Thursday, January 31, 2008

God or the devil?

Is the reason for not worshipping the devil instead of God that God is stronger than the devil? Is it that God will get you in the end, and then you will be for it. 'Think of your future, boy, and don't throw away your chances.' Is that how you see it?

If so, what a creeping and vile sort of thing your religion must be, writes Rush Rhees.

But how far can we and should we eliminate self-interest from the moral and religious life? Could we help loving God, even if death was the end of us, and no reward or justification awaited us?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The importance of being nothing

Simone Weil's insistence on the importance of being nothing has an implication for what we call the problem of suffering. It is the instinct for self-preservation, putting oneself at the centre of one's concern, that makes us ask, 'Why is this happening to me?' It is the same instinct that causes me to think that God sent suffering by an act of his will and for my good. But the chief use of suffering is to teach me that I am nothing.

In Gravity and Grace she writes, 'The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.' It is precisely because evil has no explanation, that the suffering can be used to show that one is nothing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More supernatural

One of the consequences of believing in a supernatural God, as defined in my post here, is the possibility of thanking God for his goodness whatever happens in an individual's life.

It seems to me that counting one's blessings is not characteristic of Christian life. It is no more than prudent and sensible. I have always been struck by the way that Jesus gave thanks on the night that he was betrayed, when he had nothing obviously and immediately to be thankful for.

Daniel Barenboim

From 'Portrait of the artist' in today's Guardian:

Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Nothing more

There is a nothing that is God, in the sense that to fear God is to fear nothing. There is a nothing that we need to be, in relation to God. And there is a nothing that we can feel we are, in the course of a panic attack.

How are we to understand these three kinds of nothing?

Man has the spirit of God in him to the extent that he negates himself. Simone Weil prayed, 'May God grant me to become nothing. In so far as I become nothing, God loves himself through me.'

Thinking Allowed

Norm quotes Hannah Arendt on Adolf Eichmann, that what characterized him was 'sheer thoughtlessness' - or, as she put it in another piece ('Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture', Social Research 38, 1971), 'extraordinary shallowness' and a 'quite authentic inability to think'.

I seem to have met a few such people; in fact, I'm related to some of them.

Bertrand Russell, the intellectual hero of the young goodfornowt, wrote 'Most people would rather die than think, in fact, most do.'

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Panic Attack

"The sense of exposure is central to the experience: isolated, cut off, surrounded by hostile space, you are suddenly without connections, without stability, with nothing to hold you upright or in place; a dizzying, sickening unreality takes possession of you; you are threatened by a complete loss of identity, a sense of utter fraudulence; you have no right to be here, now, inhabiting this body, dressed in this way; you are a nothing, and 'nothing' is quite literally what you feel you are about to become. The overwhelming reaction to finding yourself in this situation is the need to flee, to find refuge in some 'safe haven' like your home or your car, anywhere protected from the unremitting hostility of public space."

This exactly captures an experience which is no more bearable, believe me, when it happens to a priest in a pulpit.

Lonely, eccentric and bizarre

We are all lonely, eccentric and bizarre, writes David Smail.

"We do not need our imagination to be policed and our feelings to be regulated by moralizing professionals who are no less victims than we of the ruthless forces which too often make our lives so bitter and our hopes so blighted." He invites us to see ourselves as characters whose experience of the world, however bizarre, gives us something true to say about it. "We have nothing to thank those people for who seek in one way or another to pass judgement on the validity of our experience. Our pain is not an indication of what is the matter with us, but of something that is hurting us from outside."

"It is sometimes helpful to suggest to people that, rather than thinking of themselves as social inadequates in need of adjustment, as containers of various undesirable components, they consider themselves as they would a character in a novel: as individual, certainly, but as interesting, as signifying something about the world and as having something to say about it."

Academic Travel Causes Global Warming

As a non-flying envirosceptic myself I am at least mildly entertained by this:

As the environmental writer and activist Mark Lynas argued in the New Statesman: "Probably the single most polluting thing you or I will ever do is step on a plane."

Ian Roberts and Fiona Godlee published an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the "carbon footprint of medical conferences." They determined that flights destined for the annual conferences of the European Respiratory Society and the American Thoracic Society put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than do 110,000 Chadians or 11,000 Indians in an entire year. The problem does not end with medical researchers. Scholars of all stripes travel to meet, greet, and, in one of our more ironic roles, preach the gospel of sustainability.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Supernatural religion

I need to say something about my take on religion and the supernatural. If by 'the supernatural' you mean unseen worlds, such as the spirit world, magical powers, astrology, parapsychology then I don't see this as an essential part of the religious view. Indeed I see religion as contaminated by an attachment to it, for most of these I regard as no more as an attempt to escape ordinary human responsibility for what happens in our lives.

But I do think that Simone Weil's distinction between a natural and a supernatural conception of God is important. If we believe in a natural God, the nature of the God we believe in will depend on our earthly fortunes. We will seek to establish a connection, indeed a causal and explanatory connection, between the nature of God and our life-events. If all our goods were stolen, our servants killed, our house and children destroyed, and a natural God, on whom we were causally dependent were responsible, it would not be possible to call such a God good and loving.

It would be difficult to imagine more tragic circumstances than those recounted in the Book of Job. If one attributes goodness to God by an inference from the events of one's life, it is difficult to see how Job could have avoided saying that God is evil. But instead Job asserts the goodness of God.

The faith of Job and Simone Weil is a supernatural faith. For them the meaning of life does not depend on how it goes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A couple of things

A couple of things I heard on BBC Radio Four last week have been buzzing around in my brain since.

On Start The Week Tony Blair was criticised for declaring his intention to support George Bush in the Iraq invasion too readily. It was compared to Neville Chamberlain making all too clear in advance the lengths he was prepared to go in thwarting Adolf Hitler's international ambitions.

But, I shouted at the radio, Blair was Bush's ally and not his enemy. And far from being the one who might have put a brake on Bush, it was Blair who was the driver of the policy that decisive action be taken against the threat Saddam posed to world peace and security.

Later that day, in Beyond Belief, the panel shared some thoughts about the meaning of life. Dr Susan Blackmore confessed that having come to the view that life is entirely pointless, she feels a sense of liberation. Ernest Rea, who presents the programme and comes across as a very liberal protestant churchman, said he would find that conclusion intolerably nihilistic.

Blackmore seemed to me to represent a particularly benign form of nihilism. She seemed to be saying, 'life is pointless, so let's invest it with as much joy, beauty, significance, value as we can while we are here and have the chance' - I certainly subscribe enthusiastically to that. Another kind of nihilism all too commonly found today, namely 'life is pointless and therefore let's completely destroy civilisation as we know it without any regard for the needs and feelings of others who may have their own reasons, valid or otherwise, for disagreeing with us - now that does leave me feeling a little edgy.

That's better. Now there's a whole lot less buzzing going on!

Saturday, January 12, 2008


My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work.
-Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Going On

Robert Frost reckoned to sum up everything he had learned in life in just three words: IT GOES ON. And so with blogging and this blog. It goes on. Fitfully. Desultorily. Sometimes pointlessly. But on it goes. And it has a readership. I do receive messages of appreciation and even encouragement. I can do no other. God help me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Man Bites Dog!

At last, good news from Nigeria - but only if you're a carnivore.

Eating dog meat, that's it the flesh of a dead dog, gives you immunity from many diseases - and improves your sex life.

Leaves the dog feeling a bit limp though!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Don't criticise Islam

Holy Smoke, still swimming against the tide.

It didn’t attract much notice, but the General Assembly of the United Nations ended the year by passing a disgusting resolution protecting Islam from criticism of its human rights violations.

The resolution goes under the innocuous title "Combating defamation of religions" – but the text singles out "Islam and Muslims in particular". It expresses "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism".

Wrongly associated? As of today, terrorists have carried out 10,277 separate attacks since September 11, 2001. They all belong to the same religion, and it ain’t Methodism.

The resolution (which of course makes no mention of the vicious persecution of Christians) was pushed through by the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has been agitating for it for years. Naturally every Muslim country was among the 108 supporters, but it’s interesting to note how other countries lined up.

Cuba, China, North Korea and Zimbabwe all voted the same way. I’ll give you one guess.