Saturday, 29 March 2008

Beware the Believers

Check out 'Beware the Believers', a spoof rap video about Richard Dorkins is awesome, excellent production values. I like the fact that Dorkins himself doesn't know if it is an affectionate tribute or a piss-take. On the Dawkinsnet comments he says:

If anyone can understand a single word of this, don't bother to translate, just tell me whose side it's on. I get the feeling (same with South Park) that there are people out there who assume that something that is obviously MEANT to be funny therefore must BE funny, and they immediately shower it with accolades such as "Wow", "Hilarious", "Awesome" and, most side-splitting of all, "LOL".

Sorry, I seem to be showing my age. Enjoy yourselves LOLling away.

Richard


I'm guessing it is from the same folks who created 'Expelled', or fans of it. Whatever, they've captured the man's arrogance brilliantly!

Bible Fight

Bible Fight!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Under the Sea

This is amazing

HFE Bill

Yesterday i was lucky enough to attend a talk on the HFE bill at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle, thanks to an announcement on James Mawdsley's blog. Lord Aston, who I have read about over the last few weeks, gave a very good talk. Given the news coverage over the last few days, it has been reassuring to hear the Catholic argument from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and to verify that much of what has been in the media is simply misinformation and propaganda (such as Lord Winston's accusation that Cardinal O'Brien was lying about science, and the patronizing 'invitations' from scientists to meet with the bishops so they can explain why messing with human embryos is A-ok).

Winston, apparently, is attempting to allay the fears of us superstitious lot by saying "These cells are destroyed after a short period". Winston has clearly missed the point that this is precisely the problem.

Another excellent speaker at the Cathedral yesterday was a young lady who works in Newcastle for the charity LIFE, who spoke very well on the need for compassion and the presentation of real alternatives to women with crisis pregnancies, rather than just the 'choice' of abortion, abortion, or abortion.

This was followed up by a talk by another lady who was introduced as a Catholic feminist. This talk wasn't so impressive, and came across as fairly judgemental towards those in family circumstances outside the norm. She made a lot of good points about how radical feminism has attempted to redefine human life in terms of utility or 'wantedness', as in the phrase 'Every Child a Wanted Child' (the unwanted ones getting eliminated in the womb). She also made some good points about feminist 'liberation' being about the destruction of family bonds, hence the focus on abortion which destroys the most concrete reality of the family bond. All that I was fine with, but I wasn't sure why it was deemed necessary to slip in disapproval of gay and lesbian couples who want to raise a family. If the evening was about trying to raise a consensus in support of life issues, i didn't see the need to introduce an obviously and unecessarily divisive issue into the discourse.

It was during this lady's talk that my wife started prodding me. My wife was brought up by a single parent, without a father figure, and according to this lady's statistics, by rights she should have ended up promiscuous and riddled with STDs. While the statistics, for all i know, may be accurate, you wonder what the speaker expects single mothers to do about it. Consider also that, should our hopes of less abortion be realised, we will end up with a great many more single parent families, especially considering many abortions are urged by male partners who, for that very reason, should be kept as far away from children as possible.

Lord Alton's talk finished the night off with a very comprehensive explanation of the bill and why it should be opposed. The powerpoint presentation he used is, apparently, available for free; i cannot find a link to it, but intend to attach it to this blog post when I get hold of it. There were a lot of good quotations in this from both sides of the debate. One thing which caught my interest is the claim that embryonic stem cell research has lead to precisely zero breakthroughs, whereas adult stem cell research has lead to about 70 breakthroughs which are currently used in therapies. I have a couple of questions about these, the first one being: Is this true? and the second being: If this is the case, what is the motive behind this bill?

I was a little worried at one point in the evening when Lord Alton displayed the picture of a child in the womb resting on the finger of a surgeon. MP Nadine Dorries has been rightly lampooned for suggesting this is a heartwarming image of the child 'reaching out' to touch its saviour. I was relieved when Alton didn't follow her lead here; he was using it to illustrate the fact that we can operate on conditions like spina bifida even in the womb, and that there is no need to abort. I noticed Dorries wasn't mentioned at all at the talk yesterday and wonder whether the organisers have distanced themselves from her. Her attacks upon Ben Goldacre and the publishing of such nonsense as the 'Hand of Hope' story open up the pro-life cause to ridicule...but at the same time, Goldacre is clearly attacking Dorries as the weak link in Parliament's pro-life movement. For example, there is no mention of Lord Alton on his blog, despite the fact Alton has either exposed the bad science of the HFE supporters, or is lying.

I shall write more about the HFE bill itself when i get hold of Lord Alton's powerpoint slides!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Sue Blackmore debates Alister McGrath

Over on richarddawkins.net there is an mp3 of a debate between Sue Blackmore and Alister McGrath on the topic 'belief in God is a dangerous delusion'. What i found particularly wacky was Blackmore's use of 'meme theory'. I find the metaphor of memetics fascinating, and really love it as a way of looking at ideas. But the way Blackmore explains it, humans have no agency of their own or critical faculties when it comes to selecting the beliefs they hold. Religious ideas are seen as trying to take over our brains, so if one finds them compelling that is not evidence that there is any truth to them, but that they have 'evolved' to be more convincing.

Arthur C. Clarke's passing

As most will be aware, Arthur C Clarke passed away recently, bless 'im (or not, seeing as he wants a non-religious funeral). I liked this post (and comments) on the Guido Fawkes blog, entitled God winks at Arthur C Clarke.

Never gunna give u up

Never gunna let u dowwwwwwn
Never gunna run around and desert uuuu

Rick Astley interviewed on the Rick Roll phenomenon.

Whatever you do, don't click here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Barabbas

This post is for one of my best fiends, Luke, who returned from China recently to challenge me with his best unholy arguments. One thing he asked me was what is going on in the Gospels when Pilate offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas, and the people choose Barabbas. The name Barabbas translates to 'son of the father', (as in the hymn 'Abba, Father'). I had to be honest with Luke and just plead ignorance here; i don't know what was going on, and i hesitated to give an answer that would probably turn out to be incorrect.

Well, on Good Friday I stood through the Passion narrative, and was still none the wiser as to what was going on with the whole Barabbas thing. It wasn't until mid way through Easter Sunday that I came across this explanation from Papa Bene's 'Jesus of Nazareth':

...who was Barabbas? It is usually the words of John's Gospel that come to mind here: "Barabbas was a robber" (Jn 18:40). But the Greek word for "robber" had acquired a specific meaning in the political situation that obtained at the time in Palestine. It had become a synonym for "resistance fighter." Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (cf. Mk 15:7), and furthermore—in that context—had been accused of murder (cf. Lk 23:19, 25). When Matthew remarks that Barabbas was "a notorious prisoner" (Mt 27:16)1, this is evidence that he was one of the prominent resistance fighters, in fact probably the actual leader of that particular uprising.

In other words, Barabbas was a messianic figure. The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means "son of the father." This is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement. The last great Jewish messianic war was fought in the year 132 by Bar-Kokhba, "son of the star." The form of the name is the same, and it stands for the same intention.

Origen, a Father of the Church, provides us with another interesting detail. Up until the third century, many manuscripts of the Gospels referred to the man in question here as "Jesus Barabbas"—"Jesus son of the father." Barabbas figures here as a sort of alter ego of Jesus, who makes the same claim but understands it in a completely different way. So the choice is between a Messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one's own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?....

How's that then, Luke? An answer direct from the Pope himself!

(And no, that wasn't a typo in the first sentence.)

BBC's The Passion and Pope B16's Jesus of Nazareth

I haven't bothered with the BBC's passion, but I have enjoyed the coverage of it over on James Mawdlsey's blog. I liked this passage;

...the Telegraph gives away the key point about the inspiration of The Passion: "If the characters emerge differently from how they come across in the Gospels, it is because scriptwriter Frank Deasy..and his cast...have been at pains to anchor the story in historical realism." Deasy says, "the way we've tried to do it is to really explore what was going on."

There you have it. Deasy knows better than SS Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels cannot be relied upon to tell us what was really going on, and nor can the interpretation of the Church Fathers be trusted, but now that man has come of age, and is truly modern and enlightened, not to mention scientific, we can get to the truth!

Also here and here.

Mawdsley also mentions Pope Ratzinger's book, Jesus of Nazareth. I got hold of it over the Easter weekend, and am really enjoying it. It is very clearly written, and aims to construct a picture of the historical Jesus, rather than the Jesus we would like to construct for ourselves. This, for me, is the importance of being a Christian in the Roman Catholic church, which is very hard-line when it comes to determining God's will and truth. We can't just make it up as we go along, and God does not just 'affirm us in our okayness' (as Mark Shea puts it).

I have particularly enjoyed B16's writing on the Sermon on the Mount, which engages with the Jewish tradition to show the blasphemous nature of what Jesus is claiming (unless, of course, his claims are true). The book has clarified more than ever that the sermon cannot be taken seriously unless the person giving it is God himself. More on this book later...

Someone is WRONG on the internet


From xkcd.com

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Pagans!

Recently, Mark Shea has tackled the subject of Paganism in a three-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3), and has managed to raise the ire of a number of folk who apply that label to themselves. Shea's approach to Paganism is informed by that of G.K.Chesterton, particularly as presented in The Everlasting Man, a book which i was lucky enough to be given last Christmas. In this view, Paganism is not something to be scorned in and of itself, for it is an attempt to apprehend the divine, and is the expression of man's natural capacity for religion. The way Chesterton explains it, Christianity is the logical end-point of Paganism; it shares with the mythologies the expression of religious truths through story, but unlike the mythologies it also unequivocably states that the story is true, really real, and that the God of these stories has come among us as a man, and is still among us to this day.

This way of looking at Paganism seemed to me very positive, affirming that it is an attempt to attain truth. Where Shea seems to have struck a nerve with the online Pagans is the way in which he characterises post-Christian paganism, calling it a 'divorcee' (as opposed to the 'virgin' of pre-christian paganism). Basically, Mark claims that post-Christian paganism, rather than being a search for truth, is a reaction to christianity and an attempt to flee from God.

I came across a post on the Wildhunt blog which responded to Mark's writing about post-Christian pagans by characterising it as part of a continuing Catholic anti-pagan pile-on, motivated by contempt. As evidence, they quote this paragraph from Mark:

"Finally, in these latter days, 'pagan' has taken yet another turn and is now used in some circles as a compliment. Among a growing number of people, 'pagan' now means 'post-Christian religionist who is attempting to rescue reverence for Nature from the hands of evil Judeo-Christian earth rapists.' The notion behind this version of 'pagan' is that there was once a magical far-off time when humans dwelt in harmony with Mother Earth, everybody was comfortable with their various Jungian archetypes, and all was well as we worshiped the 'gods' and 'goddesses' who both expressed the beauty of Nature and got us in touch with our inmost selves (and lots of libido, to boot). Who needs all that stuff about sin, dying to self and the need for redemption? The great blunder of the human race was when the old gods were swept away by the evil Judeo-Christian God."


The thing is, this does indeed characature the Wildhunt's approach to Christianity, so it is hard to see what they have to complain about. Look, for instance, at their post regarding the Brisbane priest who has been baptising with an invalid formula. In this matter, it is obvious that these Pagans are well-intentioned in thinking the baptismal formula should be able to take a gender-neutral form. What they don't seem to take into account is that Catholics actually believe in God, and that He has made a revelation about himself. We cannot just make it up as we go along, because that would be saying that it is all man made and the Gospels are not true. Of course, with Paganism, you can do that sort of thing, cos most Pagans are happy with the idea that Zeus or Apollo or Dionysus are as much products of the imagination as they are aspects of reality.

What has been even more interesting than Mark's original Paganism pieces have been the engagement with Pagans that have resulted. There was a little back and forth with a Pagan who took issue with some of his points. The discussion continued here, here and here, and there is little point in me re-hashing Mark's discussions. The best point, though, was made by one of Mark's commenters, Fuinseoig, who made the following contribution:

Dear Whoever-You-Are

Yes, you are playing dress-up. Because no matter what costume you may wear, nor what rituals you may practice, they are reconstructions.

Whether you venerate the Dagda, Odin, Osiris or Jupiter Optimus Maximus, you are not following an organic, developing, living tradition that has survived down through the centuries and has been handed down as a genuine cultural survival. You are following a reconstructed, best-guess-by-archaeolgists, here's what the papyrus scraps are deciphered to say, X wrote his seminal work on this back in the 1930s, Y spearheaded the revival in 1970 and today Z has reformulated it for the 21st Century estimation.

Now, if you wanted to be a Buddhist (of whatever tradition) or a Hindu, or an Animist, then maybe I'd listen. Because those are living religions that have lasted and have a verifiable history.

But the Gardiner/Mead/Whomever mishmash that passes for modern Wicca and Pagandom and Heathenry - no, sorry. My ancestors left all that behind 1,500 years ago and I'm not inclined to go back.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Horror stories

I was just thinking that I ought to get posting again on this blog as I've hardly done anything since starting it. I've not actually been to the St Mary's Blackfen site listed on the right for a while, so checked it out and came across the horror stories on this post. They are mostly regarding detainees' experiences at Yarls Wood Detention Centre, pretty awful stuff that Britain manages to sweep well and truly under the carpet. It isn't just refugees and asylum seekers who get this sort of treatment ... children in youth prisons have been killed by security officials using 'restraint' holds on them, and it is actually legal in Britain for children in detention to be tortured (the language gets dressed up but not a lot).