Friday, 17 January 2020

Questions bigger than your dreams

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored".
Aldus Huxley.

As I mentioned in my last posting, this week saw a very engaging debate drop on You Tube. It's been interesting to see how the discussion has developed following this, especially in respect to some very pertinent points that Glen Scriviner raised in this follow up piece.

You always know when something good along these lines is furnishing fresh considerations, because it easily raises more thoughts and new questions in your own mind.

As you'll see from the above links, Matt Dillahunty doesn't know if the manner of humanism he is seeking to advocate can provide in any enduring sense, a better world for everyone, so that raises a key point - should it, then, really be a competing, valid world-view? Why, if it cannot give hard and beneficial results, should it be given a precedent role in a society?

Glen showed in the debate that numerous studies have already shown religion to be quantitively beneficial for people. Jordan Peterson, in a similar discussion, touched on how, even amidst atheists, religion is a 'de-fault' form of behaviour, not just morally, but in respects of seeking to give meaning to their existence in what they are doing, so on these evidential grounds alone, shouldn't religion by deeply valued, not rejected?

This, of course, is just touching the threshold of the richer value of what religion is seeking to open concerning the true meaning of being human and how we all stand on the cusp of something so much greater than the material, but our own all too human limitations so often hold us back from stepping into the truth (even when there are so many 'fingerprints' to indicate that we should).

Truth dares us to step into a much larger world than we often see at the mundane level we allow ourselves to inhabit most of the time.

This last few weeks has prompted and prodded me to re-engage with the arts and nature - to take notice of the beauty that requires our full attention. One of the realms I've been thinking over is wild swimming - how city people are rediscovering their links to a very different world by literally immersing themselves in an environment that jolts a response and genuinely benefits those involved from doing so.

Encountering and engaging with the wealth of the real world, as Roger Scruton would have put it, prompts a desire in us for something deeper - a longing for connection, for...home.

Humanism, in its better voices, is seeking that same journey, but as this debate shows, the road signs are being miss-read.

Jesus Christ shows us those points (our failure, His sufficiency) that return us to the necessary "map references" to take us where we need to go. That's the true wealth we need to inherit, here and forever.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Beautiful Barbs

“Knowing without loving is frankly dangerous for the soul and for society. You'll critique most everything you encounter and even have the hubris to call this mode of reflexive cynicism "thinking" (whereas it's really your ego's narcissistic reaction to the moment). You'll position things to quickly as inferior or superior, "with me" or "against me," and most of the time you'll be wrong.

Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.

It's been a pretty astonishing first few days of a new decade, and I have spent much of it reflecting deeply on the weighty issue of what happens when we get wrong what it means to be human.
A good example of this was provided yesterday in this fascinating debate between Glen Scrivener and Matt Dillahunty, which sought to explore the question of the morality of atheism via humanistic secularism. What becomes clear as you read 'between the lines' is that there is a fundamental and systemic problem here, in respect to how we see the 'us' of what is viably human (and therefore, of value) as Glen seeks to show.

Secularism drains the pool of what vitally matters about us, but fails to see (to borrow from Tom Holland's Dominion) the graveyard of tortured and crucified hosts that it erected its new regime upon to begin with, leaving us stripped of something vital.

This is, no doubt, why our culture is already loosing its ability to reference and see things which would have been 'there' a few decades ago.
This was suitably pin-pointed this week by Rod Dreher, who, instead of writing a review of Terrence Malick's new masterpiece, A Hidden Life, decided instead to examine the response of the critics, and what became immediately clear, was that they couldn't see what was truly being said in the movie, because they had no frame of reference to the scope of what Malick was seeking to say.

Another example of this also came along this week, which both surprised and delighted me.
This year marks the anniversary of the Mayflower's journey to the new world, and this is generating new interest in the men and women who made that journey, commonly known as the Puritans.

One of my favourite characters from that stable is the enigmatic and often-caricatured Oliver Cromwell, In this fascinating piece, Paul Lay touches on a number of unexpected truths about him, and particularly his love for the arts.

Jesus spoke of how when a we believe we have 'gained' our lives, by our own reckoning, we have actually lost it, because it is only when we 'lose' (invest) ourselves in the right way that we genuinely gain what is worthwhile - that's why we so need to correctly evaluate and understand what is going on and why it matters.

Let's hope this can be a year when we escape the foolishness that so often deems itself to be wise and gain the real pearl of truth.




Saturday, 4 January 2020

Long Overdue

What's the best way to start a new year?

Amidst the rush to re-shuffle all manner of personal goals, let's take a moment or two to do something far more worthwhile - bury a common lie.

It's assumed today that we've got smart enough to live without what is usually said to be 'myth' now, with 'religion' being top of the list (not stopping people from being 'religious' in all sorts of new ways, of course), but what if the reality is that the reverse is true - what if what is commonly accepted as 'science' and therefore correct is a lie?
What happens when we discover that what we build our everyday life upon is totally mistaken?

The facts you're about to face aren't new - this brilliant piece, written by the one-time atheist, C S Lewis, was penned decades ago, but what it says about the myth believed by our secular times is just as correct now as then, so I warn you,
if you watch this material, prepare to be shaken!

2020 could be about to take a very different direction, so listen carefully, and discover why we often follow what we think is best rather than the truth.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Prospects?

"Can human folly harbour a more arrogant or ungrateful thought than the notion that whereas God makes man beautiful in body, man makes himself pure in heart?"

Augustine.

It's almost here once again - that moment when people rush into the mode of thinking in which they resolve all will be improved in the next 12 months if they fervently keep to their decision to (insert your resolution here).

I don't make such promises.
Ambrose Pierce defined heathenism as the notion that we benighted creatures worship what we see and feel - but the problem is what that veneration denies us from seeing about the violence we thereby do to ourselves.

We can rise or fall, get by or make it, but there are two irrevocable truths that tether us however we choose to twist and turn.

The first power is the violence we all carry. Paul outlines this so well in respect to the 'norms' of human life in his letter to the Romans (chapters 1-3) and in respect to the Christian in Romans 7. We never have the natural resources to change this, because this is the cancer that now defines human nature, and it leads directly to our second manacle - death. Whatever we busy ourselves with now, this tyranny is close to us, and there is, again, no way in which we can escape our inevitable final moment.

We live in the shadow of this twin volcano, but we cannot often bear to look upon the truth of its hold, because when we do, we see all that we are melt before its hold and rule - there is no strength in us against this.

Christ alone can end our delusion that the powers arrayed against us from within and outside will not erupt. He alone can extinguish the power of these evils by drawing their sting into His own death and resurrection and ending their strength in His triumph for us.

In Christ, both sin and death are trumped by a far greater power - of unceasing, unrelenting love, that will have us overwhelmed by an exquisite mercy that heals and will finally make us whole, come the day of resurrection.
In Christ, life now becomes more than a pretence or a struggle with our futile realities - we can begin to see and live anew.

The options are there.
We continue, as we have always done, stumbling around until sin and death overwhelm and drown us out, or we trust in the one who gives Himself as our remedy, and begin to discover a life that far exceeds our troubles.

That is the possibility this New Year.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Renew!

"The Sceptre (of royal authority) shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the lawgiver (the ruler's staff) from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to Him shall the gathering, the tribute and obedience of the people be". Genesis 49:10.

A couple of things have really struck me this Christmas.
The first is that Gabriel comforted Mary's distress at his visit by speaking about the Lord's promise to establish a reign over the house of Jacob that will never cease (Luke 1:33), hence the promise above, and that God prepares the way for this in bringing about the same manner of miracle He had used to bring about the very birth of that house thousands of years before.

Mary is overshadowed by God to bring Shiloh to the world, but notice what accompanies this - a relative who was incapable of child bearing is made fruitful and will give birth to a boy who will bear witness to Mary's son (Luke 1:12-18). The man who receives word of this particular miracle is literally dumbfounded, because, like us, he cannot wrap his thinking around what is taking place.

All of this reverberates with the events that occurred in the life of Abraham and Sarah - how God used an identical barrenness to bring life from death and raise up a family that would become the forbears of offspring as many as the stars in the sky.

We tend to look at this time of year just like the man who was made mute whilst going about his regular duties - just another week to get through, but in history, in prophecy, in the most real of human experience, we find something extraordinary unfolding...

and what about in us?

Can we allow something this astonishing to break into our darkness, our chaos, our futility?

Find somewhere this week that can help you see a little more of this wonder.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas...

Is really all about this.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Taken for granted?

A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots".
Marcus Garvey.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish".
Proverbs 29:18


One of the things I'm looking forward to this winter is sitting down and watching The Man in the High Castle. The story picks up a popular idea often employed in fiction - what if something crucial had happened differently. In the case of this story, writer Phillip K Dick asks what if the allies had lost the second world war. The picture provided of America in fascist hands is awful, but what is really fascinating is what generates hope amongst the resistance, where they have evidence of an alternative reality in which these relentless enemies were vanquished, and life and liberty were secured and enjoyed across the free world.

My first encounter with the shock and possibilities of these ideas came in seeing a legendary Star Trek episode in the original series (By the way, if you enjoyed this Trek story, the STC team created a superb follow up episode that is essential viewing).

Fiction serves us best when it allows us to consider our own stories - the why of things in our current world, and that's essential.
As I noted recently, Tom Holland's latest work, Dominion has shown that the reason we live in such a caring and tolerant society in the West is because Christianity has saturated so much of what we take for granted that the very way we think and often feel about so much is because of the impact that this message has had and continues to have upon our world.

The problem, it turns out, is not the truth of that fact, but the present attitude of denial towards it.
The verse above from Proverbs is an interesting one. The word "perish" derives from a Hebrew word which means 'to loosen' (as in a woman untying her hair) - to create an environment where things are left unconstrained. It's when we leave ourselves in such a realm, as Marcus Garvey notes, that we truly can become lost... and perish.

The reason why we think it best to sideline thoughts about Christianity is that we (our culture) have been undergoing a process of seeking to untie ourselves from it for a lengthy period of time. Since the 18th century, there have been numerous attempts to 'enlighten' us away from the "tyranny" of religion, but they all share a common trait - the anti-theism that they have all sought to establish as an alternative is marked by evil. Look at the blood shed in the French Revolution, The Russian Revolution and under Stalinism, the holocaust in China under Mao, the extermination of the national socialists in Germany or the Killing Fields in Cambodia. 

When we seek to adhere to a lie concerning our nature and thereby our ability to determine what is right, we enslave ourselves to a far more terrible and frightening tyranny than what has bountifully enriched our world because of the hope found in the Person and actions of Jesus Christ.

What is true politically or ideologically, is also true socially and individually. The West has undergone so many deaths and the impoverishment of so many because it sought to marginalise the Christian message about our value as those made in God's image.

When a culture seeks to empty itself of what is good, we become tethered to what is worst about us.

In this season of hope, of good will, of heavenly intrusion, let us reflect on this, and return to the place where Christ is given for the sake of our broken world. God gave Him to rescue us from this very misery so we would not perish. That is the joy of this season.