Category Archives: Christianity

The Kiss of Death

Yesterday I finally got round to seeing the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich (the one with the sexy longitudinal grid coordinates). Although regarded as the number one naval museums I found it personally disappointing, about which more in a later article.

I arrived for a talk on the death of Nelson, which was excellent and the highlight of the visit, and the guide said something that caught my attention. When Nelson asked Hardy to kiss Nelson our guide seemed to be very keen that we should understand that this wasn’t a sexual kiss—which I think is a historically respectable sentiment (whichever way you look at it people who are departing are not in the mood for sex) but otherwise I don’t see the point in making such a fuss, but this was not what caught my attention. According to the narrator Hardy knelt and kissed Nelson on the cheek and then administered what she seemed to call the ‘kiss of death’ (though I can find no other instance of the phrase being used in this way)—this was the bit that struck me—Hardy kissed him on the forehead, a common practice that had the effect of settling sailors in death according to our guide.

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Ye shall know them by their fruits (I am back!)

I hit quite a block after posting that acknowledgment of what a superior blogger Yglesias is. To what extent was it ego? I don’t know: it is difficult to be sure, but I suspect it was one of several factors.

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On a Wing and Prayer

Andrew Sullivan on the news of Tim Russert’s death last week asked his readers:

Say a prayer for his family, if prayer is your thing. Especially his dad, for whom this coming Sunday may be extremely painful.

As prayer was my thing I indeed took up his suggestion, but only afterwards realized of the possible incongruity of a Buddhist responding to a Christian’s exhortation to pray.  Some of you may be wondering whether it makes any sense for Buddhists to pray, as prayer is asking God to fix something and Buddhists don’t believe in God, right.

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The Love Buzz

I am aware that my article on Ahmadinejad will probably be comprehensible and attract much ridicule in some quarters (as may my earlier articles, On Zionism, though in different quarters). That is not a problem but it would be a shame. The whole issue is actually intimately related to my recent essay On Love and many other articles on the need to keep head and hart unified, to avoid allowing our ethical judgments be dominated by sentiment (the modern mistake and the central theme of Sense and Sensibility and all of Jane Austen’s novels in my view). Here I will try to draw these themes together and fulfill a promise to reply to a fellow blogger.

Robert Duquette, commenting on my essay, On Love, questioned this effort do all this loving through the intellect, and encapsulated Taleb’s idea (explained in his book, The Black Swan) that our memory, and indeed our whole way of understanding reality, is narrative driven, leading us to simply ignoring or immediately forgetting information that fails to fit the narratives that makes up our understanding of reality. Taleb’s idea makes perfect sense to me and is compatible with what my Buddhist teachers have taught me (as I have understood them).

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The Neanderthals

[This article is the third in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]

Baroness Murphy said recently in an article on Lords of the Blog.

Sitting here blogging while waiting on tenterhooks for the vote in the Commons on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Mustn’t watch more TV…I just heard a TV BBC 1 newsreader describe the debate on the creation of hybrid embryos for stem cell research as ‘a clash between science and ethics’. I was so angry I wanted to punch the screen. Huge numbers of ordinary people (and peers by a massive vote when the bill came through the Lords a couple of months ago) regard it as immoral and unethical to stop research that could benefit thousands of people. Far from being a clash between science and ethics it is more a straight clash between medieval church ignorance and 21st century secular realities and medical advances.

This dismissal of the concerns of so many people as ‘medieval church ignorance’ is a typical highly-educated liberal dismissal of those that question, on religious grounds, the brave new world being delivered by science, as was Arianna Huffington’s article, GOP Debate: A Competition to See Who Could Be the Biggest Neanderthal, decrying conservative positions on issues like abortion, stem-cell research and evolution in a Republican presidential debate.

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Mansfield Park and The Culture Wars

After a hiatus I have posted an article, Everything of Higher Consequence, on my Mansfield Park blog. Here I have brought together some of my thinking on the novel which also intersects with some recent thoughts on what makes progressives and conservatives tick. Given that the two stream of thought originated with the French revolution and Edmund Burke’s reaction to it, and the way that the baby-boomer culture wars have been fought out in Austen criticism (see Conservatives and Progressives) and Barack Obama’s objective to move beyond these culture wars (see about half of the posts on Andrew Sullivan’s blog), you can see strong convergence in these seemingly disparate areas covering philosophy and the enlightenment, Jane Austen’s writing and contemporary politics.

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Conservatives and Progressives

[This article is the second in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]

Andrew Sullivan has been chewing over what it means to be a conservative and I would like to clarify my own ideas here. I agree with Sullivan in seeing Edmund Burke as the founder of modern conservatism. (Of course, that I am a Bristolian and the Anglo-Irish Burke represented the city in parliament doesn’t bias me in the least.) Modern conservatism arose as a reaction to the French Revolution, which is not to say that it was a reactionary movement, there being much to be said for the point of view that the French Revolution was a glorious mistake (the same could been achieved much less violently) and that conservatism offers a valuable critique, with Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France setting the terms of the debate.

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Elitism: The Democrats Self-Inflicted Wound?

[This article is the first in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]

I have been meaning to get my ideas straight on elitism for some weeks now, but little did I realise how central it was to so many philosophical issues that I am talking about on this blog. The catalyst for this series of articles was my previous article on Obama’s Appalachian problem, which I thought was explained brilliantly by Senator Jim Webb. Webb is an Appalachian of Scottish-Irish descent, the very demographic that has been causing so many problems for Obama. I will return to the attitudes of progressive elites to the ‘racism’ of the Appalachians later.

One of the clearest explanations of Elitism in US politics was written by Jonathan Chait in a short article, Popular Will, where he says:

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ADVANCE NOTICE: Theism for Non-Theists

Some people have found Why I am not an Atheist unsatisfactory, and I do feel a twinge of guilt. it was never my intention to engage in the kind of bickering between Christians and Atheists that is all to common in blog articles so my article stuck firmly to the meta-argument that Peter Singer wasn’t advancing serious arguments, that he needed to engage serious theologians and take more then about 830 words to deal meaningfully with (never mind dispose of) the central philosophical problem of the Abrahamic religions, how to reconcile an all-powerful, good creator God with evil and suffering in the world He has created. It is the kind of problem that, quite literally, seven-year olds spot. To me the paradox is obviously intended to confront the seeker in the way that people imagine Zen koans to do, something to meditate on in order to gain a deeper insight into reality and the Christian religion, rather than a decision problem, such as, whether the planets orbit the sun in an elliptical or circular path. To treat it like the latter, as a physical, empirical decision problem is, to my mind, to make a serious mistake.

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Why I am not an Atheist

Peter Singer at Comment is Free has posted an article, Good God?, that is sadly all too common. It opens:

Do we live in a world that was created by a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good? Christians think we do. Yet a powerful reason for doubting this confronts us every day: the world contains a vast amount of pain and suffering.

I kid you not. Peter Singer seems to think that he was the first person to notice this problem—and it really doesn’t get any better with him recounting a debate with–not Rowan Williams, not Georg Ratzinger—but, wait for it, Dinesh D’Souza. You haven’t heard of this theological titan? Me neither, and nothing about his resume suggests that that is any shame. That said, D’Souza may have been demonstrated a deep and profound mastery of theology for all I can tell as Singer proceeds to trot out all the usual tropes.

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Original Sin (Postscript)

While writing this series of articles on candour, our potential for realising our better, divine selves, it occurred to me how equally poorly understood is the Christian doctrine of original sin. (I have no wish to get tangled in theological debate here so I would like to confine myself to some general remarks, speaking as a non-Christian.)

Nothing is more common than to hear non-Christians pointing to the doctrine of original sin as proof of how pessimistic and depressing Christianity is. Even, I am sorry to say, some Buddhists who should really know better. In doing so they will point to the Buddhist doctrine of Buddha Nature, that we all have the potential to attain enlightenment and become Buddhas.

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