Thursday, November 30, 2006

A sombre reminder

"The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls."

The Lord of War



Overlong and unsubtle, but within it was a superb film struggling to emerge. The opening sequence and transition to a cross was astonishing, bravura, and raised my hopes, but the lack of narrative tension undermined the film as a whole. Clearly the writer/director is a talented man, but he needs help from his editing staff.

Of course, the point it makes is unarguable.

Wittgenstein's Mystical Method

This is my MA thesis on Wittgenstein - the pinnacle of my academic career. (So far ;-)
Having just re-read it, six years after production, I feel rather proud of it. Certainly my thinking hasn't changed, and I think I make a solid case - but then, I would, wouldn't I?

My essay can be summarised as an argument for the following theses:
a) Wittgenstein had a consistent purpose in his philosophical work, composed of two elements –
i) a belief in the ineffability of the mystical, that value cannot be spoken; and
ii) a consequent need to put limits to the realm of philosophy, in order not to distort our understanding of what is of value; and
b) the change from the early to the later Wittgenstein is only concerned with part ii) above, viz. Wittgenstein’s understanding of the nature of philosophy changed (the division between sense and nonsense in the Tractatus mutated into the development of a new method for philosophy in the Investigations) but the rôle of philosophy within his overall thinking remained constant.

Parfit, Persons and Integrity

And now for a complete change of pace.

Once upon a time I started doing graduate research at Cambridge University in the Philosophy of Mind, and I began by looking at Derek Parfit's book "Reasons and Persons". If you're interested in such things, I have now uploaded an 8,000 word review, which is available here.

I basically argue that he's an unreconstructed Cartesian, so I'm not arguing for anything novel. (It was supposed to be chapter one of the PhD which never materialised).

This is the first paragraph, which will give you a flavour of the essay - both content and style!

In this essay I shall be considering the account of personal identity proposed by Derek Parfit in his work ‘Reasons and Persons’ . I intend to first explore Parfit’s own understanding, place it in the context of contemporary debate, and then show how his approach is conditioned by the framework that he shares with his contemporaries. I shall then show how that framework needs to be rejected, and indicate some possible ways in which the debate might develop as a consequence. The plan of the essay is as follows:

a) overview of Parfit’s argument;
b) initial criticisms of the argument and errors of fact or logic;
c) Parfit’s position in the contemporary debate, and an assessment of the anthropology shared in the debate;
d) the problems with this anthropology;
e) conclusion and consideration of next steps.

Buffy (original movie)


I'm starting to become a bit of a fan of the series (came via Firefly; I've now watched series one, and have purchased series 2) so I used the Sky+ to watch this. (Sky+ is dead handy. I know Murdoch is an evil capitalist, but it's not news to me that I'm morally compromised in this way. It's part of the same territory as being a Chelsea supporter).

Anyhow, the film was crap. Lots of good actors displaying a complete incapacity to act; Sutherland and Hauer slumming it; Hilary Swank - who I first saw in Million Dollar Baby last year - was unrecognisable as a talent and - was that Ben Affleck in one scene? Amazing. It takes a seriously awful director to take such marvellous material and produce such a steaming pile.

The Punisher


Another film I caught on Sky+ the other day. Was familiar with the basic plot, so I fast-forwarded through the 'set-up', because I didn't particularly want to watch the death of the family (which is the fuel for the vengeance cycle) - isn't it strange how I find some things much too painful to watch (deaths of children) but some things (eg Evil Dead) don't reach me at all. Hmm.

I was struck by the mini-community of misfits which help the hero. Could read it through a 'selfish-gene'/killer ape analysis, which simply hymns the alpha male; but could also see it as a miniature parable of the kingdom, a vision of the church.

But the film was bubblegum. Not worth watching unless you particularly like comic-book adaptations (which I do) - and even then, this isn't one of the better ones. Travolta is crap in it.

Evil Dead 2



Very funny.

This means that I have a profoundly twisted and sick imagination.

But then, it's better to know your own dark side, I feel.

Groovy.

Various jobs

Things I've done in my time. No particular order.

Waiter (in lots of places, some for extended periods of time)
Barman (ditto, but most memorably in the Chapel, Coggeshall)
Run a video store.
Sold suits in Hoopers, Colchester (did that for three months).
Worked in Argos (Saturday job through Uni)
Programmed databases (dBase IV, again, 3 months).
Cleaned industrial spray-paint booths (two weeks - worst job ever).
Petrol pump attendant (on and off for several years).
Civil Servant (four years).
Customer services dept of Anglian Water (three months).
Financial dept of Anglian Water (two months)
Caretaker (janitor) of primary school (one year).
General building work (on and off through my teens).
Of course, I'm now a priest, full time since '99.

Nothing too exciting, but reasonably diverse. I have certainly met an awful lot of people.

Rev Sam's cheerful contemplations

Nuclear power is problematic, for all sorts of reasons.

But coal power is MUCH, MUCH worse, in every respect except the economic.

Which means, of course, that coal power will be the way that the world chooses to develop (eg China building a new coal power plant each week).

Faced with a choice between revolution and global warming, most authorities will choose the latter.

It's called sailing by the prevailing wind.

The only way this might be changed is by changing the prevailing winds - ie changing people's attitudes.

Which is my job, I guess. (Not mine alone, thank the Lord).

What's really cheerful is the sense that the only thing that will preserve human civilisation in the long term is a major civilisation-threatening war in the short to medium term.

Ah! I knew that they were acting under divine guidance!

Bring out the bombs! Dr Strangelove, now is your time!

UPDATE: even when there is a will, there's a vested interest standing in your way - see here.

TBTM20061130



When you pray, go into a room by yourself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How to Talk to a Global Warming Sceptic (Mark 2)

Just discovered this. Wonder why I didn't find it sooner. And yes, they're going to do one for Peak Oil too (which should be easier, as the science is even less contentious).

The nature of our temptation



(HT Angry Chimp on the KillerApe list)

TBTM20061129


"I want to say: it's not that on some points men know the truth with perfect certainty. No: perfect certainty is only a matter of their attitude."
(Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 404)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TBTM20061128



People won't wake up to the problem until there is an 'Energy 9/11' (from remarks by Matt Simmons here).

Even then it won't help.

I'm in very gloomy mood re: Peak Oil etc at the moment. Probably just a way of distracting myself from work pressures. Ho Ho Ho.

I wrote this for a list the other day:

I haven't worked out a great level of detail, but roughly I'm persuaded:
1. we're at peak now;
2. the political impact of the peak will make things much worse, specifically i)
the 'export-land' problem - amount available to trade will contract much more
swiftly than the gross total, and ii) the Asian powers have taken steps to kick
the US where it is most vulnerable (see for example);
3. despite that, the West is much better placed to cope, ie much more room to
conserve and adapt (= sod global warming) - that won't stop the rolling
recessions/depressions though - but I think in the short to medium term the rule
of law will hold in the West (possibly fascist, esp the US, but still a
recognisable rule of law);
4. the impact on the developing world will cause the cascading systems of wars,
à la Rwanda, which will escalate and expand; what I'm not sure about is whether
the Muslim world will destroy itself (and Israel) or whether it will achieve
some form of unity. In other words will the main battleground BE the middle
east, leaving it like Germany in the 1600s (over a third of the population
killed by war, but probably worse, especially the secondary effects) - or will
the muslims unite around a radical caliphate and face the West with an
oil-driven jihad? (See this);
5. I think 10-15 years into the recessions there will be large segments of the
west that have shifted to alternative/renewable energy sources; I see one of the
core issues as being the capacity to defend those segments from all the forces
(within and without) that will fight for them. Here my speculation runs out of
steam, but I said to a church group recently that film acts as a mirror for our
unconscious knowledge, and that we should study the films of George A Romero for
an understanding of what will come. (Small bunch of rich people stuck behind a
wall while the hordes gather outside... and the walls won't keep them out
forever)

But all of this I see as 'ceteris paribus'. Even if there's only a fractional
chance of something being different, I think it's worth focussing on and trying
to bring about.

I've realised that this isn't a specific answer to your question(!) - sorry. So
a specific answer - maybe an oil supply of around 65mbd in 2015? Something like
that.

Monday, November 27, 2006

TBTM20061127



And now, because I know there are so many Ollie fans out there:



I keep trying to think up alternatives for the Stuart Townend 'till on that cross...' bit.

So far:
'Till on that cross, as Jesus groaned, the wrath of man was overthrown...'
(which induces groans of its own)

or
'Till on that cross as Jesus died, the nature of human anger was exposed and deposed...'
(but that doesn't really scan, does it?)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On being human

Kim Fabricius with ten thoughts here.

I've probably said enough about 'let us be human' for the time being. It's certainly an idea whose time has come. (And it's not my idea, thank God.)

TBTA20061125



An experiment. I don't think I'll do it like this too often, the single image is more in tune with my tastes, but I wanted to see how the technology worked.

Might put up a few videos of Ollie playing though.

Burnt out

(Taken from 'A Time to Heal')
Burn-out in carers
This is a syndrome of physical, spiritual and emotional exhaustion that is particularly likely where there is an experience of discrepancy between expectation and reality.

Three stages of burn-out have been described:
- In the first stage there is an imbalance between the demands of work and personal resources, which results in hurried meals, longer working hours, spending little time with the family, frequent lingering colds and sleep problems. This is the time to take stock, seek God and the advice of those around us.
- The second stage involves a short-term response to stress with angry outbursts, irritability, feeling tired all the time and anxiety about physical health. This stage highlights a real need to get away from it all.
- Terminal burn-out, stage three, creeps up insidiously. The carer cannot re-establish the balance between demands and personal resources. He or she goes into overdrive, works mechanically, by the book, lacking the fresh inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They tend to be late for appointments and to refer to those they are caring for in a derogatory manner, using superficial, stereotyped, authoritarian methods of communication.

On an emotional level, the carer becomes exhausted, incapable of empathy and overwhelmed by everyday problems. Emotional detachment becomes a form of rejection, which can develop into irritability and even aggression towards those nearby. Persons in this situation put themselves down, feel discouraged and wonder how they ever achieved in the past. Problems pile up and paralyse the mind. Disorganisation results in more precious energy being expended to make up for lost efficiency. Fatigue deepens and thought processes slow. Physically, an inner tension, an aching across the chest, weakness, headaches, indigestion and a lack of sleep are often experienced.
I read this whilst on retreat. I wasn't expecting to read something like this (I thought I was researching the healing ministry) but it was quite a revelation. I've highlighted the bits that apply. What really got me was the 'aching across the chest' part.

I knew something was wrong when I was putting on my socks one morning, I put one on and then stopped. I just couldn't continue.

The retreat has turned me around, but there is much work and sorting-out-of-my-life to be done.

In particular, that opening sentence is one I have been mulling on for the last several days. The "discrepancy between expectation and reality" is what I need to resolve, which will take the form of abandoning all desire for particular results, especially "success". I do believe that success is an illusion; unfortunately it is an illusion that has turned my head, fraying my relationship with God, and knocking my ministry off track (much of that can't be shared here, sorry).

The thing about going into overdrive applies. In my clergy support group a few months back I had feedback about being someone who gives the impression of high demands, ie being very demanding. I don't really demand much from others, I don't think - tho' I'm sure I do demand some things, loyalty mostly - but I am very demanding of myself. I have felt tremendously driven to be a 'good priest'. Hmm. Nothing I would wish to defend theologically, but that doesn't stop it being the human truth.

There's still a bit of me that is trying to justify myself before an angry God. I think that's why I find Alison et al so helpful. Reconciliation in the wink of a hippo.

Just as I am, without one plea - O Lamb of God, I come.

TBTM20061125



OK, so you take the walk in the pre-dawn darkness. You realise the camera has a 'night' setting, so you can actually take your TBTM today. Problem #1, the long exposure time means that any tremors get exaggerated and blur the image. So, you find a bit of seawall to prop the camera on. Problem #2, the dog walks in front of the shutter...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Undergoing God


Is the title of James Alison's latest book, which I read on retreat. Maintains his excellent standard, but I can't rave about it quite as much as expected simply because I had already read chunks of it on-line (most of the chapters were published as articles at his website)

But if you're not familiar with his writing, it's as good a place as any to start. I think he's wonderful, and he's been one of the most formative influences on my theological thinking for the last year or two.

Highly, highly recommended.

The Prestige


I'm still digesting this one. Astonishingly well made, compelling acting, great plot with surprising twists (tho' not all the surprises took me by surprise, if you know what I mean). But I'm left feeling just a little empty. I'm not sure if there is a coherent point to it all. In the end, there is nobody to like or affirm. So I'm just not sure if it is orthodox or not. But well worth watching, all the same, even if it is only as a portrait of things to avoid. Lots of things will remain in the memory from it.

Casino Royale



A reasonably good and enjoyable action movie - but an excellent Bond movie; possibly in the top three of the series as a whole. Time will tell.

(Although I don't think it's in the top 3, The Spy Who Loved Me will always hold a place in my heart as it was the first one I saw at the cinema, and I was hooked after that.)

PS Eva Green is seriously lovely.

These are the things you need to know

Go read. If you're not aware of it, you're not informed. And not being informed, you'll suffer. Simple as that.

(Not necessarily that article, of course. More the general shape of the world for the next few decades.)

TBTM20061124



"Here I am inclined to fight windmills, because I cannot yet say the thing I really want to say."

Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 400

A remark that applies to much of my life recently....

Monday, November 20, 2006

TBTM20061120



I'm not sure I would want to claim that this was a beach photo this morning. Not only did Ollie get his outing before the sun came up, but there was driving wind and rain from the beach up the road - so this was the best I could come up with!

I'm off on retreat today (going here) until Thursday, so posting will be in abeyance until then. (Subject to what I do between now and about 10:30 when I head off).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

George W Bush is not a conservative

Is Bush a conservative? Of course not. When all the evidence is in, I think historians will agree with Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, who wrote a carefully argued article judging Bush to have been the worst president in American history. The problem is that he is generally called a conservative, perhaps because he obviously is not a liberal. It may be that Bush, in the magnitude of his failure, defies conventional categories. But the word “conservative” deserves to be rescued.

So says Jeffrey Hart. I agree, especially with the last sentence above.

TBTM20061119



Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Key posts updated

Just to say that I have updated my 'key posts' list, and made it a bit more coherent. It should now give a guide to my thinking/ writing on various things, not least the Metaphysics of Quality, which I think got lost by the wayside somewhat. So new readers might like to take a look, old hands might see something there that they haven't seen before.

Broken Flowers



This was lovely: understated, gentle, a pleasure to watch. I'll watch pretty much anything with Bill Murray in, and he's wonderfully human in this, but this was only the second Jarmusch film I've seen (after Ghost Dog, which I thought was so good I got my own copy). I'm going to have to explore his back catalogue.

More nuclear shadows




What the Queen should have said

Paul Kingsnorth in inspired mood.

Nuclear shadow

TBTM20061118



"I believe it might interest a philosopher, one who can think himself, to read my notes. For even if I have hit the mark only rarely, he would recognise what targets I had been ceaselessly aiming at."

(Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 387)

Friday, November 17, 2006

About Galileo

This is a partial response to Davidov's recent comment, relating to the question of Galileo (for a relevant post about miracles go here). Galileo is often brought out as an example of the wickedness of church institutions, and certainly, to execute someone for their beliefs is an abominable act. However, the wickedness of that act - and the use of this example in the various debates between 'science and religion' (in truth, internal arguments within the Modernist mindset) has distorted one particular truth - that the debate was not the church suppressing 'truth', but the church suppressing an arrogant scientist who was claiming more than he could prove at the time. Thing is, a proper discussion requires us to be in full possession of the facts. Not least because the increasing salience of religious questions in our world in the coming years will force us to examine our deepest assumptions, both religious, atheist, agnostic and absconding - all of us.

I would want to point out two things.

1. Although Galileo's perspective was correct (ie the earth does travel round the sun) it could not be shown to be correct at the time of the debate, principally because Galileo was assuming perfectly circular orbits, rather than elliptical orbits. The Ptolemaic model was a more accurate model for predicting the movements of the heavenly bodies. Galileo's perspective had greater beauty, and promised great things, but it could not be shown to be correct at the time of his trial. (See Kuhn on this, amongst others).

2. The church authorities did not rule out the possibility of change. I quote from Cardinal Bellarmino (Galileo's antagonist): "If there were any real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe and that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth around the Sun, then we would have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true".

In other words, if Galileo could have proved his point, then the Church would have backed down. I think this is very important to bear in mind. It doesn't exonerate the church for what they did, but it does clarify what it was they were objecting to. And that makes all the difference.
(Source: Feyerabend)

TBTM20061117



Light dawns gradually over the whole.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Oil Drum on "Peak Oil Myth" (CERA report)

If you're interested, go read for a) a great overview of what Peak Oil claims, and b) a thorough deconstruction of the CERA report currently doing the rounds in the business media.

Non-violence from a different angle

In a comment, the question was asked why violence was always sinful. Pondering that further leads to questions of coercion, of violating I-Thou in favour of I-It relations, of defacing the image of God. And so on. (I do wonder whether violence - as in physical aggression - has not become totalised/idolised as a radical evil. Words can do much greater violence to a soul. In many ways, an act of righteous anger - the No! of Camus' rebel - this seems less immoral than the slow poisoning of human relationships that never leads to direct violence. Jesus, after all, says rather more about language in human relationships than he does about violence.)

A while back, I wrote about capitalism, particularly with respect to Hernando de Soto's work (see here). One of the key insights of de Soto's research is the huge obstacles placed in the way of entrepreneurial activity in poor countries; hundreds of forms to be filled in; ages of time before work was rendered legal and visible to the authorities.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the existence of this type of bad-governance is directly responsible for the impoverishment of millions around the world, and that it is also therefore directly responsible for the deaths of millions around the world.

Let us imagine a) that a democratic system achieves a change of government which works to change these things (and therefore save people's lives), but that b) those with a vested interest in the status quo ante (and there are always such people) resist the new government, not violently, but politically. Their property might be taken away; or, more likely, their economic opportunities and relative economic strengths are diminished. Hence they oppose, they struggle against this new dispensation.

In what way does the treatment of those opposed to this benign economic reform NOT qualify as 'violent' - in the deeper sense of coercion, I-Thou to I-It relationships, as opposed to a simple 'well we haven't beaten them up, have we?' These individuals are not being treated as ends in themselves. Their interests and desires are placed in a minor relationship to the interests of the community as a whole.

Imagine that in the interests of non-violent interactions, these people were allowed to keep their perks and privileges - and therefore millions elsewhere remain mired in poverty. This respects the humanity of some, to the exclusion of others.

I think there is something here about masculinity. That the male capacity for making extreme choices - what is consistently explored to great effect in 24 for example - this has been culturally repudiated.

Thing is, Jesus makes extreme choices. You might say: Jesus ain't no cissy.

I'm trying to put my finger on something darkly and deeply rooted here - a violent passion for life is the best way I can describe it.

That not only is a penis a gift from God, but the phallus too.

This haunting passage from Apocalypse Now:

I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and... hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget.
And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that... these were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it is judgment that defeats us.

There is something truly frightening about the tragic vision - about the capacity to choose sin boldly (as described in my Iraq post here).

Whilst I feel viscerally the appeal of non-violence, whilst there is still no question in my mind that the way of peace is the way that we are called to live together, I still can't bring myself to let go of something here. That there is something in the tragic vision, the embrace of the painful choice, which is profoundly life-affirming and of God. There can be no generation without the blood shed from the hymen being broken.

The question of imagination is closely tied in with this - if we imagine only good things, will the bad things go away? I don't know.

I'm still inching forward through the murk.

Apocalypse Now (Redux)



In the summer I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which I've held off from commenting on because I wanted to watch this first. Which I now have, but my thoughts about it all haven't crystallised yet. Only to say that it brings together a lot of my thinking about our present way of life and the nature of violence. Amazing film.

"The horror! The horror!"

Imagining a Different Way to Live (Wendell Berry)

Wendell Berry profiled by Christianity Today here.

TBTM20061116

Reflects my mood. Grr.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fulminations

Fulminata posted a review of the Robinson critique of Dawkins in the comments. I thought it would be worth pulling out parts of, because it is such an egregious example of the sort of thing which Robinson critiques in her article (too subtly for the reviewer, Lawrence Crowell, unfortunately).
Actually this review is not that great. She uses that old canard that Hitler used science for his race genocide and so forth, which is pure nonsense. Of course Hitler's ideas had as much to do with biological evolution as perpetual motion designs have to do with physics.
Which merely demonstrates that the reviewer hasn't bothered to read the article with even a modest amount of attention. Robinson writes: "Dawkins deals with all this in one sentence. Hitler did his evil “in the name of. . . an insane and unscientific eugenics theory.” But eugenics is science as surely as totemism is religion. That either is in error is beside the point. Science quite appropriately acknowledges that error should be assumed, and at best it proceeds by a continuous process of criticism meant to isolate and identify error. So bad science is still science in more or less the same sense that bad religion is still religion...To Dawkins’s objection that Nazi science was not authentic science I would reply, first, that neither Nazis nor Germans had any monopoly on these theories, which were influential throughout the Western world, and second, that the research on human subjects carried out by those holding such assumptions was good enough science to appear in medical texts for fully half a century. This is not to single out science as exceptionally inclined to do harm, though its capacity for doing harm is by now unequaled. It is only to note that science, too, is implicated in this bleak human proclivity, and is one major instrument of it." (For more on the widespread uptake of eugenics, especially in the US, go here.)

One of the most important points that Robinson makes is this one: "To set the declared hopes of one against the real-world record of the other is clearly not useful, no matter which of them is flattered by the comparison. What is religion? It is described by Dawkins as a virtually universal feature of human culture. But there is, commingled with it, indisputably and perhaps universally, doubt, hypocrisy, and charlatanism. Dawkins, for his part, considers religion wholly delusional, and he condemns the best of it for enabling all the worst of it. Yet if religion is to be blamed for the fraud done in its name, then what of science? Is it to be blamed for the Piltdown hoax, for the long-credited deceptions having to do with cloning in South Korea? If by “science” is meant authentic science, then “religion” must mean authentic religion, granting the difficulties in arriving at these definitions."

In other words, a level playing field.
One of the goals of science is to reduce some set of complex processes or systems into some small set of rules. It is a bit like a data compression algorithm we use --- it can compress large amounts of data into a few postulates. Whether one likes it or not Dawkin's theory of the selfish gene largely does this. It might sound cold that all of life can be reduced to a set of self-replicating molecules which obey subMarkovian information principles --- but this is about what biology is. Some people a couple of centuries ago did not like that Newton found the laws of motion reduced to a few principles, but that's tough. Such people don't like these things because it removes magic from the world.
What is often unacknowledged in an argument like this is that - probably due to either philosophical or historical ignorance - the governing metaphor or paradigm is a historically conditioned one. In other words, the mechanical model being assumed is one derived from Newton (derived in turn from some very bad theology), whereby a mechanical explanation is sufficient for the phenomena under consideration. Popular understandings of genetics seems now to be the only place where such a crude understanding is still embraced, as it has been rejected everywhere else.

And the point about magic is asinine; assertion masquerading as argument. Girard's insight is truer: "The invention of science is not the reason that there are no longer witch-hunts, but the fact that there are no longer witch-hunts is the reason that science has been invented. The scientific spirit…is a by-product of the profound action of the Gospel text."
Dawkin's stance on religion is that it seeks to displace scientific principles, where in some cases they are well understood, with supernaturalistic stories. In other words such people would prefer that Noah's flood be real, where by some magic 20 times the amount of water than what exists came and left the Earth in a great flood, than to have to grapple with the idea we Humans are just a tiny branch in the tree of life. Dawkins objects to the forcefulness with which such people want mythic stories of angels, demons, second comings, universal floods, along with all their magic which counters what is known or knowable by reasoned principles. As he sees it this amounts to the removal of realistic understandings and their supporting facts with fantasies and delusions supported purely by faith concerning their divine truth. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Aaagh. Straw men again. This just assumes that 'religion' = late Modern Protestantism. It begs the question about what is being "displaced" and about what the "supernatural" is.
I am not so sure about his "war" against religion, when I think there are better ways to go about this. Yet I can understand the sentiment. Here my nation has a President who has set up a defacto Department of Faith (Faith based initiative) and other programs to extend the social power of churches in the nation. I do think it is time to push back against this rot, for if we don't we will have a theocracy here. Supporters of religion and faith should not be so cowed by Dawkin's charge, for they have their ducks lined up in the WhiteHouse and Congress --- that is unless they really are terrified by the prospect that what they believe is a load of crap.
So tell me, in what way is this not the equivalent of the 'Hitler was a scientist' argument? Bush is a Christian, therefore all religion is awful.

Puhlease.

The real issue is that Dawkins and his ilk realise that they have lost the argument. They have quite clearly lost it politically (any analysis of the modern world that doesn't take religion seriously is manifestly doomed to irrelevancy) but they have also lost the philosophical argument. Like all scientific revolutions, it will take time for this one to complete - but as the blowhards die off those coming to the field with fresh eyes will take up the better explanations. Atheism has had its day, and Dawkins - as Denys Turner so wonderfully puts it - is simply not up to scratch as a thinker in this sphere:
"...since today my purpose is to encourage the atheists to engage in some more cogent and comprehensive levels of denying, I shall limit my comment to saying that thus far they lag well behind even the theologically necessary levels of negation , which is why their atheisms are generally lacking in theological interest. So, I repeat: such atheists are, as it were, but theologians in an arrested condition of denial: in the sense in which atheists of this sort say God ‘does not exist’, the atheist has merely arrived at the theological starting point. Theologians of the classical traditions, an Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas or a Meister Eckhart, simply agree about the disposing of idolatries, and then proceed with the proper business of doing theology."
(Denys Turner, ‘How to be an atheist’)

More on climate change scepticism

Curiouser and curiouser.

Monckton, whose original article sparked these musings, responds to Monbiot's rebuttal here.

Real Climate gets down to the nitty gritty here.

I still think that Fred Pearce has the best discussion of it.

"What makes a subject hard to understand - if it's something significant and important - is not that before you can understand it you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters, but the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect." (Wittgenstein, 1931)

TBTM20061115



Well, managed some work and Evening Prayer yesterday - thought I was back to stuff - and now I still feel awful. Maybe it's morning sickness??

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Oh this is so good

Go on. Just read it. It's a bit more disembowelling of Richard Dawkins, a man who has, perhaps, now crossed over beyond parody. All he needs now is a cackle and the effect will be complete.

(HT Bryan Appleyard)

Pledges

Stimulated by some recent books - and, of course, by my Learning Church programme - I'm pondering the question of pledges. As in - what can we commit ourselves to, what can we bind ourselves into, what disciplines can we employ to structure our lives around - in such a way that leads to life for all? I want to end up with ten or a dozen that I can use at the end of the Learning Church sequence, by which time I hope I will have made the case that signing up to these pledges is a) the Will of God, and that b) if you knowingly turn your back on them, you are walking into the darkness. (This is the 'path for the faithful' bit of 'Let us Be Human').

So this is a first draft, not in any order other than what I think of first.

1. Repudiate the aeroplane.
This means not simply not using the aeroplane directly, for foreign holidays etc, but not using the products of aeroplane transport, principally fruit and veg that is flown into our supermarkets. It's remarkable just how damaging the aeroplane is.

2. Never step foot inside a (major?) supermarket.
I was very struck by the point made by Monbiot in 'Heat' that, in carbon terms, one of the worst things about supermarkets is the stores themselves, which are terribly profligate sinks of energy. If we switch to home deliveries, most of this is overcome. There are still lots of problems with supermarkets (see, eg, pledge 1) but turning the superstores into warehouses would, in Monbiot's view, almost on its own contribute to the 90% reduction in carbon needed in this sector.

3. Learn to grow your own vegetables.
Not just to get zero-carbon vegetables but to change the manner of our lives. This I see as much as a spiritual as a practical point. It will change our relationship to the earth.

4. Transport priorities: Walk, Public Transport, Carpool.
Obviously - try and not use a car at all, for all sorts of reasons. But where walking or public transport is not possible, share journeys. Accept a small loss of autonomy for the sake of other people's lives. There are all sorts of ways this could be done - something that a church might reasonably get involved in I think.

5. Entertainment: share, and pursue low-carbon options
I keep thinking about the number of DVDs I see in people's houses (and in mine!), which are very energy intensive to produce, and which mostly spend their time gathering dust. In the early church they had all things in common - what's to stop us pooling all our DVD collections into one place and sharing them? Like a library... Beyond that, why should people have as the default setting for entertainment lots of separate sitting in front of the glowbox? Get people together to watch a film! Or sing songs! Or just sit around sharing a bottle of wine! LET US BE HUMAN!!!(This is what I've started to push towards here, but it hasn't borne much fruit yet. A deeply rooted individualism. Protestantism has so much to answer for.)

(Have to admit - partly my thinking on this is driven by my possession of big plasma TV etc - which Monbiot says uses five times as much energy as a normal TV. I think the only way to square my conscience is to share it(!) But it's also a source of great pleasure, and I'm not a Puritan.)

6. Switch to a non-carbon electricity supplier.
Simple really. Might cost a few more pennies, but it will save a few more lives. Can any Christian argue against this??

7. Eat less meat.
I don't agree with going veggie 100% - though I think 90% or so is unarguable - but the meat should only come from land which would otherwise not be used (eg Welsh lamb). The figures for how much water is needed to produce a steak are frightening. Eat less meat so that others can simply eat.

8. Vote Green.
Not because that party has all the answers, but because the more votes they get, the more the other parties will gravitate towards a position which gains these votes.

9. Conserve energy in the home.
Especially insulation; turning off at the wall; compact flourescents - you know the drill. Get used to wearing a thicker jumper.

10. Pray.
This'll be number one in the eventual list. We need to pray in order to stay God's hand. Prayer is what tunes us in to the will of God, which shows us the way forward, and it is the essential discipline underlying all the others. It's also the only means of sustaining hope in the darkness which is coming down upon us.

11. Church
By which I don't just mean worship (the other Learning Churches will spell out why this is essential) but the simple gathering together with other human beings. Socialisation. Community. Becoming a sign of the Kingdom which is coming.

That'll do for now. Any and all comments welcome.

Whose wrath?

A foretaste of one theme from the next Learning Church - which should have been the last Learning Church - but there you go.

Consider Andromeda.


Isn't she lovely?

Any of you who have seen 'Clash of the Titans' should remember this. The parents of Andromeda have offended the gods. The oracle says that in order to provide recompense, the daughter - whose beauty, being praised as higher than the gods, is the scandal - the daughter must be sacrificed. So she is chained to a rock, there to await her fate of being consumed by the Kraken.



This is the pagan understanding of sacrifice. The gods have their own agenda. Their honour is paramount, and any insult to their honour must be met by sacrifice and the shedding of blood. So we have an angry deity, who needs to be appeased in order for the community to flourish and live in peace.

The Jewish understanding of sacrifice is quite different. According to the Jewish account, God is benign and loving - not vengeful and concerned with his honour (as if anything we do could either raise or diminish the living God's honour!!) So in the ritual of the first temple (see this; James Alison is my source) the priest goes into the Holy of Holies, and comes out - as YHWH - to sprinkle blood upon the people as a sign of their forgiveness.

In other words God acts before we act, to reach out with love to forgive us and enable our lives. The God of the Bible is not a pagan deity. "There is no wrath in God". In God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

Yet there is a wrathful deity here. There is a sacrifice. So watch this, and ask whose wrath is being satisfied.

Genes for nothing

"...by the time you get to courtship, or emotions, or creativity, or mental illness, or any complex aspect of our lives, the intertwining of biological and environmental components utterly defeats any attempt to place them into separate categories, let alone to then decide that one of them has got to go."

Great article dismantling genetic determinism here.

Oh yes

"The much greater interpretative element in John is actually quite coherent with my claim that this is the only Gospel to have been actually written by an eyewitness. Precisely because he had been close to Jesus he felt qualified to interpret Jesus."

I feel childishly excited.

BTW I'm also feeling much better today - I'm even wearing a dog collar for the first time in a week....

It's not fair!



Wonderful (HT Neil Gaiman)

TBTM20061114



My life consists in my being content to accept many things.

(Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 344)

Monday, November 13, 2006

TBTE20061113



Deeply Conservative


The distinguishing and original characteristics of the deep ecology movement were its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings and the use of this view in shaping environmental policies. Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans. They recognize that we cannot go on with industrialism's "business as usual." Without changes in basic values and practices, we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world, and its ability to support diverse human cultures....The platform can be endorsed by people from a diversity of religious and philosophical backgrounds as well as differing political affiliations. "Supporters of the deep ecology movement" (rather than being referred to as "deep ecologists") are united by a long-range vision of what is necessary to protect the integrity of the Earth's ecological communities and ecocentric values.

World denial

Just a thought - as yet unformed, but I wanted to acknowledge and record it.

Pacifism - resolute non-violence - rests on the refusal to act in a way which is sinful (that a violent action is sinful is not disputed).

The church's role is to cultivation and form disciples in such a way that this becomes second nature, that it governs the way that they think about these things.

Sometimes the consequences of acting in this sin-less manner (or less sinful manner) is that great harm is achieved within the world by those who have chosen violence. World War II is the classic example. Non-violent resistance did not/ would not dissuade the Nazis.

There is, therefore, a claim implicitly being made here, that the 'eternal' consequences justify the temporal costs.

This, it seems to me, is a form of world-denial. I am not sure how to reconcile this with an incarnational faith.

Heat (George Monbiot)


This was very good, and an excellent complement to The Last Generation. The basic argument is that it is possible to have civilisation more-or-less as we know it, coupled with a rapid (<20yr) 90% cut in carbon emissions. I'm persuaded that this is, in principle, true. I also think that Monbiot's conclusion is more important than anything else: that the principal change needed is within us, we need to wean ourselves away from this way of life. Let us be human!

I'm wondering about some 'pledges' that might be made. The first and clearest might be: I shall never board an aeroplane again. The second might be: I shall never enter a supermarket again (ie big out of town thing - not sure the local co-op counts). On this latter, I was most struck by the figures for electricity use in supermarkets, and the way in which shifting to a delivery system (whereby the superstores become warehouses) is part of the solution. So: walking into a Tesco store (even if you haven't driven there!) is part of the problem, due to the phenomenal profligacy of the store itself. But having Tesco stuff delivered to your home - this might effect a 70% reduction in traffic, leaving aside anything else. (As long as you don't then buy lots of stuff flown in from the other side of the world. Actually, you should just use it for bulk goods; veg etc should be locally grown.)

Hmm.

"Prevent Global Warming! Get Tesco to offer Free Home Delivery"

Do you think it's a runner?

TBTM20061113



I feel really lousy this morning. Blech. Last kick of the beast I think.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Watch this space

Chris Tilling is starting a series on Richard Bauckham's new book here. Which I've ordered from Amazon, but it hasn't arrived yet - but I am very excited by it.

Grin.

Relativism and Fundamentalism: Siamese twins

Great essay from Peter Berger on this theme here:

"There is a challenging agenda here, one of great interest both to religious believers and to others concerned with preserving a society in which diverse people can live together in civic peace."

Why I am a Conservative (and what I mean by that)

Davidov asked in a comment: "Please please tell me 3 things the Republicans have actually done that make you "Republican on most things"? I am truly intrigued."

Well, I don't really want to get into 'what the Republicans have actually done' (tho' the abolition of slavery is not to be sneezed at ;) but I thought it might be of interest to describe the background to what Davidov is commenting on, ie my comment that I would be classed as a 'Republican on most things'. This really has two aspects - one to do with the Republican party, one to do with being a Conservative.

The former is quite superficial, and I was actually thinking of these sorts of books, especially the political analysis that suggested that if you were white, college educated and attended church regularly, you were massively more likely to vote Republican. Being that sort of person, I think I would be classed as 'Republican'. However, that's all a bit beside the point. The more fundamental issue, for me at least, is why I would identify myself as a Conservative (and see the Republicans as the Conservative party in the US).

I see the fundamental political division as between those who take a 'tragic' view of the human condition - meaning one which expects sin to be a significant factor in human affairs - and those who take an 'Enlightened' view of the human condition, and who therefore believe human affairs to be perfectible, with human sin able to be removed if the governing circumstances are changed.

I take this understanding of Conservatism as deriving largely from Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution. British society was profoundly shocked by that regicide and terror, undertaken in the name of some good ideas (Liberty, Equality and Fraternity), and Conservatism is conditioned by that experience. I would argue that this represents 'mainstream' Conservatism in the UK.

Flowing from this, the Conservative perspective tends to scepticism towards "good ideas", and prefers the tried and tested institutions. More fundamentally, it means a significant distrust of the state - almost a loathing - and a great deal of admiration for Burke's 'little platoons', ie the local institutions and voluntary societies which provide the humus within which a full humanity can grow. The besetting fear for a Conservative is of an over-mighty state, in the hands of a man with a good idea, who causes well-meaning havoc. This is why the US Constitution is a profoundly Conservative document, as the separation of powers, and all associated with it, was designed around the assumption that the leaders elected would be prone to sin - and therefore needed to be kept in check by other bodies (also prone to sin). It was in the balance of competing interests that human freedom and welfare would find their best means of preservation. I am a great fan of the US constitution.

Such a vision of human society depends to a very great extent on the ability of civil society to regulate human conduct, ie the development of social virtues, and for this it looks to support a) the family, and b) the church - for these are where the social regulation of human behaviour is established.

This is the sense in which I'm a Conservative. I believe in human sinfulness (tho' I see it as redeemable and subject to grace, hence this is a Christian tragic vision, not a Greek tragic vision), and therefore I have a hearty loathing for the state, especially the welfare state and all that has come in its train through the twentieth century.

Paradoxically it also means that whilst I am in principle in favour of "free trade", I do not equate that with 'globalisation' (which destroys the local community) nor with 'capitalism' (which destroys the social virtues). Moreover I am thoroughly persuaded that the language of economists is 99.9% idolatrous, that 'the free market' (and especially 'growth') are the contemporary equivalents of the golden calf, and that such idolatry - as with all idolatry - ends up destroying human life.

All this makes me opposed to the libertarian position (human freedom as the idol, capitulation to the forces of international finance) and also to state socialism (which in practice is indistinguishable from fascism, which is often misdescribed as a Conservative form of government). This might seem strange, but the political position that comes closest to my own (other than Conservatism) is anarcho-socialism, built around communes.

All this ties in very closely and intimately with my theological views, and how I see the church functioning - but that's another post!

(BTW I could also class my political views as 'deep green' - but that's a different axis of assessment, I believe, to the one on which 'Conservative' stands.)

The shape of the world in 2050

This is just a short one, despite the grandiose title.

One of the things about a) Peak Oil (therefore Peak energy) and b) Global Warming, is that the energy structure of the future will necessarily be more diffuse and multiform (and more efficient and lower in carbon). There probably will still be a 'grid' of sorts, but it won't dominate electricity supply in the way it does now. The pattern will have much more resemblance to the internet, especially the 'Napster' model, with many nodes sharing product and lots of redundancy built in. The local will be the dominant factor. (And I remain convinced that the future is wired - what will Google do? etc)

I'm reminded to say this by this article, and the concept of systempunkt. In other words, as well as the pressures on the system coming from Peak Oil and Global Warming, we can add Global Guerrillas as another major force dictating the same outcome.

Fortunately, this outcome is deeply attractive and human.

The Last Generation



This is an excellent book. I'd been a little troubled by the Telegraph article I had read recently, which was sceptical about global warming, and argued that it was based on scientific errors. This book goes into the arguments from that article in some depth (because the article wasn't original - this book was published before the article was!) and the overall story is both well researched and very readable. Put simply, the 'Last Generation' is not a reference to the end of humanity, but to the stability of the climate system. We are moving to an environment which is more chaotic than any which humanity has yet been exposed to.

Very, very interesting. (I'm now reading Monbiot's Heat, which is equally good, but with a distinctly different emphasis).

Exorcist 3



I remember having watched this about 15 years ago, and finding it very good. Watching it now confirmed several things - I still think it is very good - but the ending was very annoying and smothered what could have been an excellent film. The great bits: dialogue and character, especially between the policeman and the priest; the surreal vision of heaven, and the restrained implications of things going wrong (mostly); and one particular 'shock' - which was one of my clearest memories from when I first saw it, and remains one of the most frightening moments in any film for me. That sequence works extremely well, and would repay study I think. But the ending was overblown and awful, lacking in all the theological subtlety that had been apparent up until then. The character of the exorcist priest also needed a little more fleshing out and integrating with the remaining narrative.

Having said all that, it is undoubtedly the best of all the Exorcist sequels.

24 Series Four



Well, what else are you going to do when you're wrapped up in a duvet? I had put this by for a rainy day, which duly arrived. I do love this show, even though the plot was seriously creaky this time, and watching it all over the space of a couple of days meant that the rhythms didn't really work properly (it becomes more apparent that it's designed episodically. Real life doesn't have a climax on the hour every hour...) and the occasional continuity gaffes stick out more clearly - but it was great, and I'm now going to order series five.

What I most like about the program is the emphasis on 'phronesis', ie judgement - the people involved are always under pressure to establish their priorities, and the boundaries between good and evil get distinctly blurred. I think it is an essentially tragic vision of the world, ie Greek not Christian, but no less fascinating for that.

Illness

Now - I tend to believe that most illness is psychosomatic (voice of a sergeant major in the background "Pull yourself together boy!"), which means that whenever I get ill my main project is to ask myself 'why?'.

Actually, this isn't as neurotic as it might seem(!). I think this time, which was the first 'proper' illness I've had since coming to Mersea, was simply God saying 'take a break', or, more precisely, 'let go'. The key shift was pulling out of the Learning Church and the Remembrance service (which I should now be preparing to take, rather than writing this blog entry - but then, I do think that 'should' is the language of Satan). It was learning, again, the lesson that nobody is indispensable - and that it is OK to disengage. Which meant that when I finally stopped fighting it and trying to get myself back into the saddle for the weekend - and wrapped myself up in a duvet for 48 hours without trying to do anything else significant - the illness finally started to shift. Still there to some extent - especially a pain in my lungs/ sore throat - but the lethargy has gone. Mostly.

I think I might look back on this (especially as I'm due to go on retreat next week) as a time of transition - the beginning at Mersea is well and truly over. Only a few weeks ago I felt myself start to relax and think 'yes, this is going OK' - and I'm sure it is precisely that relaxation somewhere in my soul which allowed this illness to get a foothold. Let God, and all that.

Various things have started to clarify though - and there is a lot that I want to write about. Stay tuned!

TBTM20061112



This photo is specially for Mad Priest, whom I love, and whose site is one of my absolute favourites.

(smooch ;-)

Friday, November 10, 2006

A less amusing train of thought

Despite loving Colbert, and appreciating all that he does, I do see a dark side to all this.

(Well, I would, wouldn't I?)

OK. Put together this, with this:
America will never get over Vietnam. It's doomed to fight wars in a cyclic fashion until some dreadful world crisis forces an extension of its periodicity to decisive victory. 9/11 wasn't big enough for that. Fairly soon but with increasing speed the consequences of this catastrophic collapse will be felt and the pendulum will swing back, maybe in 2008, maybe in 2010 — but not all the way — and a new Rumsfeld will be found only to be trashed by a new Pelosi. Back and forth it will go. The next decade will be littered with the bones of millions of indigenes caught up in the betrayals of American domestic politics. Remember the words “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” The man who said those words was dead within three years of uttering them, together with millions of Indochinese, many drowned in the South China Sea. The cycle will continue until some catastrophe breaks the cycle or breaks America.

and this, with explanation of the story here:.

Could it be that a lone survivor of the 20th Century’s death camps at Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen could have looked back upon the chances the allies had to squelch Hitler’s ambitions in 1935 or 1937 or 1938, before the Nazis had the strength to drag all of Europe into its nightmare darkness with them, and wished that France and England had showed more ruthlessness in the beginning, when the death toll would have been in the thousands rather than the tens of millions? Could the Time Traveler’s reading of Thucydides be based on witnessing even more pain and destruction than even our hypothetical survivor of the 20th Century’s death camps and dislocations?

In Kaplan’s Warrior Politics , it is not ruthlessness that is being sought after, but the pagan virtues of clear-seeing…of seeing that good and evil are usually false dichotomies and that continued passive tolerance of intolerance equals intolerance, if not actual self-defeat.


I say this even though I am convinced (having watched this, and linked it in to various other elements we should be aware of) that the specific 'terrorist' threat to the Western world is vastly overblown, and not much more than propaganda. However, what our wise leaders have conjured up is a malevolent genie - and this genie happens to have a weapon to hand that will destroy our way of life. It won't destroy humanity, and it won't destroy western civilisation, but it will cause havoc, and probably lead to the destruction of Islamic civilisation. Our endeavours should be focussed upon minimising the blowback.

We were this close to Jesus coming back



The man is a genius.

TBTM20061110


This morning's photo kindly taken by Mrs Rev Sam, as Rev Sam still feels unwell, and was able to take advantage of an extensive lie-in - as a result of which he feels he has turned the corner. Lets see how today goes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sex tips from our priest

Got directed by an e-mail to this blog, which is really good, and now on my blogroll. Then, from following a link on one of the stories, I came across this post, which was a) very funny, and b) made me think about whether I'm doing my marriage preparation classes right....

TBTM20061109



Feeling a leetle beet bettur...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Power of Nightmares

"In a society that believes in nothing, fear becomes the only agenda... a society that believes in nothing is particularly frightened by people who believe in anything, and therefore we label those people as fundamentalists or fanatics... and they have much greater purchase in terms of the fear that they instil in society, than they truly deserve."

I have finally finished watching the excellent - outstandingly excellent - BBC documentary 'The Power of Nightmares'. Available, thanks to the generosity of Chris Locke here. Be warned - it is three hours long. But if you haven't watched it, it would be fair to say that, unless you're already in an exceptionally well-informed position, you don't understand the nature of the present world.

And all I kept thinking about was this fact: the single command repeated more often than any other in the Bible is: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Because if you succumb to fear, then the prince of this world will rule over you.

(Forgot to add: Wendell Berry on this topic) (HT Andrew Sherwood)

TBTM20061108



Having thought I'd recovered from my bug - it must have been the adrenaline surge on Sunday that disguised things - I now wake up feeling even worse. Ominous flu symptoms - aching joints and muscles, painfully sore throat - so I'm going to cancel just about everything and see what hunkering down with Lemsip can do today.

I think it's (in part) the consequence of not having a proper day off last week....