Friday, 31 August 2007

Response to a critic of faith

For today's blog I'm responding to a letter my friend Dr Billy sent to Metro, 29/8. Billy, you say the burden of proof lies with religious people to prove God exists, not with scientists to prove the reverse. You're setting up a strange debate here, which I know you lack no energy in thrashing out - in itself interesting, considering so many people don't give much thought about God one way or the other. Probably to most people of faith, the whole idea of this kind of proving match is, to put it in an abstract way, total category confusion. I'm not a scientist, but I know the scientific method commonly involves controlled tests/experiments to learn something new about physical reality - perhaps the existence of a new substance, or an effect. There is hypothesis, test, and theory - which is subject to being altered should new evidence come to light.
From our discussions, it is clear you want to frame the topic of God in physical scientific terms. You don't seem willing to acknowlege there may be other frameworks for thinking about God. As there are other frameworks for thinking about other dimensions of human experience and reality - a beautiful piece of music, for instance. Can I prove Mozart's a great composer? Probably not - but most folk wd acknowledge he was. Before you react that the analogy's inadequate, I'm not claiming it's exhaustive; music for starters impinges plainly on the senses, which I know God does not - not in the same direct way at least. The image does though contain other parallels which I reckon make it worth considering, eg music springs from experience and impacts the emotions in a mysterious way not able to be reduced to scientific data. And, like God I'd say, when you experience it you don't feel a need to 'prove' it to others, though you may well want to try and help them appreciate it's beauty if they don't already.
If you read this I'm sure you'll get back to me. I try to blog something daily, and want to discuss this a bit, so am combining the two. Sure you won't mind. One benefit of your questions and criticisms about faith is it can spur some of us to think more about why we believe.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Addressing the gulf

The heaven and hell question. The broader issue that I'm thinking about here is the tension between the simplicity and starkness of Christian beliefs - or at least the way they are often communicated and perceived, and the complexity of people's lives. And the doctrine of salvation is a common example. The classic case of the neatly packaged gospel message is a tract like Journey into Life, where a simple bridge illustration and prayer at the end communicates our need to repent of our sin and return to God for forgiveness, and hey presto you're saved. I caricature; of course behind the simple format and picture lies a weight of theology. But still, what bothers me is a feeling of the apparent impossibility of stuffing a huge and unwieldy cushion into a small box, ie, vast swathes of the populace are living out their lives with very little apparent chance of going down this line, ticking this box... even as I write that I know there's danger of parodying and distorting the reality through my choice of words, because isn't the truth in Christ far bigger than the notion of a box? Isn't God's grace supposed to be immense, infinite? Still need to explore this one, though - that sense of vast gulf won't go away.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

How do you square heaven and hell with the complexity of people's lives?

Going though a provocative title spell. And a new look - something a bit brighter. Wish I could say it's my spring/summer collection, but no. Thanks guys for comments on the last post - all interesting. I agree there's no point actually getting too hung up on names and terms, that it's really your underlying attitude to others that matters. I agree Beat that there's clearly both a spectrum of belief out there and a spectrum of commitment to living out those beliefs. And Christianity is indeed, like all faiths, multi-faceted. However, there is surely some consensus - though that's not to deny the complexity - about the core of the faith: Christ's death to save us from sin, reconciliation with God, eternity in His presence etc. I still find resonance in CS Lewis's imaginative realisation of everybody being on a path leading ultimately either to heaven or hell. Says somewhere there are no ordinary people, because we're all ultimately immortal, each of us in the process of becoming - either a being you'd be tempted to worship (ie a citizen of heaven), or else something you wouldn't want to see in your worst nightmare (ie a denizen of hell). Sobering thought. But, Billy, I'd immediately stress this isn't meant to be scaremongering stuff - it's just Lewis being imaginatively frank about orthodox Christian belief in the ultimate polarity of direction and destination in people's lives. On that note I'd also be honest and say I have a fair bit of imaginative reflection of my own to do to reconcile this stark view with the complexity of real people's lives out there. But that's for another blog. Any thoughts welcome.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

What do you call yourself if you're not a Christian, atheist etc?

Now here's a question I often ask myself when taken out of my little private comfortable bubble and have sustained contact with people 'out there' (aarrghh!):frankly, what positive difference is my faith making in my life? What could I point to in my life, to someone who doesn't share my faith, and say, see this, and persuade them to look into it?
For starters, I'm even struggling to find a descriptive term I'm happy with just now to describe 'people who don't share my faith' that they'd be happy with too. Is there one? 'Non-Christian': who wants to be defined by a negative? 'Unbeliever': again, a negative... terms which I guess can be helpful in discussion amongst Christians but can't sound great outside the circle. Terms of exclusion. 'Heathen' could only be used humorously. Help! If I call myself a Christian, what could someone who's not call themselves? I'm identifying myself with a particular set of beliefs. Some can say they are atheists or agnostics or other things... What would most people say? I've run out of ideas. And got diverted from my original question. Come back to it.
Heard on radio: 'I just got my dog put down'. 'Was it mad?' 'Well, it wasn't pleased'. Radio 2. Can't take the blame.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Male Bridget Jones syndrome(!)

Singleness at weddings and family occasions. Interesting one. Funny how much during that week away I found myself drawn down a slightly melancholy path of musing over the past... But a kind of musing very much confined to that week and that kind of gathering. It's so much to do with environment and the people you're with. In normal life, you're sufficiently absorbed in activities you've chosen and enjoy, and relating to so many folk in a similar boat on this front ie past the flush of youth and still single, especially in the church, that it doesn't bother much. Sure it crosses the mind sometimes, but I'm pretty comfortable with life. On the IoM, though, there was that slight fish out of water feeling. Immediate family all in couples, lots of couples at the wedding... and I suppose the clinch point is that because the people you're with don't see the rest of your life, it's easy to feel you must look a bit odd - 'why are you still single?' you imagine folk thinking. And don't get me wrong; there's at least two things I immediately have to say to myself on this one: 1. you choose how you think in that kind of situation 2. in these social gatherings also there are of course plenty of folk in a similar boat, and plenty to talk and relate about if you make the effort. So get a grip Bruce! Still, worth acknowledging the issue.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Wedding escapades

Brian and Liz's wedding yesterday, was at the evening reception. Dalmeny Park Country House Hotel - nice one guys. A very round cosy dance floor - I think the most confined space I've ever attempted to ceilidh jig on. Huge hanging fabric round the central chandelier. What's that for? Did it hold balloons? Didn't stay quite long enough to find out.
Back to Man memories. Ruth's wedding was at the chapel of the King Williams School Castletown. The only wet day of the week, which was a pity. Peter's a marine so some snart naval regalia on show, and a sword archway as we processed out after the ceremony - scary. Iona happily oblivious to the solemnity of the occasion. 'I don't like whisper' and, in response to a Gail frown, 'Are you happy?', which it transpired, coming at the end of the couple's vows, sounded like 'Are they happy?'
A local ceilidh band at the reception introduced some jigs I wasn't familiar with, quite simple communal ones. I felt the after disco needed livening up a touch so put in a request for Michael Jackson followed up by the Jackson Five to indulge a few body-popping and moonwalk moves.

Monday, 20 August 2007

A bit more on Man

Occasions like weddings and general family get-togethers can't half throw up some issues, can't they, or bring issues into sharper relief...
Carl, Gail and Iona arrived late on the Weds night, 8th. Iona was handed to me and she sat contentedly on my lap, and talked about her 'sandy toes', at which point I realised her command of language had made significant strides since Christmas when we were last all together.
Isle of Man family weddings - of which this was the second - have acquired a venerable tradition of spanning several days in terms of associated social events. Which I think is great - more like a Middle Eastern or African type celebration, not just for the day.
I've been trying not to blog for more than 20min per day, to keep it bite-sized and readable (not that I'm imagining a global audience!) And of course memories - or at least the impression they leave - can fade fast, so need to catch them quick.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

No longer a castaway!

Back from a week on the Isle of Man with family yesterday, crossing the sea back on the Steam Packet 'Superseacat' ferry. Straight after the reassuringly thorough video safety briefing was finished, but slightly recklessly before bothering to read the actual safety card with critical details of exit locations etc, I went on deck to watch the fabled isle receding. Thanks to the Seacat's velocity - it spews up a broad white arch of foam in its wake - we were already a good (non-nautical) mile or so from Douglas. I semi-resolved to watch the island until it faded completely from view, which I can almost say I did - just a faint outline remaining.
Stayed the week in a cosy holiday cottage called 'Pargy's' in the village of Fistard just uphill from Port St Mary, southwest end of the island. With parents, brother Carl , sister-in-law Gail, and lovely two-year old niece Iona. Sister Lisa and her boyfriend Jon stayed with cousin Ian in Douglas. Hello if you're reading!
Special reason for being on the IoM for this week was the wedding of cousin Ruth on the Saturday. I hope some more will follow on the week's high jinx.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


Been a bit woeful at blog updating of late, mainly due to being away. Soon after Clan, went to Arran where was group leading at Kings Cross SU camp 25 July to 2 August. On Monday I have an interview day with WEC mission to consider joining their radio ministry. Then off to Isle of Man 8 to 15 August with family, including cousin's wedding on the Sat.
Hopefully some point soon I might be able to fill out these adventures a bit more. It's all been fun so far!