Friday, 19 December 2014

No more traumas

The time has come at last! I'm closing this blog and this is my final post. It's time to take a look at the blog that was and drop a clue for what will come next for me.

Top Ten Posts of All Time
1. Of flags and books; on the stupidity of burning copies of the Koran.
2. Making golf courses useful; classic George Carlin.
3. Your Vote Is Not For You; this will always be my advise for voters in prosperous countries.
4. Biblical Marriage, Gay Marriage; a divisive topic. But do you really know what's in the Bible about marriage?
5. Why there are no Christian men; I meant this to be about the way we import secular ideas of masculinity into the church, but it got plenty of hits from people searching for dating advice. Good luck to you on the prowl for a Christian man.
6. Good is bad is good; why the gospel isn't the kind of good news that we really like, but it's the good news that we really need.
7. Invoking the Devil; a complaint about logical fallacies.
8. Kierkegaard and Tolstoy; a lightbulb moment for me when I realised the influence that Kierkegaard had on Tolstoy, by reading the texts for myself.
9. Supply and Demand After Disaster; on how the market moves when a natural disaster causes demand for something to skyrocket.
10. Zizek gets the RSA Animate treatment; it has Zizek in it, just like all clickbait.

Highest Traffic Sources
I honestly have to take the bots out of this one. They drive my traffic up, to be sure, but it's meaningless traffic. After that filter, here are the top five sources:
2. reddit
3. Some Fool Blog (if you like Divine Trauma, you should read this. It has so many similar things to this, but with tech nerd posts as well.
4. facebook
5. divine trauma (so self-referential!)

Interestingly, the top search keywords were equally self-referential, and then turned demonic.
2. wikileaks conflict
3. how to invoke the devil
4. supply and demand in a disaster
5. invoking the devil
6. zizek whiteboard
7. divine trauma
8. kierkegaard tolstoy
9. kierkegaard and tolstoy

The key lesson to learn here? People find things by referral. Get it onto reddit or facebook or someone else's blogroll and you'll get traffic. And mention Zizek.

A quick summary
The category count at the bottom of the blog tells a nice story too. Theology, Kierkegaard, Politics, Badiou, Philosophy. You get what's advertised on the tin: theology and politics. At least I managed to stay true to that promise, despite the occasional dip into science fiction.

I tried a few different styles of writing along the way. Some was academic and some was conversational. Often when I look back at something I've written I wince at the tone or the style. It's especially bad when I'm pontificating or prevaricating. (Yeah, I know what I just did.) If I get to the point the first time and then edit the damn thing for style and tone afterwards, there's no wincing. Lesson learned.

Behind it all, though, has been a drive to figure things out in public. A little more than decade ago I was a card-carrying conservative fundamentalist evangelical. I went to this church before it was rebranded as this church. I even remember writing to a politician in support of a campaign to allow religious schools to discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring policies. True story.

The thing that ate away inside of me was the suspicion that the version of Christianity I'd bought into was wrong in some way. It was hard to say where it came from. Sometimes there'd be hints from the pulpit, strong polemic in recommended books, side comments in conversations. I'd ended up with a faith that said the universe was young, that there was magic money to rain from the sky if only I gave more in the offering, that my faith was more real when I could tangibly feel God while singing in church.

But it was a faith that couldn't handle questions like these:
- Why did God command genocide?
- Why does the Bible contradict itself?
- Why does the Bible exaggerate so many stories (e.g., King David)?
- Theodicy (oh that old thing? YES!)
- Why is there such a difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God?
- How do we reconcile the Biblical portrayal of the universe with modern science?
- Why aren't the proverbs true?

And so on. All those objections to faith are real objections, even when you have faith. I found that there were no answers to them in evangelicalism, even in the folk-religion version of evangelicalism. Instead I heard sermon after sermon about how to flourish in life. There wasn't much difference between those sermons and a business motivational seminar, except the sermons had a "isn't God smart to have told us all this centuries before Tony Robbins?" bit glued to the end.

In a way, everything I've done since the first lecture I attended on Introduction To New Testament 1 has been a steady path to answering those kinds of questions and then posting some of those answers here. Let's take a snapshot of some things I know I'm convinced of that are different from wayyyy back then.
Physicalism is true and God made it that way. The universe is governed by physical laws, not spiritual laws. Humans are not ghosts inhabiting bodies, we are bodies that have consciousness arising from our brains.

Evolution is the most likely explanation for us. We are the result of the natural processes created by God.

The universe is very old. It's not a young universe that looks old.

The hope at the end of time is a bodily resurrection, not a disembodied afterlife in the heavens. I'm still working through what that means, but I'm open to the possibility that it's just a metaphor for the new life of the believer after conversion.

It's OK to be a gay Christian, just the same that it's OK for a woman to teach in church, that it's OK for men to have long hair, that it's not OK for people to own others as slaves. When we read the bible, history matters.

People wrote the books of the Bible, not God. The authors and canonisers were inspired as much as believers today but it was a flawed human hand that held the pen.

It's OK to disagree with another Christian about plenty of things, but not the lordship of Jesus.

Penal substitutionary atonement is a terrible metaphor for atonement. It's also not as biblically supported as you might think.

God doesn't know the future with certainty, but God has a preferred possible future.

It's OK to use female pronouns for God as much as using male pronouns. Best is to use neither, but that sounds awkward at first.

I'm sure there are others, but these come to mind most readily.

I think I'm comfortable with this new metaphysical view of the world. It doesn't really make much difference to daily life. Whether you think there's a heaven just beyond the clouds in a young universe, or whether you think it's a physicalist universe that's old, it doesn't matter. There doesn't seem to be anything in the Bible that says God especially cares about it. What seems to matter is the principle question from Matthew 16 when Jesus asks, "What about you? Who do you say that I am?"

Peter responds with the voice of all believers and says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."

What's next?
Unless I go away, I won't be able to send my next project to you. I have something in mind that is for a different audience, speaking with a different voice. You'll have to wait for the announcement of that, and it won't be here. This is my last post on this blog. My next project will be announced through social media and eventually have a link from Watch for it after January.

Some thanks
It wouldn't be a closing post without a few acknowledgements.

To my readers, thank you for your page views. I hope that you also learnt something along the way and have made the world better because of what you've read here.

To my commenters, thank you for your comments. Thank you for getting angry with me. Thank you for trying to correct me. Thank you for helping me to see how terrible an ad hominem attack is. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your additional thoughts. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

I will also acknowledge several other people - alive or dead - who have influenced me along the way. If you can, take the time to look them up.

Russell Tannock, for his friendship and accompaniment along the journey
Scott Stephens, for introducing me to new thinkers good and bad
Van Shore, for teaching me academic method
Richard Colledge, for guiding me through my Masters degree
Alain Badiou, for his perspective on evil and for resolving the thorny problem of how Jesus fulfilled the torah
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for presenting the church as the solution to the problem of being
Søren Kierkegaard, for creating existentialism and writing The Book on Adler.

And many, many thanks to my wife. Although she doesn't agree with me on much of this, she's the very model of grace, encouraging me to write and think and write.

My last word isn't mine. It's a quote from Jerome. I'll sign off with this.
The Blessed Evangelist John lived at Ephesus down to an extreme old age, and, at length, when he was with difficulty carried to the Church, and was not able to exhort the congregation at length, he was used simply to say at each meeting, "My little children, love one another."

At last the disciples and brethren were weary with hearing these words continually, and asked him, "Master, why do you only say this?"

He replied to them, worthy of John, "It is the commandment of the Lord, and if this only be done, it is enough."

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

We don't need no science

It's time to confess something to you.

I confess my rage when Christians reject science, as though it's a choice between science and faith. I confess that I think they're idiots. I confess that I want to shake them and shout at them. I confess that I want to get into the argument rather than just let it go.

After all, if God has created the universe with all its laws, it seems to me that we should be accepting of those laws. If God has created a universe which is not only comprehensible but also continually discoverable then we ought to embrace that. From where I stand, science isn't the enemy of faith. Science is the method of learning about the universe. I have faith that it was God who created it. Atheists don't have that faith. But both theists and atheists can work together on scientific projects.

My confession comes out of this. I confess my rage. Being willfully ignorant of science seems about as desirable as being willfully ignorant of traffic.

New Statesman - Joe Public v the volcano

This is an older draft I didn't quite get around to publishing. The short version? To make humans take care of the environment, use totalitarian techniques.

And yes, it's Zizek.

New Statesman - Joe Public v the volcano
"It is instructive, here, to return to the four elements of what the French Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou calls the 'eternal idea' of revolutionary politics. What is demanded, first, is strict egalitarian justice: worldwide norms of per capita energy consumption should be imposed, stopping developed nations from poisoning the environment at the present rate while blaming developing countries, from Brazil to China, for ruining our shared environment.

Terror firmer
Second, terror: the ruthless punishment of all those who violate the imposed protective measures, including severe limitations of liberal "freedoms" and the technological control of prospective lawbreakers. Third, voluntarism: the only way to confront the threat of ecological catastrophe is by means of collective decision-making that will arrest the "spontaneous" logic of capitalist development (Walter Benjamin, in his essay "On the Concept of History", pointed out that the task of a revolution is to "stop the train" of history that runs towards the precipice of global catastrophe - an insight that has gained new weight with the prospect of ecological catastrophe).

Last but not least, trust in the people: the wager that the large majority of the people support these severe measures, see them as their own and are ready to participate in their enforcement. We should not be afraid to encourage, as a combination of terror and trust in the people, the resurgence of an important figure in all egalitarian-revolutionary terror - the "informer" who denounces culprits to the authorities. (In the case of the Enron scandal, Time magazine was right to celebrate the insiders who tipped off the financial authorities as true public heroes.)"

I can imagine it now. Children denouncing parents for throwing recyclable plastic in the general rubbish. Neighbours denouncing neighbours for burning the BBQ too long. Workers denouncing bosses for printing too many documents. Companies firing employees for the same thing.

It's a bizarre spectacle to imagine. But is the larger point that for all our good will about the environment we will ultimately need a Big Other to be accountable to? I'd like to think not.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Picard on Offering Talks

A lovely quote from the C3 Presence Conference this year.

"Give in faith and expect to receive a blessing back! A new church building! An increase in your business turnover or profit! And to those people who say just give and expect nothing in return, well you're not better than God are you? He gave his son to get us."

And then I did this.

Try as I might, I still need more grace for some of my fellow believers. I'm sure they're a lovely bunch.

Hallmark Christianity

And I don't mean "hallmark" like the craftsman's marks on silver, I mean the greeting card company. Greeting cards and calendars have reduced Christianity to mere sentimentality with an accompanying sunset. The message of the gospel becomes a feel good moment, a teary reminder of a fond memory, a sentimental shadow of the message of life. The next time you see a calendar sale you'll see these.

The trouble with them, and with that medium in general, is the way that it corrodes the gospel. We have a message from Jesus that is both a call to repentance and a source of comfort. It is a message that turns the wisdom of the world upside down. Surprisingly the inversion is almost too good to be true. Here's a winner.

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
"Don't smile because it's over, cry because it happened." Blessed are those who mourn, right?

It's a terrible version of the gospel and probably has more to do with Ralph Waldo Emerson than Jesus. I'm sure it sells a lot of calendars, though.