Sunday, January 8, 2012

Welcome back.

Moana Beach, South Australia

It’s been a marvellous two week break for me from blogging; swimming in the clear and cool waters of South Australia’s beaches, visiting family and gorging myself on Christmas fare (love those post-Christmas discounts).
I’ve made a concerted effort these holidays to enjoy both my own and my partners company. Our kid is so fun to observe that it’s easy to let her define my enjoyment. I’m glad to say that my mental record of the holidays is not just what the kid did and how she interacted with other people, (although that was awesome to see). I had my own great time too.
I’ve also caught up with some reading. I finished God is Not One by Stephen Prothero. This is not a critique of mono-theism by the way, but a survey of the eight most significant rival religions by the chair of the department of religion at Boston University.  Last July I critically reviewed The Universe Next Door which purported to investigate several “world views”. God is Not One is a trillion times superior for being the product of a genuinely fair minded scholar. Perhaps the least fairly treated by Prothero are the New Atheists but then seeing as his main thesis is that all religions can’t be lumped together as one, this project of “Angry Atheism” is bound to be given short thrift. Personally I agree with Prothero and said as much in the very first post on this blog; Daoists and Buddhists are kind of atheistic anyway after all. Indeed New Atheism seems stuck defining religion in the terms of Christianity and to a lesser degree Islam and Judaism as a primarily creedal system with submission to God at its core. This year I intend to write more about how limited this view of religion is, partly inspired by Prothero.
I learnt the most from Prothero’s chapter on the Yoruba religion. This understanding and practice of African origin has spread across the globe but primarily the Americas. In many places it masked its spiritual entities in Catholic garb as saints or members of the Holy family however such masks are increasingly being removed and Yoruba is being more directly celebrated and openly acknowledged. Another blog post likely to come out of this book will reflect on how Yoruba sees our life as a personal mission only partially if at all locatable inside a spiritual meta-narrative. This is postmodernism in an ancient form and simplistic systems of comparing Yoruba with other religions are confounded by it.
 I’m also part way through The Meaning Of Jesus , a shared work by Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright. Borg is a historian who sees the messianic and divine nature of Jesus as theological developments by the early Christian church. His historical Jesus is a mystic and social prophet who challenged the domination system of his time. N.T. Wright champions a much greater historicity of the four gospel accounts. He believes that Jesus understood his death as central to his mission of introducing the Kingdom of God. Wright is also a believer in the likelihood of the physical resurrection of Jesus and the virgin birth. Borg see’s these as literary inventions. What’s great is that this is not a book about whether these events are physically possible. Such a point is useless when talking of miracles anyway. Instead these scholars show why physical possibility aside there is good reason for trusting the historical record of these events in Christian scripture or alternatively good reason to see them as inventions. The Meaning of Jesus is a great book for showing the challenge of reading controversial history as well as the parameters of mainstream biblical scholarship; no serious academic believes that the Gospels are either entirely fabrications or straight forward reportage.
2011 was a very interesting year for me. The big change was the kid learning to play well with others. This meant they could begin kinder and that enabled me to begin this blog. In six months I’ve completed thirty blog posts. I’m pretty sure the readership has increased as well though I still pine for comments.
There are certain posts on this blog I’m not pleased with. “The Point of Philosophy Part 1” and “Chocolate Sex” are ones I keep thinking about removing but I’ve left them up as a caution against rapid posting without review. Other posts have grown on me over time. I posted them trepiditiously and have since found their ideas useful to refer back to. These include “Whether you believe in God or not is just not that important” and “The Prodigal God – My Rambling Response.” They represent a contrary lesson; sometimes I should just publish and be damned rather than listening to my internal censor.
Overall I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m especially pleased with “Science vs God (and the Coffee Table)”and “Discussing Poverty and Greed with the Bendigo Baptists”, though my personal favourite is perhaps “A Stumbling Response to Stumbling Towards Enlightenment.” (Hopefully there’ll be more posts to come on Buddhism and Daoism.) In fact I look back on almost all of my posts with at least a sense of being on the right track.
I’d love to hear what readers favourite posts have been. I remain committed to learning through writing and people’s encouragement, both on and off this blog, has been crucial to that process. Extra special mentions however must go to my marvellous partner, Lenka for enabling as well as proof-reading my writing and my brother Simon for his comments and web assistance. Without Simon this blog would have had much fewer readers. Without Lenka I would never have the time to write or would have lost spirit many times along the way.
Let’s see what 2012 brings.