Ollie – updated

Ollie has a lump on his left jaw (you can just about see it on the photo above, taken this afternoon). He has to have an operation tomorrow to remove it (general anaesthetic!!), and have it biopsied. It might just be blocked glands; it might be something a lot worse 🙁

If it’s the sort of thing you do, please say a prayer or two.


He’s all clear! Thanks for all concern

I do like it when…

… I read an article that I really agree with 🙂

“Perhaps the problem isn’t the lack of a narrative, but that the public has formed one already, and it seems to go something like this: A young community-organizer-cum-seminar-leader, having led a sheltered political life in deep blue America, is swept into office on the strength of a financial collapse weeks before the election plus the emotional need for a biracial redeemer. He misreads the country, the times, and his mandate, pushes through plans to turn the country into a social democracy at the exact moment that model is proving unworkable, governs in every way against the will of the people, and proves himself to be a bad politician, a coalition-destroyer, a fish out of water, and over his head.”


Britain’s defence review and the end of NATO
8 reasons why the UK SDR must not savage the military

Capitalism saved the Chilean miners
Psychobabble didn’t

Judith Curry on the specific nature of IPCC overconfidence (part one)

My new favourite blog, Edward Feser with a brilliant analogy for humourless atheists
and a specific rebuttal to Stephen Law’s ‘God of Evil’ argument
More succinctly, Kim Fabricius with twelve swift ripostes to atheists

Reason, emotion, judgement, faith

Here is one of those truisms that I quite like:

“The definition of insanity is to repeatedly do the same thing whilst expecting a different result.”

This seems to embody some wisdom – it might be told in order to bring someone trapped in repetitious behaviour to realise that they are doing something wrong, and that if they are unhappy with some aspect of their present situation then they need to change something.

Now compare that with the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider making a web, which generates the truism ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. Once more, this seems to embody some wisdom – it might be told in order to encourage someone not to give up, not to be daunted by a sense of failure but to learn to overcome the obstacles in their path and treat triumph and disaster just the same.

My point is not that one of these truisms is ‘more true’ than the other. My point is that discerning what is appropriate depends upon the faculty of judgement, what Aristotle called φρόνησις phronesis, or practical wisdom.

In my chapter 3 I was quite critical of “reason” – a position that I maintain. “Reason” – as understood in contemporary society – is, to my mind, radically inimical to the cultivation of phronesis. This is due to the idolatrous conception of reason, in particular, the way in which it systematically denigrates the emotional aspects of human life.

Now Scott responded with this comment: “Emotions follow beliefs. That is, they are involuntary reactions we have as things happen to us, but what they are (and how strong) depends on how those things are evaluated (subconsciously) by our beliefs. Hence, they are data that, if we are self-observant, tell us what our beliefs are — in particular, in this context, what we idolize. But the only way to change beliefs (short of personal revelation — different data) is through reason.”

I disagree with this. I would want to discriminate between “reason” – by which I would understand our capacity to exercise logical thought – and “intellect” which I understand in a much broader sense. Intellect is to my understanding something much more reflective and, indeed, a much more integrated-with-emotion sort of faculty. It is intellect which gives birth to phronesis. In other words, our emotional reactions are not (they do not remain) unconscious – the whole point of spiritual maturity is that the emotions progressively become more integrated into the wider personality.

What I mean by this is that the choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce can be made entirely rational on either side – I see that as simply a sterile working out from whatever premises are chosen, and trivially true. What the intellect can do, however, is work out which of sanity and Robert the Bruce is applicable in the particular instance. This faculty derives from, and is dependent upon, a high degree of self-understanding and awareness with regard to values. It is this faculty which, to my mind, can only result in faith – for all other value commitments end up producing idols. (I don’t expect this to be persuasive to those who currently worship such idols, but it makes sense to anyone ‘outside the bubble’.)

Which brings me to how this links in with faith. The commitment of Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ we see the truest account of what it means to be human – the image of God in human shape. In other words, Jesus Christ is the idol of the system, in the sense of being the capstone and summation of it. The choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce is one that ends up being drawn into an intellectual reflection that brings Jesus into the conversation (much more could be said in unpacking this – another time).

To walk with a particular faith is to make choices that reveal that the judgements formed derive from a specific set of assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality; in other words, a Christian faith is displayed by a series of decisions that only make sense if the actor is assumed to believe the truth of the faith. The worth of Christianity is then assessable by the fruits of those decisions made by such actors (called saints in Christian theology).

The saints are those whose capacity for judgement has been built up from the intellectual integration of reason and emotion; or, to put that differently, the emotions of the personality have been trained to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The saint is the one who has been enabled to desire one thing, and thus has purity of heart. That is why they see God.

Cooking up conflict

One of my more barking posts, when I was in my salad days as a blogger, and green in judgement, was predicting World War Three by Easter (of 2006!). I’m very glad to have been wrong, but I still ponder those elements indicated. I think we have all the ingredients of a messy conflict in place – obviously it requires a certain sort of leadership to actually turn those ingredients into a conflict.

Here is a list of some ‘thinking out loud’ as to the ingredients:

– the US is strong militarily but weak financially; in essence it is a declining empire;
– in contrast, China is strong financially, regionally strong militarily, and is a growing empire.

Tension here is between a USA that won’t – possibly for good reasons – be willing to accept a smaller role, esp in East Asia, and a China that is rapidly asserting itself. You have a lot of other regional powers feeling rather nervous about China, who have traditionally looked to the US for leadership.

This part of the ingredients list is not necessarily conflict-inducing – it depends upon the nature of the leadership being deployed on each side.

Next major bit: Islam and the West. The Iranian situation becomes more scary every month, and it doesn’t just scare Israel it scares the Arab states too. Throw in the instability in Iraq (and the vast oil wealth there) and the problems in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the West’s options seem very restricted. (For what it’s worth I have a growing sense that the UK needs to come out of Afghanistan as soon as possible – the costs are getting larger and the benefits getting smaller the longer it goes on). This is a situation that could literally go ‘bang’ very quickly.

Will China stay out of any Islam vs West conflict? India? Russia?

The way that public opinion in the US seems to be developing is in a more anti-Muslim direction, with all the attendant dangers. I happen to think that more conflict with the khawarij is inevitable, the question is as to how it is done.

Underlying these two major areas of tension is the economic meltdown that is playing out – and will carry on playing out, along with the random acts of God like the Pakistani floods. Peak Oil will be the heat applied to these ingredients, and will likely make everyone’s experience worse.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if Argentina had another go at the Falklands…

OK, end of pessimistic train of thought.

Free Essex

Originally posted 2006…

I am an Essex boy, born and bred.

Essex has a population of around 1.3m. If it was a state in the US it would lie 40 out of 50, in other words, bigger than Maine, New Hampshire, Montana or Alaska.

It has a GDP of £15bn. That makes it bigger than, for example, Latvia or Bolivia, which have UN representation, and about the same size as Vermont or Wyoming.

All those places carry certain responsibilities. They can elect their governments. They have their own legal systems. They can control their own affairs.

We can’t. We’re going to end up being controlled by a Scot.

This does not seem just to me.

Is this the beginning of the end for Manchester United?

Just thinking out loud here…

– last season, MU were carried by a great performance by Rooney, which compensated for their loss of their previously best player, Ronaldo;
– MU are already suffering from significant injuries, especially Hargreaves and Valencia;
– there is nobody waiting in the wings to replace Rooney;
– the rest of the team is looking decidedly ropey – as they did last year, but that was hidden behind Rooney’s genius.

Of course, the last six months hasn’t seen Rooney playing as he did, but why was that? Rushed back too soon after his injury?

So – despite having probably the greatest football manager ever, MU are looking distinctly vulnerable for at least this season – fourth place is by no means unthinkable.

Now add that to the precarious financial situation, whereby success on the field is essential to keep paying down the Glazers’ debt, and suddenly what was a virtuous spiral starts to look ominously like a vicious one.

Of course, this is sheer speculation 🙂

As for where Rooney is going to go, I’m not convinced about Spain. Real Madrid have overspent on forwards, and I can’t see Rooney wanting to play second fiddle to Ronaldo again. As for Barca, that would surely be a better fit – but they too have just splashed out on a new striker, and they are cash-strapped. I have a sneaking feeling that he is going to go to Chelsea – he is, after all, six or seven years younger than Drogba, and one of the few people on earth who could conceivably do as good a job…

(Of course 2 – he and Lord Ferg might just kiss and make up, but I think not. Now that it has gone public, I can’t see SAF backing down).

Interesting times.

Our journey is just beginning

A repost

The beginning of the film ‘Contact’ provoked awe when I first watched it, on a trip to Boston in 1997. It is the ultimate in ‘pull-back shots’, beginning from the surface of the earth and just going back, and back, and back, and back. Out of the solar system, past the heliosphere, through the Milky Way, beyond the point where our galaxy is just a small dot in a haze of other galaxies. I had thought that I had a good sense for the scale of the universe, but when I lost my sense of depth about three-quarters of the way through the sequence, I realised that I had been deluding myself. The sense of scale that we need to try to comprehend when we consider our position in the universe is quite possibly unattainable to the human mind. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 400 billion stars. There may be 125 billion galaxies in the universe. There are probably more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. I find these numbers meaninglessly large.

As well as the difference in size of the universe that we are living in, there is a difference in the scale of time of comparable scale. Whereas when the church was getting established, it was considered that the world was created, in roughly the form it has now, some few thousand years ago – and it’s end would be a similar number of years in the future – we now consider that in fact the earth was created some 4.6 billion years ago, the universe perhaps some 15 billion years ago, and we do not have any conception of when it will end, if indeed that question has meaning.

Perhaps we need Monty Python to help us through:

In the light of the arguments that I make, contemplation of these facts provokes some questions – and perhaps a little smile. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”


The Christian understanding of the world was born in an environment radically different to the one that we inhabit today. For in traditional language, Christians look forward to the resurrection of the dead on the last day. This says something very important about our bodily future – that our existence as embodied beings now will somehow be recognised on that last day. Also in traditional terms, that last day will come after the apocalypse, when the last trump shall sound, the anti-christ shall be overthrown and Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The early Christians – such as Paul, who writes about this in his letter to the Thessalonians – believed that this last judgement would happen in their lifetimes. Of course, we are still waiting.

This hope or expectation of a last judgement is something which has been of great comfort to many believers over the years, and I would not wish to argue against it. What I would say, however, is that it is not something which I find moving – it is not something that reaches into my heart, it is not something that makes a difference to how I shape my life. It is no part of my dreams. My point is to do with the ‘background drama’ against which we might understand the story of Jesus of Nazareth. The early church placed that story in the setting of their culture, and we must do the same. Our culture has radically changed its conception of time and space, and our understanding of the significance of Jesus must change too.

It is rather as if we were watching a Punch and Judy show, and we were caught up in the drama, and that small stage bounded our world. And suddenly we were pulled back to see that this stage was placed in the centre circle at Wembley Stadium – the story just doesn’t have the same imaginative impact any more. And then we are pulled back to a satellite orbiting above London, and the question of what is going on in the Punch and Judy show on some grass in North West London has to do something really rather remarkable if it is going to attract our attention. And then we pull back… and pull back.

Our imaginations, in terms of time and space, are set to a different scale. And my imagination – my capacity to dream – is engaged more by an episode of Star Trek than by a consideration of the Book of Revelation. The psychological dramas of our society are no longer played out through cosmic apocalyptic imagery, but through projection onto the white screen of the future. Perhaps the apocalypse will come, the last trumpet will sound, and the four horsemen will come riding out. Or perhaps not. I am quite confident that it will not happen in my life time (although if, at the end of all things my Lord raises me up, I shall indeed be delighted) but in any case, I think that it is a mistake to live expecting the apocalypse at some point in our own lifetime. Jesus said that no one knows when it will happen – not even him – but that we should always be ready, for it can happen at any time.

I take that to mean that we should live in the present moment, that we should be transparent to eternity in our every moment. To simultaneously expect the apocalypse today – and never; for the arrival of the apocalypse not to make a difference to how we live; to not be conditioned by fear of it it.


It is sometimes said that we cannot be Christians any longer, for the story of Christianity is a story that is inevitably tied in with an understanding of the world that has been rejected – an understanding which is based in a very small world, this earth, in a cosmos which is unimaginably huge. This is called the geocentric objection, for it is based on the rejection of the idea that the earth is the centre of the universe. How can anything which happens in our world have cosmic significance? (I remember once reading about someone who had calculated what proportion of the known cosmos could conceivably have been affected by the resurrection, ie, if the ‘information’ of the resurrection travelled out in every direction from Easter morning at the speed of light, what proportion of the cosmos has now been reached? The answer is a remarkably small proportion.)

For me, this criticism begins in the wrong place. It first of all buys into a ‘supernatural’ conception of how God works, that is, that God intervenes in an already existing process, rather than the orthodox conception which is that God is eternally sustaining that process, so the idea of ‘intervention’ makes no sense. More significantly, it doesn’t take seriously the religious claim about Jesus’ humanity; in other words, as a criticism of Christianity, it only makes sense as a criticism of pseudo-Christianity, one which sees Jesus’ humanity as a mere appearance, so Jesus was not human in the way that we are human. This is an ancient heresy called docetism, from the Greek dokei, to seem – Jesus only seemed human.

For the Christian claim starts from an opposite place. Jesus was a human being, but a human being of a particular sort. Just as Adam and Eve were made in the image of God, so too are all human beings. Yet through sin, we have obscured this image in us. In Jesus there is no sin, so in Jesus we see a human being in whom the image of God is revealed without distortion – and thus, in Jesus, we can see the nature of God revealed. So Jesus shows us both what it means to be human – and what is the nature of God. This is what is meant by the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, that God is revealed in human form.

The reason why I believe this to be an answer to the geocentric objection is because it roots our understanding of God in our understanding of ourselves, or, put differently, it states that for as long as there are human beings, Jesus will show us the nature of God. The particular clothing in which the story of Jesus is dressed – such as the language of the ascension, Jesus rising bodily into heaven – is not essential to the story. The essential story is of a human being who was given over completely to love; to the love of God and to the love of neighbour; who as a result came into conflict with the governing authorities and was executed by them; but who was justified by God on the third day, thereby demonstrating his divinity and establishing the Church, to follow the path that he had forged.

To be a Christian is to take that story, that dream, and build a life around it. Doing this will remain possible for as long as we remain human, no matter how far we travel.


What might it look like, this building of human life around the dream of Jesus? An answer to that question can only be the merest sketch, for the reality of it will depend upon a million individual decisions, and certainly there can be no prescription for the Kingdom of God. Yet it seems clear to me that it represents a different utopia, of fraternity and friendship, of camaraderie and common purpose, a perpetual challenge to the values and virtues on which we have constructed our present existence.

Our journey is just beginning.