What harmony has Christ with Belial?

What harmony has Christ with Belial?

2 Corinthians 6:15

Even though I’ve been looking for it, it was still a shock when I found it, and not at all what I was expecting. This seems to be the only occurrence of “harmony” (συμφώνησις symphōnēsis, in the Greek) in the New Testament [1].

“What harmony has Christ with Belial?” is a fearsome admonition. Who or what is Belial? If Belial means idolators (so says my Big Book of the Bible), then the next verse is the challenge and reminder:

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

2 Corinthians 6:16

[1] Using BibleHub as a search engine, and based on occurrences of “harmony” in the English translations. So, not a thorough search. English “harmony” is often translated from Greek words for things like togetherness or unity.

Harmony Q1 Review, Q2 Preview

Four Quarters:

  1. (Jan-Mar) Together
  2. (Apr-Jun) Melody
  3. (Jul-Sep) Matrimony
  4. (Oct-Dec) Desire

Q1 Together Review

This has felt like a very Lenten quarter, pruning, shedding. Though in some ways I feel less distracted and more focussed, I also feel rather bleak and empty. I am ready for Q2.

Of my concrete goals for the quarter:

I have ideas for Lent, I want to find some male Christian bloggers to follow, and some online Christian communities to join and take part in.

  • The Lent idea was a great success, and continues to be, starting on 18th Jan and still going strong (see the pornfree category).
  • The related livefree social network almost fit the bill perfectly as an online Christian community, but they only take payment by credit card, not paypal.

Bonus: (hé, harmony). A Confucian concept I only vaguely understand but which has been close to my heart for a few years. Came up while I was reading Faith after Doubt. I posted just once about this but hope to investigate further.

Q2 Melody Preview

Q2 has already started — with a failure: Easter churches are all locked down, so I didn’t have anything to attend. I have had my first vaccine this week so hope to venture into public spaces soon.

The point of the idea of melody is to be more active, to get away from the idea of harmony as “fitting in”.

  • be more outgoing I: There are some Christian neighbours: make friends with them.
  • be more outgoing II: … start talking more like a christian; have that Christian humanism book around.
  • write more: by the end of Q2 I’d like to be posting weekly.
  • looking forward to Q3, be more explicitly and physically affectionate with my wife — even if I’m not in the mood. Test the water.

Some reading goals:

  • reading through the Old Testament is going according to plan (reading Deuteronomy for April). Keep that up.
  • By “that Christian humanism book” I mean one of these books by Jan Zimmermann. Probably the Bonhoeffer as Incarnational Humanism seems like it might be controversial.

Faith after Doubt

Faith after Doubt, Brian Mclaren, 2021

review

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I found it engaging and inspiring, even (or especially) where I had criticisms.

The core idea of the book, stated early on, is that doubt is not an enemy of faith but a kind of stimulus to faith’s development. Our faith develops and grows by transcending our doubts — not by ignoring them or by bulldozing over them, but by listening, engaging, finding the fit, and restructuring.

This made the book exciting to me from the beginning. The idea that “contradiction is the engine of development” and the importance of a developmental perspective are familiar to me from philosophy and psychology, and very much the way I approach things generally.

Many thanks to Lisa for bringing the book to my attention, and for reading it with me. Reading in company adds an extra set of dimensions to a text, and Lisa is such a generous and positive reader (as shown in the book reviews on her blog). Reading with Lisa helped me see that this story of development applied to my own journey of turning to Jesus.

The first half sets out the idea and outlines four stages through which our faith develops (slogans added by me):

  1. Simplicity: Off the shelf
  2. Complexity: My own personal Jesus
  3. Perplexity: The centre cannot hold
  4. Harmony: Love conquers all

A bit of description:

  1. An unthinking, implicit faith, often inherited or found. Perhaps not experienced as faith or belief, or even noticed at all. eg the atheist who follows an “everything is physics” viewpoint, without much of an idea of what the natural sciences actually do. The realisation that one’s beliefs are just that — beliefs — is the first step to the next stage.
  2. I have a set of beliefs and attitudes, and I notice how this relates to the set of beliefs and attitudes of my community, those of neighbouring communities, … I begin to pick and choose and make my own nest of beliefs. If the goal is to grow in faith, then this stage — of consciously or not selecting beliefs that are easy or convenient or useful to hold — is like putting up scaffolding or putting training wheels on a bike. The transition comes when we start to be self-conscious about this cherry-picking, and when we notice that … everyone is doing it!
  3. This stage seemed to be all transition, characterised by questions like, “is there a faith at all?”, and can lead to dead-ends like postmodernism and nihilism. The move up from here is more of a decision or an act of faith than in previous stages — “yes, there is a faith, and I will find it!”
  4. The realisation that love of God and love of neighbour take many forms, and a realisation that tensions, contradiction and resolution are all part of the process of building love and faith.

“Harmony” was a huge and pleasant surprise! And this stage in the book had a strong Christian humanist flavour, which made it even more attractive to me. In my late-pre-believer days I thought the humanism of Christianity one of its most attractive features. And “strong, confident humanism” is what I thought when reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Mclaren gives a clear disclaimer and caveat about “stage theories”. There are plenty of these in developmental psychology. The important thing is not the number of stages, what they’re called, or even their characteristics; the important thing is what drives development. Here, our exploration of our own faith, and testing it against the world, reveals contradictions and doubts that we overcome to strengthen and transform our faith.

In the second half, Mclaren explores the implications of this developmental idea — the tone is basically, how and why to get everyone up to stage 4.

This was a beautifully encouraging book to read in Q1 of my Year of Harmony. It seemed so rooted in many of the ways I think already. Along with the strong humanism with which Mclaren characterised Stage 4 Harmony, I felt it as a confirmation that I can make Christianity my intellectual home as well as a spiritual home.

A story like this has to be very abstract (in which case nobody will understand it, like Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit), or it needs concrete examples. Mclaren gives plenty of stories, … unfortunately they are rather homogeneous. The stories also conflated a faith journey with a policial journey — essentially the adoption of the currently fashionable identity politics of BLM, LGBTQIA++, etc.

This will limit the appeal of the book, it confuses the issues (or at least begs the question), and it denigrates the unique perspective of Christianity and humanism, as if harmonising were merely about “fitting in”.

Ironically, Mclaren’s attitude to identity politics has hallmarks of Stage 1: adopting jargon (“white privilege”, prioritising gender over sex) uncritically and apparently unconsciously; and showing little familiarity with the product (how many Pride marches has he been on if he hasn’t seen all the corporate sponsorsip? Corporate marketing and HR departments love postmodernism and identity politics).

I found this exceedingly annoying while reading, and the book’s ideas will reach a narrower audience than they should because of it. However, I think it is a fairly superficial flaw.

next steps

  • I’d like to find some contemporary “Stage 4” Christian voices who also have “Stage 4” politics. For example, critiquing identity politics from “the left” and/or from a Christian and humanist perspective.
  • Christianity and humanism. Follow up this theme. eg Tom Holland’s “Dominion” caught my eye when it came out. I’ve been reading a chapter on Levinas in a book by Jens Zimmermann called Humanism and Religion. It was a good chapter and he’s written a few attractive books recently on the theme, one of which I shall read soon. eg as well as the above:

和而不同 “with but not and”

In Confucianism, 和 (hé) harmony, is an important central concept. This post is first in an occasional series exploring 和 in Confucianism, and how that can inspire my own search for harmony.

The phrase “和而不同” (hé ér bù tóng) could be literally translated as “with but not and”, or more helpfully as “harmonious but not identical”.

Much is made of the difficulty of translating Classical Chinese. A large part of the problem is its extremely telegraphic nature (think shorthand, pre-smartphone text messages, or shopping lists) — problematic especially when the target language is the extremely loquacious style of anglophone intellectual writing.

The phrase is from 13:23 in the Analects:

子曰:“君子和而不同,小人同而不和。”

zǐ yuē: “jūn zǐ hé ér bù tóng, xiǎo rén tóng ér bù hé.”

Zi said: “noble persion harmonious but not identical, small person identical but not harmonious.”

The 君子 (jūn zǐ) noble or exemplary person is the ideal human we should strive to emulate. The 小人 (xiǎo rén) small person (petty might be a good translation) is the opposite. These two characters reappear often in the Analects.

Three real translations:

The Master said: “The noble man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony.”
(acmuller.net)

The Master said: “The gentleman, although he behaves in a conciliatory manner, does not make his views coincide with those of others; the small man, although he makes his views coincide with those of others, does not behave in a conciliatory manner.”
(OUP)

The Master said: “Exemplary persons seek harmony not sameness; petty persons, then, are the opposite.”
(Penguin)

I think the OUP translation is embarrassingly bad. The Penguin translation is crisp, but in fairness I should say that it has a footnote that is three and a half pages long. I like the Penguin book. It’s also in parallel so you can see how much shorter the Chinese is:

Readers of the Bible will be familiar with problems of translations, and the strangeness of ancient languages.

Harmonious togetherness is not sameness, not an army of identical people. Harmony is a set of differences which together make up something pleasing and powerful. A new body, not just a bigger louder body.

I think of the body of Christ as a harmony composed of all of us together — a complex harmony with some dissonances as we grow.

four quarters #harmony

  1. (Jan-Mar) Together
  2. (Apr-Jun) Melody
  3. (Jul-Sep) Matrimony
  4. (Oct-Dec) Desire

** Together

Harmony is togetherness. Togetherness in the communities I am part of (family, work, village, friends, my online “church”); togetherness within me, between my competing interests and desires.

This quarter I want to notice and gravitate towards activities that promote togetherness in both these spheres, and neglect activities that dissipate togetherness.

Concrete goals: I have ideas for Lent, I want to find some male Christian bloggers to follow, and some online Christian communities to join and take part in.

** Melody

Harmony brings melody.

These beautiful concepts have dark sides, and the dark side of my yearning for Harmony is a tendency for passivity and rule-following, withdrawal, when things aren’t going well.

This quarter I want to “watch” that dark side and “celebrate” the bright, active side of harmony which is melody (and rhythm). The greatest Harmony is God and this quarter I really want to show (first of all to myself) that harmonising with Him lends me Love, Power and Knowledge to be melodious for His glory.

Concrete goals: successes at work (will be one year at my new job during this quarter); attend Easter activities and/or service at a local church or cathedral.

** Matrimony

Matrimony is Harmony. The harmony between two lovers in a permanent relationship … does not look after itself.

My wife Sara’s birthday is during this quarter, and I dedicate the quarter to her, and to harmony in our marriage, to have Sara’s well-being and happiness at the fore of my everything every day.

Concrete goals: I want to monitor and increase my physical displays of affection, just sufficiently for Sara to notice, perhaps enjoy, perhaps reciprocate. Slightly strange to quantify these things but I want to hold myself to daily commitments. I want to end every day with a loving gesture, no matter what quarrels might have just happened.

Why wait till July? Writing these goals today means I might start trying things out tomorrow. I don’t preclude earlier activity, but the quarter around Sara’s birthday is for her.

** Joy

Harmony is joy. Harmony is a smoothly running machine, a symphony helter-skelter but in control of itself, the surprise of truth and the power that comes with it. Harmony is full of laughter and enjoyment.

This quarter looks toward Christmas, and the yearning for Harmony is offset by the Joy of His arrival (like the sharp gin is offset by the smooth vermouth in a Martini, one of my Christmas treats). I want to celebrate Christ, myself, my wife, and all the beautiful people I have met along my journey.

Concrete goals: year-end successes at work; attend Christmas activities and/or service at a local church or cathedral.

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