Archive for April, 2005

The language of the metanarrative

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

The more I think about this, the more I’m convinced that it’s all about language. One of the assertions of some of the post-modernist thinkers was that, because they way we interpret and describe the world is governed by our language (which shapes and is shaped by the society and culture we live in, and even shapes the processes by which we think and reason), it is pointless and perhaps even unhelpful to assert that there is any kind of underlying reality to the world, as even if that reality does exist (and extreme postmodernism would assert that it doesn’t) we cannot describe it in a neutral, unbiassed way. In addition, when we read things other people have written, we interpret the words in a linguistically and culturally conditioned way, and thus any claim that we are able to critically and neutrally examine the original text is false. Now, this is a somewhat absolutist and nihilistic approach to take, but it is useful in that it gives us another tool to develop theological ideas with.

Ideas can only be expressed as well as language allows. Some languages express certain ideas better than others: the classic example is that of the word “Free”. In English, we just use the one word to encompass a whole bunch of ideas; in French, however, there are two concepts of free – ‘gratuit’, meaning without financial costs, and ‘libre’, meaning ‘set free’ or ‘liberated’. The English sentence “I am free” has an ambiguity – but when rendered as “Je suis libre”, the meaning becomes clear. The other usual example used in Church is that of the word “Love”; Greek recognised several words – Agape, Phileos and Eros – all of which get translated as “love” in English, but which have very different meanings and implications, and which require several sentences of very subtle language to describe in English.

The problem is worse than that, though: these ideas about the world generally find resonance in other cultures than the ones in which they originate, and the meaning can therefore often be transferred, albeit somewhat clumsily. There are, however, instances of words that have no direct cultural equivalent outside of the community in which they originate, and therefore whilst it may be possible to provide a general ‘literal’ translation, the subtlety and contextual meaning of these words is lost when used outside of this context. Translations from Eastern languages to Western often have this problem.

The upshot of all this is that, inevitably, the authors of the Bible were not just writing within a culture – the way they thought about the ideas they were communicating, and the way they described these things were inextricably shaped by the language they used. Similarly, when we read the Bible, our interpretation of it is shaped by our own language and cultural setting. We simply cannot examine the books of the Bible from a culturally or linguistically neutral standpoint.

To give a better idea of what I’m driving at here, consider the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God: Jesus asks someone who they think he is, and they reply that they believe he is the Son of God. This encounter – and therefore this person’s experiential interpretation of their encounter with Jesus – is then recorded as a dry fact – but the meaning of the phrase ‘Son of God’ has changed through history, particularly with respect to how he came to be the Son of God: in Judaism, the king of Israel was referred to as God’s Son, and this anointing was conferred upon the king when he came to the throne – thus some people confessed that Jesus became the Son of God by his resurrection (Rom 1:4), others (Mark) that God adopted him at the point of baptism, and others (Matthew and Luke) through the miracle of his birth. The position today would be the Trinitarian view espoused by John that Jesus was God’s Son according to some pre-existing arrangement. It’s all very well and good saying that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ – but the trouble is that the phrase ‘Son of God’ is a culturally and linguistically conditioned one that when different people say it they mean different things (even within the context of the Biblical canon!).

I’m aware that I’m skirting close to an attempt to deconstruct the Bible, and that isn’t my goal here (although I may well end up doing that as part of this process; we shall see). I’m trying to re-analyse the Bible in order to resolve the tension in my own head between the nihilistic relativism of postmodernism and the absolutist Christian claims about the nature of reality. I’m almost certainly retreading ground that people far older and wiser than I have previously covered, but I’m determined to work this one out – I’m not sure where it’s going to lead eventually, but it’s going to be an interesting journey, at least.

It’s the apocalypse

Friday, April 8th, 2005

It’s snowing. In April. There’ll be showers of frogs and rivers of blood before you know it, I tell you.


Thursday, April 7th, 2005

A couple of weeks back I went for a day out with the lovely people over at Just Shoot, a Manchester-based alternative photography group (formerly known as LomoManchester, but had to change for technical reasons). The pictures from that day out are now up over in the gallery. (I’ve all but given up on my LomoHome, because it’s slow, clunky, and won’t let me rotate my pictures or upload more than five at a time).

Penny Arcade

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Someone on work IRC today commented that today’s Penny Arcade comic needed a news post to explain its dark humour. Having worked in games, I don’t think it needs any kind of explanation whatsoever. It makes perfect sense to me. Not that I’m bitter, you understand.

The Right to Life

Monday, April 4th, 2005

At church on Sunday, we were asked to pray for a member of our congregation who was appearing on the Heaven and Earth show to talk about euthenasia; whilst it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, this was clearly to do with the Schiavo case that’s been raising the ire of so many Conservative (and even a few not-so-conservative) bloggers in the US these last couple of weeks. I strongly suspect that I was about the only person in the congregation thanking God that, for a change, the American Justice system had acted exactly as it was supposed to. That’s going to upset some of my readers and delight some others. Let me explain.

First of all, irrespective of the moral rights and wrongs of this case (which I’ll get to in a minute), there’s been a big brouhaha about the fact that this went all the way up to the Supreme Court and still didn’t get overturned – even when El Presidente himself stuck his oar in; even when new legislation was passed to specifically enable the parents to sue the husband (and, here’s the crux, legal guardian) over the issue of removing her feeding tube. The Courts, sensibly (and frankly, somewhat surprisingly) ignored all the political and popular pressure and decided that the husband, being the legal guardian and all that, had the right to choose in this matter, not the parents. Not only that, but the court later overturned the new legislation, announcing that it was unconstitutional.

The thing is, this is exactly how the legal system is supposed to function. It’s not supposed to be subject to the whims of public (or even presidential) opinion – it’s supposed to be an impartial body passing judgement on cases brought before it in the light of the law, not public opinion. For better or for worse, in this instance, they decided that the right to choose whether the feeding tube should be withdrawn rested with Terri Schiavo’s legal guardian, her husband, and not her parents.

Okay, that’s my first point. My second is in regard to the whole right to life debate, and this is where things get sticky. Yes, I believe that a human life is a wonderful, beautiful, fragile and precious thing; yes, I believe that we should do our best to preserve it. But the point so often missed in the right to life debate is that of quality of life. In the event that Terri Schiavo had recovered, it is utterly impossible that she could have lived a full and even vaguely normal life; the majority of her cerebral cortex – the part of the brain responsible for thinking and feeling – had been destroyed and replaced by fluid. The cerebral cortex does not regrow. She would never have been able to interact with the world again. She would have continued to be dependent on outside help to live what would have basically been a shell of a life – with some biological functions intact but with virtually no thoughts or feelings and no interaction with the world other than reflexive action. That, to me, is not a life. Indeed, it is arguably even cruel to force someone to continue living if that is all the hope they have for the future.

I find it morally wrong to condemn someone to a living hell rather than a peaceful death: if, by keeping a person alive, we are merely prolonging their suffering, then, however hearthwrenching and difficult it is, I do not see that it is wrong in allowing them to choose to end this suffering in death.

One final point that seems to have been missed by the media in all the controversy: Despite Dubya’s support of Mrs Schivao’s parents and all his protestations about the right to life, it’s worth noting that, as governor of Texas, he signed into law measures to allow a hospital to pull the plug – against a families wishes – if they are unable to pay for the patient’s care.

Home developing

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

I bought a load of chemicals, a black changing bag and a developing tank from Jessops on Friday. I went out to Southport with Naomi today, shot a roll of cheap B&W film and have just processed it myself. For a first go, I’m really quite impressed with the results – a bit scratched in a few places, but I’m sure I’ll get better – certainly they’re no worse than high street developers.

You can look at a couple of the scans here.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Friday, April 1st, 2005

ITV staff to strike:

Up to 700 ITV production staff are to stage walkouts on 7 and 8 April in a protest over pay.
Unions warned the strike, at centres across the UK, could disrupt popular shows such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Emmerdale.
But ITV has said it is unlikely viewers will notice any difference.

Okay, I know ITV really did say that, but the way it’s phrased made me snigger in a childish sort of way.

Good morning

Friday, April 1st, 2005

I’ve quit my job and I’m off to go and farm mongooses in Guam with a commune of travelling eyebrow salesmen.