Saturday, February 22, 2014

To the barricades!

My wife and I really enjoyed watching the Indian movie Rang de Basanti. It chronicles how a group of lazy and cynical students at Delhi University become radicalised when they are recruited to act in a documentary about Indian revolutionaries from the 1930s including Bhagat Singh. The movie repeatedly features disturbing depictions of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where British soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed Indians.
We also found the ending rather disturbing, but that is some of the point.

Wikipedia describes how the movie has inspired increased political activism in India, particularly among young people.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On books clubs, politicians, and money

For the past few years I was in a really nice theological "book club" that read and discussed a wide range of meaty works by authors such as Miroslav Volf, Stanley Hauerwas, Albert Wolters, Karl Barth, Augustine, ...
I wrote many posts stimulated by these readings. Unfortunately, the group wound down last year due to declining interest and because our fearsome leader Luke Glanville left Brisbane to take up a new academic position at ANU.

I was delighted last year when I learnt there was another group in Brisbane with similar interests, led by Charles Ringma, and they allowed me to join. This group reads a slightly greater pace, often covering one book per month.

Our first book is Globalisation, Spirituality, and Justice by Daniel Groody. Hopefully, I will write some posts about it. On the lighter side I was amused to read in the first chapter how some have proposed that  politicians in the USA should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers that clearly display their corporate sponsors.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Was Cain just a murderer?

I used to have a pretty simple reading of the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4.
Sin had entered the world and its devastating effects were growing. Cain was jealous of his brother and so murdered him. He was then worried about others killing him and build a city. [Aside: the fact that he build a city suggests there may have been more people around than just Adam's family].
This just illustrates how sin had corrupted people to the point of murder.

However, I now realise that the Biblical account is a lot richer. This comes from reading The Economics of Honor by Roelf Haan, who is heavily influenced by The Meaning of the City by Jacques Ellul. It is also helpful reading Genesis 4 in conjunction with Genesis 11, where through the tower of Babel: humans yearn for autonomy and greatness. This is to be achieved via great productivity and grand constructions. Haan points out how at the time some grand projects were usually built by foreign slaves obtained from conquest and exploitation.

Haan focuses on Cain's

* unwillingness to take responsibility
["Am I my brothers keeper?"]

* his alienation from God and fellow humans and fear ["from your face [God] I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”] The fear is similar to modern preoccupations with "security", from homes to nations, being used to justify all sorts of violence.

* motivation for building the city
This is not just a morally and spiritually neutral act. It is an act of rebellion against God.

The painting is Cain slaying Abel by Tintoretto.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

How old is the earth?

4.566 billion years, plus or minus a few million years.

A nice accessible article on the issue is by Bob White, Professor of Earth Sciences at Cambridge and Director of the Faraday Institute. He reviews the science behind this value, and discusses why it should be of no concern to Christians.

The key issue in the science is that there are many independent measuring techniques that give the same answer.

How old is the universe?
13.8 billion years plus or minus about 40 million years.

Again the key to my confidence in the answer is that there are several independent means of measuring the age of the universe:
* rate of Hubble expansion of the universe
* cosmic microwave background radiation
* relative abundance of light elements and isotopes [hydrogen, deuterium, lithium,..]
All give the same answer [within a one per cent].
It is only the last 20 years that enough precise data has been obtained to pin down all these estimates.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Am I a good person?

I enjoyed reading the novel, Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat.
It chronicles the story of three Indian youth as they struggle with exams, romance, careers, success, and personal identity. The backdrop is India's highly competitive education system.

Bopal and Raghav face the intense pressure associated with the slim chance of getting into one of the highly selective IIT's [Indian Institutes of Technology]. [500,000 students take an exam for 10,000 places].
Their exam performance and rank defines not just their future career prospects, but also their personal identity and worth.

Bopal fails to make the cut and never goes to university. But, later he is involved in setting up a private college, under the patronage of a corrupt local politician. The story highlights the level of corruption and expediency associated with the establishment of some of these private colleges.
By some measures Bopal is very successful, proudly owning a Mercedes and living in the luxurious bungalow for the Director. But, two things he does not have he pines for. One is the heart of Aarti, the common love interest and childhood friend of both Bopal and Raghav. Only in the last pages of the novel do we see the second thing Bopal yearns for: to be told "you are a good person".

Where does this yearning for moral affirmation and acceptance come from? How can it be satisfied?
Are the words of another frail and flawed human enough? Or can only God counting us a righteous be sufficient?