allusions to grandeur

I’ll just leave this here.

In fact, no, I will comment very briefly: this poem is from one of the sons of the recently deceased Kim Jong Il, who described it as “feminine”, perhaps for having a pacifist streak. If nothing else, the role of atheism in this world picture is intriguing. In fact, a bunch of things about this poem are intriguing!

I had a fairly long conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness lady on my doorstep yesterday, which reminds me of this vaguely. But, that’s another story.

Kim Jong Chol’s “My Ideal World”

If I had my ideal world I would not allow weapons and atom bombs any more.

I would destroy all terrorists with the Hollywood star Jean-Claude van Damme.

I would make people stop taking drugs.

I would even destroy the word “DRUG” to make people forget about it.

I would make everybody get good jobs.

Everybody would be happy: no more war, no more dying, no more crying.

Then I would make a rule (Do not believe in God.) God doesn’t help and there is no God.

I would make people believe in themselves, and they would work hard for their happiness and success waiting in their future.

I would make the whole world use only one language, which would be Korean, and I would make all people have the same amount of money: no rich people, no poor people.

Only in my ideal world can the people have freedom and live very happily.

 

 

 

 

 

The main reason I made this post is I liked the title and felt I needed to use it. Ideally, I would say something about the genuine grandeur of Jesus and how it compares to the faux-grandeur of the North Korean state and all other creaturely attempts at creating paradise-on-earth. And there, I guess I went and did it; you can fill in the gaps anyway.

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‘norma normans non normata est’

Or ‘how science and theology are both revisable and both dogmatic’

In the Christian life as in any discipline, including the physical sciences, tradition is as valuable as it is inescapable; yet it must be always open to revision in the light of its source.” (emphasis added)
Michael Horton (2011) The Christian Faith – A systematic theology for pilgrims on the way, p 201

It has been said[1] that one of the benefits of science is that it is perpetually under revision and is eminently open to critique. In this respect, it differs from religion and other knowledge or belief systems claiming authority.

I may well have discussed this before, but it’s worth repeating. Science is open to revision and this is indeed a virtue. In general, we ought not be too sure that we have the final word (or equation) on the matter, whatever the matter may be.

And theology too is open to revision, or ought to be. Certainly, as critics are likely to point out, theological beliefs have changed over time. While my ancestors may have worshipped the presumably healthy god Bran,  as you may know, I name as ultimate someone very different. So, over time religions rise and fall, but even within a particular religious tradition, beliefs often change. Indeed, as a Christian, I want the modern Church to change! I want it to change dramatically in practice, so that we are known, for instance, as a people who genuinely love a broken world. And I want it to ensure its beliefs are true, to refine and sift and consider them and to tell the world.

Theology can and does change over time and it is best for all involved if it does so according to an ultimately unchanging standard of truth. This fundamental datum that theology must reckon with, I am convinced, is scripture, the God-breathed writings of the Bible. If God has indeed spoken, let us listen.

Science too can change over time and it is best that it does so on the basis of experiment and reference to the empirical world of sense data. There is a real world out there and we want scientific theory to correspond to it! Change here is not for its own sake, but for theory to better track truth. There are of course, limits to scientific change, or so it is to be hoped – science is by its nature, when done well, tied down to data retrieved from the natural world; while there can often be conflict, not any old theory will do, the accepted criteria of ‘theory choice’ dictate this.

As with any discipline, there are layers of theory and some are more likely to change than others. And yet also, some aspects of science will not ever change. The scientific method will not fundamentally change, for this, at least on some accounts, is definitional of science. The belief that science will lead to truth will continue to be held by most scientists (assuming, perhaps, that the world continues to exhibit order and intelligibility). And in much the same way, Christian beliefs will not change so long as Christian experience of the world in communities springing out of scripture as God’s word continues to make sense to people.

Both good science and good theology are open to change and both also hold to some truths as foundational, whether their practitioners recognise it or not. And while there is much that could be said on the mechanics and interpretation of Revelation, for Christians, the grounding norm is given by God speaking – the norm that norms but is not normed.
Of course, the question will arise for some – why take revelation, particularly the specifically Christian revelation, seriously? Sure, perhaps science has deeper foundations, but science works and it’s not weird! It’s a good question.

Science is seen to ‘work’ by those who know something of the process of science. Similarly, theology is seen to work and be fruitful by those in Christian community. It’s not that truth is relative – but that in order to appreciate a view of the world, it helps to step inside it in some way. So if from the outside, theology looks like nonsense, maybe take a deep breath and plunge in, if you dare. I am convinced that there are enough hints from the outside, in overlap between history, science and philosophy as well as in the joy of life-giving Christian community, for this to be an attractive proposition if you will but consider it.


[1] In a philosophy of science lecture – and no doubt in other contexts as well.

In the world, but not of it – or, ‘Christmas: when God turned up’

The season is Christmas, the reason is Jesus. While most people will recognise that Christmas ultimately has some links to Christian beliefs about Jesus, many will have questions about whether such accounts can be taken seriously. On the face of it, they may well appear to fit the genre of ‘myth’ closer than that of ‘reality’. After all it’s just a ‘story’, right?

The two categories I shall look into here are the historical and the philosophical/theological. Over the next few days I’ll fill out what I think about a few of these things. Feel free to comment on what you find most interesting or troubling. Before I move on to objections or common problems people have, let me spell out the Christmas story and some of its broader context. While this is the short version, it’s not dumbed down; some of you may find the technical details distracting or extraneous, but I think it’s important to tell it as I see it, ideally giving you the opportunity to work out what precisely you find appealing and what you find difficult. If it’s really true, I think there should be a little bit of both in here.

Prologue:
Before the physical universe began, God was. God is a personal being – in some ways analogous to human persons and in some ways not so much. The back-story of divinity is that from eternity, God the Father has existed with the uncreated Divine Word and the Holy Spirit, in perfect power, knowledge and love.

God created the world, giving it order and beauty and diversity. The world is contingent, in that it is created as a free choice of God, out of the outflow of love within the Godhead. God shaped the earth, with its various environments, habitats and creatures.

Human persons were created in the ‘image’ of God, with capacities of rational reflection and imagination and the ability to act on these, with commensurate responsibility for our environment, to “work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). These persons were established in community with each other and with God. This intention for relationship was soon broken, however.

Model Community and the Agreement with God

In a broken world, beset by evil, God set aside a people, for God. They were to live with God in their midst and from them was to come the answer to the systematic tears in moral, societal and natural reality.

The Messiah arrives
In the fullness of time, God sends the one for whom His people have been hoping. Not just a human king, but the LORD comes to His temple in a way not hitherto experienced. He comes to live a perfect life, to inaugurate the true Kingdom of God on Earth. He comes not as a mighty warrior, meting out justice (though that will come), but rather as an infant – dependent and frail. In order to gloriously rule over the created cosmos, drawing together eternal spiritual reality and created matter under one head, the Divine Word takes on a truly human nature.

Now for the questions

1) The historical:

Did Jesus exist? (Yep.)
What are our sources? Are they reliable? (Primarily the documents collected together in the New Testament. And, yep.)
The census.
The order of events.
Is this all a miracle? Can it be accepted?

2) The philosophical/theological:

Does God exist?
Has God spoken in the Christian scriptures, the Bible?
What is God like? (God is love.)
Did God, as these scriptures claim, in some way become a man?
How could that be?
Is this relevant to me? Yes.

The bridging question (between 1 and 2):

Does Jesus have authority? (What is his relationship to God?) Here.

over the next few days some thoughts on these things shall appear here, along with links to talks, articles, books etc that I’ve found useful or interesting …

Have an awesome Christmas.

Some books I’d like to write, or see written

 

’Nek minnut?’ – on the philosophy of time

’God did it?” – on divine action in the world

’Daddy, why is the world f***ed up?’ – on Eden, sin and free will

’Strange order’ – on eutaxiology

’Abductive reasoning’ on paranormal vs Christian testimony

‘λoγoς and logos’ – on clear christian communication in a consumerist world

‘A long treatise about Nothing’ – on finding an adequate principle of sufficient reason

 

 

forgiveness

What is it to be forgiven?

Is complete forgiveness to a) wipe out someone’s past, b) to wipe the past from your memory, c) or to act as if that which is forgiven had not happened?  Is there any difference between these options? If I had put more effort into this post, would I have drawn a Venn diagram and solved it?

This is a build-up to something I hope to look closer at one day – what is it to ‘deserve’ something?  Also, what are ‘punishment’, ‘redemption’, [insert other interesting words here]? I believe that Jesus has ‘taken the punishment that we deserve’, but that’s a lot of scary loaded Christianese words in one sentence – I’m working on fleshing out what it means to me and to you, insofar as we share a context.

So, as a preliminary, I hope you know or are coming to know that whatever you’ve ‘earned’, whatever you’re capable of, God is offering something much better (as evidenced in the dead man walking on Easter Sunday). Have a good week!

 

 

Oh – and about this blog – over time it will include a range of things, as I come to think about them – so while theology dominates now, next year we may shift into molecular biology or ethics, as the mood takes me.