. Just because it’s possible to love an individual whilst hate what they are doing, doesn’t mean you’ve finished understanding how to go about loving someone else nor go about understanding how to go about hating someone well. And I think I’ll attack it from two angles.

Hating the Sin is actually liberating for the individual.

There is a complication here that I’ve talked about before and I think all Christians get wrong from both liberal and conservative backgrounds. Actually us Christians and them non-Christians agree a hell of a lot on the nature of “Sin”. Yeah we’ll disagree on some specifics, we might disagree on, to use a last psychiatrist’s phrase, whose genitals you’re allowed to lick . We might disagree on how you should spend your Sunday morning. But by and large many of us will agree that it exists and its bad.

Yeah there are moral relativists out there. There are philosophers who will try and argue why it might be ok to murder in specific circumstances. But sit down and watch Jeremy Kyle every day that you can for a few months and count how many times, when Jeremy lays into an individual and calls them a horrible person, they respond with “you have your morality and I have mine, who are you to judge me? Why should I accept your moral standard?”

One time I saw someone kick back at Jeremy, “Who are you to judge me, you’ve done worse in your life?”  . Jeremy responded with “yeah but this isn’t about me and I’ve apologised for it (or words to that effect, this is from memory, if you don’t trust me go ahead and watch it yourself!)”. But even then, they both agreed to a strict moral authority but the only attack was that Jeremy was a sinner and therefore not in a position to judge. (Admittedly the link is the daily mail and so should be taken with a pinch of salt!)

Take a look at this video which I will probably post again and again on this blog:

You see the problem of sin here. You see the problem sin on all the faces of the fathers who had let down their children. They KNOW they are a sinner, but what hope do they have? Counselling? A lie detector test? But then this show, shows you a deeper truth. There is one way of dealing with the problem of sin, you can watch people who are worse then you and yell at them for being worse then you. You can say “I am a sinner but at least I’m not as bad at X and I’ve done my bit in publically shaming X”.

This brings us to the way of the world.

Love those that deserve to be loved.

Anton LeVay was very clever with his Satanic bible. He got to the root of what it was in Christianity that was so appalling to him and wrote about it in a way that actually everyone would agree with. Unfortunately he added loads of weird magic that makes it seem less credible.

But Satanists tend to be nice people. They believe strongly in love those that deserve to be loved but if someone slaps you round the face, don’t turn the other cheek, punch them in the nose! As a result they will spend their lives earning and deserving their love. This is the heart of what everyone thinks and why wouldn’t you? Why would you love someone who doesn’t deserve it? How could you survive if you acted like that?

Love those that do things worthy of love, and hate those that to do things worthy of hate.

This is the principle people live by. Yeah they will disagree on what those things are worthy of hate. For some people, you can have sex with whoever you like but you must never cheat! For some feeling jealous about your partner’s consenting sexual actions with other people is the source of why you are hateable. Some might hate homosexual people whereas others will hate people who hate homosexual people. Some hate a race whereas other hate racists. Sometimes it might those people who take up too much space on the tube at rush hour.

Whatever it is most people treat morality as a litmus test of whether or not I should treat that person as an equal human, or whether or not I should write them off. As batman says, it doesn’t matter who you are, its what you do that defines you.

Why Christians get this wrong – actually all people hate sin.

Conservatives will tell me that they believe in an objective morality. They will tell me that this position is unpopular with people “out there”. Everyone is a moral relativist. Meanwhile liberals will tell me that Christians are too judgemental and actually homosexuality is ok.

Both positions are wrong. People do believe in right and wrong but they are no longer looking to the Church to tell them what is what. Very few LGBT activists are going to be looking to the church to help them understand whether or not homosexuality is ok. No, most of these people will have made up their mind on the issue of homosexuality (that it is fine) and are only quizzing the church, not to find out how the church judges them, but to find out how they should judge the church!

People hate Sin. People see Sin everywhere and they hate it. We just disagree on what counts. The problem is, that hating Sin will almost always inevitably lead to seeing Sin in your own life and to some degree a level of self-hatred or guilt. Many people would in fact celebrate feeling guilty as a sign that you are a good person.

This blog misunderstands that most people know they are sinners and feel trapped by Sin. Love the Sinner hate the Sin is not something that should make people feel judged but liberated.

A liberated view of Sin

Someone I know hurt one of my friends a great deal. I spent a bit of time talking to this person and they asked me why I was being nice to them at all given what they had done and what they had done to my friend. Surely I’d judge them as a “bad person”. I told this friend (non-Christian) that I was judging them… but I had judged them as a bad person long before. I believe in no sex before marriage and so to some degree anyone who has sex with more than one person is a slut and worthy of death. Probably even more so I believe the same about anyone who has ever looked at pornography. I believe the same thing about people who disrespect their parents or put any other God before the one true God. So this new thing they had done that had hurt my friend, couldn’t lower my opinion of them.To some degree they found this attitude liberating and kind of comforting!

(Note: I don’t come out very favourable when I’m judging myself either!)

And I think it is. With most people who love you conditionally you’re kind of waiting for the time when you finally cross the line and they hate you. Maybe it will be some political opinion, maybe it will be how you treat people in relationships, maybe it’s because you act rude in a situation or maybe it’s because you’re too fussy about politeness. But here, this person already crossed the line.. And all people who interact with me can know that they have crossed the line, I think they are a “bad” person.

But what next? Do I hate all bad people like the rest of the world did? Possibly, but if I did that I’d hate everyone including myself. If that’s what I have to do, then so be it but fortunately there is a way out. “Vengeance is mine, so saith the Lord”, I can pawn off that hatred onto God. He is the ultimate judge anyway and so I can say “well I won’t carry out the hatred even though to some degree these people deserve it, God can do the hating instead”. Then God goes ahead and does something weird with my hatred. He puts it all on the cross and somehow justifies people. It’s all a bit confusing and I haven’t fully got my head round it but the important thing is I don’t need to hate people anymore.

But that is my choice, love everyone unconditionally or hate everyone conditionally. There is no middle ground.

I’ve always thought this about the Westboro Baptist church with their “God hates fags” placards and their belief that hurricanes are caused by America’s acceptance of homosexuality. The problem with these people is not that they are too extreme, but they are not extreme enough! They would probably be better off including a placard that says “God hates everyone, especially me”! And then try and find a way to live like that.

How do we go about loving people

Now we get to a point where me and the initial blog post might actually agree. But this is a difficult question, how do you go about loving people?

Love I think is one of those complicated things where it is really difficult to define, but when you look at a specific situation its really easy to see “Is this loving or not?”. Especially the “not”, when someone does something to you or to someone you care about that isn’t “loving” you tend to just know. But if you had to write a rule book so that you could completely define what it was, it would be tough.

Enrich Fromm in his “Art of loving”  saw love more like an art, like playing an instrument or getting good at painting. It was a skill that you practised and got better at. It was a skill where you considered the theory both through reading and discussion but then tried to apply it.

This blog posts concept of seeing someone as a neighbour and looking at how Jesus treated people certainly helps at how to love people. This is something worthy of discussion. And as I’ve said before, the blog post is definitely attacking a certain type of Christian who uses that phrase as an excuse to not be loving, that I believe ought to be intellectually attacked.

But now I’m starting to agree with someone so I better end it here. Enrich Fromm is likely to pop up again!

(Also the original blogger has written a follow up. http://bethwoolsey.com/2015/06/an-update-3-reasons-i-quit-loving-the-sinner-and-hating-the-sin/ I don’t have much to say, I kind of like it except when she goes back to wanting us to actually stop using the phrase, but most of her criticism are certainly valid).

End

There was a song that says a guy loves me “just the way I am”. No one wants this. I want to be loved DESPITE the way I am. The way I am is hateable but I want… no need the love anyway. This is why being able to love the sinner and hate the sin is important because if it can’t be done then all is lost.

This is not meant for you – My place in the Church


Disclaimer: This post is a post I’ve been quite nervous about posting. I think it comes across as much more ranty then I meant it to be. I was going work on it significantly to make a specific point. Instead I’m tagging everything “Supporting Individuals Pursue God” as a new category. I’m going to just splurg almost all my ideas in lots of little blog posts with the aim to eventually write whatever it is I’m trying to say properly. So lets see where this goes! Also, the preacher who preached this sermon is awesome. The attack I’m writing is definitely not on her, but what she said sparked something.

Recently I attended HTB’s weekend away as part of their leadership course where they train people to lead their pastorates. HTB is a very large church that has 10 services and thousands of people who attend. Pastorates are little mini-churches that HTB puts on that allow people to actually get to know people in the church and happen during the week. They are actually quite big and range from about 20-80 people. I was kind of asked in passing if I’d like to help be part of a “core team” of a new pastorate plant and one thing lead to another that meant I did the leadership course. They are massively looking for new pastorate leaders as many of the pastorates are full whilst more people are going through Alpha with no where to go.

During this course a sermon was preached that got to me. After speaking to the preacher about it she said “This is not meant for you”. I’d like to unpack this.

The Sermon

The sermon was on Hebrews 11. This is quite a famous passage where the author repeats “By faith … something awesome happened”. By faith the world was created and by faith the mouths of lions were shut, etc. It pretty much goes through everything in the old testament and says that this happens by faith.

Now the heart of what I think she was saying was that it is by faith, these things happen not by barter. Its difficult summarising 30 minutes of talking and so I may not have got it exactly correct. Faith is a very difficult concept in the bible. Its talked about very strangely and usually poetically. Lets look at this passage regarding faith which I may come back to:

Luke 17:19-20 “19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He *said to them,“Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith [i]the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 [[j]But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

I mean, what on earth is going on here? How on earth can you measure “faith” in degrees of mustard seed sizeness? In fact how can you measure faith in anything that is volume related? Now obviously this is not literal, the point is a mustard seed is small. However, the whole point is that the disciples didn’t have enough faith to cast out this demon? So having a really really small amount of faith is not enough but having a really small amount is fine? Except, although nothing is impossible this kind of demon only goes away with prayer and fasting… not faith?

In my mind there is an intuitive understanding of what faith means. I have faith in my chair to hold me up when I sit on it. Due to this faith I will sit on the chair when I want to be held up. This view of faith has within it “is certainty on the things unseen” yes… I cannot predict the future, I cannot see whether or not the chair will hold me up but it is still based on evidence. Its because the chair has done a good job in the past and because it currently looks great that I have faith in it. However, this is only part of the story of what faith is because you get verses like the one above!

Now… this preacher was saying that we as Christians tend to lack faith. If God says for us to go somewhere then we’ll say “Are you sure? I dunno, will I have enough money? Give me some money first and maybe some political power and then maybe I’ll go”.  This I suppose is apt talking to a bunch of pastorate leaders. They are about to step out into something that is potentially scary and may come to that meeting wanting some assurance that it will be ok. That HTB will support them, that fights won’t break out that they can’t deal with, etc etc. However they can’t get that assurance, they just need to step out in faith. This is a message I have heard a bunch of times in the church…

My problem with it

Maybe the word “problem” is too strong. But there was something that riled me up whilst I was listening to it. It was kind of the fact that I had heard this all before but it was more then that. It was that not only had I heard it all before…. I had been there and done that and got the T-shirt.

I have stepped out in faith. Throughout my life, if I have ever had the inkling that God wants me to move in a certain direction then I’ve done it. Usually I don’t hear from God that well so I do things that a good little Christian would do. I’ve gone out of the street and told people about Jesus including someone who tried to mug me (sort of). I’ve gone to drum and bass nights and asked random people if they wanted prayer. I’ve preached mini-sermons in school assemblies with my peers and then put on evangelistic events where I personally invited everyone with a track in my year and then announced on our school forums that essentially a revival was going to break out in our school (It didn’t). I did a gap year working for the church and did some foreign mission and then when I went to university it was for pub conversations. I did physics with philosophy simply because it would help me witness more as it would provide lots of “ins” into evangelistic conversations. I then started a company that was doomed to failure because I felt God wanted me to do it and then I got up, moved to London and moved into a ridiculously expensive lifestyle and house (relative to Manchester) without having a Job yet because I thought New Wine might say yes to a project and needed to be in London to do it. I have gotten very close to having no money and have been hungry for a bit.

And in the words of Metallica …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxZ4Z6Zo3Fk (Warning: Rude words behind this link)

Now where I am going with this, is that stepping out in faith like this is pointless without something else. I don’t know what that something else is. It could be listening to what God wants, it could be love, it could be obedience. So bare with me here… I’m probably not going to answer that question now.

Whilst I regularly succeeded at getting into long and interesting conversations about Jesus with strangers doing “Campus Evangelism”, I went out with a crippling fear that got too much for me. What was it a fear of? Failure? I never failed nor did I think I would. Embarrassment?  I used to regularly wear PVC trousers. I don’t know what it was apart from being pathetic. I lead a large number of bible studies and was leading a Christian Union hall group. It went pretty amazingly and again I quit due to emotional exhaustion. Whilst I ended up using my degree to have lots of conversations about Jesus no one became a christian. Revival didn’t break out in my school. I got so close to achieving lots of things and then I’d just get knackered and go no where. I basically achieved nothing throughout university.

There once was a time when I was doing some chemistry coursework. I remember really hating it and saying to God, “please, I want to do something else, send me to do anything, I’ll do foreign mission, I’ll go into the streets of Sutton or give my life up to the church, what do you want me to do?”. The response I got back was “Do your homework”.

See this is my problem. I am Brad Pitt speaking to his dad in Fight Club. I’ve gone and got the job, I’ve done the stepping out in faith bit, and I’m asking “What now?”. In fact if there is anything I can do to show people I’m a good Christian I’ve pretty much done it. Amongst the charismatics I can tell stories of speaking in tongues from a young age or shouting out prayers in parks at night. Amongst the social justicey people I can talk about the tears I’ve shed for palestinians or stream off lots of rhetoric about how to help the homeless. Amongst the conservatives I can talk about all the books I’ve read and impress people that I’ve read the bible.

The church has told me “Do this stuff and we’ll accept you, we’ll call you a good christian” I’ve done those stuff and what do I get?

“This isn’t for you… maybe you’ve got a problem with pride?”

Pride

I’ll divert to this question for a moment. This is a really good get out of Jail free card. I can never do enough to please the church because if I do anything in a way that they will notice they can then just say that I’m proud and need to be more humble. Actually I’ve done humility. I can actually tell you stories about how I’m the humblest of them all. I’ve stacked chairs and I’ve cleaned toilets. Apparently this is what you have to do if you want to start being famous amongst Christians  I’ve also gone to churches, kept my head down and focused on people on the fringes. This has obviously got me no where because that was the purpose…

But I feel like I detect a rat here. There is something that plato really liked about the Spartans and that British people really like. British people love under dogs and they hate proud people. Its really bad to drive a nice car around London, you’ll look foreign. How can the Apostle Paul get away telling people that he wished they were as Holy as him? Surely that is arrogant, surely that is proud? I said that to a christian once. She said “yeah and I really don’t like paul”.

Galatians 6:3-4 “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

The opposite to Pride is not Humility. Its Truth. The kings God hated in the old testament where the people who thought they ruled the world. They didn’t. God showed them. He humbled them. Pride is thinking you are above your status. Truth is knowing what status you are rightly in. Humility is then going further, knowing how great you really are and how much status you deserve from people, deliberately lowering yourself to a lower level. Pride is trying to sit at the head of the table when you’re the youngest in the family. Truth is sitting where you’re supposed to and humility is giving up the head of the table to someone else.

Do I have issues with pride? Yes. Instead of doing my chemistry homework that is “beneath” me I want to be like Paul and go out changing the world. However… I don’t think that is quite the same as what she was talking about. She was saying this in the context of me going up and telling her that all this “faith” stuff she was talking about, well I’ve done it. (Note: Not GOT it, DONE it… or at least look like I’ve done it).

SHE then congratulated ME on my faith. She said that people are not as far as me, that the leaders of the biggest church in the UK haven’t quite got to my level of great faith. That other people would love to have faith like mine. If I believed her on that I can see why she’d think I was proud. But I don’t think that is what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that all of this was meaningless… It was like chasing the wind. I was trying to say that these stories of faith are pointless. That if people set down the path of trying to step out in faith like I did they will get no where.

She said that this meeting wasn’t for me.

What is there for me?

There is something else brewing. There is something that God is doing. This thing I think will be for me. I don’t know what it is but I have a hunch and I’m going to pursue it and maybe even write about it. The thing for me is a system that helps me pursue God. Its not something that helps me serve the church. Its not something that makes me a better person through a 10 step program nor something that gives me more theology. Its something that helps me pursue God.

See in HTB there are two things for me:

1) I lead a pastorage and start serving. This will help me rise the ranks of HTB social status and I’ll then start getting access to the big guys who well help me out
2) I get a mentor. An experienced christian who works with me, chats to me and leads me to know God more.

However. 1) God doesn’t want me to. I’m pretty sure of this. I try really hard to serve the church and I know I can do it, I’ve done a great job in the past but every time I try it fails at the moment. Its because God doesn’t want me to lead a pastorage. 2) I am suspicious of this. There is a time and a place for mentoring and its really great and certainly biblical. But it puts a single person massively in control of my life. It also can tempt me to look to my mentor and not God. No whatever this system is it will not look like a single person. It will not be lead by a single priest.

I want to sit in a room with people like me who are ok with stepping out in faith (which is actually really all humans. Stepping out in faith is just what greedy people do who find a treasure in a field. Sell all their possessions to buy the field and dig up the treasure. Faith is for people who like cheating in life and want to win the lottery) and then I want to pursue God in front of them and with them. I think I could do it alone but that is not what God wants. He wants 2 or 3 people to gather in his name. This pursuing God is a corporate event and is only solitary when times are extreme.

A system that supports individuals in their pursuit of God. I am an individual and I want this system.

Where does abaraham fit into this and his faith?… Next blog post

Connecting the church around their personal passions

Connecting the church around their personal passions


Where are we going?

We at Common Nonsense have been working for a while on a couple of larger projects. However the end is getting in sight for these projects and there is a question of where we can go next and what do we want to do? There are loads of avenues that could probably be met with commercial success and more clients. This is quite cool but there is a second question we need to answer before we go ahead with it. Why are we doing this? What is the point? More money? More developers? More Clients? To what end? Ultimately our goal was broadly to use technology to help the church. So the question is for us, what is our vision for the church and how could we help it get there? There are two things that come to mind. One is practically something that is exciting for the near future and so I will try and write this one up in a little more detail. I’d love to see if there are people wanting to help out with this. The other is probably something that is more interesting in the longer term and I’ll just set the stage. The first is about connecting people across websites around their passions. The second is about connecting the church to those within the persecuted church.

What it is we do now.

For those of you who don’t know me that well, at the heart of what we have been doing technically is the Party module with Drupal. Drupal is a popular content management system but it is also a framework with which people can build websites. 2.1% of the web is powered by Drupal. It provides tools to make it easy to build web pages built around realistic data structures. If I am building a website that is reviewing theatre productions, I can do more then just categorise and tag the reviews. I can add what Drupal calls “Fields” such as a Date Field that says when the play took place. Another date range Field that tells you until when you’ll be able to see the play and other kinds of fields such as the directors, actors or writers. It then provides tools to lay this data out in lists or web pages.

Our Party module takes Drupal and turns it into something called a “CRM” system. This is like a glorified address book that collects information about people. Usually businesses use this kind of software to keep information about their customers and then use this information to market to a subset of their customers, etc. As organisations are predominantly about their people, whether its staff, stakeholders, customers or just people know about the organisation and make the brand happen, this kind of data is incredibly important. Drupal’s tools for building web pages suddenly become incredibly useful for building databases of users. The UI for adding fields to a review can be used to instead add other information about the people in your system such as their date of birth or gender. The tools for laying out pages and making lists can be used for reports on the people you work with or making workflows for managing those people. Drupal’s tools enable us to very quickly build workflows and user interfaces that show only the information the staff need to see whilst saving them time and being a joy to use (in theory!)

Because all these tools are open source software, as we develop our toolset it is going to be incredibly easy to scale this. We can use the same tools to help many different organisations. This can include Christian church networks or event organisation companies or individual churches or other forms of Christian ministries. We’ll be able to quickly provide many of these organisations tools to manage all the data on the people they interact with and save them time and money. The more organisations that sit on our platform the stronger it can become as other developers contribute both code and interesting ideas of how to use those tools.

This stuff is ok. Its the stuff of a commercial success. Saving people time and money means they will give us money. Us having money means we can pay more developers and expand faster making more money or better websites and tools which in turn make more money. But this isn’t really cool yet. It gives our business a means to exist but not a reason.

Connecting passionate people around the things they are passionate about.

Imagine a Facebook for the church.

Imagine all the things the people in the church might like. All the different groups or events that could spring out about it. I might be really excited by speaking to homeless people in manchester. Or really into youth work and online gaming or maybe I just want to battle out the theological questions of Calvinism verses Arminianism again in light of more philosophical developments. Maybe I really love apologetics and I have this cool new argument I want to try out and figure out if its any good or if its been done before. Maybe I hate apologetics and want to just go around the clubs in the cities handing out cheap flipflops to girls who have spent all night dancing in high heels and are now in a lot of pain. I could be someone who is passionate about evangelising to people walking in the park, or maybe praying for healing, or maybe prophetic. Maybe I really love the flower arrangement of the church and need to figure out how I can make them healthy without spending as much time watering them. I love working with kids but my tiny rural church really can’t fit the children that are signed up here or the youth in my youth group are from difficult backgrounds and are being quite disruptive  I want to give them a place to hang out and show them some of Jesus’ love but I can’t keep having things smashed up in my church.

Whatever you’re passionate about in the church, whatever problems you face or things you want to do about it. They all are vastly helped by being connected to the people who are similarly passionate about it. Those people may have already gone ahead and can give you support and advice or maybe they are in a similar position to you and would want to help you.

Now imagine why there isn’t a Facebook for church.

People wouldn’t gather around and do cool things together. They would fight! The Calvinists would continue to rip into the Arminians. The conservative evangelical christians would attack the  mainstream evangelical Christians on their approach to women in leadership who would attack the liberals who agree on that but disagree on the authority of the scripture who would then attack the Anglo-catholics on their attitude toward women in leadership who are in turn attacking the conservative evangelical Christians for their attitude towards Mary!

I could say that when 2 or more are gathered in Jesus’ name… there will be arguments but really even if a Church only contained one person you’d find that person bickering with themselves!

Distributed Social Networking

Our software is free open source software. As we expand our company more people will use it and then other companies may start using it for their projects. Everyone will have a similar platform. However they don’t have to agree on women on leadership to both use the same tools that help them quickly search through their database. Now, remember the Drupal fields? It becomes trivially easy with Drupal to add the field “What are you passionate about?” There could be an infinite number of things people might put as their thing as New Frontier’s found out. Suddenly every single church, Christian ministry or network could easily ask what the people they work with care about. That’s quite cool, that will probably be useful to them.

However imagine now you’re the individual who really cares about the homeless in Manchester. You might put that down in your church profile but maybe your church is quite small and whilst there are people who would be willing to help you if you badgered them enough, they aren’t passionate about it like you are. You find it frustrating because every time you read the bible you see God’s heart crying out for the poor but never see that in the Christians around you. The chances are you’d be willing to work with people who aren’t in your church. You probably don’t care about your colleague’s attitude towards predestination!

In fact I think I’ll assert this. The boundaries that the larger ministries and that the church leaders care about are rarely the same boundaries that an individual in the church cares about. This means that whilst the churches will probably not want to come together into one massive Facebook for churches the individuals within the church may want to connect with others around the things they are passionate about.

Enter Distributed Social Networking.

The Internet is really great at connecting information but computers are dumb. See if I go and look at a book on Amazon,  I am clever. I can know that the front page image is the front page of an actual book in real life that has the title as its book title and the name next to “author” as the book’s author. In fact it doesn’t take much thought to realise that a name is actually a name. For a computer this is really difficult. A computer just sees a bunch of arbitrary text and random images. There is no way a computer can know easily that those bits of data are related. RDF and the Semantic Web aim to change that. It provides little tags that tells computers what the data it is looking at is (a name) and how it relates to other bits of data (it’s the author of that book).

Combine RDF with a whole collection of organisations that store information about people’s passions and you have a potential distributed social network. See, as this information is (by choice) available to everyone on the Internet it means it is available to computers on the Internet. If its available to computers on the Internet a website could potentially collect all this information into one place. Bare with me!

Imagine an organisation that has a website including information about people. We’ll call this a node. Another website could read all this information and store it somewhere. It could read this information across multiple websites (Nodes) and aggregate them into one place. This one place could be a searchable website. We’ll call this website a Network. This Network could be a website that aggregates all people who are interested in homeless people across all the churches in the UK for example. It could aggregate every speaker who is interested in politics across all Christian events. It could aggregate every sermon preached on Romans 2 and spoken in Arabic.

The Networks don’t need to ask for permission to do this any more then a human needs permission to manually go to every website, write this information down in a notebook and then publish the notebook online. The website that has sermons on Romans 2 in Arabic could have sermons from Anglo-catholic churches and conservative evangelical churches even if those two churches wouldn’t naturally come together.

This is starting to get cool.

What it takes

Its hard getting lots of churches, organisations and ministries storing their data in a format where this would be even possible. That’s what we’re doing and we could do this anyway. Having their data on one common platform makes things cheaper for them. The second part, connecting this becomes much easier and this is what I’d like to put to anyone reading this blog. There are things that need to be done and so I’ll just list them.

  • Make it so that each node can output the data in a machine readable format (Trivially easy)
  • Make it so that each node speaks the same language! This involves creating what is called an RDFa schema. In the Amazon example we have the “author” of a book. There needs to be a common language for what the author is. I could potentially use the word “Writer” on one website and “Author” on another. A Network trying to collect this information wouldn’t know that Author’s and Writer’s are the same thing unless they both use the same language or someone tells them they are the same. This is interesting when dealing with books of the bible for example. Are Song of Songs and Songs of Solomon the same book for example? It doesn’t really matter which one you use, the only thing that matters is that everyone uses the same one..
  • We need easy to install packages for the nodes. A church website distribution on Drupal for example so that lots of organisations can easily install a similar package.
  • We also need some code for the network website. It needs to be easy to set up a website that pulls all this information and aggregates it but this has its own problems.
    • How will a network know which nodes to pull data from
    • How will it actually pull the data
    • How will it store and cache the data (if that is what it should do) and how does it know when to index the information? Will it just index the web like google does?
  • Currently I have talked about Networks as mere “Aggregators” but really we want to connect people. This presents more interesting uses of Distributed Social networking which is probably beyond RDF.
    • Can I have a discussion that is actually located on lots of sites? This conversation about Calvinism, can it be across lots of blogs that are talking about it? Something like Disquss but even more open then that. If someone comments on a post on the network (Such as the sermon on Romans 2 in Arabic). Is that comment stored on the Network? Or can a node pull that comment back from the network? Is the discussion some how spread across all these websites?
    • How about organising events across multiple churches? Maybe all the churches in New Malden can organise an event together? But then you need authentication and permissions to edit this event and there is the question of where the event exists? Which version of the event is the true event and which ones are copies?
  • An investigation into the inevitable privacy issues. How can you make it so that individuals have complete control over their own data whilst enabling all this cool sharing. How can you make sure that a 70 year old in the church may not accidently post something confidential that goes out to everyone?

Diaspora has tried distributed social networking. I don’t think its worked out well because Facebook is so much easier and people will always take the path of least resistance  This is why the Party module is so important. If churches are using the platform anyway for other things that make their life easier, they would become far more likely to opt into the cooler aspects of what we’re talking about here.

Conclusion

There is something really exciting about the Internet’s ability to connect people. There is something exciting about connecting the right people around the thing they are passionate about. There is a tremendous opportunity for this to happen if organisations are all already using the same platform to store data about people. This is hard though. Most websites that connect people do it by making sure everything is in one walled garden (Facebook, Twitter, Discussion Forums etc) and this is something that simply won’t work with the Church. I’ve outlined a technical way using RDFa and aggregators that could potentially connect people but we’re REALLY in the early stages of this! Currently we’re just focusing on building the tools to solve our client’s needs as they exist now. I’m really interested to see what others might think of these ideas and where they could go.

This is only starting to get cool. How can we make this really cool?

What I’m excited about.

I’m typing this in a different colour as this post is long and you can ignore it. I really like connecting people in the church for the sake of connecting people in the church. My boss is more interested in connecting people so that they can do something together to achieve something for the Kingdom. The focus is on people eventually doing something. What I’ve posted here is more along the lines of my boss’ interest. However my passion has always been about connecting people as the end not the means. This includes watching online communitites and MMORPGs and connecting people in the church across age groups, etc.

I have always had a real passion for reading about and praying for the persecuted church. I have done a few mission trips. A lot of the time the whole reason why that mission happens is just to show solidarity. Its really easy when you’re under persecution to feel alone in all this. Recently I read a book by Brother Andrew called Secret Believers. In it there was a letter from the Church of Afghanistan to the President of the US. They told of what it is like for them and asked for help from the Christian west. There was something so exciting by reading a letter penned by real Christians in that country.

Imagine if we built software that could connect the church and then if this software got into the hands of people who are under persecution. Imagine if I could talk to and pray with people in that church in a way that was completely safe and secure in a manner that things like the TOR network are trying to enable. Even in that book, one of the converts from Islam, who had to leave due to all his friends getting killed, ended up in a safe environment but still desperately wanted to connect with other converts from Islam. He did it through chatting on the Internet.

The technology is there to make this possible. It just requires buy in from the church. However, this is in my opinion, where we go from cool to awesome :)!

Consider the source


So here is my take on a classic apologetic. I’m answering the emotional question, “Are christians horrible for thinking I will go to hell?”

So there is a fantastic film called the Devil’s Advocate. In this film Keanu Reeves is courted by a succesful Law firm owner played by Al Pacino. Now if you haven’t watched this film I suggest you skip to the next paragraph because I will spoil the film a little here (the rest is safe). However it turns out that Al Pacino is the devil and has been using Keanu Reeves to create the antichrist and finally defeat God. In one of the final scenes, Keanu Reeves challenges the devil with “You know that you are going to lose right?” to which Al blows it off as “Enemy propaganda! Have you considered the source?”

This is my issue with the question of heaven and hell. Everyone seems to think that Heaven is a place filled with “Good” stuff and that Hell is a place filled with “Bad” stuff. Now good things should happen to good people and bad things to bad people so therefore heaven should happen to “Good” people, I’m a generally good person so I should go to heaven. But this is the thing that confuses me, people very rarely consider the source of this information. Why does everyone think that the Christian heaven is a good place? The Christian God thinks that his heaven is good? But what if you reject the Christian God? Surely you’d reject his heaven too?

Philosophically this can seem like a difficult thing to picture. Heaven is understood as a good place because its kind of philosophically defined as just a “place of eternal goodness”. However, one example I quite enjoy is regarding sex. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus essentially says that there will be no sex in heaven. Now many people struggle with the idea that Christianity says you should wait until marriage until sex and that you should have sex with only this one person. I’ve heard people tell me that Christianity should modernise. Now if you can’t handle sex with only one person (where there is evidence and reasons that suggest that could actually give you better earthly sex anyway so you aren’t missing out on much). How on earth would you be able to cope with a sexless eternity in heaven?!?

Now I can tell you why I do it. Whilst I think there are good reasons to suggest that Sex with one person who you love for ever on earth that gets better and better as you understand each other better, are powerful. They are by no means conclusive. The reality is that I believe that the God who created sex will be able to give me good advice on how to deal with it. In essence, I trust him. Some people big this up as “faith” which they see as some crazy metaphysical religious thing which I have or don’t. It’s just a case where it makes sense, given what I know of God, to trust him. Then at the same time my experiences tend to confirm that actually his advice was good advice anyway. Similarly when I think about heaven and its lack of sex. I might think about all the awesomeness of sex on earth (its possible to appreciate to some degree the awesomeness of sex without experiencing it directly, women are awesome). This fills me with more hope, the God who made THAT has said there is something coming without it that is going to be BETTER! See for a Christian, the reality is that we don’t have concrete things in heaven to enjoy. We’re not going there for sex or riches. We only have one promise, that it will be with Jesus. A fantastic quote by Dinesh D’Souza; “People get confused that they think that the Gift from God is salvation but actually Christians believe that the Gift of God is salvation”. The thing christians “get” in heaven is God. Its Jesus himself that we long for.

But what if you don’t trust God? What if you don’t think Jesus is worthy. Well then all my “evidence” that God’s way of doing sex is best could probably be explained in other ways. Or maybe they are pipe dreams (you might say “Jamie, its unreasonable to expect the first will be ‘the one'”). The reality is if you don’t trust God you probably won’t trust what he says and won’t want to do what he says. (This is the converse of Jesus saying that those who love God will do what he says). The reality is that you’ll only think Hell is bad if you trust him in the first place. So we have a wierd situation here.

If you are angry that God is sending you to hell. Then you think Hell is a bad place. You can only think Hell is a bad place if you trust God. If you trust God you won’t go to hell (pretty much*) so you won’t have a reason to be angry. So you are no longer angry that God is sending you to hell. (Cause he isn’t).

Or

You are angry that God is sending you to hell. He’s sending you to hell because you don’t trust him. Because you don’t trust him, you don’t trust that Hell is a bad place. So he isn’t sending you to a bad place. So there is no reason to be angry with him.

In my understanding the issue has been answered. However there are a couple of niggling questions.

Do you as a Christian really think Hell is Good?

Well obviously not. I think that Hell is a very bad place indeed and Heaven will be awesome. I think everyone really wants to be in heaven. But the reason why I think this is because everyone else is actually wrong. God exists, his name is Jesus and Jesus is worthy. Because God is actually good and what everyone needs him, heaven is actually good because its with him. Conversely Hell is a place of extreme suffering by virtue of God not really being there. So I think Heaven is good, I think Hell is bad and I think you’re heading there. The point I’m making is that there is no good reason to be angry at me. Either I’m wrong, in which case I’m wrong anyway and maybe you should feel sorry for me, or I’m right in which case it appears you agree with me so you’re not heading to Hell after all.

But you just said?

Right. This is confusing. Why would anyone in their right mind go for something that is bad? Well the way I like to think of it, is a kind of extreme anorexia. You imagine a person who is very skinny, they are starving to the point that their hair is falling out. You go up to them and present them good food. In this thought-experiment the food is exactly the right kind of food. Its not going to make them throw up even though they are hungry, its going to nourish them and it looks awesome. Most people who are sane would eat it. However, it is possible to imagine someone who will still not eat this food. They are anorexic. They are refusing food even though rationally they ought to eat it, they want to eat it and it would end their suffering. Now to a normal person anorexic people seem totally crazy, there seems to be literally no reason why they wouldn’t eat. In reality there are doctors and counsellors who can usually get to the bottom of the problem. These people will find reasons that have brought the anorexia on (they hate themselves, they think they look fat, etc). However, in this picture we have someone where all the best doctors have tried to find the reasons and they can’t. Literally everything has been done but they still won’t eat.

Now, the debate in the philosophy of religion and to a lesser extent in theology is whether this person could exist. I think it is possible for most people to imagine because most people aren’t doctors and can imagine someone who is this crazy. BUT there might be some niggling faith that eventually with enough doctors and time this person will come to eat. This is what philosophers argue. There are some who think that people will eventually know God is good and still for some reason reject him (more traditional christianity) and there are some people who believe that eventually all humans beings will eventually realise that God is good and then they will be in heaven (universalist christians).

So what does Jamie think?

Well, I tend towards the traditional Christian. The issue I have with the universalist approach is twofold. Firstly it is incredibly arrogant. When Christopher Hitchens writes a book entitled “God is not Great” and emphasises again and again that not only does he not believe God exists but believes it would be bad if he did. This universalist Christians has to say that not only is Hitchenswrong about facts (He does exist) but you’re making no sense about your feelings towards him, that Hitchens actually does want to grovel before a higher being, he’s just lying to himself. Now I have no problem with this arrogance, except that in my experience the kind of person who is a universalist tends to be the kind of person who scorns arrogance in favour of being “accepting”. Their apparantly accepting view is actually much more strongly arrogant. However the issue I have is that it seems like blind faith to believe that eventually everyone will be solved even in my anorexic example. I don’t think it’s impossible to think of a person where no one can find the reason to the point where there isn’t any. I think in order for me to have the faith that everyone will eventually think like that, the philosophical arguments aren’t convincing, I think there would have to be an external source of certainty such as a pretty good biblical argument that I have yet to have seen.

What about all the pitch forks, fire and brimstone

I suppose I should mention that I’m putting forward a particular view on the theology of hell. I don’t think its a place of literal fire, I don’t think there will be demons with pitch forks. I don’t think Dante’s Inferno is an accurate picture of the afterlife. I think these are medieval stories to scare people into conformity. Probably this view needs to be justified (there were loads of good talks about it at New Wine!). However I’m not going to do that here.

*Pretty Much? and I’m still angry

Yeah, it doesn’t seem that just trusting God’s attitude towards heaven and hell is correct is another to warrant salvation. So there is a little more to it, however if you trust God’s attitude towards these things but there is some other issue in the way. Well the purpose of apologetics is really to go from questions to more questions! So feel free to comment!

Why I Hate Christmas


So its christmas and I’ve decided I’m a scrooge. I just don’t like it, I can’t deal with the tinsel, I hate the christmas music on constantly in clothes stores, I can’t deal with carols and hate the carol singers even more. I don’t like carol services nor midnight mass nor nativity plays nor any church related christmas service I can think of and I can’t deal with the twee feeling and all the santa’s grottos. I watched a Smallville Christmas special a while ago. Clark had to skip some of his christmas party to deliver presents to poor children for Chloe. He sees someone dressed as santa about to kill himself because the ‘true meaning of christmas’ has been forgotten. Clark explains to santa that he’s been delivering presents instead of going to a party and the santa decides life is worth living. Santa then goes to Chloe and helps her deliver the presents but he does it instantly. Could that have been the real Santa??? EURGH!

Yeah Christmas specials are definitely one of the things I hate the most!

However, I’m really just messing around. It’s really because I’m a christian, and a particular type of christian. Now some people dislike christmas because they say that actually it was a roman festival of worship of the sun god. They say that christians just high-jacked a pagan festival and that actually the roots of christmas are evil. We still use symbols that clearly have nothing to do with Jesus such as the christmas Tree, holly and the yule Log. However I don’t really care about that, in fact I like that imagery. There used to be days devoted to the devil, and like Jesus is redeeming the world through his church he has redeemed some holidays.

Many thought that I’d find it difficult being a Christian studying Physics with Philosophy. They thought I’d have to keep my head low. But actually it’s great. The fact that my views are so obviously antagonistic to the majority of the people around me allows for far more interesting discussion. I don’t get into arguments that much because people never really feel a need to prove themselves to me or prove me wrong. I’m a christian, I regularly talk to an invisible man, I’m crazy so then so what if I disagree with their view on dating? It’s great, at uni I can just talk about my views, my faith and my God. I find I get into way more arguments with people who sort-of agree with me… such as with other christians! 

But then Christmas comes and ruins all that. Suddenly everyone is sucked into the lovely cute feeling of Christmas. There is talk of the “true meaning of Christmas”, about ‘universal love’, ‘hope’, ‘peace and Goodwill to all humankind’. As a christian its like I’m expected to go along with that. I’m expected to be happy because people who normally are totally against my views spend one holiday of being more ‘christian like’. I’m a Christian, I like hope, shouldn’t I be happy that everyone else is getting into it? NO! No no no no no. This is my main problem with Christmas. The Christmas everyone else celebrates is worlds apart from the christmas I celebrate. They talk about hope but what are they hoping for? Christianity is not about an abstract of feeling of hope that helps us get through the day. The hope is in Christ. 

In fact its all about Jesus. We don’t just hope, we hope in Christ. We don’t want an abstract universal love, we want God’s perfect love poured into us so it overflows to those around us, it’s love but its love that starts with Jesus. We’re not looking for general good will to all men we’re either looking for God’s goodwill to all men or more specically God’s will to all men! If you remove the Christ from Christmas you don’t get something that is almost like what I believe. You end up with something abhorrant to me. I’m not into niceness, I’m not into being moral, I’m not into hope and peace nor am I into good will to all men. I’m searching for freedom from those horribly constraining things, I’m searching for freedom from morality and guilt, from niceness and feeling held back and from needing to hypocritically put on a facade of goodwill to people I hate and fortunately I’ve found that freedom. I’ve found it in Jesus and I’ve found it in his death and ressurection. From him I no longer need to worry about being nice, I just become like he wants me to, I don’t need to worry about what people think of me because Jesus loves me, and I don’t need to worry about trying to like people I hate because God shows me everyone through his eyes, his sons and daughters and my brothers and sisters.

So I put on an act of being like scrooge. It is easier to tell people I don’t know very well that I hate christmas specials then to tell them that I think that they are hoping in nothing. (Having said all that, I really really do hate christmas specials… and carols)