Inverse Equality

There seems to me to have been a shift in the usage of the word equality lately. I am not speaking of logical equality, but of human equality.

From a logical point of view, when I am writing a computer program, I evaluate two different entities to determine if their value is the same. If the value of these two is the same then I can perform any set of actions; otherwise if they are not the same I can perform a different set of actions. Logical equality is only relevant if I want to use that equality (or lack thereof) to determine a branch within a procedure.

A strong basis for equality is famously described in the United States Declaration of independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Even though it uses a specific gender and although we can debate whether or not the people at the time felt it applied to slaves, the vibe is that it speaks to humanity. Unlike logical equality, “human entities” are given equal value. Their value is not tested for equality. Their value is assumed to be equal. One human is “equal” to another.

When discussing marriage this week in the Sydney Morning Herald, a significant number of people did not like Peter Jensen’s point that: men and women are different and therefore it is appropriate for them to have different vows. Many were posting that men and women are in essence the same. Thus they should have the same vows otherwise they somehow lack equality.

I really think they miss the point. The reason why Thomas Jefferson felt the need to say “all men are created equal” is that while all people are created equal, they are also created different. There is a real thrust behind much of the “equality language” at the moment which seeks to achieve a level of sameness by discounting difference. We seem to be seeking equality by deceiving ourselves. By defining difference out of the equation we lie to ourselves and we are going about it topsy-turvy.

Equality is a given (in my opinion by God), not something to be achieved. Therefore we should treat others as if they are our equals and respect any differences we have. We should not be redefining others to be like us (or us to be like others) in order to achieve equality.

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Meeting Jesus

I’ll probably be sniggered at in my current church, but this is where I met Jesus.

When I was twelve years old I attended a Christian youth camp. At one of the small group sessions we had, the youngish leader said something about Christianity that I was taken aback by. I knew it was wrong, although I couldn’t articulate exactly why it was wrong. I knew that if this guy was right, then the Jesus that I knew was a liar.

I knew Jesus pretty well. I knew his capacity for love. I knew his capacity for anger. I saw his seriousness and enjoyed his wit. I experienced his patience. I saw that he was right to declare guilt and yet forgive. I was afraid of him. I knew that I was not up to his standard; but I trusted him when he said it was all going to be all right. Even though I sometimes tried to dismiss Jesus, I always knew that he would be there.

Today I attended a seminar in which Richard Glover spoke so eloquently of having a relationship with the characters in a book, of escaping the reality of the world and developing a strong empathy with these characters. I take it that Richard did not have in mind the character of Jesus as presented in the four books of the New Testament of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; but that is very much what I was thinking of as he spoke.

Now, I did not read the bible myself when I was young. My father, even though he was a priest, did not read the bible specifically to me when I was young. The sermons at church did not help me to understand. (I cannot even say if they were good or bad; orthodox or heretical, I just did not listen to them). The thing that I did listen to was when everyone stood up and the priest would process down carrying the big book and we would face him as he read from the “Holy Gospel of ….” Week in, week out, sometimes two or even three times a week I would stand and listen. I would stand and listen to Jesus. That is how I got to know him.

I had heard him speak to me so many times that when I was teased for being a preacher’s son; when the atheists mocked me at uni; when I was full of self-doubt; when things were hard; Whenever I doubted the very existence of God; I knew Jesus.

That is why tonight I started reading Jesus’ story to my kids. Not the sanitised for kids version. The real one. I have often prayed that they would have the same opportunity to know Jesus that I had. It only occurred to me today as Richard spoke of the power of empathising with characters in books, that the way I got to know Jesus, might actually work for my kids (although I won’t be dressing up or burning any incense!)

Crossing and ticking life

Today in year 7 Science we were discussing the ethics of stem cell research and other life and death issues. Working at a faith based school, I had to provide (as information) the party line on the issue. I have a class that learns well, but they need significant support to do so, so I drew the graphic above. The idea was rather simple: which question marks would you replace with ticks and which would you replace with crosses. The trick was that I did not reveal the right hand quarter of the diagram until they had all made up their own minds. I did this to show them that it is not a straight forward issue.

The problem for me is I am constantly wavering on where I stand on this issue. I probably should do more research on it, but my diagram helps ….. I think ……

What do you think? Where do you put ticks and crosses? Why there and not somewhere else? Is this a useful image?

Faith in irrationality

I was told by a student the other day that:

faith is irrational – because it is believing in something without evidence.”

Because I am a bit slow on the uptake I didn’t really reply … also because we have an exam in a few weeks and I needed to get on with the content!

I could have questioned his definition of faith, but instead what I should have asked him was “Do you really believe that?” and when he said yes, I should have simply asked him for the evidence to support his belief.

If such evidence does exists, (my limited intellect cannot locate it) I doubt very much that he would have considered it, weighed it up, etc …..

Faith may well be irrational, but that of course for most that is a matter of faith.

I choose the “flying spaghetti monster” attack

I sometimes spend time thinking about the flying spaghetti monster. I have a very specific image of what it might look like in my head. I couldn’t find an adequate one by Googling so I used the image above. It provides some idea of what the flying spaghetti monster is about without tarnishing my imagination. I have it in my mind right now. Hovering along, a tangled mess of spaghetti complete with tendrils hanging down. For some reason it is always raining on him with sparse heavy drops. This creates an every changing splatter pattern of tomato/meat sauce. It has a sad expression to its eyes and it has no mouth ….

For those of you who are reading this and have never heard of such a creature, well that is because there isn’t one. It is a construct that is poised by the irreligious sceptic to be juxtaposed with the faith of the religious. You see, faith in this construct is portrayed as “equivalent” to religious faith.

It is easy to dispel this “equivalence” with just about any established religion. Christianity has no problem dealing with this “creature” after all Jesus was an actual person. The flying spaghetti monster is actually a “straw man” argument. A weaken representation of an opponent’s position created for the purpose being “knocked over” so to speak.

But that is not the true point of the flying spaghetti monster. This creature is also an “ad hominem.” attack. It is a very clever way of making the person of faith look foolish. It is a direct attack on person without addressing their beliefs, but their beliefs are tarnished by the association.

There are many debates in this world where one side claims to be loving, while telling of the other side’s hate. Where one side claims to be caring while implying that the other side seeks to control others. Where one side claims intelligence or enlightenment, meaning of course that the other side lacks credibility. Where one side thinks that it is upholding rights, while the other side is proclaimed to be selfish. One side is rational which logically means that the other is not.

The dichotomies posed in these debates play on people’s desires and fears. People desire to be respected and loved. They fear to be despised or held in contempt or to be thought of as thoughtless. Consider the lobby group “Dying with Dignity”. In their very name there is an implication for those who disagree with them. If you disagree with them you don’t seem to care about people’s dignity. After all who wants to deny people their dignity? They have claimed the moral high ground on the issue. This is of course a false dichotomy because dignity is a mindset. It is not a method. A man might feel quite dignified in his career, in which he seeks to maintain a pristine environment; meanwhile his teenage daughter thinks that having her old man being a “garbo” is most undignified.

Too many people take sides of a particular debate because they want to be seen to be on the “good side” or because they fear being associated with the “bad side”. When debates revolve around attacking people (either directly or by implication) we should, I think, step back. Perhaps engage in some critical thinking and be brave to face the fact that the “bad side” may be a brighter; more caring; intelligent place than we originally thought.

If God made man, then who made God?

Two posts ago I mentioned “school boy atheism”. This week I found myself as a teacher of science (I find myself teaching science quite by accident) being asked the very same question of my own youth.

If God made man, then who made God?”

The problem with the question is not that I cannot answer it, but that I do not need to answer it and that the average 14 year old boy doesn’t really want to understand my non-answer. You see for them, it is about point scoring. So instead I talk about apples.

Most kindergarten students will correctly calculate that if we have a bowl with ten apples in it and we eat one then we will have nine left. They instinctively know that if we keep eating apples without replacing them, then eventually the apples will be all gone.

But what if I had a bowl containing infinite apples? If I have infinite apples and I eat one, how many do I have left? The answer is simple: infinity! If fact if I could go on eating billions upon billions of apples and I would still have an infinite number of apples left. Nobody could make any difference to my bowl of infinite apples. Furthermore, there could not be a bowl, because my crop of infinite apples will take up infinite space, leaving no room for a bowl. One could not even be present to perceive the infinite crop of apples, because ones mere presence would negate the infinite nature of the crop. The infinite is both unfathomable and unbound-able.

The God I believe in is infinite. He is eternal. He is not bound by time.

 I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

The school boy’s question speaks of a different god. A bounded god. A god who was not at some point. It is a question that I do not feel compelled to answer as it does not pertain to my God.

Marriage is considering divorce

Removing my ring from my finger hurt me, so I hope you appreciate this photo.

Watching Q&A is something that I like to do. Virginia Trioli conducted the panel this week and at one point asked this:

Why does it matter so much to you people what one couple down the road might do if they decide to shack up together? Why do you believe that it is going to unpick the entire institution of marriage? I know gay couples who are together they have nothing to do with my marriage what so ever. “

Without commenting too much about the wording and tone of the question, I would like to look into this line of questioning from a different point of view. The question is unfair in as much as it contains implicit parameters which need to be unpacked and agreed to before the actual questions can be discussed. The Q&A format does not allow for this type of in depth analysis.

The question contains a hint of what Virginia thinks marriage is, or more to the point what marriage is not. It seems to me, that those who want marriage, but are currently unable to have it, spend a lot of time telling us what marriage is not.

The whole debate around marriage involves separating marriage from things that been associated with it up until we have been told otherwise. Why do I believe that is going to unpick the entire intuition of marriage? Because that is exactly what we are doing already!

I wonder if the separation rhetoric will actually have an impact on marriage in reality.

I wonder if we actually do change marriage will we realise that we have divorced marriage from many of the things that make it desirable?

In the Higgs boson we trust?

In year 9 I really enjoyed SRE. Not because I was any kind of “good” Christian who enjoyed the content, but because the class always got the teacher off topic and they would bait him with “school boy” atheistic questions such as “if God made the world, then who made God?” The teacher would squirm out his unsatisfactory answers to this assault from four or five of the vocal students in the room. I would sit there quietly smiling at the situation. You see I have always been rather sceptical. I could not only see the problem with the teacher’s answers, but the problem with the questions also.

Fast forward a few years and I found a similar interest in in being lectured by two physics lecturers in the area of quantum cosmology. One looked into our mathematical understanding of the universe and saw that we needed no God, the other saw a beautiful mathematical order to the universe [his words] as confirmation of God. The “theological” banter between the two of them maintained an interest from their students that would have been otherwise absent. I am certain that the recent confirmation of the widely known little understood Higgs boson would have cemented each professor even further into their respective positions. The sceptic in me says both positions are arbitrary.

So where do I stand as a sceptic in all of this, well I believe in God of course. Not because I see the mathematical beauty in God’s created order, this is a position I hold as a result of me belief. Not because I see the world we are in now as improbable without God, although I certainly think that it is. I have faith in God, because I have faith in a man. My faith is not a leap I took. It is in a person who I know existed. He made some wild claims and others claim to have witnessed unlikely events surrounding him, but I have tested their claims in my mind and I feel that they are credible. You see this man knows me. I can see it in what he says and how he says it. I trust in my relationship with him far more that I trust in the confirmation of the mathematical order of the world by any Higgs boson.

We are not dealing with the rumble … just moving it elsewhere.

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We are not dealing with the rumble … just moving it elsewhere.

I used to drive down the road that I now live on as part of my daily commute. Traffic on the road was a problem. It would take ages to get past what is now my house. All the roads in my local area would become clogged. The government came up with a “solution”. They built a motor way. The traffic in my suburb is now significantly reduced from what it was.

But that didn’t really address the problem. It just moved it away from my direct line of sight. If I go outside in the morning I can hear the low rumble from the motorway. It doesn’t bother me though because that low rumble is an acceptable compromise from my point of view.

They are upgrading the motorway at the moment. You see, it wasn’t actually a very good “solution”. But even upgrading it is only going to move the rumble to somewhere else. It doesn’t deal with the rumble. It just means I am going to have to listen harder to hear it.

Right now Australia is hearing the rumble of a different kind of traffic. We are looking for a solution. But all we can really hope for is to move the rumble further away, to make it harder to notice. I actually think that is all that most people really want. The rumble makes us uncomfortable. It is the rumble of footsteps on a path of despair. Just like living too close to the rumble of vehicles will lower our property values, we fear that this other rumble will somehow take away the value that we have built up for ourselves.

I propose a different “solution”. My solution is that there is no solution. That instead we should cope with the rumble. We should even embrace it. We should bring the rumble close to us so that we can watch it and take care of it rather than pushing it closer to the edge of disaster.

Ruzinfruz?

Muttley of the “Wacky Racers” fame used to mutter to himself when ever he was told off by Dick Dastardly. As a young boy I identified with this, and used to “mock mutter”. Because I am a hopeless mimic, my muttering sounded like “ruzinfruzinruzfruzin….”. It seemed therefore appropriate that my internet mutterings come via a pen name that emulate this strange weird little part of my past.

Muttley … a symobol of a small part of me!?!