Friday, 27 February 2009

Frustrated in Babylon

Went to see the Babylon exhibition at the British Museum yesterday. Was hoping to get to the lecture From Jerusalem to Babylon : new thoughts on the Babylonian exile, but despite trying to book 2 weeks before it was sold out, and I couldn't get in.

Good exhibition - the cuneiform tablets are exquisite, and it's quite something to see the 'Cyrus Cylinder' : the imperial edict that ended the Jud├Žans exile in 539BCE. But I'm often frustrated at exhibitions like this because they don't give a real sense of the sociology of the place : what was Babylon's population? How many Jews were living there, and under what conditions? How many exiles from other states were also there? How did Babylonian religion really work? Apparently the British Museum has 130,000 cuneiform tablets : they must know a bit more than what we know from the Old Testament. That's why it was frustrating not getting into the lecture.

I'm trying to get hold of a transcript, or a pointer to further reading. If you're interested, watch this space.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Lost in the Moral Maze

Last week was the 500th edition of Radio 4's 'The Moral Maze' - a programme which, like 'Thought For The Day', rarely fails to disappoint.

They chose to celebrate by asking the question 'what is the root of morality? Is it ultimately religious?' (well, that's my synopsis of the question they addressed, which was rather more long-winded).

I've posted a synopsis of the whole discussion followed by a critique of it on the Temple Cowley URC website (see 'links', right) together with a sermon based on it.

The discussion was fundamentally confused and inconclusive, partly because (as is usually the case on The Moral Maze) the people don't listen to each other and impose their own prejudices, but mainly because :

: most of the speakers were unable to recognise that the word 'God' refers, almost by definition in the Abrahamic faith traditions, to something that cannot be conceived and held in the human mind. The media bods behind the BBC seem to have this firm conviction that 'God' is some 'entity' that we can imagine in our minds, and of course the atheist participants concur wholeheartedly. For them, God is a human invention or superstition. In fact anything that can be created by the human mind cannot by definition be 'God' and we are condemning ourselves to forever talking at cross purposes.

: most of the speakers didn't seem to be able to distinguish between God and religion. Religion is a human response to the divine. The assumption that this is confined to 'conventional religious institutions' or even conventional religious language introduced a demarcation that made a proper dialogue impossible. Religion includes any behaviour that is a response to 'gods' (or 'idols') too. Thus, behaviour based on giving ultimate value to (say) the 'free market', or 'sex', constitutes religious behaviour - in these cases, idolatrous religious behaviour that inevitably demands sacrificial victims.

Sunday night saw Colin Blakemore, here in Oxford, present the seventh in the TV series Christianity : a History which again, true to form, perpetuated these misunderstandings. That was, until he interviewed the Revd David Paterson - an Anglican priest who's proved popular as a guest preacher at Temple Cowley URC. This is as I remember the conversation (which I recorded, so I could check)

Blakemore : So do you think the universe was created by God?
Paterson : No.
Blakemore : Do you believe in the virgin birth?
Paterson : No.
Blakemore : Do you believe Jesus even existed?
Paterson : Yes, I think he probably did.
Blakemore : So what, for you, is God?
Paterson : God is who I fell in love with and wanted to give my life to.
Blakemore : (lost for words).

Great TV moment! (Even if I might not go all the way with David P).

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bus Advert competition

See for a bus poster caption contest. My favourites :

THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD. But what would I know? I'm only a bus.

There's probably no driver. Now stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

Mister boojah boojah says: relax - no one is in charge.

You are a figment of God's imagination :How cool is that? Probably.

There's probably no dog. So stop complaining, and enjoy your taco.


Probably? No. There's God. Now stop worrying and enjoy new life.

There is probably no such a thing as a bus.

"The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no bus' . . ."

There is no God. Disagree? Step in front of this bus and prove me wrong.

Why did Jesus cross the road? To get you to the other side.

There's probably no life . . unless you stop worrying . . and enjoy your God.

There's probably no God, but there's definitely an economy. So stop worrying and buy something.