Saturday, 17 November 2007

Dr Who Comic Relief with Rowan Atkinson

I remember watching this years ago, and finally located it on youtube!

part 1

part 2

part 3

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Gospel of Q

Star Trek and Religion at Ex Astris Scientiais another page looking at expressions of faith in the popular sci fi TV series, with a more comprehensive cataloguing of the cases where religion has raised its head. Reading this, I was reminded of the character Q, who has made for some of the very best Next Gen stories out there. I’ve read in the academic literature the suggestion that the omnipotent Q, played by John De Lancie, is linked to the so-called Gospel of Q (so-called by Wikepedia, that is). I don’t know enough about the Q documents or the writers of Star Trek to know if that is true or even likely – I would love it if any Christians or geeks could feed this line of speculation!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Houses of Parliament Destroyed

This was on telly last night. Topgear's Richard Hammond builds a replica of the former House of Commons which Guy Fawkes targetted, and sees what would have happened had he lit the fuse.

It was only when looking this up that I noticed that Richard shares his surname with Evey, of V for Vendetta fame. Here's Big Ben going up;

As the wife says, The Voice of Fa-*Ahem*Radio 4 would just replace the dongs with 'Sounds of Summer'...

While I'm at it, here's a UFO smashing into the side of Parliament.

Oh, alright then. One more; Time Trumpet's Terrorism Awards. One of the nominees is the al-qaeda 747 attack on Big Ben.

Star Trek and Faith

I recently came across this discussion of religion in StarTrek by Raymond J Keating, which recalls only a few instances in which a Christian faith is suggested. One is when Kirk meets an alien claiming to be the Greek god Adonais, to whom Kirk retorts, “Our one God is sufficient” (faint praise?). Another instance is when the crew of the Enterprise come across a planet almost identical to Earth, but for the fact that the Roman Empire never fell. Throughout this episode we meet sun worshippers; it is only in the closing minutes that we discover these aren’t pagans, but in fact followers of the son (of God)! Keating, goes on to say that ‘the Next Generation television show wallowed in a rather foolish utopian vision of the perfectibility of humankind. The sinful aspects of human nature simply withered away. The Federation is billed as paradise in space.’

Indeed, Next Gen went out of its way to avoid any extended religious discourse, preferring instead made-up Klingon or other alien ritual, and that piss-poor episode with the American Injun reserve in space where Wesley becomes a rainbow child of the universe. One particular episode for me underscores the writers’ lack of willingness to get into discussion of religious/metaphysical ideas, and that is the one where the Enterprise is trapped by a godlike being called N’geelum (but probably spelt differently). N’geelum wants to kill a proportion of the inhabitants of the Enterprise (I can’t remember how many – something like 50 percent or so) in order to discover more about humanity. In response, Picard spits the dummy and sets the Enterprise’s auto-destruct mechanism. Every single person on board will die, but at least they will not be tortured by this insane alien.

In the minutes before the ship is due to be blown to kingdom come, Picard retires to his quarters to prepare himself for death. He is visited by Data, who begins to question him about the nature of death, and starts to enquire after Picard’s beliefs. I haven’t seen this episode in a while, but I seem to recall that it is this line of questioning from Data which tips off Picard that something is amiss. He hails Data on the intercom and finds that he’s on the bridge; this Data who is inquisitive about matters of faith is in fact an illusion induced by the malevolent N’Geelum.

Another instance of religion in Star Trek: The Next Generation comes not from the TV series, but from the comic books, which I think can safely be assumed to be non-canon. 'Beginnings' is a TPB collecting the early Next Gen comic book stories, and are obviously from the early days of the TV series when things hadn’t quite settled down into convention yet. For example, I seem to remember some chemistry between Geordie and Troi which was never hinted at in the TV show. Deanna was entangled with Riker, and later Worf, but never Geordie, who was obviously gay for Data. In the comics, there are also crewmen on board wearing outlandish costumes which follow comic book convention, but not that of TV’s Starfleet. For example, the Bickleys, a bickering husband-and-wife pair of bridge officers wearing cloaks but no trousers. There’s also the stuff that is just totally out of character, like where Worf attempts to stop Tasha Yar disturbing the Captain in his ready room. They argue and then wrestle like they are schoolkids in the play yard, until the Captain comes along to tells them off. It is all great fun, but really off the mark for how the characters ‘really’ behaved on the TV screen.

The bit I always remember as slightly cringe-worthy, cos it is so out of keeping with the whole tone of the series, is in the ‘Christmas special’ story when we see Tasha Yar getting ready for the festivities and musing on her faith. Having just gone and dug out the comic in question, it is actually pretty innocuous, but I think the rareity of such a hint that there might be a Christian believer in Next Gen has exaggerated it in my memory. Tasha stands in front of a mirror dressing for the party, and gives in a thought bubble says:

‘I’ve always longed to have the holidays back in my life…I didn’t get to do much celebrating when I was a child on the colony…and my duties with the Federation since have kept me from keeping my faith…I’m really looking forward to loosening up tonight!’

So, like I say, no big deal. It is actually pretty nonspecific about what her ‘faith’ is, but given it is Christmas one would assume she is some kind of Christian. It does make you wonder whether Tasha was intended to be a Christian all along, and it was just unspoken or taken for granted, or whether this was just slotted in so that the Christmas theme bore more relevance to this otherwise most secular of crews.

I will try to post some scans from the comic, so check back to see if i’ve updated this post.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Guy Fawkes Night

When I were a bairn, me and my sisters weren’t allowed to go out on bonfire night because of its anti-Catholic overtones and the demonisation of Guy Fawkes who was probably innocent but certainly a victim of torture by the British state. The anti-catholic stuff has largely receded to the background in favour of fireworks and sprinklers, and the anti-catholic origins of the festival are for most (one would hope) a historical curiosity.

It turns, however, that a place called Lewes still retains much of the anti-Catholic sentiment of Guy Fawkes Night, and tonight they will be displaying the traditional banners reading ‘No Popery’. Via Fr Tim Finigan and Fr Ray Blake comes news of Lewes’ own Parish Priest, one Fr Richard Biggerstaff, who is responding with his own catechetical campaign called ‘Know Popery’.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Moon Dust

Writing that last blog entry got me remembering the Youth Alpha course that was organised at the church my family regularly attended. Being about 14 or so, and proclaiming myself atheist/pantheist at the time, I used to really enjoy going along to their Sunday evening meetings for a good argument.

The funniest memory I have is when one of them, with a straight face, began telling me that he could prove that the universe was only 6,000 years old. “You remember when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong went to the moon?” he said, “Well, when they stepped out of the space craft, and stood on the moon, how deep was their footprint. About an inch or so, right? Well, that proves that the universe is only 6,000 years old, because if the moon had been there for all those millions and billions of years, right, there should have been about 12 foot of dust on the moon!”

I shit ye not.

Creationism vs. Evolution

The LoveCraken is a kid i met through the web who makes videos and posts them on youtube. He has recently gotten engaged in the Creationism vs. Science debate, taking aim at some tube called Eric Hovind by parodying his creationist propaganda:

The Hovinds have been getting people banned from youtube, claiming copyright infringement, despite the fact that they have publicly disavowed any copyright claims in the past. This is Rabid Ape explaining the situation:

I understand that some of the people who have found themselves censored never even used any of the Hovinds’ footage, and are guilty only of responding to their arguments. The creationists are basically abusing copyright law, and it is possible they will end up being prosecuted for this; if I can find any of the relevant links, I may post a more complete account later. As far as I’m aware, the story hasn’t been picked up by the print media at all (at least not here in the UK) which is surprising cos I’d have thought it is the kind of story the Guardian would love.

In discussing the Creationist vs. Science debate with the Craken over MSN, I have recommended he checks out some of the talks at which emphasise that science and christianity have the same aims of discovering the truth, and that the sciences themselves grew out of a christian worldview.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

My wife and I went to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age last night, and we also got to see the trailer to the new movie adaptation of Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy which has been getting a number of American Roman Catholic bloggers in the mood for some book burning. I’m not sure what the American Catholics will make of The Golden Age. I picked up a copy of The Catholic Herald at church this morning, featuring a review of the film which neatly expresses the British Catholic’s attitude towards non-Catholics and their ideas, in stark contrast to our American brethren’s hysteria.

The Herald’s reviewer, Freddie Sayers, writes;
‘when a Daily Mail reporter rang me last week to find out if the Catholic community was “outraged” by the new film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I took great pleasure in denying her the tabloid quotes she was after. Is The Golden Age anti-Catholic, she asked? Of course it is. Will that upset the Catholic community in this country? Not overly, I suspected: they are more likely to be upset by the absence of artistic merit than by the ludicrous villainy of every Catholic cast member. British Catholics are a tough bunch, you know, and highly discerning to boot.’
Since the protagonist of the film is our famously protestant monarch, the ‘baddies’ were always going to be the Catholics and, perhaps predictably, they were presented in a laughably grotesque light. As Sayers says, the king of Spain
‘is shown to be a wicked fellow, bow-legged and clad in black, constantly surrounded by monks mumbling ominous prayers, pacing through cathedrals in a perpetual state of disquieting religiosity. To top off this melange of voodoo magic and murderous superstition, he clutches a miniature doll of Elizabeth, on which to cast his murky spells. It is a preposterous parody of the Catholic stereotype that has prevailed through the ages.’
I believe the doll actually belonged to Phillip’s daughter Isabella in the film, but you get the point. The Protestants, on the other hand are presented in a better light. Elizabeth, though aging, is a beautiful woman surrounded by beautiful maiden servants and chased after by suitors. Also on England’s side is the swashbuckling Walter Raleigh, played by Clive Owen. The same crude signifiers we’ve seen in dozens of movies since cinema began are used to help us distinguish between the good (ie beautiful) and evil (ie ugly). This was, though, merely superficial as any discerning viewer would have noted, as we see the protestant English partaking in torture as well as subterfuge, to see Mary Queen of Scots executed for treason, neither of which shows the prods in a particularly sympathetic light.

One thing I found amusing was that whenever we see the underground church in England, they are feverishly dying cloth red. I’m sure there is some historical basis to this that the creators of the movie have latched on to, but after the second or third time we see this it comes across as really silly.

Another quotation from Sayer regarding British Catholics which I liked was;
we will defend ourselves when under attack, and we will censure what we perceive to be wrong, but we strive to do so with the measured calm that true confidence allows.
It is a lack of such confidence that I object to in the drive to ban the likes of Pullman. If we think we have it right, that our faith is the one, true faith, then why should we be so afraid of Mr Pullman?

It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction the film draws from the American Catholics, who need little provocation to reach for the pitchfork and flaming torch.

The best part of the film, I will point out, managed to transcend the Protestant/Catholic divide by appealing to the english audience's sense of nationalism. After the Armada is comprehensively spanked by Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, the film fades out with a subtitle proclaiming words to the effect of:

'The loss of the Armada was the most humiliating defeat ever experienced by Spain'.

The englishman in me couldn't help but grin.