Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Truth of the Matter

In just over two weeks, my name will officially be entered into the roll of New South Wales legal practitioners. One may either look at this moment as the culmination of seven years of study and work experience or as the start of everything that it yet to come. I am feeling many things at the moment, ranging from excitement, to pride, to nostalgia, to sheer relief.

Before I am to be admitted to the legal profession on Friday fortnight, I still have one more important decision to make - whether I will swear an oath or make an affirmation. As someone who believes in God, one would think that this is an easy decision to make. However, this is not the case. You see, while I have never officially been a signed up member of Quakerism, the values that Quakers hold to still make a deep impression on my faith. One of these values is that of honesty and integrity in all of their dealings. They believe that truth is truth and that therefore swearing an oath creates a double standard of truth. In particular, they appeal to Matthew 5:33-37 which reads as follows:

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Such was the conviction of many Quakers that they absolutely refused to swear an oath and were thrown in jail as a result. It was not until some time after the beginnings of Quakerism that Quakers were able to make an affirmation that what they would say is true. From what I have gathered, most Quakers seem to be content with this option. This said, I still find it rather messy, because making an affirmation is still an official declaration that one does not make in their daily dealings. The whole issue has made me stop and take pause about the kind of guarantees that we make every day and how one would not be able to function in society without accepting that they had to make these guarantees. For instance, when you apply for a driver's licence, you have sign your name to indicate that what you have said is true and correct. It is the same process if one needs to sign a contract for a new job or hires a professional. Are these all types of oaths too?

Anyway, all of this has got me thinking. It's not as though I believe that I am held to a higher standard of honesty because I am swearing an oath. That said, maybe swearing an oath will communicate the idea that I am trying to make a more convincing case of my honesty to others and this would be a misnomer, because I would feel bound to act with integrity whether I took an oath or not. But this would also be the case with an affirmation. Or maybe people just see this whole process as a formality and a long standing tradition? Whatever happens, I'll consider things carefully and let you know what I decide to do.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Music Phillip Jensen Wants to Ban

This morning as I was getting ready for work I was listening to the Religion Report on Radio National, where Stephen Crittenden was speaking with Peter Phillips, the Director of London's world famous Tallis Scholars. Peter Phillips, who visited Australia to run a summer school seminar for choristers was interviewed about the controversial comments he made about the influence of Dean Phillip Jensen on the role of the choir at St Andrew's Cathedral.

It would seem that over the four or so years as Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral, Dean Jensen has marginalised the role of the choir so dramatically that the working conditions for Michael Deasey, the last choirmaster were made so impossible that he eventually had to leave his post. It would seem that this strategy seems to be an ideological battle more than anything in which Dean Jensen wishes to purge St Andrews Cathedral of any "high church" elements. Notably, Dean Jensen suggested that the chorus "Miserere" by Allegri represented "an alternative gospel that we must never get tired of opposing". So what exactly is this evil, unchristian music that Dean Jensen is talking about. Listen below, if you dare:

I don't know about you, but I can't see where Dean Jensen is coming from when he suggests that this chorus represents an "alternative gospel", but I think that Peter Phillips provides some degree of insight into the underlying rationale behind the attack on choral music:

I mean the Ayatollah Khomeni once said that music was an evil which distracted people from more serious things and should be defeated at all costs. It seems to me very similar to that; that was an Islamic fundamentalism, but there's very little difference.

Listening to "Miserere", I could not help but be moved and inspired in a way that words could not express. Perhaps this is the point. When one is provoked to feel things, one can express things independently. When one cannot express things independently, one must simply rely upon reciting the legalistic code that they have been fed. It reminds me of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", in which language and culture was restricted for the express purpose of making people incapable of expressing themselves, and thus incapable of expressing the dissent that might give rise to a revolution. In the same way in the Sydney Diocese, these amazing choruses have given way to the drudgery of Christian pop music, with lyrics repeated so often that the parishioner cannot help but be brainwashed by its message. Likewise, discourse has been curtailed so heavily that those who express an alternate understanding of the Scriptures are branded as unorthodox or heretical.

It is only over the last few weeks that the full extent of what is occuring in the Sydney Diocese has dawned upon me. We are currently seeing a systematic stripping away of all resources which will enable the parishioners within the Sydney Diocese to independently assess the teachings of the Jensens and actually read the Bible for themselves. I am really starting to feel like a lonely figure in exile - the fool standing on the hill. Is it too late, or is there still time for music to sow the seeds of revolution?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tolstoy on Faith

Here's an excerpt of a letter Count Leo Tolstoy wrote to his sister-in-law in 1876, not long after his conversion:

I not only hate and scorn non-belief, but do not see any possibility of living without belief, and even less possibility of dying without it. And little by little I am building my own beliefs, but they are all, though firm, very indefinite and unconsoling. When the intelligence asks, they answer well; but when the heart aches and begs for an answer, there is no support or consolation. With my intellectual demands and answers given by the Christian religion I am in the situation of two hands which would like to join, but the fingers collide.

Monday, January 28, 2008

How to Be Pro-Life Without Being Pro-Life

I've had the suspicion for a while that some of the most militantly pro-life advocates don't really seem to care about the life of the unborn at all. Why should this surprise us, considering the fact that that these same people had no qualms in killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and are vehemently in support of the death penalty? For these people, their pro-life stance seems to be much more about finding someone to condemn than about coming up with policies the would have any discernible influence on the abortion rate. It would seem that the number of abortions performed in countries where the procedure is illegal is effectively no less than countries in which the procedure is outlawed. Yet this realisation has no effect on these pro-lifers, they will still condemn those who wish to think about ways to reduce the abortion rate, even if that means making abortion legal. Indeed, the very fact that we are having this discussion allows these people to vent their spleens, something the existence of this debate is, I suspect is a great comfort to them.

So apart from political expedience and a platform upon which to judge others, what is driving their convictions. Quite possibility, it is the oldest taboo in the fundamentalist worldview - sex. Since the effect of criminalising abortion serves only to make abortion more dangerous, it would seem as though the veiled rationale for militant pro-lifers is to punish people for having sex outside of marriage, either by making such people carry their pregnancies through to term or by giving them no other option than to resort to potentially life-threatening backyard abortions. That'll learn 'em - next time they'll respect God's sacred gift of sex.

The final consideration I have most recently come across is that it turns out that the pill is actually abortive in effect. The pill is designed so that if it fails to prevent ovulation, a pregnancy that has been conceived will not be able continue because implantation will be impossible. For those Bible-believing believers who believe that human life starts at conception this should come as a concern. But chances are, it won't. When the issue is abortion, it seems that it is one rule for militant pro-lifers and another rules for everyone else. You see by closing their eyes to the truth of the matter, they are able to abort with impunity while those living in sin will become society's scapegoats. And I suspect that they do this primarily because the men want to have sex at any cost and embracing something like Natural Family Planning would be much too inconvenient for their supposed convictions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Good Luck Mariners

If you've only met me in the last few years, you may not know that I originally hail from the Central Coast. Because of this connection, I'll be supporting the Central Coast Mariners in this A-League final series. Not that I hold any special sense of attachment for the place - I really don't. Apart from being one of the teen pregnancies capitals of Australia, the Central Coast doesn't have much going for it. Indeed, a friend of mine who is also from the Central Coast supports Sydney FC specifically for the reason that he wants to sever any kind of link that might speak of his roots and so incriminate him. So why do I support them, notwithstanding the fact that my identity is much more closely aligned with Sydney these days? Well, quite probably because the Central Coast have the opportunity to put their name on the map for a reason other than their potty mouthed fishermen. It would be great for the Central Coast to have something to be proud of.

Tonight they play the Newcastle Jets in the first of their two leg major semi-final away from home. The last time the two teams played, the Jets came away with the points with a 2-1 victory in Gosford. However, if the Mariners can win this contest, they will go straight through to the grand final. I'm not sure what to expect as yet, since the Mariners form has been patchy at best. Let's just hope that John Aloisi can strike the ball sweetly, and strike the ball straight.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And So the Abortion Discussion Continues ...

As Willie Nelson once said, "You've got to know when to hold them - and know when to fold them." After comparing those who condoned abortion to those who are complicit in the Holocaust, Craig is still stubbornly holding onto his hand. It's a call that will ultimately hurt nobody else but Craig. I know all too well that It's hard to swallow one's pride, but I'm sure that if Craig did so that he would regain some of his lost credibility. It could also help if he offered an apology to the Jewish community for what were truly insensitive remarks.

Craig's latest tactic has been to play the victim, as noted by myself and another contributor. He's very happy to slander people by suggesting that their stances are the moral equivalent of complicity in genocide, but when people start questioning him, everything becomes too much. He sees himself as a martyr being unjustly persecuted as a result of his convictions. Indeed, most recently he deleted my own comment - it would appear that some of my comments may have struck a bit of a nerve.

Speaking of the deletion of my comment, one of Craig's recent efforts has been to reinforce his supposed authority on his blog, in which he writes: "My blog, my rules. If you don't like it, don't read it. Too easy." This isn't the first time that he has made a statement like this and nor will it be the last. After hearing these comments ad nauseum, they now carry all the conviction of the tantrum thrown by a three year-old when he or she hasn't got their own way. Let me tell you Craig, it's not a good look. The only one you're hurting with this behaviour is yourself.

In addition to his little tantrum, Craig seems to be accusing people of telling him what to write about on his own blog. I asked for clarification concerning the occasions when this was done, but to no avail - it would appear that such a comment was never made. Mind you, I can read between the lines. You see, Craig doesn't like it when people disagree with him - it's all part of the Calvinist desire for control. Most recently, Luke Stevens has been making his rhetoric on abortion look rather silly. For quite some time, Dave Lankshear has been making Craig look absolutely ridiculous on the question of Climate Change by running circles around him. To avoid losing face, Craig may need to come up with some more cogently structured arguments, or else stop writing about these topics. Since the former is rather impossible, Craig has become utterly convinced that disagreeing with him constitutes the latter.

Of course, in reality nobody is telling him Craig what to write on his blog. I don't know of anyone who has held a gun to his head or has hacked into his blog - he can continue to write what he likes. Of course, if he continues to do so, he will continue to look silly.

Too easy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Influence of Calvinism on Behaviour

Debate over at "The blog formerly know as 'These Infinite Spaces'" is getting rather heated over comments Craig Schwarze has made comparing those condone abortion with those who condoned the "ethnic cleansing" of the Nazis in World War II. As one astute commentator asked, what is Craig doing about this situation he is obviously so passionate about? Apart from spewing vitriol about those who disagree with him, absolutely nothing. Not a thing more than those he accuses of being complicit in genocide. If anything, Craig has more abortion deaths on his head than his targets do, quite simply because all his convoluted arguments and lazy analysis will do is alienate those who possibly could have been brought around to the pro-choice side of the fence.

Even though I oppose abortion, Craig's comments spurred me to action. I pointed out the inconsistency of his support of the death penalty with his opposition to abortion. Apparently life is sacred for one of these groups, but not the other. It seems that Craig still doesn't understand the hypocrisy of his accusations. But why should I be surprised that Craig so resolutely maintains his stance that the state has a right to kill when his hero was so fond of this practice himself? Quite simply, to turn around on this question would be more painful than the dilemma of having to juggle two inconsistent positions.

I must admit, I really didn't respond to Craig's comments with the grace that I should have. I really feel that he is a person who is trying to live the only faith that he knows with some of integrity. At least I should commend him for that. It isn't really his fault that he behaves this way - among other things, it's his theology. The damning indictment against me is that I don't have the same excuse.

People have asked me before whether I am so opposed to Calvinism because of bad experiences that I have had with Calvinists. While it is true that I have had a few, my experiences have generally been positive on the whole. Indeed, if it was my finding that Calvinists were nasty people, then I would have no reason to reject Calvinism on this basis, since nastiness in found in all walks of life, and there would be nothing to prove that there is a connection between Calvinists and nastiness. On the contrary, I have found many Calvinists to be some of the loveliest people that I have met, at least in the right context. However, it would seem that many of these lovely people do and say very nasty things. Calvinists were some of the slowest to oppose slavery. In South Africa, they were the slowest to oppose apartheid. They are still the slowest to oppose homophobia and sex discrimination. So this is my problem: not that Calvinists are nasty people, but actually that they are lovely people who tend to do and say nasty things in the name of their faith. In this, it has quite recently become my conviction that Calvinism is a corrupting, rather than a redeeming influence. From what I have seen, people seem to be infected proportionately to the extent that they are devoted to Calvinistic theology. What this means is that those who are nominally Calvinist tend to be relatively untouched, even while they may go to a Calvinist church, while those who go to great lengths to pursue knowledge about Calvinism are the most deeply afflicted. It is these people who need prayer and compassion the most.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Castor's Day Off

With the exception of the week between Christmas and New Year, I haven't had any time off work for a fair while. This is because I desperately needed to get 75 days work experience completed before the cut-off for applications for the February 16 ceremony for my admission as a legal practitioner. It has been a busy week for me, filling in work journals, other forms and declarations, as well as travelling out to Strathfield twice to get a reference to attest to the fact that I am a person of "good fame and character". All this while I was doing a little work on the side.

After briefly travelling into work this morning, I had to go to St Leonards to hand in my forms in the hopes of getting a completion certificate. Unfortunately, they told me that they wouldn't be able to process these forms for a few hours. This turned out to be alright, because I ended up going into the Chatswood RTA and asking for a copy of my driving record. I had to do this because part of becoming a legal practitioner is making disclosure of all those things that may affect one's good fame and character. The irony is that a few speeding fines aren't going to prevent one from being refused admission, but if you don't disclose this information and it is later discovered, the accusation of dishonesty is then brought against you, which really does affect your standing as a solicitor.

After obtaining absolution for my sins, I had a few hours to kill while I waited for my completion certificate, so I went shopping for two badly needed shirts and ties after my broken iron killed two of my favourite shirts, much to my chagrin. I then went to a cafe and spent the next hour and a half sipping my chocolate frappe while doing the crosswords and the other puzzles in the Herald - rather badly, I might add. Still, it was a strange indulgence to be able to relax for an hour and a half on what otherwise would have been a work day. For some strange reason, it felt like I was a school kid wagging classes while all the other poor suckers were stuck learning about the finer points of chemical equations, which was a thought that I cherished warmly.

After the novelty of overstaying my welcome in the cafe wore off, I travelled back to St Leonard's to collect my completion certificate, before travelling back into the city to hand in my admission application. One wouldn't think that this would be a drama, but when I arrived at the building I had discovered that I had left my mobile phone on the train. After finalising my application, I rang my phone to discover that someone had found it and had called perhaps the only person in my contact list that would could into the city to pick up my phone. I haven't got my phone back, but it will be safe with me tomorrow afternoon after work.

All in all, it was a pretty busy day, but I day I enjoyed immensely, with the exception of having to pay my application fee to get admitted. This said, I can't complain all that much, because most of the pressure is now off. However, it's back to work tomorrow, where I will I return to my general state of undisclosable busyness. After that, I will soak in my three day weekend and indulge in that event which is more Australian than anything else - a public holiday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

If You Can't Shun Them, Clone Them

Christian subculture is often accused of being particularly insular, as well as being rather antagonistic towards those outside of the circle. This was highlighted strongly in the film "Saved", in which the mother of the main character won an award for the "Best Christian Interior Designer". Sadly, this is not the stuff of mere fiction - I have heard of plans in the United States to build a self-contained village for Christians. Inhabitants need not ever leave this village because they have a Christian doctor, a Christian plummer and a Christian day care. The plan, it would seem, is to build a utopian society free from the moral degradation of the outside world.

In this thoughtful post, Tim Challies speaks with candour about his experiences growing up in a churched environment. Notably, he makes the following charge:

Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew a man who was an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were never, ever allowed to play with the other children in the area. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

Even though Challies is not that much older than myself, I didn't find this comment particularly surprising. What did surprise me, however, was his suggestion in the comments that this phenomenon still exists in many churches he has observed. I suspect that part of this might have to do with the cultural differences between Australia and North America. In America (and to a lesser extent, Canada) there has often been a much greater stigma attached to the status of not being Christian. Part of this has to do with the relatively apathetic stance that many Australians take to the issue of religion and the relative impotency of Christians as a political force compared with America. Politically speaking, Christians are simply part of the mainstream and political loyalties tend to be divided.

The other reason that I haven't observed the phenomenon that Challies speaks about it because of the emphasis on evangelism in Sydney Anglican churches. To their credit, most Sydney Anglican churches have made welcoming newcomers a strong priority. Sure enough, there may be some kind of inadvertent culture clash that makes both parties feel a little uncomfortable, but the intention to make the visitor's experience a pleasant one is definitely there. Where Sydney Anglican churches and Sydney Anglicans are not so good, is with people who have been coming along to a church for an extended period of time and have not yet come to a commitment about the Christian faith. At this point in time, from the experiences of people I know, the relationship tends to deteriorate. It seems as though all those happy smiles and those friendly phone calls are just too much effort if their conversion projects aren't paying the right dividends.

Perhaps this latter criticism - and I hope that it is taken in the spirit with which it is intended - highlights an inadequacy in much Christian thinking. While Sydney Anglicans seem to have got the first part right in that they are trying to make their church communities a more welcoming place for outsiders, the expectation seems to be that people will gravitate towards their churches and that these people will simply be sucked into a black, seamless, void. The intention seems not to be to truly engage with the non-Christian, but rather to turn him or her into a cloned version of themselves. The Jesus I see in the gospels does not do this. Instead of waiting for people to come to the Temple, he goes out to meet people where they are. He goes out from the centre into the wilderness and shares the lives of those who are disenfranchised in the wilderness.

We need more Christians who are prepared to move outside of their own comfort zone. It may be scary to travel outside of the centrifugal orbit of one's church, but this needs to be done if we are truly to engage with people on the margins. It is the only way we truly live as disciples of Christ. And if we, who claim to be Christians cannot be disciples of Christ, then how can we expect others to become disciples?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Biblical Inerrancy - That Old Chestnut

It seems like hardly a week goes by without someone trying to defend the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy. This time it is Tim Challies, who is regarded as the world's most prolific Christian blogger. I felt that it was worthwhile responding to each of Challies' points in his post entitled "Errors and Contradictions in the Bible", although you may also wish to look at "What Does Inerrant Mean?" and "Are There Errors in the Bible?" You may also wish to read my previous post on the subject, entitled "Bible Contradictions".

Okay, so let's get rolling - I'll look at the first four arguments together, and then look at them more closely:

First argument - If we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar

Second argument - Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God

Third argument - if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible

Fourth argument - if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct

Even if we were to accept the suppressed assumptions behind these propositions as true, then it would seem that Challies' arguments in this respect are no more than what we might regard as wish fulfilment. That is, God is not truthful or trustworthy simply because we want Him to possess these characteristics. If the doctrine of inerrancy is refuted and Challies' propositions hold, then it may well be that God is a liar, that He is not trustworthy, that our minds are legitimately made a higher standard of truth than the Bible and that there is no certainty about the doctrine in the Bible. While these conclusions may be unpleasant and/or undesirable for some believers, the degree of unpleasantness that flows from a particular conclusion has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not that conclusion is correct.

First argument - If we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar

Second argument - Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God

The suppressed assumption in these propositions is this - that God has indicated to humankind that Scripture is inerrant. There are a few verses that apologists use to try to establish this premise, but perhaps the most common reference is 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Of course, the first problem that comes to mind is the question: "How do we know that God is the author of that verse?", but since Challies' deals with circularity later on, so will I. Leaving aside that issue, there are several things that are problematic about this argument:

Firstly, it is well acknowledged that the Greek grammar in verse 16 allows two equally plausible renderings - either "All Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) is useful ..." or "All God-breathed Scripture is useful ...". Clearly, there latter rendering does not suggest that all Scripture is inspired, but merely that all inspired Scripture is useful, implying that some Scripture is not inspired. Having read arguments for and against each rendering, I hardly think that it is clear which version is intended and thus it is strange to see such emphasis placed on a verse which is clearly ambiguous.

Secondly, the term "Scripture" is ambiguous. It could refer to anything from canonical to generic writing.

Thirdly, even if Scripture is taken to mean the canonical writings, how do we know which books of the Bible Paul (assuming him to be the author) is referring to? The most natural reading would be the Old Testament (i.e. the Jewish Scriptures), but even if we assumed that Paul regarded some of the New Testament books as Scripture, this does not mean that it follows that all of the books in the Christian canon are regarded as Scriptural by Paul. The reason, quite obviously for this is that we know that Paul died before all of the book that compose the New Testament canon were written. How is it that Paul was referring to the book of Jude as Scripture when 2 Timothy 3:16 was written before the composition of Jude and Paul died before this time anyway?

Fourthly, the term "inspired" is again ambiguous. The idea of inspiration and breath by God has at least seven different connotations. One of the other connatations that must be given consideration for this verse is the idea of Scripture being something that is "living" in the same way that God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam. This being the case, Scripture may well be understood as a living entity, or a text with life-giving qualities, but this doesn't necessitate inerrancy.

Third argument - if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible

Firstly, as the neo-orthodoxy of Barth showed, this need not be the case. One need not subscribe to the doctrine of inerrancy to appreciate the worth and value of the Bible, especially if one considers it to be "living" and to submit to its jurisdiction. To provide an analogy, I may still be able to learn from and emulate a role model, notwithstanding the fact that I know they are not perfect. Indeed, it is this very imperfection that helps me to relate to them, since I am not perfect myself.

Secondly, while this does not formally answer Challies' charge, there can be no guarantee that Challies' is not making his mind a higher standard of truth than the Bible when he comes to this very doctrine. One brings a series of assumptions, a worldview and a systematic theology to the table when reading the Bible and these things inevitably influence our reading of the text. How can Challies' know that it is the Bible pure and undiluted, and not Calvin, that dictates his understanding of doctrine?

Fourth argument - if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct.

Indeed, I would agree to this point insofar as refuting inerrancy may make a Calvinist systemic theology unviable. This said, if the Bible is not inerrant (and is not meant to be), then this former reading of the Bible has been misleading at best and profoundly destructive at worst and needs to be rectified. This discovery may lead us to the realisation that the Bible was never meant to be read like a statute book and if this is true, then that's a positive thing.

Let us move onto the responses Challies makes to the objections of opponents of Biblical Inerrancy. Challies responds to the charge that inerrancy is meaningless because we do not have the original manuscripts by stating:

We can be certain that we have accurate copies of over 99% of the inerrant words as they were first transcribed. When we focus on the less than 1% of the text that contains errors, we must realize that these are human errors and that God is in no way responsible for them.

Indeed the manuscript evidence for the Bible is impressive and I largely agree with Challies' assessment. However, if he cannot tell me which 99 percent is original and which 1 percent is not, then his claim becomes meaningless, for I cannot know for sure that the text I am reading is original or not.

Perhaps the bigger objection I have to the argument that only the originals are inerrant is that it tends to be somewhat of a cop-out position. That is, someone may see a contradictory text and then brush of suggests of an error that suggesting that "in the original text, I'm sure there wasn't an error". The problem with this exercise is that it is an appeal to a text that one has not actually seen. How do they know that the unseen text is inerrant?

To the first objection, I point again to the definition of inerrancy, and that it refers to truthfulness and not precision. The Bible claims to be perfectly true, but nowhere does it claim to contain perfect precision.

Apart from the fact that I don't believe that the Bible ever claims to be inerrant, I agree with Challies' premise that inerrancy does not necessarily call for mathematical or scientific precision. However, this doesn't represent the strongest objections of those who reject inerrancy.

Where this model of linear reasoning may break down, is that some of what we accept about the Bible we accept by faith. Faith does not render reason invalid, but the Holy Spirit helps us believe in what our sinful, human minds will not accept.

The problem with this argument is that Challies' does not explain the basis of his belief that the Holy Spirit has convicted him of the inerrancy of Scripture. If he says that this is because of the witness of Scripture, then he can't get around the problem of circularity, since he needs to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture before he believes the Spirit convicts people of the inerrancy of Scripture. Indeed, as a side point, I have seen the Spirit's ministry defined in many ways, but outside of Calvin's Institutes, I have never seen the argument from Scripture that the Holy Spirit tells Calvinists that their doctrine of inerrancy is correct. However, if Scripture does actually say this, then how does Challies' know that he has received this message from the Holy Spirit any more than a Mormon can attest to the truth of the Book of Mormon by the "burning in his bosom" as attested to by the Book of Mormon itself.

But what the unbeliever cannot do is accept that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is thus an inerrant authority.

As a Christian, I DO believe that Jesus is an inerrant authority. However, this doesn't mean that I believe that Jesus communicated that the 66 books of the Christian canon are inerrant. Indeed, considering several of Jesus' teachings I find this view by Jesus to be quite unlikely. I think it is quite clear that Jesus was quite happy to set himself above Scripture, for example with his teaching on divorce.

As often as not, this objection is made by people who really have no clear idea of where these errors can be found, as they are merely passing along what they have heard from others.

I find this to be quite a frustrating strawperson attack with no substance. While it is true that allegations of error are made by those who have not looked properly into the issue, it is also true that these allegations are made by people who have looked at this issue quite closely. I'd like to think that I am one of these people.

At my own risk, I'll suggest one error. However, I find conversations with inerrantists on such errors to be quite fruitness and extremely annoying. If I suggest an error or a contradiction, they may suggest a harmonisation that takes Scripture completely out of context. In doing so, they compromise Scripture all for the sake of their precious doctrine. They will resolutely hold to an interpretation that can only come about as a result of the most tortuous intellectual gymnastics.

Anyway, let me throw Mark 1:2 into the mix. Mark attributes a quote to Isaiah, when in truth the quote is an amalgam of a text from Isaiah and a text from Malachi. Indeed, using Mark as source material, Matthew sees the error and edit accordingly, dropping the part of the quote that is from Malachi.

It is a fact that “the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems … Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all.

The final suggestion is fundamentally that simply because we can't resolve some contradictions now, doesn't mean we won't solve them later. The problem with this view is much like the problem with the fact that inerrantists appeal to the original manuscripts as being inerrant. This argument appeals to a hypothetical discovery in the future that will resolve these problems. It is a mere assumption that these problems will be resolved and their is no basis for this assumption but blind hope. However, even were this assumption to prove to true, what does it matter - a discovery that may or may not happen in the future is hardly going to assist us in coming to a proper understanding of the verse/s in question now, it is? Indeed, since we don't have the tools to interpret the Bible inerrantly (because we lack this discovery), inerrancy is simply not going to mean anything worthwhile anything.

Well, there you go, that's my effort. I welcome feedback, both positive and negative. Let me know what you think of what I've written.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Classics Omnibus Rolls On

After a brief stop in late Victorian England, I've decided to travel back to nineteenth century Russia. My only choice was to decide which of great novelists of that period to read. Having already read Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" and "Notes From the Underground" and enjoying both immensely, I was very tempted to read "Crime and Punishment". However, because this magical mystery tour was about experiencing different styles of writing, I decided that I would delay reading "Crime and Punishment" for a while and instead read Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina".

For those of you who don't know, Tolstoy came to the Christian faith in his fifties, although he maintained an unorthodox faith, being excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. Tolstoy is often acknowledged as the father of Christian Anarchism, although that title is quite frequently attributed to Kierkegaard. However, while Kierkegaard may be said to have set some of the basic principles in place for a Christian Anarchist framework, Tolstoy was the first to outline the ideals behind Christian Anarchism in a systematic manner, based upon his radical reading of the Sermon on the Mount. His writings have proved to be profoundly influential to a number of great figures in the twentieth century, including, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I am interested in reading Anna Karenina is that the novel is said to contain a strong autobiographical element. It always interests me when people come to the Christian faith at such a late age, as most conversions seem to take place between a person's mid teenage years and their early twenties. I feel that those who come to faith late in life often tend to have a more mature, reflective faith, because they have far too much life experience to adopt the black and white faith so often experienced by adolescent and early adult converts.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What Makes a Great Book?

When I have finished a novel and given myself enough time to form my own perspective, my usual practice is to read the relevant Wikipedia article. Generally speaking, I find the commentary on the public reception to the book to be most interesting. With respect to "The Picture of Dorian Gray", while I realised that the novel was controversial, I didn't realise just how hated it was among literary critics and lay people alike. Responses ranged from the suggestion that Wilde was a talented writer who had squandered his immense talent to those who suggested that "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was simply a second-rate version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". Yet over a century later, it is regarded as one of the great works of Western literature.

It struck me that great literature has several things in common. Great literature either wrestles with issues pertinent to the society in which it is written, or existential issues that seem to have eternal significance. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" explored themes such as the loss of innocence, identity and hypocrisy. Huxley's rather prophetic "Brave New World" looked at the issues of conformity and the hegemonic influence of science upon the then contemporary society. Among other things, Hugo's "Les Miserables" tackled the themes of human progress, the criminal justice system and redemption. Each of these novels do not allow the reader to be a passive bystander; rather they are compelled to think about these issues for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

Secondly, it appears to me that nearly all books that become immortal attract controversy. This is probably because many of these books make criticisms that cut rather close to the bone. Dostoevesky's "The Idiot", Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" all make rather harsh criticisms of high society, accusing them of hypocrisy and suggesting that they desire style over substance. In this sense, these novels are also subversive because they issue a threat to the established social order. Indeed, it is well known that troops from the North in the American Civil War would quite often carry "Les Miserables" around on their battles.

Thirdly, I would suggest that great novels are well ahead of their time. In exposing the plight of women and their near helplessness in the societal structures of Edwardian England, Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" was a forerunner for modern feminism, still decades away. Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" spoke of the dangers of an increasingly centralised government and the impact that this can have on the freedom of the individual in society. This is an issue which has only really come to real prominence in the last five years with anti-terrorism laws in Australia and the Patriot Act in America. Almost without knowing it at the time, these authors write books which take on prophetic significance.

It is this last point that is of most comfort to me. Books (and commentary) that are popular are not always right, and books that are right are not always popular. Truly profound insights will always take some time to catch on as society struggles to catch up. The writings of Kierkegaard, for instance, never really became popular until after his death. It is the opinions of the future that will stand the test of time while the comforting voice of popularism will wither like the grass in the fields.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Will Follow You Into the Dark

I found this group while looking for covers of songs originally by The Smiths. I didn't find the cover I was looking for, but was rewarded with this obscure indie band anyway:

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Dorian Gray Syndrome in the Church

For those of you who are unacquainted with "The Picture of Dorian Gray", the storyline focuses upon a young adult who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth. While Dorian is to retain his youthful good looks, a painting of him displays his true nature, his soul. So ashamed is Dorian of the reality behind the facade that he keeps this portrait locked away from the prying eyes of the world. Indeed, so ashamed is Dorian of what the painting has revealed, he is even afraid to look at the portrait himself.

I believe that this story has much to say about Christians and their relationship with the wider Christian community. I feel that established churches seem to create this idea of a spiritual checklist by which one's legitimacy as a disciple of Jesus can be measured. In some churches the criteria used to determine one's legitimacy include their knowledge of the Bible and the doctrines which they affirm. In other churches it might be a person's ability to speak in tongues which sets them apart. In all churches one's position and involvement in the church plays a pivotal role in determining one's spiritual credentials, however much they may explicitly reject that notion. I suspect that it is for this reason that a lot of young men seek out positions of leadership. I honestly don't believe that it is usually because they are power hungry or egotistical - I believe that they seek out positions of leadership because this is the holiest thing they can do.

In the same way that the Church determines the elite among its ranks, I believe that they have also drawn a list of cardinal sins that excludes one from the ranks of being a good Christian. This culture is powerfully expressed by Mike Yaconelli in "Messy Spirituality":

Unfortunately, in many religious circles there exists an unwritten rule of the spiritual life. Pretend. Act like God is in control when you don't believe he is. Give the impression everything is okay in your life when it's not. Pretend you believe when you doubt, hide your imperfections, maintain the image of a perfect marriage with healthy and well-adjusted children when your family is like any other normal dysfunctional family. And whatever you do, don't admit that you sin.

I believe that there is a lot of pretending going on in church. This urge to pretend comes primarily from our fear about what it will mean to us if others know we have broken the unwritten rules of church culture. We fear that we will become a pariah in this place that is meant to welcome the sinner and the outcast. Indeed, this fear is often justified. We choose to truly be ourselves in the church community at great risk. More often than not, we choose to respond just like Dorian and keep our portrait hidden from the rest of the church, lest they find out what we are really like.

The whole idea behind "The Ministry of Incompetence" was that it is an acknowledgement that I am a deeply flawed human and a deeply flawed Christian. My life and my faith are not always consistent and there are many times when I fail to live my life with the integrity with which I should. I have never regarded myself as a role model and have always felt uncomfortable when I have been thrown into such a position. At times, I feel that my only redeeming feature is the fact that I care about such things and wish to see such inadequacies rectified. Fortunately, over the last few years I have started to be more graceful to myself because I have realised that the healing that is required for many of my weaknesses is a lifelong process. One of these steps is to be more real to myself and to God, as well as others in the hope that perhaps Christians who suffer in silence because of their struggles will know that they are not alone. I ask that you travel with me with both grace and with patience.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Kierkegaard on the Movement of Faith

I can see then that it requires strength and energy and freedom of spirit to make the infinite movement of resignation; I can also see that it can be done. The next step dumbfounds me, my brain reels; for having made the movement of resignation, now on the strength of the absurd to get everything, to get one's desire, whole, in full, that requires more than human powers, it is a marvel. But at least I can see this, that the young girl's conviction is mere frivolity compared with a faith that is unshakeable even when it sees the impossibility. Whenever I want to make this movement I turn giddy, at the same moment I admire it absolutely and yet in that same instant an immense anxiety seizes my soul, for what is it to test God? And yet this is the movement of faith and remains that, however much philosophy, in order to confuse concepts, will have us suppose that it has faith, however much theology wants to sell it at a bargain price.

- Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I'm tired and I
I want to go to bed
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
And then leave me alone
Don't try to wake me in the morning
'Cause I will be gone
Don't feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I don't want to wake up
On my own anymore
Sing to me
Sing to me
I don’t want to wake up
On my own any more
Don't feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I really want to go
There is another world
There is a better world
Well, there must be
Well, there must be
Bye bye

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why do Climate Change Skeptics Maintain the Rage?

Public discussion on climate change is only a recent phenomenon. It seems like just yesterday that it was an issue that pervaded below the consciousness of the community. Almost overnight, people who were previously unaware or unconcerned about climate change have been conscientiously wanting to do their part to conserve the environment for their children and for future generations. No longer can concern for the environment be said to be the province of small special interest groups. It is amazing and indeed refreshing to have observed such a paradigm shift in such a short period of time.

Almost as sudden as the public interest in the environment is the emergence of the climate change skeptic. The climate change skeptic is not merely a passive agnostic who refuses to believe in global warming. Rather, he or she aggressively and ambitiously set out to debunk what they regard to be the myth of climate change. If necessary, the climate change skeptic will resort to ad hominem arguments to attempt to support their case and believes that recycling the latest wikipedia article that they have read constitutes knowledge and/or research.

I guess my general sense of bewilderment exists because of the vitriol that will come out of the typical climate change skeptic. Of course, this doesn't invalidate their arguments in itself, but I do wish to know why such intense anger exists. To me, such anger seems about as productive as that of the village atheist who has given their life over to the pursuit of establishing the non-existence of God. I mean, if someone doesn't believe that God exists that's one thing, but to dedicate your life trying to attack this supposely non-existent being is simply absurd. In like manner, climate change skeptics seem to expend a lot of fury trying to disprove something they regard to be non-existent. Why do they feel the need to do so? Why do they not simply hold onto their convictions and move onto issues that are more worthy of their time? Surely there as so many other Wikipedia articles that they could be regurgitating?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Times Like These

A fine bottle of wine and a good friendship have one thing in common - they only get better with age. Tonight I had an opportunity to experience both, since I was able to catch up with Glen, one of my very best friends over a steak and a bottle of Merlot from Western Australia. More than with any other friend, it is with Glen that I have the most emotionally probing conversations with. Sometimes an attempt to talk on a deep level too quickly can feel rather contrived, but this is not the case with Glen. To be wading in the depths of the human soul seems most appropriate for our friendship, even without the necessary warm-up that usually precedes such conversations.

After returning to my place with Gelati in hand, I decided to play Glen my favourite Smiths song, "There is a Light That Never Goes Out". Responding to his question about why this was my favourite song, I suggested that there was something very romantic about an outcast who can find true respite from the world only with his friends. It is his friends and not his house that are his true home. I find this idea a most bittersweet sentiment. For some reason I was reminded of the words of Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). There is something gloriously desperate about this confession. There is nothing left but Jesus, and yet Jesus is more than enough for Peter. There is no middle ground between transfiguration and oblivion. I then began to reflect that there I rarely feel as though I am truly home. Generally speaking, I only momentarily have these flashes of brilliant light that represent my true resting place and these flashes are few are far between.

Next, we talk about friendship. In particular, we looked at the phenomenon of "best friends" and what this actually meant. We both concluded that this was a painfully absurd concept and that the very idea of ranking undermined what friendship was meant to represent. I can safely suggest that a have three friends that I would regard as my "inner circle", in which I would include Glen. However, to differentiate between these three friends is an impossible task. Each of these friends is different and each friend contributes to my sense of wellbeing in a somewhat different way. Agreeing upon this conclusion, we could not promise each other a gig as the other's "best man", but would certainly include the other in our bridal party.

Of course, our conversation wasn't just about friendship. In a meaningful guy to guy conversation you simply have to talk about girls. And you have to talk about cricket. These are the bread and butter of most guy's lives, and as such, we could spend an evening without discussing such vitally important topics. Not that these topics are ever resolved, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

As the night wound down I paused for a moment and inhaled the stale city air with a feeling of mellow contentment. I was home.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oscar Wilde on Organised Religion

Even though I had finished my last book a couple of days ago, I only just started reading "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in earnest (to pardon the pun). Having read through quite a few of the classics over the last twelve months or so, it has been quite interesting to see the different defining qualities of each of the writer's I have read. While Dostoevsky provides a compelling insight into the psyches of his character, Hugo allows his transcendent use of language to bring the reader into the moment. Wilde, on the other hand has a very acerbic sense of humour about him. If his writing wasn't so witty, I would have found the constant sarcasm fairly ingratiating, but instead I am left with a dry smile. While I don't *always* believe that this sentiment is true (although often it is), I found the following passage particularly amusing:

But beauty, real beauty, ends where intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.

I guess that makes me think about the way that we look at the subject of change. Even early in the novel the physically attractive Dorian Gray fears change because he is aware that as time passes by his looks will deteriorate. In like manner the bishop seems to fear change because it will mean the loss of what he wants to believe is perfect. It does not seem to occur to him that it is through change that he might be able to draw nearer to the Perfect. It seems to me that this is like the attitude of many Christians today who guard their understanding of the truth on the basis that God does not change. Yet even if this is true, it can certainly be said that humans change and that God is the driving force behind this change. Indeed for Victor Hugo, God, the changeless agent is the agent of change in the world, both individually and institutionally.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Year of Living Dangerously?

I must admit that I still don't know what this year holds in many respects. I still have in the back of my mind the idea of buying myself a combie van and living a nomadic existence around Australia. Of course this won't be so much of a viable option if I end up having something to stay around here for. I think I must just allow circumstances to determine where I end up.

I had also wished to be more spontaneous about the way that I did things. I think that too many times I take the path of least resistance instead of being prepared to take chances. I think I hold far too much of myself back, whether it be in my friendships or my goals and aspirations. Perhaps I need to be prepared to fail more often so that create more opportunities for myself?

Friday, January 11, 2008


I find my job really interesting and so it's days like this when I wish I could talk to people about what I've been doing. Unfortunately I can't. It feels like I live a bizaare double life and eight hours of my day have been sucked into a vortex, never to be revealed to the outside world ...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oscar Wilde on Art

After completing the marathon of Les Miserables, I started and finished a book called "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby. I then discovered that apparently the book falls into a well known structure referred to as "Kierkegaard's Narrative". It is so called because the storyline involves a guy living a hedonistic existence who is going through the motions and questioning his identity before finding it in making a relational commitment. With such strong Kierkegaardian themes, no wonder I liked the book. I'd analyse it a bit more thoroughly, but I simply couldn't be bothered committing the time tonight.

I have now started to read a new book - "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. Thus far I have only read the preface, but considering that I wrote about art last night, I thought I might provide you with Wilde's take on the subject:

The moral life a man forms part of the subject-mattter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their own peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their own peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is useless.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Aesthetic and the Religious Experience of Sport

Sport is the opiate of the masses. If you think this sounds like an extreme statement, consider that people were burning effigies of Ricky Ponting and Steve Bucknor on the streets of India after Australia's controversial second test victory over India. Lest we think that this kind of response is only capable from cricket obsessed Indians, consider the scenes of jubilation that would have been occurring around homes, clubs and pubs around Australia when the Australian team had managed to pull off the impossible. Even before the cricket ball had completed the short journey from the edge of Sharma's bat to the safe hands of Michael Hussey, people began to take leave of their senses, even if only momentarily. I must make the embarrassing confession that I did.

The more subdued among us will suggest that people making that kind response to the cricket (or indeed any other sport) is a massive overreaction. After all, as the aphorism goes, "It's only a game". As true as this is, this only makes the response of so many to sport even more baffling and even more intriguing. What is it about this game and sport in general that makes people respond with such irrationality? And what other activity gets otherwise respectable and refined Calvinists on their feet cheering and yelling like card-carrying Pentecostals? Certainly not church, from my experience.

I would have to suggest that sport is firstly an art and secondly a religious experience. The first time I suggested this to my art curator friend, he responded to me with a flighty air of disdain. With that in mind, I begin my explanation with some degree of trepidation knowing that there are many who will refuse to be convinced on that score, to pardon the pun.

Sport is an art in that it provokes a response from the viewer. Not only is the viewer able to appreciate the technical proficiency of a sportsperson, they are literally able to involve themselves in the narrative of the sporting contest as it unfolds. Each twist or turn will provoke a different emotion, whether it be joy, anger or disappointment. We may choose to trivialise such responses as the product of mere hedonistic entertainment, but to do this would be to fail to acknowledge the extent to which an individual can truly engage with sport. In the theatre of Test Match Cricket, Ricky Ponting influences the parameters of the artwork. We are able to (and as armchair critics regularly do) criticise the artists. We might suggest that Ricky Ponting has literally lost the plot when it comes to a bowling change, or a decision about whether to bat or bowl after winning the toss. If we were behind the camera directing we'd have done things differently.

As well as being an art, sport is also a religious experience. I say this because sport is always played in an existential context and as such provokes existential reflection, even if we are not completely cogniscent of such reflection. Sport much be by definition existential because it is a competition between two or more teams and the way in which teams perform has a direct bearing on other teams. For instance, for one team to lose, another team needs to win.

The existential nature of sport goes far beyond the direct nature of the contest, however. When cheering for a particular team, we involve ourselves in a form of tribalism. Our involvement thus changes from a state of being detached onlookers to a state of being engaged supporters. Wanting one team to win and the other to lose, we have started to invest emotional energy into the result. For some reason it has suddenly become important that Australia win again. Precisely why this might be is not clear. Precisely why the performance of other Australians vicariously counts as "our victory" is uncertain. But perhaps this is not the point. The important thing is that we have started to define ourselves.

It may well be said that sport is neither an art, nor a religious experience because people don't consciously reflect upon a sporting contest as a frame of reference to understand our identity. To an extent this is true - sport usually does not consciously provoke a person to ask who they are or what life is all about. Sport tends to provoke an instinctive, pre-cognitive response, which would explain why I am on my feet cheering in a crowd of strangers before I even know what I'm doing. But in a sense, this is precisely the point. Our instinctive and pre-cognitive responses are the most honest for the sole reason that we have not had time to formulate a way to deceive ourselves to produce a response or an answer that is more to our liking. As such, these instinctive, pre-cognitive responses speak volumes about the people that we are, the relationships we have and the things that we value.

There is one final consideration in all of this: Why is it that sport generally tends to produce a much more profound and even a much more genuine response from people than organised religion, even among people who are dedicated believers? I must say that I don't know, although this probably speaks volumes about the structure of organised religion today and its disciples. Indeed this much be a concern for a regular churchgoer who is never able to get as excited about their faith as they are about sport. Perhaps it is worth looking at the secular religion of sport and considering why it manages to engage people in a way that church does not.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

- William Butler Yeats, 1919

Monday, January 07, 2008

To Bee or Not to Bee ...

That is the grammatically challenged statement, not to mention lame pun ...

I had another exciting day today as I survived a close brush with a swarm of killer bees on my way home from work today. Well, that is, if you replace "survived a close brush with" with "was directed away from the bees at a distance by a police officer" and replace "killer bees" with "bees that could have been life threatening if they had simultaneously stung someone who was highly allergic to bee stings". Which I'm not, but that's neither here nor there.

Speaking of being neither here nor there, how did that swarm of bees find themselves at the corner of Pitt and Goulburn streets? I can't imagine that they had just returned from a shopping expedition at World Square. But I am still perplexed. All those buzzing bees, where did they all come from? All those buzzing bees, where do they all belong? Mental note: don't mention the lame pun you have your head about the "Beetles".

I guess the incident also made me think about the police officers diverting pedestrians away from the bees. I wonder how they much have felt drawing the short straw that placed them on "bee patrol"? While other policemen and women were off fighting crime, these officers had to monitor the movement of these bees. And what would have happened if these barnstorming bees had broken through the barrier of the boys in blue and gone berserk? Something tells me pepper spray may not have done the trick ...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Phone Home ... If You Can

My year just keeps on getting more exciting by the day. In the early hours of this morning, my mobile phone decided to get jiggy wit' it Harry Holt style. In other words, my phone went for a swim. In other words, I accidentally dropped my mobile phone into a toilet. Don't ask why - just smile and nod because it's much easier that way.

While I was disappointed to wreck my trusty phone (usually my phones go walkabout because I get the chance to wreck them), I did have the pleasure of learning something new. Apparently mobile phones and water don't mix. Seeing as though my mobile is the form of communication with the outside world, I had two options - either I could become a hermit, or I could buy a new phone. After seeing that I had an insufficient supply of canned food to last me through the winter I decided upon the second option. $79 later and I have a brand new phone. I can even take blurry, low-resolution pictures with it. Happy days.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I've Finally Finished Les Miserables

... and it's only taken three months or so. Part of that is because Victor Hugo's writing was so richly layered that I could only read twenty pages or so without needing to stop to reflect on what was just written and catch my breath again. Part of it had to do with the vicissitudes of life and the fact that sometimes the opportunity to relax and read doesn't always avail itself. I must say that it has felt like quite a marathon and that I'm relieved I can get onto reading something else, preferably somewhat lighter. Crime and Punishment shall have to wait a little while, I think ...

I don't want to give anything away, but the ending was absolutely incredible. I've never read anything so powerfully bittersweet and I don't remember the last time I was so moved by a novel. So much better than the whole "And they lived happily ever after" cliche - it's more true to life to my way of thinking. Mind you, the depressing ending of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" simply made me feel incredibly ripped off, despite the fact that it was beautifully written. I wonder why this is? Why is it that people instinctively crave the happy ending? Any thoughts?

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Queen is Dead

I picked up "The Queen is Dead" by The Smiths today. I'm suitably impressed with my purchase ...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Alluring Pull of Legalism

Christianity is a religion of freedom. We are no longer ruled by a legalistic code, but instead ruled by a higher law, the law of love. This is the lighter yoke that Jesus invites us to embrace. Despite this, it seems that we are all too willing to return to the indiscriminate cycle of karmic consequence. This is by no means a new phenomenon. In Galatians 4:9, we observe St Paul expressing exasperation at the Galatians for returning back to the self-imposed shackles of legalism:

Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved again?

And yet the Galatians seemed to be quite willing to return to slavery after having their taste of freedom and this is true of Christians even today. No matter how much we might talk about grace prevailing over law, it is all too easy for us to slip back into our old legalistic habits. But why is this? Yesterday, I read a passage from the inimitable Victor Hugo that I found particularly illuminating:

His supreme anguish was the loss of certainty. He felt that he had been uprooted. The code was no longer anything more than a stump in his hand. He had to deal with scruples of an unknown species. There had taken place within him a sentimental revelation entirely distinct from legal affirmation, his only standard of measurement hitherto. To remain in his former uprightness did not suffice. A whole order of unexpected facts had cropped up and subjugated him. A whole new world was dawning on his soul: kindness accepted and repaid, devotion, mercy, indulgence, violences committed by pity on austerity, respect for persons, no more definitive condemnation, no more conviction, the possibility of a tear in the eye of the law, no one knows what justice according to God, running in inverse sense to justice according to men. He perceived amid the shadows the terrible rising of an unknown moral sun; it horrified and dazzled him. An owl forced to the gaze of an eagle.(Les Miserables, Volume 5, Book 4)

For the inspector Javert, the quintessential legalist, the law affirmed his identity in several respects:

Firstly, Javert identifies so strongly with the law because it has been the guiding principle of his life; his reason for being. It is all he knows. It is not surprising in this respect that we would embrace legalism, considering that we are brought up in a performance orientated culture, where one's value as a person is intrinsically connected to their level of achievement.

Secondly, Javert knew where he stood with the law. Black was black and white was white. Self-reflection and soul searching was not necessary for Javert because he held an immutable code that could effectively prescribe the behaviour required from him. Seeing this characteristic in Christians today, Peter Cameron remarked:

It's a hard thing, this being a Christian, this doing without the external props. And we're constantly trying to supply external props, whether in more precise statements of belief or more detailed instructions on how the Christian should behave. ... People generally want to be told what to do and believe, and they think that our unwillingness to do so results from confusion and lack of faith.

Thirdly, because Javert understood his world in such a black and white manner, he was able to construct categories which separated people into clear cut castes. To be a convict was to permanently be identified as a bad person, whereas he was a respectable and respected detective. These categories started to shatter when the fugitive Jean Valjean treats Javert with mercy. That a convict could act with kindness was previously unthinkable for Javert and this event causes him to lose his sense of equilibrium.

Fourthly, as an officer of the law, Javert believed himself to be a good and honourable person. Once Javert realises that perhaps there is a higher law he has been neglecting, he starts to realise that the standards he has been applying have been useless and the self-assurance he had about his character begins to disintegrate. Interestingly, in Phillipians 3:4-9, St Paul echoes this idea and suggests a better way:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Paradoxically, Jesus' lighter yoke proves to be more difficult in some ways than legalism. While legalism merely demands assent from our body, Jesus' lighter yoke requires us to love God from our heart and soul, as well as our mind. With our heart and soul we must serve God and others out of a spirit of love, rather than out of a begrudging sense of obligation - mere observance of the rules will not be sufficient and at times may even be antithetical to truly loving our neighbour. With our mind, we will wrestle with God about what we need to do to show this love for God and for others. Without reference to a legalistic code, this requires a commitment towards soul searching and communion with God. And because we can always be more loving, we must continue to scale Mount Olympus, knowing all too well that we have yet to reach the summit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I've Cracked the Half-Millenium!

The onset of writer's block last year provoked me to come up with what might seem to be a rather counter-productive New Year's Resolution. Quite simply, I wished to blog at least once day, so I decided that I would start to indulge far more heavily in the mundane on this blog. Of course, if any inspiration from the heavens should strike me, then I would be perfectly content to attempt to write with some degree of profundity. In fact, it just so happened that I have some good material at the moment, but I lack the patience and energy to put it together tonight. With this in mind my insights shall have to wait until at least tomorrow night and you will have to endure my pointless meanderings for now.

Okay, back to the point. Where was I? That's right ...

I tend to get fairly easily absorbed in things that interest me. You might suggest that I have an obsessive personality. Being the spin doctor I am, I'd prefer to call it "being focussed". I've inherited this character trait from my mother, so she's the one I shall choose to blame or thank depending upon your perspective. For now I'll just say "Thanks a lot, Mum". I'll work out whether I'm being sincere on sarcastic later on.

One of my latest obsesssions, err, "areas of focus" has been playing Scrabble, or as the Facebook equivalent is known, "Scrabulous". Again, I have certain friends to either thank or blame for this newly found passion - you know who you are. And now that I've become engrossed in this game, I've had to contemplate upon how to improve my score. It seems to have worked, since I have regularly been scoring above 400 in my games.

Once again, I chose to step up to the plate and indulge in the linguistic labyrinth. More through good luck than good management, my tiles allowed me to play "abetter", scoring 70 points on the first move. This was followed by "snackers" and "casinos" worth 78 and 75 points respectively. After a few much lower scoring moves (18 and 14 points respectively), I was able to play "darning", worth another 78 points. I had made four bingos in six moves. I was beginning to feel like Brad Hogg heading towards a maiden Test century (good to see that my delusions of grandeur have not been dented by my writer's block). Just how many points would I score?

It was a close call, but on the final move of the game I played "ava", dispensing with my final two letters and securing a score of 508. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled. Humankind has done many incredible things over the millenia, but I had just broken the 500 barrier. Such greatness had not before been achieved, except of course for those Scrabble professionals (yes, I've discovered they do exist) who quite frequently score above this mark.

I must say that it's been an eventful day. I may have to get around to getting a life one of these days to prevent myself from internally combusting as a result of sensory overload ...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Change and Changelessness

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." Truer words were never spoken. In the late morning or early afternoon, millions of Australians woke up to the dawn of a new day, a new year, a new era. Most likely, they awoke to find the same familiar hangover and the stale remains of chips uneaten from the night before. This eternal paradox never ceases to amuse me.

There is something very alluring about the prospect of making a fresh start. Perhaps this says something about our hopes and aspirations for the previous year being perpetually unfulfilled and the almost blind optimism that things will be different this year - just as people had hoped for the previous year. At least people are consistent in this respect.

Despite the fact that I believe that a leopard does not change his spots, there is something truly carthartic about making resolutions that you know will be frustrated before the week is out. So in terms of this blog, I've made the following resolutions:

- 18 percent more "short jocular conversation"
- 23 percent less sectarianism
- 3 percent more "maintaining the rage"
- 14 percent less shallow social commentary
- 31 percent more links
- 57 percent less jaded cynicism
- 26 percent more statistics

Remember that these are non-binding targets and are purely aspirational statements. If I spectacularly fail in this respect, then at least I had good intentions.