Saturday, 31 October 2009

The 'inventions' of reductionism

Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! Luther's 95 theses.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his work on the movement of the celestial spheres, and thus was born the modern understanding of our universe and the contemporary approach to astrophysics. Copernicus, like Kepler and Newton, believed that his discoveries and observations allowed insight into a wisdom and knowledge inherent within the very design of the physical universe, so it's certainly strange that in our own times, the view known as the 'Copernican Principal' actually asserts that there is nothing special regarding the position/location of the earth within the universe.

This is a fascinating example of endeavor (in this case, to study the wonders of creation, and gain insight into their source) where the original intent is lost or entirely over-written for another purpose, and it happens all the time.

This week, for example, I learned about the new literary movement entitled "mundane" science fiction. Rather than applying the 'grand' themes and ideas of prior (golden) eras of the genre - space travel, bold adventure, and the like, the aim here is to confine writers to works which are possible to known science. It sounded of interest, but when I began to listen to those talking up the new aim, I quickly became aware of flaws and worryingly demeaning blind spots in the philosophy of such a venture - errors which effectively blight an understanding of what inspires and produces not only good material in this genre, but painfully obvious mistakes about the links between "pulp" and "pop" sci-fi, and fields such as technological advance - just look, for example, at the 'predictions' regarding future technology on the original series of Star Trek, and our present generation to see how many have become everyday items.

This week, a respected report was issued here in the UK which strongly advocated that human beings end eating meat to aid in halting - you've guessed it - climate change. Apparently, our use of livestock in this fashion is simply placing too much strain on the environment in producing certain greenhouse gases, so the responsible answer is a scheme to remove the problem entirely.

Now let me say I love science - the sense of wonder gained from learning new things about this world is often truly marvelous - and I love science fiction (I'm very much a 'golden era' man) and I'm happy to apply common sense to how I use things - food, energy and the like, but all of the above ventures strike me as having a common flaw.

In the 1500's, Rome decided to set upon a great scheme to build a new basilica, and to use the ecclesiastical machinery at its disposal to literally indulge upon the population of Europe to finance such an enterprise. Mercifully, there was a young monk who was troubled and able enough to raise concerns about the whole matter, and the results, as they say, are history.

There's been much written to say that what troubled Luther is old news, that whilst 'minor' matters may need attention, what happened then is pretty over and done with, but that is effectively looking at the matter, like the others I've touched on, from a very narrow and therefore dangerous perspective.
The major question of those times was what truly makes a person right before God, and Luther's answer stems directly from the Gospel - unmerited grace, imputed to us through the gift of faith.

It may not be popular to hold to certain views right now - in some cases, it's actually becoming quite dangerous! - but they need to be expressed none the less.

Luther stood against the power and authority structures of his time, and thereby allowed a renewing of faith in the undiluted riches of Gods justifying work which aided in generating a flowering of rich spirituality in the contemporary world. It is imperative that such standing to be counted regarding the inherent nature of the gospel be evidenced today, so with that in mind,
I'm delighted to be writing this on Reformation day.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Table Talk

"Sounds just like old times"
Aunt Meg - Twister

I love this scene from this wonderful movie. In the midst of all the chaos and mayhem of a world invaded and torn by tornadoes, equally mirrored by the trails and joys of the relationship between Bill and Jo, this eclectic and bold band of brilliant yet flawed people take time to break off from their venture to sit, eat, and enjoy the richness of their friendship, their bond, and the goals which unite them.

Over the last decade and a half, I've had the joy of spending time like this a few times a year with friends from all over the UK as we gather to engage in our fondness for Science Fiction (yes, especially classic Star Trek). There's lots of fun moments, lots of debate, lots of watching of new shows and discussion of new books, but what really has grown from a common interest is enduring friendship.
Last year, one of my longest standing friends in the group got married, and we all attended and certainly gave a particular wrinkle to the day. The wedding, and the groom's stag day (where the highlights were Laser quest and Bowling) a few weeks before were moments that were drenched in the richness of friendship - surely, one of the greatest gifts of life.

Towards the end of their three years together, Jesus spoke of how the men and women He had spent so much time with on the road, in strange and adverse situations, were not just disciples, but His friends. That's a remarkable truth, but it's a wonder that God has wanted to share with us ever since those first days, when He would walk with Adam in the garden.
There is something just so genuinely good, earthy and so deeply enriching about genuine friendship, and God, in spite of our fall, our distance from His marvelous goodness, is gracious to us, and seeks to restore all that is good through the one who has truly become the friend of sinners through His death and resurrection.

It means that there really is a deep significance to our lives, our inter-connection here, and that just makes these marvelous moments even more special...

Anyone for steak and eggs?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

In Small Corners

"I just want her back"
Agent Tom Greer

Whilst Director Johnathan Mostow's latest Sci-Fi release gained only mediocre reviews from the critics, Surrogates raises some major issues in relation to human identity.
Set around a decade from now, we are presented with a society where people appear cushioned from pain and harm by living much of their lives via the safety of being wired to a substitute alter ego - a robot which engages with the world, allowing dreams and fantasies to be fulfilled without danger or, apparently, remorse or guilt. Into this paradise, however, comes death, a murderer which destroys both ghola and user in an instant, exposing the terrifying frailty of the 'system' that everyone considers 'safe' and strengthening in our principal characters the fact that this virtual existence has merely distracted from but in no way dealt with the true wounds and trails of being human.

Key to the story is the manner in which two leading characters deal with the agony of loss.
Detective Tom Greer, played by Bruce Willis, and Inventor of the Virtual life, Dr Lionel Canter, come to epitomize two very different reactions to our reality, and in Greer's final choice in the film, we find ourselves facing a hard question - 'how real about ourselves do we really want to be'?

The issues raised in Surrogates will become pressing to all of us during our lives. Amidst the bobbing and weaving to solve the crime, Willis' character seeks to look beyond the immediate and the superficial (both in the case, and in his experience) to reach for deeper answers to the void of his society and his life.

As someone who knows well the manner of personal trails conveyed here, I've found myself several times this week pondering several of the issues the movie raised. How many of us are reduced, even imprisoned, through the tragedies that real grief and loss bring upon us? How often can life become little more than a nightmare to be avoided as much and as often as possible?

Tom Greer, like us, whilst having moments of brilliance, is a deeply flawed and wounded man, but that realization motivates him to ask the right questions and to seek a better answer.

At its very heart, Christianity is about facing the real world. It's not about fanciful illusions, where we just accept ourselves as a slightly evolved species, essentially just here for a good time, but a faith which drags us before the deepest longings and understanding in our souls - that the beauty we know in love, the majesty we view in creation, the passion we encounter in life, resonates with the fact that there is much, much more going on than the oft vaunted facile/popular escapism (philosophically and practically) often tagged 'life'.

Jesus Christ came to not only return significance to His handiwork, but to define that 'weight' in our lives - intimacy, profoundly genuine, with God, with each other, and with creation. That is the objective of divine redemption.

Facing the pain of who and what we are is not easy, but as in the movie, it is as this is done, in the light of Christ's teaching regarding our true wonder (made by God) and our catastrophic fall (rebellion from Him), that reality will once more fall into place, and freedom can be found in God's healing grace and mercy.
Life now is stained by the horror of our enslavement to lies and their consequences, but the day is approaching when that will be over, and humanity will start afresh, healed from these times.