Monday, March 31, 2008

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

For the next stop of my Calvinist roadshow, I thought I'd provide my audience with some words from the famous American preacher, Jonathan Edwards in an extract from his classic sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God":

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Turn or Burn

I thought for a little change of pace tonight I might provide an extract from one of Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons, entitled "Turn or Burn":

Oh! what would I give if one of my hearers should be blessed by God to go home and repent! If I had worlds to buy one of your souls, I would readily give them, if I might but bring one of you to Christ. I shall never forget the hour when I hope God's mercy first looked on me. It was in a place very different from this, amongst a despised people, in an insignificant little chapel, of a peculiar sect. I went there bowed down with guilt; laden with transgression. The minister walked up the pulpit stairs, opened his Bible, and read that precious text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and beside me there is none else;" and, as I thought, fixing his eyes on me, before he began to preach to others, he said, "Young man! look! look! look! You are one of the ends of the earth; you feel you are; you know your need of a Saviour; you are trembling because you think he will never save you. He says this morning, 'Look!'" Oh, how my soul was shaken within me then! what! thought I, does that man know me, and all about me? He seemed as if he did. And it made me "look!" Well, I thought, lost or saved, I will try; sink or swim, I will run the risk of it; and in that moment I hope by his grace I looked upon Jesus, and though desponding, downcast, and ready to despair, and feeling that I could rather die than live as I had lived, at that very moment it seemed as if a young heaven had had its birth within my conscience. I went home, no more cast down; those about me, noticing the change, asked me why I was so glad, and I told them that I had believed in Jesus, and that it was written, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Oh! if one such should be here this morning! Where art thou, thou chief of sinners, thou vilest of the vile? My dear hearer, thou hast never been in the house of God perhaps these last twenty years; but here thou art, covered with thy sins, the blackest and vilest of all! Hear God's Word. "Come, now let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool, and though they be red like crimson, they shall be white than snow." And all this for Jesus' sake; all this for his blood's sake! "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved;" for his word and mandate is, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned."


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Having Fun Without Electricity

As many of those around Australia will know, tonight at 8pm is Earth Hour. For the unacquainted, the idea behind Earth Hour is that everyone switches off all non-essential lights between 8pm and 9pm. The aim of this action is primarily to create awareness about the issue of climate change and encourage people to take a more responsible approach to their energy usage.

One of the interesting things that I have been thinking about as a result of Earth Hour is our perceived dependence on electricity, which I think is a pretty sad indictment on our society. Tonight, I will be attending the first ever "Nerd Hour" party, where we will be switching off our lights and switching on our brains instead. I'm reliably informed that among other things there will be trivia and Scrabble. Although the event will be carbon neutral, I expect there to be a lot of energy around.

As I final thought, I have been saddened to see the response of some Christians to the whole event and to the issue of climate change in general. While most Christians are taking their responsibilities as custodians of God's creation seriously, others have taken a very dismissive and angry response to the initiative and the promoters thereof. Even if one didn't agree with the initiative, I would've thought that they could have acknowledged that other Christians are at least intending to do an honourable thing in conserving the environment. But instead they have to denigrate and disparage through who are taking part. This is rather sad.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Anonymous Christianity

When conservative Christians find out that I believe that I am universalist, they tend to triumphantly quote John 14:6 to me - "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me." It seems that because they've discovered that I'm a Liberal Christian (a term I using sparingly to describe myself), they seem to believe that I have never read the Bible and that by quoting John 14:6 to me, I will be hit with a startling revelation. My response is normally to ask them what it is think "No-one comes to the Father except through me" actually means. Their answer can invariably be represented as "No-one comes to the Father except through Christendom". Quite apart from the fact that this is simply not what the verse says, I find that it's actually a fairly dangerous position to hold because one is taking Christ out of the picture and replacing him with a human institution.

The position I hold is one of inclusivism, which adopts the understanding of the "anonymous Christianity", a term coined by Catholic theologian Kahl Rahner, who describes the idea as follows:

Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity — Let us say, a Buddhist monk — who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. But I cannot do that. And so, if I hold if everyone depends upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and if at the same time I hold that many live in the world who have not expressly recognized Jesus Christ, then there remains in my opinion nothing else but to take up this postulate of an anonymous Christianity.

At this point, a distinction should be made between the inclusivism of anonymous Christianity and what we know as pluralism. Whereas pluralism asserts that there are many, or possibly infinite sources of salvation, inclusivism asserts that all who are saved are saved through Christ. The Christian is saved through Christ, the Hindu is saved through Christ and the even the atheist is saved through Christ. In this respect, I find Christian inclusivism to have a higher Christology than exclusivism because Christian inclusivism fully appreciates the scope of Jesus salvific influence. While the exclusivist believes that Jesus can only redeem a small fraction of humanity, the Christian inclusivist recognises that Jesus is both able and willing to reconcile much, or even all of the cosmos to himself.

I should point out that it is possible to be an inclusivist without being a universalist, although I believe that the most nuanced universalists will adopt an inclusivist position. When I get a chance, I shall explore the principles that support not only Christianity outside of Christendom, but how the whole creation (indeed, not merely humans) will eventually come to understand Christ and their Saviour.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The US Experiences Death Penalty Drought

I remember an episode of "The Simpsons" where there was a sign reading "4 days without a tornado" outside of a trailer park. Of course, the joke was that tornados took place so frequently that the time that had elapsed between tornados was worth recording. Well, life imitated art today when the United States marked six months without an execution.

Before one comes to the conclusion that those Bible-believing Texans are becoming more compassionate, it's worth pointing out that their hooting-and-hollerin' killin' ways have been temporarily stopped by the US Supreme Court, who are considering the legality of the lethal injection. This follows submissions by arguments from several death row inmates that lethal injections were unconstitional because they constituted "cruel and unusual punishment". Of course, that such punishments are cruel is quite obvious, but I suspect that given the prevalence of lethal injection as a method of execution, they may have more trouble establishing that such a punishment is unusual. Maybe in the rest of the civilised world perhaps, but certainly not in the good ol' US of A, and particularly not in Texas.

Those of you who may fear the end of "tough love" in America need not fear. The state of Louisana plans to break the death drought in July, when they will execute yet another underprivileged member of a minority group. And after that, there are another 3,260 participants who are waiting in the queue to take the ride of their life. Add that to the 4,000 Americans who have died in combat in Iraq, and one must begin to marvel at the ability of the United States to kill its own citizens in record numbers ...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interpreting the Synoptics

I consider the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to be the heart of the Bible. I take this view because they give us the teachings of Jesus, our Examplar. I'd suggest it would follow that if we are serious about following Jesus, paying attention to his teachings in the books should be our first priority. You may notice that I've separated the Synoptics from the Gospel of John. This is not because John is in any work an inferior book or that it gives an inferior view of Jesus. I just tend to think that the Synoptics are "more earthy" and that because of this they are more accessible, not to mention more practical. I also believe that the Synoptics provide a much more literal account of Jesus ministry.

Conservative Christians (and others, for that matter) may be interested in knowing how I try to interpret the Synoptic gospels, so I'll try to provide a few principles I use off the top of my head. Unfortunately, I won't provide Scripture examples of these principles, but may try to do so later.

1. Jesus is not quoted verbatim when the authors record his teachings - I would have thought this would have been fairly obvious, but just in case this point is in question, you should try to read "parallel accounts" of the same event or teaching. If you do, you'll notice there will be slight variations in the text. Parts of a teaching that are in one gospel will be left out in another gospel. Sometimes two different teachings will be merged together.

2. Notwithstanding that Jesus is not being quoted verbatim, the authors of the Synoptics are faithfully quoting the substance of Jesus teachings - While the exact words may not perfectly represent what Jesus said, I would suggest that on the whole, the ideas and principles that Jesus wants to express are kept intact by the authors. Of course, there are many scholars who would disagree with this assessment, for instance those who suggest that Matthew 25 is merely Matthew's anti-Semitic rant projected onto Jesus. While this could possibly be true, I tend to err on the side of caution and assume that teachings attributed to Jesus are actually authentic unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

3. Because it is the substance of Jesus teachings that are recorded and not the exact words used, we should focus on the general substance of the teaching, rather than agonise over the semantic terms - I'd suggest that it is entirely counterproductive getting caught up on a particular word that may or may not have been uttered by Jesus. Besides, Jesus teachings were for his audience first and foremost, and I find it hard to believe that he would have expected the peasants who listened to him to deconstruct a word to find it's six possible meanings.]

4. The authors of the Synoptics each have an agenda of their own - While I believe that the authors of the Synoptics are faithful witnesses, there are writing because they want their audience to believe. They also want to stress different aspects of Jesus' person. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but it's something to which we should be mindful.

5. When a particular expression is only used in one gospel, it's more likely to be the author's own "spin". Conversely, when an expression is exactly the same in all three Synoptics, the more likely it is to be the actual words of Jesus - It should be pointed out, however, that when an expression is identical in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark, Q is probably responsible and the authors have simply copied this source word for word.

6. Jesus needs to be understand within the context of his culture - Jesus was not a Christian, but was rather a Jew speaking to Jews. Thus, an understanding of first century Jewish culture and theology is necessary to understand Jesus, notwithstanding the fact that Jesus clearly transcended many of the paradigms of his day.

7. Jesus was not omniscient in any meaningful sense - I can see why people can get uptight about this claim, because they think it might impact upon Jesus' divinity. However, I'd suggest that few people would make claim that the earthly incarnation of Jesus is omnipotent. Scripture also makes reference to Jesus "growing in knowledge", which seems to infer that at least at one point in time, Jesus was not omniscient. For this reason, I have no problem with the idea that Jesus was wrong when he stated that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. However, I would suggest that Jesus moral teaching, properly understood, is infallible.

Anyway, here are a few thoughts of mine on the subject. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Update on My Literary Pursuits

I'm now onto my third book since I finished "Anna Karenina", so it'd probably be a good idea to keep everyone up to date on what I've been reading. At the very least, it would be good for me to keep complete records for the sake of posterity.

The first book I read was "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. It was the first non-fiction book I have read it a while. "Into the Wild" chronicles the story of 22 year-old Chris McCandless, a middle class guy who decided to escape from everything he knew and life live on the road. His travels took his to Alaska, where he stayed out in the wilderness living off the land for almost four months before his untimely death by starvation. My parents bought this book as a Christmas present, partly to discourage me from trying to do the same thing myself!

"Into the Wild" is as much an psychological investigation of the forces that draw people to the wilderness as it is a narrative of the adventures of McCandless. Wilderness is depicted as a paradoxical place that offers peace and serenity, but also the primal attraction of the untamed exterior, where each day is a fight for survival. The book includes some fantastic quotes from David Thoreau and Jack London that will serve me well as a means of inspiration when I have writer's block.

The second book I read was the 2003 novel entitled "The Kite Runner" by Afghan author Khaled Housseini - some of you may have watched the recent adaptation at the cinemas. It was the first recently written novel I have read in a while and was the first novel written by someone who was originally from the Middle East region. I'm not entirely sure whether this made for a different writing style, but I loved the way that the book was written as well as the way that the characters were fleshed out. The narrator and protagonist of the story was incredibly complex, having to deal with issues of self doubt, a desire to win his father's affection, guilt and remorse. However the character of Hassan is the most attractive individual, a Christ-like individual whose servant attitude and loyalty seems to come as second nature. He also has an incredible capacity for empathy, refusing to retaliate against those who mistreat him because he believes that their bad behaviour is caused by their inner hurt and pain.

Perhaps Hosseini's greatest achievement in this novel is the way that none of the book seems extraneous - all the chapters seem vitally necessary and gel together in an economic fashion. The story also made me more aware of the history of Afghanistan and the forces that have served to define this oppressed but proud nation. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who was interested in getting an insight into the Afghani psyche. It shouldn't surprise me, but when things are stripped down to their basic elements, Westerners and Afghanis both seek the same fundamental things - a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and a sense of self-empowerment.

The book that I started today is the 1857 novel "Madame Bovary" by the French writer Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary was meant to be quite provocative when it was written and Flaubert even had to endure an obscenity trial for his efforts, which he eventually won. It has struck me recently that so many of the books that are now regarded as great classics today were once condemned for some allegedly unsavoury element. Perhaps this says that great art and literature must constantly be pushing boundaries to attain a sense of relevance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kahlil Gibran on Legalism and Hypocrisy

Some years ago I became acquainted with Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet of the early twentieth century. It was only very recently that I returned to his writings and I was glad to discover that his poetry was perhaps more thought-provoking for me now than what it was when I read it for the first time. I'd like to share with you a section in "The Prophet" entitled "Laws", which seemed to remind me of the many exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees:

Then a lawyer said, "But what of our Laws, master?"
And he answered:
You delight in laying down laws,
Yet you delight more in breaking them.
Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore,
And when you destroy them, the ocean laughs with you.
Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.
But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are not sand-towers,
But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness?
What of the cripple who hates dancers?
What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things?
What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless?
And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers?
What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun?
They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows?
And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace their shadows upon the earth?
But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?
You who travel with the wind, what weathervane shall direct your course?
What man's law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no man's prison door?
What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man's iron chains?
And who is he that shall bring you to judgment if you tear off your garment yet leave it in no man's path?
People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reflections on Rebirth and Renewal

Easter is a time when we think about rebirth and renewal. Of course, we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, but more than this we celebrate the new life we have in Christ. However, the very term "new life" has become so used so often in Christendom that it can begin to look quite old indeed. What more, our overuse of the term means that it has become little more than a meaningless shibboleth and one which we just throw onto the Christian stockpile to impress our Christian friends is they try to test our Christian credentials. So what exactly is "new life" and how does it relate to our Christian walk?

The understanding of new life I grew up with as an evangelical was that if I repented and gave my life to Jesus, then his death on the Cross was atone for my sins. This were my "Get Out of Jail Free Card" as it were. Once I'd undertaken the transaction and sealed the deal I was considered "saved" and could be assured that one day I would be going to heaven. And when I approached the judgment seat of God, I was assured that God wouldn't see me, but that he would see Jesus. "Shit covered in snow", as Martin Luther colourfully described the transfer.

My understanding is that I wasn't really sure want the rest of my earthly existence meant. Sure enough I was told that my life should be a living sacrifice to God because I appreciated what Jesus had done for me and that now that I was freed it was not appropriate for me to be a slave to sin. The rationale that I would not wish to be a slave to sin made sense, but to what extent was I really freed from sin if I still sinned much more often than I desired? To my mind, I will only be freed from sin when I am free from sin. And if being freed from sin is part of salvation, then I am not yet saved, but eagerly await to be saved by being completely cleansed and being presented to my Father perfect on the last day. That is, I regard salvation as a process rather than as an event.

The evangelical understanding of what I'm talking about is called "sanctification". However, evangelicalism tends to sever the idea of sanctification from the economy of salvation. Sanctification is just one of those things that happens after you're saved. What's more, there is no concrete understanding of how one is sanctified in evangelicalism - there's something about the Holy Spirit doing his thing, but from there it starts to get a little hazy. Accordingly, we are still shit covered in snow and will continue to be. I see this is a very sad and empty gospel, if indeed one calls it a gospel at all.

I certainly don't want to be shit - I want to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus in increasing measure. This to me is true salvation. And if one steps away from evangelicalism for a minute, one begins to see that this is salvation from the perspective of the Bible and from the Church Fathers. In the immortal words of Iranaeus, Christ "because of his immeasurable love became what we are in order to make us what he is". As people who have decided to follow Christ, we will be transformed daily. Only we our Examplar has fully perfected us will we be truly saved.

In closing, I'd like to share a quote from Origen:

"For since [Christ] is Himself the invisible image of the invisible God, He conveyed invisibly a share in Himself to all His rational creatures, so that each one obtained a part of Him exactly proportioned to the amount of affection with which he regarded Him."

But the good news, that is the gospel, is that one day we will possess much more than simply a share in Father. On this day we shall truly have new life in him and will completely live and move in Him and truly have our being. It is then and only then that we shall begin to exist.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Presuppositions Behind Presuppositional Apologetics

At the moment I'm trying to understanding the presuppositional apologetics, a defence of the Christian faith particularly popular in Reformed Christianity. I understand enough to say that one assumes particular foundational premises and proceed to build a worldview from this point, the consistency of which should establish the validity of the premises. I may have the wrong end of the stick, but I'd be interested in receiving answers to the following questions from someone who knows more about the issue than me:

Firstly, how does one establish that presuppositionalism is a valid way of doing apologetics?

Secondly, when one proceeds from the premise of biblical inerrancy and starts interpreting Scripture passages, isn't one adopting a whole series of new presuppositions about interpreting the Bible?

Thirdly, how are competing interpretations of a passage resolved?

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Tribute to Saint Veronica

For as long as I've known about the Stations of the Cross, I've been rather fond of the sixth station, that of Veronica wiping Jesus blood stained face. I must confess that the attachment was formally more mischievious than anything else - the thing is, I took some perverse pleasure in seeing evangelicals getting into an awful flap about this station because neither this event, nor the person of Veronica is recorded in the gospels. It always seemed to me a fairly absurd argument to suggest that simply because something wasn't recorded in the Bible meant that it didn't happen. If so, then I don't know what to make of the last 1900 years of human history.

As I reflected on the sixth station today, the events were described took on a significance beyond pure mischief. You see, when the whole Veronica story is understood within its historical context, we see this narrative as profoundly subversive. Men and women simply did not congregate in public, let alone share physical contact. Of course, the fact that Jesus is a condemned criminal makes the whole act even more taboo. Furthermore, Jesus bloodied face brings into question all types of questions about the Jewish purity code. By performing this act of grace, Veronica would have been making herself ritually unclean.

So, what do we learn from this story? I'd suggest that it is a story about crossing over barriers. Veronica is crossing offer the cultural barriers to attend to Jesus, who himself made a habit of crossing over barriers and trying to remove those barriers which separated people from God and from each other. It is through the Cross that the barrier between ourselves and God is removed, as well as the barriers separating male and female, slave and free, Jewish and Gentiles. Of course, at the same time we can think about the fact that on a very practical level, Jesus did not let the physical and emotional pain on the way to the Cross prevent him from completing his mission. Surely this is a profound reminder of the love that Jesus had and has for us all?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reflections on my Upcoming Career

Yesterday our office held a conference at the Menzies hotel, with a number of speakers talking about issues pertinent to the area of public prosecutions as well as the legal profession more generally. Though I found a number of the speakers interesting, it was the last speaker who captured my attention most. His topic was "Mental Wellness in the Legal Profession", and he spoke about some of the ways that we as legal practitioners can reduce the risk of mental illness in our careers.

It should come as no surprise to people that the law is a stressful profession, but I found the following statistics from a survey quite surprising:

- 15 percent of legal practitioners identified as alcoholics, although I suspect that the real figure is actually somewhat higher than this.
- 11 percent of legal practitioners contemplated committing suicide in the last month

I must admit that I found that second figure incredibly shocking.

The speaker then proceeded to suggest different coping strategies that legal practitioners could employ to maintain their sanity. One of these ways is to profoundly change the way you think about your relationship to legal practice. He suggested that for some, seeing their role as a lawyer as being a healer of people who come to them with problems, rather than as a means to make money proved to be beneficial. I must admit that I feel very comfortable with this paradigm, since making a lot of money has never been one of my ambitions.

Looking at the value that people gave to their careers, I think it would be interesting to know if their were any significant differences between Christian and non-Christian lawyers. Of course, one must be cautious to use generalisations, but I would imagine that one's values and philosophies would impact upon the way that one relates to their career. For instance, while as a perfectionist I take pride in the work that I do and seek to do it as well as I can, work still does not hold the first place in my life. Some would see this as a lack of ambition, but I can't help but think that there are more important things in life that spending fourteen hours a day in an office. Nor do I see the need to constantly prove myself to others. While I certainly have other demons that require healing, I can't help but think that my faith is what has primarily influenced the way I think about my career and I am grateful for my faith in this respect.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mercy Ministries - Malevolent, or Maligned by the Media?

For those who are unaware, Mercy Ministries is a residential-style program for girls suffering for a range of psychiatric illness who have recently descended into somewhat of a media storm. Over the last few days I have been taking an interest in allegations that Mercy Ministries treats patients without adequate recourse to properly qualified mental health practitioners and accepted treatments for such conditions. To get a more informed perspective I decided to ask my mother, who is a professionally qualified worker within the mental health profession. She has worked for a non-government organisation who work with the mentally ill, their relatives and their friends for the last ten years. Furthermore, she works with each of these types of individuals on a daily basis and is intimately acquainted with the residential-style programs in which Mercy Ministries specialise.

My mother told me that some aspects of the Mercy Ministries program criticised in the Herald articles are not at all atypical in like programs. It turns out, for instance that most similar programs would indeed kick somebody out of a program for an offence as seemingly trivial as smoking a cigarette, even if this had nothing to do with the reason you were in the program in the first place. However, other aspects of the Mercy Ministries program were not at all typical in equivalent programs and my mother assessed the impact of such treatment as being profoundly harmful. My mother also pointed out, as Luke commented earlier, that residential-style programs can indeed be beneficial for some patients, but will be entirely counterproductive and dangerous to others. Before entering such a program, it is of critical importance for an independent psychiatric assessment as to the viability of this particular treatment upon the patient.

Alright, so my assessment out of this? I would start by suggesting that it is worth giving Mercy Ministries the benefit of the doubt with respect to their motivations. Regardless of whether the motivations are sinister or honourable, it is the impact of the program upon the individual concerned that is the ultimately (and dare I say, only) consideration. Like Craig, I believe that there is much good that could potentially come from this program, and that it would be sad if a potentially good program were to shut down when resources are already scarce. This said, the mere potential of the program should not be enough for us to realise that there are elements within the program that could have catastrophic consequences for even one girl. I would suggest, therefore, that Mercy Ministries should not take any new patients until certain minimum requirements are met and that Mercy Ministries co-operates fully and transparently with authorities to ensure that this is indeed the case.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liberals Ecstatic as Nelson Surges to 10 percent in Polls

A few weeks ago, Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson looked down and out. His fortunes changed today, however, when a new poll showed that the man they used to call Brendan "07 percent" Nelson had lifted his rating in the preferred Prime Minister stakes to 10 percent. This means that he now has the support of more than simply his extended family and half of the parlimentary Liberal Party - actual members from the general public are starting to get on board. National Party MP Bruce Scott was overjoyed with the result, suggesting that if Brendan Nelson continues the way he is going "people will reward us with those opinion polls that we've got today". Nobody from the ALP has responded to the claim, but sources close to the party suggest that they agree.

The new poll will be somewhat concerning for Kevin Rudd, who had his lead in the preferred Prime Minister stakes cut back to a paltry 60 percentage point margin. And as speculation mounts about the meteoric rise and rise of Brendan Nelson, comparisons are always being drawn between himself and former Opposition Leader Simon Crean, who managed to pull in 14 percent of the preferred Prime Minister vote in November 2003. Of course, he has a lot of hard work to do before he hits the heights, or as the case may be, lows of Simon Crean. Let's hope that he puts his nose to the grindstone and doesn't let today's success go to his head.

Happy Birthday Michael Kirby!

Just thought I'd take the opportunity to wish Justice Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court a happy birthday. Kirby, who is both affectionately and perjoratively known as the dissenting judge turns 69 today. Under current legislation, Kirby has to retire from the High Court at the age of seventy, so he is entering into the final twelve months of his twelve year tenure on the bench. This will be a cause for celebration for some, while others will mourn the loss of the idiosyncratic judge. Regardless of their stance, I am sure that people will agree that the end of the Kirby era will make for a much less interesting High Court.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tolstoy's "A Confession" - Part II

Having renounced the faith of his childhood, Leo Tolstoy revelled in his newly found freedom. He had discovered a curious inconsistency that existed in the values of society - that is, that while society publically proclaimed virtue, they secretly appreciated and subsequently rewarded vice. Tolstoy writes:

Every time I tried to express my most sincere desire, which was to be morally good, I met with contempt and ridicule, but as soon as I yielded to low passions I was praised and encouraged.

Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride, anger, and revenge — were all respected.

Yielding to those passions I became like the grown-up folk and felt that they approved of me.

... I cannot think of those years without horror, loathing and heartache. I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in order to kill them. I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder — there was no crime I did not commit, and in spite of that people praised my conduct and my contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively
moral man.

Accordingly, Tolstoy believed he had everything to gain and nothing to lose by adopting a philosophy of hedonism. And because he was quickly establishing his name as one of Russia's foremost writers, the esteem in which he was held prevented him from questioning his actions. Indeed, the literary set had convinced him that as a writer, he had something to teach the rest of the world, even though he did not know what this something was. But this was unimportant, because as Tolstoy explained, "this faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of life was a religion, and I was one of its priests".

As time passed, Tolstoy saw cracked developing in his worldview. The literary community did not seem as insightful as he had once thought and was riddled with inconsistencies that challenged delusions of grandeur that writers were the self-appointed prophets of the new world. Tolstoy writes:

My first cause of doubt was that I began to notice that the priests of this religion were not all in accord among themselves. Some said: We are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is needed, but the others teach wrongly. Others said: No! we are the real teachers, and you teach wrongly. and they disputed, quarrelled, abused, cheated, and tricked one another. There were also many among us who did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were simply bent on attaining their covetous aims by means of this activity of ours. All this obliged me to doubt the validity of our creed.

Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors’ creed itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life; but they were self-confident and self-satisfied as only those can be who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people revolted me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith was a fraud.

Though Tolstoy was quick to realise the bankruptcy of this worldview, he was much slower to totally renounce the religious order because he was still captivated by its rewards ...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tolstoy's "A Confession" - Part I

After finishing "Anna Karenina" I've been lead through to Leo Tolstoy's "A Confession" which is somewhat of a testimony of Tolstoy's own journey to faith. For those who don't know, Born into Russian Orthodoxy, Tolstoy was an agnostic for most of his life before coming to Christianity well into his fifties. But even then, Tolstoy did not become your orthodox Orthodox Christian. Based on his radical interpretation of Christ's teachings and particular the Sermon on the Mount, Tolstoy espoused a form of Christianity known as "Christian Anarchism", which prides itself on strict adherence to the teachings of Christ, and chiefly involves the conscientious objection to violence, whether by the individual or by the State.

In the first part of his fifteen part confession, Tolstoy speaks about his fall away from faith in his teenage years. He also tells an interesting story about an individual going through the motions of religious belief without realising that he had become agnostic:

So that, now as formerly, religious doctrine, accepted on trust and supported by external pressure, thaws away gradually under the influence of knowledge and experience of life which conflict with it, and a man very often lives on, imagining that he still holds intact the religious doctrine imparted to him in childhood whereas in fact not a trace of it remains.

S., a clever and truthful man, once told me the story of how he ceased to believe. On a hunting expedition, when he was already twenty-six, he once, at the place where they put up for the night, knelt down in the evening to pray — a habit retained from childhood. His elder brother, who was at the hunt with him, was lying on some hay and watching him. When S. had finished and was settling down for the night, his brother said to him: “So you still do that?”

They said nothing more to one another. But from that day S. ceased to say his prayers or go to church. And now he has not prayed, received communion, or gone to church, for thirty years. And this not because he knows his brother’s convictions and has joined him in them, nor because he has decided anything in his own soul, but simply because the word spoken by his brother was like the push of a finger on a wall that was ready to fall by its own weight. The word only showed that where he thought there was faith, in reality there had long been an empty space, and that therefore the utterance of words and the making of signs of the cross and genuflections while praying were quite senseless actions. Becoming conscious of their senselessness he could not continue them.

Tolstoy suggests quite strongly that one cannot be an honest believer as an adult without first losing the faith of his or her childhood. Implied throughout this chapter seems to be a fairly damning indictment of the established church and of its followers, whom he believes to be playing mere games and calling this their faith, either through motivation of profit or fear of reproach and having to be honest with oneself. Tolstoy also communicates the pain of severing oneself from faith of one's childhood, but clearly believes that this is necessary to progress as a Christian. But for Tolstoy, this progress would only take place through many decades of rigorous soul searching ...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anna Karenina, Love, Duty and Fideism

I've finally finished "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. It's a truly masterful book, especially the last two parts, though personally I don't think I'd place it higher on my list than Les Miserables and I'd also have reservations about displacing "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky from the number two position. That said, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read and it made a number of fairly profound insights and asked a number of pertinent questions.

The major theme in "Anna Karenina" is undoubtably the tension that exists between love and duty. Tolstoy contends that both are important to human existence, but it may be impossible in some circumstances for people to satisfy both callings. Of course, love can exist and be expressed by dutiful devotion and one can love his or her duties, but this will not always be case. The rigid demands of society will often impose duties upon us that are incompatible with our love. It is at these points in time when we will have to determine whether we are bound to those duties or whether those duties are the product of the societal imagination and thus have no force over us.

The other aspect of "Anna Karenina" I found fascinating was the search for faith of Levin. I must admit that I could perceive quite a few similarities between Levin and myself, who is more or less an autobiographical account of Leo Tolstoy himself. Levin is an intensely analytical individual and devoted to the rigorous search for truth. He is also introverted and finds himself uncomfortable adopting to the social norms of society, many of which he finds rather false. Finally, because he is always able to see things from differing perspectives, he is continually second-guessing himself. I honestly believe that I possess all of the above characteristics in spades.

With respect to his search for faith, Levin tries to come to a knowledge of God through rational means. But because he can always find counter-arguments to arguments, he is left in a state of suspended belief about the question of God. It would seem to me that Tolstoy takes a rather disapproving approach to rationalism, as indicated by the way that he often depicts those characters involved in the many debates he presents in the book as posturing towards their intelligence rather than opening their minds to an alternative point of view. I tend to think that this suggests that Tolstoy is a fideist who believes that God cannot be deduced through logical means, but that knowledge about God is much more intuitive and instinctive than anything else.

Tolstoy's epistemological approach made me revisit the question of Christian apologetics. It is no secret that I believe that most Christian apologetics (and particularly evangelical apologetics) is of extremely poor quality. But rather than this being a fault of the arguments per se, I suspect that this is a problem that has taken root in the post-Thomist era of Christendom in which it has been believed that arriving at God is a task no more difficult than making a few mathematical calculations and coming up with a fool-proof result. That is, in aiming for an apologetic approach that wants to prove categorically that Christianity is the undisputably right and only option, apologists undercut themselves because belief doesn't work like that.

In response, I would suggest that we present a form of apologetics in which we try to show that if Christianity is not indisputably true, then it is at least plausible and perhaps even probable. That other worldviews may not be entirely discounted is hardly the point. The point, rather, is that Christianity is a believable belief and that it not unreasonable to adopt the Christian faith. Once this is established, the question then seems to be whether or not a person wants to believe. Those who wish to believe can believe and those who won't believe can't believe. Those who believe will increasingly develop a conviction of belief, and it is when they choose to act upon that conviction that they are exercising what we call "faith".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mummy, He's Picking on Me

You can imagine my shock today when I read that a Kentucky lawmaker, Tim Couch, wants to pass a law that makes anonymous commenting illegal. Apparently, he has become rather concerned about the increase in "online bullying" around the Eastern Kentucky area. Turns out that there's a real risk that someone's feeling might be hurt if this keeps going on. So in order to deter would-be offenders, Couch is suggesting that for the first instance of anonymous commenting, the blog owner will be fined $500. Subsequent breaches will cost $1,000. Of course, the lawyer in me wonders what would happen if the offender decided to prolong the matter through extensive use of the judicial process? I'd say that the cost of prosecution would probably not warrant initiating proceedings in the first place. Not that I'd suggest that anyone should do that.

I mean honestly, cry me a river. It's not as though someone is forced to write a blog, make comments or read the content. If you're precious enough, you can turn anonymous comments off or allow only certain people to access your blog. And if you're really insecure, you can delete comments or even screen them before they appear on your blog. I tell you, it's amazing what kind of new technology we have around these days.

While we are on the subject, what is it that motivates an individual to delete a comment in the first place? I must confess I've never got a clear answer to that question. Of course, I recognise all too well that not all blog posts are constructive, but if someone writes something that is annoying, then it's them that will look stupid, not yourself. And the wonderful thing about being the blog owner is that you always have the right of reply and any person worth their salt will see how silly the original comment was. Of course, if you delete blog comments because you find them to be inconvenient (i.e. they expose your ignorance on a subject) and your readers recognise this, this strategy is going to backfire on you fairly quickly. For this reason, I've never had to delete a comment in the twelve months I've been blogging and do not plan to unless I am faced with a post that could have legal consequences.

I must admit that I enjoy reading alternative points of view because they help me to look at things from a different perspective and thus help to refine my own point of view. But then again, I've always someone who has thirsted after truth. I guess someone can write their blog purely as an exercise in propaganda, promoting what they believe to be the truth while closing their eyes and ears to other points of view, but how strong is one's position if they can't even defend what they believe from criticism? Quite frankly, if you find yourself adopting a position that can't stand up to the most gentle of analysis, perhaps you should rethink your position. Or perhaps you should think of leaving the blogosphere altogether, because the blogosphere can be a rough environment and is no place for your insecurities and cowardice.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Need For Speed Carbon

I've been playing Need For Speed Carbon lately. It has proved to be a fairly good way to relieve stress after a long day at the office. That said, I have become rather disconcerted with a few elements of the game that do not entirely appear realistic. Among my concerns are the following:

(1) How is it that I can slam into an $150,000 car at 200km/h and only cause $500 damage? The world of Need For Speed Carbon is either an insurers' dream or an insurers' nightmare depending on the way you look at it.

(2) How is it that I can slam into anything at 200km/h and live to tell the story?

(3) How is it that I can cause $100,000 worth of damage to the State and receive a $200 fine. Could it be that they have poor public prosecutors in the world of Need For Speed Carbon?

(4) Relating to the above, how is it that I never seem to get a criminal record, a custodial sentence or even the disqualification of my licence? Mind you, I suspect that waiting nine or so months to play the game again may not be optimal from a gameplay point of view.

(5) Why the need for police brutality in the world of Need For Speed Carbon, even when I give myself up quietly?

So many questions for such unimportant matters ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

And Now For Something a Little Bit Ambient ...

I must confess that I quite like ambient music. When I listen to such music I always get a really sense of being sucked into this other-worldly vortex and or some reason, I begin to look at life and existence as a coherent whole. During these times I either feel like I have transcended the mundane nature of life, or I have intensified whatever I may feel about the situation. Even with the same piece of music I may feel ecstatic on one day and grief-stricken the next.

Tonight's selection is "Everloving" by Moby, who I believe to be a fascinating artist with some really interesting ideas on Christianity too. Sit back, release control and let the music do what it does best:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Deep South in the Red Centre

A day after we heard revelations that the education system is becoming racially segregation, a story comes out that an Alice Springs hostel asked patrons to leave because they were Aboriginal. Apparently, the groups were asked to leave after other guests at the backpacker lodged suggested they were "scared". Bethany Langdon, a member of the Yuendumu local community recounts the event as follows:

"The manager came out and told me that we weren't suitable to stay there," she told ABC1's Lateline program.

"They said, because you're Aboriginal, other tourists were making complaints that they were scared of us.

"I felt like I wanted to cry, because it made me feel like I wasn't an Australian."

Ms Langdon says it is her first experience of overt racism.

"It's a disgrace against Aboriginal people, especially when an Aboriginal women comes into town trying to be a role model to their community and get looked up to by elder people and younger people from their community and other communities," she said.

According to the Haven Resort, the group were asked to leave because the backpacker lodge catered for "international backpacking tourists which this group was not". However, just hours later, Greg Zammit the joint owner of the Haven Resort stated that the group was encouraged to stay, directly contradicting the previous statement. Something tells me that these owners aren't the most trustworthy individuals around.

I must admit that story make me feel sick to my stomach. I could hardly believe that something like that could happen in contemporary Australia. I mean it sounds like the kind of thing you would expect in Alabama in the 1950s. It would appear that the group are now assessing their legal options. To be perfectly frank, I'd be happy to see the Haven Resort taken for every cent they've got.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Scourge of Systemic and Collective Evil

Today I saw two stories that really affected me deeply. The first was on ABC online and The Sydney Morning Herald about the way in which Anglo-Saxon children are leaving public schools in droves because their parents do not want them to go to predominantly Aboriginal or Middle-Eastern schools. The second was a story about the marginalisation and stereotyping of Muslims in Australian society. Both stories challenge the rhetoric of egalitarianism said to be an intrinsic element of Australian society and both raise issues about the structural and collective evil that pervades our society.

I would suggest that the mass exodus of Anglo-Saxon children from public schools owes largely to structural injustice. While I am sure that there will be many parents who wish to move their children out of an "Aboriginal school" for racist reasons, I believe that most parents do so only because they believe that the private system will offer their children a better education. Indeed, in certain rural areas these perceptions may be very well founded. However, this phenomenon makes me question whether private schools are overfunded and public schools are underfunded. And more importantly, is it fair that the quality of education one's children are entitled to is directly proportional to the size of one's bank balance? Ideologues may well point to the "right" of a parent to send their children to a school of their choice, but what does this mean that those who have no choice because they have no money? It seems to me that by subsidising private education at the expense of the underfunded public system, we are creating an underclass of Australians are pushed further behind the eight-ball with respect to the obstacles they face in society. The fact that indigenous Australians in rural communities are more likely to be impoverished than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts inevitably means that they will lack the opportunities the escape from the cycle of poverty. The fact that this system seems to be imposed upon an entire class of people seems to be the very essence of racism.

The second story looked at many different aspects of Muslim identity in Australia, but the scenes at Camden, where locals were protesting the planned establishment of an Islamic school impacted most heavily upon me. Most disturbing was the fact many of those who spoke most harshly about Muslims considered them to be Christians. Although he was not in the story, I remembered the role that the Reverend Fred Nile played in the saga with his inflammatory rhetoric. It horrifies me to think of what people watching this must think of Christians. But even among those who oppose racism, the Christian community has been woefully silent on the demonisation of Muslims in society. I believe that this simply isn't good enough. Christians must speak out against this type of evil both individually and collectively as the body of Christ. I believe that it is shameful that we have done not so and believe that this is cause for each and every one of us to repent.

My final consideration was about my relationship to the system. I realise that I am a product of the system and belong to a class of individuals that the system higher respects and esteems - legal practitioners. Every day I am being more and more made aware that I am on the inside of the system and this realisation makes me feel most uncomfortable. I am constantly thinking about how I can promote justice most effectively from within the system without being sucked into the vortex of the system itself and becoming apathetic to the demands that justice places upon my conscience. I really need God's help to tread this fine line and your prayers would be most welcome in this regard.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Being Blind to One's Blind Spots

Over at "Craig's Blog's", Craig refers a post made over at "The Blogging Parson", where the author discusses the way in which the Bible was read (read "misread") is the South Africa of the Apartheid era, even by those who are sincere Christians trying honestly to read the Bible. In response, Craig has asked the question "What are our modern blind spots?" It's an excellent question, and one which I decided to take Craig up on. I pointed out that the issue of homosexuality and gender roles are two areas where sincere Christians could be misreading their Bible. Unfortunately, Craig is not open even to the idea that these could be blind spots to him and other Christians who share his stance on the two issues.

Indeed, this makes me wonder just how genuine the question was in the first place and whether Craig really believes that it is possible he has blind spots. This said, this response should not be at all surprising. It is a sad reminder of the way that we are often slow to learn the lessons of history. Take for instance this quote about slavery, made during the period leading up to the American Civil War:

If we prove that domestic slavery is, in the general, a natural and necessary institution, we remove the greatest stumbling block to belief in the Bible; for whilst texts, detached and torn from their context, may be found for any other purpose, none can be found that even militates against slavery. The distorted and forced construction of certain passages, for this purpose, by abolitionists, if employed as a common rule of construction, would reduce the Bible to a mere allegory, to be interpreted to suit every vicious taste and wicked purpose. - George Fitzhugh, 1857

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's just like the accusations levelled at people who say that the Bible allows women to be ministers and that there is no prohibition on monogamous homosexual relationships. Surely this should give those who make such accusation stop to pause for a second. You'd hope so, at least.

The thing about a blind spot is that one is blind to it. That is, if one knew that they had a blind spot, how could it be a blind spot anymore? Of course, it is true that once something unpleasant comes into one's field of vision, one could take steps to close their eyes and imagine that it is not there. However, whether or not those who use the Bible to perpetuate a sexist and homophobic agenda are doing so in a wilfully blind manner is not for me to say. Usually, I will try to attribute the best motives to someone, and as such, I'll suggest that it is merely ignorance and not contempt for Scripture that is their fault. This said, we must be mindful of the profound damage that has been done both to women and homosexuals in the church (and homosexuals outside the church) and the name of the church itself. For this reason, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye and must actively fight intolerance in all of its forms.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Slide Show

I felt like sharing a bit of my favourite Brit-Rock tonight, so I thought that the very poignant and underrated "Slide Show" by Glascow band Travis was worth choosing. There's nothing like this type of music to help you reflect upon your life or upon the world in general.

Today is the day
For dancing and for singing
The birds in the trees and all the bells are ringing
The sun in the sky
Is bright Is bright as second sight
Is bright oh god I hope im alright
Cause im gonna cry

Hold on, Hold on
Slow down, slow down
You're out of touch
Out of touch

Cause there is no design for life
There's no devils haircut in my mind
There is not a wonderwall to climb
Or step around
But there is a slideshow and it's so slow
Flashing through my mind

Today was the day
But only for the first time

Hold on, Hold on
Slow down, slow down
You're out of touch
Out of touch

Cause there is no design for life
There's no devils haircut in my mind
There is not a wonderwall to climb
Or step around
But there is a slideshow and it's so slow
Flashing through my mind

Today was the day
But only for the first time
I hope its not the last time

Friday, March 07, 2008

John Howard Comes Out of Hiding

After months of self-imposed exiled, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has come out of hiding to deliver a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. In his speech he defended his government's legacy and took the opportunity to make a few embittered swipes at the new Rudd government. Notably, US President George W. Bush could not make the trip over to the event despite being in Washington at the time.

To me, this event seems to suggest just how cruel politics can be. One moment you're a rooster and the next you're a feather duster. Not too long ago, Howard was the most powerful man in Australia. A matter of months later, he has lost government, lost his seat in parliament and has resorted to giving speeches to an extreme right-wing think tank full of members notorious for sharing the same brain cell. I could not have thought of a more profoundly effective way of demonstrating his utter irrelevance to the affairs of contemporary Australia myself.

To be perfectly honest, I have led the charge to stop the Howard bashing that has occured since the election. He's been and gone and is no longer relevant to the affairs of Australia, so I'm perfectly happy for us to all move on from that unpleasant part of our history. Indeed, I'd suggest that many Australians would be perfectly happy to forget that the eleven and a half years before that fateful day in November 2007 ever happened. But now Howard has decided to open his mouth again and subject himself to well deserved criticism. So much for his suggestion that an ex-Prime Minister should not make comment on political issues - that must've been another one of those non-core promises.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

French Village Told Not to Die by Local Mayor

What do you do when your local cemetry is quickly running out of room? Well, the mayor of Sarpourenx, a French village has come up with a novel solution to the problem. He has told his constituents that they are no longer allowed to die. Sounds like a reasonable, not to mention innovative solution, but how is he going to enforce this edict? Quite simply, he has given the stern warning that "offenders will be severely punished". Of course, just in case some of the local were flouting the new law, they'll now think twice because of the consequences of doing so.

The irony is that the beloved mayor celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday, so chances are that he is much more likely to break his law in the new future than the majority of the village. Let's just hope that the next mayor sees fit to overturn the statute books.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Why I Love Criminal Law

This morning one of my colleagues had to go down to Central Local Court for a sentence. There's nothing unusual about that - sentences happen all the time. Nor was there anything particularly unusual about the reluctance of the convicted offender to face court to have his fate sealed and to hear the length of his prison sentence. What was somewhat more unusual was the way this offender chose to try to avoid facing court. Held in the cells below, he believed that if he refused to get dressed, then the corrective services officers would not take him up to the dock. However they did and he fronted up to court in his birthday suit. The court system is already overlogged as it is and thus does not take the time to wait for dignity.

I must admit that I love criminal law. I've only been working in the area for five months, but I seriously can't see myself doing anything else. Of course a huge part of this has to do with frequently being in or around the courts, but there is so much more than this. Working in criminal law you get to see humanity in all of its dysfunctional glory. You are exposed to the pathological and the inexplicable, the evil and the just plain depressing. Rarely are things emotionally flat - you are always dealing with extremes. This is because there are so many parties with competing interests, whether it be the accused, their family or the alleged victim. And right in the middle are these barristers and solicitors who are meant to remain totally objective throughout.

I find that criminal law is much more than simply being exciting. Rather, criminal law is a spiritual experience. I am confronted with defendants and I can't help thinking about the fact that I am where I am today before I had a relatively stable upbringing with a loving mother who brought me up admirably in the circumstances. Much of the time, those who end up being brought before a court have not been so lucky. I cannot help but think that I have been a beneficiary of God's grace. I also come to realise in that respect that a person is more than merely their crime. Those who commit crimes are hardly different from me in so many respects - we all eat, sleep and have families. We all have those aspects of our lives that we regret. This is a sombre reminder to me that I am not above others and that I am not above weakness and wickedness. We are all human and we all struggle through this torrid journey called life.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Borg on the Perception of Christianity in University

In his work "The Heart of Christianity", Marcus Borg, writes:

Those of my university students who have grown up outside of the church (about half of them) have a very negative stereotypical view of Christianity. When I ask them to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity, they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted. The reason for their perception: they are familiar primarily with the most publicly visible form of Christianity in the United States, namely, the kinds that one encounters in much of Christian radio and television, the kind they hear about from classmates who are trying to convert them to a conservative form of college Christianity, and the kind they see in Christian participation in the political right.

Even though some of these descriptors clearly refer to the American Christian scene, it would not surprise me if university students in Australia would make a similar response if asked the same question. It is a very harsh assessment and one which I suspect would provoke an instant response in most readers. While these responses are no doubt simplify, I think there would be four main responses to this assessment:

(1) "Of course they view Christianity in that way - their eyes are blinded and they are not open to the truth. This is because they are not comfortable with the gospel message."

(2) "They're describing [Fundamentalists/Pentacostals/Catholics/Evangelicals/Liberals] which really isn't Christianity anyway - thank God that our church isn't like that."

(3) "It's really sad that these people have had a few really negative experiences with Christians - I wish they were able to experience the Christians from our church."

(4) "This is probably indicative of the fact that all Christians fail to live up to the task of emulating Christ. All Christians, including myself, need to pick up their game."

What I'd be interesting in knowing, is which category my readers fall into, if any. If you wish, you can choose to remain anonymous.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Blog Entry a Day Keeps the Men in the White Coats Away

A new study has shown regular blogging can be beneficial for one's social life. The study, undertaken by Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne suggested that "after two months of regular blogging, people felt they had better social support and friendship networks than those who did not blog". One of the suggestions was that people making comments on your blog affirmed your sense of community (pity if no-one comments on your blog) and that blogging was a good way to effectively vent.

Of course, there's always small print when it comes to a study like this. Professor Susan Moore make this rather sobering observation:

"We found potential bloggers were less satisfied with their friendships and they felt less socially integrated, they didn't feel as much part of a community as the people who weren't interested in blogging."

In short, if you're blogging in the first place, it's probably because you're pretty screwed up - which I dare say explains fairly accurately about ninety-five percent of the blogosphere. And if you had any type of a social life, chances are you'd be out with your friends of a Friday night, instead of blogging about the phenomenon of blogging while digging deeper and deeper into that packet of chips you really shouldn't be eating. But if you reached that stage, then it's probably better that you keep on blogging for the time being.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Tribute to Mary MacKillop

Tonight I heard a Josephite nun talk about Mary MacKillop. MacKillop founded the order of Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and is the only Australian to be beatified. She has an amazing story and I learnt a lot, considering that my previous knowledge of her was close to non-existent.

One of the amazing things about Mary MacKillop was that she was (unjustly) excommunicated from the Catholic Church for five months before she was eventually reinstated. Her conduct during the whole ordeal was exemplary and she never spoke an ill word about those who accused her of insubordination. I can only imagine that this would have taken a great deal of faith on her part and she deserves to be profoundly admired for this response alone.

I admit that I didn't realise that Mary MacKillop was so dedicated to social justice. Yet at the same time she maintained a rich and vibrant spirituality. In this respect, she was a "practical mystic" - something that I think is worth striving for.

Perhaps the most interesting consideration of the evening was a testimony from a Josephite nun who did some mission work in Sudan and decided that she needed a law degree to work effectively there. While this impressed me, the thing that really stuck with me is her suggesting that Christian lawyers were needed to work on the behalf of the indigenous community in Australia. You know, I think that might be a really worthy ambition. I'm just wondering where I should start, considering how little exposure I have had with the indigenous community thus far.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

If You Tolerate This

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)