Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Examiners' remarks (part the second)

The examiners' remarks have been handled now. It was interesting to read through it all, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of my work. Also interesting was the additional, separate set of comments which were unrelated to this piece as a thesis for a masters, but were entirely related to using it for ongoing research (perhaps a doctorate) or publication.

I have to say that the thought of more study next year still feels a like a burden, but only because it would be alongside full time employment and family life. And also because I like to take at least a year break between degrees.

The publication venture, however, has me a little bit tickled.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Bible Translation

This is some Bible translation that should be avoided by the faint-hearted and the prudish, and read with giggles by the rest. And if you really like your The Message translation, you won't find this amusing whatsoever.

Thanks, Roland. This made my day.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Examiners' remarks

The moment I'd been dreading for the past three weeks arrived yesterday. It was an email from the Dean advising me that the examiners' remarks on my thesis had been returned.

Apparently, two other people think I did OK with it. In turn, the BCT Postgraduate Research Committee also think I did OK with it.

This led, of course, to several minutes of dancing around the living room with my wife. Who wouldn't? We had to be quiet, though. The baby was asleep upstairs. Imagine, if you will, mad exuberance expressed only through movement, but not sound.

After reading the comments, I was somewhat sobered. Although I have only minor corrections to make, there are some deeper issues that I need to reflect upon in my understanding of Kierkegaard. I'm a very small fish in a large, well-established sea of Kierkegaardian scholarship. I won't bore you with the details here.

I'll revise it all over the next week or so and then that's it all done. Well, except for the ceremony in which I will get to wear a cap, hood and gown.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Human Rights

The idea of human rights is, one would think, obvious or self-evident. We certainly like to talk about human rights as though they are natural and logical consequences of being human, as though they were necessary properties of humanity. With a little examination, this view has some problems.

Rights are not the same as liberties. A liberty is a negative freedom, a freedom from restraint. Lions and sharks have liberties to kill and eat, but we don't say that they have rights. In the natural order, other carnivores have liberties to kill and eat even lions or sharks. A right, however, is something that is protected by Law. It is not a consequence of being human, it is a possible consequence of being recognised as a human in a society. Rights only exist through Law, and are granted by legislators. They are not necessary properties of humanity.

Other opposition to the idea of self-evident human rights comes from Alain Badiou. In Ethics he argues against the concept of human rights in several ways, but here are two key points. First that human rights are derived from an approach to ethics which is flawed.
Ethics is conceived here both as an a priori ability to discern Evil (for according to the modern usage of ethics, Evil - or the negative - is primary: we presume a consensus regarding what is barbarian).

That it is easier to establish a concensus regarding what is evil rather than regarding what is good is a fact already established by the Church.
Badiou, Ethics, 8, 10.
In other words, the ethical foundation of human rights is founded upon a consensus of opinion about evil. The movement from ethics to human rights is the second point of his objection.
Evil is that from which the Good is derived, not the other way around [and therefore] 'Human rights' are rights to non-Evil.
Badiou, Ethics, 9.
Human rights are therefore defined through a double negation. The first negative is to identify what is prohibited. The second negative is an attempt to negate the first. However, this double negation does not result in a return to the first condition. (For another example of a double negation like this, consider that punishing a person for murder does not return the murdered back to life.) This double negation is just the avoidance of Evil in disguise. A right is just a representation of a prohibition, and therefore is just a measure of control for "acceptable" liberties (as defined by contemporary popular opinion).

If we accept that rights are the result only of Law, and that they are founded on principles of non-Evil, then there is nothing necessary about them. There is nothing self-evident in human rights, nothing inherent about human biological entities that necessitates rights.

Rights for the Christian are even less valid. The dichotomy between Caesar and Christ demands that the Christian gives preference to Christ over the state. Any rights that the state gives are next to worthless (skubala if you like). There is no reason for a Christian to appeal to rights, human or otherwise (see a recent Online Opinion piece about this). The basis for Christian ethical action is, as always, love - and love through the lens of Christ. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said that whatever is done to the sick and the suffering is also done to the Son of Man. Love, the positive command, is directed at one and the same time to the downtrodden and to Christ. This command is the basis of Christian action, rather than an appeal to rights.

Human rights are, from a secular and Christian point of view, a misguided foundation for action - nothing more than the avoidance of evil. Instead, the positive command to love is the solid foundation for action, both personal and political.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Systematic Non-systematisation

Every now and then I feel the urge to list the Big Issues and start writing on each of them. It's a list that includes things like metaphysics, the meaning of the crucifixion, the meaninglessness of heaven and hell, and so on. I've written about many of them before, but never really with enough depth to tackle the issue.

I have only two reservations on the project. The first is my motivation, and the second is procrastination.

My motivation for the project is questionable. I find myself in discussions with other Christians from time to time, being disagreeable most of the time, and we reach an impasse. In the discussion and after the discussion it's apparent that the impasse is the result of differing foundational axioms. Unfortunately, the discussion of the axioms themselves never takes place and I'm left with a horrible, gnawing hypothetical image of a discussion that could have been. My project to pick the Big Issues and write about them seems like little more than engaging in the hypothetical discussion without the interlocutor.

Procrastination is not what you think, though. It's not that I don't have the interest or the time. Rather, by writing it all down I would probably have created a tenuously justifiable reason not to go and be a Christian. Prayer and Bible study, valuable as they are, are also great things to occupy your time while you procrastinate about being a Christian in the world.

So I don't expect to see a systematic theology move from my mind to print any time soon.