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My lil Bro trying to achieve his dream!

sendbenguinhome

Dear “big companies with big hearts and even bigger funds.”

I am writing to share a passion, inspire a vision and involve you in a dream. My name is Ben Whittaker and I am 23 years old. Of those 23 years I have spent a huge proportion having an obsession with Penguins.

Nicknamed Benguin and equipped with all manner of Penguin related merchandise I am, unfortunately missing the key to my obsession. You might be thinking “Why are you telling me?” and the answer is simple; My dream will inspire your consumers, remind them of why your product is special and massively increase sales and marketing. It will also help me fulfil my ambition.

I love Penguins more than the gentle sway of a brittle leaf on an oak tree, more than the first sip of a refreshing beverage, even more than the prospect of a Duck singing hey jude…

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a reflection on something I read recently…

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Straight off the bat, It’s been ages since I last sat down to write anything so, I ask you to be a little patient with me as I progress with this post!

What stirred me enough to sit down at my computer and write a blog post I hear you ask?

Of course you are not asking that, chances are you are reading this in passing and don’t avidly follow my on-line musings. Allow for my little flourishes of personality though, I find that sometimes the things I write about are quite heavy going and need to be balanced with a lighter, chattier narrative voice!

Well, I was sat in the hospital the other day (long and entirely unexciting story believe me), and found myself with a stinking headache and several hours to kill and only a handful of books at my disposal (via my I pad). I found myself attracted to a really well known book that I bought earlier in the year but forgot about: God is Not Great by the wonderfully witty and sophisticated late, Christopher Hitchens.

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I only managed to get the introduction out of the way before my reading was interrupted by, ‘hospital stuff’ and shall base this article only on the little I’ve read.

I will assume that Christopher deals with the points of contention I currently hold in a little more depth later on in the book and, when I finish the book shall write a more elaborate and lengthier engaged discourse but, for the time being I wish to air my current point of contention as the points made by Hitchens are shared almost universally across the atheist community.

So, without further ado, I shall present the passage I am going to counter as it is printed:

‘There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking.’

As I have said, I’m sure Hitchens goes into great lengths throughout the book to substantiate all of these objections and I fully intend to engage with them on that wider level in the near future but, for now (call it a taster of a larger essay if you like) I shall be drawing only on the above passage to level my criticism.

Of these four objections, the first is by far the easiest to counter. It will suffice to say for now, without going in to great detail, that I reject that objection on the grounds that it is based entirely on an subjective assumption based on  some objective evidence. it is the same as me saying that, atheism is a flawed view because it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos. It’s a poor argument that I’d be making in the face of contrary evidence and I wouldn’t expect to find it in a leading atheist thinkers’ opening thesis.

I always like to assert the following when debating anyone on the subject of my religious faith verses their atheistic outlook:  My fundamental assumption that cannot be empirically substantiated is this: There is a creator God.  However, let’s not draw upon this assumption as our grounds for debate because, your fundamental assumption: there is no creator God, is equally as empirically unsubstantiated.

I believe Hitchens is making a similar error here when he asserts the first of his four objections.

The second objection can be dismissed quickly when one notes that it is based on the assumption that the first objection is factually correct. However, I don’t think this quite rises to the deeper underlying objection that religious faith can be perceived as combining,’the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism’. 

I would like to commend Hitchens on his use of language here as it really manages to capture not only a personal objection but also a hyperbolic form of expressing ones’self. Using the words, ‘maximum’ alongside a word contextualised in excess really is quite provocative. It is problematic though because it expresses a mistrust of,  ‘Abjectly submissive’ (http://goo.gl/FuS78rbehaviour. This mistrust is personal and doesn’t belong outside of the context in which it was written.

I hope i’m beginning to demonstrate that Hitchens’ second objection is entirely subjective and cannot be used as grounds to argue against religious faith. Just as my subjective experiences of God’s presence cannot be used in a similar discussion to substantiate my claims.

Hitchens’ third objection is interesting.

It can and will be noted here that there is a contextual extent to which Hitchens’ assertion holds some merit. I can only argue from my own perspective and therefore am only going to defend the Christian faith here on this blog. Because of this I can only say in passing that most major faith groups in the world have and are still actively involved in acts of sexual repression. The church is no different.

I have a theological position to take here that requires a blog post of its own to outline. I don’t want to detract from the central theme of my post so I shall not be going into detail about that position here (here’s an article I relate to concerning That debate: http://goo.gl/32IdKf).

This objection is difficult to address as it all depends on definition. Sexual repression is a dangerously ambiguous term as it is entirely dependant on several sets of contextual circumstances.  As it is Hitchens’ own objection I must wait until I write the larger article concerning his book. Because it is a personal thing though I can discredit it generally as it doesn’t pack any real punch to the debate on God’s existence or even his greatness.

And we come to Hitchens’ final and potentially most lethal objection. Religious faith is wish thinking. This is a polite way of saying exactly what Dawkins asserts: “Such delusions of grandeur to think that a God with a hundred billion galaxies on his mind would give a tuppenny damn who you sleep with, or indeed whether you believe in him.” (http://goo.gl/zpnFdh). 
Either way, the assertion is the same, in thinking wishfully rather than objectively, we (people of faith) are completely and entirely deluded. My brother, in a somewhat harsh tone, during a debate resorted to the following language to describe the extent of that delusion, ‘The very fact you describe yourself as a witness too [sic]  god healing people suggest signs of mental illness and I’d advise medical assistance, as hallucinations could be detrimental to your very existence.”. this is a very damaging way of talking to somebody else, it puts the asserter (that Christians etc. are deluded) into the position of superior and the assertee into the position of inferiority thus, making the field of conversation/debate entirely unfair and biased in favour of the side dealing the biggest blow.  Calling out somebody as being deluded without substantiating it is actually fallacious (Argumentum ad hominem).

I suppose it would be wise to draw some conclusions.

I was entirely surprised reading Hitchens’ introduction to his best seller that has been described thus: ‘the ultimate case against religion’.  It doesn’t appear to present anything of the sort. Instead, what I observe, is a series of arguments from a very personal position that make a case against Hitchens’ own view of what religious faith consists of but, it doesn’t attack the faith I personally have nor does it attack the faith I know millions of others follow.

I look forward to reading the book in its entirety and contemplating the bigger challenges it may present.

Things that made me think this week…..

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I was sat in Church on Sunday morning and Tony, the elderly gentleman who was preaching gave a fantastic talk  based on the start of the book of Hebrews.

My post today is not related to that preach. Rather, it is related to an attribute of God that Tony mentioned that struck me quite profoundly. The attribute is, ‘upholder’ or, ‘sustainer’.

In Bill Bryson’s incredibly thought provoking and accessible book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson opens his book with this,

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Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know.
In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To begin with, for you to be here now trillions
of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble 
in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you.
It’s an arrangement so 
specialised and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once.
For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft,
cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally
underappreciated state known as existence. 
Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle.
Being you is not a gratifying experience at 
the atomic level. For all their devoted attention,
your atoms don’t actually care about you indeed, don’t even know that you are there. They don’t even know that they are there.
They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive.
(It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time,
you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.)
Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single overarching impulse: to keep you you.
The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting-fleeting indeed.
Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes past,
or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will shut you down, silently disassemble,
and go off to be other things. And that’s it for you. Still, you may rejoice that it happens at all.
Generally speaking in the universe it doesn’t, so far as we can tell.
This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things
on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere.

Interesting huh? It’s so true as well. Having said this, I think he neglects to make inference to a predominant world view that adds so much light to this (frankly) bleak sounding reality.

atoms love you

I’m sure you can guess what I am talking about but, i’ll gladly spell it out for the sake of absolute clarity. I’m making reference to a sustainer God.

The link, as you’ve probably figured out, is that, there is room in a secular understanding of particle physics, for an unknown force to bind these atoms together.

Obviously, the secular view would wish to not attribute these unknowns to a specific intelligence however, I find the bible contains information that directly relates to this notion.

As far back as David, the bible contains pointers to this being true.

In Psalm 54, David is hiding away and is engaged with some pretty deep soul searching in a desperate place. He writes the following beautiful musing,

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. (verse 4). 

Here, David finds himself certain in the notion that it is God who upholds him. It’s important to note here that when David says, ‘sustains’ he means that thoroughly. David was in a place where he relied entirely on God’s provision. With no certain access to food, shelter and water, he had to trust that God would sustain him. This is why I find the psalm’s example to be so striking!

In Hebrews, the writer begins to reflect on who Christ is and emphasises Christ’s divinity. In and amongst this, the writer tells us that,

‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.’

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colosse, writes of the preeminence of Christ. He writes the following telling line,

And He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

The Bible is littered with references to God being not only, creator but also, sustainer.

A lot of people argue that a secular, scientific worldview contradicts a faith driven world view entirely. This argument is one of the reasons I feel so inspired when I spot little bridges between the gaps. As most of you know, I was very much of the ‘secular’ persuasion for a good portion of my life. And so, when I spot these bridges of understanding between the old world view I used to hold so close and the new world view I value even more, I feel excited. I get excited because, it is my deepest belief that there are evidences for God embedded in the most contradictory of ideas about this universe and how it operates.

I’m not out to convince those of a secular disposition on my perspective i’m just pointing out that, where you might find gaps in which you have to accept an unknown, the bible suggests that the unknown is God.

In a debate where neither side can prove their perspective is correct, we must, as logical and rational people, examine the evidence. I always base my assumptions and conclusions on the argument that presents to me the most compelling of evidences.