Saturday, 30 April 2011

Why morality comes from you

Some of you may think I'm too hard on religion. After all, most believers are a kindly bunch. The problem is they don't all sing from the same hymn sheet. We have our more tea vicar types, and then the theologians and conservatives, the latter frequently standing in opposition to advancements such as gay rights, stem cell research, and frankly reality itself in some cases. Now if they were a minority you'd be right to chastise me, only they're not, and what they teach permeates into the mainstream. Just the other day I had somebody point out that if God indeed owns everything, it's his call what he does with us. Perhaps you've seen my recent Facebook post on William Lane Craig, esteemed mainstream theologian and Christian apologist. He argues that if God ordains something he will have morally sufficient reasons for doing so even though we might not understand. He uses this in the context of a famous Biblical story referred to as the slaughter of the innocents, during which God commands the soldiers of Israel to ethnically cleanse every man, woman, child and animal. Now I urge you to reflect for a moment? How does this resonate with your own innate morality? Does wholesale murder sound good to you? Any issues with slaughtering terrified mothers as they desperately seek to protect their children? Of course yes. This is ghastly, depraved, subhuman. But, if you are a Christian and accept the Biblical account of events you are faced with the uneasy challenge of figuring out why the God you worship would deem such an act necessary. So what to do? Well most Christians just cherry pick and ignore the nasty bits, which is a good job all things considered. But what does this tell you? Well it tells me they have used their own subjective morality to judge what they deem proper, which begs the question that if they can do that for the ghastly parts, who's to say that the rest should be treated as divine? Own up; we decide what is moral. And the morality of the Bible reflects no more than the morality of the era in which it was produced. There's nothing holy about it. Nothing divine. We decide what is good in the Good Book, and don't let any Pope or Pastor tell you otherwise.

Friday, 29 April 2011

What does it really mean to love?

I've probably caught you on the right day for this. A beautiful bride, a handsome Prince, the pomp and the ceremony that we British can do in our sleep. Yet beyond and beneath this is a tale of two young people at the beginning of a journey that one hope's will last a lifetime. The talk today is of love, that mysterious force that binds the universe together. What is it? More important, what isn't it? I'd suggest it's the latter question we should concern ourselves with. What happens when the rush dies? When those early months of breathless encounters morph into the gentler streams? At what point do we forget to treasure our partner and start treating them as part of the furniture, like a comfy pair of old slippers we can't do without. Now I know that the early intensity has to fade. I mean, imagine what the world would be like if it didn't. But what I'm driving at is the simple fact that whilst we won't always have that fever, we'd still do well to remember to treasure the one we're with. Not always easy, not always natural. But here's the thing; I've found that when I step beyond myself, when I remember to treat Joy just a little bit like a Princess and put her on that pedestal, we end up creating something that endures.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The treasures of the mind

I'd like to take you on a journey. I need you to trust me. Ready? I'd like you to reflect on your most treasured value, a core principle or belief that frames the way you see the world. Got it? Good. How does it feel when somebody, for whatever reason, challenges it? I'm guessing that it feels uncomfortable, disquieting. It might cause you to feel anger towards the person making the challenge. Hold those feelings. What you are experiencing is something known as intellectual attribution bias. Put Simply, you do not want your most cherished beliefs undermined, and an internal defense mechanism kicks in. Have you ever found yourself reading the words of someone with whom you disagree? You might find yourself speed reading, skipping words. Same goes for when you are listening to a person whom you dislike. The reason for this is that we are pattern seekers, and our brains seek confirmation of those things we build our lives upon. So that's why you feel uneasy. But what now? Well you've probably identified the challenge. The question is simple; do you want to believe something because you want to believe it? Or because the consequence of doing otherwise is too much to contemplate? If it is the latter then I understand. I hear you, I really do. But, and this is so important; just because we feel something strongly is no guarantee that what we feel is true. We're all entitled to our own opinions; we're not entitled to our own facts. They stand independently, and they don't care what you think.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Calm Down, Wench!!

Is that a bit un politically correct? Good. For the entirety of this blog females will be referred to as wenches, for no other reason than the fact that this is my blog and I can get away with it. Truth is, I adore wenches.I worship the ground you walk on. I'm also terribly guilty of entertaining various fantasies that I'd love to make real if only I could get away with it. Oh dear. Was that clumsy? Inappropriate? Fantastic. I'm on the right track, then. Ok, so I objectify wenches from time to time. I dare to let my imagination stray into realms best described as scurrilous. Before you descend on my door with pitchforks screaming "Off with his testicles" can I also add that some of the most engaging, intelligent, hard working, and inspiring people I work with are wenches. More than that, I'd be lost in a world without you.
Tar and feather me if you want. Many feminists are doing just that to David Cameron at this moment, guilty as he is for heinous crime of cracking a joke at the expense of the Labour front bench. Come on people, cut us just a little bit of slack. We're just empty headed, sexually obsessed hairless monkey's. What do you expect?

Is theology a mental illness?

A provocative title, to be sure. But let's consider some basic facts. A theologian is a person whom makes a living from exploring the nuances and deeper truths allegedly to be found in scripture. I've heard it said that it is the theologian's job to "think God's thoughts after him". First off, and call me short sighted, but why would any God need a measly human advocate to explain anything? Can't he communicate without 3rd party support? Clearly not, for down the ages theology has been trying to make sense of the commands laid down in scripture. Did you know that God condones slavery, ethnic cleansing, genocide, infanticide? This is a bit of a quandary for those who would have us believe that the Creator of the universe is all loving and all good. Frankly, the Bible is on par with any slasher movie, dripping with death and entrails, often delighting in such viscera. I'll get to the point; what theology amounts to is an attempt to defend the indefensible, to justify the obscene, the profane, the primal behavior of a tribal bronze age culture. Anybody who reads this blog already has a greater knowledge, a wider lens of experience and wisdom than any Bible character. Treat the Bible as myth and you might find the occasional gem; treat it as history and you're on a slippery slope. Treat it as a decent guide to morality, and you might as well turn the lights off on your way out.

Ultimate meaning?

A few Months back I was told by a bright, articulate, and engaging lady that, in her words, "what's the point?" of life without belief in a higher power? At the time I let it pass, but I've come to suspect that by saying such a thing she has cheapened herself. We all desire to lead meaningful lives, but what does that mean in real terms?
Well for me, the meaning in my life is directly connected to how I apprehend my day to day experience. Are you going to say that without God I cannot love my wife, my children, my obsessions and fetishes? Are you saying that the beautiful country walk I've just returned from was a meaningless waste of time? Or that I shouldn't have rescued that baby lamb that was caught in fencing because there is no God to give those moments an ultimate meaning? If you are then I'm frankly at a loss. How can you say that? On what basis? Sure, one day I shall die, and nothing of me shall remain in the physical sense. But so what? My children will carry the mantle into the next generation, and perhaps on my journey I might have influenced my fellow primates in a meaningful way. What does God add to the mix? I suggest to you that your need for an ultimate meaning is a projection, an understandable desire to avoid your own destruction. Now that's your business, but I cannot help but suspect that the only person you are fooling is yourself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Love, Sex & B&Q

No obvious connection? You might be surprised. Ok lads, let's share a trade secret with the opposite gender.But first, a caveat. If you're a guy, and sexually active, there's a fair chance you have faced the classic dilemma; to peak or not to peak. We've all been there; the passions are aflame, both parties in top gear, and it starts to become a challenge to regain one's self control. Now if you're like me, sexuality is about giving, about meeting the needs and desires of your partner, and encouraging the fullest possible expression of their sexuality. Now call me old fashioned, but this is typically best achieved when the landing gear is on full alert. Which means, you guessed it, sometimes just hanging on in there until one's partner has hit those heights. Now girls, this isn't easy, and sometimes certain strategies must be deployed. You're not going to like this, but we might have to stop thinking about sex itself in order to calm ourselves down. There. I've said it. Only it's worse than that. Having spoken to other lads about this, what's clear is that we often need to think about the least sexual thing we can, albeit for a brief time just to make sure we don't spoil the party. Hence the reference to B&Q. B&Q isn't very sexy, unless you get your kicks from wallpaper, plumbing accessories, and those dulux colour cards. But B&Q might well have meant the difference between sexual ecstasy and that slightly deflated sense that comes from not quite reaching your peak. So don't be too hard on us. We're doing it because we want to please you. And it won't always be B&Q. Anything can potentially suffice. Pound-land, Cliff Richard, Janet Street Porter. The list is endless. Trust me.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Bad reasons to be good?

Next time you decide to bestow a kindness upon another person, be it a loving deed or a gentle word you probably won't spend too long wondering why. This is good, by the way. Doing something for the sake of pure goodness, without seeking reward says a lot about you. The reason I ponder this is in part due to reflections on my years as a Christian. A lot of stock was placed on good works, and rightly so. But when one asks why something is being done you might find yourself hearing a defective rationale. Your Christian friend might say that the Lord guided them to act, prompted them, laid it on their heart. This is problematic. Why, for heavens sake, do you require a celestial remit on which to base kindly behavior? Why can't you do good for the sake of goodness alone? I'm not devaluing your acts of kindness, but I do question your motivation. Why do you seek divine sanction to do the right thing? Is it not far more noble to show a kindness just for the sake of kindness? I don't need to. You don't need to. What's with the unnecessary baggage?
If you want to show your personal colours it starts with a choice. That choice comes from you. It requires no heavenly touch paper. And if it does, I think you've just provided a very bad reason to be good.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The greatest miracle

Tempted to look heavenward? Just hold that thought for a moment. I might be able to point you in the direction of something so beautiful, so moving, so transcendent, that you come away just a little bit reborn. Ok, now look up. Up into the clear night sky. Go out into the garden if you have to, try and get the clearest view you can. It's important.
Those stars, those great pearls of the night; would you believe me if I told you that you were looking towards home? Not persuaded? Ok, I clearly need to try harder. Let's put this plainly; the elements required to make you and I, along with everything else in the known universe are cooked up in the interior of stars. You are, in every meaningful sense, stardust. And it get's better; you've travelled vast distances on your journey; nebula, constellations, they are of you and in you. And perhaps most wondrous of all is that in order for you to live a star has to die. A spectacular death, an iridescent death that hurls those materials, those elements outward so that one day they might coalesce into planets, chemicals, life, you.
Keep looking up. Don't you dare look away. I need you to understand something, and at a level that might help you appreciate a very real fact. Your journey, from star, to stardust, to you makes you special. Special beyond any insult, any abuse, or any pain another person may cause you. Perhaps tonight you are feeling alone, disconnected, dare I say worthless. Please don't. You're amazing. You're wondrous. You're a unique piece of history and your story is part of the greatest story of all. So hold your head up lonely traveller; beautiful girl, wonderful boy. Don't let the slings and arrows of life bring you down. Know what you are, and believe you are a miracle greater than any you will ever read.

Some thoughts on Easter

This is a special time for Christians. It used to be a special time for me. More special than any other time of the year. I mean, if Jesus genuinely rose from the dead it's pause for thought isn't it? Something to reflect upon?

Actually, no. A cursory study of ancient history shows that dying and rising Gods are two a penny, and that ancient texts have borrowed from each other in ways that are often quite blatant.

And then there's the Gospel problems. Nobody knows who actually wrote them. They were penned many years after the events they recount, and comparitive studies of ancient gospel extracts have identified that swathes of text have have been changed by well meaning scribes. They also outright contradict each other in key events, and efforts by theologians to merge these accounts are dubious to say the least. Worse, there are no direct accounts of the resurrection recorded in the ancient world. I've studied every single non biblical reference to the life of Jesus and I'm sorry to say they add nothing. Of the two most famous, one by the Jewish historian Josephus has been forged to sound more spectacular than an original version, whilst the Roman Tacitus refers to a Christus, and it is by no means clear that he was actually referring to the historical Jesus.

Of the other sources, they refer to early Christian tradition rather than directly to Christ himself. For what it's worth I think that on the balance of probabilities there was an itinerant 1st century preacher who may or may not have been called Jesus. He was charismatic, controversial, and we can learn much from him that could help frame our lives in a deep and meaningful way. I think the historical Jesus, the real Jesus is magnificent and inspirational. I don't think we need resurrections or miracles or virgin births to make this any more true.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Sex anyone?

Sex and sexuality fascinate me. It's just so full of taboo's that I'm drawn to it like a moth to a flame. We're a diverse bunch, aren't we? Our kicks are many and varied. Have you ever looked at someone and wondered how they tick? Well here's the thing; whatever conclusions you draw are more than likely wrong. Take that quietly spoken, well mannered girl who does everything by the numbers at the office, before slipping seamlessly into the role of the Dominatrix with her lover. Or that smart talking doctor who never loses his cool by day; perhaps a closet transvestite by night? Ok, colorful examples, but here's the point; why do we live in a society where we treat certain forms of sexual expression as taboo? Why do we use terms such as kinky, or perverted. Why don't we use positive terms such as creative? Courageous? Individual? Isn't the important factor consent, or consensual non consent?
Here's my promise to you; I'll never think worse of you for your sexual choices unless they are deliberately and non consensually harming others. So do what makes you happy, give full reign to the amazing sexual creativity you've discovered down the years. Enjoy that sex toy, or your bondage gear, or those clothes. Enjoy being plain vanilla and just rolling around in bed with the person you choose. There's no rules to this thing, and the possibilities are almost endless. Sexuality is great; live in the power of it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Does Christianity have a future?

This is a subject I always battle with. As a former Christian who's experiences of the faith and its people were largely positive, I've seen first hand what a positive impact it can have. I lost my faith further to deep reflection, and it was a traumatic period for me. My wife is a Christian and a beautiful lady, and her family are Christians also, as are many of my dearest friends. They are kind and intelligent and compassionate people for whom I have much respect. The faith they have is benign, and informs the way they lead their lives. Do I think they are wrong; yes. Do I think that by abandoning the faith their lives will become qualitatively better; for many no. The more I reflect, the less inclined I am to want to see this life choice extinguished, but I would want to see its more extreme elements domesticated in the manner that the philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Glee. Excuse me?

School appears to have changed since I was a lad. These days it appears perfectly normal to break into an extended song and dance routine at the drop of a hat.
I am of course referring to Glee, this odd American phenomenon that has infiltrated the UK. You're not even safe on the underground waiting for a tube; it is not unknown for groups of teens to storm the platform wearing matching yellow t-shirts and break into a rendition of super trooper by Abba. I'm sorry, but if this isn't anti social behavior then I don't what is. And they all have good teeth, perfect teeth, as if they've just come from a McLean commercial.

As I type this, Joy is watching the program, caught in the headlights of a power beyond my understanding. I suppose it could be worse.

Big bottoms - an etiquette guide

Do you have have a large posterior? Is your backside the size of a small African nation? Could a family of four erect a tent and camp on its mass leaving room to park a caravan and Range Rover?

If yes, please can I make the following polite request. Please be aware of people trying to pass. Have you any idea how difficult it is trying to circumnavigate an enormous bottom in the average supermarket aisle, or shop, or shopping centre? The view beyond is almost always obscured, and worse, you always travel in pairs! Two great mounds of flesh, rippling and wobbling are near impossible to get around.

Your lifestyle is your own business. You can surround yourself with food, bath in baked beans, and let your eating habits spiral wildly out of control. Frankly the money you spend may help reduce the budget deficit, in which case thanks. Just please, please, show some consideration for other pedestrians.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

If you offend me, I promise not to behead you.

That's my promise to you. No matter what you say, or how you say it, I give you my full assurance that I won't produce a sharp implement and slice through flesh, bone, arteries and cartilage.

Sounds rational enough doesn't it? Living in a democracy means that with the right to offend comes the risk of being offended. I might not like what you say, or respect it, but that's the trade off that comes with free speech.

Now I don't live by any holy books; and even if you burnt a copy of Sam Harris's The End Of Faith you wouldn't get more than a raised eyebrow from me. I might point out that you could probably have recycled it, but that's as contentious as I'm going to get.

I'll get to the point. People who harm others because they happen to disagree with them do not deserve a seat at the table. People who demand we submit to their dogma and take lethal offense if we decline automatically exclude themselves.

Free speech is a beautiful thing. Perhaps the closest thing we have to a sacred thing. We need to treasure it, and stand against those who would steal it whilst we sleep.

Nothing I can say.

From time to time I'm required to accept certain limits inherent in my worldview. This was bought into stark relief last week. Somebody whom I know had suffered a bereavement, and a glance at their demeanor and body language made clear that they were reeling as a consequence.

What do I say to them? Once upon a time that was easy; I could lie. I could offer consolation that the loved one had gone to a better place, that they were no longer suffering and subject to the troubles of this world. You'll note that points 2 and 3 remain unchallenged; the dead do not suffer, they feel no pain or emotional trauma. As for point 1, well I can only confess that my cupboard is empty. I can offer no promise of eternity, venture no trite assertions that the deceased is with Jesus, or Mohammed, or Thor. For me we have only today, only the here and now in which we can find our fullest expression as humans.

Am I being bleak? Or unkind? Is this when honesty must yield to sensitivity? Perhaps.

I can offer only kind words, genuinely expressed. I can give you a hug, or make you a warm drink. Above all, I can give you the time and the space to be who you are, and walk with you until the searing pain of grief morphs into memories that do not wound, but rather comfort and nourish and make you smile.

I cannot promise you a miracle. I can, however, be your friend. I hope it's enough.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Once upon a Saturday night

Just exactly when is honest just too plain honest? Where's the line? I raise this because I think I cross it most days. You see, I have this problem. My mouth keeps wanting to verbalize what my mind is thinking, and if your mind is like my mind, well that's potentially very bad.

Worse, I don't think I want to change. There's this naughty little part of me that just wants to get it out on the table, and I'm not always subtle about it. Frankly, I should know better. I'm a grown man; I should be able to reign myself in, but where's the fun in that? So whether it's sex or religion, minor or major, I say speak plainly. Let people know what you think. They shouldn't have to second guess you, should they?