Tuesday, December 16, 2008


In the Australian state of Victoria, it was announced that instruction in atheism will be run alongside the usual religious instruction, or 'school Scripture'. One letter writer to the national press promptly applauded it as a good idea and made the usual comments about all the harm done by organized religion. They referred to the Crusades of the Middle Ages, and other cliched examples.
Another writer replied that just as much or more harm had been done by attempts to run society on atheist lines. They referred to Communist societies, such as what was called "The Peoples Republic Of China"; and the Soviet Union. The blood shed by those regimes in attempting to subdue their populations is at least as horrific as any thing that can be attributed to 'organized religion'. Of course it is worth pointing out that just because a person or faction call themselves Christian does not make them so. "By their deeds you will know them" needs to be kept in mind. But if someone believes that a human community is better run by an atheist philosophy, could they please explain why the attempts to do so ended up in such appalling disaster?
Karl Marx called spiritual faith 'the opiate of the masses'. He admitted, tacitly, that hope of something beyond this earthly life caused people to endure suffering. It was his view that instead those people should struggle to change them. He needed to be told that Christian reformers have been involved in humanitarian reforms and campaigning for centuries. And his idea, of running a society on the idea that 'there is no God' led to the monstrosity that we remember by the deeds of Stalin, the writings of Solzhenytzen, the millions of deaths in prison camps or at the hands of the secret police. More recently the deeds of Mao Tse-tung have been held up to the light, and found to be less ideal than his supporters claimed. China too suffered under a dictatorship in which a mere human tried to take the place of God, and get people to put their faith in humans and their notions.
The alchemists of times past believed that you could turn some elements into others. They spent hundreds of hours trying to turn lead or iron into gold. We now believe that to be impossible. They might as well have tried fishing in a bucket of water. You could try that for centuries and not catch a thing. If this seems like an odd change of subject, here is what I'm trying to say: human beings cannot be made into anything resembling God. They do not have the wisdom, the incorruptible nature and the power. Yet an atheist society tries to put mere human beings in that place, the role of God, as the entire source of authority and guidance in running the world. It really is a form of alchemy - trying to turn something into something else that it never can be. And the results are pure horror.
The course in atheism mentioned above will apparently try to teach people this: there is no evidence for the existence of God. It would be one incredible irony if that backfired! People who had never thought about it before might look at the world and see very good evidence for the existence of God, in the things not made by humans; and good evidence for human sin in the harm done by human beings. But that remains to be seen. The issue is that from one generation to the next the same mistakes get made, and the same bitter outcomes arise.
In the distant past, humans became carried away with their own greatness, built the Tower of Babel and suddenly found themselves all divided. That was only the first attempt by homosapiens to make themselves the greatest thing in the Universe. And it was not the biggest disaster of the lot, either.
If the chief end of Humanity is 'to worship God and enjoy Him always', the most idiotic mistake possible is to try leaving God out of it and enjoy our own achievements. Even if someone does not believe that quote above from the Westminster Confession, can anyone show that human beings have managed to run anything without corruption or blunders when they leave it all to themselves?
God will be known in the same way that gravity causes things to fall downwards. It is inevitable. So here's praying that the bad idea above will be turned against its designers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Closer to home

To get his idea for "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", Robert Louis Stephenson didn't have to delve too far into the fantastic. He only needed to see what happens when some people have too much to drink. I'm not a complete teetotaller, no way would I suggest complete prohibition (look what happened when it WAS tried) but it's easy to see why some people are. If you want to see someone change their behaviour, quite scarily sometimes, watch what happens when someone can't handle drink.Come to that, it's probably just as well I never became too fond of it myself.
Back in the single partying days, I recall thinking there were about four things you could count on seeing at a party where the drink was flowing. There was the 'sad' drunk, who became maudlin or depressed and started crying all over the place, or threatening to end it all, and other people had to run around restraining and consoling them. (Could have been a bit of attention-seeking?). Then there was the 'sick' drunk who threw up in an inappropriate place, so someone has to clean it up. Then there was the 'silly' drunk, who tried playing chicken with cars on a busy road or proving they could jump from the top floor of a building. And lastly was the 'aggressive' drunk who wanted to fight everybody in sight. I once had to help subdue a guy, normally as quiet as a mouse, who pulled out a knife and swore he was going to carve someone up. Fun!
You've heard all the theories, about whether people just say what they really think when they're drunk or whether the alcohol distorts their mind. I don't know what the truth is, but this I do know: it can seriously scare you seeing the way some people carry on just because they've taken in something which is quite legal to sell. So I'm not suggesting banning it altogether, but it's easy to see why some people do! Lives get lost, either by stupid behaviour or aggression loosed when someone has had a few.
I blogged on this subject once a few months ago. The alcohol manufacturing industries must seriously hate the thought of a Christian revival. It would reduce their business to a fraction of its present rate, and cut into the amount of work for casualty surgeons, nurses, tow-truck drivers, ambulance paramedics, lawyers, police, glaziers replacing broken windows, auto-repair businesses... costly little habit, that drinking!
It is boring to become a self-righteous moralist, telling other people how to live. And I need to mind my own manners, not comment on everyone else's behaviour. But I had to say: if you want to see a real-life Jekyll/Hyde transformation, you only have to be around when some people start drinking.
It tells you something if people have to soak away their senses to cope with life, too. There must be something missing. God help us to see what it is.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A new view

I don't buy many films or DVDs to keep, but if I did one would be "Shallow Hal". Okay, I know it's a comedy, but it still has a message worth getting. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. Hal is just that - as deep as a rain puddle, is the way one character puts it. He wants to strike up relationships with glamorous women, purely because he thinks they look good so that is his definition of 'good' altogether. Then he is hypnotized and programmed to see the real worth of people. Whoever wrote this had a clever idea, and I offer them my compliments. When Hal sees the inner worth or true beauty of people, they appear to be attractive physically. So he meets and chats up a succession of women who look good to him, because they have likeable personalties and good hearts. The significant one is Rosemary, played by Gwyneth Paltrow - the proverbial glamorous blonde. But in real life, unseen to Hal, Rosemary is collossally overweight, which is shown by the way chairs collapse under her and the huge amount she eats. But she has a good heart, and so to the mentally re-geared Hal she looks beautiful. By contrast, a nurse he meets when Rosemary takes him to visit kids in a burns unit is a cold-hearted harridan, and a grasping gold-digger; and to Hal she looks like a grizzly witch, since that is her inner quality. In 'real life' that nurse is physically attractive, but the real her is ugly because she is a selfish unloving user. Hal sees that in her while hypnotized, and sees the beauty of several other women who deserve to be appreciated. For that matter when Rosemary introduces him to two friends who do overseas aid work, kind hearted and noble young men, they look handsome and poised, even though in physical appearance they are not. One is obese, the other has an unfortunate skin condition.
It's a brilliant idea, even though the film is comic. What would people look like if you saw their character in their appearance, instead of the superficial persona they cultivate.
But trouble is ahead. Hal has a pal who is still as shallow as ever. He rejects a girl because she has oddly shaped toes. Can you beat that?
When Hal's pal, who can't handle the new way Hal does things, gets the hypnotic trance lifted everything is confusion. Hal doesn't even recognize Rosemary, or several other people who he remembers as looking good. This leads to terrible hurt for Rosemary, although it comes out happily in the end. He meets up again with several people he does not know when he sees only their physical appearance. Finally he figures it out and takes up with Rosemary because what he saw in her as a person is still there even if her appearance is not what he thought. Lesson learned. So it's a romantic comedy, good for a laugh, but I call it a gem!
It's worth switching for a moment to William Butler Yeats, a literary poet. One of his poems is a prayer for his daughter. He says, let her be not SO beautiful that it goes to her head and she becomes selfish and conceited. Good point!
Obviously physical attraction exists for some purpose. God made it such that we are attracted to some and not others. But it should never be a person's value, whether or not they are glamorous to look at.
I recall a happy moment some years ago. A girl I taught is short and tubby with a bulgy face, and not what many people would call good looking. But she has a warm kind heart. The last time I saw her she had her usual kind smile - and a husband and child, which I know she wanted. Good one! Some days the world looks like an okay place after all!
It would be incredible to see what would happen if you could really undergo what was done to Hal, and see people without being influenced by their appearance. Come to that, I've had a friend who was blind, and he was married. He did not have to see his partner physically to appreciate her.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"All God's Children"

This is the only film review I've done and might be the only one. But it seems a special case.
"All God's Children" seemed to be a little known film in Australia, I don't know if it received more notice in other countries. It is not overtly Christian or religious, as the title might imply. What happens is this.
The film opens with two boys - one white, one black - stealing a school bus. The the alarm is given, and the audience finds out that it is a type of bus in which the brakes do not work until the engine is warmed up. The boys, not knowing that, are at risk of a serious accident.
The next thing we see is the bus crashing!
After that the action goes into flashback, so that we pick up the plot. It is set against the background of the "bussing" experiment in the U.S. when the government intervened in school enrollments. This was to prevent some schools having only students from middle class or wealthy backgrounds, and others only students from poor backgrounds. The plan was to have a racial and socio-economic mix in each school, and to transport students by bus if necessary to get them to schools outside their area.
In the film, these two boys are staging a protest against it. That is why they stole the bus. The government plan would have the effect of sending them to different schools, and as well as being friends they make an excellent combination on the school football team.
Then the action returns to the present. Police have found the bus crash, with ONE badly burnt body in it. Tests will be needed to learn which of the two it is. The other boy has escaped from the crash, and gone missing. That notches up the tension. The characters in the film, and the audience, are waiting to find out which of the boys has died.
There is quite a lot in the film, revealed through the dialogue. It would get away from the point to go into too much detail about that. As the plot develops, the audience is introduced to both sets of parents, black and white. The dialogue reveals the perspectives of each on the issues of race and education.
At the final moment of the film, we hear that scientific testing has revealed which of the boys was the one found dead in the bus.
The last thing the audience hears is ONE of the mothers crying heartbrokenly, having learned that she has lost her child.
But the audience never finds out which of them it is. And that is the point that we are confronted with.
Does it make it any better, which one of them it is? Isn't is just as bad, either way?
I can't remember the names of any cast members except ( I think) Richard Widmark. The film was made back in the 1970s. It seemed to receive little acclaim, but I thought it made an excellent point. We are ALL God's children. Race does not change our value. Neither, it could be added does gender. But that would be another story.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The demon lover.

Along with dragons and fairies, one of the figures in myths and folk-songs is the 'demon-lover'. This is the cruel spirit who entices a woman or man to their destruction by wooing them when in some sort of disguise, so that their unhappy victim is carried away and realizes too late that they are doomed. It's a cruel type of tale, but like other things in folklore it reflects reality. Apart from mourning the sadness of it, those tales serve as a warning. They can be an allegory of real life.
This is just one true-life story I've heard about a 'demon-lover'. It happened in New Zealand some years ago. I should point out, the race of the people involved is irrelevant. It's just that there was a detailed newspaper report about it.
A troupe of musicians was touring New Zealand. They were African, playing some sort of traditional music. At one of the places they performed, a girl in the audience was carried away by the overtures of one of the musicians, and went home with him for the night. The woman was a Maori, which is relevant for this reason: she identified with the African man, seeing him as part of a dark-skinned race that had been mistreated by white people in the past. In her own words, she felt she had found a soul-mate.
The two of them slept together that night. The travelling musicians moved on the next day. Whether or not the girl was hoping to hear from him again I can't recall. What followed was, she found that she had contracted HIV from him.
That was bad enough. More was to follow. There was an inquiry, with a view to prosecuting the man for knowingly endangering others by having unprotected sex. At the inquiry it came out that there were half a dozen women, from parts of New Zealand, also infected by the same man. It seems he was a deceptive charmer. Part of the cruelty of it was that each of the women had felt the same way: they had met a man who they immediately felt close to, and identified with.
It was observed by the journalist that the women were all in some way vulnerable. Either they were lonely, or came from a disadvantaged background, or their appearance was such that not a lot of men would be physically attracted to them. All of them had fallen into this wretched trap - thinking they'd found a man who cared, and finding that he had wrecked their lives.
It's not only men who do the damage and women who suffer it. One case reported from Queensland in Australia, and one from Ireland went the same way. A woman stranger came to a town, proceeded to entice as many men as she could into having sex with her, and it turned out that she was HIV positive. She passed it on to some of the men who fell for her trap.
The demon lover is part of real life. On the one hand, I can feel deep sympathy for the victims. They succumbed to a temptation that many humans find hard to resist: finding love, or at least some momentary affection. On the other, this shows how people can be destroyed by letting themselves be duped. The people who sprung these cruel traps committed what could be called crimes of spite. But the ones who fell for them could be called fools to themselves. Is that too harsh? Don't worry, I'll admit now there was a time when I could have gone down that way. Before I was a Christian, and aware of God's counsel to all humans, I might have been duped by a woman who seemed to like me - especially when I was lonely and unsure of myself. Once I became a Christian, then I was no longer such a sitting duck for the 'honey-trap'.
It's a miserable thing to see that happen to those New Zealand girls, and yet it is avoidable. If they knew that their value comes from God, and not another human flattering them, they need not have been cut down that way. If those Australian and Irish men knew that God valued them, they should have known better than to let themselves be drawn to their own ruination that way. Some people still don't get this. They still try telling us that to get a life, grab everything that's going. Have fun. Live for the moment. Go out for a rage and don't worry about what could happen. And it can end in misery. If my son or daughter was one of the victims of that sort, while I could cry for them I could be incredibly angry with them too. They should have known better.
Pray that people hear and respond to the Word of God. It won't only save the human soul, though that's reason enough. It can stop vile things happening in this life, to the physical body, as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some ironies.

A famous chilldrens' author stirred things up in Australia not long ago. She said that putting children into day-care from a very early age is a form of child abuse. This society will look back on it, she says, and wonder how the people of the time could do such a thing. Mem Fox is her name. She wrote a childrens' story called "Possum Magic". Predictably, some commentators went for her like attack dogs. She questioned one of the critical claims of feminism, namely, that there must be a way of having children without having to care for them all day yourself.
I know it's not for me to tell everyone else their conscience, but what she says seems right to me. The idea of having someone else effectively bring up your child for you is just like what aristocrats and wealthy people used to do in the past. They had nannies for them, and the parents got on with their elite society lives while a hired woman cared for and nurtured their children. So while people today despise the idle rich or unjustly privileged 'nobles' of the past, some of them are doing just the same thing that those people did: hiring others to raise their children.
Doing that can have unexpected consequences. There is a story about Winston Churchill, Britain's famous Prime Minister during World War 2. Young Winston was cared for by a nanny, like most children of his class. Years later, when his mother died, it hardly affected him, and he was appalled at himself for not feeling more grief. Then shortly afterwards his old nanny died, and then he grieved!
You see the point? Winston's attachment was to his nanny, not his natural mother. The reason was, his nanny had given him the moment-by-moment attention and mother-type love that a child needs. Hence, it was her he was bonded to.
This is an age when parents like to talk about giving their children everything. Yet something they don't always give is themselves, because they are too busy having 'careers'. I'm not just talking about mothers here, it goes for fathers too. Bringing home the pay packet is important, but so is being there for your children.
And here's another irony. Just as socialism is losing ground in the world, fewer nations call themselves communist or socialist and run their economies that way, a socialist idea is becoming widespread. A major socialist aim is to diminish the family as a focus of loyalty and attachment. Get people away from their families, and the influence of parents, because their allegiance should be to the state. The Marxists specifically critisize the family as a unit. If people draw support and comfort from their families, and are influenced by them, they are less attached to the state and less obedient to it. When the communist Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, one of the things they tried to do in 're-education' camps was sever children from their families. Since the socialist state wants the complete obedience and commitment of all the citizens, it gets very jealous if people put other people before the demands of their political leaders. Whether it's Mao, Stalin, Big Brother or any one else, the socialist-communist state wants to be Number One to all. And a person's attachment to their relations compromises that. A socialist objective is to get children away from their families as much as possible. It's best if they do most of their living outside the family and home. Hence it is a socialist approach to have early day-care, long day-care, preschool from an early age, and getting the school to do as much as possible for and with kids. That way they are away from home and parents, and (the socialist hopes) under the influence of adult instructors and supervisors who can direct their development. So how ironic that some of the most capitalistic anti-communist societies in the world are doing just the same: getting their children involved in things outside the home as early as possible and as much as possible. I can see exactly why some parents home-school their children. That way the kids know exactly where they belong, and who is there for them. That way parents can stop someone else from taking over their children and undermining the parents' values. I can see why the Christian churches run schools. They support the parents' beliefs, and teach children that there is something much bigger and better than 'the state' to put their trust in. (Thankfully!)
It's not for me to tell people their conscience. I know some people put their children in day care because they are struggling to support them, and need to work. But there could be something wildly and badly wrong with what some people in western society do with the very young. It is assumed, according to humanist/socialist theory, that a secular and materialistic approach to childcare is adequate. The future will show what the results are, but by then it could be too late.

Friday, October 24, 2008

By their words..

A columnist in Australia reports on some of the vitriol directed at Sarah Palin. I'm wondering if some of the hate-mongers who attack her know they are alienating people,
arousing sympathy for the ones they attack.
Since I don't live in the United States, it's not my place to say who the nation's elected leaders should be. That is for Americans to decide. What I'm talking about is the spite involved in a bumber sticker saying 'Abort Sarah Palin', or the comment from one Australian feminist that Sarah Palin was 'very, very dangerous. There's something wrong with her....she's post-feminist'. The point here is, the people who say that would no doubt insist that they support freedom of speech and belief; rights and freedoms for all; and then savagely attack those who exercise their freedom to believe something they disagree with. It's as stupid and obvious as a person calling themselves a vegan and then eating a beef-burger.It makes mockery and hypocrisy of the fine words they speak when they want to win friends and influence people. One feminist hard-liner was quoted as saying 'My head almost exploded from the incandescent anger boiling in my skull,' when hearing what Palin had to say.
The same sort of thing goes on in Australia. A certain Professor Wayne Sawyer apparently said that English teachers in Australia were not teaching critical thinking, because John Howard kept getting re-elected Prime Minister. In other words, he claims that anyone who thinks clearly would not vote for Howard's party. That is straight out argumentum ad hominem: attack the person instead of their argument. It is an intellectually dishonest way of contesting with someone. Rather than present arguments that rebutt their arguments, attack them personally. When being taught about flawed ways of contesting an argument, that was one of the classical examples shown to me. You can't beat their argument fairly, so attack them instead. A professor of English of all people should know that. And here's the irony. The people calling Sarah Palin dangerous are themselves dangerous. That they harbour such vicious spite against her for saying what she thinks, reflects on them. That a senior academic can forget all his own training to lash out at those he disagrees with, shows the frailty of human learning, and the unreliability of education as a way of making people 'good', whatever you consider that to be.
I've seen this before, too. The political left throw terms like "fascist" at people whose views are unlike their own. In so doing they exhibit a fascist attitude themselves: they deny freedom of thought and demand obedience to their own ideology, which is the classic tenet of fascism with its demand for complete obedience.
Some time ago now, I realized that one reason I looked to Christianity for answers was that the humans who most loudly claimed to be good were often the ones with the most hatred inside them. And there goes that irony again! A frequent attack directed at Christians is that they pretend to be better than they are. Nothing beats a 'progressive' political activist, with all their self-righteous claims to social conscience, for harbouring malice while claiming to care so much about humanity.
I've forgotten who it was who said: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him", but that says it all. When human beings try to run something relying entirely on their own wisdom and supposed goodness, the results are like disastrous. Feeling that they must get their own way, people resort to the bitterest rage when opposed. God and Jesus Christ be with us. We're doomed otherwise.
Speaking of words, which is the title of this post, here's an example of the misuse of language. A person is a traitor if they pretend to believe or do something, and then do another to attack those they pretended to side with. Sarah Palin has been called a traitor to women, by feminists (claiming to speak for ALL women, which is an arrogant presumption) because they say she is letting them down. Did she in fact ever claim to believe the things the feminists believe? Or was she always right upfront about what she believes? If so, she is NOT a traitor, she is an honest advocate of her own beliefs, which she has a perfect right to. Misuse of a term is the classic example of intellectual dishonesty - and betrayal of the principle that we should all speak the truth. The attackers are condemned out of their own mouths.
It must be a bitter disappointment to put your hopes in politics and politicians. They will always only be human. The more I hear angry people demanding my support or obedience, the more I know I can not trust or aid them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Through a glass, darkly.

What some people call "girls behaving badly" was the theme of a T.V. documentary recently. The girls are called "ladettes" or "yobettes", because they carry on the way some young men do, and aim to beat the men at their own game. So the night out consists of having a lot to drink and carrying on with wild behaviour. Baring their breasts from a bus window, shouting out lewd comments and chanting 'let's get boozed and let's get laid' is all the go. When two of these girls are interviewed by the show's presenter, one of them tells us that she punched a hole in the house wall in rage when her mother refused to give her money to go out raging for the night. Another one, explaining why she does it, ends up in tears and admits "I'm in trouble. I need help". You can ask why is it that girls get critisised for behaving that way when boys are shown more tolerance. Excuses get made like "They're just sowing their wild oats" or "It's just youth" and more of that kind. The point here is that the girls are out to beat the boys at their own game. And they are suffering for it the way some boyss do.
Some of the girls, it emerges, have been badly treated by boys. So they get their own back. They can do it too. They can treat boys like disposable sex objects. Use someone like a chicken drumstick you buy at a fast food shop. Eat what you want and treat the left overs as garbage. They can get drunk and pick fights. They can trash everyone around them, and themselves. And if anyone complains they get ridiculed and attacked for being a puritan moralist who just resents anyone else having a "good time".
Then the other side of the picture involves. Some of them have started to suffer liver damage and brain damage from all the drinking. Some of them have been infected with STDs and they can't even remember where they contracted them. That happens with men too, of course. The issue is, some girls seem to think it's a good idea to copy them.
So that's how they want to prove something. It's how they get a sense of self. Girls set out to out do the boys, and don't stop to ask: who said the wild boys had the right idea about how to live? In both cases, the issue can be a lack of hope for anything better.
If you want to see the harm done by living purely for this world, there it is. To have an identity and a sense of self-worth, you have to show off and get the attention of others in the quickest and easiest way. The only value you place on yourself is the value other people seem to place on you. And some of those others only value what they can get some use of, or amusement from.
If people get their sense of worth from God, they do not need the approval of others. If someone really knows that God cares about them and values them, they do not have the same need to get social approval or prove something by making a reputation. So they are not so prone to damage themselves by trying to be the biggest rager of dare-devil in the world. And they might live longer that way.
That is easy to say. If you want human company and friendship, it's difficult not to try and get the attention and applause of other people. But then, which people do you want to get noticed by? If it's the 'fun crowd' who do all the raging, what happens if they also demand self-destructive or denigrating behaviour from you?
I've been there myself. This is not some wise old man who knows it all, it is a survivor of mistakes made in taking a foolish, misguided approach to life. But I was never so desperate that I would let other people gull me into making a complete wreck of myself. Even before actually becoming a Christian, I had some sense of a God who cared. There was something in the universe apart from blind chance and the approval of other human beings. That saved me from destoying myself.
One of the most miserable cases I heard of was this: a young man wanted in to a gang. Their rite of initiation was that you had to climb out of a train window; crawl across the roof of the train and back in by a window on the other side - while the train was moving. He tried to do it, fell and broke his neck. He is now quadraplegic. That was the price of trying to be part of the crowd he thought were cool. And zillions of people can comment about how foolish it was, and yet people still do it. Another case was a girl who became wildly promiscuous because she thought that was the only way to get boys to like her - or at least notice her. This is not news. People have known about this for centuries. Trouble is, it keeps happening.
So am I right in thinking that this happens when people do not have a sense of God caring? They think that impressing certain people is the only way to get a life? Or they think 'life's a bitch and then you die', so what's to be lost by taking chances?
For years the so-called 'liberated thinkers' have been trying to eliminate the influence of Christianity from the western world. The trouble is, they have nothing better to replace it with.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Price or value?

A British churchman stated the opinion that pregnancy termination cheapens human life. I think he's completely right. If a child can be cut off from the living because the natural parents (or one of them) don't want that child to be born, the idea is that people are only allowed to live if someone else has a use for them. That idea can actually be a threat to everyone. If you believe that life is sacrosanct, then you would not assume the right to terminate the life of the unborn, or anyone else either. To accept the idea that it's okay to kill the unborn is to say that a life can only continue with the approval of others. From that point on it is value judgement who lives and who does not. Think about it. If you claim the right to end a life at all, then rather than seeing life as sacred in principle, you're imposing a valuation on it. Some can live, some cannot, depending on the approval of others. And that view of life can carry over into a loss of respect for human life generally.
Some years ago it made the national news when a crowd of street gang hoods bashed up a female jogger and nearly killed her. One of the gang, under arrest, said: "So what? She weren't nothing." He saw no value in that woman, so he had no remorse for attacking her. That is the bad attitude, whoever the woman was. In fact,she was a professional with skills and eductation, but she didn't matter to him. And the point is NOT that she mattered more for being a skilled professional, but that she is human and should not be treated that way. You could safely bet your life that gangster would care if someone he cared about was attacked. Whoever he values or cares about should be protected. And that is the problem. That is a classic example. He could risk killing someone he saw as "nothin'", while caring about his own. Life only mattered in some cases, not all. That attitude is reflected in saying that a child can be snuffed out because others do not accept their right to life.
I do know that pregnancy can cause shocking distress to the mother. The woman I love most in the world suffered through pregnancy, physically from sickness and emotionally from depression. And that is even in an intact marriage when the children were loved and wanted. It must be far worse when the pregnancy is not wanted. Right. So there are reasons why a woman could wish that it would end. I respect peoples' right to their feelings. But it is still true to say, sometimes a principle has to be suffered for. I could claim that I've done that myself. And the truth is not just what suits us anyway. So there we have it. If life is not inviolable, then there will be times when it will be taken by those who do not see the wrong in doing so. Killing the unborn because it suits others to do so is saying that life can be ended for the sake of others. If you go down that road, and it becomes the general attitude of a society, then the day could come when someone decides to kill you because they do not accept your absolute right to live. Talking of gang culture, one gang had as its condition of membership: 'Take a life, make a life.' To be in the gang the member had to kill someone and get a girl pregnant. The attitude is that you can put someone else out of the world and replace them with someone of your own 'making', in a sense. A world where too much of that happened would be a nightmare of murder and carnage. That extreme example is the same in principle as saying that some children may be born and others not.
There is the case of self-defence. But killing in self-defence is a desperate last resort, not a calculated decision to attack and slay someone else. Also in that situation the person who needs to be defended against is the cause of the problem for attacking in the first place. It is not the same as ending the life of someone helpless.
There is the case of euthenasia. I could understand why a person may wish to die if they are terminally ill and in pain and distress. If that is their decision I can't argue. The point there is, they are not imposing on anyone else. What they want to do applies to them only.
Who presumes the right to take away the life of anyone else? And if you claim that right, might someone claim it against you?
A human being has an identity right from conception. From that point on their gender is decided, as is their physical appearance and the inborn parts of their character. It is too self-serving to say they are not human because they have not been born. Life has started, and a lack of concern for its right to continue can carry over into a lack of respect for life of anyone at any time or place.
I respect the rights of others to their views. But that is how it seems, inescapeably, to me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Featured in a television interview was a woman named Bettina Goering. If you recognize the name, you're quite right. Bettina Goering the grand niece of Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's henchmen and a leader of the Nazi government that did so much evil during World War 2. She talked herself about being of 'the bloodline of murderers.' In some ways the tone of the documentary is optimistic, because she is engaging in conciliatory dealings with a Jewish woman, helping to undo the cruel things done by her great uncle among other. But the point that struck me was what she said about herself, being related to someone who did such evil. It was as if that reflected on her. I don't believe that is fair, when those things happened before she was even born.
It can be right to learn from the misdeeds of the past. But it can be horribly wrong to condemn whole families for them.
Where this leads for me is, blaming a person for where they come from, or any other circumstances of their conception. Years ago I heard a debate about 'termination' of pregnancies. One speaker suggested that they could understand a woman choosing it if she was pregnant as a result of rape. Now I know that I can't dictate conscience to a woman who has suffered a horror like that. I'm not going to claim that I can understand another person's situation when I've never been in it, and never can be. What I do have to say is this: you cannot blame a child for the circumstances of their conception, just as you can't blame them for their relatives.
Someone once said a thing that struck me as quite shocking at the time - but it is actually quite true.
They said that any one or all of us could be living today because of an act of rape. Any or all of us could be descended from some utter monster. In either case, we cannot be blamed, and condemned, for the ancestry we come from or any other circumstance of our conception.
Does that sound shocking? Is it an insult to our parents to suggest it? No, not necessarily. Consider this.
Any human being draws their existence and identity from EVERY ancestor we have. It works thus: Obviously if our parents had never met, or something was different in the past from what is was, we would not have been conceived. And the same applies to our grandparents, and so on back as far as the human race goes. If someone travelled in time and intervened in the life of our great-great-great grandparents, so that they did not have the child they did have, then the whole line of descent would change from there down. If you could change history back as far as Emperor Claudius of Rome, and disrupt the relationship between two people such that one of their children was not born after all, then the entire line of descent from that point down through the centuries would alter. Thousands of people who do exist would not. Others might exist in their place. And that could eliminate the existence of any one of us.
Now calculate the number of your ancestors. We have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents... and even allowing for marriage or child bearing between relatives like cousins, which can reduce the number, our ancestors number millions. To check that, simply keep multiplying two by two. Ten generations back we each have 1024 direct ancestors - and our identity comes inseparably from every one of them. Ten generations, at three or four each century, only goes back to the times of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, William Shakespeare, the early European settlements in what was then called 'the Americas'. Now keep going back to the times of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Julius Caesar. The number reaches millions.
What could there be among all those ancestors who yielded our existence? If one person in every million is conceived in an act of rape, the probability is that we have several such ancestors. And what sort of people could be included among them?
This is the risk you run if you research your family tree. It's a natural thing to do; but it can turn up some things that are less than flattering. Back in the 'Dark Ages', a vile barbarian raiding a village might have committed some abomination on a female villager, and from thence came the line of descent which led to ...me? How do I know where I came from? And if it came to light that a great humanitarian, or someone you love, was descended only three generations back, from an act of rape, incest, prostitution, are you going to condemn them for that?
Now look at something that might change the whole view of it. When the Israelites were taking the city of Jericho, they had help from a woman named Rahab. Rabab was a 'harlot', a prostitute. In a city alread squalid and corrupt, she was one of the least respected. And yet it is recorded that she became an ancestress of the Messiah, in that one of His human parents descended from her.
We can't know who all our ancestors are. We can't know what unloveable acts might have led to the bloodline that we're descended from. We CAN know that we each have a human identity that comes from God.
The saying goes that "God has no grandchildren". That means we each can call ourselves His children, with no generational separation - and we have our lives from Him. We need not feel blighted by what is in our human ancestry. If it turns out to be something we can't be proud of, that shows no-one need be proud and count themselves better born that others. Our worth lies in our being beloved of God, not what we do ourselves, not the forebears we might claim. And no-one need be condemned for which humans they are descended from. God can renew any and everyone, and make them what He knows they can be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The grim stealer-further.

I don't know if people would want to talk about this. Sometimes it helps - each to their own. When I got caught in the grip of depression, it lead to some quite bizarre forms of empathy.
I can imagine myself in situations quite unlike the real life I lead. For example: I used to dwell on what it would be like for a slave: someone abducted, sold into bondage, and forced to do whatever the person who 'owned' me chose, no matter how exhausting, demeaning or hateful. It could break the spirit. And the bitter reality is that human creatures have had to live that way. That thought used to impose on my mind and become a morbid obsession which I could not shake off. Other times the situation on my mind was that of a person whose marriage breaks up, and who loses their home, their contact with children, and who suffers a blow to the heart that can leave them psychologically winded and flattened. It is how some people find themselves derelict, living on the street. Another scenario was being left seriously disabled. If you've seen that film "Born On The Fourth Of July", in which the soldier is left paralysed, you might remember the line: "Who's going to love me?" in the sense of making a marriage with him. It could be derided as self pity if you were callous enough to deny the sheer pain expressed in that comment. The point being, what a shocking and heart-breaking thing to happen to someone. And I would go on and on beating myself up imagining things like this, and descend in a black pit of despair at the thought of it. I can think of just one positive: it was a way of sharing to some extent in the hurt and suffering of others, which is what a human should sometimes do if they are going to call themselves a caring member of the race.
The danger lies in the feeling so overwhelming you that you go down yourself. I do not believe I was ever dangerous to anyone except myself. It would not have been my reaction to go mad and kill my family or some pure horror like that. What did happen, which was scary, was that I became careless of danger. On a really bad morning, driving to work so bleak that I hardly knew what I was doing, I nearly caused a serious accident. I pulled out of an intersection in the path of a truck, which only narrowly missed a collision. The driver yelled wildly at me, I heard it because the two vehicles passed so close; and it was a reminder that I was putting stress on others. That truck driver did not deserve the trauma of being involved in a major, possibly fatal, accident. So I needed to get a grip and think of others. The condition is much improved now because I'm out of the job that was driving me over the edge; and because the doctor found an anti-depressant medication that works for me. But the entire experience was shocking. It was impossible not to feel bitter and bleak about everything. What I might have done without the help of God is desert my family, run off somewhere trying to escape the misery, thinking that somehow I would find a new and better life somewhere else. It would not have worked. There would have been too much hurt to the ones I abandoned. Knowing that would have spoilt any attempt to be happy somewhere else. Now that the foulest moments are past,
I'm seriously thankful I didn't lose it to that extent, or let myself give in to selfishness. And yet the thing can blind you to reason sometimes. The 'grim stealer' can lacerate your mind and distort your perceptions, horribly. Another odd reaction was that I used to want to eat things I normally never touch, like licorice. Then there were the night sweats, as if I had a high fever; and the nightmares, the worst of them literally sickening. The thing I need to be glad of is that I was got past it. Last night's T.V. viewing narrated the suicide of a teenage girl who could not get past it. That's another bitter theft: a bright young life stolen. I wish that I could do something like the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come in "A Christmas Carol". It would involve taking people on a journey, showing them what can happen if....and showing them that there will be better times ahead, if they wait it out. The wretched thing is, the victim can lose hope. It can be a huge rescue operation if instead they can be sustained until they get past it. Effective medication is a God-given life saver. It can also make the critical difference if the sufferer knows that other people understand and care. Happily for me I had a family and friends, and congregation members, who did understand. But some people, including some I worked with, could only make futile cliched comments about 'trying to get your mind on better things' or ( I got to hate this one!) 'implementing strategies to counteract it'. (Useless!)
Every age seems to have a particular scourge that afflicts it. The list would be too long to compile here, but some examples are the plagues that hit the world in the Fourteenth Century - bubonic plague, which killed a third of the people between India and Iceland. The rest of the world was then unknown to European chroniclers. We can't know what happened there. There were appalling wars which ravaged entire populations, as well. Historians and commentators have said much about them. One particular blight of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First Centuries is clinical depression - the grim stealer which can leach the will to live out of the human heart. I owe a debt of gratitude to friends and loved ones who helped me through it, and to Christian faith. Without that, I could have lost any sense of hope and the will to fight on through it. It is easy to see why that old fable has Satan gloating that depression is one of the deadliest weapons.
I should finish by saying: anyone who has been there for a depression sufferer, and aided them in getting through it, has done a fine thing that could have saved a life. May God commend you for caring.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where the power is.

Soldiering has been described as the world's oldest profession. That may not be true. Farming might predate it. But then it depends on what you describe as a profession. True it is though that conflict between humans has existed since the beginning of the human race. The first murder in Biblical history happened in the first generation to be born, when Cain killed Abel. As soon as human beings grew in numbers enough, the individual quarrel grew into a group quarrel. Soldiering itself, the bearing of arms, may serve the noble purpose of protecting those who need it. It is not in itself a bad thing. The issue lies in what is done by soldiers, and why. Watching the events of the world, one of the most enduring things in human history is warfare. In some cases, the background to a conflict can seem to be perfectly ridiculous. That is why Jonathon Swift wrote "Gulliver's Travels" about the peoples of Lilliput going to war over which end you should open an egg. It is just about that stupid sometimes! As we sit here now, there is centuries old bitterness between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Ireland; and every so often someone stirs the pot by celebrating the victory in the Battle Of The Boyne, which was fought in - wait for it - 1690! Over three hundred years, and the feelings are still kept alive. That's not even the worst I've heard. Conflict between the Albanians and Serbs in the province of Kosovar links to a battle which was fought in the 1400s (or was that the 1300s?)
There is a traditional emnity between the Greeks and Turks, dating from a time when Turkey held Greece as part of its empire. And this list could go on.
Stopping a fight is almost like finding the foot of a rainbow. No matter how near you seem to get it's always further off. So blood keeps getting shed, between people who've never personally quarrelled at all, because of what started between the distant ancestors. You can see the problem in microcosm when there is a quarrel or fight between two individual people. Each one feels that they have to get back at the other for something the other did; and each time they get their own back, the other person then has to get square for that; and so it can go on forever.
The only way to stop it is for both parties to agree to stop right there; and that means one side has to let the other get away with the last hit. All this is obvious. I'm not saying anything amazingly deep pointing that out.
The key to it is: someone has to agree not to retaliate, but to forgive. That can be terribly hard when you see cause to be bitter and angry about the hurt done, especially if it involves lives lost and vile cruelties carried out. I know that even from my own relatively safe life. But the inescapeable truth here is that you can only have peace either when both sides have been bled dry, or when they decide to forgive and end it that way.
To some people this is weak talk. They would say that it is cowardly to run away from a fight. And I know myself sometimes the only way to survive, and protect others, IS to fight - defensively. I've done some military service. There may well be a need to take up arms. But sometimes the braver thing may be to find a peaceful way, because the very thing we want to save may be lost otherwise. Now consider this:
if there had been more conciliation, and forgiveness, after the First World War, it is possible the Second World War might have been avoided. Look at the histories written on the subject. At the end of WW 1, those nations on the defeated side were treated very harshly. Some of what was done might have been well and good, but Germany in particular suffered by the Treaty Of Versailles which ended that war; and the seeds were sown in that for World War 2: Germany, among others, regaining national pride.
That is a macro example. Micro examples can be seen in disputes and feuds between individuals. Conflict goes on because one or both, or all sides, will not forgive. People may underestimate the depth of Christian teachings and precepts. They are not just nice things to make life happier and safer for wimps. Lives by the hundreds may depend on them. Forgiving those who offend you does not have to be a forfeiture of your rights. It can be a way to stop a wretched bloodbath that will blight the lives of dozens, or thousands, even those you most care about. The Nazi leaders who led Germany into W.W. 2 managed to bring destruction on the things they loved most: their nation and its people.
Forgiveness does not preclude legitimate justice. If the hunt for Nazi war criminals, or other war criminals such as those from the Yugoslavian war continue, fair thing. People should not feel they can get away with abominations. But the exercise of justice is not the same as revenge, which begets revenge in turn, and becomes vendetta.
The Bible's teachings are more profound than some people ever realize. They are not the easy way out for wimps. They are the way to save everything worth saving.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Critical Difference

Sometimes social commentators discuss human behaviour by comparing it with the behaviour of animals. I've heard it said that because some animal or bird species have multiple sexual partners, then it may be a natural and healthy thing among human beings. That happens with horses for example. It also happens among some higher primates like apes. Another variation says: animals often have different mating partners and produce offspring by them. Therefore this may be a healthy evolutionary trend if it happens among humans. One commentator even remarked that sometimes homosexual behaviour can be observed among non-human organisms. Therefore it is just a variation in the behaviour that occurs in nature, hence there is nothing wrong with it.
There is a flaw in this entire type of argument. Certain habits and actions observed among animals are at least undesirable, even illegal among human beings.
For one thing, disputes among animals are usually settled by combat. Even herbivorous
creatures of a supposedly non-aggressive type engage in combat. Deer, for example, the sweet looking creatures who inspired the character of Bambi, fight at times. Stags have their antlers for a reason. They serve as weapons when contesting with other stags. Bulls fight, so do rams. Even kangaroos, the model for some soft toys, engage in battle and sometimes do each other serious injury. The way one male gets the right to mate with a female is by fighting off rivals. Likewise with cattle and sheep, especially in the wild. And this is among the plant eaters that do not kill other creatures to eat. By the time we get to lions, pumas and other carnivors, the nature of their conflict can be really bloody. According to one nature documentary chronicling the behaviour of lions, sometimes a new male will take a pride of females from an older one, by killing him or driving him off; and kill the cubs of his among the females of the 'harem' he has acquired by force. Now imagine if humans lived this way. You might admire the strength and power of lions, but would you want a human male killing another man and thereby taking his wife (or wives) without their approval, and wiping out that man's children? If I'm being too obvious here, go back to the point. Is animal behaviour a suitable pattern by which to assess what is good among humans?
On the subject of mating and rearing of the young; among animals it is common for the female of the species to be solely responsible for that. By contrast, humans tend to agree that fathers should be involved, not leave it all to their childrens' mother. So what happens among animals is not an example for humans to follow there either.
As far as I've ever found out, animals do not care for their elderly and keep them comfortable. Neither do they nurture and support those born with disabilities. Offspring born without normal capabilities do not survive among bears, cheetahs or even higher primates like gorillas and baboons. The mother may merely abandon and reject them, or they may even be killed. That has been observed among lions - the killing of a lame female, who had just abandoned her cub, and the killing of the cub as well. This is not a happy subject to discuss. The point is, what happens among non-humans is by no means some indication of how we should live unless we abandon what we like to call our humanity.
One study of primates observed that sometimes among a clan of apes, there will be group sexual events in which the members not only multi-partner, but the young are involves as well. Among humans we call this paedophilia.
I could go on and on. The point is what animals do is not necessarily an example of healthy or safe behaviour if applied to homosapiens. I wonder if some of the 'clever' commentators who talk about it realize this? If they don't, they are not as smart as they claim. If they do, then they have a view of humans different from that taken by many others.
The evolutionary thesis is that the strongest survive and thus beget superior offspring like themselves. Among humans, this translates as applauding the actions of 'high achievers' even if they walk on the faces of others by getting ahead. Not in every case, admittedly. Some high achievers are admired for their work in medicine, finging ways to preserve and improve life for all. But the triumph of pure strength was the way advocated by Adolf Hitler. And consider this: in a society which rejected people with a handicap, what would have happened to Franklin Delano Roosevelt? If humans are a distinct class of creatures, not just sophistated higher primates, then what happens in 'nature in the wild' is a study in what NOT to do, not an example to follow.
Admittedly, we humans kill to eat. Even vegetarians consume other living things, because plants too are life forms. The difference is that usually humans buy their meat or fish in a shop, they don't always catch and cut it up themselves. But then we have rules about avoiding gratuitous cruelty in the process. Humans are expected to show consideration for the suffering of anything that lives, and try to minimize it. Does any other life form do this, as a rule?
An atheist would argue that we are products of evolution, and it is right that the strong dominate and inherit the world. Christians believe that we are created, by a compassionate Deity, and should show respect and care for all the created things around us. It seems obvious to me which of these two approaches offers most hope for a good world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stones and sticks

An newspaper article I found today goes into my collection of 'keepables'. It demolishes the old saying about "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." That saying is not true, at all. The little rhyme is taught to kids as a way to deal with it when others torment them with name-calling; and it's humbug. As the article says, ( and didn't we all know it!)the pain from emotional bullying lasts longer and can be re-lived more than that from physical bullying.
In Australia this last few weeks there have been suicides by high school students who were victims of bullying, much of it emotional rather than physical. Some schools are getting a serious wake-up call. They will have to act on the issue rather than taking the convenient way out, telling students to 'just ignore it', or teaching them that silly little rhyme. It should not be news anyway. The body may bruise, even be quite badly injured, but the physical body does not register emotional as sharply as the mind does. Children may suffer hundreds of bruises and grazes, even broken bones, having accidents like falling off bicyles, or swings, or simply falling over when running around. Playing sport can leave you with sprains and fractures. They heal. I don't recall someone being permantly traumatised over a broken arm or leg. But they can be rendered angry, miserable, withdrawn and self-rejecting because by ridicule or rejection by their peers. One victims' support group states that social pains causes more lasting hurt than physical injury. They mention the case of a 13-year-old girl who can't look at her mobile phone texts because for two years she was sent bullying, threatening ones.
No-one can judge all others by themselves, and that includes me; but from personal experience I know this: a broken collarbone, physically painful for several days, was not as bad a thing as feeling scorned or rejected by people who you thought were friends; or simply targetted for trashing by people at my high school who couldn't get a life any way except by dumping on others, including me. You get better at coping with it; but psychological pain can damage more than much physical pain or injury.
It seems that words can make a much bigger difference than blows. When someone says "Words can never hurt.." etc it might be worth asking them why do we have slander and libel laws?
Taking a slightly different tack:if it came to a choice between greater and lesser evil, which would be easier to cope with? Being slapped, even punched; or being back-stabbed or emotionally tormented, by someone who was clever at it? It might be an individual thing.
So the tongue can be a weapon, and we all need care how we use it. That being said, there is a need to safeguard freedom of speech. There is a balance needed there. It comes down to the motive: why do we say what we do? To say what we feel needs to be said, or out of anger? There is a big responsibility involved in using 'only words.'
Of course there is an upside to this, as well. Just as we can be hurt by words, we can conquer and overcome with words. If we have a truth to speak, and speak it plainly, the word can prove mightier than the fist, just as it's said: "The pen is mightier than the sword".
If you doubt it, look at this example. The most shocking brute force was used to destroy the body of Jesus Christ. Crucifiction is thought to be the most agonizing way known to kill a human. But even as Jesus body was (temporarily) destroyed, His words were not. Followers of Jesus have died in the body for their beliefs. But His words have changed the world, and still change lives and situations; and the worst that the most cruel villains on Earth can do cannot stop this. Jesus did not use weapons, He used words. And all the armies of the world could not and can not stop Him.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who do you need?

This is a rhetorical question - anybody knows the answer. It's just meant to make a point. Who do you need most? An ambulance officer who might save your life if you get injured, or a pro golfer? A fire fighter who might rescue you from a burning building, or a 'soul' singer? A rescue squad member who might get you out of a crashed car, or a rock and roll star? Next obvious question: who gets paid the most, and gets adored and idolised by thousands?
Who did anyone need most in the past? A T.V. presenter, or their mother? A star football player, or their father? You get the point here!
My grandmother once said, looking at a newspaper report about Elizabeth Taylor's facelift surgery: "Your mother is worth ten of her". I agreed. I could have said "Make that twenty." The same would be true of my wife. But this in not running a celebrity actress down as such: I'm just getting some priorities right. There's no reason for me to be hostile to someone like Elizabeth Taylor. But she did not help me to get a life - my mother and father did. And that's just a small personal example.
Of course people know this. Also, it's easier to make an idol out of a singer or actor, or sportsperson, because you don't live close to them and see their real, fragile humanity. It's natural enough to be impressed by what someone does, and become a bit of a fan. But it might be a good idea to remember who you're going to need. Is it a friend, who has always stood by you and cared if you had troubles, or a screen idol who might find it a nuisance if you went up to them and wanted something from them? That's if you could get near them!
I wondered about trying to write a satirical novel in which everyone in the world wanted to be a celebrity. Just imagine: we all want to be famous, and make it the whole point of our lives. And to find a way of setting some sort of record, people have to find the most obscure things to do, just so that they're the first. To get into the record books, the newspaper or attract television coverage, you need to find something that hasn't been done before. Just imagine - someone decides to be the first person to kayak across the English Channel, or across the Straits of Florida. They might set out to be the first person to roller-blade right across the U.S or round the coast of Australia. Another idea might be to walk backwards between the West and East coasts of your home country, and someone else decides to do the same in reverse. In each case they're the First To Do It, so it's instant fame! This list could go on and on. In fact someone might set up a business collecting unique or unusual ideas, ways to set some sort of a record or get attention, and get rich selling the ideas because they've already thought of them and put the list in print. Meanwhile, there is a critical shortage of nurses. What would happen?
Would it make people stop and think? Or would they suggest passing laws compelling certain people into certain jobs, as used to happen in the former Soviet Union?
To some extent, it's actually happening. Several English speaking countries have had to run recruitment campaigns outside their own borders trying to find qualified nurses. Just now, I'm told, there is a shortage of teachers. Also, there have been advertisments trying to get more fire fighters. Note what they have in common, those occupations. They're all essential, but none of them are glamorous. You've seen a calendar or a magazine cover featuring sporting stars, perhaps? Have you seen one featuring obstetric nurses? And if you watch television, do you ever run across a show like "American (or Australian) Idol"? That seems to be what people dream of becoming - because it's shown to them as the greatest thing to be.
There is a precedent here. Jesus Christ was the son of a carpenter and a stay-at-home mother. Such descriptive comments of Him as survive, do not portray Him as being glamorous. He was not born into wealth or high social circles. He was not a person who would have attracted hangers-on trying to get a bit of his 'cool' and wealth. But that is the person God chose to make Himself into when He took a human identity and walked on Earth. Does this tell us something?
I don't suppose we can change the world. The celebrity culture will endure. But had we better remember who matters before we find that they're not there?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why I would never enter my daughter in a beauty contest.

It's not for me to say beauty contests should be banned - this is a free society, or supposed to be. Child pageants are a little different from adult ones because the child is entered by their parents. It may not be their own choice. Still, I won't presume the right to say they should be abolished. But I'm quite sure I would never ever have entered my daughter in one. The reasons are pure and simple: my daughter has a value that is NOT subject to some kind of assessment by a panel of judges, and she should NOT be made to feel less worthy than some other girl because when she is compared with them she wins no prizes.
Last night's television included a documentary segment on these 'little Miss sunshine' type of things - the sort that JonBenet Ramsay was involved in. There were brief interviews with some of the little girls who did not win anything. It was quite cruel to see the look of sad bewilderment in the faces of some of those little kids who had just been made 'also-rans' by this contest, which they had probably spent hours, days, weeks preparing for. We would not do that to our daughter.
Of course, you might challenge me by asking: if I was sure she would win, and it turned out she did win, might that be different? Okay, I should examine my conscience about that a bit. Would it thrill me to see my little girl made to feel like a winner? Answer: "Yes, but... there should be a better way than that." It would not be a good thing if she valued herself in terms of beating other contestants in an exhibition of looks and grooming, or trained deportment of the sort that could be considered personal flaunting. It cannot be a good thing for a person to make a life out of 'look at me, aren't I wonderful'.
It's an old cliche to talk about 'not judging by appearances'; 'looking beneath the surface for the real person', and so on. But it's also quite true.
The good things in my life include 29 years of marriage to a woman who is beautiful to me, but in her childhood was overshadowed by her younger sister, who was considered the beauty of the family. I would not swap my wife for her sister, for one minute. Other privileges of mine have included the friendship of several women who were never going to make a career out of modelling; but they had warm kind hearts of the sort that the world needs. Among them, the female people I've liked and appreciated as friends, have the following list of things that would count against them in a beauty pageant: crossed front teeth, buck teeth, flat chests, short thick legs, eye sight problems that require them to wear thick glasses, a lisp, being a clothing size 20, frizzy hair that could never really be styled...and I could go on. The point is, those women are my friends. They cared, and I was better off in life because they were there for me. Some more widely admired women seem to have little time for anything except themselves and what they want. That is not to say that a woman with an attractive face or elegant figure can't have a good heart as well. It's just that physical beauty is really just physical, and to mistake it for likeable character is one of the oldest and stupidest mistakes in history.
Of course, some people do not make the mistake. They quite deliberately value a person for the way that person looks. The cynical attitude is that someone who looks good might be good to be seen with. Just as some men are said to have 'trophy' wives, some women look for husbands who are a social asset. It must be a rather empty way to try having a relationship! That someone gets admiring looks, and it makes people jealous of you to be seen with them, does not mean you can feel safe and complete being in their company. You cannot have a heart to heart talk with them. What that tells us is, that to be hooked on personal appearances makes you a slave to them, and you have to spend your whole life keeping them up; and if the loneliness and stress of it proves to be too much, well..is that why some celebrities have such disastrous personal lives? I won't mention names; but the media devote hours and pages to scandal stories about singers, film stars and celeb sports people crashing and burning. It's either alcohol abuse, drug addiction or having serial relationship break downs. The pressure of being seen and watched, and having to keep up an image, must be seriously destructive. The interest in celebs' problems might be a bit to do with jealousy; but being glamorous, and living by it, comes with it's own set of problems. Right, now someone could tell me I'm into sour grapes- I never had the chance to get a life by being a glamour celeb. My reply: I've got a life that works quite well without it. And it seems the better way to go. So my wife and I would tell our kids the same thing - and for that reason, we never entered them in beauty contests, baby photo competitions or any of that. There are much better things to do. They don't need to feel like failures for not being Mr Universe or Miss Australia. Their value is God given.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Maker's Instructions

You might have heard a story like this one before: two parents wanted to avoid raising their kids within stereotyped roles. So they gave their son a Barbie doll for Christmas, and their daughter a set of toy trucks. Within a short time the girl had named her toys Daddy truck, Mummy truck and Baby truck. And the boy had taken to holding the doll by the body, bending the legs so that they pointed like a gun barrel; and he ran around aiming it and things and 'shooting' them. Well! It looks as if those two kids had their own ideas about things! They didn't just go along with someone else trying to tell them how to act. So could it be that the differences are not just learned - they are inbuilt. That might be part of the great design from a higher source than human social engineering.
When I was very young, it seemed that girls were silly - and I know that young girls can find boys annoying, too. I once said something like "Who invented girls?" Well, it was pointed out to me that if there were no girls, I would not have a mother - or a grandmother, or a great grandmother, (at that time I still had a living great grandmother), because girls grow up to be women. You'd think I would have figured that out for myself! But then, we all have to learn. More than that, none of my friends would have mothers either. So we would not exist! Just as well someone took the trouble to point that out to me!
Well, we've all heard what can happen when parents are too set on having boys, not girls. A society that rejects girls can make itself extinct! In some cultures, the ones mentioned were India and China, there has been female infanticide - the killing of baby girls because they are not wanted. Can you get the pure horror of that?Another report said that couples try to learn the gender of their unborn child, and terminate the pregnancy if the child is female. How high would that rate on a list of history's Worst Ever Ideas?
Underlying that is the idea that males are somehow 'better' than females. There are cultural issues, like the demand that a girl's family pay a dowry when she marries. Why would a man expect to be paid to marry a woman?! Be careful what you say, though. You might get a lecture from the politically correct about respecting other cultures!
On the subject of sexism, it's just as foolish to argue that females are better than males. The two are obviously in some ways different, but equally essential.
Apparently, a well known feminist writer said this: 'masculinity is superior to femininity'. From that came the idea that women should live and act more like men, because it made them stronger. It was a better thing for them to be. That's another entry for the list of extremely bad ideas!
WHY is maleness better than femaleness? What would happen if the world had either no feminine girls, or masculine boys? I can't see how it would be worth living in, and maybe it wouldn't last long anyway! Some planned societies, like the early communist regimes, tried to abolish the different gender roles. Those societies did NOT become the way of the future. Does that tell you something?
The saying goes, "Vive le difference!" (Long live the difference.) The differences between the two are meant to be there! And the thing to get your head round is, two things can be different without either one being better. The world needs BOTH! It is a critical problem: human beings think one thing superior to another, without seeing that one can't exist without the other.
In those countries where infant girls were rejected, there is now a serious problem: too few women, so that many men cannot have partners. Parents who were determined to have sons might have to stop and figure that out. Why did they think someone else had to have daughters, but not them? And just how could you reject your own child, for being a girl? My wife and I only have one daughter. Sometimes I wish we could have had about five - as well as our sons, NOT instead of. But that would be greedy. We know people who can't have children. I must not be ungrateful for what we do have.
One good news story from recent times: a Christian church group is undertaking to have abandoned baby girls from overseas brought into our country for adoption. Good on them too! It would be the right thing whichever sex the abandoned babies were, it just happens that so many of them are girls because of this shocker idea that female children are worthless. And it's NOT just fathers who think that. By all reports, mothers too can reject female babies because they only want to have sons. As an aside there: equally cruel is a parent who rejects a child for being male, because they wanted a female. But it seems infant boys are not so often abandoned - or worse.
I'd better be careful here. If God decided to strike every doer of bad deeds, I'd be going down! But may I still say: if you want evidence that God is real, one of the many evidences of that is the birth of a baby - including a girl. And if you want evidence showing the fallen state of the human race, then try this: some humans can actually reject a new born child because they only want a son, not a daughter.
What a piece of work is a human! We could spend hours listing great achievements; and as long listing great mistakes or bad deeds. One point to make, though: wherever Christian missionaries went, a practice they tried to stop was female infanticide. The modern politically correct view is that they barged in and messed up other cultures. It could be that many individuals now living only exist because one of their female ancestors was saved, by the intervention of those Christians. The Word says: "Male and female He made them." It was not a human idea. Humans cannot improve on it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What matters?

Did you ever see something like this? Someone who is supposed to come from an under privileged home, but they wear a Stussy cap and other brand name clothes. I can remember seeing that going on. Of course, sometimes it looked as if the brand name shirt was the only bit of clothing they had. It looked as if they slept in it! So instead of a number of clothes, cheaper to buy but not 'cool', they own one item of status gear and nothing else! Something strange is going on here. I know there are people who are hard up, there really is such a thing as poverty. The concern is that people might be compounding the problem because they get hung up on silly ideas about how to spend what they do have. It comes to a question of, what really matters?
Do some people get so caught up on image that they try to get their hands on a few things that are fashionable and supposedly give them status, and go without more important things?
In other words, what are they trying to live for? It could be really cruel if they get made slaves to the idea that without certain accessories, they deserve no respect.
When I was teaching, you never stopped hearing about what terrible problems some kids were supposed to have. Then a woman who had worked overseas, in a rural area where some kids hardly had enough to eat, said that kids in the Western world didn't know when they were well off. Some peoples' idea of poverty is not having cable T.V. It's true, life can be made too easy and people can become indulged, and jaded, like the proverbial spoilt kid crying for the moon. Whatever they have, they still want more. But then: when someone is surrounded by material things, and everybody boasts about what they've got, then having possessions can seem to be the meaning of life. Did we give people reason to think that wealth and trophies are what give them worth, and if they don't have them then life is not fair to them? If it works that way, then the message is: to have any self-respect they've got to have things, and show that they have them. That is the only way to get a life!
This is not original, I know. Thousands of people talk about 'the meaning of life'. But it's a continuing problem, like crimes of violence. So we don't have much choice but to keep thinking about it. What do people live for? Is it just to keep up with the 'trendies', the 'cool group', the smart set or whatever you want to call them? If that's how it is working, then people who fall for it are trapped on a treadmill that won't get them anywhere - because there will always be someone who has more, and it will torment them to know they haven't made it until they've got the same. Deadly!
So how can that be changed? Once again, this is not original. As the Scripture says, "What benefit is it to gain the whole world, and lose your soul?" The human being needs something to live for apart from the material world and its trappings. If that's all they can see, then like the horizon, what they want will always be out of reach. Don't worry, I know we need some material things. I love to eat, and more importantly, my children have to eat so I'd better make sure the food is there. The same goes for their clothes, and more besides. But life is more than that. It has to be! And realizing that is important. Failing to realize that can happen when people try to leave things of the spirit, the factor of God, out of the equation when they try adding up the sum of life. I can't tell everybody else how to live. They have the same right to their views as I have to mine. But is it right or not that, figuratively speaking, "Humanity does not live by bread alone." The body is not all. The spirit too has needs. Is the modern western world seeing that and telling its children in time?
Any thoughts and comments? I'm still learning.

The grim stealer

Someone told me this story once. You might call it a modern parable or didactic joke. There's a telling lesson, though. It goes like this: Satan owed this human a favour. So he offered them their choice from his range of tools. They could pick out one they wanted and keep it. The person looked over all the evil tools that the Devil owned. They were all the various means that the demon had and used to torment people, or try to destroy them. After a while, the human saw two outstandingly ugly looking ones, really cruel things. When the human asked for one of those two, the demon promptly went back on its word (as to be expected from Satan). "No!" he said, "you can take any other you choose, but not those. They're my cruellest."
"Why?" the human asked. "What are they?"
The demon replied,"One of them is despair and the other is depression!"
A grim tale, with a point to make. Suffering is made even worse when you lose hope. Short of completely giving up, one of the cruellest forms of suffering is depression.
What is worse, it gets under estimated. That's why it is described as such a pet weapon of the devil! People suffering from depression are sometimes just get told to 'get over it' and if it's real clinical depression, the sufferer can't simply shrug it off, just as they couldn't shrug off asthma or diabetes. There is an actual biochemical cause. That's why medication can actually work (fortunately). Trust me on that: I've had depression!
I know, there is such a thing as self-pity or laziness, whereby a person just drops their bundle and won't help themselves. But that's not necessarily the same thing.
There's a cruel irony here. Depression is a modern epidemic. The sales of medication for it are huge, I've been told. Yet it is much rarer in what we call the developing world, or third world. I've read that suicide is almost unknown in some places which are called 'backward', or at least not highly modernised. In those places the population still suffer from diseases largely eliminated in the West. They live without the technology and convenience that Westerners take for granted. Just as obesity is rare in places where people struggle to get enough to eat, depression is much less common in places where people have to keep busy just getting through each day.
The harsh view of that is to critisize people for being spoilt and weak. But that could be seriously untrue and unfair. The more advanced and regulated a society becomes, the more it both hems people in and puts pressure on them.
Consider this: it can be good for a human to have to work for things instead of just taking them for granted. You learn to appreciate something if you understand what is needed to obtain it, by such ways as growing your own vegetables or building your own shed or house. The trouble is, that's not always possible. Depending where or how you live, there may not be the chance. You may not have ground available. Building laws may stop you erecting a structure. So your society can coddle you with convenience and protective rules, and actually stifle part of the spirit. Then the added effect is, people are told they've got it too easy.
That has it's analogy in physical health. We all want kids to have clean living conditions and good nutrition. Yet if children grown up in such a sanitized environment their immune system never gets challenged, or worked to make it 'fit', and that leaves them more prone to things like asthma. Just as we need some exercise and fatigue to get fit and strong, we need some exposure to dirt and disease so that the body learns to fight them off. That's a cruel irony, it really is! Try to make things good, and find that it's backfired! But that's an analogy. Returning to the point, the cruel irony of depression is worse when people are materially secure.
There could be another dimension here, too. When the world around us has been made so good in the material way, it is expected that we will be perfectly happy and achieve great things. So then we have the issue with people feeling that they are critizised, and that they don't measure up. No matter what they do or how they try, they get told that they should be better because 'You have it so much easier than we did' - that being the sort of thing some older people say to younger ones. But having it easier is a double edged sword. It's good for people to be given some responsibility, and some challenges to face. But then there are times when that too gets denied people. In the past children had to help with the running of a home, or farm, because water had to be got from a well; washing done by hand; food prepared from scratch, such as peeling potatoes or shelling peas; and you had to walk to school. The adults needed help from the younger ones - and for that reason children or youth felt useful, because they were obviously doing something important. But now with technology, urban living and all of that there are fewer ways for school age kids to make themselves useful. So there is less chance to make yourself useful, while more is expected of you. Cruel irony!
The problem doesn't end there.
When you become adult, the world is a seriously demanding and sometimes cruel place. People feel judged, compared with others, and more is expected of them because now that we don't have to struggle just to survive, there is time to find fault with others. It can be cruel when a girl feels bad about herself because she does not look like the models in magazines - as if she should! But that's what happens when society has time to set up idealized images, instead of just being glad they're alive. Boys can suffer because they don't have a macho or athletic look about them. Having a brain -or more importantly, a good heart - is not as vital as looking good.
So society chews up peoples' self image, and makes some of them feel inadequate. Added to that, even when we're more likely to live longer because health care is better, there are uncertainties like unemployment, loss of income and loss of your home, and all that.
That could be the trap. The world is supposed to be better, but it can still be hard and ungiving to some people. For all I know, the state of the environment could be a cause of depression. It's well understood after all that various forms of pollution, or bad diet, damage the health. A lot is still not known about mental health. It might be found in the future that environmental factors can cause depression. Or social factors, which we don't yet recognize as being damaging, could be a problem. It's already well known that some people growing up suffer badly because they don't get respect or appreciation from those around them. That is where depression can start. I won't call depression 'the black dog' because dogs can be loveable animals and don't deserve to be insulted by such a comparison. I'll call depression the leech, or the 'grim stealer' - it can drain us and steal part of our life.
This foul disease might be to our age what smog was to an earlier one - a by-product of the way we live. I can't say. There's a lot of study involved. I'm quite sure that the problem is partly a spiritual one. Satan is real, and looking for a chance to savage God's created beings, especially humans. And Christians incur the demon's anger most of all. For that reason, Christians may suffer attack and be hurt by it. And the cruel complication is this: when genuine sufferers are told they are weak or ungrateful, that makes the thing worse. It's like punching someone on a bruised spot.
I can't speak for everybody else, so I'll just get on my own case. There were times when I needed to keep things in proportion and not let them get me down so much. I didn't always appreciate it when I was well off, and needed to be told: look on the bright side, count your blessings, whatever way you want to put it. Sometimes that was right, too. But there was a time when that condition got me! And it's no help someone getting on your case telling you to 'snap out of it.' I needed medication! I've found out - you can struggle and fight, try to counsel yourself out of it, and it's still there. And it's not just weakness. Some people who go down have shown they can achieve a lot. They can put up with a lot. But only so much. You could not call Samson weak when someone deliberately attacked him through his vulnerable spot. He was only human, after all. We all have weaknesses.You can't fairly call someone weak because they get cut down by things beyond their control.
So that's my take on it. I'll gladly hear if anyone wants to comment. I'm well aware that I don't know everything. Any thoughts?

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's true!

This might sound like mushy sentimentality, but there is some actually hard science behind it.
People who marry, and have children, tend to live longer than those who stay single and do not have children. People who stay married tend to outlive those who divorce. That's not an absolute. It's not to condemn people who don't marry or have children to shortened lives. But it's been found to be generally true. At the same time, another group who often live long lives, are nuns.
You've got two extremes there. People in relationships which produce children, so they involve being sexually active; and those who have no intimate physical or romantic relationships, and don't have children.
So what do they have in common? They both put a great deal of their lives into caring about others. Caring about other living things is a kind of loving - not the romantic sort with melting moments in the moonlight, but to give and care about another is to love them. Marriage involves certain stresses. So does having children. To keep a relationship going and raise children well you have to care about someone apart from yourself and put them before you at times. In a different way, the nun's vocation involves giving her life over to the care of other people. Despite living in quite opposite ways, they both have to extend themselves to be there for those around them instead of just doing their own thing and pleasing number one.
This is not a critisism of people who divorce. Members of my own family have been through it. A person's marriage might end without it being their fault. A divorced person might still be a loving and giving individual. The general trend, with exceptions, is that living longer happens for people who have a relationship which involves caring for others - and having someone to care for. Come to that, keeping a pet or companion animal also seems to be good for people. The same applies. There is a living creature there who needs your attention, and needs you to do some giving.
That could be for a several reasons. If you have to care about someone else, or something else, then you have less chance to dwell on your own issues and let them get you down. Also, if you want to be there for others, you have a reason to keep going. Part of survival is the will to live. You have a will to live if you feel needed.
It sounds corny and mushy to say things like 'It is more blessed to give than to receive', (groan, roll the eyes) but some things are true even if people trash and ridicule them. If a cynical or miserable person can't see that, it may be tragic for them, or it might be they should quit trying to spoil it for everybody else. The thing is, it might be FACT that a human mind and spirit get stronger and their health is better if they give, instead of just trying to take.
Christmas, or family times like it, can be great when you're a kid yourself. They can lose their sparkle for adults, because they get 'same old, same old' and they mean having to be polite and putting on an act; then they can become exciting again when you have children of your own. Kids opening their Christmas presents can be a real ball!
When the strain gets to you, it can seem that having children involves a load of trouble. But when you see the good side, then it's 'everything old is new again'. Our kids loved making mud houses in the yard, going to the zoo or fauna reserve, ridng tricycles and bikes, hiking, going to theme parks, having rides at carnivals, all the things we did - but for them it's new. You can catch the mood from them. Recall taking children to the movies. They loved it. And it's fun when they're having fun. Life renewed. I can remember when our eldest boy went started school, hoping it would be good. I recall taking our daughter to her first ever dance, worrying how it would work out for her and being glad when she enjoyed it. The same goes for things like teaching them to swim. Later, it's teaching them to drive. The point is, they need you. You make yourself live up to it. It'a a way of 'getting a life'. You don't live THROUGH your kids, if you do things the right way. But if you live FOR them, you've got more to live for.
The same goes for your spouse. I don't depend on my wife, or she on me. It's just that there is a lot more to live for if we've each got each other.
Could it be that our species is made that way? It is good for your heart and lungs if you exercise them. In the same way, is it good for your spirit if you extend it to others?
It might sound like mushy sentiment, but what if it's real? To care for others is good for yourself. That might be one of the most important ways that humans are made in the likeness of God.

Friday, August 8, 2008

It didn't work out that way!

This is a fairly ugly subject. But if we face up to the bad things in the world there is more chance they can be changed.
If you ever read "The Catcher In The Rye" then you'll remember how Holden Caulfield became really depressed thinking about the woman working as a prostitute. I share that feeling entirely. It's just bad and cruel for a person to be used that way.
Today's news report: "More slaves are alive today than were shipped out of Africa for the Atlantic slave trade during the last millenium, says Kevin Bales, an American academic on modern slavery". That is the Sydney Morning Herald, August 8th.
What he tells us is that some of them are 'working' (that is, bonded) in the sex industry. They are children or young women deceived into travelling overseas on work visas, some of them knowing they were going to be put to work as prostitutes but some not knowing - and being held in their 'workplace' by threats of violence, often not being paid. Of course this is not news to any one who follows current events. Neither is it news that this is a vile way to treat people. When the subject comes up of 'mans' inhumanity to man', the things often referred to are the holocaust, the massacre of native peoples by invaders to their country and war generally. It is just as evil to think of someone being forced to submit to repeated violation of this kind a slave, and a sexual assault victim as well. But there's no need to tell anyone that - we know. The angle I'd like to look at is this.
When people argue for the legalization of prostitution they say that if it's legal it can be monitored and supervised, so that certain standards are kept. Make it illegal, they say, and you just drive it underground so that the people working in it have no lawful protection. And it looks like that argument is pure rubbish - because even when it IS legal, there is still gross mistreatment of some of those involved in it. Could it be that prostitution is just an entirely bad idea?
Bales, the academic being quoted, says something else worth noting. The problem exists partly because people will will buy what what is being sold. If it sickens you to think of people-trafficking happening, say that to people who go to 'sex workers'. After all, some of those who do are quite open about it. And sometimes women hire men for that purpose, too. If no-one would buy sex, the whole filthy racket would collapse. But to stick to the point, it does not seem to work to make the thing legal. Allowing that gross 'industry' to exist openly does not guarantee that the 'workers' involved will be protected.
It must be a rotten sad thing if someone can't find a partner to love and share certain things with. If the only individuals who went to a bordello were lonely, that would be sad as much as wicked. But from what I've been told, that's not how it is. From time to time a scandal breaks about someone powerful and wealthy - and married - being caught out buying call girls. There's something amiss there. Do some people get their thrills being able to treat the partner they are with as a captive, not a person for sharing with?
Whatever it is, there are good arguments for not making prostitution legal. As soon as something is allowed by law, that can be taken as meaning that it's respectable. And of course it can be shown that outlawing something does not mean it won't exist. When governments tried making alcohol illegal, a huge illegal trade in it began - Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, all the gangsters and all that. Likewise, narcotics like marijuana and ecstacy are illegal, but people still obtain and use them. But to legalize something might mean that the use of it increases, and if it's a bad thing then reducing the use of it is good. And to come back to the point: there seems to be something evil about prostitution, such that it will always involve mistreatment of the people involved. The damage can be to the 'customer', as well. I can's speak from experience - that is one mistake I did avoid, when younger and a lot sillier - but it's been reported that using sex-workers can become a compulsive, and the habit can ruin people.
If a thing is bad, you don't make it better by legalizing it. Sometimes people try to say there is nothing wrong with that trade. We can all have our opinions! It seems to me that paying for 'love-making' is like paying someone to pretend they are your friend: it's not real, and how long can you kid yourself?