Drawn to the emotionalism of the line-out

It is with real shame that I face you, my solitary readership. I have neglected you. Distracted by work and sickness and real life, I have gone a good few long weeks without updating and although I could fit all of you in a small room with enough space for three elephants in the corner (my speech improvement, my rapidly greying hair and the t-shirt I would be wearing bearing a photo of Stigmund), I do feel a little obligation to drop in and share my unrequested opinions with you. So in that slightly rude fasion, let us continue apace!

End The Ovoidocracy of Gheyball
I read a report a few years ago that said that basketball was Ireland’s third most popular sport, after GAA (for the purposes of this report, Gaelic football, hurling, handball and mural painting were considered one game) and soccer. If that is the case, how come rugby takes up so much space in the national discourse? How come Brian O’Driscoll’s team of hair stylists are better known than all of the Neptune squad put together? If rugby was such a big deal in this country, how come on the weekend people weren’t dancing on the street with glee as our boys kicked the ball out of play better than the Welsh boys and therefore won a victory. The reason of course that basketball is televised live only twice a year and gheyball is on constantly is that rich people like gheyball and ordinary bus drivers and primary school teachers and nurses play basketball. We get to enjoy grown men in shorts ruck each other around on the tv because corporations selling useless things like banking and energy drinks will buy advertising so that they can reach their target audience of a man in his late 20s with a double-barrelled name, a nifty 3 series BMW and a desire for both/or penis enlargement and hair implants. Even having some men describe other men in shorts rucking each other over the radio will bring out the PTSBs and the AIBs and the Powerades of this world. Who sponsors basketball? The ESB. Electricity doesn’t really offer much space for profit-reaping niche marketing.

I have a friend, a certain best friend, who I have known since before either of us could read. During school and on into college, this certain friend couldn’t have identified a Gheyball league game from gheyball union. All of a sudden though, he has realised that watching gheyball means meeting business associates and fellow tycoonic offspring and he has developed a passionate interest in the game. He has decided, strangely, to cast his legitimate new-found glory as an alternative to soccer. Whether it is a deliberate effort to rile me up in anticipation of the greatest sporting event of all time this summer or just as an expression of his blue-blooded fear of the common man, Ann-dee has begun referring to soccer as “Prole-ball”. I am sure there is a doctorate thesis for some sufficiently cheeky working class type on the latent homoeroticism in rugby, which is well known for fostering a homophobic atmosphere surrounding its crudely unreconstructed idea of macho masculinity. Let’s all us normal types bring that day a little closer by adopting a new name for rugby. Let the word go forth to the worker and the healer! There is an ovoidocracy at work in Irish sporting life. End the egg-shaped tyranny. Overthrow the elliptical-ball fat cats! Let us begin by calling a spade a spade (something only us workers could really know) and referring to their game by its true name: GHEYBALL. Power to the sphereball. Down with gheyball

Our Cousins Across The Radioactive Pond
I work for a charity. I tell that to chicks regularly enough that I could have it as a headstone, that is if I ever die. My little charity is part of a worldwide movement that actually has mobilised people in every country where being a Christian isn’t illegal and in many where it is. While I am confident that my daily work will actually make the world a better place, our sister movement in Britain has definitely done that. Seriously like, if you read any of the history books about Christianity in the last 100 years, the British version of me and my co-workers is featured. Just at a random dip, try this book. They’re in it.

Anyway, we do a lot of things with our friends in Britain because they are very good at everything they do. They are smart, motivated and very capable. But they are also so flipping boring that all but one of my colleagues finds it to varying levels of pain, a great hassle to spend large periods of time with them. Let me restate that we acknowledge their sincerity, their integrity and their deep wisdom. We all yearn to pass on a heritage to our successors like they have forged over generations. But there are only so many breakfast time conversations about Calvin’s Institutes of Religion that a guy can handle in a week. When we take coffee breaks at conferences, they should be breaks and not opportunities to discuss how Berkhof works out the systemic expressions of the hypo-static union.

There was a year when I had to spend 3 seperate weeks with my sometimes stifling British Bible-bearing buddies but there was one of them who totally rocked. Now she has a blog. And all this rambling serves as a way to introduce you to her. Amongst many other things she is a fellow adult convert, just as adroit in Bible handling as the rest of her colleauges and she can fix musical instruments. She should also be very amusing and worthy of your momentary attention. So zoomtarders, go visit Under A Bushell.

Redeeming Christianity?
I am a man of easy crushes. I have an internet crush on this girl. I have a movie star crush on this woman. I have a theology crush on the Bishop of Durham. Ever since my mentor* gave me a CD of mp3 sermons by Tim Keller, I have a church leader crush on him. So when the New York Times did an article on him this week I was fascinated. (Use bugmenot to log in) I am the most blessed young Christian in Ireland because of the people I have to guide me along my journey. There are three ministers connected to the church I am a member of. One is a female South African, the other is the most accomplished preacher I have ever heard (he’d even give Dr. Keller a run for his money) and the third who I spend most of the time with is a visionary with astonishing gifts. All of these guys make me deeply appreciative of the lottery that had me born when and where I was born. But even with them I have become addicted to Keller’s sermons. He is an amazing preacher who will draw on a Leonard Cohen song followed by a chapter from Sartre to illuminate a difficult passage in the Gospels. I listen and try to figure out how he captures your attention and I am left with the realisation that he has a gift. Sure, he has obviously honed it but I fear I will never be able to communicate God’s love for people on the scale he does**. Still though, don’t you just love that he refuses the title “evangelical” and prefers to just be known as an orthodox Christian? Simple profundity. Keep coming back to Zoomtard for more, folks!

* Those of you who can read will be awe-struck that I have someone in my life who has been given the title “mentor”. My boss values things like marriage and health and satisfaction in his staff. Not in the “health” for work, “marriage” for stability for work and “satisfaction” for staying working with us way. He actually really cares that all of us take time off when we should and spend time with our spouses and other loved ones. And one of the things he initiated on my first day on the job was a mentoring system. A guy in his late 30s who is from a different country and used to work with a very large corporation but now has a radically different lifestyle gets together with me once or twice a month to hang out, drink coffee, talk about football and the Christian sub-culture. He then asks me a couple of probing questions and goes off and prays for me. Weird, eh?

** I know I will get emails and worried comments along the lines of “God will give you the gifts you need to fulfill the jobs he has in mind” yadda yadda yadda. I understand that correct theology of it but can’t you just leave a guy to wallow in egotistical dreamland for a while? Sheesh. You’d think I was in training to be a Jedi knight…

Evil-utionists
Eagle eyed readers of Zoomtard will know that this little full-time Christian believes that the account of Creation in Genesis 1-3 does not bear much on the modern theory of evolution which has come along way since a 7 year old Charles Darwin (who may or may not have been an AGENT OF SATAN!!!1!!!11**!) first drew a picture of his grandfather Erasmus that looked like a monkey. Today there is evidence more substantial than pink sunsets sometimes appearing near pink flamingos. This evidence is far too complex to go into right now but take it as read that Zoomtard believes that evolution is an increasingly accurate and scientifically legitimate explanation of the origin and development of species.

Lots of that evidence has arisen from the relatively new field of neuro-science. As we discover more and more things about the brain and its working, some very high profile scientists have advanced an explanation for all religious belief that argues that faith lends a kind of evolutionary fitness function to the believer. Daniel Dennett is one of the most famous philosophers who appropriate neuro-science for this purpose. This is the kind of atheism I can do business with folks. Forget the crude, shambolic blustering of Dawkins, or the morally outraged blindsightedness of Sam Harris (here is an article where Dennett is compared with Harris).

This critique of faith has been advanced by convinced but fair minded atheists who are genuinely wrestling with the problem of 90% of Earthlings believing in some supreme power without, as they see it, any reason. They are not evangelistic atheists (not that there is anything principally wrong with atheists proselytising) who preach a message of light coming into the dark, naive, crutch holding world of the “believers”. They tend to just really want to find the truth and have managed to maintain a position of humble self-doubt even when their pursuit has led them to actual positions.

The best example of this is an article that appeared a few months ago in the Atlantic Monthly by Paul Bloom called “Is God An Accident?” This is a fascinating article that really had me stumped over Christmas. In it, Bloom lays out the case for understanding faith as a side effect of the evolution of our brains (epigenetic-adaptation argument). Studies show babies are born inclined to believe in supernatural intervention and that even amongst children there is a duality to the self where soul and body are distinguished as seperate, but interlocked entities. Bloom’s article is great but sadly, you need to be an Atlantic subscriber to read it in full.

I was a little bit besotted by this elegant explanation until this month’s Atlantic which features a letter from the scientist in Queens University Belfast whose research was the foundation for much of the article. Forgive me for quoting the letter at such length but there is no way that I could hope to put the proper answer to the growing voice that argues faith is an evolutionary by-product or relatedly, that Christianity is a “meme“. Justin Barrett of Queens wrote:

…But the provocative title and a number of remarks in the essay might lead readers to believe that scientific accounts of religious beliefs, such as the sort he and I both embrace, undermine the truth of religious belief. I would hate for readers to misunderstand the relationship between the science of belief and belief itself. To use science to attack religion in this way is misguided and ultimately undermines our confidence in science even more than our confidence in religion. If religious belief is only a byproduct of our naturally selected minds having produced no direct fitness benefits in our evolutionary past, so too are a host of scientific beliefs, including the belief in natural selection itself. This observation leads to an uncomfortable problem for the anti-theist. If our brains (and the thoughts they generate) have arisen only because of their ability to produce survival-related behaviors and not Truth, how can we trust them to tell us the truth about such matters as, say, natural selection? The anti-theist must construct an argument to justify trusting his or her own mind, which could be in the midst of producing “accidental” thoughts and beliefs while constructing the argument! Such an argument, too, must consider the huge psychological literature detailing how human minds systematically get things wrong—from visual perception to higher-order reasoning—apparently to assist in our survival.

Even embracing an evolutionary account of religion, the theist may skate through this epistemological train wreck by insisting that a deity has orchestrated evolution to produce minds that can be trusted to produce true beliefs (at least under certain conditions). Perhaps the deity fine-tuned the nature of the universe from its origin so that our minds—capable of truly knowing the deity—would be inevitable. Or perhaps the deity directed just the right “random” mutations that natural selection then chose, which eventually produced our minds so that they could know Truth.

The point is that the theist may choose to believe in a deity and evolutionary or cognitive scientific accounts of religion without a conflict. The anti-theist’s determination to undercut religious belief via evolution may force abandonment of science itself. If, as Bloom suggests, religion and science will always clash, the blame lies not on the theist but on the anti-theist.

Other letters go on to make very pertinent points about the parallels between the faith as evolutionary side effect argument and intelligent design- both are elegant hypothetical solutions that draw on tangentially relevant empirical data but have no actual research to back up their assertions.

It is a superbly written rebuttal and so simply sensible that I am really thankful that Dr. Barrett took the time to write it. Without it I would still be sitting here twiddling a problem that amounts to a whole lot of nothing in my fingers. Much better to arrogantly declare that I still know everything there is to be known.

Religion Class, the Anti-Christ and Lent
Anti-theists often argue that Christianity has been “rammed down their throats” because of church involvement in primary and secondary education in Ireland. I was talking to YellowSnow about religion class today. In her secondary school in deepest, darkest, Protestant Ulster, they had informed and respectful ethical debates about the matters of the day moderated by a caring and thoughtful teacher. We had a recent graduate who didn’t quite know how to fill the three 40 minute segments she had with us every week and so instead we watched a steady stream of the Simpsons and the videos she thought were really cool in college. While it is great that a bunch of 16 year olds were exposed to Jean de Florette, I would have preferred some half baked ideas about Buddhism from the spotty girl with the Richard Gere crush across from me.

But one of the things that we did have in school, unless I am imagining it, was Ash Wednesday. We also had lent in the form of Trocaire boxes. Now that I have gone all left-footed and black-hearted and joined the Presbyterian church I don’t tend to have much time for Ash Wednesday (although I appreciate how beneficial it is for some). I would have the Trocaire box if I wasn’t already in a monogomous development-charity relationship with Tearfund. When I say I don’t have time for it, I mean it literally. I would consider doing it if I had the time. I am not averse to the idea of a public badge that forces me to consider the period coming before Easter. Lent meant nothing in my Irish secondary school either, even though we had lots of opportunity to have it relevantly explained to us. It was a chance to give up sweets to lose a few pounds. Everyone gave something up but no one ever took anything up.

Well this Lent I am seeking to take something up in preperation for the major event of the Christian year. I am reading Nietzsche. Seeing as I read Miroslav Volf’s amazing Lenten book at Christmas (who also had a high profile article in the Times (of London) this week), I had to find something else to read. That is right, the philosopher who declared that God is dead and that identified himself with Anti-Christ. I am taking something I heard Stephen Williams say in a lecture about Nietzsche as a debating and devotional partner seriously and I am going to seek my to reflect on the father of post-modernism as a way to understand the death and resurrection of the Son. So expect a lot of out-of-my-depth waffle over the next 6 weeks. Anyone who doesn’t understand what I write will never be an Uberman. Never! Never I tell you!!!

Your Correspondent, He writes such pretty words

6 Responses to “Drawn to the emotionalism of the line-out”

  1. James Hackett says:

    Brilliant stuff Zoomtard. Makes me wish I had more conversations with you about the deep questions that bug me. And you were right about **! I was struck a couple of weeks ago by just how great a speaker you have become. You were always eloquent but the last time I heard you speak was a couple of years ago, and you are so much better now that I am compelled to ignore your desire to wallow in egotistical dreamland and say that God is obviously saying, “This Zoomtard fellow here, he likes to talk alot. Hmmm. If he won’t shut up, I’d better make him easier to listen to.” You see, God hears everything, so it is in His interests to make what he is listening to sound good. Well done.

  2. zoomtard says:

    Thanks Jimlad. I’ll have to pay you for that next time I see you. You forgot to say “I think you might be the greatest mind of our generation” but I’ll let it go this time.

  3. lucas says:

    I can’t help but feel that the atheism you like best is also the one most easily refuted. No doubt the argument you find is excellent, but even so I would have a grievance with it because it doesn’t leave the parameters of the scientistic ontology which evolutionary psychology unreflectively presupposes. And what this ontology which evolutionary psychology needs is is basically an extreme realism, that all of the reality which we ‘see’ would exist even if we weren’t around to see it --for example the world (planets, elements…) existed before humans evolved. This extreme realism would also think that our cultural world and in general the world of our conscious lives ultimately issues from a naturalistic basis only. It is basically a thesis of extreme reductivism.

    That for example, like your example, considering a cultural/’existential’ phenomenon such as religion in terms of a notion of reality that is posited as fundamentally unalterable from the human point of view (biology). This theory has a history and it was most widely held during Victorian/colonial times in the form of considering that monotheistic religion was the summit of a evolutionary ladder and that below it were certain other forms of religion which in time would evolve, if they survived, into monotheism. The idea followed along then that you could see the prehistory of European peoples by looking at ‘primitives’ in Africa or wherever. What also followed was a heavy boon to racism since Europeans were judged clearly superior in that they would be many ‘stages’ ahead of other ‘lower’ cultures.

    Modern cultural and critical studies are not friends of this theory one bit at all. The reason for this is that it always has a tendency to naturalise, and therefore legitimise and perpetuate, a certain social arrangement --that whoever happens to rule at one instant in time is justified by saying that the laws of social Darwinism would not have allowed him (and it tends to be a him) to be there if he were not the ‘best’, therefore things should be left be.

    The prevalent view outside of natural scince circles is that culture and the life of our conscious minds can only be understood by reference to themselves.

    Here ends my rant and my displeasure at your warmth to an enemy ontology of mine!

  4. zoomtard says:

    See this. That is the kind of comment that one dreams of. Now I am off to a dark quiet room for a few hours to get my head around it.

  5. zoomtard says:

    Lucas,

    great comment and thanks for taking the time. I don’t know if I would agree that you can trace a clear line from the phrenologists of the 1890s to the Paul Blooms or the Susan Greenfiels of this world. One key difference in my mind is that unlike Phrenology or much of early Darwinism, their work is not based on non-existent or fraudulent data.

    It is really interesting to me that you come at this from a cultural critique position. I realise that all of my friends who obviously have the most influence on me are scientists or who default to scientific argument. I need to make more friends with anthropologists. (Sorry for not calling anthros scientists)

    I think natural science would argue that culture and the life of the conscious minds can only be understood by reference to themselves as well. It seems to be a philosophical truism. But more importantly, I think they can only be profitably understood through primarily scientific means. How disgustingly modernist of me! I’m off to shower the scum of Victorianism off my body.

    Finally, the kind of atheist I like best is the atheist I know. Atheists are, I am generalising here, capable, confident and thinking people. I have a weird respect for the bravado with which they declare their negative assertions and they are far more likely to be up for a good discussion about anything at all than born agains.

    Also, Dawkins is the easiest atheist to dis-assemble and I don’t like him at all. 🙂

    – Zoomy

  6. Lucas says:

    I’ve no problem with the view that cultural studies is not a science. As the foremost meaning of ‘science’ seems to be the methodology of empirical inductive experimentation. A lesser meaning is any ordered body of knowledge. The methodology of ‘cultural studies’, to be vague, would not be the above first meaning, yet it would be a science by the second meaning.

    Why I think this is so is because implicit in this definition of (1)science is the view that what science studies exists by itself unaided by human subjectivity. So that the general form of truth in science would then be the correspondence theory of truth -that by a mental representation reality would be modeled as it actually is (for ex. I’ve an image of a certain sphere, and this is suppossed to represent the planet mercurey).

    But in cultural matters it is not the case that the object of research in this area exists independently of human subjectivity, rather it is human subjectivity. There is therefore no radical difference between the object of knowledge and the subject of knowledge in this area. For example the ability to recognise the union jack as the flag of the U.K. presupposes that one be familiar with the way that Europe is divided up into suppossedly homogneous nation-states of which there correspond certain geographical territories. What I mean is the ability to get knowledge about the cultural world does not happen in a cultural vacum, but rather always takes place in knowledge already taken for granted. So that the aquisition of knowledge takes the form of an expansion of a knowledge field, rather than the accumulation of atomistic nuggets of self-contained information. So oppossed to this Lockean/Cartesian view of knowledge as an ahistorical and contextless (worldless)God’s eye view whcih would be cleansed of ‘subjective’ factors, whcih would suppossedly distort a correct account of how things are, instead those ‘subjective factors’ rather than being seen as hindrances to understanding become in fact the preconditions of understanding (in the human world).

    So I think there is a difference in kind between the natural world, whcih science studies, and the human world, whcih in principle science cannot study.