Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Evil

On being an acrobat (I’m an expert)

I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

U2, Acrobat

I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.

I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.

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Mixed feelings on Anzac Day

I always have mixed feelings on Anzac Day. I get emotional at the enormous courage and sacrifice of people who gave their lives, but they were innocent victims of powerful people who sent them to a slaughter.

Not just the massacre of Gallipoli where the Anzacs fought, but the Battle of Stalingrad where soldiers were given one rifle between them, so when the first soldier was killed the second picked up his rifle and went as far as he could until he was shot.

I also find it largely ironic that at every Anzac memorial we see the words of Jesus: greater love has no one but to lay down their life for their friends. The Anzacs did this, and it was an example of Jesus’ sacrifice, absorbing and exposing the evil of the world, including the evil of war. Within the unspeakable horror of war, the Christlike attributes of courage and suffering love are made all the clearer. Love often stands out more in the middle of evil.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Hope on earth

Joseph and Mary at the wallDriving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.

As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.

We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading

You’re too powerful – part 2

church-state-streetsThis is the second of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

As affluent Western Christians, we are people in power. We haven’t had a choice really; most of us just happened to be born in one of the richest countries in the world. This has affected our view of the world. Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Simply because of where we live, we have power, whether we realise it or not. Our purchasing decisions can literally mean life or death for millions of people in the majority poor world.

Martin Luther King made the point that no matter where we live in the world, we are all linked. Our lifestyles all impact on each other. The clothes I buy either keep people in slavery somewhere in Asia, or they contribute in a small way to the betterment of their lives, depending on my purchasing choices.

I believe it is possible to be a Christian in power. Power gives you access to justice; it allows you to advocate. That’s why the first Christians, including Paul and others of his time, didn’t tackle the evil of slavery. It is a common criticism of Christian faith that Jesus and St Paul didn’t say anything about slavery. It’s because they didn’t have any power. That is one of the perks of having power.

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You’re too powerful – part 1

jesus_ecce_homo

This is the first of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

“When religion is too closely linked with power, the problem is not just that religion underwrites oppression, but that the gospel itself is lost. If Christ is just a baby or a dead body, I can keep on living and not allow Christ’s lordship to shed light on all dimensions of my life.” – Ruth Padilla DeBorst

For most of its existence, Christian faith has been aligned with power. Ever since Christianity became the State religion under Constantine in the 4th century, there has been a watering down of the radical social ethics that the Gospel of Jesus demands of us.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, of the Baptist Union of Victoria, talks about the impact of Christendom on the faith. They include a change in the way the Bible had to be read (more about that below); marginalising of the human Jesus with a focus on his heavenly character; and a sanctioning of warfare by the church. In short, the persecuted became the persecutors.

Recently I’ve been involved in a brief Facebook discussion based on the above quote from Ruth Padilla DeBorst. The question came up about whether or not we can be a Christian in power. A reference was made to Philippians 4:22 in which St Paul sends a greeting from those Christians in the emperor’s household.

One of the problems of being too closely aligned to power is that we lose our prophetic edge. We become numb to the demands of Jesus as we gradually go along with the allegiances of the State.

It takes huge courage to be close to power and still be prophetic. I think of Daniel who worked with the government of the day. He rose through the ranks but when he spoke out and said something that emperor didn’t like, he was thrown to the lion’s den. It was the same with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; when they refused to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar set up, they were thrown into the fiery furnace.

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Chained to scourge of slavery

Don't Trade LivesAnother great article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Slavery in 2012 is a reality. It didn’t end 200 years ago with Wilberforce or with Lincoln. It may have been outlawed then, but it still exists today.

Two weeks ago was Abolitionist Sunday, and as we celebrate Christmas, how much of what we buy has been produced by slave labour?

Campaigns like World Vision’s Don’t Trade Lives, as well as Stop the Traffik, are very worthwhile ones to get involved in if you want to see what you can do to make a difference.

The plank in my eye

Plank in your own eyeI just finished watching the movie Tsotsi with my wife. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t give away too much except to say that it’s a story of redemption. It’s the story of a young man who lives in a shanty town in South Africa whose life is changed after he carjacks someone and takes off in the car only to find a baby in the back seat.

This movie got me thinking about the reasons people do what they do to survive when they are living tough. It is always the poor who get a rough deal, who are blamed for being lazy or good-for-nothing. But it is also those same people who are going through the most incredible hardships. That is not to condone their destructive behaviour, but it definitely is to understand it. There is a huge difference. The ones who really should be criticised are those with a comfortable lifestyle who commit white-collar crime. But they can always afford the best lawyers and so get off more easily.

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Evil Must Disguise Itself as Good

Some of the latest Richard Rohr daily reflections have been focusing on evil and goodness in the world. they are taken from his Spiral of Violence CD. This one really spoke to me about the subtleties of evil and some of the strategies of the Enemy. Reminds me somewhat of C.S. Lewis’ brilliant Screwtape Letters. I have highlighted the bits that are most profound to me. Check it out below:

When the first level of the spiral of violence, “the world” (group selfishness), is not exposed for what it is, and the second level, “the flesh,” generates out of control (murder, stealing, rape, lying, adultery, greed), then a third level of fully justified evil always emerges. These are systems like oppressive governments, penal systems, legal systems, military systems, economic systems, and all the other systems we create to control disorder and violence. They ordinarily have a complete life of their own. These can, of course, be good too; but when you worship them, when you let them have total power, when you refuse to critique these systems, they can wreak the greatest havoc in history—and they have. Any system that says “bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9) is always diabolical, whether it be church, state, or “the market.”

The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause, like “making the world safe for democracy” or “keeping the bad people off the streets.” Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue. Evil must disguise itself as good (Thomas Aquinas), and until Christians start understanding that, their capacity for “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) remains very minimal. They are easily duped and always misled.

Some of the themes that come out of this for me are the ends justifying the means, a sense of moral superiority (even ‘God on our side’), the politics of division, and the sense that we are inherently right and ‘they’ are inherently wrong. How I have to watch this in my own life.

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