Thinking Faith blogs

RealityBites in New Zealand

It's been a really fabulous time for RB in New Zealand.

In partnership with the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE) and the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in Taraunga, I delivered six workshops to about 30 academics from Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and Tonga. Other speakers included Dr John Kok from the USA, Ken Dickens and Chris Parker from Oz and Dr J Dinakarlal from India.

I was told by many of the academics present that our style is 'refreshing', 'imaginative' and 'cheeky'. One person said that the experience had been a 'treat' for her! To be frank and candid I was overwhelmed by the very positive responses to our work in the land of the kiwis. Being a bit thick and ignorant I hadn't realised that kiwis are endangered flightless birds that are indigenous to New Zealand.

Thank you very much to our dear friend and conference host Dr. Bev Norsworthy who did a superb job organising the conference along with Michelle Wyllie. Bev's husband, John was also very friendly and hospitable in showing me around the northern island. Apologies if I have missed anyone out!

RealityBites goes to New Zealand

Tomorrow I am flying to New Zealand to lead six workshops on biblical ways of knowing.

I will be launching a blistering attack on Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Jimmy Tarbuck et al and will also be exploring a Christian view of knowledge which honours midwives, blacksmiths, artists, cobblers and nomads as well as academics and boffins.

I will also focus on pedagogy and imagination in teaching/facilitating learning that honours the complex ways that God has made us.

I am doing this work in partnership with the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE) and the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in Taraunga.

Academics from Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and even Tonga will be attending.

Please do come if you are free and available.

Black Magic at the Court of Louis the 14th

The dismal and ugly consequences of marrying platonic views of the soul with Christian teaching is most evident in the following 17th century black magic story.

The Marquise de Montespan (1640-1707) was considered breathtakingly beautiful by the standards of her day. She had thick, curly hair that fell in ringlets around her face so charmingly that even the Queen of France copied her hairstyle. Her eyes were striking and blue, her lips full and her figure sensuously curvaceous. She was the posh Cheryl Cole of the French court during the reign of Louis the 14th.

The famous Sun King found the Marquise exciting, dangerous and alluring; her love of mockery, infectious laughter and cheeky badinage were engaging, as were her intelligence and flirtatious interplay.

Athenais (as she was also known) had an extravagant and demanding nature and possessed enough chutzpah to usually get what she wanted. She was 'high maintenance' and her extensive apartments were filled with pet animals and thousands of flowers; she had a private gallery, and costly jewels were showered upon her by Louis.

She was given the nickname Quanto ('How much', in Italian) by her aristocratic contemporaries. Indeed she was highly discriminating as regards the quality of gems, returning them to the king if they did not meet her demanding standards.

It was during the early days of her love affair with Louis that she met an infamous sorceress, Catherine Monvoisin who provided her with aphrodisiacs and magical spells by which to entice Louis into her amorous cobweb. But this amateur, half-hearted dalliance with the occult did not fully sate her romantic ambitions.

In 1666, Madame de Montespan was increasingly desperate to become the king's official mistress and so she allowed a renegade priest, Etienne Guibourg, to perform a black mass over her nude body! Catherine Monvoisin provided the infant that was sacrificed during the ceremony. In July 1667, Madame de Montespan became the king's new mistress even though Louise de la Valiere, the king's first mistress, was carrying his child, Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Vermandois.

It is fascinating from a worldview perspective that the Marquise and Catherine Monvoisin (1640-1680) both had a perverted view of the Roman Catholic sacraments. They soothed their troubled consciences by the belief that so long as the child had been baptised, it was a sinless creature which, when killed, would go straight to heaven. Monvoisin once said – "How fortunate! The child was able to be baptised!"

Monvoisin is said to have been very particular that any child which she handled which was born alive should be baptised before it was 'disposed of'. A lurid light is thrown upon this belief by the slang name by which these midwives, who were prepared for a price to do away with unwanted babies, were known. They were called 'faiseuses d'anges': 'makers of angels'.

Worldviews and Airline Crashes

During the 1990’s Korean Airlines had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world. For example in 1997 a Korean Air jet carrying 254 people crashed and burned during bad weather and rescuers, who trudged through the jungle with torches, found about 35 survivors. Flight 801, a Boeing 747 making a 2,000-mile trip from Seoul, South Korea, was carrying mainly Korean tourists, including several couples on their honeymoon, when it went down in the lush green hills as it was coming in for a landing in the middle of the night. Tragically the pilot had made an error of judgment but it is said that the co-pilot was too deferential and submissive to correct him! In Europe or North America a co-pilot might have had no problem challenging the blunders of the pilot but in that culture people sometimes struggled to do this.

Worldview Awareness

Korean culture is deeply influenced by the Confucian worldview. Throughout traditional Korean society, from the royal palace and central government offices in Seoul to the humblest household in the provinces, the themes of hierarchy and inequality are pervasive. Individuals are still expected to show respect and obedience to their social betters. The ideal person is one who controls his or her emotions in order to fulfill to the letter a host of demanding social obligations. We could compare Korean culture to the Hindu caste system. In both cultures people are not equal; your value as a person is determined by your place in the hierarchy. Some people are very important and some are not.

The Significance of the Parable

What is the significance of the parable about little Dave the emotivist?

Well it might help us to understand why so few young people are interested in the Christian faith in the UK today. Emotivism has captivated their hearts and imaginations.

Emotivism can be explained in the following way. Something called 'science' gives us the 'facts' and this is the proper sphere of hard, 'objective' knowledge. Young western citizens are often taught to distinguish between 'facts' on the one hand and 'opinions' or 'feelings' on the other hand from an early age. A fact is often defined as a statement that can be 'proven true'. Here are some facts.

  • The Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall.
  • The Empire State Building has 6,500 windows.
  • The Empire State Building weighs 300,000 metric tonnes.

Emotivists contend that moral judgments do not communicate assertions that can be either true or false. Moral judgments, such as – 'cannibalism is wrong' – merely express our feelings of approval or disapproval. The emotive theory of ethics was first put forward by a native of Scotland named David Hume in the 18th century and was aggressively propounded by A.J. Ayer and other European 'logical positivists' in the 20th century. At the end of the day ethics boils down to your feelings. Cannibals have nice feelings about eating human-beings (it tastes like pork) whereas Europeans and North Americans have nasty feelings about the issue (how revolting).

The Parable of Little Dave the emotivist

Hello – my name's little Dave and I'm an emotivist.

I don't like stamp collecting or coin collecting. I've no interest in football or computer games – and so I've decided to become an emotivist.

A lot of you out there don't know what an emotivist is and you've no idea why it is such an exciting thing to be one. I'm so excited about this!

Let's start by explaining what it is. About five years ago I was listening to my teachers and I thought to myself: They know so much and they are so clever. They have knowledge and I know almost nothing. I'm only little Dave, 14 years old and very spotty. I must listen and drink in their knowledge. Isn't it exciting? I can't speak.

The best teachers often speak about science and maths. (breathless)

They told me about Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and many other scientists who were enlightened. I was ever so excited. I looked up to these teachers and I realized they were feeding me with important facts and figures. It was wonderful. So exciting. Did you know that there are 4 million and two hundred thousand bricks in the Empire State Building. Isn't that exciting?

Gosh, it's wonderful pouring over facts and figures. That's why I love the Guinness Book of Records. It's full of facts and figures. Everything can be checked. That's what science is like. It's solid, reliable and best of all – certain. You can't doubt it! That's what the teachers said. I look up to them and I love their knowledge. They told me there are 23 different types of crocodile. Super fact!

Take Miss Perkins, my Biology teacher. I must be frank, I have a real crush on her. She's lush and she reminds me of Victoria Beckham. She’s got a lovely figure, blue eyes and a spot-free face.

She's a scientist and so she's always dealing in facts and figures. I like that. You know where you are with facts. You never get opinions from a person like Miss Perkins. Not like Mr Dobson, the art teacher who is always telling us his opinions about art and stuff. I hate opinions. They're not scientific. Opinions are rubbish. They stink of falsehood.

Anyway I began thinking about all the wonderful things my teachers were telling me and I became very excited.

I became increasingly aware that my parents know nothing about science. They tell me I should clean my teeth. They tell me I should be kind to grandma even though she's ugly and boring. They tell me that I shouldn't kick the dog (but it's such fun!). They even told me it was 'wrong' to steal and lie.

What a load of unfactual, unscientific nonsense. Mum and Dad are indoctrinating me about stuff you cannot prove. Cheek!

I challenged them about this once. I said how can you prove to me scientifically that stealing is wrong? How can you justify your opinion that tripping up old ladies in the streets is immoral? Surely it's a load of old primitive nonsense. It's just like believing in God and tooth fairies!

And then I realised I had become an emotivist. Science and maths give you the truth. And the rest is up to you. Morality… questions of right and wrong are simply about your feelings.

The rest of my life is now going to be one long pleasure cruise. There's nothing wrong with taking smack, gambling in casinos and sleeping with lots of attractive birds. Stealing, murdering and gambling are all part of my future plans. They'll all be on my CV.

And where did I learn this? From my teachers.

My name's little Dave and I'm an emotivist. Have a great life!!!

Doreen, the servant of humanity

Doreen was a very selfless woman and she had devoted her life to the service of others. She was the kind of saintly creature who denied herself every pleasure. No chocolate. No cheese. No dancing. No fun. She was completely dedicated to serving her fellow man. She was an altruist; she lived only for others. For ten long years she had exhausted herself by visiting the poor, the bereaved and the infirm. Often she would visit hardened criminals in prison who lusted after her innocent beauty and displayed crude and offensive behaviour. As a servant of Humanity Doreen became accustomed to suffering and self-sacrifice.

Doreen's deepest desire was to surrender herself to her religion. She was intensely devout but not in the way we normally understand. She was a disciple of the new scientific religion of Humanity that had been inaugurated by the famous Frenchman, Monsieur Auguste Comte who was the self-proclaimed high priest and pontiff of this new faith.

Doreen had become convinced that modern secular science had clearly demonstrated the non-existence of God. In her youth she had been brought up as a pious Catholic but the cold claims of secular scholarship had attacked her one morning and her simple trust in God, the Almighty, was dealt a fatal blow. She picked up her rosary beads and threw them out of the window.

It was with considerable relief that Doreen had embraced the radical teachings of the secular religion of M. Comte. Henceforth Humanity would be her god. Doreen devoted the first hour of her day to acts of prayer and penitence. As a committed atheist, she worshipped Humanity by singing hymns and clapping her hands rhythmically. At times she would be reminded of her sins against Humanity and she would mumble words of remorse and repentance. She was haunted by memories of her negligence and sloth. There had been moments when her sacrifices for Humanity had been half-hearted and malnourished. How many beggars had she short-changed with her indolence? How many prisoners had she failed to serve with that sympathetic and sensitive ear? How many orphans had she neglected? Always ringing in her ears were the words of her Great High Priest – "You have no rights and only duties! You are nothing and Humanity is everything!"

One spring day Doreen had wearied herself serving the criminal working classes, and, as she was returning to her modest abode, was suddenly accosted by a large Doberman-pincher. Snarling and snapping, the hound stared at Doreen with evident malice and then viciously pounced upon the faithful servant of the Great Being. Within minutes the poor girl was unconscious and bloodied.

While recuperating in hospital, Doreen began to reflect upon her lot in life. Instead of serving Humanity, she was now being served by Humanity. Altruistic nurses showered her with affection and kindness. They soothed her fevered brow and listened patiently to her musings. They brought her grapes, chocolate and cheese! Never before had Doreen enjoyed such exquisite sensual pleasures. Altruistic visitors brought her novels and freshly-baked cakes. Never before had she luxuriated in idleness, comfort and inertia.

This blissful and peaceful mode of existence thrilled her to the very core of her being. How wonderful to lounge in bed all day, snoozing, daydreaming and reading shallow, romantic fiction. Cravings for grapes and chocolate were always sated. Self-sacrifice and duty were beginning to fade away.

And then, as Doreen slowly recovered from her wounds, she began ruminating about M. Comte and his religion of humanity. How she had suffered living only for others! Somehow she had ceased to exist in that secular religion. The weeks passed and Doreen became increasingly bitter and cantankerous. She developed a sardonic and sneering demeanour that aroused sadness and chagrin in the nursing community. No longer did she radiate spiritual and saintly virtue but a settled disposition to carp and moan slowly infused her personality. Visitors who arrived with Belgian chocolates were upbraided and admonished. Surely there was something else they could bring! Doreen had heard about salmon and caviar but selfish nurses and self-centred visitors were unwilling to sacrifice themselves for Doreen's emotional well-being!

It is difficult to say exactly when Doreen decided to apostate and reject the religion of Humanity but on the 4th of May, 1889, Doreen had firmly resolved to become a selfish, pleasure-seeking hedonist of the first order. As soon as she was released from the hospital, she adopted sordid, sensual pleasures in fits of frenzied lusting. Drinking brandy and conversing with louche men became her daily vice. Gambling on the horses and greyhounds was embraced with gusto and eventually Doreen became a notorious madam in a high-class Parisian brothel.

One evening, as Doreen reclined salaciously on her chaise longue, surrounded by suave, decadent men, the former servant of Humanity made the following confession.

As a child I used to live for God and I gave that up. And then I lived for Humanity and I gave that up as well. Henceforth I shall live only for myself and if you don't like it, gentlemen, you can put it in your pipes and smoke it.

She laughed coquettishly and drained her glass of champagne.

Sydney is fab

For those interested I had a great trip to Sydney and Canberra where I delivered RealityBites lectures and workshops to about 450 Christian teachers; I also spoke to about 200 young people in several Oz schools. Feedback has been really encouraging. One headmaster wrote to me as follows:

Dear Mark

I am writing to thank you for each and every one of your outstanding presentations at our teacher conference this week. I have received a continuing stream of staff members saying how stimulating and inspiring your talks were and how excited they are to both use your materials and to use your techniques to develop their own resources and write their own parables! You have given us a key that will unlock our teenage students in a refreshing and powerful way. Might I add that I recommend your presentation to any high school teacher who wants to be able to connect and engage their teen students with the Gospel in an exciting and effective manner. I look forward to your return next year and hope to have you speak directly to our students too, if possible.

Oz is not only a friendly country, it is also packed full of wallabies, kangaroos and parrots. Strolling in a park close to my motel in Windsor NSW I was transfixed when I noticed lemon and orange trees in full bloom. Ponder this for a moment. It's winter downunder and yet they have luscious fruit in abundance. This can't be right. Something's wrong. Where can I make a complaint? Captain Cook? The boy done well.

RB goes to Oz again

Today I am flying out to Sydney and will be speaking at two conferences organised by Christian Education National in New South Wales and also in Canberra. The one near Sydney will be attended by about 500 Christian teachers and I will be talking about my approach to storytelling and the calling of the Christian educator.

There are no crocodiles in this part of Oz which is a shame.

It's a great honour to be asked back to Australia and I hope RB will be a blessing to them 'downunder'.

How We Became Enlightened

Good evening and welcome to my lecture. For those who lack knowledge my name is Professor Singen Smedley and I am a vastly erudite and important scholar.

This evening I will be lecturing you on the topic – how we became enlightened.

Many years ago western people were not enlightened. They were in thrall to superstitious beliefs about God and the gods. Tragically our ancestors lacked a scientific and technological mastery of nature.

This was horrible and life was insufferable. Superstition took many forms. There were those who believed that trees should be worshipped. Indeed the Druids would sacrifice children to the oak god. Such primitive people were not enlightened at all. There were also primitive people who believed in God and in the teachings of the Bible. Again these people were not enlightened.

And then something truly remarkable transpired. Man discovered science. You see science is the detached and objective study of nature. Science is always true. It is always faithful. It always keeps its wonderful promises.

During this wonderful period of scientific awakening, man discovered the truly awesome power of technology. Science helps us to know all things. And her comely sister Technology allows us to do all things.

This is so vital and important because nature resists us in so many ways. We need to conquer her, ravish her, and plunder her of all her secret riches. This is enlightenment.

But there is a third stage to enlightenment that is often forgotten. Why do we crave science? Why do we crave technological power? The answer is terribly simple. These two delightful ladies allow us to conquer nature and so to discover the wonderful delights of constant and unrelenting consumption. This is the wonder of our western consumer paradise.

Western people no longer struggle for the riches of nature. Go to your local Tesco supermarket and you will be able to sate all your deepest cravings. Cravings for marmalade. Cravings for hot curry powder. Cravings for malt whiskey.

And of course now one can enjoy the most wonderful cruises all over the Caribbean. It's almost impossible to become bored in this consumer paradise… of course as long as one has sufficient funds for your pleasures, tipples and cravings.

It's absolutely marvelous being enlightened. Only the other day I spent three thousand pounds on some new golf clubs and I will be flying to Spain on my private jet and in Spain I will have many episodes of sensual pleasure. I will quaff San Miguel lager, stuff my face with paella. And probably if I am in the mood I will crack jokes about Jimmy Tarbuck and Bruce Forsythe…amusing members of the lower orders

Let me repeat my central thesis. Why are we so enlightened? In the beginning was science and she has made us all-knowing. Then her comely and shapely sister Technology arrived. She has made us all-powerful.

Finally in these end times the glories of the free market have liberated all of us to find pleasure and satiation in constant consumption of inane consumer durables.

Good evening.