Monday, 21 April 2014

Review of The Mikado - by Gilbert and Sullivan


Why is it that The Mikado is the best of all comic operas or musicals?

That it is indeed the best, is the decision of posterity, of audiences - and is in fact true.

The opera is done by amateur societies all over the world, all the time - always pulls in the audiences, and is always enjoyed; is revived professionally and recorded and filmed again and again - and led to the best British movie of recent years Topsy-Turvy (1999) from which the above photograph of the Three Little Maids is taken.


I know the piece very well, having been in it twice and watched it or listened to it innumerable times.

I wouldn't say it is my absolute personal favourite G&S - perhaps that would be Iolanthe, or Trial by Jury or HMS Pinafore (hard to choose!) - but I acknowledge it as the best.

There is so much that is so good. The comic pieces are probably best known - for instance the Three Little Maids or the Mikado's song ('A more human Mikado...") - but the general level of the piece is extraordinarily high.


It starts with a trio of top-notch songs: the striking and witty (and very 'Japanese') Men's chorus"If you want to know who we are" is followed by one of the best known tenor songs "A wandering minstrel I" - which is actually three songs, all very good - two bracketed by the other.

Gilbert's lyrics are at a very high level of wit - with ironies coming so thick and fast that it is hard to absorb them.

But if patriotic sentiment is wanted 
I've patriotic ballads cut and dried
For where-ere our countries banner may be planted
All other local banners are defied
Our warriors in serried ranks assembled
Never quail - or they conceal it if they do
And I shouldn't be surprised if nations trembled
Before the mighty troops - the troops of Titi-Pu!


Then comes the musically marvellous (although narratively flawed) high baritone song "Our great Mikado" from Pish-Tush (which role I had the honour of failing to perform to its best, a while back).

Then comes Pooh Bah (the jumped-up, corrupt and arrogant 'Lord High Everything Else') who  is a relatively 'minor' character in terms of plot, but is one of the great and lasting characters of English literature  - and he has just about the best and funniest dialogue of anybody in G&S. 

All these tend rather to whizz past the audience - but establish the very high level of the piece as a whole and prepare for the first 'showstopper' of the Little List song from the comic baritone Ko-Ko.

As well as Pish-Tushes, there are some wonderful and dramatically-effective songs which in any other setting would 'make the show', but here are overshadowed and almost forgotten  - "So please you Sir, we much regret" and "The criminal cried" are such gems (aside: the latter has one of the most enjoyable chorus tenor harmony lines I have ever sung).

Gilbert and Sullivan's genius was working so fluently here that such marvels are tossed-off left, right and centre.


There is a lot of high spirits, nonsense and satire all throughout - but what really puts the Mikado into a class of its own is the way that this is combined so naturally with really lovely lyrical sections of music.

Three examples: The love duet 'Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted' - between the tenor Nanki-Poo and soprano Yum-Yum is (properly done) both witty and laugh-aloud funny- but it ends with a suddenly slow two-part harmony section and a wistful little play-out that suddenly but without over-emphasis reveals that there is a real affection between these two characters.

Yum-Yum's solo, "The sun whose rays" is as good a soprano aria, musically speaking, as an English composer has ever written - in particular, the way in which the deft little touches of extra orchestration elevate the second verse and chorus to new heights.

And this top-notch musicality is matched, phrase for phrase, with wonderful lyrics - that begin as a satire on Yum-Yum conceit at her own beauty - following on from the dialogue in which she says - "Sometimes I sit and wonder, in my artless Japanese way, why it is that I am so much more attractive than anybody else in the whole world."

The lyric deserves quotation in full as it moves from teenage arrogance to a transcendent magnificence:

The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
  With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty--
   He scorns to tell a story!
He won't exclaim,
   "I blush for shame,
   So kindly be indulgent."
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
   He glories all effulgent!

I mean to rule the earth,
   As he the sky--
We really know our worth,
   The sun and I!


Observe his flame,
That placid dame,
   The moon's Celestial Highness;
There's not a trace
Upon her face
   Of diffidence or shyness:
She borrows light
That, through the night,
   Mankind may all acclaim her!
And, truth to tell,
She lights up well,
   So I, for one, don't blame her!

Ah, pray make no mistake,
   We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
   The moon and I!

The third example occurs in the finale of Act 1 when the genuinely nasty villainess Katisha comes on stage to expose the true identity of Nanki-Poo and claim him as her betrothed. Her interruption is swept aside by a cheerful song, chorus and dance" For he's going to marry Yum-Yum", which unexpectedly winds-down into a freeze of all on stage except Katisha, who sings a short and lovely melody "The hour of gladness" describing her desolate state of loneliness - before the stage un-freezes and she recommences her nasty work.

The hour of gladness
Is dead and gone;
In silent sadness
I live alone!
The hope I cherished
All lifeless lies,
And all has perished,
All has perished,
Save love, which never dies;

Which never, never dies.

This is unsurpassed theatrical genius.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Christ's work - a complex answer to several problems


There are several (orthodox) Christian explanations of Christ's work including the atonement - and an explanation is not the doctrine, or belief - an explanation is not necessary.

Nonetheless, this is a problem which - it seems - won't leave me alone; not least because I find the standard formulations to be either meaningless or actively-misleading.


The difficulty is that Christ's incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and Lordship is a very complicated and 'roundabout' and linear series of 'answers' - indicating that whatever the problem/s they solved were several-fold, and also that there was 'no other way' for them effectively and completely to be addressed.

So there is no short and simple explanation for what Christ did, but only an answer which includes - or at least assumes - multiple needs and constraints.


Christ got us everlasting life, so we would not die - which is necessary for life to be meaningful; but what is everlasting life contrasted with?

The context is one where souls (or spirits) are already (and necessarily) everlasting (and also, I believe, we had a pre-mortal spirit existence).

Thus, 'everlasting life' apparently means specifically an everlasting incarnated life - life with a soul in a body such as we have now.


But then the kind of everlasting life we get is one when we must first die in the sense that our body must die, and the soul will (for a while at least) be severed from the body; and it was obtained for us by Christ Himself dying.

If we were to die without Christ's work, we would have an eternity as a severed soul (this, I infer, is what is described as the demented, witless state of spirits in Sheol, Hades or the Northern pagan Hel); and this is not the same state as our pre-mortal spirit life (and not the same as the spirit life of a never-incarnated angel).

It seems that to have been incarnated and then to die means that the soul or spirit will be maimed/ incomplete eternally (whereas never to have been incarnated seems to be okay).


So incarnation - if it is to have any point to it - must be in one sense potentially better than to have a pre-mortal spirit life; yet the post-death spirit life is worse than the pre-mortal spirit life.

And also, it seems that eternal (endless) life without first dying is not a blessing - but that it is best we should first die.

What is needed is resurrection - but resurrection cannot simply be either not dying, nor can it be a coming back to life (like Lazarus). The reason is that we are so very flawed, so very corrupted by sin that an eternity of living as we are now would be a torment.


So, to be fitted for resurrection into eternal life we must first be purified and perfected; this is the specific function of Christ's atonement.

By Christ's work of atonement we can be perfected and purified so as to be able to live forever with great happiness; but this requires that:

1. first we die and are resurrected, and

2. during this process, in-between death and resurrection, we are purified and perfected.


So, this clarifies, or narrows-down, what the atonement does and where it is located in terms of death and resurrection.

But how it is done remains obscure to us - as if we were very young children to whom an advanced scientific or technical process was being described - something like the functioning of a nuclear reactor, or fractional distillation.


Things happened as they must happen - the complex 'rigmarole' described in the Bible was the only way that the necessary could be achieved.

Time just is linear and sequential - therefore for Christ to enable us to die and be resurrected (apparently) required that Christ himself (Lord and maker of this earth) Himself become incarnated, died and was resurrected over Time and in human history.

And required also that Christ performed that act of atonement whereby He took upon Himself the sins and corruptions which we necessarily accumulate through mortal life with free agency and the reality of purposive evil.


And even this rather complicated answer to explain what Christ did remains seriously incomplete, because it leaves out Christ's teaching ministry, the role of the church, the role of scripture - and many other vital matters.


Henry the Bear / Henry Thoreau - children's books by DB Johnson


Among my children’s perennial favourite picture books from earlier years are the series about Henry the Bear by DB Johnson.

Henry the Bear is actually the early 19th century writer Henry David Thoreau - and while the first four books of the series are all good, probably the first of these - Henry Hikes to Fitchburg - is the best because the 'plot' is so original and satisfying.


The plot idea was inspired by a famous passage from Walden - which defines Thoreau’s idea of economics: 

One says to me,“I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.”

But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.

I say to my friend, “Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents... Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night;...You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrived there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.

Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.”

What happens in the children's book is that Henry and his friend make a wager about who will get to Fitchburg first: will it be Henry who spends all his day walking (approximately thirty miles), or the friend who takes various odd jobs to raise the money for the train fare?

We see, in parallel pictures, the friend working (mostly chores for other famous Concord luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott) and then running to catch the train to Fitchburg; compared with the way-stages on Henry's journey - crossing streams, taking honey and being attacked by bees, botanising etc.

The moral is that Henry enjoys and is fulfilled-by the activities of his day - every step of the way - and is enriched by the experiences; while Henry's friend's day is simply a 'means to the end' of purchasing the ticket. Even the eventual rail journey is itself cramped and contorted.


It is a nice, realistic, touch that 'the friend' actually gets there first, and wins the bet (the picture above is the final two-page splash of them meeting) - but only because Henry stopped to gather blackberries into a pail; which the two of them can now sit and eat in the moonlight.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Creativity and hobbies


Hobbies are the proper forum for creativity - as a general rule: hobbies being chosen pastimes done for personal satisfaction and not economic benefit.

We ought not to look to our jobs as a place to exercise creativity.

Furthermore, we ought not to look for status via our hobbies: status is a zero sum game - there can be only one winner.

And from this perspective, by these considerations, most hobbies are done wrongly and many jobs decisions are incorrect.


So, we should try to do our creative hobbies well, but try not to get too tangled-up in things like entering poetry competitions or best-vegetable competitions or winning the local sports leagues; or selling our paintings or cookies or hand-knitted clothes.

And we should avoid (as a rule) doing supposedly-creative jobs, like dancing or acting or being a musician or writing 'novels' - where the actuality, for 95% plus of participants, that (overall) you pay-out to do the job; and the job mostly is mundane and unfree, and the participants become whiny/ arrogant from a culture continually demanding praise, prestige and state-subsidy.


With this in mind, hobbies are most delightsome things, and their decline is a sad indictment of modernity.

As a child, I was always astonished at the hobbies of the working class men in the North - in which they had created an autonomous world of gardening for vegetables or flowers, fishing, keeping pigeons or whippets, making things from wood and so on - and the women did knitting, specialized in particular types of cooking - and so on.

(But generally, the women did not so clearly distinguish hobbies from their home work, and this was either a deficiency or simply due to different nature: for women, using leisure time in visiting and meeting together to chat over a cup of tea was perhaps a greater satisfaction than any solo or team hobby could be.)


There was, indeed, an element of competition (e.g. who could grow the largest leeks, or racing whippets or pigeons) and some economic function (catching fish and growing tomatoes, gooseberries or  new potatoes for the table) - and this was a fatal weakness when taken too seriously.

But as a rule, the money-making or possibility of social recognition functioned as a more-or-less plausible excuse, publicly to legitimize men spending so much time just 'pottering around' and doing something quietly creative and expressive, and doing it for their own satisfaction - often in meditative solitude.    


Friday, 18 April 2014

Visit to a (Wagnerian) Rivendell - Cragside in Northumberland


We had a wonderful walk today, through one of my favourite spots on earth - the Cragside estate in Rothbury, Northumberland.

Parts of it remind me of Rivendell - but as imagined by a Wagnerian (which was a fair description of its creator - the Victorian industrial colossus Lord Armstrong),_1st_Baron_Armstrong

It made me realize again that the most perfect beauty comes from a combination of Man and Nature in harmony - for example the woodland paths curling around the hill (to give continuously-changing but always lovely views), channeled though cliffs and paved with rough sandstone slabs that have become sweetened with lichen; or the 'artificial' lakes which have by now settled deeply into the surrounding cliffs and trees that reflect in the placid surface.


Easter - the sorrow, and the joy


From Elder Neil L Andersen 

Sin has always been part of the world, but it has never been so accessible, insatiable, and acceptable.

There is, of course, a powerful force that will subdue the whirlwinds of sin.

It is called repentance.


President Thomas S. Monson has said, “Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”...

This past month the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve published a letter to leaders of the Church across the world. In part it read: “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife....” 

While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. In the very beginning, God initiated marriage between a man and a woman—Adam and Eve. He designated the purposes of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults to, more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured.

Families are the treasure of heaven.


Also two new inspiring Easter-theme videos from 

I am extremely grateful for the media produced by the LDS; they are a great source of spiritual nourishment and strength.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Spin bowling speculations: the flipper-doosra


What is intelligence? (in a popular sense of the word)


Love is about families - about *generation*


If, as Christians (must) believe, Love is the most important thing there is - then of course Love cannot actually be defined (because that would be to define the more fundamental in terms of the less fundamental) but what can be said about it?

One distinction is to ask what kind of a thing Love is.

To which several answers have been given.


Modern culture regards love as a psychological state - but clearly that won't do; because psychological states are evanescent, and constantly changing - and have such individual applicability that they cannot convincingly be extrapolated to be the most important thing in the universe.

To regard Love as a psychological state inevitably trivializes Love; and is therefore intrinsically anti-Christian.

(...Which is why Love as a Psychological State has become so popular in secular modern culture - and why this belief has now been made mandatory, and why this belief is now imposed by coercive force. Modernity is Leftist, and Leftism is built-upon anti-Christianity.)


Classical medieval theology regards Love as something physics-like - something which (for example) keeps the stars and planets in their orbits.

This is much better, but such a way of speaking (such a metaphor) strongly tends to make Love into some kind of impersonal force - something much like gravity or magnetism.

And thereby this renders God into an impersonal force. By regarding the universe as created and sustained, as held-together by Love, Love (if it was really real) becomes something we would expect to detect and measures with sufficiently sensitive instruments. And when this doesn't happen, we may lose faith in love.

Although this kind of abstract conception of Love would be appropriate for impersonal religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, an abstract metaphor is the opposite of what is needed for Christians where God is our Father and Jesus is our Saviour.


My suggestion is that we regard Love as being about families - as a thing which happens primarily in families; ; and families as being organized-around the process of generation.

This means that the paradigm Christian Love is the love of husband and wife (where the marriage relationship is a sanctified sexuality); and the love of parents for their children; and the love between siblings; and the love between the whole network of such relations - the extended family, the clan, a 'people'.

All these are properly considered as different inflections of the same basic kind of thing.


The love is about 'generation' in the double sense that it is about (organized-around) the procreation of new generations and that it is about (organized-around) what binds different generations. 

In divine terms, the emphasis is that all people have at least a parent-child relationship with God, and therefore sibling relationships with one another.

(And as well as this minimum Love, some people are united by different forms of more-than-this love - husbands and wives, brothers in families and so on.)

But this universal minimal Love of God for Father and all Men as siblings leads to the 'adoptive' aspect of Christian love (sometimes emphasized by St Paul)

...Which I would interpret as implying, on the one hand, that the fullness of Love is necessarily a voluntary choice. We just are God's children and united by brotherly love, like it or not; but this real relationship may be acknowledged and embraced; or (perhaps dishonestly or ignorantly) denied and rejected: that is a choice.

And on the other hand, that the revelation of the sibling relatedness of all men means that there is a mystical 'transferability' between earthly families. In other words, earthly 'genetic' relatedness - such as the genetic links of a family, clan or a people - is ultimately superseded by a larger Heavenly concept of Christian sib-ship - universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood.

Which simply means that family is NOT reducible to genetics; and generation is NOT reducible to reproduction - they are of course about this things, but there is (vitally) much more to the concept of family and generation than merely 'science'.


What would this idea of Love as being about families and relational mean in terms of the physics of the universe?

The answer would depend on the basic metaphysical understanding.

One answer could be that Love 'works' to bind and run the universe in the sense that everything (everything) is alive (more-or-less alive); and that there is an affiliation between the living.

So what we call gravity would be, in transcendental terms, something like an extremely weak and impersonal form of love.


Another answer could be that at least some of the 'physics' of the universe (basic matter, and what we recognize as the 'laws' of physics - what things are and how things interact) may be a 'given' - that is not a part of God's creation but something God works-within.

For example, it seems to me that Time just is linear and sequential - it can go faster or slower (e.g. along the lines described by Einstein, but not necessarily constrained by Einstein's discoveries); but there is nowhere outside of Time, and Time cannot be reversed - nor is Time travel possible (and any physics theory which states that such things can happen is ultimately wrong; no matter if such theories have some pragmatic value).

Thus Time is a constraint for God as for us, it is a 'given', something we live 'within' and within-which Love and Families and Generation happens.

And therefore Time (and by extension 'matter' and 'the laws of physics' are not a part of the economy of Love; but are the backdrop to the drama of Family Love which is the meaning and purpose of the Universe.


But however we fit families into all of reality (or all or reality into families) - families provide the vocabulary, the metaphor, the best and truest way of talking about Christian Love.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review of a 1968 BBC documentary on Tolkien in Oxford


The cognitive genome - the genome may be able to learn and direct evolution


Just passing on the fruits of a recent conversation with a knowledgeable scientist whom I respect and trust - about a major piece of work he is doing.

There is a very interesting and plausible new perspective emerging (with evidence from multiple places, and nobody yet having combined it) that the genome may be regarded as having 'cognitive' properties, due to the systematic inter-communication of genes - and that this is consistent with the ability to direct genetic change (mutations and other changes) in an adaptive direction.

This would be a major revision to 'the central dogma' of molecular biology (that information only flows from nucleic acids to proteins), and the standard description of natural selection as being based upon undirected (so-called 'random') mutations - the new idea is that (presumably as a consequence of natural selection) the genome functions  somewhat like a 'brain' that models the environment, and responds by changing itself in a directed (and 'purposive') fashion that would be expected to enhance reproductive success.

This would mean that natural selection would not have to wait for undirected ('random') mutations to generate adaptive changes to the organism; but instead (or as well) the mutation process would itself be manipulated to make adaptive changes much more probable. The genome would itself be able to accelerate and direct evolutionary change. 

Having heard the evidence, and knowing about systems theory as an explanatory model, I find this plausible as a possible biological mechanism. It may emerge as a better - more comprehensive - over-arching theory (paradigm) than the one we have now - or a significant supplement to it.

The question is - even if true - how important it is - and whether it has played a central role in evolution; or just applies to unusual and specific situations.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Young people Don't Know What To Do with their lives - the modern motivation deficit


If you ask modern young people what they want to do with their lives, they will either not be able to answer, or give an answer that reveals they have no real answer.

Non-answers include travel, 'cool jobs', working abroad, taking a 'year out/ gap year', or further training and education (without any particular desire to embark on a vocation or profession).

Which is to say, nothing much at all.


But mostly the desire is to pass the time in as pleasant a way as possible - hanging-out with friends, going-out for meals, 'partying' (intoxicating music, drink and drugs), sexual adventures and psychodrama, adopting a series of fashionable lifestyles and causes, 'cool' holidays and hobbies... that kind of stuff.

Which is to say, nothing much at all.


More important, most important, is the negative side: modern young people do NOT want to get married and do NOT want to have children.

They don't want to rule-that-out: not at all. They would like to have the option of doing that kind of thing, sometime or another - but they don't want to do it yet...

They would much rather delay doing it; because... well, because they have all this other stuff (see above) - which they do not particularly want to do (nothing they would sacrifice anything for!) but which, well, everybody else seems to be doing, and talking about, and communicating on social networks, and so on.


Of course everybody goes to college - but they don't go for the education, merely to pass the exams; and they don't want to pass the exams to do anything in particular - but merely to take the next step towards [see above]. 

As a rule, modern young people are not truly preparing themselves for a job/ role/ profession - although they say that this is the most important things to them (much more important than raising a family of course!).

(In fact there have never been many people - a few percent of men [I am among them] and less than one percent of women - who are genuinely motivated by their 'work'. A job just insn't the kind of thing that motivates many people.)

And although college life is highly sexualized, modern young people are not even trying to find a wife or husband - that would be altogether too uncool, gross, tacky, sad, lame, desperate.

And if they do college sports, then it is not for any goal but to keep fit (i.e. slim, tanned and toned to assist with sexual adventuring), or to pass time, find some friends, have something to talk/ boast about, whatever...

And if they search for the meaning of life, they do not look towards religion but towards self-help psychotherapy and spirituality - which helps pass time pleasantly and seamlessly supports the above lifestyle.


We live in a society where there is a very serious, perhaps terminal, motivation deficit - except the motivation to avoid doing the only things which actually can serve as real, powerful motivators: marriage, family, religion.

So in fact there is a social situation of less-than-zero motivation; because the most powerful motivation is to avoid those few things which are capable of motivating.


The animated universe - everything is (more, or less) alive


A few weeks ago I came up with a metaphysical argument which stated that either everything is alive, or nothing is alive - and if nothing is alive, then no argument of any kind has validity - therefore everything is alive.

In other words, this argument suggests that we live in an animated universe - so that, for example, we move through a living world (even when our environment is made of glass, plastic and concrete) and when we look up at the night sky this is a window on life (not a distant view of dead things).

In other words again - reality is 'biology', and not only physics.


The usual assumption is that some things are alive (plants and animals) while others are not - but it has proved so difficult to hold this line that public discourse has drifted further and further towards being based on the nihilistic assumption that nothing is alive.

In biology, the focus used to be on life, and the interest was in the difference between living and non-living things. A boundary was never found, and indeed modern biology was honed at precisely the boundary since bacteriophages (a kind of virus infecting bacteria) were the primary 'experimental animal' in the genetic research of the mid-twentieth century. This change in perspective seems to have been influenced by the importation of physicists into biology - specifically as small book called What is Life? by Erwin Schroedinger.

Viruses are 'not alive' in the sense that they do not have a metabolism; and the focus in biology shifted from 'life' to 'replication' - instead of being defined by what was alive, biology was defined by what replicated: by whatever was subject to natural selection. The focus on the origins of life shifted from the first 'alive' entities to an interest in the earliest replicating entities. Indeed, modern biology ignores the question of what is alive.


Here we get to the point of 'what is a metaphysical argument?'.

In one sense a metaphysical argument is not affected by science; because metaphysics is the basic understanding of reality - how reality is set-up and structured - and science takes place inside metaphysics, and according to the assumptions of metaphysics.

So in discussing 'what is life?' in a metaphysical way we do not begin by defining life in a precise and scientific fashion - because that would pre-decide the metaphysics - because any actual science arose within some already-existing metaphysics.

Thus when Schroedinger asked What is Life? and began to answer the question in terms of replication, he had already defined life in terms of replication ad thereby included anything which replicated - even crystals, minerals and any propagating structure.


So metaphysics begins with 'common sense' - with the belief that some things are alive, and especially that people are alive.

But what is common sense on this matter? Children (all over the world, even in modern cultures, and throughout known history) seem to regard everything which is a defined form, anything which can be regarded as separable from the rest of the world, as potentially more-or-less alive.

Some things are certainly more alive than others, but a piece of clay which you have shaped into an animal may become alive, and even a clay pit may have a kind of life. Life either comes and goes in the same object - or else becomes greater and lesser without ever quite disappearing (rather like a seed or spore may lie dormant and apparently 'dead' for many years or centuries before being wetted and coming-alive).

It is hard to say what is not alive - to a child, pretty much anything is potentially alive or has a little but of life in it.

Much the same seems to be true of hunter gatherers - where it is called 'animism'. Hunter gatherers (and it is assumed all human ancestors lived as hunter gatherers within about the past 15K years) seem to regard everything as either more, or less, alive - and the more-alive things are assumed to be aware, and sometimes even consciously aware - 'sentient'.

Common sense apparently, therefore, is probably that aliveness is a continuous variable but never wholly-absent - rather than a dichotomous state.


But is the universe really alive?

Surely modern science has proven - by its success - that most things are not alive - for example that the mineral world (including outer space) is not alive...

And what difference does it make anyway?


The answers depend on whether you take seriously metaphysical arguments, and whether - in principle - you could be convinced by a metaphysical argument to change your view on anything. I find the above metaphysical argument to be compelling - that if we believe in life at all, then we must believe everything is alive to a greater or lesser degree (or, at least, we must believe that everything is potentially alive).

And if we believe in metaphysical arguments, we must recognize that they are not legitimately affected by science - or more precisely that the in-practice decision to derive metaphysics from scientific assumptions is itself a covert metaphysical argument.

Schrodinger's hypothesis that the gene could be regarded as a physics-type (not alive) entity does not have any necessary metaphysical consequences - but in practice it seems to have introduced a habit of thought which led to everything, even human beings, being regarded as not alive - of humans (and all the rest of biology) being regarded as 'replicating entities' - and of the denial of many common sense ideas about the reality of the soul, life after death, consciousness and so on.

Biologists began by making a working hypothesis to frame their genetic research, and ended up becoming the frontline troops for atheism, nihilism, scientism and all the rest of it. Or else, considering that almost all biologists were already atheists, maybe the conversion of biology to physics was mostly an excuse, a rationalization, for atheism?

And anyway, it seems that the line between alive and not-alive, between old-style biology and everything else, was one which did not exist; therefore it was a line that could never have been held - even if biology has not been taken-over by the explanatory models of physics and chemistry.


But does it make any difference?

Well, ask yourself. Would it make any difference if you believed that everything you saw, heard tasted, smelled and touched was alive - or if, on the other hand, everything is really not alive - including yourself which thinks this thought; which is actually the modern mainstream view - epitomized by the idea that the mind IS information-processing, and could and probably soon will be downloadable.

Does it make any difference to regard the mind as in reality (bottom line) information processing, and human families as in reality (bottom line) replication of genetic information?

Well, yes of course.

How modern people behave, for example the fact that they prefer virtual lives to people, and that they replicate digital information rather than having babies, makes as much sense as anything does in a universe which is not alive - but this is psychotic behaviour if ours really is a living universe.


If the universe really is alive, but we are denying it, then we are insane.

But if the universe really is not-alive, and our childhood and historical belief that it was alive was merely ignorance, then nothing matters anyway - since nothing could, in principle, matter: mattering is something that would only have meaning in a living universe.


Monday, 14 April 2014

CS Lewis's The Four Loves - this re-reading it seemed wrong and confused


I took CS Lewis's The Four Loves on holiday to re-read for (I think) the third time - but this time I got stuck on it, it seemed wrong - and the 'climactic' chapter on Agape/ charity or the pure 'gift love' of God seemed particularly deficient, unconvincing, confused.

Lewis describes the three lower loves of Storge (familial or familiar love), Eros (romantic and erotic love) and Philia (friendship) - and there is, as always with Lewis, much worthwhile among his comments and observations.

But I find that his need qualitatively to distinguish charity from the other loves has distorted the whole argument. For Lewis it is vital that God does not need to love us, that God's love is a pure (unmerited) gift - a one-way love, in effect; and this is necessary because Lewis's view of God is a being that does not have needs.

My own view is that God does not (of course not) 'need' human love for His original or continued existence; but I would say that God does 'need' our love in the sense of wanting it and benefiting from it, and being saddened by its lack. And indeed this is precisely why God created Man - because of this kind of 'need' (desire, yearning) for Man's love - freely given.

And in this sense, God's Love (agape/ charity) is very-close-kin to 'Storge' - or more exactly paternal/ parental love - indeed the Bible tells us this again and again right through to include the Gospels - and there is not much scriptural warrant for distinction of quality between God's love for us, and a Father's love for his children.

My feeling is that Lewis's sharp and qualitative and essential distinction between Agape and Storge is something imported into Christianity post hoc, along with the Classical Metaphysical view of God as an omni-entity (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent) - since this kind of abstract and absolute entity is incapable of passions and needs.

So I would regard Love as in essence a single thing, not four things - with second order differences due to the entities between-whom there is love.

This is part of my 'Metaphysics of Christian Love' which I will describe soon - which tries to use Love as the ultimate, bottom line, metaphysical reality - thereby getting away from the physics-like descriptions which are usually posited by Classical Theology (such as Lewis's unclear and un-graspable description of Agape).


The crucial importance of the heart - soft, open, warm, child-like


My internet 'fast' did not seem to produce any striking benefits in my spiritual status - but one thing that came to the fore was to re-experience the conviction that the greatest enemy to salvation is a hard, closed, cold and cynical heart.

This seems to be the most difficult thing to overcome; because it has such a high opinion of itself.

And it is a factor in many religious people, and it is (I feel) characteristic of many Christian denominations - perhaps especially in the public arena, in debate and dispute.


The hard heart shows itself in many ways:

The Right Man - the man who is - and always has been - right about everything (he sees himself as nobody's fool - others may be deceived, but not him!).


The Oppressed Woman - no matter how objectively privileged, she is being treated unequally when it comes to the good things in life: her situation is making her feel bad; and her sense of hurt is an absolute, metaphysical injustice which requires immediate remedy.

Other versions of this hardness of heart feel resentment in terms of their class, race, region, sexuality... in the end everything is evaluated and judged from the perspective of, and in terms of, this victim-status.

The Oppressed Woman is thus a variant of the Right Man - because, ultimately and as the bottom line, nothing is their fault.


The Cynical Adolescent - the hard-nosed sentimentalist, beady-eyed and harsh toned in criticism of others and a prickly crybaby in terms of sensitivity to the criticisms of others; sees himself as the subject only to science and logic but also 'passionate' about things which are exempted from this requirement. Sensation-seeking but lazy. Extravert but selfish. Fickle but moralistic. And so on...


The ultra-correct Christian - a man with a formula. The formula may be a model of church authority, a highly specific idea of tradition, a set of rituals, a way of reading scripture, some creeds or rules especially prohibitions and practices... Christianity is seen 'legalistically' - in Pharisaic terms. Christianity by committee. No need for Love - indeed no place for it.


In other words, I would much rather that people had soft, open, warm, child-like hearts and were wrong; than that they believed, said and did everything right - but had hard, closed, cold and cynical hearts.

I would much rather a child-like, simple, loving Christianity that is full or errors and inconsistencies; than the opposite.

And these opposites, precisely, may be the only actually-available options.


Love is primary - and can save from any situation at any time; but the rejection of Love is terminal - and often self-reinforcing.


I absolutely demand of religion that it be sweet - and no amount of correctness, toughness, power or courage can compensate for its lack; because a religion without sweetness cannot be truly Christian and can become utterly demonic, while sweetness will always have a door open to salvation.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Book of Job - obviously a fiction (not a history)


I have noticed that Christian apostates and anti-Christians in general, often focus their attacks on The Book of Job - above and beyond any other part of the Bible.

For example, when the mythologist Joseph Campbell was giving his most mockingly anti-Christian lectures, he would often provide a summary of Job which emphasized God's nastiness and highlighted an irrational and authoritarian message. CG Jung wrote a whole book about Job (which I fund incomprehensible). And Robert Frost wrote a glibly facetious 'Masque of Reason' which was a continuation of The Book of Job.

Yet - from the perspective of someone who is analyzing Christianity - it is surely tendentious to focus on Job of all the books in the Bible: because it is either the least-Christian or else the least-understandable section of the whole Bible.


For a start - Job is very obviously a fiction, a story, a fable, a myth - and it is not a history, an Annal, nor a piece of theology - the whole way it is written makes that very clear.

Furthermore Job is - in the Authorized Version  - astonishingly beautiful as prose; although I personally find it vastly overlong as a narrative. But the sheer sensuous beauty tends to suggest that it was substantially an aesthetic work (like the Song of Solomon).

Thirdly, it is perhaps the least transparent, hardest to understand, most contradictory Book of the whole Bible. Job strikes me as a puzzle to which the key has been lost - it is as if we nowadays lack some link or fact which makes sense of the whole thing.


At any rate, for anti-Christians to 'pick on' The Book of Job is a bit of a giveaway - it is the dishonest rhetorical trick of picking on the least relevant, most ambiguous, and least central thread of an opponent's case, as a way of trying to discredit, rather than refute, their whole argument.


Note: That a person 'Job' really existed is irrelevant to the point I am making - just as the reality (or otherwise) of a Celtic 'warlord' King Arthur is irrelevant to the status of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as a fiction. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Marriage question is Truth Serum for Christians


I have come across a better phrase than 'litmus test' or 'hot button' to describe key issues which divide the sheep from the goats, the real Christians from the faux Christians (aka 'Liberal Christians') - the phrase Truth Serum.

We have reached a situation when the question of marriage acts as a truth serum.

Since Liberal Christian is nowadays an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms - and since Christian Liberals are merely subversives and Fifth Columnists for the political Left; when a faux Christian is questioned in public about their attitude to marriage, their answer will reveal their status as either a Leftist or a Christian.

A Liberal Christian will never take the risk of being thought to favour marriage, but will always signal their primary allegiance to the Left, in terms which the Left can recognize as coming from 'one of their own'.

(Comments are closed for this post.)


The Natural Selection of Creative Genius in Europe


The Gaffer holds forth - the opening of the Lord of the Rings


Untruths told to children: Pigs are *actually* very clean animals


A dirty pig. Does she look miserable?

Actually pigs delight in digging and wallowing in mud and muck, and will bury themselves up to the snout - and they are very smelly creatures. I once mucked-out a pig sty, and was at first almost physically overcome by the stench.

But we hardly see any pigs in most parts of England - presumably they are kept out of sight, or else inhabit East Anglia. So the untruth is unnoticed.

Why the error? It is a small example of the way that kids are (mostly falsely) trained to assume that everything traditional and common sense is wrong and nasty - to say that pigs really are dirty is treated like a kind of racism

In passing, piglets, although cute to look at, from a distance, are the least cuddly animals I have ever held - it was like hugging a lump of wood; and they squeal blue murder as soon as picked-up.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Living in the Past (or Fantasyland, or any other imaginative locus) - why is it so appealing?


Why is living in the past so popular a pastime?

I have done this for extended periods - different periods. In my teens it was something like Bath, Somerset (and the surrounding countryside) in 18th century Georgian Times; at another point it has been Concord, New England during the pre-Civil War mid-1800s; at another point it was the Scottish-English borders of late-medieval and Elizabethan times (the time of the Reivers and Border Ballads).

I read and thought so much about this times and places that my sense of them was not just visionary but tactile - as if I could feel it on my skin.

In one sense this is always 'idealised' and may bear little to no relationship to the actual historical life of the majority of the people - but in another sense this does not matter to the process; because this is not a matter of indulging in pleasures or avoiding pains - not a matter of wish-fulfilment in terms of an imagined paradise.


Rather, the appeal is much like living in a Fantasy-world such as that of Middle Earth or Harry Potter - or in some kind of situation abroad when not much is known about that country - the appeal is that the world imagined is wholly-meaningful.

Indeed A world imagined is a meaningful world, exactly because it is an imagined world - intended or not there is both specific-in-detail and general-inter-related meaning which comes from the fact of being imagined.

An imagined world cannot-not be meaningful.


And that is a clue.

Real Life is meaningful when imagined; not meaningful when not.

And for the world to make-sense in detail and overall - it needs to be an imagined world: produced-by and comprehended-by the mind of God.


Before I was a Christian, this imaginative identification felt like an actual need - because 'the imagined past' was the only truly meaningful world in my experience; since I became a Christian, such imaginations (such as Byzantium, late Anglo Saxon England, and the past 150 years of the Intermountain Western USA) are bracketed by the larger and more comprehensive imagination of God's universe.