So what’s going on here?

April 4th, 2008

Zoomtarded is the place where all the old Zoomtard posts go to die. Between November 2003 and November 2007, I wrote hundreds of posts about all kinds of things. In May 2008 I relaunched Zoomtard and send all the archives here.

The Real Hiatus

December 3rd, 2007

After a busy Zoomtarding month in November, I have decided to put all blogging on hold. I will be writing a research paper on church development patterns in the Liffey Valley region. I should be finished by June 2008. Hopefully.All the old posts will be left here. Zoomtard will be refreshingly relaunched.

Your Correspondent, Praying to God he can get this over and done with.

Talking About Technology

November 30th, 2007

I am engaged in a noble battle to convince an esteemed friend/mentor/pastor/boss-type figure that lots of the very brightest people in the Christian world and in the Academy are wrong about technology. I should by the way, just be thankful this guy is willing to listen to me, nevermind support my know-it-allism by buying me books by the likes of Marva Dawn and Albert Borgman.

In Power Failure, Borgman, an acclaimed philosopher who happens to be a Christian, writes a sociology book for a theological readership! It’s a series of essays about how all pervasive technology is far from a neutral presence in our world. It’s a compelling argument that he and Dawn make, and the grand-daddy of Christian thinking today, Eugene Peterson to a lesser extent. Yet as great and fascinating as these ideas are, I can’t help but think they are mis-directed. It’s just you know, I have neither the beard, sandals nor intellect to make a case strong enough to counter them. Instead I’ll just have to resort to rabid generalisations.

Borgman quotes Dorothy Hartley,

A modern woman sees a piece of linen, but the medieval woman saw through it to the flax fields, she smelt the reek of the retting ponds, she felt the hard rasp of the hackling, and she saw the soft sheen of the glossy flax. Man did not just see “leather”, he saw the beast- perhaps one of his own- and knew the effort of slaughtering, liming and curing.

I feel like I have to respond:

The medieval woman saw the plant, but the woman of today sees through it to the genus and the genes and the eco-system and she sees by it the poetry she read by dickinson and Shakespeare and her lover. The man of today sees not just “sand” but he sees silicon and doping and processors and ultimately ekg machines, Roland keyboards, satellite telescopes and he knows the toil of maths and engineering, craft and logistics involved.

I agree that the powers and principalities need to be challenged but I am far from sure that technology is our Omaha beach. In the section I quote above, Borgman through Hartley argues for a time when we knew how things were made and put together. This “technological universe of opaque surfaces” is contrasted with “an older time when things disclosed a deeper world”.

But today, maybe through “tech” maybe through a more complex process, we are more concerned with how things can be put together than how they were put together.

You’d have to convince me that this isn’t an improvement.

In fact, I think they are at base, the same descriptions: every human culture has had technology and every human society has been widely familiar with the workings of its own most relevant technologies. That linen production is now a luxury, not required by the many for daily life is all we learn from our unfamiliarity with its processes. We all know, in broad brushstrokes I grant you, how an internal combustion engine works, what a computer does with 0s and 1s and how a stapler pushes staples into our paper. To imagine that the expert knowledge of growing flax and turning it into a dress of linen was every widely conquered by just one woman is a mythic fantasy. But the presence of widespread understanding of the relevant technology in any given era is, I think, a concrete issue we could hope to demonstrate through history.

The medieval woman might just have worried that the printing press’ opaque surface was a step back from a simpler time when things disclosed a deeper world as Dawn is concerned about the web.

Your Correspondent, he’s not old, God is old.

On The Building Block Of Good Sense

November 29th, 2007

Just let me throw a phrase out there that I have known and used for many a long night but might be new to some, and very useful.

Plausibility structure.

Maybe it was that philosopher dude Polyani who thought it up or Popper or one of those lads I’ll get round to knowing inside out if God lets me have my three score and ten years on the Earth but it is an idea that is essential for us to do any kind of self examination. It is, to sound wanky, an epistemic building block.

What it means is that we all, deep down at the bottom of what we call “I”, have a series of beliefs so basic that they are axiomatic, that is, they are beyond proof. We don’t even think to challenge them to proof. Often we are actually totally blind to them at all. They are the pieces of glass that make up the lens of our worldview. And we all have them. They are the boundary lines of what is possible, what is sensible and what is viable as a truth claim. Our brains are like plausibility-structure generators. It’s just what they do in boot-up, before they get around to thinking, they decide to lay some groundrules for future decisions.

What this means is that the common way we talk about truth, in terms of reason and experience, faith and fact, and any other black and white dichotomy you care to offer, is far far too simplistic to do justice to the way we think about reality (nevermind how reality actually really is).

So this Christmas when you consider the Incarnation or the credit card balance or any other thing that makes you think of the Big Issues, bear in mind that your mind is bearing on its plausibility structures.

Your Correspondent, His baseline assumption is that he’s right ALL THE TIME

Makes Me Want To Have Telly

November 28th, 2007

Wife-unit and I once didn’t have a telly. Man, were we the intellectual hot-shit back then. “Oh what you doing tonight? Home for a quiet night in and the Champions League?”, a colleague would ask. “Me? Me? No no no. (Shaking head underlining the folly of his thinking) We don’t have a television. We’ll just probably read some Proust or work on our papier maché model of the Parthenon.”

Then we got a TV and it was sweet. But sometimes we, meaning I, want to have more than the basic four stations: Poverty 1, Poverty 2, Trash 3 and Native-speakers Play Country Music 4. It’s not even that I would like to have more stations. I would just like better reception. Don’t tell anyone, but we download our telly off the web mostly. Illegally, no doubt. Even shows that we can see on the terrestrial stations like Lost come through so fuzzy via our rabbit ears that it is infinitely better to watch it on a PC. Plus, we see them faster that way.

We have a dish sitting on the side of our house but we don’t know what to do with it or how much it costs or what you can get and I suspect we’d just conclude that life is easier with our constant re-runs of Friends and shows about the Irish coastline shot from a helicopter in 1975.

But then you hear about a show like the one last night where E from the Eels talked about his relationship with his dead dad who developed the theory of parallel universes and you think, “damn, I’d like some of that action”. It was on BBC4. I didn’t even know it went more than 2. BBC4! That’s 2 louder, innit? I can just imagine the bit with the thunder clap. Would have been class.

I was too busy watching Heroes on my computer. How the mighty intellectual hot-shit has fallen…

Your Correspondent, Momentous for the sake of momentum

Transformed By The Renewing Of Your Conferences

November 27th, 2007

Myself and some equally handsome young men and one brainiac woman who was willing to deign to share her ideas with us got together a while back and figured out what Irish Christianity needed.

We decided it needs more handsome young men who are paid preposterous sums of money to read books but seeing as that can’t happen easily, we organised another conference.

This will be an outstanding and very different kind of conference though:

IFES Ireland: The 'Mind Your Head' Conference

The Mind Your Head Conference will run from February 1-3 2008 in the historic and beautiful southern campus of Maynooth College and it will bring together experts from around Ireland and further afield to get people thinking about what it means to be a Christian who has a brain. We think this will be interesting to many Christians because many of you want brains and some of you have them already. Plus, it’s in Maynooth, which is like a little bit of heaven, but with less coastline.

Zoomtard Hero #6, Prof. Stephen Williams, is going to be delivering the keynote addresses, inspired by the great quote from Dutch Prime-Minister Abraham Kuyper,

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,does not cry: ‘Mine!’

There will be seminars on ethics, arts, science, faith in a pluralistic society and environmentalism. You will choose one area to major in and get to visit crash courses in two other areas. Alongside this there will be live music, film nights and did I mention it was in Maynooth.

Download the pdf here and send it back to IFES Ireland to book a place.

Your Correspondent, The patron saint of quality footwear

When You Start From The Wrong Place

November 26th, 2007

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My instinct is to take the flawed assumptions that I make on the basis of my personal prejudices and try to redeem them with the best damned logic I can muster. Bit stupid really, isn’t it?

Your Correspondent, Inviting you all back for milk and cookies

The Evangelical Captivity Of The Church

November 23rd, 2007

Inspired by conversation over coffee with my friends from church, I went looking in the files and found a letter St. Paul wrote to the modern evangelical church I had forgotten about:

You foolish evangelicals! Who has bewitched you? Everywhere you look you find the clear presentation of the Crucified God. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by signing the Doctrinal Basis or believing what you heard? Are you so idiotic? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by systematic theology? Have you gone through all the great tribulations in vain- if they really were tribulations? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by your doctrine, or by your believing what you heard? Remember that the pagan Abraham was righteous because he had faith in God.

Understand, then, that those who have faith are descendants of Abe. Although written before Jesus came, the Hebrew Scriptures pointed towards the day when those who aren’t Jews would be reconciled by believing. Millennia before Easter, the Gospel was announced to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you”. So, those who rely on faith are blessed like Abraham, a man of faith…

[At this point the letter is obscured by maniacal handwriting in green and red pen that in capital letters just repeats again and again, “PENAL SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT!!! INERRANCY!!! REFORMERS!!!”]

… Therefore, evangelicalism was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now faith has come. We don’t need the tutor.

It is through our faith in Jesus that we have become sons and daughters of God. When we were baptised in the name of the God who is Trinity, we were branded forever as Christ’s. Therefore, there is neither Calvinist or Arminian, neither Charismatic nor Cessationist, there is neither Catholic nor Protestant, for we are one in Christ Jesus. And if we are Christ’s, then that has happened because of the promise made to Abraham, that has happened because of faith (not evangelicalism).

Your Correspondent, The church may be a whore, but she’s still his mother.

And So Dominion Was Granted

November 22nd, 2007

I am reading the deliciously brilliant and epic one volume history of Europe by Norman Davies. I chew through its 1300 pages while wife-unit bakes, or brushes her teeth or fights back the bears that attack her or goes to sleep. Basically, whenever I can pick it up, I stick my nose in its thick maze of maps and charts and lineages and history. Good old little Russia, Ukraine, plays an endearingly huge part in every section of history. I understand their nationalism a little bit more and fail to understand their affiliation with Russia a little more too.

Anyway, often on the interweb or in pubs or after church on Sunday or wherever it is likely to be discussed, I keep hearing that reading the Bible is “all about interpretation”. It’s all in how you read it, allegedly. I never understood how this differentiates the Bible from any published material at all. I have to interpret the back of my cereal box with care because it apparently tells me that there is nothing healthier than the chocolate covered rice puffs I feast on. I interpreted Animal Farm very differently when I first read it as a child who saw a cartoon about funny farmyard animals taking over and as a teenager getting all het up on socialism. And so to lament that the Bible needs to be interpreted sounds to me like someone who refuses to buy trainers because the laces have to be tied.

Davies is talking about the first great transition in humanity’s history, when we moved to agriculture. The Greeks, heirs to the Minoan civilisation destroyed in part by a volcano were aware of the need for environmental stewardship. This concept became pressingly important for any human tribe who began to cultivate the land but we can read of Plato describing how the once fat and soft earth of North Africa had become “like a skeleton of a sick man”.

In passing, without warning, Davies comments that the:

Judeo-Christian tradition which was destined to triumph in Europe, derived from the era of the ‘First Transition’. It stressed Man’s supremacy over the rest of Creation…

He goes on to quote tiny slices from Genesis 9 where Noah is exhorted to get it on as much as he likes and make little Noahs until the cows come home, Psalm 8 where we sing of the image-bearing nature of humanity, (skipping the best verse which can be paraphrased as, “Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.”) and from Psalm 115.

Then without any further discussion he editorialises:

Dissident thinkers such as Maimonides or St. Francis, who rejected these exploitative nostrums must be counted a distinct minority.

Excuse me, but what you talkin’ ’bout Davies! Where is the exploitation?! What the hell is a nostrum! Davies gets the gist of the Hebrew Scriptures totally wrong, but of course he does, since he doesn’t even try to do justice to them. How different each of these passages are when looked at with even a modicum of care. No need to be a Christian or a scholar (even the man on the street can see) to notice that in Genesis 9, God is talking to Noah at the end of a cataclysmic flood brought about as punishment for humanity’s evil. The words that Davies quotes, within the context of the narrative, (no clever hermunetical trickery needed) are indicative, not prescriptive. “This is the way it is”, not “Go then and make it so!”. The Psalms are fecking musical songs. There are 150 of them in the Canon. It stretches it a bit to blame environmental devastation on two lines of Hebrew poems. Nostrum or not, both of these poems deal with the glory of God, not the way we should treat the Earth.

The Bible definitely does need to be interpreted. This isn’t a design flaw. It only becomes an incoherent mess, it only becomes a jumble of meaningless gibba-jabber when we decide to pick it to pieces, fit it inside a pre-determined framework we had in mind and then point out that this so-called God can’t actually be all that good if he tells you to rape the Earth.

Davies doesn’t do that mind. He leaves his crimes against the text at bad interpretation but resists the urge towards bad application (beyond the weird statements that the Roman Catholic Francis was somehow a minority dissident voice…). But it was a classic example for me of how common it is to see the Bible read without “any interpretation”, which really means a totally biased interpretation and therefore butchered.

Your Correspondent, They don’t know it, but the Americans are actually all gonna be giving thanks to me.

Even The Holy Spirit’s Random Number Generator Is Crappy

November 21st, 2007

At the weekend I am going to be formally commissioned into my job. That doesn’t mean that the church authorities will strap explosives to my chest and send me out to attack the local Anglican parish. It actually just means that a bunch of guys in dresses will lay hands on me and pray to the Big Fellow that He won’t strike me down for the arrogance of claiming to be one of His. The Big Fellow is God, not to be confused with the almost as powerful Michael Collins who is the “Big Fella”.

When the Dissenters created this wing of the church that I work in, everyone was expected to be fluent in Irish. This made a phenomenally large amount of sense. Lots of people spoke Irish and how are you going to get them thinking about whether they know God without talking to them? Over the years, as colonial strategies won out, less and less people spoke Irish on the land. As colonial strategies won out, more and more people in the church forgot that they were meant to relate to their neighbours, not their London-based betters. And so people in my church stopped speaking Irish. Then they forgot they spoke Irish. Now arguably, most of them think speaking Irish is nothing more than a pretentious political statement.

The Holy Bible is translated into Irish. It is called An Bíobla Naofa. As you can see, it is a cheap, amateurish publication:

An Bíobla Naofa

The paper is cheap, the text is blotched and at times unreadable. The font is obviously chosen for some reason other than legibility. Here is my favourite chapter, Galatians 3:

Galatians 3 as Gaeilge

We’re having a big celebration on Sunday- the little church we’ve founded and been tending is being acknowledged as all grown up and my boss is being recognised as the permanent Minister of this newly instituted little church and I am being commissioned. We’ve negotiated a service that is a little bit more informal and a little bit authentic to the way our community is than would usually be the case. We start with a reading from the Psalms in Irish. It got me thinking about how Christians in Ireland, especially those who still are optimistic or naive enough to call themselves “evangelicals” have, on the whole, a real calling to the Irish language.

Fluent Irish speakers out there should be encouraging their communities to use An Bíobla Naofa in our worship. We can read from it, we can pray through it and we can meditate on it. I’ve not been to a church in my life that doesn’t have the wherewithal to throw up an English translation side-by-side when introducing multi-lingual worship. We’d do it at the drop of a hat if a large number of Romanian or Ogoni or Costa Rican people joined our church. Even if there aren’t lots of Gaeilgiors in your congregation, you should still do it. Let me tell you why.

Language is the primary marker of an identity. Whether you are an agnostic from Co. Kerry or a cradle-to-grave Presbyterian in Co. Antrim, Irish is the historical language of the land you live in, the land you are called to love. Our culture is not to be idolised but it can’t be ignored and we should be happy to express our Gospel faith differently from our brothers in America or our sisters in Britain. As there are indigenous expressions of everything else the Irish does, we should not be afraid of localising our faith (within boundaries). To attempt to avoid that or insist that you need not localise is just to localise with a peculiar internationalist arrogance. Trying to be from nowhere is something only people from the West try to do.

Most importantly, whenever the Scriptures are translated into a new language, we get new eyes for them. The Bible is not Koranic. We do not think of it as the pure voice of God. It is inspired, every single word, I believe. But it isn’t locked into one language. Its ideas are not rare and thin so that only mystical language can reach for them. The Bible was written in at least three languages in a multitude of genres and when we translate it, we can do it in the ordinary day-to-day idioms of any language. But the Word does a funny thing when you put it in new words- it sometimes takes on new shapes.

If Ireland wanted to kickstart a new generation of theological thought that would drive and inspire the churches of our towns and villages, there would be no better way than to put the Bible in the ring with Irish and watch the wrestling match that ensues. The African explosion of Christianity (more people have become Christian in the last seven years in Africa than in all the years of colonial rule) has happened largely through indigenous translations. Literally hundreds of linguistic paths to the Gospel opened up with the translation project and literally millions of people saw the Truth. Revival won’t break out in Ireland because we realise our old language has words for “The”, “Holy” and “Bible” but this would be much more profitable way to spend our time than arguing over whether we should have electric guitars in our worship groups, substitutionary atonement tattooed on our arms or gluten free bread at Communion.

There’s that old joke. Why was Jesus not born in Ireland? Cos God couldn’t find three wise men. Some brilliant folk in our little church are thinking about securing the rights to the Irish Bible and publishing it in a way that it deserves- accessible, attractive, robust and most importantly, clear. Maybe we need new translations? Maybe we need a Message Re-mix? Maybe we just need to start calling “in ainm an Athar, agus an Mhic Íosa, agus an Spioraid Naoimh”?

No? Alright then.

I’m off to watch dubbed Dora The Explorer on TG4.

Your Correspondent, An bhfuil cead agam dul amach go dti an leathras?