Quote of the Day

Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. PHiLOSOPHY and LiFE blog

Friday, December 16, 2005

On the need for religion

Religions are poor things: they are at their roots, flawed; propounded by flawed institutions, held together by irredeemably damaged people. But, we are all irredeemably damaged; and we are lost. Religions, bad as they are, are all we have to help us remember. Remember what? I do not know: I have forgotten, too. But it seems to me that it is something like this:

  • that we are all small pieces of flotsam, motes, brief sparks floated out upon currents of The Universe for a little time and space;
  • that, obscurely, in ways and manners we cannot fathom, we matter and are loved; (to ask "To what?" and "By whom?" is to miss the point;)
  • that we are constituents of this amazing enterprise we call "The Universe": our essence is of it;
  • that every bit - every last, little, damned bit - of it is sacred;
  • that though we think we die, the First Law of Thermodynamics applies.

St Beuno's

Monday, November 28, 2005

God is dead: thank God

I feel the need to have a rant (not a feeling I am unaccustomed to). This may be the first of many.


Today on Start the Week on Radio 4, Grayson Perry and Jonathon Green were banging on about being ("fundamentalist" in Perry's words) atheists. Their images of God are so outmoded and childish: a god who is a judgemental and a 'grumpy old fellow' 'who wants to make us suffer': it is a projection of the negative father complex.

They do not see that one has to disentangle God from the repressions of particular religious cultures and anthropologies. They cannot entertain a god who is not a person, who is not a thing. I have never yet met a person who said they didn't believe in God who, when I've heard them to talk about the god in which they do not believe, I didn't agree with: I also do not believe in that, so-called, god. Thank God.

Perry read out a piece of doggerel verse he'd penned:

you will die

you are alone

there is no God

upon his throne

impose thy will

upon us, mess

or else your life

is meaningless

no hell below

no heaven above

live life now

and act with love

It is a hymn to love - a definition of God than which there is none better.

Most atheists are simply ignorant of 2000+ years of thinking on the matter and unreflective of their experience. A few are failed apophatic mystics. You so-called atheists, you need to get your act together and update your arguments. Then we might have something worth talking about. In the meantime, it's just not worth any more hot air.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Reconciling different apprehensions of God

How can I reconcile:

  1. The God who seems to be so personal, personally loving and present; who is there when I "lift up my heart to the Lord with a gentle stirring of love, desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts;" the God without whom life is desperate, depressing and meaningless?
  2. God, the Creator, which is enormous, awesome and terrifying; which is the Universe, which created the Universe; which saves us by ignoring us?
  3. The God who is not: the God of the apophatics which/who cannot be known; the God which does not exist; the God which is no-thing?

I need the personal God. He makes my life possible and gives me energy and meaning. He is my energy and meaning. I am no longer alone, unknown, without redemption. I am a hopeless case: unloving, uncaring, subject to addictions, so limited in my ability. Only God can help me; only God can save me; God is my only hope.

And yet, God is these other things as well, so far from the personal, the loving, the compassionate. So other.

On God's point of view

We often reduce the scope of God's concern to the scope of our own concerns. We are confused when we get ill and are not healed. We are outraged when a natural disaster - a so-called Act of God - is not averted. We commit acts of war or terror believing that God has commissioned us.

What if God's point of view is different from ours? Indeed, what if God's point of view is so different that we cannot remotely have any conception of that point of view? When someone dies, we see this as a great tragedy: what if God does not see it like that?

Whilst I believe that God cares passionately for each one of us (and by 'us' I mean all beings upon this Earth, not only us (relatively unimportant) humans), I also love the idea that God's ways are different and higher that ours (Isaiah 55.8-9). Perhaps caring passionately for us is not the same thing as caring for the continuing of the existence in which we currently are manifested. Perhaps, for God, illness and death are not disasters.

Of course, it is important to realise how wrong-headed and potentially damaged and damaging this language is. God is not a person: God does not 'care', is not 'concerned', does not have 'a point of view', does not 'see' - or at least, not in any way we would recognise.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

I Gilead book coverwas leant this book and took some time reading it. It is beautiful and deeply moving. Click on the image or follow this link, to learn more about the story and the author (who I believe won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for this novel).

It seems to me that, among other things, this story is a reworking of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-end). The first person voice, John Ames, struggles with whether he can be the good father to his godson and namesake, John Ames Boughton. He struggles with his antipathy and his jealousy. Grace abounds.

What stikes me is that John Ames represents both the father and the older son in Luke parable. As the 'father', he comes to understand the prodigal's waywardness and inability to be at home, he grows in compassion and he becomes able to bless his son, despite the son's continued atheism.

As the 'elder son' he is the one in his family who never leaves home, who is faithful to his calling and to the town of Gilead. He struggles with his jealousy that this prodigal has the love and acceptance of his (genetic) father (old Boughton) and of his own wife. For some reason he cannot fathom, that love for the prodigal is greater, or perhaps more overt, than the love for the stay-at-home son. He fears that the prodigal will take up with his wife when he is dead - will claim his inheritance.

John Ames receives healing in both these aspects of his 'sin-sick soul' and dies whole.

It is an amazing book of an old man reviewing his life, struggling with great honesty with his demons, open-eyed to his faults and to his ways of self-deception, yet full of self-acceptance and love for the world he is about to leave.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Reasons not to pray: 1, 2, 3

Why is prayer so difficult - desired and avoided in equal measure? I think there are three key reasons:

  1. Prayer is the time when we stop everything else we are doing. Often the first thing that occurs is an awareness of pain in myself or others: the physical or emotional or global pain, which is an opportunity for our healing and the healing of the world. It is the way of the Cross. Boredom, restlessness, loneliness, emptiness, tiredness, simple physical pain, unresolved grief (is it ever fully resolved?), failure and unfulfilled longing & dreams. Being aware of being a body puts me in touch with my fragility and mortality.
  2. Being utter failures: by definition prayer is something we cannot do; it is something God does in us. We are utterly unable to 'make it happen'; we are utterly dependant on God. We become aware of dependence and disconnection.
  3. Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror (Duino Elegy no.1 by Rilke). God, the Universe, are so large and unimaginable and utterly other that we are filled with terror. This is akin to being plugged into the Total Perspective Vortex as described in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Each of these is destructive of what we fondly like to think of as our selves. They reveal our utter indigence, mutability, insignificance and dependence. Enjoy!

[Next in the series: Reasons not to pray: 4.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Religion and Morality

Religion is not about morality. It is about having a view or vision of reality, which my be quite at odds with the common or habitual view (also called a trance state). Religious texts are more to inspire & shock a person out of their habitual view than to give moral imperatives. The new view of reality may well have moral implications, but these are secondary and flow from that new view. As the writer of Isaiah puts into the mouth of God, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.'' (Is 55.8)

Religious writing often seems backwards to me. Once-upon-a-time someone had a vision that changed their lives. This had profound affects upon the way they lived their life. All they could communicate was what flowed from the vision, not the vision itself. Moral and doctrinal teaching followed. We can only glimpse the original vision between the lines.

Spiritual practice (a.k.a. prayer/meditation/yoga/... ) is to put us in the right space to receive that vision. It is not the vision, nor is it a moral or doctrinal injunction. Do it because you can do no other, not because you want to be good. God is not primarily interested in us being good!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Image and Likeness

I've always been fascinated that in the Creation story (Gen 1:26) humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. I want to know if this is emphasis by repetition (as is often the case in the Psalms) or whether 'likeness' is different from 'image'; and if the latter, what is the difference?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On Illness and Punishment

When they fetch up in hospital because of an illness or old age, some religious people ask, "Why is this happening to me?" and might add "I've been a good person."

Some have never thought about their mortality. Illness takes them by surprise. They have made no preparation. Illness and death is an affront to them and is outside the order of the world.

For some, what is happening to them is a punishment. They search their lives for some fault or sin that would account for their illness. They might even identify some past misdemeanours.

It makes me sad when I hear people intimate that God is sending their illness to punish them. I am sad that they see God in this light. What an awful burden to bear; how terrifying! I wish I knew how to ameliorate the damage of a lifetime's worth of a certain sort of, usually Christian, teaching. People who teach this are doing terrible harm. It is not a Christianity: it is just the old, merely human, 'eye-for-an-eye' desire for revenge projected onto God. God does not punish us for our sins. Jesus makes that very clear in his story of the (so called) Prodigal Son in Luke's gospel. The father, who stands for God, welcomes the wayward son with open arms and has no need to listen to his plea for forgiveness. Forgiveness is already present.

Of course, illness may be a consequence of how we have lived individually or corporately. Bad eating / smoking / drinking / exercise habits / ...; the build up of resentments / bitterness / loss / anger / sadness / ...; the deplorable way we treat the Earth, our home: all these may be the direct cause of illness. We might well see the way we act towards ourselves and the Earth in these respects as sinful and our illness is the natural result of our lack of care.

A better question then is "What meaning does this illness have for me?" or "What can God teach me?" or "How can I change my life?" God is that in the Universe which has the potential to offer clarity of vision and a new way of living.

Behind all this is terror: we do not know why we get ill and die; we have no final control over mortality, try as we might to combat illness or to find meaning. We have to submit to what cannot be named or questioned and for which we cannot make meaning. It is with this that we have to come to terms.

In the face of this, perhaps any meaning is better than none. Perhaps it is more comforting to belive in a tyrannous God who makes us ill as a punishment, than to accept that life is beyond our understanding and control. Guilt is easier to live with than groundlessness.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Too close for comfort

This is a story about a friend of mine, David Walsh, as reported in the local newspaper. People, sensible people, say he was foolhardy. I just wish I was that brave. Good for you David.

Heroic cleric stabbed 00:00, May 18 2005 by Mandy Little, Greenwich Mercury

A CLERGYMAN was stabbed in the calf after trying to thwart a knife-wielding robber in a restaurant. Rev David Walsh, of St Alfege's Church in Greenwich, is recovering at home after he was stabbed at Frederick's restaurant in Islington, north London, on Friday. Witnesses told how Mr Walsh, 46, tackled the robber who then plunged the blade into his leg. Angry customers brandishing chairs then turned on the raider. He fled before police arrived at the restaurant at around 4.50pm. Although hailed a hero for his good deed, Mr Walsh was modest of his brave actions. He told The Mercury: "A hooded man came into the restaurant brandishing a knife and I was in the way." Customers told police how the robber, wearing a balaclava, burst in and shouted at a female customer to hand over her watch. Mr Walsh kicked out at the crook and was stabbed in the calf. Other customers at Fredericks restaurant threatened him with chairs and tables and he ran out of the restaurant. No one else was injured in the incident and police are still hunting the suspect who it is believed escaped with a gold bracelet. Mr Walsh has been at St Alfege in Church Street for three years and is acting vicar since Rev Cannon Giles Harcourt left last year. He is resting and cannot walk at present. Police have described the suspect as a white male, aged around 25, and 6ft tall.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Blogging

Do other people go through a self-examination phase when they start blogging?

  • why a I doing this?
  • will anyone read this?
  • what will they think if they do?
  • does any of it matter?

I am sceptical about this blogging. It's rather stark at the moment, but I like the layout of my page and I've begun tweaking the style sheet in the template to make it how I want it to look. But style can mask deficiency of content. Is this is a (post-)modern issue? So much attention on how a thing looks, to presentation, to 'reinventing' a product or a personality, to corporate image, to the 'look' of a publication, the logo. We are drawn by the visual and delight in it: no problem there. 'Truth is beauty', and all that. Is there anything beyond the aesthetic here? Are the words worth writing or reading? Is it worth the disc-space?

Perhaps it is just another attempt to become immortal (Ernest Becker), or to construct a sense-of-self (David Loy), as is so much of what we do in our (little) lives.

On the vaguaries of Internet Explorer

I've been fighting with Internet Explorer, or rather, fighting to write HTML/CSS that IE6 displays properly. I use Firefox as my default browser and I wrote some pages that displayed well in it. At work, of course, we're wedded to all things Microsoft. Imagine my surprise...

I've now downloaded all the popular freeware browsers: Mozilla, Opera and Netscape. All are pretty much identical in their handling of the code. IE6, however, does something quite different in certain cases.

The good news: it's a great way to learn more, and better, coding syntax and techniques, and to join, however tangentially, the community of web designers who also know about the code behind the design.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

My first time

Thanks to John Davies for introducing me to the concept of blogging. It's taken me a long time to get here, John!

john Davies cartoonThis is an experiment for me: a chance to think out loud and not just let the thoughts wash around in my head. I'm interested to see where it takes me. I hope to get some more consolidated writing out of it.

I'm still spending far too much time at this ridiculous hour of the morning getting the settings just how I'd like them to be. I think it would be really hard if I had no experience of HTML and CSS. If you want to know more about these web technologies I've found loads of help in W3Schools, BlueRobot and CSS Zen Garden. The last two are worth a visit anyway: simply beautiful to look at. Web-design at its best.