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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.