Flotsam…

OIl rigs, Cromarty firth

We are buying a new car at the moment- my current work pattern involves driving a lot of hard miles, and our current car is managing poor fuel economy, high emissions and the car itself is getting rather tired. The next car will do almost double the miles per gallon and be much ‘greener’.

Although these things are all relative.

How much longer will we be so dependent on burning oil?

How long before all these rusting engineering statements of desire and ascendancy be condemned to the scrapheap?

How long before the giant rigs will be just flotsam, bobbing in a slick of their own making?

Two generations perhaps? Three?

I hope that we learn our lessons- let the grand correction commence…

Fishing gear, oil rig, Cromarty

Investing in fundamentalist ‘science’…

darwin truth

 

My friend Graham posted something on FB the other day about the Creation Museum, a vast expensive building and education center to spread the truth about Creationism and the heresy of evolution.

There are some photographs here that give you a rather tongue in cheek take on some of the exhibits.

For those of you who thought that Creationism of this kind is a fringe, even lunatic belief- think again. The museum is huge, must have cost a fortune, and is the centre of a thriving industry of teaching materials (mostly home schooling) for the religious right in the USA.

They teach that the world is 6 thousand years old. All evidence to the contrary (which can not be true or the Bible would have said something different) is debunked, countered with sometimes bizarre logic. Dinosaurs died in the flood- which also explains fossils. Eroded gorges like the grand canyon were made because of the receding flood waters. It must be true because it has been declared to be so by creation ‘scientists’.

If you want to know more about what Creationist would have us know about science, and the truth that can be found in the Biblical account, then check out this debate. It is rather long, so skip about a bit;

Does this matter? Michaela contends that it does not- she does not care how old the earth is, or what people chose to believe about it. In one sense I agree with her. The American mid west with its enclosed rigid enculturised religion stands for so much that I find problematic, so I should not be surprised that they put up multi million dollar museums to tell us that the world is flat (to be fair I am not sure they do think the world is flat- which is interesting in itself, as they seem to have ignored that part of the Bible’s description of how things are.)

On another level it does matter however- it relates to Bible-worship. If you elevate the words of a book (or your interpretation of the words of a book) above everything else – above science, above good sense, above grace, above what we know about the way Jesus behaved – then you will end up with this;

bible, dinosaurs

 

Image from here.

Of course it is, because the Bible is full of dinosaurs…

For the record, I believe that the world was created. How this happened, and how it still is being worked out in expanding creativity is the business of science.

The meaning of it all is the business of faith.

Because science can tell us an amazing story, but can never tell us why. It can never tell us about supernovas and the thousands of years their light takes to reach us, but it can not tell us much about why, out of all the million eyes watching, ours are the only ones (we know of) that are able to consciously reflect on the beauty of what we are seeing.

Save the world, become a vegetarian…

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I have been a vegetarian for about 26 years. I would like to pretend that this is for the highest moral purposes, fueled by compassion for the suffering of creation, but this would not be truthful. The fact is, when I was a student, desperate to find some kind of place of belonging in a world in which I was a rather dysfunctional outsider, I found myself surrounded by people who did not eat meat. Most of them were more confident, better looking and certainly more socially gifted than I was. One of them subsequently became my wife- and she was a passionate anti-vivisectionist who regarded eating animals as a kind of murder. Given that she still loves me after all these years might suggest that I made the right choice- one that we have both continued with even though this is more through developed habit than passion.

Our vegetarianism is not really about health benefits- despite all the concerns about red meat and larded-clogged arteries. After all, chips, chocolate, crusty bread and butter with deep red cheese and sugar loaded pickle are still every bit as challenging to my waistline.

If asked about the reason for my choice to eschew the burger and the lamb chop I could not have honestly claimed to be angered by the death of little furry creatures for our glutinous pleasure. As we look out there, we see a vast ecosystem of flesh clawing at flesh. Killing to eat is not something that I can find any real philosophical, theological or moral objection to- even though I have never killed anything on purpose then eaten it.

This is part of the problem- I became increasingly convinced that if I could not see the chain of meat production managed in a caring, responsible way, including the killing and the butchering, then how could I take my responsibility as a steward of the earth seriously?

sheep, snow, hills

Since then there have been many reasons to be concerned about the weird world of meat production. Foot and Mouth disease, horse meat in beef burgers, the use of rotten ‘reconstituted’ chicken in hospital food, etc etc. All these scandals seem to be what happens when the messy business of killing is conveniently out of sight and enslaved to profit margins and the demands of the big supermarkets.

However, back in my student days, with pomposity and self righteousness that I blush about now, I would also mention another fact that influenced my lentil-love. I would point to the fact that land usage in some of the poorest parts of the world was being dominated by pastureland to produce beef for our burgers. In fact, rain forest was being cleared at alarming rates just for this purpose too. In those days I could probably even quote you numbers- read in the magazine New Internationalist. At the time McDonalds were forced to announce a change to their meat sourcing, insisting that beef came from local sources.

My musical hero also encouraged this view- remember the song ‘If a tree falls’ from Bruce Cockburn?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day
Take out people who’ve lived with this for 100,000 years
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef
Grain eaters, methane dispensers.

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear
Forever

The argument then was that our meat machine was wasteful, took productive land out of crop production, depended on stupidly high energy use and it was all for markets thousands of miles away from where the animals were raised. The alternative was to encourage local sustainable food production, local markets producing what local populations needed. Damn it, we might even be able to do this in the UK if we really wanted to- let alone in South America.

This all came back to me again when reading an article in The Guardian by Ian Jack.

An academic paper in the new issue of Nature magazine’s Climate Change journal warns of the consequences of eating red meat, not in terms of cholesterol levels and heart attacks but for its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Domesticated ruminants are the largest source of anthropogenic methane and account for 11.6% of greenhouse gases that can be attributed to human activity. In 2011, they numbered approximately 1.4bn cattle, 1.1bn sheep. 0.9bn goats and 0.2bn buffalo, an animal population that was growing at the rate of roughly 2m a month. Their grazing and feeding takes up a greater area than any other land use: 26% of the world’s land surface is devoted to grazing, while feed crops command a third of the total arable land – land that might more usefully grow cereals, pulses and vegetables for human consumption or biomass for energy production.

The paper’s authors argue that, with more than 800m people chronically hungry: “The use of highly productive croplands to produce animal feed is questionable on moral grounds because this contributes to exhausting the world’s food supply.” Other well-known consequences include tropical deforestation and the erosion of biodiversity, but unless governments intervene (the paper calls for “increased awareness among public and policy makers”) it seems unlikely that the demand for animal flesh can be curbed. But which popularly elected government will ration meat or deliberately price it as a luxury? More and more people, especially among the newly prosperous in India and China, have the taste for it. Animal meat production stood at a global figure of 229m tonnes in 2000 and at present rates of increase will have more than doubled to 465m tonnes by 2050.

The Japanese appetite for whale meat has disgusting results, as does the Chinese fascination for ivory trinkets; but elephant and whale slaughter is surely no more than a peccadillo in the context of the great, ever-expanding, overheating slaughterhouse that the world feeds from. Animals with single stomachs such as pigs and chickens produce negligible amounts of methane; perhaps – setting aside the cruelty question – we should rear and eat more of those.

The arguments are stacking up. If you want to save the planet, start by changing your own patterns of consumption. A vegetarian diet is no panacea, but it starts to make a lot of sense when you take a long look at it.

Others are starting to reduce their meat consumption, or pay-more-buy-local- finding out where the meat comes from, how it was looked after etc. Some are even doing that admirable thing- producing their own. We have chickens and a veg patch, but some of my friends keep pigs and sheep too.

People often ask me if I miss meat. I can honestly say that I do not. The smell of bacon in the morning is still a pleasant smell however, even though I doubt I could actually eat it. Burgers always look disgusting these days, cooked or uncooked. I have never enjoyed fish even before becoming vegetarian, although Michaela sometimes eats it. There are of course as many problems with over fishing and farming as with land meat production.

Pass me a carot will you?

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Left brain/right brain theology…

Great discussion today on Radio 4’s ‘Start the week’– a debate between scientist (Dawkins and Lisa Randall) and the Chief Rabbi, Johnathan Sachs. You can listen again here if you missed it.

The debate was predictable in subject material- Dawkins expressing his logic-first model, and exorting us all to let go of our superstitious addiction to the supernatural and Sachs talking about the why questions rather than the how, and the truth and beauty we humans experience that is not understandable in a scientific way.

However, there was a respectfulness about the debate that I really enjoyed.

Sachs at one point talked about the wonder of a creator who creates a creative universe- I liked that.

He also said something about the Greek filter that many biblical texts have been through- a familiar theme to anyone who has read any Brian McLaren (the ‘Greco-Roman narrative’ that he describes so well in ‘A New Kind of Christianity’.) However Sachs approached this from a different angle.

He suggested that the Greek Language was the first one to be written left to right, and to contain vowels. Previously, writing was mostly right to left (apart from Chinese which went down.)

This is significant not just because of the left brain (analytical) right brain (instinctive/feelings) split that tends to characterise how we understand the hemispherical nature of our brains. It also asks questions about our theological lens.

Because the older languages lacked vowels, they could only be understood in context- their meaning was only understandable in the paragraph as opposed to the individual words.

So what? Well, when these earlier understandings were translated into the Greek, and then onwards into our modern languages, they were forced to take on a more concrete form- one in which every word is individual in meaning and application. Words that defined and legalised. Sacred words.

Words that try to contain God.

Kind of reminds me of this post– and this picture.

 

Tree of Life film…

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We went to watch this film the other day. I had not heard of it, nor read any of the reviews- rather we had an opportunity to go and watch a’ grown up film’ for the first time in ages, and this one looked interesting.

The director, Terrence Malcik, appears to be using the film as an intimate exploration of the meaning of life and of faith.

Is it any good?

Well- the first thing to say is that it made us cry- several times. This might be because we do not get out much, but it is also because if it is full of tender lovely moments. The photography is stunning at times, and the acting (Penn, Pitt and the mesmeric Jessica Chastain) is brilliant.

Not to mention the performances of the young kids.

At times it is rambling, and certainly pretentious (although all good films need to be to a certain extent.) Then there is the rather overblown creation/evolution imagery- including a rather dodgy CGI dinosaur.

And the lovely music/image combinations-

Is this a great film? I think not- it is too flawed, too rambling, too indulgent.

Is it a great experience- yes.

What about the theology? Not sure what to say here- Malick’s conclusion after all his meanderings seem to be that life is beautiful, precious- but if we do not love it flashes by. He also finishes with a strange afterlife scene where everyone is united on some kind of beach at dusk.

Watch it- and enjoy the tender moments. You may forgive him the rest.

I have to say- on the way out of the cinema, a young attendant asked people if they enjoyed the film, and in front of us a very grumpy man barked- ‘Was it POSSIBLE to enjoy it?’ He had sat through the whole thing though…

So- having collected some of my own thoughts, I went to look at what the critics said about the film. It has certainly divided opinion- one critic pointed out that there was only one consonant between ‘comic’ and ‘cosmic’- whilst others called it a masterpiece. Some just said it was ‘Christian’ as if this was enough to sum up this film.

I find myself in full agreement of this review in the Guardian.

The Tree of Life may well come to be seen as this decade’s great Christian artwork. But I still prefer to think of it as something other than that. Just as Dietrich Bonhöffer called for a religionless Christianity, so the movie for me created a Christianityless metaphysics.

It is a magnificent, toweringly ambitious and visionary work – brilliantly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, passionately felt, and deeply serious in its address to the audience. The Tree of Life is about the inner crisis of a tormented man in his middle years and the terrible unchangeability of the past. As this man briefly forces himself to consider his own negligible place in the universe, the film gestures at the unimaginable reaches of geological and stellar time, depicting nothing less than the origins of the cosmos and man himself in a colossal Kubrickian symphony of images.

Looking out into the Goldilocks zone…

If God is God, he is not Earthbound.

And given that our understandings of God have always been contextual, then as our knowledge of the universe expands, then it seems to me certain that our conception of God will change too.

I say this because of the ongoing conflict between science and faith that has been an occasional theme on this blog. On the one side we have incredible scientific leaps in knowledge- particularly in the field of astrophysics- and on the other hand, we have strange animosity towards this knowledge from large sections of believers. It is almost as if every morsel of science has to be resisted- lest the purity of Biblical Truth is compromised.

I am no scientist, and so have little interest in the technical side of the debates. But what fascinates me is the meaning they bring into our existence. The place of earth, of complex life, of humanity in the order of things.

In the eye of God.

And then there is the staggering beauty of it all- check out the images on the Hubble and NASA sites…

 

The Hubble telescope has been in orbit around earth for around 11 years, and in that time, almost everything we think we knew about deep space, has changed. Knowledge is racing forward, and who knows where it will take us to? Almost like Goldilocks standing before the vast dark forest…

Today, NASA announced the findings of the Kepler mission–  searching stars in one tiny bit of space to try to identify earth-like planets. Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet- otherwise evocatively known as the ‘Goldilocks zone’- not too hot, and not too cold.

Quite simply, places where life might evolve and be sustained.

Or you could say- places created for creation.

Because the human condition has at it’s very core a void of mystery. Like the Universe itself. But what a beautiful thing it is.

‘Test of Faith’ film and evolution…

A couple of years ago I blogged about the then up and coming film ‘Test of Faith‘. Here is the trailer-

I had forgotten about the film until reminded recently by Pauline A, and have still not watched the whole thing- although there are lots of clips now on you tube as well as the link above.

The science/religion debate is an old itch that I keep having to scratch. I am not entirely sure why… this was the subject of long discussions with an old friend, no longer with us, and his voice still forms part of the debates in my head.

But I have no interest in ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ anything- and most of the technical debate just passes me by. However, I am driven to grapple with what it all means– how it relates to the bigger picture.

And also- how we people of faith can remain open and honest when faced with apparently challenging and oppositional science. This has been a subject of some recent conversations, so I thought that a fresh post on this issue might help me (and hopefully  you) to have a chew on this issue again…

In another previous post I said this-

I believe that the poem of life that has been given to us in Genesis is true. I am not a scientist, or a theologian – I am a poet. For poets, truth is given not as a blue print, or a mathematical equation, although these things are wonderful and creative in their own right. Poems bring meaning and beauty in the abstract, in order to make clear the obvious. They are often far more concerned with the ‘why’ questions than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’. Poets should have no fear of scientists, who speak a different language.

As for those of us who have faith in the Creator God, I think we should also have no fear as we read the poem of life from the beginning of Genesis. We do not need to defend, or to stand against the scientific community. It makes us look stupid. Think of those folk in an earlier age who found their world view challenged by those who said that the world was not flat, and that rather than the sun turning around the earth, in fact we seemed to orbit the sun. This was the theological dynamite of the medieval age, and as such, was an idea suppressed by the religious powers of the day.

But God is not defined or limited by science – his was the art that birthed the science in the first place.

There remains however, the issue of evolution- a grand theory that has been used and misused for 150 years to try to make sense of the science. (There is a list of broad positions that Christians appear to have taken up in relation to this issue here.)

A theory that has almost total support in the scientific world in it’s broadest sense. How then do Christian scientists make sense of  faith in the face of such a dominant hegemony? The film seems to deal with this really well- here are a few clips that are well worth watching-

Finally- after all the debates- lets return to the book of the Bible that perhaps above all contains the human search for the meaning behind life- the book of Job-