Sunday, 23 May 2010

It's alive!

Unless you've been living under a rock (or perhaps with your head in the sand) you would have heard about the stunning announcement from the J Craig Venter Institute about the creation of synthetic life. This remarkable, amazing research bears thinking about theologically, and not just ethically.

For a start, it has the potential to threaten the notion that organic matter cannot be created form inorganic matter. Many Christians (and other religious believers, I'm sure) would hold the belief that this was impossible, that life could only be created by the intervention of a creator, and not through chemical processes. But now, since it has been developed in a laboratory, by humans no less, one argument to support the existence of God has less sure footing.

This is good for two reasons. First, it weakens the case for natural theology (clutching at straws, if ever there was a-clutching). There are now fewer arguments to derive God from "evidence" in nature. The argument has been exposed as tenuous. Second, it makes us more aware that the material is all there is. The dualism of the ancient near east has held on for too long, insisting on the heavens as a real place, with complex angelologies and demonologies to accompany it. All of this is a distraction away from being Christian.

Being Christian does not demand an exhaustive metaphysical account of the universe. It demands a daily choice to follow Christ. It is a waste of effort, time, breath and ink to try and use theology to systematise the cosmos. Jesus did not command his disciples to do anything of the sort. His command was to love.

Unfortunately, I anticipate that the everyday Christian (especially the fundies) will find another circular or flawed argument to flail about as an alleged proof of the fallacy of the Venter research. It'll be about as convincing as the "But Darwin's theory is just a theory, not a fact" argument that still floats about. And once again, it will distract us all from being Christians.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Papal Penance

Further to my previous post on the pope's latest comments, read this article at The Drum.

ABC The Drum - Bravo, Benedict, bravo! On the finally penitent pope

(yes, I know... it's another Scott Stephens piece)

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Catholic Confession

'The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church,' Benedict told journalists travelling with him to Portugal. 'The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice.'
Pope Benedict silences child abuse conspiracy theorists on Portugal visit | World news | The Guardian
Two things delight me about this move by Benedict. First, he demands that the church take responsibility for its own sins. There are critics all over the world, and mostly outside the church, who have pointed out the evils of church institutions, but this is a rare moment that a leader of the church does the same thing. Regardless of denomination, this is an important call.

Second, the call is the same as some of the earliest sayings of Jesus, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near." It's a call to change, to turn away from evil because God's justice is near. And I don't mean that in the sense of a Final Judgement, but in the sense that the act of turning away from evil is the first step to the manifestation of God's justice. Turning from evil opens the way to forgiveness between people and to love between people. Forgiveness and love, not reward and punishment, is God's justice.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Henry Review of Tax

This week's bland news for Australia is the Henry report into tax reform. Overall, it will have little immediate difference to Australia since most recommendations won't come into effect, and of those that do, it will be quite some time before they do.

Most attention has been given to the mining super-profits tax. I understand the policy that the resources are public assets and the people should get benefit from them, but I'm sure the shareholders won't care. Now we can watch the fight between big business and big government. Of course, taken to its conclusion, the resources are the public assets of the people who live in that region, not just in that nation. If a mine near Mt Isa earns enough to pay this tax, perhaps the money should go to the city of Mt Isa.

More important are the host of changes that are smaller and probably won't be enacted. I think especially of this recommendation:
The Henry Review also recommends that the tax-free threshold for personal income tax be raised to $25,000 and that there should be a simple, transparent two-step tax scale, with 97 per cent of the population paying 35 per cent. After five months of reading and discussion, surely the Government could have formed a view about that. Well, actually they obviously have formed a view - that it's too hard and they should just shut up about it.
Tax reform more like a Robin Hood shuffle - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The tax-free threshold has been too low for too long. It hasn't risen with inflation at all. Raising the threshold is a tax cut that has the biggest relative benefit for the lowest earners, and the same absolute benefit for everyone. It's absurd that poverty level of income (single income, family of four) is just below $30,000 per year, but that we tax low income nonetheless. It's immoral to tax the poor back into poverty.

If only one recommendation was accepted, it should have been this one: raise the tax-free threshold.