Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The end of it all

Here are the current slides for a talk, "Comparison of Biblical and scientific eschatology" that I am giving tomorrow at a conference on the Church and the Academy.

Here is a choice quote from 1979 by a famous theoretical physicist, Freeman Dyson.
“I hope with these lectures to hasten the arrival of the day when eschatology, the study of the end of the universe, will be a respectable scientific discipline and not merely a branch of theology.”
Freeman Dyson, “Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe”
Reviews of Modern Physics 51, 447–460 (1979)
[I should mention that I don't like Dyson's article, but that is another story...].

Rethinking authority, reality, and ethics.

Jonathan Burnside gave the opening address last night at the conference on the Academy and the Church. Here are a few of my rough notes on the talk, "The ethical authority of the Biblical social vision". Overall, I was challenged to rethink my ideas about the nature of authority and its relation to reality and ethics.

Due to the rise of Islam and secularism some Western Christians have developed a defensive "in the trenches" position with regard to their role in society. Instead, Christians should desire the common good, not just the self-interest and protection of their own rights.

1. What do we mean by the Biblical social vision?

It should be shaped by whole Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16). The Old Testament and New Testament have different ethical authority. Be aware of continuities and discontinuities. Neglecting this can lead to the God hates shrimp problem.

This is a vision that takes the Bible - and how it is written - seriously. In the West we think in abstract terms and so tend to translate the Bible into abstract systems of thought.
Consider the form of Bible - ancient literature - which embodies the Living Word.

2. Why does the Biblical social vision have ethical authority over us? 

Authority is a dimension of reality. (cf. Oliver O'Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order). Authority in the Bible means a freedom to act within boundaries.
Existence of God is a reality which calls for an ethical response.
Humility, worship, and obedience. (cf. Deut 6:4,5  The LORD is one)
The reality of the nature of God.
The reality of human identity and human flourishing.
The reality of Jesus resurrection. (Compare this to the weighty ethical authority of the Exodus).
The Resurrection reflects God's commitment to restore the creation.
The reality of the mission of the people of God.  

3. How does Biblical social vision exercise ethical authority?

We need to be willing to change our culturally conditioned view about what authority is.  The Biblical vision has authority because it is spreading reality. Authority does not mean exercising control. God's authority is exercised in a relational way. (cf. God's act of creation). God the Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit in power gives life.
Enables creation to be the best possible.
God's authority is exercised through human beings. [Our job is to be].
Look at parables to get a picture of what it is like when God is in charge.
The Word became flesh (not an abstract concept).

Christians are called to live the story of God to the world. Jesus exercised authority from a place of humility. In Isaiah 42 there is no yelling or shouting in the streets.
Moreso us, since we are not Jesus! We have a tendency to abuse authority.

Dealing with postmodernism. We are to be there for postmodernists when they discover the limits of their postmodern view [because they eventually suffer from ignoring the way the world is, e.g. parents and children suffer when all values and opinions are considered equally valid].

Monday, June 27, 2011

A flawless movie?

My son and I watched the movie Flawless and I highly recommend it. It is centred around life in the head office of the (fictional) London Diamond Corporation in 1960. A janitor joins forces with a disgruntled female manager to reek revenge on the company. I thought the story was highly original and I particularly enjoyed how unpredictable it was. There were quite a few surprises. Although not the main theme, the movie does highlight the immorality and duplicity of big business and its collusion with governments (capitalist and communist!).

It was refreshing to see a crime thriller that involves no violence or sex!
But, I sure noticed how much the heroine and some of other the characters smoked cigarettes!

Nevertheless, no violence and sex does not make a movie morally enriching. My son pointed out how the story celebrates people who take revenge and a "Robin Hood" view of philanthropy and justice. I was so intrigued by the story I missed this moral failure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lest we forget

One of the best articles in the last issue of The Week is The Pentagon Papers: lonely evenings at the photocopier by Rodney Tiffen. It originally appeared in Inside Story. Here are a few highlights.
In late June 1971, [Daniel] Ellsberg was arrested for violating the federal Espionage Act. Eventually, in 1973, the prosecution collapsed as a result of procedural abuses. First it was revealed that the Nixon White House had illegally raided the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. (His file yielded nothing incriminating or humiliating.) Then it was revealed that they had illegally tapped the phones of Ellsberg and several witnesses. 
No such legal niceties inhibited the treatment of Bradley Manning, who has been held without trial since May 2010. Until April this year (when he was transferred to a somewhat less harsh prison regime) he was in solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day – not allowed to exercise, often required to be naked and checked every five minutes when asleep on the pretence of preventing him from harming himself – and underwent a process of physical and mental disintegration. The post-9/11 torture of suspected terrorists by US authorities – directly at Guantanamo and indirectly through rendition to third countries – was being inflicted on one of their own servicemen. The contrast in the two cases is a stark reminder of just how much the rule of law has been eroded in the United States in the last forty years. 
Supreme Court, ... in a six–three decision on 30 June [1971] found in favour of the press. What is perhaps the key argument was put best by District Court judge Murray Gurfein: “The security of the nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. 
....the most consistent narrative running through the New York Times stories was how government statements had deceived the public...  
Several Nixon insiders later wrote that Nixon’s reaction to the leak of the Pentagon Papers was the first step on his road to the Watergate scandal. The operatives, initially ordered to pursue Ellsberg, were then set up as a self-styled “plumbers unit” in the White House basement. Nixon was already obsessed by leaks and convinced that the press was his enemy; now, he became fixated on the idea that not only the Pentagon Papers but also other classified documents were being held by “liberals” at the Brookings Institution. Plans were made to mount an arson attack and, under cover of the resulting confusion, take back all the documents Brookings held. Wiser heads eventually prevailed, but not before plans to acquire a fire engine were well advanced. Eventually, this appetite for undercover operations led to the abortive raid on the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate hotel in 1972, and to Nixon’s resignation – the only president to be forced from office – in August 1974.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't leave theology to the theologians

Today my son and I finished reading through Alister McGrath's Theology: The Basics. He bids the reader farewell with these thoughts from Karl Barth [originally from a 1934 Paris lecture]:
In conclusion, theology is not a private subject for theologians only. Nor is it a private subject for professors. Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors. Nor is theology a private subject of study for pastors. Fortunately, there have been repeatedly congregation members, and often whole congregations, who have pursued theology energetically while their pastors were theological infants or barbarians. Theology is a matter for the church. 
Karl Barth, God in Action,  1963, pp. 56-57

Speaking Biblically (but not knowing it)

The process whereby Biblical words, phrases and concepts enter popular culture is a fascinating one. One striking example from the English language is that of atonement which apparently William Tyndale used in 1526 [at-one-ment] to translate the latin word reconciliatio and to capture the significance of what Christ's death on the cross accomplished. [Minor aside: there is some evidence it was in some use before Tyndale].

But other words do not. Reading through John 15 with two friends this week they pointed out that abide is a not a word that has popular use. Nevertheless, the hymn Abide with me, is often sung in secular forums, and out of context, I as noted in this earlier post about an ANZAC day ceremony.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A dangerous movie

Last night my family and I watched the movie, The History Boys. On one level I think it is excellent and raises profound issues. What is the real purpose of an education? How does one balance a true education against the conflicting pressures for performance on external examinations? What is history? Many of the characters are beautifully portrayed and (unfortunately) quite believable in all their anxieties, foibles, and ambiguities.

However, in the end I think this is a dangerous movie, is morally dubious, and consequently undermines its main message of the value of education. Why? The "hero" is an inspiring (male) teacher who fondles his (male) pupils. The movie (and reviews) treat this abuse in a light manner: to me they "rationalise" and "trivialise" it in a celebration of the creative tensions and possibilities of moral ambiguity. [Here is a review of the original play in The Guardian]. This excellent blog post argues persuasively why we should be troubled by this movie. I think if the abusive teacher had been a priest the moral outcry against the play and movie would have been thunderous. And so it should have been!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seek justice

Next week I am looking forward to being at a conference on the Church and the Academy. One of the plenary speakers Jonathan Burnside has a cool website which discusses a range of issues concerning God, Justice, and Society.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The large hadron collider will not discover the secrets of creation

Since I am a physicist, sometimes I get asked, "What do you think about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)?"

I consider the argument that the LHC and finding the Higgs boson will give new insights into "creation" and "the beginning of time" is very weak.
On purely scientific grounds, the Higgs boson is relevant to what happened seconds after the Big Bang, not at the beginning.
On philosophical and theological grounds, such scientific knowledge really tells us nothing about our purpose, whether or not God exists or the character of God?

This post was stimulated because a friend brought to my attention an article in the The Australian Higher Education Section, "God and the Holy Grail of Physics" by Jennifer Oriel. The article is somewhat representative of writing about the LHC in the popular press, spurred on by breath-taking press releases from CERN. Here are a few extracts:
SINCE the beginning of history, humans have searched for the beginning of time, asking how we came to be. But at no other point has humanity come so close to finding the keys to creation.

[Scientists at CERN work] in the hope of discovering the secrets of existence contained in the big bang.
There is a missing link, the Higgs boson, a hypothetical elementary particle .... that would give mass to matter. Without it, the big bang is a bit lightweight and the standard scientific explanation for creation falls short. Scientists believe they will prove whether the boson exists by the end of next year.
A new physics, string theory, emerged in the late 20th century that proposed parallel universes, time travel and a swath of theories reminiscent of extreme sci-fi.
Within a year, humanity may have mapped the big bang. We may even unearth other dimensions in space and time, but what created the particles that collided to produce the universe?
First, I am doubtful the LHC will be able to test any significant predictions of string theory. Also, string theory did not propose time travel or parallel universes. [The multiverse was proposed before string theory].

Second, I think it is highly likely that the LHC will detect the Higgs boson. Most physicists will not be surprised. There is so much other indirect evidence for the existence of this particle. The only theory we have that is consistent [the Standard model] with copius amounts of other experimental data requires the Higgs boson to be there. Here is a simple analogy for the layperson.

Suppose you are on the jury for a murder trial. The prosecutor presents evidence against the accused: pictures of the body of the victim, the coroners report, eyewitness testimony that the accused was seen with the victim at the time of the murder, a motive, and the gun. You would probably be willing to pronounce the accused guilty. But, for some people on the jury to be convinced "beyond reasonable doubt" they need to see more evidence, e.g., the fingerprints of the alleged murderer on the gun.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A model for us all

Parkinson's second law is that "Expenditure rises to match income".
This is a trueism of modern affluent Western society.
Or is it? Maybe it should be "Expenditure rises to match income plus how much the bank will lend you!"
But, Jesus said "You cannot serve both God and money" and so Christians must be different.

I was challenged by a post written by John Piper about the example of John Wesley. Throughout his life Wesley kept his annual expenditure at the same level (roughly 30 pounds) as when he was younger, in spite of the fact that his income sometimes was as high as 40+ times that!

War is hell (again)

My wife and I really enjoyed watching Children of the Silk Road which is based on the true story of Englishman George Hogg's care of orphans during the brutal Second Sino-Japanese war. The scenery is magnificent.

Again it illustrates that War is Hell, the power and practice of sacrificial love, and our search for redemption.

To me an interesting twist occurs when it is revealed that one of the main characters has a drug addiction to cope with the pain and suffering they encounter.

The Times has a fascinating account of the background and how the movie was made.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewing a book about the book of books

The Week summarises several positive reviews of The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg. [One such review is from The Independent].

Robert Wilson in the Canberra Times [I could not find this review online] wrote on the chapter "The Matter of Richard Dawkins" that " Never have I encountered such a gentle and yet devastating intellectual critique of the author of The God Delusion."

In 2006 Bragg also published an interesting book Twelve books that changed the world. [It probably should be english-speaking world, except for the rules of football!]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Connecting truth and justice

The movie The Making of the Mahatma is worth watching. It chronicles the 21 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa. During this time Gandhi "cut his teeth" in his approach of non-violent resistance to oppressive governments. Here is the relevant background from Wikipedia:

In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time. He urged Indians to defy the new law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. The community adopted this plan, and during the ensuing seven-year struggle, thousands of Indians were jailed, flogged, or shot for striking, refusing to register, burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. The government successfully repressed the Indian protesters, but the public outcry over the harsh treatment of peaceful Indian protesters by the South African government forced South African General Jan Christiaan Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi's ideas took shape, and the concept of satyagraha matured during this struggle.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Trinitarian resolution of the paradox of revelation

This post gives a brief summary of some discussion of Karl Barth's approach to the Trinity in Alister McGrath's Theology: The Basics.
The following two claims present a paradox.

1. Humanity is fundamentally incapable of hearing the Word of God, because of the sinful nature of humanity.

2. Nevertheless, humanity has heard the Word of God: humanity is sinful and cannot hear the Word of God.

Barth resolves the paradox in the following Trinitarian manner.

a. God the Father is a revealing God.
b. God the Son is the self-revelation of God.
c. God the Holy Spirit is the means by which Jesus is recognized as the self-revelation of God.

Below is the actual quote of Barth, that McGrath discusses.
The question of the self-revealing God which thus forces itself upon us as the first question cannot, if we follow the witness of Scripture, be separated in any way from the second question: How does it come about, how is it actual, that this God reveals Himself? Nor can it be separated from the third question: What is the result? What does this event do to the man to whom it happens? Conversely the second and third questions cannot possibly be separated from the first. So impossible is any separation here that the answer to any one of the questions, for all the autonomy and distinctiveness it has and must continue to have as the answer to a particular question, is essentially identical with the answer to the other two. God reveals Himself. He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself. If we really want to understand revelation in terms of its subject, i.e., God, then the first thing we have to realise is that this subject, God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation and also identical with its effect. It is from this fact, which in the first instance we are merely indicating, that we learn we must begin the doctrine of revelation with the doctrine of the triune God.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God , pages 296-7.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Earning a Big Mac in the land of the "fair go"

This point of this post is NOT that Australia is better than the USA.
The point is that Australia and the USA are very different countries.
On the one hand,  both countries are democratic, capitalist, English speaking, and former English colonies. But they have different histories and very different values about equity, economic freedoms, and government responsibilities. One effective way to see some of the cultural differences is to watch the iconic Australian movie The Castle with a mixed group of Australians and Americans. Most Australians think it is hilarious and the Americans just don't get it.

I believe there is one economic statistic which clearly illustrates some of the fundamental differences between the two countries. The legal minimum wage is currently about 2.5 times higher in Australia than in the USA. In concrete terms, someone working at McDonald's in the USA has to work twice as long as an Australian employee to buy their lunch.

Here, are some of the details. The Federal minimum wage in the USA is currently US$7.25 per hour. Americans may find interesting reading the Australian National Employment Standards (enshrined in law under the  Fair Work Act of 2009).
The minimum wage has just been increased to AU$589 per week.
The maximum number of working hours is 38 hours week.
[Also, the "casual loading" has been increased to 22%. I believe this is what you pay people who do not have long term positions with super-annuation, paid annual leave, and other "benefits".]
I calculate the corresponding hourly pay rate is  AU$18.90 per hour ($589/38 x  1.22).

What about comparing currencies and costs of living? The US$ and A$ fluctuate relative to on another but are currently comparable.
The Big Mac index data from July 2010 list the price of a McDonald's Big Mac in Australia as A$4.35 versus US$3.73. This illustrates how the purchasing powers of the two currencies are comparable.

What might we learn from all this?
  • Australia is a very egalitarian country. ["A Fair Go for all"]
  • Australia is a very prosperous country.
  • Perhaps, a significant increase in the minimum wage in the USA would not lead to the economic disaster predicted by some business leaders and conservative politicians.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Religion leads to war

Last night, my wife and I watched Elizabeth: the Golden Age. Overall the movie is very nicely done and worth watching. Again there is the usual issue in such a "historical " movie about historical inaccuracies. It is interesting that Cate Blanchett said:
"It's terrifying that we are growing up with this very illiterate bunch of children, who are somehow being taught that film is fact, when in fact it's invention. Hopefully though an historical film will inspire people to go and read about the history. But in the end it is a work of history and selection."
To me the movie clearly illustrates the danger of religion and the associated self-righteous "God is on our side" approach to politics and life. It is also fascinating how in the movie Queen Elizabeth (the Protestant) seeks the counsel of an astrology.

I dislike most movie trailers because they are so brief, so overly dramatic and contain a randomly ordered juxtaposition of scene flashes. However, I really like the extended trailer below.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What is justice?

In 1843 General Charles Napier conquered Sind and installed the order of British colonial rule, no doubt to bring the blessings of civilization to the "inferior races". When the British came, one of the colonial impositions they instituted was the prohibition of sati - of widows being cremated on their husbands' funeral pyres. They were shrewd enough to tolerate a number of native peculiarities, but not the burning of widows. The Brahmans of Sind, however, defended sati as an age-old custom. General Napier's response was as simple as it was arrogant: "My nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them. Let us all act according to national custom!" 
Sometimes this story is told as a polemical tool to underline the clear moral superiority of certain practices over others. It is possible, however, to see it as an extreme case of competing, indeed clashing, justices...
Miroslav Volf begins his chapter on Oppression and Justice in Exclusion and Embrace with this story. It certainly got my attention!

One mans justice is another man's (or woman's) injustice. Volf reviews three dominant ways of dealing with the issue of clashing justices
  • the universalist affirmation that there is just one justice 
  • the postmodern claim that there are a rich plurality of justices; they all need to be embraced
  • the communitarian approach of placing justice within a tradition (Alasdair MacIntyre)
But, to the Christian the very character of the tri-une God and the gospel defines justice. (See for example Romans 3:25-26. This is my emphasis, not Volf's. Also, note that justice and righteousness are interchanged in different translations; but that underscores the point).

So shouldn't that make it all clear? Christian's should go for the first option above. But, Volf goes on (p. 198):
the argument from the character of God to universal justice and universal peace is incontrovertible. To be a follower of Jesus Christ means both to affirm that God's justice transcends all cultural construals of justice and to strive for that justice (Matthew 6:33)....
The question is whether Christians who want to uphold God's universal justice can judge between cultures with divine infallibility. The answers is that they cannot.  
For one, Christians stand inside a culture, inside a tradition, inside an interest group. Unlike God's Knowledge, their knowledge is limited and distorted. There judgements about what is just in concrete situations are inescapably particular. We must therefore distinguish between our idea of God's justice and God's justice itself.
This is quite humbling and should check us before we start off on some of our self-righteous rants about "injustices" we have experienced.... But it does seem to me there may be less ambiguity about issues we are less directly involved in...

I will try and summarise later Volf's proposals of possible ways forward.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Communicating love to children

My wife and I have found one of the most helpful parenting books is How to Really love your child by Ross Campbell. I was asked to review it at church on sunday. Here is the executive summary which I used.

Previously I mentioned Campbell's  latest book, Help your Twentysomething get a life and get it now! It raises some important questions about how our western affluence combined with our desire to take care of our [adult] children is actually hurting them (and us). My wife and I thought it was so helpful we have bought multiple copies so we can are give them to our peers.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Colonialism and mission in India

Were Christian missions the hand-maidens of colonial governments as they oppressed and exploited people and their lands?
Or were colonial governments actually the hand-maidens of ruthless pagan corporations as they violently oppressed and exploited, driven by an insatiable greed for money and power?

This weekend I read an interesting article The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on India by P. Daniel Jeyaraj in the Princeton Seminary Bulletin. The article contains a brief section which points out how in the case of India the East India Company [which effectively ruled colonial India] was in conflict with India Christians and missionaries. The latter stood in the way of smooth corporate operations and profits. Below is the relevant section of the article. If you click on it you see a larger version.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The limitations of analogy in science and theology

Analogues have great value in helping us better understand difficult concepts. However, they do have limitations, and understanding those limitations can be helpful too. No analogy is perfect and if pushed too far can become problematic. In his chapter on Salvation in Theology: The Basics Alister McGrath points out this limitation and illustrates it with the notion of Jesus paying a "ransom" through his death (see Mark 10:45). The analogy is powerful because it illustrates that we were hostages to our sin without hope of freedom. Jesus death and resurrection liberates us. But if we push the analogy too far we start to get bogged down in questions such as "To who was the ransom paid? Who was the hostage taker who received the ransom payment: God or the Devil?".

Analogues have their value and limitations in science too. A famous and historically important one was that of the aether. In 1865 James Clerk Maxwell proposed that light is an electromagnetic wave analogous to a sound wave travelling through a solid or gas (a medium). But this analogy requires that there must be some medium in which the light wave is travelling. This medium was called the aether and Maxwell proposed it was a "sea of molecular vortices", which he sketched below.

Physicists searched for this new medium in vain. Eventually Michelson and Morley performed experiments that showed such a medium could not exist. Light waves travel in a vacuum. The analogy was helpful but limited.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

N.T. Wright on the Atonement

This morning my son and I are discussing the chapter on Salvation in Alister McGrath's Theology: The Basics. A key issue is the nature of the atonement and the question of penal substitution. This led me to read an interesting (but rather long) article The Cross and its Caricatures by N.T. Wright which addresses some controversies in the U.K. in 2007. Below I have extracted a few paragraphs that I found helpful and challenging and are independent of the context in which the article was written.
I am one of those who think it good that the church has never formally defined 'the atonement', partly because I firmly believe that when Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn't give them a theory, he gave them a meal. Of course, the earliest exponent of that meal (Paul, in 1 Corinthians) insists that it matters quite a lot that you understand what you are about as you come to share in it; ....
Robert Jenson's .... main point is that standard theories of atonement (of how, in other words, Jesus' death effected our reconciliation with God) have located the cross within conceptualities and narratives other than the biblical one, to which the gospel writers and Paul all point as the proper matrix for understanding the event ('Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures'). Anselm cut the cross loose from its scriptural moorings and placed it within a feudal system of honour and shame; Abelard, within a story of a divine teaching programme; the Greek Fathers, within the world of mythical satanic powers. None of these is without biblical resonance, but equally none grapples with the actual story the biblical writers tell, and the way in which the gospel writers in particular present the meaning of Jesus' death primarily through a narrative, a narrative which offers itself not just as an echo of bits and pieces of the ancient scriptures of Israel but as the continuation of that story and the bringing of it to its climax.
..... The biblical doctrine of God's wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates - yes, hates, and hates implacably - anything that spoils, defaces, distorts or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.....
Miroslav Volf. In his magisterial Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), he demonstrates, with sharp examples from his native Balkans, that it simply won't do, when faced with radical evil, to say, 'Oh well, don't worry, I will love you and forgive you anyway.' That .... is not forgiveness; it is belittling the evil that has been done. Genuine forgiveness must first 'exclude', argues Volf, before it can 'embrace'; it must name and shame the evil, and find an appropriate way of dealing with it, before reconciliation can happen. Otherwise we are just papering over the cracks. As I said early on, if God does not hate the wickedness that happens in his beautiful world, he is neither a good nor a just God, and chaos is come again.   ......the problem which Anselm already identified: you have not yet considered how serious sin is. It isn't that God happens to have a petulant thing about petty rules. He is the wise and loving creator who cannot abide his creation being despoiled. On the cross he drew the full force not only of that despoiling, but of his own proper, judicial, punitive rejection of it, on to himself. That is what the New Testament says. That is what Jesus himself, I have argued elsewhere, believed what was going on. That is what the classic Anglican formularies and liturgy say.....
Sadly, the debate I have reviewed .... shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or 'guilt by association'. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who 'searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so', instead of 'knowing' in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn't made it so obscure!).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Public sin requires public confession and repentance

Last weekend my wife and I watched the movie Frost/Nixon. It is a "historical recreation" of the background to the famous interviews that David Frost did with Richard Nixon in 1977, a few years after Nixon had been forced to resign as the President of the USA because of the Watergate scandal. It is certainly worth watching.

I thought the portrayal of Nixon was excellent but not of Frost. I had not appreciated how Nixon was such a "charmer" or his talent for obfuscation. The movie portrays Frost as a superficial smiling glamour boy but if you watch the original interviews or the interview of Frost by Mike Wallace (CBS 60 minutes) I think he had more substance.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This includes corruption of the critical faculties so one becomes delusional about what is actually right and wrong. This is highlighted by Nixon's classic claim: "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal".

The movie also made me appreciate what a wounding experience Watergate was for the American people. Many desperately wanted Nixon to clearly confess that he did the wrong thing, broke the law, and to apologise for it. Nixon also wanted public redemption, but on his own terms of self justification. Public sin requires public confession and repentance. Unfortunately, Nixon never clearly did that.