Thursday, November 25, 2004

Polemic against Singer

Peter Singer is a highly controversial ethicist whose views have been widely disseminated and hotly debated. The conservative World Magazine Online has an article by Marvin Olasky that pointedly critiques Singer's approach to ethics. I have seen a documentary on ABC TV here in Australia on Peter Singer and his work at Princeton University. He comes across as very rational and, when allowed to speak for himself, I am not convinced that some of the criticisms of him are fair. But, from a Christian point of view, leaving God completely out of the equation of ethics is most certainly a step backward. However, keeping God in the ethics equation doesn't always make everything black and white. I think the value of people like Singer is that they manage to convey the "messiness" of so much everyday life. Sometimes Christians can have very simplistic answers to ethical dilemmas and we need, at the very least, to dialogue with people like Peter Singer to sharpen our views and face the challenges that non-Christian perspectives provide us. If you'd like to read more about Peter Singer's views you can check out the following websites:
  • The World Magazine article can be read here.
  • Peter Singer's own website can be found here.
  • The Wikipedia has an article on Peter Singer including links to anti-Singer sites here.
  • You can find the transcript of a conversation with Peter Singer here.
  • Julian Baggini, one of the editors of The Philosopher's Magazine reports on an interview with Peter Singer here.

Please note that, by providing these resources to Peter Singer, I am not condoning his beliefs or approach to ethics. I believe, however, that Christians need to know about one of the most influential ethicists of our time.

Christian Prayer and Eastern Mediation

On the provocation (positive) of one of the readers of these blogs, I had a reread of the article I posted entitled Dangerous Meditations. On a second look, it might seem to imply that all meditation is unbiblical. This is not true, however. There is a long tradition of meditation within various segments of Christianity. There are differences, though, between Eastern meditation and Christian meditation. I thought I'd post this essay by Gailyn Van Rheenen entitled Christian Prayer and Eastern Mediation for you to read. It explores similar themes to the Christianity Today article but in more depth, breadth, and rigour. The author also draws on the book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, one of the most prominent authors in Christianity on spiritual disciplines, including meditation. I hope you find the article informative and rewarding in affirming that Christians, too, have an important form of meditation to aid our spiritual growth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Power words

Power words: "There are words that are hardly noticed. There are words that stand out. And there are words which stand out so much they almost seem to have some kind of special power. If you know these words and know how to use them, then you, too, can wield this power." An interesting survey of the different ways that words work in our discourses.

Freedom from religion

Click here for a provocative, ironic out-take on freedom from religion.

Conversational Terrorism

Whoever composed the ditty Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me didn't know what they were talking about. Sticks and stones may break bones but they usually heal pretty quickly. But words can permanently destroy people. Language is a very powerful weapon. In the article Conversational Terrorism: How NOT to Talk! you can read a catalogue of the sorts of things people say that are evidence of illogical thinking or just plain hurtful. Read them carefully and make a commitment not to be a conversational terrorist!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Personality Plus

I can remember some years ago a period of time when churches jumped on the personality typing bandwagon. As part of identifying spiritual gifts churches were taken through a program of personality testing. One of the most popular of these is the Myers-Briggs personality profiling test. Personality testing is big business but how much can they really tell us? The September issue of Annals of Psychology has an article exploring this question called Personality Plus. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the article, explores some of the problems and pitfalls of personality profiling. He concludes that the problems don't mean we should stop searching for ways to profile personality. But, in the end, to really know someone, we need to actually live with them in the most challenging moments of life. You can read the full article here.

Dangerous Meditations

Meditation has always been a part of many religious traditions including Christianity. But not all meditation is safe. In Christianity Today's article Dangerous Meditations, Douglas Groothuis asks the question: "What harm is there in achieving a higher state of consciousness through meditation?" If you are considering taking up such practices as Yoga then this article, by an expert in the New Age worldview, is important reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Between God and Gibson

Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ has been welcomed with open arms by much of the Christian evangelical community. Some churches have hired out entire cinemas and gone to see the film. Others have capitalised on the film for evangelistic purposes. And there has been a spate of books on the passion of Christ that have benefited from the momentum of interest in the film. But the movie may not be as biblical as some Christians seem to think. Andrew Weeks's article, Between God and Gibson, explores the unacknowledged source from which Gibson borrowed material in making the movie. The book is Anna Katharina Emmerich's (1774-1824) The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Weeks does more than describe the literary dependency of Gibson -- he also provides an interesting and important analysis of the trend in Christianity to be
content to affix its logos to the arena and insinuate its insipid prayers into the ritual of saluting the emperor as a sanctimonious prelude to the fun of watching the killing. With private altars in every household, the Cineplex has shown that it can rival the churches as the place to experience what passes for sacred mystery.
The article is a demanding but worthwhile read.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

"Meet the hacker who makes your home appliances right with God."

Here's a fascinating insight into Sabbath-keeping from a Jewish perspective. The author of Wired 12.11: The Geek Guide to Kosher Machines talks with Orthodox Jew, Jonah Ottensoser, about his work on making Sabbath-keeping appliances. I'm very glad that, from a Christian point of view, the Mosaic law has been superceded by the law of Christ. The writer of Hebrews says that:
When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and ready to be put aside. (Heb 8:13) The old system in the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. (Heb 10:1)

Hebrews 3 and 4 tell us that Jesus is greater than Moses and that now, in Christ, we can enter the rest that the Sabbath pointed to. The burden of the Mosaic legal code with all its regulations about Sabbath keeping has gone. So we don't have to worry about our appliances keeping the Sabbath!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense

One of the features of our modern era seems to be the proliferation of fashionable nonsense. The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense is a wonderfully ironic dictionary which pokes fun at just about every fashionable idea you can imagine, eg Feng Shui, pilates, Naomi Campbell, Pop Idol, chaos theory, and postmodernism. The list is endless. Here's the definition of opinion: Everything. Often confused, by pre-postmodern people, with entities like truth, reality, the world. 'That's just your opinion,' is the approved rebuke in such cases.

And here is the entry for fanatic: Someone who strongly believes something I don't believe.

If you'd like a "serious" laugh with a bit of meat then this book could be for you.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Thinking vs dying

Firstly, I'd like to share this wonderful quote with you from Bertrand Russell:

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do. (Bertrand Russell--Quoted in Antony Flew's Thinking About Thinking)
Secondly, I've started the Thinking Christian website again from scratch. You can click here to take a look. There isn't much there yet but I intend to use it primarily as an archive of links, resources, and other bits and pieces that I mention here in the blog.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Thinking Christians have always been interested in ideas and history. They are brought together in the online version of the Dictionary of the History of Ideas. This book was originally published in 1973-1974 in English, Chinese, and Japanese. However, it has been out of print for many years. It is, however now available online in digitised form. The information can be browsed alphabetically by topic, by subject, or by author. Advanced text searching is also available. There are seven idea areas covered by the dictionary:
  • NATURE: The history of ideas about the external order of nature studies by the physical and biological sciences, ideas also present in common usage, imaginative literature, myths about nature, metaphysical speculation.
  • HUMANITY: The history of ideas about human nature in anthropology, psychology, religion, and philosophy as well as in literature and common sense.
  • ART: The history of ideas in literature and the arts in aesthetic theory and literary criticism.
  • HISTORY: The history of ideas about or attitudes to history, historiography, and historical criticism.
  • POLITICS: The historical development of economic, legal, and political ideas and institutions, ideologies and movements.
  • RELIG. & PHIL: The history of religious and philosophical ideas.
  • MATH & LOGIC: The history of formal mathematical, logical, linguistic and methodological ideas.

As you can see there is a vast range of information on all sorts of ideas. Well worth a look.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Further on Fundamentalism

One of my friends recently directed me to Rachael Kohn's fascinating speech entitled Who is a Fundamentalist? And why does it Matter? It is interesting for two reasons: Firstly, Rachael explores the nature of fundamentalism and some of its implications; secondly, she analyses Mel Gibson's recent film The Passion of the Christ and argues that it is fundamentalist through and through. If you are interested in reading her talk click here for a PDF version.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Beyond the Battle...

Ivan Blazen, in his excellent article, Getting at What Genesis 1 is Getting At, suggests we do an injustice to Genesis 1 when we make it central to '"the battle between science and religion"'. Instead, 'it calls [us] to faith in the God who, because he brought order out of chaos in creation, can do the same in our concrete lives as we face the powers and problems of human existence.'

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

TAYLOR: Death is result of debate about God

Check out this sensational story in Community Free Press: Death is result of debate about God. Notice the heading? It implies that a debate about God was the cause of the victim's death. In fact, on The Church of Critical Thinking blog site a contributor made the comment that "It's another example of why we should ALL be afraid of people with strong religious convictions." This, of course, is nonsense. I would suggest that the perpetrator is probably mentally ill. There are millions of people who have strong religious convictions who do not go around killing people. And I am sure that many people who commit violent acts, including murder, are not religious in the general sense of the word. The heading Death is result of debate about God is nothing more than sensationalism. Wouldn't the title be better as Death is the result of mental illness or something similar? In any case, to conclude that we should fear anyone who has strong religious convictions means we would be responding in much the same way as the perpetrator of this crime -- acting on fear is likely to lead to uncritical actions in order to "protect" ourselves. There's a long history of people mindlessly destroying what they fear. What an irony!