Archive for August, 2005

Dallas Really Wasn’t Awfully Good

Friday, August 26th, 2005

So I have had a few days off to enjoy responsibly. The first day I thought I might go and take a driving test and that turned out to be a wise decision since I passed with only one error. In other words, I think I can drive the Popemobile now. When are MTV going to pimp the Popemobile? Papa Ratzie really needs a tabernacle installed into the dash and a boot that converts into a mobile confessional.

After leaving the test centre I fully expected my victory over 3-point-turns to be covered by Anne Doyle on the news but I was shocked that it isn’t considered a pressing issue for the children of Eire. I have written a letter to my local representative. I forgot who that was so I just addressed it to Declan Carty because he is always annoying me on the radio by calling things “tragic” and “shocking” and expressing outrage. He is like an Aprés Match parody of Joe Dolan made real and pompous. I did however ceremonially burn my L-plates in an ancient pagan ritual that could get me fired if my evangelical Christian bosses find out. It’d be worth it though. Nothing more satisfying than taping branches to my arms and running around a stone circle counter-clockwise, my hands filled with the big red capital-L’s aflame.

The reason I have to take these holidays is that I work for Christians and they are obliged to be really very nice at all times. One benefit of this is that I get 25 holidays a year. Or 29. Or 33. Some large figure that is hard to take when you really like your job. I went to see a movie yesterday because the cinema is a place I can ignore people and my phone and pick my nose without anyone knowing it. Also, I like films. However I don’t like the film I saw yesterday. You, Me And Everyone We Know is a critically acclaimed debut by a triple-threat lady named after a summer month who wrote, directed and starred in the film. If only I had paid attention I might have discovered in advance that Miranda July wrote The Center of the World, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The movie I watched yesterday was truly awful. Do you know Belle and Sebastian? This movie is like all the awful pretence of a B&S album without any of the Scottish song-merchants talent or ability.

I have a very good friend who is a lawyer from Caracas. Her husband is an economist from a beautiful island off the Venezuelan coast in the Atlantic. They are very amusing and astoundingly easy to spend huge amounts of time with. The most amusing thing you can do when around them is to bring up the controversial Venezuelan President Chavez. A, the economist with down-to-earth rural roots loves Chavez because he is trying to re-organise the economy so that it favours the average people of the country and encourages education and enterprise. M, the lawyer from the big-city with slightly less down-to-earth roots finds Chavez unbearable and she wins the argument because although she hasn’t got reasoned points and a large amount of data, she does gesticulate wildly while repeating again and again, “He is a monkey! He is a monkey! Look at him- he is a monkey!”

Sadly, M is now weirdly on the same side of the fence as crazy Pat Robertson. This ordained minister of the Southern Baptist church stood up for the teachings of his God on Monday. In Matthew 5:39, from the Sermon on the Mount, you can read Jesus teaching:

Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: “Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it.

When Robertson tried to apply this teaching to the troublesome issue of a mischief loving, oil rich leader (not dictator) in a South American country who is dead-set on using his nation’s resources to the betterment of the people and not international corporate interests, he concludes:

We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

Yeah, you heard that right. Pat Robertson, a man famous as a Christian minister called on his government to assasinate the poor monkey-man leader of Venezuela. Marion Gordon Robertson, for that is his real name, you are a charlatan. By the way, he is worth $200 million, he supported the genuine dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor, claimed that his pray directed the path of Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and blamed 9-11 on lesbians and feminists.

And here I was, wondering why more people aren’t Christians. Grr.

But there is this great article about movie flops you should see and I think you should read it.

I am preaching on Sunday at MCC. That should be crippilingly intimidating. If I get around to finishing my sermons (oh yeah you heard me right- shaking it up baby; sermonS plural) because I am busy reading everything Don Miller has ever written. His books are so good that I kind of dread letting you guys know he exists. I could just very easily pretend to be a genius by passing off his observations as my own. I urge you, go read a chapter of his.

Although there are many more things I’d love to talk to you about, I have to go have breakfast with Teragram. Days off are sweet.

Your Correspondent, He’s got a 4-letter word stuck in his head.

This blog actually caused a landslide once

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

But sadly it is not causing a hipster-maniacal-panic. I had always thought Mac users were hiding their lack of personality behind an identity-laden consumer product. It actually turns out they’re just animals. AAAAANIMAAAAAAAAHLS!

Also, although print outs of this blog were once used to dam a small river in a tiny Peruvian village high in the Andes and thus saved the lives of the drought-stricken residents, it has not yet made the list of the 500 most influential blogs in the blogoszzzz….. I mean blogosphere. But come on, it doesn’t have Zach Braff or Mimi Smartypants on that list. It doesn’t even have CaoimheB on the list. I mean, come on! CaoimheB has been on TV to talk about blogs. With the red-haired lad from Newstalk!

I had sat down this morning hoping to write about ancient documents and deep insights into system analysis before wrapping up with a heartfelt but unsentimental assessment of our political malaise. There is no need though. Because the time is coming and is already here when our political Messiah rises to his destiny. Ladies, gentlemen, visit:

And finally, I never believed it made me go blind but when I saw it I had to reach for my glasses and then it struck me- the nuns were right all along!

Your Correspondent, Anticipating a Crash

Building a log cabin on high

Friday, August 12th, 2005

From now on, it will only take you 90 seconds To Tell When a Relationship is Over. No need to thank me. I had nothing to do with it. Thank the director and then thank God for appearing to Ricky Martin in that cave all those years ago to reveal the 7 layers of TCP/IP to him. What the world would be like if he hadn’t shared the basis for our networks with the wider scientific community.

Now that you have expressed your gratitude come back over here and let me make some vaguely coherent remarks. I haven’t decided about what yet but we’ll figure it out as we go. I was reading about an idea that a guy called Otto von Neurath had to describe how Christianity evolves as a movement. Check it:

We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood, the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

Ok. The sharper amongst you and the Christians (2 distinct groups, dontchaknow?) will realise that it wasn’t initially proposed to describe the development of the church but I have to side with Alistair E. McGrath in his short summation of his Science and God project, when he said it works really well.

People often have an idea that Christian doctrine is something that is made up to support the joyless and narrow minded prejudices of Christians. Christians often naively believe that doctrine arrived in a little DHL package at the door of the Upper Room for the apostles to unpack and broadcast. Both of these perspectives reveal far more about the holders than about the topic at hand. How doctrine developed is a historical question, not a faith one and it has a great deal of bearing on matters that really affect people’s faith or people’s decision to reject Christian claims.

An example of where an accurate idea of how doctrine forms would make a positive impact on people’s lives is the continuing conspiracies around the 4th Century councils of the early church. When people discover that major doctrinal statements were made at the Council of Nicea as late as 325AD they quickly jump to the conclusion that the formulations must have been fabricated. The truth is that the Council of Nicea and the Constantinople Council and all the rest of them only started happening in the 300s because before that such councils were impossible due to persecution. When the leaders of the church got together to state, say, that Jesus was fully God and fully Man, they were making a clear declaration of what was already widely believed within the church but which was under siege from forces outside Christianity, namely gnosticism.

Understanding how and why doctrine develops and being able to explain that to others could avoid all this manky confusion that leads to Dan Brown having enough money to employ Oprah Winfrey to be his maid. For doing this, Otto’s picture up there can be very helpful. The 2nd Vatican Council described the church as the “pilgrimaging people of God”, which is a description that I love. If you imagine the Christians as the the pilgrims, the church and its doctrine as their transportation, the boat and the water that surrounds the church and threatens to engulf it as the world, in the harsh Biblical understanding of the term, then Otto’s metaphor begins to have some relevance. Doctrinal development consists of three major patterns:

  • The Unpacking of Resources: You couldn’t try to live a Christian life without familiarising yourself to some degree with the basic features and fundamental connections that exist between the elements of the faith. Basically, you learn what is already present within Christianity- what ideas and how they relate to each other. We have the boat, in other words. There is an organic aspect to doctrinal development that just naturally unfolds as we try to live on the boat.
  • The Reconstruction of the Boat: If the sea penetrates the boat, the boat will sink. The defence of the boat against both internal and external threats is of primary importance. Our mistakes and the natural environment inflict damage on our boat and we need to plug the holes and replace broken masts as a matter of course, but we have to do this out at sea since our destination has not been reached, we can’t pull into port. Sometimes after storms we have to accept retrogression as the wisest use of resources to protect the integrity of our boat and to allow us to stay on course for our destination. So sometimes in doctrine we look back to what has been in the past instead of formulating new responses to crises. The most famous example of this is the Reformation, which sought to bring the church back in line with earlier beliefs. Luther, Calvin and the rest of the reformers were not trying to make a new church but to force a change in the church they had. They didn’t introduce new ideas to renew the church (because we’re at sea, there are no new raw materials) but instead spight to reconstruct it to set it on firmer foundations.
  • Using Driftwood Where Its Wise: Otto Van Neurath makes space in his metaphor for picking up pieces that lay scattered around the boat to make repairs. Christians down through the ages have felt very comfortable doing just that with doctrine by drawing on non-Christian influences to make the church more effective. Aquinas ripped off Aristotle and the guy I’m ripping off now, Alistair McGrath, he ripped off Roy Bhaskar! Of course we don’t call it robbery or plagarism because no one really owns driftwood. 😉 But the Middle Ages saw theologians drawing on a Ptolemic view of the universe to make their points. Now we would be very happy to explain things with Copernican illustrations. Neither of these things were part of the boat but we’re quite happy to use them to strengthen aspects of the pre-existing structure.
  • I don’t know how sensible all of that seems to you but if it didn’t grab you, don’t go away empty handed. Instead, go here and your visit to zoomtard won’t have been a waste since that is one funny hoax. Or is it a hoax at all?!?

    Your Correspondent, Smelling the tops of babies heads.

    Shadows, Souls and Where They Go

    Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

    I saw the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over the weekend and really loved it. If I was 11, that would certainly be my favourite film. Well, it and A Series of Unfortunate Events of course. I was freaked out by the Michael Jackson-ness of Willy Wonka. It was a stroke of genius. The only problem was with the stupid, trendy pop-psychological, wrap-it-all-up and explain his weirdness in terms of someone else’s actions tacked-on ending.

    But I got to thinking about Jacko and his strange, tragic ways. We were talking about how he has named his sons Prince Michael II and Prince Michael III. I don’t know whether that is true or not or whether Prince Michael I is suffering from occultation like the last true Imam of the Shias or whether Michael in an act of gracious humility regards himself as only a Prince instead of the logical King of Neverland but it is kind of terrifying. (Actually, I think his first son is hidden in the folds behind reality because a prince can only be a Prince if he is the son of a King or Queen. If Jacko and all his sons are Princes, that must mean that the constitutional arrangement of Neverland recognises them all as brothers. That would be a plainly ridiculous claim. No way to establish a monarchy anyway.)

    Anyway, this attempt by a plainly unmonarchial man to make himself King was mirrored by my reading of NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God over the weekend, where he discusses the ancient practice of plainly undivine Kings making themselves gods. This process is called apotheosis and it puts the pomposity or arrogance of modern leaders like Putin and Bush into their place.

    The book is an outstanding masterpiece. It is the third and most recent volume of a 6 or 7 set work that aims to systematically assess the historical roots of Christianity. Its conclusions are devastating to commonly assumed Jesusian foundations. But it begins by looking at the world and the influences that Christianity was born into. Seeing as this volume deals with Easter, he spend the first 100 pages looking at life-after death ideas in the Jewish and Graeco Roman world. His goal is to comprehensively prove that the idea of resurrection was completely new and not at all natural into the intellectual world of about 30AD.

    See, back in the day there was a very influential book published called The Golden Bough. WB Yeats and CS Lewis (during his atheist days) and other very clever poets with 2 initials before their surnames absorbed this work the way I am devouring NT Wright. It postulated that Christianity was just like a crapload of other cults and religions that stretched around the Mediterranean from Egypt to Israel to Rome and that the idea of a god dying and rising again was as common then as the idea that little statues of buddha on your mantlepiece make your living room look classy today.

    Wright blows this out of the water. A major argument against Chrisitanity has been that Jesus was a mortal man and that his followers were revisionist historians who perpetuated the myth of divinity for their own benefit. But the record of classical apotheosis challenges this. By the time Jesus started his ministry, Roman emperors were typically attributed divine status in the Eastern regions. In 14AD, Tiberius was made ruler of the Empire but he quickly had his old man Augustus declared divine in a stroke of powerful historical revisionism. This made sense since 44 years previously, at the beginning of his reign, while he was still involved in a power struggle with Antony, Augustus (or as Octavian as he was called back then) had himself depicted as the god Neptune on coins which bore the title “Son of Caesar”.

    But this process of deification was not comparable to the worship of Jesus by early adherents to Christianity who firmly believed that their leader had actually physically died and physically risen in the same body with the same identity again. See, by 54AD, the great poet Seneca lampooned the apotheosic transformation of the dead emperor Claudius. The king-turned-god was never properly understood to have actually become or been a God. Romans did not place Claudius in the same category Christians placed Jesus. It is not the same thing. In the course of ordinary day to day life, average Roman citizens did not perceive Claudius or Augustus as actual creator gods. It was rather a nationalistic device that encouraged stability in an Empire that had stretched to bulging proportions.

    While a Roman emperor would certainly command more respect than Wacko Jackson as they tried to elevate themselves beyond their stature, the idea that they were worshipped like Jesus was, that the view their followers had of them was the same kind of view Jesus’ followers had of him is as preposterous as claiming that King Jackson is viewed in the same way and treated the same as Queen Elizabeth II simply because he declares himself regal.

    The earliest known Christian sentence is not a saying of Jesus but an archaic affirmation quoted by Paul in the oldest text of the New Testament: ‘God raised him from the dead‘. Christianity literally hangs on that cross. If Jesus did not physically die and physically rise, if death was not reversed, if Easter was not born, if Christ be not resurrected then the greatest fools in history are his followers. Unlike all other belief systems, Christianity is uniquely rooted to a historical event. Wright’s work attempts to bring us back to that foundation and it makes for thrilling reading.

    Your Correspondent, Liking The Way You Work It