East Timor

May 31, 2006

Every week I buy coffee from Ivan and his wife. They both came to Australia from East Timor; getting out when the UN pulled out after the referendum, before the worst of the violence as Indonesia said so-long-and-farewell by burning everything they could to the ground. The coffee is about as fair trade as possible – it pretty much doesn’t leave Timorese hands till they hand it to me.

Ivan managed to get some close family members to Darwin last week; but has many friends and family still in East Timor.

Hopefully the Australian troops will be able to restore order and make the lives of Ivan’s friends and relatives safer. But that will be only the very tip of the iceberg of work that needs to be done to help East Timor build a stable and sustainable nation after centuries of colonialism and oppression by the empire builders of Portugal and the Indonesian military.

Who will be eaten first? is an excellent cartoon tract which should become an essential tool for all modern evangelists.

Last night I went to a production of “Lord of the Flies” in a tiny theatre in the city centre. A small audience braved the cold and wet. The play was done well – production values were high and the actors played much younger English schoolboys with great enthusiasm.

For people who weren’t forced to read William Golding’s novel in school, Wikipedia has a cheatsheet which gives you the basics. It’s an allegorical novel – a group of schoolboys are abandoned on a desert island after a planecrash during a war (they’re Lost, so to speak). They quickly lose their inhibitions and the thin veneer of civilisation that overlays their lives and revert to a murderous savage barbarity.

Golding was a believer in the Leviathan, that without rigid rules backed by power we revert to anarchy and savagery. That our natural state is the Hobbsian one where life is nasty, brutish and short.

And although Lord of the Flies isn’t a religious tract, I would think that its message can be clearly heard in the regular denunciations by some Christians of ‘secular humanism’ or ‘moral relativism’. In their view, humanity has no inherent knowledge of right or wrong; and without the rules of conduct laid out in the Bible (which, like the naval officer at the end of the novel, comes not from within our society but from without) we are like little boys on an island without teachers or parents; and we’ll be killing each other and worshipping pig’s heads before a week is out.

A Love of Authority

May 22, 2006

I was at a party over the weekend, and started chatting to this young (24ish) guy (lets call him Peter). Very bright, engaging guy; a banking and finance lawyer in a big city law firm. Peter spends most of his time finding interesting ways to reduce the amount of tax that his clients have to pay.

At one point Peter started to talk about moral relativism. He had, the previous week, had a long discussion with a friend about moral relativism. This friend was a ‘secular humanist’, and Peter felt that he had achieved somewhat of a victory in his discussion, because the friend was unable to provide a source of authority for his moral beliefs, even though he clearly had some.

At this point Peter confessed he was a Christian. Unlike his friend, he didn’t trust his own moral judgement, and so instead he trusted the moral laws of God. He had a source of authority for his statements about morality, so wasn’t a relativist like his friend. That his friend clearly believed in moral values that transcended individual preference and cultural norms didn’t matter – he was a relativist if he couldn’t explain who (begging the question a bit) was his source of authority for those values.

(You may notice the word ‘authority’ keeps on popping up in this post. This is because it kept on popping up in the conversation.)

From my point of view it was obvious that just because Peter’s friend could not point to a book as authority for his moral statements, and instead had to rely on his innate sense of right and wrong, did not make him necessarily a moral relativist.

But later I started to wonder about another aspect of our conversation; the description of Christianity as a source of rules, making becoming a Christian like an almost feudal submission to the authority of a Monarch or the jurisdiction of a State.

Where in this is the joyous shout of liberation threaded throughout the New Testament? Where is Paul’s ringing declaration that we are no longer under the Law? If the only thing that Christ is freeing us from is God’s own judgment, if becoming a Christian is about submitting to rules contained in a book because you should not trust your own moral compass, is it any wonder that people don’t shout Hallelujah when you explain it to them?

Can Christianity be about freedom? Or must it be about submission and authority?

I’m a youngish (31) liberal protestant Christian. I like people like Spong and Borg and Fosdick. I have always been a liberal protestant Christian, it was the faith of my fathers; so in a sense I am a traditionalist. I am not an ex-fundamentalist.

Now, liberal protestantism may or may not have run its course, but the underlying issues and challenges that the early liberals faced and (often reluctantly) embraced and their brothers the fundamentalists faced and defied still exist.

Christianity has yet to finalise its response to the new society it played a part in creating over the last few centuries, and the new society has yet to finalise its reponse to Christianity. Things are still in flux, and a spirit moves over the waters.

This blog is about this.

Since the entire world is blogging, I thought I would show my individuality by joining the teeming masses.

My name is Demas, and welcome to Live From Thessalonica.

In real life, my name isn’t Demas and I don’t live in Thessalonica, but these are mere facts which should not be allowed to get in the way of the truth.

If you want to see more of me, visit the wonderful Ship of Fools, where you will find me pontificating about many things of which I know little.

Shout out to the also wonderful Boy in the Bands blog. Read it, it’s good.