Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Dear Religion... Yours, Science: Gervais Tweet

@rickygervais "Dear Religion, This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a child in the head for wanting to go to school. Yours, Science."
For those who have missed the news, this tweet related to Felix Baumgautner jumping from a helium balloon in the stratosphere and falling approximately 128,176 feet to earth, landing safely in New Mexico and  a young woman named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning for female education rights. Thankfully she survived and is recovering in a British hospital.
Essentially the joke itself is at a level of ignorance "as damaging as that which so many religious people are accused of. It's a sweeping, fundamentalist statement equal to 'money is the root of all evil' or 'religion caused every major war.'" suggests Phillip Ellis of the Huffington Post.
He goes on to claim that to make "Felix Baumgautner and science the "winners" of the joke, Gervais (or whoever actually wrote it) only succeeded in trivializing the acts of the Taliban and the fact that a young woman very nearly died."
It is fair to claim that some very bad thing have been done in the name of religion. However is it right to include every single religious person in such a sweeping statement? Is it not fundamentalist in its own right, albeit athesit fundamentalism?
How would scientists react if religious people started to claim that they were  all responsible for the atom bomb and gas chamber? People would be ridiculed and discredited.
Ellis says that it is madness to even be choosing these two events to align, "One is a tragedy perpetrated by a totalitarian regime which uses religion to justify its own agenda. The other was a Red Bull publicity stunt."
In strong concluesion he finishes: "Shouldn't our super-modern society be a little bit too evolved and open-minded for the either/or religion vs. science argument? Why must one be superior to the other? Science is essential to the development of technology and medicine and the advancement of our society -- and religion has been a cornerstone of civilisation for millennia. It is incredibly unimaginative to believe that we can only reap the benefits of one at the expense of the other."
Do you agree with Ellis? Does Gervais have a point, but just made it badly? Is the crusade of the new athesits, who border on the fundamentalism they despise, helpful in modern society? Is it dangerously divisive?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Perfect in the Right Light?

This sculture was created by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. On first inspection, it looks like the people are constructed by a lot of unslightly junk. However, when the light is at the right angle, the people look perfect...

Perhaps it is a reminder that people may only appear perfect if they are in the right light? Or is it more than everyone is perfect in some light? For Christians, maybe it is the idea that by the light of Christ, all can be raised to perfection, in heaven?

Read more:

Monday, 22 October 2012

Science vs Religion, Again!

On 15th October 2012, a group of theologians, philosophers and physicists came together for two days in Geneva to talk about the Big Bang.

CERN decided that they would facilitate this meeting in light of the discovery of the Higgs boson.

It's important to remember that a "time before the Big Bang" is impossible territory for physicists. Is this an area where theologians and scientists may find common ground?

Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, says definitely not:

"One gets the impression from a meeting like this that scientists care about God; they don't. You can't disprove the theory of God. The power of science is uncertainty. Everything is uncertain, but science can define that uncertainty. That's why science makes progress and religion doesn't."

On the other hand you have John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. He is also a self-declared Christian. He basis for faith is the very fact that human beings can do science; this is evidence for God:

"If the atheists are right the mind that does science... is the end product of a mindless unguided process. Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn't trust it. So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science."

Andrew Pinsent is research director at the University of Oxford's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion who once worked at CERN beleives that engaging with philosophy could help science to better address the very big questions.

"There has been no new conceptual breakthrough in physics in a quarter of a century".

This is partly because science in isolation "is very good for producing stuff" but not so good for producing ideas, he beleives.

Dr Pinsent concluedes his feelings on the meeting:

"Many people of faith view science as a threat... I don't think science is a threat, so it is useful for scientists to show that they don't necessarily view it that way."

As one contributor put it during the meeting: "Religion doesn't add to scientific facts, but it does shape our view of the world."

Do you think science and religion are 'in battle'? Do people like Dr Pinsent and Dr Lennox help the debate and allow people to see common ground? What do people like Dr Krauss contribute? Remember that the Big Bang theory was first devised by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre!

See original article here:

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Christian Walks In Gay Man's Shoes

Kurek, centre

Timothy Kurek has just published his book, The Cross in the Closet. In it, he details a year spent as a homosexual living in the US.

This is particularly surprising as he went to a right-wing church, saw himself as a soldier for Christ and attended Liberty University, the "evangelical West Point".

After speaking to a lesbian friend who has been ostracised from her family, he decided to challenge his own views and beliefs.

He said, "In order to walk in their shoes, I had to have the experience of being gay. I had to come out to my friends and family and the world as a gay man."

The Observer newspaper said: "Kurek's account of his year being gay is an emotional, honest and at times hilarious account of a journey that begins with him as a strait-laced yet questioning conservative, and ends up with him reaffirming his faith while also embracing the cause of gay equality."

Naturally many of his friends from Liberty were not impressed. Many wrote him emails after he came out, asking that he repent of his sins and warning that he faced damnation. Likewise, his mother's initial  response was, "I'd rather have found out from a doctor that I had terminal cancer than I have a gay son.".

However, eventually she too was won over and changed her views. "My mom went from being a very conservative Christian to being an ally to the gay community. I am very proud of her," he said.

In one gay bar, Kurek said he was stunned to discover gay Christians discussing their belief in creationism, "I found gay Christians more devout than me!".

Kurek's journey ended when he revealed his secret and "came out" again, but this time as a straight Christian.

He says that one of the most surprising elements of his journey was that it renewed his religious faith rather than undermined it, "Being gay for a year saved my faith". Kurek also said his experience not only should show conservative Christians that gay people need equal rights and can be devout too.

Was Kurek right to go undercover? How do you think he new gays friends felt? How do you think his family felt? Do you think this experience and the book will have a positive long lasting effect on Kurek? How about the conservative Christians in America?

See original article:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Frank Skinner's Prayer About The Hell Thing

I'm not sure it's a coincidence that one of my favourite teaching resources, is from one of my favourite books, written by one of my favourite comedians. In Frank Skinner's autobiography as a committed Catholic, he includes a series of prayers. This one always struck me, and continues to do so as I read and re-read it over the years. Increasingly the students I teach are not familiar with Skinner, but the sentiment remains. I do always tell them that he was one of the most famous faces on TV for many years with his chat show ("Yes, like Jonathan Ross, but better...") and is on Absolute Radio ("I only listen to Kiss and Capital..."). However I like to mention that many years ago when he was very famous and performing at the Brentwood Centre, he came to Mass at our very own Brentwood Cathedral. His prayer is a great source of inspiration and reflection when contemplating issues of reconciliation and the big questions about life after death. Here it is, the Hell thing...

"Dear Lord,

I think taboo subjects are bad for a relationship. You know what I’m going to say. We need to talk about the Hell thing. Now, let me get this right. We fail the course and then you have us tortured forever. Not just till we die. We get teased and toasted for all eternity.

When I read about two kids torturing an old-age pensioner for a day and a half in his own home, until he died broken and humiliated I felt like crying. I even thought, ‘This is what happens to society when religion isn’t a big deal anymore.’ Please don’t tell me that this is the your-own-image you made us in. Of course, even as torturers we fall short. We can only keep ‘em alive for a day and a half.

This Hell thing, it’s just not you. You’re better than that. Even cattle get it short and sharp. This is the bad thing about working on your own. If only you’d had a team. When you brought up hell at a meeting, you’d have picked up on the raised eyebrows. You’d have gone away and come up with something better. I suppose purgatory was your compromise, but I think that’s something you put in for the Catholics: ‘Ok, we’ll go to heaven but we insist on some suffering beforehand.’ Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have a corrupted-by-liberalism view of things that has strayed from the truth. Maybe eternal torture is a good thing, but do me one favour.

Don’t torture anyone for what they did to me. I forgive them. I’m the forgiving type. I wonder where I get that from.


"Who had let him down?" - Reconciliation After Violent Attack

As human beings, we need reconciliation. We make mistakes, we fall out with people and upset even those we love.

Having had the privilege of hearing the Mizen family bravely speaking about their experiences and journey towards reconciliation (see blog post <here>), I always look out for their campaign Release The Peace (see <here>).

However I was struck with the power of an article that appeared in the Guardian last week, 32 Tim Smits was very nearly killed last September by a young man on a bus.

I'll leave you to read his story here:

The most powerful part for me was when he said: "I tried to get my head around the actions of the young man too. How could he get to such a point where he felt able to attack another human being? Who had let him down? I spent hours imagining his childhood, trying to understand why he could do that."

However he then goes on to say, after the young man was caught: "Although I'm glad that justice was done, it wasn't a time for celebration. I feel incredibly sad that this young man's life has been thrown away. I wish him no harm."

He also goes on to explain the positives that have come from that near fateful day: "After six months of thinking about nothing but the attack, I decided that something positive must come out of this, otherwise I would just fall into a black hole. I wanted to use my creativity to turn things around for people like that, so have organised Cut-It-Out, a creative, community-based project to support disadvantaged young adults.

It underlines the importance of reconciliation within society and how anger and hate, just breed more anger and more hate. Tim Smits has had a horrific experience but he has tried to find something good and something positive.

Can we try to begin reconciliation with ourselves? With others? With our society? The Catholic Church has the Sacrament of Reconciliation to aid with this process. Is it a useful function? Do we need help to seek out reconciliation?

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