Reflections post-election, starting with Scomo’s tears

And I must start by thanking whatever gods that be for the FACT Australia has been witnessing a swift, smooth and PEACEFUL transfer of power. Not even the USA can boast that! Especially the USA since the Orange Sickness struck it!

I thank also our predecessors who have made for us from British roots and our own tradition an electoral system that deserves to be the envy of the world for its integrity and practicability.

I am going to do a different take on this.

I have annoyed some by not in the past going out of my way to demonise ScoMo. For example I have never spelled that with a U. Nor have I got overexcited about his religion.

Now it so happens that I have been in this church in Sutherland, or rather in the Assemblies of God church that preceded it. Ir was not called Horizon then and was much smaller and poorer, but the idea was the same. It was 1964 or 1965 I think, and I was still an Elder at Sutherland Presbyterian Church. Yes, another life. Fellow Elder and friend Robert Kennelly had been invited to preach there. He was aiming to become a Presbyterian minister, which eventually he did — but in the Presbyterian Reformed Church — which began in Sutherland just as I left the church.

From our point of view at the time the Pentecostals were more than a bit weird and theologically suss. But Bob accepted and I went along as moral support and to give him feedback on his sermon. Bob remains in my memory, along with Gwenda his wife, an esteeemed friend, as do Greg and Helen Fox who became key members of the PRC. Helen in fact later taught Latin at Sydney Girls High where I renewed acquaintance in the late 90s and early 2000s. A lovely and funny lady.

I was amused to discover where ScoMo’s church is. And it isn’t Hillsong by the way, though ScoMo’s connection with the Houstons was unwise.

Looking back at what I saw in the 60s and what I see in this story one thing does strike me. This church may be many things, some not so good, some no doubt fulfilling to its community. But I would call this a painfully naive kind of Christianity, and I suspect that is an issue with ScoMo. I also suspect, though he may not even be aware of it or would deny it vehemently, that aside from a certain emotional piety there is no great connection between the way he has acted as salesman and politician and anything profound in the religion. Heretical of me, but let me refer to another notably religious Prime Minister — Kevin Rudd. Again flawed (aren’t we all?) but his religion is far more sophisticated and intellectually and philosophically deeper than ScoMo’s.

OK, but to this story. Morrison’s behaviour here is well within what is normal in such a church as this, his emotions genuine — it must have been traumatic to come unstuck as much as he has in the 24 hours before this talk — and so I am not going to judge or criticise him. But it is also naive, Plucking Bible texts completely out of context because the wording seems to suit is common practice in many low church circles, not just in Pentecostalism. In my opinion it is a most undesirable way to use the Bible. As Cam Williamson, a wise Presbyterian minister at Sutherland in the 50s and early 60s used to say, a text without a context is a pretext.

But the truth is he looks and sounds like a broken man here. I am sure he will recover very quickly though.

And while ScoMo is many things, one rarely noted — and of course I may be completely wrong — is that he is, for 2022, incredibly naive and out of touch! Take his master work in his advertising days. Crass as!

Not that he was necessarily directly involved — though I suspect he would at least have approved them– the childish run of attack ads that characterised the Liberal Party campaign will go down in history as among the worst ever.

Amazingly irritating!

Idiotic and offensive

After the event the ABC’s great show Media Watch analysed the campaign’s media performances. The last minute or two introduce two of the most painfully idiotic takes you will ever see from — of course — the sheltered workshop called Sky After Dark.

Those final thoughts are the subject of some excellent analysis in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The narrative according to a chorus of hardline Coalition MPs and columnists goes like this: the Morrison government positioned itself as “Labor-lite” – experimenting “with the poison of leftism”, according to South Australian Liberal Alex Antic – because it caved in on net-zero emissions, racked up budget deficits, abandoned “freedom” during the pandemic and shirked on fighting culture wars.

This shameless Marxist posture, say the critics, not only failed to placate voters in the Liberals’ traditional seats, those folks having long metamorphosed into Maoists and not for the turning, but alienated the party from “the Quiet Australians” and blue-collar battlers the party ought to regard as its real base.

In this construction, the battlers are less concerned about climate change than they are focused on cost-of-living pressures and whether their kids are being indoctrinated into radical doctrines at school. They seem curiously unconcerned about a minimum wage rise, however.

What really happened has been captured in some great cartoons, not least Cathy Wilcox:

AUSTRALIA HAS MOVED ON!

Once more looking at my April 2007 archive after 15 years

Various selections from the month’s archive.

Alana Valentine is a playwright to watch…

That is if Parramatta Girls, which I saw last night, is anything to go by. It is indeed a “must see” as many comments to be traced from that Google Search indicate — Trevor Cook on Corporate Engagement for example:

This is a great piece of theatre, one of the best plays I’ve seen for awhile. The subject matter is often harrowing but the treatment is full of compassion, wit and understanding. The cast work very well together and there are no ‘weak’ performances. If you can get along to see it you should. Its on at the Belvoir until 22 April.

Except you won’t get in; Parramatta Girls is sold out for the rest of the season.

The Sydney Morning Herald is typical of most reviews: The spirit triumphs in this healing journey.

…The director, Wesley Enoch, has created an unflinching, powerful and moving production full of surprising mood changes, peaks and troughs and with a keen eye to the perpetuating cycles of abuse. Ralph Myers’s stripped-to-the-bone set, with its stacks of metal chairs, starkly symbolises the ruin and discarding of souls. The talented cast does great justice to the material, not just being feisty, fearful and loud but persuasively revealing the stains, regrets and shameful emotions that have singled the characters out and, in their later lives, brought them together.

Skinner’s portrayal affords Parramatta Girls much of its spark and spine, as does Leah Purcell’s as the charismatic Marlene, especially in the climactic rooftop riot scene when she reclaims power even though it means time spent in isolation. Annie Byron gives a remarkably brave performance as tough, soft-centred Gayle while Genevieve Hegney delights as Maree, an innocent who mocks authority and whose spirit-crushed presence lends a tragic dimension.

Parramatta Girls is desperately sad, honest, humorous and uplifting. It is a triumph for Valentine and company. On opening night, when former inmates joined the actors on stage for the curtain call, there were tears, smiles and slightly embarrassed bows; an extraordinary moment of life and art blurring and uniting as one.

One small but important point struck me. Near the end of the play one of the Aboriginal ex-inmates has obtained her records but can’t read them; she gets another “Parramatta girl” to read them to her. The official account, it transpires, includes a number of convenient bureaucratic lies… The play of course is rooted in oral history, though not in oral history alone. It has been very carefully researched. That moment in the play resonated with the History Wars, however. I think it very clearly showed the danger of the purist Windschuttle approach to history; indeed I am sure it was meant to.

I went with a group from South Sydney Uniting Church, having turned up on spec as I hadn’t actually applied for a ticket. Fortunately Andrew had a spare. 🙂

I was able to fill in Andrew and Dorothy on the latest on Lord Malcolm too. Dorothy was especially touched when I told her about Lord M’s Easter Sunday writing project, that by his computer (as I noted yesterday when I went to Lord M’s place on an errand) sits her blessing.

Later

I told Lord M about the play when I visited him today. Lord M had an Aboriginal partner, now deceased. It turns out that partner was the cousin of Wesley Enoch, the play’s director.

I now have the portrait of that cousin of Wesley Enoch on my wall here in West Wollongong — a reminder of Malcolm.

Award-winning playwright Alana Valentine has woven together the true stories of women who were once Parramatta Girls into a masterful tribute to their courage, humour, strength and optimism.

UTS Alumni on 29 March 2022 published this:

“I really believe that UTS taught me that sometimes it is good to be a tool for other people’s vision. And that it doesn’t always have to be about you.”

Alana Valentine (BA Comm, 1983) is one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights whose visionary work puts the human experience squarely on centre stage. Alana has spoken of how deeply she values the trust placed in her by the marginalised communities she has worked with – on pieces such as ParramattaGirls – to share their experiences on stage, and it’s this dedication to telling important Australian stories that saw her win both won the 2021 UTS: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award and joint Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.

I have been privileged to have met Alana through the South Sydney Uniting Church connection.

Wise words from a young gay American

[There was a blog*] here on WordPress that I was led to by a bit of random surfing, and I am glad to have found it. C**** is “your garden variety, 18 year old queer guy living in Houston, Texas.”

…I am the perpetual student who hates structured education, most of what I know of value I taught myself or at the very least was instructed in away from the walls of my public schools…

I am cynical about oh so much, but still can muster eternal optimism that things can be better (if only people were more like me). Sarcasm and gallows humor are my trademarks.

I love old movies, kitsch, crooners from the 40s and 50s, geezer pop and rock, country music that is not heard on the radio. Hyper masculinity both fascinates me and bores me. I love camp in small doses. My theology comes from books, the saints, the patriots, the movies and drunken ass dances. My politics are liberal but I can’t abide most liberals, and [am] suspicious of them as always waiting for you to trip, but I will have none of their foolishness! Did I mention that I am a wee bit bombastic?…

Teachers need that little dose of reality from the first sentence sometimes just to keep a sense of proportion.

I am referring you to this blog though for one entry in particular, which is not to say the rest is not good because it is in fact a very good blog, especially in the world of teen blogs. In its own way it is as good as the remarkable MyScribbles, the Afghan blog, whose author is around the same age. The cultural context of course is very different. (That reminds me: Ahmad still hasn’t posted this year. A real worry that.)

The entry in question is Choices Made And Not Made.

What set of circumstances do you suppose occurred where I might have had a choice to be gay? Do you imagine that one day I awoke and just up and decided “today I think I will become homosexual’? Do you think I might have made a critical error on “Career Day” in high school? Do you suppose that I chose to become a pariah just for kicks? That I somehow found it appealing to face harassment from bigots, the religious right and those compensating for their own inadequacies. Do you suppose that I would choose to become a lesser citizen that is denied the rights granted to my heterosexual brother, including the right to marry the one I love? When was I asked? Why is it with 90% of the population heterosexual, no one on that side thought to ask me to choose to be straight?

I admit that wasn’t an answer when I answered the question with rhetorical questions. So here it is. I did not choose to be gay. Whether genetic, hormonal or some yet to determined factor, its not important how I got here, I am here and I accept and embrace who I am in its totality as how I am supposed to be. Long before I knew what gay was or had a clue what sex was, I had attractions to other males. It wasn’t a sexual attraction at first it was something more fundamental than that. Its easy for those who view gay as being bad to dismiss us if they can reduce it to sexual acts alone. That being gay is just an easy way for sexual gratification. It is deeper and more profound than that. Its as much an emotional attachment as heterosexual males and females have.

Choose to be gay? No, but I did come to a realization that I was gay, that these feelings had a name and I decided to accept that as part of who I am. It is as much a part of me as a heterosexual’s sexuality is a part of them. Its not how I define myself, but it is there and shapes who I am, and that I do choose to accept and own it with no apology.

My family accepts me as I am. I was blessed with a family that loves me unconditionally… Sadly, my experience isn’t as common as it might ought to be…

I choose to be many things in my life. I choose to try and live my life honestly and to be a good man, that not only my parents would be proud of me, but to live my life in such a manner I can take pride in it. I choose not to live a life in the margins. I choose to try and be a good son, brother, friend, citizen and one day a partner to a man I love. I choose to be a strong gay man. Those are the REAL choices I make.

I did not choose to be gay. I accept my sexuality, own it and do not choose to hide it.

I REFUSE to be defined by bigots, to be limited by prejudices, nor to be denied my place at the table of life. I refuse to have you or anyone else debate my life. I refuse to suffer foolish arguments, banal one liners or the rants and ravings of zealots. I refuse to let my life to be ruled or dominated by homophobic rants or raving. I refuse to live my life in fear of those that choose to live their life coccooned in their hatred.

I choose also to live my life with dignity and honor to the best of my potential. That, my anonymous friend, is how I define “normal.”

That is magnificent, C***. I have just extracted highlights. [It’s a shame it is no longer available.*]

Mind you, referriing to my reading in the past few days which has also interested Jim Belshaw, I don’t know what it is with Americans and “liberals”. To us older folk outside the US what an American labels and then worries about as “liberal” just seems normal, civilised, progressive, and even quite uncontroversial. Things like health care, for example. Even trade unions. Or at least that was the case until about ten years ago.

* UPDATE 5 May 2007

This blog has now been deleted by its author. I have therefore disguised its origin and names in it, as I respect his choice but still value what he said and wish others might read it.

2022 — And the My Scribbles blog?

See How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…. And just the other day on Facebook Ahmad, now a friend there, posted:

Forthcoming in London on 10 November 2022
Soon after of course the Taliban took over and Ahmad went into exile…

Reading the Bible

To quote the appropriate page for today from Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

Don’t be afraid to explore;
Without exploration there are no discoveries,
Don’t be afraid of partial solutions;
Without the tentative there is no
accomplishment.

I am still in the habit of following the Daily Office Lectionary from the US version of The Book of Common Prayer, an eccentricity I mentioned on Blogspot Books and Ideas in January 2006.

Lest that seems either saintly or pretentious, let me say that I am pragmatically finding this of benefit. I get food for thought, and, doing it as I do just before sleeping, I find my nights in general have been much more restful. No, I don’t mean to say the practice puts me to sleep, but it certainly helps compose the mind.

Those of you who have followed my rants for a while know that I do not believe God writes books. In other words, I am not a fundamentalist. So what of the Bible? All along from my teen years to the present I have found the Bible inspiring, if not always inspired. So my ruminations over the Daily Office are often critical. For example, reading Galatians lately I have been struck by how exceedingly dodgy Paul’s use of the Old Testament often is. Galatians marks a key moment, of course, in which the Church became more universalist and less a sect of Judaism. Paul was trying to convince the Galatians that this was the way to go, but I can well understand some not being convinced. Another troubling feature of his argument, and indeed in the representation of the Pharisees in the gospels, is that one can see only too clearly the seeds of antisemitism there. I believe, of course, that you don’t have to go down that path, but the potential was there and in time as we all know it bore strange fruit.

So what are we to make of the Bible? Anthony Freeman addresses this on Radical Faith, and I commend him to you. “Whatever more it may be, it is never less than this: part of our world, a human product situated in a particular place, at a particular time, and in a particular culture.”…

I would also commend James W. Aageson from Concordia College on “Reading Biblical Texts: Truth, Fact, and Myth.”

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Let’s just read the Bible literally. Let’s forget about all this interpretation stuff and just read the Bible for what it says.” The impulse for this can be appreciated. Serious interpretation of the Bible takes a lot of effort and sustained study, and sometimes all of this effort in the end only seems to work against certain cherished and long held religious beliefs. Many people want the Bible to sustain them. They do not want to be confronted by strange and new interpretations of it. And still others are opposed to the critical study of the Bible because they think God and God’s word are beyond human understanding. They can only be understood by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by human reason standing alone. Moreover, digging into the scriptures seems to make human beings the final arbiter of God’s word instead of God. These concerns are real, and the forces that motivate them should be understood.

Even if a person is of two minds about the critical study of the Bible, however, the problem of a “literal reading” of biblical material is an issue that is more complicated than might first appear. What is meant by the term “literal reading?” What makes a reading “literal” as opposed to something else? And is “literality” the same for all types and varieties of texts in the Bible? If we are to think about this question of literal interpretation, we must address the issue of what is meant by the expression, “literal reading.” The term in popular usage seems to refer to the surface reading of the text. In this sense, “literal” refers to the straightforward adherence to the surface level of the material and its wording, the face value of the text in other words…

One final observation about the discernment of biblical truth should be made. Many truth claims, many biblical truth claims included, should, in my judgment, be subjected to moral critique. When we look at the consequences of historic and religious truth claims, what have been the social and human consequences that have followed from them? Can we discern any consequences? If so, how have these claims played themselves out over time? Are the consequences morally laudable or morally reprehensible? At a minimum, we should ask ourselves if these claims can be true when we see what they have done. When Matthew in his gospel implies that the blood of Christ is not only on the hands of the Jews in Jesus’ day but also on the hands of their descendants, can this statement have any claim to religious truth, given the way this has contributed to the horrible reality of anti-Semitism? When seen in light of the Christian gospel itself, the consequences of this rather direct Matthean implication seem to be suspect, if not altogether devoid of theological truth value, that is if the Christian gospel is in fact good news and not bad news. Moral considerations may not finally settle questions of biblical truth, but they ought to be considered.

Assessing biblical truth is complicated and cannot be reduced to a single notion of truth. Multiple levels of meaning and truth can be discovered in biblical material, and the critical reader of the Bible needs sophistication and flexibility in evaluating them. In some cases, the question of whether the biblical material is true or not is beside the point. It only leads one away from the significant features of the text. Yet truth claims that are made are always made within a social and communal context. Likewise, those of us who try to assess them do so in social and communal contexts. In historical and religious matters, truth is social in character, and the apprehension of it is similarly social. Understanding the social dimensions of truth is important for critical readers of the Bible, just as it is important to understand the historical and literary dimensions of biblical texts and their interpretation.

Many will not be pleased by this approach, but to me it is the only honest way to go. For example, you will see if you visit that lectionary linked in the first paragraph that I am at the moment reading The Book of Exodus, one of the most obvious features of which is that it could not possibly have been written by Moses. Another obvious feature is that the “history” in the book is clearly in the realm of legend, with elements of myth. So you can’t say the Exodus didn’t happen, but you can say it didn’t happen in the in fact various ways it is recounted in Exodus. Wikipedia (for all that it gets bagged) actually reviews this rather well: The Exodus.

If you wish to clarify what myth, legend, and/or folktale actually mean, see Michael Webster’s course material Frequently Asked Questions about Mythology.

It is clear too that when subjected to moral critique Exodus can be decidedly discomforting. There are all sorts of things, what Bishop Spong memorably calls “the sins of scripture”, that Biblical literalists gloss over. (Don’t think the Qu’ran will help, by the way; it is very much in the literalist camp when it comes to its references to Exodus. Not at all surprising in the Qu’ran’s human and cultural context of course.)

Nonetheless, as archetypes Exodus and The Exodus are profoundly inspiring. That is what they still have to offer. Oh yes, and it is a good story, and one which anyone in our culture really should know.

bullock-dray-02.jpg

Bullocky

Beside his heavy-shouldered team
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran widdershins in his brain:

Till the long solitary tracks
etched deeper with each lurching load
were populous before his eyes,
and fiends and angels used this road.

All the long straining journey grew
a mad apocalyptic dream,
and he old Moses, and the slaves
his suffering and stubborn team.

Then in his evening camp beneath
the half-light pillars of the trees
he filled the steepled cone of night
with shouted prayers and prophecies.

While past the campfire’s crimson ring
the star struck darkness cupped him round.
and centuries of cattle-bells
rang with their sweet uneasy sound.

Grass is across the wagon-tracks,
and plough strikes bone across the grass,
and vineyards cover all the slopes
where the dead teams were used to pass.

O vine, grow close upon that bone
and hold it with your rooted hand.
The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
and fruitful is the Promised Land.

— Judith Wright (1915-2000)

I still love that poem; technically it is almost perfect, in my humble opinion. But it was written in the 1940s, and looking at it through the allusions to Exodus one can’t help wondering about the Amalekites, Canaanites, and so on… Judith Wright herself certainly did, and “put a block on some of [her] poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’” later on in life.

Reconciliation isn’t a word I like. It’s about the only word, unfortunately, that fits. But they, I think, have more of a problem reconciling with us because we are the ones who did the deed. And the fact that they can do this speaks very highly indeed for their own capacities for forgiveness and understanding. We don’t have that. That’s because we do have this problem in ourselves: a kind of guilt that stands in the way of understanding. That is a very important part of our development as a people, and until we come into a proper relationship with the Indigenous peoples, we can’t be in a proper relationship with ourselves.

Ramona Koval: You put a block on some of your poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’. Was this related to the matter of Aboriginal-white history and reconciliation?

Judith Wright: Yes, in a way it was. That poem came from the nationalist era in which I was only able to write from a white point of view. Now that I can see what that has done to us, I refuse to allow Bullocky to be anthologised any longer because of the way it got taught. It’s a perfectly good poem in itself, I still stand by it as a poem. But it was being used in a way I disapproved of. And the funny thing was, of course, that there were teachers who wrote to me in a fury: ‘You can’t do this. It’s not possible for you to do this. We’ve been teaching it this way for so long.’ They were teaching it as though it was an aggrandisement of the whole invasion. And it was a very bad example of bad teaching of poetry. The only thing I could do was to argue that it shouldn’t be put into anthologies at all. And that, I think I kept to fairly well. It was a great illumination to me of how poems can be misinterpreted simply because the idea is opposite to what they should be.

Interesting.

2022: I still value Bible reading, among other readings, and have a range of translations as actual books or in my eBook Library on Calibre. I have not persisted however with that particular lectionary.

There you are — just THREE posts from my blog for April 2007! And some indications of later developments…

Blogging the 2010s — 46 — May 2013

I should warn you that at one post for every month of the decade, this series will eventually reach #120!

Total non-answers feed my agnosticism

In an interesting post today Jim Belshaw ventures into theology, especially perhaps that branch known as theodicy – surely the weakest link in the grand narrative we of the Abrahamic traditions have inherited along with the highly fraught and dangerous idea that God writes books.

One of the books some allege God wrote/inspired is The Book of Job – a truly wonderful book at its human level, which is probably really its true level.  This powerful dramatic poem deserves to be read by everyone, but where the “problem of evil” is concerned it delivers a non-answer, though not without skewering some of the still circulating arguments about free will and divine retribution along the way.

Job.40

[1] And the LORD said to Job:
[2] “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
[3] Then Job answered the LORD:
[4] “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
[5] I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
[6] Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
[7] “Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
[8] Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
[9] Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
[10] “Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
[11] Pour forth the overflowings of your anger,
and look on every one that is proud, and abase him.
[12] Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
[13] Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
[14] Then will I also acknowledge to you,
that your own right hand can give you victory.
[15] “Behold, Be’hemoth,
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
[16] Behold, his strength in his loins,
and his power in the muscles of his belly.
[17] He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
[18] His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron.
[19] “He is the first of the works of God;
let him who made him bring near his sword!
[20] For the mountains yield food for him
where all the wild beasts play.
[21] Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh.
[22] For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him.
[23] Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;
he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.
[24] Can one take him with hooks,
or pierce his nose with a snare?

“What do you know about the hippopotamus?” may not strike all of us as a satisfactory answer to Job’s questions – but I do get it as a poetic device.

And now Ecclesiastes:

[1] There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon men:
[2] a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them; this is vanity; it is a sore affliction.
[3] If a man begets a hundred children, and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but he does not enjoy life’s good things, and also has no burial, I say that an untimely birth is better off than he.
[4] For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered;
[5] moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he.
[6] Even though he should live a thousand years twice told, yet enjoy no good — do not all go to the one place?
[7] All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.

[8] For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?
[9] Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire; this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
[10] Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.

[11] The more words, the more vanity, and what is man the better?
[12] For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?

Have a look at a rather liberal Christian having a go, and then a young-earth creationist showing what pseudo-scholarship looks like. None of it actually works for me.

agnostic1

Yeah, whatever…

How to waste life, mind and time…

I do agree with Jim’s point here: “Would the world be better off nobody believed? I don’t know. I suspect not. The evidence of human history is that we all have a deep need to believe in something beyond ourselves, something that might help explain, to make sense of. the apparently unexplainable…”

Surry Hills 2008

Friday: time out at Illawarra Brewery — 2

P5240493

P5240492

Something from 2009: one could despair!

Apropos of something a friend posted on Facebook, rehashing theological positions I once possibly espoused myself, I found myself trawling through some old posts. So I repost two:

Joshua to Gaza 2009

It is somewhat ironic that my private Bible reading scheme, which often follows the US Episcopalian lectionary, brought me today to the Book of Joshua.

1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,

2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.

4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

5 There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The first thing that must be said is that we are reading saga and legend here, not history. One may as well take Beowulf literally, though of course Beowulf is very informative about the life and times of its culture and milieu and reflects history, which is also true of Joshua. It is pretty much certain that what really happened was nothing like what we read in this book. I don’t find that a problem, personally. One can be inspired by the words of the last verse there without believing that verses 3 and 4 represent some real kind of divine decree still relevant in 2009. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I on the Middle East Web captures this quite well.

The archeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Cana’anite peoples and invading tribes. Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., it is thought that a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. Canaan was settled by different tribes including Semitic peoples, Hittites, and later Philistines, peoples of the sea who are thought to have arrived from Mycenae, or to be part of the ancient Greek peoples that also settled Mycenae.

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. Under Joshua, they conquered the tribes and city states of Canaan…

Paragraph one indicates what really may have happened; the next paragraph recounts the hallowed legend.

Leaping forward around 4,000 years we find ourselves where we are. You can trace that in varying degrees of depth on that Middle East Web, which I referred you to in my update yesterday on A whiff of sanity.

Long term the approach I commend there will be what must happen, but in the world as it is it will be a long time before such an approach is taken seriously by those in power. The point is, however, that we have been told. What looks like good strategy in current Washington and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem – which really should be an international city as the United Nations long ago proposed – or among irredentists in the Muslim world is actually short-sighted policy. Given that Israel may attain its objectives – more about that in a moment – the true cost is incalculable. In brief it involves fuelling further the problem. It inflames further the grievances that have made too many turn to terror as an appropriate response.  The present cost in human lives and suffering is only too manifest.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Paul McGeogh offers an interpretive report that rings true.

THE revelation of the daring objective at the heart of Operation Cast Lead calls for Israel’s air-and-ground assault on Gaza to be given a new name. As the rhetorical layers are peeled back, what we are hearing makes Mission Impossible a more worthy contender.

Tel Aviv’s early insistence that this massive military exercise was about putting a halt to Palestinian rockets being fired into or near communities in the south of Israel never rang true.

Measure it by the number of rockets – 8000-plus over eight years – and indeed it sounds like a genuine existential threat. Consider the toll – 20 Israeli deaths spread over eight years, which is about half the number of deaths in just a month of Israeli traffic accidents – and it all loses its oomph as a casus belli.

Israel does not want to deal with Hamas – it wants to annihilate the Islamist movement.

The Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said as much when she dashed to Paris last week to head off a French push for a 48-hour ceasefire. “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region,” she said.

If there was any doubt after Livni spoke, it evaporated on Friday when the Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, told Israeli TV: “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That’s the most important thing.”

And at the United Nations in New York, the Israeli ambassador, Gabriella Shalev, also seemed to depart the approved script. “[It will continue for] as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely,” she said.

Analysis and commentary through the first eight days of this conflict have been about Israel’s goal of stopping the rockets. But if the objective is obliterating Hamas, it does indeed seem an impossible task….

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Yesterday in Sydney

Good luck to Obama. Let’s hope for some shift in US policy, which is critical; I am not totally despairing on that front, nor am I totally hopeful.

Update

See Jim Belshaw’s post this morning: Gaza, democracy and the question of world government. Very thoughtful. I think Jim and I share both a certain tentativeness on the issue – which I am sure is a clear sign of intelligence!—and a desire to get beyond the reflex responses we’ve been seeing. That Jim has used one of my photos is of course a bonus.

And:

Bad Archaeology

14 MAR 2009

And is there a lot of it around! Bad Archaeology explains itself thus:

We are a couple of real archaeologists fed up with the distorted view of the past that passes for knowledge in popular culture. We are unhappy that journalists with no knowledge of the methods, aims, techniques and theories of real archaeology can sell hundreds of times more books than real archaeologists. We do not appreciate news programmes that talk about ley lines as if they are real. In short, we are Angry Archaeologists.

One of us is Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, who began work on a version of this site as part of his personal home pages as long ago as 1999. Keith is a local authority archaeologist in North Hertfordshire with a long-standing interest in Bad Archaeology and who has grown increasingly concerned at the profession’s evident unwillingness to deal with it. He is also worried at the growth of anti-Enlightenment attitudes during his lifetime, which he worries may return us to a Dark Age of superstition-based belief.

The other of us is James Doeser, who is currently trying to finish his PhD in government and archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. James is interested in the way efforts to increase public understanding of archaeology (museums, media, tourism etc.) collide with a the belief that everybody has a right to understand the past in whichever way they want. We can’t all be right, can we?

Highly commended. Just to name one field, there is unfortunately a great deal of nonsense out there in the realm of Biblical archaeology. In that area you may also look at another good site, The Bible and Interpretation.

There are many other sections in Bad Archaeology. I will certainly be spending time on it.

Bad Archaeology is all around us: many of its ideas are pervasive in popular culture; its publications sell more than Good Archaeology publications; its web presence is much stronger than that of Good Archaeology. What we are trying to do with this site is to show the utter vacuity of most Bad Archaeology and provide a reference point for Good (or at least, Better) Archaeology.

At the same time, we hope that this site will be a useful resource to people puzzled by various claims about the past, about apparently anomalous artefacts, about religious claims to knowledge that are in conflict with those of science and about assertions that just seem a bit dubious.

Above all, we hope that this site will entertain and amuse you!

And from December 2008. Do visit the whole post:

From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1

Let me remind you of my Christmas poem selection #4 from last year.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

 Yehuda Amichai

So many anniversaries!

The true biggie has been the 500 years since upstart priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door, an event that truly changed Europe and the world. See the rather irreverent post Seven reasons Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation still matter today.

On a lesser scale, but very significant in Australia and the Pacific, we have coming up in a few days the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda Track campaign.

But the one that has grabbed attention lately has been the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba. Quite a story, that. I have among my eBooks this — and am about to read it.
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It was first published in 1921, with an introduction by Sir Harry Chauvel.

It gives me great pleasure to write a few words of introduction to Lieut.-Col. Preston’s History of the Desert Mounted Corps, which I had the honour to command. In writing this History Lieut.-Col. Preston has done a service to his country which I am sure will be fully appreciated, particularly, perhaps, by those who served in the Corps, and who feel that the part they played in the Great War is but little known to the general public….

Lieut.-Col. Preston is well qualified to undertake the work. First of all in command of one of my finest Horse Batteries, and subsequently as C.R.A. of the Australian Mounted Division, he was often in touch with my Staff, being constantly employed on reconnaissance duties, in which he was peculiarly expert. He served throughout the whole of the operations of which he writes….

The Desert Mounted Corps was composed of Australians, New Zealanders, British Yeomanry, and Territorial Horse Artillery and Indian Cavalry, with French Cavalry added for the last operations; and it says much for the loyalty of all, and the mutual confidence in each other, that the whole worked so harmoniously and efficiently to one end….

In yesterday’s commemoration in Israel our PM gave a rather peculiar speech, I thought,  rather all over the place when compared with the speech of the New Zealand Governor-General. Israel’s PM Netanyahu spoke forcefully — have to award him a tick for oratory — but also delivered propaganda by the bucket load. In the course of his speech he mentioned that 4,000 years ago Abraham had been at that very spot — Beersheba. What he didn’t mention is that this hardly counts as an actual historical event, but oh the rather troubling weight that Jews, Christians and Muslims load onto this legendary figure!

Ironic too. I suggest you go to my post Before Abraham was, we are…

And the semi-mythical Abraham? Well, “according to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE).”

Way more impressive than that Australian Museum Timeline, impressive as it is, has been the ABC’s First Footprints series, which ended last Sunday night. It took three episodes before we got even close to the recent history – when Abraham, Moses and all that lot were swanning around one patch of the planet far away from here. That fourth episode punctured quite a few of our cherished beliefs about agriculture, hunter-gatherers, and civilisation.  It also included Papua New Guinea in the Greater Australia which once existed before sea levels rose around 7,000 years before Abraham. There was much reference to Bill Gammage’s seminal The Biggest Estate on Earth (2011).

The irony, if you like, is that among those brave Light Horsemen in 1917 were several descended from those people whose roots go back tens of thousands of years prior to the incursion of whatever individuals or groups might correspond to the story of Abraham in Beersheba. See ‘Not even classed as citizens’: Remembering the Indigenous soldiers at Beersheba.

Rather puts into some perspective the whole Abrahamic saga, very significant as it of course is given the good and ill it has contributed to this present world.

Finally, another picture relating to my last two posts. This is from Sydney High in 2014, a Remembrance Day ceremony with the school assembled in Moore Park. Quite an impressive photograph.Screenshot (125)