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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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41 Responses to 1088

  1. Gfeef says:

    Ouch. and we wonder why our leaders fall so hard, for any disclosure of stumbling is too much for many, it’s not surprising that the things behind closed doors are the things that fail.

  2. Hugh says:

    One of the best ministers I’ve known was divorced and re-married – he said the experience was invaluable in his pastoral work.

  3. Judith says:

    If this was any other context than church, everybody would protest… in church, this is…normal.

  4. J says:

    Context seems to be non-specified church employment. I must admit I’m torn on this one. Personal life is personal life. Like Hugh, I know some excellent divorced clergy. But suppose the ‘marital breakdown’ is due to abuse perpetrated by the candidate…should the church really be sanctioning yet another bully in the pulpit, even if they appear on the surface to be “the most qualified candidate”?

    Divorced status alone shouldn’t preclude employment anywhere…but (I hate to say it) it does raise questions that I think do need to be asked even if they are intrusive and personal ESPECIALLY if it is a clergy position which would place the candiate in a position of power over other people. (Don’t laugh – it may not seem reliably powerful but it is still true, even with erosions of modernity).
    Business world by and large doesn’t care if CEO beats wife or cheats on husband. I think the church still should.

  5. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, but what if the breakdown wasn’t due to abuse by the candidate? It might have been caused by the candidate’s spouse having had a string of affairs, or by any one of a thousand reasons that the candidate would rather keep private, and should have every right to do so. Or maybe the candidate was labelled a bully, but had been falsely accused and was in fact innocent; the ex- just had a better lawyer.
    The reason for a marriage breakdown is the business of the divorcing couple, the lawyers and if neccessary, a judge. It is nobody elses business, not even a potential employers, either private sector, public sector or the church. Besides, as bullying may well go on in marriages for many years before an eventual split, is it church policy to question the spouses of all married candidates, just to make sure there’s no bullying in the marriage, or interrogate the partners and former partners of single candidates just to be sure? Of course not, so why should that change just because a marriage has come to an end
    Personally, I don’t even think that marital status itself should be important; what does it matter if a person is single, widowed, divorced or married if they can do the job?

  6. J says:

    Acolyte I agree, you’re absolutely right on all points, and well-put. And yet, if I’m honest, I have gut reaction to the cartoon that allows me to empathize somewhat with the Morals Police.

    Keeping it simple, without the visceral ‘but what if’s, recognizing that marital status is an irrelevant criterion for an otherwise competent candidate for a job is indeed the way things should be.

  7. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, as the late, great Carl Sagan said when pressed for his ‘gut reaction’ on extra-terrestrial intelligence, “But I try not to think with my gut”. Morals Police, eh? The KGB by any other name still smells of suffering, as Shakespear almost said.
    I suppose that the church may be able to take the literal view that a divorcee candidate has already broken a vow before God, namely when (s)he agreed to “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”,, but I don’t think that would wash these days, not now the church has finally begun to come to terms with the 17th Century……….

  8. J says:

    “Thinking” isn’t the only or uniformly best way to approach life, the universe, and everything. I strive for some combo of brain, gut, heart, soul… ; )

    Morals Police aren’t a uniformly bad thing, either. Just need to work out where to draw the line(s).

    (I tangentially recommend the thought-provoking gut-disturbing movie “Doubt” to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet).

  9. Brother Daniel says:

    “Morals Police aren’t a uniformly bad thing.” Hmmm. That claim might possibly be worth some further exploration.

    I have no trouble with the claim that there are cases where something that could be described as “policing” is appropriate with respect to something that could be described as a “moral” issue. So in the broadest sense, I suppose I can agree. But it seems to me that the more typical usage of the word “morals” narrows the scope of possible topics quite a lot, and the kinds of people who take it upon themselves to police those matters generally do more harm than whatever they’re setting out to stop. So if we restrict our view to the kinds of situations that would typically provoke someone to describe someone else’s role as “Morals Police”, I would lean toward thinking that they are uniformly bad, or very nearly so. I’m quite open to contrary views, though.

  10. subo says:

    As I know a few ‘minister’s’, who have been divorced, and have married again, and been accepted for posts after these events, I’m left wondering why people still go to that dreary asbo church, the one with the brown walls and tiny window’s seen clearly in this cartoon. – as we know they’re views by now, on most things, why would you apply for a post there?

    on a more thoughtful note, I also know people who have found themselves left distraught, and in loads of pain, by ‘minister’s’, who’ve slipped over the boundary, and tried to establish a liaison of some kind with a member of the church. bluntly, I think these people should be sacked on the spot – could you imagine a bank keeping a manager who helped himself to funds? (ok, point taken, all those double bonuses, & equally damaging to the folk they’re caring for)

  11. Gfeef says:

    I hate to say it, for I’m sure to be shot down… but… clergy is not a job like any other, it’s not a profession that’s separated from your personal life. The list of specifications in 1 Tim 3 kind of states that clearly. I would expect the issue to be one they questioned at least, but never one that stopped an employment.

  12. dave119 says:

    Very real resonance with me this one Jon (!!!) – indeed I have written about it in my blog at http://kiteflyingconsultancy.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/how-to-fail-well-cuf-tackling-poverty-workshop-18-04-12/ if anyone is interested…

  13. J says:

    I was indeed thinking “morals” in the broadest possible sense, and my bad for using a term that is usually reserved for people butting into other people’s lives in ways that truly are none of their d@mn business.

    But there are moral lines to be drawn in church employment, and “pedophile priests” was one (separate) issue on my mind as I wrote. When the local RC bishop received a reassigned pedophile priest and (without public notice, consultation or warning) placed him in a local parish chock full of young families , it was a network of laypeople who somehow found out and took it upon themselves to work for the fellow’s removal. One wishes the church’s internal “morals police” had been a little more active (and less brainless) in that case…at least, I do. The gent was post-treatment, and does not deserve a lynch mob or tar-and-feathering, but there is no way he should have been placed in a position of trust & authority again involving children. He was ultimately removed, in response to public outrage. I would further argue that treatment AND de-frocking would have been a more appropriate response to his initial offence(s). That may be kinda ‘morals police-y’ of me, but I am very comfortable standing by that opinion. “Judge not”, etc….but I strongly believe that sometimes you do gotta “judge”, as a matter of fact, if you’re also going to fulfill the ‘widows and orphans’ scriptural mandate to protect and care for vulnerable people.

    Bishop in question was choosing an ethic of “forgiveness” over a priority on “protection of the vulnerable”. One can find multiple values considerations in the marital status question too which is where my sliver of empathy for the morals police comes from. Marital status is irrelevant…but if a candidate were eight-times-divorced I would have to ask if they are really the best person to be hired for a postion that offer eg relationship counselling…that kind of thing.

  14. subo says:

    i’ve a hunch there’s somethin honest and real about combining de-frocking & forgivness. where as forgivness without recognition, is a bit half measured and extreemly dangerous to others

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, you said ““Thinking” isn’t the only or uniformly best way to approach life, the universe, and everything. I strive for some combo of brain, gut, heart, soul… ; )”.
    I’m sorry, but thinking (why the scare quotes around thinking, by the way?) is the ONLY way to approach serious issues such as a candidate’s potential career; gut feeling is not a legitimate reason to deny somebody the chance of a job. One interviewer may have a gut feeling about divorcees, another has one about homosexuality, and yet a third’s gut tells him/her not to trust people who’s eyes are too close together, or who doesn’t believe in gods, or is a different religion, or sex, or colour, or nationality, etc. from the interviewer. Do you see where this is going?. Gut feeling about a particular aspect of a person is just a short jump from prejudice.
    Employers can apply to the police for a criminal check on a candidate, but they have no right delving into private lives, even that of an eight-time divorcee. Another thought just occured to me; would you rather have a clergyman who’s in a difficult marriage, who’s personal life – the stress, anger, fustration or what-have-you, seriously detracts from his work duties, or a relaxed, stress-free divorcee? I’m prepared to bet that; a) the divorcee will make the better clergyman, and b) the clergy currently has far more of the former than the latter

    Your tale of the paedophile priest is rather disturbing; but I find your opinion “I would further argue that treatment AND de-frocking would have been a more appropriate response to his initial offence(s).” more disturbing still. Wouldn’t prosecution, prison and being put on the sex offenders register so his future movements could be monitered be more fitting? ‘Treatment’ and de-frocking is not a punishment for child molestation, it’s sweeping it under the carpet and leaving a potentially dangerous paedophile at large and un-monitered.
    I can’t help wondering what form the ‘treatment’ would take, but cosidering we’re talking about the R.C. church I’m sure I not too far from the mark to suggest that it may be little more than a ‘masterclass’ in self-denial. If so, this can also be dangerous – for the person undergoing treatment. Not that I’d be too concerned if it were a paedophile going through it (once they were out of prison, of course), but the church – and I don’t just mean R.C. – do a great line in sexual repression, with some alarming results. I invite you to take a look at this article http://www.darwinharmless.com/thoughts_and_comments/?p=883 about a 17-yr. old boy driven to a mental breakdown owing solely to church-sponsored repression.

    Gfeef, I hate to say it, but clergy IS a job like any other, Tim just gave it an elaborate job description with ‘holier-than-thou’ qualification requirements. But then again, didn’t J.C. himself demand his followers leave their families if they wanted to serve him (Matthew 10:34-39 & Luke 22:31-34)? Kind of makes a divorcee better qualified for the clergy in my eyes..

  16. jonbirch says:

    question… is what’s taking place in the cartoon ‘illegal’ under british law? if it isn’t, i think it probably should be.

  17. J. When I was a child it was thought that the best decisions were made coldly, analytically. This was the excuse for keeping women out of executive positions. Too emotional. But we now know that there is no such thing as a decision without emotion. Without emotion, every choice has equal value.
    Never the less, your statement: ““Thinking” isn’t the only or uniformly best way to approach life, the universe, and everything. I strive for some combo of brain, gut, heart, soul… ; )” is very dangerous, as Acolyte of Sagan points out. Because thinking is the only way we have of evaluating our emotions, motives, and underlying basic values. So to give emotions equal value to thought can lead to some horrific results. I’m thinking of the treatment of children here. Most parents want their children to grow up strong, confident, and independent. But all too often the parent does everything in his or her power to undercut these results with punishment, belittling, and demands for dependence. All coming from emotional needs of the parent, not considerations of what is best for the child. I guess all I’m saying is that if you want a combo, you’d be well advised to put reason first and give it priority.
    Acolyte of Sagan, thanks for posting the link to my site. Interesting discussion shaping up there.

  18. J says:

    Acolyte, I can’t choose between your two hypotheticals – I can’t imagine any “stress-free” clergyperson, married or not… (suspect drug abuse if they are that laid back in that job!!) ; )

    I do like your final point about Jesus and the demands of family vs discipleship as a counter to the “pastor + wife + 2.3 kids” idea as the (only) right kind of person to be a minister for Christ. I don’t think a spouse or family should disqualify one from ministry but there’s no doubt it does take some juggling. (And a sometimes a toll… does the N. American term “PK” – Preacher’s Kid — translate trans-Atlantically?)

    Those aren’t scare quotes, btw — I was quoting you so I used quotation marks. In my experience a person can “think” (now scare quotes) themselves into a prejudice against people just as easily as assigning it to gut. Prejudice is wrong but honestly I use it all the time on some level to get by in the real world. I try to mitigate that by being open to challenge and change. I still don’t think that group of strangers calling to me across the street at night in an unfamiliar city had my best interests at heart (or “in mind”, if you prefer). OTOH, I had to stop trumpeting my strong bias against therapy clowns after I got to know an off-duty one who was really nice (dammit!).

    I completely agree with you on prosecution-related options for criminal sexual offences against kids. I was only citing church response in the scope of this discussion, not justice system’s.

    I am with Gfeef and Tim – clergyperson is a vocation with special responsibilities and qualifications. In addition to whole church-based list of rules and requirements, even culture recognizes it in legal system with categories of sexual assualt that take into account “position of authority” over victims (applies to clergy, doctors, teachers, etc).

    IS job discrimination based on marital status illegal? Good question Jon. Where I am it is indeed illegal to ask those kinds of questions on applications or in interviews in theory but it still happens, in all directions (eg company preferentially hiring singles to save costs on benefits). It keeps happening because people are never as straightforward about it as the folks in your cartoon are!

  19. J says:

    Exactly, subo.

  20. J says:

    Darwin Harmless, thinking of some different children, there was no logical reason for people to risk their lives helping Jewish children escape from Warsaw ghetto or sheltering kids not their own at the risk of their own and their families lives. Smart people wouldn’t do that…and yet smart people did. To me that was heart-led, and the right thing to do.

    Not saying heart only – but I’m going to stand by attempt at wholistic integration in decision-making. Tyranny of intellect can be horrific, too!

  21. subo says:

    good point Jon, it’s discrimination, and I guess I think some churches would know that, though I also think it’s only going to be a few places where you’d find this happening in reality? Whilst relationship status appears on equal op.s monitoring forms, relationship history would be a bit odd don’t you think?

    – and why, if this is raised, would you still consider the post appealing?

    or am I mistaken in my assumption, that most Christian organisations would consider it irrelevant and inappropriate to ask about relationship history’s?

  22. jonbirch says:

    “people are never as straightforward about it as the folks in your cartoon are!”… J, haha! yeh, sorry about that. :-) …they generally don’t have such big round heads either. :-)

  23. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, just briefly as I’m in a rush. My ‘stress-free’ clergyman example was simply referring to a lack of the stress that comes from being in an unhappy marriage. I would imagine (and recent revelations ((sic)) by former and serving clergy bear this out) that one of the major cause of stress to serving clergy is the mental gymnastics necccessary to reconcile reality as claimed by the holy books with reality as seen with one’s own eyes. I’ll pop in later and add a link or two to the relevant articles.

  24. J says:

    We ARE ranging far from original cartoon, aren’t we! (guilty, but ‘cartoons that make you think’ are why I’m here. Think…and feel. heh.)

    Have seen other pieces on the dilemma of atheist preachers, too, read Charles Templeton’s bio, Robinson’s “Honest to God”, etc. As a person of faith I have no problem owning doubts and inconsistencies – welcome to the world – or saying what I really believe is important and granting others the space to do the same. I truly believe folks who feel compelled to live as inauthentically as the folks in the article are living a tragedy. My hope for anyone’s journey is that it takes them to a place of foundational belief that is life-giving (for themselves and for others — see, I’m so infested with that damn faith perspective I can’t help myself! — even if those foundational beliefs are atheistic). And I’d ask of evangelical atheists what I also request of evangelical fellow Christians (or JW’s or LDS) – some ground of mutual respect.

    (Sometimes the ground needs to be VERY far apart, to prevent fistfights – eg don’t get me started on the Westboro Baptist cretins…)

  25. bry21167 says:

    J,I’m not entirely certain that your reference to evangelical atheists was meant for me, so my apologies if I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick, but I’ll respond anyway.
    Whilst I’m very open and honest about my atheism I certainly wouldn’t call myself an evangelist to the cause. I didn’t come here to ‘convert’ anybody, in fact I followed an link left at http://www.jesusandmo.net by an asbojesus regular (who posted at J&M as simply ‘m’) inviting the regulars there to have a look here, and it would have been rude to decline. I certainly didn’t come here to disrespect anybody, but I will argue that religion itself is not above criticism or indeed ridicule; as a matter of fact, many of Jon’s cartoons display far more contempt for aspects of religion than anything I’ve posted here. There are many aspects of religion that I find preposterous, and I’m sure there are many that you do too; similarly we probably agree on many moral or ethical values. Out difference of opinion is over where those values come from. I say they come from us, you would say that ultimately they come from a god, and it’s that sort of thing that I like to debate.
    Just as an example, in your last post you wrote “My hope for anyone’s journey is that it takes them to a place of foundational belief that is life-giving (for themselves and for others — see, I’m so infested with that damn faith perspective I can’t help myself! — even if those foundational beliefs are atheistic).”
    I fully agree with your hope, but I would argue whether you really are infested with faith and all that that word implies, or whether you are actually showing the evolved human traits of empathy, sympathy, love and optimism. Traits, I might add, that humans were showing long before religion was invented, otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved to such a state of civilisation that people had the free time and security to turn their minds to matters not involving simply surviving another day. I would also say that atheism isn’t a belief system, that’s just a common fallacy; atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods.

    As for the Westboro bunch (surely if there really is a god, he’d have swatted them like so many cockroaches by now?), don’t worry, I don’t judge the religious on their extremists, although they don’t exactly help your cause, and nor do I question anybody’s right to believe in whatever religion they want, but I do question the foundations on which it is built, and enjoy the chance of an honest and open exchange of views. As I’ve said on another thread here, I may be straight-talking, often blunt, and don’t shy away from saying what I mean by soft-soaping, but I am never intentionally rude, disrespectful or offensive.

    I haven’t read ‘Honest to God’, but if that’s the same Templeton that set up the Templeton Institute I’d be interested in knowing where the ‘atheist’ comes in.

  26. J says:

    Was speaking in general and certainly not taking jabs at any specific “evangelicals” here. I’m afraid that my non-dictionary definition of that word is “sharing to the point of rudeness” and there hasn’t been any rudeness here. Yes, I love ASBO Jesus – this place says things that need to be said, and asks questions that need to be asked.

    Charles Templeton was a former evangelist and friend of Billy Graham who saw a different kind of light (bio called “Farewell to God”).

    John Robinson was an Anglican bishop who thought the best understanding of God was not “up there” or “out there” but “Love” (pace wiki for that succint summary of his theology, accepted by some liberals, abhorred by most conservatives).

    John Templeton was a spiritually-interested investments guru and the sponsor of Templeton Foundation/Prize, which I agree is a fascinating venture.

    Commonality in all three (four if you include Jon Birch!) is “seeking understanding” about The Big Questions. Love that.

  27. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Ah, wrong Templeton. It was John I was thinking of. His foundation gives a prize with a higher monetary value than the Nobel to prominent scientists who say something nice about religion, whilst simultaneously screwing up the education of American kids by funding the teaching of I.D. and creationism. Is it just me that thinks teaching something as fact when it has been proven to be wrong, not only beyond all reasonable doubt, but beyond all but the most unreasonable doubt too?

    The book by Charles Templeton sounds worth a look; I’ll keep my eyes out for a copy. As for Robinson, I’ve come across his work before, I just can’t remember the title. I found his brand of theology, like a lot of so-called ‘sophisticated’ theology – and, to be fair, a lot of secular philosophy too – to consist of far too many sentences that make perfect grammatical sense yet manage to say absolutely nothing at all. Even the meaning of the line ‘the best understanding of God is love’ is completely ambiguous; even if taken at leteral face value, it is in complete contradiction of reality, where pain, fear, hunger and suffering is the norm for the majority of the animal world, us included.

    Finally, I’m not sure about seeking understanding to the ‘big’ questions. To start with, what would you say are the big questions, and your understanding of them?
    Secondly, wouldn’t you rather seek answers than understand the questions? It might sound pedantic (but then, I am pedantic :-) ) but there is a very real difference. I understand the question ‘is there just one universe, or many?, but that’s not the same as knowing the answer. Similarly, I understand that E=MC2 (sorry, no superscript), but that’s not the same as understanding why.
    I don’t mind if you’d rather not go into all this, but this is the type of debate I enjoy, where the participants can openly present their cases, and any onlookers get to see both side’s views presented.

  28. theGreatFuzzy says:

    I am an onlooker, and am enjoying the posts. J’s and DH’s take on emotion in decision making made me think, and there’s no debate better than one that makes you think. Keep up the good work.

    AoS, it’s usually written as e = mc^2, to be pedantic :-). As to what it means, or should I say how it is interpreted, I think that may have changed over the years. Well, at least the equation relating mass to velocity has, but I’m going off at a tangent here.

  29. J says:

    We’re going to disagree on the value of the Templeton Foundation. I only know of their work in general terms but according to their website they specifically do not support i.d.: http://www.templeton.org/faqs/does-the-foundation-support-%E2%80%9Cintelligent-design%E2%80%9D

    I fervently believe that a literal reading of the creation stories in Genesis is a misapprehension of their message. AofS, we’re going to differ on the idea of a presence/absence of a Prime Mover in the process, but certainly in describing the mechanics (and time scale!) I agree that evolution is the best theory out there. (As an aside, I think the best scientists like the best theologians are those that remain open to new and challenging ideas as new data come in. One of my favourite examples is Barbara McClintock’s jumping genes – a Nobel prize-winning concept now, but considered biological heresy when she first reported what she observed.)

    Your point regarding the persistence of suffering in the world and trying to reconcile that with a loving, omnipotent God is precisely one of those Big Questions that has occupied thinkers and theologians for quite some time (eg Job and his not-so-helpful friends!). Technical term is theodicy. What you see as proof of non-existence of God I understand as a call to action — Bonhoeffer’s call to responsible faith (paraphrased): ‘don’t just offload everything onto God to fix, you do what YOU can’. Has a parallel in the wonderful story from I think Sufi source when God’s answer to some fist-shaking is “I DID do something about the suffering you’re witnessing: I made you.”

    One of the joys of the Big Questions is that they don’t necessarily have final answers this side of the vale… often just more questions on the way to what I’d call ‘workable solutions for living your life’ (because how do you ever really KNOW…?) . I wasn’t thinking of quantifying universes so much — though that’s interesting too — as things like how to cope with personal mortality (is there a part of me that’s eternal? Does this ride have to end?)…the challenge of freedom (do my choices matter? What defines right and wrong?)…does my life have any ultimate meaning?…that kind of thing.

    [We are *so* far afield from Jon’s original thought!! But it won’t go on forever, because I’m sure to be distracted and wander off once there’s a shiny new ASBO Jesus cartoon to think (and feel) about…] ; )

  30. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, did you really use the T.F’s own website to see if they supported I.D.? I’m sorry, but supporting the idea of ‘irreducible complexity’ is I.D. all day long.
    You’re perfectly right about the best scientists being those open to new ideas; that’s what science is. As for theologians, whan has any ‘new’ data in relation to the existance of a god come in? Theology is simply finding new ways to interpret the holy texts in light of scientific discovery. It cannot rely on solid evidence because there isn’t any, so as science continues to explain everything from the big bang to altruism without having to refer to gods, theologians are having to wrap their theodicies in deeper and deeper ‘quilts of obfuscation’ (my phrase).
    My point about suffering in the world was not limited to just our species, but to the entire animal world. Still, your response regarding the Sufi has a parallel with the Christian ‘God helps those that help themselves’ mantra. In other words, what they’re really saying is that if we want to do anything about the mess we see, we have to do it ourselves as we cannot rely on our gods to do it for us. Why not? Because in all likelihood they’re not there, and never have been. Some people will indeed try to do something about it, and they’ll do it in the name of God for selfish reasons; namely to try to ensure themselves a seat in Heaven; some others will do it in the name of humanity, but still understandably with an eye on the ‘ticket to eternity’. This second group is far more worthy of respect than the first, but what about the third group? They’re the ones who have no belief in god or in an eternity of bliss, but still do whatever they can to help ease the struggles of others out of basic compassion, empathy, and love without the expectation any supernatural reward. Certainly some of this group may not be acting altruistically, but at least any reward or recognition they seek is in this – rather than in any imagined next – life. You may be wondering what the difference is? Well, to put it simply, would those helping others in the expectation of a Heavenly reward still be quite so willing to help if they thought that no such reward were forthcoming? Let’s face it, the material rewards for charitable acts are by and large very meagre; would the religious be prepared to make the same personal sacrifices that they do in the service of gods if they thought that they were only doing so in the service of mankind?, that the only reward they would see is a by-line in a local newspaper or a ‘carer of the year’ award?
    My one other objection to the whole ‘do what YOU can, don’t rely on gods’ message is based largely on Mother Theresa and The R.C.C., who have done more to perpetuate suffering in the Third World by continuing to ban contraception, thereby adding massively to both the gross over-population of people in areas without the natural resources to sustain them, and accellerating the spread of HIV/AIDS. Did you know that they are still telling people in India, Africa and South America that condoms help the SPREAD of AIDS; a deliberate and disgusting lie in anybody’s eyes.
    Thanks for your outlining of the ‘Big’ questions.The one that stands out for me is the one about mortality. I think that once one accepts that consciousness is no more than electrical impulses in the brain and that at death it just ceases to exist, just as pictures on a t.v. screen cease to exist once the power supply is cut off, then mortality ceases to be one of the ‘big’ questions. The question then is ‘what do I want to do with my brief moment in the sun’? Whether a life has meaning or not depends on the definition of ‘meaning, just as your question ‘do my choices matter’ depends on what you mean by ‘matter’, and to whom it matters.
    Most impotantly, though, is that if the answers can’t be found this side of the ‘veil’ (I assumed you meant ‘veil’ as in ‘flimsy curtain’ rather than ‘vale’ as in ‘valley’) then we’ll never find them, because the veil of death is a personal dead-end, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  31. J says:

    Nope: “vale”! http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vale

    Also, “God [the gods, actually] helps those who help themselves” is Aesop, not Jesus. My statement, which was more along the lines of “God mandates that we help one another”, is not equivalent.

    I’m pleased we seem to agree on the importance of compassion and altruistic behaviour, and that there does seem to be – at least for the two of us! — an inborn understanding of right and wrong values/behaviour — influenced by nurture and culture of course, but there seems to be a culturally transcendent view that the so-called Golden Rule is the ‘right’ way to live. We’re going to disagree on source of that goodness – God vs. something inherent in humans besides an image of God.

    We agree that people can have mixed motives for their behaviour. I hugely admire Mother Teresa for her commitment to practical care of fellow humans within her reach – done it seems to me for reasons other than clear expectation of heavenly brownie points. (She would not expect a kick in the teeth at the pearly gates, I’m sure, but she also harboured private-made-public uncertainties.) Remarkable woman. She and I would part company on the birth control issue.

    God may or may not change (there’s another can of worms to argue) but to me the new data in theology is ‘the world and our understanding of it’ in relation to the divine (eg feminist or liberation theologies as women and oppressed peoples understood themselves to matter in faith traditions, too, or heck, even Christianity itself in response to the new thing God did with Judaism in Jesus). In that context, incorporating scientific/philosophical insights can be part of what (good) theology does but that is not “simply” or solely what it sets out to do. (Theology may no longer be “the queen of sciences”, but theology is not science’s beotch! I think Enlightenment did them both a favour by placing them in different arenas.)

  32. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Motives for behaviour: Of late I’ve been thinking about selfishness and how it can lead to better behaviour, and so a better society. At first it seems that selfishness can only lead to a fractured society, where, in the extreme, each person gabs the most goods they can and holes up in a fortified house. But that’s not true selfishness. Who truly wants to live in a fractured society, where you spend almost all your time defending what you’ve grabbed? Most sane people want a pleasant life, it’s how you go about achieving it that’s the problem. I think the key is to mirror the world you want (do unto others…), and to realise that although you’d like more of the cake it’s better to take less – because if you don’t then others will have less, be dissatisfied and that will not help your (selfish) cause. Is taking less in this manner altruism? Surely it’s being a ‘good’ person?
    Anyway, briefly, my argument is, in order to live a pleasant life you need to help others live their pleasant life too. I could go on, but this is work/thinking in progess.

    Oh, just one thing. If you don’t be truly selfish but follow rules laid down by others then you most likely won’t live the life you truly desire, you’re not being true to yourself, and that may lead to internal conflicts and so to you being a less pleasant person than you could have been (thus making the world less pleasant for others). Of course, knowing what you want is a bit of a conundrum! I think that’s the big question.

  33. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    J, my mistake. I thought you were referring to the ethereal veil between life and the, if I must use the word I’m honour bound to scare-quote it, ‘afterlife’. But to restore balance, I didn’t say that ‘God helps those..etc’ was from Jesus, just that it has become a Christian mantra. I don’t see how your version ‘…help one another’ differs greatly from ‘God helps those'; it’s still a way of removing Him from the actions of humanity. In fact, I’d go as far to put the two together to mean that we have to look after ourselves and one another because we can’t expect divine assistance. That, I think, works perfectly well for both believers and non-believers. As for the universal ‘Golden Rule’, I interpret that as the evolved traits of humanity that have allowed us to come this far; without them, civilisation would have been impossible and we would have either gone extinct before we really got started, or still be living in pre-stone age conditions. In the same light, an almost literal belief in the holy books can easily keep large sections of the planet in almost pre-technological mind-sets; witness for example the extreme end of Islam, or even Christianity in the hands of the Amish*.
    Finally, I’d like to say ‘Tthank you’ – to J. and to others who’ve chipped in with contributions – for engaging with me in a productive and polite debate, something that doesn’t happen too often when opinions are so far apart as atheism and religious belief. I wouldn’t say that I understand yet why you continue with your belief, but I hope that we can carry on with civilised debate for a good time longer yet.

    Got to go now, the grandsons are due in an hour for yet another afternoon of running poor old Granddad into the ground. I love every exhausting second of it. :-)

    *Speaking of the Amish, I heard a good line last night on ‘Family Guy’, one of the better U.S exports to these shores. I can’t remember it word-for-word, but basically it was an Amish Elder saying prayer. “…And we thank you God for showing us, that out of a million years of human ingenuity and technology, the time between 1835 and 1850 is the one that you consider perfect for us to live in…”. Genius. Sheer bloody genius.

  34. jonbirch says:

    gosh! i leave you people for just a few days and come back to a whole bunch of homework to read… i guess it’s good for me. :-)

  35. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    We’ve been behaving tho’. No fighting or nuffin’. Honest. :-)

  36. jonbirch says:

    :-) … In answer to your earlier question AoS (sorry it’s taken me a while to respond)… i don’t believe in a literal hell, i could be wrong. i believe that what joshua did in canaan was an atrocity. i don’t believe the bible is the word of god but an incredible account of a people, their history, their myths, their poetry etc. and how they perceive their relationship to their god… and as such i find it inspiring, scary (in terms of what it reveals about human nature), baffling etc. i do not believe in a literal devil, although he does provide a nice excuse for people not to have to take responsibility… i’m with the rabbi’s on that one. :-) i believe science is a method of discovery. discovering and naming seems to be what humans are driven to do. i believe i see the colour green in roughly the same way as you but have no way of knowing… i’m just glad we’ve agreed to call green ‘green’, that sort of helps a lot. i believe genesis to be a myth, i believe it holds truth… few ancient stories hold more truth in terms of their understanding of the nature of humanity and the responsibilities we have for that which is around us. creationists often seem to care about the literal words being true and yet the biblical mandate of stewardship escapes them. i believe faith is inescapable… again, i could be wrong… i believe humanity needs to place faith somewhere. i believe the queen is a nice lady, but the class system stinks…
    in short, i am a complete mix of a ton of stuff. often confused, often struggling, often dissatisfied, often a lot of fun to be with, often annoying. but i love christ… i love what he stands for… i aspire to that model of humanity… i hate the idea of an homogeneous humanity acting like automatons, whether inspired by fear of religion, political ideology or anything else. i reserve the right to fail… most of the important lessons have been learned the hard way in my life.
    i don’t subscribe to a kingdom as we have it in this country. i believe it’s a metaphor and in that metaphor the king is the servant.
    as a character i hate my skills being used to serve the agendas of others, but i need a new kitchen… so what am i to do? sometimes, i can’t stand this blog i’ve made, it feels like a monster that needs feeding and i’m scared of monsters.
    i suffer from anxiety attacks and an underlying feeling of terror and have been on medication for years now… sometimes ordinary things are very difficult, i love it when they’re not. the bible tells me ‘perfect love casts out all fear’, so i have to ask myself how that relates to a life lived with the limitations which chemical imbalances bring about. i have also had to suffer christians and medical or psychological ‘specialists’, telling me they have the fix… they don’t of course… it’s all just silliness and wishful thinking and at worst their own pride. i am often a fighter, but find giving in to be the place where peace is to be found. i do not often get disillusioned though, as i don’t suffer from too many illusions… i do get down though.
    i love that my faith allows me to express gratitude for the beauty around me, the amazing relationships i have, my conversations with you. i can literally say ‘thank you’ to that which is greater than all of it and i feel one hell of a lot better when i do. i know about the physical mechanics of how that works and yet it is still a mystery. knowing the mechanics is such a small part of understanding the wonder of it all, it seems to me.

    i may or may not have addressed any of your questions… i actually have no idea… i’ve just enjoyed writing and saying ‘this is me’… actually it’s a tiny fraction of me. i’ve wandered all over the place, but you know me a little better and i think that’s the best thing we humans can offer one another (except being given a fiver when we’re skint, that’s cool too) :-)

  37. jonbirch says:

    btw… i also believe that the guy in the cartoon should have been given an interview. if they know anything of his circumstances it can only be from hearsay and tittle tattle anyway… and that’s no way to operate.

  38. J says:

    GreatFuzzy, good points. Your post really brings forward the giant Question of relationships with other people ( major ASBO Jesus source material) and what do to about our essential aloneness…For the record, “tear around with the grandkids” seems like a very fine answer to that one to me!

    AofS I know the distinction I’m drawing in previous post seems fine or irrelevant to you, but it’s not to me which is why I assert it. Some of what gets tagged as “Christian” these days alarms me (cf our friends at Westboro Baptist), so I must argue the point — Christians saying something is not the same thing as Jesus saying it (cf Gandhi’s marvelous thoughts on Christ and Christians: http://in.christiantoday.com/articledir/print.htm?id=2837).

    And, of course, you’ve boiled it down to the nub: “take care of one another…because the Creator who loves us tells us that’s the best way to live” and “take care of one another…because we’re all on our own here, Bub” are not the same, but clearly identifies both where we can agree and where we won’t.

    BTW to anyone lurking, if this discussion has interested you, I’d highly recommend “The Sunset Limited”, released on DVD in N. America and select European countries in the past year or so. I gather it’s an adaptation of a Cormac MacCarthy book, which I have not read. But the film is excellent. (Just be warned: if it doesn’t come with an offensive language warning it should.)

  39. J says:

    Been away – missed some beauty here. Glorious post, Jon.
    (FWIW I think what you say is why we’re here…at the church of birch…on the planet…read that as many ways as you wish)

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