Friday, 29 June 2007

Conjuring trick with bones

One of those misquotes. He really said:
"The resurrection was much more than a conjuring trick with bones"
Makes a big difference!

Daily Telegraph (England), July 31, 2002
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent (Filed: 31/07/2002)

Few bishops would now share the views of the former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, who caused a scandal in the 1980s when he contrasted the Resurrection with a "conjuring trick with bones."

Tom Wright on the Anglican Church

WRIGHT: We don't have a proposal for a "church within a church." That's one of the possible unfortunate results that might happen if the proposals that are on the table don't work.

The proposal is for an Anglican covenant. The bizarre thing is that we're in covenant with the Methodists, and we're in ecumenical covenant with all sorts of people, but we should be able to be in covenant with ourselves. The point is this: What happened three years ago with the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, to everyone's surprise in America but to no one's surprise in the rest of the world, tore the fabric of communion at the deepest level. The Anglican primates said that in a meeting in October of 2003. The result of this was that we had a very expensive, long, drawn-out year in 2004 when the Lambeth Commission met and produced the Windsor Report. That cost a lot of money to get 20 theologians together from around the world three times to discuss everything. It ate up the budget for several other things that should have been going on. But we couldn't not do it because we had to have some way of addressing the issue.

But we can't afford to do that again every two or three years whenever something like this happens. So we have to have some way of setting up ground rules of how we can live together as a communion. The covenant is a minimalist proposal for ground rules to enable us to explore, to push the boundaries if we want to, but to do so without throwing all the china off the table — as has happened.

The question of how you know which issues are "china-off-the-table" issues and which ones aren't is the critical thing. In other words, the real issue is: How do you tell which issues make a difference and which issues don't make a difference? The example I've often used is: If someone says, "We have flowers on the altar at our church and you don't." Well, come on. Get used to it. Grow up. This is not a communion-breaking issue. It's a local option.

If someone says, "You read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in your services and we always read the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Judas and the gospel of Mary." Well then you say, "Not sure we're talking about the same religion here. Are we really in fellowship with you guys or not?" In other words, that would be a communion-breaking issue.

The question is: On that scale, where do you locate the other issues that are in front of us? Lay presidency of the Eucharist being an obvious one. Some want to do it; most say you shouldn't. Ordaining practicing homosexuals as priests and bishops. It's happened in some quarters; it would be unthinkable in other quarters.

So the question is: How do you tell? The covenant is not a way of saying, "Let's have a church within a church." The covenant is a way of saying, "We want to be a church where we can have these discussions without the china getting tossed off the table."

If in the process someone says, "We know that, covenant or no covenant, we're going to have to push ahead and do this, because we're going to be prophetic and we know we're right," then the rest of the communion might say, "That's horrible because you are actually thereby breaking the covenant that the rest of us think we have with each other." And if that then creates a church within a church, or a church outside the church, that is tragic. It's not the aim.

We haven't got there yet, and I pray God we won't.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Forgiveness Means You Were Wrong

Reading Tom Wright on forgiveness, he is spot on. Reminds me of a couple of the Chesterton Father Brown stories (the Chief Mourner of Marne, the Arrow of Heaven, in which Father Brown comments on the difference between Christian forgiveness, and the mere excusing of something (as a means of social acceptability).

Forgiveness Means You Were Wrong by Tom Wright

In classic Christian teaching God's free offer of forgiveness always stands, but to accept forgiveness means, well, accepting forgiveness. It doesn't mean hearing the word of forgiveness and saying, in effect, 'well, that's OK, because actually there wasn't anything to forgive'. You can't pretend to accept forgiveness and turn forgiveness, as you do so, into 'tolerance' or 'well, it didn't matter that much.'

Forgiveness means that it did matter, that it was wrong, and that it won't be held against you. To accept that is to agree with the fact that it was wrong and that you need forgiving; which is to say sorry. Not to say sorry is not to accept forgiveness, almost analytically.

Part of the difficulty in the recent cult of apology is the people go about apologizing for things they didn't do and wouldn't have done, but apologizing on behalf of their predecessors. This has all kinds of oddities about it.

It may well do some good in terms of reassuring people whose communities have suffered under a long burden of unresolved anger and resentment that the point has been taken; but it ought to issue, if it is really genuine, in a searching after wisdom to see where similar mistakes are being made today.

And there is then a danger that the 'apology' is simply a way of saying 'I agree with the current politically correct version of what happened many years ago', which may, but may not, necessarily help anything forward.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Dawkins on Bush

Dawkins on Bush, some gems! Did he really mean to say that George Bush was "stupid" or did he really mean "ignorant"? A fine piece of invective, by the master himself!

The population of the US is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the US leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to elect a leader of the highest quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party caucuses, the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of non-stop electioneering bustle, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George Bush.

My American friends, you know I love your country, how have we come to this? Yes, yes, Bush isn't quite as stupid as he sounds, and heaven knows he can't be as stupid as he looks. I know most of you didn't vote for him anyway, but that is my point. Forgive my presumption, but could it just be that there is something a teeny bit wrong with that famous constitution of yours? Of course this particular election was unusual in being a dead heat. Elections don't usually need a tie-breaker, something equivalent to the toss of a coin. Al Gore's majority in the country, reinforcing his majority in the electoral college but for dead-heated Florida, would have led a just and unbiased supreme court to award him the tie-breaker. So yes, Bush came to power by a kind of coup d'état. But it was a constitutional coup d'état. The system has been asking for trouble for years.

When a company seeks a new chief executive officer, or a university a new vice-chancellor, enormous trouble is taken to find the best person. Professional headhunting firms are engaged, written references are taken up, exhaustive rounds of interviews are conducted, psychological aptitude tests are administered, confidential positive vetting undertaken. Mistakes are still made, but it is not for want of strenuous efforts to avoid them. Maybe such methods would be undemocratic for choosing the most powerful person on earth, but just think about it. Would you do business with a company that devoted an entire year to little else than the process of choosing its new CEO, from the strongest field in the world, and ended up with Bush?

Saddam Hussein has been a catastrophe for Iraq, but he never posed a threat outside his immediate neighbourhood. George Bush is a catastrophe for the world. And a dream for Bin Laden.

(the full article is at

Are you ignorant?

I like the way in which Dawkins (speaking to Lawrence Krauss), weasels his way out of what "ignorant" means, saying that he was misunderstood when he used it; I seem to remember he used similar tactics when Midgley lambasted him on "The Selfish Gene" for the way in which the word "selfish" was used both techically and in an ordinary language sense; he came back saying he only meant it in the specialist way which (as extracts from his book in The Myths We Live By show) is palpable nonsense. The inability to see that in context it comes across as an insult (i.e. as in "you ignorant pig"), and synomymous with "dumb" shows that he has a very limited understanding of how language works.

Dawkins: I like your clarification of what you mean by reaching out. But let me warn you of how easy it is to be misunderstood. I once wrote in a New York Times book review, "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." That sentence has been quoted again and again in support of the view that I am a bigoted, intolerant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter. But just look at my sentence. It may not be crafted to seduce, but you, Lawrence, know in your heart that it is a simple and sober statement of fact. [...] To call somebody ignorant is no insult. All of us are ignorant of most of what there is to know. I am completely ignorant of baseball, and I dare say that you are as completely ignorant of cricket. If I tell somebody who believes the world is 6,000 years old that he is ignorant, I am paying him the compliment of assuming that he is not stupid, insane or wicked.

The writer of the blog also has a priceless remark (

The importance of promoting evolution without defining religion as some kind of ignorant voodoo has been a regular theme here at Wired Science.

In the end, the ultimate enemy of enlightenment isn't belief in a particular thing, but dogma and self-righteousness -- qualities that are amply demonstrated both by people of faith and by people of science.

Quite a few people manage to hold on to their religious convictions -- belief in God, in non-arbitrary morality, etc. -- while accepting that natural selection is real, the earth billions of years old, and so on. It's these sort of people that evolution's defenders need to produce.

Krauss seems to get this, but the boorishness of people like Dawkins doesn't help anyone, except maybe people who think scientists hate God. Is there some way of making him switch teams? At this point, the best thing that could happen to the public acceptance of evolution would be Richard Dawkins' full-fledged conversion to Christianity, whereupon his alienating intellectual tendencies would show moderate, generally sensible fence-sitters the stupidity of fundamentalism.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Tropical giant penguin discovered

Just came across this wonderful news headline (with pix) on BBC news!
Picture: (Right) The Eocene giant penguin (Icadyptes salasi) and (Left) the middle Eocene (Perudyptes devriesi) are shown to scale with the only penguin inhabiting Peru today - the Humboldt penguin, or Spheniscus humbolti
Tropical giant penguin discovered
By Neil Bowdler
BBC science reporter

A giant penguin that preferred the tropics to the southern oceans has been discovered by a team of scientists.

The fossilised remains of the animal, which lived some 36 million years ago, were found in what is today Peru.

At 1.5m (5ft) tall, the penguin looked quite different from its modern-day cousins, a report in PNAS journal says.

It had a long protracted skull and what its discoverers are describing as a grossly elongated beak that was spear-like in appearance.

The Icadyptes salasi penguin would dwarf all the penguins who walk the planet today.

It would have stood head and shoulders over the emperor and the king penguins of the southern seas.

Its well-preserved skeleton was discovered in the Department of Ica on the southern coast of Peru along with the remains of as many as four other previously undiscovered penguin species, all of which appear to have preferred the tropics for colder climes.

Indeed, the Icadyptes appears to have lived happily at such warmer latitudes at a time when world temperatures were much hotter than they are today - and long before anyone thought penguins had reached such low latitudes.

Of course, not all modern-day penguins are adapted for life in cold temperatures.

The African or Galapagos penguins, for example, as their names suggest, also prefer warmer waters to the better-known penguins of the southern seas and Antarctica; but they are comparative newcomers, say the researchers, compared with the giant whose discovery they are now announcing.

"That was sort of a dominant hypothesis - that in fact penguins had only reached low latitude regions comparatively recently and after two major periods of cooling in Earth's history," said Dr Julia Clarke, of North Carolina State University, US, and a member of the research team.

"One was around the Eocene-Oligocene about 34 million years ago; and more recently, post 15 million years ago - but in fact we find penguins there now in much warmer periods and much, much earlier."

Full details are reported in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America.

Icadyptes salasi had a spear-like beak (top). Scale bar = 1cm
It was much longer and more pointed than the skull of the modern-day Peruvian (Humboldt) penguin Spheniscus humboldti (below)

Monday, 25 June 2007

Dawkins' Breeding Humans?

Another wonderful example of Dawkins!

The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from 'ought' to 'is' and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed and dogs for herding skill, why on earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? I wonder whether, sixty years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what is the moral difference between breeding for musical ability, and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or, why is it acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers, but not breed them? I can think of some answers, and they are good ones which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

Well, the idea that "human beings" can be bred like cattle - and that they should have no choice in the matter - seems to be a very good ground for answering to that question, and differentiating between training and breeding; as far as "forcing children to take music lessons", I would say there are equally good grounds against coercion there. The history of eugenics, not only in Germany, but in the USA (has he never read Gould on the subject?) would seem to be another; the USA programme of eugenics (which included involuntary sterilisation, and turning refugees away) . Since most answers to that question have been given by philosophers (it comes up in "The Myths We Live By" which I suspect he has never read), why ask the question again?

Sam Harris, author of a critique of religion ("The End of Faith") comments:

The spectre of Hitler, the monster, the creator of the master race - No, somehow I don't think 60 years is enough distance to put between the evils of his inhumanity and the prospect of picking up his work.

What is the moral difference between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music. My guess it is the same as the moral difference between breeding soldiers and drafting volunteers - that is to say - it violates the free will of the individual to have these types of choices made for them by other men. If you are bred for soldiering - you will die a soldier. If drafted, at least you have the option of fixing airplanes.

I prefer the following philosophy:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Well said!

Beckwith on Dawkins

The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins
By Francis J. Beckwith

Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 6:47 AM

In his 2006 book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins laments the career path of Kurt Wise, who has, since 2006, held the positions of professor of science and theology and director of the Center for Theology and Science at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to that, Wise had taught for many years at Bryan College, a small evangelical college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and associate counsel in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial."

According to Dawkins, Wise was at one time a promising young scholar who had earned a degree in geology (from the University of Chicago) and advanced degrees in geology and paleontology from Harvard University, where he studied under the highly acclaimed Stephen Jay Gould. Wise is also a young-earth creationist, which means that he accepts a literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis and maintains that the earth is less than ten thousand years old. It is not a position I hold, and for that reason I am sympathetic to Dawkins' bewilderment at why Wise has embraced what appears to many Christians to be a false choice between one controversial interpretation of Scripture (young-earth creationism) and abandoning Christianity altogether.

At one point in his career, Wise began to understand that his reading of Scripture was inconsistent with the dominant scientific understanding of the age of the earth and the cosmos. Instead of abandoning what I believe is a false choice, he continued to embrace it, but this lead to a crisis of faith. Wise writes: "Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science." So Wise abandoned the possibility of securing a professorship at a prestigious research university or institute.

Dawkins is disturbed by Wise's judgment and its repercussions on his obvious promise as a scholar, researcher, and teacher. Writes Dawkins: "I find that terribly sad . . . the Kurt Wise story is just plain pathetic—pathetic and contemptible. The wound, to his career and his life's happiness, was self-inflicted, so unnecessary, so easy to escape. . . . I am hostile to religion because of what it did to Kurt Wise. And if it did that to a Harvard educated geologist, just think what it can do to others less gifted and less well armed."

Of course, some Christians may be just as troubled as Dawkins. So one need not be an atheist to raise legitimate questions about Professor's Wise's intellectual and spiritual journey. But, given Dawkins' atheism, there is something odd about his lament, for it seems to require that Dawkins accept something about the nature of human beings and the natural moral law that his atheism seems to reject.

Let me explain what I mean. Dawkins harshly criticizes Wise for embracing a religious belief that results in Wise's not treating himself and his talents, intelligence, and abilities in a way appropriate for their full flourishing. That is, given the opportunity to hone and nurture certain gifts—for example, intellectual skill—no one, including Wise, should waste them as a result of accepting a false belief. The person who violates, or helps violate, this norm, according to Dawkins, should be condemned, and we should all bemoan this tragic moral neglect on the part of our fellow(s). But the issuing of that judgment on Wise by Dawkins makes sense only in light of Wise's particular talents and the sort of being Wise is by nature, a being who Dawkins seems to believe possesses certain intrinsic capacities and purposes, the premature disruption of which would be an injustice.

So the human being who wastes his talents is one who does not respect his natural gifts or the basic capacities whose maturation and proper employment make possible the flourishing of many goods. In other words, the notion of "proper function," as Alvin Plantinga puts it, coupled with the observation that certain perfections grounded in basic capacities have been impermissibly obstructed from maturing, is assumed in the very judgment Dawkins makes about Wise and the way by which Wise should treat himself.

But Dawkins, in fact, does not actually believe that living beings, including human beings, have intrinsic purposes or are designed so that one may conclude that violating one's proper function amounts to a violation of one's moral duty to oneself. Dawkins has maintained for decades that the natural world only appears to be designed. He writes in The God Delusion: "Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that—an illusion."

But this means that his lament for Wise is misguided, for Dawkins is lamenting what only appears to be Wise's dereliction of his duty to nurture and employ his gifts in ways that result in his happiness and an acquisition of knowledge that contributes to the common good. Yet because there are no designed natures and no intrinsic purposes, and thus no natural duties that we are obligated to obey, the intuitions that inform Dawkins' judgment of Wise are as illusory as the design he explicitly rejects. But that is precisely one of the grounds by which Dawkins suggests that theists are irrational and ought to abandon their belief in God.

So if the theist is irrational for believing in God based on what turns out to be pseudo-design, Dawkins is irrational in his judgment of Wise and other creationists whom he targets for reprimand and correction. For Dawkins' judgment rests on a premise that—although uncompromisingly maintained throughout his career—only appears to be true.

Francis J. Beckwith is an associate professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies at Baylor University. His most recent book is Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Everyone should be arrested at least once for the gospel

Interview: Tony Campolo author and speaker - some of the highlights!

Everyone should be arrested at least once for the gospel. The last time I was arrested was during the Clinton era, when I, in fact, was one of his personal counsellors. A group of us clergy were protesting about the new Welfare Bill, which we felt did not provide enough help for those who had been stuck on the dole for generations and wanted to work. We went to the Dome on Capitol Hill, where protesting is not allowed. Our arrests got a lot of network coverage.

Red Letter Christians comes from the King James version of the Bible where the words of Jesus are in red. We are radically committed to the teachings of Jesus. There are some 2000 verses of scripture about the poor and needy. We don't find many on homosexuality; yet for many this has become the defining issue. That's why I founded the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, which works through Christian people in inner-city America and around the world

In the Bible, I always go back to the Sermon on the Mount, because of its radical values. But I have real problems with passages in the Old Testament detailing the complete obliteration of peoples.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Was Jesus divine, or a human being with a powerful message?

One of the Channel Four microsites has a set of

Was Jesus divine, or a human being with a powerful message?

And there you have it, a simplistic question that I certainly could not
answer. I'd prefer to say, how did Jesus see himself, and what does that
tell us about redifining our idea of God. In this context, "divinity" means
something like "Superman", i.e., Jesus as Clarke Kent, concealing under his
Galilean garments the all powerful superhero. The early church called that
"docetism" and rejected that idea. Why give such a simplistic either/or
style of question? If it was broken down, I would answer as follows:

Was Jesus divine? No
Was Jesus a human being with a powerful message? No

There is also a link to a bookship on :"The Jesus Dynasty: Stunning New
Evidence About the Hidden History of Jesus by James D Tabor"; This asks:
"Was Jesus far more human than the Church has led us to believe?"

As the gospels present us with a Jesus who could be tired and weary, sweat,
be hungry, exasperated and angry, and despairing and doubtful, I really
wonder what this "far more human" can mean, expect that he had a
relationship, a child etc etc, and all the stuff about "secret evidence"
which really exists about as much as the Atlantis myth, Von Daniken's
ancient astronauts and the usual conspiracy stuff.

Why can't they link to something by Ed Sanders ("The Historical Figure of
Jesus"), or if they want something more critical of the gospels, at least
Dominic Crossan engages with the evidence; even the Jesus Seminar wouldn't
propogate tripe like this.

Elizabethan Catholics

Brilliant summary (as part of his dialogue on the Gunpowder plot) by Ronald Hutton.
see the full stuff here:

Elizabethan Catholics

WW: What would it be like to live as a recusant in late Elizabethan England?

RH: The most common modern analogy for being an Elizabethan Catholic is being a Communist in 1950s America, but being a Communist in 1950s America was a holiday camp compared with being a Catholic recusant under Elizabeth.

Just like in the modern example, you couldn't actually get a job, you were cast out of society, you were suspected of being the local fifth column for a menacing foreign power that stood for everything that your country didn't.

But being an Elizabethan Catholic is actually much worse. You are in danger of having your property searched by armed men without warning at any hour of the day or night. You are fined regularly for the simple act of not turning up to your local parish church. So that's coshing your income at regular intervals.

And, above all, if you actually do what a Catholic is supposed to do, which is to hear the Word of God according to your Church, you need a priest. If you harbour a priest, you're in serious trouble, because this is technically treading on treason, and treason means going against the whole government of the land, to an extent that you risk your life.

WW: Why this fear of Catholicism?

RH: Protestants hated Catholics, because Catholics were the horrible, rotting skeleton in their family cupboard, where everybody had been about two generations before. That's when they were all being conned by the Devil who had perverted the Christian Church into Catholicism to remove everybody's chance of getting to Heaven and condemn everybody to Hell.

So having seen the light, having cottoned on to the real Word of God and got reformed, Protestants saw the Catholics as, collectively, the Devil's hit person – they were the storm troopers of Satan. They were the people who were left in the realm to ensure that the Devil had a real chance of winning back England to eternal fire.

Furthermore, in more straightforward terms, they were the agents of the pope and the pope was linked with the powers of France and Spain, particularly Spain, the strongest, most menacing power in western Europe. So what you're seeing is a Satanic superpower and an evil empire on your doorstep, and the Catholics lodging like a virus inside your body, waiting to kill you off.

Catholics are by definition the people who give loyalty to the pope. And the pope claims the power to depose kings and princes and queens who don't toe his line.

Now if you're an English Protestant around 1560, what you do is look in all directions. To your west is Ireland, stuffed with Catholics; to the north is Scotland, just ceasing to be Catholic, with the Highlands full of menacing Catholics armed to the teeth. Look across to the east and the south and you have the French and the Spanish, who are the super-Catholics, with all the power of a fully armed state system behind them.

So you are cornered, you're surrounded, and you have English Catholics still all among you, everywhere, just waiting for the button to be pushed, to implode your country from the inside, as their adherents crowd in from every point of the compass.

Religious Site Links

This is one of the best sites for getting information about the whole range of religious beliefs, what all kinds of different Christians think (or other religions); I use it quite a lot.

A few other good sites:
Five Gospels Parallels - gives 4 canonical gospels and Thomas, with Paul. Very helpful to see how the gospels match and differ, and where Thomas or Paul's letters have similar material. The parable of the sower is a good example. Very easy to use.
As the blurb says: "More than 6,000 articles and chapters. Topics include Old and New Testament, Theology, Ethics, History and Sociology of Religion, Communication and Cultural Studies, Pastoral Care, Counseling, Homiletics, Worship, Missions and Religious Education.". Listed by topic, and searchable. Some very good articles on online books.
Christian Classics Etherial Library - includes pretty well all the early church fathers to AD 325 (; Chesterton, Augustine, George Fox, St Ignatius, William Law, Brother Lawrence - to name but a few of the a whole range. And hymns, and hymn tunes, music etc.
Tom Wright in many ways is the spiritual heir of C.S. Lewis; his "Simply Christian" is a "Mere Christianity" for today. This site contains writings, articles, sermons, downloadable MP3 lectures, translations into French, Spanish, Portuegese. It is "unofficial" only insofar as the webmaster does not want emails addressed to the Bishop coming to him, but Tom Wright endorses it as the place to see his stuff online.
Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway ("the award winning web directory of internet resources on the New Testament, currently being updated daily. Browse or search annotated links on everything from the Greek New Testament to Jesus in Film."); his blog is also worth a look at to.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

The Secret

This site (below) has the secret of everything, and by everything I mean everything - Sir Digby Chicken Caesar would be proud! Pagan web has this interesting comment at

From a marketing standpoint, The Secret is sheer genius. It's an hour and a half of self-help experts telling people that the way to get what they want is to ... well, want it enough. It tells us to stop focusing on negative things and think about the positive -- excellent advice for anyone. The book and the movie alike have been embraced by a number of big names including Dr. Phil McGraw and Oprah Winfrey.

My idea of hell - eternity in a boxed room with self-help experts wittering on and on and on......

I remember two people who worked in our office. One had gone through this "think your way" to give up smoking method by a self-help guru, and given up, the other tried it and failed. Comment by person who had given up: they didn't understand it well enough; it always works.

My idea of heaven - a world with no self-help experts!

The Secret is released to the world! This ground-breaking feature length movie presentation reveals The Great Secret of the universe. It has been passed throughout the ages, traveling through centuries... to reach you and humankind.

This is The Secret to everything - the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted.

In this astonishing program are ALL the resources you will ever need to understand and live The Secret. For the first time in history, the world's leading scientists, authors, and philosophers will reveal The Secret that utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it... Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein.

Now YOU will know The Secret. And it could change your life forever.

Presented in full screen, high quality, video with stereo sound requiring nothing more than a standard computer with a DSL/cable broadband connection. For most users, it is just like watching TV.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Why do labels make us think we know something?

During the course of one routine lecture hour in 1971, a student recommended
drugs as the best treatment for a woman's "chronic, severe depression." The
New York Times Magazine was there to record the subsequent scene, which
Szasz has spent the majority of his career reproducing:

"So you would treat this 'sickness' she's got with drugs?" There are several
uncomfortable, uncomprehending laughs from around the
room. "But what, exactly, are you treating? Is feeling miserable-and needing
someone to talk things over with-a form of medical illness?"
Szasz gets to his feet, walks over to a blackboard and picks up a piece of

"I don't understand-we're just trying to arrive at a diagnosis," protests
the student, his voice confused.

"Of what?" demands Szasz. "Has she got an illness called depression, or has
she got a lot of problems and troubles which make her unhappy?"
He turns and writes in large block letters: "depression." And underneath
that: "unhappy human being." "Tell me," he says, facing the class, "does the
psychiatric term say more than the simple descriptive phrase? Does it do
anything other than turn a 'person' with problems into a 'patient' with a
sickness?" He puts down the chalk so hard that a cloud of dust rises. There
is a low muttering among the students as he returns to his seat.

Child mental health ills 'rife'

This article (see below) goes a good way towards why I dislike the term "mental health", because then you have "mental illness" or "mental health disorders", and all that DSM caper that Adam Curtis pointed out so strongly in The Trap. I am sure than there are "mental problems" or "mental disorders", but that little word "health" which sneaks in is suggesting a value-free medical model, when in fact, what are often being made (e.g. "conduct" disorders) are in fact ethical judgements about the acceptable nature of kinds of behaviour.

We've not yet got as far as the USA yet where "pychiatrists instilled a mindset among the nation's educational institutions by indoctrinating them to be alert for children exhibiting signs of "potential delinquency" and to refer them for treatment. Such children are then segregated with labels such as "conduct disorder," "oppositional defiance disorder" or any number of other labels and treated with drugs in their schools or carted off to school-based health clinics or community mental health centers. These centers also treat members of the community at large and provide almost all of the mental health services for adult and juvenile offenders.""(

I don';t think people's minds are like their bodies, and to assume they are means buying into the idea that there is a "perfect state" and that divergences from that are indicated of "poor mental health".

Child mental health ills 'rife'
One in ten young people suffer from significant mental health problems, a leading children's charity claims.

The NCH said it found the prevalence of emotional problems and conduct disorders had doubled since the 1990s, citing studies of 8,000 children.

But some experts cast doubt on the NCH's interpretation of the findings and its definition of a "disorder".

The final findings of the studies are due to be published later this year, when the NCH launches a major campaign.

Chicken or egg

The NCH defined an "emotionally well" child as one who demonstrates empathy, self-awareness, an ability to manage feelings, motivation and good social skills.

It based its conclusions that this wellbeing was deteriorating on three studies carried out in recent years.

The charity also carried out a survey "to test and compare our research findings with the experiences and views of the general public".

It found that the public believes emotional wellbeing is more important than family income, physical health, and IQ.

Clare Tickell, chief executive of the NCH, said: "The lack of emotional wellbeing amongst our children and young people is undermining the foundations of any social policy to combat social exclusion, deprivation or lack of social mobility."

But Professor Sue Bailey, Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said all these issues were intertwined.

Poverty and exclusion, she said, were inextricably linked with the state of a child's wellbeing.

She added that she was familiar with the one in ten figure for mental health disorders, adding that this "was not new", but said it covered a range of problems - from the very minor to the very serious.

She backed a statement by the Children's Minister Beverley Hughes, who said that the available figures do not back up NCH claims that incidences of childhood depression are rising.

"In fact, they show that the prevalence of mental disorders among five to 16-year-olds in 2004 have remained broadly unchanged from the previous survey in 1999."

The Developers of Jersey

I read the piece from the JEP article "Gerald Voisin, chairman of the Waterfront Enterprise Board - which is charged with overseeing the site's development - said that the Waterfront was being developed for the people of Jersey." The developers of Jersey would be nearer the mark than the people of Jersey!
A park, or massive overdevelopment of square and rectangular boxes of steel and concrete (sorry, iconic buildings that are world class!). I know which I'd sooner have. It is so maddening that a deaf ear is turned to this offer which, even if it is motivated by self-interest, would provide a much needed "green lung" for St Helier.

Jersey Evening Post

Bigger offer for land on Waterfront
By Andy Sibcy

A BUSINESSMAN says he is prepared to increase his £1 million offer to buy land on the Waterfront to save Jardins de la Mer as a public park and give it to the Island.

Stuart Weaving, whose penthouse home overlooks the Waterfront, says he and his friends could raise a significant sum if someone would only name a price. In 2005, he offered £1 million for a strip of land next to the park, but says his offer has all but been ignored.

The multi-millionaire, who made his fortune in publishing, textile mills, exhibition halls and other interests, is concerned that not enough space has been set aside for free public use on the Waterfront. He therefore wants to buy a strip of land next to the existing park to increase its size and make sure developers do not build on it.

Gerald Voisin, chairman of the Waterfront Enterprise Board - which is charged with overseeing the site's development - said that the Waterfront was being developed for the people of Jersey.

Published 19/6/07

Hoax Slayers

Another good site to keep tabs on

Monday, 18 June 2007

CS Lewis on Purgatory

Lewis pretty well sums up what I think!

Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?

I believe in Purgatory.

Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the 'Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory' as that Romish doctrine had then become.....

The right view returns magnificently in Newman's DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer 'With its darkness to affront that light'. Religion has claimed Purgatory.

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed."

- C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Contrasting Teachers

Contrasting teachers

Interesting how memories of teachers play out into adult life!

Christopher Hitchens, the writer of a new book 'God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything' , dismisses all faith as "wish-thinking". The vitriolic and evangelical atheist (his own description) described how he came to lose his beliefs, when his teacher Mrs Watts came out with a really stupid comment:

There came a day when poor, dear Mrs Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said: "So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the colour that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be." However, I was frankly appalled by what she said. My little anklestrap sandals curled with embarrassment for her. At the age of 9 I had not even a conception of the argument from design, or of Darwinian evolution as its rival, or of the relationship between photosynthesis and chlorophyll. I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences. The eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way about.

A stupid teacher meant, for Hitchens, that all religious beliefs must be stupid too. He remembers his teacher as a point of conflict, when he decided that he couldn't go along with stupidy, and that, for him, meant religion rather than science.

Stephen Jay Gould, on the other hand, had a very bright teacher, Mrs McInerney, his third grade teacher, who didn't come out with fanciful explanations, but was in the habit of rapping young knuckles when their owners said or did particularly stupid things. As a consequence, whenever he came across the argument that, for instance, evolution "disproved" God, he would comment:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will find Mrs. McInerney and have their knuckles rapped for it (as long as she can equally treat those members of our crowd who have argued that Darwinism must be God's method of action).

Can we really learn to love people who aren't like us?

Excellent wise and humane article by Jonathan Sacks. I think that people like Michael Ruse, and Stephen Jay Gould, on the atheist/agnostic front would be the first to agree. Sacks sees the popularity of the "God Delusion" books as addressing a problem which people see with religions, but he sees further that the underlying problem is far deeper than that: "The real battle, and it applies to secular and religious alike, is: can we love, not hate, the people not like us?"

June 9, 2007

Can we really learn to love people who aren't like us?

Wycliffe Letter

The recent furore over Wycliffe hall has now led to a letter from 3 former principals, which describe the situation as deeply foreboding (see below). It is a sign that something needs to be done, and soon, to restore confidence. As someone who has strong sympathies with evangelicalism (and who has several excellent books by Alister McGraph on my bookshelf, along with many from from Bishop Tom Wright), I am very dismayed that there seems to be a polarisation of certain evangelical groups against others, and a narrowing sectarian focus. I've just been reading the autobiography of Max Warren, and I note that he was a representative on both CICCU and SCM at Cambridge, and says with regret that it was probably the last decade in which that was possible, as the CICCU became much more narrowly focused and antagonistic to SCM. Let's hope Wycliffe does not follow that path.

The full text of the letter to Bishop James Jones described in the article is as follows:

Dear James,

The three most recent former Principals of Wycliffe, Geoffrey Shaw, Dick France and Alister McGrath, met today in view of the publicity given to the crisis in the Hall. Were it simply a matter of media speculation and sensationalism we would not have written to you. Our enquiries from a variety of sources have convinced us of the seriousness of the situation and filled us with deep foreboding.

The resignation of so many competent and dedicated teaching and admin staff all together in such a small community cannot be written off simply as a new broom sweeping away out of date and out of touch lumber. Nor as a supporter of Richard Turnbull has written "a few ruffled feathers reacting with sourness and extreme bad grace"! These are men and women who have given outstanding service to the Hall and its students and it is due to them that Wycliffe has gained a worldwide recognition for its excellence in biblical scholarship, study, exposition, personal devotion and praxis. Yet they have been made to feel stumbling blocks to a new regime by a man who despite the qualities many attribute to him has had no experience of academic and spiritual formation leadership in a college context.

The repercussions of all this are deeply disturbing. Already voices are being raised in the University as to the suitability of Wycliffe as a PPH. Bishops and DDOs may decide to give the Hall a wide berth. Staff with suitable qualifications may not apply for vacancies. Students from the broad range of evangelicalism which has traditionally characterised the Hall are unlikely to apply and the resultant limited focus on one strand of evangelicalism is unlikely to commend the Hall to the wider church. The Hall is running on borrowed capital and we fear for its future. If this sounds melodramatic it is realistic and is prompted by our love and concern for the Hall.

With very great sadness we must in all seriousness ask you to recognise before it is too late that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the present Principal, both in his managerial style and his myopic vision. We find it hard to envisage the Hall maintaining its erstwhile acknowledged reputation under its present leadership.

Not personally signed but authorised by
Geoffrey Shaw Principal 1979 – 1988
Dick France Principal 1989 – 1995
Alister McGrath Principal 1995 – 2004

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Superstition and Rationalism

Superstition recurs in all ages, and especially in rationalistic ages. I remember defending the religious tradition against a whole luncheon table of distinguished agnostics; and before the end of our conversation every one of them had procured from his pocket, or exhibited on his watch-chain, some charm or talisman from which he admitted that he was never separated. I was the only person present who had neglected to provide himself with a fetish. Superstition recurs in a rationalist age because it rests on something which, if not identical with rationalism, is not unconnected with scepticism. It is at least very closely connected with agnosticism. It rests on something that is really a very human and intelligible sentiment, like the local invocations of the numen in popular paganism. But it is an agnostic sentiment, for it rests on two feelings: first that we do not really know the laws of the universe; and second that they may be very different to all we call reason.
- G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Unexpected awareness

Every time I am given this unexpected awareness towards some other creature and feel this current of communication between us, I am touched and activated by something that comes from the fiery heart of the divine love, the eternal gaze of the Father towards the Son, of the Son towards the Father.

John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Doctor Who reviewed to date

Smith and Jones
A good start, and better than last year's New Earth. The moon transfer and the Judoon was fun, and had the feel of old style Dr Who.

The Shakespeare Code
Marvelous recreation of London, but Shakespeare came over as too modern. His breath was supposed to smell, but his clothes were clean and freshly washed at a time when washing was (if done) a once a year occasion. A good adventure, but not really that gripping.

With the Macra bonus! Wonderful eccentric return to New Earth, the face of Boe, and a wide range of different peoples in their cars. The hymn singing, the sense of community, and the religious connotations of the deep, and the opening and rising out at the end, gave it a wonderful feel. Chris Bidmead was good at creating whole cultures, and this is a whole culture experience too.

Daleks in Manhattan
Evolution of the Daleks
A good start and some thrills on the way, rather spoilt by the mock-science (DNA transmitted by lightening?) which was rather incoherent, and had been better done as the "Dalek factor" in Troughton's time. Be nice to see more Daleks than one next time though, and some less continuity which is beginning to strangle the Dalek stories.

The Lazarus Experiment
Another fun adventure story, with obvious homage to the Quatermass stories (the first of which concludes with the monster in a Westminster Abbey).
Had scary moments, but they all seemed familiar; it was so much like the Impossible Planet / Satan Pit in the way it was presented that my son was expecting the "beast" to re-appair. The best bit was the escape pod leaving; the worst was having controls outside the ship (why?).

Human Nature
The Family of Blood
An absolute classic. One of the greats. Period setting to brilliant effect, marvellous acting, very little in the way of monsters - the aliens in human form were far creepier than the scarecrows. And performances by Tennant that took one's breath away; and having wrung one lot of emotion with the decision of John Smith, and the life he saw but never had, another with the remembrance day service which was stunning.

A brilliantly tangled Timey Wimey episode, Doctor Lite, but not any the worse for that. Freakishly frightening, more so than 42. After all, there are statues everywhere! Don't turn around. Keep watching. And don't blink! And as a bonus, no one actually dies, they just live a different life in the past.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Being Saved

Good reply by Tom Wright!

Start by Understanding Salvation

'Being saved' and 'doing good works' sounds like a low-grade version of the classic Reformation stand-off between Luther and the other reformers on the one hand and the Roman Catholicism of the late mediaeval period on the other -- and, of course, Luther and his followers saw this stand-off as the re-run of the battles Paul had with his opponents, particularly the so-called 'Judaizers' in Galatians

This important set of arguments has become fairly thoroughly confused in the last hundred or two hundred years because it's got muddled up with various others, including (a) the Romantic notion that genuine religion is all about inwardness rather than externals ('How I feel deep down' vs 'What I do outwardly') and (b) the existentialist notion that 'authenticity' consists in being true to what one finds within oneself rather than conforming to outward regulations etc. Unfortunately, these four things (Paul's battles, Luther's battles, Romanticism and existentialism) are simply not the same as one another, though it would take a long article, perhaps a book, to spell all this out (I have tried elsewhere: see e.g. my commentary on Romans in the New Interpreters Bible (Abingdon Press) vol. 10).

Part of the difficulty today is that most people who speak about 'being saved' in a 'religious' or 'faith' sense mean by it, quite simply, 'going to heaven when you die'. Heaven is important, and our immediate destiny after death is important (I write from a Christian point of view, of course), but it is not the final destination, since in the New Testament the final destination is the 'new heavens and new earth' we are promised in Revelation 21, the renewed, redeemed creation we are promised in Romans 8, the 'summing up of all things in heaven and earth' we are promised in Ephesians 1.10. For this we will need, not disembodied immortal souls, though that's one way we can talk about what happens to us immediately after death, but re-embodied, resurrected whole selves; and that, of course, is what both Judaism and Christianity promise, or rather what is promised by the creator God of whom both Jews and Christians speak.

And -- and this is the point -- this final destination, not the intermediate 'heavenly' state, is 'salvation'; because the creation is good and God-given, so that to imagine that 'salvation' means being rescued FROM the world is to deny the most fundamental article of the creed. If 'salvation' means simply 'leaving behind the world of space, time and matter', then this is not really 'salvation' from the ultimate enemy, death itself, which destroys God's good creation, but colluding with it. Rather, 'salvation' in the New Testament -- though of course our culture has done its best to distort this -- is all about God rescuing humans AND CREATION AS WELL from death -- in other words, the redemption and renewal of creation, and of human beings within that, into a newly embodied world of which the present world is simply the foretaste.

If that is 'being saved', what about 'good works'? From Ephesians 1.10 to Ephesians 2.10: we are saved by grace through faith FOR GOOD WORKS WHICH GOD PREPARED BEFOREHAND for us to walk in. Separating the two is like saying 'which is more important, breathing or eating?' Obviously if you stop breathing you won't do much eating, but equally if you never eat you will find your breathing eventually in trouble. Not a perfect analogy, but the 'salvation' which is 'by grace through faith' is precisely the rescue of our humanness from all that corrupts it, including ultimately death, and sin which anticipates death -- so if we are indeed rescued from sin and death then it makes no sense whatever to say 'well, I'm saved, so I won't bother about good works'. We aren't saved BY good works but we are saved FOR good works -- for the rich, wise, mature human life which reflects God's glory into the world.

Much more to say but this is a start!

Sikh Gems of Wisdom

Some gems of wisdom from the Sikh Indarjit Singh's Thoughts for Today

Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru wrote: God is in the Hindu Temple, as He is in the Muslim mosque He is in the Hindu worship as He is in the Muslim prayer The Hindus and Muslims are all one Each with the culture of different environments But all men have the same eyes; the same body The one Lord made them all.

Sikh teachings remind us that nature, God's creation including all forms of life, reflects God himself and we have a responsibility to cherish it. We are reminded that all human behaviour, including scientific research carries either gurmukh (positive or uplifting) or manmukh (negative or demeaning) potential. We need to constantly bear this in mind in deciding where and how far to go in playing with the very building blocks of life itself.

When Guru Teg Bahadhur, our 9th Guru, gave his life defending the right to freedom of worship of another community, the Hindus, in the face of persecution by the Mughal rulers, he poignantly reminded us of the need to stand up for the rights of others. It takes courage, but for true community cohesion, we need to look well beyond mute tolerance, and bring this higher vision of respect for difference to the fore in schools, the workplace and in all we do.

Over the years Sikhs have developed a highly sophisticated system of checks and balances to ensure that their response to threat or attack was always just and proportionate. Force should only be used as a last resort, and that it should be the minimum required to redress injustice. There is also the requirement that force should never be used for personal or political gain, and that non-combatants, particularly women, should always be treated with dignity and respect.

In the Sikh marriage service, a married couple are required to see themselves, not so much as individuals, but as a team of equals in mutual support, and in joint care and commitment, not only to the family, but also to wider society.

When we remove the distorting overlay of culture from religion, we see our different religions as they really are, overlapping circles of belief with much in common. Taking culture out of the equation will also help us see areas of religious difference in a fuller perspective and develop strategies to promote integration, based on genuine understanding and respect.

In keeping with Guru Arjan 's teaching of compassion and concern for others, Sikhs mark the anniversary of his martyrdom in an unusual way. There is no show of bitterness, Instead Sikhs set up stalls outside their gurdwaras and homes to serve cool refreshing drinks to passers-by. In this way we remember the thirst and suffering of Guru Arjan by looking to the needs of others, whatever their race, colour or creed.

While the Sikh Gurus supported the institution of marriage, and themselves lived married lives, they never criticised those that chose alternative lifestyles. Sikhs do not see such relationships as a sin. They are simply a matter of personal choice, which should be respected.

Guru Arjan Dev, the main compiler of the Sikh holy Granth, included in it not only teachings of the Sikh Gurus, but also verses of Hindu and Muslim saints to show that no one religion has a monopoly of truth. Earlier, the Guru showed his respect for Islam, by asking a Muslim saint Mia Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the famous Golden Temple, which has doors on four sides to emphasise a welcome to people from different spiritual and geographic directions.

The Gods of Cavaliers and Roundheads

Interesting thought by Clifford Longley. I notice that he even puts atheists (like his father) into leaning one way or another.

Thought for the Day, 11 June 2007

Clifford Longley

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both been emphasising the need to establish a clearer sense of national identity, to counter the tendency for a multi-cultural society to pull itself apart. Neither mentions religion, probably because it is seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution. But what about the national character?

That's slightly different from identity, and you can't so easily dismiss religion from the equation. The Anglo-Saxon personality owes a lot to our turbulent religious history, in particular the fault- line that has emerged time and again between two principles or ideas which, going back to the English civil war, we could label Roundhead and Cavalier.

If we're looking for where the dividing line runs today, we shouldn't ignore the party wall between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. There is something of the Roundhead about Presbyterian Gordon Brown and something of the Cavalier about Tony Blair, who leans, as we know, towards Catholicism. The Cavalier and the Roundhead have two views of God, even a God they don't believe in like my utterly atheist father who was distinctly Puritan in his values. The Puritan God is hard to please; we must keep to his rules or he will be angry with us. Those who follow him are zealous strivers who work hard to get where their duty drives them. The Cavaliers' God is more relaxed and forgiving, who wants us to enjoy life. Cavaliers, natural aristocrats, rise effortlessly to the top as if it was their God- given right.

The Roundhead-Cavalier divide will be the key to understanding the relationship between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, who is manifestly on the Cavalier side of the line. We can even boil this down to a rhyming couplet: Cavaliers have more fun, Roundheads get more done. Needless to say they don't entirely understand or like each other. But they will co-operate and compromise when they have to.

But what about multi-culturalism? These two ideas of God, the judgemental versus the merciful, turn up in other religions too. We can see definite Roundhead characteristics in parts of the Muslim community most influenced by Wahhabist fundamentalism. Whereas Sufis, like most Hindus and indeed Sikhs, are on the Cavalier side of the line. What keep this division alive is the fact that neither Cavalier nor Roundhead is completely wrong, even if their views of God, or of how to live the good life, are out of harmony.

Understanding this fault-line, and how it influences the way we think and feel, is the key to that one British characteristic both Mr Cameron and Mr Brown agree on: tolerance. It is fundamental that we realise there can be no final victory between Cavalier and Roundhead. They will be locked together inside us as a nation until the end of history. They just have to get along.

A Sceptics Guide to Dawkins

Came across this which is a spoof on Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy arguments about God.

Consisting in five parts, titles possibly slightly familiar to the truly geeky:

  1. Where Dawkins went wrong
  2. Some more of Dawkins greatest mistakes
  3. Final and clinching proofs
  4. Who is this Dawkins person anyway?
  5. Well, that just about wraps it up for Dawkins

    Which includes the following irrefutable argument for God's existence:

    The argument from contrariness:

    If I believe in God, it will irritate Richard Dawkins.
    Richard Dawkins deserves to be irritated.
    Therefore, God exists.

Friday, 8 June 2007

C.S. Lewis and his critics

I love the site, because it gives a number of criticisms of C.S. Lewis from the fundamentalist perspective, and clarifies why his appeal is broader than fundamentalism.

First of all, a lovely personal criticism, which shows how mealy mouthed these people are. I love the combined criticism - the smoking, drinking and disbelief that the bible is inerrant! I'd hate to meat the writer of this socially!

Clive Staples Lewis was anything but a classic evangelical, socially or theologically. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, and he regularly visited pubs to drink beer with friends.Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn't subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution.

Lewis view of Hell also comes in for criticism, because he didn't subscribe to the everlasting punishment and torment sadist idea of hell: "He taught that hell is a state of mind: "And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind--is, in the end, Hell" (Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 65). ".

More personal criticism, which doesn't mention that Lewis stayed with Mrs Moore until her death, coping with her long deterioration with Alzheimer's disease until she died, and that she ended an embittered jealous old woman, but he still kept faith with her (and his friends wondered at why he put up with her abuse from time to time).

Lewis lived for 30 years with Janie Moore, a woman 25 years his senior to whom he was not married. The relationship with the married woman began when Lewis was still a student at Oxford. Moore was separated from her husband. Lewis confessed to his brother Arthur that he was in love with Mrs. Moore, the mother of one of his friends who was killed in World War I. The relationship was definitely sexual in nature.

More personal abuse follows on Lewis' drinking habits, that it was excessive. These people should get a life!:

In the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken, a personal letter is reproduced on page 191 in which Lewis suggests to VanAuken that upon his next visit to England that the two of them "must have some good, long talks together and perhaps we shall both get high." We have no way to know exactly what this means, but we do know that Lewis drank beer, wine, and whiskey on a daily basis.

And Lewis also did not condemn non-Christians to hell, as the writer of this article would evidently like:

Lewis claimed that followers of pagan religions can be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ: "But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. ... There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ's birth may have been in this position" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, pp. 64, 208, 209).

And when we come to Lewis description of Christian practices, the writer is beside himself, throwing out accusations of "rank heresy"!

In Mere Christianity, Lewis claims that the Christ-life is spread to men through baptism, belief, and the Lord's Supper. This is a false gospel of faith plus works. He says, "There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names--Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper. .. I am not saying anything about which of these things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that" (Mere Christianity, p. 61). [Note that he includes the Catholic Mass in his list of the various names by which holy communion are known, failing to acknowledge to his readers that the Mass is an entirely different thing than the simple Lord's Supper of the New Testament.]

And horror of horrors, he was friends with those nasty Papists!

Some of Lewis's closest friends were Roman Catholics. J.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame is one example. Tolkien and Lewis were very close and spent countless hours together. Lewis credited Tolkien with having a large role in his "conversion." Lewis was also heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton....Lewis carried on a warm correspondence in Latin with Catholic priest Don Giovanni Calabria of Italy over their shared "concern for the reunification of the Christian churches" (The Narnian, Alan Jacobs, pp. 249, 250). Calabria was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

As for the Narnia books, there is a whole lot of invective from this person. They are too pagan for his liking:

Christ's parables did not contain a mixture of truth and paganism, but Lewis's stories unblushingly intertwine a few vague biblical themes with pagan mythology: nymphs, fauns (part man and part goat), dwarfs, centaurs (part man and part horse), Dryads (tree-women), and Naiads (well-women). All of these creatures are depicted as serving Aslan. Lewis presents the deeply heretical idea of good magic. He calls Aslan's power "Deep Magic" and Aslan's father's power as "Emperor's Magic." He introduces the vile pagan god Bacchus and his orgies as a desirable thing that was part of Narnia's past before the White Witch worked her spell. He presents the myth of "Father Christmas" as if it were innocent and wholesome.

The article finishes as follows:

Friends, I would urge you in the strongest way to beware of C.S. Lewis and of the deluded evangelical world that glorifies him.

I would say, thank heavens C.S. Lewis was not one of those strange fundamentalist teetotallers like the author of this article!

Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins

Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins


He is a 'psychotic delinquent', invented by mad, deluded people. And that's one of Dawkins's milder criticisms.

Dawkins, Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is on a crusade.

His salvo of outrage and ridicule is meant to rid the world of its greatest evil: religion. "If this book works as I intend," he says, "religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." But he admits such a result is unlikely. "Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads" (that's people who believe in God) are "immune to argument", he says.

I have known Dawkins for more than 20 years; we are both Oxford professors. I believe if anyone is "immune to argument" it is him. He comes across as a dogmatic, aggressive propagandist.

Of course, back in the Sixties, everyone who mattered was telling us that religion was dead. I was an atheist then. Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I had come to believe religion was the cause of the Province's problems. While I loved studying the sciences at school, they were important for another reason: science disproved God. Believing in God was only for sad, mad and bad people who had yet to be enlightened by science.

I went up to Oxford to study the sciences in 1971, expecting my atheism to be consolidated. In the event, my world was turned upside down. I gave up one belief, atheism, and embraced another, Christianity. Why? There were many factors. For a start, I was alarmed by some atheist writings, which seemed more preoccupied with rubbishing religion than seeking the truth.

Above all, I encountered something at Oxford that I had failed to meet in Northern Ireland - articulate Christians who were able to challenge my atheism. I soon discovered two life-changing things.

First, Christianity made a lot of sense. It gave me a new way of seeing and understanding the world, above all, the natural sciences. Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life.

I kept studying the sciences, picking up a PhD for research in molecular biophysics. But my heart and mind had been seduced by theology. It still excites me today.

Dawkins and I both love the sciences; we both believe in evidence-based reasoning. So how do we make sense of our different ways of looking at the world? That is one of the issues about which I have often wished we might have a proper discussion. Our paths do cross on the television networks and we even managed to spar briefly across a BBC sofa a few months back. We were also filmed having a debate for Dawkins's recent Channel 4 programme, The Root Of All Evil? Dawkins outlined his main criticisms of God, and I offered answers to what were clearly exaggerations and misunderstandings. It was hardly rocket science.

For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood?

Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy. Dawkins, of course, would just respond that people such as this are senile or mad, but that is not logical argument. Dawkins can no more 'prove' the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.

Most of us are aware that we hold many beliefs we cannot prove to be true. It reminds us that we need to treat those who disagree with us with intellectual respect, rather than dismissing them - as Dawkins does - as liars, knaves and charlatans.

But when I debated these points with him, Dawkins seemed uncomfortable. I was not surprised to be told that my contribution was to be cut.

The Root Of All Evil? was subsequently panned for its blatant unfairness. Where, the critics asked, was a responsible, informed Christian response to Dawkins? The answer: on the cutting-room floor.

The God Delusion is similarly full of misunderstanding. Dawkins simply presents us with another dogmatic fundamentalism. Maybe that's why some of the fiercest attacks on The God Delusion are coming from other atheists, rather than religious believers. Michael Ruse, who describes himself as a 'hardline Darwinian' philosopher, confessed that The God Delusion made him 'embarrassed to be an atheist'.

The dogmatism of the work has attracted wide criticism from the secularist community. Many who might be expected to support Dawkins are trying to distance themselves from what they see as an embarrassment.

Aware of the moral obligation of a critic of religion to deal with this phenomenon at its best and most persuasive, many atheists have been disturbed by Dawkins's crude stereotypes and seemingly pathological hostility towards religion. In fact, The God Delusion might turn out to be a monumental own goal - persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant as the worst that religion can offer.

Alister McGrath is professor of theology at Oxford University. His new book The Dawkins Delusion?, co-authored by Joanna Collicutt McGrath, is published by SPCK at £7.99.

Quote of the day

Let's be quite clear: In the first century, if your leader gets executed by the authorities, you either give up the movement, or you find yourself another leader. Going around saying he's been raised from the dead is not an option. They were far too hardheaded for that.

- Tom Wright

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Human nature quotes

Some wonderful quotes from Human Nature / Family of Blood

John Smith: I dream I'm this adventurer. This daredevil, a madman. The Doctor, I'm called. And last night, I dreamt that you were there. As my companion.

Jenny: [Referring to Smith] Head in the clouds, that one. I don't know why you're so sweet on him.
Martha: He's just kind to me, that's all. And not everyone's that considerate, what with me being a... [points at her face]
Jenny: ...Londoner?
Martha: Exactly! Good old London Town!

Hutchinson: Tell me then, Jones. Hands like those, how can you tell when something's clean?
Martha: [straight faced] That's very funny, sir.
Jenny: Oh now, don't answer back.
Martha: I'll answer back with my bucket over his head.

Joan Redfern: I appear to be holding your books...

John Smith: I sometimes think how magical life would be if stories like this were true.

Jenny: It's all very well, those suffragettes, but that's London, that's miles away!

The Doctor: Martha, this watch is me
Martha: Right, ok, gotcha. [beat] No, wait, hold on, completely lost!

The Doctor: [a recording] Martha, before I change, here's a list of instructions for when I'm human. One, don't let me hurt anyone. We can't have that, but you know what humans are like. Two, don't worry about the TARDIS. I'll put it on emergency power so they can't detect it, just let it hide away. Four, no, wait a minute, three, no getting involved in big historical events. Four, you. Don't let me abandon you. And five-- [Martha fast-forwards the recording]
Martha: But there was a meteor, a shooting star, what am I supposed to do then?
The Doctor: [the recording] And twenty-three, if anything goes wrong, if they find us, Martha, then you know what to do. Open the watch. Everything I am is kept safe in there.

John Smith: No man should hide himself, don't you think?

[at gunnery practice]
Headmaster: You need to be better than the best. Those targets are tribesmen from the dark continent.
Latimer: That's exactly the problem, sir. They only have spears.
Headmaster: Oh dear me. Latimer takes it upon himself to make us realize how wrong we all are. I hope, Latimer, that one day you may have a just and proper war in which to prove yourself.

Hutchinson: Permission to give Latimer a beating, sir?
Headmaster: It's your class, Mr. Smith.
John Smith: Permission granted.

John Smith: Mankind doesn't need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honor and valor. Let's hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.

Joan Redfern: It's all becoming clear. The Doctor is the man you'd like to be, doing impossible things with cricket balls.
John Smith: Well, I discovered a talent, that's certainly true.
Joan Redfern: And the Doctor has an eye for the ladies...
John Smith: The devil.
Joan Redfern: A girl in every fireplace.
John Smith: Aha now, there I have to protest Joan, that's hardly me.
Joan Redfern: Says the man dancing with me tonight!

Joan Redfern: Where did you learn to draw?
John Smith: Gallifery.
Joan Redfern: Is that in Ireland?
John Smith: Yes it must be.
Joan Redfern: You're not Irish?
John Smith: Not at all, no. My father Sydney was a watchmaker from Nottingham, and my mother Verity was -- well, she was a nurse, actually.

Baines/Son of Mine: [rapidfire] Just shut up, stop talking, cease and desist, there's a good girl!

Martha: Would you like some tea?
Jenny/Mother of Mine: Yes, thanks.
Martha: I could put a nice bit of gravy in the pot. And some mutton. Or sardines and jam, how about that?
Jenny/Mother of Mine: I like the sound of that.
Martha: Right. Hold on a tic.

[Martha and Joan are held at gunpoint]
Baines/Son of Mine: Have you enjoyed it, Doctor? Being human? Has it taught you wonderful things?! Has it made you better?! Richer?! Wiser?! Then let's see you answer this: Which one of them do you want us to kill? Maid, or matron? Your friend, or your lover? Your choice!
[Smith looks horrified, unable to choose]

Baines/Son of Mine: Would you really pull the trigger? Looks too scared.
Martha: Scared and holding a gun's a good combination, do you want to risk it?

Martha: Don't just stand there, move! God, you're rubbish as a human.

[About the Scarecrows]
Mr. Phillips: And who are these friends of yours in fancy dress?
Baines/Son of Mine: Do you like them, Mr. Phillips? I made them myself. I'm ever so good at science, sir. Look! [pulls the arm off a Scarecrow] Molecular fringe animation, fashioned in the shape of straw men, sir. My own private army. Ever so clever, sir.

Baines/Son of Mine: We are the Family of Blood.

Baines/Son of Mine: All your little tin soldiers. But tell me sir, will they thank you?
Headmaster: I don't understand.
Baines/Son of Mine: What do you know of history? What do you know of next year?
Headmaster: You're not making sense.
Baines/Son of Mine: 1914, sir. Because the Family has traveled far and wide looking for Mr. Smith and oh, the things we have seen! War is coming. In foreign fields, war of the whole wide world, with all your boys falling down in the mud. Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it was glorious?!

Joan: Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a scivvy and hardly one of your color.
Martha: Oh, d'you think?! Bones of the hand. Carpal bones, proximal row: scaphoid, lunate, triquetral, pisiform. Distal row: trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate. Then the metacarpal bones extending in three distinct phalanges: proximal, middle, distal.
Joan: You read that in a book.
Martha: Yes, to pass my exams!

John Smith: How can you think I'm not real? When I kissed you, was that a lie?
Joan: No, it wasn't, no.
John Smith: But this 'Doctor' sounds like some, some romantic lost prince. Would you rather that? [Joan says nothing] Am I not enough?
Joan: [Hurriedly] No, that's not true, never.
[A boy runs past in the background]
John Smith: I've got to go.
Joan: Martha was right about one thing though; those boys, they're children. John Smith wouldn't want them to fight, never mind the Doctor. The John Smith I was getting to know... he knows it's wrong, doesn't he?
A voice from outside: Mr Smith! Will you please!
John Smith: What choice do I have?

Hutchinson: This could mean the difference between life and death for us.
Tim Latimer: Not for you and me.
Hutchinson: What are you babbling about?
Tim Latimer: We go to battle together... We fight alongside... I've seen it, not here, not now.
Hutchinson: What's that supposed to mean?
Tim Latimer: It means you and I both survive this and maybe... maybe I was given this watch so I could help... I'm sorry.
[He turns and leaves]
Hutchinson: Latimer, you filthy coward!
Tim Latimer: [sounding almost like the Doctor] Oh, yes, sir! Every time!

Baines/Son of Mine: [To schoolboys] Well, go on then. RUN!!!

Joan: I'm Sorry, John. But you wrote about it. The Blue Box. You dreamt of a blue box.
John Smith: ...I'm not... [tearful] I'm John Smith, that's all I want to be, John Smith. With his life.. and his job... and his love. Why can't I be John Smith? Isn't he a good man? Why can't I stay?!
Martha: But we need the Doctor.
John Smith: Who am I then? Nothing...? I'm just a story?

John Smith: (To Martha) What exactly do you do for him? Why does he need you?!
Martha: Because he's lonely.
John Smith: And that's what you want me to become?
[A knock at the door.]
Joan: What if it's them?
Martha: I'm not an expert, but I don't think Scarecrows knock.

Tim Latimer: He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And... he's wonderful.

Joan: They're destroying the village.
John Smith: The watch! [He grabs it and holds it in his hands]
Joan: [Quietly] John, don't.
Tim Latimer: Can you hear it?
John Smith: It's sleeping. Waiting to wake.
Tim Latimer: Why did he speak to me?
The Doctor: Oh, low level telapathic field, you were born with it. Just an extra psy-metric engram causing-- [He flinches and reels backwards]
John Smith: Is that how he talks?

Martha: All you have to do is open it and he's back.
John Smith: You knew this all along and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I--
Martha: I didn't know how to stop you! He gave me a list of things to watch out for but that wasn't included.
John Smith: Falling in love, that didn't even occur to him?
Martha: ...No
John Smith: Then what sort of a man is that?... And now you expect me to die?!

Martha: It was always going to end though. The Doctor said the Family's got a limited life span, thats why they need to consume a Time Lord. Otherwise three months and they die. Like Mayflies, he said.
John Smith: So your job was to execute me?

Jenny/Mother of Mine: He didn't just make himself human. He made himself an idiot.
Baines/Son of Mine: Same thing, isn't it?

The Doctor: Oh, I think the explanation might be you've been fooled by a simple olfactory misdirection, a little bit like ventriloquism of the nose. It's an elementary trick in certain parts of the galaxy. [He moves to look at one of the ships machines] But it has gotta be said, I don't like the look of that hydro-kinometer. It seems to be indicating you've got energy feeding back all the way through the retro-stabilizers feeding back into the primary heat converter. [gives a patronising gasp] 'Cause if there's one thing you shouldn't have done... you shouldn't have let me press all those buttons. But, in fairness, I will give you one word of advice: Run!

Baines/Son of Mine: He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing -- 'the fury of the Time Lord' -- and then we discovered why. Why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden... He was being kind.
He wrapped my father in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star. He tricked my mother into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy to be imprisoned there, forever. He still visits my sister, once a year, every year. I wonder if one day he might forgive her, but there she is. Can you see? He trapped her inside a mirror. Every mirror. If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you just for a second, that's her. That's always her. As for me, I was suspended in time and the Doctor put me to work standing over the fields of England as their protector. We wanted to live forever... so the Doctor made sure we did.

Joan: Where is he... John Smith?
The Doctor: He's in here somewhere.
Joan: Like a story...could you change back?
The Doctor: Yes.
Joan: Will you...?
The Doctor: No.

Joan Redfern: (To The Doctor) Answer me this, just one question, that's all: if The Doctor had never visited us, if he had never chosen this place, on a whim... would anyone have died?
[Beat. The Doctor looks heartbroken.]
Joan: You can go.