Friday 24 December 2004

A Christmas lament

I've published a Christmas lament in the Sydney Morning Herald. It suggests that Christmas cheer comes less easily when we widen our vision around the world. Apologies for being a party-pooper!

Send CASE an email

Monday 8 November 2004

CASE on Face to Face

For night owls, I'm talking about CASE on Channel 10's Face to Face TV show this Wednesday night. Well, Thursday morning at 12.15am.
Fortunately, they also stream their interviews the next day on the site.

Send CASE an email

Monday 11 October 2004

The instant of his death

The death of Derrida will most likely bring all manner of silly comments about his own deconstruction, etc, etc. However, there has always been a serious consideration of death in Derrida's work, from contemplating Abraham's obedience to God in being willing to sacrifice Isaac, to the classic Wittgensteinian observation that it is impossible to experience your own death. It is causing me to reflect on how meaningFUL death is, how it helps people to focus their minds, how it removes distractions, and how it often (counter-intuitively) generates hope. My philosophy class prayed for him just a week earlier, at the end of a lecture, wanting God to come to him, to bring the kind of justice and mercy that he himself imagined. And more.

Send CASE an email

Thursday 7 October 2004

More on the federal election

CASE contributors, Byron and Jessica Smith, have put an enormous amount of work into a comparative table of issues and where the various political parties stand on them. Download it here. Has anyone devised a means of assessing these issues along Christian lines? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Send CASE an email

Tuesday 14 September 2004

Election slogans for Christians

The blog is back, after some weeks of silence. And we are thinking about the upcoming election. How do Christians decide how to vote? In reality, they tend to vote as their parents/friends/influences vote�just like everyone else does. But if we are to step back and look for principles to guide our voting, where do they come from and how do we prioritise them? I've been very impressed with two resources in recent days.

The first is the Election website from the Evangelical Alliance, where you can find a series of well argued and diverse opinions on which issues should determine how you vote.

The second is the campaign by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Victoria, which launches one of the best Christian slogans I can remember: "This election, vote for someone else". This isn't an anti-Howard stance, but a brilliant summary of the Christian motivation to think of others and not just ourselves. Why are we always deciding how to vote on the basis of what will make US better off?

Send CASE an email

Monday 9 August 2004

Identity politics

A fascinating biography of two leading Australian politicians—Opposition leader, Mark Latham, and Government Minister, Tony Abbott—has highlighted Christianity as a point of difference (among many). Michael Duffy, author and publisher, argues that Abbott couldn't decide between priest and politician, whereas Latham has never had time for the established churches (although he is attracted to the Jesus of history).

Both men are outspoken on ethical and moral issues, notably Abbott on abortion and Latham on social inequities. Both hold ethical ideals and have not always caved in to political pragmatism. They do in fact stand for things.

I suspect the difference between their attitudes may be linked to different approaches to institutions per se, with Abbott defending their central authority and Latham the 'outsider' questioning their power and noting their hypocrisy.

But Christianity is not primarily ethical nor institutional, it's spiritual. It is about identity—the identity of God, of Jesus, and self-identity as a penitent sinner, as a child of God, as a created being. It's about how you see yourself and the world.

The identity questions shape the rest of it. But how significant are they to government in a democracy? I'd be interested in your comments.

For another perspective, try The Australian

Send CASE an email

Thursday 24 June 2004

Romantic polytheism or bust

Having pushed for the removal of religion from academic life for a long while, philosopher Richard Rorty has recently changed his mind. He now suggests that the religious instinct in human beings is likely to prove ineradicable and that what we ought to be striving for is 'a religion of democracy', or what he calls 'romantic polytheism'. Romantic because it honours the transcendental instincts we cannot shake; and polytheistic because it allows many spiritualities and religious practices to co-exist. However, Rorty still has a caveat. Those who wish to retain the religious label and still be intellectually acceptable will have to:

"...get along without personal immortality, providential interventions, the efficacy of sacraments, the Virgin Birth, the Risen Christ, the Covenant of Abraham, the authority of the Koran, and a lot of other things which many theists are loath to do without."

In yesterday's CASE symposium on the place of specific worldviews in the teaching and research life of a secular campus, Trevor Cairney and I suggested that a more radical pluralism would be far better, where those with such beliefs were still given room to operate within the academic context, but without the assumed naturalistic worldview. It seems to us imperious to suggest that such views could not be part of acceptable academic discourse.

Send CASE an email

Wednesday 9 June 2004

The easiest problem in apologetics

Last week I told the diploma course in apologetics that we were looking at the hardest problem in the world—the question of why a good, powerful God would allow evil. This week, I announced, we would look at the easiest problem—the problem of who Jesus is. I consider it thus because I feel that the logical and philosophical problems surrounding Jesus—whether he lived, whether his claims about himself could be true, whether he could perform miracles, whether he could rise from the dead—do seem to be solvable in a way that the question of suffering just isn't. In fact, some of them seem to be straightforward historical issues: given the data we have, is it most reasonable to believe that Jesus was crucified in Palestine under the prefect Pontius Pilate? Yes, it is. Resurrection is harder, but even then, using the logic of history, one is led in the direction of a resurrecton event. Unless, like Spinoza and Hume, we rule it out beforehand.
The reason most people disagree on Jesus questions is that they haven't considered the evidence. Or they have made up their minds beforehand, without it.
William Lane Craig and Paul Barnett do a great job on the historical reasoning.
But what about The Jesus Seminar, Spong and others? I'll leave them for later.

Send CASE an email

Monday 31 May 2004

Must a Christian be a realist?

'Realism' isn't a very descriptive term. It could mean a whole range of things. But what it usually refers to in philosophy and theology is the view that things (in particular, God) exist independently of human experience, and that we can talk about things (or God) truly. In other words, our language refers to something 'real'. I've been thinking about it while preparing the course on postmodernism that begins here at New College on Thursday night. It seems to me that a Christian must be a realist about God's existence, but can probably hold varying positions about pretty much anything else. We come to realist positions about other matters (e.g. how well language matches with reality; whether the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith) by trusting this real God who does in fact exist. Who agrees?

Send CASE an email

Tuesday 25 May 2004


The Oxford Dictionary website has a 'Word of the Day' email service, which sends you an unusual word every morning. In my nerdy moments (there are quite a few of them), I amuse myself by using the Word of the Day in the next email I send out. Today's word is 'zabernism':

[ZAB-er-niz-um] an obsolete word meaning 'the abuse of military power or authority; unjustified aggression'. From the name Zabern, the German name for Saverne in Alsace, where in 1912 an overeager German subaltern killed a cobbler who smiled at him.

I am surprised not to have come across it in recent media. See how many times you can squeeze it into discussion today, then read some of CASE's material on Just War in the Topics:ethics section and elsewhere on the website.

More info? Send CASE an email

Thursday 20 May 2004

CIS lecture on church and state

On Tuesday night, Catholic moral philosopher Samuel Gregg gave an impressive lecture on religious liberty in a pluralist society as part of the Centre for Independent Studies Acton Lecture series. Gregg made the important point that disagreement without violence is required if we are able to sustain pluralism. I had to dash off before Robert Forsyth, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, gave his remarks in response. Perhaps when Robert emails them to me, we can put something on the CASE site. At any rate, the evening was an excellent precursor to the CASE seminar in September to be given by Rev Dr Andrew Cameron on the very same subject: how do church and state relate when the society sustains conflicting worldviews, ideologies and religions?

More info? Send CASE an email

Thursday 13 May 2004

Journal longevity

Reorganizing the CASE library to make it more usable to students and CASE researchers, a question emerges. How long do you keep a journal or magazine in your school/college library? Forever, it seems to me. The only reason to throw them out is space. But space is a genuine consideration, as is access. Eventually, it could all be online. But then the question arises—is it worth the effort to put all of these back issues online?

The issue is pertinent in the CASE office and the New College library, where phyiscal space is tight and contested. My current solution: for non-collectibles, if it isn't worth putting online, it isn't worth keeping. Will we ever run out of room in cyberspace?

Feel free to email me in response to anything in this blog.

Wednesday 12 May 2004

Eagleton on tragedy

I've started reading literary critic, Terry Eagleton's book, 'Sweet Violence: the idea of the tragic'. I enjoy reading Eagleton a lot, but he can be hard to take seriously at times. In the Introduction, he berates leftist intellectuals who dismiss discussion of tragedy without even reading it, claiming it is too drenched in theology and metaphysics to say anything meaningful to the postmetaphysical, political world. This blinkered, unthinking rejection of a caricature of the subject one is opposed to is unacceptable, Eagleton writes. However, a few pages later, while saying the Left ought to spend more time writing about religion, Eagleton offers this:

"In one sense, this [not writing about religion] is entirely understandable. Religion, and perhaps Christianity in particular, has wreaked untold havoc in human affairs. Bigotry, false consolation, brutal authoritarianism, sexual oppression: these are only a handful of the characteristics for which it stand condemned at the tribunal of history...In many of its aspects, religion today represents one of the most odious forms of political reaction on the planet, a blight on human freedom and a buttress of the rich and powerful."

Excuse me! I detect a caricature. I could write a list of positive effects of religion, and perhaps Christianity in particular, twice as long in an instant: Racial acceptance, true consolation, merciful government, sexual happiness, rights for women, correction of social injustices, care for the sick, charitable responsibility, education for all, justice for poor and rich alike...

Give the Left a chance to see the whole picture, Terry!
He says he will explore the value of theological thinking for political ends. I hope he does as I move past the introdcution, with his blinkers off.

Feel free to email me in response to anything in this blog.

Saturday 8 May 2004

Swinburne on the resurrection

I'm thinking of reviewing philosopher Richard Swinburne's newish book, 'The Resurrection of God incarnate'. In this book, Swinburne uses Bayes's Theorem to calculate a probability that in Jesus Christ God became flesh, died on the cross and rose to life again. He comes out with a figure of .97 (97%). He's received some criticism, but a good deal of support as well. Who should review the book for the Case magazine?

Feel free to email me in response to anything in this blog.

Why this blog?

Dear CASE readers

I plan to use this blog as a sounding board for CASE's planning, thinking and dreaming. I'll pitch ideas here, think out loud about issues I'm dealing with, request book review suggestions, etc. I'll be adding new comments several times daily much of the time, so please check in regularly.

Feel free to email me in response to anything in this blog.