If it be your will

I randomly picked up a Vanity Fair the other day, to discover celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchens talking about ‘If it be your will’.

There is a slight irony there. It is at least a possibility that Hitch is unaware of it…

It’s a song I’m finding comforting at the moment:

If it be your will 
That I speak no more 
And my voice be still 
As it was before 
I will speak no more 
I shall abide until 
I am spoken for 
If it be your will 
If it be your will 
That a voice be true 
From this broken hill 
I will sing to you 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing

There are reasons for my lack of posting recently. 
Some time soon I’ll talk about them.

Short thoughts 3 – "New Atheism"

UPDATE: this is starting on Saturday; if any Mersea people want to join in there are a few places left – just let me know.

This is just a plug – I’ve agreed to do a course, spread across two Saturdays next May, exploring the “New Atheism” – what it is, where it’s from, what’s wrong with it, how Christians should respond to it, etc etc.

It will run 10-4 on Saturdays 14th and 21st May, at West Mersea Church Hall.


PURPOSE / AIM of module:
To familiarise students with the main arguments and methods of the “New Atheists”, to understand where they stand in intellectual history, and to have renewed understanding of – and confidence in – the classical Christian intellectual tradition.

General – including COURSE CONTENT
Six main teaching sessions spread over the two Saturdays, plus time for small groups and plenary discussions. The six teaching sessions are expected to cover:
Introduction/Overview, with especial attention to Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’
Philosophical roots 1: Hume and Logical Positivism
Philosophical roots 2: Locke and the ethics of religious belief
Theological roots: the Christian origins of atheism
Different types of theism: classical and personal
How should a Christian respond to an atheist?

TARGET GROUP – including prior experience needed etc.
No prior philosophical expertise will be assumed for this course, just an interest in the subject matter to be covered – all technical terms will be fully explained. It would be helpful if participants had read Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’ or a similar book before coming on the course.

For a flavour of my approach to these questions, have a look at my ‘Reasonable Atheism’ series of posts, which are listed here.

Chauffeur or Mechanic?

I’ve been thinking about ministry, and what sorts of ministry are possible in different circumstances, and came up with this analogy:

Some parishes are like well-conditioned cars. The fundamentals are in place and working, and what is needed from an incumbent is to keep the parish moving in an established direction, making sure that the passengers are comfortable and looked after (‘feed my sheep’). Call this the ‘chauffeur’.

Other parishes are like cars that have broken down. They need someone to come in and examine the engine – possibly taking it apart and putting it back together again – in order that the parish can then get back to forward motion – which is, after all, what the car is for. Call this the ‘mechanic’.

If a chauffeur is appointed to a parish needing a mechanic, then the incumbent will be criticised for drift and inertia, for letting things slide.

If a mechanic is appointed to a parish needing a chauffeur, then the incumbent will be criticised for reckless meddling and needless controversy.

A bad chauffeur will keep the show on the road at the expense of necessary maintenance, storing up problems for the long run.

A bad mechanic will perpetually tear up the plant by its roots and prevent long-term growth in both numbers and knowledge of God.

Of course, both parishes and incumbents are mixtures, but I think the contrast can do helpful work.

For myself, I think I am temperamentally more of a mechanic than a chauffeur, although I can do both (and the church which seems to be most healthy at the moment is the one where I have hardly had to do any mechanical work at all). I think I’ve done some good mechanical work here – despite the occasional engine blow-up – and whilst there are definitely some mechanical issues remaining, my sense is that the chauffeur skills are going to be needed more in the future.

(Question – what is the engine in a church? and what are the other essential bits, like the transmission and the exhaust…)

Of course, the Church of England as a whole is – in my ever so humble opinion – a broken down car at the moment, however effective it seemed to be at that wedding the other day…

Well that was woeful

One the one hand, it’s great that Chelsea have climbed back as far as they have – on the other, that was a scarily poor performance. Chelsea didn’t lose the title yesterday, they lost it back in the autumn. We are very much in transition.

– I hope Ancelotti stays, even though I think he is culpable for some of what has gone wrong. I just don’t see yet more upheaval as being beneficial in the long run.
– We need to sell Drogba, not because of any inherent fault or weakness in him, but because we now have Torres and lots of other players who can play in a similar fashion (eg Sturridge, even Anelka) – in other words, we can make the team independent of any single player, however good they are. That seems to be ManU’s distinctive strength – and certainly what has enabled them to claim the title this year.
– We need someone to generate spark in the final third (doesn’t every team?). So as my final thought, why don’t we ring up our old boss and say ‘would you accept Drogba plus a large wodge of cash for Kaka?’

Film Notes

Significantly fewer films this last month – partly due to general busyness, aka Easter, partly because I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Origins, which is remarkable (and thanks to blog-reader The Observer for recommending it, if memory serves me right) – it is due a long post of its own, once I have properly grokked it.

Silent Hill 3/5 had its moments
Secretariat 3/5 good family stuff
Piranha 2/5 Oh Elizabeth Shue, what has become of you?
Port of Call: New Orleans 3/5 I might have missed the point of this one
The Sorceror’s Apprentice 4/5 above average
Source Code 4/5 very interesting sf
Thor 4/5 right up my street 🙂

George Monbiot is still in techno-thrall

A moderately interesting article from George Monbiot arguing that “The problem we face is not that we have too little fossil fuel, but too much. As oil declines, economies will switch to tar sands, shale gas and coal….”

This is daft, on several levels. Monbiot ignores:
– the problem of EROEI, meaning that substituting in tar sands and shale gas etc delivers less net energy than light, sweet oil;
– the problem of infrastructure – all the existing petrol stations, internal combustion engines and (to a lesser extent) highways that are geared around the easy availability of light, sweet oil, which can’t be rapidly altered;
– the financial meltdown, making long-term finance much more problematic;
– the export-land problem, meaning that exports of oil will decline much more rapidly than production;
– he assumes that the further alternatives he mentions are technologically, politically and financially feasible within a fairly short time-frame;
– he ignores the political melt-down and wars that will be sparked by the inequitable division of resources;
and so on.

I agree that poor people will chop down trees if they have nothing else to go on. Sadly, we’re all going to end up with ‘nothing else to go on’ – in a sense, the future of the environment depends upon how quickly men kill other men as compared to how quickly men kill the trees and the fish.

It’s a very weird feeling to have given lectures describing all these consequences several years ago (insights not original to me, for the most part), and to watch things now taking place in the way expected, and to still have people denying the situation. This is why our civilisation is breaking down – it’s still too insulated from reality.

Respecting grim satisfaction

Osama Bin Laden is dead, and there seems to be rejoicing at that fact, a sort of ‘ha, he got what was coming to him!’ I can understand the idea that this is not Christian – the rejoicing in the death of any human being seems incompatible with Christianity. Yet I don’t see an incompatibility between accepting that and also accepting that the death of OBL was something to be pursued. It ties in with the wider pacifism/ Christendom arguments, on which topic I am someone who accepts the theology of ‘just war’ (and accept that this is a language that has often been abused to justify the unjustifiable). The core issue, for me, is about how to live in a fallen world. I accept the need for some to witness to the higher truth of pacifism as a specific calling (eg the Quakers), but for the general order of humanity I don’t see a problem in accepting violence, in specific contexts, as a lesser sin than the alternative. In a fallen world there are situations where no right choice is possible, as with Sophie’s Choice. As my ethics tutor at university so memorably put it ‘Hitler had to be stopped’. Quite so. Grim satisfaction seems the appropriate response.

The most important thing for a Christian, as I see it, is not to become persuaded of ‘righteous violence’, in other words, to still see the resort to violence as sin and in need of forgiveness and redemption. The tightrope might appear absurd, but it really is possible to walk on it.