2005

I have not sent Christmas cards this year, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish a happy Christmas to all my readers. 2006 promises to be a busy and exciting year for me. I’m looking forward to it.

There’s been some interesting stuff out there on the Intarweb over the past week or so.

Andrew Rilstone writes about whether C. S. Lewis was against his character Susan becoming sexually mature, as is often alleged by Philip Pullman. I don’t quite agree with Rilstone, for the reasons that some other people mention in the comments to his posting: at the very least, Lewis choice of the particular obsession which keeps Susan from Heaven shows that he had some odd attitudes to women. Abigail Nussbaum (whose blog I’d recommend) has some more thoughts on Susan. Meanwhile, atreic once again examines the God Hates Hair question in the light of Screwtape’s odd statement that the Devil wants beards to be unfashionable.

Metafilter had a piece on Howard Bloom, speaking about Jesus, Yahweh, whether the phrase “Judeo-Christian” is meaningful. I’m still meaning to listen to and read the linked material.

There was a brief but interesting discussion on mr_ricarno‘s journal about Christians and courtship. He later clarifies the intent of the original posting.

<lj-cut text=”Cut for discussion of the recent posts about rape”>There’s been much discussion on LJ recently about the Welsh rape case and the recent Amnesty survey where many respondants said that, in some cases, women were partly responsible if a man raped them. Much of that discussion has been internecine warfare between people who have far more in common with each other than with rapists, or indeed with those people who think that women who wear short skirts are asking for it. Those people, by and large, aren’t the ones having carefully worded discussions on LJ and don’t care if they’re regarded as anti-feminist or as apologists. The people on my friendslist are oases of sanity in the middle of all this (that’s why they’re the ones on my friendslist, right?).

shreena talks about the muddling of cause and responsibility which makes it difficult to know quite what the opinions of those questioned were. livredor argues against the notion that women can and should deter rapists by doing certain things. The comments on livredor‘s entry also discuss the Welsh case, so if you want to know what I think, my comments are there.

A couple of the Cantabs linked to an article by Giles Fraser in the Guardian which says that atheists should be less arrogant.

I think we all agree that arrogance is a bad thing. These people, for example, are frightful oiks, as I’ve said before. It’s one of those irregular verbs, though, isn’t it? I am forthright, you are outspoken, he is arrogant. Are the objects of Fraser’s criticism arrogant?

We read two specific examples of the sort of thing he’s against. Fraser is shocked and slightly embarrassed at the sight of people who have gone to the trouble of joining secularist organisations actually saying that they want a secular world. Who’d have thought it?

This misses the point, though, as does the injunction that atheism should be more critical of itself. The point is that atheism is not a thing in the same way that a religion is. As Fraser has himself said elsewhere, atheism is strictly defined in contrast to theistic religion. Not all atheists would describe themselves as humanists, for example, though Fraser conflates the two. Most atheists wouldn’t trouble themselves to join an atheist group. They don’t feel a fraternity with other atheists, the substitute family and InstaFriendsTM which are such an attraction of religion. They don’t feel the need to indulge in critique from within, because there’s no border to turn inwards from. I might think that some of the outspoken atheists are arrogant, but I don’t feel the need to say that they’re Not True Atheists.

So, given that atheists are not by nature gregarious, those who do form groups or speak out in public probably have their reasons. Fraser picks out an atheist living in Texas, who you’d imagine might not have such an easy time of it; and Maryam Namazie, who certainly has her reasons for making the statement to which Fraser objects.

Fraser moves on to criticise the out-moded philosophy of atheists, which isn’t post-modern enough. Oddly enough, given Fraser’s advocacy of post-modernism, what I know about it is mostly filtered through Christian critique of it. So, if Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult is anything to go by, it’s about moving away from attempts to explain everything (which attempts you should refer to as meta-narratives in discussions with philosophy professors) and towards smaller stories which have meaning to individuals. From The Post-Evangelical we also learn that it’s a good idea, even though no one is very sure what it means (but see Pete Broadbent’s excellent follow-up to that post of mine for a nice description of evangelical sub-culture: Doctrinal Rectitude Trust, indeed! 🙂

Some Christians are in favour of post-modernity and some are against it. It’s not surprising that atheists are the same. As I’ve said before (bottom few paragraphs), as someone who was educated as a scientist I’m aware of how much we don’t know and where some of our most powerful ideas don’t fit together at the edges. If there is a big story, we don’t have it, and nobody who actually knew anything about it would say otherwise. I personally hope that there is a big story, and the power of scientific methods leads me to think it’s probable, but I don’t know. I don’t think relativism is a practical philosophy to live by, so I suppose I’m Not a True Post-modernist.

Fraser contradicts himself at the end of his argument (although the idea that arguments should not contradict themselves is, I suppose, an out-moded rationalist position). First he points out that that outspoken atheism is Victorian and unfashionably modern (as opposed to post-modern), and is therefore bad. Then he says the opposite, that atheism is not remotely counter-cultural, and is therefore bad. Assuming culture is defined by the views of people who read the Guardian, Fraser’s sort of Christianity is bang alongside it. This is no bad thing: it’s better for Christians to be Guardian readers than members of the Doctrinal Rectitude Trust, but he can’t have it both ways.

In fact, in the UK, both outspoken (by which I mean evangelical and to some extent Catholic) Christianity and outspoken atheism stand as opposites over a large number of people who simply don’t care one way or the other. Both are counter-cultural in way which inclusive, liberal Christianity is not (which is partly why inclusive, liberal Christianity is dying and the evangelicals will eventually own the Church of England). If the one were to cease, the need for the other would also, and we could all go home. As it is, these islands are connected to the rest of the world, and in any case, there are occasionally things to be concerned about here.

Fraser’s final call for atheists to understand religious belief is odd, given that the atheists who bother to talk about religion are often those who have the best sort of understanding possible for an unbeliever, namely that they were once believers themselves. Speaking for myself, I hope I’m only arrogant when I’m returning the favour, although I am sure exasperation gets the better of me sometimes (hint to Christians: don’t try to advertise on my journal 🙂 I understand more or less what makes believers tick. I just think they’re wrong.

I went to see Serenity the other day. Here’s a spoilerific review, in which I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but I will mention stuff which people who’d like to see it totally fresh probably don’t want to know. It’s cut for those on LJ, and there’s a bit of spoiler space for my literally 1’s of readers using RSS.

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I liked it. I liked Firefly, as I’ve mentioned before. In some ways I liked Firefly better than Buffy, as I somehow found it a more convincing world.

According to the couple of members of our party who hadn’t seen the series, Serenity does stand up well on its own, but I suspect a lot of the geekier viewers will be going because they’ve seen Firefly and want more. As a continuation of Firefly, it’s satisfying: we finally find out what exactly it is about River that makes the Alliance want her so badly (hint: it’s not that she’s made of chocolate), and the backstory of the Reavers is revealed as well.

The film is darker than most of the episodes (with the possible exception of the pilot, also entitled Serenity). Mal’s ruthless and more obviously damaged by the war. Major characters die without much warning. The villain is a total sociopath. Luckily, there is still the by-play between the characters which made the series funny, but it’s much more graveyard humour than it was before.

The special effects work well without being intrusive. Whedon finally gets his huge space battle, which is worth seeing on the big screen. Serenity (the ship) has lost some of her friendly lighting in favour of cooler blues, in keeping with a more high tech, less Old West feel to the film as a whole: you can see it in the costumes too.

My only complaint about the film is that it’s rushed (actually, that’s not my only complaint: the crew’s inability to get the Super Secret Info off the ship using a marvelous technology we call radio was slightly grating, but necessary for the plot, I suppose). We get what in TV land would be at least a season’s worth of exposition about River, and the resolution of the Alliance’s hunt for her, in a couple of hours. There’s not a lot of time for anything else. Characters other than Mal and River don’t see much development; and River herself magically transforms from Bipolar Girl into Buffy (that silhouetted shot with the axe, eh?) with barely a pause for breath.

That said, I write as someone who’d seen the original series. Totally satisfying the existing fans might have meant making an over-long film which would be of no interest to people who didn’t already care about these characters. I think Whedon’s done the best he could with the constraints that the evil Fox TV executives handed him, curse them.

In summary, it’s a good action adventure for people who’ve not seen the series, and it’s finally some more Firefly for people who have.

By the way, anyone who wants to be throughly spoiled might enjoy Serenity in 2000 Words or Less.

challenging_god is having a Biblical contradictions thread. For people unfamiliar with how this works, here’s my step-by-step guide:

First, a nutty creationist rants about the atheistic cult of humanism, and throws out a challenge to prove that the Bible contains errors, contradictions or what-have-you.

Next, bitter atheists descend upon the thread and interpret single verses as free-standing statements of propositional logic, and show how they contradict each other.

Occasionally, someone makes a valid point, like the differing genealogies of Jesus in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels (both designed to show Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; both, alas, different). When this happens, the inerrantists trot out their standard counter-argument, which involves relying on things the text does not, in fact, say, or on ignoring the hard bits in favour of what is actually a more liberal Christian interpretation. I’ve not seen the one where they say “Hmmm… yes, this is a difficult passage[this being the approved terminology], but I’m still going to be an inerrantist, if it’s all the same to you”. I feel that it can’t be long in coming, though.

Anyhow, I have a favourite contradiction (a contradiction with external reality, rather than an internal contradiction, but still, it about waps it up for that wascally inewancy). I successfully used my contradiction to “turn” robhu (note: sarcasm). It has not yet been banned for its mind-melting power, so I’ve given it another outing on this thread of the discussion. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to engage ikefriday, the original poster, in debate. Instead, triphicus has turned up, and insists on being sane and reasonable. Standards are falling in evangelicalism, let me tell you.

I’ve also e-friended mr_ricarno after an interesting conversation about CICCU.

And so to bed.

scribb1e and I went to Cornwall, where we stayed in a cottage with a sea view.

We saw the Eden Project. I’d been before, and not thought much of the place, but it’s much more fun when it’s not raining and you can do the outdoor parts as well as go in the huge geodesic domes. We found the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which were pretty and, considering the amount of work and though which had gone into them, downright impressive. Their farm shop also sold us some fine rump steak.

Continuing the gardens theme, we visited some Japanese Gardens, which were very tranquil until a coachload of white-haired old ladies went on the rampage through the place. We’d already looked around by then, and had settled down to have lunch, so their calls of “Cooeee! Deirdre!” did not disturb us too much. After that, we went to St Michael’s Mount on foot, and, as you can see from the photograph, had to return by boat.

We also found a tiny beach you could only reach on foot, and imitated Jack Vettriano paintings.

The weather was pretty warm most of the time, so I borrowed scribb1e‘s Tilley hat.

Holiday viewing was Buffy season 5, which we felt was tightly plotted and much better than the previous season. I got started on re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. On my second pass, unrushed because now I know how it ends, I’m savouring the expansiveness of the writing rather than just wishing he’d get on with it. The Diary of a Manhattan Callgirl, which we found in Tescos, failed to either titillate or to arouse much other emotion: it’s sort of Brigit Jones with hookers.

interdictor works for DirectNIC.com. He’s holed up in an office building in New Orleans with members of his team. He seems to have made it his personal quest to keep his servers running. To what end, I’m not sure, but he does provide a frank look at how bad things are on the ground there. It looks like the US Army and National Guard are slowly restoring order, but there are some scary stories about shots fired at rescue helicopters and hospitals.

NOLA Intel has some other interesting links to unofficial news sources.

Two meals and 24 hours, and all that…

The Guardian worries about the rise of independent evangelical Christian schools (link nicked from greengolux, who is a LJ-friend of the second degree: greengolux‘s own entry on this contains some interesting discussion).

This sort of thing is the Guardian equivalent of the Daily Mail’s “those darkies are taking our jobs while simultaneously being benefit scroungers” story. For example, they ran a story in 1999 telling us how Christian Unions are over-running our universities with trendy stealth Christians, who don’t even have the decency to wear short trousers and cycling helmets so you can avoid them at parties (when I say “you”, I don’t mean me, obviously, as I always make a bee-line for them and show them the error of their ways). Writing back when I was a Christian, I found the Guardian‘s earnestness and condescension faintly ridiculous.

With this in mind, it seems likely we can discount the stuff about how fundamentalist Christian schools are as bad for society than their Muslim equivalents and will eventually turn the UK into America. The Muslim schools are a part of a sub-culture which is currently getting a lot of press because it can draw people in from a significant minority, and hence is able to hold itself aloof from the surrounding culture. The Christian schools are on a smaller scale, and the UK’s culture is much less explicitly Christian than the US’s. It would take more than a few specialist schools to change this.

What is offensive to me is the idea that the National Christian Schools’ Certificate is be acceptable for entrance to nursing training, as “Christian” here means teaching creationism. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be sufficient for any sort of university entrance (note christian-education.org site’s careful wording about how UCAS‘s material “includes details” of the NCSC).

Apart from being biological flat-earthers, though, some of the schools are doing well by their pupils: OFSTED points out that at Emmanuel School, Exeter, the pupils at are well behaved and happy and the parents are involved in their children’s education. That’s not to say they’re perfect, as a report of another Christian school failing academically shows, but even there, the inspectors did not criticise the pastoral care given by the school. It’s unlikely that the pupils at this school will have the Hellmouth experience that some large state schools will give their pupils.

These schools are doing some right things, but for the wrong reasons. It is good that parents are involved in the children’s education, and that the children are happy, and can work at their own pace. Some of the disagreement expressed in the Guardian article with rote learning is probably directed at the desirable learning of the basics which, if some people are to be believed, has become unfashionable.

But, behind it all, lies an insular Christianity which draws a sharp line between the church and the world, and, as a consequence, wishes to insulate children from opinions with which their Christian parents disagree. Kids ought to learn critical thinking (although I’m not sure how far they do so in the state system), and not just their parents views, because, as one of the Guardian‘s interviewees says, “Nobody owns kids… you hold them on trust”.

It may be that these schools are providing a strong culture of the sort which will actually benefit their children: if so, that culture may well propagate, and maybe I’ll be wrong about how much Christians can accomplish with a handful of private schools. I can’t help feel that the rest of us would deserve it: the happy and safe environment in those schools is something we ought to be able to provide, based on everyone’s desire to get the best for their kids.

What I actually think will happen, though, is that these schools will produce a few of the short-trousers sort of Christian, and a fair few people who will realise they’ve been screwed over and reject evangelical Christianity after they leave home. I do worry about the kids who are sent to these schools, but to be brutal about it, they are few in number, and the state system can do a lot worse. We will not be over-run by Christians if they don’t know basic science and have never had to enter into a debate about their views.

Danced on Friday. Went to a fellow Churchillian’s wedding on Saturday. There are photos, but they were taken with a digital SLR, so you can tell exactly which hairs I missed when I shaved. I don’t think anyone needs to see that, so I won’t link to them. A good time was had by all.

Today, I bought the DVD of the first season of Scrubs and showed a couple to scribb1e, who pronounced them hilarious and worryingly close to the mark (although thankfully the stuff about booting people who don’t have insurance isn’t true here).

Just finished my reply to nlj21 on the “God Hates Long Hair” thread. I found the MP3 of a sermon on the passage in question (which I remember hearing live, as it was preached at my old church several years ago). Though the preacher is not quite as hard line about hair as I am in my posting, he does sugges that God Hates Androgyny (which I recall was an evangelical bugbear at the time, no idea whether it still is) and reminds us that women were created as helpers for men and not vice versa. I felt sorry for the guy lumbered with preaching it, in fact, as I remember him being a nice person. Much like here, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get nice people to believe outrageous things about themselves.