procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Café Event Horizon approaching fast

‘Many years ago this was a thriving, happy planet – people, cities, shops, a normal world. Except that on the high streets of these cities there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary. And slowly, insidiously, the numbers of these shoe shops were increasing. It’s a well known economic phenomenon but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make and the worse and more unwearable they became. And the worse they were to ewar, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops proliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops. Result – collapse, ruin and famine. Most of the population died out. Those few who had the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds – you’ve seen one of them – who cursed their feet, cursed the ground, and vowed that none should walk on it again. Unhappy lot. Come, I must now take you to the Vortex.’
Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, A Trilogy in Four Parts. Pan Books: London. 1992 (first published individually in 1980), p200

Do you think Sydney (and possibly our entire world) is in danger of this happening – but with ... CAFÉS?

To illustrate – I was on Cockatoo Island on the weekend, where no-one lives, and only slightly more know of its existence, let alone that you can camp there overnight as we did. And there was not one, but two cafés there!

Is it just the allure of the legal drug caffeine, or do we really need so many cafés? Are they just replacing all the milk bars and sandwich shops which have all gone the way of platform sneakers? Or is this perhaps the true cause of the global economic collapse - way way way too many cafés!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Descartes, Descartes, ... I drink therefore I am.

5. Descartes and rationalism: How did Descartes seek to secure true knowledge?

Biographically, it seems the way Descartes started out on his philosophical journey was thinking – the story goes that he was loathe to rise early in the morning and it was only when this was accepted by one of his Jesuit tutors that was he able to spend his mornings not engaged in chores but meditating, or thinking.
What he arrived at after his many mornings spent in thought would later be known as the Cartesian method (from DesCartes). And what was his method? Quite simply – doubt everything! Then one could be free to establish true knowledge from the ground up. He did this not by doubting himself and all things out of existence, but indeed by proving his existence primarily in his doubting. For his doubting was if nothing else thinking, and as his famous dictum states, ‘cogito, ergo sum’, or, ‘I think, therefore I am’.

As the father of the rationalists, Descartes sought to reduce things to its base parts. This was part one of his method – the analysis, followed then by the synthesis – the rebuilding thereafter of the problem to get an understanding of the big picture. He saw this as not dissimilar to an architect building a house – starting first with digging the trenches, and working upwards from there.

He did see some things which were beyond breaking up, beyond doubt – although his only basis for those things was that there was a good God who would prevent these things from being deceptions. This God he proved by the ontological argument (the starting point being not dissimilar to Plato’s forms) – that if we can imagine any God, inferior as the idea may be, the idea shows that there must be something even greater – and that is greater (this idea not dissimilar to Islam’s ‘Allah Akbar’ – ‘God is greater’ (than anything you could imagine)).

this is part of a series. check here for others in this series.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gene Robinson prays for Obama - and you!

i noticed a while ago that Gene Robinson would be praying for Obama. i noted that Rick Warren prayed, but Robinson seems to have gotten little-to-no coverage. there may be some technical or even political reasons for this, but i wonder whether people see him as a bit passé now; whether we're just over the hype around the first 'openly' gay episcopalian (american anglican) bishop.

although i still don't get why one would want to be in the leadership - let alone a member - of a club whose rules you disagree with (he is, and he doesn't), it's possibly still worth a think about why he prayed what he prayed.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears-- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger-- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience-- and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility-- open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance-- replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity-- remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand-- that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


this transcript is from here, which also has a youtube vid of it. it was pretty blustery, and there was lots going on - i don't even think the big O had arrived yet - but i assume he read it from script. my brief thoughts:

  • who is this God of our many understandings? and what is the good of him? who is he/she/is? and is he/she it the real deal? is this God capable of dealing with sin? can i put my trust in this God not just for this life, but for eternity?

  • he prayed that we would be blessed with anger-- at discrimination, but apart from the many at home and abroad, [...] refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, i wonder apart from Robinson's own agenda (which i'm certain this prayer wasn't about), in the massive issues in this world of discrimination, genocide, false imprisonments, persecution of many Christians the world over, where the discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people fits in the scale of things.
    sure, there are some laws that are a bit silly that don't recognise concomitant relationships, both homosexual and platonic, but can you really compare the inconveniences of a disproportionately vocal group with the atrocities committed against millions?

  • i would love it if people praying in the name of Christ's church would also pray in his name (John 16:24 et al). just a little point. it'd be nice if he got an eye in.

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  • Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    the authentic Jesus

    up at nextgen (formerly known as KYLC), a week-long conference where leaders of youth and kids are taught and trained to be better able to teach the youth and kids they disciple about Jesus.

    the morning talks have been on Jesus' discourse on the Spirit in John (14:22-17:26), and by Grant Retief (from RSA).

    he said (on 16:12-15) that we ought to submit to the apostolic interpretation of the ministry of Jesus because the promised Holy Spirit will teach the disciples, he is the promised Spirit of Revelation.
    Thus (and this is my thinking), what does this say to the quests for the historical Jesus? the reconstruction of his life apart from, or behind, the obviously slanted teaching in the gospels. that is, knowing there is a purpose (ie that - in John's words - that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name), means that we're not getting a facts-only view of Jesus of Nazareth.
    so is there a point in seeking to discover him apart from the gospels and epistles - finding the Jesus that is not portrayed through the filter of the paraclete?
    what should we say to people with projects like John Carroll's The existential Jesus?

    i'm really interested to find out - but i wonder why? am i dissatisfied with the Jesus revealed to me by the prophets by the Spirit? why do i have this insatiable desire to be able to picture Jesus banging away at an A-Frame* in Capernaum by the Sea of Tiberias?

    * the word on the street is that Jesus wasn't so much a french-polisher or a cabinet maker, but a carpenter who builds houses. which a chippie friend of mind says says a lot about Jesus - not about the showy-heights of cabinet making, but the grunt work of foundation building. but that's exactly the kind of stuff i'm talking about - why do we want to know this stuff!

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    Monday, January 12, 2009

    9. How do you solve a problem like Derrida?

    Derrida: Why does Derrida ‘deconstruct’ things?

    Derrida was motivated primarily by political and ethical reasons. From a linguistic perspective he was interested in being aware of the histories and bases and implications of the language we use, for much of what we say can have meanings beyond what we may be aware of. He raised awareness of this by closely scrutinising the text to discover what else it may be saying. What may be seen as literal may indeed be a caged metaphor, with a whole world of meaning possible. And what may be discovered, at least this is his premise, is that within the thesis there is also the antithesis.
    So when he looks at something such as forgiveness, he discovers a paradox: to forgive someone means that the deed was forgivable. But if that deed was forgivable, then it was hardly worth forgiving them in the first place. Rather, what truly deserves forgiveness is the truly unforgivable act. Yet this act is so heinous that it, by definition, is unforgivable. Uncovering such a paradox should then change the way we see something such as forgiveness – viewing the small forgiveness as but a picture of the big act that truly requires forgiveness.
    Forgiveness and justice (and indeed his whole project), are ultimately impossible things. Yet they occur daily, and should be pursued, but must be more properly understood. For Derrida then, deconstruction is no idle task, for it reshapes our ethics, pulling them apart, like the reductionists of long ago, helping us see what is at the heart of them. His hope is then a real sincerity in the way we relate, and a decrease in dogmatism.
    From my brief reading about Derrida, it seems that although unique, he was influenced by Kierkegaard, Roland Barthes, and even bears some semblance to the psychoanalysts.
    It should also be noted that Derrida sees language as iteratible, that is, easily transplanted and ‘emic’ meaning thence lost. Thus there is no sanctity in language as such, the deconstructor is free to pull it apart as much as one will.

    i should add, i've been reading On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness to help me think through this. more on that book in particular later

    this is part of a series. check here for the others uploaded.

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    What about me?

    chatting to my french neighbours tonight, one of whom went to what sounds like a pretty average bible study - they read the bible, discussed the passage, and prayed for one another. something that happens very similarly all over the world every day of the week.

    but what struck this girl was the selfishness of the prayers - "help me with this exam", "help me with my sickness" and so on. pretty typical really.

    so two questions i guess -
    1. is this just because we do all the 'big picture' praying at home on our own?
    2. is this actually an accurate reflection on many of the psalms' prayer patterns - hence worth echoing?

          so then, on:
    1. i think probably not, although having operation world as your homepage (and actually praying about it), and/or getting the voice of the martyrs' rss feed can be big helps to praying for things of bigger import than your pet rock's well being.

      and regarding:

    2. many of them are selfish - in that they talk about themselves - YET they talk about themselves so as to talk about God. and there are plenty that talk only about God. and they're poems - of course they need some sort of perspective, and it makes sense to talk in the first person - have you ever been around someone who talks about themselves in the third person? very irritating indeed.

    however, all this said, i still think my neighbour has a point - we can be selfish, and trivial, unreflective (non-reflective?), and ungrateful in our prayers. and regardless of the context and whatever and whenever else we may've prayed, the way we pray and the subjects of our prayers can say a lot about the motivations for praying, for meeting together, for attending church, for reading our bibles.

    i would like to be one in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2b)

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    Monday, January 05, 2009

    8 - Nothin' Nietzsche couldn't teachya

    Nietzsche: In what ways did Nietzsche disagree with most of what had gone before him?

    The most overwhelming difference to those before Nietzsche was his foundation. Whereas they were interested in proofs for God, he had Zarathustra proclaim ‘God is dead’. Whereas they were interested in understanding why we think the way we do, he told us we thought wrong.

    Born into the new era of an evolutionary understanding, he sought to apply this to religion, philosophy and logic. As such, he saw that humanity has been going about their business poisoned by Christianity. We had adopted a slave mentality, or herd mentality. We needed to rise above this, put off this pitiful state, and courageously take on our true nature – the mentality of the master or the nobleman. Indeed, Nietzsche saw those things inherited from Christianity not as the pinnacle of humanity, but as its lowest point, the point at which it began to fall below that of even the animals. His goal then was to shatter the idols that propped up the weak, that held us down in guilt.

    He saw only a few in history to have risen above this guilt (such as Napoleon or Alexander the Great), and he calls this archetype der Übermensch. They were those who pursued their will to power, or to overpower. He saw this as our truest desire.
    As regards teleology, he saw each one of us as having this overpowering as our goal, yet macro-history he saw as cyclical – if there were a goal, we surely would’ve reached it by now! Yet his nihilism means that there is no purpose for pursuing this course except for being honest to ourselves.

    Uniquely among philosophers, Nietzsche ventures into realms previously only really entertained by theologians – dealing with questions of suffering, yet obviously from an atheistic perspective. His famous maxim that ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ is of little comfort to those suffering, but like Machiavelli’s Prince, one wonders whether Nietzsche’s Übermensch should have any concern for such a soul.
    Finally, one fascinating way Nietzsche stands apart from his forerunners is his absurdist view of his own discipline. The happy philosopher is the philosopher happy to rely on appearances – to go on instinct – he does not need to constantly justify everything or seek a higher status of affirmation than his own. What a truly emancipatory view of thought!

    as hinted at last post, this is a part of my requirements for entering Philosophy 2. please feel free to comment, correct any assumptions i've made, suggest ways of clarifying my thinking.
    oh, and very copywrite.

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    Thinking like a Philosopher :: Series

    To get into second year Philosophy (i did fun subjects like World Religions and the Gospel instead in first year), i've had to write 3,500 words all up on various philosophers, 250-400 per topic.

    As i publish them, come back here to see the newest ones.

    But they are:

    1. Plato: What is Plato’s theory of forms, and how does his ‘cave’ story help explain the theory?
    2. (a) Aristotle: How does Aristotle differ from Plato?
      (b) Aristotle: Briefly summarise what teleology meant for Aristotle.
    3. Aquinas: In what ways was Thomas Aquinas interested in philosophy?
    4. Theology: What are some examples of the impact of Greek philosophy on Christian theology?
    5. Descartes and rationalism: How did Descartes seek to secure true knowledge?
    6. Locke, Hume and empiricism: In what ways do these thinkers differ from Descartes?
    7. Kant: Why might Kant be described as ‘the answer’ to the dispute between rationalists and empiricists?
    8. Nietzsche: In what ways did Nietzsche disagree with most of what had gone before him?
    9. Derrida: Why does Derrida ‘deconstruct’ things?
    10. Philosophy and theology: In what ways does the study of philosophy help, and/or hinder, the study of theology?

    hang on for the ride.

    by way of bibliography, to be honest, it's pretty loose. in the end, i drew fairly freely from the following works (whilst hopefully refraining from plagiarism of any kind - i went with the vibe):

    Sproul, R.C. The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2000.
    Fearn, N., Zeno and the Tortoise: How to Think Like a Philosopher. London: Atlantic, 2001.
    as well as from a really great podcast,
    Warburton, N., Philosophy: The Classics.
    and an interview of Robert Rowland Smith by Nigel Warburton on the Philosophy Bites podcast,
    Edmonds, D., and N. Warburton, Robert Rowland Smith on Derrida on Forgiveness. Philosophy Bites.

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