Friday, 8 August 2014

Evangelical Internal Emotional Posture

In English we have two sounds made by the use of our tongue at the front of our mouth that cause trouble for other language speakers. The difference between the 'T' sound used in word like 'today' (where the tongue touches the roof of the mouth behind the teeth) and 'Th' sound of word like 'them' (where the tongue moves in front of the teeth) can be complicated for some native English speakers: those who say 'free' instead of 'three'.


It must be difficult for other people groups to work this out when we cannot agree amongst ourselves.


It is said of Hindi speakers that they have another sound to add to this collection that is not usually experienced by English speakers. In addition to 'T' and 'Th' they have a sound made by the tongue curling backwards and touching the soft pallet in the roof of the mouth.


Apparently this is not primarily an issue of pronunciation but a cultural default setting in the muscles and sinews used in the formation of sounds. English speakers tend to hold their tongue flat and relaxed at the bottom of their mouths near to their front teeth. When they begin to speak their tongue is ready for action to produce the kind of sounds that are most readily used in their common language: in a sense programmed by our culture and use of language from birth.


Hindi speakers tongues are programmed by their culture to be ready to curl backwards to touch the soft pallet. If English is your first language try this for yourself. Curl your tongue upwards and backwards towards the soft pallet and speak out loud. You will find that it will sound more like a Hindi speaker.


It needs to be said that neither way is either right or wrong. Indeed the way that language develops it could be that in the future English sounds less and less like the way we have become accustomed to hearing it. This is nothing new. Language has always changed.


The reason this is important is because it is not something that we are generally aware of but it is a way that we make value judgements about others, the world around us, and what is deemed as correct.


In essence, however, this is not about communication: people who say 'free' instead of 'three' can be perfectly understood by the context and sentence construct. The same is true of both regional and world accents. It is also not about the making of sounds in and of itself. It is more to do with the position of our muscles that is controlled by our cultural conditioning; something we don't even know is happening. It is to do with posture.


I want to suggest that something similar takes place when discussing politics, worldview, theology, religion, and other similarly controversial issues.


In a sense we have an 'internal emotional posture' that readies us for our response to any given situation. Although it is hidden it informs our value judgements about others, the world around us, and what is deemed as correct.


During debates about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict I have been accused of anti-semitism. I don't take this lightly. We are all capable of racist behaviour and thought given the right, or the wrong, set of circumstances. In response to these accusations I read some more, self reflect, pray, and consider whether my words are motivated by my own shadows.


In addition I am often accused of being biased: this seems less culturally offensive but also needs to be considered. To some degree I am probably guilty of this: we all are. It is hard not to feel drawn towards the cries of hurting people. I have written before about why I feel that the powerful have more responsibility to work for peace and why I believe that God sides with the oppressed.


Having said this bias and partiality are a blight on human history and we must constantly try to find ways of communicating more of what might be called the truth.


Now let me speak of the bias of the group that I have been part of for many decades: evangelical Christianity. Much of it has been profoundly pro-Israel for as long as I can remember. We read their history on the pages of our shared sacred text. We feel like we are part of the family.


Then we have the pseudo-apocalyptic theology of TN Derby that was popularised by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B Jenkins in the Left Behind series of books. This was taken as almost unquestioned truth in my part of evangelicalism. We were told that the end times are coming and Israel is the major player. Many of the dates of this end time were changed to cover for the embarrassment of failed prophecy. Some of they key players were rearranged: before an 11th nation joined the common market it was said that the EU was the ten horns of the antichrist.


What matters here is that all of this served to create an internal emotional posture within some parts of the church. We can see it now in the debates about Israel and Gaza.


As soon as you show images of children being killed by this disproportionate military action to some evangelicals they curl their metaphorical tongue to the position that most fits with their cultural world view and tell us that they have found a verse in the bible that says Israel is the apple of God's eye or that he has promised to return them to the land.


So accuse me of bias and I will try to consider my words more carefully. I will suggest, however, that the is no worse partially than the fundamentalist who has a verse from a sacred text and who doesn't realise they have an internal emotional posture: no matter what their religious affiliation.


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