Thursday, July 31, 2008

Innocence and Experience.

It seems that when you're younger, your brain is more flexible and can extend over more things at once; and when you're older, the brain's focus is narrower but you can think more deeply. It really is true that when you're younger, like under 15 years old, it is possible to watch television and read at the same time. Parents have trouble believing it, but in fact that's how it is. I can remember doing my homework in front of the T.V. and being able to take concentrate on both. Kids can have a conversation and listen to music at the same time. Young brains and minds are flexible enough. Then as you get older, you are able to concentrate in more depth, but distractions are harder to cope with. The brain, or mind, is like a camera lens, if I've got it right. The wider the field of focus, the shallower the depth. Narrower focus goes with greater depth.
It makes sense. It fits in with the idea of an Intelligent Designer making the human creature the way he or she is made. When you're young, there is a huge amount to take in and think about. You need to set the mind to 'wide' to take it all in. Without meaning it rudely, a younger mind is more 'easily amused' because everything is new. Then when you get a few years behind you, it's not so simple to find something that keeps your interest - but then you can do more with what you like, because you can think about it more deeply. All that's helpful, because you get the chance to find out what you like and stick more with it. So what all that says is, young minds are 'easily amused' because they're checking out the world, and there's a lot to check. Older people have sorted out what they like and don't like or what interests them and what doesn't. So being 'an old stick in the mud' can really be knowing what you like and what you think. It shows in clothing fashion. You see the different ideas come, and go, and come again; so sooner or later, if you've got a mind of your own, you work out what you like. Trust me - I've been around for a bit. In my life men's ties have gone wide, narrow, wide and narrow again. Women's skirts have gone short, long, short and long again. Back a few years men kept their hair short. Then the 60s happened, and it was long hair on men. Now it's short again, even to the head-shave look. Well, it's a free society! Make your own choice!
It's a pity that over 40s and under 25's don't always realize: if you're over 40,
well, you were under 25 once. In fact, you were much younger than that, obviously. If you're under 25, well guess what: if you live a good long life, you'll be over 40 for at least half of it. So look on the bright side. When you're younger, trying new things can be a real thrill. It's part of getting to know yourself. When you're over 40, or 50 or however long you get, then certain things are settled. You can focus more deeply about the things that you've decided are important or interesting to you.
Like a lot of people, I sometimes think 'if I could have my life over again...' etc. Sure, there are a few mistakes I could avoid, especially things like hurting other peoples' feelings or just being a selfish idiot. But then you learn from your mistakes, as well (or if you don't that really IS being a blockhead).
There was this song in the 70s by Cat Stephens, called "Father and Son". One of the lines goes 'From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.' Right! I've had that feeling, too! Everyone on your case wanting to give you the benefit of their experience - or just big-note themselves because they're older. Sometimes you have to do things and find out for yourself. It's important for everyone to remember that. Then again, there are some mistakes that cost too much to make. It can be horrifying when someone finds out the hard way what happens if they drive recklessly.
It's not true that youth is wasted on the young. That is the time when you learn by taking in a lot, and checking out all that there is to see. Older people might sometimes forget that you need your childhood and youth to learn things. Then from the other side it can be really hard to see somebody making what you are sure is a bad mistake. You can't help wanting to stop them.
It's a problem. My personal answer is, I'm glad God is there to keep things under control. The rate of wasted lives would be horrific otherwise.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Three score and ten

It's important to understand what someone means and not be misled over a word. This is the same sort of thing I was getting at in the last post. A cynic or a suspicious mind can mistake what is meant when someone says the 'like' children. It need not have any bad undertones - you can simply be glad that children, and teenagers, and young adults exist because you appreciate them for what they are. I badly wanted to have a daughter. So it was pure joy when Liz (my wife) and I had a baby girl. Now if someone said I was glad because 'I like little girls' that could be misunderstood quite badly. In fact, you can just appreciate little girls, or any young children, simply because they are truly amazing. They are new life, and a renewal of humanity. When a baby is born, their eyes can look clear and bright because they are all new, there's been no wear and tear. None of this means older people are any LESS valuable. I could write just as much about the value of greater age and experience. For me it's easier to have a deep conversation with someone my own age, because we've got more in common. The best friends I have are of my age group. But I won't be one of those people who trash on 'the young' all the time. Then again this is not meant to condescend, either. I hate condescension. But just now, this post is written in appreciation of youth - starting with, but not only about, my own kids.
One time I gave my oldest son and his friends a lift down to the movies, and just watched them all crossing the street; and I really liked just watching all of them and thinking, it's good that they exist. Like any parent, I'm proud of my kids and it gives me a buzz just seeing them. It's good that they've come into the world. The same goes for all of our kids. My daughter too; I see her with some of her friends, and it's a good feeling to know that those girls were born and came into the world. It's got nothing to do with being attracted to them in a sexual way at all.
And feeling that way, I can appreciate other peoples' children as well, not by sticking my nose into their lives but just understanding why other parents are glad of their kids.
You can get the same feeling reading peoples' blogs. Younger ones, they can show a lot of enthusiasm and imagination, and it can keep you interested for hours.
Sometimes young children, or teenagers, can show a resemblance to older family members. It can be a warming reminder that life goes on. Obviously, unless you believe in reincarnation (which I do NOT) then finding that a young girl resembles her beloved and now deceased great grandmother is not the same as actually having that person back. But it can show that what is good in a person does not have to be entirely lost when they pass on.
It can be silly to idealize something right over the top. Pity someone who can't cope with being over 40 and they have to go on with the denial stuff; stacks of money spent on cosmetic surgery and being Ole' Fifty five trying to act twenty five. Getting older usually means you can sort certain things out and not agonize so much over what to do. Things get more decided. It's possible to be quite content when you're over 40. But any age has its good and bad side. Someone once said they wished all people could be born 26 years of age. Mistake! Childhood and youth are part of getting a complete life. What can really upset you is seeing what could be so good, wasted and spoiled. I hate seeing what some narcotics can do to people - such as reduce them to depression and self-destruction! Bad, bad, heartbreaking! But it isn't always that bad. So let's hope we can all get our three score and ten - 70 years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's in a word?

This might sound rather sentimental, but the thought has been in my mind for some time. It's not original, I realize. So here it is: English is valued as a versatile language with a huge vocabulary, but it shows one striking shortcoming. It has only one word for 'love'. The early form of Greek had eight. I can't remember the words themselves, but there is one for love between friends, of a strictly non-erotic nature, such as existed between David and Jonathon. I can't recall if there is one for platonic affection between a man and a woman, wherein they feel strongly for each other but have no physical attraction. There are other words for the love between family members. It definitely is a problem at times trying to use one word, and a very emotive one, for several different things.
I very much wanted to have a daughter, not in place of our sons but as well as. So I'm very aware of my daughter's femaleness, but definitely NOT in the same way that I appreciate my wife's femaleness. It made the family more complete and balanced
to have a female child as well. In fact I could wish we'd had more girls, but the house was crowded with five children as it was. No doubt we had the number God knew to be right for us.
I've had good friends I could say I loved as friends, but not in any sense as homosexually. That's not a bash at homosexuals, merely my statement that I'm not one.
Despite serious friction with my father at times, I can see a lot of good in him, and that too could be called a form of love. But the word doesn't always sound right to use in that context. The same goes for my mother.
What to do about it I don't know. Perhaps understanding that the word can mean different things is enough. Could it be though that sometimes people don't like using that word 'love' because of its connotations of eros, man-to-woman love, instead of specifying the bond between people of another sort?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ecumenism - necessary?

Ecumenism, the idea or uniting the whole Christian Church, might not be necessary or at least not the only way to go. Some thinkers regard it as an ideal to work towards.
Others are utterly determined never to let it happen. It may not actually be a good idea, given the limitations of human creatures.
The Bible talks about the unity of the believers. That's a good idea in itself. But it can only happen when there is real unity of belief, not by forcing agreement on some of the members of a church just for the sake of having one big group, instead of several smaller ones.
When I was new to Christianity the question bothered me a bit. Aren't the Christians supposed to be united. But a wise preacher put it this way: when there are several churches, you have to keep going back to the Bible to see what it actually says. In my case I needed to sort out the issue of baptism by immersion: was that what God actually called on His followers to do? Going over the question by looking at what is actually in the Scriptures meant that I gained a better insight than I had before. The different positions taken by different denominations mean that if you want to know about them, you check out what's actually written in the Book. It made sense to me then and it still does. When there was just one huge Christian church, it was possible for that church to tell its humble members, 'just do as you're told. Leave the thinking to the ones in charge'. In fact there was a time when ordinary people were not allowed to read the Bible themselves. Only the ordained priests were considered capable of understanding it properly. The result was that some serious errors or even deliberate malpractice crept into the picture. One particular Catholic monk saw the problem, blew the whistle on it and started the Reformation. Now the Bible is available in each person's own language, you can see for yourself and not have to rely on someone else to tell you.
It may be that different doctrines answer different needs, so long as they don't actually conflict with the Word. Some Christians I know find it important to be baptised by immersion. Others do not. Some like the formality used by the Anglican or Episcopal church. Others prefer not to have set prayers used in the service. Some prefer to kneel in prayer, others to stand. Some churches sing hymns, others only psalms. As far as I can see, none of those things conflict with worshipping in truth. They're just different forms of spiritual expression. God made us all individuals, and there can be different ways of doing what is still the right thing with the right outcome.
So we might not need one all-in super church. In fact we might be better off without one. Inter-church fellowship is important, but we can be friends without having to be housemates. I'll happily listen to anyone else's take on this. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Small is beautiful?

People are concerned about a possible split in the Anglican Communion, all the Episcopal type churches that look to the Archbishop of Canterbury as leader. They make is sound like a complete disaster, but if it did come to that, it might not be altogether a bad thing.
Look at it this way. When Christianity first appeared, emerging among the Jews of ancient Palestine, the worshippers met in small house churches. They were usually outside the temple, and the synagogue. Jesus used a borrowed room for the Last Supper. The Christian Church as it then was, the body of believers, did not have a large formal infrastructure. There were no great processions of dignitaries, or massive majestic buildings. Jesus Himself said that the believers themselves are His house, the house of God, not some building.
I'm not suggesting that all Christian cathedrals, churches and minsters should be torn down. No way. They were built out of devotion to the Christian faith and to the glory of God. What I am suggesting is that there can be problems when the organized church becomes too centralized, and too structured under a hierarchy of human leaders. Human beings are only human, after all. No one of us should imagine that we can take the role of God in teaching or instructing others. Those called to teach need to teach purely from the Bible, not their own authority. Doing that can lead to the disaster seen in Jim Jones some years ago - and others besides.
If a large church split, and in its place there were small locally based house churches, then they might not have the influence that a large organization can have. But things would be more like they were in the days of the apostles, when post-Crucifiction Christianity was first coming into being.
One advantage of a large structured church is that it can share its resources, and do more with them (if the members are so inclined). It's easier to set up and run hospitals, schools, shelters for the homeless and welfare agencies like St Vincent de Paul, or the St John's Ambulance Brigade, with a large group of people who have money, labour and other things to contribute.
A disadvantage of a large church is, that bad ideas can be imposed on a large number of people. In the Middle Ages there was really only one Christian church, that which was centred on Rome. In those days the church taught that the world was flat and the Earth was the centre of the Solar System, with the Sun revolving round it. The Bible does NOT say those things. They come from the Ptolemaic science and cosmology of the ancient world, specifically Egypt. The scholars and thinkers of the time made the honest mistake of working those things out because that's how it seemed unless you had the advantage of modern equipment like a telescope and background knowledge which had not been learnt then. But the mistake the Medieval church made was to add those things to its body of Holy Writ - the things that the church taught as the Word Of God. In other words, they added things that are not in Bible to what they called the Word of God as revealed to humanity. They disobeyed the command the Bible makes not to add to what it says. They compromised the teaching that the Bible alone is God's Word. Thus a wrong, mistaken idea was imposed on the entire Christian world of the time.
The large churches of the world, such as the Anglican and Roman Catholic, have done some marvellous works. Try working out how many children have been educated, sick people cared for, homeless fed and sheltered and unsaved people evangelized by the societies they have set up and run. A small local congregation might not be able to do the same. So there is a good side to huge global churches. And there are some good things which could be shared when Christians communicate widely.
The argument is also used that small groups of Christians, isolated from others, can lapse into error without guidance. It's an overused thing in movies that a group of hillbillies out of touch with the world get carried away by mad satanic ideas. Things like "Children Of The Corn" use that in their plots. In might happen less in reality than it does in stories made up by people who want to discredit Christianity. And it can only occur if the people involved let it happen because they become proud or stubborn. A single Christian living alone can be kept from error if they read the Word of God honestly, and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them. The do not need an archbishop or other dignitary to tell them what the Word says if God reveals it to them. Having said that, I know that Christians are encouraged to worship together and keep company to help care for and guide each other. But what is called 'strong' leadership, or authoritarian leadership, can have the effect of imposing bad teaching on huge numbers. As Jesus said, the leaven of the Pharisees can ruin a whole loaf.
It is in God's hands whether a large, influential church divides into smaller ones. I can't claim to know what's best. I can claim to know that it is NOT good to have unity by compromising the truth. If a church allows some of its members to carry on with practices that are not Christian, just to include them, then it is losing its integrity. If some Episcopal Church in the U.S. are disobeying the Bible by ordaining clergy who practice homosexual relationships, then it is futile to try and keep the Church together by allowing error or disobedience to God's Word.
The world is so huge that we can't have personal acquaintance with all the rest of its people. It's good for a Church in Alaska to have some fellowship with one in Scotland, or Australian Christians to have contact with African ones or anything you like. But Christianity existed before the whole world was known to the people of any one part of it. Some evidence exists that there was a Christian community in India since long before European missionaries went there. The Indian Christians received the Word without needing the big churches in Europe to get involved. Contact is good, but it is not essential. Human leadership has it's place but only under God. The Holy Spirit's guidance is the critical thing for believers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The truth comes out.

A news item today says that while the recession takes hold in the U.S. because of the housing market slump, there is an increase in marriage breakdowns. A divorce lawyer is quoted as saying: "One client was worried his wife might leave him if she found out that his net worth ahd fallen from $U.S.20 million to $8 million after he huge losses on property and other investments." It sounds almost beyond belief, but this is a respectable news paper, not a scandal rag.Then a psychotherapist comments:
" can become an addiction that masks the reality. When that goes, reality has to be faced and accusations start flying."
Certain things never get learned, it seems. The saying 'money can't buy happiness' is old and considered corny by some people, and yet it seems to be true.
Wouldn't a person be embarrassed at their exposure as such a bare-faced gold-digger? Apparently not.
So how does a relationship even start between people if it's going to fall apart just because they can't paper over all their problems in life with big spending? What happened to love? Perhaps it was never really there; yet it seemed to be, so...?
Sentimentality aside, it could be that some people never learn what love is. They've never known proper love. A child that does not hear people speak does not learn to speak. A child who is never loved never learns what it really is to love.
If that sounds appalling, ask the question: does every parent love their child, or do some of them nurture their child and treat them possessively, and control them in the process? They teach them, or drive them, to achieve, and to get things for themselves, but not to feel accepted and cared about unconditionally. Even saying this gets a groan nowadays from a cynical society. It's not exactly profound, because it's been said before, long ago. The trouble is, people are not learning.
There are still people who do not have any use for other people except their own gain. No matter how often it's said, that greed and selfishness are ugly and self-destructive, they still rear their heads in the lives of people all around us. What does it take for people to learn?
I've had to ask myself, too: how good is my heart? How much can I give without wanting something in return?

World Youth Day

World Youth Day happens this Thursday, so already the Pope is in Sydney and all the security measures are happening. And what else? That's right, you guessed - protesters! There's one crowd that call themselves the No Pope Coalition, or sentiments to that effect. There are protesters handing out condoms to people attending the event at Randwick Race Course, when the Pope appears to the crowd. Some are wearing T-Shirts saying "There is no God." And all the rest. If anyone objects, they immediately start up about 'the right to protest.'
I know about the right to protest, I've exercised it myself. What I believe in is the difference between protest and harrassment.
If the protesters, or nuisances causing harrassment, hand out condoms it seems they are telling Catholics to defy the Pope. It could almost be said that they are trying to tell other people what their conscience should be.
The thing is, no one is forced to be a Catholic in the modern Western world- or at least no adult is. And the crowd celebrating with the Pope look to be mostly adults, not accompanied by large numbers of young children. They are there by choice. If they choose to practice the teachings of the Catholic Church, then trying to tell them not to seems like claiming you know better and are presuming to inform them. Either that, or it's just baiting them.
The right to protest can be used wisely and honestly or, in my humble opinion, it can be used cynically to cause aggravation. I'm not Catholic myself, although most of my close friends at high school were (I don't know if that's just coincidence or not.) If someone wants to tell me why the Catholics can't just have their event in peace, I'll listen to what they say at least. The big whinge is that it's disrupting the running of Sydney, with extra traffic, roads closed off and extra police powers for security. But the same applied when Sydney hosted the Olympics, and there wasn't nearly so much grumbling then. It's as if some people think sport is more deserving than religion. ( Actually, that is just what they do think!)
I do not deny the right of people to protest. It just seems to me that it is sometimes misused. Some people never organize anything themselves, they just wait until someone else does and then hang around it being a nuisance.
Part of respecting freedom of belief means that you respect the right of people to express their beliefs. So I wouldn't try to stop the protesters making their point, but I feel like telling them to go and get a life.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The worst and the best.

I could not finish reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It just upset me too much. The fact that it's a work of fiction makes no difference. It deals with real life. The sheer cruelty and bloodiness of it was more than I could keep taking in. The same was true watching parts of "The Shawshank Redemption" when the sadistic warder was belting a helpless inmate with a night stick. I had to look away, in disgust and rage.It could be partly because there was a period of clinical depression in my life (under control now) but knowing that this sort of thing DID happen can make a person sick at heart.
The same goes for hearing about human trafficking - people abducted and used as sex slaves, until they either die from some disease or become self-destructive. The sheer evil of hurting and ruining someone else's life that way! It seems rather harsh that God destroyed all life on Earth once before, but at times like that it's possible to understand why! The wicked are swept away, and the suffering are put out of it, and perhaps their souls were saved anyway! Some people look at this state of things and say 'how could there be a god' to which my reply is 'how could PEOPLE do such things, and no wonder a caring God is infuriated by it! Because PEOPLE do it, God does not. And if rage at these things arises from a God-given sense of what is right and wrong, then to feel this way might be sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The Three Persons of God must be appalled at what humans sometimes sink to (and I'd better not forget that my wrong doings needed to be paid for at Calvary as well) and sometimes it calls for divine retribution.
So, from the worst to the best: having said all the above, it's a huge inspiration and comfort to hear the witness and thoughts of Christians. In the same world, the same country, even the same town, you can see the worst of vileness from humans, in such things as human trafficking and drug dealing. On the other you can see the light of God reflected in witnesses. It comes out in their actions, too. Some Christians have gone to places they might not have wanted to be at all, because there was a need that they could meet by being there. Some work in occupations chosen for the benefit of others, not for their own glory or gain. Whatever they do, many show by what they say that they care and would wish the human race suffered less. So I can lose all faith in mere human beings, myself included, even though I have friends and family I love and appreciate. Then I can regain all hope by remembering that humans are still made in the image of God, and when they will let the Holy Spirit enter their hearts and minds they can reflect what is good in the Universe, as well.
The contrast can make your head spin. From seeing how God decided to wash the whole planet clean, sparing only the people and creatures He called onto the Ark; to seeing how Jesus could face up to and suffer the crucifiction, to save us.
When peope want to make something good, they are echoing the creativity of God.It might be in something small in itself; but it is still the impulse to make something good, the opposite of destruction and cruelty. Everywhere you go on the internet, you find knitting and crochet enthusiasts; artists; film makers, and writers.
And stay-at-home mothers reflect the nurturing impulse of God. Fathers who care do that as well; but without getting into schmaltzy sentiment about it, I'm offering my respects to women who see their way to being there for young children in a full-on way like that. Having been an involved father, I know how demanding the care of a child can be. No-one need try to tell me parenting is easy; and mothers seem to carry a lot of it.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote that novel because she looked at a horror in the world and had to speak out against it. Some people run collections or do volunteer work because they want things to be better. Myself, I've done a little bit of a lot of things without being brilliant at any of them. I wrote the one novel I have in print so far, because something in the world roused me and I had to show how things could be better. I don't believe that "Outcasts Of Skagaray" will change history the way "Uncle Tom's Cabin" did. But the feeling is the same. When you see something cruel and wrong, and want to change it, then you show the divine spark that found its full expression in God the Messiah, or God the Son, Jesus Christ. We can't claim to be equal to Him, but we can take inspiration from knowing that when we want to put something good into the world, we are following His example. Sometimes, it seems to me, you can save yourself from despair by doing what little it seems that you can to change things.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Authors who put the case

Some books do not entertain so much as teach by confronting us with something. Two novels I can think of make for stark reflection, but they may have an important lesson. "Lord Of The Flies" is about a group of school age boys marooned on an island without any adult or cultural supervision or control. "Heart Of Darkness" is about Europeans involved in colonial trade in Africa, during the 1800s. In both scenarios, the people involved lapse into savage and barbaric behaviour. The boys on the island begin quarreling, they divide into two hostile groups and some of them become murderous in their treatment of others. They also invent a god for themselves and a 'beast', an enemy figure they are meant to be united against.
In 'Heart Of Darkness', the Europeans, supposedly a civilizing influence on the Africans, become savage and cruel themselves. The image of the 'whited sepulchre' is an obvious Biblical reference.
It would be a mistake for me to stand here in judgement and make comments as if I was one to talk. So whatever I say is about humans myself included, not my condemnation of others.
The self-preservation instinct is natural to any living thing. It's the only way they will survive sometimes, if we think to keep ourselves safe and get for ourselves the things we need. Problem is, the difference between self-preservation and selfishness is not always easy to decide on. You can look at these two books, or at a situation like the air-crash survivors in the Andes Mountains about whom "Survive" was written (they ate the flesh of their dead friends to avoid starving) and ask yourself, what would you do in the same situation? I would have to admit that I've been inclined to try and get away with things for my own benefit.
That's the problem. The saying goes, "if you don't look after yourself, no-one else will."
Could it be that this is where humans need to turn to something greater than themselves? There are situations and dilemmae they do not have ready or workable answers to, and only a greater power and intelligence can resolve this?
The Humanist view is that humans are naturally good and want to be their best possible selves. That does not explain why given the chance, one human will so often try exploiting another. It can be quite sobering sometimes to find out of someone that they did things you never thought they would. As the comical expression goes, "I didn't think you had it in you." But they did.
Study of the National Socialist era in Germany shows that some of the war criminals, who did the most appalling things, were affable 'normal' people at other times. Even Hitler himself was seen to be kind to children and to love his dog. I've seen a photo of some German army personel who were the staff at a concentration camp,
and who also had a camp orchestra. The picture shows them hamming it up for the camera and looking just like a crowd of good natured friends, ordinary people. Yet when at work, they were engaged in mass murder.
From a Christian perspective, we are told to love people but not to idealize them. History seems to show that human nature is not reliable in keeping itself from cruel or even murderous behaviour. Hence the Christian teaching that we need God to be with and within us. I may never find out what I might have been capable of if put in certain situations. I like to think that there have been times when I could have done something selfish or cruel and chose to do something better. But what seems important to say is, we ought not to fool ourselves that we're better than we are.
A journalist wrote today that some people want religion banned from the public domain. That is, they want less debate about it and to suppress the expression of opinion by those who practice a faith. The writer put it this way: "..they do not support religious toleration because they believe that religious convictions are the cause of so much serious and enduring harm in the world."
For one thing, this attitude clashes with freedom of belief. It is dangerous. The worst dictatorships in the world's history have tried denying people freedom of belief; and apart from being evil in principle, it never works in practice. All that comes of it is misery, strife, and the eventual collapse of that dictatorship. No way should a person be forced to practice a religion. You can't truly force someone to believe something anyway. It is pure humbug to try that. And no way should a person be denied the right to their beliefs in living a faith. To do that denies a human their humanness. It is trying to stop them thinking and feeling. But all that is well known. I'd like to put a slightly different angle on the issue.
I did not become a Christian until I was nearly 25 years old. That was after growing up in the 1960s and 70s. That was the time of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Timothy Leary suggesting that LSD should be put in water supplies so that everyone was on a permanent drug trip. That was when widely followed rock singers like The Beatles went into experimenting with mind-altering drugs, and the big spiritual thing was eastern mysticism. There was any amount of publicity given to gurus and yogis teaching transcendental meditation; workshops in 'communing with the cosmos'; and the hippy idea of free love. Living in the Western world at the time, you saw all that. There were huge race riots in parts of the U.S. and big changes in Europe and Australia. And at the end of it all, there was a huge sense of "Yeah, right...what now?"
Richard Dawkins wrote "The God Delusion" and claimed to have shot down the whole idea of belief in God. Clever people have been ridiculing Christianity for years. And I'm telling them that I became a Christian because it had answers that they did not have.
Compare them to the Gospel, and they just can't match it.
What I'm saying next is not meant to be hurtful to any particular person. And it applies to me as well. The fact is, no human I ever knew could stack up against God as someone to put your trust in. It's not likely that someone like Richard Dawkins would ever bother speaking to me, but if he did I could say "You just haven't got it!"
All human individuals fail at some time. That goes for their ideas and teachings as well. The thing that rises above them all does what none of them can, is what we see in the God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
I will respect anyone's right to believe what they choose. Be an atheist, a Hindu, rationalist, take your pick. That is your right, to believe what you want. But never try persuading me by scorning Christianity. The more people try that the more they reveal their own smallness in the face of it. I respect others' beliefs, but they need not waste their time trying to tell me they've got something better. I've seen a lot and that's where I've ended up.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

So we know - do we?

Someone showed me an intriguing mental exercise once. They wrote a shape on paper, basically like the letter H - except the way they wrote it was with plain straight lines, no font or style, and then asked "What is that?" One obvious answer is that it's the letter H. That is, if you use the same Alphabet that we do in English. To someone who spoke and wrote Russian, and used the Cyrillic Alphabet, it would be the letter that signifies the sound 'N' If you write the name "Nicholas" in Russian it starts with what we use as the letter 'H'. Right. So suddenly it's not so simple. Then again, it could be a drawing of rugby football goalposts. It could be a picture of a tree trunk with a piece of rope tied round it. And without going on too long, the point is this: what you make of it depends on what your mind has already been trained to see it as.
If someone said to you, "Ich bin auschlander. Nicht verstehen" then you might not know what to make of it at all - unless you speak German, in which case you know that it means: "I'm a foreigner. I don't understand." (Apologies if my spelling is not perfect in German).
Try this: (and again, the spelling could be a bit wonky) "Shin,a'weel, a'nish."
If it means nothing to you, that's not surprising. I've been told that it is a Gaelic phrase, from Scotland, meaning "That is the way that it is," said as a fatalistic expression of acceptance or exasperation.
You know what it means if you speak the language. The point here is that you have to know some things before you can understand others. And for that reason, it can be quite wrong to say, "The facts speak for themselves." What happens is, the facts speak according to what you already know.
And people can be misled. The people of Ancient Greece were intelligent and inquiring; they sought to find the explanations for things; and they theorised that waste material and rubbish gave rise by spontaneous generation to flies, because that was how it seemed.
More recently, it was believed that stomach ulcers were caused by stress or bad diet, and diet was the only way to correct them. Not long ago, researchers found out that they can be caused by a bacterium, and can be treated with a specific medicine. It was good too, because for years people afflicted with ulcers had to live on this bland miserable diet of things like boiled fish. I can remember one of my aunts having to live that way. Not fun! But here's the point. Very intelligent and qualified people were mistaken in what they believed.
I could admit to some of the dopey mistaken ideas I've had at times, too, but then I'm not an expert who got believed by thousands of others.
It was once believed that if a human being travelled at over forty miles an hour it would kill them.
It was once taught that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. The best minds of the time thought they had deduced that, and it was accepted as knowledge.
Once it a while, what all the best and brightest told us has been found out as incorrect. It's worth keeping in mind. Of course, we have to rely on some things we're told or learn, or we can't get on with life. But sometimes what is "Truth" seems to undergo change.
I wonder if one day it will be shown that the human species did NOT evolve from other life forms?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Disagree civilly

I recently removed some comments on my blog posts because they seemed personally rude
rather than merely disagreeing with what was said. Perhaps I should have left them for others to judge for themselves, but it seems to me that anyone who visits my site should respect others who do so. It's the same as house rules for guests: show proper respect for the other guests who have a right to feel properly respected in my house. And don't mind if I prefer to be respected too, please.
One point I will reply to, though. The commentator used the argument that our understanding of God has evolved and thus changed. That approach can be dangerous. It
may be true that as the world changes we see new applications of God's Word, but that's not the same as changing the way we read it. It does not change what the Word says.
Okay, so when Jesus and His disciples were on Earth, democratic government did not exist as it does today. A huge amount of the technology we possess now did not exist then. But does that mean that the way we read God's word changes? To use the analogy: road rules need to exist whether on a modern motor freeway or a dirt track used by donkey carts. Basically, there is a need to keep to one side so that others can pass and avoid causing danger or obstruction. In principle it doesn't change just because the technology does. Also, it can be dangerous to think that we are cleverer than people in the past just because we know more. It's the case of inherited wealth as distinct from earned wealth. We possess what we did not have to get the hard way. That does not make us better. And it can be rash to think that we know better than to believe what the Bible says because 'our understanding has evolved'. That can be a way to excuse revising the Word, which means compromising it and setting aside parts of it.
The attitude of some people who argue the point seems to be that you have to agree with them. That is unreasonable. They can believe what they do without attacking those who disagree with them. I can't personally stop someone from practicing polygamy or being promiscuous, but I do not have to say that polygamy or 'multiple partnering' are good just because those who do those things demand my approval. The same goes for homosexuality. I will not engage in 'gay-bashing'. Neither will I be told that I have to approve of homosexuality.
One of God's Commandments was "I am the Lord your God... You shall have no other gods before me." That was given to those who were called God's people. If you don't want to comply with it, don't pretend to be a follower of God. You don't have to be a Christian. If you are, it is dishonest to try re-inventing Christianity to suit yourself and fit in with your preference for modern social or political ideas.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Conscience or instinct?

The argument gets used that because very young people engage in sexual activity the best thing to do is teach them about SAFE sex, rather than abstinence. It goes "you won't stop them doing it so help them avoid the risks." There could be flaws in this approach.
Firstly, society doesn't use the argument "because it happens, get used to it" about domestic violence or sexual assault. We keep trying to stop it from happening.
Secondly, it is a value judgement whether or not it's good that some children get involved in sex. Everyone is entitled to their own value judgement along with the rest of their opinions, but intellectual honesty requires you to admit that it IS a value judgement, not an absolute like the law of gravity. One arguement is that sexual experimentation perfectly natural; but then, so is aggressive behaviour, and we try to teach people to control that.
So there is a flaw in the arguement, sometimes rather smugly put, that to be realistic and sensible we have to teach children to use condoms, or whatever else. There is a valid place for telling people that abstinence may be best in certain situations. Peoples' moral views and beliefs are their own business; but it's ironic that libertarians object to Christians trying to impose their views on others while libertarians themselves insist they know what is best for every one else - and try to get everyone else doing things their way.
If people are encouraged to do just what they want, and to indulge any desire they have, then we see problems like fighting and violence because some insist on getting their own way and don't like being prevented. We get obesity and other diet problems because eating too much or eating junk food can be tempting. (I plead guilty!) "Experimenting" with certain substances can lead to some shocking disasters.
It can be really sad when what is meant to help people in fact hurts them. Did you ever hear someone say they wish they hadn't done something, but everyone else was so they did it too?
There can be a problem with saying that because a person wants to do something, that alone is reason to do it.
What is it that should guide life? Animal instincts or human conscience?