Friday, 28 November 2008

Propaganda, Polemic and Persuasion

I have learnt the same thing from two different sources in the past week.

Polemic is powerless.

Propaganda does not change the minds of it's readers. If anything, propaganda and polemic harden the resolve of those it targets, for or against. Like a fertiliser, it encourages deeper roots - for both plant and weed.

I read the title story on Stephen Baxter's collection, Traces. I found it shallow and plodding, but it raised some interesting ideas (in me). I found Baxter's characterisation of the religious fundamentalist to be stereotypical. Relying on a stereotyped character to further an argument leaves the author at risk of employing the straw man. I felt that Baxter's portrayal of the religious character betrayed a lack of empathy with believing people and a poor understanding of their views and beliefs. If you want to challenge a person's deeply held beliefs then empathy and understanding are the required preparation of the canvas before the first stroke of the argument is laid.

How many arguments and debates meet at cross purposes because of a lack of empathy and understanding. How often have antagonists argued the same point, only from differing assumptions that leads the discussion to cross purposes.

(Is this why so many debates end with both sides declaring the victory, because neither has addressed the foundational assumptions of the other?)

So two points by way of concrete example.

Baxter neatly outlined the transformation of the fundamentals of the Christian faith to include the anthropic principle and the resultant attractiveness to insecure/shallow people. This completely ignores the Christian faith's self-understanding as revealed and it's consequent resistance to change and innovation (at a core level). It also indicates a cynical and patronising understanding of why people have faith.

Baxter's antagonist has his faith shattered by the revelation that there was intelligent life before the solar system was formed. This is a well worn hypothesis. The arrival of the little green men will shatter the illusions of the feeble religious. It made me laugh (not a happy laugh). The story unfolds with the discovery of images from before the creation of the solar system by projecting images from the electron structures of the core ice in a comet. What amuses me is that this fanciful process in a fictional story to uncover hypothetical extra-terrestrial intelligence is deemed to discredit the historical Christian faith.

What it comes down to is my faith in little green men is more rational than your faith in a metaphysical being.

The confirmation:

I was also sent a pamphlet self styled as a challenge to protestants. It was sent anonymously, in the mail.

Out of interest I started to read. Rome's Challenge: Why Do Protestants Keep Sunday. A collection of editorials from the Catholic Mirror, Baltimore.

What became very evident to me was that this tract, although styled as a challenge to protestants, was written for catholics. Its caustic and self-congratulatory style was offputting to me. Again protestantism was stereotyped. The pamphlet did not interacted with Protestantism in a mature and sincere understanding.

Read by a Roman Catholic, already suspicious of protestants, it might have been convincing. Read by a protestant thinker, it was sadly funny.

So, a challenge for me, and for you.

In what ever I write, particularly when I disagree or interact with other views-

Empathy and Understanding.

In my writing I have set myself a goal of reaching the minds that disagree with me. I am beginning to be aware what a difficult challenge it is.

World's Oldest Person Dies

Well, it was bound to happen.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A New Hobby

Davey's Lane. A small shallow tip just on the edge of the road just west of the quarry. Probably disturbed by roadworks. Yielded some fairly common bottles probably from the about the sixties.

Including this cute (if common) Peck's Paste bottle.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Cordoba's Feelin' Fine

My mate Lou and I put together a little song for Ellie. We are praying for you all and hope you will be able to trust in God's goodness as you move yet again. We love you all.

You can download the video here or watch it on Youtube, the words are below.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Cordoba's feelin' fine.

One, two, three, four, fine, all the kids in the car so come on let's drive
To the- new city called Cordoba.
The folks say they want to pack and move but I really don't wanna -
Feels like I been here one week.
I wanna stay here I've moved a heap.
like Croydon, Lidcombe, even Argentina.
And as I continue, it's now a new city.
So what can I do? I wanna trust you my Lord.
To me moving is getting kinda old.
But Jesus Christ, He's So good. Let me Trust Him.
Help me to trust him.

A little bit of Penrith where we start,
Then we move back to Croydon Park
A little stay at Lidcombe, that big house
Wait for Argentina in Dundas
Then we went to B.A. a dingy flat
Now behind the church is where we're at
Now it seems Cordoba's the new plan
That's OK with us we're in his hand

Cordoba's feelin' fine

Got up, went down and travelled all around.
Adventures we have found, we've covered lots of ground.
The places we've left, to do what's right.
Out the front gate or out the side.
Pack your bags once and pack your bags twice
We did all this cause we're following Christ.

A little bit...

Trust him,
I trust Him
Cordoba's feelin' fine, ha, ha, ha.

A little bit...

I do all to do what Jesus wants me to.
So movin's fine or we'll stay a while
Now Cordoba is feelin' fine

Cordoba's feelin' fine

Monday, 17 November 2008

Northern Flights (of Fancy)

I found Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (filmed as The Golden Compass) in the Op Shop so I bought it. I'd heard a bit about how terrible he was so I thought I'd look-see for myself.

It's a strange book for an atheist to write.

In the first chapter there was a reference to Pope John Calvin. A not so subtle dig at Christians, although it either showed a huge ignorance or a just as huge indifference. That Calvin could be a pope or that Calvin would be the kind of pope portrayed is laughable. That every person has a daemon companion (pronounced demon according to the note at the start) is perhaps a dig at Christians also. At any rate it should make most Christians uncomfortable, and this use of the word daemons alone is enough for me not to recommend the book.

So after a slow start the book gets interesting. Maybe shopping with Mrs Coulter would amuse my daughters, but we'll never know. For me the tension was a bit dull, waiting for some tension to develop. When it does, however, he does a fine job of it. Lyra's adventures are fun and though an unusual protagonist she does become an endearing one.

But this is the funny thing. For a book that has been touted to be so anti-Christian and deliberately too, it seems to not be really trying. The church is everywhere in the background, but none of the villains are church people directly. The church is just the political backdrop against which they work. In fact, the protagonist's anti-church hero ends up being more evil than the bad guys operating under official church sanction. Either Pullman is being very subtle and lulling us before he pulls out some big guns in later books or he is missing the mark.

It's also a funny book for an atheist to write because it is full of spiritual stuff. I am cynical about new pagans who write modern fantasies with their made up worlds and creatures attacking the church - which is historical. It is laughable for an atheist in his supposed attack on Christianity to make up talking bears, quasi-spiritual beings called daemons, witches who ride tree branches, other worlds seen in the aurora. He's batting for the wrong side here. You can't argue for the nonexistence of a spiritual being with other spiritual beings and phenomena. You've opened the door.

If his intent is to discredit the church or faith, he also misses the mark because in order to make his official church doctrines look foolish he has to change the Bible to fit his world. The Bible he sets up for critique and the church he subtly discredits is not the real Bible and not the real church. In fact the church as portrays it does not resemble the church at all.

Unless he is able to convince someone who doesn't know better that that is what the church is really like, his book is not a powerful atheist work. Whether the sharp knives come out in later books we will wait and see. Would I encourage my kids to read it? No. Would I call the marines if they did stumble across it in the library or read it in class? No. I'd just want to talk about it.

Post Script
What I found really ironic was that in the book I found one of the most apt and most sensible approaches to the whole predestination/freewill debate in the conversation between the witch and the aeronaut. Although she uses the word fate, I believe the sentiment is correct when we think about God's sovereignty and our self determination. She says, "We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not," I believe this summarises our Christian understanding of sovereignty and human responsibility. If God is in control, why should I do anything? "We are all subject to God's sovereignty. But we must all act as if we are not."
But the big question, "What is an atheist doing talking about Fate anyway?"

Seven White bears out of Ten but not recommended.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Lurking In The Creek

It lurks.
I see it now
eddies in the current reveal the shape
barely protruding
I see the long rectangular jaw.
Now I see rows of sharp shiny teeth descending into the water.
It waits, patient, immobile. Rebuffs the dragging current.
A shopping trolley waiting to snag unwary plastic bags on their journey downstream.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Flux and Hard Fiction

Flux, by Stephen Baxter was a reasonably good read.

Although the initial pages seemed to me to set up a trajectory for the book that it did not really end up going in, it was still a reasonably interesting story.

What I found interesting, on reflection, was the illustration of a previous post of mine that there really is no such thing as hard Science Fiction. Or, to put it another way.

All hard Science Fiction is soft somewhere.

Baxter does a very good job of building a world inside a sun. He works very hard at making plausible explanations of how a living being might operate in that environment. There are a few dissonances that are resolved in a satisfying way. For example references to the metric units are quite clever. And, although I have not the knowledge to know whether the atomic effects he describes are valid or not, and suspect there would be unmentioned factors that make his creation unstable, nonetheless his world building is convincing. That's all it takes.

A good plot, interesting characters and a convincing world is all it takes.

However, trying not to give too much away, at the end of the book Baxter does resort to the Deux ex Machina. He does it well, and we have the hints and introductions earlier in the book so that it is not surprising and not discordant. But the last couple of chapters do resort to Wizard of Oz science fiction. The descriptions of mechanics and theory are abandoned and the science is minimised in favour of plot. How does this character's manipulations influence the world? How does the great big machine work?

We are not told, because, basically, at this point the vision of the science fiction writer is beyond the science to describe.

I think that's true of all science fiction. The fiction always leaves the science behind. And rightly so. The science is the servant of the fiction.

A good read, with some novel ideas.

Seven Suns out of Ten