Power and thinking: “don’t say there is no bread”

North Korean children hold up red scarves to be tied around their necks during an induction ceremony into the Korean Children's Union, the first political organization for North Koreans, held at a stadium in Pyongyang on Friday, April 12, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

At a rally in 2012, members of the Korean Children’s Union wept and jostled to hold Kim Jong Un’s hand in what was likened to a welcome given to teen pop idol Justin Bieber than a political leader. In a speech to mark the organisation’s anniversary, Kim told the young delegates they were the future masters of a ‘most powerful country where every home will be full of laughter and everyone lives in harmony’.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Totalitarian governments have always traded in fantasy. This often involves gigantic perception gaps in how they see the world. These absolute systems often collapse because of contradictions between aspirational cultures of universal happiness and prosperity and the grim everyday realities of poverty and repression for their citizens.

Resisting unwelcome truths is an unhealthy dynamic in any group or organisation. A traveller told this story about the former Communist East Germany:

“There was a failure of the wheat harvest. This meant there was a resulting shortage of bread. The Government put up posters and made radio broadcasts “there is plenty of bread”, “don’t say there is no bread”. The shops remained empty and people were hungry.”

It is always better to have a reliable feedback loop operating. It provides accurate information rather than just what we want to hear. This applies to Business Executives and Governments who only want good news from those they lead. It is also relevant for family relationships and volunteer groups. The truth can sting, but so can a good disinfectant – – which in some circumstances can save your life. An ancient writer penned this pithy truism: “better is open rebuke than hidden love”.



Power & Language: two plus two equal five


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1984 is George Orwell’s classic novel of the way absolute governments use power. As mentioned previously in this blog Orwell used the book to explore how the powerful use language to control meaning.


In one scene, the anti-hero, Winston, is being tortured by O’Brien, a member of the ruling party:

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’


‘And if the party says that it is not four but five — then how many?’


The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body…

‘How many fingers, Winston?’


The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Five! Five! Five!’

‘No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?’

‘Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’

Abruptly he was sitting up with O’Brien’s arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds. The bonds that had held his body down were loosened. He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably, his teeth were chattering, the tears were rolling down his cheeks. For a moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it.

‘You are a slow learner, Winston,’ said O’Brien gently.

Thus O’Brien takes control of Winston’s view of reality. It is O’Brien who defines what math is due to his power.

An interesting process of reality redefinition is underway within the Episcopal Church of America. Its liberal leaders portray themselves as a persecuted and oppressed group, seeking to provide acceptance and understanding to those who society rejects and misunderstands. They say they believe in justice and inclusion for all.

The information they are leaving in the background, however, is illuminating.  Many parishes who have dissented with the leaders of the Episcopal Church have been closed and congregations sued in court.

One of the leaders of dissenting Episcopalians, Dr Foley Beach, was asked what would be needed for reconciliation with the Episcopal Church. He asked for an end to lawsuits and confiscations:

“But one thing I did say, and I said this in front of the other Primates, because I was asked a question: one thing that would help towards reconciliation and collaboration would be if they call off the lawsuits. Right now they’re suing numbers of our congregations for millions of dollars and property and church buildings, and on and on it goes. They could call that off in a moment. It’s going to be hard as long as we’re in court against each other.”

What was interesting is that for all the rhetoric about reconciliation and acceptance from the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the Primate of the Episcopal Church, he has never even made the effort to meet Dr Beach as a leader of dissenting groups. The meeting at Canterbury was the first time he has ever met Dr Beach.

The Episcopal Church has spent millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees to confiscate church buildings, take over congregations’ bank accounts and deny dissenting clergy their full pensions. In 2013 when the conservative diocese of Quincy in Illinois voted to withdraw from the Episcopal church due to doctrinal differences. They were taken to court and stood to lose all of their buildings and finances. A lower court ruled in their favour so the Episcopal Church appealed – furthering the legal battle. The churches in the Quincy Diocese were forced to operate for a long time with no access to their finances due to legal action by the Episcopal Church.

Jeff Walton, director of the Anglican Program at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, makes this comment in Christian Post:

“The Episcopal Church should accept the appellate court ruling and move on with its own mission and ministry.”

“Even if Episcopalians eventually win on appeal at a higher court, the properties in the diocese are not sought by any viable Episcopal congregations ready to move into them,” said Walton.

“The Episcopal Church’s effort to freeze bank funds or litigate against departing churches has always been a punitive strategy to deter future defections.”

The aggression the Episcopal Church’s leadership has displayed in going after breakaway congregations has even been commented on by the courts. A local newspaper, the Dispatch Argus described the situation like this:

The court order went on to say the actions of the Episcopal Church constituted “bad faith, is not grounded in fact or existing law and has resulted in needless, ongoing and expensive litigation.”

The Episcopal Church also has lost at trial and appellate levels, and has been turned down by the lllinois Supreme Court, court records say.

Legal fees spent by the Episcopal Church recently topped $40 million nationally, Rev. Janikowski said. “We have spent a couple hundred thousand dollars here on money that could have been better spent on mission work and church plants.”

Episcopal church leaders have continued to drag it out, Rev. Janikowski said.

In the newest court ruling, the judge also said if the Episcopal Church brings the matter up again, they would be ruled in contempt, Rev. Janikowski said. “So we may have finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Over the last decade up to 700 clergy were defrocked and 12 Bishops kicked out for tyring to leave the Episcopal church. Lawsuits by the Episcopal church even targeted lay people, suing them for damages.  All this for daring to disagree with the doctrinal position of those leading the Episcopal Church. If people do not submit to the Episcopal Church’s view of the world, the message is simple – we will come after you with all the legal resources of a large and powerful organisation.

Suddenly the claims of being a group committed to being ‘inclusive of all’ and presenting the kind face of presiding Bishop Michael Curry  is sounding a little hollow when it is seen what happens to those who disagree.

Inclusivity and mercy towards others are what the Episcopal leadership say they are: according to them two plus two definitely equal five

The Power of Ideology


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Lenin “Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a “third” ideology).

V.I. Lenin, ‘What Is To Be Done?’: “The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats” (1901)

‘There can be no talk of an independent ideology’ says Lenin. This is a telling admission about how totalitarians treat the exchange of ideas –  not as a competition (with debate and discussion) but rather as a hierarchy of ideas.  The ideas of those with political, religious, economic or military power then trump the views of others.

Leftist Totalitarians deal with competing ideas by labelling them. For Lenin those arguing or debating with Socialist ideas were ‘Bourgeois’ or ‘Reactionary’-  automatically discounted and devalued as offering a serious alternative. No rebuttal needed.  Nazis and other Rightist Totalitarians did (and do) the same – competing ideas are ‘Jewish’ ,  ‘Un-German’ or ‘Leftist’ and similarly bombed, burned or banned.

In theological debate epithets such as ‘heretic’, ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘liberal’ are launched at opponents like cruise missiles. They produce little in the way of light but certainly generate heat. Ironically these can also be claimed as badges of honour by those labelled, confirming their positions in their own mind by adding a sense of either martyrdom or strengthening of their ‘brand’.

Labelling  concepts or ideas is a powerful way of attacking them when you don’t have the power to get rid of them in any other way. In debates with some liberal thinkers ‘Truth’ is often seen as a particularly tempting target. This is because any strong conception of an objective truth outside of ourselves demands people justify their position logically and coherently. Thus writer and thinker Brian McLaren talk about ‘metanarratives’ when discussing ‘truth’ and its uses and abuses. In this system of thought things are seen as no longer ‘true’, they are part of a metanarrative -to be deconstructed and critiqued for political, cultural and historical context. Others use words like ‘abstract truth’: like the introductory booklet to an Emergent Church Seminar:

Truth—This time will not be a dry, theoretical discourse on abstract truth, but an engagement with the meaning and function of truth in our world” (italics mine)

Adding the word ‘Abstract’ or ‘Propositional’ to make what are talking about into ‘Propositional Truth’ or talking about ‘true truth’ is yet another way of relativizing it. Another way around the idea of a truth to which we are all answerable, to is to talk about ‘objectivity’ and how this is so difficult because there are so many points of view. Tony Jones argues for this:

What Fish says is that objectivity is unattainable. In his excellent book, Is There a Text in this Class?, Fish argues that truth comes to be known in and among and on the basis of “the authority of interpretive communities.” We are subjective human beings, trapped in our own skins and inevitably influenced by the communities in which we find ourselves. And isn’t this what the church is, or at least should be: an authoritative community of interpretation?

Truth left to the whims of the ‘interpretative community’ takes us back to where we began. The reality of this is that, as with any community (as Martin Luther found out) powerful sections of that community can decide what the dominate ideology is. One of the most famous philosophers of the 20th Century, Martin Heidegger, himself believed in the ‘interpretive community’, taking what was happening in Germany in the 1930’s as what the collective consciousness of the community were working out regarding truth and national destiny:

For what is healthy and what is sick, every people and age gives itself its own law, according to the inner greatness and extension of its existence [seines Daseins]. Now the German people [Volk] are in the process of rediscovering their own essence [sein eigenes Wesen] and making themselves worthy of their great destiny. Adolf Hitler, our great Führer and chancellor, created, through the National Socialist revolution [nationalsozialistische Revolution], a new state by which the people will assure itself anew of the duration and continuity of its history

Martin Heidegger, address to the Freiburg Institute of Pathological Anatomy, August 1933

Martin Heidegger continues to be a major influence on Western philosophy, although many have conveniently forgotten his national socialist history. They have also forgotten the historical lesson of this cultured and clever man – truth is too valuable a commodity to be relativized, redefined or left to some vague ‘interpretative community’ where the powerful and ruthless can hold sway. When the Nazis took over Germany in the 1930s Philosophers like Heidegger welcomed them and there were too few ‘truth holders’ to make them accountable for their lies.

Truth can be difficult, complex and exasperating, but she is justified by all her children. Solzhenitsyn, with his years wrestling in the Gulag, has earned the last word:

It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.”

Shiva and the Supermen


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The New Soviet Man will be a “a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman”.

Leon Trotsky   

The ‘Superman’ has always been s dream of scientific society. 19th Century  philosopher Frederick Nietzsche  argued the ‘death of (the idea of) God’ meant we needed a ‘Übermensch’ – a being ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ being. This superman replaces the  transcendent God and provides  ultimate  meaning and guidance. Many later followers of Nietzsche believed this happened through science, especially Eugenics . They argued that by controlling genetic inheritance,  scientists could help create a new ‘God’. What the  historical period of the Enlightenment had temporarily separated, Western culture has slowly being drawing back together- a blending of the roles of Priest-Magicians and Scientists. The revolutionary Trotsky’s ideal of a  ‘higher biologic type’ was part of this desire. The fruit of this union of spirituality and science would be divine. In Trotsky’s case a socialist ‘God-man’.

I and others have long thought about this process of  Convergence taking place in the power centers of our culture. It explains the otherwise puzzling spectacle of Emergent Christian Phyllis Tickle exhorting theology students You want to go to seminary in the 21st century? Study physics first” .

C.S.Lewis’s  “That Hideous Strength”, published over 60 years ago, describes exactly this process: scientists allied with dark spiritual forces working to create the ‘Superman’. First scientists had to become more and more open to alternative spirituality and less sure of what the idea of an objective truth:

“The physical sciences, good and innocent in themselves, had already…begun to be warped, had been subtly manoeuvred in a certain direction. Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result…you could not have done it with nineteenth – century scientists. their firm objective materialism would have excluded it from their minds; and their inherited morality would have kept them from touching dirt” (That Hideous Strength ch.9, p.120-121)

Philip E. Johnson comments on Lewis’s foresight  in his excellent article here in First Things:

“Most futuristic novels seem “out of date” after a decade or two, but That Hideous Strength is more timely today than when the book was published in 1945. On the day I began to re-read the book for this essay, the press reported that a British government agency called the Human Fertilization and Embryological Authority (HFEA) is sounding out public opinion about the use of “Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis”, which will allow parents to screen their embryos for genetic defects. Critics believe that the HFEA has already decided to go full steam ahead with the procedure, and they don’t believe the Authority’s assurances that this technique (and others to follow) will be used only to screen for genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and not to produce “designer babies.”

My suspicion that the critics are right was bolstered by an article appearing on the Web the same day from the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, titled “What is Immoral About Eugenics?” The article’s bottom line was that the use of genetic technology to produce the kind of children parents want, up to and including “eyebrow shape or freckle pattern,” should be allowed if the parents are not coerced and the children are not thereby disadvantaged. The role of ethics commissions in these situations is mainly to legitimate what the technocrats want to happen “namely, a reengineering of the human genome to improve the breeding stock. And why not, if the existing genome is merely the accidental product of mindless material forces? Since our ideas about ethics or the sanctity of life are also assumed to be products of genetic or brain chemistry, there is no reason to let them get in the way of progress.

In C. S. Lewis’ novel, the technological super-agency is the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE), which is empowered to solve all sorts of social and genetic problems without being bothered by “red tape.”

The NICE turns out to be demonic in inspiration, and intends to impose upon England a regime of ruthless social engineering that Joseph Stalin would have admired. The apparent “Head” at the NICE’s mansion at Belbury is the head of a guillotined murderer, kept alive with advanced life support systems, but this gruesome object is merely the conduit for orders from the dark powers…“In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we want no more of it.”

Does that sound far-fetched? Artificial intelligence visionaries are keen to make it a reality. While the biologists make plans to reprogram the human genome, the cyber gurus dream of uploading the human mind into advanced computers. Freed of the limitations of biology and possessed of superhuman intelligence, these “spiritual machines” might explore and conquer the cosmos. Or they might not bother to do so, since they could create a virtual reality for themselves that would be better than the real thing. Then “we” would truly be like God.”

This blending of spirituality and science is at work in many places.  One is the Large Hadron Collider, under the Swiss Alps near Geneva. The scientists there are on a quest for the ‘God Particle’.  It seems they have made a slightly different discovery. Apart from particles colliding at up to now impossible speeds: they have found religion.

Before you check the Vatican Twitter account or the Christian Coalition’s webpage, it may not be quite what you think. It is one side of the convergence I described in action. Thirty years ago Lesslie Newbigin in his book “Foolishness to the Greeks” also foresaw this process. Like Lewis, he recognised a coming together of science and spirituality that will more and more present itself as the legitimate spirituality for our times. He focussed on physics as one the forefronts of this type of convergence:

“it is common knowledge that the distinguished exponents of the new physics…are impressed by the similarities between this view of reality and the one found in Eastern religions. Fritjof Capra’s much-praised book The Tao of Physics sees the cosmic dance as the clue to the nature of the physical world, and the cover of his book is adorned with the well known image of the dancing Shiva.”

A search of CERN’s website (describing the function and aims of the Hadron Collider) for the Hindu God Shiva produces no results. Nevertheless, a giant statue of Shiva stands outside their building as their symbol. As if to emphasize its importance it is  two meters high!

When asked about this the CERN scientists insisted it was ‘just a gift’ saying ‘there are many other artworks in the complex’. The statue of Shiva is, however, gigantic and is obviously  more than just another artistic adornment, like watercolours or some quaint ceramic vases!

The significance of Shiva and mystical spirituality in general for these physicists is further highlighted by the  mystical ‘dance of destruction’ that was filmed within the Hadron Collider complex. It shows Scientists interacting with something spiritual. Newbigin sums up his views about why physicists would be so attracted to this type of spirituality:

“The reason is clear. The Eastern religions do not understand the world in terms of purpose. The symbol of the dance is an interpretation of movement and change without invoking the idea of purpose. The Bible, on the other hand, is dominated by the idea of divine purpose. This means that one has to say that value judgements are either right or wrong in that they are or are not directed to the end for which all things in fact exist.”

Lewis and Newbigin saw this coming. The challenge is to choose between this and a different convergence of observational wisdom. The observations (applied science) that some astronomers applied 2000 years ago. The outcome of their calculations led them to the infant Christ.