Christopher Hitchens

•December 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s not that I’ve particularly followed his writings but I happened on a couple of tributes and he’s been on the radar as one of several high profile atheists. Polemic was his style of choice and he built a successful career on it. It’s a style that pays well in a society that values sound bites (see Clarkson) but not something to live by.

A couple of quotes from his brother Peter summed it up:

“Christopher describes how at the age of nine he concluded that his teacher’s claim that the world must be designed was wrong. “I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong.”

Sounds suspiciously like a belief system rather than a logically thought through understanding of the world!

And Peter’s view on his brother’s mindset:

“It is also my view that, as with all atheists, he is his own chief opponent. As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him. His arguments are to some extent internally coherent and are a sort of explanation – if not the best explanation – of the world and the universe.”

QI – General Ignorance

•November 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m not sure how they arrived at a discussion of Luke’s account of the census at the time of Jesus birth. As usual when it comes to things Biblical Stephen Fry created much hilarity at the lack of credibility in Luke’s version of events.

There is no record of a census that fits Luke’s timing (true)
Luke’s is the only account that includes this (true)
Luke made it up to make the facts match prophesy as Luke was the gospel writer who was particularly keen to show prophesy fulfilled (ah … no)

Actually, it’s on the third point that the whole thing unravels. Matthew was the writer who constantly referred back to prophesies, after all he was writing for a Jewish audience. Luke was writing for someone called Theophilus. It isn’t clear exactly who this was but it was definitely a gentile audience and quite possibly a Roman citizen.

So if prophesy fulfillment was the object, Matthew would have been the one to do it. If it was made up, a Roman citizen was most likely to see through it (it was only 60 or so years after the event, after all). It seems much more likely Luke included it because his reader would appreciate the information (whereas Matthew’s readers were more likely to be offended at the memory). 

Indeed there is no record of the census and, as Fry was keen to point out, a census didn’t involve going back to one’s place of birth. And that’s why QI has the “nobody knows” joker. There are many things in history that nobody knows, though there has been much speculation on this one and any of the suggestions could be true. It’s worth checking them out, they are quite interesting but, in the end, nobody knows.

pledges and compromise

•May 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Took a quick look  at Carlos Whittaker’s blog and there was a picture of Obama et al watching Bin Laden’s death … only of course they weren’t.

I’ve also been thinking about Lib Dem handwritten pledges on tuition fees and Paddy Ashdown’s line this morning: “voters didn’t see the difference between compromise and betrayal”. In Northern Ireland of course we know the “value” of handwritten pledges. It’s not that compromise isn’t necessary at times, it’s the idea that someone gives you their best demonstration of an unbreakable promise, only to weasel out. When you do that how can anyone believe you on anything?

And Bin Laden? OK events were  confused and confusing but there was barely a word of truth in the initial claims, would it have hurt to delay the announcement until the facts were established? It just compounds a sense of unease.

Is Being Sorry Enough

•March 25, 2011 • 1 Comment

Thinking about the Rob Bell thing … What does it mean to be sorry? I’m I right in thinking there is more to salvation than just “feeling sorry”? There are plenty of people who are sorry about facing the consequences of their actions. There are plenty who would do anything to make things different.

Is this the same as repentance? Is it even the same as being sorry for your actions?

Faced with hell would those who had rejected God in life suddenly feel a desire for him or just a desire for heaven?

Romans 5: One Man’s Sin

•March 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On the face of it, it seems more than a trifle unfair that we’re all punished because of Adam’s sin. If it hadn’t been for Adam think what the world would be like now!

Why should we, all these years later, still be held accountable? The problem is Adam’s sin had universal consequences. We are how we are because of what he did.

But there God has come up with a beautifully symetrical, just, fair, merciful solution. If one sin by someone else got us here, how about if one act of obedience by us could solve the problem? The responsibility would then be ours. We could no longer blame Adam.

The Bible actually balances Adam’s disobedience with Christ’s (the second Adam) obedience but that doesn’t alter the fact that obedience on our part (accepting God’s solution) puts us back on a right footing with God.

It’s easy to rage against the injustice of it all but I think many people, put on the spot, balk at God’s requirement for repentance, making them just as personally guilty of disobedience as Adam.

The Kingdom of Heaven

•March 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Those passages where Jesus tells the parables about the Kingdom of Heaven have been playing on my mind recently. Why did Jesus feel it necessary to tell so many similar stories? He must be saying something important (of course it’s important but you know what I mean!).

I suppose those around him were impatient for an earthly kingdom to be set up. One where everything was black & white. Clear cut and simple. But Jesus wants them to understand it isn’t going to be like that. It is going to be messy. When all is said and done the subjects of the kingdom will be known by their fruits. This messiness is both a hindrance and an opportunity. A hindrance because it will be difficult to identify the subjects of the kingdom but an opportunity because they will be like salt & light (or leaven – and this time it’s good).

misheard lyrics

•January 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I see Gary McMurray has posted on misheard lyrics. A familiar experience?! And not just the misheard lyrics but simply not getting the real message at all. It’s funny how you can hear a song time and time again and suddenly one day you actually listen. The first time I actually listened to “Please Release Me” I was shocked! By now I have an expectation of what songs are going to be problematic for broadcast. Every muscle tightens when I hear certain types of Rap for example, but somehow Gentleman Jim caught me by surprise!

I’ve had the opposite experience with Christian music at times. I’ve been listening to a “cheerful pop song” when suddenly the lyrics have engaged me and I’ve found myself thinking “OK, fair point” or just joining in in worship (usually got my wits about me enough to avoid the iPod moment though!)

One Look is Worth a Thousand Words

•December 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Making Jane Austen's Emma

How many pages of description it takes to (inadequately) describe a scene in a period drama. With one glance at the film version we get the picture.

How quickly a televised debate or discussion gets zapped in most households. How much effort often goes into making it look more like TV than radio with pictures. I struggle to figure out how the visual media could do religion (well).

The Bible is pretty short on detail – big on nouns and verbs, not so many adjectives.  Let’s face it the hero is invisible (made flesh in the NT but we don’t even have a picture). And his followers “walk by faith not by sight”.

Christ is the Word made flesh – that works for an oral society and it works for a literary society but I’m not sure how the incarnation would have worked in a visual society … I’ll leave you to think though how that might have played out!

Amusing Ourselves To Death

•December 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I suppose Neil Postman wasn’t far from my thoughts when I added the weakest link line to my blog title. For all the expensive technology and the worthy intentions, television (Postman would claim electronic media in general but it has to be TV in particular) tends to the trivial. Sure as a bowling ball follows its bias, TV glorifies the banal and the extreme.

And, I suggest religious TV is no different. Flick through the channels; cast your eye down the titles and subject matter in the listings. Is there a channel that doesn’t purvey a series of programmes offering miracles or get rich quick schemes?

In my experience if you really want to hear God speak you’ll hear him clearest in a church or home Bible study near you.

The Medium Is The Message

•December 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Marshall McLuhan said it first and Christian attempts at TV (or video) raise a lot of questions about whether the medium is in any way compatible with the message.

Somehow video sermons or “Bible studies” just don’t do it for me. I’m not convinced the sermon is interactive enough at the best of times and a Bible study needs to be interactive not just spectating while two others interact.

Does TV trivialise everything it shows? Does its content have to be simplified to the point where it loses all significance? Years ago I came across Jerry Mander’s book Four Reasons for the Elimination of Television . OK it’s something of a polemic but one of his headings is “The Replacement Of Experience” and there is something anti-Christian about the substitutes TV prvides for experience and community.

Is it irredeemable? Suggestions on a postcard (a comment would do!). I’d suggest it’s proved useful to missionaries (as in far away, can’t easily be visited missionaries) but in terms of presenting the Christian message I think it’s pretty poor. For conveying the message it’s hard to beat a clothed in flesh illustration.