Archive for September, 2005

I refuse to comment on whether I am actually the inspiration for one of the Gilmore Girls.

Friday, September 30th, 2005

So long it has been, dear and avid readers. I am drowning in work. Not in the sense that Irish Ferries management might be drowning in water if they persist in their sacking plans. I have no opinion on that issue though on account of me being a bit ignorant about jobs and economies and the ferry industry. You might think I’m going over the top there by claiming that the management might be sent for a swim but French striking ferry workers hijaacked a ship and elite army forces had to liberate it. Talk about living up to the stereotype of the over-reacting French trade unionist. Where is Potato when I need a summation?

Yeah, so work leaves me as busy as an arms smuggler in Niger but there is light at the end of the tunnel. That light is in November though.

I hope you guys have been enjoying the unique and sometimes decrepit musings of Stigmund. He and I have been dreaming up ways of helping make the world a better place but I think we have finally found it here. Yes, that is right. We’re stripping and putting photos online. Somehow this is charity. I hope you feel the reflected glow of our empowerment.

Don’t stand in the way of our actualisation as women with your naysaying.

There are times when I just throw up funny links. This would be an example of one such link. I don’t really care whether you click on my hypertext littered entries but then there are sometimes when you simply must put off everything you were planning to do and follow my lead. Such a time is now. The Shining is one of Neuro’s favourite movies. If you haven’t seen it, find out why. If you have, relish this new perspective:

Kubrick’s final Shining trailer.

One of the things I like about the Bible is how deeply amusing some of God’s insults are (through his prophets). Now you can have that capability at your very own fingertips. Verily, I pray thou shalt be cast onto a steaming dung-heap, O ye love-child of Methuselah shall ye not love that link! If you don’t think that is funny, then only a weirdy looking comedian from the 80’s will sort you out. Jokes about Christianity are hardly cool, but at least they aren’t tear-inducing. The attitudes of US Attorney General Aschcroft revealed in this article by the Village Voice are. How can someone think the Jesus who said:

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

would really want the church and the government to get married and merge into one horrible tyrant. The Christian church must be independent to stand against any injustice. It shouldn’t sell itself out for money or power or really nice architecture. Maybe that last one is my personal vice. But still. American Christians that may be out there, you guys need to get back to God’s agenda for you and forget setting your agendas for God.

While we are stuck on people Zoomtard doesn’t really like, Richard Dawkins proves this month that this former titan has now descended into asinine ambushes on the majority of Earth’s citizenship. I think this “satire” was meant to bite. Dick, I loved when you wrote books that explained your scientific research. But your fundamentalist and amateur philosophising is inferior on every level. Does Dawkins even do research anymore? Answer me!

Maybe the little boffin beauties behind this discovery can tell me. I loved this article. I don’t think it will be long now before they realise that tamarin monkeys do a mighty fine job of writing that software that neuro sells to galleries around the world.

Finally, Timoshenko is gone from the Ukrainian cabinet which is probably for the best since she is secretly Georgian but now her daughter is marrhing into rock royalty. Where royalty means someone dressed in leather. This is my final link. I am so subscribing to the Ukrainin VIP magazine.

Your Correspondent, Got more stories than J.D. got Salinger

Haunted Cliffs of Moher

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

Haunted Cliffs of Moher

Originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

After I came back from Ukraine in July, me and Neuro and 7 other friends spent a week in Galway.

For some reason, I forced Neuro and Stig to drive across the Burren to arrive at the Cliffs of Moher very very late one night. It was pointless and therefore excellent in every way.

The photos taken on Neuro’s almost dead Olympus have a very strange eery effect but more importantly, if this post works, zoomtard now has photo capability. Almost 2 years in and we are adding this basic functionality. Yay. Verily.

Your Correspondent, Holding His Camera Like A Bible, Hoping It Will Offer Truth.

Why tolerate the intolerant?

Monday, September 19th, 2005

“Faithful must root out evil from scriptures” is the route marked out for us in an analysis by Steve Gushee. I know that I am banging on the same obscure piano key like a toddler throwing a tantrum but the ideas laid out in this article are a good example of the incoherencies that are passed off as enlightened tolerance.

In an article calling for greater tolerance, Gushee calls the God of Jews and Christians a ranting tribal deity and then goes on to say:

The claim of exclusivity — my truth is the only truth — is the principal culprit that triggers most of the violence in holy books and the jealous nature of their god.

which sounds very reasonable until we get to the next line:

We must strike that spurious claim and others like it from all belief systems.

Claims of exclusivity must, according to Gushee, be removed from our society as a worthy memorial to September 11th(!?). He makes that point by an exclusive claim in the form of a command to strike exlcusivity from all belief systems.

Religious pluralism is not tolerant. It is potentially the most tyrannical of all beliefs because it exalts itself above the others at the cost of others.

If you’ve had enough of me ranting about how to be tolerant, you could realise that not only do you not own 78% of the best 100 albums from the last 5 years, you’ve never even heard of 62%. Go hang your head in shame.

Your Correspondent, Invented Jimmy Protectors

Does God Understand Letters Not Written In English?

Friday, September 16th, 2005

The Hierophant’s Proselytizer Questionnaire is one of those strange old things you find every now and again on the internet. It is a list of over a hundred questions that some arrogant atheist has posted so that any potential monotheists can save time by getting to know him and instead just fill in the form if they want to share the truth. Well I used to be an arrogant atheist but now am an arrogant Christian and pompous to boot so I think I might have a go at answering these questions over the coming decade. The thing is, I want to try and do it through narrative answers. Too often I express my faith as a concept or an intellectual structure that needs to be grasped when really it is a passionate, living relationship thing. So I’m going to try and tell stories as a creative challenge. Zoomtard was first conceived as a kind of theological sketchpad and so my Hierophants Response category entries will really just be bringing that to the fore. Feel free to ignore though.

The first problem posed is:
Explain why your god’s only son had to die so we can go to magic happy land when we croak.

Ernest Gordon was a British WWII veteran who was captured along with some buddies 2000 miles out to sea trying to escape the fallen Singapore. He converted to Christianity while held prisoner in the Japanese POW camp charged with building the famous bridge over the River Kwai. 16,000 soldiers died during that project and Gordon only survived because 2 believers, one Methodist and one Roman Catholic, nursed him back to health in a way that incarnated the love Jesus had for us. This event sparked a spiritual revolution within the camp that saw the prisoners forgive their brutal jailors and their love, compassion and co-operation saw many more live through the ordeal than should have. Interestingly, he ended his life as the Dean of Chapel at the college I’ll most likely go to study at in time, which is cool. He told his remarkable story in his memoir To End All Wars which was recently made into a movie starring Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle.

At the end of another hard day of work the prisoners were gathered in the centre of the camp while an inventory on equipment was done, just like any other day. The soldiers, tired, weak and thirsty were forced to stand in line while every shovel and pike was counted. On this day, the count was returned one short. A shovel had gone missing.

The Japanese were terrified that any of their POWs would escape, since the building of their bridge was of such strategic importance. Even one missing shovel demanded consequences. The commander walked up and down the rows of prisoners demanding that the guilty party stepped forward. As the tension increased an incentive for confession was provided; they were going to start killing men at random until the perpertrator revealed himself.

In the midst of this, one man cooly and calmly stepped forward. He admitted responsibility. He was beaten brutally and then shot dead. A recount of the inventory was demanded. It was discovered that there had never been a missing shovel. They had miscounted. And that man had stepped forward and sacrificed himself so that others would go free.

That man didn’t just save his brothers physically. In a real sense he must have saved them spiritually too. You can’t see that kind of sacrificial love poured out for us and not be utterly changed.

God’s son died to pay the price for the sins of the world. The Bible says the wages of sin is death and Jesus was able to pay that death debt. We couldn’t. We wouldn’t have survived. But since Jesus was fully God and fully man, he could take that burden upon his shoulders and come back again from where he went. Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate that return and our liberation from the tyranny of death. God is of course, not like the a Japanese POW camp commander. He is not brutal. In Ernest Gordon’s case the shovel wasn’t actually missing so the debt was imagined. In our case, our mistakes, both corporate and personal pile up and God is just. He can’t ignore it or regard it as irrelevant. The kind of God who could look casually over the evil of a Japanese POW camp in the 2nd World War or Darfur today is not a God we could trust nevermind worship. He must uphold what is right. But because of who he is he is driven to love us and have us back in relationship with him. And these two seemingly contradictory demands meet in the Cross, the vertical beam of justice intersects the horizontal beam of mercy and God can welcome us in to magic happy land when we croak (and give us a well that won’t run dry before then). God’s only son died because he was the only one who could make that sacrifice.

Your Correspondent, as serious as cancer when I say that rhythm is a dancer.

Jumping Up And Down In The Hope You’ll Toss Me A Carrot

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

In my last entry I wrote about Thom Yorke’s well-intentioned religious pluralism that leads to absolutism. Because there are only a handful of you out there and I am talking into the grand exapanse of cyberspacial indifference I thought I would continue that theme and hopefully nail it.

Tolerance is about respecting the opinions of those who disagree with you and protecting their freedom to express themselves. Voltaire defined it well when he wrote, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.” In other words, you have to be in disagreement with someone before you can ever tolerate them. I don’t tolerate people who support the greatest soccer team in the world, I positively celebrate with them over the glory that is Richard Dunne. On a charitable day I might tolerate Man U fans but I can do that only because I disagree with them in the first place (and because I am a fount of almost never-ending compassion for those in the midst of evil obsessions).

Ok. Maybe soccer clubs weren’t the best analogy there but you get my point. Too often today, tolerance is understood to be the virtue that refuses to think anything or any opinion “bad” or “wrong” or “evil” or “stupid”. One “tolerates” everything because nothing is wrong except that which rejects this view of tolerance. For that, there is no tolerance. This definition of tolerance can be described in the sentence, “I can find nothing amiss in your view and I tolerate you.” That makes no sense. We are not “tolerant” of known or suspected truth. Genuine tolerance only comes into play when we are confronted with what we deem to be in error.

Here is what I am trying to say: There can be no real tolerance unless there are real convictions.

I found this a few weeks ago. It is a list of 153 objections to Christianity that I have been thinking about trying to respond to with narrative answers. Christians, myself being a massive example of this, slip into representing their relationship with God as a set of theories. Although it may well be beyond my creative and writing abilities, I think it would be cool to try and put together 153 stories to respond to those questions.

C&M moved out of our house yesterday. Me and Neuro are married. We lived with C&M in a strange kind of Christian commune out in the sticks but they have flown off to High Tech City, India for a few months to work on the development of a database of curry recipies or something. I am hoping that when they return, they’ll bring a genuine Indian gift for me, like a little boy who has a trained monkey or one of those tribal craft colour photocopiers that they weave in the mountains in the north. I may have dreamt these items, since secretly I’ve been taking M’s anti-malarial pills and slipping her Lidl vitamin supplements. Not getting malaria is great, but the vivid dreams that come along with that is an unexpected bonus. Malarone ranks high above ketamine and viagra as the best illicit prescribable drug I’ve abused.

With C&M gone, Neuro and I are now free to do as we see fit. What we see as fit is turning the living room into one of those ball pools but adult sized and painting a Twister mat on all the tiles in the kitchen. The final flourish to create our perfect home will be a clever stereo system that plays nothing but Eels and God Speed You Black Emperor! music around every room at various volume levels. That way, we can introduce guests to our house that looks like its a party in a concrete block box and tell them that the stereo system responds to the moods of visitors. They will quickly go crazy when confronted with the tactile joy of a house that offers ball pools and twister and yet simultaneously tells them that their mood is depressed, chaotic and certainly tending towards suicidal. And that would be scientific.

Ah well. Everyone is meeting for lunch in Brady’s. I hope that is someone’s house and not a pub. Malarone and beer might not mix so well.

Your Correspondent, Is going to chow down on those vega-tables

Packed Like Incoherencies In A Tin Box

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

So for all of you indignant readers of zoomtard, here is a useful chronology of what went wrong at FEMA and therefore, why the Katrina clean up was such a shambles. The Bush regime has got to take a final punishment beating one of these days. Clinton gets made lame over oral sex but knowing the state of US culture today, Bush will come out of this literal stagnant swamp smelling like roses.

However, for all of you who don’t live in Lousianna, consider Stigmund. He is the latest horse to be added to the stable of furiousthinkers. He is the best Irish blog with a green site. Yeah, you heard me Caoimhe. I don’t want to worry anyone but do you remember that movie, Single White Female? Stig might be Jennifer Jason Leigh to Caoimhe’s Bridget Fonda. But he would be a funny transvestite.

Remember yesterday I linked you to this interview with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke by the Christian magazine Third Way? No? Oh well. I did. Yorke says some very interesting things and I want to arrogantly deconstruct them now to show that although I can’t sing and he is probably really aggressive in a fight, I am still taller than him:

I still cannot understand -- I wish I could -- why all the religious movements can’t sit down together and say, ‘OK, now this is what we have got in common: this, this, this and this. OK, there are some things we disagree on, but your figurehead and your figurehead and your figurehead are basically the same person, just at different points in human evolution. So, why don’t we agree that it’s the same person and we’ve got more in common than we have not in common? And now let’s stop fighting!’

This is a really common view expressed by Yorke. I am sure most people agree with him. I think the reason most people agree is out of a sense that there is too much arrogance in the mainline religions’ claim that they have absolute truth. We are suspicious of such huge claims. We know what they lead to- marginalisation, moralism, greed for power and many other bad bad things. So I would harbour an educated guess that Yorke is motivated in his comments by a desire to be tolerant. This view, which is called religious pluralism, runs into some philosophical difficulties however. What begins as an attempt to be tolerant ends up being the exact opposite- it is in fact the most intolerant position of all. How can I say such a thing? Let me explain.

If you gather a Muslim, a Christian and a Buddhist in a room and don’t have a punchline at the end of it you should be ashamed of yourself. No, seriously, if you gather a Muslim, a Christian and a Buddhist in a room, one simple monotheist, one complex monotheist and a functional atheist, you would have some explaining to do to get them to agree that they all believe the same thing. What are you really saying is “I have perceived a truth that you have overlooked, which is your views are not incongruent as you each felt but actually perfectly complimentary”. It is an arrogant thing to tell someone what they actually, really believe.

But then again, if you were right about what they believed, that would be permissable, if done gently. But a Muslim’s belief is founded not on a moral code, but on a proposition about God- that he is One and soverign. The moral code is a consequence of this. A Christian believes that God is One and soverign but in a way that is almost reprehensible to an Islamic theology. Christians certainly can’t forego the Christ-divinity which is the heart of their belief and from which their moral code springs without losing the Christian part of their belief. A Muslim and a Christian won’t agree that they believe the same thing “behind it all”. Their argument is watertight. The fact is, they aren’t being stubborn or narrow minded, they just don’t believe the same thing. The Buddhist comes and tells them to forget their conceptions of God entirely. Surely there’ll be no reconciliation by adding that third man.

So what Thom Yorke is actually saying is that he knows much better than everyone in Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, even better than Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus, who were clear that they felt they had revealed the one true path. This view is often expressed by the metaphor of ultimate reality being like the peak of a mountain and the different religions being different paths leading up that mountain, taking different routes but heading in the same direction. Thom Yorke then, must be in a celestial helicopter, hovering above even the peak of ultimate reality to discern what the Muslims, Christians and Buddhists failed to discern- that they were all in fact one.

And this is where the intolerance of pluralism comes to the fore. I am a Christian. I believe Jesus was God and all that jazz from the Bible. I have reasons for my beliefs but I can’t claim from my faith an influence over the Buddhist and the Muslim. By stating Jesus is Lord, I in no way impinge on the Muslim who says Jesus was a prophet and the Buddhist who says Jesus might not have existed. We disagree, fundamentally, but we should be tolerant of each other’s beliefs. We would be warping our doctrine if we were to be intolerant. I can be a Christian and leave other faiths to their own devices. But the pluralist position sets itself up in a position of power from the get go. If we were to have a pluralist society who adopted the views Yorke espouses out of a sense of tolerance, it would be deeply intolerant to all faiths because it stops them from being themselves. It doesn’t just discriminate against one belief but against all of them. Any of their distinctives are wiped out. The Christian is told that his belief system is not about Jesus being God but about being nice to people. The Muslim is told that his belief system is not about worshiping and serving the One True God but about being nice to people. Of course, there would be positive side-effects. The Scientologist is told that his belief system is not about thetan levels in the blood but about being nice to people, which is surely an improvement.

So in search of tolerance and an environment where everyone can express their belief freely, Yorke would unintentionally create an intolerant soceity where no one could express their belief sincerely. Weird, eh? The freedom to disagree is neccessary for tolerance.

Your Correspondent, borrowing a few things without asking. Your clothes. Your boyfriend. Your life.

Who Left This Eyesore Cluttering Up The Internet?

Saturday, September 3rd, 2005

Well the good news is that the world’s finest theologians all wash their hands after going to the bathroom. I know this because I have just spent the last week in Edinburgh at the grandiosely titled, “11th International Dogmatics Conference of the Rutherford House Institute“. The topic for discussion was the Doctrine of God. I know it might seem strange that as Zoomtard sits on his sofa of a Saturday morning watching cartoons and listening to OK Computer, remembering just what it felt like in the summer of 1997 to be part of that small, wise group who alone understood the civilisation advancing momentousness of that Radiohead album (there is an intruiging interview of Thom Yorke by the Christian magazine Third Way here that you should read if you like Radiohead, Christianity, reading or goodness), but he harbours half-thoughts of becoming a New Testament scholar. Yes, he knows that a computer science degree, a total ignorance of ancient Greek and Hebrew and an unhealthy obbsession with a schmaltzy US tv show are not standard ingredients for a biblical expert but he is allowed to dream.

To go investigate that dream a bit further he decided to fly off to this conference to sit around with big-wigs and discuss God’s aseity, to dwell on whether or not Jonathan Edwards was wasting his time when he developed an a priori argument for the Holy Spirit’s existence (we agreed that he was wasting his time but we had taken so long we didn’t get a chance to discuss whether the whole effort was ironic) and learning about something called the extra Calvinisticum which is so obscure, even the Internet can’t offer you a useful explaining link. I don’t want to diss the scholars who delivered these papers because they are all highly accomplished men (yes sadly they were all fellas) holding high positions in the finest universities in the world and I am just a man struggling to find socks that match in the morning, but it did depress me. See, I love theology because of the deep, many layered and beautifully satisfying truths that it can reveal- at its best it literally makes me want to stand up and sing songs of praise to God. I don’t of course; I am practically tone-deaf and modern praise songs (that I know) tend to be so bad they make my tongue feel stupid. Instead I go and do sit-ups because Britney Spears once said that sit-ups are “a kind of prayer”. I wonder why she wasn’t delivering a paper. TM put it best after the first lecture when he came over and whispered to me, “The Titannic is sinking and we’re participating in this Monty Python sketch!”

While the talks were coherent (but in some cases barely intelligible- I think you get more funding in theology if you use words with many syllables) they felt like they were mildly irritating mind games, not worship. They didn’t seem to be talking to the real world, to people’s hopes and hurts and all that stuff that Jesus was so fascinated by, to the mission of the Church and most importantly, they seemed disconnected from God. Vain speculation does not lead to doxology. But then along came the theological trinity of Stephen Williams, DA Carson and NT Wright (who has featured on this site many times before). Their three talks, all in one day, were astounding. Williams talked about God’s soverignity, which means that God can do whatever he likes since he made everything that is.

Carson talked about God’s wrath and argued beautifully that the judgement of God is liberating because it is neccessary that we have a God who does punish injustice. But touchingly, inspiringly and relevantly, he ended his talk on the wrath of God by arguing that this doctrine should produce one clear result in Christians- tears. In the face of the kind of thing that is happening in New Orleans, we should be brought to tears by that suffering and by the evil that rapes and pillages and shots at supply-bearing helicopters in the midst of it. He also clearly expounded that idiots like this who view natural disasters as examples of God’s wrath in return for particular people or group’s sins to be talking nonsense in the highest order. It was passionate. It was relevant. It was a joy to hear.

And finally Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Tom Wright spoke on the Doctrine of God and Christian Origins. In plain terms, he argued that the Gospels, which are narratives, are narratives for a reason. God is telling a story. If we strip away the story thinking it to be entertaining adornement to get to the heart of the matter in the form of propositions, then we are committing a crime against the text. The Gospel stories, the adornment, the different perspectives offered by the different authors, are like load bearing beams, not plaster flourishes. If you remove them, you have an empty shell ready to fall in on itself.

I haven’t done those talks justice but I don’t intend to. It would not be relevant to the readership of this blog (as if that ever stopped me before). But they were examples, when I most needed it, of the kind of theology that can get my mind racing, my heart thumping and my soul singing. It was delightful. And I was reminded of this great C.S. Lewis quote:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Elsewhere in Edinburgh I discovered through graffiti that the Queen of England is in the pay of the antichrist, that another and sweeter world is possible and that Jockser loves Jess 4 eva. Glad to hear all is well then. At the end of one particularly disheartening series of lectures, TM put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Knowledge puffs up. Don’t let this company take your feet off the ground”. Then he and PM took me out for dinner and sitting on a balcony overlooking the castle and putting the world to rights with these two giants of the faith around whom I was completely secure in being myself, I couldn’t help but thinking that the world is a pretty nifty place after all and that life is a very good accompaniment to it.

While in Scotland, I missed all the Katrina stuff. After the Stephen’s Day tsunami the pages of our papers and the opinions of our media were declaring loudly, “Where is God?” or “Can we trust God?” or most pressingly, “How can a good God let this happen?” I made a stab at understanding, independent of a Christian worldview, how such natural evil is a logical inevitability of a physical environment that permits free will. After Katrina however, the media seems to be quiet on such questions. Why is that? Is the perception of Asia as being less of a “Christian” region and America as being a “Christian” place somehow playing into it? Or is that we don’t easily sympathise with those as wealthy as us? Surely the same doubts about an all controlling God, a soverign God, apply in this case? Why is God not absent from New Orleans?

Whatever about God, evil is certainly not absent from Lousianna. The raping, pillaging, murder and just random destruction is a chilling reminder of how thin a veneer civilisation actually is. Whatever about the God questions raised by massive natural disasters, it is heartening to see distress in the media over the nature of man, that we respond in this way to disaster. How would you react if you were trapped in flooded New Orleans? Outside of New Orleans, outside of the panic, man is distinguishing himself as capable of bueracratic evil even in the absence of any tragedy. The argument about whether the federal funds of the USA are constitutionally obliged to be spent on the victims of Katrina is weirdly surreal and just beyond believability. And yet it goes on, as the bodies of their compatriots are still submerged under water. Here are two excellent opinion pieces from American newspapers on this issue: 1 and 2 (this one requires registration- go use BugMeNot if you don’t already).

The layer of self serving sin extends even beyond the borders of America to those knee-jerk Bush haters. I heard on Irish radio, people seriously suggesting that charities shouldn’t collect for disaster relief since the Americans are rich enough to fend for themselves. Others argued that America has wreaked havoc on the world and now they are getting their share. This to me, seems like the most twisted unlogic of all. At least those wackos at Repent America have built a worldview where people who do wrong (in their own twisted interpretation of wrong) get punished. Those Irish people however have fully embraced blind Karma. Terrifying. The Times have a great editorial on the scientrific claptrap spouted by various people who should know better in the aftermath of the hurricane that tries to connect Kyoto to south Atlantic tempests.

Neuro has just finished her knitted model of the Iranian Islamist revolutionaryAyatollah Khomeini so I have to go and take her on her bi-monthly tour of the morgue.

Your Correspondent, No one else on Earth can do such things for you.