Thursday, January 29, 2009

The ghost of George Herbert

A bit more on this topic. Justin (whose book is coming out soon) shared some figures with me in an e-mail. Over the period 1990-2006 the average number of clergy leaving the ministry each year, for various reasons, was:

Death in post: 24
Retirement: 344
'Other losses': 258

That's out of a total clergy number of around 9,000 average, so around 3% of clergy leave the ministry each year. I wonder how that compares with other professions? I wonder also whether a vocational ministry might not expect a lower rate of departure compared to other professions (after all, there's more at stake in priest leaving ministry than, say, an accountant joining a non-accountancy company). Unfortunately the CofE doesn't keep figures on _why_ clergy leave the job.

It's been on my mind again, partly for personal reasons (like discovering the other day that if I'd stayed in the civil service I'd be earning around £70k now, on a conservative estimate!), and partly because Tim put up an interesting post relating to it (see my comments in the thread).

TBTM20090129


The subjective nature of scientific knowledge is increasingly being recognised. Scientific methodology is based on assumptions that cannot be examined scientifically, reflects the perspective of the observer in experiment and observation and utilises metaphor and worldview in creating hypotheses. The divide between subjective and objective and between scientific and faith knowledge is increasingly redundant, with all knowledge beginning to be understood as involving both subjectivity and objectivity.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

TBTM20090124


Wonderful conditions for taking pictures this morning - I ended up taking nearly 100! More samples can be found on my flickr page.

Friday, January 23, 2009

busy busy busy

No TBTM today - but I love this quote from +Alan: "And the Atheism? It sounds as though God views atheism as a harmless eccentricity, which probably doesn’t really exist as much as people think, infinitely better than pretending to believe, which is a ruddy menace..."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some places that predicted the financial crisis

Just for the record, there were several places that predicted the present economic crisis, starting from a point many years ago. Some just in general terms, but some in very specific terms. These are some of the ones that I read, but I'm sure there are others.

Nouriel Roubini
Financial Armageddon
The Automatic Earth
Clusterf**k Nation
Global Guerrillas
Club Orlov
Ann Pettifor
And, in general terms (eg here) yours truly.

So when someone in the mainstream media (or Gordon Brown) says 'nobody predicted this' you'll be able to say that actually, people did predict it, it was foreseeable, it's just that you're incompetent...

TBTM20090122


Can you imagine Elijah being prosecuted for mocking the prophets of Baal? Does not the assertion of the supremacy of one God over the pantheon of others necessitate the humiliation of these false gods and idols? Is not the very choice to follow one particular faith over another an act of ‘discrimination’? Islam is not a race, but a religio-political ideology. And now it appears that a Dutch MP – a citizen of the EU – may be prosecuted for daring to criticise an ideology. This decision will have every member of the BNP wringing their hands with glee, and leave every libertarian of moderate political persuasion profoundly perplexed. Doubtless no British MP will dare to comment on this story at all (not even those who profess to be immensely concerned about the erosion of liberties) for fear of inciting the BNP to excessive gloating or of offending the UK’s Muslim population and thereby losing their votes with two elections imminent.

Are newspaper articles 'telephoned in'?

I ask after reading this mildly interesting article about U2 in the Daily Telegraph.

There are two glaring errors in it for a reader: 'pedalling' when it should be 'peddling', and 'reign' when it should be 'rein'. Two things: a) spell-checkers wouldn't have picked this up, and b) was the article dictated? I can't believe the Telegraph would employ someone whose grasp of the English language was that poor (or maybe I'm naive on that one) but I can imagine that they employ typists who wouldn't necessarily pick up exactly what the writer was trying to say. (Of course, the 'typists' may simply be electronic ones.)

Perhaps I'm just having another Victor Meldrew moment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TBTE20090120


That was a good speech. My one quibble was the deference to Happy Motoring rather than talking about the need to invest in rail. But I love the reference to virtue, and the tone seemed exactly right. Didn't expect anything less of course.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ocean's 13


Better than the second one.
3/5

St Trinians


Jolly hockey sticks.
3.5/5

TBTE20090119


"The only reality-based solution to dealing with bankrupt, insolvent institutions is to let them fail and let them file for bankruptcy protection. Once this has happened their debt is largely discharged. To not do so, or as Ben Bernanke’s plan would have it, to give all of these insolvent institutions billions of dollars to keep them afloat, means that (1) a multi-trillion dollar deficit becomes the tax burden of future generations of Americans, (2) those who became rich on their own excesses are not held to account and retain their individual wealth while the majority of Americans struggle to get by, and (3) the speculators and gamblers who went into debt are released from any responsibility---they are free to find new ways to exploit the system, and they know that if, in the near future, they run up bad debts again, relief awaits in the form of help from the government. Hence there is no deterrent to this type of behavior. And so Ben Bernanke’s plan, at best, creates an enormous tax burden for future generations of Americans while simultaneously doing nothing to deter would-be speculators and Ponzi-schemers from plying their trade time and time again. In other words, the Bernanke and Obama plans are not solutions, they are obfuscations. They do nothing to change the system that has brought us to this point."

(One of my favourite sites.)

Conservative or Liberal?

OK, first read this report.
Then watch this report.

Seems to me that conservatives and liberals can agree on how appalling this is, even if they disagree about how to characterise what is wrong. A conservative might talk about institutions that have stood the test of time; the liberal might talk about human rights violations. What I'm interested to know, however, is how to characterise the sort of government that would do these things, that would make these things possible, that would be in hock to private interests in such a craven way. Fascistic?

I just can't believe it! (I find myself having more and more regular Victor Meldrew moments....)

Reading through the Bible (Learning Suppers at West Mersea)

As a spin-off from the 'Learning Church' sessions that I was doing on Saturday mornings, we now have a once-a-month Sunday evening service which includes a lengthy talk on a particular topic - along with some 'mainstream hymns' (= popular music, occasionally even sung by the Rector, erk!) - and finishing with a shared supper in the Hall. It's a format that seems to work well, and the congregations are a good size.

This is the programme for the next several months:
Reading through the Bible

The Bible has authority over Christians of all different sorts - but why? In this sequence of talks I want to explore not only what the Bible is, and what the Bible says, I want to show how the Bible can help us to see the world more clearly. In other words this isn't just a sequence picking out some themes from the Bible - though of course it is that - it is also going to explore how to read the world through the Bible: how does the Bible help us to understand and live today?


25th January: Where did the Bible come from?
This will be a mainly historical overview of how we ended up with the texts that we have, and I will discuss what it means to have a 'canon'.

22nd February: The Word of God
This session will explore what the expression 'The Word of God' refers to in various places in the Bible, and what they mean.

22nd March: Old Testament Grace
In this session I will argue that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the NT, ie graceful. This service will incorporate a formal healing service.

24th May: The sin of fundamentalism
This session will do exactly what it says on the tin in explaining just why fundamentalism is problem.

28th June: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
This session will describe how modern research supports traditional perspectives on the gospels.
(Please note that this date is subject to change, if it clashes with the ordination service at Chelmsford Cathedral)

26th July: What is heaven?
This final session will explore where we might be going - and what the Bible says about it. This service will incorporate an informal communion.

The Learning Supper is a very informal and enjoyable style of service with all sorts of music and followed by a shared simple meal of bread, soup and wine in the hall.
Everyone is welcome!

The boil on the backside of British bookselling

I haven't said much about the SPCK saga in the last six months, not because I haven't been interested, but because there are some excellent people doing all the heavy lifting and pursuing the cause much more effectively than I can. Phil Groom has posted a summary here though - as we're some six months on from when it all started - and he communicates effectively why Christians should stand up and fight about it:

"…the closure of the SPCK bookshops has very little to do with the recession: they’ve been run into the ground by their unscrupulous new owners, who accepted them as a gift from SPCK on trust that they would invest in them and their staff and maintain them as Christian bookshops.

Instead, however, they attempted to foist illegal contracts upon the staff and drove them to despair with their reprehensible behaviour (most walked out in disgust; one had a nervous breakdown; another committed suicide), then proceeded to close shops down, clearing out the stock without paying the suppliers; they attempted a spurious bankruptcy filing in the USA, changed their trading identities here in the UK and continued trading in the stock they’d acquired from the shops they’d closed — all supposedly in the name of “Orthodox mission”. In September they sold the Exeter branch for £507,000 and — in direct breach of a legally undertaken covenant — have allowed it to become a jewellery store.

In the meantime, the staff they drove out have not received their wages and the suppliers whose stock they took have not been paid. So for me, the online campaign to expose these evil men and, yes, to bring them down, remains a truly worthwhile use of my time and energy."



Friday, January 16, 2009

TPT20090115


Taken on my cameraphone. No TBTM today as the weather was very bleak and grey. I was humming a hymn whilst walking back from Morning Prayer: "Dark and dreary is the morn/ unaccompanied by thee..."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bottleneck

A little while back the Celtic Chimp asked me why I was so pessimistic about the immediate future, and for some more detailed description of what I thought was coming down the line. This is by way of an answer to him.

My bottom line assumption is that we are entering into the 'hitting-the-wall' phase predicted by the authors of the Club of Rome report 'Limits to Growth'. I see the problem of Peak Oil as the most prominent of those limits, but it is by no means the only one (and, even though I'm becoming more sceptical of "global warming" as such, there are plenty of other candidates).

The core point about 'limits to growth' is that, once you hit the limit, growth ceases. One of the most interesting things I've learnt in my research on this over the last few years is something called 'Liebig's Law', or, 'the law of the minimum' which states that the growth of any organism is restricted by the resource which is least plentiful. If you are growing a plant in a pot on your windowsill, that plant will need certain things to grow - water, sunlight, minerals from the soil and so on. When you reach a limit for any particular one of those things then it doesn't matter how much more there is of all the other elements needed, growth will come to an end. (I should emphasise here that I'm primarily talking about physical growth - more stuff, more people). So it doesn't really matter which area of human existence we focus on - it could be clean air, it could be clean water, it could be topsoil, it could be overpopulation - my particular interest just happens to be energy, and so we can talk about Peak Oil.

Peak Oil is that point at which the flow of oil reaches its maximum. After that point, the availability of oil will continually decrease, no matter what resources are brought to bear. My view is that - partly as a result of the collapse in oil prices over the last few months - we have now passed this point of peak oil production and are now in an 'undulating plateau'. The price of oil has decreased, partly through the firesale of financial assets (which will pass) but also due to the severity of demand destruction caused by the economic downturn. The problem will emerge with further strength when the economy gets through the economic aspects of the present crisis and tries to get back upon its previous growth-based models: the price of oil will increase again and choke off that economic growth. In sum, my view is that, for a period of 10-15 years, economic growth has ceased, indeed, that it will go into reverse. I see much of the middle-class Western lifestyle coming to an end over this period; a vast amount of unemployment which will - in a benign outcome - shift to working the land, or, in a less benign outcome, the resurrection of a slave society.

There will be manifold problems throughout human society, as the availability of cheap and easy energy has underwritten the expansion of industrial society for around three hundred years. Peak Oil represents that moment when human society is required to shift from a society based around energy which is cheap and plentiful, to a society where energy is scarce and expensive. No other fuel source can replace what oil presently accomplishes. The other fossil fuels are themselves subject to limits and resource constraints (which includes nuclear) whilst the renewables, which are longer term options, suffer most from problems of scalability. My optimistic feeling is that on the other side of the crisis there will be some resurgence of energy production (from renewables) but that level of energy will be significantly lower than today.

Most of the things which we have become accustomed to accomplishing with ease will become difficult. That will include feeding ourselves, and the difficulty of obtaining food will catalyse many extremely unpleasant secondary effects. Many of the most sombre commentators on the phenomenon of Peak Oil have become persuaded of the 'Die Off' scenario, whereby the majority of the human race will not live past around 2025. I am persuaded of the truth of much of their analysis; I differ primarily in allowing room for hope. Rather than seeing a terminal 'die off', I see us rapidly approaching a bottleneck - a time of greatly increased pressure and tension, and not all of us will get through. However, decisions that we make now - more at the personal and local society level than at the government level (I tend to see the government as a problem not a solution, as people know) - will make a big difference to what happens. Learn to store more food. Learn to garden or develop a skill that will allow for trading for food. Get to know your neighbours and develop contacts across the community.

I foresee a time of tremendous upheaval and suffering in this crisis that has now begun; a time with greater parallels to the 1340s than the 1930s, and a lot of people, a lot of societies, quite possibly even some nations (eg the US and UK in their present form) will not make it through. Yet I also believe that what we do now will make a difference in the end, and I trust that our labour will not be in vain. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

TBTM20090115


If you want self-control, try becoming religious.

Monday, January 12, 2009

TBTE20090111


A dull grey horrible morning so this is one from yesterday instead. The twitter element in my sidebar seems to be giving problems, so I'll remove it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A rise in seismic activity

One of the recent articles I read about AGW talked about the dropping off in solar activity and there was another one which I can't now place which linked solar activity to seismic activity on earth (which makes sense) - in other words we can look forward to a more active earth, more earthquakes and volcanoes and so on.

Which implies that the long delayed Californian quake and Tokyo disasters are just around the corner. Just something else to throw into the mix.

Hamas in their own words


(h/t Iain Dale)

TBTM20090110


A review of Brueggemann on the Old Testament. (H/T John Hobbins)

I particularly liked this sentence: "He seeks to demonstrate that close attention to Israel’s testimony ultimately serves the pastoral end of conversion: namely, conversion from the illusion of the self-sufficient human agent to a life lived fully in partnership with YHWH." That's something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

Friday, January 09, 2009

TPT20090109


Taken by Mrs Elizaphanian.

READING GROUP
The Victory of Reason (Stark) 1.i

As mentioned earlier, I plan to run a 'reading group' looking at interesting books on a weekly basis. I'll normally post on a Thursday morning, as that is when I can normally guarantee some quality time to look at it. We being with Rodney Stark's "The Victory of Reason" - How Christianity led to freedom, capitalism and western success.

Preface & Chapter 1.i

The main burden of this section is about the way that Christian theology was the necessary precondition for the rise of science - that, in fact, science cannot proceed without using Christian theological assumptions. Stark writes:

"...the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers to progress, especially those impeding science. Nonsense. The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."

Stark begins chapter 1 by outlining his conception of theology which, in contrast to its popular image, is 'highly rational - formal reasoning about God'. This rational emphasis included the ability to develop new doctrine on the basis of such reasoning, and Stark gives the examples of Augustine rejecting astrology, and the notion of Mary's perpetual virginity. In the Christian outlook, therefore, the use of reason was encouraged, enabled, and allowed to be fruitful - it was seen as an indispensable component of faith. Whilst Stark acknowledges some difference of view amongst theologians (eg Bonaventure) he comments that "[their] views did not prevail - if for no other reason than because official church theology enjoyed a secure base in the many and growing universities, where reason ruled."

Moreover, this view of reason was one that assumed the possibility of progress, ie that over time people could gain "an increasingly accurate understanding of God's will", and that "the assumption of progress... may be the most critical difference between Christianity and all other religions."

This progress applied to the study of the natural world, which was seen as reflecting the nature of the Creator, and this is where Christianity is substantively essential for the establishment of science. The universe has a stable, rational, intelligible structure which reflects the nature of God and is open to our increasing comprehension - "This was the key to many intellectual undertakings, among them the rise of science." Stark goes on, "Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable - the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars." Stark goes on to briefly survey China, Greece and Islam, to explain why their differing religious perspective inhibited the development of science in those societies.

In short, science was developed in a Christian culture because only Christians believed, as a result of their theological insight, that science both could and should be done: "The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honour God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork..."

Some suggested questions to trigger discussion:

1. I believe it to be true that science depends upon a Christian theological framework, but I'm not convinced that Stark gives enough of an argument in favour. Do you find him convincing on this core point?

2. Stark doesn't take any time to explain his conception of "reason", which is central to his case in a number of different ways. Is this a major flaw?

3. Stark makes the curious argument that "The East lacks theologians because those who might otherwise take up such an intellectual pursuit reject its first premise: the existence of a conscious, all-powerful God." I see this statement as both a) trivially true (ie by definition) and b) remarkably silly. Is Eastern thought as philosophically rich as Christian thought?

4. In an environment where the practice of science is under increasing cultural strain, one implication of Stark's argument is that the preservation of science can most effectively be undertaken by Christians. Is this plausible?

5. Much media presentation depends upon the idea that science and religion are in inevitable conflict. If Stark is correct then this is a pernicious falsehood - where might it have come from, and whose interests are served by the propagation of this falsehood?

Feel free to answer these in the comments, or throw up anything else that strikes you.

TBTM20090109


Be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Some thoughts about "the Middle East"

In response to Byron, and before I get stuck in to Rodney Stark (which may end up being tomorrow now...) some not wholly formed thoughts about "the Middle East".

1. The foundation of Israel was probably unjust and a mistake, in that it is explicitly racist (if you're a member of a particular race then you qualify for citizenship). I'm not sure such a racist foundation is defensible.

2. That debate is academic however, in that the state exists and has done for 60+ years. Whatever the pro's and con's of the foundation the passage of time confers (imho) a very great deal of legitimacy over and above the legal foundation and, to use the current expression, I fully support Israel's right to exist.

3. I see the root cause of the troubles as a rejection of Israel's right to exist on the part of the wider Arab/Islamic population. This has a number of components:
- armed hostilities aimed at strangling the state at birth, followed by several further wars over the following decades;
- conscious cultivation of the Palestinian diaspora as a running sore in international relations (the Palestinian problem could have been solved decades ago with good will on the Muslim side);
- refusal to normalise relations with Israel/ declare that it shouldn't exist.

4. I'm quite sure that there have been war crimes committed on the Israeli side, but I don't see that as exceptional to Israel (ie Israel is not singularly evil, or even particularly evil).

5. Hamas is an Islamist organisation and I don't see any practical way for Israel (or indeed the West as a whole) to accommodate Islamist organisations and remain itself. From Israel's point of view it is facing an enemy which wishes to annihilate it, and I can understand it not wanting to surrender (no responsible state could). But this means that Israel only has bad options to choose from.

6. I don't see this crisis ending until either a) Israel is destroyed; b) Islamism is destroyed (possibly via a nuclear bomb being detonated above Mecca, among other things); or c) divine intervention.

That's my two pennies anyhow.

The Covenant of Hamas

Can be read here (h/t John Richardson).
I do think there is an awful lot of nonsense written about what is happening in the Middle East at the moment.

TBTM20090108


Bottle temple.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Apparitions (BBC)


I enjoyed watching this series, which was one that pressed most of my buttons, but there were some problems. The smaller ones were mainly to do with Martyn Shaw's character, who displayed far too much pride to be doing the things that he did - and which had occasionally bizarre consequences (exorcism by 'phone??). The Black Mass, in particular, was incredible for me, in that I don't believe a priest would do such a thing.

However, the biggest conclusion that I came to, which is one that I've reached separately, is that any presentation of exorcism that describes it as in any way a struggle of equals fails, for that very reason, in being a Christian presentation. Exorcism is more akin to plumbing, and a binary 50/50 clash of good and evil is no more real than a binary 50/50 clash between a plumber and a blocked u-bend. I might write more on that aspect in due course.

I very much hope that there is a second series. 3.5/5

Darkly Dreaming Dexter & Dearly Devoted Dexter (Jeff Lindsay)


I really enjoyed the first series of this on TV and I thought I'd pick up the originating novels. Enjoyable nonsense, but with one interesting thread that I might comment on in due course. (Series 2 starts on ITV tomorrow night, so I might have a chance to catch up.)

Prince Caspian


Weak and confused. 3/5

TPT20090107


Howard Zinn's history of the US.

Monday, January 05, 2009

TO BE LIBERAL IS TO TRUST.
JESUS WAS A LIBERAL.
SO YOU SHOULD BE ONE TOO.

No, Sam has not undergone an overnight transformation.  He is allowing me a guest post. Which he no doubt violently - or preferably non-violently - disagrees with.

Firstly, Sam asked me to tell you who I am. My name is Al von Fintel, a friend of Sam's from university.  He introduced me to green politics and helped introduce me to Christianity. And now he is allowing me to introduce myself to you.  Which I just did.

I am going to try and make the following case: The conservative instinct is to fear, the liberal instinct is to trust.  Trying to be a good Christian and to follow Jesus means trying to trust and therefore also rejecting conservatism. I'd probably need a few chapters of a book to make this case properly, but I'll try my best.

1.  THE CONSERVATIVE INSTINCT IS TO FEAR, THE LIBERAL INSTINCT IS TO TRUST.

First of all, a simple definition: Conservatism is what conservatives "preach" - ie. what they call for, what they write in their manifestoes. Classic conservatives are traditional smalltown American Republicans, traditional British Tories or the German CDU - but not the neocons or libertarians. The centre-right, if you will.  And liberalism is the centre-left, e.g. left-wing Democrats, German and Swedish Social Democrats and Neil Kinnock's Labour Party - yes, there really did used to be a left wing in Britain.

First, a small amount of hard evidence.  A University of Nebraska study of people with strong political convictions examined the link between each participant's stated political views and his or her physiological response to a perceived threat. People with stronger measurable threat responses tended to adhere to "socially protective" political policies, or those that suggest more concern for preserving the social unit - for example, supporting the Iraq war and the death penalty but opposing abortion rights and gay marriage.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1842523,00.html

And now a quick apology: my attempt to explain these results - which I'm happy to try because they confirm the theory I had already postulated - will include quite a few generalisations.  Finding exceptions will be easy. Criticise me if you think a generalisation doesn't hold.

Here are some examples of how the two sides think: The conservative strategy broadly is to fight crime by protecting innocent citizens using more prisons and police, to increased police powers and make prison a longer and less pleasant experience, and in favour of the death penalty.  The conservatives do not try to understand - understanding other people is not their strength, that's why the caring professions are full of liberals - but to deter and to punish.  We fear what we do not understand and conservatives simply don't (want to?) understand criminals.

The liberal strategy is to fight the causes of crime, i.e. unemployment and poverty, to invest more in prevention, and use prison less as punishment and more as a means of rehabilitation and reintegration. Redemption is never ruled out, which is why the death penalty is rejected. Liberals have a deep urge to understand.  This means showing trust, and the strategy can of course backfire.

Social security is another interesting area.  The conservative response is: "Well, I've looked after myself, and I see no reason why others can't do the same.  If they are lazy, what they need is a kick up the backside."  The liberal response is to look for and find a whole host of reasons why particular people have problems and need help and then to offer that help. (Sometimes people do actually need a kick up the arse, and there is certainly a breed of woolly liberal who is afraid to use this remedy at any stage.  The classic liberal response would be to listen first, encourage second, and only kick as a last resort.)

The Nebraska study suggests that conservatives are interested in preserving the social unit and are afraid of what might happen if it were to fall apart.  Let's compare the social unit with a car we are driving.  Imagine the car starts having problems, maybe it's backfiring or the gears won't work properly (and let's assume that the car is 20 years old and so could be fixed by someone with an understanding of machines rather than require a software engineer).  The conservative response would be not to mess around with the engine too much because it might make things worse - ie we don't know how the social unit works, let's leave it as it is - or maybe screw off the bits that are making unhappy noises.  The liberal response would be to try to fix the problem as a whole, investing time and attention in the problematic parts - or in the language of the Daily Mail, rewarding poor behaviour.

I think it is reasonable to say that liberals know more about how the social unit works, because the professions which deal with analysing and "repairing" social units are staffed overwhelmingly by liberals: social workers, sociologists, psychiatrists, therapists and in a wider sense also doctors, nurses and teachers.

I imagine that the fear that conservatives experience when they see too many (from their point of view) immigrants in the streets, read about violent hooligans in the Telegraph or see Islamic terrorists on their televisions is similar to the fear that I experience when my computer refuses to work.  I know I don't know how my computer works, my intellectual make-up isn't suited to allowing me to understand how it works, I therefore tell myself that I don't want to know how it works, the idea that it might screw up all my files scares me, I just want the bloody thing to work. And deep down, the fact that I'm dependent on the computer for my work but don't understand it and therefore can't trust it produces a certain amount of latent fear. My one desire is for there to be no new programs to learn, no updates to install and for everything to just carry on working.  And while I don't really mean it, when the thing crashes I find myself calling for the death penalty for Bill Gates.

It is no accident that conservatives are more likely to preach fear - both at the pulpit, where the threat of hell is more likely to be used, and in politics.  It is what they and their voters can relate to better.  The recent American presidential election is only one example - Obama could be accused of using fear a little bit when warning of McCain's economic policies, but the McCain campaign can hardly be credited with a hopeful message.

(Conservative tendencies are likely to be a majority in most societies, by the way.  But there are many working class and lower middle class people with essentially conservative social values and conservative psychological make up who vote for liberal parties because they believe this is in their own - primarily economic - interests.)

2. JESUS TRUSTED - AND DARED TO CHALLENGE SOCIAL CONVENTION

To argue that Jesus was a liberal based on the positions he took with regard to political issues that we can today still easily relate to - death penalty, immigration, wealth and poverty, violence - isn't difficult. Christians should please remember that the word Christian contains Christ, the bloke from the Gospels.  If your positions on social and moral issues are based mainly on some of the less savoury parts of the Old Testament, then you have a problem. And if we look at the liberal/conservative "division" in terms of willingness-to-evolve-social-conventions versus-desire-to-preserve-the-social-unit, Jesus remains a clear liberal. He challenged and even repudiated the laws of Moses, leaving the (Conservative) Pharisees feeling threatened.

As the bard sang, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. So I'll be interested to see which passages of the Gospels will be thrown back at me, proving that Jesus and Norman Tebbit would have been soulmates.

So. Sorry that was a bit long - and that the second bid ended up a bit short.  I hope it was interesting and that you made it this far.  I look forward to reading your comments and I'm sure at least some of you will help me bridge the gaping holes in my argumentation.

On President Obama (5)

After an overlong delay due to the holiday period, my last piece on Obama.

My greatest concern about Obama is tied up with the devotion displayed towards him by the media class, in that the assumptions implicit in Obama's worldview are the ones shared by the principal opinion-formers in the elite establishment. (This, by the way, is why I found the links to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright more interesting than alarming, as they are, at least, 'outside the box').

Obama's understanding of the world seems to me to be almost entirely secular, moulded by the assumptions of the great and the good, the academically respectable and mainstream - and I'm with William Buckley on that. I say this despite Obama's apparent Christian faith which seems a syncretistic belief in the benevolent virtues - all well and good, but rather lacking in bite for my taste.

What concerns me is that the mainstream assumptions that have guided policy for at least two generations are not the assumptions that will be needed to get us out of our present predicaments - and I am not persuaded that Obama has the wherewithal to generate new assumptions on his own. He is, quite clearly, a creature of a distinct political system, and he has already started to pay his dues to that system. Which is all perfectly normal - but that is my concern, because normality is not enough (not even an extremely capable normality, which is what I expect from Obama).

I see the crisis we have entered into as epochal, and even the parallels to the 1930s that get trotted out aren't sufficiently radical. Over the next ten to fifteen years humanity as a whole will be forced to shift into a fundamentally different mode of existence, one which is ecologically sustainable and more devolved. For all his virtues - and he has many - I don't see Obama as the one who will be able to articulate and lead into that transition. I hope I'm wrong.

(Previous posts here.)

TBTM20090105


Putting the afterlife to the test.

Darth Vader needs a tray


(bad language warning - it's Eddie Izzard)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Top 5 TBT of 2008

Some personal favourites.





As always, more photos at my flickr page.

TPT20090102


TPT= The Portrait Today. Another New Year's Resolution, as I realise that doing something on a daily basis soon makes a difference to the quality of outcome.

140 character creed

Got tagged for this a while ago by Tim, but didn't get around to doing it. Here goes:

I believe: God is love; we're from it and for it; and it's understood when we eat the bread and drink the wine singing Hallelujah.

(130 characters)

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)


Wondrously magical and highly recommended. My favourite Christmas present.

UPDATE: he's won a prize for it.

Transformers


Better than expected; with the added bonus that I now have an idea of what the boys like.
3/5

Billy Madison


Possibly the worst film I have ever seen. Should be used in film school as a case study in how not to direct (and how not to write a screenplay).
1/5

TBTM20090102


Street installations.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

So that was 2008

I took up riding a motorbike.

I qualified as a 'day skipper' for my sailing.

I was trained and commissioned into a specialist ministry in the church.

I attended my first (and possibly last) 'New Wine' conference.

I was mentioned in Private Eye (I'll write an update on that in the next few days).

I began the 'Reasonable Atheism' sequence here.

I had 'the best summer holiday ever' (that's according to my wife).

I gave up tea.

I then got ill, again, and haven't been able to shake off the bug even yet. I can't remember feeling really well for a long time, and it's beginning to affect my work.

I had a premonition about where I shall be going after Mersea; I don't know if it's a true premonition or not, but it has already changed a lot of things in me (might do a separate post on that).

I became a fan of Sarah Palin; I stopped being a 9/11 sceptic; I became more of a global warming sceptic.

I stopped 'The Learning Church' (for now) but began 'The Learning Supper' which seems to be going well, despite incorporating me singing rock songs.

I didn't get very far with writing my book and, because I can't properly see what the problem is, I start receiving psychotherapy in about ten days time.

I watched lots of films, some of which were of high quality: The Lives of Others, Once, Wall-E, Black Heart Moan, Pan's Labyrinth; I also watched a fair number of serials, especially Battlestar Galactica, which is just marvellous. I didn't read as many books as last year - though I did manage (mostly) to read the Bible every day. My resolution this year (that was last year's) is to read more books and read fewer blogs.

I took lots more pictures - if you like them, I'd strongly recommend looking at my flickr page, which has them all gathered together (and more than get published on the blog).

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007.

TBTM20090101


Cunning juxtapositions.