Monday, December 31, 2012

Sermons I would like to hear: On the priesthood of women.

I’ve written a series of posts under the heading “Sermons I would like to hear”. I use this format to give me license to riff with the language sets of religious faith more freely. Under this heading I allow myself to be both a little more poetic and a little more merciless than I might be in a balanced critical essay. This is the most fire and brimstone of the bunch but like the others its definitely a sermon I would love to be surprised by in church.

I always advice reading these pieces in a Desmond Tutu accent.

Anna, the Prophetess, Luke 2:36-38
Some organisations only permit men to hold leadership positions. Sometimes these organisations claim a mystical religious basis for their discrimination. Churches in particular claim that their organisation represents the truth about the infinite relationship of God to the world. Then some of them claim that this truth insists such representation can only be under mens’ leadership.

I want to preach against this, particularly in regard to Christianity, because there’s a Christian blasphemy occurring here. It’s a declaration that the image of God in woman’s image is not fully there and fully active. That’s the very definition of blasphemy; the disregard and denial of something of God.

In addition there is an idolatry being committed. There is a declaration that men, as clergy and elders, are especially necessary to interpret the truth about God. When we and particularly women are in the shadow of the valleys of our ignorance, we are supposed to accept that men and only men can provide the mirror to bring the light of the infinite to us.

That’s not a pedestal Jesus put men on. It’s something men keep replacing for themselves but it’s a pedestal Jesus kicked over in his teachings:
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” – Luke 20:45-47

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
- Mathew 23: 8-15

In case there was any uncertainty;
  • (Luke 1:39-55) Mary and her sister Elizabeth are the first two human voices to herald Jesus and the new covenant with Israel. They lead our response to the incarnation.
  • (Matt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30) A woman is the only person who beats Jesus in an argument. He listens to her and she changes his mind with her words. No man ever obtains this result despite several attempts by scholarly men to debate Jesus.
  • (Matt 26: 6-13)  It is a woman who first acknowledges when Jesus is due to die and accepts this. Although the male disciples criticized her, remembering her public worship is to be a mark of the gospel for all time.
  • (Math 28: 5-7) Jesus’ resurrection is first revealed to two women. They lead our response to the promise of new life.
It is clear that, for Christianity at least, male only leadership is not the mirror that shines the light of God into dark places. Male only leadership is the mirror we have inserted between God and ourselves to see what we wish to see.

People opposed to women’s leadership in the church are sinning. Some are allowing the seductions of tradition, privilege, a desire for self-importance or fear of their own importance to affect their discernment of God’s gifts, and thus also their discernment of God. More of them are just fitting in to their churches and not rocking the boat. They are participating in blasphemy and idolatry so as not to cause a fuss. That’s normal human behaviour but hey, sin is still sin. It is normal to sin, even in church, maybe especially in church.

There is a feeling that we can’t be sinning when we are making religious rules for all to follow. There is a feeling that sin has to be loutish and born of laxity, rather than of strictness and self-discipline. This feeling says that imposing strictures and erring on the side of “no” to possibility, is only ever a defence against sin. If we make laws that are more than necessary then sin is merely better prevented than it needed to be, says this feeling.

This feeling is deeply incorrect. Some people’s demons are booze and porn but others people’s demons are the book of Deuteronomy and a pulpit. The false belief that severity and austerity equal greater moral safety is the deceit of those demons. It is perfectly possible to sin whilst paying close attention in church with scriptures and highlighter in hand. Jesus saw this when he appealed to the Pharisees to change their ways. You can hold tight to the words of scripture and find ways to sin grievously via those words.

Let us look closely at the parts of the bible that those opposed to women’s ordination cling tightly to. There are no words from Jesus. There are only two direct proof texts from the letters of Paul.
 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
- 1 Timothy 2:11-15 New International Version (NIV)

Paul of Tarsus, how dare you teach that women hold a special responsibility for the fallen nature of the world and carry any greater burden for their redemption than men? How dare you on this matter contradict what you have elsewhere preached, that the grace and grace alone of Christ (Romans 3 :21-31), not childbearing, not gender roles, not acting with propriety is what women will be saved through?

I don’t know what purpose these lies achieved for you. We can’t know. We only know that today these lies serve both idolatry and blasphemy in the church. We thank God that we are required to treat you as human, not a god, in your authority as a preacher. This is bad theology on many levels and it’s childish. Men must stop blaming Eve.

Let’s remember it was a male disciple who betrayed Christ, a male disciple who denied him, and men in authority who crucified him. Do we really want to tally up historical wrongs against God by gender here?

Then there is this passage:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.  
-1 Corinthians 14:34-35 New International Version (NIV)

Paul, what could you have meant here by “disgraceful”? I can only feel sad for you that at this time it seems, you couldn’t hear a women publicly ask about God and delight in her desire to know. I wonder, what did women challenge for you? Did women take God too far for you?

You have forgotten or perhaps you never knew what Jesus had to say to Mary and Martha. ("Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38- 42) But how have you forgotten something so central to your own gospel; It is better to be disgraced for God than concerned about the law? (Galatians 2:15) I hope God forgives you, Paul, and anyone else who makes your sin their own.

Let us pray for the forgiveness of those who argue for male only leadership in the church. Let us pray that God takes from them their appetite for sin, that we humbly recognize takes different forms in us all.

Dear God, help all to see the image of God in our daughters and nothing more than the image of God in our sons.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Messiah still-born.

If God became one of us in Jesus, does this mean that Jesus faced the risk of death in the womb? Could God in man have been still born?

1. That never would have happened because God (ie. The Father) would have especially protected Jesus.

In this picture of the world most everything unfolds according to basic laws of nature. Still births happen because of chromosomal disorders or insufficient oxygen to the baby. However God is not bound by these laws and can make exceptions to them in “special cases”. Jesus is one such “special case”.

The problem with this picture is that it causes us to doubt the extent of the incarnation of God. If our humanity is subject to laws, even chance, but somehow Gods participation in humanity is in some unique way guarded and preserved then maybe Jesus was never one of us “fully”.

Jesus may still have experienced humanity in terms of a lack of foreknowledge, pain and loss, even friendship and betrayal… but if Jesus alone was being preserved for their destiny, guaranteed of both death and resurrection, can they really know the uncertainty of our humanity as we do? If they were never at risk of death in the womb was their incarnation total?

2. The still birth of Jesus never would have happened because everything, even still births, occurs according to the will of God.

In this picture of the world there is nothing inhuman about Jesus having his destiny determined (and still birth prevented) because that is the rule of all our lives. Jesus experienced full humanity in having his life determined by the will of God – there is no contradiction between the two.

The problem with this picture, where miracles are not exceptional and everything unfolds according to Gods plan is that it makes a mockery of our search for the whys and hows of still birth. Why do we bother to investigate the illusion of causality in a world in which everything is pre-destined?

Nobody lives like that. Nobody I know would ride a donkey late in their pregnancy confident their child will survive if God wills it and only die if God wills that too. We humans would worry. Did Mary worry?

3. It was possible for Jesus to have been still born.

Reflect on that for a moment.

My first thought (which occurred while writing the nativity play you can read here) is of Mary’s reality should that have happened. Imagine the messiah she promised to bear, dead in her arms. How could she have “processed”, to use our horrible inadequate modern term, that reality?

Like the crucifixion, blame could be laid at the Romans feet. That census, that donkey journey, across a desert with bitterly cold nights, was hardly safe for the child. But would Jesus death still have redeemed the people of Israel by dying for their sins if it had happened in utero? Perhaps; the messiah has still shared in the oppression of God’s people. He has taken on their (and our) plight.

If this was the central point of Jesus life does this need to have happened when he was thirty three? Could it have happened before he breathes air?

A separate question is whether anyone would have joined this new religion without the miracles and teachings of Jesus and without the male disciples? If Mary had been its sole voice, a grief stricken woman in a patriarchal world, would she have just been declared mad? Would even the patient Joseph had stayed with her if Mary’s life had become preaching that her dead child was the Messiah?

If the incarnation of God shares with humanity in a reality that is not predestined then I also wonder something else. Could the Jesus that died at age 33 be one of many possibilities? Can we imagine a Christ that was killed by Herod after being refused entry into Egypt or even a Christ with schizophrenia? Can we imagine a Christ with a congenital defect, a ticking time bomb in his chest or skull?

None of this is meant to argue anything. I’m not trying to “prove” something about Christianity or destiny. I just think that a part of my human reality is to feel lucky to be alive, and very lucky my child is alive and healthy (knock on all the wood in the world). The parents I know are starkly aware that our pregnancies are fraught with risk, as we have our children later in life than our parents. That too has been especially on my mind of late.

As I entered into the nativity story I felt a part of it that I’d never pondered before was the tale of a pregnancy that it tells. I had to wonder was it a pregnancy like our own child’s? I wonder if Mary felt what I felt when our child was born; sweet relief.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Nativity Play

This year for our Christmas party I put on a nativity play. I’ve published the script below. I aim to film a performance at my family’s Christmas lunch too. If that works out I’ll figure out how to link to it here. (It did.) Initially I had grandiose dreams of my friends as actors in elaborate costumes. It ended up being very simple puppets performed by myself and my partner. 

The process of writing a nativity play is a challenge because the birth of Jesus is mentioned in two of the four gospels and is completely different story in each of those two. That’s not to say they directly contradict each other. It’s more to say that if they didn’t use names like Jesus and Mary then you might think they were about completely different people. What we commonly think of as the nativity story is a mish mash of those two gospel stories into one single narrative. Certain elements get dropped while others are considered essential.

In writing this nativity play I had to think about what I considered relevant to my understanding of the story. Some content, like the words of Rabbi Hillel, isn’t from the Christian gospels. I felt I needed to show a context for the theological change that is Christianity. I think I can justify all my decisions. For one thing I think this type of writing- selective story telling to make a point - is essentially what the Christian gospels themselves are. That was first century history. Fortunately the play was well received and I wasn’t required to defend anything.

I have kept in mind that the story of the nativity is basically the story of the incarnation beginning; God is born, lives and dies as a human. That’s a story of the organizing principle of the universe, the cosmic pin that the whole shebang of past and future hangs off, becoming a particular person in a particular family in a particular moment of time.

What motivated me to write a nativity was not that this is a story seldom told. This aspect of Christmas is not overlooked or forgotten so much as some commentators want us to believe. It’s everywhere. However this is a story we can easily hear without impact. Regardless of what we believe about its factuality it could be something we recognize as an amazing tale. Instead it’s sort of kitsch. It could have revolutionary implications. Instead it does nothing to overturn anything about the super capitalism that surrounds it.

I think that’s because this is a story that gets heard in one of two ways; Firstly we can hear the incarnation as saying that our lives, no matter their poverty and brevity, mean something and that the oppressed and their pain are of deep interest to eternity. Alternatively we can hear the nativity as saying that God is someone quite small, owned by Middle Eastern politics, buried in one time, and understood only by one religion’s theology. It’s a question of whether our understanding of God shrinks to fit the incarnation or whether our understanding of humanity expands to fit God.

If the nativity reveals merely that a parochial and historical god is the best our small, tribal minds could imagine, then it’s a quaint tale but it’s not worth thinking much of. I tried to communicate the other nativity – the nativity that speaks of what really matters in the entire universe even now lying helpless in a manger.

Archeologist from the modern era
Martha and Sarah, two middle eastern women from the 1st century
Roman Soldiers
Joseph’s Sister
Baby Jesus

Scene 1: Archaeologist alone.

Archaeologist : The first century was a very exciting time in history for the region we now call the Middle East. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were right alongside each other. Trade routes stretched from South East Asia, to China, through India, Africa, up to Germany and across to Britain.
The common language was that of integrated philosophy; ethics spoke to physics, politics spoke to theology.  People bothered to learn the teachers of traditions other than their own. It was an expectation of even the middle classes. That brought change, particularly upon the culture of those who called themselves Israel – Gods chosen people.

Scene 2: Two Middle Eastern Women sit on stone wall – they are dressed as they might be in the First century.

Martha : Do you remember when Shabetteh and Zedek met?

(Two Stars are raised above the play and placed next to each other – they stay that way all play)

Sarah : I remember it was the time when Jupiter, God most loved by Romans, combined with Saturn, their God of Royalty to signal Rome’s right to rule us.

(The woman pause and then laugh to each other).

M : Oh anything else is treason, is it not? But what I have been told…

S : Martha, hush.

M : No, no, Sarah this you must hear. Shabbetteh is the sign of Royalty, no doubt, but Zedek is the star of Israel. When these two stars kissed in the night sky, this was the time for a new king of Israel.

S : Martha, I know that story. For that story Rachel’s son amongst others was killed in infancy lest he become that King and unseat Herod. There are many people from around Bethlehem here. Be careful who you tell that story to. Old wounds…

M : But there is more to the tale…. (Martha and Sarah vanish)

Scene 3: Roman Soldiers stand in front of a prone and injured Mary.

Roman Soldiers : (wicked laughter) She’ll live.

(Roman soldiers move aside to reveal prone Mary and leave scene)

Mary: (Groans)

(Angel appears)

Angel: Greetings most favoured one! The Lord is with you.

Mary : Who are you?

Angel : Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has been gracious to you, you shall conceive and bear a son. And you shall give him the name Jesus. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will be king over Israel for ever; his reign shall never end.

Mary : How can this be?

Angel : The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and overshadow you. For that reason the holy child to be born will be called “Son of God”.

Mary : Tell out, my soul, the Greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice, my spirit in God the saviour
So tenderly has he looked upon his servant, humble as she is
For from this day forth,
All generations will count me blessed,
So wonderfully has he dealt with me,
The Lord, the Mighty One,

His name is Holy;
His mercy sure from generation to generation
Toward those who fear him;

He has ranged himself at the side of Israel his servant;
Firm in his promise to our forefathers,
He has not forgotten to show mercy to Abraham
And his childrens, children forever

Scene 4: Joseph is pulling a reluctant Donkey over to Mary who is pregnant. Meanwhile elder Jewish men listen to Rabbi Hilel.

Jewish Man : Rabbi Hillel, How is it that Rome conquers us and humiliates us, Gods chosen people?

Hillel: Because you drowned others they drowned you; and those that drowned you will eventually be drowned. But judge not until you stand in the other’s place.

Hillel : You there (addressing an audience member), Are you paid for your work?"

Audience member :… Yes I am.

Hillel : For what do you want the money?"

Audience member: For various reasons, To pay for the necessities of life.

Hillel : Would you not rather come and make the Torah -by which we mean the Law of God - your possession, that you may possess both this and the future world?"

Audience member: Can you summarise the Torah for me?

Hillel : That which you yourself do not want, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole law and the rest is merely commentary. 

 (Joseph reaches Mary finally)

Joseph : Mary, I cannot believe we are doing this.

Mary : Joseph, It is a census, we have no choice. We must return to Bethlehem because you are of the house of David.

Joseph : If the Donkey wills it…

Mary : If God wills it.

Scene freezes and Archaeologist appears next to Rabbi Hillel.

Archaeologist : The Rabbi Hillel teachings overlap with the life of Jesus. Born in poverty, Rabbi Hillel became the forerunner of modern Judaism. Hillels’ followers shared with the early Christians the belief that love of others was integral to understanding how to apply Jewish law.

(Archaeologist moves over to Joseph)

Archaeologist : The Census of Quirinius is recorded by Josephus, a first century historian. It was the first ever enrollment of the people of Judea, people like Mary and Joseph, for Roman taxation purposes. It was bitterly resented by the Jewish people. The Census of Quirinius is clearly dated after Herod’s death, while Lukes’ Gospel places it within Herod’s reign. Perhaps Luke sought a reason for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, so that he could fulfill the prophecy of Micah from around 700 BC:

(All vanish except the archaeologist and then the angel appears)

Angel : "But you, Bethlehem, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth the One to be a Shepherd Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

Scene 5: Joseph and Mary, Josephs sister and Donkey are in a stable. The bright light of the twin stars above shine in. Joseph speaks to his sister in the doorway.

Sister : Joseph, I’m so sorry that this is all that we can offer you.

Joseph :Sister, we will be fine.

Sister : It’s just your father – he doesn’t approve of the union… another mans…

Joseph : I will call you when it is time.

Mary : It is time…

Joseph : What?

Sister : Go, get out of here, tell my eldest to bring a cloth for the baby and hot water, and pray for your wife…

(Sister hurries over to Mary and Joseph exits)

Scene 6: Two old Jewish women from previous scene.

Martha : To have a child is a blessing. To bear a child…

Sarah : Esther lost two and then died in childbirth

M: Norah died with hers along with the child.

S : I lost one and I was so sick with fever after another I almost died

M : Elizabeth lost three so her husband divorced her.

S: Ruth lost one.

M: Dinah lost two.

S: The other Elizabeth died but the child survived.

M: I lost two.

(Mary screams.)

Scene 7: Two shepherds are moving sheep around.

Shepherd  : We are the workers of the world, not the wise men….

Archeologist (appears): The first century was a time of amazing cultural exchange amongst a scholarly elite… (then disappears)

Shepherd : …Shadup. We can’t even afford the ceremonies required of our own religion. We are too poor to reconcile to God. We keep our head down amongst foreign cultures. We barely look up in our own.

If there is any God behind it all, any single authority, law or will that controls our destinies, it has absented itself from our affairs. Honestly it is preferable to me that only dumb laws determine our fates. Otherwise my suffering means nothing to our creator.

Angel  :Be quiet. I have a message for you. The wise will have to find their own way but you are being summoned. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born; he is Christ the Lord who you have cried out to. Go and you will find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Scene 8:  Mary in last scene (holding baby Jesus).

Mary: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

This is my child who has come to set fire to the earth. For those who are now last will be first and those who are first will be last.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes we are dumb.

Mayan culture is alive and well. Over a million people speak Mayan languages, follow its religion and attend to traditional ceremonies. It is not only an ancient culture or an extinct culture. That’s a misconception which goes unchallenged by my last blog. It should have been challenged front and centre.

When, in my last blog, I say “there is no reality picture underlying the Mayan prophecy of the end times” I am not wrong. There really is no model of reality (theology or physics) beneath references to a Mayan end time. Mayans don’t (as far as I can tell) belief in an end time at all. That is a complete fabrication by non-Mayans. It’s a joke; either a joke that betrays western ignorance of other cultures (and obsession with the end times) or it’s a joke about western ignorance of other cultures. Unfortunately I think it’s the former more than the latter.

I should have pointed out that there is a Mayan reality picture. It has been spectacularly disregarded in discussions about a “Mayan end of the world prophecy” sometimes just called the “Mayan prophecy”. That’s something I’m making a new years resolution to correct in the new year. I’m going to write a post on Mayan beliefs after giving them a decent research and consideration.

I ask other bloggers, who wrote about the Mayan end times without referencing what Mayans actually believe, to make the same commitment.

Why does this matter? Why is this the right thing to do? The answer is in how atheists, agnostics, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and so on feel when people blithely misinterpret their own beliefs for a laugh. That’s especially both dumb and boring when the laugh has that smug tone of superiority.

I've had the great pleasure of seeing a small Australian production called Outland. It was a tv series about a gay and lesbian science fiction fan club. In the first episode there were repeated jokes by a non-member of the group that “the Daleks are defeated by stairs.”

Eventually the group snapped and explained in perfect nerdy fashion that the Daleks (from Dr. Who) had answers to stairs all throughout the shows history. This obscure example is just to show that even outside religion we can know how condescension works and how it rarely bothers to know much about what its’ condescending to. Geeks and freaks of all kinds - cosplayers to metalheads, gamers to Goths - know what I’m talking about. Others scoff at what they're into without bothering to learn much of it. It’s exactly that superficial dismissal of philosophies other than our own that I have always wanted this blog to be different from.

(I find Wikipedia to be an excellent starting point to my own research. They have a great entry on Mayan civilization. Once you’ve read it why not make a small donation to Wikipedia too. It’s a non-profit public resource, that beats relying on parochial blogs like mine or you tube for our information.)

I’m suffering from “end-times” fatigue. I am grateful that it seems to have driven inane conversation in a different direction to the usual “war on Christmas” tripe in the week before that day. At least I thought so until I read this article. My prophecy is that after today when the Mayan Calendar ends we can expect a rush of discussion on the “War on Christmas” as our media-soaked brains flit like butterflies onto the next colourful and shallow understanding of the world around us.

Do I sound a little despondent? I am.

An increasingly popular driver of theological and faith based discussion is a site called . The way that site divides people into “channels” promotes a defensiveness and hostility between perspectives (Progressive, Evangelical, Atheist, etc.). It's just boring. It promotes a way of thinking that turns any discussion into the gathering and throwing of ammunition at “the other side”. That’s another approach to discussion this blog is intended to oppose.

Fortunately when I turn off the internet things don’t look so grimly oppositional at all. An atheist friend of mine recently invited her friends to an ageing churches carols in the hope of spreading and reveling in some Christmas cheer. Christian friends of mine having heard that I had encountered some homophobia from Christians personally expressed their hope it wasn’t from their church which I’d attended (which it wasn’t and I had a great time there). This holiday season people of all faiths and none are going to try and have a good time at least and in our best will be helping others less fortunate. There is a common front emerging against the commercialism of the season from a broad spectrum of people.

I’ve also just discovered an amazing artist whose politics is astounding. He is known as Immortal Technique.  Check him out if you want to see how a man can point his anger intelligently at the right targets and use his anger peacefully.

Maybe our cultures anticipation of the world ending for one reason after another is really an expression of our despair at the level of crap we see around us. That crap seems to be coating our internet (with the exception of Wikipedia). Off the web the world looks a lot healthier. It has horrible problems, but it has people involved in solutions as well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The end of the world.

The end of the world is nigh! This is not just a claim made by the ancient Mayans for the coming 21/12/2012 (or rather by modern hacks interpreting the ancient Mayans). It’s a claim made by people using the language of a host of religions. It’s also a claim made in scientific language, such as predictions of cataclysmic climate change effects, or an evolution of computer sentience or apes. In the social sciences, dystopian ends of history are proposed as the consequence of the trivialising effect of social media, the death of the book, the rise of individualism or its demise and so on.

Some of these ‘end of the world’ scenarios I dismiss without consideration. Others I consider possible. Others I believe are inevitable on our given path. However, do I have any basis for believing in one over the other? How can we believe or not believe in such predictions, or for that matter, any predictions?

This is not a small question because we make predictions all the time. On the simplest level we might notice that this follows that over and over again. The next time ‘this’ happens then we expect ‘that’ to follow. The often-labeled father of modern science, David Hume, recognized that this process of prediction from observation, called induction, underpins a way of learning that he called empiricism – essentially the study of our sense-data (sights, sounds etc).

Empiricism has produced a much more rigorous science than what preceded it. The scientific experimental method relies on it. However as an epistemology (a theory of how we can know things) it raises many problems. The problem with induction, which Hume recognized, is that while observation can reveal a pattern in how events occur, only assumption can lead to a belief in that pattern’s continuation. Put simply, we can observe a hundred times that day follows night, but we still haven’t observed that the sun will rise again the next morning (until it does).

In order to make predictions we need to do something beyond strict empiricism. We need to make statements about more than our observations. We need to describe the underlying reality that produces those observations.

This corresponds to a deep emotional need to really know ourselves and the world around us, especially other people. Remaining at the place of simply recording our sense data without assuming what produces it is unsettling and alienating. We have a human need to go beyond just describing what we observe to try to connect those observations into a story of reality.

This emotional appeal of describing reality may come from its practical purpose. Our descriptions of reality have a timeless aspect, not bound to any few examples. It is one thing to merely know that night has been about seven hours long for as long as you can remember with seasonal differences. It is another thing entirely to know this is because the earth spins around the sun. Such reality models can be subject to new and experimental conditions in just our mind – thought-experiments of a “what if” nature. That enables us to be predictive of new situations. We can intelligently guess what a day on another planet might be like.

This is the kind of modeling that underpins climate science. Modern humanity has never directly observed a rapidly heating earth before but the reality model we have developed of our planet’s climate systems allows us to try to predict what will happen.

We can also borrow and trade information between models of reality. What we know about how the earth moves around the sun can be employed to orbit a space station around the earth. We can even use this information to find planets in the night sky. None of this is achievable if we simply look at our observations of the length of night as just observations of the length of night and nothing else. It can only occur if we believe in a singular reality producing our observations.

Underlying pictures of reality also enable us to imagine end of the world scenarios that we haven’t directly observed. The most obvious one of these is our own death. This is a personal end-of-the-world scenario which we all can predict based on what we believe to be the underlying reality of our body, a reality that is shared with all the people who have died before us.

To the extent that I find an end of the world scenario plausible then is the extent to which it comes from a picture of reality that seems to work. What we understand about greenhouse gases role in retaining heat is evident in small versions of atmospheres. There seems to be a very robust story of reality underpinning the global warming predictions. Less certain are such impacts of global warming as where rain might fall or how tropical diseases might spread on a warmer planet, but even there we have some current images of the singular reality that will underpin these changes.

There are some end of the world scenarios that we remain blind to. These are the ones which are such a fundamental break with what we perceive as reality that we can’t predict their possibility. This includes ends like the accidental creation of a time paradox in the Large Hadron Collider for example. In such situations these are entirely new causes of our demise which would have gone on to affect our picture of reality if we hadn’t all ceased to exist because of them.

The same is true for miraculous and unique events like the awakening or return of an angry God that we can’t currently perceive. If Jesus returns and wallops us all then I will be flabbergasted to say the least, but no more so than an evangelical Christian would feel if Zeus did so.  If the race of aliens that created us returns to cleanse the planet and start again only a few Marvel comic book fans will be unsurprised.

When it comes to the Mayan calendar ending, and those who claim this means the world will end as well, there isn’t any kind of reality picture underlying it at all. There isn’t even a theology or metaphysics which I disagree with that explains why or how this would happen. Those who enjoy spreading the story do so generally out of fun. I can’t imagine how it could be taken seriously and I don’t think even saying I dismiss it captures my own lack of consideration of it. 

I’ve even planned a Christmas party for the 22nd.