God and testosterone

It’s rather late, and I’m sat up listening to Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable programme. I’ve been following their podcasts since I was on the programme a while back. The chap on the latest programme (MP3 link), Jonathan Castro, believes in Christianity but doesn’t have the relationship with God which he’s been expecting, and sounds a bit fed up about it.

There was some discussion of what the relationship Castro expected was. One caller blamed the excesses of the charismatic movement (check out the responses for some other musical variants) for the expectation that the relationship would be an intense emotional experience. The Christians in the studio disagreed that this was what Castro expected. They thought the sort of relationship he meant was like a relationship with a spouse, which has emotional component without usually giving you the full Benny Hinn thing. Christians like the spousal analogy, but I think it’s pretty hopeless: they’re using a special meaning of the word relationship which encompasses warm feelings without any communication from the object of desire. I think it’d probably be more appropriate to describe Christians as God’s stalkers.

Listening to the programme, I wonder why Castro’s still going to all this trouble. In the comments on this exchristian.net article from 2007 he sounds like he’s already given up, but he turns up on Premier sounding like he hasn’t quite let go. If I were him there’s one obvious conclusion I’d’ve come to about whether a there’s a God who wants a relationship with me. I wanted to yell this spoiler at him.

Still, he has gone to the trouble, so I’ll add to the standard questions I usually ask of people who say they have a relationship with God: what of Castro and people like him, the earnest seekers who don’t find?

One of Castro’s criticisms of the churches he attended was that they were too emasculating. He turns up in the comments on the BBC’s article about Geezers for Jesus (“to the geezers, I become as a geezer, init”, as St Paul might have said), mentioning charismatic worship songs. Interestingly, Matt Redman, perpetrator of many of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” choruses familiar to anyone who’s been to Soul Survivor, agrees that worship songs aren’t for the blokes.

There seems to have been a reaction against this emasculation of the church, with Americans writing books about how Jesus wants Christian men to be Iron John. robhu recently wrote a scathing review of one of them, John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. I’ve talked about my own experiences as a nerdy CU bloke in the comments.

11 thoughts on “God and testosterone

  1. Most world religions with an ineffable god provide some kind of closer-to-home figure with which participants in the religion can have a personal relationship. So, for example, Brahman is the eternal increate transcendent univeral principle for Hindus, but he’s not very useful to pray to. So the pantheon contains not only a layer of gods with finite lives (very long, but finite) and a more direct relationship with the world,looking after such matters as creation, war, money, dance and other such necessities.

    The sub-gods themselves even more usefully incarnate and have walked among men, and the stories about these popular incarnations make for a useful source from which human worshippers can meaningfully relate to gods. (I mean, I’ve never been much of one for stories of Krishna stealing the buttermilk, but some devotees go nuts for it.)

    So, by parallel, I think it’s probably not expected to build a full and meaningful relationship with any ineffable principle, but a significant relationship can be built with some kind of incarnation or emissary to this world. Tell me, does Christianity have such a thing….? 😉

    1. Jesus, in the Protestant understanding. Catholics have Mary and the saints fulfilling that role.

      My point is that this relationship thing doesn’t seem to mean much: the people who say they have it seem to disagree a lot on stuff the deity could just put them straight on.

      1. It strikes me you’re looking for some kind of definitive answer to be “put straight” on. Nowt wrong with that, that’s obviously the way in which you perceive the world (weirdo). 😉

        Perhaps the kind of relationship that’s being referred to is less a scientific proof, more a narrative understanding – the kind of relationship we might have with a text (which seems logical, given the textual tradition western religions of) or a work of art. Which, y’know, can sustain more than one interpretation, I’ve heard it said…

          1. On a separate issue, although I think the understanding of the deity is primarily textual, I think it’s reductive (or at least needs clarification) to dismiss feeings about the deity as “not a relationship”. Maybe you’re right about a spousal analogy not holding water, but I think a lot of people describe feeling, for example, that “someone is looking after them”.

            This kind of unconditional protection, a feeling of being loved and cared for by someone you can’t reason or communicate with, is the first and primary bond we experience as human beings – to love and trust somebody because you feel they will look after you. Although such an arrangement might appear to surface reasoning to be one-sided or uncommunicative, I don’t this accurately describes the relationship. And I would maintain that it is a relationship – it doesn’t take Serious Talks or physical actions to make a relationship meaningful.

            Perhaps Uma Thurman said it best: “…you know you found somebody special, when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.”

            1. I wouldn’t claim all relationships involve communication, but rather, that the sort of relationship described by people who say they have one with God usually does. The jargon evangelicals use is “personal relationship with Jesus”. Real Christian have one of these, which differentiates their religion (sorry, relationship) from the dead formalisms of Roman Catholicism, say. They’ll also say that God is a speaking God, who spoke through the Bible and (unless they’re complete cessationists) continues to speak today. robhu describes it as a day to day relationship with a person, and I doubt he’s atypical among evangelicals.

              Babies certainly have a relationship with their parents, but a baby is not fully formed as a person, so the possibilities for communication are limited. As people who’ve acquired language, our relationship with other a God who can, if he chooses, speak our language isn’t the same as a baby’s relationship to its parents. Even if the analogy is more like that of a child and its parents (because of the difference in knowledge, power, etc.), parents usually manage to communicate something to their children (“No! Don’t pull the dog’s tail” or whatever). God could presumably do something similar to all the people who are in a relationship with him (“No! Don’t have gay sex!” or whatever), but doesn’t. This is odd, as a bunch of people profess to be very interested in what he has to say, and his continued silence only causes more schisms in the church.

              As an adult, I’ve only really had companionable silences with people I’d got to know well enough (including by talking to them) that shutting up is not uncomfortable.

  2. I’m not sure there’s any biblical support for the “relationship with God” thing. Someone once said we have a relationship to God, rather than a relationship with him. I think I’d go along with that.

    1. In the New Testament Jesus talks a lot in relational language about his people, and then there is the thing about God coming to live in us through the Holy Spirit.

      I don’t doubt that Christian people have a relationship with God, but exactly what that means is a bit unclear. Christians have adopted the ideas of their age to try to understand God, God as King, God as Judge, God as Friend. I don’t think these ways of understanding our relationship with God are wrong, they’re all just different aspects that has been emphasised at different times.

      1. Did we ever decide whether it was Steve Chalke or the conservative evangelicals who weren’t spiritual men? Or is the mind of Christ schizophrenic? (or more accurately, suffering from multiple personality disorder).

    2. I entirely agree with you about the lack of biblical support for the “relationship with God” thing. Since there is no mention of relationship, there is also no mention of its close cousin, the “persnul relationship”. If we have to go down the relationship route, I’d have to argue that we have a public relationship with God, which is of no meaning whatsoever without other Christians.

      However, I’ll have to ponder the “relationship /to/ God” phrase. Whilst I think the whole spousal analogy of “persnul relationship” is overdrawn, I fear that “relationship to God” does not take the incarnation seriously enough. I think it might be better to say that “we are partakers in God” (2 Pet 1:4).

  3. Subject: Unbelievable programme
    Hi all,

    I am the guy who was on the programme. Maybe it would clear things up a bit if I let you know that this programme was first broadcast two years ago (in 2006), and at the time I was still interested in Christianity.

    I’ve changed a lot of my views in the 2 years since, and so it was a bit regrettable that the programme was repeated without this point being made clear.

    I would now describe myself as an ignostic apatheist.

    regards,

    Jonathan Castro
    http://www.antichurch.co.uk

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