Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Faith - does it stifle or stretch?

I'm still thinking today about that programme The Beckoning Silence. A comment Billy made on the last post makes me think, where he says, 'Putting my faith in myself stopped me from being complacent. It made me more aware of my own abilities - something that I think Christians all too often fail to credit themselves for.' He has a point. One of the things that was so striking about these guys' assault on the Eiger was the portrayal of human beings pushing themselves to their physical and mental limits. It's a human drive, to see how far we can go, how much we can achieve, or conquer. And as a Christian I would admit that one of the things that sometimes bothers me is when people - myself included sometimes - allow their 'faith' (I put it in commas because I don't think this is a quality of true faith) to just keep them safe and not stretch them to their limits. I agree with Beat's comment that the true Christian vision is actually to live in fellowship with the Spirit of God who as far as I allow Him will stretch me to my human limits and beyond, 'according to his power that is at work within us' Ephesians 3:20. But this doesn't always happen. Off mountaineering for a moment, another key area I'm particularly aware of this applying to is music. Recently I was struck by the power of Madonna's song 'Live to tell' - the music especially, and found it hard to think of a piece of modern Christian or worship music that approached it. That's a whole topic in itself though...
Actually, just watching the Youtube video to the end there, I'm reminded of the influence of religion on Madge's own art...

Monday, 29 October 2007

Big questions on the north face

I'm returning to my original intention with blogging, to express my own thoughts, explore my own questions... though will probably revisit some recent threads.
Was gripped and moved by The Beckoning Silence (TBS) on C4 last week, a docudrama narrating the doomed attempt of four German climbers to scale the north face of the Eiger in 1936. It featured Joe Simpson, climber of Touching the Void (TTV) fame, attempting a parallel climb, and also offering his reflections on the original ascent. JS is an atheist, made clear in TTV, but has also been quite deeply affected by the whole climbing business, and has some profound reflections on it. He says that the knife edge balance you negotiate on a serious climb, between success and failure, life and death, gives you a radically different perspective on life (I'm sure it does!). That climbing a dangerous mountain is really a completely irrational thing to do (also quite obsessional), but that that's a big part of its draw; and that he will never understand why, in his own TTV Peruvian adventure, where he was hanging from a rope like Kurz in TBS, he survived - but Kurz did not. Quite existential stuff, grappling with issues and qs very relevant to faith. I can't help but admire the passion of these guys to push the envelope and probe the boundaries of life and existence. Will need to come back to this.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


I'm not abandoning the last thread, but it's obviously quite intense so by way of light relief, thought I'd open a new post - and to restore a slightly friendlier face to this blog. So if anyone has anything fun to share come here. Or serious if you prefer.
I re-watched the film Naked Gun recently. A line has stuck in my head:
Frank Drebban (police officer) to distraught lady: 'Lady, let me assure you that not one man in this force is going to rest one minute until the man who did this to your husband is behind bars.
(to colleague) Now let's get a bite to eat.'
You probably have to see it.
I see Emu is back - or at least a cuter version. With a felt instead of raffia coat apparently. 'The anarchic emu'. What a fabulous bird.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

I'm getting out of the box

Yes, I'm having a change of tack on this blog. It's been interesting discussing faith with you Billy and Jonathan and I'm not closing the conversation, but as it's been going it's become a bit futile. Why is that? From my point of view, it's because you're trying to debate 'surface' stuff when root issues haven't been tackled. Basically, it seems to me you're trying to attack and rubbish Christianity from a position of hostility rather than genuine enquiry - for whatever reasons. When all's said and done the heart really does matter here, and there's no escaping the need for faith in dealing with God. There's excellent thought and writing out there tackling in depth the key areas we've been discussing like the relationship between science, reason and faith. I don't feel it's my calling to regurgitate it to you. Some of it intellectually underpins my own faith, so that while I may not have time to answer all your qs and complaints, they don't threaten it. Once you've had a chance to read something I've suggested and come back to me with a response, I'd have more respect and be more prepared to chat further. As it is, for all the clever arguments and dancing circles, it's always going to look to me like you're dancing in a box. You've raised some good qs that I'm interested to look at further at my own pace eg about OT morality and homosexuality. But it's futile tackling these sub issues without the root issues also being addressed - and for that I've no better suggestion than to read some good material and get back to me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The moral question 2

Can I first draw attention again to the 'Mistakes' sections from yesterday? I will try and pay particular attention to point 2 for Christians, not to ignore atheists qs. I haven't meant to seem to be doing this; first, I have been trying to track down some decent reading material on them so we can discuss that so I avoid just saying what others have said; second, Billy you fire a lot of qs at once and it takes time to address them - hence my frequent suggestion to seek out other reading material to engage with. Can I ask you B and J to pay particular attention to points 1 and 4 for atheists? A large part of my frustration has been caused by the sense that there are a lot of straw men about. Just one example from one of your comments yesterday B: you ask Beat if he buys the 'argument from morality'. The underlying assumption seems to be that this argument is posing as a knock-down proof, which it's not - or at least good assessments of it are not; from the conclusion of the final link from yesterday,
'The moral arguments for the existence of God try to infer the existence of God from the nature of morality. After working through Lewis's argument and a contemporary version using the issues in contemporary metaethics, I believe that this counts as good evidence for the existence. Perhaps, this argument by itself is not sufficient to secure its conclusion, but certainly this will have some explanatory power in a cumulative case for the existence of God.'
What strike me as other examples of straw men are polarised thinking eg that faith and reason are opposed not complementary, morals are either totally fixed or totally relative (I'd say, to clarify, that they are objectively rooted/anchored but with built in flexibilty - principles stand and have an 'absolute' foundation but there application may vary.)
So, to begin finally to address the q about moral problems in the Bible esp OT, first a link from the 'CARM' site from yesterday, on one of many passages - follow links there to view others: 'Stone a woman for not being a virgin?'. See what you think. Beat - I agree we shd try to understand more before judging the Bible.
One last quote I can't source right now but I think is from the CARM site: 'Anyone can take verses out of context and compare them to other verses out of context and get a "contradiction." But, context is sacrificed in this manner and along with it, truth is lost.'
Finally, google 'bible difficulties encyclopedia' and you'll see a few books to seek out.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The moral question

Ok, I'm back, and will hopefully manage to refrain from slipping into angry rantings this week. Following up my suggestion we read something and discuss, to avoid spending all my writing time covering ground that's been covered elsewhere - and recognising you won't necessarily want to just go out and buy a book I recommend - I propose using some material from the web. I flag up a Christian apologetics site, and wd first direct to two very useful ground-clearing sections, Mistakes Christians make when dialoguing with atheists, and Mistakes Atheists make when dialoguing with Christians . Picking up on one of the recent hot topics, I then suggest Arguments from morality for the existence of God. I've just read the first section, There is a universal moral law.
I have 2 initial qs: Billy, you expressed wariness of philosophy as dealing in theory and not evidence. Expanding the evidence notion to include 'what we actually think and do in practice': is it not true that in practice you recognise moral absolutes or 'universal moral law' eg if someone tripped you up maliciously, wd you not think they actually did something 'wrong'? I disagree with your opinion that Cns exaggerate the 'universal moral law'. Of course there are differences across time and culture, but wd you deny that basic practices such as murder and theft have pretty universally been regarded as wrong? Lastly, if there are no moral absolutes, on what grounds do you continually appeal, in no uncertain terms, that certain practices in the Bible are 'wrong'? (let's stick for the moment with this q - the q about why such practices are there is a separate one). On this point you seem to want to have your cake and eat it.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Houston we have a problem

Had a coffee with Billy yesterday and recommended an excellent little book, Philosophy of Religion, one of a series called Contours of Christian Philosophy - and I'd recommend it to you too Jonathan. Don't be put off by the 'Christian' bit. The book gives a very clear, full and unbiased overview of the key issues and qs behind this discussion. It's also just 190 pages. I'll explain why I mention it now. I've been reflecting a little, and I have to say the q remains inescapable: what do we all want most here, the challenge of a debate, or to find more of the truth? This has of course come up before, when I said if you were really curious you'd go out, find and read the best material out there from the view you oppose. J, you said that you cd do that if you wanted to debate with them, but you want to debate with me. While I appreciate the compliment, it still begs the q, what do you really want, to seek understanding, or a good debate? I originally started a blog to explore my own thoughts and qs. You guys have raised some, eg about OT morality, that I am interested to explore. But, blogging as I do just a few min a day, it's an uphill task. We have hugely different starting convictions and presuppositions, and I believe if you read and reflected on a book like this, you wd be obliged to more deeply question some of yours. I've been reading TGD, so I'd suggest it's fair to ask. Billy, I can lend you my copy when I'm done. There's also A McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Back to the fray

I need to seriously sort out my career/calling so as ever I can't wade in too deep each day. But hopefully something to chew on. J, your q about morality in the Bible. Something Dawkins devotes a lot of space to. Just to clarify a bit first where I'm coming from. While I identify myself as a Christian, I still have plenty of qs myself about my faith and the bible. Faith has always been an ongoing exploration for me. Obviously to continue calling myself a Cn, I must have a basic sense that it's true and reasons for believing, but my faith is more of a dynamic than static thing. There sre always qs to explore. From my perspective, there is a constant danger in this type of discussion of degeneration into mere intellectual argument, so to redress the balance I wd remind that I engage in it out from a sense of being in a relationship with God. Of course you don't have to share that for meaningful discussion to happen, but it affects how we're approaching it. It isn't just an intellectual debate for me.
Back to the morality q. A couple of points. From your qs and comments, B and J, I'd say that along with RD there's a fundamental problem of understanding the nature of the bible, how it developed and was put together. You seem to regard it as if it purports to be a complete moral guidebook for contemporary living, and as if it shd be that. It's not; it's a library of books, written and compiled over centuries through changing cultural contexts. But yes, Cns do believe that it reveals, perhaps in an evolving, progressive way - wd need to discuss further - timeless principles of ethics and morality. But you have to read it intelligently; you can't just say Billy that it says stone homosexuals so it's stupid. Further, as a friend pointed out, a fundamental problem of RD's treatment is the complete lack of contextualisation. One example: eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Failure to acknowledge that in the context of the vengeance ethic of the surrounding cultures in the OT, this expressed radical restraint and was therefore ethically a big improvement.
Enough for today.