Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why the geeks have inherited the earth

This looks like a whole wheelie-bin of fun!

My friend Dave Taylor is giving three seminars titled "Engaging with Pop Culture: why the geeks have inherited the earth" at L'abri on 8th August, examining how pop-culture functions as a type of state religion for western culture.

What? A day seminar in three parts:
• 10 am - Lecture 1: Pop-Culture - Corrupting, cathartic or cohesive?
• 3 pm - Lecture 2: Pop-Culture as Religion - Why the geeks have inherited the earth
• 7pm - Lecture 3: Pop-Culture and Apologetics - Saint Paul goes to Hollywood

When? Saturday, 08 August 2009, 9:30 am - 9:00 pm

Where? Australian L'abri, 10 River Rd, Elderslie, Sydney

How? Lunch and dinner will be provided and overnight accommodation is available if you get in quick. Please bring $20 to cover costs.

RSVP: by email
Dave has been riding this particular hobby horse for years and it is still kicking. Don't miss it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Climate change is not the primary issue

Play it again, Sam. Sam points out that both peak and oil and climate change are themselves symptoms of a larger issue facing contemporary society: namely, what I have previously called "the myth of infinite growth". And that this in turn is primarily a spiritual and ethical issue, not simply an economic, technological or political issue (though it is all of those as well).

Can anyone offer suggestions of published academic work that makes this point? This is quite an important aspect of my current project.

Friday, July 10, 2009

When bloggers collide

Today I met Eric Daryl Meyer, author of a few words, who is over in sunny Scotland for a conference in a few days (if he can bear to bring an end to the highland trekking he's about to begin).

It would be interesting one day to try to work out the number of people I've eventually met in the flesh having first connected through blogs. I suspect it may already be more than twenty. Such meetings are always a delightful surprise as photos come to life.

They are also another reminder of the blessings of avoiding pseudonyms. If you're hiding on the internet behind a profile or simply remaining anonymous for no good reason, feel free to come out and join in the party where things (and people) are called by their real name. We won't bite. And if we do, you know where we live.

Inside and outside: take a second look

"[...] if we are to understand a great religion it is always first of all necessary to that we should find out, not merely what its formularies are, but what it has meant in the experience of those who follow it. That is the only way in which we can pronounce judgement on it. The man who stands outside of a religion altogether, and merely criticises its theological formularies, is like a blind man attempting to pronounce judgement upon pictures from hearsay. If, for example, a man should repudiate the doctrine of the Trinity simply on the ground that it clashes with his own mathematical conceptions, without ever inquiring how it has come about that people quite as mathematical as himself have none the less felt driven by their experience to formulate their belief in this way, he is like a blind man who should deny the possibility of perspective on the ground that pictures are painted in two dimensions."

- William Temple, The Kingdom of God, 1-2.

Of course it is possible to know something of things from the outside, indeed, sometimes one must be outside to see the whole in a particular way. However, what Archbishop Temple is pointing out is that the converse is also true: sometimes one must be inside an experience to know what terms used to describe that experience mean. To use an example from C. S. Lewis (whose "Meditation in a Toolshed" makes much the same point), who has the more important perspective on romantic love: a young man in the first flush of new love, or the neurologist who studies the electrical patterns and chemical changes in the brain, but has never known what these feel like from the inside? Of course, both perspectives are important. But our tendency is to give precedence to the objective viewpoint that observes and does not participate (or rather, who participates primarily through observation). In some circumstances, this is an important stance. But it is a mistake to make this priority absolute and universal.

Indeed, even the observer who attempts an "objective" perspective is far from neutral, but brings her assumptions and categories to her experience of observation. But here I have begun to repeat contemporary platitudes. So I will finish with one more:
Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Then, when you criticise him, you are a mile away - and you have his shoes.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bundy on tap

Nice campaign slogan for an Australian town that has banned bottled water.

Losing the wood for the trees, and vice versa: or, the eschatological reconciliation of complex goods

"...evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole,. whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community, or the total community of mankind, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels. Devotion to a subordinate and premature 'whole', such as the nation, may of course become evil, viewed from the perspective of a larger whole, such as the community of mankind."

- Reinhold Neibuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 14.

In this account, evil is a failure of contextualisation, a mistaking of a part for the whole, an insufficient awakening to the complex goods of the world. There may be other aspects to an account of evil (not simply the intellect, but also our will and imagination and desire are corrupt. All evil is not simply ignorance), but this is an important point to ponder. Is my desire for some good thing actually undermining someone else's blessing? Or is the way that I am pursuing my desire making it harder for others to love life? Or perhaps even more subtly and yet disastrously, might the aggregation of many individuals pursuing their various goods diminish the common good of each?

And yet, there are still "various levels" at which the good is to be sought, noticed, preserved and pursued. It will not do simply to replace a myopic individualism with a hypermetropic collectivism. It is often difficult to see how the good of both the individual and the wider community can be attained when they come into conflict, but if life is not ultimately a competition then it is possible to attempt the creative and imaginative task of seeking an integration between apparently competing goods in hope that such a reconciliation is possible. Or, in other words, we hope for win-win situations.

Yet our grasp on what is good, on what constitutes a life truly called blessed, is fragmentary. The complexity of all the various goods in a single human life, in society and throughout the created order is too vast for any individual to comprehend. And so we continue to mistake partial goods for complete goods and even our provisional attempts at reconciliation may end up creating new injustices. We may even despair of the possibility of win-win outcomes in many situations. We may conclude that it is a dog-eat-dog world and for me and mine to do well, others must do poorly.

And so, this belief (in the non-competitiveness of human, and indeed creaturely, flourishing) is a tenet of faith, presently unseen and repeatedly thwarted by a fallen world. It is an eschatological hope for the reconciliation of all things, anticipated in Christ's earthly life and promised and inaugurated in his resurrection. And so today we seek signs and foretastes of this future reality, bearing witness to the one who is alive and brings life to all. Today is not the day to achieve this final reconciliation, but we must be content in our discontentment, eschewing utopian fantasies for the good that it is possible to do today.
Good to see that Niebuhr agrees with me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Saved to care: Williams on salvation

"In Christian belief, the world exists because of a free act of generous love by the creator. God has made a world in which, by working with the limitations of a material order declared by God to be 'very good', humans may reflect the liberty and generosity of God. And our salvation is the restoration of a broken relationship with this whole created order, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the establishing by the power of his Spirit a community in which mutual service and attention are the basic elements through which the human world becomes transparent to its maker."

- Rowan Williams, Ethics, Economics and Global Justice

Of course, in this paragraph Williams is not aiming to be comprehensive and so does not here speak of the restored relationship with God in which salvation consists. Instead, he is discussing the relationship of humanity to the created order. Salvation is not simply becoming right with God, and not even just with one another. It is also the healing of our relationship with the whole community of creation in which we belong, a healing that consists of mutual service and attention. We are no longer self-absorbed, either as individuals or as the human race. Instead, we are turned inside out, in order that we might begin to mirror the loving care of God.

What does it mean for the world to become transparent to its maker? That God can finally see the world, or that we can ultimately see God through his restored creation? I assume the latter. That is, through communities of mutual service and attention, the love of God is manifest in the world.

However, such an understanding need not collapse the love of God into the loving service of the redeemed community. God's love is not exhausted by human expressions of it. Our careful attention will always be only a dim reflection of God's, more unlike than like. The sense in which humans reflect God's liberty and generosity is a properly human one. Our freedom and our capacity to give have good creaturely limits. These limits are not barriers to be overcome, but conditions of our existence to be explored and embraced.