Ben's Blog Items Credenda|agenda: things to be believed, things to be done Wed, 24 May 2017 02:13:15 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Agnosticism and Agriculture My wife calls you trend junkies. Yes, you who consider all forms of industrialized farming to be “raping the ground.” Sure (you concede) supporting “unsustainable” farming or eating a McDonald’s hamburger is not a sin. . . technically. You would never ever say that. But you flex all of your wee holinesses attacking it anyway.

Where does this fervor for righteous eating come from? The roots of these concerns (and other similar ones) may have come down from the New Age movement that crept its significant way into the church in the 60’s and 70’s.  But this essay isn’t about the New Age movement. That’s old news. This is about a newer pagan movement sneaking into the church.

Much in the same way that the New Age movement came into the church in the form of squishy liturgy, moral ambiguity, and young men and women making relativistic excuses for sin and corruption, the agnostic movement is starting to make the same kind of headway in the church. Only this time it is in the form of the most recent trend to hit Planet Earth (or at least the white and rich part of it). I am talking about sustainable agriculture, the green movement, and progressivist governmental control over the production and distribution of food.

At the outset, I should say that I grow/raise almost all of my own food (from beef to fruits and vegetables) and believe that keeping a healthy diet is a dandy thing to do. Also, somehow, my wife has never eaten a McDonald’s hamburger. I have worked in almost every type of farming and have done so on three different continents. But I’m not using my own experiences to draw methodological conclusions. I am, however, willing to maintain that my eye is calibrated to see the latest cultural trends for what they are as they creep into the church and systemically affect every part of its ministry.

The root of the problem comes from well-meaning agnostics like Michael Pollan. There are many other agnostics and non-committal religious folks that have spoken up on this subject, but I will focus on Pollan since he is the writer that has been brought up most frequently in my own church community.

And kicking the debate up one more inflammatory notch, I need to say that the root of Pollan’s problem flows from Karl Marx. Most of the issues being made about food and agriculture within the church are the result of Christians attempting to glean godly principles from writers like Pollan. However, their principles are based on Marx’s principles of a socialist society.

At the root of Marx is a distinction between needs and wants. Needs are things that are required to support and sustain life and wants are everything else. Marx uses a Hegelian dialectic to set up his universe, and, in my opinion, this distinction is at the root of Marx’s universe. But this is not a biblical distinction.

Now this is not to say that the Bible does not distinguish between needs and wants. The Bible just doesn’t use Marx’s definitions for them. In fact, the Bible usually refers to Christians needing to die as Christ did. Taking the life of Christ as an example we see that the goal is not to live but to continuously die so that life (for others) may persist. Take the life of the apostles as an example; Christ tells them to give up everything, emphasizing that things like food and shelter will be provided by God.

When Marx looks at the world through the glasses of needs and wants, in the background there is a nice and tidy Hegelian dialectic where one can determine the next step of action, which always leads to revolution. If you don’t need a thing then it is a want. If you want a thing, then someone must be profiting off of those desires and using those wants to create and maintain leverage and control over the people—the workers. This is how capitalism creates greedy pigs that profit from placing a desire or a fetish—a want—in a society. And if you doubt that this grandchild of Marxism is in play in the whole foodie discussion, ask yourself where all the language of exploitation is coming from. Why is growing ten thousand acres of wheat and thereby driving down the price of a loaf of bread in impoverished nations considered exploitation (of the land and the consumer)? Why are fast-food laws justified as a protection of the people from the exploitation of corporations (when dollar menus are about the only reason why it’s practically impossible to starve in this country). Needs and wants, needs and wants. And in Marx’s world, wants are always points of exploitation, points where government is needed as a protection. The only thing that could make the whole push more obvious is if the co-opy wise-men started talking about gastronomical justice.

In Pollan’s books on food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, this is exactly the line of reasoning that he is using. He argues that big bad industrial farming is unclean and cruel, and is there in order to promote the fetishes created by capitalistic pigs, marketers, and shareholders. Why would anybody want a bag of Fritos otherwise? Wants equal manufactured desire and manipulation. (Help, I’m being exploited!) He may even be occasionally right (not that I care if some Fritos salesmen don’t actually want what’s best for me—I am not actually coerced into eating those tasty, curly corn fingernails). But the way Pollan arrives at his conclusion is straight out of the godless and mechanistic Marxist playbook.

Some might think Pollan is not an agnostic Marxist bent on leaving the world with more government regulation. To that I would say, wake up. Don’t be so naive. But I’m straying a bit from the point. This is not an essay on Pollan. Not entirely, at least.

There is a Christian response to greed and materialism within a capitalistic society and it is not Pollan’s response. Greed must be dealt with as a sin with every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is not being dealt with that way, however. The trend junkies and culture-mongers within the church end up using agnostic reasoning to deal with broad undefined “greed.” Because the church has bought into the agnostic principles from the beginning, there can be no useful Christian methods gleaned. This would be more obvious if we were attempting to apply agnostic beliefs to marriage, or child rearing (of course, many do). But, since we are talking about food and world-wide agricultural methods it is far less obvious to us. Doesn’t the sin lie in actual greed? How can sin lie in efficient agriculture? What’s biblically wrong with a farmer attempting to keep his checkbook in the black?

Instead of policing themselves for the rotten sin that lies festering within, and instead of spending their time in an effort to counsel thieves and adulterers in the community, the trend junkies have whole-heartedly attacked the idea of farming and food consumption. As long as he is eating the proper food, the Pharisee can make himself feel quite good warring against someone who does not implement the methods of proper eating. So the Pharisee stands and cries, “I thank you, God that I have the better understanding of how to eat!”

There are biblical principles to guide farmers and hold them accountable. Marx does (inconsistently) point out the sin of materialism in a capitalistic society. Pollan does wish the best for everyone’s health and for the cleanliness of this planet. However, Pollan and Marx do not start with the Bible and they definitely don’t finish with the Bible.

Christians attempting to use Marxist principles are going to end up arguing like agnostics. They define what is healthy and what is environmentally conscious without any use of the Bible, and then they hold the rest of the world to those emotional convictions, emotionally held. And because they don’t have a sure word from God, they will be passive aggressive in how they go about it. This is essentially how agnosticism has entered into the church through the guise of this “stewardship” movement.

Reject Pollan. He knows nothing of our Savior and what people actually need. Do not fall for agnostic principles shrouded in New Age relativism and propped up by a squishy Christianity (when not passive aggressive, it is simply squishy aggressive).

If you think a farmer is raping the earth by not using organic manure, and you go to that farmer and tell him so, then don’t be offended if that farmer replies that you’re full of enough manure for the both of you, manure provided by an agnostic alarmist who wants a lot more government control over everyone’s personal life because of a Marxist lie. Don’t give up godly dominion to the state in order to appease a false conviction placed in your heart by those who would swindle the world of eternal life—and all in order to eat their type of food.

]]> (James Arrick) Food Wed, 22 Dec 2010 16:40:38 +0000
Street Blues Review of Downtown Donny's in Charlotte, North Carolina

The best "road food" is like the blues. From the smoke and the sweat and the fire comes a song. Three chords arranged differently, stressed just right, and somehow you can taste the soul of a place. These songs are played in venues across the country, off back roads, on big highways, some of them shiny and clean, most of them not. Sometimes they are played by musicians on the street, and in downtown Charlotte, Donny has been playing his for twenty years.

One of Donny's standards, his "My Baby Left Me," is a chili dog. A jumbo all-beef dog in a natural casing snaps and pops while grilled--licked by the flames, riffed by the smoke. The casing gives it more sound and sizzle, more bite than other dogs. Charred to perfection, it is sliced in half, laid in a bun, then topped with Donny's own chili, poured in between the flamed halves. More heat, no beans, just beef and spice, a  good Texas chili transplanted in Charlotte. Then on top of the char and the heat comes this unexpected and unthought-of breeze. A humid southern summer day, broken by a fresh storm. Donny's coleslaw: match-sticked carrots and cabbage mixed with a cool sweet dressing. The bright colors of the slaw and the crisp flavor cut through the heat. It all ties together, the song and sweat and soul of a southern city. I am a northern boy myself, so this would never have come to me. I just don't have the chops for it. But, that doesn't mean I can't sing along. In fact, I suggest that if you can't make it to Donny's, that you try playing this yourself. You know the chords--there are just three--and this one is worth pretending. It is an instance where a little bit of posing is just fine. Just make sure you grill the dog.

If you can make it to downtown Charlotte, which I hope you do, you will find Donny at the corner of E. 3rd and Tryon, across from the Wachovia building. I might not have all the details right, I don't think there's even a sign with his name on it (my cabby led me to it). What I do know is that I keep hearing that song. It stuck.]]> (Luke Jankovic) Food Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:28:32 +0000
Eat What Is Set Before You Food is hugely important in the Bible.  Adam’s first sin was a violation of a food law, Israel worshiped at a table, the altar, we have a meal at the center of our worship and life, and we’re looking ahead to the marriage supper of the lamb.  What to eat or not eat was an important issue in the Old Testament.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 describe and list animals, birds, and fish that could and could not be eaten.  Food rules became especially important during and after the Maccabean Revolt, when some Jews were martyred for refusing to eat unclean food.

By the time of the first century A.D., many Jews were consumed (!) with the issue of food, so much so that Jacob Neusner has called Pharisaism primarily a table fellowship movement.  Eating unclean foods defiled; eating with unwashed hands defiled; eating untithed food defiled; eating with Gentiles, and even eating with less-than-pure Jews defiled.  Pharisees wanted to avoid defilement, and that meant paying a lot of attention to food.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ meal habits and teaching on food, and especially the freedom of the apostles in eating with Gentiles, caused a ruckus in the first century.  Jesus was not challenging some marginal issue when, as Mark says, he said that defilement comes from the heart not through the mouth, and when he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:1-23).  Peter was acting like a typical Jew when he first objected to the Lord’s command to “kill and eat” (Acts 10-11), and was, unfortunately, still acting as a Jew when he refused to sit down with Gentiles (Galatians 2).

Over against the Pharisaical obsession with purity of food and table fellowship, Paul insisted that foods do not commend us to God or distance us from Him (1 Corinthians 8:8), and in Christ believers are as free from rules of food and drink as they are from rules concerning new moons and Sabbaths (Colossians 2:16).  The Old Covenant, Hebrews tells us, gave regulations concerning food and drink, regulations for the flesh until the time of reformation that Jesus brings (Hebrews 9:10).

This doesn’t mean that food becomes less important in the New Covenant.  We still are under “food laws,” but the shape and telos of those food laws have been transformed.  We are required to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood if we want to have life (John 6).  Our table companions still matter, and they matter a lot.  But instead of Pharisaical exclusion, Jesus commands a generous expansion of hospitality.  We are to invite the impure and outcasts to our tables, strangers (Matthew 25:38) and those who cannot pay us back with reciprocal hospitality (Luke 7:9-15).

Does it matter what we eat?  Paul addresses that question too.  In 1 Corinthians, he addresses the question of meat sacrificed to idols.  Priests in ancient pagan temples, like the priests in the temple in Jerusalem, slaughtered animals and burned portions on altars in sacrifice.  Some of the meat, however, was left over and offered for sale in the meat market.  In a city like Corinth, in fact, most of the available meat had come from animals that had been offered to idols, and in the Corinthians church there were some former idolaters who were hesitant to eat this meat.  Accustomed to worshiping idols, they worried that eating meat from a sacrifice would defile them.  And Paul agrees: If one eats thinking he will be defiled, his conscience actually is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7).

Paul knows better, and so do many of the Corinthians.  He knows that there is only one God, and one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).  He knows that idols are nothing (v. 4).  Because of this knowledge, his conscience is strong.  One commentator says that for Paul conscience is a kind of scanner that sets off a warning bell or blinking lights when a person comes close to doing something he considers immoral.  Someone with a lot of knowledge has a “strong” conscience; he knows that there are no idols, and that all things come from God, and so his scope of action is quite wide.  Few things set off the warning bell, because “all things are lawful” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Other Christians – who are fully brothers and children of God for whom Christ died (1 Corinthians 8:6, 11) – do not have this knowledge.  They fear that idols might exist, and so their freedom to act is more limited.  Bells and whistles go off every time they pass a shrine or a meat market.

Knowledge varies, but knowledge is not what matters here.  Paul begins 1 Corinthians 8 by contrasting love and knowledge.  He knows that the two are not absolutely opposed, but they are opposed when it comes to food.  In this area, and in many others no doubt, Paul says that knowledge is radically subordinated to love.  A person with much knowledge, and a strong conscience, ought not act on that knowledge.  Rather, he should follow Paul’s apostolic example and act out of concern for his brother.  If eating meat encourages a less knowledgeable brother to violate his conscience, then Paul will refuse to eat meat.  He’d rather use his freedom in Christ to become a vegetarian than to harm a brother for whom Christ died, and so “sin against Christ” Himself (1 Corinthians 8:11-12).

A few chapters later, Paul returns to this question.  While he exhorts the Corinthians not to participate in idolatrous worship, he says that eating meat from the meat market is lawful.  “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake” (10:25), he says, and adds that even when Christians eat at the home of an unbeliever they should “eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake” (10:27).  Again, however, the rule of love molds the expression of this freedom.  If eating sacrificial meat is offensive to a brother, Paul says, don’t eat, for the sake of his conscience (10:28-29).  In short, “let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (10:24).

There are many other important questions concerning food, but the New Testament lays out a clear set of basics.  We are to share our food with the hungry (Isaiah 58; Matthew 25).  We are to manifest Christ’s own hospitality at our tables.  What we eat does not make us either impure or holy (1 Corinthians 8:8).  We are to eat what is set before us, giving thanks to God, the one who is the Lord of the earth and all it contains.  Whatever else we think about and do with food, whatever other habits we cultivate and whatever decisions we make, all have to be consistent with and extensions of these apostolic directives.

]]> (Peter J. Leithart) Food Thu, 11 Feb 2010 16:52:45 +0000
Buy Local

I grew up in a city of train tracks, a city that aims to overflow. A city that takes pride in sending its name out across the country stamped on boxes and cartons and cans. Now far away from my childhood home I delight to find that name in small letters at the grocery store, a reminder of my neighbors and friends and the people who made West Chicago smell like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The "local food" movement has incriminated foods that come from far away because of a dirty list of nasties, like fuel prices and preservatives. But a real place is defined by its exports, good and bad. Families, communities, cities, and regions shouldn't be striving to be introverted islands of sustainability.

They should aim to overflow. By their fruit you shall know them. Busting out through huge steel infrastructure if need be, covering thousands of miles.

West Chicago (the suburb) was a great place to grow up, a place with a profound identity. Where companies like General Mills, and Campbells were not impersonal and ill-motivated corporations, but pay check providers, whose productivity was tangible. From food on the table to the smell in the air,  the town is sustained by mass-production. The air outside of my high school was thick with it. It was the smell (and practically taste) of growing mushrooms.


To be clear, there was no fungus problem at the school, but Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup must be made, and where it is, I guarantee you people are smelling it. Most of my generation was raised on Cream of Mushroom Soup-based dinner conglomerates, and good for us--but I digress.

My hometown is not the only place that lives on its exports. Most places do. The wheat fields of the Palouse - whose smells and patterns and colors are what makes this place our place - are not grown for us. The harvest of "our fields" is enough to feed several small countries (and it does), but it is a part of us. Our community would not be our community without it.

Food and food related issues are very hip right now. Our culture is desperately struggling to capture nostalgic and "genuine" community, to slow down and become more "local" through our eating, (tweeting throughout the meal to keep everyone posted on our efforts, if possible).  While torn with guilt at every act of consuming, it is a sham salvation offered through consuming. Eat the right things and it will mean something. Don't eat sugar cereal and you are doing something special. Eat what you grew in the back yard and you are really starting to get somewhere. And while it is true that fellowship around the table defines a people, it is not what we are putting into our mouths that defines us. It is our exports - what is coming out of our mouths. Are we thankful? Even for Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Then we are productive members of our community. Do we fail to find mercy on our plate if it developed a carbon footprint on it's way to us? Then we are nothing but guilty consumers.

As Christians we all gather around the same table - and gratitude is what should define our fellowship. But we should not be content with a little bit of quiet gratitude. We should aim to produce so much that we have to box, can, and ship it around the globe.

]]> (Luke Jankovic) Food Tue, 10 Nov 2009 18:05:09 +0000